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Victoria Falls

Posted by on December 11, 2011

I had another early morning today since I was picked up at 6:15 for my elephant ride. There were five of us on the trip, including one young boy and his mother that were on my cruise the night before. We had perfect weather and an early start before it got too hot.

The advantage of being alone is that you don’t have to share some things, like your elephant. While the others paired up with their guide, it was just me and my guide on an elephant named Ladoma. All of the elephants are orphans whose mothers were poached and would have died in the wild if they had not been rescued and all proceeds from the trips go towards conservation efforts so I didn’t feel so bad about riding around on an animal that really belongs in the wild. Ladoma is 12 years old and is not fully grown yet (elephants can live to be 60-70 years old, even in the wild). Unlike the elephant ride Jacob and I had in Nepal, there was no cage on this one, just a saddle and stirrups. I sat behind the trainer and was able to look around in all directions. The ride itself was about an hour, with a guide walking around side us the whole time for our protection.

After the ride, we were able to feed the elephants some treats (corn and molasses pellets) and pet them. It was a cool experience. Of course, they tried to get us to buy a DVD of our ride or an elephant footprint on elephant-dung paper but I declined. I guess they have to raise funds somehow since they are a non-profit.

Then we were driven to an outdoor restaurant and were served a fancy breakfast, including eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, tea and coffee. It was a great morning.

I was dropped off at my hotel around 10 am and I immediately got ready to head to the falls. On my walk down, a nice older man stopped and offered me a ride to town, which saved me 20 minutes. I really like how nice people are here.

The falls themselves, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a world heritage site, are in a national park and they form the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. During the high water season (May until August) you can view the falls from both countries but at this time of year the Zambian side has dried up because ground level on that side is higher and the falls can only be viewed from the Zimbabwe side. That’s great for me because I only have a single entry visa and not enough pages left in my passport to go to Zambia and back. The falls run over a kilometer across (over half a mile) and have a maximum height of 108 meters (over 350 feet). At the peak times over 500 million gallons of water flow over the falls per minute!! Victoria falls are not the tallest, longest or most volume falls in the world, but if you combine all three aspects they are very impressive and outpace Niagara falls by a long shot.

In the park, there’s a paved walkway to follow with numbers marking where you are. Near the beginning of the path, there’s a giant statue of David Livingstone, who was the first European to see the falls. Then you slowly wind your way through and see the falls from various viewpoints.

I can’t even put into words what it’s like so I won’t try. I’m sure the pictures won’t do it justice either, but they will be a bit better.

In the low season (like now) the volume of water is much lower, but that means much less spray so you can actually see the falls. During peak flow times, the spray is so high that you can’t actually see the water falling! Different people recommend the falls at different times of years and it’s probably something that should be viewed multiple times.

At the Main Falls point, there is so much spray year round that it creates a tropical rain forest on the Zimbabwean side, with huge ferns, palm trees, and vines growing everywhere. Even with the low flow, I got very wet standing at the viewpoints for even a few minutes. But it’s so hot out that the cool water feels good and I dried off very quickly. Just a few meters down the path the water spray lessens and the terrain turns from rainforest to savannah/scrubland very quickly.

I met a guy from Harare and walked and talked with him for a while until he turned back and then I was on my own for the rest of the time. I took a lot of photos and some videos and will post them at a later point (probably when I get back home since the internet here is very slow).

Near the end of the path is a place called “Danger point” which is at the edge of the gorge with no railing or even some thorn bushes as a barrier between you and certain death. There’s only one small sign urging you to be cautious. It’s very different than what would be in America; here they trust that individuals are smart enough to not get too close and are responsible for their own safety. In the US there would be railings, signs and liability forms to sign before going out there. It was a beautiful place and the only one where you could see the river at the bottom of the gorge. I took some time and wrote a few postcards seated on a rock.

The final stop is a view of the bridge and I got to see one person bungee jump off. Overall, I spent about 3 hours in the park and only headed out when I got hungry.

I had a great lunch at “Mama Africa’s” then mailed my postcards and checked out the craft market. The craft market might have been a mistake since I was hot and tired and not up to so many people asking me to buy something. I’ve been to Africa enough times that just about everyone I know has some souvenir from here and after a while everything looks all the same. Honestly, I don’t know how so many vendors can compete with each other when all of their wares are identical. I did get a gift for Jacob (a surprise) and I was talked into two bowls for $5 even though I only sort of liked one of them. After an hour I needed to leave to save my sanity.

When I got back to the hotel I took a quick dip in the pool to cool off. It was so refreshing after my long walk in the heat. I took a quick shower then walked up the road to the Safari Lodge where I heard there was a deck that overlooked a watering hole. On my short walk there, I saw some warthogs and striped mongooses just hanging out on the lawn. TIA (This Is Africa).

I had a cocktail and looked out at the savannah and watched the animals like impala, storks and a whole herd of buffalo come down to drink. I also saw a huge storm on the horizon with rain and lightning; it was really impressive to watch.

At 7 pm I caught the shuttle to the Boma Restaurant, which is actually on the grounds of the Safari Lodge but far enough away that you can’t walk there when it’s dark because of the animals.

Everyone recommended going to the Boma for the experience but I think it’s best if you’re in a large group. As someone alone, I was a bit underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong: the food was great but maybe I had different expectations that were not met. I thought there would be entertainment throughout dinner, distracting me from being alone, but there was only one short dance while we ate and everything else was after the meal was over.

The buffet style meal was great though. We started with some traditional beer (made of millet, milky white in color with chaff floating in it) and some snacks of peanuts, roasted corn and fried corn covered in dough. Next came the cold starters including crocodile tail, warthog, impala, guinea fowl, and vegetables. Then came the most delicious butternut squash soup. The main course was a bunch of game meat, including impala, kudu, warthog, and steak and two types of stews, some sauces and sadza (the traditional corn meal side dish) served three ways. And dessert was incredible with cheesecake, other cakes, fruit, custards and puddings. I didn’t even make it to the crepes table. I certainly ate more than I needed to and more than I intended but it was really good.

I started to rain midway through the meal and the lights went out several times which was a bummer, but the party didn’t stop. After eating, everyone was given a drum and we “played” with the professionals. It was a bunch of racket but fun. Then there was a dance circle which ended in everyone dancing together in the rain. It was a pretty good value for $50 but would have been much more enjoyable to me if I had someone to share it with.

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