This Must Be The Place. This Must Be The Zambezi.

Mokoro on the Zambezi

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

– Talking Heads

We all have a place. A simple name on a map that we have traced with our fingers more often than any other name. A place in the country or city, the sea or river, jungle or forest, a place of snow or sand, water or rock. A place that has, over the years and the holidays, taken on a sort of humanity, an intimacy, a nature beyond how most of us see, well, nature. It’s not uncommon, either, for such places, these special enclaves that pull on our hearts a little more than others, to be seen as something living, something more like a friend, like family. The Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Yamuna and Ganges rivers in India, for instance, were granted human status and named “living entities” this year. By law.

But it isn’t only for their significance, their sensitivity, their vulnerability and their beauty (all qualities seen in the best of people), that we hold them close. It is also the time we have spent with them, getting to know them. The days and nights spent as witness to their different sides and moods, their ups and downs.

Royal Chundu

We all have a place that we have bonded with more than any other, that we understand more than another, and for me that place is the Zambezi. A river no less human than the Whanganui or Yamuna or Ganges. A river no different to you and I. An individual that breathes, that ebbs and flows with nature, and that needs protection.

Of course, the Zambezi is vast and I am not familiar with it all. It is the fourth-longest river in Africa and the largest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It passes through six countries on the way, a true adventurer at heart. Its journey begins in north-west Zambia, in a marshy black wetland in the centre of the Miombo Woodlands, and continues on through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. If you can, imagine 1,390,000 square kilometres, slightly less than half the basin of the Nile, and you will start to grasp its immensity.

Royal Chundu

I’ve played in the lower Zambezi, while white-water rafting over rapids ranging from Grade III to Grade V – the highest commercial grading possible. Rapids with names like The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, The Gnashing Jaws of Death, Morning Glory, Oblivion, and The Ugly Stepsisters. I have helicoptered through the deep gorge, over the great Victoria Falls itself, and swum in the tiny natural infinity pools on the edge of the cascade – both Devil’s and Angel’s Pool. But it is the upper stretches of the river, before it tumbles over the Falls, that I know best. In particular, those private 15 kilometres of waterway flowing past Royal Chundu in the district of Katombora.

Royal Chundu Elephants

Of course, those 15 kilometres cover a body of water that is always flowing, always changing. I never quite meet the same river. But here, hugged by the same riverbank as always, its essence never changes. It feeds and is a home to the same life – the elephant herds, the hippo pods, the tiger fish and parrot fish and bream, the crocodiles, the African skimmers, African Fish Eagle, Rock Pratincoles and Schalow’s Turaco, the water buck, otters, baboons, buffalo, zebras, and even the occasional leopard and lion. Its sunsets and rises are a constant as are its channels, rising or dropping in level perhaps from time to time, but reliable in their permanence, letting us navigate the river better, more closely, and cautiously.

This is my place. And over the years I have come to not only know but to feel deeply for the people in and around Royal Chundu. The local people who understand the Zambezi much more than me, who teach me, with each visit, not only more about the water, the wildlife, the birdlife and the plants, but about compassion, patience, loyalty, respect and resilience. Those human qualities that I don’t doubt the Zambezi played a hand in refining.

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And while our human laws may not (yet) recognise this incredible life force as a living entity deserving of human status, there is another source watching over it, protecting it day in and out. A source with the head of a fish and the body of a snake. A source know as the Nyami Nyami, the great guardian and God of the Zambezi River Valley. One of the most important deities of the Tsonga people, the Nyami Nyami and his wife are said to be the God and Goddess of the underworld, living in the Kariba Gorge.

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Discover more about our love of the Zambezi in our blogs:

The Making of an Explorer on the Zambezi

Parrot Fishing on the Yemen. Pardon. The Zambezi

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Cheers to the Rose-Coloured Glasses of Life

The Butterfly Effect – A Q&A with Tina Aponte

How to Start the Day on the Zambezi

Zambezi Cruising

The Moonwalkers of Cape Town

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In celebration of summer in Cape Town, the best season to explore the city’s outdoor life, we will be blogging about a few of our favourite things to do and see. This is perhaps the first thing you should do… the full moon hike up Lion’s Head.

A mountain rises up in the heart of the city. It splits off into new peaks, toward the vineyards of Constantia and Steenberg, toward the Atlantic Ocean, toward the southern most tip of the city, the Cape of Good Hope.

It was here before the bars and restaurants. It will be here long after the hotels and art galleries and cinemas. It is the true north of the city, resetting us on our path – we who live around it. It is part of the city’s personality, but more than that, it is part of us. The locals.

Travellers to Cape Town know its significance. It’s why most days and full moon nights you will find people from all around the world making the pilgrimage – whether to the top of Table Mountain or its outlying peaks, in particular… Lion’s Head. The mountain resembling that King of the bush but home only to the birds, lizards, dassies and people of the Cape.

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As ingrained in my psyche as Lion’s Head is, in my past, present and future, until recently I had never embarked on the Moonwalk. Armstrong and Aldrin aside, this hike takes place each full moon. Hikers make the ascent up the mountain just before sunset and wait on top for the moon to rise. They leave only after the claps and shouts and exclamations of awe and disbelief as that round astronomical reminder of our place on earth rises, slowly, slowly. And then they start on the hike down – in the pitch black night, guided by the light of the moon (and each other’s head lamps.)

You understand everything better up there – watching the brightest and largest object in our night sky, the reason for our Earth being a more livable place, surrounded by people all finding delight in a rather simple phenomenon of nature. Simple, yet so mesmerising. And you fall in love with the city, again. And again.

Below are images from our first Moonwalk, our initiation into Cape Town’s tribe of Moongazers…

For a place to rest your head between these Cape Town summer adventures, take a look at Ellerman House in Bantry Bay, The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, and Delaire Graff Estate in the Cape Winelands. These Relais & Chateaux hotels will also be able to help you organise your own Lion’s Head meander.

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Views

The view

Night lights

Night

City life

Moon

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Moongazers

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Lights

The Route du Bonheur Diaries | Bushmans Kloof Part 1

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A group of travellers head into a wilderness at the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains. 270 km from Cape Town, from home, they are on a road trip from coast (Ellerman House), to vineyard (Delaire Graff Estate), to mountain (Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat), to secret garden (The Cellars-Hohenort) and have just reached their third destination. While some of the travellers have ventured to this faraway landscape where wildlife roam freely once before, many are strangers to this new land.

It is a land imbued with red – the red-brown sandstone of its gravel roads, rocky outcrops and mountain peaks, ridges and cliffs that call on the world’s finest, boldest hikers, runners, rock climbers and photographers. Images of Mars come to mind. But then you view the life of this otherworldly habitat and you realise that this is simply a fragment of Earth, an unusual, remarkable fragment, but Earth nonetheless. The first wild thing to greet our explorers is a small herd of klipspringer – the antelopes’ reddy-orange coat looks even redder in the glow of the setting sun.

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The group – of travellers, not klipspringers – have arrived in time to see the changing of the Cederberg. Like that of the guards at Buckingham Palace, this change sees the daytime creatures handing over the duty of mountain watch to the animals of the night. Nocturnal beings such as the aardwolf, aardvark and African porcupine. The deep blue sky hanging over the red earth turns over to rest its head on the cushion of another day well-lived.

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Bushmans Kloof

Other animals you might see at Bushmans Kloof include Cape and bat-eared foxes, Cape clawless otter, caracal and African wild cat, grey rhebok, red hartebeest and bontebok.

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Bushmans Kloof protects one of the largest private herds of Cape Mountain Zebra in the world, an animal saved from the brink of extinction, as well as the rare and secretive Cape leopard.

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The travellers change too… Their clothes first. They don their outside outfits, jackets and boots for warmth. And then their vehicles – from their road companions on this trip, the BMW X3 and BMW530 D, to an open-sided LandCruiser, that takes them to a lone shepherd’s cottage on an open clearing. Known as The Homestead, the cottage, as far as looks express, has lived a good, long life. It is protected by tall shapes the travellers discern as trees – night is falling fast – and the spark and crackle of a campfire already made.

The travellers’ grip on time relaxes. Mountain Time governs life here, while the spirits of shepherds past and the sparkle of starlight guides the way forward. Inside the cottage, with a fire in the hearth and 100 candles for light, the walls of unfamiliarity that separate the travellers from each other – for they are all, mostly, new to each other – fade. Wine redder, deeper and darker than the earth beneath them, flows – from bottle to glass, glass to lips, even glass to floor, in moments of uncontained ardour.

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Meal after meal keeps the party around one long table, together with talk of lives past, present and future. The conversation swims between the candlesticks from one person to another. If their words carried their own light, a photograph of the scene would show an interwoven figure of eight upon figure of eight upon figure of eight.

This is the first day of the travellers’ adventure and it ends with stars. Chief of this new tribe, Guide Nicholas, takes the clan further into the veld, dimming the lights of the 4×4 and, with a laser of Zeus-like strength, he points at, seemingly touches, several stars of interest. The starry formations paint the night sky like the rock art the travellers will glimpse the next morning.

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But before then, before the bush breakfasts and morning walks to secret rock caves, the group scatters. Each traveller retreats to a room of her own, to a freestanding tub of her own with hot water to wash off the dust of the day, before the whiteness of their beds and the blackness of that pre-dream phase of slumber takes over.

Of course, they know, the day will never truly, completely, wash off. It has found its way deep into the crevices of their minds, where memories worth holding onto go for safekeeping.

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Part two to follow shortly…