Zambia day 1: Sunset cruise on Zambezi River

It was a long 11 hour flight from Singapore to Johannesburg. As I had been taking budget airlines for a while, I had forgotten what it felt like in a normal airplane. I sat down and suddenly even Singapore Airlies’ (SIA) economy class felt luxurious. My knees are no longer touching the back of the seat in front of me. Yeah for leg room! And movies to watch. So many movies, so little time! And hot food too! I know a lot of people condemned airplane food and I am probably one of those rare few who actually find them pretty tasty. Of course not all airlines’ culinary creations are on the same level of tastiness and luckily for me, SIA food is generally pretty good. So that’s something to look forward to.

But first, some sleep. It’s been a long day and the flight departed at 2 am in the morning so I had hardly any sleep. I tried to sleep on the plane, but woke up at 3 am when the air stewardesses were handing out tuna croissants. Even though I was tired, I was also greedy so I took one. I watched a Japanese movie while I ate the tuna croissant. Then back to sleep before waking up again a few hours later for breakfast. It’s been a few years since I took SIA but their breakfast selection was still the same. I know that SIA changed their lunch and dinner menus on a regular basis. I wished that they could change the breakfast menu once in a while or else, I’m going to have to avoid their morning flights. It’s tasty, but after eating the same breakfast on so many morning flights, I would like a change.

Our flight landed in Johannesburg at 7 am. At the advice of the tour agency, we collected our luggage and passed through immigration. This was because if anything happened to our luggage, we would know immediately rather than finding out only after we landed in Zambia. Because it was such a long journey we did not mind taking this extra step for the peace of mind.

Johannes, the representative for the tour agency in Africa, was waiting for us at the arrival gate. He was a nice friendly chap and he took us up to the departure hall to check in for our flight to Zambia. We passed by a long queue of people at the counters. To beat the queue, Johannes went to the self-check in machines and printed our boarding passes. Then Johannes spoke to an airport staff who let us bypass the queue and go straight to the luggage drop. Once the lady at the counter confirmed that we had taken yellow fever vaccination, we were through. It was a good thing Johannes was around to help us with the check in or we would probably end up queuing with the rest.

It was another 2 hour flight to Zambia on the South African Airways. We thought that there would be no food because of the short flight, but we were given a chicken danish sandwich and a lemon poppy seed muffin. Even though the food was cold, everything just seemed to taste better on when one was on holiday.

We were picked up at the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport by Amon and his colleague, Joseph. Joseph was the chatty one and introduced himself as the father of Jesus. It took me a second to realize that it was a joke and that he did not really have a son called Jesus.

AC got it immediately and replied, “How’s Mary?”

Without missing a beat, Joseph replied, “She’s very well. I will see her later.”

“Send my regards,” AC laughed.

“I will let her know,” Joseph said.

As we drove through Livingstone city, which was named after the famous explorer, David Livingstone, Joseph told us a bit about Zambia. Zambia has 72 languages and the official language is English. The capital city, Lusaka had a population of 3 million people.

Livingstone city was made up of low-rise buildings and overall felt like a small town in the 1980s. Joseph pointed out a building he called “the Livingstone skyscraper”. It turned out to be a 7 – 9 storey building, which according to Joseph, was the tallest building in Livingstone city.

Amon dropped us off at the Royal Livingstone Hotel which was located within Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. There were no fences surrounding the hotel, apart from the electric fence along the river, so animals could wander into the premises. We were told that the animals in the national park were not dangerous, meaning no lions and other meat-eaters. Even then, I did not expect the animals to come so close.

I was really excited when we turned into the hotel and saw zebras grazing at the entrance. Even when the car stopped and we alighted, the zebras refused to move away. They stared at us as if we were rude trespassers, and perhaps in a way we were. After all, their kind were living here first. Joseph warned us not to go near them or touch them. Even though they were used to the presence of humans, they were still wild animals and could hurt us.

AC immediately wandered off to take photos of the hotel so I had to do the check in. A staff from the reception desk brought me the lounge where she gave me a form to fill. The tour agent told us that the service in some parts of Africa was rather laid-back and not as efficient as Singapore so I had to be patient. After filling in the form, I waited for quite a while before the staff returned. So I went off to look for AC and found her taking a photo of herself in the mirror.

When the staff returned, she then briefed us on the hotel’s facilities. Her face took on a blank look and she frequently looked off into the distance as she recited mechanically all the opening and closing times of the various facilities in the hotel. We were quite amused. AC said that it was as if someone had pressed the play button for a cassette tape.

We checked into our room and found out that we have a butler. However, it was the only time we saw him during our stay. So I’m not sure what a butler does.

The bathroom looked really cool, in an old world fashion.

It started to drizzle so we stayed on the balcony to enjoy the view and laze around until it was time for Amon to pick us up.

Amon picked us up at 4 pm and drove us to the jetty for a sunset cruise along the Zambezi River by the African Cruise Company. We boarded a catamaran called the African Princess. We were one of the first few to board so there were plenty of seats for us to choose from. We picked some comfortable wicker armchairs up on the upper deck. The armchairs were placed along the side of the vessel, looking outwards, and we thought that they would have a good view. It turned out that we did have a good view, but only on one side of the vessel. It was hard to get a clear view of the things the other side of the vessel as the other passengers blocked the view. But it was also difficult to walk over to the other side as the vessel was packed with people. So we stayed in our seats most of the time.

It was still drizzling when the cruise started. Snacks and drinks, even alcoholic drinks, were included in the cruise package so the host kept encouraging us to “drink more and see more”. The host told us that Zambezi was the fourth largest river in Africa.

After away on the horizon was what seemed to be smoke drifting up into the sky. The host informed us that it was not smoke, but was actually the mist resulting from the spray by Victoria Falls. I was amazed as the mist drifted up really high and we could not even see the waterfall. The waterfall must be really big and powerful.

The sighting of a pod of hippos was perhaps the highlight of the cruise. As hippos are territorial, I guessed this pod stayed in the same area day after day, which would make them one of the almost guaranteed sightings. Even though we also saw a few other animals and birds, they were too far away and too fast to get a good look.

Most of the time, what we saw was something like the above photo. Perhaps the rain kept the animals away?

Halfway through the cruise, a friendly Zambian woman with big hair (who seemed to subscribe to the host’s logic of “drink more and see more”) came and chatted with AC. During the conversation, she asked AC if I am her son. We were quite stunned by the question and took a few seconds to reply that we were just friends. Privately, we had a laugh about it later on. The big-haired Zambian woman left a while later, presumably to drink some more and see some more.

Amon was waiting for us when the cruise ended. On the way back, Amon told us that it was the start of the dry season and it had not rained for a while. In fact, he was quite surprised that it rained today and said that it was the first rain for a while. We joked that we must have brought the rain with us.

On the way back, AC thought she saw a wombat by the side of the road. It turned out to be a stone instead. I also found out that AC was really bad at animal names and she kept getting hippo and rhino mixed up.

We had our dinner at the hotel restaurant because there wasn’t really anywhere else to go. The food was so-so.

I rather like the soup, which was thick but not creamy. Although I felt that it was a bit too salty.

The seafood stew was nice. The tomato-based sauce was tangy and the seafood, of which there was a lot, was fresh.

I didn’t really like the fried fish which was coated in a spicy, herb batter. The sauce that accompanied the fish also tasted bland.

With not much else to do, we were back in our hotel room by 9 pm. We still felt tired from all the travelling so we went to bed at 10 pm.

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