Sunday, August 21, 2016

Last Days at Victoria Falls




Victoria Falls is a small tourist town with a main area of tourist shops, markets , a grocery store, restaurants and excursion places. The sound of helicopters taking tourists over the falls is constant.

Zimbabwe doesn't have its own currency; they take US dollars, Namibian dollars, Euros, Botswana Pulla and Rand. Shawn asks Gift what they give you when you go to the bank machine? Gift replies " sometimes US dollars, sometimes rand, sometimes Pulla....whatever they have that day."

People all over on the streets are selling the old Zimbabwe currency which is worth nothing these days. You can buy trillion dollar bills. Graham is collecting these bills.

The cost for things in Zimbabwe is a lot more than in Namibia and Botswana.

We head to Victoria Falls National Park. The falls are truly impressive. It's not just one small falls, it is about 1km of straight waterfalls falling into a large crack in the earth.. You walk a trail that leads to many different falls viewpoints. We look across onto the Zambia side of the falls and at one point we see people lounging in the Devils Pool at the side of the falls ( like right at the edge)....this natural pool is the ultimate in  infinity pools, with the edge dropping off into a deadly precipice. Amazing.

The trail ends at a spot where people stand or sit with their legs hanging over the cliff edge. It makes me feel sick especially when Graham and Shawn decide to pose vicariously close to the edge. Cameron is ahead of us with Frank and Alex so God knows how close they were standing.

We are not going to see the falls from the Zambia side because it costs $30 each to enter Zambia then $75 each to return to Zimbabwe plus a few hours each time for border crossings. Yikes.

We all packed our own lunches in the morning and eat them at the falls. Because of all the mist from the falls ( actually at times it's like a soft rain), there is a rainforest vegetation that ends abruptly where the rainy  part ends. Bright blue lobelia grows wild here.

We check out Dr Livingstones statue.

Meeting everyone at the park gates, Alfons drives Brenda over to pick us up. Once on the truck, Gift announces that as requested by Frank and the guys, he has organized a game between us and a second league soccer club division team called Amagagasi  ( which means big waves) at 3:00pm so we only have 30 minutes to check into our hotel.

We arrive at the Rainbow Hotel, which looks luxurious after many days of camping. We quickly drop off our stuff and get back onto Brenda. We drive through the tourist area and go to a part of the city inhabited more by locals.

We are full of vim and vigor, deciding who will be playing for our team as we drive into the stadium. The Amagagasi team are stretching and running through their paces. " "We are so dead" someone yells out, ( it might have been me).

They are expecting us. Someone opens the gate and Brenda rolls in.

Alfons parks the bus and we all get out. Our team, consisting of Gift, Frank, Graham, Martin, Felix, Alex, Sam, Ieuan, Lucas and Cameron in goal prepare themselves. The rest of us, the cheering squad sit on the benches. There are only a few other local kids and people in the stadium to start.

Gift runs across the field to speak to the Amagagasi coach....Shawn suggests " He's going over to discuss terms of surrender".

Our team goes to the bench, introductions are made, some Amagagasi members join our team to even out the numbers, black and white jerseys are handed out to our team, the Amagagasi team wear white. Cameron is given a green keeper ( soccer goalie) shirt.

They start to play. Our team does better than expected. Cameron makes some great saves. Martin gets hit in the head with the ball. Jolanda worries that he's broken his glasses but all is well. Our boys play well but the Amagagasi are well practiced ( and haven't been sitting in a truck for three weeks) and start to score. We scream encouragement for our team every time their feet get within twelve inches of the ball.

I notice that crowds are starting to gather, more and more by the minute. I take pictures of the local kids as they ham it up for the camera. I get the kids to dab. The adults smile and chuckle at our enthusiasm. There are easily a few hundred people in the stadium by the end of the game. Everyone is having fun and in good spirits.

We lose 3-0 but the locals are treating our team like champions. The players from both sides pose together for team photos. Emails are exchanged and friends are made.

People follow us to the bus and surround our team. Cameron is already on the bus but they keep calling to have him (the goalie) come back out. They tell him they think he should be recruited by Zimbabwe. A man congratulates Cameron and crowds of kids start chanting something over and over again. The man and Cameron start doing some jumping dance....the rest of our other players are also surrounded....everyone is going wild. No word of a lie, I have videos to prove it.

Kids surround the truck and follow us as we drive out. Everyone waves. We feel like rock stars. What a day.

Gift is thrilled. He says it's one of the first times that a tour has made a point to mingle with the locals. We feel honored.  I can feel the good will all around.

We go back to the hotel to quickly change and soon meet up to walk to a lovely, very posh resort called "The Kingdom" for our last full family supper. A really talented African singing and dancing group perform. Shawn makes a speech thanking Gift and Alfons. The evening ends too soon.

One of the hotel staff offers to put up the mosquito nets over our beds. We don't notice any bugs so we say it's ok. He seems surprised and wishes us a good night.

The strong taste of bug spray in my mouth wakes me up. I open my eyes to find Shawn dousing himself in mosquito spray inches from my open mouth.

After a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, Ieuan and Cat are the first to leave for Zambia.

Shawn, Graham, Maddie, James and I are picked up by a friendly guy named Captain  Frank and his assistant Peter and he takes us to the place where we begin our gorge walk.

I must admit, I have a fear of heights and am a poor climber...there is definately no mountain goat in my genes.

The hike immediately begins by descending the steepest, really long, open bar staircase I have ever seen. Captain Frank goes down first with me immediately behind , followed by the rest of our group. I go really slow and hyperventilate all the way and I may drop a few four letter words on my way down.

The hike continues along and down the cliff with some rocky areas being very narrow. Captain Frank is with me the whole way.

We stop and watch the white water rafters going down the Zambezie River. The rafts of tourists are always accompanied by many guides in small one person kayaks. Their job is to pick up anyone who falls out of the raft. These guys often "play" in the rapids with their small boats by trying to stay in the centre of the rapid for a while....kind of rapid surfing.

We look at the big rapid below us and John asks what level of rapid it is. Captain Frank says it's an easy 1+ rapid. Yikes.

The scenery is rugged and beautiful.  At one point we stop under the bridge and while listening to our guide explain about the area and history, we watch the bungee jumpers. Lots of screams come from the jumpers. You couldn't pay me enough to do that.

They say you should do something that scares you once a day. I'm of the mindset that once a year is enough....and it can't be too scary.

After hiking a while more we arrive to an edge where Captain Frank says we can jump off the cliff and the current directly below will pull us back in to the area where Peter is waiting to pull us out. My initial thought is " Not a chance in hell" but I find myself taking off my shoes and adjusting my life jacket and helmet. My helmet is a little loose so I decide to keep my wide brimmed safari hat on underneath it.

Captain Frank has our cameras. The plan is, he counts to five and we jump as he clicks the picture. Graham jumps first, then Shawn, then Maddie and James jump together, then it's my turn. Frank counts to five, I hesitate..." Stop, stop, let's try again" I say. He counts to five but I'm too busy praying to jump, he counts to five, this time I'm too busy thinking, then he counts again....you get the drift. Finally around the tenth or twelfth count, I jump far out.

I'm exhilarated in my daring but I can't see a blooming thing cause my now soaking wet hat brim is flopped over my eyes. I blissfully float into the current. Urgent calls of "swim towards us" are coming from the whole group. I try and the next thing I know Shawn grabs one arm, James grabs the other and they drag me towards the waters edge where I grab Peter's outstretched hand.

Unbeknownst to me, I had jumped a bit to far, caught the wrong current and was starting to float down the Zambezie.

After Graham jumps a second time, we put on our shoes and hike back up. The steep, narrow stairs are just as scary going up.

Once at the top we are treated to bottles of Zimbabwe beer....it's a good thing that we didn't drink the beer first.

I mention to Captain Frank that we are looking for a local soccer jersey for Cameron and he drives us to a market in the local area by the stadium.

Cameron is up when we return to the hotel. He tells us that Frank, Felix, Alex and him have been invited to watch the Amagagasis practice at 2pm and that the coach has a shirt for him.

After changing we meet up with The gang to walk into town for some lunch and shopping. Cameron and the guys go off on their own with plans to go to the football stadium at 2pm.

Jolanda tells us the the locals have been trading wooden and stone souvenirs with the boys for their things. One local told Felix that he would give him a little wooden animal figure for his socks! Jolanda says " you don't want his socks, they stink!" But the man says, "that's ok, I will wash them".

Apparently later Sam trades his pants for a big hippo statue....I'm not sure what Sam wears back to the hotel.

Shawn, Graham and I decide to go to the practice. We arrive at 2pm to find the pylons set up but hardly anyone there. I check out the local market and when we return to the stadium, more players players have arrived. Cameron, Frank, Felix and Alex finally show up at 2:30. They had taken a wrong turn but eventually figured it out.

About 2:50pm, Frank, Alex and Felix say they have to go to meet Jolanda, Martin, Leonie and Evi at the Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea. Shawn and I decide to join them and Cameron decides to stay there with one of the local guys who we talk to a lot.

We catch a cab and as soon as we pass through the hotel gates we feel like we've been transferred back to the times of British Colonial Zimbabwe, From the white jacketed and capped guard at the front entrance to the typically British leather seating area. The walls are covered in past pictures of the royal family.

The building is bright white. We walk through the sitting area in the entrance to the courtyard gardens with fountains and birds of paradise, then through another colonial sitting area with halls off it until finally we walk out onto the back terrace and gardens where they serve the tea.

Many women are in dresses, hats or fascinators. I started out being dressed in my bright white skirt, blouse and scarf, unfortunately by 3pm I have managed to get a lot of bright blue pen marks all over the front of my skirt.

The view of the falls from the end of the garden is spectacular. Warthogs wander freely around the property and through the marigold gardens. Mischievous monkeys scamper about. A couple of them go to one of the gardens' pull off the petunias and eat them. By the time Evi and I walk back to our table, all petunia blossoms at that garden are gone.

The bathrooms of the hotel are lovely, with a pretty vanity area.

Our group is seated at two tables of five. The younger group is seated at one and Jolanda, Martin, Evi, Shawn and I at the other. The tea is as lovely to look at as it is to eat; scones with jam and clotted cream on the bottom plate, delicate sandwiches on the middle and fancy little cakes on the top. There is a lot of food there.

The table across from us empties and an observant monkey quickly jumps up and steals a fist full of sugar packets before the waiter shoos it away.

Frank, Alex and Felix leave the hotel before the rest of us. They are nowhere to be seen by the time we finish taking our pictures. They are already at our Rainbow hotel when we arrive. A taxi driver recognizing them from our game with the Amagagasi stops to pick them up and then refuses to accept payment.

Locals seem to always recognize our soccer players. Cameron is forever waving and making thumbs up gestures to people who recognize him.

In the few hours before meeting the gang for supper, I hand wash some laundry and bring a huge pile of laundry to the front desk for hotel service to do.

We meet at 6:45 and walk en mass to the pizza joint. After all the large meals we were in the mood for pizza. I find in Africa most of the meals seem to be based around meat. We even have meats such as kidneys, ground meat dishes, a few types of sausages and bacon in the breakfast buffets.

There are  twenty of us, so we take over the upstairs dining area. After supper we head back to Rainbow Hotel. The kids all go out partying ( apparently Cameron and Lukas even went to a house party) and the rest of us either went to bed or hung out at the pool chatting.

I don't have bug spray on and for the first time I notice the mosquitos. I continue to drink my wine and chat.

That night I asked our room Steward to put up our mosquito nets. He smiles and says " you now see what I meant last night".

Now that the tour is over, Frank shares the room with Graham and Cameron. It smells like Ode de young male with indelicate undertones of sweaty tshirts and stinky socks.

I have no idea what time the guys return from their partying.

Cameron and Lukas leave at 7am for white water rafting. I have some concerns but try not to think about it. Cameron says the coach of the Amagagasi has a team keepers jersey for him and will give it to him at the 1:00pm game. Cameron asks if he is not back from white water rafting, if Graham or Frank pick it up. We promise one of us will.

Cameron says that white water rafting was fun but they had a few dangerous tumbles. He also said something about small crocodiles being near one spot where they had to swim back to the boats.

This morning After showering I notice that my calves and feet are covered in bright red polka dots with whitish circles around them. They are not itchy. They are nowhere else on my body. There are so many of them that it looks like red polka dots. I suspect mosquitos or some weird kind of razor burn from shaving my legs.

Most of our group are there for breakfast. We see Gift and Alfons greet their new family. Our Dutch friends Shon, Anita, Annet, Sam and Flor leave for Capetown  on a Nomad bus. Sigh.

Jessica is concerned because her sleeping bag is missing. She leaves for Uganda without it.

Martin, Jolanda, Felix, Alex, Leonie and Evie leave at 10am for their own countries. Fabio and Federica leave for Italy at 11:00. It is hard to say goodbye.

And then there are eight.

For a person who doesn't do separations well, this is all really difficult.

Maddie, James, Graham, Frank, Shawn and I go to check out the markets. I barter off my towels and some money for a little stone lion and rhino statue. We watch the man as he polishes it to turn black.

We all go along with Maddie and James to the Victoria Hotel again. I notice that once again there are petunias blooming in the garden. It seems that they replant them whenever they are eaten by the monkeys. After Graham has a look around, we leave our Aussie friends and head to the soccer game.

Cameron's local friend sits with us and the coach comes over with the keeper's shirt. We chat a bit and exchange emails. The score is 0-0 at half time when we head back to the hotel.

We meet a German man ( who lives in Australia) at our hotel pool. He is part of Gift and Alfonse's new family. We tell him how lucky he is to have them for guides and that he's in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Cameron, Frank and Lukas go out for more partying and Maddie, James, Shawn, Graham and I grab a cab ( friendly Eddie) and head to the Safari Lodge to watch sunset over the watering hole.

We order drinks and watch the huge storks and Cape Buffalo in the lengthening shadows.

This morning we see Alfons at breakfast. He says that Brenda's next tour which was supposed to leave at 8am is delayed because Gift is still at the hospital with a lady who broke her arm while white water rafting yesterday.

Our airport shuttle won't arrive till 11am so I run to the market with the last of our Namibian currency and Cameron's puttaputtas. A guy comes up beside me and asks if I want to buy stone statues. I say I only want to buy batik at the woman's market. He says " Buy from my mother. Her name is Susan, she is the big fat one." I say, "would she be happy if she knew you described her like that? Do you think she'll still cook you supper?" "Probably not", he says with a smile.

I get to the women's batik place and was able to pick out his mother with no problem.

I run back to the hotel with my souvenirs. Maddie, James, Frank and our family leave on the shuttle. We say goodbye to Frank at security.

We are on the same South Africa Airlines flight to Johannesburg as Maddie and James. Shawn, the boys and I are all seated separately....Coincidentally, Shawn is seated with Maddie and James. The seats on this flight are wide with lots of leg space...the meal is good....for airplane food.

We say goodbye to Maddie and James at the airport hotel shuttle.

We are now at The Aviator hotel. It is pretty basic but it's just overnight cause our flight to Nairobi leaves in the morning. We have adjoining rooms with the boys. The door between them was opened but their feet stink so I close it, only to realize that there is no door knob...I get maintenance in to open the door. They show us where the doorknob is kept ( on top of the wardrobe)....hmmm.















2 comments:

  1. Hi Kim,
    Love to read your blog. In this way, we stay in Africa a little. We've already had lots of rain since we arrived in Holland. The boys went for introduction early this morning. That was no problem because they are used to it. I'm busy doing the laundry. Enjoying my coffee right now.
    'I'm looking forward to read your post on your blog (hope you have WiFi :-) Jolanda

    ReplyDelete