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Victoria Falls,

 Zambia & Zimbabwe

Total Pictures Taken: 87

Summary, Detail, Facts

Micro-lighting, The Falls

Bungi jumping

River rafting, The Falls, Again

Getting There, Contacts


Summary

We spent four days at Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  We spent two days on the Zambia side in the unique River Club resort, and two days on the Zimbabwe side in the Victoria Falls Hotel.  We were relatively active at this destination, enjoying rafting and boogie-boarding the class 5 Zambezi river, bungi jumping 365 feet into a gorge, micro-lighting over the falls and fishing.

 

Facts

Currency: Zimbabwe Dollar  (~Z$70:US$1), Zambiam Kwacha (~K$4000:US$1)

Language: English is the official language (also many tribal languages are spoken)

Internet connection speed: No working ISP #'s

English speaking TV channels (all hotels had the same): 6 unique in Vic Falls Hotel -- same channels as South Africa. None in River Club, of course.

Bungi height: 111 meters/365 feet -- supposedly the second highest on the continent

 

 

Detail

Zambia

Once we arrived at the dock of the River Club (see Getting There) we knew we were in a different place.  We walked up some steep stairs to an immaculately kept lawn and perfect pathways to a colonial style lodge with a large patio/wrap-around deck.  The hostess brought us drinks and gave us an introduction to the property.  She also asked what activities we wanted to do while in the area, emphasizing that many people happily participate in DNA, or 'Do Nothing at All'.  Since we already had river rafting planned from the Zimbabwe side we said maybe some fishing but we would wait to see what we felt like doing.

We had heard that the cottages opened onto the river, but we were a bit confused because the cottages were clearly well-removed from the river on the hill.  When we opened the door to the cottage we immediately realized the point -- there is no wall at all between the cottage and the river!  The bedroom, sitting area, and bathroom do not have a fourth wall -- they are all open air.  Fortunately, each cottage is sheltered from the rest of the property so it was open only to a private wooded stretch down to the river.  Showering and using the bathroom took a little getting used to, but the constant view was wonderful, and we appreciated the design, especially during the afternoon rain showers.

River Club can support 20 guests, but there were only 6 during our two days so we got extra personal attention.  Some of the greatest attention givers were Archie and Oscar, the owner's two beautiful dogs.  Archie is a golden/lab mix and Oscar is a mutt with lots of black lab in him.  They both crave attention and we enjoyed them at our feet the whole time.  Oscar has only one eye because he fought with a snake, which him in the eye, and the eye had to be removed -- but he was no worse for the wear.  The owner (of River Club and the dogs) showed us an especially impressive dog trick.  All six of us sat with the owner at the dinner table, and he started passing port wine and a bugle around the table  -- he said it was a tradition  to see who could blow the bugle and rile up the dogs.  It turns out that the dogs howl continuously once they hear the bugle -- it was quite funny.  Click here to listen to Dan playing the bugle to the joy of the dogs (be patient, it's a big file).  Unfortunately, the dogs stayed at the owner's house the last day and so we did not get pictures of them:-(.

It was rainy season in the area so it rained for a short period almost every afternoon, and was partly cloudy the rest of the time.  We did go on one sunset cruise when there was a short break in the clouds.  Drinks and snacks were provided and we hung out with great river views.  We learned on the cruise that the Zambezi river is full of crocodiles and that 18 people had already been killed this year by crocodiles.  They strongly warned against swimming in or even standing near the banks of the river.  Supposedly, crocodiles are smart and they learn the habits of the people in the area and wait on them to get close to the water.  

We did go fishing one afternoon, but because it was dark and windy, and had rained earlier, the fish had no interest in what we were offering.

Micro-lighting

We decided to go micro-lighting since neither of us had done that before.  Micro-lighting is basically flying in a two-person hang glider with a propeller.  The pilot took each of us up for 15 minutes to about 2000 feet, enough time to circle the falls several times and see the surrounding areas.  He flew over the bungi-jumping bridge and said "that is where the crazy people risk their lives!".  Of course, he has done plenty of emergency landings in fields after the engine has failed and was willing to do stalls and super-rollercoaster-like moves with Dan in the glider, but he was scared to bungi-jump!

The Falls

Of course, one of the reasons people go to Victoria Falls is to see the actual waterfall.  The River Club driver took us to the falls one sunny morning, with lots of warnings that we would get wet from the mist.  Getting into the Zambian park at the falls did not cost anything because we were with a tour guide (would have cost $3 otherwise).  Once we walked halfway to the middle of the falls on the Zambian side, we were wondering what all the wet warnings were about -- there was some mist and sprinkling, but nothing to be worried about.  Then we walked across a bridge over an offshoot of the Zambezi river, then to an island close to the middle.  Literally, buckets of water were continuously pouring from the sky.  It was as if 10 lawn hoses were focused on us the whole time we walked along the edge.  We did not particularly care about getting wet, but it was amazing how much water the mist created.

Bungi Jumping

The River Club people asked us if we were going to go bungi-jumping, which was offered from the bridge in "no-man's land" between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  They said it was the second highest jump in world (or was it just Africa?).  Dan said 'we might', without really thinking.  Kristen felt pretty sure she would not, but had no issue with Dan doing it.  They agreed that they would stop on the bridge when taking us to Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, and Dan could decide then if he wanted to do it.

Once we passed through immigration control in Zambia on our way to Zimbabwe, Maxwell, the River Club driver, stopped the truck before the bridge so that we could watch some people jump.  We walked out to the center of the bridge, taking the occasional glance over the edge, amazed at how far down the river looked.  We watched a high-school age guy jump, and Maxwell looked over at us and laughingly said "that is crazy".  Dan decided that he needed to do it, since it was there, and because the thought of doing it terrorized him.  We went directly  to the registration area at the start of the bridge to not give Dan a chance to think about it.  Of course, once we got there, they said they were taking a 45 minute break to eat lunch and that we could wait and do it just after lunch -- so Dan had 45 minutes to think about it some more.  Finally, at 2PM we were ready to go.  When we paid they marked Dan's weight and jump number on his arm so the people on the bridge would know he was registered.

They laughed when they realized that Dan was the 13th jump of the day -- the guys on the bridge made some jokes about double-checking the ropes and harness since he had the unlucky number.  Pretty funny.  They attached the harness and the multiple ropes very quickly once on the platform, or at least the time seemed to fly by.  They were particularly clear about jumping as far out as possible to get the best snap-back and to clear the bridge (we think they were joking).  Dan looked down while he was standing with his feet over the edge and wondered whether these were the last moments of his life -- he figured he would know soon enough.  He jumped far out doing the semi-perfect swam dive, with the sinking stomach-in-the-throat feeling of free-falling for some seconds over the 365 feet until he could start feeling the tension on the cord.  The snap back brought him hundreds of feet back up, under the bridge for a great arc back towards the water.  After 4-5 large bounces he finally came to rest hanging upside down 150 feet or so from the water.  After what seemed like an eternity (but really only about a minute), the guy came down on his rope to winch Dan back up to the bridge.  He was happy to have done it, but saw no need to do it again.   The worst part was probably the hanging by the ankles hundreds of feet from the bridge and the water, with time to think about what would happen if the super-tight ankle grips broke.  Kristen took lots of good pictures of the whole sequence.  Kristen considered doing it at that point, but we decided that we needed to get to Zimbabwe and she could always do it in New Zealand.  The bungi jumping company did a great job videotaping the jump and we reviewed and bought the tape and sent it back to Atlanta with some other items.   Anne Marie (Dan's sister) has already watched the video and called Dan immediately in Cairo to say 'are you crazy!?'

 

Zimbabwe

After two days in Zambia we moved on to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls Hotel.  We had been told by multiple sources that we had to stay at the 'famous' Vic Falls Hotel because it was a beautifully traditional old European hotel with a private path to the falls.  When we arrived we had forgotten that we had booked a suite, so we were surprised when a guest relations representative met us to check in at a special counter and walked us to the 'Livingstone Suite' (named after David Livingstone who discovered the falls in the mid 1800's).  The suite was quite luxurious and it was kind of nice to have four walls again!  The hotel had a great view from the courtyard of the gorge and the Victoria Falls Bridge (the bungi jumping bridge).

River Rafting

We scheduled river rafting down the Zambezi river, a high volume class 5 river that has 23 major rapids starting at the base of the falls.  Because of the high water level, we could not do the first rapids near the falls but were able to do more of the later ones.  The rafting group picked us up at the hotel the next morning and took us to their office in town to meet the other people going rafting, register, and get the scoop on the trip.  We quickly found out that there were also crocodiles on this side of the falls, but that they had never had anyone bit by one.

While we were filling out forms, one of the younger guides approached us and suggested that we consider river-boarding, or boogie-boarding, in addition to rafting.  A boogie board is a 3.5 foot by 2 foot piece of Styrofoam/fiberglass material on which you lay the upper part of your body while your lower half hangs in the water.  Basically, we would raft the first and last set of rapids, and boogie board the ones in the middle.  He was pretty adamant about how much more fun and challenging boogie-boarding is when the water is as high as it is (higher water makes it less challenging in a raft).  Dan decided to do it, but we thought the water would be too cold for Kristen to do it.

vf-zam-river-club-arriving-boat-kristen-dan-600.jpg (101494 bytes) On our way to the River Club in Zambia (our first stop), the driver dropped us off at the side of the river and this boat picked us up to take us to the resort.
Approaching the River Club from the Zambezi River.  All cottages had a great view of the river and sunset. vf-zam-river-club-huts-view-from-river-600.jpg (80720 bytes)
vf-zam-river-club-room-bathroom-all-600.jpg (76406 bytes) The River Club cottages had only 3 walls -- the rooms were completely 'in the wild'.
Fortunately, there were not very many bugs and the weather was perfect so the lack of a 4th wall was all good! vf-zam-river-club-room-main-kristen-600.jpg (83459 bytes)
vf-zam-river-club-room-main-net-kristen-600.jpg (60447 bytes) They had a huge net that they put up at night around most of our bedroom to prevent the few bugs (attracted to night stand lights) from getting in .
Sunset from our bedroom. vf-zam-river-club-sunset-1-600.jpg (57964 bytes)
vf-zam-bungi-gorge-view-600.jpg (91252 bytes) View looking into the Zambezi River gorge from the bungi jumping bridge. The jump, at 111 meters (365 feet) is supposedly the second highest on the continent.
Dan laughing about the ridiculousness of bungi jumping, wondering why he felt the need to do it (forgetting 'because it was there' at that moment) . vf-zam-bungi-prep-3-600.jpg (107234 bytes)
vf-zam-bungi-prep-6-600.jpg (95731 bytes) The last moments at the edge -- looking down at this point was nerve-racking .
Dan starts the swan dive into the gorge, with a little nudge from the experts . vf-zam-bungi-jump-2-600.jpg (96597 bytes)
Free falling sequence...and the subsequent bounces.... vf-zam-bungi-jump-3-600.jpg (116115 bytes)
vf-zam-bungi-jump-5-600.jpg (94925 bytes) vf-zam-bungi-jump-6-600.jpg (54715 bytes)
After hanging  by the ankles 100 feet from the water for what felt like an eternity, they slide down to start pulling Dan up. vf-zam-bungi-return-3-600.jpg (87402 bytes)
vf-zam-bungi-return-9-600.jpg (84044 bytes) Success!
vf-zam-river-club-fishing-kristen-600.jpg (64126 bytes) Kristen while we are fishing.  Notice the lack of pictures of any fish:)!
Dan readying for micro-lighting.  The hang-glider-with-a-propeller flies up to 2000 feet above the falls. vf-zam-micro-dan-prep-3-600.jpg (101137 bytes)
The pilot was kind enough to do some 'stalls' and cork screws to make the trip more interesting.  Felt like a broken roller-coaster!. vf-zam-micro-dan-sky-2-600.jpg (19367 bytes)
vf-zam-micro-kristen-prep-2-600.jpg (92831 bytes) Kristen preparing for the micro-lighting..
vf-zam-micro-kristen-prep-4-600.jpg (90079 bytes) Kristen taking off -- we were in the air for about 15 minutes.  Plenty of time to make multiple pass over the falls, and see animals in the neighboring game reserve. 
vf-zam-micro-kristen-sky-3-600.jpg (20139 bytes) Kristen way up in the air.  Can you see her waving?
vf-zam-micro-kristen-land-2-600.jpg (70833 bytes) Kristen landing.
vf-zam-river-club-sunset-cruise-kristen-4-600.jpg (49491 bytes) Kristen on one of our sunset drinking/cruises with the River Club.
Even though it was rainy season and cloudy, the sunsets on the Zambezi were great. vf-zam-river-club-sunset-cruise-sunset-3-600.jpg (56699 bytes)
vf-zam-river-club-sunset-cruise-reflection-600.jpg (49289 bytes) The colors in the clouds at dusk were awesome.
On our way to visit the falls from the River Club, we got a flat tire... vf-zam-river-club-tire-change-600.jpg (112556 bytes)
vf-zam-river-club-tire-change-dan-600.jpg (74702 bytes) ...right across from the service station!  Dan was into a good book, so he took this time to catch a few pages.
Panoramic of Victoria Falls from the Zambian side.. vf-zam-falls-v4-pano-1200.jpg (74619 bytes)
vf-zam-falls-v2-kristen-600.jpg (88242 bytes) Kristen in Zambia with the falls in the background.  As we walked closer towards the center, we were soaked to the bone by continuous buckets of water/rain..
Many rainbows could be found along the falls. vf-zam-falls-v1-rainbow-2-600.jpg (84903 bytes)
vf-zam-falls-zambezi-dan-kristen-600.jpg (107094 bytes) Posing just above the falls as the Zambezi enters the falls on the Zambian side.
Dan with the river behind him at the start of the falls. vf-zam-falls-zambezi-dan-600.jpg (80033 bytes)
Again. vf-zam-falls-v4-dan-600.jpg (47618 bytes)
vf-zim-vic-falls-hotel-sign-dan-600.jpg (104782 bytes) We moved to the Zimbabwe side of the falls and stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
From the main courtyard of the Victoria Falls Hotel, we could see the bridge from which Dan bungi jumped! vf-zim-vic-falls-hotel-view-of-bungi-bridge-600.jpg (88706 bytes)
vf-zim-falls-v3-pano-1200.jpg (105707 bytes) The Falls from the Zimbabwe side.  It cost US$20/per person to see the falls from Zimbabwe vs. US$0 from Zambia!!
Kristen preparing to walk down the gorge to the Zambezi River for our rafting/boogie boarding. vf-zim-rafting-prep-kristen-600.jpg (115369 bytes)
PIC TBD We did not take the digital camera with us on the river -- we hope to get scans of the regular pics we took.  This would be of the group preparing to depart.
Dan boogie boarding the Zambezi, sucking in lots of water!. PIC TBD
vf-zim-falls-v1-3-dan-600.jpg (62307 bytes) Dan at the falls in Zimbabwe flanked by a rainbow.
vf-zim-vic-falls-hotel-native-dance-2-600.jpg (60496 bytes) Native entertainment provided while we ate dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
The action part of the entertainment. vf-zim-vic-falls-hotel-native-dance-3-600.jpg (68509 bytes)
 

We later found out that Happiness, the guide who talked Dan into doing it, would not have been able to work (or get paid) that day if no one went boogie boarding, and Dan was the only one to do it.  When we got to the river, Happiness took Dan into the river on boogie boards to make sure he knew how to control it.  That was the first and last time Dan thought about the crocodiles.  While in the river, Happiness was very inquisitive about what it was like in the US and was pretty open about his desire to do something more than river guiding, but said that it was hard to find opportunities in that area.  He asked whether we were going to come back in the evening to look at the pictures and video of the trip, and maybe talk some more, and Dan was not sure where that was heading.  He also made it clear that he knew he had talked Dan into doing the boogie board and that he felt completely responsible for making sure Dan had a good time and that he was kept safe.

The rafting was very fun, and we got wet on many of the wavy rapids.  The river was a little tamer than we expected because of the high water, but the mere volume of the water was amazing.  And there were plenty of whirlpools and holes that could completely swallow a raft.  When Dan and the guides started boogie boarding after the third rapid, he immediately realized that it would be a serious workout.  Because of the many holes and whirlpools in the big rapids you had to kick and paddle with your hands (while staying on the 3 foot board) almost continuously to position the boogie board on the right path into the rapids.  Maneuvering a boogie board in a very fast moving river is non-trivial.  It was pretty neat being in the water  through the rapids, although Dan sucked in lots of water on the big waves.  At one point Dan and the board unexpectedly got sucked into a hole that pulled him way under water and kept him under.  He could not stay on the board and hoped that that the hole would release him quickly or at least let his head above water to get a breath (he did not have time to get a big breath since the bottom just dropped out of the rapid and he was immediately sucked under water).  Twirling under furious water you cannot even tell which way is up.  He got his mouth barely out of the water into the air for a split second before it sucked him back down.  From his kayaking days, Dan knew the force of the water would push him out, but he just hoped it would let him go before it was too late.  It set him free but he was exhausted and winded.  But no time to rest because he had to swim to the far side of the next rapid to avoid the next hole.  When we did stop on the side to rest Dan could barely stand up.  It was still quite fun!

On one of the later rapids the guide in Kristen's raft took them through just the right spot of a relatively tame looking rapid and the raft immediately crumbled on itself then capsized!  He did it on purpose to get everyone wet, but it showed that the wrong run down any rapid on this river could put a raft under.  At the end of the rafting trip we had to hike up a very steep gorge for 30 minutes to the cars.  Dan had never been so tired!

Happiness

We decided to meet that night at the rafting office to look at the pictures and video, in case we wanted to buy them, and to get to know Happiness a little better.  We had not had a chance to spend any time with anyone from the area and figured this was a good opportunity since he seemed willing to talk to us.  After buying the video and some pictures, we bought some drinks for us and Happiness and we sat down to talk.  It was more like we were picking his brain on what it was like to grow up in Zimbabwe and what his specific situation was like.  He is very well spoken and was very open with us.  He seemed like a genuinely good person in a challenging situation.  He is 22 years old, and has only completed through grade 7, because his father passed away and he and his family could not afford to pay for any more school.  In Zimbabwe (and Zambia) the government does not pay for school -- the students/families have to pay for everything.  He is working to try to save money to pay for the next fours years of school, called form 1-4, which costs about Z$3000 (about US$45) per term/semester.  Although he has his own apartment in town he is also supporting his 3 younger siblings and mother.  Although he only worked 2 days the whole month of March (slow part of the season) he can buy a month's worth of groceries for the family with about 1.5 days' wage (because of the low price of food, not because his wages are high!)  He also wants to go to the computer training class to learn how to use a computer and the internet -- it costs Z$500 (about US$8) for the class.

When a rough looking guy walked over the table and looked at us and started talking in a local language to Happiness, we were a little uncomfortable.  The guy broke into English for a second and told us he was talking about rafting, but we did not believe him. Happiness had a little heated conversation with the guy, clearly not appreciating what the guy was saying.  When the guy walked off, Happiness immediately clarified that the guy was not talking about rafting (but rather about some women in the bar) and that he had ruined himself and would probably never get very far.  Happiness' disdain made us appreciate his desire to do improve his situation.

After a couple hours with Happiness he walked us back to our hotel.  Dan insisted on giving him Z$500 for the computer/internet training class and Z$500 more just to help out.  We gave him our traveling business card and told him that we expected him to learn how to check out our website and how to email us as soon as possible.  Happiness -- if you are reading this, get hold of us!

The Falls, Again

We walked the 10 minute path from the hotel to the falls and, of course, were approached by the many vendors begging us to buy something from them.  Very different from the Zambian side.  It looked like a very slow tourist day and we doubted they had had any real business.  It cost US$20 per person to get into the Zimbabwe Victoria Falls park (compared to $0 or $3 in Zambia!).  The park was very well kept with real paths and some signs but it seemed a bit extreme.   We were prepared for the water this time -- we had bought cheaper rubber sandals and wore only bathing suits and brought a plastic bag into which we could put our dry clothes. 

On the walk back after seeing the falls we bought some drinks from some vendors to whom we had promised to look at their offerings while on the way to the falls.  Once out of the main vendor area, we were approached by a sad looking gentleman offering some small artwork for 'best prices'.  He followed us for a good 5 minutes begging us to buy something from him since he had not sold anything all day and did not have any money.  Dan was pretty clear, but nice, to him that it was not the price that kept us from buying what he was offering, but instead that we did not want to buy anything because we were not heading directly home.  Then he looked at Dan's shoes and asked whether he could have them because his worn shoes were his only pair and he could not afford to buy any others.  That put us over the edge.  Dan double checked that he really needed them and that he would not just sell them (or we might have just given him the money).  He looked pretty sincere, so Dan gave him his shoes and walked the rest of the way to the hotel barefoot. 

 

Getting There

We flew from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on 150+ person plane and then our transfer drove directly to Zambia, since we were spending the first two days at the River Club, and Zambia does not have a working airport in that area.

Our travel agent in Cape Town booked us in economy class on the flight, so we considered upgrading to business, as we learned that economy class was completely full.  But when we went to the South African Air counter the attendant was appalled that we would consider paying $250 more per person to fly business class.  When another chimed in about the absolute waste of money to upgrade for a 115 minute flight, we decided we did not have the heart to do it.

An interesting point we found in many of our South African flights was the stationing of many flights on the runway, requiring us to take a bus from the terminal to the plane.  So no matter when you check-in or what class your are flying, you are in the crowd on the bus and in a crowd getting to the plane.  Of course, we always managed to be the first to actually board the plane (partly from the fast-walking from the bus) to ensure we had overhead space for the computer bag.    

When we reached the Zimbabwe airport we got into the middle of a very long line to pay for a Zimbabwe visa (if we had been in business class, we would have been first in line!:).  Because we were not from the British Commonwealth we had to wait in line and pay for a visa.  After 45 long minutes, we reached the front of the line to find out that it was $30 per person even though we heard that everything was inexpensive in Zimbabwe.  We mentioned that we were going directly to Zambia and coming back through Zimbabwe two days later, they pointed out that we needed to pay more for a 'double-entry' visa.  We had no choice, but felt that Zimbabwe was milking the tourists, though we could not blame them.  It is remarkable the difference between Zimbabwe and Zambia in the Victoria Falls area -- Zambia feels so more welcoming, or maybe they are less prepared to take advantage of the tourism opportunity.

When we made it through customs we immediately saw a sign for "Ciprari Victoria Falls" so started off with the transfer.  Fortunately, as we started leaving Dan saw another sign for "Ciperoi River Club" and I figured it might be for us, versus another Ciperoi.  The communications were crossed and Victoria Falls hotel thought we were coming in for them the first two days, instead of the River Club.  They were both very nice about it and the Victoria Falls guys agreed they had messed up but still helped carry our bags to the River Club car.

Our River Club guide talked the whole way to the River Club area but we could not hear a thing because of the wind!  He helped us get out of Zimbabwe (had to wait and be scrutinized) and into Zambia (easy, no effort, and free because we were with a tour guide).  Instead of taking us all the way to the resort, he dropped us off at the Zambezi river edge where there was a pontoon boat waiting with Vivian, our host from the River Club.  She thought it would be nicer for us to arrive by boat so we enjoyed a 10 minute trip on the Zambezi to the dock at the River Club. 

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
River Club

River Club info page (1)

River Club info page (2)

(not their sites -- could not find contact info!)

Great off-the-beaten path luxury riverside villa.  Very friendly and very service-oriented!
Victoria Falls Hotel

Vic Falls info page

(not their site -- could not find contact info!)

The standard very nice place to stay in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Probably much more expensive than others nearby, though.
Safari Par Excellence

www.zambezi.com/safpar/

(their home page)

One of the three main adventure outfitters in the area (Zam and Zim side).  They are  considered the best.  Very professional.

 

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Victoria Falls