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giovedì 19 aprile 2012

Mr. Livingston I presume?

It's quite funny to imagine the encounter between Stanley and the founder of Victoria Falls when they met in Zambia on Tanganica Lake in 1869 as if they were at a Victorian party instead of being the only two Europeans in the heart of Africa. The city that now brings the scientist's name lies opposite Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and covers half of the falls. When I got there three years ago from Johannesburg I took a flight which got me there in an hour. Coming from South Africa (which I absolutely adore ) Zambia looks more like Africa than ever although the city itself is nothing special while the nature around is simply amazing. However it's a very interesting place and one could well spend a few days there just to go to the falls . I was picked up by Richard Chanter, the owner of Chanters' Lodge a very nice B&B situated in a quiet street of the town. As I said the town itself does not have a lot to offer: just a bunch of gravel roads and a little center where there is a museum (rather interesting though : I didn't think it was going to be) but one goes there to see the falls and that's more than enough. Richard Chanter took me to the Royal Livingston Hotel : one of the most amazing places I had ever seen: a somptuous hotel with a park where zebras and antilopes run free amongst the hotel rooms and with one of the most spectacular views of the world: on the Zambesi river just above the Falls. He suggested that I go to get a drink at the sundeck the hotel bar and I did. Wonderful. Absolutely. The only thing is that the garden and the bar are crowded with monkeys who make it really hard for you to relax and sip your drink. I got almost into a physical fight with two of them myself since they took turns in jumping on my table, taking my drink just to look inside the glass, trying to steal the stir and eventually succeeding in stealing my canapès. The waiter was too slow: by the time he brought them to my table the monkey had already jumped and taken two of them with both hands. I could only eat the third one. It was fun anyway. From there you can take the boat to go to Livingstone Island which is basically a small piece of land just over the edge of the falls. I went there the next morning and given my total and absolut fear of the void and of heights I nearly had a heart attack when the guys who take there basically hold your hand for you to look over the edge at the bottom of the falls. There is also a tiny little spot just over the edge where you can bathe called the Devil's pool. I wouldn't go there not even if I was paid to do it. The amazing thing about the falls apart from the beauty of them and the marvellous landscape is the fact that while you're there you cans see a lot of spontaneous rainbows. There is also a time of the year when you can see them at night. The sight of the magnificent scenario and the roar of the water make you feel like you are in heaven .
Zambian kids on my way to the hotel
Me and the rainbow at Livingstone Island
The view from the sundeck bar at the Royal Livingston
Tourists swimming at devil's pool
Then another thing was for me to walk on the bridge over the falls which takes you straight into the town of Victoria falls in Zimbabwe. There are a lot of guys there who try to convince you to do bungee jumping from the bridge (another thing I wouldn't ever do) and try to give you notes of milions of Zimbabwean dollars. As everybody is probably aware this country has been in a very dramatic (now desperate ) situation during the last twenty years under Robert Mugabe regime . The chapter about him on Wikipedia is very thorough and interesting and shows how he conducted his country at starvation (literally) and poverty and how he used and still uses violence and vexation almost as the only mean of communication with his people. He has been banned from many international organizations and has been denied access to international conventions. Nevertheless at 87 he still rules the country and he still treats it like his own property. I don't understand why nobody intervened so far. Probably because there is no economical interest in Zimbwabwe.If there had been oil or diamonds one of the big powerful nations would have probably done something. Very very sad.
Bridge over the falls
View of the falls from above
...and from the front
Evil Robert Mugabe
There are a lot of activities to do in Livingstone including taking a plane or an helicopter and fly over the falls. I actually decided that it was not a good idea given my fear of heights and instead chose to go to the Lion walk. This is how it works: You go to Lion Encounter foundation which operates the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program and you basically go for a three hours walk with lion cubs. This is their program "Given the rapid decline in free-ranging lion populations (between 80 and 90% in the last 50 years) and the greatly reduced potential for their natural re-colonization of some areas, ALERT supports assisted lion reintroduction into specific sites. Such areas would include localities where lion populations have been eradicated, but that have been identified as high priority for the re-establishment of the species, have been shown to support adequate wild prey and where the causes of the original population loss in the past have been identified and are being mitigated. Whenever possible, reintroductions should include the release of young adult wild lions captured for the purpose of translocation and release. Where there is no available source population of suitable wild lions, we will instigate a multi-stage program to reintroduce lions originally bred from captive individuals. Captive lions which lack hunting skills are bred in fenced areas, their offspring raised around humans and take part in the lion walk program as operated by Lion Encounter What happens is very interesting : you are taken the bush and walk with (quite big) cubs, you interact with them and see them playing and sometimes hunting. You have to walk in a line and are given a set of rules to observe for your safety(do not kneel, do not run, do not look the lion in the eyes etc.) It is a little scary actually especially when they follow their instinct and want to play with you. So when one of them started running for us and the handler screamed "Watch your back" it was somehow worrying, even because as you can see from the pictures they are really big cats. Most of the time though they lie in the sun and play amongst them when they are not walking and look just like cats playing at home. sometimes they see a buck in the distance and run after it. In general it was a wonderful experience and I definitely would do it again if I went back there. My suggestion is that when in the area one should not miss it.
Scenes from the lion encounter and walk
I left Livingstone one morning by shared taxi to go to Botswana by boat ( by the way the rest of my trip that year is in my post " Am I in heaven or Botswana?)and while I was looking out of the car window at the orange earth while listening to African music I wondered if Mr. Livingston had stayed in Africa all that time because he became so attached that could not leave and forgot who he was before and what was doing. It happens to all of us who go there. Trust me.