I watched a National Geographic documentary about Mosi oa Tunya about 4 or 5 years ago and I have been O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D about seeing it ever since. The waterfall is situated at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Mosi oa Tunya translates to “the smoke that thunders” in the local language (Lozi). When David Livingstone saw the falls (during the era/error(? :)) of ‘Discovery’ he named them ‘Victoria Falls’ a name that is still in use today. I will save my views about the politics of naming for another day. I finally had a chance to see it this year. It is an incredible view and experience. The site is absolutely deserving of the UNESCO World Heritage Status and 7 wonders of the world, as well. This is Africa at its very best. I kept a journal during my time there and here are the experiences.
Left home at 8.30am. Got stuck in traffic on Uhuru highway(GROAN), and only got to the airport around 10.00 am. Easy check in. New Jomo Kenyatta International Airport(JKIA) looks absolutely amazing. I am on a Kenya Airways (KQ) flight -the pride of Africa. I love KQ – when they say “Hamjambo mabibi na mabwana…Karibuni…” my heart just melts. We arrive in Livingstone, Zambia. Immigration is a breeze! The lady at the counter smiles and tells me “welcome to Zambia.” No hassles, no drama, no silly questions. Side note- Kenyans do not need a visa to enter Zambia – this is how all immigration should be in Africa. The only other country (of those that I have been to) that has good vibes and energy at immigration is Rwanda. What one goes through at some of the so called developed countries entry points is nothing short of human rights abuse. More on that in another blog post. Back to Zambia. Livingstone is hot! I take a cab to my budget hotel–fairmount- close enough to Fairmont ha?- nice touch.
I check in and decide to take a walk down to the the town. Livingstone is so clean. Really, I am so impressed by this. There are even hawkers on the pavements but there is no trash. Coming from trash-laden Nairobi this is a breath of fresh air-literally. I pass by the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs and say hi to colleagues. They offer to give me a ride to the falls the following day. I go to a bureau to exchange money and then return to the Fairmont…sorry, Fairmount. What is for dinner? Chicken..or as the Zambians call it, village chicken and shima/ugali- Nice. The waiters are extremely hospitable. My favourite one is the one who sits at the bar. Mono is her name. I am seated near the bar as I eat my ‘village chicken’. Mono, the waiter, is at the bar. Two men come in and she serves them. They are drinking Mosi beer. They get into a conversation. One of the men gets a phone call. He answers it. Then, he tells the other man and Mono that that he is getting married the following day. The other guy tells him that he does not know what he is getting himself into. Once he gets married, he wont even be able to finish a full Mosi any more because, there will be somebody waiting for him. Mono laughs and asks him why he says that. His response- I am married. They all laugh. The soon to be married guy gulps the rest of his Mosi and leaves. After dinner I go to chat with the receptionist about options for things to do around Livingstone. He is quite helpful.
I am supposed get a ride in the bus that carries ministry staff to the falls and we agreed to meet at 9 am. I set the wrong time on my phone. The alarm goes off early and I end up going to the meeting place 2 hours ahead of schedule. I only realize my timing is all wrong when the guard tells me that I am too early. What to do? I decide to go to the supermarket and buy water and snacks. After that I walk around the town. Livingstone is a one street town. You can see most of the town in a few hours. I guess I must look like a foreigner because all the taxis keep calling me. I do not see them calling the locals. I go to a backpackers place and check out their accommodations. I think their rooms are too small and overpriced. I think I will stick to my Fairmount.
I meet some two guys selling curios and they try sell stuff to me. I tell them – perhaps when I come back from the falls. I walk around and finally come to a bench by the street where I find this Rastafarian guy and we get into conversation about religion, the falls, some Kenyans he met, naming of the town etc. He does not think the town should be named Livingstone. He tells me that there was a group of Zambians who were trying to have the name changed but they did not succeed. He tells me he is judged (by christians) in Zambia because he sports dreadlocks. His auntie went to one of the Pentecostal churches and was forced to shave her dreadlocks, he says. Christianity has damaged the minds of Zambians -he laments. When a person gets a stomachache or a headache, they go to the pastor for prayers instead of buying medicine. He says the bench is his office. He and his uncle run a photography business. They transform it into a studio. His Rastafarian uncle joins us complete with a Rastafarian hat written Ethiopia. He does not shake my hand. He touches his hat and bows. He doesn’t talk much.
I go to the ministry’s office. I find the director there, we get chatting. I tell him that I know one of the directors in the head office in Lusaka because we have worked together. He must have thought I am a very important person because he calls the driver and requests him to take me to the falls. He further tells the on site officers that I should get a guide who should take me around the falls. He insists that the guide should show me EVERYTHING. I am loving this access to power. I was planning to just go and wander around but I even get a guide? Life is sweet.We get to the falls and I link up with my guide. We start the tour and she is quick to emphasize that Livingstone was the 1st European to see the falls and not the first person as has been erroneously portrayed. I am pleased and impressed by her political consciousness. We need such sharp people at all African sites!
We head on and after I take a picture of the Livingstone statue I turn around and I gasp!There is a sneak view of Mosi oa Tunya. I cannot conceal my excitement. I turn to my guide and I tell her “Do not be alarmed if I scream.”
We keep ealking along the falls and the glory of Mosi unfolds right before our eyes in all its splendour and mangnificence. We get to the point where the spray falls on you like it is raining. This is incredible. Absolutely breath taking.. I turn to her and say ..you know you go to some World Heritage Sites and wonder why they are listed but here, there is no doubt. This is nature and Africa at its very best. I cannot believe I am here. This has been a 4/5 year dream, ever since I saw the falls on a National Geographic Documentary. Life is good right now. Everything stops and you soak in the beauty and the masterpiece that is Mosi oa Tunya. You see the rainbow. Surely, there is a God somewhere.
She tells me that she took some Congolese visitors around and when they saw the falls they knelt down and prayed. We finish this trail and return to the next trail down to the ‘boiling pot’, and it does not disappoint. This is a gorge where the waters from the falls converge and create a kind of boiling effect. To get here you have to descend into the gorge. The climb on the way back is no joke. We get to the top and go to trail B. One good thing about this site is that it is visited by Africans as well. They actually visible here. When you go to some African protected areas you do not find Africans. There is something to learn from Mosi oa Tunya about accessibility for Africans to Africa’s iconic landscapes and waterscapes. After finishing the trail we part ways with my guide and I tell her that I am going back to the falls. We exchange contacts. She earns herself a very generous tip for first, being politically conscious and second, being an excellent guide.
I then walk towards the Zimbabwean border. Shortly two curio guys come and convince me to buy some curios. These guys know how to persuade. I said no many times but they pushed on. I leave and go back to the main entrance but before that that I pass via the photographers and one of them starts asking me where I am staying. I say the name of my hotel and he tells me that I should invite him over. I ask him-arent you married? He looks at his ring and then says – yes, but Kenya and Zambia can be a good combination. I turn to him and say “it is because of men like you that this continent is ravaged by HIV Aids. Stick to the one you have.” We both laugh. I decide to go to the bridge that connects Zambia and Zim. Built in 1905 by Cecil Rhodes and co, this piece of infrastructure was part of the grand imperialistic plan of connecting Cape to Cairo. You quickly remind yourself that infrastructure(railway lines, roads etc) were not built so that Africans could visit their friends.
I get through immigration and cross over to the Zim side and one of the guys who sold me curios walks with me but unceremoniously dumps me when he sees some wazungus/white people. Sigh! The other guy quickly takes over the role of walking with me along the bridge. He invites me to his village. He tells me that instead of paying 40 dollars (at Fairmount) I can stay for free at his village with him. I tell him that I am staying in another village (After the conversation with the photographer I decided it is not clever to say where I am staying). I tell him that he is drunk. He says “yes, I have taken something, but this job requires that we do this. It is hot and there are many kinds of people that we meet here.” I tell him that I do not understand. I say that the smell of alcohol may put off some potential customers. He smiles. On my way back, another curio dealer corners me and follows me up to the border. I ask him if he cannot sell his stuff without invoking his numerous financial commitments like paying school fees for the children etc.He tells me that strategy works. I tell him that it does not work for me. I suggest to him that he should just focus on telling me how good his products are. We both laugh and I end up buying some copper bracelets from him.
I decide to check out the curio shops at Mosi oa Tunya and I buy some stuff. One of the shops is covered by a curtain at the entrance. The dealer tells me-just get in don’t be alarmed the curtain is to shield my crafts from the sun. Makes sense. I look around and see nothing of interest. As I leave he asks me where I am staying in town. I am getting irritated by this question now. He says I should invite him. I walk away. Outside the curio shops is an elderly man playing a locally made instrument. I give him some Kwachas. We leave the falls at around 6pm. What an absolutely amazing day it has been? I am having dinner as I write. Meat balls and rice. Finally saw Mosi oa Tunya – the smoke that thunders. Dreams do come true.
Woke up at 8.30am oooo that was such good sleep. Today, I will go for a sunset cruise in the Zambezi – one of Africa’s mighty rivers. All these cruises are thoroughly overpriced so I settle for the cheapest (which is not cheap) but it appeals to me because it is community run. I am the only African tourist on the boat. The other Africans are staff members/crew. The other tourists are British and Chinese. I go to the upper level of the boat so that I can have a good vantage point to spot wildlife and to view the sunset. The British tourists come to the upper level too. There are three of them. One of them asks me where I am from etc etc. Then they get into a conversation about Zimbabwe. One of the says how she can not go to Zim because of the person who is in power there. She cannot even mention his name – Yawn ! They try to rope me into the conversation .
I do not want to get into debates. I decide it is more worthwhile to continue chatting with the guide. I always love chatting with guides in touristy places. Through the guides you understand the realities of the communities and the industry. The guide tells me that they retain the names ‘Livingstone’ and ‘Victoria falls’ for tourism. He also tells me that there were some Zambians who wanted to have the name changed. They only managed to change the names of the streets. The main street i Livingstone is known as Mosi oa Tunya. We also chat about the community project and how the community benefits from tourism. I ask him why there are no cheaper boats that can do this cruises. He tells me that the industry is tightly controlled by the hotel industry (most of which is foreign owned). They have their big cruise ship boats. You should see the parade on the Zambezi in the evenings. Did I mention that you can drink and eat as much as you want on the cruise? That comes with the package you pay for.
Woke up and had breakfast then headed to town and bought an airtel sim card. On my way to the airtel shop I met this man on the street. He stopped to chat with me.
Me: Blank stare (I forgot my Chichewa! the answer should be Ndilibwino)
Man: How are you?
Man: Are you from Kenya?
Me: Yes, how did you know?
Man: for how long are you here? Where are yoou staying and are you visiting with your family?
Man: Are you not here for business? ( Side note: I encountered many Zambians who asked me whether I was there for business. Kenyans are known for their hustle. Most people found it hard to believe that I was just there to visit.)
Man: I used to have a contact person who would send me stuff from Kenya and I would pick it up from Dar in Tanzania.
Me: Ah. What kind of stuff?
Man: Oh, cloth, with animal print. I understand that in Mombasa it is very cheap. So you really are not in business?
Man: Oh I need a contact because my contact left for France
Me: Sorry, I cannot help
Man: So what religion do you and your husband subscribe to?
I was puzzled at how fast the conversation shifted from business to religion but I moved with the flow.
Me: we are not religious
Man? So you are not muslim or Christian?
Me: No, we just try to live our lives right
Man: Really? So you do not worship?
Me: We worship by the way we live. Look, I really need to go. I leave him behind with a perplexed look on his face
He must have been thinking “Today, I have met the devil!”
I then go to the Museum. Jeeez it is even hotter in the museum than outside. I roast in there for 2.5 hrs. I sweated it out because I had to read each and every panel. The curio dealer from the previous day tracks me down and I end up spending 70 kwacha on some stuff from him. We chat for quite a while. He tells me that his name is Bruno and he can take me to the Market. We exchange contacts. I go for dinner later and suddenly it starts raining…heavy rain with huge thunderstorms. One of the thunderstorms is so loud that my heart skips a beat. And then the hotel starts leaking including at my table! Fairmount! After dinner I head off to my room and find that there is a slight leak above the bed. I ignore it and sleep. Another day in Livingstone!
I call Bruno. We meet at the Museum and head to the Market. He is my tourguide for the day. We walk along as he points out different things. It is sweltering hot. I am melting. We get to the market and I end up buying ‘Jitenges’/Kitenges even if I had promised myself to not buy any more fabric. I have quite a collection. I just collected my other consignment of clothing from Omondi so, really, this should stop. I get two pieces. Well, here we go again. We tour the market. I love markets. I love the displays, the colours of various things, people trading…it’s a powerful image.
After the tour of the market we head back to town and decide to go to Mukuni village. Bruno offers to take me there. The tour operators had told me that they could not take me because there was no quorum and it would cost me 25 dollars. Thank goodness for people like Bruno. We get into a bus and drive down towards the falls. Then we catch another smaller taxi and drive to the village. This real. I like this kind of tourism. We walk around, the village. Traditional beautiful architecture and fences. Lots of tres and lots of fruit trees on peoples compounds. Bruno tells me that people have planted these. They are encouraged by the chief to do so.
We see some people who are busy making curios and we stop to chat to one of the guys who speaks Swahili . We get chatting. He works from Lusaka where he is an employee of a certain Kamau. He shows me some beautiful pieces he has carved using the Kenyan style. He tells me Kamau taught him how to do this. We walk some more and see some more carvings. I really hope that these guys are getting some value for their efforts. I buy some animal carving and we head towards the chief’s palace. The chieftancy is a respected institution in Zambia. That is why you have the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs. This ministry focuses on amongst other things conservation of heritage. That is how I know some Zambian colleagues. That is my field of operation, so to speak. Anyhow, heritage sites are found in land that is under control of the chief, hence, the chief has a say regarding their management.
The chief is not in so we cannot get into the palace. I was preparing on how to get down on my knees and greet the chief like a loyal subject. We go into the nearby shopping centre and get some drinks. Bruno gets Kibuku, a traditional beer that is brewed and packaged and distributed by the government. There is another one called Lusaka beer too. I am interested in this because this is a recognition of local products brewery and not the relegation of traditional brew into the unregulated market where it is than taken over by unscrupulous business men and women who are keen to make a quick money. Case in point -Kenya.
He also shows me how to eat the Mawi fruit. You find this fruit on sale on the streets of Livingstone. Very tasty. Oh and in the market I finally got to see the Mopani worm. Bruno tells me they taste like fish. I do not have the guts to try these.
There is a casino sort of thing or gambling machine in the bar where we bought our drinks. Women and men line up there all day and spend all their money hoping to win big. The machines are owned by the Chinese, Bruno tells me. I say that I think they should be made illegal. He tells me that the government lets the Chinese do whatever they want. Sad! I see some women in blue and I ask him who they are. He tells me they are from the SDA church. He asks me if I go to church. I say “I do not know about the church here but I find the church in Kenya to be a haven of corruption and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society, so I stay away.” “It is the same in Zambia,” he says. Alas! We head back to the falls, and oh, before that, the reason we got talking about the Casino is that there was a woman there who was acting deranged. A child is strapped on her back. She is wearing a bra only… She is actually mentally sick, I am told. But the lady at the bar told me that she lost about 30 kwacha through the Casino machine. Now she went begging from one person to the other. Tragic.
We drive back to the falls and on the way down I get to see the sunset over the Zambezi. Absolutely Magical. Then I get to the huge bao bab tree and climb up so that I can see the sunset and the smoke from the falls. It is an incredible site. I snap away. Bruno is at the bottom taking pictures as I climb up and down the tree.
We then drive back to town but before that we get chatting with his cousin at the bus stop. We arrive in Livingstone and walk around. He tells me that Livingstoone is very safe. He tells me that you cannot walk around in Lusaka at this time- it was about 8pm. We agree to meet the next day and and go to see the sunset from Mosi oa Tunya. I return to Fairmount. Dinner time. I complain that my pork chops are too salty and the chef comes to apologise in person and says that tomorrow he will prepare whatever I order personally the next day. They give me cake for desert -on the house!Sweet.
I go to the park and spend my time reading Namoi Klein’s ‘This changes everything’. I am startled by the link between trade and climate change. The park is so wonderful. It is a government project and you pay 1 kwacha and get in. There are lots of trees and benches. I read until 1pm and then head back to the hotel and catch some movies until 3.30pm when I have to go and meet Bruno. We are supposed to go to the falls to see the sunset. This is not to be since all over a sudden the weather becomes overcast and it starts raining. We decide to go find a place to get Lusaka beer instead. He takes me to this back streets and we end up in some place. We get a bench and sit outside. The vendor does not have Lusaka beer so Bruno goes and buys it from elsewhere. He leaves me there with the vendor.
In the meantime, I get chatting with this vendor and she tells me that they have to vacate this area because the owner has to construct something on the land. The owner had given the chairman a 2 years notice but the chairman never communicated. In addition the chairman had sold some of the plots to people. They were to use it for 2 years but they have been there for 6 years,. The chairman is a thief, she concluded. So, what next? I ask her? “I have no idea,” she says. Our Lusaka beer is here. Bruno tells me you have to shake the beer before pouring in the glass. We shake shake and try . It is good. It is made of maize and sorghum. Another government project and product. Bruno drinks most of it and I just sit by and make conversation. He shows me how to polish the copper bracelet, I am also supposed to buy some metal polish for that. We head back and buy roasted maize along the way and munch. We part ways with Bruno. He has been absolutely professional. He knows what it means to respect a woman. As a woman travelling alone you are faced with all kinds of propositions but then you meet men like Bruno who restore your faith because Bruno is dignified. All guides and men should be like Bruno.
I head for the last supper- I am already missing Livingstone. It is so safe and chilled out. The people are nice and seem to be very jovial. I think I will come back. Now I await my shima and village chicken. We end just the way we started. Viva Livingstone viva!
Day 8 – this was to be the last day in Livingstone.
I wake up and have breakfast and watch a hilarious movie. I go look for my contact at the ministry but he isn’t there. Another government official ushers me into his office and he talks to me without looking at me. I do some last minute shopping and come back to the hotel and watch some movies. I miss you Livingstone. Not the explorer or missionary but the place…shish! I will be back MOSI OA Tunya
Go to the airport via Evans the cab driver who Bruno had linked me up with. The flight is cancelled. KQ tells us that they will put us in a hotel. Some Australian woman causes so much drama. She says she wants to be booked in the hotel where she was staying and not any other. The reason? – she wants to maintain her standards. We all watch as all the staff try to contain the situation. In the end, she like the rest of us have to stay at Protea hotel. I think it is a 5 star hotel. For me , coming from Fairmount this was a serious upgrade. But I still missed Fairmount. The mosquitos at Protea were vicious! The food was better but these fancy places just put me off. KQ informs us that we would leave Livingstone after 2 days.
Since I have a day to kill I decide to go to see the falls from the Zimbabwean side. I get a cab through the hotel. The cab driver is playing Whitney Houston music and singing along. He tells me that he looooooovveeeeees Whitney Houston. I spend the day at the falls. I meet a Zim guide who tells asks me whether I have seen the falls on the Zambian side. I say that I have. He asks me which side is better. I say that the Zimbabwean side is amazing – and it is. There is more water on the Zim side! and more rainbows. Lots and lots!
I meet up with the cab driver at the entrance as 5pm as agreed. He suggests we should go via the Royal Livingstone hotel and see some wildlife. The Royal Livingstone is one of the high end hotels. We see some Zebras. Then he suggests that we can go to the beach. I ask him if that is allowed. He knows the people that work there there isn’t any problem. We walk around for a while. I see some white people looking at us with disapproval. Those looks that seem to say – what are you doing here? how did you get here? You are spoiling our aesthetics! hhehehehe!
Finally left Livingstone for Nairobi. There are all kinds of overpriced tourism offerings at the falls e.g., 15 minutes helicopter rides that cost 150 USD or something like that. I could not afford that. But, I really would have loved to see an aerial view of the falls. So, when KQ deliberately flew us over the falls, I loved them/it even more! KQ that is. And the falls too of course!
I have some short videos of the falls in my YouTube Channel. Enjoy!