Houseboating the Kariba

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The next part of our trip is completely different to the rest as we are booked to stay on a houseboat for a couple of days, sailing on Lake Kariba.

Although it's called Lake Kariba, it's actually a dam and until recently was the biggest man-made lake in the world. When you're there it looks more like a sea than a dam/lake as it stretches well beyond the horizon. On one side is Zimbabwe, and the other side is Zambia, which is the case for quite a few places we're going so we can peer over to see Zambia without having to deal with the tricky border crossings.

We arrived into Kariba town and from the road there are beautiful views looking down over the lake. Unfortunately we couldn't really stop to enjoy these views as we were running very late and still needed to stock up on food and drinks for the boat trip. You would think it would be easy to find the main centre of the town but it really wasn't. Between the 3 cars we had 3 different types of SatNav, a load of maps, the lonely planet guide for Southern Africa and even a couple of people who had been to Kariba before and we still couldn't find the shops anywhere. 

 It's fairly luxury on the boat as all we have to do is to provide the food and drinks which will then be cooked and served for us but as the time slipped away and no shops were found, it started to look like we'd be having onions on toast 3 meals a day using what we had left from Mana Pools.

Eventually a guy at the side of the street directed us to a township shop which actually wasn't too bad as far as stock goes but we were being followed around the shop by quite a few suspicious looking young guys so we had to keep a close eye on our belongings. But all that mattered in the end was that we were able to stock up, and before too long we were on the boat with a Zambezi beer in hand, all ready to set sail.

We had three Zimbabwean guys who were looking after us. Marco the captain of the boat, Brian the chef and Tewanda who did everything else. It was pretty relaxing as there was a pool on deck, the sun was shining and the only decisions we had to make was what to eat or drink next.

Every evening we were taken on the smaller boat for sunset drinks and we had short tours of some of the islands where we could see the crocodiles, hippo's and myriad bird life. These islands surprisingly have quite a few land animals as well, including buffalo, impala, kudu and elephants. They make their way over to the island when the water levels are low but then they end up being stuck there when the water levels rise again. In some cases the rangers will arrange for them to be transported back to the mainland and they also send boats with food for them if they are to stay there. 

 When Lake Kariba was built there was a sad situation called operation Noah. The plan was to flood the plains so that only the taller hills would be left out of the water, then all the animals would congregate in a few places and could be rescued. However in the process hundreds of animals died. That aside, the lake is very impressive and really is beautiful. You can't comprehend the size and how much work must have been involved in it's construction.

 We joked with the staff about whether we can go for a swim having just seen hippos and crocodiles but they said the next day they would take us to an area where the depth is 30m and would therefore be safe. So the next day we swam in Lake Kariba, jumping off the top deck of the boat hoping they weren't joking about the crocs and hippo's not coming that deep. It was good fun and the staff jumped in as well to prove it was safe. They even wanted us to take photos and videos of them that they could send back to their families and their wives.

 After our time on the Lake we had a bumpy drive towards Hwange and knew we had to camp on the side of the road because our next destination was too far to do in a day. The guy in the lead car was looking for a suitable camping space and was considering asking a local village chief if we could camp on their land. We then came to a side road and there was a guy walking along there

"Excuse me, what is down there?"

He replied "Campsite, I'm the camp attendant".

 What are the chances of that? We had walked past loads of side roads and past loads of people walking along the side of the road and somehow he asked the right guy at the right time. So instead of clearing some long grass, worrying about upsetting locals and worrying about being run down, we had a lovely campsite 1km off the road.

So now we are on an epic trip to Victoria falls which is largely on gravel roads. It's a beautiful drive through some of southern Africa's most beautiful bushland. Along the way you pass lots of small villages with mud-huts, exactly as you imagine Africa to be. Local people wandering down the road with baskets or bags on their heads, children directing small herds of goats or cows. It's a simple life and everyone waves to the car, children shouting "Sweets, Sweets!"

Bring on the Vic Falls!
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