For the massive majority of us it happens every day and yet still the sunset is the most photographed thing in the world. We take the photo and when we get back to the normal we show our friends that we captured a bit of this place or that place at a moment of magic. We forget that it’s the exact same ball of fire that hangs over us back at home and lurks behind the clouds. How often do we take the time to watch it rise from our homes? How often do we stop to see it sink at the end of each ordinary day?
It is the most predictable, reliable and necessary phenomenon and yet it’s only when we’re away that we take any notice. It’s only when we see it over the sea across the beach or through mountain mist that it becomes magical. What’s incredible, too, is that it’s one of those things that can be seen from inside the bubble and might just serve as enough of a reminder that there’s a lot more out there than there is in here.
In Zambia, such was the regularity of the days and the weather this close to the equator, each morning was a festival of light as the sun rose in the West and equally breath-taking as it quickly slipped away in the evening. Predictable, steady, constant.
Perhaps it is the dust of this place that colours it like it does and makes such a display. I never tired of it. Every single night I called out the group for them to watch though I know they were humouring me. “We saw it yesterday” they said. But they didn’t. We never see the same sunset twice.
10. The Batoka Gorge
We weren’t here as tourists, though a few days of sightseeing did break up the expedition a little and help move us between the phases of the trip. Moving south meant that we had been able to take in the wilderness of the game reserves in the north, the noise and confusion of Lusaka in the middle and now the much more welcoming and softer city of Livingstone.
Livingstone relies heavily on the tourist trade; most visitors coming to see the Falls or the Rhino park and as such, the town has to give the people what they want. Unlike Lusaka, that meant paved roads with traffic controls and raised footpaths; cafés that serve lattés and scrambled eggs on toast; Pizza Hut; burger bars and gated malls.
Thankfully beyond this there’s the real Zambia – the one that I had fallen in love with and wanted to see more of. I wanted to be painted to the knee with dust and cajoled by children on the little backstreets; I wanted to be smiled at and waved to by the locals: I knew that soon enough I’d be back on my own paved roads and traffic jams and all of this would fade to memory.
Our next destination was Taita Falcon Lodge, an hour’s bumpy ride out of town and into a different kind of wilderness than we had been used to. The dust here was a deeper red and the ground stubbly with volcanic rock that bent our tent pegs out of shape and made for stiff nights of fidgety sleep. It was a place of scorpions and wild dogs: a place so far out of civilisation that the stars cast their own shadows and hung like a blanket above the treetops.
We were a few miles down-river from The Fall and high above the Zambezi that twisted through the gorge below and swirled through a succession of rapids. The Lodge is perched on the edge of this precipice and, dressed in colonial splendour took us back a hundred years to the days of Rhodesia and British rule. Carved figures adorn the bar and tables with stark white cloth bedecked with cutlery and glasses; a dozen staff are at hand to serve us but all we want to do is sit at the edge and breathe in this remarkable sight. On the far side is Zimbabwe and mile after mile of scrubland. From time to time a fish eagle – the national bird of Zambi – swoops below us and disappears in the spray. White canvas flaps in the warm breeze and again I am loath to leave this place. In my mind a story is forming; a love story that I will link to the Welsh mountains to capture the contrast. Amongst all the harshness of the climate and the rocks and the jagged plants, not to mention the things that crawl beneath our tents or make funnel webs in the tree roots, we sit in an oasis of opulent calm.
But it is not our destiny to stay here long: our near future lies down there in the gorge; along the thin strip of sand and rock that we can make out alongside the river in the distance.