Monday, 13 January 2014

LIVINGSTONE ( I PRESUME )

2nd - 6th Jan 2014
Victoria Falls

Onwards south, by air in a ProFlight Jetstream 41, to Livingstone. Livingstone, situated near the Zambezi river ( the border with Zimbabwe ), was the capital of Northern Rhodesia until 1935 when for various administrative and climatic reasons it was moved to Lusaka. The town has recently hosted a world conference of some sort so, for that, it underwent a substantial smartening up. Indeed the streets and buildings looked much cleaner and tidier, and more prosperous, than Lusaka and Ndola. It is also becoming an increasingly popular tourist venue. Much of the original prosperity of the town was due to the commercial influence of a few wealthy Jewish families ( long since gone ) at the end of the 19th century.
Left: The main street, Mosi-oa-Tunya ( previously Mainway ) which means 'The rain which thunders', the local name for the Falls. There are some decent old fashioned shops and loads of hostels and guest houses. The Jewish family built a very attractive 1950s style cinema. the Capitol, which was refurbished and opened recently after many years of closure. Sadly it has now closed again. I suppose DVDs are to blame.

The only irritant that I discovered was the number of hawkers trying desperately to flog copper bracelets. They were everywhere and became thoroughly annoying. You were continually ambushed by them. They wanted to sell only copper bracelets, nothing else. You would think the market was somewhat flooded by now. 





I was to stay at what turned out to be a very pleasant and not too expensive 'Lodge', the Zambezi Waterfront which, as the name implies, is on the river about 2 miles south of the town and 2 miles north of the Falls.
Right: The bar.
Our rooms were in riverside chalets hidden in the surrounding woods. Very quaint, and comfortable.
There are several hotels and lodges spread out on the riverside, a couple of which, down nearer the Falls, are incredibly luxurious, and expensive.

It had a little swimming pool ( left ). You can see ( not perhaps in this photo ) the mist and spray rising from the Falls downstream, to the left.
There were plenty of small Vervet monkeys around the place which, we were warned, are prone to nicking things. I also thought I saw a hippo down by the river which, as it happened, turned out to be a fat South African tourist. I was told that elephants wander into the river during the dry season. Anyway, there seems to be some wildlife down here in contrast to Ndola and Lusaka.


It even had it's own 'booze cruiser' moored off the bar area and on which I enjoyed an evening trip up and down the river. Unfortunately on the first three days I was here the weather was a bit iffy; cloudy and occasionally stormy with severe downpours. The remaining two were hot with blue skies, but I had done most of my 'touristing' by then. 

There is a plethora of tour operators, one based in this hotel, which organise such delights as white-water rafting, bungee jumping off the bridge, kayaking, fishing, a gorge swing, abseiling, riverboarding, jet-boating, game-drive safaris and even bird watching. There was usually a gang of youngsters in the bar in the evening gleefully watching videos taken of them tipping up on their white-water rafting expeditions. I don't recall hearing of any of them being drowned. It is a bit like Queenstown, New Zealand, where everything 'thrilling' you can do in rough water or from great heights is exploited.  Another ( expensive ) entertainment on offer is flying over the Falls in either helicopter or microlight. In fact the tranquility of the area , during the day, is almost constantly disturbed by the roar and clatter of pesky helicopters. I resisted the temptation to do most of these, especially the bird watching, due to my dodgy shoulder. 

I did go to the town museum. which was not particularly inspiring. Outside, as a sort of 'gate guard' was this ancient Chipmunk aircraft. I remember flying them myself many years ago. I don't think they were ever at the 'cutting edge' of the Zambian air force and were probably used for training. As I discovered in Lusaka, the Zambian air force is the most prestigious service of their armed forces. I'm not sure whether they have a navy; they don't have a coast line unless you count Lakes Kariba and Tanganyika.




Also standing on guard was a statue of dear old Dr David Livingstone. A large room in the museum was given over to his exploits, including many sliding drawer-fulls of letters he wrote to various friends and colleagues. I was struck by how bad his handwriting was, but I suppose he was a doctor which might explain it ( or he had the shakes suffering from Malaria ).
Photography inside was forbidden, so I don't have very many. Anyway, there wasn't much worth taking photos of.









I quite liked this piece of 'African village philosophy' which was part of a rather primitive diorama. I think it sort of goes someway to explain why many African men are most content, and naturally adapted, to lead a simple day to day life watching their womenfolk till by hand a small patch of land and their children standing guard over a few cattle or goats. Certainly anything that doesn't involve machinery!






A useful map of Zambia was displayed which you might be able to click on and enlarge. The road north-south down the centre from Ndola, through Lusaka to Livingstone about covers the extent of my travels. The road going off north-east passes through the Luangwa Valley which is home to many of the poshest Game Parks and Safari Lodges ( several British run ). The salient in the north is called the 'Pedical' and is land ceded to the Belgians when they ran their bit of the Congo.
The area of Zambia is over three times the size of the UK, so quite large and with a population of about 13.5 million. There is bags of scope for much agricultural development which explains why many white ex-Zimbabwean refugees, and other white investors, are here and doing very well setting up farms and plantations of many various types. Fortunately the Zambian government is sensible enough to see the mutual advantage in this and is unlikely to 'do a Mugabe'. Zambia now profitably exports grain and other agricultural produce to Zimbabwe and elsewhere. It used to be the other way round.

Showing some initiative, someone ( a British train spotter I believe ) took a museum exhibit from the local railway museum, a 1920s steam locomotive ( left ), and painstakingly restored it to full working order together with some ancient carriages. A work of some devotion. It is now known as the Royal Livingstone Express ( 15 mph max ).








This train now does a twice weekly 10 mile return journey taking passengers down to the Vic Falls Bridge which includes a slap up five course dinner, courtesy of chefs from the 5 star Royal Livingston Hotel, in the gloriously restored dining car ( right ). There is also a luxurious lounge car, two bars and an open-air observation car at the back. I believe it stops along the way to let people off for a bit of sight-seeing. They leave at 5.30pm and get back at about 9.00pm so plenty of time to fill up with good nosh and alcohol. I wonder if they all make it back.

I spent a lazy Sunday wandering around the town. There are several churches and they were all packed to the rafters, plus people sitting on benches outside listening to the service on loudspeakers, all dressed up to the nines. I watched from the street passing a Roman Catholic church ( I think ) in fascination. As mentioned before, the style of most of these services is of the mildly to highly emotional, if not hysterical, variety. The priest rants and raves with flailing arms and rolling eyes about 'Praising The Lord' etc., ( rather to extremes in my opinion ) and, although it was difficult to understand his heavily accented English, much of the gist was to whip the congregation into a bit of a frenzy which, judging by the clapping and cheering, they were all thoroughly enjoying. I read in a local newspaper that  a woman had recently died of a heart attack during a similar performance. Maybe she wasn't 'praising' hard enough, or too hard perhaps. The church is obviously more popular than the late Capitol cinema. The African is, by nature, very superstitious and by extension loves a bit of magic, mystery and mayhem, plus lots of jolly singing.
I was told ( in fact I saw a few ) that Zambia, especially in the north, is home to many white 'missionaries' who, frankly, most of us would regard as eccentric, if not complete nutters; you know, the sort of wackos who stand on  soap-boxes at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park and expect everyone to repent because the end of the world is nigh. I suspect they are here because they have a very willing, and possibly gullible, audience. More so than Hyde Park at least. Anyway, whatever turns you on!

I went on down to the Royal Livingstone Hotel  for lunch. This is indeed a very comfortable watering hole and it would be nice to stay there if one could afford $800 per night. I had an excellent lunch with terrific service from most attentive and polite staff. Quite a luxury.
Left: The verandah on which guests 'take tea'. There are, as at the Waterfront, several Vervet monkeys knocking around. They are also very adept at 'taking tea'. Trouble is they do it when the paying guest turns his head away for a couple of seconds. The little bastards spring from nowhere. I saw one jump onto a surprised couple's table and swipe three sticky cakes before making a hasty retreat to sit and scoff them all by the swimming pool. They are very cunning. I hope it was sick. I suppose it caused some onlookers a bit of amusement.

Zebras ( walking rugs ) stroll nonchalantly over the lawn and there is even the occasional giraffe which turns up from the unfenced wooded area surrounding the hotel. Not sure if they get elephants. I suspect they are discouraged due to 'elf 'n' safety' concerns. It's one thing having a monkey nicking your bun, but an elephant doing similar might be somewhat alarming.







This hotel is situated only a couple of hundred yards from the lip of the Falls. You can sit with a drink on a deck ( left ) by the river on a nice sunny evening and watch the rainbows form in the cloud of mist and spray which always lingers over the gorge. Sadly, the day ( well two days actually ) that I visited the weather was pretty dismal and drizzly.







Right: The sitting room and bar inside. Looks like they put the zebras to good use from time to time.












I walked from here to the Falls. There are good pathways, and a narrow bridge which takes you about a third of the way along the southern side of the gorge. The entry to the park area, rain forest, is again guarded by 'you know who'. He seems to have a very large right hand which might explain his bad writing.













Right: Posing at the eastern end of the falls. They are over a mile in length and the water, after dropping 300ft into the lateral gorge, is then all channelled through a narrow neck, about half way along, into the 'Boiling Pot' a veritable cauldron of foaming brownish water. From there the narrowed river runs under the Victoria Falls Bridge into a further series of zig-zagging  vertical sided gorges ( the white-water rafting places ).



One gets wet from all the spray. However, even though it was a cloudy damp day, it was warm. You get wet with sweat if you wear a poncho ( for hire ), and probably less wet from spray if you don't. 










Right: Visibility not so good looking west along the Falls towards Zimbabwe. The border between the two countries runs down the centre of the river.











Left: The combined water from the line of falls running through the gap into the Boiling Pot.













....and then on under the bridge. This is the rail/road bridge in  the middle of which is the bungee jumping station.












Left: This tells you about the bridge. Click on to enlarge if you're interested.














Right: A bungee jumper on the end of his elastic band. Some had their heads dipped in the water beneath. When the bouncing has stopped you are pulled back up again somehow regaining a head up position.

At some point I took a walk across the bridge.












Left: Looking down from the bungee launch pad.














Right: Technically speaking I walked into Zimbabwe, but their immigration/customs post is at the far end of the bridge. It was suggested that I should walk into Victoria Falls Town, and go to the magnificent Victoria Falls Hotel for a drink and see the falls from the Zim end. This would entail paying Mr Mugabe $55 for the privilege of aquiring a visa, the cost of said drink, and then having to pay another $50 for the return visa ( I'd already used up my two Zambian entries ). I decided this was not good value for money.

By now I had recruited, or been recruited by more like, my own personal taxi driver, a charming and reliable chap called Bison. He is an Arsenal supporter and enthusiast of loud Congo music. They are keen, for obvious reasons, to latch onto a particular tourist. Competition is hot between the many drivers and this is the low tourist season. In fact they seemed very good drivers ( the ones that I had anyway ), have fixed rates to the various locations and always turn up on time if you pre-order one. It is one of the few places I've been to where taxi drivers don't rip you off. All credit to them, or the system. So back again to the Waterfront for a beer or two.

,,....and the local beer ( lager ) is called Mosi. It is perfectly good, but then most lagers taste the same to me.



Stand by for the next gripping instalment; Uncle Matt Goes On Safari.
This should put David Attenborough to shame........possibly.











......and if miracles do occur ( Praise the Lord! ) the vid below will have transferred and you can see and hear the Vic Falls in action.


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