October 16, 2008 – Thursday – Johannesburg, South Africa to Livingston, Zambia
I am up at 6am this morning, since I really didn’t sleep much last night. I sort out the repacking of my bags once again. Breakfast is included in the room tariff at the Mondior hotel, and is sumptuous in their Oriana Restaurant. South Africans sure know to eat!
When I check out this morning, I ask about storing my big bag at the hotel until my return on October 25th, but they refuse since I’m not staying with them when I return to Johannesburg. So that was bad advice from Wilderness Safaris, however the front desk manager verifies that I can store my bag at the airport.
Johannesburg airport is being expanded, so it is chaotic and very noisy. They are gearing up for the FIFA 2010 International Soccer match. I find the baggage storage office and leave my big bag there – praying that it will still be there when I return on the 25th, and that my notebook computer will still be inside.
There is some high drama at the gate next to where I board my flight. A young couple show up extremely late for their flight to Mauritius and they are told the gate is closed, so they are refused entry. Lots of yelling and crying ensues, however the gate staff prevail, and eventually they shut everything down and walk away. I do love people watching!
I’m really early for my flight on Zambian Airways to Livingston, but that’s me: leave lots of time. It was a good thing, since despite this morning’s confusion with the bag storage; I still had time to deal with it.
I just experienced my first oh shit moment. I realize that I left my expensive Canon binoculars tucked into an outside pocket on the bag I checked at the airline counter. It will be a minor miracle if it appears at the other end…sigh!
Zambian Airways departs about five minutes late without incident. I say a small prayer for my binoculars as we take off. The aircraft is a Boeing 737-200, which appears to be in pretty good shape. The in-flight meal is a “beef” sandwich, which turns out to be pork deli meat.
This is certainly an International flight: there are two large groups aboard (Czechs and Israelis). There is thick air pollution obscuring the view outside for most of the flight, however I manage to pick out the lake behind the Shashe Dam in Botswana near our midway point. I take some good photos of the Zambezi River above Victoria Falls on our final approach to Livingston Airport.
After we arrive at Livingston Airport, I retrieve my bag, and to my immense relief my binoculars are still tucked into the pocket I left them in, no worse for wear! I pay the outrageous US$50 Zambian Visa single entry fee and meet Victor, our Botswana guide in the waiting area. There is a female guard with an AK47 rifle in the Zambia National Commercial Bank office in the airport!
We wait for the the second safari participant Ernst (from Austria), who arrives on the next flight a half hour after me. Apparently he paid no Zambian entry fee since he is a European. It seems the Zambians charge U.S. citizens even more than I paid for the fee – so the fee charged depends what country you are from! Jacob is our driver and guide while we are in Zambia, since Victor is not a certified Zambian guide, so he is just along for the ride until we cross into Botswana.
Jacob drives us to Victoria Falls where we go on a walking tour in the midday heat (about 38°C in the shade). Since this is the dry season, the water on the Zambian side of the falls is almost completely dried up, however the Zimbabwe side (in the distance) has lots of water.
As we walk the trail along the top of the gorge, we get good views of both sides of the falls . We encounter a troop of baboons along the way which I am wary of, however Jacob assures me they are not aggressive as we pass by. I get Jacob to take a photo and video of me standing against the rail with Victoria Falls in the background – two I was there moments.
I find it a bit surreal as I walk along the gorge. It’s as though I’m not really here…I can’t explain the feeling further.
Ernst and I each buy a 100 billion dollar Zimbabwe bank note from some young men hanging around the border crossing at the Victoria Falls bridge. Cost is US$5. The Zimbabwe government can’t afford to print the bills (which are virtually worthless anyway), so they use recycled paper from cheques. The bills have an expiry date of only a few months after their issue date!
We drive westward for about an hour on a good paved road. Along the way I see a roadside stand selling fish from a nearby stream, and we pass many Zambian villages along the way. Most people still live in round grass huts and keep their domestic animals near them in pens made from grass and sticks. After we pass Mwandi, we turn off on a sandy track that leads to Shackletons Lodge, located on the Zambezi River.
My cottage overlooks a beautiful river vista. Ernst and I are the only guests, so we are treated royally. The lodge has two Jack Russell Terriers, so I feel right at home. Shackeltons is one of those places you file away, promising yourself you will return to one day.