Sat, 26 Jul 2008 08:50:16 +0000

Kapiri to Livingstone Index Livingstone to Windhoek

No breakfast at Fawlty Towers, unfortunately, so I made do by finishing off the first of the packets of crackers that I dragged all the way from Tanzania. They do, however, have free coffee. I've barely exchanged a word with any of the other travellers here, so it was a stony silence at the breakfast table as I munched away. I seem to be back on the regular tourist trail though, lots of young backpackers fresh off the plane and ready to see the Falls - discussing nail polish and comparing backpacks. It all makes me feel a lot less intrepid than my companions on the TAZARA did.

After breakfast I checked out, stashed my bag, and walked off to find South End Travel, where I can book the Intercape bus to Windhoek. To my surprise, I was in luck again: there was a seat free. At 100 USD it's pretty expensive, but it's a very long overnight service. I expect something comfortable. They also found me a place to stay for tonight. I'm in the mood for some luxury, so I asked for something in the 30 to 40 USD range. They booked me into the Green Tree Lodge, and arranged for the guy to come pick me up. So that all worked out pretty neatly.

The guy who came to pick me up was an old Scottish (Aberdeen, specifically) bloke who told me he'd lived in Africa for 50 years. He'd only just started up the lodge, which isn't good news: I like to slip into an established routine at these kind of places. Seems a friendly enough bloke though. We drove in quite a complicated loop around the backstreets of Livingstone to get there, apparently because half of the roads are closed. It seems there are a lot of roadworks going on around Livingstone. Certainly the roads need it.

The place turns out to cost an even $50, not the $30-odd I was promised, but I'm desperate, not in a position to haggle, and anyway could do with somewhere properly nice for once. And I think this is worth the money: my own tiny "chalet", brand new and with a sparkling ensuite. It has a mosquito net, which the guy suggested I really didn't need, and flyspray, so I'm defended against mosquitoes. It even has welcome packs of tea, coffee and biscuits. There's a pool as well, which as usual I have no need for whatsoever.

I walked back into town to collect my backpack, a spring in my step at everything having gone so well. The hotel is a little way out, maybe a 15 minute walk. On the way I passed my neighbour from the bus journey. He flagged me down, said hello, and then handed me a Jehovah's Witness leaflet. Man, for all that people here seem friendly enough, it seems no-one just wants to chat. There's always something else.

I deposited my backpack, had a cup of tea, and read a bit of my book, but soon decided that if I was going to see the Falls, now was the time.

I walked into town and found a taxi. The first wanted 30,000 kwacha, 10 USD. A bit steep, but he swore that this was the going rate, and made no attempt to haggle. I wandered along and found one who was prepared to settle for 20,000, but he actually told me that if anyone asked, I should say I was paying 30,000. Must be some kind of drivers' union.

It was 10 USD to get into the Falls as well. But it's a well-laid out path with good facilities. Including raincoat rental: watching people returning along the path, it became clear that the adventure involved getting wet. They didn't seem completely soaked, however, so I decided that my t-shirt and tracksuit pants would dry themselves out quickly enough.

I wasn't expecting much, this being the dry season, but it quickly became obvious that the "Smoke that Thunders" was both smoking and thundering pretty merrily.

Turning the corner to reveal the gorge, I'd have to say that Victoria Falls is genuinely spectacular. I'm not on a tour of the big sights, and I'm generally pretty skeptical of them, but I'm impressed by this one. There are tiny people at the top left of this photo, if you can make them out.

The path is only short, leading to a dozen or so fenced-in lookout points. All of them face over very nice sheer drops, and there's also a great bridge strung out over a place where the narrow ridge has almost been worn away. Vertigo sufferers should probably avoid Victoria Falls.

And certainly there was lots of spray, depending on which way the wind blew. It looks incredibly as though it's raining upwards. From a distance, you can see the waves of spray blowing all the way up the cliff face. It had me wondering how much energy is involved in that drop, if you ran the water through a turbine. Probably barely enough to power Livingstone's airport, I decided. On another level, it generates fantastic rainbows.

The path goes in front of the falls for the spectacular view, and then another one runs back past the lip, so you can see the gently bubbling water as it trundles to its inevitable doom. A very nice place to sit and watch the world go by, and shelter from the sun for a bit (I've sunburnt myself a bit today). I saw a baboon or two on the way, and eventually found a group of them raiding a bin and being photographed by tourists. So maybe semi-wild would be the best description of these ones.

I spent an hour and a half at the falls, but once you've seen them, you've seen them. So I took a taxi back. I had to practically cross into Zimbabwe to find one too. I didn't feel like arguing over prices and just said 30,000. The guy actually asked for 40,000. Cheeky. Maybe I should have insisted on 20,000 after all. After I'd pleaded poverty earlier, the taxi driver had suggested taking a combination of two minibuses back to Livingstone. Seemed too much effort to me though.

I had lunch at the bakery, which apart from being a nice cheap place to get some food, has free wifi. Incredibly slow connection though, and I feel a bit vulnerable flashing my electronics in the large open space. It was certainly a nice flaky cornish pasty though.

The next bit of touristing was the museum, about which I didn't have especially high hopes. And the $5 entrance fee is a bit steep for what's inside. However they do have a reasonable collection of stone-age artefacts, and some interesting ethnographic bits and bobs. There was a big gallery of stuffed animals. I do like a proper old-school gallery of stuffed animals. There's an odd exhibit called "My Village / Their Town" which is two big rooms with elaborate walk-through dioramas of a traditional village and a new town. The captions seem worryingly Luddite and reactionary. For example:


The school is a common feature near "our village". Here children are taught to read and write, taught much about the world but very little about themselves, their language and their people. Children are taught that better life can only be beyond the village."

...which makes me wonder if the authors would perhaps have preferred life in the People's Republic of Kampuchea. But maybe I'm being too sensitive.

The final gallery showing the history of Zambia was pretty fascinating, if only because Zambia seems to have distilled the essential features of the history of every African country: tribal warfare, European colonisation through transparent divide-and-conquer tactics, independence, experimentation with socialism, dictatorship, rebellion and grudging transition into sorta-kinda multi-party democracy. Zambia's democracy only seems to have ever brought one party to power, albeit several presidents. I probably shouldn't speak ill of Mwanawasa, currently recovering from a stroke in a Parisian hospital. But I noticed on the bus, my neighbour's newspaper was chock full of giant adverts from prominent corporations, placing their brands next to good wishes for the president's health. Not quite sinister, but it still feels a bit too cozy for my taste.

One thing I did learn at the museum was the geopolitical background of the TAZARA. With Ian Smith declaring independence in Rhodesia and civil war in Angola and Mozambique, Zambia was completely hemmed in. They needed the railway just to get fuel. So I can forgive them for not giving more thought to the convenience of backpackers.

I considered that a fairly good day's effort, so I wandered back to the lodge. It really is quite nice to hang out here, typing at the little table overlooking the swimming pool. There's an odd little flock of four tame geese, which scurry around investigating this and that. There are also a variety of animal noises coming from the surrounding bushland, some of which sound like they could be troops of monkeys. A nice atmosphere.

I returned to the bakery for a small dinner and to post more blog entries. The walk back was interesting: even less light than the previous night, and I tripped over rubble piles from the roadworks a couple of times. But there was an even better view of the stars from out in the darkness. I frequently stopped to crane around and trace out the milky way. Good stuff.

Kapiri to Livingstone Index Livingstone to Windhoek