On leaving the salubrious surrounds and 5 star accommodation of the Royal Livingstone Hotel overlooking the rapids of the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, we were keen to get back to the bush. After 2 days of civilization we were hankering for the wide-open spaces and the daily adventures of spotting animals and other exciting events that occur in the African wilderness.
We flew out from the Victoria Falls airport on a small 20-seater plane bound for Lusaka in Zambia. The flight challenged the most flight-hardened stomach, as the plane lurched and rolled through turbulent air currents. This had many passengers reaching for the little bags in the seat pocket. Somewhat green about the gills, we finally touched down and made our way to a small bush plane that was to carry us to the Jeki airstrip on the Lower Zambezi River.
Our initial confidence in the pilot and plane was somewhat diminished when we arrived at the plane sitting on the airstrip and found the pilot banging a window back into place and also noticing that a good part of the door mechanism was held together with gaffer tape. Gulp!!
We managed to shoehorn ourselves into the cramped twin-engine eight seater, with the window finally in place and door somewhat secured behind us, we commenced to taxi to the runway. As the engines revved up, the noise was deafening and the vibration had everyone’s teeth chattering. After taxing for 5 mins, the pilot announced that he was not happy with one of the engines and was returning to the hangar for maintenance. We, and the luggage were offloaded and after a 30 minute wait a solution was sorted out. The decision to change planes was made and we transferred to a larger and speedier plane as the afternoon light was slipping away and nightfall was only a couple of hours away. This meant that landing on a bush strip would be impossible after sunset.
We left civilization behind us as the townships below gave way to farmland, and then in turn, the farmland gave way to wide-open spaces dotted with small isolated villages of round thatched huts and wooden fences. After the plane crossed the rugged and sparsely vegetated highlands we dropped over the escarpment and there spread out before us, was the panoramic view of the Lower Zambezi Valley. The mighty Zambezi River in places was up to a kilometre wide; punctuated by grassy islands, reed beds and sand bars. However, we knew that more exciting and dangerous things lurked in the river. As the plane began its descent, we spotted crocodiles lolling on the sandbars catching the last rays of the day, and in the river, large pods of hippos were submerged in the deeper water.
While circling Jeki airstrip checking the surrounding bush for any animals that could wander onto the strip, we spotted our guide and jeep waiting to take us on a 10 minute trip to the high-speed boat for a 60 minute ride upriver to Sausage Tree Camp which will be home for the next four nights.
The boat rounded the river bend and there hugging the banks was Sausage Tree Camp. Overlooking the river was an open sided dining area with a large wooden terrace with a central fire pit, where in the evenings everyone would congregate to share stories of their great African adventures. Tall tales and true!
Our homes for the next 4 nights were comfortable thatched huts with walls made of reed canes, large doors opened onto a wooden veranda overlooking the river and the resident hippos. The bathroom was “en suite” which in Africa means that your bathroom comes complete with geckos, lizards, monkeys, insects (some the size of small birds) and anything else that can fly, climb or walk its way into it. The bathroom had a wonderful view of the river, which could be enjoyed from all vantage points, including sitting on the toilet.
My “butler”, was a charming, shy young man who is married with a little baby girl – Isabella- whose picture he very proudly showed me on his phone. He seemed to materialise at any time of day or night. In the morning before dawn, there would be a discrete “knock knock” at the door and he would slip into the room to deliver a morning cup of tea. In the evening, he would be waiting at your door to escort you to and from dinner, while walking along the paths he would cast his flashlight into the surrounding undergrowth to make sure that no intruders were lurking there. During the day, when we were out on safari, he would prepare the room and bathroom and make sure that the laundry was done and all was ready for our return. He was very caring and professional and would be a credit to any five-star establishment.
Sausage Tree Camp is unfenced and therefore open to all animals so we were unable to roam at night and before dawn and needed to be accompanied to and from the rooms and jeeps. This was an important precaution as the resident hippo “Dexter” was very happy roaming about in the night and many elephants made themselves at home as well, day and night. It is not unusual to see furry, large toothed carnivores roam around as well, so these precautions were not over rated.
Dexter does not venture very far from his pool in the river in front of the camp. It appears that his attachment to this spot is because he is the son of a resident female hippo that used to bring him there when he was very small. Sadly she no longer around, and it seems that Dexter has taken up residence at the camp. He spends his days in the water in front of the camp and occasionally he will make landfall on one of the immediate islands to graze during the day. At night he is a constant visitor around and about and you can hear him grunting as grazes at night.
Our camp routine was quickly established: early morning “knock knock” call, a quick breakfast, onto the jeep for a game drive or other activities such as fishing, walking safaris, canoeing or boating, home for lunch and a much needed thirst quenching beer, the usual afternoon siesta, afternoon tea, afternoon game drive, sun-downers, home for dinner, and then fall into bed to the sounds of the night.
The African nightly chorus can be deafening. When all the members of the choir are in full voice there are frogs whose croaks vary from bell-like tinkling to a deep throated bass rasp. The sound builds in strength and volume until it feels like the air will split and then inexplicably they will all stop and silence descends on the river. There are a myriad of crickets whose sawing sound comes and goes in waves of sound. The hippos splash, snort and grump about in the water before making their way onto land at night to graze. Some nights, sleep is interrupted by the deep barking cough of male lions proclaiming their territory to any likely intruders. This can be heard from many kilometres away and is a terrifying noise if it is close by. In the marshes you can hear the elephants foraging for water-lily roots, which they thrash about in the water to remove the mud before gorging themselves.
During our stay we were treated to a special lunch. We were taken by boat out onto the Zambezi River and beached on a sandbar in six inches of water. What a surprise – we were delighted to find the lunch table set up under a canopy, set with pristine glassware and cutlery. We were treated to a delicious BBQ lunch washed down with Pimms while enjoying the unique experience of the Zambezi river rushing through our feet. The thought of crocodiles and hippos joining the lunch table did cross my mind but I am sure that our hosts had this under control.
Next post – Namibia. A different Africa with amazing scenery, huge skies and wonderful people.