I'll pick it up from where I last left off. We left the backpackers and went on to several other 'nicer' lodges, including the irresistible Sussi & Chuma, where the food, sundowner deck and guides impressed. The highlight here was a tour of the local township, where the lodge we were staying with had funded the shipment of 700 bicycles and then trained up 5 local ladies to run the shop. It's a success story as the ladies turned the shipment container into the actual bike shop and sold all of the bicycles at such a profit that they were able to pay for the entire next shipment of bikes as well as establishing a second shop in a different part of the country. Or so Zambian bike-shop propaganda led me to believe. We did the rest of the village tour on one of the bikes we rented from the shop so I was happy enough with the story. Another highlight was the canoeing trip, during which Hadley saw a cape clawless otter and I didn't.
Above: Hadley's heart melted a bit for this little pup that we met in a local village just outside Livingstone
After Tongabezi we had a night to relax from all the luxury hotel-lodge pampering and stayed at another backpackers to catch up on some of the reviews we're here to write before watching some olympics, drinking the rest of the rum bottle to shed weight before the next flight, and getting bitten to shreds by mosquitoes while drunk. If I don't get cerebral malaria this trip, then I don't know if I ever will. We chatted to some locals and it seems that the upcoming elections will be interesting as the country is perfectly split between the two main parties. I'm no expert on African politics but I'm quite sure that these kind of elections don't always end perfectly in economically-unstable countries.
Our final two nights in Livingstone were spent at the Royal Livingstone, to which we were brought by hi-speed water taxi. It has a direct view and direct walking access to Victoria Falls and is different in that it's still very high-end but more of a commercial hotel for your average adult tourist.
Above:Bateleur eagles look very different as juveniles. The adult is a very colorful snake eagle. This youngster was very inquisitive and happy to pose for us.
Our room was less than a 3 minute walk from the lodge but more importantly the trip only takes 30 seconds by segway! We watched a bit more olympics before heading to a private dinner beneath the monkey tree. This was an apt description of the tree, which is locally called a monkey tree but maybe not of the dinner as I spent most of the evening getting shat on by some fruit bats (couldn't get a positive species ID) as they ate the monkey fruit in the canopy above. The Royal Livingstone treated us well and we had the opportunity to go on a short helicopter flip above the falls to really appreciate how vast they are in size. In the afternoon we had to dress up semi-formal (which is difficult, when all you own are khaki shorts) and boarded the Royal Livingstone Express that took us on a slow bumble close to the falls before a 5 course taster-menu dinner.
Positives about the train trip:
-the views and scenery from the vintage luxury of the train
-the unlimited alcohol that kept reappearing in my glass
-stopping on the bridge in no-man's land between Zambia and Zimbabwe to look at Vic Falls (yet again, you might say)
-there was a random man employed by the train or the hotel or something, who gave a detailed background and history about the area and the railway, which Cecil John Rhodes built through Africa. It was an interesting talk but the man talked a lot of pro-Rhodes-propaganda, sort of leaving out the whole concentration camp, white-supremacist thing. (He had a moustache.)
-We got off on the bridge and looked down, where some of our friends and family have bungee-jumped in the past. I wasn't afraid of heights before but I am now.
On our last morning we went to Livingstone Island before stripping into swimming gear and walking over some rocks, swimming through a crocodile-infested channel, scrambling over more rocks and plunging into a pool that is directly on the edge of the top of the falls and allows you to look down the falls. Now, you might think that bringing my glasses on such an errand is folly but here is my reasoning for bringing them:
-I wanted to enjoy the view of the falls
-I wanted to make sure I could see where I was placing my feet in the rocky, crocodile and hippo-infested waters.
-I wanted to be able to see where I was swimming in the fast currented-Devil's pool so as not to flow to my death.
Above: One of our favorite things we did while in Livingstone. Swimming in Devil's Pool was an absolute blast. Even losing Jomi's glasses and all.
Anyway, here's how it happened. I lost my only pair of glasses in one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In them. We were on our way out of the pool and I turned to have a last look down into the chasm when without a hint of warning they decided to bail off my head and within one second had disappeared over the edge of the waterfall. I haven't exaggerated this story, that's exactly what happened. Luckily I didn't react stupidly and try to find them or flail my arms after them or anything, I instantly knew they were gone and admitted defeat without a hint of an adult tantrum knowing that my only way of seeing properly just disappeared. I luckily have my sunglasses, which are prescription but that makes me look pretty stupid when not out in the sun. At least there's a good bit of that around here. It's a story to share at the end of the day.
We checked out of the Royal Livingstone and made our way to the airport before taking two short plane rides to get to Mfuwe International Airport, which is no bigger than my gran's apartment. Considering that we were flying on national election day the airport was reasonably quiet and within two hours we managed to get to Mfuwe, a journey that by car would have taken us at least two full days of driving. The lodge manager was also on our flight and we chatted to her a bit on the drive to the lodge. We saw some elephants on the way to the lodge and I asked Ephraim, whether we were in the national park yet or not, to which he replied no.
One of the most bizarre things I need to get used to here is that the national park is unfenced and the animals (especially the elephants) roam freely through the adjacent areas. We arrived at the lodge and even in the dark the view was incredible. Kafunta is on the boundary of South Luangwa National Park and looks into the park, at the edge of a massive open flood plain by the Luangwa river. Hippos roam these plains, grazing at night and even a hyena stopped by the waterhole that evening to greet us. We met some more of the staff and everyone seems genuinely nice and happy we're here, whether it's just for a few months this season or next season too. (Safari lodges operates seasonally here and the season finishes once the rains seriously start as most of the prime game viewing areas become un-driveable and the river un-crossable.)
Above: The view from the breakfast deck! This is where we are lucky enough to eat breakfast every morning, often in the company of giraffe and elephants
We've been here almost a week so I'll just summarise some of the highlights so far.
Day 1: Driving into the national park for the first time and realising how large and beautiful it is. Seeing Grey-crowned cranes in front of the lodge and white-browed coucal in the park. Driving a land cruiser onto a pontoon to cross the Luangwa river looked incredibly dodgy and was awesome to experience. Kafunta guide Andrew was highly entertaining and more importantly, factually excellent, when it came to bush knowledge.
Day 2 - 6: Learning day to day operations at Kafunta River Lodge (the main lodge). It's been challenging and a lot to get our heads around but we're finally getting there. Highlight yesterday evening and overall highlight of Luangwa so far came in the form of a Pel's fishing owl that landed on the deck of the restaurant before flying to the edge of the waterhole, where it sat in plain view for two whole hours.
Above: South Luangwa is renowned for leopard viewing. This was the first leopard we saw in the area, which was a great sighting but she was a bit annoyed when a second vehicle joined the sighting and got a bit too close to her kill in the tree.
Above: We watched as a herd of about 200 buffalo came down to the Luangwa River to drink. A herd of eles started making their way down to the river and the buffalo immediately booked it out of their way.
Above: The Carmine Bee-eaters have arrived! They come to the banks of the Luangwa River to nest in Summer and arrived in flocks three days ago.
Above: This lioness watched warily from the grass as we approached her
Hearing what the guides see on drive on a day to day basis is making me crave the bush. Sightings here are ridiculous: yesterday and today the guys found an elephant carcass with three lions feeding on it and 2 different leopard coming from their vantage points in nearby trees to scavenge the odd sliver of meat. Every guest seems to see lion and leopard here and many see wild dog...WHATTHEF***
Above: Yellow billed oxpeckers everywhere! We counted 41 on the back of one old buffalo.
Anyway, things are going well and we've settled into a new room now. Will update again soon with more pictures. If you've read this far, well done, because you must really care about us.
Above: This is the herd of 200 buffalo that gave way to the small herd of 20 elephants. Pecking order is real.