A bit of personal stuff that I can’t delete but it’s a newsletter so Beth and Jon won’t mind. Great shots of Kafue NP. Hugh Paxton’s Blog just loves the hippo!
Archive for the ‘Zambia’ Category
“This isn’t a car document,” the customs official says, his forehead creased in suspicion.
All around is the chaos characteristic of a Mugabe-era Zimbabwe border crossing. Milling herds of hot, frustrated travelers, wailing babies, huge trucks destined for the Congo grinding gears and fuming, dodgy-looking foreign-exchange dealers ducking and weaving in and out with fistfuls of useless Zimbabwe dollars, papers strewn like confetti on the ground along with mashed banana peels . . . bedlam, purgatory, as the rusty cogs of a rotting bureaucracy slowly turn.
|A manually operated pontoon that functions as a tributary ferry|
“This is a license to import light aircraft,” the official continues.
“It most certainly is,” I explain, as gawkers gather, hoping to witness a fight (increasingly likely) or an arrest (also increasingly likely). More people arrive to watch. Anything to relieve the frustration and boredom.
“The border post at Plumtree issued it to us,” I add. “It was the only type of document they had left.”
A mere three hours of brain-numbing argument later, we have our license to import light aircraft revoked (shame really, it would have made a great souvenir and might have come in handy if we ever decided to import light aircraft). The onlookers disperse. No fights. No arrests. BORING!
Our passports are stamped. We are free to proceed.
Thus begins our canoe trip down the Lower Zambezi.
Helpful hint No. 1: Don’t enter Zambia from Zimbabwe. Fly to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, instead.
Until recently, the Lower Zambezi was very much an undiscovered tourist destination. Strictly speaking, it still is. But that doesn’t make canoeing across it particularly tricky.
Unless, of course, it is the rainy season, when the venture is tantamount to suicide. Legend has it the Tonga river-god, Nyaminyami, was infuriated by the construction of the Kariba Dam upstream in 1960, and to judge by the river in murderous, rainy-season flood, he still hasn’t calmed down.
|Unforgettable silhouettes and fiery sunsets along the Zambezi River|
I am pleased to inform you, that when I made the Zambezi’s aquaintance the river God’s mood had improved.
The Zambezi was no longer a raging torrent. It was back in placid mode.
The water is clean, sweet, drinkable and very often as smooth as a mirror.
Here’s how the canoe expedition works. There is a consortium of comfortable riverbank safari lodges spaced at canoeable intervals along the Zambian bank. If you are wisely flying in to Lusaka, the lodges will arrange airport pickup and transfer. It’s an interesting four-hour drive from Zambia’s colorful capital to the river, crossing a series of mountain passes abundantly littered with skeletal husks of crashed, abandoned or burned-out buses, cars and trucks.
Hugh Paxton’s Blog rates it the vehicular equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard. Here Zambia’s groggiest vehicles come to die.
If you are arriving overland from Zimbabwe, you must first cross the Zambezi on a geriatric car ferry, then cross a smaller tributary on a manually winched pontoon. The boatmen sing melodiously as they crank the handles. It is what South Africans describe as a “real Africa” experience.
No matter where you are coming from, you turn up at the first lodge after driving along the Lower Zambezi Highway (which is, in fact a rutted, mud track, totally impassable in the rains).
Then you spend as long as you need to recover from the ordeals of getting there. You sip gin-and-tonic sundowners and take in the fiery African sunsets, while hippos wallow and snort. You half-watch the river while flicking through bird books, or read an Agatha Christie novel and wonder who shot Colonel Protheroe in St. Mary’s Mead vicarage and why you care.
That sort of thing. Most relaxing.
When jet lag or border-crossing lag has faded, you hop into canoes (or, if you prefer, a motorboat) and off you go downstream. Canoeists are accompanied by a guide and, if they’re feeling lazy, a stout individual with a paddle. If they’re paranoid, the lodges can also lay on a guy with an AK-47.
The Zambezi is not the longest of Africa’s rivers – that distinction goes to the Nile – but it is one of the continent’s greatest water courses. It rises in the Angolan highlands and discharges 2,700 km later into the Indian Ocean on the flood-prone coast of Mozambique.
The Lower Zambezi’s banks are lined with occasional bursts of tamarind trees. These are the botanical footprints of Arab and black African slavers based in Zanzibar and other fortresses along the east coast. The slavers were fond of tamarinds and left seeds wherever they went.
An ugly trade but a beautiful legacy.
Vying with the tamarinds are dense forests of acacia, strangling figs, Natal mahogany and the occasional African ebony tree. There are also sausage trees named after their dangling, sausage-shaped, heavily armored seed pods, which can weigh up to 5 kg. Sitting under a sausage tree is not recommended.
WHEN IS A SAUSAGE TREE NOT CALLED A SAUSAGE TREE?
1. WHEN IT HAS JUST KILLED YOU.
The pods fall like mortar shells. Direct cranial hit. Lights out. You can’t call it anything because you are dead.
2. When It Is Called The Fat Tail Of A …
One African name for the sausage tree translates as “the fat tail of a sheep.”
Obviously this was decided in an era before sausages. And come to think of it, I didn’t see any sheep in Zambia. A bit of a conundrum.
3. The Father Of All Kit Bags
The Arabic name tranlates as “the father of all kit bags.” I’m not sure who came up with that one. Obviously he as an Arabian. But kit bags? Fathering kit bags? Hugh Paxton’s Blog is unable to see the reasoning behind this one.
The sausage tree is locally believed to be holy, and rather risky religious gatherings are held in its shade. The ripe fruit pulp, while inedible to anything except giraffes and hippopotamuses, is sometimes mixed with honey to make beer . . . but we digress.
The initial banks of the Lower Zambezi are a designated wildlife management zone. This serves as a buffer to the Lower Zambezi National Park, which is, in fact, Zambia’s most recently designated national park. Local people are allowed to collect firewood and graze goats in the wildlife management zone, and this takes human pressures off the national park itself.
Zambia is poor. Fifty percent or more of the population is unemployed, and there is a great deal of what our guide described as “loafing” going on in the villages with their beehive-shaped mud huts. But Zambian people, by and large, are extraordinarily friendly and the first stretch of buffer-zone travel is regularly punctuated by shouts and waves and wide, bright Zambian smiles.
Then the wildlife management buffer zone falls behind, and it is wlderness time.See Part Two (when I’ve got round to posting it)
Despite a large number of African countries opposing ivory sales Namibia has lent its support to Tanzania and Zambia who are proposing a ‘one off’ ivory sale.
Kenya, Mali and other African countries who fear that this sale will spur poaching and illegal trade are sending delegations to Europe to petition the EU to block the ‘one off’ sale.
The interesting thing about ‘one off’ sales is that there have already been three of them since a global ban on ivory sales was introduced in 1989 after a major killing spree in the 1980s.
Arguments in favour of a sale? Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania say that their “successful” conservation measures have led to an increase in elephant populations and that the ivory they plan to sell has been collected from dead eles and “problem animals” that have been shot after raiding crops.
Arguments against? Well, let’s hear from you. And then you’ll hear from me!
AFRICAN ELEPHANTS BY THE NUMBERS. THE ‘TOP TEN’.
South Africa… 17,847
Mozambique… 14, 079
There are elephants elsewhere but I don’t have stats.
If you are wondering where the above (rather precise) figures come from, check the IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report. (2007, so already out of date).