By Omphitlhetse Mook
Lusaka - All you hear is the grunting of the hippos, the evocative cry of the African Fish Eagle and the sounds of other bird species filling the air.
I can’t quite put my finger on it – whether it’s the tranquillity of the Zambezi River or its pristine surrounds that have me entranced – but I take it all in, from a herd of hippos swimming past to cool off from the scorching afternoon sun, to crocodiles lazing around on one of the sandy islands along the river.
It is all magical… breathtaking.
But nothing prepares me for the sunset. As the sun meets the horizon and turns soft yellow, then bright orange over the glistening waters, it is all surreal – a moment I wish I could hold on to for as long as I live. Peaceful, enchanting, spectacular. Once again a fish eagle lets out a cry. Twilight falls, the sky turns blue, dotted by stars.
This beautiful, ancient river is the hypnotic thread that stitches together our experiences in Zambia… always nearby, always moving.
As the darkness gathers, the Lady Livingstone cruise ship makes its way back to the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa, where our travel team sit for dinner at the Kalai restaurant, which offers a true gastronomic experience, with mouth-watering Afro-Arabian fusion dishes. In the background marimba music tunes fill the air, providing a relaxed environment for diners.
The lodge itself is situated on the bank of the 2 574km river that flows through eastern Angola, along the eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe before making its way through Mozambique and flowing into the Indian Ocean.
The David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa is about 15km from the Livingstone Airport and 8km from the Victoria Falls.
The lodge’s heavy carved wooden doors lead into an open-plan reception area overlooking the majestic Zambezi River.
Most of the lodge’s 77 en-suite rooms overlook the river, so it is easy to watch the beautiful sunrise over the tranquil river from the balcony of my room before setting off to the Thorntree River Lodge for a walk with the lions.
We lie low to allow a herd of wild elephant walking a few metres away from us to disappear into the bush before embarking on the walk with the two nine-month-old cubs.
We get to touch the cubs, stroke them and take photos… but at all times are warned to be careful as they are wild animals.
It is a wonderful experience and a privilege.
After the experience with the lions, we have brunch at the Thorntree River Lodge – a relaxed mid-morning by the riverbank, taking in breathtaking views and the serenity of the unspoilt natural environment.
The afternoon is spent at the Mukoni market on Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) road. The name has fascinated me as it is quite similar to Tswana and I learn that Mosi-oa-Tunya, as locals called the Victoria Falls many centuries ago, is from the Lozi language, which has striking similarities to Tswana.
The craft market is a hive of activity as stall owners compete for tourists’ attention. But the key is to negotiate for a good price otherwise you’ll spend an arm and a leg on the smallest of things.
A quick trip to the Livingstone Museum transfers us back to the days when the town was the Zambian capital.
Established in 1930, the museum not only houses Dr David Livingstone’s diaries, letters and notebooks, but gives visitors a glimpse into Zambia’s diverse cultures, tribes and languages.
Once we’ve had dinner and drinks at the Ujiji bar, we set off for a night out in town, where a live band is performing beautiful African beats at a bar. Locals and tourists alike take to the dance floor. Roads are a hive of activity as partygoers move from one place to the next in pursuit of a fun-filled night.
The next day starts with an 8km drive to the Victoria Falls.
It is the dry season so there is not much of the smoke that thunders. It is magical, though – a captivating rainbow spray welcomes us and immediately cameras start to click.
A few metres down the river a number of tourists are rafting, while brave travellers bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge linking Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A guide gives a brief history, telling how the Tokaleya people were the first settlers and named the place Mosi-oa-Tunya – a different story from the one I had heard about the Lozi people naming the falls – before Livingstone named it after England’s Queen Victoria.
Back at the lodge we spend the afternoon at the spa, enjoying the treatments on offer.
I settle for the Traditional Zambian Ukuchina massage, a technique that uses touch therapy and hot wet towels to relieve muscle tension, fatigue and knots.
“We are done,” the masseuse says 60 minutes later as I’m floatingalong, drifting towards a peaceful sleep.
l Omphitlhetse Mooki was a guest of the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa and its sister lodge, the Thorntree River Lodge.
If You Go...
l LOCATION: Situated in the Southern Province of Zambia.
l BEST TIME TO GO: The weather is great all year round, but for spectacular views of the falls it’s best to go there from March to July, when water levels are high.
l GETTING THERE: Several airlines offer direct flights to the Livingstone Airport.
l CURRENCY: Kwacha, or KR, which is stronger than the rand.
l INOCULATIONS: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers aged over nine months. Travellers will not be allowed back into South Africa without the certificate, so get inoculated at least 10 days before you go on your trip. The certificate is valid for 10 years.
l Malaria: Extremely high infection rates occur throughout the year and are highest from November until June in all areas except the Zambezi Valley and Victoria Falls, where transmission is constant throughout the year.
l The David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa boasts 77 rooms, all en suite, and most overlook the mighty Zambezi River, allowing you to take in the breathtaking view from the privacy of your balcony, where you can also enjoy majestic sunsets and sunrises.
Five of the rooms are suites with three inter-leading rooms and these are ideal for families. Two of the rooms at the hotel accommodate the disabled to ensure comfort and easy access. The four-poster beds are draped with mosquito nets to ensure guests enjoy a peaceful sleep without being bothered by mosquitoes.
You can pump up your adrenalin levels by abseiling about 53m down the Bakota Gorge or take a 111m bungee jump from the main bridge linking Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the falls provide an amazing backdrop.
To get a bird’s-eye view of the Victoria Falls take a helicopter ride, which will also provide amazing views of the Zambezi River and the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
Other activities include white water rafting and canoeing, jet boating, Fishing safaris, quad biking and horse riding. - Saturday Star