Paradise | Photo - Sandi Caganoff

By Sandi Caganoff
04 October, 2011

I stretched, rolled over and waited for my coffee and freshly baked muffin to be delivered to my suite. Not hearing the private hatch opening, I gazed languidly out the window.

Shock. Horror.

No magnificent sunrise, no elephants, not a single buffalo.

This couldn’t be right, surely? I desperately tried to clear the fog that was enveloping my brain. I focused on my immediate surroundings – they looked suspiciously like … my room … at home.

“That would explain the lack of muffins, elephants and buffalo”, I reasoned.

Five days of insane luxury and awe inspiring beauty had come to an end. Two nights at The Stanley and Livingstone Hotel, one night at the Royal Chundu in Zambia, and two nights on the Zambezi Queen on the Chobe River. A harsh dose of reality flooded in, brought into sharper focus by the shrill ring of my cell phone.

It was my neighbor, Di.

“‘You are fetching Ben aren’t you?” She enquired politely.

“Who? I grunted.

“Ben! My son. The boy you’ve picked up every second day for the last two years.

“Oh, Ben, Ben, oh dear God, Sorry, Jesus…!” I leaned back and allowed real life to crash back in.

Later that day – I cornered my family and waxed lyrical. I turned on my eldest son.

“Matt, our next holiday is Zimbabwe”, I gushed. “The Zambezi River is beyond magical. It evokes such emotion and energy. I felt like I was part of the river. My soul is there. The peace … beauty … elephant in their hundreds … buffalo …hippo. Birdlife like you can’t believe. …”

I looked at him. He’d fallen asleep.

I had forgotten how magnificently beautiful Zimbabwe is. And Zambia. And Botswana. No more foreign travel for me. We have paradise, literally, on our doorstep.

I had travelled to this part of the world with 4 journalists for what is euphemistically called a site inspection. I could inspect these sites for the rest of my life.

The Stanley and Livingstone Hotel on the Zim side of the Falls. Luxury doesn’t come better than this. After doing ten lengths of the pool – one length per pink Gin and Tonic, we sat on the deck, discussed our husbands and watched the buffalo. At least 200 of them. Buffalo, not husbands.

When elephant joined the buffalo, the very exuberant and excitable Canadian journalist, Sandra, yelled ‘WELL F OFF’, scaring the buffalo into a stampede. I guess she doesn’t see too many of those in Toronto.

Warthog, zebra and eland soon replaced the buffalo, and friendly Zimbabwean staff replaced our spilled G and T’s.

The Kariba bream for dinner was divine. And the night was quite perfect too, bar the very odd woman from New Zealand who told us she was NOT sleeping with her husband’s best friend … even though we didn’t ask.

Royal Chundu, on the Zambian side, is unbelievable. This is the lodge where early morning coffee gets placed in your hatch, where the bathtub is on the deck, and where you have a 360 degree view of the river. It’s where you wake up to the sound of fish plopping and hippos grunting. When a pod of hippos popped up alongside our canoes, Sandra, the exuberant Canadian, yelled ‘ OH SHUT UP’.

Although we’d warned the Poler about her enthusiasm, he still came pretty close to falling out the canoe. We beat the rapids to find a picnic on the banks of the river, with hammocks, more G and T’s, and a few more hundred bloody buffalo nearby. White water canoeing, mekoro safaris, boat cruises, baobabs, African villages and Kariba bream, again. Another perfect night, bar the very odd woman from Australia who told us she was actually a man … even though we didn’t ask.

We then boarded ‘The Zambezi Queen’, a luxury boat, on the Chobe River. The other guests gasped in horror as they saw six women in teeny shorts, with bright pink lipstick climbing on board.

Within minutes, though, we’d made friends with the very rich Americans on board, and by the end of the day we were all in the Jacuzzi together. Sandra still yelled, “SHUT UP” every time she saw an animal of any description. It took some time to realise, she was a pill popper of note, and I think she may have overdone it on the ‘Uppers’ .

Kariba Bream was replaced with Chobe Bream for dinner. And the entire experience was Fab. We swapped numbers with the rich Americans, and promised each other we’d all hook up again soon.

The Boat trip ended and we made our way, ever so reluctantly to the airport to begin our journey home.

Before we left, we were warned about African time. Be patient at the borders. Be prepared for everyone to be late. Stay calm and stay cool.

There was never an issue. Not once. The entire trip ran like clockwork. Until we arrived back in Johannesburg, where my best Indian friend was an hour late to fetch us from the Gautrain. As my good friend from Canada might have said, “OH, SHUT RIGHT UP!”