I had read about the Zambezi, of course – that mighty, turbulent river that teems with fish and crocodiles, and throws itself off the rocks of Mosi-oa-Tunya in perpetual watery suicide. Then I went to Zambia and saw it.
Rivers have a particular pull – I have been on the Nile and the Zambezi and there is a romance to being on the water. Two weeks ago, I was on a boat in one of the quieter channels of the Zambezi, watching crocodiles slinking into the water from the banks of the Zimbabwe National Park.
The water-course that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia is a slim one, and the island in the middle is disputed territory, naturally. But I didn’t land on the island – I followed the water as it lap-lapped towards the rocks, where it gradually evolved into a torrential shushing that is not the falls themselves but could be mistaken for them.
My guide, Webby Sitwala, knows every sand-bank, every bird-call, and he can spot a monitor lizard in the dappled shadows of waterberry tree-roots with ease. The grey-green crocodiles, lying motionless on the green-grey banks, are so well camouflaged you have to look hard to see them. The hippos are fairly scarce but backs and ears bob above the water, close to the island.
Tiny emerald bee-eaters were so unafraid that they let us get right up close as they all but posed on overhanging branches.
The quiet water-ways are nothing like the roaring, foaming torrents near Livingstone Island. But watching the sun set behind mangosteen trees, with the water slowly settling and unsettling around the life it supports, makes me want to pack all I possess into one suitcase and move to Livingstone.
I suppose the best travel experiences seduce one with promises of an eternal boat-trip on an eternal river. The desire to be out of time never quite leaves one.