Perhaps the fact that the houseboat Malachite Imfant is currently wrapped up in the recently-deceased owner’s estate was a harbinger of things to come. As it puttered out of Marineland at Kariba in balmy conditions however, the group had the distinct feeling that things were looking up after the events of the morning. One of the vehicles had rolled its trailer on the way out of Mana Pools and the bent axle meant it had to be abandoned in the bush with its fridge and plenty of food. That was quite a blow for those members of our party because that trailer was literally packed “to the rafters” with “vleis en ys”.

But it was not to be. After about a kilometre on its way to Antelope Island the Malachite started describing a rather erratic course and we noticed the crew lugging spanners and bottles of liquid back and forth with increasing urgency. The hydraulic line to the rudder had ruptured and the boat could now only be steered using the engines. The skipper decided to turn back and brought her in neatly just as night fell.

The local office person at Marineland, Tendai, was most helpful, offering us options, organising for a mechanic the next morning and personally supplying charcoal for the all-important braai. At this point we were still optimistic that a jury-rig would enable us to resume the voyage. So we decided to stay on board rather than scramble around trying to find accommodation. The Caribbea Bay hotel, the venue for a previous visit 14 years ago, is adjacent to the marina, but that evening the blue-light cavalcade – some 20 vehicles – of Zim’s vice-president snaked down the hill to the hotel. We concluded that there would not be lodging at the inn for us.

The stay on board was not improved by the dribbling cold showers caused by a generator or pump failure, but Mike and Vivian’s excellent steak and chips made up for it. I slept on the top-deck, preferring the fresh air to the confines of the small cabins.  I was assailed by mosquitoes before the land breeze sprang up, but the rest of the night was restful.

Another beautiful morning revealed that a repair was not possible, so we decided to head for and spend two nights, rather than one, at Gache Gache Lodge in the Charara Safari Area on the southern shore of the lake. The crew cooked up a great brunch and we then took our leave.

We were not hopeful of obtaining a refund from the formidable lady – who is a dead-ringer for Naledi Pandor – womanning the Wildlife and National Parks “toll booth” at Marineland, so we decided to not even go there. In any case, she wasn’t at her post on this Saturday morning.

But the operators of the houseboat were kind enough to refund us after we related our sorry tale some weeks later. The way this incident was handled, the helpfulness of Tendai, the crew’s determination to please under trying conditions for them, were all evidence of Zimbabweans’ commitment to service and promoting tourism. Goodness knows, the country needs visitors.