Travelling with Alex – Part Two: Going to the extremes…

Victoria Falls Travel Blog

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Elephants on the road

Air Botswana flight BP024 was our exit strategy for Gabs on Sunday May 25. The propeller machine that was awaiting us after check in left Gaborone in time at 9:30 AM and transported us and 40 other passengers safely to Kasane in the far northeast, where Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet at the mighty Zambezi river.

 

We got off at the tiny airport and the troubles seemed to begin. We had tried to contact our hotel on the Zimbabwe side to no avail. Our calls did not go through. My initial thinking was that we just grab a taxi to the border and then another taxi on the other side of the border. Well, it wasn’t that easy. We asked for transport and a friendly airline agent told us we should not follow the taxi idea because of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Our room
He telephoned several people and finally found a carrier that would get us to the border and from there arranged for the future transfer to our hotel in Victoria Falls Town. In the meantime Alex was getting more and more nervous and started considering different options like not going to Zimbabwe but rather travel to Zambia to see the Falls. I tried to calm her and when we found someone to transport us she relaxed. For US-$110 (which fit the description for transportation in our travel guide) we were driven towards the border which is only a few km from Kasane.

 

We arrived there, filled our emigration form for Botswana and then moved on to the Zimbabwean border post.

View from the west
The flag was waving in the wind, the sky blue and it felt a bit awkward because we were not really sure what was expecting us over there. We heard loud music from the post and coming closer I realized that it was Michael Jackson’s song about slum inhabitants in South America with the ironically fitting theme “What about us?”. It was felt very cynical, having images of the atrocities in my mind and people starving because there is no food for them. The customs officers were extremely friendly. They joked, the visa fee was rather moderate (18 euros) and in no time we had entered Zimbabwe and were being picked up on the other side by a friendly driver. He explained that we’d be driving for an hour through a nature reserve all the way to Vic Falls Town. We were a few minutes on our way when he started complaining about Robert Mugabe and the state of affairs in his country.
Full View
I was amazed by the openness and candidness with which he described the situation and his grief about what is happening. When he heard that my field of work was human rights and international law he inquired what international law did say to help them. I was ashamed I could not really help him or give him hope. He was extremely frustrated with the other Southern African states and their (non-)reaction.

 

A few minutes later, we saw elephants crossing the street. Just like this. It was my first elephant to see in Africa and I was taken away. It was so incredible to come so close…on the way, we saw about 10 more. A few km on, there were 5 giraffes munching away on an acacia tree. Unbelievable. The whole landscape was very pretty, slightly hilly. Our driver was proud of the beauty of his country and from what I was seeing I could only agree.

 

After about an hour we reached Victoria Falls Town and checked into our hotel, the first that ever opened in Zimbabwe, back then Rhodesia in 1906: The Victoria Falls Hotel.

At Main Falls
It is an incredibly nice place as you can tell from the pictures: very colonial, very upper-class. Normally, we wouldn’t be able to afford such a place, but Alex’ employer had provided her with free travel vouchers which we could apply here. The view from the terrace is spectacular: You see the spray of the Falls and you hear the thundering noise. Our room was very nice but we immediately started out to check out the surroundings. One thing was noticeable right away: Many, many signs informed us that foreigners were only allowed to pay in foreign currency. And in fact it was almost impossible to obtain Zimbabwe $. Only on the ride back I asked the driver whether he could give me a bill and he provided me with a Zim$ 250’000’000 bill which is currently about US-$0.50…

 

The next day we went to the Falls in the morning.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
It is so hard to describe. A private footpath that belongs to the hotel leads to the entrance to the park surrounding the falls. We had to pay about 15 euros entrance fee and then were free to enter and stay for the day. We could have taken raincoats but had decided against it…after all it was warm and the falls couldn’t really be that wet. After another 5 minutes walk the air grew moister. And then, all of a sudden, to our right we saw the Victoria Falls from the west. It was so beautiful. We just stood there and gazed. Then we descended the 70 steps to a lower level and from there, the view was much better. We were standing in quite some mist, the Devil’s Cataract was roaring to our left hand side and we saw Cataract Island as well as the Main Falls in the distance, partially hidden in spray…a gorgeous sight: 1700 metres of waterfalls.
In front of Devil's Cataract

 

We moved on to the statute of Dr. Livingstone, the first European to see the Falls and later name them. From there, we had a great view on Devil’s Cataract, basically staying on top of it. The sheer force of the water was breathtaking. At end of May, the falls have very high water which is further rising until mid-June and then lessening every week.

 

We continued our walk to opposite the Main Falls and there was so much water in the air that we literally got soaked to the bones. Everything got wet. We ventured on though to the furthest point on Zimbabwean soil, the Danger Point which was not at all secured and the stones were slippery and you could hardly see because of the spray.

With Livingstone - dry
We were not able to take any pictures pretty much from the start of the Main Falls.

 

I think I have never in my life seen such a beautiful and forceful display of nature. I have been to Niagara Falls, but in my views this is much more impressive because at Victoria Falls you view the falls from the same level as they are. It is as if the earth simply had opened a rift and nothing happened to the other side. I got very emotional, thinking about my family and especially my dad who are not coming here. My dad would have enjoyed this so much. I could hear him shouting words of amazement, laughing at getting soaked, making fun about us being soaked. I missed him so much there that it brought tears to my eyes.

 

We then took 1 ½ hours to dry off in the sun and our clothes dried pretty well.

Cataract Island
My wallet however suffered a final blow and is now on the brink of collapsing. I had to dry all the money in the wallet and also my cell phone had acquired water under the display (which is now gone, thank goodness!). We continued walking around the premises and enjoying the falls as well as the semi-tropical forest surrounding it where we saw monkeys and a bushback. At 2 PM we left the park. Like I said, it was an incredible experience. Both Alex and I lacked words when talking about days later.

 

We changed clothes and went into town. This was quite an extreme shock. The city itself looks neat but if you enter the supermarkets, you will find empty shelves or shelves just filled with one line of maybe 10 products of which 4 are tea and the rest being soaps. No food, just a little candy. It was such a stark contrast to our 5 star hotel where we got everything, be it passion fruit in the morning or Zambezi fish in the evening.

I made it to the Victoria Falls!
People were very friendly and we did not feel unsafe. But the poverty was striking. It was not easy to deal with this. When we talked to people they told us they were happy that we came to stay, no matter where, because this was at least giving them some opportunity to earn money. I do believe that Vic Falls Town is a rather safe and “blessed” place currently because the Mugabe men will not destroy this last hub of foreign currency acquisition.

 

At 4 PM we were being picked up for a Zambezi cruise which was very nice indeed. We got as close as about 2 km to the falls and could see the spray again. We saw hippos and a crocodile, different birds and an elephant trapped on a small island where he was munching away on what was available.

Me at the Falls
Seems he had been swimming there. The cruise ended in an incredible sunset over the Zambezi and we returned to the hotel where we had light dinner.

 

The next morning we had to pack our things, settle our bills and then where brought back to Kasane. We exited Zimbabwe alright, a country of extremes, which once was blessed. And I do believe it is still blessed because of the people that I met and their sincerity, the love of their country and the beauty of the country and nature I witnessed. They deserve so much better than they have been treated in the last decade.

 

The run off is on June 27. I wonder what will happen. Grace Mugabe, Bob’s wife who is 40 years his junior, just told supporters that he will never step down.

With Livingston - wet
The director of DITSHWANELO told me it will be civil war if the rigging continues through June 27…and we were staying in a peaceful and extremely luxurious hotel. It was very surreal. But also very impressive.

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Elephants on the road
Elephants on the road
Our room
Our room
View from the west
View from the west
Full View
At Main Falls
At Main Falls
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
In front of Devils Cataract
In front of Devil's Cataract
With Livingstone - dry
With Livingstone - dry
Cataract Island
Cataract Island
I made it to the Victoria Falls!
I made it to the Victoria Falls!
Me at the Falls
With Livingston - wet
With Livingston - wet
First view of the Falls
First view of the Falls
Drying in the sun
Drying in the sun
Drying my money
Drying my money
Rainbows
Rainbows
Spray over the Falls
Spray over the Falls
Misty sunset
Misty sunset
Aaaah, 5 star hotels...
Aaaah, 5 star hotels...
Monkey in hotel garden
Monkey in hotel garden
Photo of the Falls
Photo of the Falls
Monkeys at the Falls
Monkeys at the Falls
Entrance to hotel
Entrance to hotel
Door to our hotel room
Door to our hotel room
The hotel
The hotel
Hippos
Hippos
Beginning of the cruise
Beginning of the cruise
Some bird
Some bird
Elephant caught on an island in th…
Elephant caught on an island in t…
Sunset over the Zambezi
Sunset over the Zambezi
2km from Vic Falls on the Zambezi
2km from Vic Falls on the Zambezi
Bushback
Bushback
View from hotel terrace
View from hotel terrace
During the cruise
During the cruise
Zim Flag
Zim Flag
Victoria Falls
photo by: Biedjee