“Can you come to Lake Kariba on Thursday for a week?”, said a friendly voice. “I know it’s Monday today but I have space for one more person on my houseboat going down the length of Lake Kariba.”
My initial reaction was that I couldn’t get organised in three days, then the yearning for adventure and curiosity as to how Zimbabwe was coping took over, and without noticeable hesitation, I said, “Yes, I’d love to.”
I have fond memories of Lake Kariba,when about ten years ago I met Zim’s version of Crocodile Dundee and his sidekick, whom I named Camel Safari Man. These two hunks…..but that is another story, which you won’t find on this blog as it’s too saucy! I thought this time was likely to be more sedate and what could be better than being on a houseboat, travelling from one end of this inland sea to another. There is nothing much to do on a boat but relax, and that’s exactly what I settled in to do.
The 8-bedded Lady Jacqueline, run by Flame Lilly Holidays, whose charismatic owner is Brett McDonald, had an empty leg to run from Kariba to Binga, and Brett wanted to show us that travel in Zimbabwe is not just possible, but still a pleasure.
Lady Jacqueline is a classy dame with a wide beam, which enabled much sprawling around on deck and two at a time in the little cuddle puddle (a tub-for-two sunk into the foredeck). She cruised sedately, enabling us to appreciate the magnitude of this enormous lake 285kms long and in places 40kms wide.
We moored up at different places on the lakeshore each night and on queue, nature’s
theatre put on its long-running light and sound show; Deep Purple and the Electric Light Orchestra. Or in other words, a sunset of many colours with a short interval before cataclysmic explosions of thunder and shards of silver lightening.
LAKE KARIBA RIVER GOD – NYAMINYAMI
Days drifted by and not once did I feel the need to check the time – it was irrelevant, I was in a timeless zone. Lake Kariba exerted its magic and we were all mesmerised. Perhaps Nyaminyami, the Zambezi River God, was at peace. In folklore, Nyaminyami is responsible for the 1958 once-in-a-thousand-year flood, when the damming of the Zambezi created this massive lake. People who claim to have seen the River God, say it looks rather like the Loch Ness Monster, with a snake body and fish head. Nyaminyami totems matching this description are worn for protection when venturing near the Zambezi. I had mine tucked into my camera case.
The journey to Lake Kariba was not completely straightforward, but extremely well organised. We flew with Brett from Cape Town to Lusaka in Zambia, where a vehicle was waiting to speed us to the Zimbabwe border. The border between the Zambia and Zimbabwe runs right down the middle of Lake Kariba, and there are border posts either end of the Kariba Dam wall. With all the problems in Zim, I wondered how Brett would manage to find enough fuel for the houseboat and the 4×4 transfer to Victoria Falls at the end of our boat trip. It also occurred to me that food was short in rural Zimbabwe and we might have to eat fish for the whole time, assuming we caught some. Both these concerns were met with the distinctive grin that became familiar to us, as Brett calmly stated, “don’t worry, I have a plan.” This attitude of owning the problem and fixing it, just doesn’t exist in the UK where I come from, but here in Southern Africa I am comforted by these words. Naturally, Brett’s plan worked and he even had fuel enough for us to use the air-conditioning in the two en-suite master bedrooms on the ship.
FISH FOR SUPPER
Food was plentiful and Albert the Chef conjured up all sorts of salads and vegetables to accompany both meat and fish. The vegetarian amongst us was catered for, but even she couldn’t resist a nibble of freshly caught pan-fried ‘bar fish‘. ‘Bar fish’ are the small bream inexpertly caught by guests like me, which aren’t big enough for dinner and are instead eaten as snacks around the bar.
Duster was the captain, and the broadly grinning Steven did a bit of everything like pulling on ropes, serving at table and any other job attributed to a deck hand. As the days passed lazily by, I came to cherich the crew and put my complete trust and safety in their hands. Every time we moored up and I forgot that I was in crocodile country, Duster politely suggested that I should stop paddling and get back in the boat. He would always be there to steady us as we stepped onto the launch for our late afternoon fishing excursion, and would wave us off and be there on our return. Meanwhile, Steven made the beds and filled the fridges with drinks and laid the tables for yet another feast.
SPURWING ISLAND AND MATUSADONA NATIONAL PARK
It was good fun to hook the occasional fish, but after a few lessons and a few G&T’s, I wasn’t that bothered if I caught anything or not. I was happy to sit in bikini with rod in one hand just enjoying the view. This consisted of gentle lakeshore whose shallows were dotted with the bleached skeletons of dead trees that were drowned when the dam was created about 50 years ago. This scene is as distinctive to Lake Kariba as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
Before we’d got to far down the lake, we pulled into Spurwing Island to take a peek at the remote lodge on this promontory close to Matusadona National Park. It was full of families from Harare weekending at the lake (locals always know the best spots). The cottages are tucked into shaded glades with grassed surrounds looking towards the water. However, with a territorial male crocodile patrolling each 100-metre stretch of shoreline, and hoards of breeding females, it is not advisable to go for a swim in Lake Kariba. You have to seek respite from the heat in the lodge pool, which is where I was to be found, yes you guessed it, with another G&T.
The water level between Spurwing Island and Matusadona National Park was low enough for us to cross the causeway with some trepidation between the two. We made it without getting stuck in the mud and drove in search of the park’s big game; lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino and antelopes. This is elephant heaven, because the grass grows long and lush, there are enough trees to browse and of course plentiful fresh water.
A large breeding herd of elephant played in the water in front of us and caked themselves in the red earth, which made their skin glow orange in the sunset.
ELEPHANTS IN HWANGE NATIONAL PARK
After a number of days; how many I can’t exactly say due to the catatonic state in which I found myself, we arrived at safely at Binga, our disembarking point at the end of Lake Kariba But this wasn’t the end of the trip. We were now on our way to Victoria Falls via Hwange National Park with an overnight stay at Sikumi Tree Lodge. This thatched lodge, with tree-level chalets-on-stilts, had a lonely charm due to lack of customers. I felt terrible for the staff, who kept the place clean and tidy hoping that some custom would magically appear.
We had the chance of more game viewing here, this time in search of the prized Presidential Herd of elephants. It was however, something entirely different that became the highlight of this game drive, when we stopped on the edge of the park at Mabale Village. We met Mr and Mrs Dingane, she in her 60s and he well past 70 years old, but still working their small patch of land to produce sweet potatoes, ochre, tomatoes and pumpkin. A lion had killed some of their goats earlier that week and they feared it would return, but the sadness in their eyes was for their daughter who had died two weeks previously and for the state of their country that had forced them into living even below subsistence level.
They received us gracefully and showed us their garden, which produced barely enough for them to eat. Yet with the typical graciousness we’d encountered from all the other Zimbabwean’s we had met, Mr & Mrs Dingane offered us their last pumpkin. I could have cried! Actually I did.
VERTIGO IN VICTORIA FALLS
Our final stop on this great Zimbabwe adventure was Victoria Falls, which is so much more than just a mile-wide waterfall. Vic Falls is the place for adventure extremes, where a Nyaminyami comes in handy for facing a ferocious-looking Zambezi. Having been thoroughly dunked in the white water of these rapids on a previous occasion, I opted out of the Shearwater river rafting and jet boating, and just couldn’t bring myself to leap off the bridge with a giant elastic bungy tied to my ankles. I did agree to harness myself up and do the Victoria Falls Bridge walk, which got the knees wobbling with a spot of vertigo as I explored the underside of the hundred-year old bridge.
It wasn’t has hard as I thought and was a brilliant alternative to the other adventures, most of which involved getting thrown into the Zambezi.
The sheer energy of Victoria Falls and adrenaline rushes from our chosen pursuits had re-awakened our group sufficiently to be ready to return to South Africa. We were going home with joy in our hearts from every Zimbabwean we had met.
The message I promised to bring back from Duster and Albert and Mr and Mrs Dingane, is that Zimbabwe’s beautiful people are waiting for you to return on your holidays.
My trip on the Lady Jacqueline with Flame Lilly Holidays was beautiful in so many ways and I often look at the photos and desire to be there again. If you get the urge to go, and I would thoroughly recommend you do.
|Safari Satisfaction Index (SSI)|
|Market:||□ Exclusive||□ Luxury||■ Mid range||□ no frills|
|Cost:||□ High||■ Mid||□ Low|
|Basis:||■ Fully inclusive||□ Full or ½ board||□ Self-catering|
|□ Child friendly||□ Activities extra|
|Ratings: Poor = ■ Excellent = ■ ■ ■ ■ ■|
|Wildlife / Nature Experience:||■ ■ ■ ■ □|
|Ranger / Guiding:||■ ■ ■ ■ ■|
|Food:||■ ■ ■ ■ □|
|Boating||■ ■ ■ ■ ■|
|Fishing||■ ■ ■ ■ □|
|Relaxing||■ ■ ■ ■ ■|
|Overall rating:||■ ■ ■ ■ ■|