Lake Kariba, Past and Present.

Standard

I have some great memories from my teenage years which originate on the enormous body of water known as Lake Kariba. It lies on the north-western margin of the country. Not many people know it but Lake Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake and reservoir by volume with an enormous storage capacity of 185 cubic kilometers (44.4 cu mi). The enormous mass of water (approximately 180 billion tons) is believed to have induced seismicity in the faulted basin, an extension of the active East Africa rift system, including over 20 earthquakes of greater than 5 magnitude on the Richter scale (wikipedia).

Although the mean depth is only 29m it extends over an area of 5,580 square kms. I traveled the length of the lake by ferry with my family back in the early 1990’s.

Map of Zimbabwe showing location of Lk Kariba

plan map of Lk Kariba, adjacent National Parks, towns, roads and national borders.

The building of the Lake Kariba was a huge undertaking over the half-decade 1955 to 1959 at a cost of USD 480 million – goodness only knows how much that would be in today’s monetary terms. As a comparison, expansion of Kariba South (Kariba South Extension), which will add an additional 300 MW capacity, is expected to cost between USD400 and USD533 million. This is in large part being financed by China Export and Import Bank (China Eximbank) who are providing a loan of USD320 million (allAfrica.com, victoriafalls24.com).

A perusal of material on the popular public domain video-streaming website Youtube has a few snippets of footage from the construction and the various challenges that arose as a consequence of the damming effort, including the controversial resettlement of a significant population of BaTonga tribespeople.

A brief synopsis of this policy is reviewed in the video below by Rudo Sanyanga of the organisation International Rivers. In it she makes repeated reference to the men without knees, with apparent reference to those Europeans involved in the Kariba dam project. If you are reading this and have some insight I would be curious to know the origin of this unusual metaphor.

A clip from Operation Noah, co-ordinated by Rupert Fotherghill, from the archives of British Pathe:

Whatever the controversy and cost of building the dam, once it was realised, there were economic derivatives, namely:

*Hydroelectricity: The dam was built first and foremost as a means to generate power by harnessing the energy of a controlled flow of water passing through turbines beneath the dam wall. Consequently the two hydroelectric stations in this vicinity (the north and south stations respectively) are vital power sources for Zambia and Zimbabwe.The Zimbabwean hydropower station (south station) is currently being upgraded as detailed above.

*Fisheries: The introduction of several commercial species including the Tanganyika Sardine or kapenta, actually a small, planktivorous, pelagic, freshwater clupeid originating from Lake Tanganyika in East Africa (wikipedia). It is an important source of protein for many people in the region. It is usually salted and dried in the baking hot sun of the Zambezi Valley. I have eaten the refrigerated kapenta (a little more expensive than the dried variety if bought from a retailer) and it’s really quite palatable. It is best prepared by a cook on one of the houseboats which ply the waters of the lake (see below).

Other commercial species include fresh-water crayfish and introduced Tilapia sp. which are farmed in large, submerged cages. The latter is a 15,000-ton yield per annum industry (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

*Tourism: Lake Kariba is flanked by a number of National Parks and safari areas e.g Matusadona NP, Chete and Charara Safari Areas; as well as sparsely-populated communities of people, some resettled from that area of the valley flooded by the lake today. The consequence of this is a shoreline populated with abundant wildlife. The populations of most are directly influenced by hunting and poaching pressures e.g. elephant and large antelope. Other species like buffalo have proven susceptible to the rise and fall of the water level of the lake and the influence that the lake level has on the amount of and quality of the grass for grazing (torpedo grass, Panicum repens).

There are safari lodges, hotels and camps in the proximity of the lake which give access to the local wildlife (National Park site) although many tourists, domestic especially, chose to enjoy the luxury of a houseboat from which almost any spot on the lake edge is accessible.

It is this mode of tourism that I remember best. What follows is a gallery of photos from various trips there over the years and an extract from a chapter I wrote on my childhood in Zimbabwe (unpublished):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Driftwood: a diesel-engine boat capable of cruising the lake in most conditions.

The Driftwood: a diesel-engine boat capable of cruising the lake in most conditions.

It was the ultimate leisure activity in Zimbabwe, and probably still is, to float around on Lake Kariba with a hold full of larger and soft drinks and plenty to eat, and to fish for the multitude of species which frequented the waters of the huge artificial reservoir, 280 kilometers long, constructed in the mid to late 1950s. Prized amongst the fish was the razor-toothed Tiger Fish which predates on many of the smaller species, especially the sardine that had been introduced from Lake Tanganyika, known locally as Kapenta. Only when my father’s law firm had acquired shares in one of the houseboats, the Driftwood, moored in one of the marinas in Kariba township, did we start spending holidays there as well.

Bull elephant on the shores of the lake. A common sighting from the boat.

Bull elephant on the shores of the lake. A common sighting from the boat.

It really was a magical place where one could see a variety of wildlife: enormous herds of buffalo, some of the largest in Africa, but prone to fluctuate in step with the variation in the water level; numerous elephant which would amble slowly along the shoreline and were visible from miles away; pods of hippopotamus in the quieter bays, lagoons and river mouths; herds of impala antelope; groups of waterbuck and birds too numerous to mention.

A typical bay in one of the more secluded areas of the lake, probably within the mouth of one of the many tributaries which run down from the escarpment.

A typical bay in one of the more secluded areas of the lake, probably within the mouth of one of the many tributaries which run down from the escarpment.

As a reminder of its recent past as a river ecosystem and not a lacustrine one, the perimeter of the lake was dotted with the numerous skeletal remnants of trees drowned when the river was dammed, except in the few bays where they had been cleared or where the ground was too steep. The ironwoods were most prominent because, as their name suggests, they are the most resilient of the natural timbers.

The old  lignified remnants of trees reach upward from the surface of the dam in many of the bays. It's their submerged remnants which provide the greatest hazard.

The old lignified remnants of trees reach upward from the surface of the dam in many of the bays. It’s their submerged remnants which provide the greatest hazard.

The pilots of the boats knew the waterways intimately, which never ceased to amaze me, considering the extent of the shoreline and how the appearance of these dead and sometimes treacherous trees would change as the water level fluctuated. We had hit the occasional stump lying just beneath the waterline whilst chugging along separately in the fishing tender boats which were towed along behind the main houseboat to the mooring spots; fortunately we never capsized although one or other of the tenders had been stuck for a while on one I seem to remember.

One of the two tender boats which serviced the Houseboat. You simply had to tie up to a dead tree trunk or stump at a prospective fishing spot.

One of the two tender boats which serviced the Houseboat. You simply had to tie up to a dead tree trunk or stump at a prospective fishing spot. From left to right: Ivan, me, Dan, my father.

A few exceptional memories stick out in my mind: the first is of a lion kill we witnessed first-hand on the banks of the Sanyati Bay where the victim was one of the multitude of buffalo. After a slight commotion the rest of the herd had continued grazing nearby as if nothing were amiss whilst the lionesses pinned their prey to the ground and slowly suffocated it. The old male of the pride had been in no great hurry to get there, giving an occasional roar as he sauntered over to the kill whereupon his bevy of females had moved to one side; truly ‘the king of the jungle.’

This had been before the buffalo population had crashed, in part due to a deadly outbreak of anthrax but of greater severity to them, the rising of the waters after record rainfall in the upper catchment leading to the loss of the torpedo grass habitat on which they so depended for grazing. It was recognised as a boom and bust cycle and today the population is rapidly increasing once again.

My grandparents don lifejackets before hopping aboard one of the tenders for an afternoon/evening game-viewing session.

My grandparents don lifejackets before hopping aboard one of the tenders for an afternoon/evening game-viewing session.

Another memory is of seeing a cheetah, released from a boma at Tashinga National Parks camp. This was a rare sighting, because cheetahs are Africa’s most fragile big cat species. I had never seen one in the wild before so this was exciting. Whilst my brothers, my father and I were out fishing, my mother, who was sitting on the deck of the boat, had witnessed something very unusual: one of the cheetahs making a kill. The prey this time had been an impala antelope and it had been killed right at the water’s edge she told them on their return. What had happened next was, in some ways, as remarkable.

The pilot of the boat and the cook had quietly disembarked the tethered vessel and alighted on the shore. Before my mother had realised their intentions they had shooed the poor cheetah, still not fully adult, off the kill and proceeded to lop off a hind quarter from the impala with a machete. By the time we returned it was dusk and the cheetah may not have come back to claim the kill before the other scavengers arrived: the jackals and hyenas.

The other memory that is seared into my mind was on another occasion when we had been accompanied by friends from the UK, Meg and Guy Applebeck and their daughter Mia. Us boys, our father and Guy were on the fishing tenders near the holiday lodge known as Tiger Bay which lay slightly inland of the Lake on the Ume River, accessible to houseboats for some distance. Not only was the river renowned for excellent fishing but there was good wildlife along its banks too.

On that particular afternoon we had been fishing peacefully in a small inlet not a stone’s throw from Tiger Bay when a large male waterbuck had come down to the water to drink. The serenity of the scene was shattered by an enormous explosion in the vicinity of the waterbuck as a mighty Nile Crocodile burst out of the shallows and clamped his sizeable jaws onto the upper leg of the antelope. He must have been a very big croc, because the end of his tail was a good ten feet away from his snout. The waterbuck did his best to resist but the leviathan slowly but surely started dragging him through the shallows towards deeper water.

A later fishing trip with my mother's sister Tess and her family. Here my uncle Keith sits between the captain, Bruno (L), and  Philemon, a young lad from Harare.

A later fishing trip with my mother’s sister Tess and her family. Here my uncle Keith sits between the captain, Bruno (L), and Philemon, a young lad from Harare. It was a spot just like this from which we witnessed the attack on the waterbuck with Guy.

We had all been too amazed and overawed by the spectacle to do anything at that point, but suddenly Guy became animated: “Quick, quick, we must save it” he had shouted. It was widely held and indeed decreed that people should not interfere with the acts of nature, no matter how distressing events may be, but it was too awful for us to contemplate doing nothing to help the afflicted waterbuck.

We fired up the engine and approached cautiously. Had we not interfered the croc probably would have had his way and drowned the animal but our encroachment caused it to act hastily and it had rolled over and torn the entire hind leg off the buck before retreating silently into the depths from which he had come. The waterbuck, never uttering so much as a cry, had staggered out of the water on three legs, standing proudly on the bank, its nose quivering, but unable to go much further.

The wound had to be mortal considering how much flesh had been rent from its body exposing the delicate entrails to infection, if it did not succumb to blood loss or predation by other beasts before that happened. We had approached the proprietor of Tiger Bay and implored him to go and put the animal out of its misery but he pointed out that it was a National Parks area and shooting an animal, even a fatally wounded one, was not permitted.

We returned to the houseboat solemnly. I remember Guy muttering darkly about the vileness and under-handedness of the crocodile, but that was what they had done for countless millennia; who were we to pass judgement? Both crocodilian and mammalian had lived side by side well before man had inhabited that environment. Most likely the antelope had become a meal for other meat-eating animals, whether lions or dedicated scavengers like the hyena, we would never know. This was way of the wild and it was harsh and unforgiving.

The houseboat years were some of the best I can remember from my time as an adolescent. There were trips to the Eastern Highlands and elsewhere but Lake Kariba was where we had best enjoyed time as a family.

One took these sunsets for granted when on the lake.

One took these sunsets for granted when on the lake.

 

Advertisements

AROUND ZIMBABWE (AUGUST 1992) PART II

Standard

This post is a verbatim transcription of a diary I wrote during a family excursion to a number of landmarks around Zimbabwe. This, the second of two, records our trip to the southwest of the country taking in the Victoria Falls, Mlibizi and Lake Kariba. I was 13 at the time, in my first year of high school in Harare. The other individuals present on the trip were my parents, Lou and Ray; my grandparents, Mutty (pronounced Moo-tee) and Raph; my brothers Daniel (11) and Ivan (8); and a family friend, Pat.

My mother photocopied the diary (I’m not sure where the original is) and inserted the copied pages along with photographs from the trip into two albums. I have scanned and inserted most of these pictures. I have transcribed the text faithfully except to correct a few punctuation errors. Original spellings are used.

DAY 8 (CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS)

IMG_0002

The brothers posing by a sign of the Falls.

The brothers posing by a sign of the Falls.

When some three hours later we arrived at the Vic Falls we all readily unpacked and sat down for a cup of tea. What remained of the daylight hours was spent on a quick visit to the Falls, (the) Devil’s Cataract to be precise.

Sure enough water to full [sic] the pool back home any day. Arrived back home (Sprayview) for the longest dinner wait I had ever endured and when the food did arrive the embarrassed waiter received the biggest round of applause anyone could wish for. So that explained why the next day was spent in the Wimpy. Miraculously the day finished peacefully.

The brothers posing by a sign of the Falls.

The brothers posing by a sign of the Falls.

DAY 9

[missing text] After grub we returned to the mighty Falls for a two hour walk. Each stop gave a vantage point to some spot on the Falls, thousands of tonnes of shear water turned to a churning broth beneath the beauty of rock and plant. The water vapour clung to our garments as we crossed through the luscious rainforest and gazed from the cliff heights upon the Horseshoe Falls. But time was scarce and we had to depart from the beauty of the falls and return to Sprayview.

Just before setting off on our 'Daboola Cruise'

Just before setting off on our ‘Daboola Cruise’

After returning for a brief swim we went and prepared for our Daboola Cruise (Note: a popular tour-operated evening ‘booze cruise’). Half an hour later we were chugging out from the jetty on our colonial boat along with Tullany [Tulane] our guide. Seated comfortably in our chairs we were provided with snacks, cool drinks, wine and beer (I managed to get half a glass).

Raph silhouetted against the setting sun, Vic Falls evening cruise.

Raph silhouetted against the setting sun, Vic Falls evening cruise.

The unforgettable Tullany with the good-natured smile brought us close to hippo, elephant, crocs and many birds. Under a setting sun we saw the lovely Zambezi and all its surroundings in full splendour. On return we heard the hippos grunting us goodnight across the placid waters, a lovely ending to the day. Supper at the Wimpy was followed by a well slept night.

DAY 10

A decent trampoline was a prerequisite.

A decent trampoline was a prerequisite.

Even after my mosquito-filled night I arose fairly fresh and after a large breakfast and exercising jump on the tramp [trampoline] I was prepared for the journey. It was no shock to leave Sprayview Hotel because of our inefficient service, although the accommodation was very satisfactory. After leaving and taking a quick look around the classy yet unattractive Elephant Hills Hotel we set forth upon our journey to Mlibizi about 3.5 hours away.

IMG_0018After completing our long, hot and tiring journey on tar and after the last dirt stretch we arrived at the chalets themselves. We unpacked, had a swim, a brief fish (caught nothing, but bites!) and then supper – braaied. Supper followed by bed of course. All I can say for the Mosi’s [mozzies, short for mosquitoes] is ‘beware!’

DAY 11

Almost a full compliment (minus Dan).

Almost a full compliment (minus Dan).

Up and fishing at 7:30 along with a quick cup of tea. If I didn’t know better I would say these fish were trained in dissecting the worms from the hooks (the poor worms never benefit). Returned hungry for cereal and toast and a look at the birds attracted by the luscious feeding tray. Drew a little and then fished a while longer although it was the wrong time of day.

The land cruiser we went game-viewing in.

The land cruiser we went game-viewing in.

Lunch that avi [afternoon] consisted of rolls and cold meat followed by a great game of scrabble by the pool in which all the pieces were used. After cooling down the four boys (men) went down for the main fish of the day. Worms were frequently disappearing as usual but this tie we caught six fairly small fish. We threw back out four chessa and two Cornish Jack [types of freshwater fish native to the Zambezi] and hoped for something bigger in future. On return we had showers followed by dinner and an evening of poker. I literally thrashed the lot of ’em until on the last round I tried to be clever and wasted my chips (match sticks). Got to bed where I landed up wirting my diary. Well, was writing my diary – Good Night.

DAY 12

Ivan and the old girls.

Ivan and the old girls.

Rose up at 7:30, had tea and then went and booked our boat. After eating breakfast the three of us went to out chalet to acquire our promised 250 worms. No not 250, but near enough to be called a fairly good deal on our part. Well at 11:00 we all set off on our raft [really more of a pontoon] with our guide Sampson (all but Mutty who felt a bit ill). Well it must have been a combination of the wrong time of day, wrong time of year and wrong fishing spot because we didn’t catch a thing. On the way out though things got rather exciting passing dozens of hippos and when Dan and I entangled our lines in the propeller of the boat the hippos surfaced all around the raft. Ray thought the tangle the funniest thing during the trip but luckily the pen-knife did the trick. After a medium sized lunch we all rested and swam till late afternoon. At that time we decided to go fishing which may have been a successful event had Ivan not attempted to throw Dan the box of worms – you can guess the rest.

The disheartened fishermen returned and went through the usual process before dinner. After devouring a large meal we hung around telling ghost stories until turning in for bed.

DAY 13

Brothers posing on back of the Toyota Cressida.

Brothers posing on back of the Toyota Cressida.

The only reason I got up that morning was to switch off [on?] the kettle for tea. Then after tea we all helped pack the car before going for breakfast at Mutty and Raph’s. After eating hungrily we walked down to the awaiting ferry while Ray and Raph drove the cars down. Then, with a honk of the hooter we set forth upon the light waves of the Zambezi. Before long

the river had widened considerably into the beginning of the lake itself, Kariba. The ferry had its car compartment below, the deck in front set upon with tables and behind the lounge, sleeping and eating quarters. Most of the time was spent outside in the cool, warm air, viewing with the other passengers the elephant and buck. After a lunch of rolls and other things we all lay back until the sunset over the Zambezi Hills had faded and nigh had befell [sic] us.

After a healthy supper of fish, chicken, lasagna and salad most people turned in for an early night sleep. Pat, Dan and I all decided to sleep outside along with another ten on deck. Because of the lack of mattresses, Dan and I had to use the chair cushions, but all seemed to be comfortable enough on top of that (for the time being that is).

DAY 14

L: Disembarking from the overnight ferry, Kariba harbour. R: Raph shows off his wonky left leg. Not long he had a replacement knee inserted.

L: Disembarking from the overnight ferry, Kariba harbour. R: Raph shows off his wonky left leg. Not long he had a replacement knee inserted.

Waking up to a setting sun is different to waking up to that of a rising sun so I knew I hadn’t slept in. This surprised me though, thinking back on the night’s events. I could remember waking up at 2:30 to a howling wind that whipped up the blankets and numbed out faces. Luckily we managed to get another blanket that partly protected us for the rest of the night.

Ivan looks particularly happy. I think it's because of the top he's wearing.

Ivan looks particularly happy. I think it’s because of the top he’s wearing.

After a quick breakfast, mainly of scrambled egg we actually arrived at Kariba (the town). We then removed our car and wandered aimlessly around town for a while before finding the shops where we stocked up on milk. We then went to the Cutty Sark Hotel, had tea, played table tennis and relaxed. After tea we continued to our lodge at the Nzou Camp [Mswenzi Lodge]. We got in early and quickly investigated the three-roomed lodge with the spacious lounge adjacent to the dining room.

IMG_0025

Route map to Mswenzi Lodge.

Route map to Mswenzi Lodge.

It was ll very pleasant with the thatching…[?]…veranda and the ame viewing/sun-bathing platform. After settling in and having lunch Dan, Ivan, mum and I went down to the pool (Ray came later). After waiting patiently for some petty [pretty?] girls to depart from the pool we eagerly dived into the cool, refreshing waters. Mum, like all women, waited for the Barbarians (Dan and Ivan) to get out and make way for her. It didn’t turn out like that, though. As soon as she had got in the two of them bombed [her] and rapidly wet what was her unwet head. Ray then turned up and after his brief swim we all returned.

Blog note: On re-reading this I was slightly shocked at what appears to be an offhand sexist remark on how women apparently behave in swimming pools. I suppose I can only attribute it to my limited world view at that age!

That evening we all browsed [casually sat in this context] around watching the impala and waterbuck before having showers. We all gathered together again afterwards for a supper which consisted of rice and salad. Supper for me was followed by bed.

DAY 15

Ray goe out to have a word with the elephants. They agreed not to defecate on the loge walls thereafter.

Ray goe out to have a word with the elephants. They agreed not to defecate on the loge walls thereafter.

Mum woke me up just after six for a walk with Pat and her. We all got dressed and just before setting out Dan decided to come as well. After walking down to the pan where we saw zebra, impala and waterbuck we headed onto the lake bank to view most of the birds. Well the Blacksmith Plover really did set off the alarm after carrying on his call for at least 10 minutes. Then, while coming on out way back through the grass we nearly trampled four side-striped jackal in their small lair. They were quick to get away and probably returned after we had gone. After returning and having breakfast the family and I set off to Cutty Sark for our worms. After that we carried on to Caribbea Bay. At the Bay we all needed a swim so we managed to slip into the resident’s pool.

After the cool swim we walked over to the Supatube but that wasn’t free though (it was 50c er ride!). The tube was short but went at hell of a speed so it wasn’t long before all our goes were gone (16 each). When people enjoy themselves time seems to fly by like today – the time was already 1:00 [pm]. Lunch at home consisted of tuna sandwiches and salad. After lunch we didn’t do much until 4 o’clock, the usual fishing time. Well, after 1 and a half hours the result wasn’t worth telling so I won’t (it’s the fish not the fishermen). After going back at sundown and helping cook the fishless braai we all ate a hearty meal. After the meal Raph and I conquered the others in a game of scrabble (we really came second). Now, though, it’s time for bed. (Phew, my pen’s running out and my pathetic mother nicked some paper for the laundry list). Hope you don’t notice the change.

Blog note: Apologies to my late mum.

DAY 16

Our veranda at the Lodge.

Our veranda at the Lodge.

The three of us excluding Dan went for our morning walk as usual although we now decided to cut through the grass straight to the lake bank near the pans and follow it to the boat jetty at Nzou. We saw no zebra but the impala, waterbuck and birds were abundant. And as a bonus on the way back we saw three handsome bushbuck. It is amazing how one gets so hot so early in the morning but that was the way it was so we were all pretty pooped for breakfast. After breakfast the family and me went for a major fishing trip. Although (as usual) we caught nil, with our worms and mussells [sic] we had some pretty big bites and the guy next to us caught a barbel. We returned late and spent the hot afternoon lazing around sluggishly. Then at 4:30 we all went down for a final effort at the jetty until six – caught nothing (boo hoo! Better luck next time).

We got back for supper with an old friend of PAt’s who spent much of her life in the bush with her dog. Well I would have liked to hear some of her incredible stories but before long I had drifted away into the land of dreams.

DAY 17

My final day’s breakfast was forcefully put down because of the oranges that curdled the milk. Packing didn’t take long and after bidding farewell to faithful old Zuze the housekeeper we set out for home. At first we travelled far up the winding slopes of the hills but before long we were back on the even plateau on the way to Chinhoyi. The caves there were amazing except they were needing a clean, but all the same the deep, tranquil sleeping pool was an awful site [sic] [an attempt at humour?!].

DAY 18

IMG_0032After the caves we had lunch and then continued to Pat’s house in Harare to say bye to her. Pat was greeted happily by Isaac [domestic employee] and her dog Taurus and when we returned the same [welcome] from Trymore, Edmore and the dogs. What an end to a super holiday.

The brothers and out bashful Rottweiler, Tina.

The brothers and out bashful Rottweiler, Tina.

Blog note: I have a very clear recollection of Taurus, a sturdy Staffordshire Bull Terrier, leaping at me at full tilt as I stepped out the car. Fortunately it was joy not aggression that motivated him. Our domestic workers were all related and my brother Dan still employs Trymore and his wife 20 years later.