African Safari, Part One, “Always go downhill” provided the first glimpse of the Clarkes best trip ever. Here’s the next installment:
African Safari – Part 2
Eighteen hours in the air was a bum-numbing flight and that was just the trans-Atlantic leg of our journey. I’d struggled to get my head around the fact that even though there’s only a six-hour time difference between southwest Virginia and our final destination, a Rhode Island-sized corner of Texas-sized Botswana, there were still some twelve thousand miles to traverse from north of the Tropic of Cancer to south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
We had an overnight in Johannesburg, South Africa, then the following morning, an hour’s hop to Livingston, Zambia. A tour group driver met us at the tiny airport to take us the few miles to the edge of the Zambezi River where we would meet our guide.
Tall, burly, sun-weathered Russell, with a smile as wide as the Zambezi, was, we were to find out, revered amongst guides in the region. That we were lucky enough to have him lead us was the first bit of magic that threaded through our trip. He wasted no time handing us into a rickety aluminum motorboat to ferry us downriver. As we putted along he pointed out crocodiles and hippos that I’d thought were large rocks in the water!
Though we stayed in four tented camps over fourteen days, we were eased into the safari proper with two nights at The River Club, a lush, flowery oasis that was totally unlike whatever it was I’d expected. After a brief orientation on the terrace of the shabbily elegant Edwardian house — think “Out of Africa”— we were shown to our thatched hut. Walled on three sides with reeds and mud, the fourth side was completely open to the river which was a protective arm curved around the property.
It doesn’t take long to settle in when you’ve only been allowed one duffel, one backpack. Before we returned to the main house to meet Kate, Russell’s fearless side-kick/safari coordinator, and our five fellow travelers, I had to try the plumbing. I wanted to see for myself if water in the southern hemisphere really does go down the drain counterclockwise, opposite from the northern hemisphere. It does!
At dinner I remarked on the unusually high chain-link spiked fence that encompassed three sides of the grounds, while at river’s edge the craggy perpendicular drop-off was an impenetrable barrier to any crocs lounging below. “Is the fence to keep animals out?” I asked.
“No,” Russell said, “Zimbabweans!” There was, and still is, a violent faction in Zimbabwe. The Zambezi is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and provides a natural defense. Even the most dangerous Zim militant wouldn’t brave those waters at night, and guards patrolled River Club’s fences until daylight. So, no worries, unless an agile hippo found a way to scale the cliff…!
At bedtime, I apologized to Peter for having been such a brat when he’d suggested a safari. “I love it already,” I told him. “I want to come back.” We’d been in Africa thirty-six hours. He nodded and smiled, relieved.
We’d wondered about traveling for two weeks with five people we didn’t know — in each other’s pockets as it were — but after the first evening the two of us agreed we were part of a really compatible group. The dinner conversation was lively and laugh-filled, everyone, so interesting, and Russell and Kate were an engaging team.
It was going to be a great trip!