From the river, the private chalets are shaded from view, blending in with the leafy surroundings. The thick wood-framed doors of the Honeymoon Suite are on runners which roll open onto a 180-degree view of a channel of the Zambezi and an island thick with palm trees and riverine bush.
Africa's fourth longest river finds its 2700 kilometre journey from the north-western corner of Zambia to the Indian Ocean interrupted by a 1.7 km-long World Heritage site. Named by the British explorer, David Livingstone, for his Queen, Victoria Falls draws 3000 visitors a month to view the Zambezi's photogenic free-fall.
Livingstone died in 1873 in Zambia, home to the source of the river
which was to immortalise him. When he died, his loyal bearers, Sussi and Chuma, carried his embalmed body for two years through bush fraught with tooth and claw, to Dar es Salaam where they delivered his remains to be shipped home to Britain and interred in Westminster Abbey with royal honours
. Sussi and Chuma got no such recognition. Until now.
Mosi-o-Tunya National Park
Mosi-o-Tunya National Park begins 5 kilometres above the Falls and its 15 kilometres of river frontage and riparian forest and 10 ½ kilometres of woodland is home to wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, impala
, baboon, elephant and Zambia's last remaining population of white rhino. Star of Africa's luxury lodge, Sussi and Chuma, is one of only two lodges that lie within the borders of the Mosi-o-Tunya National Park in a part of the park called Fairylands.
Riparian and swamp vegetation cover less than 5% of the National Park area. Confined mainly to the edge of the Zambezi
, these two habitats contain the highest diversity of fauna and flora in the park. Sussi and Chuma has 300m of river frontage with more than 400 species of birds
including the apparently very exciting ccurrence of Peters' Finfoot, which if you're a birder, may mean something to you.
Sussi and Chuma Lodges
The exclusive lodge, with a maximum capacity of 20 guests, is built on walkways to minimise its impact on the banks of the Zambezi
. Signs of elephant and their passing are everywhere: Shattered trees and elephant dung; dense footprints packed tight in the muddy remains of the salt-lick.
The ten private chalets overlook the tree-shaggy islands and rocky rapids of the Zambezi, 9 kilometres above the Falls
. The vista is much as Livingstone would have first seen it: wooded islands and sandbanks, hippos in rocky shallows and palm trees peeking from behind the ostrich feather fronds of reed beds. The trees wear gold leaf, sherwood green and ivory; the evergreen waving plumes
of the Livingstone shade tree; the waterberry, its sour red fruit beloved by the baboon and monkey as well as the elephant who shake the trees
to get the berries.
Reflecting the eddies of the river, the lodge is built around a central staircase. Raised walkways connect the individual stilted chalets
to the rim flow pool and the sundowner deck, the library, with reference books and chess set, the sala and the salt lick deck. All walkways lead to the nerve centre. The open-walled central living area with dining and lounging areas is arranged around the central staircase which culminates in the wrought-iron palm frond centrepiece at the head of the stairwell. It is a study in contrast in pale beams and gum-pole side-struts, dark lacquered wood furnishings and black ceiling fans.
The Honeymoon Suite
Natural unworked wood is used to soften the edges of the dark wood furniture and appears in the uncarved struts of the deck. Light bamboo blinds shade the windows from the encroaching bush. Artfully placed screens of dark wood with mud-cloth panels divide the space into bedroom, bathroom and mini-kitchen.
A baboon sits on one of the trees outside the chalet, in unconscious mimicry of his handmade counterpart, the baboon lampstand, inside. An African rendition of the four-poster bed has mosquito nets draped in Victorian folds
. Wicker chairs and footstools entice you onto your own private viewing platform - the deck area wraps two-thirds of the way around the front of the chalet. Here, the rush of rapids, and the grunt of hippo accompany sundowners
as the heat of the day abates.
Eating and Sleeping
We dine that night from heavy pewter platters on vegetable-stuffed crepes with bacon, onion and tomato relish; medallions of fillet with mustard sauce, topped with aubergine and crisp julienned beans, carrots and mashed potatoes garnished with cilantra. The crème brulee unfortunately proved to be no match for the sub-tropical Zambezi air
and had failed to set but was delicious nonetheless.
And so to bed, canopied in mosquito net and cradled by the sounds of the river. There are more than 50 species of mosquito
in the Mosi-o-Tunya National Park. All are harmless to man other than two parasite-carrying varieties which cause 98% of all human malaria in Livingstone. Peaceful Sleep is readily at hand at Sussi and Chuma.
Morning and a smoky grey sky settles over the river
. Approximately 30 species of fish have been counted in the Zambezi River and its tributaries. We pack the essentials for an afternoon's fishing in the burgeoning heat of approaching October, effectionately known as suicide month in the Zambezi Valley: The camera, a can of Peaceful Sleep and the suntan lotion and we take to the boat.
The wind is blowing from the direction in which the rain comes; the clouds thicken like clotted cream. The river is broad here and shallow this time of the year, gaining momentum in its rush to the precipice and swallowing all in its path, islands and rocks and reeds. Rapids streak the water's edge. A fluttering flock of Redbilled Quelea flash like a pennant across the sky
. A Snake-headed Cormorant dries his wings on an pod mahogany and Pied Kingfishers ply their fishy trade in the swiftly flowing waters. Fortunately, they are more successful than we are.
My partner's collapsible rod, does just that. Tiger-fish Rock is the only bite I get and it costs me my spinner. However, spectacular scenery
, the gathering storm and a close encounter with a hippo that was as surprised as we were to find it just behind our stern, more than makes up for our lack of angling success.
Time to Go
The clouds descend. With them comes the wind, whipping the sky into a frenzy of smoky cloud and streaking lightening. Mist moves in and the hippos bellow a welcome to the early summer's rains
but the locals are unconvinced. This is just a sign of things to come, a warning of the wet season's approach. A few sparse raindrops prove them right. All too soon, Susi and Chuma's successors bear our luggage to the car. You too, might find, like Livingstone, that you just can't bear to leave.Copyright © Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.