Chapter 6: Warthog & Worms on the Menu

The next morning, we were up even earlier, 5 a.m., and it was our last day in this camp. We loaded up all our baggage into the cargo carrier, and then headed out towards the main road. A short ways out of camp, our driver suddenly stopped the jeep, and pointed. "Lions," he said. And there they were, two of them, crossing the road maybe 20 meters in front of us. It was our first lion sighting. The lions contemplated us for a moment, then apparently decided we weren't worth eating, and moved on.

After a couple hours of dirt road, we pulled back onto the paved road, and had to stop for "tsetse fly inspection." A bored-looking man with a can of bug spray walked past the jeep, and stopped once for no apparent reason and delivered a uselessly-brief spritz of insecticide to a an apparently empty spot on the side of the vehicle.

The plan for the day was to drive back to Makuti, transfer back to the buses, and then head on to Kariba, where we would catch a noon plane to Victoria Falls. We would have a couple hours to wander around and do some shopping (the only time we were scheduled to be in an actual town), followed by a sundown cruise on the Zambezi River and dinner at The Boma, a well-known Vic Falls restaurant...that was the plan.

Didn't quite happen that way. When we got to the Kariba airport, we found that our plane was not there, and nobody was really sure where it was. Eventually, we found that our flight would be delayed some four hours. Rather than waste the time at the absolutely featureless Kariba airport, the UTc guys decided to take us into the town for lunch and a quick bit of sightseeing. We went to the Kariba Breezes Hotel for an unremarkable lunch, but those with a shopping need were able to go to a couple of shops there. Then, we took a brief ogle at the Kariba Dam, just over the border from Zambia. On the way back to the airport, we pulled over briefly to watch a small herd of zebra grazing along the side of the road.

Two women carry their shopping across Kariba Dam
towards Zambia.

Welcome to the Kariba Breezes Hotel. You're on your own, mate.

Zebra along the highway near Kariba Airport.

By this time, there were several tour groups piled up at the airport waiting for late planes, and we all waited outside by the runway, swapping our eclipse stories. We came to find out that the Kariba airport isn't exactly what you could call "cutting edge." We watched as they fueled a commuter plane, and it didn't exactly inspire us with confidence. A guy with a bucket...a bucket was shuttling jet fuel to the plane one bucketload at a time. I guess they only had one bucket. When he reached the plane, he would climb up a ladder to the wing, and hand the bucket to another guy on the wing, who then poured it into a funnel with a handkerchief over it as a fuel filter, and into the gas tank. Then the bucket guy would go back for another load. As unbelievable as that was, we also heard a rumor that the people doing the fueling were actually the passengers, not the crew, because nobody from the airport was available to fuel the plane. Welcome to Africa.
Refueling, one bucket at a time

By 3:30 or so, our "noon plane" finally showed up. This was a somewhat larger plane, an old Hawker Siddeley HS748, an ex-military aircraft dating from the mid- 1960's, which one would think was too big an aircraft to be fueled with a bucket and a funnel...and we thought that right up until the moment we saw the pilot get off the plane with a funnel and a ladder. Yes: the airport doesn't even have its own ladder.

At least they didn't try to fill it one bucket at a time. They drove a baggage cart full of plastic fuel cans to the plane, and they poured those in one at a time. While they were sitting there with open containers of aviation fuel, another aircraft pulled up right next to them, and sat there with its engines running.

But finally, we were in the air for our short hop to Victoria Falls. As it turns out, we would have arrived much sooner if we'd simply driven to begin with. By the time we touched down in Vic Falls, it was too late for the river cruise. We pulled into our hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge by about 6:30.

Slightly more upscale lodgings at the Vic Falls Safari Lodge
And what a change from our previous lodgings. This was a very nice hotel, with large rooms with private decks overlooking a waterhole where you could sit and watch the animals...or you could if you actually had any time there. But we didn't, we had to get in, get cleaned up, and then get off to our scheduled dinner.

We dined at The Boma (with a capital "B," as opposed to a regular boma, which is just a meeting/eating place), a very nice buffet-style restaurant which made up for much of the unpleasantness of the day. Although The Boma is really within walking distance of the Safari Lodge, we were driven nonetheless, and were told that it really wasn't safe to walk around after dark, that there were lions and hyenas and such who might be looking for a meal of their own.

The food there ranged from not bad to great. In addition to a lavish salad and desert table, there was a grill where you could select from a variety of exotic meats, such as warthog, eland, wild pig, ostrich...and mopane worms. The latter is not one of those deceptively-named dishes like "Welsh rabbit," they really are...ulp...worms. Or more precisely, the larva of the emperor moth Gonimbrasia belina, which commonly feeds on the leaves of the mopane tree. Mopane worms are quite a popular food in southern Africa, so of course, I had to try them. Mopane worms get several points off for their appearance; they look pretty much the way you would imagine fried caterpillars would look. The taste was not disgusting, but failed to make me a fan, they were dry and a little too gritty, maybe tasting vaguely of veal.
Africa on the plate at The Boma. Mopane worms are at lower right.

On the flip side, I also had some excellent warthog, grilled up in some vaguely-barbecue-tasting sauce. Many of the other dishes were also quite good, but the warthog won the prize that night.

Rounding out the African experience, there were also periodic shows of traditional songs and dances staged by local cultural arts troupes.

Click here to hear a native song

David looks out at the waterhole over breakfast
Photo by Kathy Lindquist
The next morning, we came down to breakfast in the Lodge's restaurant, which overlooks the waterhole, and apparently has quite a problem with marauding monkeys, who slip in and try to help themselves at the buffet. Waiters would come around and throw wadded-up napkins at them. Over breakfast, we had just enough time to reflect on how chuffed we were that we were in this nice place, but had no time to sit back and enjoy it, and then we were back in the buses and off for a whirlwind tour of the falls.


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