Sunday, October 21, 2007
Zambia & Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls, "The Smoke that Thunders"
Sunshine at The Smoke
On my way to heat up water in
the camper for coffee, I found a carafe of hot water had been left at
the doorstep of our chalet. How nice!
I spent about an hour this morning cleaning dirt and sand out of the
camper and wiping down surfaces. It had gotten pretty filthy
during our time in the bush. A little whisk broom with our kit
from the rental depot would have made such a difference, but instead I
put on my work gloves and brushed the dirt out with my hands.
The fridge wasn't as cold last night as it had been, and when I checked
it this a.m., it had completely failed. The lunch meat had gone
bad, so I threw it out and made sandwiches with the last of the
cheese. The leftover dinner from last night that we'd planned to
have tonight had to be thrown out as well. But worst of all, the
beer was warm! Now that's just sad. Thank goodness the
fridge hadn't failed while we were in the bush. Even with all our
other camper problems, at least we had a functioning fridge when it
We had the whole day today to hike around Victoria Falls, one of the
largest waterfalls in the world. October is dry season, so just a
fraction of water was falling as does in wet season, but this is
supposed to be a good time to visit, because in wet season there's so
much mist and spray that the falls are obscured. Maybe someday we
can visit a different time of year and confirm this. I'll keep
Some stats: Vic Falls is 1.7 kilometers wide (over a mile!), 108
meters high (354 feet!), and has an annual average flow of one million
liters per SECOND. The falls are formed when the full width of
the Zambezi River plummets into a deep chasm. The spray from the
falls can be seen from kilometers away. Victoria Falls is on the
border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and there's a national park in each
country to protect the falls and collect your tourist dollars.
Dr. David Livingstone, the famous explorer, was the first European to
see the falls, in 1855. He named them Victoria after the queen of
England, but they were and still are known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya,
"The Smoke that Thunders."
For $3 we parked the truck for the day on the Zambian side of the falls
at a gated area next to a souvenir market with pushy vendors, just
outside Victoria Falls World Heritage National Monument Site, part of
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Entrance to the site is US$10
each. It's open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and we got there at
8:45. There were no area maps available, but the trails are
signposted and pretty straightforward.
We elected to walk the Falls Trail first, to avoid a hoard of guided
tourists headed the other direction. This trail leads away from
the falls. There are good views of the gorge and of the
Victoria Falls Bridge connecting Zambia with Zimbabwe. Here we
met our first unofficial tour guide, actually one of the vendors from
the market by the car park. These touts introduce themselves and
chat you up so you'll buy something from them later. So
irritating. The first guy wasn't so bad, but they got worse later.
Victoria Falls Bridge
The Boiling Pot Trail was next,
a steep and beautiful path ending in a
scramble over boulders down to the Zambezi River to the put-in spot for
rafters on the Zambian side of the river. As soon as we started
down the trail, a large group of rafters came hiking up behind us,
virtually chasing us down the gorge. I guess they were ready to
start their raft trip! The rafting looked awesome. If we'd
had another day, we'd have joined them.
Ready to row, Zambezi River at the Boiling Pot
Things that are swept over the
falls, including animals and humans, are
frequently found swirling about at the Boiling Pot. The bodies of
two people mutilated by crocodiles were found here in 1910 after two
canoes were capsized by a hippo at an island above the falls.
When we visited, there was a dead croc washing about here, but our
illegal tour guide assured us that there are certainly no crocs in the
lower Zambezi, hence it's perfectly safe for rafting.
An ex-croc in the
On our way to the Boiling Pot we
picked up another unofficial tour
guide, much more bothersome than the first guy. He was wasting
his time following us around and should have saved himself the
trouble. It was a long, hot hike back up the trail. We
passed a guy working for one of the rafting companies carrying a
backboard down the trail. I asked him if a rafter had broken his
back, and he said yes. I wonder how good the hospital is in
A local sneaks into
our photo on the Boiling Pot Trail
The third trail we took was the
main path, leading along a cliff
opposite the falls and across the footbridge to Knife Edge Point.
The best views of Victoria Falls from Zambia are along this
trail. The gorge is gorgeous, but there just isn't much water to
see here in dry season.
Victoria Falls from
the Zambia side, dry season
A gorge-ous view
You can also walk around some of
the dry part at the top of the falls
this time of year, and we walked out a little ways but didn't find it
that interesting. It was a very hot day, and we went to the
concession stand for ice-cold water and Sprite instead.
Exiting the park brings you right to the curio market, where our
unofficial and unwanted guides from earlier found us, and oh-so-many
additional shopkeepers also wanted to be our new best friends.
Tom told them we certainly weren't going to buy anything right now
because we were walking across the bridge to Zimbabwe and didn't want
to carry extra stuff with us all day.
Victoria Falls is on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, but the best
views are on the Zimbabwe side. Most tourists are lodging on the
Zambia side nowadays due to the economic turmoil and political collapse
in Zimbabwe, but it's easy enough to walk across the bridge and see it
from both sides, though it's gonna cost you a few additional bucks to
enter Zimbabwe, naturally. With the low water in October, a trip
to the Zimbabwe side is a must!
Zimbabwe had one of Africa's strongest economies before President Bob
Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms wrecked the agricultural
sector. The land ended up in the hands of Mugabe's cronies, who
had little to no farming experience, and the once productive farms
which formerly made Zimbabwe the breadbasket of Africa soon were
barren. Thanks to Bob, Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation
rate, close to 25,000 percent. The International Monetary Fund
expects inflation to reach 100,000 percent by the end of the
year. In response to the runaway inflation, Mugabe instituted
price controls, which has led to widespread shortages of necessities,
since shopkeepers can't afford to stock goods to sell at a loss.
Desperate Zimbabweans have been illegally fleeing to South Africa and
Botswana. South Africa has put in a triple fence topped with
barbed wire in response to the growing influx. The border fence
being built by Botswana is electric.
To visit Zim from Zam, we had to officially exit Zambia, getting our
passports stamped on the way out. I told the immigration official
that we were going to Zim for the day only and would return. We
hoped that our passports were properly stamped such that we wouldn't
have to pay the $100 visa fee that we'd gotten waived yesterday when we
reentered Zam later! As we left the Zambian border post, a guy
tried to sell us Zimbabwe dollars. What a ripoff at any
price. The Zim money isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
We left Zambia, walked across
Victoria Falls Bridge, and were surprised
that the border entry post to Zimbabwe was not immediately on the other
side. We kept on walking till we reached the border facility and
went in to get our visas. Zimbabwe doesn't do day visas, so we
had to buy visas for an entire year, US$30 each. Interestingly, I
noted a sign stating that the fee for Canadians was US$75.
Weird. It was a very nice, very official-looking stamp in
multiple colors with a hologram and everything, taking up an entire
page of my passport, but it still seemed pricy for just a few hours'
The entrance to Victoria Falls National Park is just outside the border
post. Entrance is US$20, payable in US dollars only. We
started at the western end of the park by the statue of good Dr.
Livingstone and worked our way east. The panoramas of the falls
from the Zimbabwe side were stunning. Even during dry season, we
could feel the mist from the falls and had to cover our cameras.
In wet season you wouldn't even be able to stand at many of the
viewpoints. Unlike on the Zam side of the falls, we had the Zim
park almost to ourselves.
Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side
From one of the viewpoints we
could see Livingstone Island across the
gorge in Zambia at the top of the falls. Livingstone Island is a
rock at the lip of the Victoria Falls that can be visited on a private
tour. During dry season, paying daredevils transfer by motorboat
to this private island, swim in the Devil's Pool right at the top of
the falls, and even hang over the falls' edge while someone holds their
legs to keep them from plummeting into the abyss. Those people
are nuts. I mean, what if, while you're hanging over the
side, the water surges even just a little bit?
Idiots on the edge of nothingness, Devil's
Still early afternoon when we
exited Victoria Falls National Park, we
decided to walk into the town of Victoria Falls, just about a kilometer
from the park. On our way we were accompanied once again by a man
trying to sell us something. He wanted to sell us two roughly
handcrafted stone hippos for $10. We really weren't interested
and we said so. He kept following us and kept lowering the price
until, finally, when he lowered the price to $2, we bought them and
threw in an extra buck.
The town of Victoria Falls used to be a major tourist center.
Almost everyone visiting the falls stayed in Zimbabwe rather than
Zambia due to the superior views. Now, with Zim's troubles, it's
practically devoid of tourists. At the gas station there was
nothing for sale, no petrol, no diesel, no paraffin (kerosene), but yet
was posted. We walked to the town center and were immediately
surrounded by children begging and men trying to sell us things we
didn't want. I was ready to leave. Someone offered us a
taxi ride as far as the Zim border post for $5. That's only the
first kilometer of our long walk back to our truck, so we
declined. It's really quite sad in Zimbabwe now. This
used to be a prosperous country. We'd like to return someday when
their president is deposed.
A typical store in
Way to go, Bob
Again we stopped at the Zimbabwe
border post, getting our passports
stamped on the way out, and made the long trek through no-man's-land to
the bridge. More people followed us around and tried to sell us
things or even to trade for whatever we had. Eventually, I bought
something from one very persistent fellow who followed me for over a
kilometer and kept calling me "mama," which was quite
annoying. I ended up getting three copper bracelets for $5 and my
bandana. In retrospect, not a very good trade, especially
considering that I didn't even want the bracelets! He just
finally wore me down.
There were bungee jumpers launching themselves from the bridge and a
kayak contest going on in the river below. It's quite a bungee
jump at 111 meters (360 feet!) We stopped and watched until the
searing sun forced us to press on.
A kayak competition on
the Zambezi River
I was delighted that our
re-entry into Zambia went as planned and we
did NOT have to pay any kind of visa fee. Then we returned to our
truck, parked over in front of the curio stands, where all our
"friends" from this morning waited. They shouted "Remember
me? Remember me? I'm so-and-so. Come look at the
things in my shop!" I was sick of it. We jumped in the
truck and made our escape.
Back at the Maramba River Lodge, our feet were killing us. We
walked over 15km today (over 9 miles). For
medicinal purposes, I drank some vodka and warm orange juice while we
got cleaned up.
Since the faulty fridge spoiled our leftovers, we went for dinner in
the lodge restaurant. It was all formal looking, with white
tablecloths and candlelight and an overdressed waiter, but all the
guests were decked out in ordinary safari drab like us. Not being
real busy place, the restaurant had only four choices for dinner:
fish, chicken, burgers, or steak and bacon. We both got the steak
and bacon with mustard sauce, which came with french fries, veggies,
It was excellent! We also had two beers each. The bill came
to 124,000 kwacha. With tip, that made it $35. Very
The mosquitoes were out in force tonight, and we lit coils, used
repellant, and hid behind the mosquito netting. Still, each of us
got bitten at least once, hopefully not by an infected Anopheles
mosquito, the malaria-carrying kind.
Mosquito-coil art by
10 kilometers or less driving
today. Most of the action was on
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