Once upon a time deep in the heart of Africa, out in the midst of the mighty Zambezi River where canny crocodiles cruise and burly hippopotamus wallow, I set foot on an almost-secret island, a truly wild escape for roamers and romantics.
This tiny hideaway was a crossroads and resting point for wanderers heading north or south through Zambia and seeking respite from the rigours of the road.
Jungle Junction was a discrete haven for dreamers, a place for lazy days spent in cotton hammocks strung at considerate intervals beside the river, a place to pause and reflect about their adventures. All the while the great Zambezi surged headlong past the island towards its inevitable plunge over the mighty Victoria Falls a few miles downriver.
Jungle Junction’s existence was, at that time, known only by word-of-mouth. Two lads from Botswana had created the camp after painstaking negotiations with the local chief. They sought no publicity whatsoever, printed no brochures …. and access to the island was an adventure in itself. It was the case that only those meant to get there ….
Check-in was at a nondescript house in Livingstone, the Zambian town closest to the Victoria Falls. Here guests signed a document absolving everyone of any blame whatsoever should any of the following occur:
Passport, cash, cards and anything else deemed precious were shrink-wrapped and locked away. No money was allowed on the island, a percipient rule that prevented theft and avoided many other hassles. Everything paid for at Jungle Junction went on a tab to be paid on return to Livingstone.
We jumped into the back of a truck and set off to a rendezvous point an hour upriver where we climbed into narrow wooden dugout canoes. Backpacks were stuffed into dry-bags … just in case.
Once afloat, we shot several rapids with water gushing into our laps while keeping a constant wary watch for hippo. It was not a journey for the faint-hearted. Our first sighting of Jungle Junction was Hut 8, half-hidden among trees, merely a double bed beneath a mosquito net on a wooden platform with grass roof. No castaway could have wanted more.
The camp kitchen sat beside a covered boma serving as lounge, bar and dance hall. The bar was an upturned wooden dugout canoe flanked by giant speakers fashioned from former dugouts. Soft reggae by Manu Chao pulsated through the late afternoon heat.
Jungle Junction was primitive yet brilliantly functional. A network of paths connected the eight huts to camp core and ablutions. Bucket-and-pulley showers dispensed water heated by a log fire and piped to a tap. Western flush toilets were concealed within reed walls.
The kitchen produced three meals daily according to demand, each guest writing down the meals they wished to have the following day. There were no organised activities. One happy camper scribbled in the guest book: “a place to do nothing, and in doing nothing do something, anything, a place where nothing is everything”.
We made the occasional trip downriver to swim safely in Zambezi rock pools or watch glorious sunsets. Nights were usually party time, with midnight skinny dips in a section of river fenced off from marauding crocs. Spitting cobras and grey twig snakes lived in the surrounding bush so a sensible, sharp awareness was needed, particularly when walking to your hut or tent by torchlight.
Doobie the hippo commandeered a stretch of river during my stay. From a hammock slung between trees above his chosen pool I watched him regularly raise his massive head above the waterline, cast an eye over his territory, honk a couple of times then sink once again beneath the surface. Such was my time out at Jungle Junction – Africa at its simplest and finest.
# Jungle Junction still exists but has moved to a larger island and now offers a choice of chalets, stilt huts and fixed tents as well as a BYO-tent campsite. It even has a website! And it’s on TripAdvisor. Is it as good as I recall? Sadly I can’t say. But one thing I do know from my travels is that you can never, ever, really go back ….