Sizzling safari

Zaza Motha eats her way through three African countries…

The beauty of Africa can easily be missed. Its robust silence, besieged with images of deficiency, clutters options of experiencing this wonderland. But a one-on-one adventure through Botswana and Zimbabwe, connecting through Zambia, was a journey that flies against this conventional wisdom, exciting both the spirit and palate.

We landed at Livingstone Airport in Zambia and crossed over into Botswana by ferry, where the tropical waters of the Zambezi meet the Chobe River.

Botwana’s Ngoma Safari Lodge,
situated in the Chobe Forest Reserve, borders the western edge of Chobe National Park, overlooking the river. The orange-tinged sun settled into the landscape as we arrived, just in time for a sundowner on the deck. It was so silent that we could almost hear the sun setting and the dark sky leisurely coming down. Later, the star-sprinkled sky beamed around the outlines of a colossal baobab tree. It felt as though the stars were so close that they might at any moment tumble into our laps.

Served on a silver platter was a feast prepared by executive chef Paddington Muguza, whose creations come from traditional cooking combined with French, Italian and Japanese influences. “I get my inspiration for the menu from the starter,” he says.

A creamy, smoky butternut soup with mushroom and ravioli set the taste buds off. Paddington explained his soup like this: “The crouton fried in butter placed in the centre of the soup serves as the base for the island. It is topped with tortellini with a tomato, celery and blue cheese filling – created from scratch – and a sliced mushroom as garnish.”

The Parmesan cheese crisp on the side of the island added a crunchy texture to the starter. A lemon sorbet served in a teaspoon is ushered in to clear the palate for the main dish: tender beef fillet with tomato relish and pickled red cabbage cooked in red wine with beef jus, green pea purée and rosemary.

“I keep my meat as simple as possible, so you can really taste it, by using natural stock,” says Paddington. “I avoid overpowering the meat with spices. The idea is to come back to healthy eating.” The cheesecake made with a wholewheat crust is a healthy indulgence: “the food should fill you up, not weigh you down.”

The rising of the morning sun beckoned another adventure. After replenishing ourselves with breakfast, a full-day safari on land and water was breathtakingly beautiful. The best way to start a safari in Botswana is through the Chobe National Park, as you see a lot of game in a short space of time. Spotting numerous elephants on the way was a constant reminder of being on their turf, with some sluggishly snoozing on their sides under trees. Countless zebra, giraffe, antelope, birds, monkeys,buffalo, lion and hippopotamus on the water’s edge in a setting made us truly appreciate the splendour of Africa.

The safari continued with a lunchcruise on the hypnotic Chobe River while spotting birds, crocodiles and
hippopotamus. Once back on land, the mission was to spot lions, two of whom were lazing under trees, getting ready to hunt for their meal as the sun set.

Our own meal for the night started with smoked salmon on a puff pastry disc with rocket and sour cream. The buffet of braaied chicken or pork kebabs with blue cheese sauce,roasted butternut and tomato salad, vegetables, pap, seswaa (a traditional Setswana dish of reduced beef and salt), curried fish stew and dessert made time disappear. The meal ended with cheerful traditional singing and dancing from the locals.

Sitting around a fire, remembering the day’s event under the stars, with warm company and a braai feast, we appreciated the magnitude of Africa’s gifts and the land as it was before man arrived. Morning dawned with another adventure: we drove to the Kazangula border from Botswana to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, mking it in time for the “vulture restaurant”, which opens every day at one o’ clock, when pieces of meat are laid out and vultures swoop in for their daily lunch. As they land, dramatic spirals of dust fill the air. Once the whiteback vultures have had their fill, waiting marabou storks move in for their turn, that’s if there’s any left – it is said that 50 vultures can entirely devour an impala carcass in just 12 minutes.

We watched all this from the deck of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which is set high on a plateau which forms a natural boundary to the Zambezi National Park, with uninterrupted views of pristine bushveld and game migrating to the watering hole.

The lodge’s two restaurants are popular with both locals and tourists. We ate lunch at the MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant, which has an a la carte menu with Irish, Swiss, French and Zimbabwean influences. The Boma restaurant is a fun-filled eatery that can hold more than 300 people. The lodge’s group head chef for Africa, Albida Brian Ndlovu, was headhunted to run both restaurants and has won many awards.

“People come back for the food served in these restaurants and some tourists ask for food that was served ears back,” says Brian. “Tourists might book into another venue for accommodation, but they will come to he restaurants for the food.”

It’s easy to understand why: for unch I had a duo of safari pies, a earty combination of a chicken and mushroom pie and a vegetable pie, aked to order in golden puff pastry ade from scratch. The MaKuwa-Kuwa tack was equally impressive: soufflé addock frittata with grilled tomatoes nd sautéed field mushrooms.

And then there was the sunset ruise on the Zambezi River, culminating in towering sprays of water from the Victoria Falls which join Zambia and Zimbabwe, while the sun filled the Zimbabwean sky with indulgent shades of orange.

Dinner was in the Boma restaurant, an utterly ingenious eating experience. We were greeted in local languages and given traditional fabrics to wear while our faces were painted. Around the tables were drummers and dancers, a market selling traditional local crafts and a sangoma. The air was filled with laughter and the tinkle of crockery and cutlery, with the delicious aromas of food and an open fire adding even more warmth to the occasion.

After the participative drumming session, live music and dancing took us into the night, with guests sharing bopping, twirling, karate kicks and gymnastic moves. Imagine different cultures from around the world dancing to the sound of one drum – it was joyous and humbling. Only in Africa can all these different souls beat as one.

The night ended on a high note and the morning began on an even higher one as we drove to Victoria Falls and walked on a pebbled footpath around these majestic sprays of water. It seemed as if God took his time when He made this part of the world. Locally, the falls are known as Mosioa- Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders”, and you can see itspower from a dozen different aspects.

The adventure continued with highwire activities at the Batoka gorge. Experiencing the “flying fox” while flying horizontally, suspended 120 metres above the Zambezi River, is both terrifying and exhilarating. I then tried out the “zip line”, while reaches a speed of 110kph as it flings you the 500 metres across the gorge. After this adrenaline-intensive experience I tried the relatively mild “gorge swing”, a 72-metre free fall followed by a 90-metre swing over the river.

After that surreal experience, a visit to an elephant sanctuary calmed the nerves… only to see a cheetah walking in with one of the guides who grew up with lions as pets. I chose rather to feed the elephants from a distance.

Zaza Motha was a guest of Africa Albida Tourism, Ngoma Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and The Hide. Call 021-683-7063 or visit www.africaalbidatourism.com.

  • Wild Horizons, a one-stop ground handling and a activity provider based in Victoria Falls,Livingstone and Chobe,sponsored the activities. Call +263-13-44571 or visit www.wildhorizons.co.zw.
  • 1time sponsored the flights.Call 011-086-8000 or visit www.1time.co.za.

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