I’m definitely one of the millions who involuntarily had a U2 album synced to her iPhone back in 2014. Thanks to Apple’s generosity (read: slight cultural paternalism?), I have had this album on my phone as a last resort for music during those plane rides that catch me without a synced offline Spotify playlist. On the plane to Zambia last week, I found myself listening to The City of Blinding Lights. The opening line: “The more you see the less you know, unless you find out as you go” struck me as a fairly accurate description of my time on this continent thus far. Sorta fitting, since Bono has such an affinity for Africa himself.
Throughout each region I have the privilege of traveling to, my mind is on hyper-speed processing all the new sights, smells, traffic patterns (a struggle), customs, problems, questions, conversations, and stunning landscapes. Sure, I had heard of places like Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, and Botswana… but I had no idea how richly and uniquely diverse each would be. With each conversation with a colleague from Lesotho, or minute spent watching the national news, or day spent exploring a country I didn’t even know the capital of two weeks ago… the learning curve is practically vertical.
We all look at Western Europe as distinctly different countries: you don’t go to “Europe” for a vacation, you go to Italy for its carbs and coastline, or France for its famed wine regions, or Greek isles for their beaches. It is becoming increasingly common for the former monolith of “Africa” to be deconstructed into individual travel experiences: mokoro (dugout canoe) trips through the Okavango Delta of Botswana, tented safaris in Kenya, adventurist and cosmopolitan thrills in Cape Town, and hikes through the dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia. An increase in tourism throughout the continent (this podcast is totally worth a listen, on that very topic!) has resulted in the addition of many more direct flights from the Mother City to places like Walvis Bay, Namibia, where I’m headed this weekend, and Livingstone, Zambia, where I spent the past few days.
It had always been a bucket list item to see Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but it wasn’t until I started planning this trip a few weeks ago that I realized what a fascinating region (geographically and culturally) it sits in. You have the option to fly into and stay in either Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe or Livingstone, Zambia for this Falls-focused extravaganza. I opted for the Zambian side, simply because it was a) cheaper airfare b) less politically turbulent- Zim is a bit unsteady these days! I stayed in town at the Fawlty Towers hostel (don’t worry, the cheeky name of the hostel is not a reflection on the quality of the lodging- I loved it!) and made a list of must-sees for the few days that I had: swim in Angel’s Pool, go to Olga’s Italian restaurant/social enterprise, visit Maramba Market to buy chitenge, and enjoy high tea at The Royal Livingstone. Thanks to the central location of my hostel and the great weather during my stay, I was able to do all of the above and more.
One of my favorite experiences of the weekend was sort of stumbled upon. I hailed a cab from my hostel to the Maramba Market, a local market hidden back in a Livingstone neighborhood that I had heard about from a couple travel blogs. To be honest, I was slightly uneasy about going to this market by myself, as I had heard it’s not common for “muzungus” (the term of endearment for white people) to go there, and it’s not super easy to get a cab back into town. I asked my cab driver if he wouldn’t mind waiting 10-15 minutes for me to buy some chitenge (beautiful Zambian patterned fabric pictured above) and then drive me back. His eyes lit up, and he insisted on parking and showing me the best vendors in his hometown’s market.
This cab driver, James, and I, became friends instantly, as we spent over an hour walking around the market, chatting about our families, friends, hobbies, life goals, really everything… including our common former residency in Sweden! He had been attending high school up near the copper belt of Zambia, and took part in an exchange program with Swedish students, and spent a few years living in Gothenburg and Stockholm. Such a small world! He also facetiously asked me to marry him, so there’s that, haha. James ended up hanging out at the hostel bar that night with me and some of my new Irish med student friends, and he introduced us to a great local Zambian beer called Mosi. Unfortunately it’s not distributed in the states… womp. Seriously, one of the kindest and most hilarious people I have ever met! And I have all the beautiful chitenge we picked out at the market as mementos of our friendship 🙂
Another highlight of the trip was my boat ride out to Livingstone Island to swim in the Angel’s Pool on the edge of Victoria Falls! It was a really breathtaking experience, supported by the professional staff of Tongabezi tour company, booked through Fawlty Towers. I think the pictures pretty much speak for themselves on this one.
The boat arrived back from the Angel’s Pool excursion (which included a delicious lunch on Livingstone Island, where Dutch explorer David Livingstone landed centuries ago, just meters from certain death over the falls. There were a few other Americans and some Irish in my tour group so the conversation naturally devolved into political discourse (I’ve yet to have an uber driver in Africa who doesn’t ask me “do you actually KNOW people voting for Trump??”). Though I cringed at the topic at first, we actually had a very enlightening and reasonable conversation around the lunch table, which we sardonically dubbed “The Victoria Falls Summit.” Arguably a bit more productive than the political summit occurring in Cleveland simultaneously, but I digress 😉
My “holy crap you want me to move around these rapids, 10m from the thundering falls, holding on to this puny rope??” face.
360 degree views of rapids and sheer drops… “Don’t look down” simply isn’t an option!
After the Livingstone Island trip, I settled on the sun deck at The Royal Livingstone resort for some high tea. For USD $25, you get AYCE decadent food and aromatic teas… with the decent scenery of the Zambezi River with spray from the Falls in the distance 🙂 Black and white striped lawn ornaments included.
Highly recommend Olga’s Italian Corner for dinner (or lodging!) in Livingstone. It’s actually a social enterprise, so all of the profits from your meal go towards the educational programs Olga’s runs for Livingstone’s most vulnerable youth. Great pizza to boot!
Only in Zambia would a picture of the president survive above shelves full of glass bottles. Zambians are extremely political I learned- James was wearing a hat with his favored candidate all day. Funnily enough, the TV coverage here is breaking news of Hillary’s selection of Tim Kaine for VP… all the way in Africa.
On my way out of town yesterday, I was able to stop at the Falls one last time, at 7:30am. I don’t quite know how to describe the feeling of being virtually alone with a natural wonder of the world, unadulterated by shutter-happy tourists or crowded viewing platforms. I honestly stared for a good 20 minutes, absolutely in awe.
I was granted one last vantage point of the Falls on my flight back to Cape Town, too. The Kenya Airways pilot circled back around so both sides of the plane could see the majestic ravines, gorges and falls from the air. Oh, and the view on the descent back into Cape Town wasn’t half bad either.
Home again to the work week in sweet Cape Town.