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The breathtaking beauty of Zambia will remain in the heart forever
There are not many places on earth where you can microlight over one of the seven wonders of the world before breakfast, but Zambia is one them.
And I’ll never forget it until the day I die, whenever that may be.
The Victoria Falls, the Smoke that Thunders, is where the mighty Zambezi River crashes to earth on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The huge waterfall looks amazing from the riverside but to see it from a microlight as its ghostly mists floated around me was unforgettable.
As the wind blew in my face and the African bush stretched out before me I instantly knew I was experiencing one of the best moments of my life.
Being that close to Victoria Falls is to see Mother Nature at her most awe-inspiring, powerful and beautiful best. To be in its midst, and for that matter in its mist, is to get that rare human feeling of being about as inconsequential as a grain of sand on a beach that never ends.
Looking down at the giant falls it really did feel like I was at the end of the world. Surely if there ever is a good way to shuffle off this mortal coil then a one way canoe ride over the falls must be it.
I can give it no more of a compliment than to say I forgot the second verse of Toto’s seminal 1980s hit Africa which I was singing as I circled above this remarkable natural phenomenon.
My German pilot must have thought I was barmy but when I calmed down he said in a very matter of fact way: “They say the first time you visit Africa it breaks you’re heart and you keep on have coming back to pick up the pieces.”
All I could think about was how fast I could raise the money to come back to this wonderful place, broken heart or not.
After getting back on land it was time to take to the skies again, this time in a helicopter, another first for me. This time I had more time to look at the amazing animals running free below me and I felt as if I was in the middle of a BBC nature documentary. I’m not surprised why David Attenborough always has a grin on his face.
And all this before breakfast.
And after seeing one of the wonders of the world I suppose it was only right to start the day off with champagne and steak at The Royal Livingstone Hotel, where we had arrived the day before.
I’ve had some memorable welcomes at hotels in my life but I doubt anything will ever beat arriving in style at the Royal Livingstone Hotel which, along with the neighbouring Zambezi Sun resort, is owned by Sun International.
Shortly after stepping off the plane at ramshackle Livingstone airport we embarked onto a water taxi and within minutes we were speeding down the Zambezi River towards the five star hotel and the Falls.
After marvelling at the ‘smoke’ rising from the giant waterfall down river I looked beside the boat and was treated to an exhibition of crocodiles and hippopotamus in their natural habitat.
When the engines of the boat died down we heard the sound of singing and sure enough there was a welcome party on the jetty in traditional dress.
After stepping on dry land I was immediately given a warm towel, a glass of ice tea and was escorted to the sundeck where lunch was served.
Within minutes staff massaged my hands as I marvelled at the quintessentially African scene before me.
After an exhausting continent crossing journey I thought I had entered heaven on earth and during my ensuing time in Zambia I never had cause to change my mind about this remarkable country.
The Royal Livingstone Hotel kept on confounding my expectations, I’ve never walked out of a chalet before and been confronted by two giraffes staring back at me.
And believe me when the closest you’ve come to one of the majestic creatures is staring through a fence at Dudley Zoo it is an amazing sight.
And I’ve never had zebras wander by as I had a cigarette on the verander.
Or for that matter had a gang of mischievious monkeys follow me to the dining room like I was the pied piper.
I can only imagine what David Livingstone must have thought when he first arrived in this remarkable place all those years ago.
I’m sure after all his travelling he would have loved to have kicked off his shoes and relax at the Royal Livingstone Hotel’s health spa and enjoyed the various treatments on offer.
Having a massage on the banks of the Zambezi was another first for me, as my aching limbs were rubbed I struggled to stay awake but I couldn’t take my eyes off the playful hippopotamus spraying water around 10 metres in front of me.
A couple of hours later I would be back on the river but this time on The African Queen, a pleasure cruiser which leisurely goes up and down the Zambezi whilst its passengers drink sundowners and marvel at sunsets that only can Africa produce. I had to pinch myself as I sipped a Gin and Tonic whilst gazing at the water beneath me which had turned a magical amber under the suns rays.
Another way to see the beautiful river and countryside of Zambia is the Royal Livingstone Express.
An exquisitely refurbished train steams along the Cecil Rhodes built railway as it’s passengers experience luxury akin to the Orient Express - African style.
After the sun goes down in Zambia the sounds and sights seem just as beautiful.
The animals still wander around but at night you usually hear them before you see the moonlight bounce off their eyes.
A thunderstorm put pay to our plans to have dinner under the monkey tree at the Royal Livingstone but sitting beneath the verander and staring at the mighty skies crash and bang was an incredible experience. The warm air, the rain, the sound of the fans above me, and the surroundings really evoked a colonial era long since past. It is simply a wonderful place to have dinner.
The steaks were fantastic on the menu as was the crocodile, springbok and fish and after dinner we retired to the hunting room which the biggest selection of whiskies and cigars in Zambia.
When I awoke the next day it was time to leave with a heavy heart and fuzzy head.
I bade farewell to the two giraffes outside my room and said goodbye to the monkeys who followed me to reception.
There upon leaving our African friends sang goodbye to our group and I don’t mind admitting a I felt a lump in my throat.
After a pleasurable wait at the wonderfully chaotic Livingstone Airport I embarked the plane for South Africa.
As the plane reached into the sky I looked out the window at beautiful Zambia below me.
And thought to myself: “One day I’ll return to pick up the pieces of my heart.”
Royal Livingstone and the Zambezi Sun are part of Sun international resorts www.suninternational.com Four nights at the 5* Royal Livingstone hotel on a B&B basis costs £1,489 per person. Flying with South African Airlines from London Heathrow to Livingstone via Johannesburg between until 31 May 2011. Price is based on two sharing. To book call 0871 703 4240 or visit www.travelbag.co.uk The helicopter flip costs from 129USD for 15 minutes, whilst the micro-light costs from 125 USD for 15 minutes - book via the resort www.suninternational.com