Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

My Canadian/American friends and family have celebrated the July 1st/July 4th long weekend with the classic activities of day drinking, BBQs, and boats. I’m never one to miss out on such festivities – even when in a very un-North American location. With this on my mind I spent the long weekend (Heroes Day and Unity Day here!) on a houseboat cruising Lake Kariba.

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Before launching into stories about how much fun I had I thought I should start with a little background on Lake Kariba since I knew pretty much nothing about it before setting foot on the boat (and also I have too many pretty sunrise/sunset photos for one post)

Lake Kariba

Lake Kariba is the world’s largest man-made lake situated on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was created by damming the Zambezi river with the Kariba Dam. We drove across the dam as we entered Zimbabwe and it was massive. You look out to your right and see a huge lake and on the left a steep drop. This dam powers (or attempts to power) all of Zambia through Zesco electricity. However having hydroelectric power in a location with only seasonal rainfall has it’s drawbacks. Zambia suffers from frequent “load shedding” power cuts across the country to conserve the energy that is insufficient to power the whole country all of the time.

Since I’ve been here we have had minimal power cuts but this is apparently since I arrived shortly after the conclusion of the Wet Season and also the falling price of copper has meant the mines in the north of Zambia have been less active.

Lake Kariba

By building the Dam Zambia burned all of the trees in the valley to create a layer of fertile sediment and flooded it with water. Although this happened almost 60 years ago there are still petrified trees everywhere – especially surrounding islands. This creates a kind of eerie feel at times but also great character for landscape shots. These tree stumps are also quite the obstacle course for boat drivers – I’m glad we had a great crew helping us navigate. We only got stuck once!

Lake Kariba

Lake Kariba has a very high density of crocodiles. I heard the statistic of one crocodile for every 250M. Thus although the days were hot and the water looked tempting… only the brave among us dared swim – and only VERY far from land. Crocodiles can actually swim surprisingly far… though it’s hard for them to attack you without rocks or land to throw you against (on the bright side?)

Lake Kariba

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Our house boat was moored in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe side of the lake has national parks and, therefore, better wildlife sightings. So I got to know a little bit more about a new country.

Even though there are neighbors, there are quite a few differences between Zambia and Zimbabwe observable even in the limited time I spent on land in Zimbabwe.

  • The police are even more corrupt: Just crossing the border is quite an affair and as soon as you are across you are bound to encounter police stops soliciting bribes.
  • There is no cash… anywhere: Actual conversation that is very common for Zimbabwe: Us “Do you have an ATM where we can take out cash” MarineLand employee “We have lots of ATMs but there is no cash in any of them.”
    • USD is king in Zimbabwe where the currency is pretty meaningless. You can’t withdraw USD from ATMs in Zambia so in general our group was short on cash causing quite a few headaches.
  • There was a history of more organization – the Zimbabwe side of Lake Kariba is all national parks, the Zambian side is… whatever goes
  • The architecture: You can feel the European influence in Zimbabwe much more than in Zambia.

Enough history/geography I’ll write about the fun stuff soon 🙂

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