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Trip Report VIC FALLS: ZIM & a liitle ZAM

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In short we were 3 friends traveling in October 2009 to Cape Town - Chobe NP -Victoria Falls – Hwange NP.

Wanted to share my mini trip report for our time in Victoria Falls. We had so much fun in our short stay.

We pre-booked (3) of our outings during our 2 night stay in Vic Falls: 1. Guided walking tour of Victoria Falls National Park; 2. Zambezi River Sunset Cruise; 3. Morning Breezer to Livingstone Island/Devil’s Pool. We knew we wanted these in place before arrival while allowing for a little free time between safaris.

We arrived at the Kazungula crossing into Zimbabwe from Botswana. We switched vehicles & drivers at the border. It was sweltering hot & waited over an hour for entry. Then a short drive to Vic Falls & Ilala Lodge for check-in and lunch.

VIC FALLS NP
1st stop see the Falls! We were told our guide, Esther, was too busy and asked if we could re-schedule the tour for tomorrow. We understood but we did not wish to reschedule due to our plans for the next day. We asked our hotel’s travel desk for a handy little self-guided map (Victoria Falls Area Map and Foot Path Guide) to the NP and headed out. (BTW you can easily tour VFNP on your own - allow 2 hours, if you have it.)

Upon arrival at the VFNP, we were told our guide, Esther, was able to squeeze us in after all. We walked the footpath and took in the most fabulous views! Even at this low water time – rainbows everywhere! An awesome, natural wonder. Simply spectacular! Walked from the Livingstone Statue, down the steps of the Chain Walk to look across to see the Devil’s Cataract *(VIEW IS SPECTACULAR!), Main Falls, saw across to Livingstone Island where we will visit tomorrow! Then water fall gets less powerful – downright dry as you go east – on to Danger Point & Boiling Point for a view of the famous Vic Falls Bridge. It was my first time seeing a bungee jumper’s free fall. (Gulp! Take that one off my list.)

SUNSET CRUISE
Then back to hotel for our sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. Van pick up for short ride to the dock. We were greeted at the dock by Ndebele singers and dancers – same troop from the airport, I think. At least selling the same CD.

Our next Zambezi River sunset cruise aboard the Ra Ikane! So relaxing after a busy day. This ship brought back memories of Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Saw some birds I can now identify like the hammerkop, darter, pied kingfisher, oyster catcher and little bee eater. Saw even more ellies along the shore. And witnessed one, incredible, bright orange sunset! But the hippos were my favorite here – sorry to disturb them - but what a thrill to see their open mouthed, aggressive ‘yawns’ and hear the snorts! Loved the small boat. All on board were friends by the end of the cruise.

Dinner at VFSL: Took the shuttle service to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. We decided against the famous Boma and in favor of a sit-down--table-dinner in the main restaurant. We ordered the crocodile, guineafowl and warthog. The winner was the warthog. De-licious! They had Ndebele singers strolling the restaurant and you could even watch the hotel's water hole (lighted) while seated at your table. People had their binocs out seated at tables spotting impala and buffalo between courses. Shuttle back to the Ilala Lodge for sleep.

LIVINGSTONE ISLAND!
Beautiful & hot morning. Had breakfast on the veranda at hotel. Relaxing start with a 9:30am departure for the ‘Morning Breezer” on Livingstone Island, Zambia. We chose this option because it was less expensive than the other excursions to the island while leaving more time in our day to pursue other activities.

We were picked up by van for transfer to Zambia ($20US day visa) over the Bridge past the border crossing to the Royal Livingstone Hotel – walked through hotel to dock area to await trip to island by a little outboard boat. I used the bathroom here to change into my swimsuit & shorts. We (the 3 of us) were joined by a lovely couple from Australia.

There is a limit to the number of people allowed on the island. Your boat load (about 6 people) becomes your little group and you are rotated around the island: short tour, Devil’s Pool and brunch.

Once on the island, we were greeted with juice and guided past the toilet tent displaying a sign reading “loo with a view” - to a tent where we would have our brunch a little later.
We were led over some rocky territory to the Livingstone Island marker and shown a fabulous view of the falls. After a few panoramic photo ops, we were brought to the side of the island next to the falls & facing a smaller island – this smaller one had the Devil’s Pool.
We were told that we needed to SWIM about 10-15 yards to this smaller island. (Swim in the Zambezi? Rapid thoughts of waterborne diseases, parasites, hippo poo, any program on the Discovery Channel! But I planned to jump in the Devil’s Pool – why not swim to get there?)

Leave all clothes & purses here - we were told. The guides asked for our cameras – one guide was going to walk them over along the edge of the Falls & take photos for our group of 5. As we took off our clothes to get ready for the swim, I noticed a rope pulled across the river – perhaps a safety rope? Our guide donned a life vest (and offered a turtle back ride to any unsure swimmers) and instructed us to swim in an arc, away from the edge to counteract the current, and swim over to the smaller island while staying close together. We all made it! We were then walked over to the other side of this small island to see the famous Devil’s Pool! We were given two options for entry: jump or descend gently down the rocks. I am not sure what possessed me but jumped in first. I guess I wanted my last words to be “Cannon ball!” My friends soon followed - but with more dignity. We had our photo session at the edge and were in the pool for about 10 minutes. Only discomfort were little fish nibbling on your toes. I wasn’t terrified because I couldn’t see the other side. Soon the next group arrived & so we were asked to exit and walk to the other side of the island and return the same way. (I swam with my waterproof camera - but never really had time to use it.) Upon reaching the larger island, I slipped on some loose rocks and accidentally pulled on that floating (safety looking) rope. It came loose immediately. (gulp!)

They had towels waiting for us and we were reunited with our cameras. We tipped the photographer - the photographs were great & he even took a couple of movies.

We were invited to the tent for our brunch featuring Eggs Benedict. You had the option to change out of your swimsuit – at the Loo with the view. But I wasn’t soggy for long in the 100’F heat.

Sadly, we later learned that a guide had recently fallen from Devil’s Pool to his death while helping a tourist.

We boarded the skiff to return to The Royal Livingstone Hotel where our representative & van awaited. A leader in the Zambian army & his entourage were departing the hotel at the same time – quite interesting.

It was a short van ride to the border and then to the Bridge. I asked if we could walk the bridge & our driver agreed to wait for us on the Zim side. It was interesting to see the historic rail lines contrast with the bungee & abseiling additions on the Zam side. From the pedestrian side, the view was not as spectacular as I anticipated. But loved walking it just the same. Jumped in the van and we were back at the hotel to shower, change clothes have lunch.

MEDICAL CLINIC
Unfortunately, my friend had need for a stop at a medical clinic. Our hotel arranged for a driver to take us to a clinic in Vic Falls. In less than 20 minutes and $30 later, she saw a doctor & was given a prescription. We went to fill the Rx at the Kingdom Hotel (modeled after the Great Zimbabwe) just across from the Ilala – but it was closed so the same driver took us to a pharmacy in the Elephant Walk Shopping area of Vic Falls. Pills purchased & she was on the road to recovery. Hotel staff was wonderful.

HELICOPTER RIDE & HORSE SAFARI
As for our free afternoon - I opted for the helicopter ride over the Falls. I purchased this through the hotel’s excursion desk. It was a great way to appreciate the vast size of the falls & gorges. It was a thrill being in a helicopter - my first time! Afterward, I had a little time on my hands so I walked over to the Victoria Falls Hotel & sat on the veranda for sunset. Yet another great view of the gorges and the mist.

My friends chose to go on a horseback riding safari that was recommended by the hotel’s desk. They rode along and into the upper Zambezi with a wonderful guide & loved it. They were picked up in the open back of a pick-up truck for the ride to the ranch. They said it was amazing hear the sounds of the park – without the noise of an engine.

We dined at Mama Africa’s Eating House that night – a short walk from our hotel.
Our hotel desk called over to make reservations and watched us walk the 3 city blocks – the restaurant’s waiter watched from his end & greeted us. We loved the food & décor. I finally got to try foods like peanut butter rice, bream and sazda! Also, it was interesting to see that the menu had all prices listed on a typed, Xeroxed page which was stapled to the back of the menu – a practice started during time of hyperinflation.

The Zimbabweans we talked to in Vic Falls – who are also a part of the tourism industry – said life is better than 6 months ago. I sincerely hope it continues to improve.

Our next day we had the morning to do a little shopping before departure. We walked to the main area of town to check out the grocery store and were tailed by Tourist Escort/Police. We walked over to the Open Curio Market behind our hotel with our escorts in tow. Lots of carved Shona figures and trillion$ of Zim dollars for sale. I bought my favorite souvenir, a mbira or thumb piano, from one of the stands. As expected, the vendors were very aggressive and it wasn’t a relaxing shopping experience. Three shoppers against 50+ vendors.

We transferred to VFA for our flight to Hwange NP, Zimbabwe...

If you’ve read this far - please feel free to check out my photos: Click on my VIC FALLS ALBUM: http://southernafricatrip2009.shutterfly.com/

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