Tuesday, 1 December 2009

From rags to riches

We’d just been to the Devil’s Pool and we were dripping wet but we asked Kelvin to lead us to The Royal Livingstone – one of the most exclusive resorts on the bank of the Zambezi River.

Here, we were going to meet up with the rest of the group to enjoy sundowners and treat ourselves to a rather posh meal.

Kelvin took us out of the park and then through the security gate into the immense grounds of the resort. This was a world apart from Grubby’s Grotto: exquisite buildings, each with a giant, ornate gold framed mirror to separate the entrances to the four suites were dotted about manicured lawns adorned with Picasso-esque stautes; porters dressed in elegant, black uniforms with starched shirts drove about on 8-seater golf buggies; there was even a mini national park within the grounds where zebra and giraffe walked free.

We spent a good deal of time walking through the grounds until we reached the main building of the resort. Here we were greeted by a stunning open-air, riverside bar area with cushion-covered seats and perfect views of the mist-enveloped edge of Vic Falls.

A small lawn led up to opulent restaurant with its pristine white tablecloths and chair covers and smartly dressed waiters. Along from the restaurant was a traditional piano bar with a dark wood interior, heavy furniture and luxurious fittings.

Dan and I in our damp swimwear felt more than a little underdressed and finally found the toilets where we could quickly change into some more appropriate clothing. The toilets themselves were unlike any we’d seen in Africa: for one thing, half the insect population of Africa didn’t reside here, neither was squatting required and nor were your flipflops left sodden from traipsing through the liquid leftovers of your predecessor’s mal-judged aim.

The toilets were utterly luxurious with working flushes (not a bucket and scoop), soap at the sinks (rather than the same bucket and scoop) and think cotton hand towels (rather than a shake and a quick wipe on your jeans).

We emerged to find the rest of the group arriving and settled down to watch the sun set with a Pimms at the bar. The sun set was a magnificent array of reds and oranges made all the more spectacular by the clouds of mist rising from the falls.
After a drink we headed to the restaurant where we set about ordering from a fantastic menu of beef carpaccio and pork terraine to Zambezi bream and lamb loin. It was expensive (about 5 days’ budget for me) but it was so worth it. We had a small cup of mushroom and rosemary soup as a chef’s complement before our starters emerged and then apple sorbet between courses.

The clientele at the restaurant were mostly residents at the hotel and dressed in shirts and elegant summer dresses for dinner. Most of them were in the over-fifties bracket and it was all too obvious that this is the standard of travel they had come accustomed to.

Whilst it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, I was almost happy to get back to the simplicity of my tent. I feel privileged to be able to experience the more luxurious side of life (even if only for a meal) but the world is a far richer place than white tablecloths and crisp bed linen that you can only really get to know if you get out there in the thick of it. When you travel in luxury you are always kept at arm’s length from the darker underbelly of the world: you experience the good but are sheltered from the bad and the ugly, the poverty and the hardships, the struggles and strains – those things that give this world grit and character.

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