Zambia day 2: Victoria Falls

As usual, I found it difficult to sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings. When I woke up at 2:30 am, I decided to step out onto the balcony to take a look at the stars. It was pitch black outdoors and the only light was from the stars above. But I could hear something; the rustle of grass when someone walked on it, and the snort of an equine creature. It was too dark to see the visitors though. After my eyes got used to the darkness, I could make out some ghostly shapes moving around. It’s kind of cool to have wild animals grazing outside the room and I hoped that they would stay until it was light enough to see them clearly.

The nighttime visitors were gone when I woke up. But they left evidence of their presence; small piles of droppings on the grass. At least I know it wasn’t a dream.

AC and I left the room at 7 am for breakfast. As we walked towards the hotel restaurant, a monkey ran out of the bushes holding a fruit in its hand. It sat on a rock next to the path we just walked by and ate its breakfast. We also spotted a couple of monkeys sitting on a tree ahead of us. It reminded me of a story about a monkey peeing on some people standing under its tree and I quickly walked by it.

It was a buffet breakfast and the selection was quite good. There was bread, salads, hot food, fruits and cereals. The food was also tastier than what we had for dinner.

Amon came to pick us up at 8:15 am and we went to visit the Zambia side of the Victoria Falls. It was the first time I saw a really big waterfall. The sight was impressive. The water fell into a deep gorge. It meant that we could stand on the other side of the gorge to view the waterfall instead of looking up from below.

The area was misty because of the water spray. There was a constant loud rumble from the water tumbling down onto the rocks below. Now I understood why it was called Mosi-oa-Tunya in the local language, meaning the smoke that thunders.

Amon said that the Victoria Falls was at its strongest in April and May, when the January rains in Angola finally flowed down to Zambia. The water flowed so fast and strongly that it was difficult to imagine that during the dry season, this area was totally dry and people could walk on it.

Then we walked to a hill of sorts opposite the waterfall, which was accessible by a hanging bridge. At this point the spray from the waterfall was so strong that it came down like a heavy rainfall. The water was cold and the experience was kind of fun, even though it was very wet. It was hard to see when my spectacle lens were covered with water droplets. I walked slowly because I didn’t want to slip on the wet ground (and maybe fall into the gorge). Even though we were wearing ponchos, I was drenched up to my knees. Good thing we wore berms and sandals today.

We exited and browsed the handicraft market near the entrance to the Victoria Falls while Amon went to settle some logistical stuff. There were a lot of small shops selling handmade goods like wood carvings, boxes and bowls. The shopkeepers were very friendly, but perhaps a bit too friendly and pushy. AC bought a wood carving of a hippo and rhino at the second shop and we “escaped” to some benches outside the market to dry ourselves while we waited for Amon.

Amon returned and drove us to the immigration at the border of Zambia. Some tourists were also there waiting to have their passports checked so that they could cross over to Zimbabwe. Amon liaised with the immigration officers and all we needed to do was to fill up the forms and present ourselves at the counter when it was our turn.

At the Zambia immigration building, the immigration officer wore a Liverpool jersey. Amon asked if we are football fans. AC said that she was a Man U fan and she had been quite sad at the poor performance of the team lately. When the immigration officer found out that AC was a Man U fan, he raised his arms in victory. I think AC just made his day.

Then Amon drove us across the border to Zimbabwe, passing through a patch of land in between which Amon said was No Man’s Land. At the Zimbabwe immigration building, the passport check went smoothly. It was a good thing that no visas were required for Singaporeans visiting Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Two Japanese tourists were also waiting at the immigration to go into Zimbabwe. They looked at us and thought that AC and I were Japanese. So they were a bit upset when they were told that they had to pay for the visas while we obviously did not have to pay. One of them asked Amon and he explained that we were Singaporeans and not Japanese. Amon said the Japanese tourist seemed a bit unhappy and asked, “Why Singapore passport do not need to pay visa?” Poor Amon did not know how to answer to that.

Amon saw us off at the Zimbabwe border. He would not be crossing over with us and the Zimbabwe portion of the Victoria Falls would be handled by the local representative, Matt.

Matt was already waiting for us. He drove us to see the Zimbabwe side of the Victoria Falls. At the entrance, Matt stood in front of the map and gave us a rather long and detailed briefing. He was the third or fourth person who told us that Victoria Falls was one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I guess they have a reason to be proud because there are only seven natural wonders in the world. But on the the other hand, there are also many seven wonders: seven ancient wonders, seven classic wonders, seven modern wonders, seven man-made wonders and so on. Hee.

Near the entrance was a stand displaying the skulls of African animals. The biggest skull was that of an elephant. It looked a bit strange without the trunk.

There were more to see on the Zimbabwe side and we walk about 3 km to all the different viewing spots. It was a good thing that we were able to see both sides of the waterfall because what we saw in Zambia was only about 20% of it. I suddenly realized that the Victoria Falls was really, really huge.

It was also much wetter on the Zimbabwe side and we were given more heavy duty ponchos to wear. Sometimes there was so much mist from the water spray that we could not see the waterfall. It was so wet that the trees were dripping wet. On some portions of the walk, it felt like being in a cold, windy and heavy downpour. Depending on the wind direction, the water could rain down almost horizontally.

At the last viewing spot, we could see the bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe. Matt told us that sometimes people would bungee jump off the bridge and asked me if I would be keen.

“Er, no,” I replied.

“Don’t say no. Say ‘maybe next time’,” Matt smiled. What a good diplomatic answer! I must remember this lesson.

As we walked back through the well-watered forest opposite the Victoria Falls, we saw some animals like impalas and baboons. The animals mostly kept their distance, but a curious young baboon came very close to the stone path we walked on.

Matt dropped us off at the border where Amon was waiting for us. He helped us through the immigration again and as there was no other activity planned for the afternoon, he drove us back to the hotel.

We had lunch at the hotel restaurant as there were limited choices. We were in the middle of a national park so it was not as if we could just walk out to grab some grub from the town. Thankfully the lunch menu was tastier than the dinner menu.

I had a pulled pork sandwich which was nice, although quite spicy. The fries that came with it reminded me of the homemade fries I had when I was a kid. They were not the light and fluffy type, but were more dense like potato wedges. It was a taste from my childhood so I rather enjoyed it.

AC had a steak. It was nicely done, but we did not expect such a big portion. AC could not finish her steak and neither could I finish my sandwich. For some reason, we were just not very hungry.

To wash down the food, we ordered two milkshakes. I had a banana and peanut butter milkshake while AC had a chocolate mocha milkshake. Both milkshakes were nice, although the chocolate mocha milkshake was a bit too sweet.

After lunch, we went back to the room to hide from the hot midday sun. AC fell asleep while I spent the afternoon reading. In the evening, we took a walk and reached the sister hotel, Zambezi Sun. The two hotels were close to each other, about 10 – 15 mins walk away from each other. We saw some zebras grazing in the grounds and monkeys ran quickly across the rooftops.

AC and I walked around and suddenly the snap of a twig caused me to turn my head. There were two impalas walking beneath the trees just 3 or 4 metres away from us. They were so quiet that we walked right pass them. Luckily they were not lions or we would be dead. Both of us are really unobservant.

We walked along the river as the sun was setting. There were electric fences along the shore so it was pretty safe. No danger from hippos or crocodiles.

We lingered for a while to enjoy the view, but not too long as AC felt that we should try to get back to our hotel before dark.

For dinner, we decided to order room service. We did not feel very hungry, so we decided to just share one item. In the end, we ordered beef noodles in hoisin sauce which was surprisingly tasty. Of all the dishes that I thought I might come across in Africa, I’d never thought that I would be eating an oriental noodle dish.

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