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Issue 6
Africa Travel> Issue 6
UPDATED: August 27, 2014
Where the Wild Things Are
Zambia – a destination for all the attractions Africa has to offer
By Jo Kromberg

Tongabezi Lodge – one of the most romantic places on earth (COURTESY OF TONGABEZI.COM)

Zambia is a landlocked country in southern Africa and her neighbors are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west and it is one of the friendliest and safest countries in Africa.

On our midday South African Airways flight to the capital Lusaka, I am seated next to a very nice gentleman who works in Zambia's so-called copper belt. He is the chief electrician on one of the mines there and tells me that Zambia and China have close economic ties. Trade between China and Zambia is reported to currently stand at $2.2 billion and Chinese investments in Zambia range from mining interests in the copper belt to investments in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.

After a short flight of just more than an hour and a half from Johannesburg, we land at Lusaka and the midday Zambia heat quickly dislodges our South African cryogenic state as we walk across the tarmac to board our next flight in the microscopically small Proflight Airlines plane to the lower Zambezi. It's hot, really hot in the 4-seater Dinky Toy plane and as our Italian pilot Mateo slowly starts taxiing down the runway, a trickle of sweat rolls down my temple. Excitement or sheer mortal terror, I know not which.... The engine roars into action with an almighty racket as we accelerate down the runway and suddenly, light as a feather we are airborne. Higher and higher we fly above the russet bush beneath us but still low enough to see things quite clearly on the ground.

For only a few minutes of the 30-minute flight the notorious July and August winds shake us around like a balloon in a typhoon but Mateo quickly stabilizes the situation and our heart rates return to normal. Zambia is not given to any extreme weather conditions as a rule and the winter temperatures can go as high as 30 degrees during the day.

Game watching from the comfort of your couch at Chongwe River Lodge (COURTESY OF CHONGWE.COM)

Chongwe River Camp

We are en-route to Chongwe River Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park and as we approach the Camp from the sky, a range of hills make their appearance on the one side while the Zambezi River snakes below us like a giant dark blue and black python. Zambezi means "God's River" and the majestic name is certainly appropriate.

At just over 4,000 square km, the Lower Zambezi National Park (and our location for the next couple of days) stretches in a narrow swathe from the Chongwe River in the west of Zambia to the Luangwa River in the east. The Park is home to all of the major species in the valley with excellent sightings of elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard a regular occurrence. After a smooth landing, our charming and knowledgeable guide George drives us the 20 minutes or so to Chongwe River Camp. It is wonderful to be in the African bush again, with every sense renewed.

On arrival our hosts Sisi and Flossie start a trend in warm hospitality we are to see for the rest of our stay in Zambia. As we drive up to the camp, they are already there, with both hands waving, beaming smiles and they welcome us like truly long lost friends. They accompany us to our lodgings, the Albida suite. We gape in mesmerized shock at the scene before us. The Albida suite is described on the website as a luxurious self-contained colonial-style tented suite which sleeps four guests in two spacious, octagonal bedrooms set on either side of a private dining room and lounge area with its own bar fridge, plunge pool and fire pit. The feeling however as one is confronted with this palace in the bush is overwhelming. Its decor combines colorful African textiles with Victorian-style silverware, rich hardwoods and plush, overstuffed couches. We have a spectacular view of the river before us, looking out to Zambia on the one side and Zimbabwe on the other.

Bedrooms feature either a king-sized bed or two single beds with crisp, percale cotton linen, plush throws and an overhead fan. Outside bathrooms, laid out beneath their own tented canopy, have twin vanity units, shower, ball and claw bath and toilet.

We have our very own butler, and meals can be taken either in private in the suite's dining area or at the main camp. Sisi briefs us and warns us not to walk alone at night since the hippos, elephant, lion and leopard all move about freely – as it should be!

George takes us on a canoe ride that afternoon and as we paddle slowly along the river, we see monkeys, elephants, crocodiles, hippo and about 30 species of birds.

We retire to the fireside after dinner and suddenly a profoundly and otherworldly sight stuns us into silence. The crimson moon, huge and languid, peers slowly above the river like a blood red balloon and then rises into full bloom.

Much later I creep into my enormous bed with its percale linen duvet and I dream of Africa.

I wake up with the mystic river as my view from the bed and jump out, refreshed and as eager as a child to experience the next adventure.

Brunch presents itself in the form of the most delicious Thai fish cakes and fresh salads.

We languish in the main area of the camp for a couple of hours where high tea is served and WiFi is available, before we set off on a boat cruise again with George.

Apart from cruising, Chongwe River Camp also offers a range of game activities in the park including full-day picnic trips and fishing excursions, day and night game drives and walking safaris. The Lower Zambezi is also widely known as one of the best places to catch (and release) a tiger fish or two.

George's plan is for us to see Chongwe River House, a five-minute boat cruise from the main camp and he slowly navigates his way around the dozens of hippos in the river.

Chongwe River House looms before us and never has such a euphemism been employed in terms of the "house" part. The architectural concept is based on the design of an anthill and this splendid perforated spectacle sleeps eight in four enormous en suite bedrooms, making an ideal safari base for a family or a group of friends wanting a private safari. The property comes fully staffed as well. After dinner that evening, George takes us on a night drive. The night sky is adorned with a billion stars, vast and unending and the Milky Way is clearly visible, flowing through the black sky like silky vanilla magma. The bush teems with animals big and small and we spot hippos, buffalo, elephants and a rarely seen porcupine.

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