Africa P4: Victoria Falls

August 11, 2018 – August 24, 2018

Please enjoy the final installment of our trip to Africa.

Day 11 (continued)

On Day 11, we headed towards our final destination of the Amazing African Adventure, Victoria Falls, which was about a 1.5 hour journey from Chobe Safari Lodge. To get there we took a car from the lodge through Botswana to the Zambezi River, crossed over in a boat, and then got in a different car to Vic Falls. It was interesting to see life outside of the lodge. Kasane, Botswana seemed a little more wealthy than the areas we drove through in South Africa, with actual structures instead of tin shacks. There were also some super markets and shops. We had to go through border control to check out of Botswana and then got dropped off by the river to wait for a ferry/speed boat. The governments are building a bridge to connect Botswana and Zambia, but it won’t be ready for a few years.

From the river you can see in 4 countries at once: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We technically walked through Zimbabwe to get to the boat. It was a super quick ride across the river and then we got into another car to transport to our hotel.

Before we could enter Zambia, Tyler had to buy us each a $50 visa, and it was a pretty sketchy operation. The driver and Tyler left me in the car by myself with the doors unlocked while they went into this run down building. It was unnerving, but nothing went awry. We crossed into Zambia and could tell the are seemed less wealthy than where we had previously been in Botswana. The homes were mostly mud huts and there were no stores. Our driver said people have to cross the river to get groceries, so once the bridge is completed it will be easier for people to their food.

We drove through one of Zambia’s national parks and had to stop because elephants were crossing the street right in front of us! Although we had passed a sign marked elephant crossing two seconds before, I had no idea we would actually see it. Traffic stopped in both directions as we were the first car in line to witness the 20 huge animals cross. It was great.

Our driver gave us a bit of history while we drove and we found out that Zambia is a relatively new country, named after the Zambezi River. After much political turmoil, the country still struggles from racial inequality and segregation. The main reason we ventured to Zambia was to see the magnificent Victoria Falls, near Livingstone, which definitely lived up to the natural wonder of the world hype. The falls are also located in Zimbabwe, which used to be the more popular country to visit for the falls, but because of recent political tensions, Zambia’s tourism has profited.

We stayed at the Avani Victoria Falls Resort which was about a 5 minute walk from the falls. The falls were basically on the property and we got free entry for staying at the hotel. The hotel was more of a resort and had a huge pool and a few restaurants.

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Avani from above

The hotel also was on a nature reserve and when we were driving into the resort we saw several giraffes grazing on the trees.

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We checked into the hotel and then didn’t waste any time, heading straight to the falls. While we walked through to the exit of the resort we saw some impala on the hotel grounds. We signed out of our hotel and walked into the Victoria Falls park. There was a map of all the different routes you could take, but since we were doing a tour of the falls in the morning, we just went the most direct route and crossed the Knife’s Edge Bridge to see the falls.

My first impression of the falls was how grandiose it was. Simply huge, magnificent and loud with roaring water. Even though the river is at one of it’s drier points in August, we still got wet from the mist.

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On the opposite side of the falls – rainbows for days
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Double rainbow

After the falls we had lunch sitting by the huge pool on the resort ground and then headed to a booze cruise along the river. We were almost late, but the driver picked us up along with a group of older Americans and a rowdy group of Spaniards who were staying at the Royal Livingstone, a sister property of Avani also located in the same national park. On our way out of the gates, we ran into a group of zebras that lived in the area.

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The boat we boarded for the sunset booze cruise was three decks tall and fit a ton of people. We found a seat on the side of the boat to take in the beautiful views and got some drinks.

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A group of redneck Americans from Arkansas on a family trip sat beside us and we made quick friends. It was nice to talk to other people after being on Day 11 of our solo trip! The booze cruise also included some delicious snacks and authentic African music as we made our way down the Zambezi.

While cruising down the river, we saw lots of birds and hippos and elephants.

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Tyler and I were more focused on the views of the river and the sunset because after 5 days of safari we had gotten our fill of the animals. The sunset along the river was amazing.

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I really enjoyed the boat and our newfound friends that we ran into a few more times while we were in Livingstone.

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On our way back from the boat we got on the bus and it was a much more lively experience than on the way there with all of the drunk people. One of the young Spanish kids was really worried about malaria and kept yelling “Shut the door! The malaria will get in!” I had to sympathize with him because I am also worried about the malaria getting in, and I was very impressed with his English.

After the boat we came back to our hotel to have a drink by the pool and ran into the zebras! They were just hanging out at the pool, which I found hilarious.

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We had a drink at the bar and watched the African drum stylings of the resident hotel band.

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Although we did not have an early morning game drive, we did have a relatively early guided tour of the falls to get to, so we didn’t make it a late night.

Day 12

Our Victoria Falls tour guide picked us up in a huge van, but it was just us and an older lady from California. It was actually silly that we got in a bus at all since we could walk 5 minutes to the falls, but our travel agency had already arranged this transfer and guide.

To start the tour, we first headed upstream to examine a map and learn where the falls come from.

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Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer was the first non-native to discover the falls in 1855 from what later became Livingstone Island. He named the falls after the Queen of Britain, Queen Victoria. It’s called Mosi-oa-Tunya “The Smoke that Thunders” by the locals. The falls are on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We only stayed on the Zambia side since we didn’t buy a visa to get into Zimbabwe.

The falls arc 1.7km in length and there are a few paths you can take to see them. We walked across the Knife’s Edge Bridge to take in the views and the rainbows.

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There was a double rainbow!

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The mist from the falls was really intense and I was so glad we had ponchos, however, it was thin enough to still enjoy the falls though.

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elephants use these plants as toothpicks

Our guide said that in March you can see the spray from 70km away and all of the walkways are flooded with water. Also the roar of the water is so intense you can hear it from a town away. So basically, you can’t do tours of the falls when the water is that high.

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When we visited in August, the falls were at a good level because it wasn’t super dry, but there was enough water to see the falls, and the mist wasn’t too thick, and the roar wasn’t too loud. We ran into our rowdy Arkansas friends from the night before at the falls and also saw a man in an IU shirt (who we would later go on to sit by on our flight back to Johannesburg. He and Tyler talked for the whole flight about basketball and Indiana things. Go Hoosiers!)

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At one point during the tour, the stairs were too much for the older lady from California who had just had knee surgery, so we left her behind. We went around the rest of the loop with our guide and saw the boiling point where the water mixes together and the temperature rises.

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We saw the Victoria Falls Bridge which has a train that goes over it and halfway between is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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We saw people really far below in the paths hiking along the river.

We saw the falls from a few different vantage points.

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Once we did a whole lap, we picked up the old lady and went across the small bridge again. Because we didn’t cover much ground with our guide, Tyler and I opted to do our own tour of the rest of the falls and went down the photography path.

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There were so many baboon families hanging out along the paths it was terrifying. They looked like they were just going to try to steal your backpack as you walked by. Our guide said if they try to take it just give it to them and they will dump it out and if there’s no food they’ll give it back to you. I was skeptical about this. Luckily we had no food and didn’t get monkey robbed.

We saw a couple of good viewing points along the photography path and stopped for a while to see if anyone would bungee jump off the big bridge. Apparently a few years ago a lady from Australia was bungee jumping and her rope snapped. She fell into the water and miraculously some white water rafters were passing by at the same time and pulled her into their boat. The river was high enough that she lived from the impact. The next afternoon she jumped again to face her fears. What a badass. We ended up seeing someone jump and it was so cool to see, but I would never do it.

After having our fill of the falls from the ground, we had a quick lunch by the pool

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and headed to see the falls from above, via helicopter. I was absolutely terrified as we got picked up from our hotel in a 4×4 jeep to go to the helipad. It did not help matters that all during lunch I was googling “Is riding in a helicopter safe???” with mixed reviews. The pilot who landed the plane in the Hudson River said he would never let anyone he cared about get in a helicopter and I feel like he probably knows his stuff.

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The safety briefing was brief and then we were led to the chopper where Tyler and I got to sit front row. It was so loud and I was on an adrenaline high. I didn’t even hear anything the pilot said as I strapped myself in. The next thing I knew they were closing the door and we were off! We went straight up and could see the villages below (including where the helicopter owner lived) and then we went towards the gorges.

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helicopter owner’s compound

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I felt like I was in Star Wars as we zigged and zagged through the crevices about 50m above the water. As the helicopter made tight turns, the whole thing would almost go sideways. It was an odd feeling.

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We came out of the gorge and approached the main event, Victoria Falls.

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We flew over the falls and I finally understood the magnitude of just how big this natural wonder was. It was even grander than you can see from the ground.

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We flew around the falls in circles for a few minutes

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and then we headed back towards the base seeing elephants down below.

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It was definitely something I will always remember and I was proud of myself for making it on the helicopter. I think I would be down for another ride in the future.

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For our last dinner of the trip, we had reservations at the Royal Livingstone hotel, which was located in the same park and owned by the same people as the hotel we were staying in. We got there before sunset to have a cocktail while watching the sun descend upon the river. Not only did we see the sunset, but also some hippos as we enjoyed our cocktails.

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The food at the Royal Livingstone was delicious, and maybe overpriced, but the ambiance was well worth it. Not only could we see the shadows of the river from our seats, but then we had two different kitties come to our table while we were eating and then later on the 7 zebras living in the park ran by.

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We had one last good bottle of South African Kanonkop Pinotage and throughly enjoyed ourselves. As we made our way back to our hotel we ran into our Arkansas friends again.

Day 13

On the last day of our vacation, we woke up early to catch a 7:30am speed boat to Livingstone Island. This is the Island that Dr. Livingstone discovered. The boat left from the Royal Livingstone and was about a 3 minute ride. We got to the island and took off our shoes to go on a tour. The muddy ground was so cold on my feet and we donned huge rain jackets for the mist. The squishy mud and slippery rocks were hard to navigate.

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rainbow descending into the falls

There are two pools over the falls that you can swim in depending on the season. The Devil’s Pool is open from Sept – November when there is less water and the island covers more area. You can literally hang over the side of the falls here because the way the rocks create a safe barrier. The Angel’s Pool is open when there is a bit more water like July and August, and has a similar view of hanging over the falls. During March when the waters are highest, no tours to the island are done.

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We walked around the small island and learned that hippos come to the island at night to feed, but the crocodiles won’t come near the island because it’s at the edge of the falls. There are no permanent structures on the island, but the tour company has a temporary kitchen, bathroom, and changing area set up for guests. After our tour of the island, it was our time to swim in the Angel’s Pool. We took off our jackets and two guides led us on certain rocks to get into the right position, less than a meter away from the 200 meter drop. The next 10 minutes consisted of a photo shoot with the dangerous falls in the background. At one point the guy told me to turn and put my feet in a different direction, and basically act like a mermaid, but I was so nervous to move that I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. I will spare you of most of the 100s of photos the guide took and only leave you with the best ones.

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mermaid

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After we washed of the mud and blood (I stubbed my toe on a rock) from our feet we changed for breakfast on the island. We ate with a Dutch couple from Eindhoven which was maybe the 5th Dutch group we talked to on our trip, which I loved. The breakfast was pretty good and then we headed back to our hotel to pack up one last time before heading home.

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The resident zebras decided to send us off and were right outside of our room as we made our way to checkout.

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After taking some time to reflect on our trip, I realized how incredible of an experience we had in Africa. I was very much stretched out of my comfort zone. In Cape Town, I was wary of the people having heard that muggings and car jackings were common, but everyone was extremely kind. In Kruger and Botswana I was wary of the wild animals who are unpredictable, but they would not attack the car because they were used to it. I couldn’t believe how close we got to the animals. I wasn’t scared at all. I was wary in Victoria Falls of falling over the side of the waterfall and didn’t want to swim in the water at all, but I conquered that fear as well.

This trip also make me realize how fortunate we are to be able to live our dreams of traveling. One thing our safari guide Jacob said when the Australians were talking about how they dreamed of going back to Italy is that he never dreams of going to Italy because he knows it is something that will never happen. Another driver we had told me that he was scared of flying because he’s never been on an airplane, but he has been saving up his whole life for a ticket. I hope he gets the chance. The continent of Africa is so vast and we have barely scratched the surface, but I hope to be able to see more in my lifetime.

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