African adventure – part 5 – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Tuesday 23 April we were up at the crack of dawn for our 6.45 am transfer to Cape Town airport. Francois was punctual and, with a hotel takeaway breakfast in hand, we took off to the airport. Having said farewell to Francois we got through the check in process very quickly. We then sat and ate our breakfast as we knew that food / drinks would not be allowed through security (as this was an international security check this time). We proceeded to immigration to depart South Africa but there was only one desk open (manned by a very surly woman) so it was a long queue and we were very grateful that we had plenty of time. Finally we were through (phew!) and walked through the terminal to find our departure gate.

Boarding the flight we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the seats, the only downside was the huge crowd of Turkish women travelling together who were completely over-excited, very noisy and their single tour guide was clearly struggling to keep them all in check LOL. Sadly for us we were positioned right in the middle of this group. The flight took off on time and we settled in – the food offering was good and they even offered wine so that was a bonus! We landed at Victoria Falls Airport and were met with this huge queue snaking for miles and, to top it off, it was very hot with no air conditioning. We didn’t understand why the people were moving so slowly until we came across an official who was monitoring the queue and who then handed us two documents to fill in for our individual Zimbabwe visas. I had checked online but these documents were not available online so we had to suck it up and try to complete them manually as we snaked through the queue. Not the easiest task when juggling hand luggage too! At the end of the line, our documents were checked and we were sent to a visa desk. I had the US $55 each ready in small change (as instructed by our SA concierge) and we ended up behind the Turkish women who continued to cause chaos. We chatted to a lone elderly American lady in front of us who had missed her internal US flights so was now joining her tour group in Zimbabwe rather than Cape Town. We felt quite sorry for her as she was clearly exhausted and a bit discombobulated. She was next in line and I was surprised that they only charged her $30 for her visa. Then it was our turn, and we were charged the expected $55 each. Checking this out later it seems that Americans, Australians and New Zealanders get charged $30; UK and Irish $55; Canadians $75. Very curious pricing structure ?!?

By now pretty hot and bothered, we were pleased to see our bags waiting for us near the carousel so we headed towards the exit where we were met by our driver. As we left the airport building we were treated to a tribal dancing group welcome. Great introduction!

In our private minibus (thankfully with air conditioning) we headed towards our hotel the Ilala Lodge Hotel which was actually located within the Victoria Falls settlement.

We arrived, were welcomed by a refreshing cold drink, checked in and headed to our room. We felt like we had stepped back in time by the old colonial feel of the place but it had a lot of charm. Our room was huge with a great bathroom and balcony overlooking the gardens / bush and, as a gift, our SA concierge had organised a cold bottle of bubbly to be waiting for us. Very nice! We spotted some monkeys straight away outside so knew to keep our balcony door shut at all times LOL. They can certainly wreck havoc if they get into your room…. This hotel had a bit of a resort feel to it with a couple of pools and a nice pool-side bar so we were looking forward to relaxing a bit too after such a busy schedule up to this point.

But that had to wait as we quickly unpacked for the time we were going to be here – put our valuables away in the safe – and headed out to be met by another driver who was going to take us to see the Victoria Falls, by helicopter! We checked in at the little shack servicing the landing pads and waited our turn. There were two helicopters doing the loop over the Falls so we weren’t sure whether we would get put in with others so were absolutely delighted when it was our turn and it was just us. Richard sat in the co-pilot seat and I sat in the back with fantastic views. OMG what an experience, an absolute thrill. We loved it!

By the time we were returned to our hotel we were pretty tired as it had been a very long day. So we sat at the bar, had a snack and a bottle of wine talking about our day, before retiring to bed…..

Wednesday we had a leisurely start and our first breakfast experience – which was a great buffet supplemented by a full hot a la carte offering. Initially we sat outside on the terrace but were bothered by wasps so moved inside for the rest of the service. It was absolutely fantastic!

At 10.00 am we were picked up again to be taken to Victoria Falls National Park where we were booked on a private walking tour. We were given waterproofs and had hats so were ready for every eventuality. So a bit about Victoria Falls – we were on the Zimbabwe side so our walking path came to an end at the Victoria Bridge (and no we didn’t see anybody bungee jumping) as we had no plans on crossing into Zambia. We were there in ‘high water season’ but the Falls were only operating at around 50% strength according to our guide because the rains had failed earlier in the year. A few facts – the falls are a World Heritage Site and the largest on earth. They were discovered by Livingstone 1855 (hence the statue) and they are 1708m wide (5604 ft) by 108m high (354 ft). When running at full capacity over 17 cubic metres or 481,386 cubic feet fall over the edge per minute. What an amazing natural place! The noise of the falls was spectacular – sounding like thunder at times – and we experienced regular cold showers from the mist soaking us as we got a bit close to the edge hence the dishevelled look. We both thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience…

We asked the driver about wandering the town and he asked what did we need? I said I wanted to go to the chemist (still struggling on and off with an upset stomach and getting low on the medication front) so he took us there as he could see that the heat and humidity had us flagging a bit at this stage. Managed to buy 20 Imodium tablets for $2 over the counter – what a bargain! Back at the hotel we decided it was now time to relax….so went to our room…got ready…and retired to the pool for the rest of the day. While we were there we saw an elephant family visit the waterhole and some more baboons hanging around. Lots and lots of birdlife too. Fantastic! We spent the afternoon there and did a bit of bobbing in the pool too with a glass of wine, of course, LOL.

The sun was very intense so we spent most of our time in the shade apart from time spent in the bubbling pool – afterwards we relaxed on our balcony watching the wildlife below. The baboons were out playing on the grass so Richard was very naughty and threw over chocolate muffins – have to say they seemed to enjoy them LOL. We also spotted some other wildlife and was pleased that we didn’t have a ground floor room at this stage!

We then had a snooze before getting ready to go for dinner. We sat outside on the dining veranda and tucked into three courses which was really good. Then it was time to call it a day so headed back to our room for a final glass before bed.

Thursday morning we had another leisurely start and went out to the local artisan markets for a wander around. We did manage to come back with some beautiful wooden bowls which weren’t on the list of things to get….but always nice to support the locals a bit. We enjoyed haggling with them too…

After shopping we went back to the pool for a few hours before getting ready to go out for a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi river. We were picked up at 5pm by the tour operator and driven off to meet the boat, Malachite. We were greeted by a cold towel on arrival, a cocktail and then taken upstairs to take our seats. We were able to get seats on the rail and nobody else joined us so we had a good time enjoying the sights of the upmarket lodges that line the water combined with the regular canapes being delivered and, of course, more drinks LOL.

Then the sun started dipping, the river got busy, and we were treated to the most fantastic sunset over the water. Now we are obviously used to watery sunsets but this was just spectacular. After the sun had sunk below the horizon we were taken downstairs to our allocated dinner table and were served with our meal (which we had selected earlier). There were two chefs cooking on the boat in the tiniest galley you had ever seen. The food they turned out was absolutely fantastic and way beyond our expectations. Another amazing experience…just wow!

Back at the hotel we had some wine in the bar and, as the only guests, got chatting to the bartenders to realise that they were watching an English premier league football match on the phone (Brighton & Hove Albion -v- Manchester City). So we chatted about soccer with them for a while before heading to our room saying our sad farewells as we were leaving the following morning. Tourists tend to come here for a day or so to do the Falls and then move on – very few people stayed here as long as we did. Shame, actually, as it had such a lot to offer over and above the excursions.

Friday morning we got up reasonably early, had some breakfast, and then packed ready for our 10.30 am pick up to the airport. We had an interesting drive to the airport – the (new) driver telling us that he wanted to come to England as he was an experienced farmer and he thought that we might need someone to look after our cows for us! We explained that you have to get a work permit to come to the UK and didn’t think that farming would count as an approved profession for visa purposes. He really thought that a few months work in the UK would be enough to set himself up at home for life. Very sad and quite deluded. Zimbabwe is very poor but they have their governments to blame for that…and I’ll leave it there rather than comment on the politics that had brought them to this state. Of course Richard felt sorry for the guy so his tip was larger than normal….

So that ends this part of our African adventure, please come back soon for the final chapter.

Bye for now. Jan