Written by CHRISTINA CAMERON
I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy” (Ernest Hemingway)
An early start on a Saturday is never eagerly anticipated, unless it means a weekend away in Livingstone to relax and unwind after an intense 6 weeks of work in Lusaka.
Our mode of transport was a 25 seater bus for 30 so it was a cosy 10 hour journey to Livingstone with our new chauffeur, Moses. A couple of volunteers managed to get a lift in our program coordinator’s car, much to the dismay of the rest of us. However, numerous break downs meant that their journey was in fact 13 hours so, we all breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t our names picked out of that hat.
We stopped in a place called Choma for lunch from the local ‘Spar’ which broke up the journey slightly in between card games and a sing along. A lot of very excitable volunteers were eagerly anticipating the ‘Welcome to Livingstone’ sign which meant we had finally arrived and our holiday could commence.
We were welcomed to our lodge with a song and dance from the locals who had the most incredible stamina. I don’t know how but, just when you thought it was ending, they always had another one up their sleeves. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it and even joined in, which definitely woke us all up and helped release some tension after the long journey.
Room allocation was next before showering and heading to dinner. We stayed at ‘Golden Days’ lodge which was very reasonably priced and the service was excellent – however, the food was interesting to say the least. Breakfast on the last day was a scone, a frankfurter and a beetroot, egg and apple mix… “Taking eclectic to new levels” (Emma, UK).
Anyway, we powered through the lethargy and made the most of our first night with extended curfew! We let our hair down and danced all night and, few decided to see who could be the last one to stay awake, managing 5am – so as you can imagine there was a lot of very tired volunteers on the Sunday.
We started our first full day at the infamous Victoria Falls (or Victoria Walls as it was dry season) – a magnificent spectacle to behold despite the lack of water. The benefit of going in the dry season, however, is that we managed to walk the whole way across the top to ‘Devil’s Island’ and experience the true scale and beauty. I am not someone that necessarily suffers from vertigo but I nearly had a heart attack from a couple of the fearless volunteers going precariously close to the edge whilst Kasonde & Harriet tackled their fear of heights. “Take a leap of faith with your eyes open so that you know where you land” (Kasonde, ZM)
It actually turned out that we weren’t allowed across the top without a guide so after being ushered away by security guards we retraced out steps back to the start. We finished our visit with a steep trek down to the ‘boiling pot’, survived walking past rather large baboons and, clambered across the rocks to dip our feet in the infamous Zambezi River. “There was something so special about being in such beautiful surroundings with such amazing people – definitely one of those WOW moments” (Christina, UK). Unfortunately, a steep trek down meant that we still had to climb back up but, I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say it was definitely worth it.
There were still a few hours in the day which meant that there was time for another activity – a ‘game park’ safari where we managed to see some boars, wild buffalo, impalas, lizards, hippos and giraffes. Luckily, Moses managed to take us on our bus so that added to the fun and camaraderie. When the tour came to an end there was just enough time to sit and watch the sun as it set over the Zambezi.
Night number 2 meant some of the volunteers were flagging. However, a live band and great company kept us going until the early hours once again.
The final day was one a lot of us had been looking forward to most – a trip to Mukini Big 5 to see some of the animals up close and personal – perched up on top of a hill that over-looks Livingstone Town Valley with a spectacular view. “Mukini big 5 is committed very much to conservation, well being and livelihood of animals as we strongly believe every animal deserves to be treated with love and dignity” (Ali, Tour Guide). Although due to the late night, we lost a few of the group to a lie in. There was no stopping one particular volunteer whose obsession with Elephants was clear to see. “I actually think I’m going to faint” (Eilidh, UK). The first session of the day was the elephant ride. We mounted the orphaned Elephants (parents’ died from hunting, malaria and other diseases) and took a tour through the bush taking in the glorious views.
We were even allowed to feed the Elephants. By instructing “mouth open” you put the pellets inside with your hand and then “trunk down” to place the pellets into the trunk which felt like putting your hand near the edge of a hoover so they could place the food into their mouths. Elephants are magnificent mammals that keep growing until they die and are unbelievably clever.
The next session was walking with the Lions. It was incredible to be so close, stroke them & even hold their tail whilst walking behind them. The Lions are fed every 3 days due to their slow metabolism so, luckily the feed had happened before our visit!
Finally we managed to spend some time with the Cheetahs (Lilian & Susan) – watching them sprint, playing with them and walking with them. It was just like petting a large dog. They were so friendly with the most amazing eyes which can see for miles – it was definitely my highlight of the day!
The afternoon was ours to do as we wished and, most decided to find a pool and relax – although a thunderstorm meant that sunbathing was out of the question. Instead, we all bombed into the pool and swam in the rain – it was magical. “When else are you going to be able to say that you swam in a thunderstorm in Africa” (Abi, UK).
With a bit of budget remaining, we decided to put on a party at the lodge to celebrate the end of an amazing weekend. We bought cake and drinks and played games which allowed us to really bond as a group – “It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend” (Naomi K, ZM).
The bus ride back was a little less energetic and, despite the lack of space and heat, the whole bus was full of faces grinning ear to ear after an unforgettable weekend!