Livingstone / Sioma Falls (Ngonye Falls)  : 18 June 2012, Day 2

It’s always funny how a bit of hardship or drama can supply you with endless laughter or fond memories. During a week where all the pre-arrangements for the trip happened with military precision, the same can’t be said of our stay at Sioma Falls. A member of the traveling party summarised it perfectly : “Nothing works here, but in the end it all comes together”.

Eastern Cataract

After  being on such a high the previous day, it was hard to imagine how Sioma Falls could top Victoria Falls. I mean, almost nobody has heard of the place, even fewer people has seen it and if it was better, then surely it would have been more famous than Vic Falls. After our buffet breakfast we made a quick stop at the Eastern Cataract for one final time and I got a few nice shots of the falls, with a rainbow, as the sun was rising behind us from the east.

Our taxi to the airport was spacious, to say the least, as we were only half a dozen and it had space for 12. Flight plans had to be filed for our flights from Livingstone to Sioma, Sioma to Kafue, Kafue to Royal Zambezi and back to Lusaka as none of those landing strips had air traffic control. The plane also had to be fuelled to the brim as the whole route would take 3 ½ hours of flying and there was no fuel available again until Lusaka.

Sioma Falls in the distance. The river is boxed back into a gorge again underneath the falls.

We left the ground laboriously and climbed to 8500 ft ASL. The Zambezi disappeared to our left and we headed north west. After an hour’s flying Sioma Falls came into sight. To compare it with Vic Falls is like comparing apples and pears. Pointless. The only comparison is their width, which also comes to a staggering 1.7km. A waterfall I can compare it to, although they look nothing alike, is Epupa Falls in the Kunene river. One main fall with lots of other smaller falls, broken by little islands. The only way to do this waterfall justice is to see it from the air. We turned twice over it and then headed for the landing strip which was a few kilometres away.

Main falls

Main falls on the left. The new road being built by the Chinese can be seen in the distance.

We landed right between two cows who were grazing next to the runway. A few minutes later the second plane also landed and after securing the planes we waited for our transport to Sioma River Camp… And we waited. After that we waited some more. There was no cell phone reception, so we decided to take matters into our own hands after an hour and a half had passed. Three of us would walk with one of the locals; who said he knew where the camp was, to Sioma Camp. He said it was close by, 1km to be exact, so I set off in my flip flops. Don’t ask why I didn’t take a minute to change into my hiking boots sitting snugly inside the plane.

ZS-SRS approaching Sioma runway

Marthinus sharing apples. Chinese crusher can be seen at the end of the runway

The Chinese are building a new tar road from Livingstone to Sioma. It has reached the falls and runs next to the runway where it’s still a dirt road. After 20 minutes of walking in an easterly direction on this road the camp was nowhere in sight. We asked our brave guide how far it still was to which he replied “1 kilometre”. No worries, maybe 2km feels like 1 in Zambia. Another 20 minutes of walking, with the road stretching out like a mirage before us, we asked the question again. The answer remained the same. OK, so we had a communication problem, but our guide remained focus on the task at hand and urgently pressed forward. Maybe it was because he told us there were lions and leopards in the area. Either way, onwards we went.

Our accommodation

After an hour’s hard walking, we saw the sign post for the camp and turned left . A bit further on we finally arrived at a deserted camp. Silence. A Jeep stood sheepishly between the shrub with THREE wheels. We walked further down towards the bar area and weren’t greeted by humans but the most amazing view of the Zambezi river flowing  maybe 200m wide silently between pristine white sand banks. To cut a long story short : we weren’t expected.

View from the dining area

We finally managed to find some of the staff which told us as much. There weren’t any food or drinks, but the tents were ready for occupation.  The idea of walking 6km back to the runway to share the news wasn’t too appealing, but as we were about to leave, the remaining three of our party, with our luggage, arrived in a bakkie. Things were looking up.

So, you might ask how it’s possible that after numerous e-mails with the owner of the lodge (Hans – sitting somewhere in Denmark) regarding the location of the runway, and confirmations with the booking agent, Sioma River Camp didn’t know of our booking or our arrival? That question remains unanswered. Somewhere along the chain there must have been a colossal communication breakdown. We were also supposed to see the falls by boat, but the driver was apparently 7km from the camp. All we could do was to find a spot with a nice view and entertain ourselves.

Luckily we brought with our own drinks and snacks.

Not seeing the falls by boat was a huge setback, but the staff said they would track down our boat man before the next morning. We had to be back from the falls by 7:30am as we made the guy with the bakkie promise us that he’ll pick us up then. If we missed him we would be stranded as there was no way to get hold of him.

The kitchen staff were also able to make us dinner from rice, macaroni and canned chicken. Kudos to them for trying their best with very limited resources.  The accommodation was first class. The floor was raised (obviously for when the Zambezi bursts its banks), the linen was clean and warm, the tent could close completely and the bathroom was open and had warm water. As we retired to bed we weren’t hungry and we had a roof over our heads. We were also at one of the most dramatic and beautiful spots on the Zambezi river. Would our boat man pitch in time? Only time would tell.

View more photos here : Facebook photos

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