Africa: Sunset Cruise

Ok, I’m back.  I did not get eaten by a hippo, nor a croc – but I saw both!!  Here’s the next chapter on my holiday.  Day 2 encompasses my arrival in Africa, the sunset cruise and seeing Cam again.

First let me backtrack, the flight from Singapore to Jo’burg was uneventful, compared to the last anyway.  I slept most of the way cause I was still so tired, ate a little and arrived in Jo’burg still feeling a bit crap but glad to be out of Singapore.  I felt like I was so dopey and out of it – I think a combination of tiredness, jet lag, climate change and not yet fully recovered from my party week was all adding to the zoned-out-ness!

Johannesburg airport was interesting.  Darkly lit and minimalistic.  Not much of anything anywhere.  My bag finally came through on the carousel, though someone in a uniform of sorts had to climb up to where the bags were popping out of the chute and assist them along, as they’d all been piling up at the top where no one could get to them.  My stress that my bag would not arrive was compounded for a short while as I talked to the girl next to me who had been told the same thing – that it’d be a miracle if your bags arrive when you do.  Oh god.  However, after the bags started flowing again, I soon spotted mine and headed for customs.

The customs officials were all skinny men or fat women who all looked disinterested and bored with their jobs.  I got through customs ok, and went to declaire the tobacco I’d bought over for Cam.  There were no forms, just one line for ‘Things to Declaire’ and ‘Nothing to Declaire’.  I entered the line to declare and when I told the lady what I had she looked at me like I was stupid and asked ‘Is that all you have?’ to which I said yes and was told with a dismissive wave of her hand ‘Just go through then’.  No bag searches or anything.  Interesting.

After customs I entered the ‘crazy arena’.  I only had one and a half hours to get on my next flight to Livingstone and there were people everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  The line for the check in counters was out of control.  It snaked around the usual S-shaped queues, but then disappeared from sight only to re-appear and seemed to go around the inside of the airport twice more.  I groaned as I had visions of missing the flight and consequently missing the rafting trip.  That simply could not happen.

Luckily a guy spotted me looking like the lost tourist I was and offered to help me with my suitcases and check in.  I knew it was kinda dodgy, but I had to get on the next flight.  We by-passed the mile long lines and went straight to a check in counter.  Some short, clipped words were exchanged between my ‘helper’ and the guy at the counter and I was told to put my bag up to get weighed.  Wow.  Checked in and through the chaos in about 15 minutes.  Then my ‘helper’ asked for a tip – I only had US dollars on me, so I gave him a $5 note.  He asked for more, but I said no, figuring that was about what he earned and would probably do so again many times in the day.  Easy money if you ask me.  I later found out that I was overly generous, but who cares, I made the connecting flight.  Sweet!

I was in the first row of seats on the flight to Livingstone and it was spacious.  So nice after the Singapore flight cramped-ness.  I later found out that the first five rows on the South African flights are Business Class, so I dont know how I wrangled that but it suit me.  I slept the whole way, only to wake up to eat my sandwhich pack and fall asleep again.

The airport in Livingstone was small.  Arrival had us walking down the stairs onto the tarmac and I felt the African heat for the first time.  Hot.  But not unbearable.  Into customs again, this time I filled out a Zambian Country Arrival form, but still no customs form.  No-one seemed to care about the tobacco, I dont know why I worried so much about it.  Paid my $80 double entry visa fee and collected my bag.  I could see Cam from where I was standing in the queue, and I got excited.  I was in Africa!!!  Woo hoo.   Security wouldn’t let Cam through to see me, and I later found out that was because Jack Osbourne and the guy who played Frodo had also arrived at the airport just after me.  They were doing the rafting trip one day after us, and it was being filmed for some outdoor adventure show that Jack Osbourne is doing.  I’ll try to get a copy of it..

I was so excited to see Cam.  It’d been seven months and quite a few emails exchanged, but I was finally there!  And he looked as hot as ever!  A van was waiting to take me to the hotel, and I got my first taste of Africa on the way there.  The roads were red dust and full of pot holes.  The dust reminded me of parts of WA, south of Perth.  Identical, minus the really bad pot holes.  I’m talking holes that the wheel of the car would disappear into!  I got some photos, because I found it hilarious that cars and taxi’s alike would drive along the side of the road to avoid these holes.  It was something I was to learn was fairly typical of African roads.  Crazy!

The hotel was nice, and had a swimming pool and really cool showers in the rooms.  They were just like waterfalls.  Awesome.  I want a bathroom like that.  Minus the mozzies.  They were horrendous in the rooms.  I was really hoping that it was not an indication of the trip to come, I couldn’t cope with that many mozzies for the whole week, there’d be nothing left of me after they ate me alive!

I gave Cam the tobacco and the gaffa tape I’d bought across for him (apparently gaffa tape is like gold over there, its needed to fix the rafts after any mishaps and it can’t be purchased in Africa), and had a sleep.  I was still stuffed, and crashed out for a few hours before our sunset cruise and dinner.

The Africans I’d met so far were gorgeous.  Friendly, smiling, always wanting to help (though I was later to learn that it’s not always just to help – often a monetary compensation is required, though not asked for at the beginning).  It would be so easy to bring one home (no PJ, I didn’t) but as someone said, ‘That’s just for the celebs to do’.  I loved the people and the atmosphere though!  Beautiful and laid back, totally opposite to home.

We went on a sunset cruise on the African Queen that night.  We saw some hippos and elephants and watched the sun set on the Zambezi River.  It was magical.  And if it was a sign of things to come I was in for the treat of a lifetime!  I instantly became intrigued with the hippos.  What a weird animal they were – so big and beefy, yet they have these tiny ears on their big heads.  Such a funny combination, and to get a photo of more than just their ears on the surface of the water was going to prove to be a mission and a half.  One that I later accomplished on the safari, but I got a reasonably good yawn on camera during the cruise.  Sweet!

I was in love with the country already.

After the cruise we had dinner at the hotel restaurant.  I had some traditional Nshima which I think is made from ground up maize.  It came out looking like rice stuck together in a neat clump, and was fairly bland and tasteless, but edible.  The waiters thought it funny that I was going to try it, and I had a bowl of warm water with lemon in it to dip my fingers in to clean them after eating (as the Nshima is eaten with your fingers).  Considering I had it with a whole bream fish I wasn’t sure if I was to eat the fish in my fingers too..  I didn’t though.  Better not put off the rafting crew too early!

Speaking of which, there were five of us going on the week long trip.  Four blokes and me.  Interesting.  Dave was a copper from London, John and Rhys a father and son combo, and Ian.  Ian was in a world unto himself.  I’ll describe them all in the next email.

After dinner Cam gave us a briefing on what to pack (basically as little as possible because we had to raft our gear down the river as well as ourselves and all the food for a week), and we were sent off to get ready for the morning.

I talked to Cam outside while he waited for his taxi and I learnt that you have to negotiate your taxi price before the ride – an interesting concept.  It worked well once you knew the prices you should be paying to various areas, although you’re constantly fighting against getting ripped off cause they know you’re not a local (the skin colour kinda gives it a way pretty quickly).  Besides the negotiations, the Zambian currency is the Kwacha and its in thousands.   Ie, 35,000 Kwacha is equal to approximately $10US.  Talk about needing a calculator, especially when prices got up into the hundred thousand kwacha’s (equal to approximately $30)!

So there was day two.  Full on, but looking forward to the trip the next morning. Cam kept saying ‘You’ve come a long way’ and yeah, it was, but it’ll be the trip of a lifetime.  InAfrica.  Brilliant.  Wow!!

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