Reflections and images from my travels

It was very difficult to leave Botswana. We had such a great time in both the Okavango Moremi Game Reserve and the Khwai Concession camps with Brian and Capture Africa. It was now June 15 and it was time to depart on a scheduled charter by Mack Air to Kasane Airport. Our pilot this time was Paul and Teresa was able to sit up front beside Paul as co-pilot which was something she had not experienced before. She really enjoyed this although perhaps a little too much. Once we landed she seemed rather upset that Paul had refused to do a barrel roll of the plane during our adventure. Something about regulations. We were able to fly the entire way at low altitude of approximately 500 feet. The plane was larger than the first one. Once we landed, we departed by bus and drove onwards towards Victoria Falls. We had to pass two checkpoints one of which belonged to Botswana and the other to Zimbabwe. It was clear sailing through the Botswana checkpoint. We knew we were in a different country when we stopped to purchase our visas at the Zimbabwe checkpoint. You already had a different sense about the country. There was one line to purchase your visa but then you have to stand in another line in order to get your visa. Apparently one person is not capable of doing the two things. We also discovered that Canadians pay $75 US compared to British citizens who pay $55 US and other countries pay $30 US. I had a good chuckle about this with another tourist who was from Belgium (by the way he paid $30 US). However we learned that if you purchased your visa overseas in an embassy as a couple you would pay $250 US! We stopped complaining.

We finally drove in to Victoria Falls named after Queen Victoria by David Livingstone who was the first European to discover the falls. It is also known by the name Mosi-o-Tunya or the “smoke that thunders”. As we were about to find out this is a most appropriate name. The falls are one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  They are also the largest with a width of 1708 m and a maximum height of 108 m.   We were staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel which is one of the best hotels in Zimbabwe or Africa for that matter. It is a beautiful hotel in colonial style with landscaped grounds. After we were greeted with a freshly scented refreshing cloth, we checked in and immediately proceeded to have a great lunch and our first Zambezi beer (many more to come) of the trip with distant views of the falls. Anna would arrive soon.

We were all thrilled when shortly thereafter the smiling face of Anna appeared. Previous to joining us she as well had also visited London and Johannesburg. She had flown in from Johannesburg that morning and was joining us for the Victoria Falls and Mana Pools, Zimbabwe portion of our safari adventure. We were happy to hear that nothing had been removed from her suitcases.  The stay at the Victoria Falls was meant to break up our adventure and also enjoy some traditional luxury.

We then proceeded on to our guided tour of Victoria Falls with our very knowledgeable guide Esther Gwekwerere. Apparently she has been living in Victoria Falls and guiding for approximately 35 years. She could answer any question you had about the falls. She was also very eager to let us know that she had accomplished numerous bungee jumps. We were all suitably impressed and thought if she can do it why can’t we?  Esther must’ve been in her mid-60s. The Victoria Falls railway bridge has the second-highest bungee jump as an attraction. After her proclamation we were all ready to sign up.

It is hard to describe the falls adequately in this blog. It is simply something that you must experience. The roaring sound, the spray and the size is almost overwhelming. So much rain ricochets off the gorge that the surrounding vegetation is rain forest in character. It is absolutely breathtaking. The government has built a park with a lovely walkway that gives you many views of the different gorges that make up the falls. It is well worth doing if you come. The end of the pathway faces the aforementioned Victoria Falls railway bridge where we were able to witness an individual bungee jumping. After witnessing this we had even more respect for Esther. At this point however she informed us that her definition of bungee jumping was simply watching others do it. We all had a good laugh. We would not have to bungee jump after all. Teresa and Anna were especially relieved.

We returned to the hotel and had a lovely buffet dinner outside entertained by several groups of local African dance artists. What a lovely way to end the day. We retired early as we had an early morning photography shoot at the falls. We had to be at the park gates by 6 AM. Even though you could walk from the hotel to the park gates this was strongly discouraged as elephants roam freely within the town of Victoria Falls which is found in an unfenced game reserve. We were shocked when Esther advised us that two locals had been killed within the last week by elephants. We were quite happy to take a cab.

We arrived at the falls the next morning ready to get our award-winning shot. We were sure we could do it better than anybody else had. Boy were we surprised. The flow through the Zambezi River has been extremely high over the last two years. Also, the spray from the falls is at its maximum in the morning due to the wind. It was pretty much impossible to get a clear shot of the falls because the spray only cleared for less than a second. Then the falls would completely disappear. In our attempts we all became completely soaked. We do not have one good photograph to share. We agreed we would not attempt to do this again the next morning as we had planned.

We returned to the hotel as we had decided that we would do a helicopter tour of the falls that day. This is a great way to get a unique vantage point of the entire falls and the Zambezi River. We really appreciated the size of the falls and the flow through the Zambezi River. On our way back we asked to be dropped off in Victoria Falls (just to be clear after the helicopter had landed) to do some shopping. Victoria Falls has many markets and shops that sell unique African curios. The prices were much more reasonable compared to what we saw in Johannesburg. Many gifts were picked up but I must admit we started to wonder how we were going to pack all of them for our trip back home. We agreed to worry about it later.

When we returned to the hotel we decided to go poolside and do the tourist thing. The weather was actually quite warm but for most locals it was much too cold to lay by a pool. Richard and I decided to go for a swim. It was a great place just to relax which we did for several hours.

That evening we got dressed up in our best safari gear and had dinner at the famous Livingstone room restaurant in the Victoria Falls Hotel. This is a very elegant restaurant with a strict dress code. Philip (our maître d’ who apparently had the poshest English accent Richard had ever heard outside of London) looked rather disapprovingly at Richard who only had a short sleeved shirt. Richard protested that he had cleared this type of shirt when he booked the reservations. Grudgingly, albeit with a smile, Philip let us in. The room was absolutely stunning and the service was impeccable. We decided on the chef’s special of 6 courses with a wine pairing with each course. What a fantastic meal. After some great conversation we decided to retire to our rooms to pack for our upcoming adventure to Mana Pools. We were limited by how much weight we could bring on the next plane so we decided to leave a bag with gear we were likely not to use. We fell into a peaceful slumber dreaming of the next safari adventure.

The following day, June 17, we were transferred to the Victoria Falls Airport for our Wilderness Air scheduled charter flight to Mana Pools. With each flight our airplane was getting bigger and more comfortable. This was a trend we were appreciative of. Nick, our pilot, delivered us uneventfully to another dirt airstrip just off the Zambezi River. We were ready for our next safari with Nick Murray our Bushlife/Vandu Camp Guide.

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