I said “thank you” to the friendly people of Siavonga for a memorable, laid back week relaxing on and at the side of the lake.The Zambian side — almost everyone who knows it agrees — is far more picturesque than “our” shore with lush, verdant well treed hillsides plunging down to the usually placid blood-temperature water.
We stayed at the comfortable, homely, Eagles Rest Lodge, where the sandy beach, from which local youngsters; black, white and brown plunged into the lake waters (something that wouldn’t happen here because of the teeming deadly crocodile population and large numbers of bad-tempered hippos) was fringed by lush indigenous and exotic trees.
Ripe mangoes — in every shade from pale yellow, through radiant gold to almost crimson — colourfully weighed the trees’ boughs down almost to water level; there were Mexican apple trees; coconut palms, flourishing more than 1 000km from the sea, were heavily laden with fruit.
Rooms were comfortable, with air-conditioning and a centrifugal fan; tea-coffee making set-up; en-suite shower, wash hand basin and loo. It had a king-sized double bed and two bunks. Bed and breakfast worked out at US$55 a night, but had I visited the town’s one bank or a bureau-de-change, it would have been less.
The hotel offered an almost early Gono-like 4 500 kwacha to the greenback, whereas official rate was as high as 5 200: 1 and touts at the frontier post gave 4 700. It was still a bargain. Breakfast was included. I didn’t bother with lunch as the resort baked in 50C screen temperatures and high humidity.
My share of six suppers was just US$27. My chosen meals varied between a simple Cornish pasty, mash and gravy, via a splendid fungus-rich mushroom ravioli to a Sunday night braai which starred griddled freshwater crayfish tails and salads.
(Another coincidence: Steve Hyde, executive chef at Emmanuel’s, the fine-dining restaurant at Bronte Hotel raved about these crustaceans at the Restaurateurs’ Association Christmas lunch; when I returned to my office after that do, there was an e-mail inviting me to sample them at a function being held while I was in Zambia; there was a leaflet offering them for sale frozen on the bar counter of the pub at Eagles Rest; we were served them and/or pork ribs or savoury chicken meatballs on the last night.)
I’m sure these are Australian yabbies, which the then High Commission introduced to Harare at an Oz theme week at Meikles Hotel 10 years ago. Totally delicious, Zimbabwean farmers were excited about the prospect of breeding them here.
I’m pretty certain Parks and Wildlife said forget it, as they had apparently no natural predators here and could destroy a farm dam by burrowing into its sides in just a few weeks.
Well “up north” no one seemed to share those concerns. I’m told the ones we ate were originally introduced into the Kafue for commercial breeding. Many promptly escaped and their offspring have been caught between Siavonga and Chirundu on the Zambian side for several years. Zimbabwean anglers reported seeing and catching them off the islands and main shoreline for about a year.
Well let’s hope they don’t undermine the Kariba Dam. If that goes, it would allegedly take out Carbora Bassa, flood Beira; a tsunami would hit Madagascar causing major damage and death; waves would form an ox-bow which would cause destruction around Durban and apparently reach as far as Perth and Fremantle. (I suggest you eat as many as possible, as quickly as you can!)
Zambia’s lakeside terrain may be more attractive than ours, but whereas Kariba is alive with game and wildlife (we saw a herd of zebra grazing in the township; elephants in the main road; troupes of baboon and vervet), in Siavonga we saw: one two-metre crocodile, one hippo, one turtle (oh, and I HEARD a bush baby!)
And whereas the Siavonga Tiger Challenge was great fun, 10 of the 19 teams caught absolutely zilch over the two-day tournament and tiger were so rare (the river’s 50m deep five metres from shore; more than 100m above the old riverbed) possibly made worse because it was full moon, that it was thrown open to all species.
Certainly worth a visit. The birdlife and boats are stunning. (The old Southern Belle from Kariba now operates from Siavonga, run by Protea Hotels Zambia.)
For further details: www.eaglesresort.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
GOOD news for regional travellers and Indian Ocean holidaymakers is South African-based no-frills economy airline 1time introduces return scheduled flights from OR Tambo in Johannesburg direct, non-stop, to Moi International, Mombasa, Kenya, from March 5 at a mouthwatering fare of just R3 238 for the 5 505 kilometre return trip.
Bad news for Zimbabweans is that to get to and from OR Tambo from Harare (1 959km return) costs a minimum of R3 015. As a matter of interest you can fly Jo’burg to Geneva (Switzerland) return for R3 821!
Guys, we are being ripped off!