The Victoria Falls
Wednesday 13th August we left Ngoma Lodge and drove to the Botswana and Zambia border, but this time there would be no road or bridge crossing. There would be nothing conventional about this crossing. This time we were going by a simple punt.
A vehicular ferry is the only means of crossing for the many hundreds of trucks and private vehicles passing from one country to another. The line up on either side of the river was endless. Trucks could wait up to a week to cross.
We bypassed the many waiting people and drove down to the shore of the River Chobe. Our punt was waiting along with a driver and his assistant. Our suitcases were packed aboard and we took a seat. Motoring out into the middle of the river our driver pointed out where the Chobe meets the great Zambezi. Here in these beautiful waters four countries also meet —Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
From our vantage point on the River we had a clearer picture of the many trucks waiting to cross. It seemed the four countries couldn’t agree on the type of bridge or how it would be paid for. And so the economy of all nations suffered.
The driver secured our punt on the bank of the Zambezi and we stepped into a storm of black smiling faces. Their wares being thrust into our faces, jewellery, wooden figures, copper bracelets. Slightly intimidated, we purchased a few items and battled our way to our waiting truck. Next stop was the Zambian customs office.
Although our driver offered to take the $50US we each had to pay and our passports to the Customs office, we said NO. Not willing to part with our passports, not willing to give him $150US, whatever the reason we entered the office ourselves. Payment made, visa’s completed we left… our destination, the Victoria Falls.
Zambia, once known as Northern Rhodesia has a population of 16 million. A Democratic country, the capital is Lusaka…660klm northeast of Kasane. Zambia’s three main industries are copper, maize and tourism. The next election will be held in 2016.
We drove for an hour on well-maintained bitumen roads. Our hotel for the next three days would be the Royal Livingstone. The hotel sits on the bank of the Zambezi River…a short walk to the magnificent, thunderous falls. The hotel was designed to reflect the days of Dr David Livingstone with its timbered furnishings, elegant bar, high ceilings, huge rattan fans and verandah overlooking the Zambezi River…old colonial elegance at its best.
The grounds are manicured all the way to the riverbank…its centrepiece a large pool close to the river. Roaming throughout the grounds we saw zebra and giraffe plus the occasional monkey. Dotted about the grounds are massage marquees open to the sounds of the river. Fortunately the riverbank was surrounded by wire fencing assuring us of no unwelcome visits by its inhabitants. You could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back to the late 1800’s.
This time Krys and I were sharing and Leonie was on her own. Late in the afternoon we went on a sunset cruise down the Zambezi. We heard the hippos grunting and snorting as they made their way to the shore … a sound almost like a crazy laugh. With a glass of wine and nibbles we watched the sun fill the western sky and gradually drop into the river.
Thursday…we picked up a raincoat from the hotel and walked to the falls. The sound could be heard long before we saw them — magnificent, thundering, spraying water more than 100 metres into the air. These falls are 1708 metres across and span the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
We soaked up the spectacle, took photographs from all angles then left as we were booked on a helicopter flight later in the morning. The helicopter would fly over the falls.
There is nothing like viewing the world and its magnificence from the sky. I sat up front while the girls were behind. Where you sat was irrelevant, the views were breathtaking. From the air you could see the flow of the mighty Zambezi as it wound its way back and forth towards the falls. Like a watery Grand Canyon the width and depth was astounding. There are times in your life and sights you will see when words cannot express the wonder before you. Silence in the small space of the helicopter, told the whole story.
We arrived back at the hotel for lunch. Then at 2.30pm we were picked up for our Elephant safari. Twelve elephants in total. Most carried two people plus the handler. The afternoon was very hot. The elephants slowly made their way through the African bush to the riverbank for the obligatory photo opportunity. We watched as a baby slipped and struggled in the mud eventually being helped back on to the grass by his larger brother.
Back at the Elephant reserve we were offered the opportunity to feed, touch and bond with each of our elephants. For Krys and I, the size of our elephant made the decision to say no thank you, easy. We stood back and watched. They are enormous animals and definitely not to be taken lightly. Leonie sat on the leg of hers and fed him. We were very impressed with her bravery.
That night we ate dinner at the hotel, followed by an early night. We needed time to rest, time to take in our experiences of the last fortnight. Here was the perfect place.
Breakfast was served alfresco style. We sat under an umbrella with a vista of the Zambezi, green lawns, grazing zebras and the occasional monkey scampering across the lawn.
It seemed our months of planning and discussions paid off. Each place we stayed only got better. Was it luck or good management? We preferred to think it was our good management.
After breakfast we went for a long walk to the falls, walking as far as we could, over a long skinny bridge, up the track taking in all the views. The sight and sound forced us into a companionable silence. Lost in our own thoughts we took the time to reflect on our journey thus far.
We had experienced far more than we imagined and we were half way through.
Tonight we sat by the river and listened to the hippos as they sang their African song. With a drink in hand we watched the sun set once again over the beautiful Zambezi.
The next morning, before departing, Krys walked back to the falls. Leonie and I stayed to pack. We had a 1.30 flight out of Victoria Falls to Johannesburg.