Zambia (2): Day Fifteen : Elephant Camp to The Chrismar Hotel
We left Zimbabwe early, as we had an excursion booked from our next destination, back in Zambia, now staying at the Chrismar Hotel, located a short walk up from the ‘African Queen’ landing stage.
A final thought here, following our first stay in Zimbabwe: although the Zambians are very friendly, helpful and relaxed, the Zimbabweans stood out for their energetic and proactive attitude, perhaps surprising when they are under such a repressive regime.
On our way to the hotel, we were again reminded that the local elephants are not only free to roam where they choose, but also regard the main road as very much their territory ().
This final day in Livingstone was to prove even more demanding than those that preceded it. Late on our last evening at the Zambezi Sun we had been told of a ‘walking with cheetahs’ excursion that was now available, and you can guess that this wasn’t something that I could ignore.
After the relaxed and intimate experience that we had enjoyed with Sylvester, back in Zimbabwe, though, this was something of a let-down. Although we were to walk with three cheetahs, Susie, Lily and Pablo, all born in captivity in South Africa, the whole business was taken much more seriously. We started with an interminable safety briefing, and then proceeded out with the three cheetah, who all wore harnesses (), and were restricted by leads.
After walking with them into the Park (although it was clear that they would have preferred to run), we stopped under a tree to interact with them more (). After walking them back to their enclosure there was a further photo opportunity (), but, although I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything, I did feel that it lacked the essential element of spontaneity that we experienced when walking with lions.
Back to The Chrismar, in plenty of time for lunch, before departing on our afternoon excursion, to Mukuni Village, which was founded around the 13th Century and is home to about 7,000 Leya people, and is still presided over by Chief Mukuni.
Although it is presented as a real working village, with real people () and indeed this is true, it is nevertheless a major tourist attraction in the area, which does detract slightly from the experience (it’s a bit like taking a game drive with other vehicles in sight).
Still, one advantage of being professionally guided here is that a large amount of anecdotal information is provided to visitors. For example, the tradition is that the Chief is killed when he can’t do the job properly any more. One such, who they tried to poison, had taken traditional medicine to counter this, and survived. So it is reported that they buried him alive instead.
The dwellings here are traditional African huts, and the custom is to remove the hut top when the husband dies, so that it eventually collapses, and his spirit is prevented from returning. When a wife dies they just cut a new door: her spirit is regarded as too weak to find this new entrance. Our (female) guide didn’t actually believe all this, saying that they’re just too lazy to rebuild.
You might think that this was enough for one day, but the best was yet to come. One of the most sophisticated of Livingstone’s attractions is an evening dinner ride on The Livingstone Express, a carefully restored Edwardian train (), consisting of five air-conditioned carriages, two dining cars, a club/kitchen car, lounge car, and an observation car and, for those train buffs amongst you, is pulled by either a 10th class No. 156 or a 12th class No. 204 locomotive.
Most people travelling on it don’t seem to realise the unequalled view that the open-to-the-air observation car provides, situated as it is at the rear of the train, giving an unimpeded view.
Its departure point is in the centre of Livingstone, and the first part of the journey takes place through the outskirts of Livingstone, revealing an environment that you never normally see. This part of the trip is enlivened by all the children coming out to run behind the train, shouting and waving to you () (but only really viewable from the rear car).
The route then enters the National Park, although we saw very little in the way of wildlife. At the end of its track it then comes to a halt, while a sumptuous six-course dinner is served (). During this time the engine is moved to the other end of the train, and we were then pulled back to our starting point. An excellent experience this.
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