Ever since I was a kid I have always wanted my life to be spontaneous, wishing to put meaning into my life, so that one day 60-or-so years later, when I am living in a retirement community, or surrounded by grandchildren, or being the crazy old dog-lady (not fond of cats), I will not feel like someone whose years whizzed by without a trace.
We all have our own bucket lists, and I have spent a great deal of time making mine. The two major things I have on my bucket list are travelling and overcoming my fears. But what I never imagined was that I would get a chance to accomplish both on my trip to Zambia.
Located in Southern Africa, Zambia is an ideal travel destination for adventure/nature aficionados. My recent tour to this landlocked country took me first to Livingstone, one of the most popular destinations in Zambia and also the home to Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall. Dividing Zambia and Zimbabwe, the waterfall is approximately twice the height of Niagara Falls.
Most of the adventure sports in Zambia take place in Livingstone. There are game drives, cruise rides, steam train rides, river rafting, bungee jumping and much more. However, of all the thrilling and adrenaline-inducing activities, the ones that take the cake are walking with lions (yes, you read that right!) and microlighting. Much to the envy of my friends, I was fortunate enough to do both!
Walking with the Jungle King
The most eagerly awaited moment of my Zambia trip was when I took a walk with the King of the Jungle! Boy, I'm still getting goosebumps as I write about it.
Lion walks are very popular in Zambia, organised by Mukuni Big 5 Safaris, who also have elephant rides, walk with cheetahs on offer. Such thrill for adventure junkies!
As we arrived at the starting point of our walk, we were greeted by a cheerful guide. The reception area offers an unequalled view of the colossal Zambezi river. Our guide noticed how nervous I was and tried to lighten up the mood by saying that they didn't feed the lions since they knew we were visiting! (Such a failed attempt at cracking a joke.) He then guffawed at the horror on my face.
We were given a small briefing before entering the African bushes. The rules were clear:
- Do not touch the lion's head or paws.
- Do not walk ahead of the lions.
- Do not stand around when the lions are sitting, as they feel threatened.
We were all given a long stick to carry, which was to be used to play with the lions. As we slowly made our way into the bushes, I could hear my heart pounding. Several thoughts were brimming in my head: will there be more trainers around? Will the lions come and sniff me like a dog? Will they be on a leash?
As we reached our destination, I saw a lion and a lioness sitting peacefully, accompanied by two other trainers, much to my relief. The lions looked at us for a second then went back to their business. Actually it's not a novelty for them to be around jittery tourists. Me, on the other hand unknowingly grabbed onto the sleeve of our guide. He informed me that the lions were brother and sister named Adda and Laura.
“Go on and pet him,” the trainer said as if it was a labrador! With trembling hands I touched Adda's mane, he did not seem to mind, but turned around to look at me, making me squeal and jump back. It took us a few minutes to break the ice, but once I got to know them, they were indeed like labradors. We walked around the jungle for an hour. All the while Adda was playing tricks with me and kept nudging me into the bushes every time I tried to walk beside him, making the guide chuckle with delight.
“Why don't you grab onto his tail!” the guide exclaimed. I looked at him startled. (Okay, I might have scowled a bit as well.) Although the lions were like labradors, but if you touch the tail of labrador, it would make even the friendliest of them turn aggressive.
“I have full intention of returning in one piece,” I replied. But after a little persuading, I dared to grab Adda's tail, and to my surprise, he just started walking faster taking me on a tour of his humble abode!
In that short span of time, I had bonded quite well with Adda and Laura, so much that I didn't want this experience to end. But all good things do come to an end. I hugged them both and bid them farewell, ecstatic of having made two little (okay, big!) friends in the wilderness of Africa.
Flying over Victoria Falls
Witnessing the majestic Victoria Falls from up above the sky is a subliminal experience. Flying in an open cockpit of a microlight aircraft, with the wind splashing against your face... words can't explain the feeling; it must be experienced!
The weight-shift microlights carry one pilot and one passenger. You will not be allowed to carry your cameras, phones or any loose items. Don't be dismayed; the microlights have a wing-mounted camera, which can capture photographs and even a video of your flight!
I met my pilot André, who had a sunny disposition. His excitement and confidence made me forget my fear of heights. However brave I thought I was, the moment we took off, I clutched onto the pilot's seat. You are given a microphone-attached headphone to communicate with the pilot. André sensed immediately that I was scared and started talking to me through the headphones. He reassured me that I was in safe hands and started off on his spiel about the history of Livingstone and facts about Victoria Falls.
'Lucky lady!' he cried and pointed towards a small island on Zambezi river, where there was a herd of at least 10 – 12 elephants grazing. That was a rare sight according to André. We also saw hippos visible under the clear water, but the most spectacular view was that of Victoria Falls, spread across the land as a line of smoke. Truly breathtaking!
My fingers had become stiff from the cold air, also perhaps because I didn't realize how firmly I was clutching onto the seat. André suddenly spread his arms and shouted, 'Look, no hands!' I was petrified. We then flew into some turbulence, which made the microlight slightly sway out of control. André kept assuring me that it was just a little wind and there is nothing to be worried about. He made me feel so comfortable that I agreed to stretch my arms out and feel the wind. It was indeed a stimulating experience.
Heading back home, I felt rejuvenated. I smiled fondly at the memory of overcoming my fears and all those who were a part of it – the guide, Adda, Laura and André.