By now, most of the NYC crew had headed home. AJ was still staying another week and I had 2 more down in Cape Town. What to do?
AJ had a great idea to take a few days and head over to Zimbabwe to check out Victoria Falls. He figured since he was down there, he might as well go check it out as it’s meant to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Did I want to join? Why not? So, after a few brief SNAFUs (1. I left my phone in the Uber that took us to the airport- thank God for technology I was able to contact the driver and have him bring it back just before our plane boarded and 2. We forgot the international aspect- Customs, security etc- of JoBurg to Zimbabwe flight and almost missed it because we were eating Nandos) we were on our way…
OK, NOW I felt like I was actually in Africa. There were wild boar, monkeys, and zebra just running around. There were signs at our hotel to watch out for crocs. This was a little more ‘real’ than the hiking and beach life and all the parties and pretty people in Cape Town.
AJ and I hit the ground running as we only had 48 hours before we had to leave and we wanted to see/do as much as possible. We hit up the concierge at our hotel and scheduled a pretty packed itinerary, but one that would have us really maximizing our time. Boom. 45 minutes after arriving to our hotel, we were boarding a helicopter for an arial tour of Victoria Falls. Breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe what this natural wonder was like seeing it from above. It was so so so cool. We flew around it a few times, taking it in from many different angles and approaches. It was really good perspective for when we’d see it from the ground (and then from very up close!). It was beautiful.
We then grabbed a quick bite from the lookout cafe- aptly named as it’s situated on a cliff high above the river with a view of the Victoria Falls bridge- which separates Zimbabwe from Zambia AND is the site of the Victoria Falls Bungee Jump! As we ate our lunch of Crocodile and Ostrich (yep), we got to see a few brave souls take the plunge! I’m still not keen to try, but maybe that’ll change this year. As the Victoria Falls Park was just down the road, we decided to check that out before heading back to our hotel- once again words can’t describe the beauty and raw power you feel standing just across the gorge from the falls. The park is situated as one long walking trail with many different view points of the different parts of the falls- we spent the rest of the afternoon in the park enjoying all it had to offer. It was magical.
As we were a little beat from the trip in and had an early morning excursion lined up- we turned in a little early after a nice dinner along the water. What excursion you ask? Well…
Have you ever gone White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River? Neither had we so we thought we’d give it a shot 😉 This would be a 2.5 hour trip through Class 5 rapids along the river that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. AJ and I were ultimately situated at the front of our boat (we had sneaky plans to try to flip it) so were responsible for all the power as we pushed through over 15 rapids! They all had cool names like ‘The Washing Machine’ and ‘The Terminator’… What a day. In between the rapids we marveled at the landscape, high cliffs rose up from each side. Lush with vegetation, it looked like something out of Jurassic Park! Smaller waterfalls cascaded down from time to time as we made our way down the river. We even got to jump in and just float for a bit while staring up at the sky. Awesome. When we finished we hiked back up to where the trucks were waiting to serve us lunch and then take us home. AJ and I enjoyed a few well-earned beers as we relaxed after the rafting and the hike. As we rode back to the hotel a couple of the tour guides (who were Victoria Falls locals) asked us what our plans were for the night and if we’d be interested in seeing the ‘Real Victoria Falls’? They offered to show us around a bit and then we could BBQ and drink some beers, and eventually they take us around to some local bars… We couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.
PJ and Morgan picked us up from our hotel a few hours later and our local tour commenced. They drove us around a bit, pointing out a few sights, telling us a bit about themselves, the city, their country, and just life in general. We drove around their village/township, stopping to meet some of their friends. It was like something I’ve never seen. At first glance it looked like such poverty to me, but then I realized that everyone was smiling. Everyone was happy. Kids were hanging out, playing and talking. There was just an overall positive energy all around. Everyone that came up to meet us was genuine, their smiles were beautiful. I asked PJ about this later and he remarked, ‘we don’t have much, but we don’t need much…’ If only life were that simple for everyone, maybe it is… Back to our night: I felt like this was something PJ and Morgan did from time to time- take around a couple cool tourists who’d buy the meat and the beers and in exchange they’d show them around. Was a good deal for all as they’d get a huge meal (which they later said was quite uncommon for them) and some free beers, and we’d get an authentic experience with some cool locals (keeping in mind beer and meat were not at all expensive compared to stores back home, I think we spent 50$ total on the entire night). So after we hit the grocery and beer store we drove around looking for a place to cook our feast. PJ explained there were several bars/bbq ‘lots’ that one could just drive up to with a bunch of groceries, pay someone like 5$, and they’d cook it all for you while you had beers and hung out- seemed like a pretty good deal to me! After checking out a few spots, we ultimately ended up out in an area by the airport which was kind of like a large dirt field with a few small stores and 5 or six bbq huts with people around eating, listening to music, and playing a game that resembled a super fast-paced checkers but played with beer caps (we’d later learn this was called ‘draft’). As the sun went down we feasted on pork, chicken, steak, and sausage (we really went for it) plus a huge salad and sadza which is like a sticky porridge that accompanies most meals down there. We got to know each other better as they shared more stories about what it was like living there as well as what they hoped to do in the future. It was pretty surreal the few times I just stopped to look around and appreciate exactly where I was in the universe at this time. Here in a field with AJ, eating bbq and drinking beers in the middle of Africa as the huge firy sun descended beneath the horizon. I never thought I’d find myself in a place like this, yet here I was. My soul felt alive.
After the meal we were off to bar hop back in town- not the one touristy area which would have the people from the nearby hotels hanging around, but their town. The real deal. Once again things seemed so surreal as we rolled around to their local bars. Draft was a big deal- and many games were always going on, some getting a little heated! Again it was like a cross between super fast-paced checkers and dominoes played with beer caps. They slam the pieces down with every move- so much so that these wooden tables had worn down indentations from all the games that had been played there! Each game might have lasted one minute and the rules seemed a bit loose, but it was really fun to watch. Inside at the bar was another interesting scene- they all had TVs going with people seated around watching movies like Rocky and Men in Black but without the volume. Not a few either, but like 20-30 people all on folding chairs, eyes glued to the movie, while a DJ played music for the rest of the bar. It was a funny scene…
Here’s one… As we walked around between the bars we asked if we were ok to bring our beers outside. PJ said, ‘We can do whatever we want tonight because we are with white people’. No shit. Dead serious. Apparently because tourists bring in all the money to the town and the industry keeps many of the locals employed, white people are like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Morgan explained, ‘as long as we are together, we can do no wrong tonight’. Wow. This notion swam around my head for a bit, still not sure how I feel about the whole thing.
I should also mention this was a pretty crazy thing AJ and I did. Here we were, driving around well off the beaten path with a couple guys we don’t know. We have no clue where we are or how to get home, no cell service, in the middle of Zimbabwe. Although PJ and Morgan had been nothing but kind and friendly, and I hated myself for allowing these thoughts to occur, it was tough not to think about ‘what if’. Now we had added some new friends and another car and AJ and I were now separated, our hosts were speaking a foreign language, and we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I have to admit I got a little nervous. This was when we’d get robbed or worse. If PJ and/or Morgan ever end up reading this, I apologize for this. These guys were so awesome, I just found myself a little outside of where my comfort zone ended- though this experience definitely helped expand it.
After shooting pool for a bit at a bar attached to a hostel, it was time to say good night. They drove us home and we all exchanged information, promising to keep in touch. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again, but it was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had on this excellent adventure thusfar and I’ll forever be grateful they offered to show us around. Thanks guys.
The next day we were set to return back to Cape Town- but not before we headed across the border into Zambia to visit Livingston Island and stand on the edge of the falls. Yes. You read that correctly. You can actually take a boat up to a little ‘island’ in the river just before the water plunges over the side. From here you can walk out to one of two pools, Angel’s Pool or Devil’s Pool and essentially hang out right on the side of the falls! It’s great for a photo as you can imagine. Crossing the border into Zambia was a bit interesting- there were military police armed with machine guns everywhere AND about 100 baboons guarding everything the police weren’t. Again I felt like this was the real Africa- never saw anything like this in Cape Town. We ultimately made our way to the resort our tour would leave from (more zebras just roaming around) and boarded the small boat that would take us out. We got a little bit of a history lesson as we made our way out to the falls- learning about Livingstone’s exploration of the region back in the 1850’s. It was an interesting feeling being in a boat that was pointed at a giant waterfall, but I guess these guys were professionals so we were safe? It. Was. Awesome. Not recommended for those afraid of heights, mind you… As the water level was pretty high, we couldn’t do Devil’s Pool (which is a bit more out in the middle) and had to ‘settle’ for Angel’s Pool. We hung out there for about 20 minutes or so while everyone took photos and enjoyed the scenery. I closed my eyes and just listened to the water rushing over the side. It was so powerful. I felt connected with the river and tapped into its energy. It was quite the rush!
The experience ended with a breakfast in a little tent that was set up near the side with a view of the falls. We chatted a bit with the other members of the group, exchanging travel stories as well as impressions of the morning we had just shared.
What a crazy 48 hours. It was an absolute whirlwind of activity, but these are 2 days I’ll never forget. I’m so grateful that we did this as my soul was exposed to many new thoughts and feelings. I can picture PJ’s and Morgan’s smiles and it makes my heart happy. I can close my eyes and hear the falls, and it gives me power. I can feel the fear and uncomfortableness I overcame, and it gives me strength.
Here are some pics:
Our ride for the morning Taking in the sightsVictoria Falls from Above!Mission Accomplished.
Exploring the Park
White Water Rafting Trip!
Our Crew and Capn ColgateA few action shots(As usual, AJ laughs while I do all the work)We made it through ‘The Terminator’Time to jump in!After all that work we had to hike up 1500 feet to get back up to the top of the gorge!Taking in the sights on the way home, with our new friends!
A Night Out with PJ and Morgan
A couple cold ones in the back seat…The ‘Big Tree’… aptly namedShould we grill here? Or elsewhere?This seems better…How they do it in ZimbabweA new game called ‘Draft’Getting to know each other while we await our feast…Introducing ‘icing’ to PJThe finished product and our lovely chefs!‘Draft’ was very popular at the bars… Note the indentations in the table after years of slamming their caps down when the move them!Out on the town- yes, at Club G Spot…
Walking on Water, Living on the Edge
Looking (carefully) over the edge!
…Much Love, B
Just a guy on a hero's journey...