Aquae An­ima Vivens – Royal Chundu

Indwe - - Contents - Text: Nicky Fur­niss Images © Royal Chundu

Ac­cord­ing to science, up to 60 % of the hu­man adult body is com­prised of wa­ter. The brain and the heart alone are com­posed of 73 % wa­ter. It is no won­der then that so many peo­ple have such an emo­tional and in­stinc­tive re­sponse to Royal Chundu – a river­side hide­away that tugs on the heart­strings.

Royal Chundu is a lux­ury sa­fari lodge and the only ho­tel in Zam­bia en­dorsed by Re­lais & Chateaux. It’s si­t­u­ated al­most equidis­tant be­tween the Zam­bian town of Liv­ing­stone – a favourite hol­i­day spot for those want­ing to view the grandeur of the Vic­to­ria Falls from both sides of the bor­der – and the Kazun­gula Ferry cross­ing, where Zam­bia and Botswana are di­vided by the Zam­bezi River (or the Chobe River if you’re Botswanan). Wa­ter is an in­te­gral part of life here. Rivers de­mar­cate coun­tries (Namibia and Zimbabwe’s bor­ders also meet at this point), and of­fer a source of liveli­hood and sus­te­nance to those who live on their banks. They also at­tract thou­sands of tourists ev­ery year who come to won­der at the awe-in­spir­ing den­sity of game along the Chobe flood­plains, not to men­tion the bucket list at­trac­tion of the Falls. Up­stream from the fa­mous “Smoke that Thun­ders”, the Zam­bezi River moves at a more se­date pace, and it is from this that ev­ery­thing at Royal Chundu takes its cue.

“Wa­ter does not re­sist. Wa­ter flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a ca­ress.” – Mar­garet At­wood

Af­ter dry game re­serves and dusty dirt roads, the River Lodge ap­pears like an oa­sis as you are wel­comed by one of the ever-friendly staff mem­bers, led over a bridge with a happy fish-filled pond on ei­ther side, and pre­sented with your first view of the mag­nif­i­cent Zam­bezi River am­bling along so qui­etly it’s hard to be­lieve that it will soon turn into a thrash­ing, roar­ing beast when it hits the Falls down­river. Here though, two sets of rapids co­coon this patch of river frontage, mak­ing it serenely calm, and en­tirely pri­vate.

While you sip your wel­come drink, the ex­pert hands of the lodge’s mas­sage ther­a­pists work away your travel-in­duced knots, while one of the man­agers chats to you about your itin­er­ary.

“have you also learned that se­cret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? that the river is ev­ery­where at the same time… and that the present only ex­ists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the fu­ture.” – hermann hesse

There is a lot to do here – from bush walks and cruises, to cul­tural tours and vis­its to at­trac­tions in the sur­round­ing area. But as with the river it­self, guests are en­cour­aged to take things as slowly or as quickly as they wish. Sched­ules are fluid here, and can be changed to suit your whims – which are guaranteed to in­clude more than your ex­pected share of want­ing to sim­ply watch the river float by. Time is not a con­cern here – ex­cept when you re­alise that your trip is com­ing to an end and you wished you had booked a few ex­tra days.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is con­tained in wa­ter.” – Lo­ran Eisely

Ten beau­ti­ful chalets sit perched on stilts along the river bank, with pri­vate decks to best en­joy the view and the sooth­ing sound of the river lap­ping against the river­bank un­der each suite. King-sized beds, ro­man­ti­cally draped in mos­quito net­ting, en-suite bath­rooms dot­ted with heav­enly-smelling ameni­ties and an end­less num­ber of spots to re­lax un­der the trees, swing in a hammock or take a dip in the pool make River Lodge a haven that has guests – par­tic­u­larly fam­i­lies – com­ing back time and time again.

But for those crav­ing quiet soli­tude and the ut­most in pri­vacy, Is­land Lodge,

on Royal Chundu’s very own Katomboro Is­land, is like find­ing Nev­er­land in the mid­dle of the African bush. Ac­cessed by a 10-minute boat ride from River Lodge, it might as well be 10 hours from the main­land. The eight guests at a time who are priv­i­leged enough to ex­pe­ri­ence the is­land are so bliss­fully well looked af­ter by the staff that all thoughts of work and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties float ca­su­ally down the river, as you sit on the main deck feast­ing on five-star cui­sine and con­tem­plat­ing an af­ter­noon snooze in your beau­ti­ful suite.

“thou­sands have lived with­out love, not one with­out wa­ter.” – Wh Au­den

WH Au­den clearly thought love and wa­ter were mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive, but at Is­land Lodge, you can have both. The four suites on the is­land are dec­o­rated in pretty shades of white and blue that per­fectly com­ple­ment the river views below them. And in­deed, ev­ery­thing is de­signed to make the river the star of the show. Who needs a wall? Es­pe­cially when the en­tire front of the suite is floor-to­ceil­ing slid­ing glass doors that open up onto an ex­pan­sive deck, com­plete with bean­bag loungers and a ta­ble and chairs, should you opt for a ro­man­tic can­dlelit din­ner on the deck. The gi­ant bed faces the river, as does the lounge, and the glass-fronted shower – where else can you lather up to the morn­ing an­them of hip­pos har­rumph­ing?

But while out­door show­ers were once the height of lux­ury, Is­land Lodge takes it one step fur­ther. As if a re­lax­ing sun­set cruise along the river – in­clud­ing cock­tails and de­li­cious nib­bles – weren’t ro­man­tic enough, noth­ing com­pares to com­ing “home” to find the one cor­ner of your deck lit with the soft glow of paraf­fin lamps, and the gi­ant out­door bath­tub filled with bub­bles. Grab­bing two glasses and bub­bles of a dif­fer­ent kind, we sank into the hot wa­ter and toasted our amaz­ing good for­tune to have found our­selves in this beau­ti­ful place. And then we just sighed and en­joyed the sounds of noc­tur­nal an­i­mals of the African bush awak­en­ing around us, just as we were ready to feast on an­other out­stand­ing meal be­fore snug­gling into bed.

“My es­cape is to just get in a boat and dis­ap­pear on the wa­ter.” – Carl hi­aasen

Af­ter a few days on Is­land Lodge, you in­vari­ably feel the urge to in­ter­act with this beau­ti­ful river, rather than just look­ing at it. One of the most en­joy­able ways of do­ing this is to sign up for a ca­noe ride. Start­ing at the Ko­tomb­ora rapids, ex­pert guides pad­dle you down­stream in in­flat­able ca­noes along chan­nels be­tween the many lit­tle is­lands that dot the river. The jour­ney is at times se­date, at other times ex­hil­a­rat­ing – these are cer­tainly not the in­fa­mous Grade 4 rapids one finds below the Falls, but they still pro­vide just enough speed and bumpi­ness to add to the fun. Ei­ther way, it is all the while spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful, bor­dered on ei­ther side by lush green­ery.

“Rest is not idle­ness, and to lie some­times on the grass un­der trees on a sum­mer’s day, lis­ten­ing to the mur­mur of the wa­ter, or watch­ing the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lub­bock

All of that ex­cite­ment cer­tainly works up an ap­petite – and luck­ily, we had been promised a pic­nic on the river banks as part of our trip. The word “pic­nic” con­jures up many an im­age, but not once did I

imag­ine that it would in­volve Per­sian car­pets, a ta­ble with linen and sil­ver­ware, and a waiter wait­ing with icy glasses of Pimm’s and lemon­ade. The chef had set up shop next to the cus­tom-built braai and pizza oven, and clearly thought we had worked up enough of an ap­petite to feed an army. Dif­fer­ent types of meat and sal­ads, sat next to slices of pizza, veg­gie skew­ers and braaibrood­jies – it took sev­eral trips to sam­ple it all, by which time our stom­achs were round and pro­trud­ing like pup­pies’ tum­mies.

Luck­ily, there was an­other Per­sian car­pet strewn with cush­ions laid out be­neath the trees, as well as two ham­mocks strung be­tween them. We set­tled de­li­ciously into these and rocked our­selves gen­tly to sleep, wak­ing only to sip on our Pimm’s, or to wan­der over to the dessert swing (yes, swing) to nib­ble on straw­ber­ries and choco­late mousse and brown­ies.

Once you have had you fill of all of this re­lax­ation, the ca­noes are wait­ing to whisk you down­stream to the lodge, or you can opt to walk back, ex­plor­ing the is­land as you go, mar­vel­ling at its 23 Baobab and 1000-year-old be­he­moth Jack­alberry trees.

“the tree that is be­side the run­ning wa­ter is fresher and gives more fruit.” – Saint teresa of Avila

We cel­e­brated our last night at Is­land Lodge with a su­perb Zam­bian tast­ing menu. Few would think that tra­di­tional Zam­bian sta­ples could be trans­formed into haute cui­sine – least of all ex­ec­u­tive chef Sun­gani Phiri – but once he started ex­per­i­ment­ing with the foods he grew up with, he dis­cov­ered a whole new world of fine-din­ing Zam­bian cui­sine. We feasted

on fresh­wa­ter cray­fish with bean velouté, Zam­bezi bream, and tra­di­tional mil­let por­ridge dressed up with ice cream and oat crum­ble, which is now pos­si­bly my favourite dessert of all time.

About 90 % of ev­ery­thing served at Royal Chundu is sourced within a 4 km ra­dius of the lodge, and in par­tic­u­lar from the two neigh­bour­ing vil­lages, Mushekwa and Mu­luka, which also sup­ply the lodge with the ma­jor­ity of their staff who are trained on­site. These vil­lagers de­rive a liv­ing from sell­ing fish, veg­eta­bles, eggs and wild mush­rooms to the lodge, who in turn as­sist them with the cul­ti­va­tion of their gar­dens, a school for their chil­dren, and other ini­tia­tives. The lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the lodge have formed a beau­ti­ful sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship, which is part of what makes Royal Chundu so spe­cial.

No trip here would be com­plete with visit­ing Mushekwa Vil­lage, where ma­tri­arch, Edith Mushekwa, will proudly show you around – from the large veg­etable gar­den that is ir­ri­gated year round by the tides of the Zam­bezi it­self, to their homes, and their way of life. Edith cred­its the lodge for pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment to the area and for al­low­ing her to ed­u­cate her chil­dren. And by ex­ten­sion she says that she views ev­ery guest as a gift who con­tin­ues to al­low their way of life to con­tinue – the warm wel­come you re­ceive from ev­ery­one here shows that she is not alone in think­ing this.

“Wa­ter is suf­fi­cient... the spirit moves over wa­ter.” – Friedrich Ni­et­zsche

They say that Zam­bians are gen­er­ally happy, friendly peo­ple, but Edith and the peo­ple she lives with could pos­si­bly be the hap­pi­est Zam­bians I have ever met. Then again, she gets to live be­side this ma­jes­tic river and en­joy its sooth­ing rhythms all year round, while we are only given a small taste of it – but it is cer­tainly a taste that I will savour al­ways.

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