November 27, 2019 Travel

Is Africa On Your Bucket List?

By Hon. Patrick J. Leston (ret.)

My wife, Kris, and I first visited Africa in 1994. We joined Tom Leahy on his ISBA President’s Trip through Kenya and Tanzania. My next visit was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with ISBA President Jim McCluskey. This time, we took the family.

We had never done southern Africa. Nor had we visited any countries starting with a "Z." So we targeted Zimbabwe and Zambia, the home of Victoria Falls. Our daughter, son and his wife, and two grandchildren were all up for the trip. I warned them about the dangers (e.g., the lions, leopards, hippos, etc.) but we decided we could all outrun Grandma, so off we went! 

To do this right, and being from Chicago, we knew "you gotta get a guy." A former law partner set us up with New World Expeditions, a travel agency that organizes safaris for charity auctions. We set it up, went to the dinner, and bought seven safaris at the auction.

Zimbabwe was formerly Rhodesia. The country was named by the British South Africa Company, an English trading empire controlled by Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes is known for dominating the worldwide diamond market through De Beers, building half of a Cape Town-to-Cairo railway, and endowing a prestigious scholarship. He was also a colonialist, a white supremacist, and an architect of the Apartheid that continued until the 1990s. He is not particularly revered in present day Zimbabwe. Guys named Cecil sometimes have issues.

Downtown Victoria Falls is about six blocks long, with restaurants, arts and crafts stores, and souvenir shops. Think downtown Lake Geneva. We stayed at Shearwater Explorers Village, a small resort within walking distance of the falls. Within half an hour of check-in, we were off on our first adventure, a sunset cruise down the lower Zambezi River. The boat was smaller than the Wendella but bigger than the one in Adventureland. We had a load of appetizers, an open bar, and a great view of hippos that were not fiberglass. I explained to the grandchildren that the wildlife usually came to the river at dusk, probably to brush their teeth before turning in for the night. The grandkids seemed unconvinced.

The next morning, we headed to the "Flight of Angels," a 20-minute helicopter ride back and forth down the river, across Elephant Hills Golf Course, and over Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. The thundering water and rising sprays from the rocks below are an awesome sight from a helicopter. I am usually perfectly comfortable in a helicopter, at least until it leaves the ground. Indeed, there were actually a few moments I wasn’t thinking about being up 1,000 feet in a noisy glass enclosure. The grandchildren were fearless; Grandpa a little less so. 

We used our unscheduled afternoon to walk the length of the falls in Victoria Falls Park. Starting at the statue of Dr. Livingstone (I presume), the first white man to see the falls, we walked about a mile along the cliffs opposite the falls. I’m not sure of the exact distance. The trail map expressed the distance in kilometers, a measure used in America in units of five and only for disease-related walks. 

We stopped at 15 overlooks along the trail, accompanied by lots of baboons. The river was low in August, so we were able to view the main falls under a glorious afternoon rainbow. 

We had been considering a trip to Devil’s Pool. For $200, a guide would take you to the Zambia side of the river to swim in two natural pools at the top of the falls. We closely examined the layout with our binoculars. Those people are nuts! The pools are located on the top edge of the falls, with no guard or safety device, overlooking a 350-foot drop to the rocks below. No thanks. I was barely over the helicopter ride.

Our next adventure was a visit to the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary. There are nine "rescue" elephants, adopted as orphans and trained with positive reinforcement. They are well cared for with food, watering holes, and vet care. Since there were only seven of us, we each got our own elephant and driver. This was not just a walk around a parking lot. We went on an actual one-hour trail ride through the brush, traveling among giraffes, wart hogs, and wild elephants. At the end of the ride, we each hand fed our own elephant "elephant chocolate". They loved the stuff.

We went directly from the elephant sanctuary to our first game ride in Stanley & Livingstone Park. We saw rhinos, zebras, wart hogs, baboons, giraffes, impalas, elands, kudus, cape buffalo, and elephants. At dusk, we stopped at the edge of a small lake. The guide, a local English teacher, set up a bar and served appetizers while we watched the sunset. It was a scene out of a movie. 

At dark, we drove to an area of thatched roof pavilions, lit with gas lamps. We had cocktails and wine, then a bush dinner which included chicken, steak, and tasty impala stew. Best impala I’ve ever had! 

On Thursday morning, we headed to the Victoria Falls Bridge. It was built in 1904 to accommodate Cecil Rhodes’ planned Cape Town-to-Cairo railway. The bridge was fully constructed in England, then deconstructed, transported, and rebuilt over the Zambezi River. It’s an engineering marvel, built to accommodate extreme temperature fluctuations and withstand being covered in constant mist from the falls. Recent engineering studies estimated that it has an additional 100-year life expectancy. It seemed to be working fine, so we crossed the bridge to Zambia.

Now here’s the problem. The staff suited us up in complex harnesses to walk back across the Zambezi on the underside of the bridge. The guide asked if anyone was afraid of heights. I raised my hand. He said, "Good luck." And we were off.

We walked on a two-foot wide open grid about 430 feet above the raging rapids of the Zambezi, a few hundred yards downstream from the falls. We were hooked to guy wires with carabiners. Big whoop. I found that if I gripped the open rail with my right hand, the guy wire with my left hand, stared at the back of my wife’s head, and shuffled my feet, I was able to make slow forward progress. It was petrifying. This country has entirely too many high things. 

As soon as I stopped shaking, the family headed over to the luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea. This was once a stop-off for British royalty and wealthy adventurers. The grounds, decorating, and interior have been meticulously preserved. We had tea (surprise!), scones, cookies, desserts, and finger sandwiches. We walked the gardens and took photos of the bridge in the distance. I found it more attractive from ground level. 

You can now bungee jump from the bridge or zipline across the gorge. It costs $140/nitwit. The guide said they had a 1,000 bungee jumpers per week and made more money from the jumpers than from the railroad. I took a pass.

We started early the next day on a game ride through Zambezi National Park. We saw the early shift of impalas, wart hogs, kudus, elephants, and zebras, then headed down river in a 10-person rubber raft. The high points of this trip were the sunbathing giant crocodiles and the multiple pods of hippos. We gave the hippos wide berth. The guide said that if they attacked, we were to swim away from the raft. The hippos would keep attacking the raft. The guide did not tell us how to deal with the crocodiles on the shore. No problem. We also all can swim faster than Grandma. A couple of the hippos gave us the old stink eye, but let us pass in peace. 

The trip’s grand finale was a BOMA dinner. This is a traditional folk dinner with ongoing entertainment and native foods. The centerpiece was a rack of lamb roasting over a open coal fire. The buffet included impala, crocodile, cape buffalo, pork, sausage, and chicken. At the end of the evening, the cast distributed drums to everyone in the audience. The performers had 6 to 8 drums of all sizes. They started whacking those babies for all they were worth, and the audience joined in. Pretty soon, everyone was in full Desi Arnaz mode. This was the perfect conclusion to an extraordinary adventure. 

If you decide to add Africa to your bucket list, or are involved in a charity and need an exotic auction item, give me a call; I gotta guy.

Author

Patrick J. Leston brings to his full-time ADR practice over 45 years of legal experience as a civil litigator, judge and ADR neutral. In the course of his career, Judge Mahoney has addressed a myriad of legal and factual issues relevant to disputes involving private and public sector employees. He has lectured on the resolution of employment cases through mediation and effective techniques in the arbitration and trial of employment cases. As a consequence, Judge Mahoney understands the legal, emotional and practical issues central to such disputes. This experience has prepared Judge Mahoney to serve as a mediator, arbitrator, private judge, neutral evaluator or discovery referee in private and public sector employment disputes.