We ran out of deodorant in Vic Falls. Joshua stopped wearing it months ago, preferring his natural aroma. I still try…try to remember that I’m a lady. So when the market offered more than 20 choices, I was overwhelmed…and in contrast, they only offer two different brands of cereal. The cost was also shocking at $6/stick—more expensive than anything else in there. Reluctantly, I paid out of necessity. I was probably the only person to purchase one in a long time. I’m guessing not all Africans wear it. There is a smell that is not quite sweet, not quite baby throw up that pervades rooms, can carry on the wind and even sneak around corners. It is definitely thick. It’s not just the smell of body odor, but the smell of sweat, work, earth and irregular bucket showers. It is a smell that I will never forget and from now on, will always associate with our African travels…the only way to describe it is potent. But, I digress.
Overland tours through Africa are popular because they transport you to many of the places that would otherwise be difficult to get to (especially under a time crunch). Most of the national parks are off the beaten path. Many of the roads would not be considered roads in a westernized country. The downside, of course, is that you have no idea who you’ll be sharing the next month to 83 days (yes, they have 83 day tours) with. Minor discomforts can become deal breakers after such a long length of time. Plus, the sticker price of the tour is typically only a fraction of what you have to budget for since not all meals, up-sells, activities, etc are included. Case in point: Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe has the nickname “Adrenalin Capital of Africa.” It’s quite surprising this is such a tourist hub given its reputation as one of the worst governed countries on the continent. Misuse of political power, corrupt police and immigration officials, the list goes on…in fact, we were warned not to speak of politics at all within its borders. Tourist police walk you to and from craft markets to ensure that you aren’t robbed immediately before or after you make a purchase. Everything about the experience in Victoria Falls is intense. You are not even safe from street vendors walking down the street carrying a large wooden giraffe that they try to force you to buy for “the best price.”
With all the expenditures and extreme activities that we’d recently undertaken in South Africa and Mozambique, we had expected to forego most of what was offered. Instead, we planned to take a tour of the Falls and, if anything, try the famous Class 5+ rapids on the Zambezi River. Once we arrived, we gave in. How did we get from a possible white water rafting trip to the largest “adventure package” they offered? Joshua was not happy. Did we really need to walk lion cubs? Couldn’t we just wait until India or Thailand to ride an elephant? His least favorite phrase these days is “but, it’s once in a lifetime!”
Our relaxing three days quickly evaporated and transformed into a whirlwind of early morning starts and days full of activities. With our new schedule we were left with just the afternoon of our arrival to make a visit to the Falls. The Victoria Falls are on one of the many 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Their claim to fame is that they have a waterfall higher than both Niagara in the States and Iguazu in Brazil (both have been visited in the last year!). What stood out to us was the length. It’s literally a mile long waterfall that pours (not nearly the amount of water as you’ll see in the other two) into the Zambezi River. The wildest thing we saw was across the gorge in Zambia where people were sitting in the water just above the precipice of the falls. When the water level is low, you can enter an area known as “the Devil’s pool” which sits on the edge of the 90m tall waterfall. As we watched the tourists relaxing and snapping pictures we thought…crazy lunatics!
Our first night in Vic Falls, we got all showered (happens occasionally) for a fancy dinner at Boma. Boma dinners consist of drumming, singing, dancing, face painting, dress up and every kind of bush meat. We got a chance to try kudu, buffalo, impala, warthog…I am a total convert. Warthog could be my favorite meat of all time. We sang and danced, enjoying the vibe of this interactive restaurant. Our only regret was not going before sunset for a cocktail over the watering hole where you can watch leopard and other animals drink water with a beer in hand…and leaving Joshua’s favorite water bottle on accident. That cost us $10 in cabs to get back. Oh, well.
Neither of us are rafting aficionados, but we got ready for a day on the “Wild Zambezi.” I’ve been rafting before in Costa Rica. I lost a diamond earring in the Pacuare River when the guide pulled me in the boat by my life jacket. Lucky, Costa Rica. On the Zambezi, we got all decked out in our life jackets, helmets and oars and descended just over 100m into the gorge. By the time we could see the river, my legs were already jello. The local guides were running up and down in flip flops in their bright red Zambezi swim trunks…obviously pros. By the time we set off, we had practiced falling out of the boat and pulling each other back in. The first of 19 rapids was right in front of us. We made it through without any problems, but our paddling was weak. Our guide, Blessed, was screaming at us to paddle harder. We had three boys and three girls on the boat…one of the couples was on their honeymoon. I’m not sure they were ready for what the river gave us.
Before each rapid, Blessed would tell us the name of the rapid, usually some death term like “Babykiller” or “Widowmaker”, how we were going to paddle through if everything went right and where to swim if it went wrong. He would describe the rapids as the class rating in the boat and the class rating outside the boat. For example one might be a class 3 in the boat, but a class 5 swim. At the 7th rapid, we asked Blessed how we were doing. He told us to forget everything we had been doing and listen to his instructions. That was the rapid when things went very wrong. We flipped before it even started. The boat was on top of me. I couldn’t breathe. I was being sucked down by the current repeatedly. I didn’t feel like my lifejacket was doing me any favors. I am a good swimmer, and I was panicked. Blessed got on top of the boat (still magic, how he was always first). He managed to flip the boat back over, but several of us were trapped beneath again. Together we climbed in—just in time to get flipped out at “part B” of the 7th rapid. All 6 of us ended up swimming 90% of that class 5 rapid.
We lost any confidence (and composure) that we had accumulated over the first 6 rapids. We flipped again on 13. As a whole, our boat would get silent before the rapid, trying to concentrate on where to swim when we flipped. We were bloody, exhausted and emotionally bruised from “swimming” the Zambezi. Our guide took the only class 6 rapid by himself while we walked on the edge of the river. Getting back in, we found renewed confidence when we stayed upright in the “Washing Machine.” And we didn’t flip on the class 5, which in two weeks’ time, would be the most difficult commercially run rapid in the world. Nine out of 10 boats flip. We made it through and cheered.
Joshua asked if I was having fun yet. Really?!
After 19 rapids, we spent 45 minutes climbing back out of the gorge on a steep uphill, rocky trail. The stress of river rafting was not lost on Joshua. He drank 4 beers in rapid succession shortly after making it to the top, probably relief that we made it through alive.
The next morning I could barely move. Every muscle in my body was sore from rafting, but it didn’t stop us from walking with lions. At the local lion sanctuary, you can pay to accompany lions on their morning walk through the bush. Now keep in mind, these lions will never be reintroduced back into the wild. Supposedly there is a 4 step process for reintroduction that is conducted over three generations. Who knows? What I do know, is that it was crazy. First off, they are not cuddly. They are not even soft. We were given a stick to distract the lion (or defend ourselves) should it get too interested in us as food and told, “You run, you die.” After walking with them for about 45 minutes, Joshua may have gotten a little too comfortable at the watering hole…sneaking up on them and sharing a drink.
Since we hadn’t ridden an animal in awhile, we decided to take in a safari via elephant. We almost talked ourselves out of it by saying, “it’s only $10 in Thailand.” But then we realized those elephants are way smaller (half the size), and so it’s almost a different medium. African elephants are huge. We had to mount them via multiple staircases. Once aboard, the elephant didn’t even realize we were there. It would just stop and eat some grass, drink from a stream, or even scratch itself against a tree. From on top an elephant, we were able to get so much closer to the various African buffalo, warthogs, and water bucks on our safari. After wards, we were able to feed the elephants to say “thanks for the ride.” Their trunks enveloped our hands like a big vacuum attachment but messier.
One of the nice things about these “classy” tours is that the food is typically better than what we’ve been eating and there is almost always a bar at the end. We were torn as we approached the bar at the Elephant Safari. To our right was a cheetah, to the left was a bar that would only be open for 15 minutes. What direction to go? We asked the bartender for three beers and three ciders…problem solved. How did this cheetah get here?
Someone found a cheetah cub in the bush with its eyes still closed (meaning it was a day or two old). Its mother and 4 brothers and sisters had been killed by predators, and somehow one survived. The rescuer decided to take it home and raise it. After about 10 months it had beaten up all their other domesticated animals, namely their pet cats; so they found a conservation foundation to take it in. After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting it to hunt (it would injure an animal but not kill it), the organization gave up hope on reintroducing it into the wild…so now it’s a mascot for the foundation.
In the end, getting our money’s worth at the bar proved costly. We now own a footprint of the elephant we rode, Doji (pronounced Dodgy). Joshua could not get his wallet out of Vic Falls soon enough. We switched trucks and drivers for the escape.