Mosi Oa Tunya—The Smoke That Thunders

8 July 2018

[Above photo: A typical view of Paradise]

David Livingstone, the missionary, visionary, and intrepid explorer who led the fight to end the East African slave trade, was coasting down the mighty Zambezi River in 1855 when he saw clouds of mist arising from the land ahead. Soon he heard a great roar. And quickly, we assume, he put ashore on what is now Livingstone Island, whose downstream end hovers on the verge of the 95 meter free-fall. His quest for a trade route up the Zambezi from the Indian Ocean into the heart of Southern Africa was dashed, but he had stumbled (floated nearly over) upon one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, which he named Victoria Falls after that chilly queen.

As we approached the town of Livingstone on the Zambian side of the river, we, too, saw the smoke rising. Three nights there were enough to sample the majesty of its thunder. Walking repeatedly back and forth the 1.2 km along the Zimbabwe side (There is an additional 0.5 km on the Zambian side which we hope to see on our return trip.), we were showered with water and stunned by rainbow after double rainbow with nary a cloud in the sky.  Viewing the Falls recalled some of the more abstract Turner’s in the Tate Museum in London, lovely, misty scenes with only a mast or some rigging to anchor the painting.  I didn’t do the ultralite flight over the Falls, saving our pennies for flights up the Skeleton Coast and over the Okavango Delta, as well as a certain mistrust of cloth airplanes with lawn mower engines.  Fully experiencing the Okavango may be difficult, as all the lodges are very high-end, fly-ins, which we won’t afford. Maybe we can hire a canoe to enter the delta and camp on an island. With a guide, of course! But we did have some good beer for once in a long time and ate local fare—crocodile rigatoni for me and warthog schnitzel for Linda. Croc was OK, just nothing special, certainly not repulsive.  Kind of like…   It feels relatively virtuous eating something phylogenetically inferior—or at least an older species. Certainly, crocs are not endangered and have no compunctions about eating us. So there! The warthog was superb—tender, tasty, not gamy, yum!  Ugly yet cute little vegetarians.

We bade farewell to Sarah and Chris who were off to visit a friend in Harare before returning to UK. They are both funny, kind, salt-of-the-earth people: flexible both in travel and friendship. We’ll miss their company. Now, however, we are spread out in the car and no one is cramped.

Which was a good thing, as the drive from Victoria Falls to Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi Region (formerly  called the Caprivi Strip after the German Chancellor, Count Georg Leo Von Caprivi, who never set foot in Namibia) was a bear. Two border crossings—each one requiring the country you are in allowing you to leave and the country you are entering allowing you to do so—from Zimbabwe to Zambia and from Zambia to Namibia took at least 2 ½ hours. Then 100km of the road was so bad that I believed we had somehow missed a turn and were on the “old road”. [The GPS, which I am just learning to use, showed us about 10km north of the M-10, running parallel to it. I think the map is poor and I need to load a new, improved one.]  The potholes were the size and half the depth of a bathtub and the edges of the tarmac, when there was tarmac, were jagged and dropping off to a shoulder a foot or more below.  There were many huge bulk freight trucks trying not to tip over as they crept through the obstacles. As we passed one small cluster of huts a man on a bicycle carrying a box of something on the back dashed out, passed us, and stayed ahead for a long time.  Linda was a trooper driving and was weary by day’s end.

Katima Mulilo had gasoline (Complete filling station outages are not uncommon, which is troubling since filling stations are uncommon outside of towns here. ), several supermarkets, and functional ATM’s. We found a Portuguese restaurant and had pizza, a large salad, and beer before bedding down on the banks of the Zambezi on the Protea Zambezi River Lodge campground. Pretty funny. Protea Hotels are the high-end in southern Africa, like Ritz-Carlton or, perhaps, Sheraton. But this one had lovely camping spots on the river, with an “ablution block” the envy of any. Ablution blocks, as you might guess, are where you wash your dishes, brush your teeth, shave, shower, and so forth. Linda spotted some immense, fresh hippo prints going down the bank 10 feet from our tent, which gave us pause.

Alert! Our good friends Caroline and Peter have just arrived at Popas Falls where we are now staying after their driving marathon, covering in one day what we did in two. Well, we aren’t pushing it and they have reservations for every night for three months so they have to get to Etosha National Park quickly. They’ll erect their tent and we’ll sup together in the nice restaurant. They are here for two nights; we’ll leave in the morning and head our separate ways, although we know their schedule and perhaps we’ll connect again on this trip.

In Popas Falls we have been staying at Shimbetu, a lovely lodge on the Okavango River about 20 km before it widens into the massive Delta. We saw two Laughing Doves, three Speckled Mousebirds, and a White-Browed Robinchat at the birdfeeder in our little camping area as we made breakfast this morning. Laughing Doves are gorgeous birds, as are many of the starling family, although we think of the latter primarily as pests from the UK.

All the talk of beer may worry you, my friends and family and other readers, that I’ve turned into a lush. It’s hot during the day so beer is fluid replacement. We don’t eat a lot of carbs, so it helps there. The bubbles are good for… Oh, well, I still get a buzz from a single beer so I don’t think I’m developing tolerance, just as a gauge to the extent of my drinking.  Carlsberg, which has been the only beer in Malawi by law for >50 years, has been having trouble with their standard brew, Green (“Give A Guy A Green” and “Probably the Best Beer in the World”). A French company recently acquired it and with them a new brewmeister, I assume. Anyway, some of it is so funky that it is undrinkable. To have a craft draft is a treat.

We did a self-directed game drive in Mahanga Game Reserve today and had a great time spotting kudu, bush bucks, a huge bull elephant, the ubiquitous impalas (Now there is a successful breeder. We should introduce them to Eastern Europe where the birth rate is so low!), a lone, majestic sable antelope, a herd of zebra, and myriad wonderful birds such as a Lilac-Breasted Roller, a Little Bee Eater, an Amur Falcon, Spur-winged Geese, and two dozen immense Lappet-Faced Vultures at the site of a kill, with more watching on from two trees. Curiously, there was a Sacred Ibis standing demurely on the kill, eating nothing but, I assume, helping the vultures with their table manners.  We clearly don’t see as much as if a trained guide were with us, but it is fun and less expensive to do our own, now that we have the hang of it. Linda spots about 5x more than I do; I think it’s about pattern recognition, discerning what isn’t a tree or a bush or a leaf but is really an animal. Why I don’t do better may be a function of less acute eyesight, as well.

Today we drove only about 2 ½ hours to Rundu, up against the border (the middle of the Okavango River) with Angola. Since I was driving, Linda read the guidebook and chose a rustic camping-only spot. It is paradise. The owner and his wife are campers and pharmacists in Rundu, buying this property in 1985. It is many acres along the Okavango River and the campsites are on lawn with shade trees, all the amenities, right over the river, and a tranquility we haven’t matched to date. There is wilderness across the river. No other campers are currently here—it is quite a long drive over a deserted floodplain to get here. We’ll take a two hour sunset cruise on the river to see the birdlife in about an hour. Then we’ll grill the marinated chicken Linda bought in town and retire for the night to our tent on the edge of the river. Maybe we’ll stay a few nights.

Scott Pruitt’s resignation is excellent news. All DT’s reversals and lies about N. Korea are going to make it difficult for Mike Pompeo to negotiate anything with Mr. Kim. Hilarious NY Times headers note that Pompeo thinks the talks are “very constructive” and the North Koreans think the Americans are “acting like gangsters.”  And a trade war with China? I’m no economist but tariffs are generally a very poor way to stimulate an economy, I believe. He’d have us be a small-minded, xenophobic, isolated banana republic in which his friends get all the bananas. Hm. Sounds a bit like North Korea. DT’s impulsive mis-steps are going to pitch the US economy into the tank, I’d guess. Well, he never promised not to hurt the most vulnerable, as if his promises actually have any weight.

This feels a bit superficial, for which I apologize. We are moving pretty fast and I want to record the sights, sounds, and locations. But perhaps I should give equal time to the subjective experience. Probably more interesting to you.

PS On a 2 hour river cruise last night we saw: a 3 foot monitor lizard, two crocs up close, two immature African Fish Eagles, a Black Crake, two African Jacanas, and an entire covey (6) of Black-Crowned Night Heron in a bush. We then drifted, engine off, down the Okavango as the sun gradually set over the Angola bush. So peaceful, it’s difficult believe Angola was colonized and then at civil war for so long.

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