Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Africa Part 1

As you can probably tell from my weekend post, I am safely home from Africa. It was an amazing trip...I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and highly recommend it to anyone. I think that Americans forget to include it in their must-do travel plans because it's a long flight from the states, but I'm telling you this is the trip of a lifetime. Yowsa.

There's a lot to tell and many pictures to post, so I will do it in bits and pieces.

The trip actually started on the Friday before I left, as I had to start taking my malaria tablets. They made me kind of woozy, which was not fun. But woozy is better than getting malaria, which I believe I may have mentioned before.

I spent Sat and Sun getting my bags packed and trying to clean up the joint so I wasn't leaving it in a big mess. (Kat was in Tenerife, so I'd gotten a bit more cluttered than I've been lately.) I was just getting ready to hop in the shower and prepare for my drive to Heathrow when I reread my itinerary...and instead of having to arrive at 715pm I saw I needed to be there by 6. There's big construction on the M1 right now, which makes it really difficult to predict travel time. This meant I had exactly 20 minutes to shower, finish packing, and get in the car to allow time to travel. Scrambled like my feet were on fire, but I made it. I hopped in the car 22 minutes later (breathless and flustered, but clean,) and sped down the motorway. Got there a half hour earlier than I needed to. (Grrrrrr.)

Had some time to explore duty free, so I bought some shiny red toenail polish and tried on perfume. Check that. Tried on some really BAD perfume. I can't help it. All those bottles lined up in the shiny lights with their pretty liquids and intoxicating wafts of scent seduce me, and the next thing you know I've coated myself in cheap floral hell. Went to the loo and spent about 10 minutes scrubbing it off my arm before I realised it was actually on my clothes. Pleh. 10 hour flight ahead and I smell like J-Lo.

Met the rest of my group in the Business Class lounge. My group consisted of four event planners (two women in their late 20's/early 30's, a guy about my age, and me,) a journalist who was about my dad's age who owns an incentive travel magazine, our hotel host, our airline host, and our ground agent host. We had some snacks and some gin and tonics and then headed to the plane.

The flight was heaven. We'd been upgraded to business class and each of us had a seat that turned into a flat bed. Talk about comfort. We feasted on relatively okay airline food then settled in for an almost full-night's sleep. It was great.

Arrived in Jo'burg around 9 AM. We didn't have to clear customs...we just stayed in the terminal for international departures...so it took no time at all to enter the country. We had a few hours before our flight to Livingstone so I went shopping for a floppy hat to protect my pale pale skin from the sun. Found a nice one that looks vaguely like a beat up fedora. Perfect.

Caught the two-hour flight to Livingstone, and landed around 2 PM. The Livingstone airport is a little hut and a tarmac. You walk down steps and walk across the sweltering pavement to the unairconditioned customs stop. There is one tiny baggage carousel. You're still basically in the open air. My luggage arrived unscathed (I was lucky, as others had their luggage broken in to), and we went out to meet our transfers. I thought we'd be getting in a bus, but instead the grabbed our bags and sent us back out to the tarmac where we boarded helicopters for quick air-transfer to the hotel. On the way, we did a fly/swoop over Victoria Falls. Totally cool. The falls are HUGE...something like 1.7 km across...and they cascade into a deep ravine/canyon thing that the continuing river cuts into the earth. It's absolutely amazing. Our helicopter landed at the hotel's heliport, and on the two minute drive to the main entrance we passed two giraffes...a very cool sight.

The Royal Livingstone is a colonial-type property. It's all open air...no front door on the lobby, no back door either...just open expanses onto the lawns. It's located at the edge of the Zambezi River within spitting distance of the falls. In fact, in high water the spray from the waterfall soaks people sitting by the pool. We were greeted by cocktails and a local kid's choir singing African welcome songs, and they gave us beaded necklaces...I guess the African equivalent of a lei greeting. We had canapes and cocktails (late lunch) on the deck overlooking the falls and then had time to check into our rooms and clean up.

Grabbed a quick shower to shake off the travel funk and then headed to meet the group for the evening. We were going on a river cruise on the Zambezi. Or shall I say the "mighty Zambezi", as I never hear it called anything else. Our cruise ship departed from a spot upriver that was much calmer. It was a double-decker paddleboat type thing, and we travelled upriver with gin and tonic in hand. You'll notice lots of mention of G&Ts on this trip. It was the obligatory drink, really. I mean, there I was in and English colonial setting with malaria-laden mosquitos buzzing around. You HAVE to drink a gin and tonic...it's like eating barbeque and touring Graceland in Memphis. Plus this is the first time in my life I can actually say I could use the quinine in the tonic. It's medicinal, don't you know.

Our river cruise gave us spectacular sunset views. It's amazing how calm the Zambezi is when you're just slightly upstream from the falls. You would never know that just a few kilometers away all hell is breaking loose. The evening river cruise is a great place to see game, as well. We saw crocodiles, hippos, lots of birds...it was unbelievable. Seriously, not 20 feet from me there was a hippo along the banks, and I saw it take it's head above water and yawn with a giant roaring gasp. I'd stepped into National Geographic.

When the cruise was through, we headed to a nearby boma for dinner. (A boma is a circular clearing in the bush that they use like a camp...we often do boma dinners with a barbeque and a big open fire and dancing and drumming and such.) Our table was set under the stars with full linen, candles, crystal, etc. Torches lit the perimeter of the boma. They were waiting with drums, and we had a nice little drumming lesson. I got to uvulate. Dinner was relatively simple...soup, filet steak with veggies, a chocolate mousse for dessert...and then we headed back to the hotel for one last G&T. Decided to head to bed around midnight, so I headed down the path to my room. (No hallways...just sidewalks to the many smaller buildings with the rooms.) I'd no more than left the lobby than I turned a bend and walked into a herd of zebras. Yes, a herd of zebras. Six grazing on my left, two grazing on my right. Pretty freaky in the dark, let me tell you, especially after the Palm Springs zoo lady had told me how mean their zebra was. (I guess they're really fast and their kick packs a wallop.) I was high on life, let me tell you. Practically skipped to my room.

But once I got up the steps to my door, the skipping stopped. Full stop. See, the door to my room was in a little open-air cubicle that had the only light available in the area. And Africa has, well, a lot of insects. And insects like light. A lot. So basically, I turned into this lit cubicle to enter my room and found myself in the middle of some sort of Hitchcockian bug world. I swear there were so many beetles they could have carried furniture if they'd worked together. The hallway was positively TEEMING with bugs. Pleh. Screamed like a girl and flew back against the railing of the hallway/balcony. Had to step back, take a breath, and and then make a run for it. Made it into my room with only 20 little crawly friends, who quickly met an untimely end with the business end of my boot.

Took another shower (with some more creepy crawlies), and then hit the hay. Which is what I need to do now. More tomorrow.

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