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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

11/23 & 24: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, the 7th Natural Wonder of the World!

11/23: We broke up our trip to Johannesburg by taking a 48 hour detour to Zimbabwe so we could visit the world famous Victoria Falls. The town's airport even got into the spirit with its own mini falls!
I couldn't help but take a second look at these men in native dress who were welcoming tourists at the airport! Too bad they were taking a break and weren't dancing as that would have been a very exciting introduction to Zimbabwe.

En route to our hotel in the small town of Victoria Falls, our driver said it was common seeing elephants crossing the highway so they could eat mangoes and other vegetables grown by locals by their nearby homes.

He talked about Zimbabwe's prior hyperinflation. The old Zimbabwean bills were worth billions and even trillions but the highest denomination was only equivalent to 20 USD. Since the end of 2008, the country has adopted the US greenback as its official currency.
The driver pointed out baboons sleeping in the branches in the tree on our right.
The town of Victoria Falls began with a small souvenir shop and slowly expanded until the 1970s when it became the gateway to the falls themselves. Now the extremely compact town seemed to have become one souvenir shop as we just saw one shop after another with hardly anything else in the town, save a few restaurants and bars. We learned later that there are no residents in the town itself as they all live in a community many miles away. As you must know by now, Steven and I are certainly fans of shopping but only as part of visiting a town, not as the only option. 
While we walked through town, men constantly followed us as they hoped to sell small curios they held in their hands. Perhaps it was because we were nearing the end of our long trip, but it was very hard to remain civil and courteous when we said repeatedly to the men we weren't interested in buying anything. However, they kept walking beside us, continuing their spiel and hoping we would relent. It felt like they looked at us as if all Westerners were made of money and it was our responsibility to bail them out of their economic woes. It was hard not to feel gouged when some of the hawkers tried to sell about ten paper bills of Zimbabwe's outdated currency for $50!
We could hear the almost constant hum of helicopters ferrying tourists back and forth from the nearby Falls.

Yeah, more half-naked men right by the entrance to the Falls' ticket office!
On learning the admission fee to enter Victoria Falls National Park was $40 each and didn't allow for re-entry, we decided to visit them tomorrow when we had more time.

Since on a clear day, the spray produced by the Falls can be seen from 30 miles away, the swirling mist rising above the savannah looks like smoke from a bush fire. That inspired the local name 'Mosi-Oa-Tunya' which means the 'Smoke that Thunders.' The Falls, which are more than 300 feet high, are one of the seven natural wonders of the world and were declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.
In lieu of seeing the Falls then, we decided to walk instead to Victoria Falls Bridge which connected Zimbabwe with Zambia. Cecil Rhodes, an English businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa, founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia. His dream was to complete a Cape-to-Cairo railroad line. It would have been far easier for Rhodes to build the bridge upstream from the Falls but having the bridge pass directly over the natural wonder captivated him.
We had to stop at the Zimbabwean immigration and border controls first to obtain a gate pass before beginning the mile plus walk to the Bridge.
I couldn't blame the monkey for seeking shade under one of the long line of trucks entering Zimbabwe as the temperature was in the 90s and it was very humid.
We then saw a large number of other monkeys alongside the highway. They appeared quite aggressive so we made a point of staying clear of them.

We had a spectacular view of the Zambesi River roaring through the Batoka Gorge from the bridge, as well as a small section of the Falls on the Zambian side. I read that when the bridge was being built and a net was stretched under the construction site, it prompted construction workers to go on strike for a few days. They only began working again when they were told they would not be expected to jump into it at the end of each workday!
The safety net probably had a lot to do with the fact that only two people died during the bridge's construction. What an amazing feat of engineering when it was completed in just 14 months when the last two cross-girders were joined on September 12th, 1905, by Professor Darwin, son of the famous scientist Charles Darwin.
This was as close as we got to entering Zambia!

We decided to take a pass on bungee jumping into the gorge; we're not that adventurous, I guess.
What a hoot reading what would make the jump more enjoyable!
So many locals carried what appeared to be incredibly heavy loads on their backs, on their heads as well as on their bicycles on the road to and from Zambia.

This was the second time we had seen a monkey on the road from the bridge topple a garbage can so he could get to the food scraps inside.

11/24: Victoria Falls National Park staff recommended visits to the Falls both in the early morning and late afternoon to take advantage of the different positions of the sun. However, since that would require a double admission of $160 for both of us, we opted to visit them only for the morning. We got an early start as we wanted to avoid the crowds and the heat. It wasn't early enough, though, to miss the hawkers still hoping to sell us items we didn't want!
While the Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, was thought to have been the first European to see the Falls on November 16th, 1855, the waterfall known as Mosi-Ao-Tunya was marked on maps in the early 1850s. After Livingstone's sighting and publicity about the falls whom he had named after his Queen Victoria, there was a steady trickle of tourists but it wasn't until the railroad was completed that this part of the world became easily accessible to visitors.

One of the information panels at the Falls' entrance said there are three different ways to measure a waterfall: by height, by width and by volume. Though Victoria Falls isn't included in the top 800 falls around the world in terms of height, it is the 10th largest by width and 13th largest by volume. When considering those factors, Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls and South America's Iguazu Falls are three large waterfalls. But, when looking for the highest, widest sheet of continually falling water, then the Main Fall of the Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world. This coming fall, we hope to visit Iguaza Falls as part of our planned trip to South America.
We knew the high water season for the Falls was from April through June when more than two million gallons of water fall over the edge every second. That sounds like it would be absolutely phenomenal to witness even though the resulting spray is so dense that, at times, the view can be obscured and photos are almost impossible to take. Another downside is that's when there are the most number of tourists too. We knew, though, our views of the Falls would be far better as there would be little mist during this dry season because the flow was infinitely less than during the high water season.
On the path to the Falls, we could feel just a few drops from the Falls' spray. The network of surfaced paths, put down to limit damage to the fragile rainforest ecosystem, led to a series of viewpoints. 
Livingstone 'first saw the clouds of the thundering spray' from about six miles upstream. When he landed on an island that now bears his name, he walked to the edge and looked over to see what he later described as 'the most wonderful sight I have witnessed in Africa.'

We could hear the hum again of helicopters as we approached the first viewpoint, Devil's Cataract.

 Note the 'fence' separating visitors from the Falls at Devil's Cataract Viewpoint!

The second viewpoint was called The Chain Walk. The series of 36 steps led us down to an eye-level view of the Devil's Cataract and across the length of the Falls. During the rainy season, we would have gotten very wet here.

We thought the Falls were pretty darn spectacular even though they weren't flowing at their maximum!

 Lower than the rest of the Falls, the Devil's Cataract is where the main volume of water is concentrated all year round.

According to the brochure we bought, it's possible that the Zambezi River will one day cut back into the rock below to form a new path for the Falls.

In our minds, we were so glad that we had only been able to come to the Falls now because there there much better opportunities to view and take photos. What made it even better was that there very few tourists to obstruct our uninterrupted views of the falls while we sat on a bench.
While sitting there, we had watched this man walk across a rocky area above the falls. He sure had more nerve than we did!

This was the rocky terrain the man above had just walked across to catch the perfect fishing spot. Not being fishing fans, we still had to wonder whether he had calculated the potential danger being that close to the Falls.
One of the benches/seats along the pathways:
A very light drizzle managed to offset some of the humidity as we got to another viewpoint. 

Steven wanted me to hurry up and take this photo as he was getting a tad wet at the Main Falls, the central attraction in the park!
This view certainly rivaled any I think we've seen at Niagara Falls.
It was like we had been transported all of a sudden to a rainforest as the Falls threw out a magnificent spray that watered everything in a narrow band along the edge of the Falls.
The trail running through this world of green was overgrown with African ebony, Cape fig, Natal mahogany, wild date palms and the lushest of ferns.

Walking through this miniature rainforest was by far my most enjoyable part of our time in the park except, of course, of our views of the Falls.

We found another bench and couldn't resist sitting awhile to admire this breathtaking view.
These people joked they were bona fide members of the Livingstone Society as they walked by wearing their pith helmets!

We finally tore ourselves away from the rainforest area but we didn't mind too much when we spied, almost immediately, these gorgeous pinkish and reddish flowers. They looked somewhat like pincushions to me but I will leave it to those far more qualified than I to ascertain their correct name.

The vegetation then thinned considerably with only grasses and low shrubs taking root.
On we walked to view the magnificent Falls from other angles.

Our mouths were agape when we saw a number of people having a grand time on the other side of the falls. Oh, to be young and carefree! I am pretty sure that was the spot where Livingstone had lowered a bullet attached to a string into the gorge to determine the height of the Falls.

During the rainy season, this entire area by Viewpoint 11 would be covered by the Falls too.
As we turned away from the Falls. all we saw were dried up grasses en route to the Victoria Falls Bridge. The sun chose that time to come out in force so it got quite hot very quickly.

We detoured to Horseshoe and Rainbow Falls, the highest of the whole series of falls at 108 meters high but it usually dries up at the height of the dry season.

We agreed we were both close enough to the edge as there was nothing between us and a 300 foot fall below. I'm sure you wouldn't have disagreed either, right!
Too bad the park hadn't spent some of the admission fees on new 'Slippery - Use Extreme Caution' signs as these ones had sure seen better days.
My king of the mountain looked pretty relaxed given how close he was to the edge.

At Viewpoint 15, Danger Point and Eastern Cataract, we could see the 'boiling pot' and the Eastern Cataract on the Falls' Zambian side. The spot was well named as it was quite difficult scrambling among the rocks even though they were totally dry.

We knew it was time to leave when we saw this large group of kids on a school tour approach the viewpoint!
Finally, we reached the Bridge that connected Zimbabwe and Zambia and which we had walked half way across yesterday afternoon.
We had only been relaxing at the Bridge Viewpoint for a few minutes when we were lucky enough to see and hear a steam engine make its way over the bridge.

A short while later, we heard the screams of a bungee jumper as he careemed off the bridge! Someone told us that if he had jumped in the rainy season, he would have felt the water's spray.
After seeing him being pulled up, we left the Bridge overlook at 1:15 for the longish trek back to the park entrance. 
Amusing information about Zimbabwe's hyperinflation and Bill Gates:

When was the last time you saw wild pigs as you walked through a town?!!

We had to get change for tips for a large US bill at one of the banks in town. In order to enter, though, we had to be buzzed through, one at a time, through an airlock door and wait there for about ten seconds before the next door would open up. Even with all that security when entering or leaving the bank, there was still a security guard inside. I guess the banks must have had terrible problems with robberies to warrant those extreme measures.
When Steven went back to our hotel, I decided to look at some of the souvenir shops nearest it. I smiled when I noticed the Colorado license plate and also felt more than a little homesick as it was also Thanksgiving.
I soon realized how closely many of the Zimbabwean sculptures resembled much of Inuit art, i.e. the stone carvings of the native peoples of northern Canada and Alaska.

Some of the old Zimbabwean currency: $500,000 and ten million dollar bills!

I have a special fondness for this store owner as she was so very friendly and made it so fun and easy to shop in her store, never pressuring me one iota. I bought a number of items and before I left, she gave me a necklace as a gift which I will treasure.
We phoned our four children, each of them living in various places all over the country, to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. That night, we 'celebrated' the holiday by having dinner at Lola's Tapas and Carnivore Restaurant.

Neither of us were in the mood for Crocodile Ravioli or some other uniquely Zimbabwean entree, though!

Spending Thanksgiving visiting Victoria Falls had been a huge amount of fun even if we were unfortunately away from family and friends on that special day. I hope everyone reading this belated post enjoyed the day spent with those you hold dear.

Posted on January 10th from Littleton, Colorado.


  1. What did you have for T-Day diner? Loved the photo of the Falls just after the Pith helmet photo. Loved all the photos of an awesome site. I have to visit the Falls!!! Lil Red
    PS - Think the pink flower is Allium (onion family)

  2. Nothing terribly exciting for Turkey Day dinner for us in Victoria Falls - a hamburger for Steven and a fancy chicken dish for me but still very enjoyable even though we missed having family and friends at our side for Thanksgiving. Should have known the flower was an allium as they're common enough in the Denver area - thanks for the reminder!


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