AFRICA reprise- Botswana/Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) – 2nd Oct 2018 – Day 19

Its been a long day as it mostly is on ‘holiday’. Up at 6, breakfast at 6.30, then out on the terrible thick sand tracks through the low scrub and occasional stately tree copses on slightly higher ground. Savuti is mostly flat especially a large area named the Marshes, now bone dry grassland. Contrast is provided by a few isolated short 80m high hills and the Savuti Channel, an 8m deep 200m wide dry grassed channel which carries the occasional flood to the marshes. This area reminds me of a farm in the Rhodesian midlands Dad took me too a few times, owned by old Gilfillin, ex army friends I think. He had grandsons who would hunt through similar ground. I accompanied one when he shot an impala.

We had time today for a last search for the elusive leopard – but no luck. The elephant carcase has been abandoned by the lions as its very off. The dogs and vultures were feasting though. The hippo has moved from the muddy shallow pool to one that is filled by a pump. A flock of guinea fowl and a kori bustard were searching for seeds on the far side, watched by a lilac-breasted roller. We drove past leopard hill down to the swamp, but it was quiet compared to yesterday. The elephants at a waterhole topped up by a bore kept us entertained, especially the baby which was continually guided by the mother using her trunk. As they moved away, one made a brief threatening stand. We found two of the local lions sleeping (as usual) in the shade of a bush. We spied a large herd of sable antelope, not a common sight, walking in line steadily toward the waterhole we were at yesterday for tea break, led by a large bull. As they neared the lions, they sped up, leaping 200m past, not even stopping at the water. At this the lions heads poked from each side of the bush – but they went back to sleeping. A small herd of rare Roan antelope walked toward the waterhole, joining a few kudu. We left them there, driving past the large baobab at the foot of leopard rock, and then headed back for an early lunch before sadly leaving for our 40min flight to Kasane.

Hunting has not been possible in Botswana since about 2008, and it has paid off. Tourists flock for the amount of game despite the terrible roads and the cost of the camps. All food at the camp is transported 190km by road taking 8 hrs. The logistics are enormous. Jess our lovely Ba Tswana manager places the weekly order on Sunday for delivery Thursday. The cook (chef) has to plan that far ahead. The camp is extremely well run, the staff attentive, friendly – and mostly Christian. Jess is a 1 yr old 7th Day, and talked freely of her faith.

We flew from Savuti in a 14 seater to Kasane near the Botswana/Zambia/Zimbabwe border where a guy met us to drive through to Victoria Falls village.

The Mababe Depression landform was very clear from the plane; a straight north-south fault line separating the dry uplifted eastern area blocking the water from the north-west to create the delta and the Linyanti river. A small stream escapes in a low point flowing in the wet season into the Savuti Channel and marsh.

On arrival I searched  everywhere for my dark glasses on the plane, and later found them on my head under the hat! Customs was fairly easy for us but not the many trucks that may take three days to get through. It was well worth paying for the guide. The Botswana airport and customs are in good shape unlike the Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) side where one stands outside a small window. The Botswana building reminded me of Beit Bridge on the Limpopo Rhodesia/S. Africa border where one entered a passage along one side of several office windows on leaving, while the same occurred the other side for people entering. And that reminded me of that stifling hot night we spent in the hotel, attempting to sleep under damp towels, Karen in a carry cot in Jan 1966.

On leaving Rhodesia for a new job in S Africa, I sold my 1952 red MG for 85 pounds, and rode the 1954 Triumph 500cc motorcycle to the border under a very hot sun, while Hilary and Karen rode the railway bus. On arrival I was told it would take days to process the m/c to exit, time I didn’t have, so I sold it to the customs guy. I often wonder if that was a scam. We had to spend the night in the local hotel in the hot humid conditions – air conditioning was unknown. A most uncomfortable night under wet towels. Karen didn’t seem to find it a problem fortunately.

We arrived in Victoria Falls about 3pm, settled, and set off to see the falls, so David said, from the Viewpoint cafe. We didn’t manage it as a guard warned us that elephants were in the area, and a person was badly injured recently. The town is small but hilly, not too dirty, with many stalls and buildings in a haphazard way. So we returned to see the gorgeous stately Victoria Falls Hotel.

It was built by the British in 1904 as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway but today it is a famous luxury brand . Serene lily ponds, arched loggias and broad verandas – offering magnificent vistas – are custom-built for a spot of high tea or a relaxed gin and tonic. Some rooms offer stunning views of the gorges and bridge below. It was built and operated by the railways administration, but in the early 1970s it was leased to the then Southern Sun hotel group, forerunner of today’s African Sun Limited. A significant development in the late 1990s was the involvement in the hotel of another leading Zimbabwean hospitality operation, Meikles Africa Hotels. Today the property itself still belongs to the National Railways of Zimbabwe and there is a shared 50/50 partnership operation between African Sun and Meikles Africa.

Cecil Rhodes had tasked his friend and colleague Sir Charles Metcalfe with overseeing the development of the railway system and Metcalfe took heed of Rhodes’ dreams of the railway line stretching “from Cape to Cairo,” hence he started plans for the first bridge across the mighty Zambezi. Rhodes was insistent that the bridge should be built in a place that the spray from the falls would fall on the passing trains, which is why the site was chosen just a little below the Boiling Pot, at almost right angles and in very close proximity to the falls.

Its a long two story building enclosing a formal courtyard; two wings reach out curving toward the Zambezi like arms reaching out at an angle to protect those on the lawn under two enormous trees looking at the bridge in the distance. I want to have dinner here one night. On the terrace, not in the two formal dining areas where the prices are high and the dress code beyond my gear. The place has many rooms and all are FULL! Walking around its clear who fits here. The view of the bridge and gorge from the broad terrace is excellent.  

Dinner was a very large hamburger at ‘The Three Monkeys’ cafe next to the railway where a very old steamer runs the track to the bridge and back for dinner; it has to take a breather several times from the bridge back to town, affording the opportunity to shoot in the dark!

The N1 hotel is basic; bare rooms over shops and a small reception. But it has a kettle and tea. We discovered we were only booked for 3 nights instead of 4 and cancellations are unlikely but they say a place will be found.

23.40 bed time.

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