YOU can’t beat a few days at Kariba, Zimbabwe’s Riviera, even if those few days are in October “Suicide Month” in Central Africa and most of them begin at 4am with the raucous instruction on a powerful P/A system to ”Wakey-wakey…it’s tiger time!”
REPORT BY DUSTY MILLER
If that weren’t bad enough Lulu warbling “I’m a tiger, I’m a tiger” or the collective soaring brass, woodwind and timpani of a whiskery anonymous trad jazz band belting “Tiger rag” then rents the pre-dawn air.
It’s as cool as it will be, but a cold shower blasts away cobwebs, rams the brain back into gear.
Spare a thought for the cook in this fishermen’s chalet at Chararara campsite. He was banging around at 3am. Nine fishermen have between them 18 filled rolls to keep them going through at least 10 hours on the steaming water in sultry heat under a punishing cloudless sun. And the filling is crisp grilled bacon and hard-fried eggs.
They are divided between cooler boxes on three powerful speed boats. Other boxes contain lager, cider, cooldrinks, sparkling and still water surrounded by ice.
Still more are filled with ice to keep kapenta bait (even now being haggled over on a rust-bucket rig) reasonably fresh until needed to “chum” the water or be pierced by fishing hooks to tempt the eye and snapping mouth of a hungry tiger fish.
I join the anglers for a hurried breakfast. No one eats much. You don’t want to be uncomfortably replete on a five or six metre long open-hulled power boat setting off for 10 or 11 hours on the water.
Soon the air is replete with the gorgeous, mouthwateringly rich aroma of good coffee…or tea, rooibos or drinking chocolate. One guy who needs a sugar boost glugs a chilled coke. Food is light: mielie meal porridge is popular. Others prefer oats, flakes or Weetabix; a piece of fruit; square of chocolate or a sweet biscuit.
I’ll always associate rusks with fishing trips. In the unlikely event you wanted to buy rusks in the UK you’d have to go to the baby counter, but for some reason here biltong and rusks go together like beer, sunburn and mosquito bites with fishing. Big, rock-hard and as dry as a cemetery full of bones, they must be soaked in the coffee to make them vaguely digestible!
I don’t always go out with the anglers before daybreak! In fact if I don’t have to I mooch around the chalet until proper breakfast at a civilized hour waiting with eager anticipation for a stunning sunrise. It comes about a minute earlier each day at this time of the year, directly opposite my bed on the stoep of the chalet. A gnarled baobab tree — the upside down tree of African mythology — venerably old when the man-made lake began to fill 52 years ago has its nightmare wild bare branches kissed by a rising sun from the lightest coral pink, through cerise, vermilion, to scarlet, crimson and finally old gold, like the yolks on the organic eggs in the filled rolls.
Within minutes the sun clears the tree and heat immediately begins to build up. It will peak about 2pm…long after the slightly cooling morning breeze across the lake dies down and will still be harsh at 4:30pm when the diamond mesh gates to the electronic weigh bays are slammed shut to establish who had today’s best catch.
We arrived in dribs and drabs in several vehicles for this year’s “Tiger” and — sod’s law — the last to arrive was bringing the food. No train smash these days. Not long ago, you’d have had to pay through the nose for a meal at one of the lakeside hotels or drive miles to Kariba Country Club to eat affordably.
Now, just stroll across to River Bend Café run by Judith Meacham where cooking is to order-takes a wee while—but is superlative. Nothing fancy: fillet steak, egg, chips and salad US$13 which two of our party declared delicious. The rest went for Kariba bream, chips and salads, which couldn’t have been fresher unless we’d cooked it on the boat, at US$11.
On the second day of our seven night stay, Oom Jimmy still missing with the graze! I wandered across for a leisurely farmer’s breakfast: two eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, baked beans, toast, marmalade and bottomless pot of rooibos for US$6, eaten on a verandah overlooking a vlei with 40 or 50 species of birds and waterfowl besporting themselves, the odd monster croc slithering into the water and a small herd of elephant (before a large herd of fish poachers—labourers from the banana farm—scare them off!)