A cooler Kariba at ‘Tiger time’

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I DIDN’T have to check my archived files to know that this equivalent article most years is usually about Kariba in general, the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT) in particular and invariably focuses on the intense, merciless, shimmering, energy-sapping heat of the rugged Zambezi Valley in October each year.

Eating Out with Dusty Miller

In Central Africa, October is widely nicknamed Suicide Month and I’m sure the records of Zimbabwe Republic Police and its predecessor force reflect a huge jump in the annual graph depicting statistics for self-immolation during this debilitating, heat-choked month, as arid earth, tinder-dry vegetation and skeletal wildlife wait impatiently for the cooling, life-giving rains, which are usually at least another month away.

This year, rain lashed northern and eastern Zimbabwe unusually early and violent storms sank a kapenta rig in the middle of Kariba’s eastern basin. Thankfully the crew (usually four-to-six hands) survived, shaken but unscathed.

The storm caused temperatures to plummet for most of the ensuing week. Noontime shade temperatures hovered “only” around 30C. During the previous two years’ competitions, the mercury hit the mid-40s by lunchtime and on at least one occasion it was 56C in full sun…45C in shade…33,5C water temperature, a metre below the surface at 2pm.

When we arrived (this year) in Charara, Kariba, well in advance of the competition beginning on the Wednesday, the Valley was as usual hot and humid. Smoke from scores, if not hundreds, of veldt fires burning unchecked on both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides of the lake meant a massive build-up of thick blue-grey haze.

Painful sunburn
Sunday was the same and we spent almost 12 hours out on the water, under an almost cloudless (but smoggy-hazy) sky, catching little but painful sunburn in exposed areas, working up gigantic appetites for a traditional Zimbabwean braaivleis camp-fire supper that evening outside our host’s recently acquired fishing chalet at Charara and heroic thirsts which could only be slaked with copious draughts of beautifully chilled Golden Pilsener Lager.

The beer washed down pre-prandial nibbles of thinly cut belly of pork, the crackling crisp and crunchy after a few minutes over fire coals.

Those were eventually followed by platters of boerewors, the rich, spicy, farmers’ sausage of southern Africa; juicy, dripping thick pork chops, with fat cooked to an edible turn and marinated export quality beef fillet steaks.

With a huge bowl of fresh colourful salad, comforting glutinous sadza and piping hot gravy, thick with onion and julienned carrots, this was definitely the stuff to give the troops.

We mainly tend to eat supper early in Africa and the evening meal is served even earlier than usual when competitors in the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT) are routinely rudely awoken by deafeningly loud music, from a P/A system which sounds as if it is announcing the end of the world, at 4am daily.

By 4:30am the anglers have usually finished ablutions (there are no washrooms on the speedboats from which they’ll fish for probably more than 10 hours from the start of the day’s competition.) Hot, usually sweet, thick, coffee is gulped gratefully and, traditionally, Boer-style savoury rusks are munched hungrily. Perhaps a bowl of cereal is wolfed down by those with better honed time management skills than others!

They have to drive out to scattered kapenta rigs to haggle for bait for “chumming” Kariba’s famous fighting tiger fish and be at the start line before 6am.

The pre-dawn morning is a gunmetal grey silent backdrop until powerful 4×4 engines are gunned into roaring life. Filled rolls wrapped in tinfoil are stored away for the day’s nourishment; packets of sweet and savoury biscuits, crisps, fresh fruit and vegetables; the ubiquitous biltong: dried strips of beef or game-meat. Cooler boxes are packed with ice maintaining a suitable temperature for beers, cool-drinks and—more recently — bottles of mineral and spring water.

Drink Kariba!

When I first “did” the Tiger Tournament yonks ago, I’d sweep my bush hat under the waves from the boat and thirstily drink my fill of Kariba! Now, youngsters pay 50c, US$1 and even US$1,50 a bottle for so-called “spa” water. (I often chuckle to myself recalling the Only Fools and Horses episode where Del Boy and Rodney bottled therir kitchen tap-water and, briefly, successfully flogged it as Peckham Spa.)

Mind you, in early visits to Kariba, whether for what is recognised as the world’s largest single-species freshwater fishing tournament (this year down to 121 teams in about 200 speedboats), or just for a long weekend’s fun, it was certainly not unknown for us to plunge into the man-made lake from houseboats, yachts and other craft for a welcome, cooling refreshing dip, before continuing the voyage.

Not these days, thank you, with four and five-metre crocodiles very, very threateningly, menacingly visible almost everywhere on “our” side of the lake.

The storm on Sunday/Monday completely and effectively dowsed the veldt fires (many lit by poachers) and when I visited the wonderfully comfortable Hornbill Lodge on Mica Point, near Kariba itself on the Tuesday, the air was like wine: good, sparkling, vintage champagne of considerable cost.

Thatched Hornbill Lodge (US$150 a night all inclusive) is run by Jackie Millar, wife of Harare South farmer Tommy Millar and despite being bijoux and boutique to the nth degree (it’s only on about a terraced acre overlooking the spectacular lake) has been descried by several visitors as second only, on Kariba, to the decidedly up-market and rather expensive Bumi Hills Safari Lodge with its magnificent views, especially of Starvation Island.

You can read more about Kariba, KITFT and Hornbill Lodge in the Dusty Miller Travel Column in tomorrow’s NewsDay.
dustym@zimind/co.zw

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