The town of Victoria Falls itself is quite small and as you’d expect, extremely touristy with prices to match. At $15 for a salad for lunch, it felt more like I was back in Bellevue than still in Zimbabwe. But this is home to one of the natural wonders of the world – Victoria Falls – and I was still looking forward to being able to witness and experience this natural phenomenon.
Lots of the group were busy arranging adrenaline activities such as gorge swings and bungee jumps, but I was content in planning my 3 days around the falls themselves, both on the Zimbabwe and Zambian side together with a single excursion to Livingstone Island and Angel’s Pool – which we knew frightfully little about since only Zambian tour agencies offered the activity and therefore the Zimbabwean companies didn’t stand to profit from selling the activity. Luckily, I’d opted to go and gotten the double entry visa, which would enable us to walk across the border and back to Zim on a day trip.
I arrived rather beleaguered and bedraggled after a long and largely sleepless night on the overnight train from Bulowayo. This was a locals’ train, full of Bulowayo workers who were returning to their families in the rural areas of the country for the weekend. It was slow and stopped a lot. Plus, the inside of the train actually made the Indian sleeper trains I’ve journeyed on seem clean and comfortable – the interior was rather smelly, dirty and dysfunctional….but I absolutely loved it. It felt like we had stepped back in time and were experiencing something from a bygone era – and it seemed romantic and ideational to me.
However, after settling into our two carriages, one for the party-going crowd, and one for those who actually wanted to sleep – it became very obvious early on that the wishes of the former were going to supersede the latter. Walls were paper thin, and despite the fact that our carriage had maybe 5 or 6 cabins, some containing families with small children, the Oasis revelers decided to blare music, dance and sing till 3am…forcing the rest of us to succumb to a sleepless and frustrating experience. My personal request for them to turn down the music around midnight was ignored and laughed at, which resulted in the state I aforementioned upon arrival.
Compounding my bad mood, the truck had not yet arrived to the campsite when we got there, and there wasn’t anywhere to even sit while we waited for our things so we could shower or change clothes. Eventually the truck arrived, and I managed to re-humanize myself to the point where I felt I could go and enjoy a lavish afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
We were joined by 3 additional group members in Victoria Falls, so our truck experience was gonna get more crowded but I was also looking forward to getting to know the new travelers. One of them was Australian, and I enjoyed chatting to him over our clotted creamed scones, finger sandwiches and cakes in the impressive garden setting of the high tea. It was also fun sharing the English tradition with the Frenchies – Sandrine and Benoit had not had high tea before and seemed to really enjoy it.
Other than the high prices, the other surprising fact about Vic Falls was the abundance of wild animals that just freely wandered around the town, especially after dark, making it slightly hazardous to do so. Warthogs were in abundance, and two members of our group were also false charged by elephants early in the morning.
By far, the highlight of my stay was the Zambian excursion to Livingstone Island – a land mass that stands directly at the top of the falls, lending itself to access to water that is literally on the precipitous and highly dangerous (especially in the wet season) edge of the 108 meter water fall.
We loaded onto a speed boat for the ten minute boat ride out to the island where we were met by a guide who talked to us about David Livingstone’s first trip to the island and how it got it’s name. Devil’s Pool – the more famous of the two pools that one can sit/swim in at the top of the falls, was closed for the season due to the high volume of water. However, the guide assured us that the only real difference between the two pools was that one could walk to Angel’s pool and swim in Devil’s. In his opinion, the view from Angel’s pool was superior.
At first, we were directed to don our swim suits and shoes and make our way across the muddy marshes to a viewpoint that was very close to the edge of the thunderous cascading water. This, in and of itself was extremely thrilling, and I managed to get some great photographs (though my camera has ultimately paid the high price of being water-damaged – the screen has short circuited, making each photo a completely random guessing activity -adding yet another technology failure to my trip thus far.)
Then, words fail to describe what it felt like when the guides lead the way to the Angel’s Pool itself. Holding our hands one by one, we were lead to a mound of grass where the view was completely unobscured all the way down to the very bottom of the canyon and river below the falls. I couldn’t believe my eyes and heartily agreed when my guide assured me “You will never be able to do or see this anywhere else in the world.”
For the fourth time in my travels, a place possessed such beauty that I found my eyes welling up with tears all on their own (for those interested, the other three are Ayers Rock, Mt McKinley, and Machu Picchu.)
Inadequately comforted by the two ropes outstretched at the falls’ end of the pool, supposedly a last ditch grab hold should one of us lose our footing in the rushing forceful water, I followed the guide into Angel’s. All holding hands together, we ventured and sat in the pool of water literally watching as the water left our bodies and cascaded 108 meters only a handful of feet away from us. I let out an automatic shriek as one of our group did momentarily stumble and floated into one of the guides’ bodies who fortunately grabbed him and set him back upright. This was a location that was altogether wondrous/exciting while simultaneously terrifying. Left to imagine the worst, I found myself quite eager to get my feet back on dry land after the first few minutes.
But what a rush.
Afterwards, we were literally spoilt rotten by an incredible breakfast of Eggs Benedict, bacon, sweet breads, jam and coffee before being jetted back to the luxurious boat launch of the Royal Livingstone Hotel.
As for the visitor areas of the falls themselves, we spent that afternoon exploring the Zambian side, and I had enjoyed the Zim side the day prior. Based upon the numerous and conflicting opinions as to which side offered better views, I have concluded that it depended more upon the weather and prevailing wind on the day you chose to make your visit, than any objective aesthetic quality. Personally, I found the Zambian side to be far more impressive in scope, and the additional walking paths lent themselves to making the excursion more interesting. We spent a good few hours’ taking in the various viewpoints on both sides of this natural wonder, and I had the additional fun experience of being slapped on the hand by a baboon who was reaching for my water bottle. Additionally, on the Zambian side, one is able to walk down to the river level, adding an additional perspective on this immense landmark.
A final memorable encounter occurred on the Zim side, when Nessa and I met with a man by the name of David who was born and raised in Zim – I believe I mentioned him in a previous post. He was back in Zim visiting sites that he remembered from the war of 75-81. He hadn’t been back in the country since and had re-made his home in South Africa. He told us, emotionally, what it had felt like to come across a tree at one remote location south of the falls along the Zambezi, where he and three of his cherished and since long passed away friends had engraved their name and the date.
Malingering on the current state of affairs in South Africa, David spoke about his plans to move to Australia. However, he also spoke with sadness about leaving his beloved Africa. He assured us that no matter what, this land would forever be in his blood and heart and nowhere else would ever feel like home.
I for one believed him.