Swimming with dolphins is old hat now. Nothing too dangerous about it. But what about being in a small boat surrounded by crocodiles and hippos? Knowing one small upset will result in you communing in their natural environment?
We decided to have a couple of nights on the Zambezi River near to the Lower Zambezi National Park. Rather than do the usual game drive sort of thing I persuaded the rest of the family to try something a little unusual. I don't think they realised what it entailed. I must admit I might have skimmed over the dangers a little. Or maybe a lot. Especially with two teenage girls who are frightened of moths and flies. Fortunately they are good strong swimmers otherwise I wouldn't have even considered it. Sometimes you need to be taken outside your comfort zone to appreciate life a little more.
We set off from Lusaka along the main road that travels south to the border with Zimbabwe. At one point there are a series of bends renown amongst the truck drivers. They have named each bend for easy reference to each other. In a car they aren't really much of anything at all, but in a beat up overloaded African truck, they can be quite different. It didn't take long to notice a few who have had brake problems –
Near to the border post we turned off along the dirt roads, eventually getting smaller as we approached where we were staying. The last section only lasted a couple of kilometres and wasn't difficult at all. You just had to be a bit careful and it was scenic driving past the local homesteads –
The usual termite mounds were in attendance –
Smaller, it got –
Along the roads you often find kids selling mushrooms. I never saw them selling this type but they might have been doing. If you know what they are then speak up –
The lodge is situated on the river near to the junction of the Zambezi and the Kafue rivers. We'll have a look round later but for now I had a walk down to the river to see what the boats were like we'd be in 'on the morrow'. I say boats, but really they are canoes –
Nearby was a moth thingy. I was told its name but as usual, I've forgotten. It wasn't called a Big Spot Moth I'm sure –
The next morning we sorted ourselves out, I fortified myself with some coffee and toast and jumped into the small boat that would tow the canoes to our start point. The idea is to start upstream and float/paddle back down towards the lodge. If you didn't make it all the way back, no problem, the boat would pick you up and do the reverse –
A guide was with us in his own canoe and we split up our provisions, in cool boxes, between us. Provisions consisted of sandwiches each, crisps, chocolate, biscuits and cola zero. We had a bit of water as well just to show some responsibility. And an apple. Even though this was to be the highlight of the short break I was a little reluctant to take too many photos. Partially so I didn't spend all my time looking at everything through a lens, but partially so I didn't drop the bloody thing over the side, nor get it wet.
I've done this type of canoeing enough to be comfortable with it. It may not be technically too correct but for a layman like me I split the two types into Canadian type canoeing and kayaking. I've been fortunate to do enough kayaking to be proficient and not overwhelmed, especially in some African rivers and a spell of a few days in New Zealand, the other type, this type, I have done less but enough to keep my hand (paddle?) in. Mrs M and the daughters have never. So I took the daughter who seemed the most scared and after a small familiarisation for Mrs M in some placid water (bless 'er, she adapts to most things), we set off. Hang on a sec, before we did set off the guide gave us a safety talk.
It consisted of saying not to get between a hippo and deep water, which is usually where they want to go. If you do fall in, hold onto the canoe and the rest of us will save you. If you fall in near to, or are tipped in by, a hippo, swim away from the canoe as the hippo will go for the largest object. This being the green canoe. It wasn't until later I realised no mention was made of the crocodiles and what to do with them. Yikes. We set off in line astern. This lasted for all of twenty metres until the wind kept catching the canoes and trying to swing them away. Sometimes some hard paddling was necessary to keep more or less straight. I also have been 'blessed' to have a wife and daughters who don't seem to know left from right. If I say to paddle forwards on the left there is either a long hesitation while they work it out or an immediate reaction but on the right/wrong side. No wonder I now have a strained muscle in my shoulder trying to compensate. There was a fair old current as well –
A pod of hippos were close by after not too long at all –
Then the crocs on the banks. There were probably some in the water as well nearby but they remained elusive –
Another group/pod/whatever you call them, of hippos ten to twenty metres away –
We ended up seeing more hippos than you could shake a stick at. At one point we had to backpaddle 'with alacrity' because one had popped up just in front of my canoe. Daughter let out a scream as she was quite a lot closer to it than I was.
That was about what it was like all the time on the river. Periods of drifting down, periods of battling a head and side wind, periods of hoping the flaming hippos would let us sneak past without reacting, periods of peace and calm shattered by the loud 'huff' of a rising hippo nearby. The crocodiles never seemed to come to the party and probably hung around in the kitchen out of the way, drinking all the beer and gossiping. Actually I bet the hippos scared most of them off.
A wander through the grounds to the campsite and their pool. Funnily enough, if you are camping, you are not allowed to use the lodge restaurant or bar. Probably to keep the riff-raff away –
Another type are these chalet type rooms –
The campsite bar is quite reasonable in itself and also has a good view of the river –
Further there are tracks and steps all over the place –
Our place was a little self-contained house in the grounds with aircon and room for eight to sleep. Unfortunately, even though there were two bedrooms, there were also bunk beds in the living room/kitchen/diner. These did double duty as sofas anyway so nothing was really lost. It'd be good for a large family –
There are hippos that wander through the grounds at night but these things, known in a translation from the local language to English as 'water lizards' (what a surprise) were out during the day and would normally make a break down the bank for the river as soon as you got too close –
That'll do for now and for a little while as I've no plans to do much at all until the daughters fly home and possibly Mrs M goes away on a business trip.
You have really outdone yourself this time, Mark, but using your family as croc bait may have been a bit extreme. However, since everybody survived, I guess it's okay and the pictures are really outstanding once again. The opening scene of the truck cadavers is an eye opener, but the first white truck must have been a very recent accident because I am surprised that it is not already stripped to skeletal remains. We know how African can recycle absolutely everything.
I stayed in a luxury tent like you show in the Massai Mara reserve in Kenya, but that one is better protected. When I stayed in such a place with my parents, there was just a tin roof over the canvas tent part and baboons would amuse themselves by suddenly jumping on the roof in the middle of the night with a racket to raise the dead. Did not make for a very calm night!
Those water lizards are very impressive. They look almost as big as the komodo dragons of Indonesia. I would not try to pet one. even though their claws are not quite as scary as the komodos.
Mossie, no Guinness, no sorry. But you "know it's good for you". Thinking about it, you can get it in a certain pub in Lusaka but that's about it. There are local bottled beers - or more accurately, lagers, and there is a locally fermented illegal gut rot, but I'm sure we'd find you something to prop the bar up with.
amboseli, try it one day. But keep your balance. Take bjd with you. Bixa and Mossie can stay in the speed boat.
k2, no doubt if I go back down that road again the white truck with just be a pile of old metal. There were a few baboons in and around the camp but the staff seem to keep them well away from the visitors. For good reason usually, the thieving little shits (the baboons, not the staff).
bixa, you and mossie would probably not be the only ones at the bar. There were several families there at the same time as us. We noticed maybe one member would go off and 'do stuff' whilst the rest ate, swam, hung around in the bar relaxing etc.
I doubt I'll be doing anything quite as adventurous for some time, the thing we would like to do are some walking safaris, but they need a bit of organising and time to do them. In saying that though, Mrs M and I may well go back to the Zambezi and do a canoe trip for a couple of days or more rather than just for a day. Overnighting on the banks in tents and with meals cooked etc.
Well, I do know how to paddle a canoe -- did so for the last time 2 years ago in Canada. The only problem is the relative lack of strength in my arms, so whoever was behind me had to switch sides from time to time so that we could continue in a straight line.
The lodge looks nice. I stayed in a less fancy one in Masai Mara but it was something I really liked. No big lizards around though.
Mark - What a wonderful adventure! I'm with Bixa and Mossie....no way Jose` would you get me in one of those canoes! I think you got away with loads of luck on your side. Hippos as we all know are not to be trifled with. One could have come up under a canoe and once you are in the water it would snap you in half. Crocs are far more pleasant to come across in the water. On land -NO! Well, it all turned out great for you, with lots the girls can tell the friends back at school.
I think the photos of the camp/lodge show well kept grounds. Maybe not in the style of an English motorhome/camp ground, but no litter, grass not overgrown, and buildings in a fair shape. I can see some thatching to be done in the future but that shouldn't be a problem.
I was shocked at the debris of vehicles on the roadside! Too much power under the bonnet, too little skill in handling it, and probably too much texting while driving. That scrap would be dismantled and taken to the scrap yard here - lots of value there.
The magnificent Monitor Lizard - Other names for it are Liguaan which comes from the French l'iguane: the Iguana, through Dutch and Afrikaans the name is Likkewaan, pronounced Lik-a-Varn. As far as I know they are protected but still being caught by Witch doctors for medicinal ingredients.