Western Zambia - Kings and water flooded plains

On Thursday morning, my favourite group of Zambian brothers took me downtown from where the others picked me up. Our international group consisted of one Czech travelled, two Italian volunteers and one Dutch worker. We left early morning as the way to Mongu was long 600 km. On our way we drove through beautiful Kafue National Park, where although we haven’t seen any elephants we spotted many small and big impalas. Long stretches of road were in perfect condition, but one part was full of potholes and so it took us longer to arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the Western province has very sandy soil. This is problem not only for agriculture but also for infrastructure as the roads built on sandy grounds get easily destroyed during the rainy season. Sand gets washed away and heavily loaded trucks just finish the job. We arrived to Mongu just ready for unpacking our stuff and going for a short walk around our hotel to see the sunset over the beautiful flooded plains. The International Women’s day was celebrated all over and so we grab a beer with a sweet man on the street in his little shop and then headed back to continue the celebration with lovely dinner in the hotel.

The next day we planned the visit to the harbour from where we wanted to take a boat to Lealui, which is one of the palaces from the king in the Western province. He lives in one of his palaces over the wet season and when this season ends, he is transported in a famous Kimbuko ceremony to his second palace. This festival is one of the last of its kind in southern Africa and is happening around the end of April. The whole country and many internationals gather here to participate every year.

The Italian girls had their lonely planet with them, we all were very unprepared, following the guide printed in 2013, thinking that nothing would change. Once we arrived at the harbour, from where public boats were supposed to leave twice a day, we were surprised to learn that there are no longer such boats. Few years ago, the Chinese build a huge road with number of bridges across the plains and so instead of daily and long 4-5hrs ride, you can just take a 15min bus ride. We were offered expensive motor boat, which we decided not to take. Luckily, two guys, who were just helpers around offered to take us on their old boat with paddles. It was clear to me, that it won’t be one hour as claimed, I am used to the African time and so I settled for double that. At the end it was three! However, none of us regretted a single minute. Quiet, with no carbon footprint, floating through grass and flowers, listening to birds and enjoying the sun. Something indeed awesome.

Well, we learnt something about the speed of development in the area and broke some of our own stereotypes. Although we found some people still using the romantic lovely canoes, it was clear that they only use them in the rainy season to get to their houses, which are sometimes spread all over the water plains. Only tourist want to take up the longer (more relaxed) journey to the river Zambezi. 

In the village we found out, that we are not allowed to go and see the palace. Luckily for us, we were from Italy and the Czech Republic. Two nations that probably have the closest relation to this little region in Southern Africa. Honestly, I forgot what Italy was famous for as I listened more carefully to the other story. How often you get a local guy from a small village in Zambia, who never left the country, and probably never left the region explaining to you something about this one famous guy, you remember learning about, but no idea what? Well, this guy’s name is Emil Holub and he was one of the first foreigners to learn the local languages and as a doctor and explorer he visited the local king, who provided him with necessary equipment to ride down the Zambezi river. He was also the first cartographer of the Victoria Falls, being the first one to draw a map of the whole area. He also has a statue in Livingstone. So, after a long history lesson, short walk around the village we went back. This time by road. We grabbed nice dinner in town, which is famous for its fish during the rainy season and after a lovely sunset we went back to our room.

 

The next day we tried to visit the second palace, which is located on the other side of the plains. Even there we run out of luck, and apart from lovely tiny small and dusty museum we were not even allowed to cross the street to see the palace’s wall from up close. Luckily, we met another old lovely man, who as he claimed, did not go to school for too long, but loved geography and can count. He told us about some dates and years important to the other palace, calculated in the sand in front of us how old which building is and then, was excited about naming all the countries of the world and mainly Europe. I had to decently tell him that there is no longer Czechoslovakia, but apart from that he was indeed very knowledgeable about some countries.

In the evening we went to one restaurant that was recommended to us to grab some beers and watch sunset. I finally met few other Czech people there, who work here for one of my favourite NGO (People in Need). I managed to check out what they do and who knows, maybe I will end up working here myself one day. The ladies were stressed as they had to work on some proposals. Later we went for our last dinner together – Italians went for pizza and I choose cheesecake. Who can say no to that?

Next can only be Livingstone, back to Lusaka and then hurray to Malawi!