Posts Tagged With: The Grotto


“So you don’t have any money?” Phillip looked at me with the kind of look that said, ‘I’m curious to know more but not sure if I really want to’.

It was just past 13:00 when I found myself on the outskirts of Chome, at the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, surrounded by 22 hitch-hikers and approached by three drunks trying to convince me to buy them drinks.

Desperation for a ride was sticking to me like these inebriated folk.

“So you don’t have money?” Phillip repeated.

Being on the road for 15 months, you learn to read people pretty quickly. Body language becomes your mother-tongue. And reading Phillip debating with himself, I knew he would eventually say, “OK, let’s go.”

kbcHe took on two other passengers, retired gentlemen who needed a ride to Maambo, about 70 K’s down the road. My aim was to reach the Kariba Bush Club, home to one of the world’s largest crocodile farms with 80,000 dinosaurs. Both the lodge and the farm are on the banks of Lake Kariba. It’s a croc-infested, hippo-swarming lake where the Zambezi flows in and then out the other end to continue its journey to the Indian Ocean.

The day had started casually enough. It was the first time I had woken sober after four days of partying with Irish Dave, an Irishman crossing the African continent from Cork to Cape Town who happened to have started his journey from Cork in Ireland on May 13th, 2013.

I had started my journey from Melbourne, Australia, diagonally from Irish Dave, on May 13th, 2013.

I blame Irish Dave for having to undergo white-water rafting and the zipline\bungee\gorge swing completely inebriated (not that I’m complaining. Not sure if I’d had the balls to do it sober).

Grubby, owner of Rafting Extreme and The Grotto, a campsite for overland tours (and nomadic barterers like myself) who had allowed me to camp since last Thursday, offered to drop me off at the roadblock where trucks are checked for papers.

He spoke with the friendly policeman who agreed to organise a ride for me to Chome, about 200 K’s north-east of Livingstone.

“How much can you pay?” the officer had asked me.

I explained that, “I don’t use money.”

He raised an eyebrow but said he’ll do his best.

I had barely planted arse-in-seat when he called me over to the 18-wheeled rig that had stopped.

It was the quickest ride I had ever hitched on my travels. I swung the passenger-side door open and threw my bags and guitar up to the driver.

“Simon,” he introduced himself. IMG_5309

A big laughing, bald-headed full of life Zimbabwean, we conversed all the way to Chome, discussing things about Africa, his travels to England – “Too cold, I ran back to Africa” – Dubai – “Too hot, I ran back to Africa”. I answered his questions about Australia and blew his mind with my philosophy of not using money.

We entered the district of Zimba, a rural town where we stopped and Simon bought me a banana-maize energy drink called Mahu. “Much healthier than Redbull,” he said.

The mahu was delicious and rejuvenating.

As we passed through the villages of Kalomo, Mukwela, Shanga Ubone (which means, ‘Nice to see’) and finally to Chome to the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, Simon said, “This is real Africa. There is no town planner. Everything is a mess.” Just like the potholed roads. He shook his head in disappointment. “I can’t believe people still live like this in 2014.”

I kind of agree although I think part of Africa’s appeal is the ruralness. At the turnoff, Simon helped carry my bags over to the side of the road.

“Do you have a religion?” I asked him before we parted ways.

“I’m a strong Christian believer,” he said proudly.

I presented him with a hand-carved wooden cross that a pastor in Tsumeb, Namibia, had given me. Simon widened his already wide smile as he firmly shook my hands.

“If you see me on the roads of Africa, you’ll stop for me again?” I asked him.

“You bet,” he grinned as he walked back to his rig.

Simon had yet to climb into his cab when a drunken local approached me. It was just on 13:00 and this guy was on-his-ass drunk (although standing, awkwardly).

“I want to invite you to play pool,” he said, eyes yellowish-red, shirt dirty and ripped as were his shoes.

“I’d love to, but I’m waiting for a truck,” I explained, casually, as though he were sober.

“Then I will wait with you.”

Please don’t. I’ll never get a ride with this guy hanging around.

“Buy me a drink,” he then said.

“No,” I grinned. “Friend’s don’t ask each other to buy drinks. If I want, I will choose whether to buy you a drink or not.”

“You are my boss,” he retorted (in Africa, any white man is regarded a boss for the obvious white-black reasons). I laughed at his call.

“No, my brother. I’m no one’s boss.”

“But you are a white man,” he looked at me confused.

“I’m a man,” I said proudly. “A hu-man. Just like you. There is no difference if you are black or white or yellow. We are all people.” Then I quoted Zambia’s motto: “One nation, one people, right?”

At this, his eyes widened and he slapped my hand in a painful hi-five.

I really needed him to go back to the bar (and perhaps pass out). More people were arriving and pretty soon I was surrounded by a village worth’s of locals and their babies (staring at me) with shopping bags, all looking to hitch a ride.

“I’m going to buy another drink,” said the drunken. “I watch you from there,” he pointed to the bar across the road.

Perfect. I gave him the thumbs up. Then two more drunks showed up.

“Mwe uli bwanji?” I asked to their well-being in the local popular dialect (out of 72), Nyanji.

They hi-fived me, one of them having pink nail polish on his nails. “You play music?” he drunkenly slurred, observing my guitar case.

“Eyai (pronounced ‘eh’),” I confirmed.

“I dance,” he then proceeded to wobble his knees as he and his friend cracked up in contagious laughter. I laughed with them as I excused myself to try and flag down a passing car.

After a few repeated scenes of their dance moves they finally trucked on when Phillip arrived to the rescue.

“So you don’t use money?” he asked in the car.

“Nope,” I said. “I exchange things, skills, for food, bed and passage.”

“What will you give me then?” he asked, unashamed.

“Let me teach you the ways of life without money,” and I gave them my spiel.

“What do you plan for the future?” one of the gentlemen asked me.

“I don’t plan anything.” They looked at me in shock. “You see,” I began to explain, “if you plan something and it doesn’t work out, you become angry, disappointed, sad and unhappy. This way, if I don’t plan anything, I’m never disappointed.”

“So you are always happy?” said the guy in the front passenger seat.

“Exactly,” I grinned.

They were shocked that I had no intention of getting married (as in, I wouldn’t sign a contract for love) or of having children.

“It’s my choice whether I want children or not, right?” They agreed. “So it’s my choice to not want any.” For now.

“You have taught me something today,” Phillip said.

“You see,” I grinned, “we exchanged something.”

In Maambo Phillip assisted in organising a ride for me to the bush club with Mostbana who piled his sedan with 7 people. I shared the front seat with a long-limbered skinny kid who had to sit on the emergency brake. To make room in the boot, my smaller pack was between my knees while half of my guitar hung out of the window, the other half lay on the dashboard.

We took the worst road possible through villages that time had forgotten about, dropping off people, picking up more hitchers. Mostbana attempted to get a truck to help me to reach the lodge as he didn’t plan on it for his final destination.

The truck refused and so, finding some more people to cover his petrol costs, we set out for the remaining 14 km’s to the bush club over potholed, trench-dug roads that the sand trucks had decimated (a military Humvee would have struggled here). The full moon rose high on the horizon, the sun setting behind us.

I was thinking what I could give Mostbana for his generosity as we didn’t really converse much. We pulled into the bush club and I was surprised to see a pair of zebra’s munching on the lawn. Impala’s were frolicking about freely as were some goats and three dogs.

I met my contact, Marina who showed me to my new home for the next month. “I’ve just got to pay the driver and I’ll show you the rest of the camp.”IMG_5375

Pay the driver?

That cheeky mother…

Feeling betrayed and false-fed on his generosity, I decided to give Mostbana nothing more than a handshake.

Dinner was chicken curry at the bar overlooking the lake where the sun painted a picture-perfect canvas of reds, orange and blues.

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A guest blog by Hope Bowie who joined me in Livingstone to learn of my philosophical lifestyle of bartering

This is never going to work.

The thought runs through my mind as I consider the imposition that I present when traveling with a Nomad whose travels depend on his affability, knack for reading people, as well as his capacity to find a way to be useful in any situation.

This is all more of an accusation than a compliment. I’m a bit daft in those departments. While I can certainly be useful – I’ve misplaced my aptitude for reading people, and a portion of my general cordiality, in the year I’ve lived on the far end of this vast continent (my cynicism has blossomed under some harsh conditions, whereas I would have previously termed myself a realist…).

And now he has to justify my presence, as well as secure my lodging. This is never going to work.

But, as he so often says, “Expect nothing, always get something.”

I started off my expedition with the luck of [free] Ministry transport to the Zambian border. It’s great working for the government in Namibia. You can guilt most people with a green license plate into giving you a ride. Provided of course that they’re at a police checkpoint or a petrol station – otherwise they fly by with nary a glance.

Trying to dispel any bad luck, and continue my streak (I’m a little superstitious), I opted to show up with no warning at the lodge he’d been bartering with. Better to not impose completely from the get go and require a ride from town into the bush. Plus – greeting someone after a month’s time with a hike pack on your back then having to hoist it up into the car then out again then store it somewhere… It all seemed too unwieldy.

P1120530But there I was. In a well situated lodge with a charming vibe on the Zambezi River. The Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge… With the Nomad.

The morning was a bustle… We were almost packed to go, and I discovered my chronic tendency of leaving something essential behind had struck again. My power adapter. Great. As I’m contemplating the expense of a new one – the Nomad has already secured another from one of the lodge staff.

The man’s ability to secure vitally important things with a well-timed appeal is uncanny. It’s not manipulation. People just generally like him. And want to help. It’s a little annoying… but then, I like him too… It’s just he makes it look so easy (I might just be jealous).

Before our departure, and in the midst of my early morning wine intake (it was a holiday for me, after all), I’m struggling to replace the elastic cord through the poles of a tent that has been provided by the lodge owner for the Nomad’s travels. He is whipping around tying up loose ends, exchanging data files, finding me duct tape and wire for the tent repair endeavor, helping load the boat for the day’s outing, fixing the shower curtain he’d installed (that I’d nearly ripped out of the wall by slipping on the curtain… It also turned out, later, that I had left behind my shampoo and conditioner in the damn shower).

And suddenly, we’re off.

The Nomad had secured us a free hike with a family of three – all the way to our destination. As I’ve made the trip overland once before (and had sworn to never again… but, you know… he’s worth it)… I can say with all certainty that a private vehicle – a 4×4, no less – is certainly better transit than a mainliner bus. Plus, homemade kudu biltong. The company was lovely and the trip was smooth. Well, as much as it could be on the road from Sesheke to Livingstone.IMG_5111

The first stop? Maramba River Lodge. The manager took one listen to his Oz accent and bartering pitch and upgraded us from the campground to furnished dome tents. Our human neighbors were non-existent in that neck of the woods. It was perfect. Perfect until that night, when I discovered that the Nomad had the unfortunate habit of grinding and chomping at his teeth in his sleep. I turned over on my bed and threw the blankets over my head to drown out the noise.

What WAS that? Is he growling now?

IMG_5117The next morning I was considering telling him how close he came to being brained for disturbing my sleep (I snore, so I’m not one to talk)… And he mentions he’d had to let loose a ‘groar’ (a growling roar) at a hippo that had been chomping outside our tent… I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course the Nomad would think to groar and startle away a grazing hippo… Good thing I didn’t whack him on the head, too, of course (though I did poke him in the eye the night previous – but that was accidental violence, and doesn’t really count).

The wildlife at Maramba River was abundant. We also spotted crocodiles, baboons, herons, egrets, a river monitor… Elephants. At least twenty elephants. I’ve lived in Africa for a year… And this was my first encounter with elephants. One could understand how I might get a little excited… So, naturally, while peering about toward the distant foliage for another camera angle, I walked mid-stride into a roof support. Despite a quick application of ice, I’m still sporting a black eye over a week later. While I left nothing physical behind at that first lodge, I did lose track of my pride for a moment.

The second lodge. Zig Zag. Absolutely charming, with a pretty amazing proprietor… I have a feeling if you let her, she’d impart a ton of great stories. Unfortunately, our food arrived too quickly and she was too polite to continue. I still don’t know how she got out of being kidnapped by police in Tibet. It’s killing me.

She, too, was quick to accommodate the Nomad.

Our only wildlife encounters were the baboons that hopped the high walls (meant to keep out the elephants) and were rustling about on the roof.

But, as nomads are want to do, we moved on to another lodge. During this departure, I left behind my favorite earrings, and my sunglasses (so much for disguising my black eye).

Next was the Rite Inn. Luxury suites, where after only a moment’s hesitation, accommodation was provided. We spent the better part of the day in front a flat screen TV being lazy after days of walking about. Though we did eventually head to dinner – and stop to retrieve my lock and key earrings I’d left on the mosquito netting at Zig Zag.

We arrived for the sunset at the waterfront only to be herded out by lodge staff who were in the progress of their weekly mosquito spraying. Ah, the smell of DDT in the evening… It really sets the mood, no?


© Hope Bowie, 2014

Vervet monkeys offered distraction as they hopped from one safari truck to the next in the parking lot, until the fog dissipated and we braved the freshly fumigated air to view the sunset over the river.

The last day, we headed for The Grotto. An overland campsite we’d heard about from the family who’d given us our ride into the country. Before we set up camp, we decided to seek out the owner, a New Zealander, for a chat before we headed to Mosi Oa Tunya Falls.



Earlier in the week, when we’d first approached this character – and he is a character – he’d been entertaining a friend, a local lodge manager. As we’d secured our lodging for a day or two hence, I wasn’t particularly quick on the uptake when he mentioned the place we really need to see is Jungle Junction…

“Hmm?” was my reply.

“Jungle Junction… Bovu Island! That’s where you should go.”

“Bovu?” I burst out. “Bovu would be amazing, yeah.”

“Sparky,” he calls out to his departing friend, “These two want to see Bovu.”

The Nomad handed over his card and gave his spiel, while Sparky stared at the card bewildered.

“No telephone, only email?”

I’ll admit it, at that, I thought we were dead in the water. In my head, it just wasn’t a possibility.

But wouldn’t you know, a day or two later, the last night, instead of the Grotto – which I had been fine with (especially since I had to catch a bus early the next day) we found ourselves on the beautiful Bovu Island. Absolute paradise.

In fact, I think The Nomad had been holding out for it, when he said just to drop our stuff in the grass. Holding out, just in case.

All in all, we visited five lodges seeking accommodation and meals. Only one shot him down. And one helped us get to Bovu Island – my now favorite place in Africa.

I’ve done my fair share of travelling around the world, and a fair bit of it in Africa.

But this whole philosophy… Expect nothing, always get something… Relying on the kindness of strangers and working towards a mutual benefit without the exchange of money?

I was skeptical it would work. Let alone run smoothly. I’ve been converted…

This Nomad is on to something.

For more of Hope’s entertaining thoughts, check out her blog at

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