Monday, September 22, 2008

Kulambo Festival and a Broken Down Bus

A couple of days on buses across the south of Zambia. Hour after hour of flat countryside littered with little huts made of mud brick and thatched roof. Dry land covered in scorched grass and many a leafless tree – the dry season. Every so often a large tree with striking purple blossom. Like no tree I have seen before they have intrigued me and I am failing to find more about them though I check with every other taxi driver I have met since.
A night in Lusaka (Zambian capital) was not much to talk of. Quite a dirty town with a couple of strange soviet style sky-scrapers. To people's credit they were generally friendly and surprisingly not over-hassling – this is no India.

Streets kids of the capital A Soviet gift?
Then an “8 hour” bus ride that turned into something like twice that. Waiting for hours before it even turned up and then breaking down a bit after dark in twisty road territory on the Mozambique border. It is clear from everyone that driving at night in these parts in no way a clever idea. A comment from a hostel worker that they would not take that road at night even if someone paid them made that clear. We had little choice at this point. Good did though come from a few hours by the road in the bundu. While a whole range of people bashed and poked around in the electronics without too much luck, a local guy told us about a tribal festival going on just up the road the next day.
Cool kids in Chipata

KULAMBO FESTIVAL

So after sleeping in the bus for a few hours, we dumped our stuff and were in a taxi with 2 pac blaring at 150km an hour – they like to drive a little too fast here for my liking. After the minor inconvenience of a flat at such speed, we entered the throw of people congregating to celebrate various chiefs of the Chewa tribe giving patronage to the grand chief. Groups had come from as far afield as Angola, Mozambigue and Malawi to strut their funky dances in front of the big guy.

With thousands watching, different groups would present dancers dressed in a huge variety of costume strung together from bits of cloth and other mischellanae (God knows how to spell that word). Some clearly represented animals. Two people together creating a rhythmic bull. Crows fighting with jackals. Loads of mad stuff. While the dancers stamped their feet, jigged and threw themselves about, kinsman and women would clap and cheer. Old men in cheetah atire carrying spears. Older ladies wrapped in beautiful coloured cloth. Further out still the dignatories in their tents forming an arc - Presidents et al - of whose speeches I shall not bore you, let us just say they had a laborious nature. On each end of the arc and completing a circle were the thrawl of other spectators. People from near and far. Excited. Piled on top of collapsing thatched roofs and trucks for a better view. Then beyond this a huge impromptu market that stretched out with all its bric brack and food.

The stand-in President of Zambia has his say
Kulambo unleashed:
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The climax of the festival came with the last dance. Before the sedantry big chief- sitting on his throne - 2 dancers climbed up a shere pole, across and up a rope line connected to a nearby tree, performing acrobatics as they went. The crowd went wild. The atmosphere was electric. And then......as quick as anything....it ended. As we departed the road was lined with chewa people heading back to their dislocated homelands. Placed found for them by their chief and for which reason they have given homage.
A fascinating experience. Before we knew it we were once again speeding along the highway to 2 pac, on towards the legendary game park of South Luangwa. To lions and zebras. Hippos and impala. Undoubtedly one of my favourite places on earth!
The Chief departs

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Zambia - Victoria Falls

I quickly got the impression that Livingstone and surrounding attractions are a sort of African Disneyland.

From the hostel that would arrange for someone to wipe your behind should you feel the inclination (well... maybe that is a little harsh, but you certainly would not have to do anything of your own volition) - everything was very very easy.

BUT, over four days Livingstone gave us everything we could have asked for.

Some of the best white water rapids on earth. Hurtling down the Zambezi through 25 rapids including at least 4 grade “5's”all with bone crunching names – an awesome day hurtling from Zim into Zam and back again in the frothing green torrade.

Jumping off a bridge over the ravine cut by the rolling flows of the river only to be whipped up after 117m or so by a slightly frayed bungee cord. A stunning view only added to by inversion and the sudden rush of blood that comes to the head when one jumps and....bounces.
Zam, Zim, the bridge and the jump....
An evening cruise on the wide Zambezi above the falls. Getting way way excited by a giraffe, crocs and ribbeting hippos. The sun a deepening ball of red falling into the Zambezi with a blaze as flocks of birds fly across the panorama. A beer in hand and cohiba in the lips. We felt we had landed and done well!
My first African wildlife

I have to admit a slight sense of “if only” with regards to the falls themselves. A massive escarpment littered with separate waterfalls. Some small ones, 3 or 4 large ones and then a huge one falling in the distance (the better viewing from Zim we avoided for obvious reasons) and pounding into a fine mist the emanates upwards. Stunning. But something like a tenth of the falls in full flow. I shall have to return.

Taking advantage of the low water we were able (with a bit of help from a local guy) to scramble over the top of the falls and peer over the edge into rainbows in the mist.
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The highlight for me was undoubtedly taking a microlight over the falls. Climbing off a grass airstrip you are exposed to the air as you reach 1500ft, saw over the Zambezi and then circle the falls, peering into churn and mist. Viewing over the zig-zag landscape cut by the mighty river. We then saw back over the river. Towards the sunset and over a large bull elephant crossing the river and a scrum of hippos. Simply awesome!

This was supplemented by a few drinks in town with some locals and a bit of orientation. The subject of Zimbabwe inevitably crept up being a stone's throw away. The Zim side (Victoria) used to be the place to see the falls. From all accounts it is pretty quiet nowadays. On the border crossings there are plenty of Zimbabweans selling Zim dollars and what not – the currency has got so ridiculously inflated that the value is rising, a tourist is happy top pay a US dollar for however many billion Zim dollars out of pure novelty.

We had found friendly people and an easy life in Livingstone. We were ready to move on.....
Sunset over the Zambezi

Long Haul to Southern Africa

Finally the day had come. Sitting at Gatwick at 7.30 am with a Guinness in hand, I was off to Southern Africa for 6 precious weeks and as excited as they come. So many potential adventures lay ahead in for what was for me uncharted territory - sub-Saharan Africa.....bumpy roads......lions.....new culture's......bungee's.....shark's.... and God knows what else

Dave (Davidenko), Dave (Dingo) and me were boarding a series of flights through Dubai and Jo'berg, that would, we hoped, eventually land us in Livingstone, Zambia - home of the mighty Victoria Falls and a whole host of adrenaline sports.

DUBAI

For one reason or another Dubai was pretty much at the bottom of my re-visit list, but Emirates are cheap, so through we went. It was nice to catch up with a mate, but two images will stick with me from a night and morning that did little to improve my liking of the place.

Firstly, the pointless opulence. The immensity of the tallest building in the world is almost inspiring...but falls short for it's pointlessness. All these unnecessary sky scrapers in a place which is covered in baron land. All about prestige and ego's that will more than likely falter once the ground runs dry.

Secondly, Dubai beach marina. With weeks on the road ahead of us we were not going to splash, so once the hotel bar closed (2 ish) we headed to the beach to see what was around. To my surprise there were dozens of people splashing around in the dark. Chinese and Filipino immigrant workers in the main. We went for a dip, playing with the phosphorescence of the gulf and then lying back in the bath temp waters. I have to admit that as the call to prayer wailed across the city with the rise of the sun, a brief air of a romantic Arabia rose in my thoughts before receding. Back on shore we got talking to a bunch of Iranians - mechanics, chef's etc. Good guys and a lot of comedy. An image of the biggest guy pretending to make love to a "sand woman" particularly sticks in the mind (in those dark haunted recesses no doubt). These guys were here for exactly the same reason as the highly paid westerners. Get in get out, take the cash and run. For as long as the cash is here they'll come....when it runs out who will fill all those tall twinkly buildings - certainly not me.

JOHANNESBURG

Another day on a flight and we touched down in Joe'y. A coincidence of mistaken identity lead us to stay at a hostel a few km from the airport and conversation ensued.

As the final part of this intro to these travels I wanted to write down the briefest summary of the picture the owner painted of South Africa and where it was headed. An affable guy whose facts checked out. We have all heard of the murder rate in Jo'berg, of high-jackings and the like, of the AIDs epidemic and cultural friction. What this guy did though was to weave it all together into quite an apocalyptic prophecy.

He saw crime rates ever raising in the big cities. Absurdly corrupt government - where the "joker" Mbeki was only to be replaced by Zuma - a guy portrayed with a shower out his head in local press consequent of his comment that he had had sex with a lady who was HIV positive, but it was fine cos he took a shower. Immigrants pouring in from Zimbabwe and Mozambique trying to work hard and settle, but being thwarted by xenophobia fuelled by harsh conditions and union rhetoric. A lack of work-ethic amongst many in the townships, and those who do work being restricted by the crime and syndication of gang land. 2000 murders a year no less.

He thought it would hold together until 2010 - the football world cup at which "only" 20 murdered tourists is a goal - because the government would pay what need be and bring in whoever to stop a PR disaster, but after that rapid implosion. He saw the above mixed with the full impact of the AIDS epidemic and everything collapsing. Money and educated people would flee, only to return again once the disaster had taken its course - say in 2020 or 2030. Then they could start to rebuild the pieces.

An interesting forecast no doubt and one I treat with skepticism. This guy was though no racist. He did not talk of blacks against whites, but off a particular attitude in South Africa of entitlement expectation. As far as he was concerned, it was this that differentiated South Africa's plight with other countries around it. He was also well informed, being an ex-intelligence officer and of good intellect. He was collecting funds to skip to Mozambique and ride the crisis out before returning to the country he would die in.

I really did not know what to make of all of this. So for now I make no comment. I have 6 weeks ahead of me to explore, debate and learn. I hope I find his predictions way off the mark.