Christmas in Kasaba Bay – Arrival

I am a great believer in sharing activities away from work to strengthen team spirit. I proposed to my project colleagues to take advantage of a special cheap offer of Zambia Airways (ZA) to spend the week of Christmas 1992 at on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Northern Zambia. I had found out that there was a lodge known as Kasaba Bay that looked like a good place to stay there. I saw it as an excellent opportunity to visit this rather remote part of Zambia while doing some birdwatching, game-viewing, and fishing.

A great map of the area produced by Ndole Bay lodge. Copyright of Ndole Bay lodge (http://www.ndolebaylodge.com/). Kasaba Bay lodge is on the top right while Ndole Bay is on the top left. Nkamba Bay lodge is on the bottom of the map in the large Nkamba bay.

It was decided that a group was to travel by air: Bruno and Dominique with their two girls Fanny and Collette and their babysitter Beauty. I would go with Mabel, our children Flori and Julio and our babysitter Annie. Although Flori and Fanny and Julio and Collette were over two and one years old respectively, they were used to travelling and Zambia was, for all they knew at the time, their country as they were all brought up there.

Although Giuseppe would not join us as he was spending the holidays with his then girlfriend Lieve in Chipata, Anders, after collecting his girlfriend Birgit who was arriving from Copenhagen, would come by road to join us later their rather ambitious trip to Dar es Salaam. In retrospect Giuseppe was probably the wisest…

We booked the Kasaba Bay Lodge for the week, and it was a full ATR 42 (with about 50 passengers) that landed at Kasaba Bay after an uneventful flight of about two hours. The lodge was very close from the runway, so we got there before our plane started its journey back to Lusaka. The place looked promising with its small bungalows very near the lake shore and a rather large swimming pool with a comfortable thatched bar next to it. Although we were technically in the rainy season, the sky was clear, and it was warm, ideal conditions to enjoy swimming and fishing. We were informed that the the prevalence of bilharzia was very low as very few people lived nearby. Things were looking up and we were very happy to be out of Lusaka.

The plane passengers aimed for various destinations and about one half left by cars while a group of about twenty of us were taken to Kasaba Bay lodge where a reception committee was waiting for us. We did not need much imagination that the reception was rather more solemn than usual, and we were somehow surprised at the rather numerous security personnel stationed at the lodge. There was something amiss and this was dispelled soon with the Manager´s announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen” he started, “welcome to Kasaba Bay lodge. We would like to inform you that His Excellency President Chiluba has honoured us with his presence at the lodge [1]. For this reason, all bookings that are not part of his entourage have been cancelled” That was all he could say before he was rudely interrupted by the waiting crowd, outraged by being “lodgeless”! This of course included us and even the so far polite Japanese visitors that lost their composure!

While the riot was taking place, the Manager tried, fruitlessly, to calm us down. Eventually, realizing that our protestations were futile, we stopped complaining and listened. “Please, do not worry” said a now dishevelled and nervous Manager, “we have made very good alternative arrangements for all of you. You will be taken to another lodge. He then proceeded to inform us that there were two boats ready at the yetty to take us to our new destination and he invited us to move there and wait for instructions.

While we were walking towards the lake, we saw our plane taking off and we realized that we would be at Lake Tanganyika for one week and that we better enjoy it. The ten of us were place in the same boat while the Japanese group and a couple of other foreigners were given the second one.

We were going to a lodge somewhere on the lake shore that I believe was an earlier version of the present Ndole Bay lodge or one sited in that general area. I regret that my memory fails me there.

By now it was near mid-day and the heat was getting intense. The boats were indeed at the jetty but far from ready and under the sun (the nearest trees were around the lodge!). We boarded and accommodated the ladies and our offspring as best as we could under a makeshift shade made of khangas while Bruno and I made sure that all our luggage was loaded on our boat. While this took place, provisions were also being loaded.

We saw rice, bread, cabbages, maize meal, and a couple of cool boxes brought to the boat. While this took place, we established communication with our skipper and learnt that we would navigate about three hours to our destination, that it was only a name to us at the time. The heat was intense, and our children were feeling hot and unhappy, so the situation was getting difficult when loaded was completed and we were ready to go.

But we did not go as we were waiting for chickens and eggs! These did not appear for another fifteen minutes. Once several birds and a few crates arrived, we started our journey and soon we forgot our past experience and got into the contemplation of a beautifully green lake in sharp contrast with the dry mountains that framed it. “Over there is Doctor Congo” joked our skipper referring to the opposite shore, the then Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The water was amazingly clean and warm, but we avoided touching it too much just in case.

It was a relief to set off and to dry our sweat with the lake breeze at last. As soon as we moved from the jetty we realized the enormity of this true land-locked sea with an area of 32,900 km² and a maximum length of 673 km. Encased by the Rift valley mountainous range, the dark green colour of the water was an indication of its depth that averages 500m but that can reach down to 1500m, one of the deepest of our planet. Apart from a large population of Crocodiles and Hippos, several fish species are found and the lake is renowned for its more than 250 species of cichlid fish, most of which are endemic.

We were not after cichlids but sport fish, mainly the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus), although we knew that there were other large game fish such as the Tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus) and Vundu Catfish (Heterobranchus longifilis). We were also aware of the off chance of catching a real monster, the Goliath Tiger fish (Hydrocynus goliath) that also lurked in the lake’s depths. Although unlikely, we knew that some world records for these species had been set here and came well prepared, just in case we had a chance to challenge them…

I had heard stories at Lusaka of people that had caught Nile Perch at the lake, and we had fished them in Kenya years before at Lake Victoria. Apparently, they would catch large perch by trolling at a considerable depth using a barbie doll as their lure! As my daughter did not agree with me using hers, we settled for the more conventional deep action lures! I chose the largest I had.

It was probably the usual African optimism that led the Manager of the Kasaba Bay lodge to say that the trip to Ndole would last one hour. Perhaps he did not know the place, or he travelled in faster boats. Ours, a long wooden contraption with a rather small engine, took the three hours that the skipper mentioned to get to our destination. By the time we arrived was mid-afternoon and we were low on drinking water and, except for our two younger and still suckling babies, we were all suffering from the heat and sunburns.

We disembarked, luckily before the other boat, and we walked in a single file towards the lodge. This was simple but the rooms were nicely set in the garden among rocks and nice tropical plants. There was also a shaded veranda where food would be served. A couple of good BBQ stands were also there among the boulders in the garden. There was no swimming pool but a nice sandy beach where some rather derelict but still usable straw umbrellas were placed. The lake water was amazingly clean, warm, and calm, very tempting to jump in but we decided that it was best to find our rooms first as there would be time lateer to enjoy beach life!

As we walked Bruno said: “Let’s go quickly to get our rooms before the other people pick the best” so we walked fast and got to the reception first and negotiated for our rooms. Although I am not sure that we achieved much, at least we felt satisfied! We were pleased to note that the rooms had new mosquito nets and that they were quite cool thanks to the straw roofs. So, we had a chance to relax and cool down after quite an eventful day. But the day was not yet over.

At about six in the afternoon Bruno made an appearance. “Let´s go for a beer” he said. We agreed and walked to the bar, a roomy where a barman waited for us. We asked for a couple of Mosi beers (the Zambian beer at the time) but we were informed that there was no beer in the lodge as they had not loaded any on our boats! “Maybe with luck they will bring some tomorrow” he said traying to believe his words. This was a bad start!

We spotted a fridge that was plugged in, but we were not sure that there was electricity or that anything was inside it. In any case we insisted: “So, what can we drink then?” we asked. The rather apologetic barman replied, “there are a few sodas, but they were just offloaded from the boats, and they are hot!” As we were not prepared to suffer hot Cokes, we asked what else could he offer, and the choice was whisky or green powder juice!

We did not feel like a scotch, so we settle for the green juice. This was another error. We were served glasses of room temperature green water, which tasted sweet with a weak apple after taste. It was rather undrinkable, and we baptized it “Green Mamba juice”! and we only drank it that day!

We realized that the bar situation was critical and decided to secure the bottle of whisky, so we went to our room to get money. When we returned, we learnt that our only hope for a decent drink had already been “booked” by the Japanese group. “We are in a bad condition”, Bruno said while we were leaving the bar never to return!

[1] The late Frederick Chiluba, then the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, had beaten Kenneth Kaunda in the first democratic elections and he had probably decided that he needed a rest after the campaign. (Or maybe he shared my thoughts on team building and chose the same location!).

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