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Crossing Lake Kariba

Baobab Tree, near Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, Africa

Baobab Tree, near Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, Africa

Gliding through the calm waters of Lake Kariba on the comfortable Sea Lion is a must-do when travelling Zimbabwe. Starting in Mlibizi, the boat sails north, close to the shore and later past islands. Hard to believe that those were once small hills…

Lake Kariba was born in 1954 and only 6 years later, electricity was produced here by taming the Zambezi with a huge dam. The animals that retreated to those islands were saved in a dramatic rescue operation, called “Operation Noah”. For 60.000 people of the Batonga tribe, who lived in the valley, there was no scheme. They were told to leave and most of them have never met family and friends now living in another country, separated by a huge lake.

Well, we did not see any animals and according to the captain, this is very rare. But the scenery is stunning and the sunset spectacular. Holding on to a gin tonic, we sailed into the reddest ever twilight.

Not once during the 22 hour trip did boredom creep in. When we were not gazing at the horizon, we were listening to exciting stories. There was Tom, who had left Zimbabwe 30 years ago and was returning for the first time to visit friends, together with his family. A South African gentleman recalled his military duty in Angola, in the early 1980s, and the biggest tank battle since WWII. Allan, the owner of the ferry, gave us some insight of what life had been in the dark years. The old lady, built in 1972 in then Salisbury, had to take a break from 2000 to 2010, when tourism came to a complete standstill. But things are improving, he said. This season he expected about 40 sailings, compared to 130 before 2000, though!

The price tag for such pleasure is 160 USD per person and plus 180 USD for a car, worth every penny. On top of that, we saved about 1.200 kilometer on driving: going from Victoria Falls to Mana Pools National Park on the road would require going via Bulawayo & Harare.

Did we mention the delicious buffet meals? Since only 15 cars and 70 persons can board the ferry, nobody expected to travel with 12 children of all ages. For a few hours in the afternoon, they pretty much took over the vessel, coming up with all kinds of creative games.

When night fell, things calmed down quickly. The lake now widened into an ocean with a brightly lit sky hovering above. Once we got tired of staring at all this, we wrapped in blankets and snuggled up on a mattress, listening to the silent lapping of the waves…

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