VICTORIA FALLS

Tucked away in the corner of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is located one of the seven natural wonders: the Victoria Falls (Mosi wa Tunya).  It does not matter how many times you see it, this sight still amazes and fills one with awe.  It is a mighty spectacle; to see a river that big just falling off the precipice 100 meters deep (like Christopher Columbus’ fourth ship… but this one can still be located).

Above is a picture of the falls from just below the Devil’s Cataract.  You cannot see anything else but the might of the water.  What are the chances that something like this could be created out of the African plain?  Why at this very location?

 

How do you get there?

Simple: just fly there.  Victoria Falls (airport code VFA) is a full international airport with customs and immigration facilities.  With the uncertainty in the political direction and future of Zimbabwe right now, the airport is grossly under-utilized.  You can fly directly on Suid Afrikansee Lugdiens (figure that one out) and British Airways (ComAir)  from Johannesburg and Air Zimbabwe from Harare.   Unfortunately, you cannot fly to VFA from Bulawayo (BUQ).  If you are driving (good luck in finding fuel); it is a long and winding road from Harare.  A shortcut is being prepared which connects Kwe-Kwe and Lupane; but as of right now (May, 2003); from Harare you have to drive all the way to Bulawayo (448 kms) and then Bulawayo to VFA (424 kms).  The Bulawayo – VFA road is a lovely drive which passes through a couple National Parks.  Do not drive at night on this road because there are many wild animals on this road, and an encounter with one can really ruin your vacation.  Watch out for speed traps on the Harare-Bulawayo road, and hot spots include the Norton area and the area just before Shangani.  Bulawayo to VFA is so sparsely populated that you will be the most unfortunate person on earth if you are ticketed for speeding.  The road is also straight, and one time I did the whole 424 kms journey in 2 hours 50 minutes (not advisable, unless you have the car with the horses; like mine with 255 of them!).  Besides, there are settlements along the way where you may need to slow down to safe speeds because of pedestrians and donkeys (lots of donkeys on this road).

 

Where can one stay?

All things being equal, you should stay at the Five Star Elephant Hills Hotel.  However, some idiot torched it late in the year 2000 and it has not yet been renovated.  The political turmoil has reduced hotel occupancy so much that Zimbabwe Sun are in no hurry to repair the facility.  Otherwise, you can stay at The Kingdom (nee Makassa Sun) or the quaint Victoria Falls Hotel (very traditional!!).

 

Above is a picture of the interior courtyard of The Kingdom.  The rooms are okay, and the cuisine is good, albeit expensive.  If I do not have my meals included in the hotel bill, I always eat at the Ilala Lodge across the street (see below).

You can see my son, Anthony, enjoying the facilities offered by Ilala Lodge.  We were just having a meal at the table in the background.

However, there are several lodges around the Victoria Falls area, you do not have to sleep out in the open if you have a fat wallet.  There are several game lodges as well around there.  For a great deal, try Pamusha Lodge: a very friendly place with a creatively constructed Boma in which a tree grows right through it!!!!  Check this lodge out on http://www.pamusha.com.  Mr. Makanza will welcome you with open arms together with his pleasant staff.

 

Back to the Falls

Dr. Livingstone I presume?  See the statue below. It would be a defalcation if you do not get to see the statue of Dr. Livingstone, the first white man to see the falls (God forbid, he did not ‘discover’ them!).  He heard this roar of the river and mist from the spray rising to the sky and asked some of the natives what the whole din was all about.  They then took his sorry tail over there and showed him.  Supposedly, this was in the year 1855 and he named them after his queen at that time, Victoria.  For Livingstone, this must have really been breath-taking.

In an effort to make money, the government charges fees to see the Falls!!!  You have to go there with your identification particulars because if you are not Zimbabwean, they will force you to pay in foreign currency: ZAR’s, USD’s and BP’s.  I dislike having to pay to enter this nature-made spectacle.  It should not be that way.

 

You can see the falls at flood season as well as in the dry season, and both are very spectacular, in their own different ways.  I prefer the dry season because you can se more, and you do not get drenched by the spray.

In March to June, several millions of liters of water fall over these falls per second, and the noise is deafening.  There is a tropical rain forest created next to the falls which is fed 24/7/365 by the spray from the falls with its own flora and fauna.

Above you can see the situation during the low water season of August to October.  It is still quite an awesome picture.  Below you can see some local beautiful Zimbabwean women sampling the falls during the low water season.

The rainbow made by the spray is always very good to look at.  It is the feel-good feature of the falls.

The unique feature of the Victoria Falls is that there are really no barriers to stop you from falling in the yawning chasm should you feel so inclined.  It is you against the falls.

In the history of the falls, only one person has fallen into the falls (a foreign tourist, what else would you expect?).  You can walk right up to the precipice.  Not advisable if you are afraid of heights.

In the low water season, the Devil’s Cataract appears quite benign (see, above).  In the high water season, this area packs quite a punch!!!  I always muse to myself that if we were to tap all the electrical power that can be generated by the Devil’s cataract alone, Zimbabwe would not need to import any electricity.

 

Apart from the Falls… what else?

After you see the Falls, or before; there is so much else to do.  First, of course is the sport of Kings: GOLF (not horse racing!!).  Elephant Hills is the second best golf course in Zimbabwe.  Below is Hole #9 of Elephant Hills Golf course.

Of course there are several cruises up and down the Zambezi.  The sundowner booze-cruise is the most popular in which you set sail at sun down with a boat full of beer, wine, (women) and song and merriment.  In two hours you come back to port, drunk, in most instances.  Personally I have not been able to drink more than 2 beers during the whole cruise (not much of a drinker!).

There are game drives as well.  You can take one early in the morning in the Victoria Falls National Park or you can go the 80 kms or so to Hwange Game reserve.  Being an African myself, I have never found anything appealing about seeing wild smelly animals.  My earliest recollection as a child is being locked in the kitchen by Grandma while she went to run errands and having the whole homestead overrun by baboons.  They tried force their way into the kitchen where I was locked up but they could not force the lock.  I was only 4 years old.  Later when I got older, I remember having my dogs desert me and found a very, very, very large cat (leopard) up a tree eating a goat (one of our goats!!!).  I started throwing stones at it and it snarled at me and got to be much larger and nearly mauled me.  In 1998, I went on a 2-week tour of the Kruger National Park (see ‘On Safari’ somewhere on this home page).  After 5 days I had had enough and made my escape by flying out of Nelspruit back to civilization.  Animals, no, not me!!  But, different strokes for different folks.

 

There are still the gamblers’ anonymous playgrounds.  There are two very good casinos at The Kingdom and Elephant Hills.  You can gamble till you drop.  Other  activities include the  buying curios and artifacts.  Zimbabweans are excellent wood and stone sculptures.  You can get quite a good price at the local flea markets.  Zimbabwean women are very enterprising when it comes to making and selling doilies, tie-and-dye’s and other esthetically pleasing items. 

 

Do not miss bungee jumping over the Victoria Falls bridge.  It takes all sorts, for sure, but, this is not for me either.  This sport is right in the midpoint of the bridge, the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.  People from Germany and the UK come all the way out there to bungee.  People should not fool around with physics.

 

You can also tour the local market and township.  It is an eye-opener, especially for foreigners who would have been locked up in the luxury of The Kingdom to see what else is happening in VFA.  There is nothing wrong with crossing over to Zambia as well and seeing the sprouting facilities there.  Though most of the falls are in Zambia, the best way of seeing them is from Zimbabwe.

 

If you have some time on your hands, make the 80 km drive to Kazungula Border post, a place where several countries meet.  The major part of the drive will be in the national park, and so if you are lucky, you can get to see some real l’animaux sauvages.  The Zambezi River at Kazungula is quite scenic.  Zimbabwe and Botswana are not in the same customs zone, and so will need a temporary export permit as well as a police clearance certificate to drive your car across the border to Botswana.  Police clearance certificates are sourced from the car’s original domicile, and so do not expect the Vic Falls police to give you one should you decide at the spur of the moment to go to Botswana.  The last time I was in Vic Falls, I had to cross over to Botswana to fill up my car’s petrol tank and to buy some 60 liters of fuel to enable me to make it to Harare (still no fuel in Zimbabwe).  There are several Spar supermarkets on the Botswana side; and I also took advantage of the time I was there to purchase cooking oil, sugar and mealie-meal.  How Zimbabwe has declined since them days!!!  The Batswana’s across the border are not very nice to you the moment they know you are Zimbabwean.  They are very derogatory and make you feel like a beggar from the git-go.  I exchanged a few harsh words with some girl in one of the Spar supermarkets when I told her I was Zimbabwean and had ZAR’s and no Pula’s for my purchase: what rate could she give me?  She told me to wait because she was busy doing something.  She really was not doing anything in particular and kept me waiting for 30 minutes, only to then turn around to me and tell me: ‘2 rand one pula!!!!’ and went back to what she had been doing, which was nothing.  I was not happy and I told her so, and refused to buy from that shop.  Fortunately, just around the corner was an ATM which I used to withdraw P500 which I promptly spent.   On my way back I ran over a guinea fowl (I hope no-one from the National Parks reads this website because killing a guinea fowl can set you back USD100 in fines, whether you were right or wrong… in fact you are never right if you run over an animal in the National Park).  I tried to swerve a number of times but it kept wanting to be run over and I did.  I took it with me and gave it to one of the potters at The Kingdom to go home and stew it for himself and his family.

 

Do not miss (if you are wealthy enough) the Flight of Angels.  In this tour you pay to fly up along the falls in a helicopter and get to see the falls from a different perspective.  The name of this tour was coined by David Livingstone who said that the falls were so beautiful that ‘angels must have gazed at them in their flight’.  This ‘do is not cheap, but well worth the cost.  In February, 2003, a single ticket would set you back Z$35,000.

 

There are series of good pubs in VFA as well as restaurants.  The best restaurant is the big Boma next to Lokhutula lodges.  While you feast on Kudu, Crocodile, Impala, Ostrich and some burrowing animals, you will be entertained by traditional dancers and traditional music.   For the irrepressible ones, there are a whole lot of fine mamas in VFA.  Just play safe.

 

To sample VFA, you will need a minimum of 10 days (per year!) for a stay.  Believe me, once you visit the Vic Falls (as we call them); it will not be your last.  You will keep coming back as often as you can

 

 

Caveat!!!!!

Occasionally, watch out for pick pockets who prey on tourists.  Keep your money and valuables in the hotel safe and only travel with the cash you will need for the day and a credit card for whatever might pop up.  Watch out for the 15 – 19 year old kids who come up to you and ask for black market foreign currency, offering you more than the going rate… those kids are ALL crooks.  The last time I was there, the going black market rate was ZWD1,400 per US dollar.  Some kid approached me and said if I could give him US20.00; he could give me $32,000.  I decided to play along with him (I had no intention of changing money with this hustler).  He then asked me to meet him behind the Barclays Bank since the police were everywhere and could arrest him.  I refused to go to that location and I told him if we could not effect the transaction right there in front of The Kingdom, then I am not doing anything.  Very soon there were about 5 to 6 of these kids, all wanting to be in on the action; surrounding me!!!!!  My seven-year old son was with me.  One of the boys started counting the money….. all the way to $31,000; and said ‘Oops! We are  missing a thousand  dollars here; can you let me go and get the other $1,000?’  I said, no problem, but as far as I am concerned, I am willing to sell my USD20.00 for $31,000;  and so, do not bother looking for the other $1,000; just give me that $31,000 which I have already seen you count.  The kid started to protest, saying he would rather get me the extra $1,000 as per contract and worked so hard to convince me to take $32,000 instead of $31,000.  I said ‘No, $31,000 is fine for me; it’s $31,000 or no deal’.  He refused to effect the transaction and walked away.  Apparently, they will bring a new bundle of money to you, not the one they just counted with you; with a thousand dollars outside and worthless newspaper inside!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  So, be warned.  Hustlers are everywhere.

 

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Last Edited June 09, 2006

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