[To read the first part of this travelogue, check out Travelogues: Under African Skies (Part 1)]
After our experience in South Luangwa, we flew a small plane south to the lower Zambezi river, where we landed on a dirt airstrip in some dry bush close to the river. From the air, the river was clearly the lifeblood of the region, since it was dry and dusty both to the north (Zambia) and south (Zimbabwe). Our guide from Chongwe River Camp picked us up and, after a short and bumpy ride, we were sipping cold white wine under a winterthorn tree beside the Chongwe River. The lodge enjoys a spectacular location at the spot where the Chongwe intersects the main Zambezi, and has an attractively open public area for relaxing and dining, along with luxury “tents” for guests, complete with king beds, flush toilets, and a gas-heated outdoor shower.
After arriving, we set out on a evening paddle by canoe, down the main Zambezi and then along a side channel, where we were treated to views of the escarpment rising up to the north, as well as appearances by crocs, hippos, buffalo, and lots of birds. By dark, our truck was waiting for us with snacks and cocktails to drive us back to the lodge. That evening, we dined alongside the lodge’s other guests — a smattering of Americans, Brits, and South Africans. The night was especially memorable — after being escorted back to our tent by a staff member (and giving a wide berth to a browsing elephant), we fell asleep to the loud grunts of hippos just yards away. Then, some time later, we were both awoken by a roar (which I dismissed at the time as another elephant). Come morning, we were informed that a large male lion had walked right past our tent and through the camp.
The next day’s game drive was a long one, enabling us to penetrate deep into Lower Zambezi National Park, and we saw many of the same animals we saw in South Luangwa, albeit in a different setting, which kept it unique and interesting. We had lunch at a relaxing green spot alongside a river channel called Hippo City, and we spent some quality time with three adolescent male lions on the way back. The highlight of the day (and a true highlight of the entire trip) came when, immediately upon our return to camp late that afternoon, we set off on a sundowner boat trip on the main Zambezi. There, in the perfect breeze and stillness of the wide river, we were treated to an entire family of elephants drinking and bathing just off a small island. As the sun set behind the family—from tiny babies to big mommas—I really couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. Our (too short) stay at Chongwe concluded with a dinner during which we were treated to a round of hilarious stories by a guest Italian chef being hosted by the lodge.
Our final stop was Livingstone — the center of tourism in Zambia. Along with the sheer spectacle of Victoria Falls, the area offers all the “adventure” sports one can expect in these types of destinations that seem to have sprung up around the world. Nevermind that most of them would never qualify as real adventure in my mind (jet boating? ATV-ing? bungee-jumping?). Still, despite the shock of experiencing mass tourism after being in the relative isolation of Lower Zambezi, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Livingstone. The preeminent adventure activity around Victoria Falls is certainly whitewater rafting the Zambezi below the falls. Below the falls, the river changes from being a wide, slow-moving thing to a raging torrent in the narrow Batoka Gorge. It’s probably the most fun class 5 ride you can have.
The falls themselves were virtually dry on the Zambian side by late September except for several sections, but plenty of water still rushed over on the Zimbabwean side, and most guides agreed that the dry season was best for rafting, if not for waterfall photography (though heavy spray in the wet season can also make life difficult for shutterbugs). Around the falls, we found some interesting local crafts and managed to walk away with some items we liked (hint: wait until the end of the day, then bargain hard). On our last evening, we lingered over drinks at the bar at our hotel, gazing over the wide river above the falls, realizing that we were finally into the African vibe, but already making plans to leave.
To be continued in Travelogues: Under African Skies (Part 3)