Zambia was never on my list of places to visit. I had heard Vic Falls was overrated and commercialized. But Bianca from Icon convinced me that if we were going to travel this far it was a worth a stop to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We’re glad she did.
We flew from Londolozi to Kruger and then onto Livingstone, Zambia. After a one hour drive we arrived at The Royal Chundu River Lodge on the Zambezi River. This beautiful, traditional lodge encompasses 15 kilometres of pristine river frontage opposite a nature reserve and is made up of 10 bungalows and a short boat ride away at the Island Lodge, another 4 riverfront suites. It was awarded Zambia’s Leading Ecolodge in the 2011 World Travel Awards.
Our first night was spent at the River Lodge. Yesterday we were upgraded to the Island Lodge in honour of our 25th anniversary as well as an ant problem in our room. Lets just say when the floors become a carpet of teensy ants, and they’re all over everything, it’s hard to sleep comfortably. But the owner of this lovely property handled the situation beautifully. Look at this stunning setting.
Here at Royal Chundu the atmosphere is very serene. Life centres around the river and the surrounding natural beauty. There is a 90 minute sunset cruise every afternoon and floating down the river with only one other couple, drinks in hand, snacks on board and the knowledgeable ranger to point out the unique bird life is a relaxing way to end the day.
We were picked up in the morning by our guide/driver Mombo for the one hour trip into Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. Mombo provided interesting insight into the Zambian people and their culture. He pointed out a very small Jewish cemetery, telling us about the Jewish community that first brought trade and commerce to the country as textile merchants. He didn’t know we were Jewish. He was just sharing what he thought were interesting facts. We told him we are Jewish and he said he’d stop at the cemetery online way back to the lodge.
We arrived at Victoria Falls, called “The Smoke that Thunders” and walked the trails. We were really surprised at how few people were there, how close the pathways are along and across from the Falls and the huge volume of water, though we had been told this was the high water season. The beauty and power of the Falls are magnificent and intimidating, made more so because you stand so close to the river bank and the edge of the 100 metre plunge to the Batoka Gorge. This is not for those with a fear of heights or water. But we gingerly soldiered on.
We had been advised to bring a change of clothes and shoes and we were provided with nylon rain ponchos, which ended up being useless. Luckily we had also been forewarned by Greg, the photographer we met at Londolozi, not to even think about taking our camera past a certain point. As you can see, we did take some pictures before placing the camera into a ziploc bag, inside another nylon bag, under the rain poncho. We figured we’d experience a little mist. Ha! We were completely deluged. The water rained over us in heavy sheets. At one point we reached a bridge over the gorge. There was no way Michael was going to cross the bridge, so he waited while Mombo and I crossed to the other side, and then back, in water up to our ankles under heavy curtains of water. It was quite heart stopping but thrilling at the same time. And I can say I walked across the Falls! Sorry, no pics.
We dried off and changed and headed back to the lodge. As promised, along the way we stopped at the tiny walled Jewish cemetery. We walked among the 20 or so headstones, reading the names and dates and the many heartfelt sentiments engraved on the markers. The last Jews left Livingstone in 1974 and this is all that’s left. It was a moving moment. We placed a small stone on the last grave. On the drive back, we told Mombo about some of the Jewish customs surrounding death as he listened intently, thanking us for sharing. He then told us about the Zambian tribal traditions when someone dies, and there were many similarities, including covering the mirrors, the community bringing food for the wake to feed the family, an immediate burial and others. Who would ever think that in a small African town we’d be sharing a moment like this with a Zambian man? This was another moment to marvel at how we really are all the same in so many ways.
The rest of our day was spent relaxing and reading, followed by a lovely sunset cruise down the Zambezi. We arrived back at our suite at dusk to find a candlelit bubble bath awaiting us on our riverside deck as well as the table set for a romantic, starlit dinner. After a long soak and a luxurious dinner, we settled back to stargaze. Every inch of the black sky glittered above us and the wide swath of the Milky Way was impressive. We only wish we had our friend and amateur astronomer John Crossen with us to describe the foreign night sky of the Southern hemisphere. Yes, we know there are apps but there is no connectivity in the suites, or for that matter in much of the rest of the lodge.
Suddenly, our door burst open and the ENTIRE staff of the lodge, including the chef and his staff entered with a candle laden anniversary cake, singing!They serenaded us with several verses of a traditional celebratory Zambian song that was so heartfelt and moving, it made me cry. This was a moment we will never forget.