I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad to leave the comfort of our Africhill bedroom at the lodge, particularly after we got lost on the way to Andora Harbor and everyone we asked for directions told us what they thought we wanted to hear instead of offering actual, helpful directions. (It’s a bit like Ireland, that, though I think the motivations are different. When you ask an Irishman for directions and he says, “Ah, sure, it’s just up the road, you can’t miss it” he spends the rest of the afternoon amused with himself for sending the tourists on a path to nowhere.)
Eventually, we arrived at the sweet little houseboat that would be our home for the next four days and three nights. The Tambonette had an open upper deck with a big table, where we’d congregate and where my brother-in-law and sister-in-law would sleep, and on the lower deck there was a kitchen, a bathroom, a small area where the nephew would either sleep or fish, and then two bedroom cabins. Z and I took one of these and Z-ma had the other. The whole port side at the foot of the bed was wide open, which was both beautiful and unnerving for a clumsy person such as myself. One misstep getting out of my mosquito net in the night, and I’d be in the drink.
My first houseboat failure was actually getting on the boat. My husband’s family were all heave-ho-ing boxes and bags like sailors, and I took two steps up the gangway with my backpack and a bag with nothing in it but a pillow, and I froze. The gangway had no sides and I have bad balance. Z gave a little bark, warning me that people were behind me with actual heavy loads, so I leapt off onto solid ground. Then he came and got my backpack, the bag of pillow, and held out his hand to walk me up the gangway as if I were four years old. He then announced that I was relieved of unloading duties and could stay on the boat with his mother unpacking. It took awhile for me to quit hanging my head in shame. Who can’t walk up a gangway with a pillow?
Before we launched, Z had to go with the captain, Nhamu, to get petrol. They set off in a little motorboat. I love water but I mostly enjoy being beside it, reading a book. One of my first memories was of a little kiddie boat ride—about five little boats in a circle of dirty water—at Lesourdesville Lake Amusement Park in Ohio, where I was not happy, being lifted off of solid ground by my father and dumped into a boat by myself. I can’t remember now if there were tears or just unspoken fear, but what I do remember is peering down into murk thinking that anything could be lurking down there. So despite the fact that Z had on a required life jacket, I figured there was a 75% chance I’d never see him again. I stood at the stern, hands on hips, saying a little prayer of please Jesus, bringing him back safely. Then the motor cut out and Z and Nhamu were just bobbing around in the harbor. I wasn’t sure if this was answer to prayer or not, though it looked to me like eventually the little boat would drift right back to us. Finally, Nhamu was able to get the motor started and they puttered across the harbor, not out of my eyesight, not in crocodile-infested waters, but instead to a little petrol station that I could have swam to if need be. Z was back aboard the Tambonette in just a few minutes and all was right with my world, since I’d mostly forgotten about my gangway failure.
Eventually, everything was loaded and we set sail. This, I loved. The breeze was cool in a way that made me believe it would always be cool and reports about the heat at Kariba were overstated. The size of the lake was shocking, and the landscape was gorgeous. There really just aren’t enough adjectives. It was much more lush than the drive up the day before, and eventually my brother-in-law and nephew were pointing out lumps in the distance that were elephants. We docked somewhere between Spurwing and Fothergill Islands, and within minutes we’d seen upwards of twenty elephants on the shore. Some were splashing in water, some were eating. Our favorites were the babies, one in particular who seemed impossibly small. When the herd crossed from one piece of land to another, all of the grownups surrounded the baby to protect her from predators as they waded through the water. In the far distance was the silhouette of another long line of elephants that reminded me of the puppetry that Z and I had seen last year when we saw Lion King in Las Vegas. Hippos dotted the bank too, just in case we got bored with the pachyderms.
We won’t speak of the lone crocodile that floated by like a log, fooling no one.
Then it got really hot. For me. Everyone else suggested that it wasn’t hot at all and my sister-in-law told me about a trip there in summer during which she was so sick from the heat she couldn’t move. This did nothing to make me feel cooler. I worried I’d have a stroke and based on the desolate drive in, it didn’t appear to me that anyone would be medi-vacing me to a state-of-the-art hospital to cure my ills. I got even more panicky as the sun started down and I heard that boats had to be docked by 6 p.m., so it wasn’t like Nhamu was going to be zipping me back to civilization even if I begged.
The the sun went down, which was gorgeous for almost ten whole minutes before the mozzies started biting, and I had to go downstairs and cover my hot self in long pants, long sleeves, a scarf, and a dousing of DEET. Mosquitos can’t get enough of me—I am delicious. So I got hot again and sat in our little wall-less room and cried. This is NOT the way of Z’s family. Fortunately it was dark by then and there were no lights on (see “mosquitos” above) so when Z came down and said, “You must tell me if something is wrong or if you are just hot and itchy” I was able to say convincingly, “I’m just hot and itchy” when what I really wanted to say was please, please, please can we go back to the Wild Heritage lodge with the Africhill air conditioner above our bed, and then can we please drive back to your way cooler hometown, and then can we please get on a plane and fly to, I don’t know, Greenland, because even Seattle is too hot to live in and I can’t ever be anywhere hot ever again. But then he rubbed my back and I rubbed his and it got cooler and the wind kicked up and the mozzies started biting less, and it was all good again. Also, I took another Xanax and no longer felt like I needed the Holiday Inn Express with AC, and wi-fi (though it should be noted that animals can be seen there on the Discovery channel without fear or heat or insect bites).