Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Zimbabwe Sojourn, Part I
The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river system in Africa, meandering through 6 countries, with its delta emptying into the Indian Ocean.
The 1,600 mile river forms part of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe; runs through a vast broken-edged plateau, in a spectacular gorge with perpendicular walls of basalt and granite, and forms the famous Victoria Falls where Zimbabwe and Zambia meet at its banks.
During the Victoria Falls segment of our Zimbabwe trip we visited the Gorges Lodge, a spectacular camp located on top of Batoka Gorge with incredible views of the river and the rapids that form one of the most harrowing whitewater narrows, a tremendous challenge to kayakers and rafters that dare to brave this mighty river.
The Gorges Lodge and Little Gorges Tented Lodge are a combination of brick and mortar buildings and luxury tents within a lush garden with, as I mentioned above, spectacular views of the river from the terraces and porches. There is a very good open-air dinning room and bar, and though we did not spend the night there, we had a tasty lunch of assorted cold cuts, salads and what seems to be Zimbabwe’s national dish, cabbage and carrot slaw; we were offered this delicious coleslaw for lunch and dinner at every meal during our sojourn!
After visiting in the morning the falls that are named “The smoke that thunders” by the local tribes, when the sun was covered by the mist generated by the falls and the sound of the water rushing to the bottom was deafening, we took a sunset boat tour on the Zambezi.
The banks were teaming with wildlife; some were there to drink, others to feed on the lush grass and trees that grow by the river and others were bidding their time to make a meal of the herbivores at the bank. We watched as a young elephant slid down a steep embankment to reach the succulent shoots by the water and there was some concern that once down it would not be able to climb back up. It was with some relief that once sated the calf maneuvered its way back up to the encouraging cheers of the spectators on board. As the setting sun colored the sky and water a red-orange hue, the palm trees were silhouetted against the horizon and the hippos were surfacing by the riverboats hoping that a careless tourist would drop some food from their hands. That scene said one thing to me “Africa!” That was the reason we traveled all the way to Zimbabwe and that was what made it worth every minute of the long flight.
We overnighted at another legendary property, the 5-star Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve at the Nakavango Estate, a few minutes away from the Victoria Falls Township.
Victorian opulence and 5-star amenities are the hallmark of this exceptional property. When you walk through the public spaces of this hotel you are transported back to the time when Britannia ruled the waves, Queen Victoria reigned in far-away London, and Henry Morton Stanley, Welsh by birth but American by assimilation, was commissioned by George Bennett -- publisher of the New York Herald, to find David Livingstone who was presumed lost in “The Dark Continent” in his search to find the source of the River Nile.
The Stanley and Livingstone meeting is depicted in a large canvas over the fireplace of the hotel’s salon and is illustrated with numerous period photographs that dot the walls of the reception, the salon, the dinning room and other public spaces.
Our air-conditioned suite was exceptionally spacious with a good-sized living room, bedroom and bathroom. There are telephones on the living room desk and at the bedside with international calling capabilities. Turkish terrycloth bathrobes and slippers are hanging in the wardrobe, and there is a minibar at the bottom of the living room television cabinet. There are multiple televisions with digital satellite reception throughout the suite. A fruit basket was waiting for us when we arrived and tea cups and a kettle were available, in case we would like some tea or coffee in the evening.
The dinning room was compact because most guests, as I was told, choose to dine at the sun-deck veranda that surrounds the back of the main building or the Main Bar patio with views of the grounds and river. But since this was the “late autumn” of Southern Africa and the evenings were cold, we decided on indoor dinning. “Kariba Bream” was plentifully available during lunch or dinner during our trip, and it was grilled, poached or fried. It is a tasty fresh-water fish that is farmed in the waters of the lake created by the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River. Of the times it was served, twice it was offered as fillets with a white sauce and mushroom medley. Another dish that made frequent appearances was “Cauliflower Soup”.
In general, Zimbabwean cuisine has not been graced by the culinary achievements of modern cuisine and instead is somewhere between early 20th century British cookery and, in the better restaurants, the classics of Escoffier and Carême. It is not bad cooking and, during the colder months it can be very enjoyable; I just think it would be very heavy during the hotter time of the year. Another thing to mention is wine availability. Most wines I saw were mid-priced bottles from South Africa, the better ones from Stellenbosch vineyards. I was happy to have a couple bottles during the trip of Zambezi Beer, a very dry Pilsener style beer, hoppy with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
For travel information to Zimbabwe see: www.zimbabwetourism.net
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