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J. Firestone Photography

J. Firestone is a freelance photographer residing in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Hampshire College where she studied human rights, political theory, and post-conflict African societies.

Sunset on the Zambezi.

Sunset on the Zambezi.

Students at one of the Impact Network schools painting for their first time.

Students at one of the Impact Network schools painting for their first time.

Zip line across the gorge with Cristina!

Zip line across the gorge with Cristina!

Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side.

Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side.

Post 7: Over the falls and far far away

Hello Readers,

Schools are now in the revision period so things have quieted down on the technology front. Most of our work here has been helping to get the e-learning off the ground this first term and while there are still some kinks to work out, many of the larger issues have been fixed. Our colleague has taken the servers from the schools to the iSchool office to update the lessons (we don’t have internet so all of the lessons are saved to the servers for use in class) and he will return with the grade 2 curriculum which will begin this coming term in early May.  Our students at the schools are in grades 1-3 because for some students, the Impact Network schools are much closer to home and the prospect of learning with the help of a computer is very appealing. Some of the government schools also have very high student-teacher ratios, up to 150 students to one teacher while the Impact schools limit classroom size to 42 students and then create new classes if enrollment goes beyond that.

Our role has been limited since the completion of the 10 weeks with lesson plans and e-learning and the last 2 weeks seemed an ideal time to do some traveling around Zambia, hence most of this belated blog post recaps more travelling. I encourage readers to ask any questions about the Impact Network schools or anything I may have missed.

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Cristina’s boyfriend, Guy, flew into Lusaka as we took a 7 hour bus ride south west to Lusaka and then stayed at Bungwe’s Barn hotel. The 3 of us continued on another 6 hour bus ride the next day from Lusaka to Livingstone. The bus, Mazhandu, was about $20 each way, clean and comfortable, and stopped along the route at a few spots with decent bathrooms that cost just k1,000 or around 20 cents to use. We arrived in Livingstone just as the sun was setting and made it to the hotel, Maramba River Lodge. I later realized it is a Sobek hotel owned by Richard Sobek who I met at an Africa Travel Association conference last year. He pioneered much of the adventure travel industry that exists today around the African continent. Maramba River Lodge is reasonably priced with accommodation ranging from personal tents for $10/night to luxury tents or chalets for $115 per night and has a full activities center where the staff is knowledgeable and well trained to recommend the right activities for the traveller and can book the activities in advance.

On the topic of activities in Livingstone, if you have plans to do much of anything, it will cost money. It is absolutely worth visiting Victoria Falls, but expect to be bleeding money throughout the trip. Even taxis around Livingstone seem to cost uniformly $10 to anywhere, which is the result of American tourists offering dollars and the drivers only being able to exchange $10 bills, however you can negotiate the cost a bit if using Zambian Kwacha.

Cristina, Guy, and I left early the next morning for Victoria Falls Park a short drive down the road from the hotel. After paying the $20 park entrance fee, we headed for the trails. The upper trail is an easy and fairly short walk which takes you up to the top of the falls just before they drop off. From there, we did the most physically challenging trail down to the boiling pot where the very strong currents from the bottom of falls whirl in circles before flowing into the Zambezi River winding through the gorge.  We pushed our way back up the steep slippery steps through the jungle-esque  scenery up to the walking trail that offers some nice views of the falls for photographing, ending our exploration of the Zambian side of the falls with Knife’s Edge Bridge. The three of us skipped past the poncho, umbrella, and rain shoe rental stand before it began to rain…and then we realized it was spray from the falls that was only getting harder as we got closer. I was told by friends who had visited Victoria Falls that the Knife’s Edge Bridge is wet and they were not kidding. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet from taking a bath. Cristina described it as feeling like “someone was dumping repeated buckets of water on your head” and also up your rain coat sleeves and really, through your rain coat. Ultimately, it was a ton of fun, but I highly recommend walking the bridge last and not wearing jeans during an exploration of the falls. I wrapped my camera in 2 plastic bags and kept that in a waterproof purse with my passport and kept the purse under my rain coat. Point being—it is very very wet near the falls.

The three of us had heard the views from the Zimbabwe side of the falls are pretty spectacular and as it turned out, it was a short 15 minute walk from the Zambia side to the Zim border by walking across the bungee bridge. We were lucky enough to see a young American woman doing both the rope swing (which looks far more terrifying than the bungee jump) and immediately after, bungee jumping off the platform down to the Zambezi. Yes, this is the same bungee spot where the Australian woman fell from in January. Statistically speaking though, the bungee jump is far safer than the white water rafting and the Minister of Tourism took the jump to prove its safety. Soooo I decided to bungee jump too.

KIDDING. But the 3 of us did the zip line across the gorge (Cristina and I went in tandem) which was a ton of fun and approximately $100 cheaper and well, I never promised my parents I wouldn’t zip line across the gorge.

Prior to the zip line, we went to Zimbabwe—or at least about 1km into Zimbabwe to the Victoria Falls Park on that side. What we had heard about the views from the Zim side were absolutely true. We had a big open view of the falls and took lots of photos until the path on the Zim side on the far end got us completely and totally soaking wet again just after we dried off from Knife’s Edge Bridge. The walk through the park in Zimbabwe took us about an hour, after which we hurried back over to Zambia and walked to the Royal Livingstone Hotel for high tea and sundowners (i.e. drinks while watching the sun set on the deck overlooking the Zambezi). For my fellow travelers, I highly recommend the experience although I felt a little out of place at the very high-end hotel wearing sopping yoga capri pants and a smelly tee shirt. The outfits some of the staff at the hotel are made to wear are also a little creepy colonial-era looking, but the unlimited finger sandwiches, desserts, and cakes are really delicious.

As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, we went to dinner at Olga’s Restaurant, or “The Italian Restaurant” in Livingstone, part of an Italian-owned NGO called “Olga’s Project” which gives 100% of the proceeds from dinner back into training programs. I was especially impressed that they hired local male and female Zambians as chefs and wait staff and the meal was impressively authentic and delicious Italian food.

The next day Cristina and Guy (the daredevils) went white water rafter and I (the cheap chicken) went into town to walk around, visit the museum, and check out the craft market. I learned a lot about the history of Zambia pre-colonial rule, under colonial rule, and the incredible courage of the Zambians who fought for independence (one of whom was named Julia) and I had a great conversation with a guide about everything from Zambian history to current day politics in the country. I had a nice walk through the town of Livingstone and spoke with several of the craft shop owners, especially a man named Lenox wearing a NY Yankees hat (“Your name is the same as my street!”).

The 3 of us reconvened at Maramba River Lodge and rested up before heading out on a river safari. We saw elephants, crocodiles, and hippos galore and enjoyed the fast ride through the Zambezi from the roof of the small boat.

The next morning we headed back on another 6 hour bus ride to Lusaka where we stayed at Bungwe’s Barn, which has a reasonable rate—$70/night for a room with a queen size bed and a smaller bed, before hopping on the next day’s 7 hour bus ride back up to the village in Eastern Province.  We spent a few days working and had a fun day of helping the students at one of the schools paint pictures. Guy had the chance to try nshima.  Late in the week, we set out on our last weekend trip up to South Luangwa National Park for a safari. After taking a shared taxi to Katete and a shared taxi to Chipata, we met up with a driver who took us on the 3.5 hour drive along the curvy, bumpy, dusty road to South Luangwa.

Our guide, Yotam, was extremely knowledgeable. He taught us about all kinds of interesting bird behaviors and invited us to be detectives by identifying animal poo and tracks and looking at markings in the dirt. I’m not posting all the animal pictures on my blog because it would use up too much bandwidth of the internet but if anyone would like to see pictures when I get home, definitely ask. Because I want the excuse to show off my new knowledge of names of groups of animals…we saw herds of impala, waterbuck, and puku, a pride of lions as well as male lions, elephants, a tower of giraffes, several rafts of hippos, crocodiles, a leopard, an obstinance of cape buffalo, a rush/business of mongoose (favorite!), a few genet but always alone, and numerous types of birds.

Flatdogs was a great lodge with a very fair all inclusive nightly rate, very nice luxury tents, delicious food, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Even the bartender and the restaurant staff were excited to hear about the animals we saw on the game drives as many of the on-site staff are training to be guides. I highly recommend the lodge for anyone looking for a safari that will cost less than some in other parts of Africa, be a little quieter in terms of the number of visitors, but includes a full game park with tons of animals less than a 5 minute drive away.

Guy flew from South Luangwa back to Lusaka and Cristina and I went with the vehicle, making our way back to the village yesterday. We have 3 more weeks working here and then wrapping things up before heading home. Time has gone by so quickly but I’m sure these last few weeks will be busy.

As always, questions are welcomed. Wishing all of you the best.

Zikomo powelenga,

Julia

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