Flight of Angels

Unscheduled flight: Victoria Falls

This flight is not to be found in any timetable, but I have no hesitation to write about it. The so-called Flight of Angels takes you on an aerial sight-seeing trip of the Victoria Falls. After a casual check that everyone's seat belts are fastened, the six seater Piper takes off. Views of the Falls defy description in words, and I cannot even begin to try. Other things visible from the short flight include elephants, impala, a variety of bush and land, and a large amount of spray. The Falls are quite astounding, and I urge you to visit them if you possibly can. Make sure that you allow enough time to visit them by land as well as by air, and if you are able, go for a cruise on the Zambesi too. We chose a small boat which we used exclusively, rather than one of the larger and more commercial ships. You should do the same. Watch out for hippopotami, however.

We spent some time exploring the Falls, looking at the spray, listening to the music of the water and walking in the rain forest. One essential trip is the sundowner cruise on the Zambesi. There are two ways to do this: one is to buy tickets on a big boat with many people and much drink. The other is to hire a small boat for your party, which is affordable even if your party is only two plus a boatman. He will supply food and drink, a commentary and if necessary (as it was with us) a heavy right foot on the accelerator when the hippopotamus approaches. Presumably I leave you in no doubt which of the two strategies for sundowners I would recommend.

Too soon, it was time to take the train over the bridge into Zambia, a whole world apart. The train journey from Victoria Falls to Livingstone is short and crowded, and goes over the Falls by bridge. While it was doing this, we were unpacking our suitcases for the benefit of the customs officers. After a little while, we arrived at Livingstone Station. We declared our currency honestly, not wishing to deal on the black market there anyway. Of course, you may not have a choice. For example, what if, for example, you were to arrive over the border in Livingstone after the banks have closed, with only 4 kwacha which you spent at a left luggage office? We were desperate for a drink, but the only things available were a local drink called Quench or warm milk. After a while walking around dusty Livingstone, we got a taxi to a hotel outside town. The Hotel Mosi-wa-Tunya, Livingstone, is the only thing we saw in the area which approached Western-style civilisation.

Taxis in Zambia are altogether not to be recommended, but often they are the only means of transport available. When you get into one, the driver will drive to a petrol station and fill up with enough for the journey. This eccentric behaviour has two reasons. First, he knows he will receive enough money to pay for the petrol. Second, he will be using it before it has a chance to leak out through the cracks in the tank. This seems to be an almost universal problem with Zambian taxis. How the drivers know that they are being given the right money when it is handed over in a pitch-black car-park, I do not know. Probably they assume that the white man won't risk giving them short, just in case.

The journey from Livingstone to Lusaka by rail takes thirteen hours, starting at midnight, so were glad to have reserved a sleeper. Unfortunately, our reservation had been mislaid, but after a little while, they were able to find us one, for which we did not need to pay again. We were sharing the compartment with a Zambian lady with a beautiful child, who travelled internationally every week, bringing back some product not available in Zambia. I believe the correct term for this profession is "smuggler". Yet she wasn't drug-running, but cooking-oil and corned-beef running. The railway staff all knew her, and it must have been a great disappointment to all that we were not dealing in currency.

At lunchtime, we arrived in Lusaka, a city I hesitate to recommend, now that I have been there. Imagine a city like, say, Leeds, Auckland or Baltimore, which is well-kept and modern, but suddenly has no money spent on maintenance for about twenty years. That gives you a feel for Lusaka, a city with only a couple of monuments, and no encouragement to photograph even those.

A sinister thing that is a very large problem in Zambia is corruption. It is everywhere, or so it seems. While we were walking around Lusaka, we were stopped by a man claiming to be a Government minister who wanted us to give him a quantity of money, surprisingly wanting kwacha so that he could buy petrol. He engaged us in conversation in a way that we could not easily escape, and eventually we were obliged to give him some money, simply to be rid of him. He told us to wait, and once he had filled up, he would give us a lift back to our hotel. This might have been acceptable, except that we did not want to go back to the hotel then: we were out looking around, and in any case did not relish the prospect of a lift from a man who had already shown himself not to be trustworthy. The amount of money he asked was the sort of figure we might reasonably have been expected to have, although in fact we had less. He disappeared to retrieve his car. When he got back, he wouldn't have been able to find us.

The Pamodzi Hotel on Church Road, where we stayed in Lusaka, was as well-equipped and modern as a hotel could be here. One disturbing but necessary feature is the presence of armed guards by the lift doors on every floor.

Probably the most interesting thing is that while we were staying at this hotel, there was another family staying there too, whom we were destined to meet when we got to Port Vila. We didn't meet them in Lusaka, however, but discovered this remarkable coincidence later.

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