Livingstone, Zambia: The view beyond the bridge
Beyond the main attractions at the Victoria Falls – including the genteel lunches and cocktails at Avani and Royal Livingstone hotels ─ there’s more to Livingstone.
By all means do the fear-defying bungee, ride the microlight, zip line over the gorge and descend to the bottom of the falls. But don’t leave it there.
There’s much to see beyond this in Livingstone.
There is a craft market on the city’s main drag. Although it takes a while to find that special item amid the curio chaff – as with all markets – this one is smaller and less overwhelming than the one at the falls. An even better idea is to go to Mukuni Village on the outskirts of the town where the crafts are made ─ and meet the crafters. Any taxi operator will take you there. Also, on the Mosi-o-Tunya road, about a kilometre out of town, you can see crafters making amazing rattan benches.
The local visual art market very much alive. There are two centres on the road from the falls into the centre of Livingstone. One, Bush Art Gallery, displays the artists’ work. The other, Mosi-o-Tunya Art Centre, features artists creating their works and also includes an open-air gallery.
In the town itself, the dreadlocked Peter Mtonga will wow you with bold painting as well as artwork made from millet seeds. The black, brown and faun coloured seeds are carefully stuck on a board, lending the work a depth and earthiness. Peter, who also works with mosaics using crushed stone, displays his work at Da Cantons, the pizza place adjacent to his studio.
And further up Lusaka road, Bernard Kopeka’s art centre, features both work in wood as well as paint on canvas. Apart from representations of animals, his work features nationally recognizable figures such as Kenneth Kaunda and also commentary on community issues.
Animals feature prominently in the work of many artists, including Peter Mtonga and Bernard Kopeka. It’s their bread and butter, responding to what many tourists want. But sometimes, especially with Peter and Bernard, their deeper ambitions come through. In such works, you can see that the animals signify something bigger: e.g. rootedness over time (“Africa my beginning”), resilience through tough times or the importance of nature preservation.
For a bigger concentration of contemporary art, make a visit to the Wayi Wayi Arts Centre, located in a suburb and just off the road to the airport. For the art lover, Wayi Wayi may turn out to be a highlight of your trip. The owners, Agness Buya Yombwe and Lawrence Yombwe, both leading figures in the Zambian art world, run the centre with their children, also steeped in the arts. At this centre you can buy quality artwork or just view the paintings and sculptures ─ or you can chat with Lawrence and Agnes about how Bemba culture and women’s rights influence their respective work. The centre includes a gallery, artist studios, and spaces for children’s art workshops.
You may want to follow this up with a visit to the National Art Gallery. Housed in an impressive building, the gallery features both current and long-term exhibitions. Some of the short-term exhibitions feature the work of amateurs, but you will also be able to see the work of some giants of the Zambian art world. Entry is free and it’s open even on Sundays.
Livingstone is not big on shopping centres and consumption. But if you’re looking for good quality chitenge material (cloth used by Zambians) at reasonable prices, make a flying visit to Maramba market. Locals love shopping there – before national days employee groups, women’s groups and groups of teachers buy reams of material to make matching outfits. You can see these at parades through the main street during public holidays.
Nightlife in Livingstone isn’t exactly fireworks. It’s not as vibey as Lusaka, but there are several spots where you can listen, tap your feet or take to the dance floor with locals. Places such as Limphos and Fez Bar target the young with a mix of DJ-driven music: Afro-pop, hip-hop, house, and music from the US charts. Zambezi Café, Jolly Boys and Taonga have a broader appeal. Zambezi Café features live jazz bands, Jolly Boys pumps out reggae beats and Taonga showcases well known Zambian pop artists at its frequent Sunday family shows that include barbecues and jumping castles.
Like eating out? Livingstone has a sprinkling of good restaurants and the guidebooks can provide you with rankings. Typically, there’s a leading eating house for each food style, for example, Golden Leaf for topnotch curries, Olgas for delicious Italian and Ocean Basket for spicy seafood. If you visit a country such as Zambia, it makes sense, at least once, to try to eat what the locals eat. Popular places with the locals and serving tasty traditional dishes are Zambezi Café, Flavours Restaurant and, for cheaper food on-the-go, Food Palace.