23rd & 24th August 2012 – Livingstone
23rd August – Livingstone – Maramba River Lodge
We arrive in Livingstone, Zambia in the early afternoon after flying Helsinki > Frankfurt > Johannesburg > Livingstone. We are totally exhausted and after some unproductive fumbling for an hour at the ATMs and banks at the airport we take a cab to the Maramba River Lodge, still without any local currency – Kwachas. Since 2012 Kwacha is the mandatory currency in Zambia and is not traded outside of the country so travellers can only get it on arrival. Use of US dollars is now prohibited. Clearly they should have worked a bit harder to ensure better compatibility with foreign credit cards …
Maramba River Lodge is quite a nice place if overpriced for what it is – just like everything else in Zambia. We have a riverside chalet which was simple and nice – very clean and with working hot water. mosquito net and a small verandah with 2 chairs overlooking the premises. The Maramba river, where the lodge is situated, is bone dry which is a bit of a disappointment so we decide to have our sundowners at the Royal Livingstone Hotel – my favourite terrace in the world. There we enjoy beautiful views of the Zambezi and the spray of the Victoria Falls, excellent cocktails, inquisitive vervet monkeys frolicking amongst the guests and of course the obligatory Mosi beers. After our sundowners we go to an Indian Restaurant called Golden Leaf which is absolutely excellent – I never thought I would eat the best Indian food I have ever tasted in Livingstone of all places! We are literally bulging at the seams when we arrive back to the lodge for some well deserved sleep.
Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone
Victoria Falls as seen from the Royal Livingstone Hotel Terrace
Cheecky Vervet Monkey at the Royal Livingstone Hotel
24th August – Livingstone – Peregrine Bush Camp
Today our rental car is delivered, this will be our home for the coming weeks during our self-drive safari. After a lot of research we had decided to rent our car from Bushlore in South Africa. Even with a hefty delivery cost to Livingstone of 700Euros it worked out cheaper than if we rented a car locally from Zambia, and from what I heard you get much better quality too. The downside of renting a non Zambian car is that you get hit with higher park fees, as locally registered cars pay less. And, especially if you have a rooftop tent like we had, you stand out like a beacon on the road for potential harassment at roadblocks or by the police. Furthermore you can get hit by very high towing costs should anything happen to the car, whether it is your fault or not. This is because the car would need to be towed to it’s base which is Johannesburg. So we took the highest possible insurance available and at least in that way we would only have to cover the towing costs till Kasane in Botswana. The biggest concern that we had was the Police clearance certificate for the Zimbabwe crossing which we had some troubles to obtain, as this was made mandatory just a few months before our trip and it seems not all SA hire companies know about it because it doesn’t even apply to all borders – so it did take quite a bit of pestering on my side to get all the required papers. But thankfully all the papers were delivered, so it was time for a big sigh of relief.
So happy with our shiny white airconditioned Toyota Hilux we go to stock up on supplies at the Livingstone Shoprite – good for the basics but that’s about it. I was glad we brought some stuff from home to have something fancier, like certain spices and tortilla wraps. We are absolutely shocked as to how expensive things are in Zambia, very close to Helsinki prices and that’s saying something! After we stock up on all we need for our mini expedition, we refuel at Vuma which has a very nice looking petrol station with a thatch roof – though one has to wonder about the fire hazard. Again the prices of fuel are higher than in neighbouring countries and made a significant dent in our budget. We buy 180L of diesel – since we are going to Kafue we do not want to take any risks – it might be a week before we see another working petrol station. We find out that the only way to get any money out of our Visa cards is to go to the bank at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. All the other ATMs stubbornly kept refusing our cards with a variety of excuses. After all the chores are done, at about 4pm we proceeded on to our first campsite – Peregrine Bush Camp which is part of the Taita Falcon Lodge, 30 minutes outside of Livingstone town. I doubt we could have made a better choice. The location is absolutely stunning and it is so peaceful after all the hustle and bustle in Livingstone. Taita Falcon Lodge is perched on top of the Batoka Gorge and the view is jaw-dropping, especially in the warm hues of sunset. Each campsite has their own ablution facilities, and they are very spacious, level and private.
After we take in the views and snap a few photos we spend some time organizing our stuff in the car. The drawer system in the Bushlore vehicle is pure genius as all is stowed away in separate boxes so you are not left wondering in which bag in which faraway corner things are and you do not need too much acrobatics to get to the items in the far back of the bakkie! We are still quite tired from all the travelling and since we are on holiday after all we opt to eat at the lodge, since they have no other guests on this day. The food is simple but very delicious – especially the malva pudding dessert, a South African speciality. The setting is perfect since the restaurant is open air under a thatched roof and overlooks the prime view spot of the gorge. After dinner we are entertained by Fran, the South African owner, with all his stories and jokes – what a character! Drinks flow freely including the delicious marula liqeur he makes himself, and we are even given a very reluctant singing performance by Smiley the Jack Russel. Our plans for an early night are completely trashed!