Victoria Falls Wrap Up

Victoria Falls was everything we expected (rightly or wrongly) Africa to be.

Poverty, wild animals in the streets, old, tired and worn out infrastructure, hot. It seemed to me that the place was empty of tourist and most things were well past their use by date.

However the people were warm, friendly and couldn’t do enough to see that we were having a good time. We were fortunate to have two excellent guides, who shared their personal stories and stories of their country freely. Everyone was optimistic about the future, and the changes that will take place after the next elections.

Interestingly, time and time again, it was mentioned to us about the use of the American currency. People were pleased that hyperinflation had been addressed, but felt a sense of loss about not using their own dollars. This made me think about the significance of having your own currency and what it means to a country. A bit like a flag and a national anthem – I guess its part of the identity.

The weather was hot and dry – exactly what we were expecting. After the weather in Cape Town it came as a shock.

Food was a struggle. Some of the local dishes were simply inedible (for me anyway) and the fruit and vegetables were poor quality (at least by Australian standards). I really missed my vegetables, and felt a lot better when I gave up and just ate the local produce.

The highlight for me – was camping out. I really enjoyed being out in the bush and by the river. Seeing Ros and Josh enjoying the animals in their natural habitat was also really nice.

For my friends in business, I’m told Tourism and Mining are where the opportunities are. And apparently, its not all that hard to get a start in either, nor does it require a lot of capital, you just need to know which officials to be in touch with – but there’s people who can help you with that.

With regard to returning to Victoria Falls – I’m afraid its not high on my to do list. It was a little to raw for me, and unless there is major investment in infrastructure or a business opportunity that comes my way (watch this space for a 4WD hire business in partnership with one of the guides), I don’t think I’ll be heading back.


Day 10 – The Safari Lodge and Boma Dinner

Once we left the river, we checked in to the Safari Lodge (where I dropped the bags earlier in the week). To my great pleasure, when completing the check in paperwork, John, the bellman came past, recognised me and told me our bags were still there and safe. So perhaps it wasnt a hustle after all.

The Lodge had a multi level deck overlooking the National Park, with a large waterhole. We sat in the bar and had drink watching the waterhole and the crocodiles stalking there prey. Everytime a troop of baboons or a herd of Impala came to the waters edge, you could see the Croc’s move in, just hoping for a chance. Unfortunately for us, (but fortunately for the animals), we didn’t see any action.

Josh had a swim while the rest of us managed to check emails, catch up on news, have a shower and do some washing.

For Dinner, we were booked in to the Boma – the place of eating. It was a pretty big deal in town, and everyone we mentioned it too said it was great. Even the Aussies from our river trip were due in for a feed that night.

When we arrived, everyone was issued with a sheet of cotton, which was wrapped around us and tied on the shoulder. Left for guys, right for girls (I think). We also received a small face paint. A line for the boys, 3 dots for the girls.

At the table we ordered starters, and everything else was a self serve buffet. Nothing unusual here except, the meats were things like Warthog, Buffalo, Impala, Guinea Fowls, Kudo. I tried the Warthog, Buffalo and Guinea Fowl. The kids tried some of the others.

The Boma could have been a great experience, but we were all really tired and just wanted to get home to sleep. So we bailed early and headed to bed.


Day 10 – Second day on the Zambezi

Day 2 started like day 1. We all woke (earlier this time) having had a great nights sleep. Through the night, we had heard the Hippo’s barking and fighting, as well as some hyenas, which we only a few meters from the camp. We also noticed about 3 troops of Monkeys and Baboon they lived close by going about their morning routine.

We did a morning safari drive before breakfast in search of the 4 big five that had still alluded us, but again we came up short. We did manage to see a few more giraffe though, including 3 small ones, which were very young.

Another full blow breakfast, and we were joined at camp by a group of 8 who were joining us for the day – all Aussies would you believe. We watched as they were given the briefing and like us the day before, the shear terror on their faces when explained about the Crocodiles attacking the raft.

There was quite a strong head wind, but we pushed off, dodging Hippo’s and looking out for Crocodiles. The new crew were bloody hopeless, running and bumping into us all the time. It was nice to have new people to talk to, but it was easier on the river without them.

Josh and Mikeala ended up in the one canoe with Casper the guide as the second guide from the day before was needed at the camp to help pack up. The kids had a blast with Casper taking them over a set of rapids backwards, just for fund.

We came around a bend, and up ahead in the river on the Zambia side we seen about 10 Elephants just doing their thing. They were a long way back, but still it was pretty cool.

2 of the big 5 scratched from the list.

The going was tough and the pace a lot faster then the previous day. On some quieter parts of the river, I took to splashing the kids with the paddle, which they didnt appreciate…, until they realised they could splash back.

I was obviously superior, so Mikeala jumped ship (literally) and joined Ros and I in our raft.

We finished in time for lunch, but not before a couple of races with Casper and Josh. In the first, we realised the chance of beating them was limited (they got a head start) so we decided to push them onto a sand bar. Victory to US!! – though Josh will argue they won as they did make the sand bar before us. Another race on the final stretch, and Ros and I clearly won – and rounded out the day as rowing champions.

Lunch in the bush, packed up the canoes and headed back into town to our lodge – Safari on the Zambezi River and in the Zambezi National Park was done.

Day 9 – First day on the Zamabezi

We all woke late, which was a surprise given we had been sleeping in tents, on stretcher beds just meters from wild animals including man eaters and hippo’s, but everyone was in agreement, it was the best sleep we had had since leaving home.

The cooks prepared a full blown english breakfast over the campfire, but we were still weary of eating local produce for fear of food poisoning, so we stuck to the eggs and meat mostly.

After breakfast we jumped back into the vehicle and headed on another Safari drive, to the launch site. It was about an hour, and we seen a load more animals – thought mostly the ones we had spotted the day before. At the launch site, there was a bunch of hippo’s right out front and in the path we were about to canoe. We were all expecting it to be an interesting day.

The canoes were actually inflatable rafts.

The guide gave us a safety briefing which included “if a hippo comes up under your boat……”, “Dont’ drag your hands or legs in the water because of the crocodiles” and “If a crocodile bites your raft, and it deflates, don’t panic”. If was hard not to laugh and/or run, but we put our lives in the hands of our guides and entered the water.

We had two people per boat, with Ros and I sharing, and the kids each in their own with a guide.

Being outdoors and on the water was great. A chance to burn off energy and see the animals. We seen loads of Hippo’s, some in packs as big as 12, heaps of birds – each carefully described to us by our guide though I dont remember any now, and the occasional crocodile.

The river was flowing quite fast, which meant we spent a lot of time actually floating down the river and not necessarily paddling, which was nice. We went over a series of rapids and white water too, were we all got wet, but managed to stay in the boats without anyone overturning.

We were in a quiet part of the river when we seen some excitement up front – Josh had nearly rowed over a crocodile about 2m in length. It has scurried off, but not before looking back with its evil look – I imagine just thinking about the joy of biting into their boat.

At another quiet part, we were all relaxed and taking it easy, when a Hippo popped up right in front of us. Ros had a shot of excitement and or fear as she stared it in the eyes, then all panic broke loose as we scrambled and paddled out of its way. Hippos have right of way on the river.

There were quite a few villages on the Zambia side of the river and the locals were out on the waters edge fishing, washing, doing the dishes and playing in the stream. At one point I stopped and spoke with Mike – a Zambian boy in grade 8 who was fishing in the shallows with a net. He explained that he was throwing some rotten food (porridge like – their main staple) into the water, then as the fish came in, he would hunt them into fish traps (just rocks piled higher then the waters edge) and scoop them up in his net. Mike had quite a catch – certainly more then our guide had managed with fishing rod and lure during our trip.

In the end we rounded the bend to see the campsite on the river bank, successfully navigated past “cranky franky” the Hippo that lived at the front and called it a day. A quick afternoon kip to recharge the batteries and a full blown 3 course meal for dinner included all cooked over the fire, including an apple crumble.

By this time, we’d abandoned our fear of local produce, and piled the plates up with loads if veggies.

Day 1 on the river was a success.

Day 8 – Camping and Canoe Safari

At 4pm we were met in the hotel lobby by Casper, who was to be our guide for the next two days. Out front was a Safari vehicle, complete with rafts on the roof for our canoe trip. We climbed in the back, and headed to the Zambezi National Park, a short drive out of Victoria Falls, right on the banks of the Zambezi River.

Casper told us the park had 4 of the big 5 animals within its borders, but reminded us this was the wild, and it was a big park so there were no guarantees.

We had to drive into the camp site, and this was our first Safari Drive. We weren’t all that far into the park before we spotted Warthog, Impala’s and Waterbuck. We also spotted loads and loads of birds and Guinea Fowl. As we drove deeper into the park, we seen more and more.

About half way between the entry and our campsite, Casper spotted a Giraffe. We stopped the vehicle and spent a few moments just staring at the tall creature, as well as spotting a few more from its journey. (Journey is a group of Giraffes)

About 30k’s into the park, we reached our campsite. Right on the banks of the Zambezi River, there were two tents for our family (a boy tent and girl tent we elected), and another for the guide. There was also a bush shower and toilet, as well as a dining room table, fully set for dinner.

A few meters away, there was another tent and a bush kitchen for the “staff”- where they were busily preparing dinner. It was quite the setting, and we felt quite at home.

As we stared out into the river, we noticed something move. A closer looked revealed a real live hippo, in the water right in front of our table, not 20m from the bank, and less than 50m from us. Went down to the waters edge to get a close look.

Casper gave us the warning to stay well clear and remember we were in a wild place, with Lions and Cheetahs, and just because we cant see them, doesn’t mean there not there.

It was about this time realised we were actually in the wild – for real. It was a surreal feeling.

Day 8 – Victoria Falls (and getting Hustled)

Today we check out of the Kingdom hotel, to start our two night Camp and River Canoe Safari. We weren’t getting picked up until 4pm, so we checked out of our room, and dropped our backpacks (we are only allowed a small day pack on the safari) at out next Hotel. And I was hustled at least 3 times.

We took a cab from the Kingdom to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (approx 5 mins) to drop our bags off. Before taking them out of the cab, I went to reception and told them we were checking in a few days and asked if it would be ok to drop our bags for storage early. We were really worried as they contained not only the bulk of our clothes, but also our Laptops and iPads.

The reception said it would be fine, as long as we had our names on them. I grabbed the bags from the cab to check, and as I did, two Africans approached, grabbed our bags and assured me they would be safe. Even as I was trying to check if our names were on them, they two gentlemen continued to assure me then carried our bags off.

I have to admit, at this time, I felt completely assured that the bags would be safe, because both men had smiled at me, and nodded together and told me they were safe. It was only once we left the hotel and headed back to town, I realised that I had taken the absolute word, of two complete strangers, who I was not even sure worked at the hotel.

Hustle number 1.

We took the cab back to town and the cabbie told us the fare was $20, $10 each way. Since there was no meter (well there was but he never bothered to turn it on) and we had no idea of the cost of the fare, we just took his word for it, and paid.

I’m sure that was another hustle. Hustle number 2.

When we were in the cab, the driver was talking to us about Crazy Money, and the people walking up to us on the street to sell us Crazy Money. As we hadn’t really been on the street, we hadn’t experienced this so we had no idea what he was referring too.

We were only out of the car for about 30 seconds when we were first approached. A local man with a fist full of Zimbabwe notes (the local currently was abandoned a few years ago due to HyperInflation – and after printing a 100 Trillion Dollar note that was still worthless, they shifted to the US$). He had a collection on Billion dollar notes which he agreed to sell to me for US$7 (he started at US$20). No sooner had I completed the transaction and I was surrounded by others trying to sell me their notes. One so intimidating, that I had actually purchased another pile before I realised what I had done.

Hustle number 3.

By this stage I was a wake up to what was going on, and felt game enough to venture into the street markets for a good game of barter with the local store holders. But this was short lived. With more Crazy Money on offer, by more crazy people, and everyone trying to trade our hat, shoes and thongs, after two stalls, we decided to call it a day, and retreat to the safety of our hotel.




Day 7 – Victoria Falls

After traveling for most of the day, on the afternoon of arrival into Zimbabwe we had a guided tour of Victoria Falls.

Recognised as one of the largest falls in the world, based on its width of 1.7km the actual drop is only between 87 and 107m. As we are here toward the end of the flow season, only about half the width of the falls had flow, (the lower end) but we did get the chance to appreciate the power and the beauty of the falls. The spray that lifts from the bottom made a refreshing mist in the Zimbabwe heat.There is even a rain forest, along the edge of the gorge – getting its moisture from the mist – quite a contrast in the harsh African parkland.

Across the gorge was Zambia and again, as an Aussie used to a long distance international flight to visit another country, it was odd to think they we were literally a stones throw away.

There were some people swimming on the edge of the falls, right where the water passes over the edge in whats called “devils pool”. I dont know how close it actually was, but from where we were sitting (on the Zimbabwe side), it looked too close the the edge. Particularly with the guides walking right along the edge of the falls. One slip and there’s no coming back. We agreed to stay in the safety of the Zim side and out of the Devil Pool.

We are staying at the Kingdom hotel, which is a themed hotel (and Casino) with a natural river running through the middle. We were warned at check in the keep the doors and windows closed, as the Baboons and Monkeys get in and turn the rooms upside down. Just walking around the grounds you can see wild monkeys (or baboons, I cant tell the difference between to two), and there are warning signs not to swim in the river as it contains small fresh water crocodiles.

I guess were getting closer to the real Africa, and its a little bit too real for my liking.