“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Day 3 - Learning about Zambian culture - from the Football club!

Tracey and her pilot both going handsfree!
So it's only day 3 but the big event of the trip that Tracey was dreading is already upon us... the microlight flight! We both decided breakfast was best left until after the experience so we managed with dodgey Roobios tea and nicotine instead. Dennis, from Livingstone's Adventure, arrived shortly before sunrise at 645am to collect us and spent the ten minute journey telling us about his time in Cambridge in the UK back in the 80's. It seems his over-riding memories were of the cold and our wondrous central heating.
Lisuma (Sunshine) in her new glasses
When we got to the Batoka airstrip, we were greeted and told to read the official indemnity before signing our lives away - the final line read.... "It is better to be on the ground wishing to be in the air, than to be in the air, wishing to be on the ground". All I can say is that the ground was absolutely freezing at that time in the morning. Yes the sun was up, but only just, and the air was decidedly chilly. Thankfully they provided us with padded high-vis jackets to fly in. We were given our flight tickets; numbers 49 and 50 and said we would be called when it was our time to fly, so we took our seats outside next to the runway to wait our turn.

Before us was a family of four, but with only 3 micro-lights in the air at once, the mother, daughter and ten-year old son went up first and the father would be flying with Tracey and I in the next round. Tracey watched anxiously as the ten-year old whizzed past us on the runway waving enthusiastically at his father in his over-sized helmet - 15 minutes and that would be us. Tracey looked pale.
We soon heard the engines again returning over the bush and we stood to watch them land and get ready to board. I was first up and Tracey followed in the second. We had headsets that connected us to the pilot and each micro had a GoPro on board to record the whole thing in images taken from the wing at 10 second intervals. The take off was as smooth as I remembered and the view as breathtaking, but what was a surprise was how the temperature changed almost as soon as we were airborne. No longer was there a chilly wind, but a nice warm airflow as we soared above birds and hippos and spiralled downwards over Victoria Falls - simply incredible. Words or pictures cannot do it justice, you have to be up there and feeling the freedom of the wind around you with your arms and legs outstretched - it's exhilarating. So much so that Tracey's first coherent words when she landed back down were "I want to do it again NOW!".
The high-fivers and their pencil cases
Starving and on a massive high, Dennis returned us to the volunteer house for the remains of breakfast and a sneaky look at the 100+ GoPro photos we were each now clutching on USB sticks. 
Still without any local currency and orientation not happening until Monday, we decided to head out for another exploratory wander, taking with us some of the donated pencil cases and sunglasses for the local children we had met the day before.
By 11am we found ourselves cooling off at the local football club, beer in hand, next to a table of African women doing much the same. Of course, it wasn't long before we had befriended them; Edith, who clearly liked a beer or two, was more than a little mad, but good fun. Her cousin, Tango, was visiting from Lusaka, a stunning 20 year old who liked to dance, and Edith's sister, Zeta, a civil servant with the Zambian Air Force who seemed to be the more sensible of the three. They had a 7 year old girl with them called Lisuma, who turned out to be both Edith's sister and her niece!
Zeta, me, Tango and Tracey at the Falls Garden Lodge
We stayed awhile and chatted, learning a lot about Zambian culture; the women do the drinking and do not smoke, but in many tribes, the men can have many wives so the women are often left alone for days at a time. There are 76 tribes in Zambia, each with their own language - the girls spoke Bembo and Nyanja as well as pretty good English. The music was cranked up and more beers appeared (Edith was not happy about us being ripped off paying in US dollars so managed to sort some more beers out with the barman - I certainly wouldn't mess with her!), then all too soon we had to leave them at the bar to get back to the lodge for lunch. With zero local currency, we were also in danger of overstepping the mark of hospitality - we would have to get hold of some Zambian Kwacha somehow and soon, to repay their generosity.
for some reason they don't feel it necessary to put doors on!
Lunch was a massive grilled steak, with pasta and mixed vegetables, so Tracey enjoyed a double helping of African beef, whilst I stuffed myself with carbs. We owed the lodge some US dollars for our private room and also for the extra night we had on arrival and luckily persuaded them to give us our change in local currency... with 100 Kwacha (about £7), we were good to go out again! We loaded up the gift bag once more and set off for the short walk through "Highlands". Edith, Zeta and Tango were still at the sports club when we arrived and the football hadn't yet kicked off. Turns out the opposing team had failed to turn up and so to ensure the hour the boys spent jogging round the sandy pitch, sweating in the afternoon heat was not completely in vain, they decided to have the A team play the B team instead. At this point, Edith decided she wanted to take us to another bar that her friend ran which was closer to our guest-house and much quieter... The Falls Garden Lodge. It was indeed quiet, that is until we turned up. It is an outside bar with thatched roof and considerably better toilets than the sports bar - albeit without toilet doors! Edith had her friend crank the music up once more and the girls took to teaching Tracey and I to do some African dancing - not sure either of us will ever make twerkers, but we had a giggle trying, much to everyone's amusement. Their brother, Sammy Jay, had joined us by this point, an aircraft technician also with the Air force.  We learnt from him a lot more about life in Zambia and shared the differences between their world and ours - some of which they believed and some they didn't - Tango somehow could not get it in her head that we don't have hippos in Sussex! We talked about African suffering, freedom and salaries. Religion and the lack of free education, as well as the dreams of these women who had quickly become our local friends. We left them shortly before 7pm to head back over the red sand road to our accommodation for dinner. Another cracking day that ended with bed about 8:20pm - getting later!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Day 2 - arrival in Zambia

Gingerly got Tracey off the plane, she didn't look good - classic travel sickness (though thankfully without the vomiting), but pale, shaky and nauseous - it was a first for her and I believe she now has a new-found empathy with her school kids on coach trips.
The D Lounge at Jo'Burg
Johannesburg airport have recently introduced biometric screening using a fingerprint system so the queues were pretty long trying to clear the arrivals area - we went through transfer, hoping our luggage was doing the same. We had paid extra to take along a sacrificial suitcase full of donations from various friends and family. It was full of bulging pencil cases, sunglasses and spectacles, as well as sewing kits, medical supplies and mosquito nets.
Despite Tracey's nausea and the lengthy transfer queues, we made it through to the departures lounge in plenty of time. Found the "D Lounge" upstairs which was a smoking lounge complete with bar and cafe and so we sat awhile with coffees and milkshakes trying to get ourselves right again for the second leg of our journey to Livingstone.
We found a pharmacy in the airport and got Tracey some travel sickness tablets which we hoped would work as we still had an hour before take off. We decided against the chocolate bar called "Nosh" at the same shop, but sat giggling at them outside on some benches waiting for our gate number to appear on the board - such children. After a fair wait and with only 40 minutes to take off, I started to get a little nervous and thought I'd wander to check another board... we should be either boarding or known to be delayed.  Turns out the board had simply not been updated - helpful, and our plane was already boarding from gate A21.... time to move! we dashed through the shopping area and made it to the gate with moments to spare... that could have been an embarrassing story to tell.
The "High-Fivers"
A short flight and more food later and we landed in the small, but modern, airport of Harry Mwanga Nkambula in Zambia, where we were met by our driver Lazarus and two other newbie volunteers - one from America and another from Mexico.
It was only a 15 minute drive to the Sunbird guesthouse and the temperature was a lovely 26 degrees and sunny. We were shown to our room out the back of the lodge in an outbuilding attached to the pump house. Clean and comfortable but filled with mosquitoes. Desperate to stay awake until a reasonable hour, we unpacked, sprayed the room with bug spray and went out to explore, hoping that the killer flies would be dead by the time we returned.
We ventured outside the gated compound of the volunteer house and took a left down the red dust road towards the main street and very soon came across a group of young children returning home with containers of water. All six of them were siblings and there were apparently more of them around - 9 in total! They joined us for a walk to explore the area and entertained us with their dancing and singing. Tracey's first introduction to African children went well - they did the usual... clambering all over her, pulling her hair, holding her hands and grabbing her whenever they could - took her camera off her, inspected everything inside the camera case and generally giggled continuously at everything we said or did. Perfect. Tracey took it all in her stride and as the sun started to wane, we headed back to our lodge and said our goodbyes. We were exhausted, filthy dirty, hot and sweaty. But finally we had arrived. Safe and sound and still smiling.  We tested out the shower, ate whatever it was that was served in the main house - I can't even remember, and crashed out soon after 8pm.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Day 1 - The first leg of the journey

After a frantic morning at work, I managed to get home by 1pm and, being already packed, I kept myself busy mowing the lawn, tidying the house and triple checking the paperwork, Tracey clearly couldn't wait either and turned up 20 minutes ahead of schedule, bounding up the path with a huge grin on her face.
The traffic report for the M25 wasn't great but we forced down a cuppa and set off fully loaded with gifts for the kids, canera gear and severe excitement.
2 hours of Steve-Wright-in-the-afternoon later and we finally crawled up the drop-off ramp at Heathrow's terminal 5, where only slight queues at bag drop slowed us down, We had the perfect amount of time available to to head to the "Cavier House and Prunier" for a glass of bubbly and a platetr of mixed seafood to kick the adventure off with a bit of class.
The first flight to Johannes
burg was 11 hours and only slightly delayed with a good selection of films and food. We tried to sleep for most of it, managing a few hours at least. I know you're all dying to know how Tracey's got on with the toilets at 39,000 feet, but sadly she can't tell you as she didn't get round to trying them out and when she finally thought she might she came down with a bad case of travel nausea and couldn't stand, let alone get herself to the toilet anyway. I must admit I was a little shaky too but not down to the journey, more the lack of sleep. I had specifically taken my inflatable pillow to stop my head lolling from side to side overnight and then promptly lost it under Tracey's seat when we boarded!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Final Itinerary!

Day 1. Friday - Travel overnight to Johannesburg and on to Livingstone
Day 2. Saturday - Arrive at Lunchtime in Zambia - visit the city markets and sleep
Day 3. Sunday – Micro-lighting over Victoria Falls in the morning and “Kit Yamoyo” shopping in the afternoon
Day 4. Monday - Orientation and start volunteering work
Day 5. Tuesday - Volunteering
Day 6. Wednesday - Volunteering
Day 7. Thursday - Volunteering
Day 8. Friday - Volunteering
Day 9. Saturday - Transfer after breakfast to Waterberry River Lodge - being collected at 10:30am
Day 10. Sunday - Picnic breakfast on Livi Island with lunch at Olga's, a look round the local market and then back for an Elephant safari in the afternoon just before sunset. (Zambia)
Day 11. Monday - River Lodge - sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi river (Zambian side)
Day 12. Tuesday - Collected from the border (Victoria Falls bridge) in the morning to transfer to Vic Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe for an afternoon game drive
Day 13. Wednesday – Two game drives in Zimbabwe at dawn and dusk
Day 14. Thursday - Travel back to Zambia - need to be at Livingstone airport at 11:00am
Day 15. Friday - Arrive into Heathrow at 530am