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101813

Despite the best of planning I found myself waiting outside my hostel biting my nails with only a half-hour to go before mom’s plane was due to land. I knew from experience that the immigration line would be slow so that would buy me some time, but I was getting more concerned by the minute. Arthur had called; their bus was stuck in traffic and they were a bit behind schedule, but now he wasn’t answering his phone no matter how many times I called.

I decided to cut and run and hopped in one of the many taxis that perpetually wait outside of the hostel. It was one of my regular guys. “Patrick, how long will it take to get me to the airport?â€

“Thirty minutes, maybe forty-five.â€

“How much to take me there, wait maybe a half-hour and bring me back?†I’m in a rush but I’m not stupid. It doesn’t matter how many times you hop in a cab around here, they always try and charge you like you just got off the plane yesterday.

“Two-hundred and fifty kwatcha is okay,†he says matter-of-factly.

“Come on Patrick, why must you always do this?†I had to argue but I was starting to get genuinely worried that I would be late so I made an offer I knew he would take. “Make it two hundred.â€

“Let’s go,†he says, using the same phrase every taxi driver ‘round here uses when he accepts your offer.

I pile in just as I see Arthur’s blue bus pull around the corner. Simultaneously my phone rings. “Todd, we are here!â€

“Sorry Patrick,†I say, jumping out and loading my luggage into the bus.

I had arranged for some of the students from the Twitti School to join me in welcoming my mother at the airport. Ten of them were in the school bus with Arthur and the driver, each kid dressed in their uniforms with Canadian flag stickpins holding their ties. They had brought the ukuleles that I had donated to the school. I tried to steady my jangled nerves by tuning their instruments one-by-one as we ambled through the thick lunchtime traffic.

The tuning was for naught, not only do the kids not know how to play yet (the school received their donation just days before), but as each kid watched me meticulously turning the tuning peg this way and that they naturally followed suit, each child carefully cranking their ukulele back out of tune, their eyes fixed on me, copying my motions.

With the airport in sight Arthur called over his shoulder, “Is your mother flying in on South African Air?â€

“Yeah,†I yell in response over the manic noise of nearly a dozen kids discordantly strumming, “She’s coming in from Jo-berg.â€

“Then it looks like we’re going to make it,†he says, smiling and pointing out the window. Sure enough there is a plane flying parallel with our bus, a South African Air jet just about to land.

In the airport the kids line up by the arrivals gate, I do my best to keep them quiet so as to not ruin the surprise, with little success. Soon I see mom at the luggage carousel and she’s one of the first through the gate. As we hug the kids unleash their racket as one girl presents mom with a bouquet. Welcome to Zambia Mrs. Gail,†she says, giving mom a hug.

Soon me and mom are leading the noisy parade through the airport and out into the hot, hot sun. Arthur and one of the bigger kids lug her luggage onto the bus and in no time we’re off. On the ride back to the city the kids sing songs of welcome and mom turns and beams at them. I was concerned that she might be too tired for such a boisterous reception but she seems to be doing alright. In what seemed like mere minutes we were at the StayEasy where I had booked us for a couple of nights. The kids unload both her luggage and mine, I grab a cart while mom checks in, and soon we are in our modern, air-conditioned room on the second floor.

No hostels for Mrs. Gail!

With great pleasure I tear into the duty-free bottle of Crown Royal she picked up in South Africa as we divide the rest of the afternoon between catching up and dozing off. Mom laid on her bed with her feet propped up on her suitcase, her eyes wide and glinting one minute and drooping closed the next. On my side of the room I poured drinks like I really meant it and occasionally had a hard time keeping my own eyes open.

When dinnertime rolled around we went to Mugg & Bean in the mall behind the hotel. I had a coffee milkshake and a burger, mom had a coffee and ordered the same burger. Over dinner we agreed that the night would best be spent lightly so back at the hotel we chatted in air-conditioned comfort until sleep became inevitable. We were both out by 9pm.

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101913

I woke up at 6:30 and even mom’s snoring couldn’t lull me back to sleep. She got up around 8am, having a good twelve hours of sleep to help her catch up to Africa-time. We went down to the lobby for the free breakfast and were impressed to see quite a spread for a continental breakfast. Toast, cereal, muffins, yoghurt, bacon, sausage, hard-boiled and scrambled eggs, fruit, cheese, sandwich meats, there was even a jar of peanut butter.

We filled our boots and had several coffees besides.

Back upstairs I played with my new computer while mom experimented with her new video camera and leafed through the travel guides I had purchased. I had been tasked with planning our vacation through Zambia and Namibia and had failed miserably, having been so busy with my Instruments For Africa project that I even had meetings booked almost to the minute I had to meet her at the airport yesterday.

I had thumbnailed a good itinerary for the next eighteen days but only this week I had discovered that car rental companies were reluctant to let you take their vehicles across the border, so we had some planning to do. We surfed, we called, we turned pages, and eventually we worked out enough to keep us busy for the coming week or so. We celebrated with dinner back at the Mugg & Bean in the nearby mall, I had a massive chicken burger and my usual coffee milkshake, mom had rump steak.

Back at the room we decided one more nothing day wouldn’t kill us. I had suggested that we hit Kalahari Bar for a short bout of live music but watching lousy movies on the tv got me so tired I quietly let it get too late for us to even consider going out. My biggest feat of the day was locking myself in the bathroom armed with a myriad or razors. I figured getting rid of my pure-grey beard would encourage people to know that we were a mother-son team.

So that was two days without doing a darn thing, but after almost two months in hostels the air-conditioned comfort of a real hotel was a vacation in itself for me. I told mom she must still be tired from her flight and she was kind enough to be easily convinced. Africa could wait one more day.

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102013

That’s it, we are definitely getting out of the hotel room today, air-condition bedamned! We only did the bare minimum of lazing after breakfast before heading out into the blazing sun. I wanted to show mom ‘town’, a four-street commercial area where the locals did most of their business here in Lusaka. Town is close buy so we set out on foot, over the nearby bridge and across the street and we were there.

Zambia is an officially Christian country but it hadn’t occurred to me that Town would be slow to get started on a Sunday. Where the sidewalks are generally crammed with street vendors plying their wares we found the streets sparsely populated. No matter, ducking down a small alley we delved into a tin shack shopping district where merchants were busy setting out their plungers, dvd’s, toilets, car parts, vegetables, alcohol, sunglasses, eggs, and whatever they thought people might need today. I found a cheap bootleg cd by local musician PK Chishala that I had been looking for and soon we were back on a proper street.

Turning to the right we found ourselves on what I call Goodwill Avenue, a street lined with used clothing as far as the eye can see in either direction. Locals purchase large white sacks from charitable organisations at a set price and whatever they find inside is for sale. This is where your donated clothes end up, used t-shirts, used shoes, used luggage and socks, and despite a recent law banning the sale of used underwear sure enough there are piles of undies for sale too.

The only thing we bought was a (hopefully new) bottle of water.

Mom had a bit of a worried look on her face. I think she thought that this was the Sunday market I was promising her. Not so. I grabbed us a cab, talked the guy down from eighty kwatcha to thirty and off we went. Mom was melting hot and she drank in the air through the window thankfully.

At Arcades plaza we bee-lined past the many tourist booths straight to a café for refreshing milkshakes and iced coffees, then we got ready to shop.

The rest of the afternoon was spent meandering the many booths of local art, sculpture, jewelry, clothes and crafts. Ebony hippos, tin-can geckos, wooden giraffes, copper trees, there was plenty for sale and we bought it all, but not without some pretty extreme bargaining. At one point we pulled up chairs and spent nearly an hour making a package deal. The sun was screaming down on us so we made another café stop and mom bought not one, but two hats. The more we bought the more people tried to sell us, and after about four hours we loaded our goods into the trunk of a taxi.

Back in the luxury of our air-con room we unwrapped all of our goodies and admired our purchases. We did good, but we would be laden down with a lot of extra weight for the duration of our trip. After a beer or two we headed out for a pizza and window-shopped in the mall.

Back at the hotel we were amazed to find the Nascar race broadcasting live on one of our fourteen channels, so there went our night. It was a fun day and good that we got out to see Lusaka, tomorrow we leave the capital behind us.

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102113

Mom woke up before the alarm this morning, I could have used the extra half hour after staying up too late last night typing logs and watching bad tv but it was good to get a headstart today because we were going to be on the move.

We had both packed last night so we lingered over breakfast waiting for our driver to call. As our scheduled pickup time of 10am neared we went to the room and loaded up a luggage cart. We were in the lobby with two minutes to spare.

I had worked out a pretty nice itinerary for this trip but when I was utterly unable to find a car rental agency that would let us take a car across the border things started to unravel. At last count Zambia was bordering about eight countries and no doubt there were tourists and business people alike who were champing at the bit to self drive between one or two of them, so why the car hire companies were resistant is beyond me. It seems like someone out there could be really cleaning up, but more likely there must be something about it I’m not thinking about. Could be when people take cars across the border they are reluctant to bring them back, and maybe Zambian cops don’t have agreements with cops in other countries. Who knows?

So the strategy was to book the pickup/drop off option from the lodge we had booked into in Lower Zambezi. It was a pricey option but once you figured in several days of unnecessary car hire and gas it was too much more, so we took it. They would pick us up at our hotel at the time of our choosing, stop by the bus station so we could arrange our post-lodge transportation, drop us at the lodge and bring us back to wherever we wanted to go along the route back to Lusaka. Sounded pretty easy.

As I busied myself pondering all of this 10am came and went in a hurry. By 10:30 I called the lodge and was told the driver had hit some traffic. A few minutes later Chris the driver called me himself, “I am near, I will see you in five minutes.†At 11am I asked my mom where I could get one of these magical watches that they used here in Zambia, I could get so much done. I was just about to dial again when Chris came into the lobby looking for us.

As he loaded our extensive luggage (my fault) Chris did an admiral amount of apologizing. He said that one of the main streets in Lusaka was closed down in preparation for this week’s Independence Day celebrations and traffic was snarled. As we crawled the short distance to the bus station it was clear he was right; I’ve not seen morning traffic like this in the city before.

The bus depot in Lusaka is utter chaos. It is basically a meeting-place for dozens of different bus companies that service hundreds of cities, towns, and countries. I knew what company I wanted to use to get us to Livingstone on Thursday so I ignored the two touts that tried to push me in the direction of their companies and found the right booth despite their protests.

I waited in line for five minutes until the guy at the front told me I couldn’t buy the ticket until the day before I travelled. “Talk to that man,†he said, motioning towards a guy two people to his left, “He’ll give you his phone number so you can make arrangements.â€

“Do I really have to line up again for him?†I asked in wonder, “Couldn’t you just get his number for me?â€

“No, you must talk to that man.†I begged and pleaded a bit more but it would clearly be easier to just line up like the guy was telling me.

When I got through to my guy he was just as unhelpful. “You must buy the ticket the day before in person.â€

“But I’ll be in Lower Zambezi the day before, do I really have to come the three hours back to Lusaka to buy a ticket?â€

“No,†he said, “You can buy your ticket in Kafue.†He actually said that like it was a solution, though he must fully know that Kafue is still more than two hours from Lower Zambezi. No, you can’t buy it over the phone, and no, you can’t pay for the ticket when you board the bus at turnpike.

That’s okay I thought, if worse comes to worse we can drive to Kafue on Thursday and hope there are seats available. Plus I was sick of talking to these guys and anxious to get on the road, now over ninety minutes late.

Back in the van I explained it the best I could, Chris called the lodge and we arranged to have our tickets bought for us on Wednesday in Kafue.

As we drove out of town mom was given a better picture of how people in this country live. Lusaka is certainly an exception; people lived in houses and wore suits at work. The city is rife with gas stations and restaurants, wide streets are lined with sidewalks and many of the world’s modern conveniences are available. Now we drove past fields of burnt grass, tiny mud-brick huts, women carrying loads of charcoal on their heads while their babies bounced along tied to the ladies’ backs. Kids flagged down truckers willing to siphon company gas from their tanks which would then be mixed with kerosene and sold back to commuters while other more honest business-minded people sat patiently behind neatly stacked vegetables on the side of the road. And all the while we chugged along in glorious air-con comfort.

At the border to Zimbabwe we turned off the tarred road onto a rough sand and gravel pathway towards the lodge. The van rode smooth, though it was missing a shock, and soon we were at the ferry. More accurately we were at the river while the ferry lounged silently on the other side of the river waiting for her engines to be engaged. As we waited an open-backed vehicle pulled up and perhaps fourteen people piled out, lugging their small pieces of luggage, bags of maize and boxes of eggs. We all looked forlornly across the river where the grass looked greener as the ladies passed their time bathing their youngsters in the Lower Zambezi.

As I always say, the Africans can teach us all about patience and they give lessons every day. After perhaps ten minutes the ferry started to move from its dormant position towards our side of the river, a journey that took about three minutes if that. Chris told us that we had to walk onto the ferry so we got out of the air-conditioned van and the heat hit us hard. It was like Satan’s breath outside, and we were happy to walk onto the ferry and jump right back into the air-con while the locals endured the sun and the heat outside.

It was about fifteen more minutes down the bad road before we came to Kiambi Lodge. When we got to reception it was 45 degrees out. E had arranged that we would choose our accommodations when we arrived, the luxury safari tent or the air-con cottage but there was clearly no choice to be made, air-con was an absolute necessity. The staff hauled our luggage to our room. Opening the door was like an angelic kiss of cool, the air-conditioner was working hard and it felt good. The room was quite nice besides but that was irrelevant, it was the cold that sold us. We checked out the smoltering safari tent just for fun and parked ourselves at the bar for an ice-cold beer overlooking the Zambezi River.

We had arrived pretty late, around 3:30 and by the time we finished our beers it was approaching dark (the sun sets religiously at 6pm), but the thermometer still read 41. We went to our room to cool off and relax with a book. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a critter run by the door so we spent the next forty-five minutes sitting on our front deck watching about thirty vervet monkeys run around our yard. Babies clutched to their mamas bellies while big fellahs laid on their backs relaxing in the waning sun. The younger ones ran amok, up and down trees and climbing all over one another, and when the babies loosened their grip on their mothers they jumped up and down like popcorn popping.

“It’s a pride of lions and a herd of cattle, but what is a group of monkeys called?†Mom asked.

“A barrel,†I answered. I think she believed me for almost two seconds.

They simians eventually took to the trees and settled in for the night so we headed back over to the bar. Soon the drums sounded indicating dinner was ready. Tables were set up with white tablecloths on the deck under the stars, we were served potato soup, beef stew with rice, veggies and nshima (the local staple of bland white paste made from maize) and apple crumble for dessert. It wasn’t gourmet but it’s pretty easy to eat, especially given the setting.

After dinner Jeanine came by to check on our day and ask if anything could be done to make us happier. We arranged tomorrow’s excursion through her and gave her details on the bus ticket’s we required. She was driving some clients back to Lusaka tomorrow and would purchase our bus tickets for us on Wednesday before returning.

Full and tired from a long day of travelling and brutal heat we weren’t long before we retreated to the deliciously cool climate of our room. I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyelids open past 10pm and for the first time this trip I was asleep before mom. She read herself to sleep in her “Princess bed,†a four-poster draped in elegant-looking mosquito netting.

The last time I stayed here we slept on the hard ground in small canvas tents, deeply immersed in the heat and a good two hundred feet of python-infested grass from the open bathrooms. This cottage Is a pretty major step up.

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102213

I slept until 7:30 and could have easily stayed down two more hours, it was the best sleep I’ve had since I arrived in Zambia almost two months ago. But we had to rise and shine with a busy morning ahead of us.

We were at breakfast shortly after 8pm, beans, bacon, sausage and strange little potato patties were steaming on the hot plate, a pot of coffee was set a-brewing, fruit yoghurt and cereal at the ready. There was a table set for us and after ordering our eggs (mom wanted over-easy, I asked for an omelet) we took our seats and I started to fill up on orange juice.

Mom’s eggs came over-hard and she grabbed toast from the tray that was made about an hour ago. When I picked up my omelet I asked for fresh toast and the cook loaded up his four-slice toaster with a smile. I loaded up my plate with a mountain of fat-free bacon and ate until I could eat no more.

After breakfast we were told that our boat was ready. A three-night stay comes with a sunset cruise and a three-hour canoe ride included. We weren’t interested in the canoe ride; three hours in the blazing sun might just kill us both so we traded the canoeing for a three-hour morning boat excursion. We loaded up a cooler with pop and water from the bar and down to the dock we went.

Tobias quickly briefed us on what we were expecting to see though his accent was so thick we just nodded and smiled and figured we’d be happy to be surprised. And down the river we went.

Our first sighting was a six-foot crocodile on the shore under a tree. We snapped some pics and went further downstream. Soon we came upon our first crowd of hippos. Again we circled around for some pictures and stayed there gaping at the monstrous creatures until Tobias asked if we were ready to move on. The further down the river we went the more hippos we saw, and lots of baby hippos too. These things are huge, like swimming Volkswagens. They would watch us and stare, and when we got too close they would just drop down out of sight, like bulbous fleshy submarines they would walk along the sandy floor of the river.

We stopped to watch the colourful bee-eater birds flying in and out of their holes in the sandy embankment and spotted a few more crocs. Down the river the hippos got more plentiful, so much so that they started to get old hat – soon we were just riding on by.

“You want to see elephants now?†Tobias asked. “Yes,†we said in unison. With a determined look on his face our captain turned the boat around and we started upriver against the current. As we neared our lodge he veered off to the left, scuttling onto the other side of the huge island that we stare at from our deck. Soon he pointed to the bank ahead, “There is elephants.â€

And there were elephants. Tobias edged the boat up close to the Zimbabwean shore just a handful of metres from three large elephants. They hardly took notice of us and continued with their almost constant eating. We took notice of them though, mom standing up and videoing madly. It was two boys and a girl, after a few safaris you start to get a feel for these sort of things – in this case you can tell by the shape of their heads in profile. We sat there for perhaps five minutes before Tobias suggested we go further upriver for more. Of course he was right.

Soon we spotted another elephant, and past several dozen hippos and a few crocs we found four more, very close to the water and hence very close to our boat. We saw a few families of baboons and too many hippos to count before we finally started a slow chug back to the lodge. We arrived at noon happy and ready for a break in our air-con room.

Lunch was a bit of a disappointment, clearly someone didn’t get the memo that we didn’t want any seafood, but salad and chips (we would call them fries) and dinner rolls was enough to keep me alive for the afternoon. We lazed away most of the rest of the sunshine in the comfort of our room, I made one trek out to say hello to the barman and to check the thermometer: 36.5 degrees in the shade at almost 5pm.

Back at the room our vervet monkey troop showed up so we sat outside with beers and vodka and watched them romp around us in the grass until dark. We noticed lightning and a fire burning way across the river and chatted away until the dinner drums sounded. As we walked to the bar area the winds started blowing, by the time we arrived it really started blowing so the staff and guests rushed to move the dinner tables and food under the thatched roof of the open lunch area. The staff were taken off guard; they said wind like this never happened at this time of year. It even rained a bit before dinner, only the second time I’ve seen rain in this country.

Even with the ferocious wind the night was still hot hot hot. I walked to the reception to check the temperature: 36 degrees at 8pm. For dinner we had a mushroom soup starter followed by roast chicken, roasted potatoes, rice, veggies and gravy. It was delicious even if the chicken was a bit dry. The coconut dessert was great and the after-dinner coffee was strong. Throughout dinner the wind would stop dead and then blaze up again, blowing incredibly strong. In the distance we could see a bush fire, a very common occurrence here in Zambia as the locals are prone to burn their field and their garbage. This one had clearly blown out of control with the unseasonable wind, hopefully nobody would be losing a home or worse. The heat was really something else and with the rain came some humidity, so soon after eating we went back to our cottage.

The rest of the night was dedicated to relaxing with books and beers under the comfort of our wonderful air-conditioner. Edit to add that I was so tired last night I couldn’t bring myself to drink a single beer. Perhaps I have malaria.

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102313

Eight hours after falling asleep I was awake, 6am. I stayed in bed relaxing until just past eight staring at the ceiling that luckily made it through the windy night. Mom wasn’t so lucky – she had awoken in the night and stayed up reading. She was almost convinced that she had been up all night until I pointed out that she had woken up in the morning.

I went for an early coffee and caught up with my friend Gibson the barman. He told me that the fire we saw last night had indeed blown out of control (the fire was set by security guards at a banana plantation to help corral elephants and hippos), but that no homes or people were burnt. I noted the clouds in the sky. Gibson said if the clouds remained then the day would be cool, if the clouds lifted the day would become “extra hot.†Given that our first day here in Lower Zambezi hit forty-five degrees I was really hoping for a cloudy day.

Breakfast was the same today as yesterday; I thought it was great but mom’s could’ve been better. Over breakfast I was lamenting the fact that I had a two-day bus ride to endure at the end of our trip together; mom would be going home from Namibia while I would be returning to Lusaka for my return flight. The only reason I really had to go back was to collect some dvd’s from my camera crew but then mom suggested that out lodge employee was in Lusaka right now picking up our bus tickets (as well as lodge supplies) and why don’t we call and arrange for her to collect the dvd’s for me. I raced around making a few phone calls and soon it was done! I can’t tell you how excited I am to not have to return to Zambia after mom has flown. Now we just have to call the airline to switch my flight and I’m home free!

We spent the entire rest of the morning chatting away overlooking the river. The clouds had indeed remained and the temperature held steady at a relatively cool thirty degrees. I was still full of breakfast when the drums sounded to announce lunch – I took advantage and had one of the guys show me a rhythm that I found deceptively tricky. I somehow still managed to wolf down three slices of pizza and a salad, all doused in Veri Peri African Garlic Sauce, a grey concoction that is as strong as it is spicy.

With nothing to do but wait for our 4:30 sunset cruise we went back to the room to type, read, and nap. It’s good to relax, something I rarely find time for when I’m on vacation.

As the afternoon waned we took the 200 steps to the bar and reacquainted ourselves with the Swiss couple we had met over breakfast, Mary-Ann and Ditta. We were surprised to find that they were supposed to take an entirely different boat for their sunset cruise so we all decided to ride together. Another girl travelling solo joined us and we were five.

The sunset cruise was on the same boat and with the same driver as our morning cruise yesterday but we went in a different direction, starting upstream. Mom and I had considered taking a day-long river safari but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to split the $400+ fee, and lucky for us. With both yesterday’s trip and tonight’s sunset cruise included with our overpriced room rate we had more than enough time on the water seeing the animals. That was in evidence tonight as we nonchalantly passed herds of hippos and could barely bother to take pictures even when faced with fourteen elephants grazing at the waterside. We saw more crocs and birds galore, hippos hippos hippos and more elephants than you could shake a stick at. The full nine-hour trip would have been overkill, for lack of a better word.

Back at camp mom did some videoing until I pointed out that her new fancy camera was on pause. Uh-oh. Turns out the tons of video footage she had been shooting for the last few days, well, she hadn’t been shooting. When we checked to see if she had in fact shot anything there was lots of ‘footage’. That is, when she had intended to be turning the camera off she was in fact turning it on, so there are lots of clips of her feet. Oh well, better that gets figured out now than when she gets home. There’s still plenty to see, plus I’ve been shooting plenty of video with my camera.

Jimmy the camp director (and one of three owners) joined us for dinner and the three of us chatted about him over beef stroganoff and butternut soup. He had been pretty grumpy when I was last here but now he was playing the part of a genial Captain Stubing. He has done well for himself; no high school, was a guide in South Luonga park for several years (a difficult job to get) and has been an employee and now shareholder at Kiambi lodge for fifteen years. Not to mention having three grandkids at the ripe old age of forty-seven.

After dinner we paid the bill and made several arrangements – getting to the bus on time, leaving a guitar here at Kiambi Lodge to be delivered to Lusaka, getting an early breakfast in the morning, arranging to meet Janine tomorrow morning to pick up our bus tickets and get the dvd’s she had obtained for me in Lusaka…Successful travelling takes planning!

Back at the room we set the alarm for 6am and read ourselves to bed early anticipating another big day ahead of us.

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102413

Happy Independence Day! Zambia became an independent country exactly forty-nine years ago today when Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (personal friend of mine) became the first president of the newly freed nation. Never mind that he abolished all other political parties under his self-created Humanism government and was ousted twenty-seven years later when international pressure forced him to actually run for office against an opposing party for the first time, KK (as he is affectionately called) brought the country to independence and is quite revered around these parts, especially every October 24th.

We awoke early to find the power out and the ground wet from an evening of rain. The lodge arranged for an early breakfast for us at 6:30 and good on them for having a full spread waiting when we sat down despite the lack of electricity. Coffee in a bodum, bacon, sausage, potato patties and eggs made to order over a propane flame (while they consistently get my order perfect they just as consistently get mom’s order slightly botched).

At 7am the staff made several inspiring trips loading our luggage out of the room (while I’ve been saddled with six bags myself – small backpack, smaller computer bag/carry-on, remarkably heavy suitcase, three keyboards stuffed into two keyboard cases destined for Namibia, and a guitar – the guitar remained here to be delivered on my behalf to a lady who will be going to college next year to study music education). Rather than packing everything into the 4x4 our stuff was brought down to the dock. The director was concerned that if the ferry was out of order we might miss our bus so we were taking a boat almost all the way to Churundu where we would transfer to the van.

The light rain dampered our bonus boat ride a bit (mom’s sun hat got sogged) the commute was brightened by many elephant and hippo sightings along the way. After perhaps twenty minutes we were at Zambezi Breezers, we had lots of help hauling our luggage up the embankment to the waiting car and off we went.

We were about ninety minutes driving, interrupted only when we found Janine coming the other way – she stopped to drop off our bus tickets and some dvd’s she had picked up for me in Lusaka, rendering my return trip moot – I could now try to rebook my flight from Windhoek, Namibia, as mom is doing.

We parked at the turnpike an hour before our bus was scheduled to arrive and waited In the van as the rain dribbled outside. Loooooooooong story short is we were four and-a-half hours on the side of the road waiting for the bus. We passed the time reading, napping, and mostly watching the street merchants rush every vehicle that stopped trying to sell apples, oranges, bananas, and hard boiled eggs. These ladies in their colourful shawls ran full-out at every opportunity, vying for precious window space where they would hold up their basket and yell, “oranges, oranges, oranges…†or “bananas, bananas, bananas…†while ladies shoved from behind with their own chorus of “oranges, oranges, oranges…†or “bananas, bananas, bananas…†The fruit business is a competitive game out on the streets.

Chris, our driver, explained that these ladies come from often very far to try and eke out a few kwatchas on the roadside. I bought a bunch of bananas and an apple for mom and when I finalized my purchase all the other girls let out a collective groan of disappointment that I didn’t pick them. The egg sellers aren’t as competitive, I grabbed mom two hard-boiled eggs for a kwatcha apiece and they even came with little saran wrap packets of salt. If this was happening in NYC I’m sure it would look like a front for crack-cocaine.

Finally, finally, finally the bus came. With glaring eyes I dared the conductor to question all our luggage. He knew better and did a pretty good job of loading our stuff besides, so I decided not to be mad. Mom took a “so long as we get there attitude,†and we were happy to see that a)it was indeed an executive class bus, which meant four seats across instead of five, and B) they had saved the front two seats for us. The front two are generally the most comfortable even if they are the first onsite at any head-on accident. That’s okay, this is an officially Christian country so God is driving.

The bus was packed but it still made frequent stops. In Mazabuka we stopped for a bathroom break and left without someone. Someone’s wife came to the front a-screaming and soon someone arrived carrying a pizza box, looking not a bit sheepish. Later we stopped again and I jumped out to grab some food. Someone’s wife was ahead of me in line looking inside every chicken and chips bag and complaining about the serving size or the chicken piece, usually after sampling a French fry or two. Seems like someone’s wife is a bit of a pain in the butt. Especially someone’s butt, no doubt.

I talked to a white guy in the seat across and found out he was an American doing photo-journalism at a Lusaka charity hospital. So many people here that look like they might be on vacation aren’t, though he’s taking the long weekend to check out Livingstone for the first time in his three-month stay.

When we finally arrived in Livingstone at 8pm mom was the first person off the bus, which meant she waded into a phalanx of a dozen or more taxi drivers who blocked the bus door yapping, “Taxi? Taxi? Taxi?†I told her to ignore them and go to the luggage door. I was next out of the bus and I arranged a price and the guy helped lug all of our stuff into his nearby Toyota for the short drive to Fawlty Towers.

I’ve stayed in several places in Livingstone but the British-owned Fawlty Towers is by far my favourite, and the only one I would consider taking my mother to. From the front gate you would never guess that this inexpensive backpackers hostel would be so large and lush, just walking to our deluxe room (already with cold beers in hand) mom mentioned with surprise how nice it was, with the big kidney-shaped pool surrounded with deck chairs and the expansive well-kept lawns and mango trees.

We checked out the nice room while the staff brought our luggage and finished our beers quickly. We sat by the pool for the next round and I introduced mom to my favourite part of Fawlty Towers, the cats. They have five black and white little cuties on site, and in no time mom had one at the table, and soon another. We played with the cats while large fruit bats made their flyby rounds dipping into the pool for a drink, and soon mom was ready to turn in. After such a long travel day I was tired too but I decided to hit my favourite local bar for a few beers first, so I wished mom a good night and hailed a cab.

The Pub & Grill hosts live music seven nights a week headed up by a man named Albert who I have gotten to know pretty well. It’s a small, dank hole-in-the-wall that smeels strongly of urine and sells a lot of cheap beer. It’s the kind of place where they only uncap the beer if you ask them to and half the patrons do their drinking on the street outside. When I arrived it was busier than I’ve ever seen it, no doubt due to it being Independence Day, but I was still welcomed with handshakes all ‘round by the doormen (their shirts say “bounser†on the back), the bar staff, and nods of acknowledgement from the band. I wrestled my way to the bar and ordered a Mosi, uncapped and soon did it again. For my third round I ordered an extra beer for the bounser, uncapped (never a bad idea) and enjoyed a few beers outside.

Back in the bar I went to the Gent’s (Zambian for men’s room) where it was so busy the urinals were being used by two men at a time, each standing at an angle and aiming their streams of used beer into the porcelain portals in pairs. That’s a first for me. I was having none of it and played my white-man trump card, hulking my shoulders wide and standing firm in a one-man-to-a-pisser stance. It’s honourable that the sink remained strictly a hand-washing station, and a busy one at that.

Back out in the bar it was just too busy for me to really enjoy the music and too packed for the dancers to really let go so I downed another quick beer and cabbed back to Fawlty Towers. It had been a long day with a bit of a wobbly finish, but that’s vacation.

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I woke up too early after having one of these malaria pill-induced dreams. One of the side effects from the type of pills I have are lucid dreams and I tell you, I get them. I have dreams that are so utterly realistic that I wake up convinced that they are real. In this case I dreamt that I had lost three of my best guitars, left them carelessly at a bar in Ottawa and found them gone when I went to retrieve them on my bicycle. I awoke wondering if I’d ever see the guitars again and it was only after realizing that it wasn’t my bike that I was riding did it occur to me that I had only been dreaming. Blessed are the nights when I’m too drunk to dream, hence the big bar bills.

I used the time wisely; I asked at reception about the bus to Namibia and found that they only ran twice a week, on Sunday s and Wednesdays. If I was clever enough I would have remembered that from last year. Fearful that the bus would be booked I woke up mom, told her the deal and taxied straight to the Intercape bus office. I wanted to book only to Grootfontin but that would have us ending our trip on the side of the desert road at 2am so I booked all the way to Windhoek, a nineteen and-a-half hour ride. Intercape runs the most reliable and most comfortable busses around, but I still feel for my poor mother having to endure such a long ride, but flying is just outrageously expensive. I’m clearly more worried about it than she is. In her best roll-with-the-punches attitude she just shrugged and said, “so long as we get there.â€

We ordered breakfast at Fawlty Towers and ate by the pool with one of our temporary pet cats at the ready. The food was okay, but for some reason mom just can’t get her eggs done properly. I suggested she order the omelet next time. How can you go wrong with an omelet?

After breakfast we hopped in a taxi to the Linda Secondary school where I had dropped off a load of instruments last week. Unfortunately the donation had coincided with exam week so I was back to get some pictures of the kids with the instruments, plus mom wanted to see the school where my Instruments For Africa project began ( www.instrumentsforafrica.com ). The teachers and the kids were very accommodating and after an hour we got back into our waiting taxi.

There is such a wealth of taxis in Zambia dying for business that they will wait unbelievable lengths of time just to get your fare again. It’s great for the tourist (or businessman) but I’m sure lousy for them. At least they get lots of time to read the paper.

Our next stop was the Livingstone curio market, a row of sixty identical booths offering almost identical products to the small tourist market. It’s an exercise in patience for both merchant and consumer as every shopkeeper all but begs you to stop at their booth while it soon becomes abundantly clear to the clients that once you’ve seen one pile of wooden hippos there’s little reason to see another.

The sun was starting to scream with heat and after about eight shops mom was looking for some down time. We have an extra day to come back so without making a single purchase we found our way back to Fawlty Towers for a light lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and fries. Afterwards we retreated to our chilled room and basked in the air-conditioned frigidity.

Late in the afternoon we got into yet another taxi and were whisked out to one of the modern natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls a straight shot nine kilometers down the road from our hostel. Over 150 years ago Dr. David Livingstone became the first white man to set eyes on the falls and he was quite impressed with the majesty of the world’s largest waterfall (depending on how you measure it). Despite the fact that the locals already had a spiffy name for the falls, Mosi-au-Tunya or The Smoke That Thunders, the good doctor decided they needed to be named in honor of his queen. The locals are so pleased with their name they bestowed on the country’s finest beer, Mosi.

Making our way past the families of baboons that regularly populate the entrance to the falls we paid our $20 and went on in. The first thing you see is an oversized statue of Mr. Livingstone and just beyond that is the beginning of the falls. I’ve been privileged to visit the falls twice before, once in May 2012 right after the rainy season and once about a month ago near the end of the dry season, and I can tell you it’s like two different places. At it’s annual peak 500 million litres of water pour over the mile-wide falls per minute, now there is a mere 10 million litres of water dropping per minute. The difference to the tourist is vast and as we toured the different vistas overlooking the vast chasm and the three relatively minor trickles of water that pour into it I found myself again and again mentioning the overpowering mist and relentless roar of the falls when at it’s peak.

Nevertheless we walked pretty much every path offered while we gave the hike down (and importantly, back up) to the base of the falls a miss. We also skipped one of the options available at low season: the trek across the lip of the falls a hundred metres of rock face above the river below. We saw the best the falls had to offer at this time of year and headed out to the ubiquitous tourist market that resides outside the gate. Unfortunately the product we wanted to purchase wasn’t available, so I ran out to the main road and bought a small bottle of water from a street merchant and came back to find my mother walking along with a plastic bag full of wooden hippos.

In need of some good rest we taxied the single kilometer to the ultra-posh Royal Livingstone Hotel, established in 2001 and catering to the exclusive $700+ a night crowd. The patio is open to all though and serves beers at only 50% more than most bars, so we strolled through the amazing lobby and emerged onto the back lawn where zebras milled around the pool. Along the way I stopped to make dinner reservations and was very politely informed that my shorts and t-shirt wouldn’t cut it in their restaurant so with a broad smile I booked us in for the following night.

On the deck we ordered two Mosi’s and settled in for the sunset. A hippo floated along in the river just a few metres away and soon a vervet monkey appeared near our table. The vested waiter brought our beers on a velvet tray and poured our glasses full. There was a slight on-and-off rain that wasn’t at all uncomfortable, we were easily distracted by the impressive lightning storm in the distance over Zimbabwe. We saw the silhouette of three elephants in the distance making their way across the Zambezi River as I explained how I couldn’t help but to propose to my girlfriend on this very deck last year.

Yesterday on the bus I had explained how it’s sometimes difficult and inconvenient dealing with the logistics of travel in Africa but that when you get where you’re going you often find yourself in the midst of things you just can’t experience elsewhere. This was one of those things.

With the dark came a bit more rain so we called a taxi and wandered through the majestic foyers of this grand six-star hotel. Out front we were made to wait a few extra minutes as our cabbie was stopped along the way to let elephants cross the road. Back at Fawlty Towers mom allowed us a few minutes to enjoy some of her Crown Royal before we quenched our hunger across the street at Olga’s, an Italian restaurant that gives 100% of its proceeds to an orphanage. I had the penne with bacon, mom had the lasagna, and after a couple of glasses of red wine we were anything but hungry when we left.

The day was just packed so without much else to say about it we both read ourselves to sleep almost instantly. The room was reverberating with snores by 10:30.

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