The smoke that thunders

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
Trip End Nov 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Victoria Falls Rest Camp

Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Saturday, July 9, 2011

We had a short travel day on Wednesday from Kasane, across the border, to Victoria Falls. The border crossing was the longest thus far in Africa as we all had to queue up to get our Zimbabwean visas. The immigration staff were very friendly, but the whole process took time as we had to go to one person to pay for the visa and to another to issue the visa. I was surprised that Canadians' visas cost the most, followed by the British, and then the rest of the world – even Americans pay less than I do!

Just as we got to the outskirts of Victoria Falls the truck was stopped by the police and we were asked for some paperwork. Hannah gave them the carnet, but they insisted on seeing another document. The officer could not tell us what it was called, or what it looked like, but said it was a permit issued in South Africa which is also valid in Zimbabwe. Hannah had to explain that the truck doesn’t go into South Africa and therefore we didn’t have the form. After much discussion and deliberation we were allowed to go "scot free", after Hannah complimented the officer on his use of the English language and how smart he looked! The police were clearly trying their luck, but to no avail this time.

We arrived at the rest camp at lunchtime, so our first priority was to organise food and then pitch the tents. Once that was done Gino took us on a tour of the campsite, where we ran into Roman, one of the new passengers, before we headed to the local tour operator to book activities for our stay in Vic Falls. Andrew and I had decided beforehand that we weren’t going to do much apart from visit the falls themselves, and spend some time relaxing. I was somewhat surprised therefore when Andrew said he was interested in several of the activities. We ended up booking a gorge swing for Andrew, a helicopter ride over the falls for me, and an elephant back safari and sunset cruise for both of us. Unfortunately booking the activities had taken a lot longer than expected, so we only had enough time to go to the supermarket to pick up food for breakfast before we had to be back at the camp to meet the rest of the group for dinner.

On Thursday morning Andrew, Gino and Julia, along with two of the new passengers, Adam and Erin, were all there to swing, while I was spectating – funnily enough I have no desire to jump off a cliff, freefall for 70 metres and then swing like a pendulum 120 metres down into a gorge. In my opinion there are a lot more ways to have fun. There was a wonderful view up the gorge towards the Victoria Falls Bridge though, which I could enjoy in between trying to film the swingers. Despite the screams, they all seemed to love the adrenalin rush, but I was quite happy with my decision to stay on terra firma.

After a quick lunch at a local restaurant in town, Dawn, Ellen, Janet, Maria, and I were picked up at the rest camp to go and do our helicopter flight over the falls. Arriving at the helipad, we only had a short wait before the helicopter returned from its previous flight. I headed for the back seat of the helicopter but was grabbed and pushed into the front with the captain – not quite what I expected, but I was very pleased nevertheless. As soon as we took off I could see where the falls were due to the large cloud of mist rising up above the land. The flight was 12 minutes long, during which time we circled the falls four times so that everyone had ample opportunity to enjoy the view and take photographs. I had a glass floor at the front so had amazing views over the area – looking out towards Zambia, the wetlands above the falls, the steep narrow gorge winding its way below the falls, and the veil of water creating the falls themselves. The views really were breathtaking.

We returned to the rest camp later than expected, so by the time we got back there was a bus waiting to take Maria, Andrew and I to the elephant back safari. Surprisingly Andrew was nowhere in sight, so I had to run off and find him – he had misread the time for pick up on his voucher. The elephant sanctuary is located within the boundaries of Victoria Falls National Park, so when the elephants are not being used for tourist safaris they are free to wander and graze at will. After a short introduction and briefing, the elephants were brought in by the trainers and we were able to meet and greet them. I was surprised by quite how rough and tough their skin was, and how coarse their hair was. Andrew and I were given Tendai to ride, and with her came her two daughters, the four year old following behind, and the fourteen month old, the baby of the whole herd, tearing around in front, behind, and underneath from side to side. I spent a lot of my time watching the baby which was adorable with her little trunk, and reminded me somewhat of a human child – picking up and playing with anything she could find. The safari lasted for about an hour, during which time we were given lots of information about elephants, and were lucky enough to also see buffalo, waterbuck and impala. When we got back to the lodge we were able to feed Tendai to thank her very much for our ride – she opened her mouth wide for Andrew to throw in the pellets, and held up her trunk for me to put the pellets on, for her to suck up – a fun experience.

The experience didn’t end there, as Sylvester the cheetah was waiting to meet us on our return. He was rescued by a national park ranger (named Sylvester) after his mother was shot, and sadly was the only one of his litter to survive. Sylvester has become a cheetah ambassador, used to educate local people about cheetah, and the reasons why they should be protected. We were fortunate enough to be able to stroke him, although his attention was focused more on the warthogs which had appeared to gobble up the pellets dropped by the elephants.

Once again we were later than planned returning to the rest camp and therefore missed the briefing for the next leg of our journey – luckily it wasn’t a necessity for us. There was just enough time to introduce ourselves to the new group before we headed out for dinner. In addition to Dawn, Ellen, Julia, Doug and Janet who are continuing with us, we also have two honeymoon couples, Leike and Jacob from the Netherlands, and Shae and Terry from Australia, as well as Erin, Chris and Honorata from Canada, Sheila from England, Roman and Kate from the US, and Erin and Adam from Australia joining us.

We went to a traditional African restaurant, called the Boma, for dinner. Unfortunately we arrived quite late due to the briefing overrunning, and taking an elongated route to the restaurant. The music and dancing had already started, and people were queuing for the buffet, so we had to get ourselves organised quickly so we could make the most of the evening. The food was delicious and included a variety of game – kudu steak, ostrich kebabs, impala stew and my favourite, warthog steak. The latter was surprisingly tender and succulent, and tasted nothing like pork as you might think. There were some other interesting things on offer too such as guinea fowl and crocodile tail, as well as Mopani worms, which I received a certificate for eating! Unfortunately from where we were sitting we couldn’t really see the dancing, but we were able to listen to the music, and join in with the drumming as they came and gave a few drums to each table. It was a lot of fun, even for the musically challenged like me!

On Friday morning Andrew and I had to finish doing our laundry, before we headed off to the falls with some of the group. It was a short walk from the rest camp so we were able to enjoy the sunshine, before donning our waterproofs ready for the falls. We started at one end, enjoying spectacular views along the falls, and watching the water rushing down the Devil’s Cataract into the gorge below. As we wandered along we were treated to some magnificent views, but the closer we got to the Main Falls, the wetter it became. The mist rising out of the gorge made it feel like we were in a torrential downpour, but explained why we were surrounded by rainforest vegetation. In some places we could see absolutely nothing, and just hear the water thundering over the rocks. At the far end there was a wonderful rainbow in the gorge, although it did involve a treacherous walk out on to some very slippery rocks to capture it on camera. Quickly leaving the falls behind us in order to escape the spray, we headed for the Victoria Falls Bridge, the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, to watch the crazy bungee jumpers. It also provided a great view down the gorge towards the Victoria Falls Hotel, and from the other side, part of the falls themselves, framed by the gorge.

Heading back to town, Andrew and I made a couple of quick stops to buy postcards and grab a bite to eat for lunch, before we were picked up for our sunset cruise. As you can see it wasn’t quite the relaxing couple of days we had originally planned, and we were both looking forward to a couple of hours of doing nothing. Floating along the Zambezi, beer in hand, while watching hippo, elephant, crocodile and giraffe was a lovely way to end our stay in Vic Falls.

Back at camp we were planning to have a group barbecue which would give us a chance to chat and get to know the group better. Unbeknown to me, whilst I was busy helping, Andrew had fallen asleep in the tent. After a tiring morning, coupled with a very small lunch and free drinks, he ended up rather worse for wear.

We were up early on Saturday morning to pack up camp before hitting the road again. Before leaving town we had enough time to make a short stop at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel to enjoy the view from the gardens. Surprisingly they let our truck, and associated rabble, in without any problems at all. The old colonial hotel is beautiful, and has a wonderful setting with a view that looks straight up the gorge to Victoria Falls Bridge –it was a memorable way to end our stay at Vic Falls.

Our next stop is at Hwange National Park, as we continue our search for the elusive leopard.

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Maria on

I loved reading your blog. Especially seeing the part of the trip I was able to share with you through your eyes! I miss you both! Great pics too!

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