Accomodation : Gorges Lodge, Vic Falls
Driver for the day : Blacksie (organised by the lodge)
There are some days that you travel where the days are good but not right up there in terms of memory creating and then there are days like today!
The day started off with a great breakfast perched high on the gorge wall looking into the Zambezi River. Below our feet, little lizards buzzed around searching for the sun and maybe a morsel to eat. It made for the promise of what was to come.
We were picked up by Blacksie who was going to be our driver for the day. First stop Victoria Falls. As you walk up to the gate where payment was made ($40 US for non nationals) you could see the puffs of ‘smoke’ rise up from behind the trees. It’s quite lush here up against the rest of the Zimbabwe we have seen, fundamentally made possible by the climate and the falling mist/rain from the waterfall itself. At first glance you can’t see the Falls, needing to walk up a treed path where there are a series of sixteen lookout points. Walking to the Falls we really wondered whether this would live up to the hype as we were a little disappointed with Niagara Falls. We hoped this wouldn’t be the same, given that we had been told that the levels whilst not at their lowest, still had a way to go before it was exhibiting its full fury.
We needn’t have worried for at first glance, we were met with an image bigger than the eye could take in in one look. This was a movie image in 4D – you could feel it, see it, hear it and smell it and in the midst of it was a perfect rainbow full of intense colour and vibrancy. We walked along and looked out at this incredible vista from each angle. Some points were easy to stay awhile, whilst others you got drenched each time an updraft carried the water vapour up from the gorge below. Regardless it was quite enjoyable as the water and mist dried almost as soon as it hit your skin given the intensity of the sun. The entire walk took two hours and was only a couple of kilometres in distance. It was the looking and wanting to take it all in, along with striving to capture the beauty of it in an image that took the time.
After leaving the Falls, we were met again by Blacksie and taken to the Zimbabwe/Zambia no mans land. The end of Zimbabwe finishes on one side of the bridge and Zambia on the other. On each side there are visa check points although you can get a gate pass which allows you to enter the no mans land in the middle – basically the bridge.
The town itself is the Zimbabwe version of Hollywood – the place where dreams can be made but also the place where when you scratch under the surface, there are still people doing it incredibly tough. It’s a town not a village and in the heart of it are two main streets, complete with ATM’s (apparently the international ones do have currency but the maximum you can pull out is $200 – I guess the reason is that there is money going in in this town) supermarkets, liquor stores, shoe stores, tourist adventure sellers and then a myriad of souvenir shops all containing the same thing but apparently hand made the owner. It’s a busy town with brick houses that we’ve been told cost upwards of $400,000 US to buy. It’s here that the white of Zimbabwe live and make money, if they haven’t already left the country and it’s where the black hope to make enough to send their kids to school and buy a goat ($30 US, donkey $100 US, cow $350 US). Everyone just wants a little more than they have.
After visiting the bridge we were taken to the ‘Three Monkeys Restaurant’. (No 3 of 36 restaurants on TripAdvisor). Deb’s son in law owns it and so she thought it would be easier to go there than travel the 30 minutes each way back to Gorges for lunch. The place was incredibly busy, built around a train carriage and seemingly very popular with everyone. We had a burger and a tropical pizza African style – this one came with bacon and banana rather than ham and pineapple. Therefore was also some great drinks including a ‘Virgin Strawberry daiquiri’ that was perfect in providing some cool against the intensity of the sun.
Following lunch we headed to the markets, and it was here that we ready felt the need to try and help everyone. Sure it may have been a sales pitch but having seen the tiny round clay houses that people live in, void of any power and been aware of the money situation, we knew we were living life on the high end in comparison.
Whilst it was impossible to help everyone not only given the volume of people but also the weight limit we have on the upcoming charter flight, we did have some fun with some of the locals. Mike and Donovan had stone stores selling all manner of African animals, birds and people. Mike was a smooth salesperson and Donovan wasn’t getting in his way. In the end we did a deal where we bought one small animal from each store and they split the amount. Sitting next to him was another guy who quietly asked for a $1. Being New Year’s Day we thought we make it a bright one and handed over the amount much to his surprise. We then went into one of the two Women’s co-operative buildings and haggled with Gladys and the ‘oldest women here…just look at her teeth…or lack of them’. We brought another couple of small things to try and support their endeavours. At this point we realised we couldn’t buy something from everyone’s tiny little collection so decided it was time to call it and head back to the van. Two women outside the co-operative grabbed us and haggled in a way that I think I’ve only seen on a Bali mountain top! We shopped them down to two items for $16 US and then made their day when we gave them a $20 note and told them to keep it. The joy from a mere $4 was great to see but also hard to see as well.
Last stop for the day was a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. We arrived with plenty of time as Blacksie informed us that we could then get the prime seats on the boat. The only problem was that our booking was apparently for the morning not the sunset and so we were no-where on the list. As this was included in our hotel booking there wasn’t much we could do about it. Blacksie had a word to some of the people in charge and I think a phone call to Debbie who promptly made another phone call and the next minute we were upgraded.
The African Royale boat was beautifully appointed. Tables and wicker chairs were arranged in groups of four and there was plenty of room to move around and it was low to the water so you could see the animals as you came up along them. The drinks were free, the wi fi free and the copious food also free (well actually included in the price but…). We were seated with an English couple who managed a tent facility in Interlaken (Manor Farm). As a result there was plenty to talk about as we gushed about Switzerland and they agreed!
The cruise sailed for around two and a half hours and we saw plenty of hippopotamus in the water (yes they really do exist in abundance!). We also ate crocodile skewers, beef balls, samosas, deep fried haloumi and a few vegetarian options. The weather was a little overcast despite being warm so the sunset wasn’t that great but hey after the day we had had we definitely weren’t complaining!