We walk along pristine sand and step into the Indian Ocean on an empty Mozambique beach at the mouth of the Zambezi, dropped off by helicopter just moments earlier. Our minds turn back to just under seven weeks ago, when eight of us stood around a small, forested pool in the far northwest of Zambia – the source of the Zambezi.
Our journey had taken us from that humble spring to the vast delta of Africa’s fourth largest river. We had slept in 28 different beds, used ten different modes of transport and travelled probably 3,000 miles or so through the heart of central Southern Africa, stopping off at seven different National Parks in four different countries and crossing international borders five times.
We had come to celebrate Africa Exclusive’s 30th birthday (only two years late, thanks to COVID) and its evolution into Journeysmiths, our having enjoyed so many trips with the company to Africa and around the world.
Described as an ‘exploratory adventure’ it lived up to its billing in so many ways. A few hardy people have kayaked or walked the length of the Zambezi, but so far as we know we were the first ‘tourists’ to cover the 1,600-mile river in a single journey.
We travelled about 500 miles on the river itself, by speedboat - on one occasion at night, on another battling into a ferocious headwind – by houseboat on Lake Kariba, by canoe, and on an ancient dhow. We squeezed into tiny light aircraft using remote and rather basic landing strips, and flew low over the early course of the Zambezi and its serpentine meanders in Angola, from its source and back into Zambia and its endless flat floodplain.
We clambered around the beautiful Sioma Falls as well as getting soaked at the Victoria Falls- which were in terrifyingly full spate - and we marvelled at them from above in plane and helicopter.
We slept in luxury lodges, hotels, a houseboat, tented camps, alone on an island in the middle of the river near Victoria Falls, and in tiny (cosy, some would say) two-person tents pitched on riverside sandbanks. It was an adventure indeed.
And the wildlife sightings
- A huge bull elephant rearing on its hind legs to reach a leafy tree branch 15 feet above to feed itself.
- Six male lions of different generations, eyeing each other suspiciously over who might become king of the pride.
- Five aardvarks, one after the other in the dark, snouting away with their hilarious ears pricked.
- Two female hyaenas at their den, keeping a matronly watch over three inquisitive young, who seemed to want to climb into our truck.
- A huge pack of painted dogs hurtling through the bush to kill and devour a waterbuck.
- We petted an orphan pangolin, and saw 250 species of birds, thousands of hippos and hundreds of crocodiles, a dozen antelope species, and herds of buffalo splashing around the swamps of the Zambezi Delta.
We learned too about the challenges of conservation – of threatened carnivores, of reintroduction schemes for black and white rhino, the problems of poaching and wildlife/human conflict and how to mobilise community involvement.
We searched for bones with a palaeontologist, looked at baboons differently after spending time with a scientist researching their use of tools and their ability to learn from humans. We saw village life in Zambian schools and homes and even met a Barotse King and Queen!
To travel from source to sea along a great river was an entirely new experience for us, and this journey will remain with us always. That moment of recollection as we stood in the sea at the end of our journey was magical.
Thank you AE/Journeysmiths for the imaginative and detailed planning that went into it, and your commitment to delivering it, with all its logistical complexity, despite the pandemic.Thank you, too, to the guides, videographers, journalist, and all our other companions, who shared fun and friendship with us and their knowledge and enthusiasm for this wonderful river.