The river wild
Fairlady|February 2020
If a luxuriously relaxing setting, scenic safaris, an armful of adrenalin rushes and fantastic service sound like your kind of holiday, Zambia’s Vic Falls is the ultimate destination.
SAMEENA AMIEN

As the plane starts its descent towards Livingstone’s Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, I wonder where the city buildings are. All I can see from my window seat is red earth and national roads that seem to go on endlessly before meeting little clusters of houses that make up the border towns in the vast, sparsely populated country that is Zambia. From my side of the aisle, there is no sign of the mighty Zambezi either. The fourth-longest river in Africa has its source in a tiny spring in northern Zambia, then meanders down, gathering strength until it reaches Livingstone, where it sends its waters cascading into the Zambezi gorge in the 1708m-wide curtain of water (the largest in the world) that is the Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘the smoke that thunders’.

As we file out of the plane, reeking of insect repellent to ward off flies and malaria-carrying mosquitoes (highly unnecessary in the daytime, btw), the air feels palpably still. Thankfully, the weather is mild, probably 27ºC at most, as it is early September. The ground crew is manually unpacking our bags from the plane onto a kind of pickup truck. I feel as if I’ve stumbled back two centuries, a feeling that is reinforced as we sweep through the ornate gates to the Royal Livingstone Hotel by Anantara.

DAY 1

Warm welcome

The shuttle stops at the entrance to the Livingstone, a horizontal portico flanked by colonial columns – and I am given the rousing traditional Zambian welcome all guests are treated to on arrival. I’m always a bit awkward in these situations, but the singers’ enthusiasm is infectious, and soon the grin that’s millimeters away from a grimace turns into a real smile. Great as they are, though, I cannot take my eyes off the view through the entrance: framed by the columns, it takes you through the reception area across rolling lawns, with the wide expanse of the slow-moving blue river beyond! I can’t wait to check in so I can go down to the deck and drink it all in. Before that can happen, though, I’m served a refreshing hibiscus iced tea while enjoying a hand massage in the formal lounge, with a piano tinkling in the bar area. Everything about this place feels luxe and unhurried…

My room is pure elegance, with a balcony and a view of the river through the monkey trees (more on that later). On my bed, there’s a welcome note and a selection of bespoke chocolates. Before indulging in those, I elect to have lunch at Kubu, one of the restaurant decks on the riverbank.

Sipping my ice-cold virgin mojito under the shade of the huge acacia, with the Falls ‘smouldering’ away in the distance, I notice movement on the opposite bank. It’s a young male elephant casually stripping the branches off a young acacia and having a leisurely chomp. The combination of the stillness of the surrounds, the intense heat, the river gliding silently by – swirling around a sandbank here, rippling there – and the contentment with which he was enjoying his solitary lunch in full view feels like such an enormous privilege that I just sit there, reduced to tears. I linger over my roasted shrimp with a red curry, lime and coconut milk sauce, unwilling to lose the moment.

Zebra crossing

The Royal Livingstone is situated in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, so it’s not uncommon to find a herd of zebra wandering across the lawns, stopping occasionally to pose for a pic (or so it seems!) before moving on. A family of six giraffes graze near the gates, and while it all seems benign, you are warned to keep a safe distance and reminded that these are wild animals. The safari shuttle approaches the gate and suddenly brakes, and out of the bush emerges a herd of zebra, casually crossing over in a single file. They look like little toy horses.

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