There are vacationers and there are travelers. There is a difference. Vacationers look to get away while travelers seek meaningful connections to the people and places they visit. Vacationers come back refreshed while travelers come back changed. Robin Zappacosta is most certainly a traveler. When we last left off, Robin’s tale of her first trip to Africa began, volunteering at a hospital in Zambia. But there was another side to her journey and Robin was about to get her “African wings”.
It was time to head out into “the bush”, the side of Africa we picture in our heads. It’s said to be magical, mystical and beyond imagination. The local legends seem too wild to be true for modern sensibilities, but those legends, well, they’re what African dreams are made of.
My doctor friend felt that I needed to get away from the hospital and see the other side of Africa. So, we journeyed to Lake Kariba on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
While exposed to modern religion, the culture is still dominated by local legends and gods. One of the most revered gods is the Nyami Nyami, the Zambezi River god who occupies Lake Kariba with his wife. In the 1940’s a dam under construction between the river and lake was damaged by massive flooding. Many of the foreign, white workers helping build the dam died and their bodies were missing. Legend has it, the Tonga people said the Nyami Nyami, was cut off from his wife, and he was angry so he took the bodies as “payment”. The families of the workers wanted answers…and their loved ones remains. So the Tonga elders decided a sacrifice to appease the Nyami Nyami was in order and a black calf was left at the river’s edge. The next morning, the calf was gone. The river IS crocodile infested but nonetheless, the calf was gone and magically the missing bodies its place.
Along the bush of Lake Kariba, I took my first game drive, pulling up to a large herd of Cape Buffalo. Camera in hand, I hopped out of the vehicle, snapping away mere feet from the massive beasts. My guide, in his fantastical white safari hunter’s hat yells, “Get back in this vehicle NOW! THIS is not a zoo and WILD animals charge!” Safari 101: Stay in the vehicle, Robin.
Next I ventured to the majestic Victoria Falls. I can’t imagine a safari that doesn’t include a visit. My accommodations were a luxurious tent fitted with electricity and a bathroom. You must find inner peace to sleep, knowing a herd of giant elephants roam free throughout your encampment and canvass walls won’t stop them if they get spooked and charge.
Call me a reluctant angel, but there in Victoria Falls, I got my “African wings”. A pilot, me and a flying lawnmower called a Microlite set off to fly over the falls. I had a headset so the pilot could hear my screams but his reassurance that while the seatbelt was flimsy, gravity would hold me in place didn’t make me feel any better. Fear melted away as we glided over the plains, seeing elephant below, and over the magnificent, gushing falls with their mist filling the sky. It’s called the ‘smoke that thunders,’ and that was truly a once in a lifetime event.
More adventures continued with white water rafting, more game drives, animal encounters and lots of local beer. On one of the final drives I remember passing antelope, elephants and eventually three rare, white rhino. There was a huge fallen tree and I got out of the vehicle once more (yes, I know. Safari 101). Sitting on the tree trunk, quietly observing the rhino, I realized that although this trip was ending, my lifelong love, and journeys in Africa were just beginning.
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