I am not a morning person. I never have been one and I doubt I ever will be. So it was not for the love of mornings that I arranged a taxi pickup at 4:30am. The hotel staff said to leave an hour before our 6:10am flight, but this was Africa and I wasn’t going to take chances. Experience in traveling has taught me that building in extra time is always a good idea.
It was pitch dark and bitterly cold, a morning whose embrace was made of chilled metal. We dragged our excessive luggage into the driveway to wait for the taxi. We were enfenced, surrounded entirely by barbwire fences—for our protection. The hotel staff had given us a code for the gate but hadn’t shown us where to punch it in. We searched high and low but found no mechanism to open the gate.
The clock ticked closer to five. The taxi was late. It started to rain. Dave searched the premises for a way out. I ushered our bags under a slight overhang. 5am. Was the taxi coming? If it did, how would we get out?
The minutes ticked by slowly, as if still groggy and apathetic to our building stress. 5:05am. Two yellow beams pulled into the driveway and blinded us with the flooding light.
“Airport?” called the taxi driver.
“Yes! But, umm, we can’t seem to get out. We have a gate code…”
The driver stepped into the rain and rummaged along the gate, the fence and in the bushes for a code box. Finally he found it and we were free, speeding down the streets and highways, weaving amongst cars and over packed trucks on our way out of Port Elizabeth.
I slept all the way to Livingstone like a dead baby, not flinching at the turbid landing, awakening only after we pulled up to the gate and Dave shook me violently. Honey, we’re here.
Before trips I pour over the possibilities, reading everything I can get ahold of on the history, the people, where I might go, every national park or highlighted nature preserve, seeking to be informed when I arrive. Then I go—without planning anything. I like to leave a trip nebulous, full of possibility, not limited by expectant reservations. A trip can take its own form that way and lead you, without expectation, anyway it choses. If there is ever a need for livening the itinerary, I have stowed an ancillary of options from my previous research. We had followed this motto throughout South Africa, but for the rest of our journey I had made an exception to my planning protocol and arranged everything in advance, right down to the hotel taxi that was supposed to meet us in Livingstone.
We stepped out of the airport into the stanch heat of the African sun. I inhaled the burning air, searching for the hotel staff that was supposed to pick us up. No one was there. We read the words on other’s awaiting signs and stood alone, two giant blondes, like lost sailboats in the seas of Africa’s heartland.
“Umm.” I stumbled. “Our hotel is supposed to pick us up. We’re part of a G Adventures trip.”
“G Adventures stays at the Waterfront but no one is here from there.”
I am a trusting person. I prefer to put my faith in the goodness in humanity, but I know better than to do so blindly—especially while traveling.
“Are you staying at the Waterfront?”
It didn’t sound familiar. The tour I had booked had an option to stay an extra night at the hotel. We were arriving a day early so I had clicked the ‘yes’ button and paid the extra money. There was a button for hotel pick up. I had clicked it. I got an email conformation. Nowhere in these transactions had I noted the hotel’s name. Realizing this, an uneasy knot of helplessness began weaving in my stomach. How stupid. The airport in Livingstone had no internet, so I put our fate blindly into the hands of the nice man offering his help and the promise of a hotel with a waterfront view.
Our taxi driver was very helpful, friendly and full of fun facts about the country. Almost everyone we met in Zambia was just as friendly, helpful and informative as our first taxi driver. He chatted merrily, sharing his personal story while interrupting himself to point out buildings and other landmarks as we passed. I am not from Zambia, I am from Zimbabwe, not far from the boarder, but things at home are hard. Here in Zambia I can make a good living. This yellow building is the Livingstone Museum, it has exhibits on our history, things of David Livingstone’s—I can take you later… Back home it is hard to make money…
We checked in. The lady at the font desk walked us quietly to our room. The hotel grounds were graced by a continuous canopy of broad-leaf trees, creating a pleasant microclimate in their shade. We passed white Tudor buildings with expansive windows. They looked divine. But the hotel lady walked past the white rooms into a clearing filled with brown tents, made of heavy canvas. She pointed at one and turned on her heel, leaving us astounded and incredulous. The mildewing tent stood surrounded by a family of vervet monkeys. They moved nimbly between the ground and the trees, watching us with round eyes. The young ones played, hopping after each other in sidelong bursts. A mamma sat overlooking them, calmly seated on her hunches, her full breasts hanging down her chest, long finger-like nipples pointed towards each other. Outside our tent door a young male scratched his vivid blue testicles. There was a lock on the tent zipper to deter honest thieves. The hotel staff failed to give us a key. Dave went back for it, allowing me ample time to watch the monkeys eat, play, fight, have sex and take interest in the cliff bars I’ve dragged along from California.
Mosquitos buzzed round the whole day through, a constant itching hum. They hid in the showers waiting for naked bodies to prey upon, and came out in the morning and evening in vast numbers to feast. I diligently gulped down the dry white malaria pills that stuck in my throat with such persistence that they were mostly dissolved by the time I finally managed to swallow them, leaving a rancid bitterness that lasted hours.