Safari Finale

For our penultimate day we planned to visit Victoria Falls, as it was only a couple of hours drive away. We crossed into Zimbabwe at Kazangula which took ages, because we had to list the serial numbers of each camera, each detachable lens, the binoculars, car radio, and so on.

A man came to ask if we would be returning that afternoon. When we said yes, he asked us to buy him some fresh bread and meat. He gave us money, saying they could get nothing at the border.

On the journey through the Zambezi National Park, a large female elephant stepped out on to the road in front of us. She crossed straight to the other side without looking at us. As we drove slowly past, we saw her calf following behind her. Fortunately she did not choose to turn her head during the few brief moment we were between mother and baby.

The Falls were as breathtaking as we remembered. It was not hard to imagine the awe Livingstone must have felt. We walked through the forests, where the bushbuck shyly ran from our gaze, and the monkeys brazenly posed for their photos. We stood as close to the edge as we were allowed, letting our dust-dry skin soak up the moisture from the spray. Rainbows appeared and disappeared in the swirling vapour, every one ending in a pool of liquid blue gold.


Reluctantly we returned to the town of Victoria Falls where the shops were depressingly empty, even then. We bought provisions for the customs official who waved us through the barrier without any delays.

When we got back to camp, Fiona told us there was a puff adder in our washing basket.

We spent our last day lounging in the sun, leisurely watching the animals and listening to the fish eagles’ cries as they hovered, then swooped down to pluck a tiger fish out of the lazy river. Our children played happily with home-made fishing nets between the crocs and the hippo.

That evening, as we started to pack up, the sun set behind the horizon, casting its blood red spell across the Chobe, and I felt enveloped in the magic of Botswana.



Carrying On

It was 1975. My parents arrived for Christmas, full of anxiety over our  delicate conditions. I was now six months pregnant, Michael was bruised and shaken  from the accident and we were both suffering from shock, grief and denial.

We spent a quiet Christmas Day, forced to carry on with our traditions for the sake of the children. And also for the grandparents who had travelled all that way to be with us, and who had always pulled out all the stops to make our Christmases so memorable.

We had planned a camping trip to Victoria Falls, so we decided to leave as soon as we were ready on Boxing Day morning. We owned a yellow VW mini-bus (kombi), which seated us all pretty comfortably.

Our first night  was spent at a small hotel in Potgietersrus. The building was modest, but the food was a legend. We were each given a menu, but not so that we could choose our entrees and mains. It was to inform us of the eight or nine courses that we would each be brought. So we ploughed our way through the soup, the fish, and the three meat dishes before trying to squeeze in the fruit, the cheese and the sticky date pudding.

We fell into bed distended around the middle and woke up ready for a large breakfast. (How can that be??)

We travelled up to Bulawayo, where we visited one of Michael’s uncles. Again we stayed in a similar hotel where we possibly slightly offended their culinary hospitality by declining some of the courses.


We drove through the Wankie game reserve (now called Hwange National Park), but the heat was so intense we struggled to keep our eyes open. Little Catherine kept us from completely falling asleep by pointing out ‘bidooms’ (baboons) at frequent intervals.

We pitched the tent in the Victoria Falls campsite and headed straight for the showers. We all stood for as long as we could under the cold water but were sweating again by the time we got back to the tent.

At the local butchery we bought some rump steak to barbeque for supper, and to this day I have never tasted steak as tender and full of flavour. But sadly, even then, the shops had little to offer.

At the Falls we lingered as long as we could in the cool mist, soaking up more than just the moisture. Birds that we could not see chirped and twittered; monkeys screeched and jumped in for a moment to pose before a random camera; a shy buck paused for a second in the long grass. And the water roared on. None of us rushed back to the oven that was our tent.


When we returned to Johannesburg, the shadow of Mike Blacow’s tragedy still hung in the air, but there was a feeling of unreality about it. My parents returned to the cold English January, and we just pushed on with life in South Africa, a life that was never quite the same again.