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Victoria Falls

Posted by on December 11, 2011

I got up at 5 this morning and was at the airport by 5:45 for my 7 am flight. I was taking Air Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls and they do not have the best reputation of timeliness or flights departing at all. Checking in was fine, but then we sat at the gate, staring at the plane for an hour and a half. Apparently there were “technical issues” with the plane and it took some time to sort things out. We finally left at 8:30 and I guess I should be glad that the plane departed at all (I have heard stories of flights being canceled or delayed for 8 hours).

It’s not that far from Harare to Victoria Falls (about the distance from San Francisco to Seattle, or a 12 hour drive) and yet my flight stopped in Bulawayo, the other major city in Zimbabwe, which is about half way between (like stopping in Portland). The two 45 minute flights were uneventful and they even served breakfast and a snack during each.

I arrived at 10:30 and was met at the airport by the Shearwater Company which I had arranged beforehand. I hadn’t booked any activities yet, so the driver took me to the office to sign up for some things. I really wanted to do an all-day canoe trip on the upper Zambezi river (which divides Zimbabwe from Zambia and results in Victoria Falls) but since I am just one person and they require two to confirm a trip I was not able to.

Next I enquired about a morning game walk since the walk Jacob and I did in South Africa was awesome. The game walk is not running at this time of year because the brush is too high and it’s difficult to walk around and see anything.

Next I asked about this “Zambezi river adventure” and learned that it’s a cruise in a small boat that goes up the narrow channels of the river where other boats can’t go. It sounded great. And it is not running right now because the river is very low.

Since I couldn’t do my top three activities and I wanted to do something other than stare at the falls all weekend, I settled on an elephant-back ride and interaction and a helicopter ride over the falls. Booking those two got me a free evening cruise up the river and I decided to try this “flying fox” or bridge slide as well. The tour operators really pushed the white water rafting and bungee jump from the bridge (the highest in the world) but I wasn’t really interested in either of those.

Having gotten that settled, the driver took me to my hotel, the Amadeus Guest house, which is on the edge of town.

I should clarify that Victoria Falls refers both to the falls themselves and to the village on the Zimbabwean side of the river. On the Zambian side there is Livingstone town, named after the famous explorer. Both towns are centered around tourism and the falls and everything is very expensive, but very safe: I’m told there’s practically no crime in Victoria Falls because it’s a small community and all the locals know each other and know that their livelihoods depend on tourists. The only thing you really have to be careful of is walking around at night. This is not because of getting mugged, but because wild animals, including ELEPHANTS WALK THROUGH THE VILLAGE AT NIGHT!!

Amadeus is very small and cute, with only 11 rooms, 4 of which are occupied now. There’s a small pool in the courtyard and breakfast is served outside under a thatched-roofed building.

I unpacked, got settled, and talked to the owner about things to do around town then set off to explore.

The village is not that big and I walked around most of it in an hour or so. The vendors are very persistent and most annoying. No matter how many times you tell them that you do not want to buy their hand-carved giraffe or the hyper inflated Zimbabwean dollars, they keep dogging you for blocks. I had to get angry at a few of them because they would not stop following me. And I was only walking around for an hour and a half!

I went inside the Victoria Falls Hotel, which is the oldest and fanciest in the area. It has the classic colonial architecture and sprawling grounds. I looked at the stone work gallery that they have there then wandered down the path to the falls themselves. On the path, I ran into a security guard who said he would accompany me to the lookout point down the way. It was nice to have someone to talk to and to ward off the vendors so I took him up on the offer.

It was a short walk to the overlook, which offers views of the gorge and the bridge. You can’t actually see the falls themselves, but can see the spray they send up. I watched someone bungee jump from the bridge and saw a few people doing the zip lining across the gorge. It was a great day, sunny and warm but not too hot, and a great first glimpse of what was to come.

The park where the falls are closes at 6 pm and I wanted a lot of time to wander so I decided to save the falls for the next day and headed back to the hotel.

I was picked up at 4 pm for my sunset cruise. I think “sunset” is a bit of a misnomer since the cruise started at 4:30 and lasted two hours and sunset right now is about 6:45 since it’s so close to the solstice. I would call it more of an afternoon cruise. Either way, it was alright. I might two nice people from Singapore and sat with them and chatted. We saw crocodiles basking in the sun and a bunch of hippos in a shallow part of the river. There were some birds on shore I couldn’t identify as well. We didn’t see any other game, but it was nice to cruise the river and have a cool drink and some snacks. It was no canoe trip, but an alright substitute.

I got back to the hotel at 6:30 and ordered an omelet to complete my dinner (not very nutritious but what can you do?) then fell asleep reading at 9 pm. What a day!

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