Life and death in Livingstone, the perils of being a multibillionaire

Livingstone Travel Blog

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Three instances of death, near death, and not really close to death at all, have crossed our path in the last week.  Firstly the president of Zambia, Dr. Levy Mwanawasa, died last week and as a result the country has been in mourning, with flags at half-mast.  It seems like he was a very popular character, but perhaps more on him in a later blog, when I've got something decent to say.  We are currently in Livingstone and whilst in a minibus on our way to view the falls yesterday, hit a kid on a bike, who cut across our path.  The kid was fine, we think, well, not fine, but not dead, or likely to die.  Luckily we only hit the rear of the bike, but the force was enough for the kid to take out the wing-mirror of the mini-bus and roll to a stop next to us.  It was quite scary really.

The day before we had been White water rafting, which was awesome.  The rapids on the Zambezi, just below the Victoria falls are meant to be the most exciting stretch of white-water to raft in the world.  So we did it.  The rapids are mainly grades IV and V, the highest that can be rafted comercially (there was one grade six, but since its illegal to raft it commercially we had to walk around it).   The official line is "bouyancy vest equipped swimmers risks injury" unoffically its more like "death if handled incompetently".  So pretty risky stuff.  Of course they deny anyone has ever died whilst you sign the disclaimer but ask them afterwards and they'll tell you that the death rate is around one a year.  Just before negotiating one rapid known as "the washing machine" we were told that if the raft goes into the middle, we should paddle to the right.  When we asked what would happen if we were to fall into the middle, our guide looked at us, and said we should go to the right, it was pretty obvious what he meant, that we wouldn't get out of there without help, quickly.  The day after we went, one girl had to airlifted out of the gorge, but this was due to whiplash, iniated by doing the bungee jump (which has a 100% survival record, so in theory, is actually much safer).  Anyway, the rapids were exciting, exhilarating and I had a huge grin across my face for the entire day.  It was brilliant.  (I wish I knew a few more superlatives here).  We came off twice, on the twenty-five odd rapids, and capsized just the once.  On rapid number eight, The Midnight Diner.  My recollection differs from the video slightly in that I thought I fell out of the boat when it capsized, the video says I came out just before, anyway, I got slammed on the head by the overturning raft and came up on the wrong side of the boat, which was fine, although a little disorientating.  We then negotiated the second part of the rapid clinging onto the side, before our guide decided to right the boat, which involves dunking underneath as it flips over.  I was a bit too far out, when I ducked down and came up underneath the boat.  Viewing a world of yellow and realising that I was exhaling was interesting to say the least.  I'm actually rather pleased with my thought process when this happened going along the lines of "this could get serious if you don't starting swimming sideways, hard, now".  So I did, and got out.  But it was thrillingly exciting to get caught in a situation you have no control over where there is a small risk of not making it.  To be honest I'm probably overstating the whole thing, it is safe really, and now that I've scared my parents half to death, will not be allowed out again, ever.  But there you have it, three glimpses of mortality, and none of them coming whilst we were in the bush.  I declined further glimpses of my mortality by not doing the bungee jump.  Just why would you?  Ok, I know exactly why, but I couldn't.

On a lighter note (literally and metaphorically) I'm a hundred billionaire.  Made possible by the exchange of goods and services (money can be used to buy many peanuts!).  Okay so its only Zimbabwean money and yes, I've paid over the odds by only getting 180,000,000,000 for about six dollars, but look at those zeros!  Haggling prices for souvenirs has been fun, but I always find I tend to feel a little bit guilty about negotiating.  Obviously you want a fair price, but you don't want to deny someone who's struggling to make a living money which is rightfully his.  Also, I'm not so good at the offering a quarter of what there inital price is.  So I've ended up paying a bit more than Alex and Chris have, but its still good fun.  The Zambians take the friendly approach to buying and selling as they do to all aspects of life, and its quite an entertaining experience, especially as they tack on worthless extras so as not to lower their over-hyped price.  They also like trading stuff, especially socks and Chris' sunglasses, I've used a biro as part of my negotiations so far!

So what else have we done.  We've visited the falls, obviosuly, and they are amazing, so expansive and wide, even if there's not that much water going over them at the moment.  I still get amazed at how quickly tourists walk around such an amzing sight, especially as its one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  It really doesn't get that much more impressive (although to be honest, I kind of prefer the Iguacu falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border).  We've been swimming at the top of the falls in a natural rockpool right on the edge.  The current was suprisingly strong and we did have to hold on, after jumping in of course!  We had high tea on Livingstone Island, the island in the middle of the falls which was amusing, especially with the American's first ever taste of Pimm's (we've been doing a lot of the stuff this week with three New Yorkers we've met on our travels who are nice people).  I don't think I've had nicer scones!  And we've spent an hour on the sun-deck of the Royal Livingstone hotel hob-nobbing with the rich and watching the sunset.  Nad some of them were wearing crocs.  Which made me feel nicely superior to all these upper-class lot!!  We've been on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi and spent a well-earned rest day at Jollyboys, one of the famous hostels in Livingstone, that is really nice, and thoroughly recommended, even if you do have to book quite a while in advance.

Livingstone is a very different town to Lusaka, and much more likable, for a start there are several more Arsenal shirts adorning the locals compared to the Man Utd hotspot that is Lusaka.  Its just a lot less busy, and a nicer place.  They also, like Lusaka, have a museum in need of a little work, the natural history section was rather dull, but the Livingstone exhibit, in particular his hand-written letters, were extraordinary.

Anyway, that's Livingstone, done and dusted as it were.  We have one more thing to do this afternoon, and thats go on a microlight flight.  Its over a hundred dollars for only fifteen minutes, which, like most activities here is rather expensive, but it should be so cool, I'm really excited about that.  Then its a couple of long long bus rides as we head towards Lilongwe, the capital (spelt right this entry!) of Malawi and the second half of the adventure.
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photo by: sarahsan