Zambian Jewels!

If you look at a map of Africa and consider only that part of the continent South of the equator, then Zambia sits slap-bang in the middle of that picture, surrounded by Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Location of Zambia, courtesy of Google Maps.

It’s a country of great natural beauty and even though I’ve now lived here for more than 7 years, I can’t really do it justice with a few words and pictures.

But let me try to give you a decent sample on these pages.

The Zambezi River pouring over the Victoria Falls, seen at the Zambian side. Here you wear a raincoat and take your pictures very quickly before your camera (or phone, in this case) is drenched. © Ron Smit, April 2017

Probably the most popular pictures taken by many tourists, feature the Victoria Falls in one way or another. “Discovered” by David Livingstone, and named after his queen at that time, the falls were already known (and still are) by local names: Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”), and Shungu Namutitima (“boiling water”). The former is better known and has also resulted in the local beer being branded as “Mosi”. (And it’s very nice, too!) I have visited the Falls at different times of the year, in dry seasons and wet. At some times, when the river is low, you can see multiple streams running over the exposed basalt cliffs, and at other times there is so much water and spray in the air, that it is impossible to see anything (let alone risk a camera in conditions similar to that inside a washing machine).

Rafting on the Zambezi River, downstream from the Victoria Falls. Lots of fun and excitement. Yours truly in the blue helmet. Photo by Bundu Adventures, with permission.

The Zambezi is a very long river.

From its source in far northwestern Zambia, it flows through Angola, re-enters Zambia, flows down through the West of the country, forms the border with Namibia, touches a tiny bit of Botswana and rushes over the Victoria Falls. From there, after delivering a dose of adrenalin to rafting enthusiasts, it continues as the border with Zimbabwe towards man-made Lake Kariba, providing electricity from the Kariba Dam hydro-electric scheme, to both countries. Further downstream, it forms the border between the Lower Zambezi and Mana Pools National Parks, in Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively. Then it enters Mozambique and heads towards the Indian Ocean. This river has a fascinating history of stream capture and re-routing as the elevation of the African continent changed over the millennia, but that’s another story, for another day.

The capital city of Zambia, Lusaka, has been my base and my home for the last few years. What to say about Lusaka? Well, it’s a city, pretty peaceful, relatively clean as African cities go. Generally a green and friendly place. Some call it a boring city – it’s not located on an ocean or on a river, or against a mountain. But you could argue that too much excitement in an African city is not always a good thing…

One of our project vehicles on a suburban street in Lusaka. Flamboyant trees providing colour, as they do here for a large part of the year. © Ron Smit

Zambia is an excellent country for travelling by road, provided that you are not in too great a hurry, provided that you have a certain tolerance for potholes and lots of large trucks. It’s a tolerance that you acquire after living some years in Africa.

North of Lusaka, towards the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we find the economic heart of Zambia: the Copperbelt.

This area, as well as the Northwestern Province, is the source of a significant proportion of the world’s copper, along with some cobalt, gold as well as some other associated metals. And it provides a decent proportion of the country’s employment.

Copper cathode production, ready for export, stacked at one of Zambia’s major copper mines. These sheets of refined copper contain more than 99,9% Cu. © Ron Smit, 2015

Zambia is also a major producer of the world’s emeralds, with the largest single producing mine, coincidentally located near the Copperbelt.

Panorama view over the Kagem emerald mine, somewhere during 2017. For scale, note the mining trucks in the bottom of the pit.
© Ron Smit

The various aspects of mining in Zambia are very interesting.

For me, the industrial process that starts with extracting brownish or greenish rocks from the earth and that eventually ends with refined copper, is fascinating. As are the complicated geological processes that result in the creation of emeralds in very specific locations, and the steps involved in turning glassy green rocks into valuable gemstones. But then I am a geologist.

A little raw emerald in my clutches, prior to auction. Photograph taken by a colleague, with my permission.

Let’s show you some somewhat more typical images from Africa, starting with the South Luangwa National Park, probably the best place to see a large variety of wildlife.

The king of the animal kingdom, resting on a riverbank, South Luangwa National Park, eastern Zambia. From the wound below his left eye, looks like he’s just had a disagreement. I wonder what the other guy looks like. © Ron Smit, 2020

To the West of the Luangwa valley, we have visited the inselbergs of the Mutinondo Wilderness, rounded granite hills surrounded by Miombo woodland. A fantastic area to walk, swim in small rivers and small waterfalls (no crocodiles here), hike up onto the hills and to generally enjoy the surroundings.

The “whaleback” hills formed by erosion of rocks surrounding these granites that intruded about 1 billion years ago. If you hike up to the top of one of these whalebacks, you can see unspoilt bush for literally miles around, in every direction. © Ron Smit, 2020

Further to the Northeast, there is much more natural beauty. In the last month of 2020, we only went as far as the Kapishya Hot Springs, a really unique spot in Zambia.

The best place to end the day (or to start it): the Kapishya Hot Springs. Hot water bubbles from beneath the sand and flows into the Mansha River. We ended 2020 (and started 2021) in this pool, with a glass of champagne. Looking forward to our next visit there!
© Ron Smit, 2020

So there you have it: A small sample of what Zambia has to offer. There is of course much more that I have not shown (and there are many places that we haven’t even visited yet!), but if this selection does not whet your appetite to visit, then I don’t know what will.

Ending my story with an image over the same river where it started: A very African view of the sunset, behind a Baobab tree.
© Ron Smit