Paradise on the Zambezi river

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Jan 21, 2012

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Where I stayed
Chundukwa River Lodge

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

I woke Up early this morning and had a quick shower. My transport arrived before I had finished sorting out my carry on luggage. It was very expensive (320 ZAR) but at least the driver was friendly. I arrived a bit too early at the airport as there was no traffic on the roads at 6am on a Sunday.

Cape Town airport is very nice and may be the first airport in Africa I've been in with more seats than people. Amazing. I had a short stopover in Johannesburg - another very nice airport - with just enough time to do a little gift shopping before flying to Livingstone. I landed and proceeded directly to immigration; that is to say, I walked into the small buillding and to one of the two little booths where I could pay for my visa. Once I paid and started to walk away, I realized I only had a single entry visa and Jenn and I had already considered the possibility of going to Zimbabwe, or Botswana, or both, so I went back to the nice lady that had sold me the visa, gave her another $30, and she modified my visa to a double entry.

After clearing visa payment and collecting my bag, I met my guide from Chundukwa River Lodge. Then he sat me in one of the few seats in the airport "lounge" while we waited for Jenn to arrive. We waited another 30 minutes after our expected 25 minute wait as her plane was late. Finally, we were reunited right there in the tiny Livingstone airport.

We drove directly to the lodge. Wow, paradise. The owners, Peter and Orla, were so sympathetic with the crap we went through to get here (I'll get to that next) that they gave us each our own room, both with king beds. Jenn got the room with the swank bath tub and I got the room with the patio. Everything here is perfect - the people, the food, the views. Every few minutes either Jenn or I simply sigh. It's that awesome.

So, the backstory: Jenn booked this lodge way back in August when she planned her trip. I decided in late November to join her. She had booked through a travel agent in South Africa, so I did also. The travel agent changed her earlier arrangements so we could share the room and so I could stay an extra night without paying a single supplement as my flight schedule didn't quite match with Jenn's. Anyway, Jenn paid most back in August when she booked and I paid immediately in early December through a bank transfer. On Deember 26th, after Jenn had started traveling, I received an email from the travel agent telling me they had gone bankrupt and that our booking would be cancelled and we'd have to pay again. For the next three weeks I was emailing back and forth with the lodge and the travel agent and Jenn, trying to sort out whether the lodge had received any of our payments, if we could get back any of the money paid, if there was any hope for us whatsoever. That is still being sorted out but we both have travel insurance that we will make claims against once we get home, and are hoping for the best. So for now we do havewent to pay again. And as I mentioned above, the lodge is very sympathetic and treating us like VIPs. Jenn had the extra irritation of finding out only two days before arriving here that her flight here that she also booked months ago was with an airline that went bankrupt not long after she booked it, and she had to find a new, last minute flight, make an overnight unexpected stopover and add an item to her list of thinOugs to claim on her travel insurance.

Back at the lodge, there is one other couple here until tomorrow morning. After we arrived, Jenn and I had a nice lunch together then we were taken out on in a boat for a cruise down the river with the other couple. Our guide packed a cooler so we drank wine while cruising down the Zambezi. He also packed us a nice snack of chips, popcorn and warm peanuts. It was pretty fantastic. We crossed the river and got out on a little island, Chunda Island, which is now on the Zimbabwe side of the river (it sounded like a more recent acquisition). The little island is covered in sand and uninhabited by humans, though there were a few little chalets under construction. However, there are other inhabitants. We did not see any in person but we did see their tracks: elephants, monkeys, crocodiles. Actually we did see quite a few birds. It also has a strange feature: when you walk on the sand it makes a strange squeaking noise. It was quite fun!

We got back in the boat and our guide spotted some wildlife for us, rather miraculously. He has the eyes of a hawk! He spotted a tiny little crocodile lying on a tree. It was only about 40-50cm long. They are almost cute at that age. He also found a water monitor and of course some hippos spouting up in the river.

We got back to the lodge and didn't wait long for dinner. It was fantastic! We get a three-course meal every night included in our stay. After dinner we gathered around the campfire that was struggling desperately against the wet wood, chatted and drank, chased away some frogs, and looked for bush babies. I love it here!
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