Victoria Falls

Trip Start Jun 20, 2003
Trip End Mar 01, 2004

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

We've only been here for a week or so, but I think it is safe to say that Africa is the best place we've traveled to so far. The people we've met in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia have been simply lovely, going out of their way to help us and just chat. And of course, the wildlife is amazing. On our very first night during a booze cruise down the Zambezi river, we saw an elephant, a giraffe, baboons, crocs, and lots of hippos. But let's not forget the group of drunk South African men in their 40s who got sloshed and starting doing a strip act for a bunch of South African retirees who cheered them on. Very strange, but you had to laugh as they kissed and hugged everyone while they were getting off the boat, including us!

But we did have a tough time getting here. We had a day long layover in London, and spent the day doing a walking tour of the usual tourist stuff, i.e. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards, the Tower of London, etc. But our problems started when we decided we had enough time to see the Crown Jewels. We didn't. While they were spectacular, we ended up getting to the Tube (subway) late, which was very slow, got off on the wrong station, etc. By the time we got to Heathrow, they had closed the flight. Since we are travelling on very cheap and nonrefundable tickets, this was a serious problem, and British Airways at first said they couldn't do anything. After a few hours of extreme stress mixed in with thoughts of how ridiculously bad travellers we are, British Airways came through and found space for us on their very next flight. They even gave us a connecting flight from Jo'burg to Vic Falls because we had now missed our booked flight on another airline! Now that's service!

But our problems didn't end there. Because of the rush at Heathrow, we didn't have time to get to an ATM to get any US dollars. We figured we would just do it in Zimbabwe, considering how easy it was in Peru. Big Mistake #2. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a currency exchange crisis. Which means tourists can only spend US dollars, but cannot get US dollars anywhere. Credit cards are also a mystery here and there are no ATMs. We didn't even have enough US dollars to pay for our visa! This made for some very sticky situations, but we somehow muddled our way though with lots of help from a local travel agency and our great backpacker hostel who traded our travellers cheques for US dollars under the table.

Apart from all this, we had an amazing time in Victoria Falls, which is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We only saw the Zimbabwe side, but can report it is spectacular. A rainbow reportedly shows up every afternoon between 2 and 3 pm, and we were lucky enough to stumble into it as you can see from the pictures. The falls themselves are not the highest in the world, maybe 300 feet or so, but it is over a mile wide! We took a quick flight on a small six seater Cessna above the falls, and got a real appreciation for its size. But the best part of the Falls is the spray. The original name for Victoria Falls is Mosi O Tunya, which means the "Smoke that Thunders." You can see the spray from miles and miles away, and when you are at the Falls themselves, you get absolutely drenched. It's wonderful to be walking around in rain that falls upside down. Our favorite spot at the Falls was Danger Point, named for the fact that there isn't a fence to keep you from going over the edge. Instead we leaned over these very slippery rocks and peered over the edge to the bottom of the gorge. Its so far down that all you can see is spray rising up.

We also rafted the Zambezi river below the Falls. When planning a trip like this, you have to take weather into account, and so we chose to come to Africa in the dry season which is the best time to see animals as they congregate around water. But it also meant the Zambezi rapids would not be at full strength. Well, the Zambezi at half strength scared the hell out of me. The waves were absolutely enormous, the biggest we have ever seen. A fantastic river to raft, and one day I hope I get the courage to raft it in the rainy season. After all, as our guide mentioned in passing, no one has died rafting it in the last three years.

We hung around Vic Falls town for a few days and then headed to Botswana. Botswana is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Africa because the government there has instituted a policy of few tourists, high prices so as to preserve the wilderness. So we stayed for a night at perhaps one of the most expensive places we expect to see on this trip around the world, a luxury safari tented lodge called Elephant Valley Lodge. After all of the camping we did in Peru, we can say it is simply wonderful to walk into a tent and see a double bed, a desk and comfy chairs, and a full bathroom, including a marble shower! All of that pales in comparison to the location, though. It is located in front of a watering hole which attracts all sorts of animals. A few minutes after we arrived, a few elephants showed up which thrilled us. Then more and more and more. By the time we left the next day, there were more than 30 around the watering hole! It was great. Some of the baby elephants would chase after the baboons just for kicks apparently, and every so often you would feel the ground shake when a few elephants would get into a fight and start trumpeting.

The game drives were only ok, however. Even to our untrained eye, they seemed to be lacking, and this was quickly confirmed by some friends we met on the safari who had just come from East Africa. When we originally planned this trip, we had planned to travel through East Africa so that we could see the famous wildebeest migration that occurs in Kenya and Tanzania. But we had ended up canceling those plans because of the terrorism concerns there. After seeing their amazing pictures, however, we decided to change directions and head north to East Africa. Hope it works out!
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