We get up early so we can catch the ferry to cross the Zambezi River into Zambia. The early arrival at the ferry point is critical, Barry and Gideon tell us. It can take anywhere from one hour to all day to get to the other side depending on how many ferries are running. Both Botswana and Zambia have ferries. Some times both run, sometimes one runs. This is Africa.
There’s no line when we arrive at the ferry so we’re able to go straight to the front of the pier. But there’s a problem. A truck gets stuck coming off the Zambia ferry. We quickly get in line for the Botswana ferry coming into port and watch the futile attempts to use an eighteen-wheeler to pull the stuck truck out. Again this is Africa.
After the border crossing, we ride into Livingstone where we’ll spend the next couple of days. We have three full days in Livingstone, which seems like at least one day too many. But this is the end of the trek for several of the people in our group. We’ll lose nine of our group and both Barry and Gideon before taking off toward Nairobi.
The big thing to do in Livingstone is go to Victoria Falls. There are all kinds of adventure activities you can do around the falls – helicopter rides, gorge swings, whitewater rafting, and until a few weeks ago – bungee jumping. (They closed down the bungee jump after a woman went plunging into the river. She survived but broke her collar-bone.) I would have liked to whitewater raft but we decided that we’d do the expensive adventure stuff when we have jobs and more robust health insurance.
Instead, Nellu and I and a few others go off into the “city” of Livingstone to look for groceries and check things out. Since we have so much time, we decide to save our visit to the falls for the next day.
After returning from the store, we eat lunch out by the pool. The blue monkeys living at the camp see us and start to surround us. It’s clear they’d like their cut and they’re very aggressive. They’re small but you know they can bite and scratch. As we sit in one of the lawn chairs, the monkeys come close. They look like they’re going to grab what we’re eating right out of our hands. I yell at them the way one would scold a cat that’s climbed up on the counter, “No,” I scold in my deepest, scary, I’m-serious voice. But that doesn’t stop their persistence. One of the braver monkeys makes his move and grabs the orange plastic bag with my Snickers in it and runs up into the trees. They’ve clearly learned from experience that orange plastic bags often have food in it.
Eleven of us head out for a hike around Victoria Falls today. The falls are very impressive. The force of the river coming over the side of the rocks causes the fallen water to spray back up as if its raining and you get absolutely soaked. It’s a fun way to spend a hot day in Africa.
We’re walking a path that takes us along some of the prime viewing spots for the falls. I am chatting with someone when I look up and see Nellu standing out toward the edge with our friend Claire taking a picture. It’s clear that he’s gone off the trail and much closer to the rocky drop-off than he probably should. To Nellu, this is a prime picture-taking opportunity. To me, it’s way too close to the edge. My mind starts running a scene on loop where he slips in the wet grass and plunges in the rocky abyss below. “No, no, no,” I start screaming, “That’s too close. Too close.” By the time I get to him, I am fully crying.
“What’s wrong?” Nellu asks in a very innocent voice as if he has no idea. Now firmly imprinted in my psyche is the fear of my husband going over the edge for the sake of a good picture.
There are a few trails you can follow to see all that Victoria Falls has to offer. Nellu and I and our Canadian friends, Bob and his daughter Christina, head down to what they call the Boiling Pot, a deep pool of swirling water just off the base of the falls. The trail isn’t long but it lined with dozens of baboons – big wild, baboons. We make it down to pool with no issues, snap a few pictures, and head back.
As we climb up the hill, the baboons are now making their way down the path. We very calmly walk by and no one seems to mind, even the mothers with their newborn baboon babies.
But when I start to take my raincoat off, I hold out my arms and the orange waterproof bag with my wallet and camera in it.
My bag must have looked like the ones we usually carry food in because this really, really big baboon, certainly one of the biggest in the group at just about three and a half feet tall, runs by and tries to snatch it from me. His momentum spins me around but there’s no way that I am letting him get my bag. If it was food, that would be one thing, but it’s not. We play tug of war with the bag and I scream aggressively in his direction, which is cleary not among my best of ideas. Remember the monkeys from yesterday, this baboon could have eaten them for lunch. I should have learned that wild primates do not respond to NO the way domestic animals do.
The baboon lets go of the bag but lurches at me. Bob, who had been right behind me, grabs my elbow pulling me up and out of the way. We both fall to the ground. Nellu rushes behind us, kicking his foot up to scare away our aggressor. This all happens in a matter of seconds but leaves us a little shaken.
But I am happy to report that this was the only attempting mugging during our whole trip.
We’ve got some time to kill and after getting in some serious internet for the first time since we left Johannesburg, Nellu and I go take the shuttle from camp back into town. We wanted to hit the markets once more and get food at the grocery store.
The shuttle only runs one way so we start to walk back to our campsite. It’s not far from the center of town but some of the people at the campsite have implied its dangerous to walk, not so much on the well trafficked main road, but the side road. “Just take a cab,” people tell us in the way that makes you unsure if they’re trying to protect you or just cover their own ass.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of fear lately. On this trip, I’ve hated the idea that we’re targets because we’re toursits. I loathe feeling unsafe walking down the street. And I’ve resented cities that we visited that have reputations where petty if not violent crime is tolerated. (I’m talking about you Bogota and Johannesburg.) The baboon was the closest that we’ve come to a mugging but the fact that we’ve traveled for so long without incident has started to unnerve me. It’s the classic – things are too good, we’re due for something bad to happen to us – feeling. I have no idea why I let myself dwell in such scenarioes. The line from the song “Me and Bobby McGee” keeps echoing in my head: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” We may have left most of our possessions behind but I’m clearly holding on too tight to stuff.
We picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for lunch and dinner. On the way back, I let Nellu in on the scheme I was cooking up just in case anyone did try to mug us. “If anyone comes at us, throw the chicken, you got it, throw …the… chicken.”
More to come…