Anne and Mark Thomas, two uprooted Americans who now call Abu Dhabi home, travelled with us through our bombshell consultant Chantelle last year. After Cape Town and Kruger they stopped in Zambia. Sailors, racers, travellers... and so much more, they're quite capable of telling this story. So I'll let them take you to Africa for a change. Read their stories, see their photos, and try to resist not hopping on the next flight into the heart of Africa. Over to you, Anne...
Mark admits to our friends that when we first began to travel, he didn’t want to go to Africa. "Oh, you’ll go back," our British sailing friend Martin, who does business there, told us. "Nobody goes to Africa just once." Now having been there, we both want to go back some day. We could not have dreamed of a better experience.
Mark and I are, more than anything, sailors and racers. Leaving our northern Nevada and California stomping grounds and moving to the Middle East is something we never dreamed would happen, yet here we are. I believe life is best lived by stepping outside the comfort zone, taking on challenges and enjoying adventures...
On our tenth day in Africa, after Cape Town and Kruger National Park, we were transported by air and minibus to Zambia, a landlocked country in the heart of the southern half of the continent. It was the third and final leg of our African journey, ending with four nights at Royal Chundu’s Island Lodge on the Zambezi River.
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"I was mentally prepared for luxury the likes of which I had never experienced. Royal Chundu – the name means “meeting place of the chief” – did not disappoint. From the time we arrived, we were in a state of increasing awe. I am still processing it all."[/caption]
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"As our minivan approached the gate and we saw the gatekeeper in his uniform, Mark and I both said under our breath, “Welcome to the Raj Palace!” We were reminded of the colonial splendor of our hotel in Jaipur, India. How insufferably global of us! Soon we were being heartily greeted by a trio of staff members headed by the vivacious Aggie, and served a welcome drink on the dockside deck. We were then presented with a menu of activities, ushered onto the pontoon boat, and were heading out to the island."[/caption]
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"Katombora Island is one of many that clutter the upper Zambezi in the broad floodplain above Victoria Falls. The water was at its lowest, but there was still a swift current swirling around the island, drawn by the 300-foot drop off at Victoria Falls downstream. Our room overlooked the channel between Katombora and another small island."[/caption]
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"Like the safari drives we went on in Kruger Park, the evening sunset cruises – and in fact, every single boat trip that we did over the four days we were at Royal Chundu – were a wildlife, birding, and indigenous culture safari. The landscape had just exploded into green, and the wildflowers were blooming everywhere. "[/caption]
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"And like the safari drives, we were served drinks and appetizers – our regular server Micheal had asked everyone ahead of time what they would like to drink, so they could bring it along on the boat."[/caption]
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"Back at the island, there was a hot bubble bath waiting, and then dinner..."[/caption]
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"White tablecloths, silver appointments, and a three-course, three-star menu. The aura was a relaxed, hushed elegance. From the menu we chose Antipasti of Vegetables locally grown in the village; Pumpkin Ravioli, Berry Smoked Quail from the local school, and Zambezi Sea Bream caught by village fishermen. For dessert we split a Chocolate Fondant. "[/caption]
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"And so it would go for the next four days. Three fabulous meals each day, the likes of which you would expect at the very best restaurants. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten. I really did feel like I was living in a bygone colonial era of fine china, linens, and silver in the African bush."[/caption]
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"The first morning we rose early, and Vasco took us fishing before breakfast. Mark used a fly rod, trying for the famous fighting tiger fish, and I was given a spin rod, so I might catch a bream. We fished various rapids and eddies without any luck. Still, it was a beautiful morning, a great little tour of the surrounding islands, and a chance to get close to a very large crocodile. Afterward, breakfast for me was delicate fish cakes topped with two of the freshest poached eggs I have ever eaten."[/caption]
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"Next on the agenda was a midday tour of Mushekwa Village. Vasco took us in a speedboat, along with the other two couples, and we traveled downstream past the River Lodge, pulled up to the shore and were greeted by Edith Mushekwa, the midwife and daughter of the village founder. Beautiful and gracious, Edith is one of those people who just shines like a star."[/caption]
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"Then it was time for our canoe trip down the river. It started with a drive through the fishing village where the boats were kept, and where Vasco lives. In two inflatable canoes we paddled against a current to get out to the main channel, past hippos which we steered well clear of, and were soon racing through rapids."[/caption]
"We pulled up to an island and saw a picnic table, set for lunch. Then, we noticed a tall chef’s hat, bending over a long table with a white cloth on it. After we disembarked a young waiter, with cool cloths, two fruity Pimm's and a big smile, said, “Welcome! My name is Clever. Would you like a drink?"
"There was a full bar and Clever was ready to make whatever kind of drink we wanted next. Lunch was a buffet of a half dozen or so fresh salads and hamburgers, complete with a house-baked bun and fries.
"Afterward, Mark and I stretched out on the Persian carpets that were laid out for us – there was also a hammock – and Clever and Thomas set up the umbrella for us to relax under."
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"That night dinner was a Cultural Tasting Menu. If the river trip is the signature activity, then this meal is surely the signature meal. Having visited the villages and school, gone fishing and taken a nature walk, and cruised the shores of the Zambezi again and again, we were now treated to the best local delicacies. With wine pairings! I am not exaggerating. Mark Sissons, the travel journalist, had told us about the meal: “You don’t want to miss this.” He was right."[/caption]
"This was our first luxury eco-lodge experience...
"It was not a 'hang up the towels to show you care about the environment' kind of hotel.
At first, it seemed strange that ultimate luxury and ecotourism could go hand-in-hand. “Luxury” implies wealth, privilege, and consumption. I felt guilty, coming to a country with so many poor people... Now, I am thinking that this is the best way to visit a place if you want to enjoy the natural beauty, learn about the people, and contribute to the local economy. Ecotourism is about low-impact tourism that supports the local economy, by giving visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where they blend with the environment and local culture in a way that benefits both."
The Thomases got up to a lot more at Royal Chundu, visiting a local school and village. Read more on Wild Card Tavels
[caption id="attachment_23899" align="alignnone" width="550"] “If the employees are treated with dignity and respect as I felt they were at Royal Chundu, and they are sharing their pride in their culture with you, then everyone benefits.”[/caption]
Take a look at Anne and Mark's blog, Wild Card Travels
for more great adventures. Coming up next we'll feature their trip to Victoria Falls
. For more information and to start planning your own safari, chat to one of our consultants.
Read this great review of Royal Chundu
in Opulent Living
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Royal Chundu featured in Opulent Living Magazine