Tuesday, 15 August 2017

African diaries, part 8 and final: Victoria Falls

Read the previous chapters of this story: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

We only had a short drive from Chobe to Zimbabwe border, and although Dumi had anticipated possible delays, it went quickly and smoothly. Dumi was clever to start early: there were other groups arriving as we were getting across. And he was perfectly efficient at passport control: collected all our passports, forms and cash for the visa, and it was all done in minutes. We were in Victoria Falls by 9.

Now, the Falls as such is an attraction, but apparently VicFalls is also the capital of extreme adventures, including bungee jump, gorge swing, white-water rafting and other things I wouldn't do if you paid me. The only thing I seriously considered was Lion Walk, which was pricey, but I thought it would be a chance of a lifetime. On closer inspection, of the three hours, including pick-up and drop-off, one hour would be a talk on lion rescue programme, and then maybe, with some luck, you'd be able to follow lion cubs for half an hour in a large enclosure, so I decided against it. Anton was considering gorge swing, but at the last moment chose a 13-minute helicopter flight. Some people went horse-riding and fishing. All these activities had to be booked at various places so we didn't reach our hotel until 10.30. There, we said farewell to our wonderful tour assistants, Tabiza (also our marvelous chef) and Ambition. The rooms were not ready yet, so we unloaded our luggage, left it in the lobby and walked 2 km to the entrance of the park. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable walk, since most of it was along a busy road without sidewalks, but eventually we came to the park, where, as Dumi had recommended, we would need at least two hours to go through the sixteen viewing points.

I will not describe the Falls because there are not enough superlatives to convey the experience. I won't post all the pictures Anton has taken because pictures cannot do it justice. Just one, to prove we were there.

If you remember my first post, I had no huge expectations, because I had seen Niagara. Just shows my ignorance. Next time I come to Victoria Falls, I want to stay for three days, go to the park when it opens and stay until it closes. And I will make sure I come at full moon because then they also open at night.

There were lots of noisy people whom I tried to ignore. The difference between VicFalls and all the other places we had been to was obvious. This was a major tourist attraction, noisy and crowded. I would have liked to stay at each point – all sixteen of them – for much longer, just sit there and watch. But we were already, with a lunch break, running late because Anton was to be picked up at the hotel for helicopter flight. We had planned to walk to the bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia, that we had seen from the park. 

But we were getting hot and tired and took a taxi back to the hotel. It was nice to lie down on a proper bed after a nice hot shower.

Anton came back absolutely euphoric, and when I watched his video I understood why. This is just one picture. We had walked half of it - ostensibly the most spectacular part, on the left here - up to the gorge. You need to cross to Zambia to see the rest.

Of course, I regret I didn't do it, but I know I couldn't have taken the risk. Deviation: I once was invited to fly a glider and was silly enough to accept. From that experience, I only remember the ecstasy of being high up in the air, with almost 360 degree view of the mountains, in absolute silence. The friend who had invited me only remembers how I puked all over his precious aircraft. I didn't want anything like that happen on a helicopter flight. The close-up view of the Falls was stunning enough.

We walked to town again. During our morning movements, Kory had spotted a women's craft market, and we decided that it was the right place to buy souvenirs. It was a huge industrial building, and there were dozens of women with their ware displayed on the floor: bowls, carved animals, jewellery, scarves. They were really nice things, and the women begged us to buy something, anything, just a small thing… “Welcome to my shop. What's your name? Where are you from? Please buy something...” It felt horrible to buy from one, but not the other, and I hoped they were a cooperative and shared profits, which Dumi confirmed. Still, I feel bad I hadn't bought more because I can always find someone to give a small gift, and it would have gone to a good cause. But it was getting late and dark, and we had a table booked at a place that both Lonely Planet and Dumi recommended. The food was good, but not remarkable, while the atmosphere felt genuine. Our last dinner in Africa.

In the morning we only had a couple of hours before airport transfer, and Anton and I went to the bridge. I am glad we did, because seeing the gorge from the bridge was quite a special experience. We had seen those masses of water the day before, and all this water had to pass through this very narrow gorge, which means it must be as deep as hell.

Dumi had told us to bring passports to the Zimbabwian checkpoint, but tell them we only wanted to go to the bridge. We were given a piece of paper that said: “2 people, to the bridge”. We crossed the actual border, but turned back before the Zambian checkpoint. 

That was it, and I won't describe the long, long journey home.

The trip has been life-changing in many ways, all positive, and it filled some serious gaps in my geography and history. I know it sounds trivial, but things do look different from another viewpoint, when you are there. Now, over two weeks since I returned home, I have still not quite sorted all impressions, but writing about them was helpful. And, although I kept saying to myself that it was definitely my last long-haul trip, it has made me wish to travel more. Who knows what my next destination may be?

Here were are, great travel companions, through thick and thin. And our fabulous Dumi, whose knowledge, enthusiasm and skill made the experience so genuinely brilliant. 

Anton has made a visual summary of the trip that you can watch here.



Elise Walck said...

Vilken fantastisk resa!

Och intressant att läsa dina om dina upplevelser - blir lite sugen på att resa till Afrika.
Men vilket intensivt program ni hade. Antons proffsiga bilder kompletterar din text fint.

Hälsningar Elise

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