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July 23, 2011 (Victoria Falls)
Itinerary: Gorge swing adrenaline rush, lunch at hotel, tour of Victoria Falls, sunset at Safari Lodge, dinner at The Boma
Today we are going on our big adrenaline rush adventure, soaring through the skies on ziplines and gorge swings. We met our transfer vehicle in front of the hotel after our complimentary breakfast at Jungle Junction with all the fixings. The ride was about 10 minutes, but once we were there, we could see the hotel up the gorge. We probably could have walked if someone had pointed us in the right direction along the walking path.
The turn off to the adrenaline rush location was on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border crossing and we could see a very long line of 18-wheeler trucks just sitting there in line to go through customs. I’ve heard lots of stories of how hard it is to cross the border and of all the vehicle and visa fees, but it was interesting to see the line in person. Baboons were posing as stowaways sitting on the trucks making us smile.
The adrenaline rush consisted of a little hut on top of the gorge with three activities we could do once. There was the flying fox, the zipline, and the gorge swing, in that order. From here we had a view of the bridge crossing the border, but not the actual falls. The gorge is between 300-350 meters across, and maybe 120 or so meters above the water. We signed our lives away and were packed into harnesses. First the harness was put on backwards so that the attachment was at the small of our back in order to do the flying fox. The harness was synched down over our shoulders as well so there was no falling out.
The flying fox was our first exciting view of the gorge. We ran off a platform and soared out flying superman-style about 200 meters across the gorge. It was exhilarating and imediately set the tone for the next two activities. I love the idea of flying and had a blast! Mark thought I was pretty crazy today for all these stunts, but in the end he had fun too. Once we zoomed out just over halfway, we waited patiently for the operator to reel us back in using a safety rope. He reeled us in all by hand, and I was pretty impressed that he could do this all day. Mark’s harness hit him in the stomach a little wrong and he felt a little sick on the flying fox, but after a rest he was healthy again.
Next, we had our harnesses turned around so the connection was in front and now we were correctly strapped in to sit hanging from a rope connected to our waist. We walked down a path towards the zipline. Luckily for Mark, we had a group of about 10 college age kids in front of us who all had to take their turn before it was our turn to go. The zipline was amazing as we flew about 425 meters across and down into the gorge. We got to watch all the kids in front of us take their turn and anticipate ours. The mechanism for the zipline was a little inefficient but necessary since the other side of the gorge was in Zambia. Basically, we slid down the zipline at 106 kph and then stopped when our momentum ran out. Then we sat on the line admiring the scenery, while one of the staff members was sent slowly down the line on a seat and hooked himself up to us. Then a giant motorized reel pulled us back to where we started from. What fun! You’ll have to watch the video. We went across the zipline in tandem having a blast!
Finally, we geared up for the big event, the gorge swing. A cable is strung across the gorge connected in the center to a long cable that holds the victim. The victim jumps or is pushed off a wooden platform that looks more like a plank on a ship and falls about 90 meters down into the gorge before the cable catches them. At the bottom, we swing back and forth and eventually a motorized reel pulls us back out of the gorge. We were told there were 5 ways to jump off, though I can’t remember all 5. The popular two ways were 1) jump off feet first like you are walking the plank, and 2) perform a handstand with help from the staff at the edge of the platform and fly off headfirst. We watched the people in front of us do both and I couldn’t wait!!
Mark told me I was crazy and was a little more hesitant than I was. But I’m writing this blog, so I will tell you how much fun it was and how much I was looking forward to the gorge swing. =) Finally, finally, it was my turn and I was hooked up. I decided to do the handstand move because if I was going to do it, I was going for the maximum thrill. I formed a pushup with my fingers off the edge of the platform. The staff lifted my legs over my head and with a big push, whooooosh, off I went. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee, what a rush. The freefall was close to skydiving, but not as long and after falling, falling, falling, the cable reached the end and I was jerked to a halt. Now I swung at the bottom of the gorge, over the water, in the peace and quiet down here. The only sounds were of the rushing water and I couldn’t help but smiling so much my face hurt. How much fun was that?!!!! I wish I could do this again and again. But I was being hauled to the top. Near the top I had to put out my feet to avoid being smashed into the rocks and I helped climb back out onto the platform.
I felt much more comfortable with the harness removed and my spine could stretch back out to it’s normal height. And now I watched Mark who needed a little encouragement to jump off the platform feet first. He let out a little yip instead of a scream and all those surrounding me in the waiting area laughed and wondered where the scream was. Mark had a blast as well and even said he could do it again.
But, we had to end our adrenaline rush for the day and get transported back to the hotel. I would highly recommend these adventure activities for anyone visiting Victoria Falls. At the hotel we had a relaxing lunch on the lawn with the cool breeze and watched the other guests mill around.
At 2pm, we met Esther in the lobby of the hotel and were taken to the Victoria Falls national park area where we could get a tour of and view the falls. The parking lot outside the park was full out touts out to get anything they could from the tourists. It really makes it so hard to be an inquisitive tourist sometimes when all around everyone is trying to sell you stuff or get tips or try to take you on a tour. We end up having to act uninterested or walk fast to get away. Victoria Falls was full of touts. We couldn’t even go for a walk outside our hotel without being bombarded by people walking beside us trying to sell us Zimbabwean trillion dollar bills. And when we sat at a stoplight while on a tour bus, the people came right up to the windows and thrust jewelry and Zim dollars at us trying to get our money.
Anyway, back to the tour. Esther got our tickets for us while I took some photos of the entrance and in we went. I have to say the experience was different from what I expected. For one thing, there is no one spot where you can stand and see the entire falls. The falls are just too big and most of the views are hidden behind bushes and trees. The formation of the falls was very interesting. The cliffs of the gorges are made up of basalt rock that cracked open millions of years ago forming deep gorges. The Zambezi River due to a geological shift moved to these fault lines 5 million years ago. In the geological history of the falls, there have been 8 previous sites of the waterfall in this area as the river worked its way back upstream from fault line to fault line. They already have an idea where the next fault line will originate and where the falls will move to in the next 10,000 years or so. The fault lines open up in a zig zag pattern forming what we now see as Victoria Falls falling into a deep, but relatively narrow gorge that just cannot be viewed from one location on the cliff opposite the falls.
We toured the walkways and were overwhelmed with our first view of the falls. A permanent rainbow shown through all the mist and the falls roared thunderously in our ears. There could be no bad photos taken of this place. We walked from viewing spot to viewing spot, finding new rainbows and new views of the falls. For the first half of our tour, we were able to stay pretty dry. However, as we walked further along the cliff towards Danger Point, we had to pull on our raincoats and put away the camera because the mist came at us as if we were walking through a full-blown rainstorm. We were drenched in seconds and amazed at the plethora of rainbows sprouting out all around us. We could see both ends of rainbows at some points and at others rainbows burst out of the gorge straight at us. When one person walked ahead the one in back could watch them walk through a rainbow arch.
There are 7 named falls in Victoria Falls and we were able to find a viewpoint for each one. We learned how Livingston contributed to bringing the British to this natural wonder, essentially showing this spot off to the world. Victoria Falls is now considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.
As we walked through the drenching downpour of mist, we could see the plants struggling to survive. Because it never stops raining here, the trees and plants are drowning and dying. What an interesting concept now considering how right now all the trees and plants in Texas are dying due to drought.
We stepped back into the dry path and walked to a good viewpoint of the bridge that spans the great Zambezi River and connects Zimbabwe to Zambia here. The bridge was built in 1905. Crossing the Zambezi was Rhodes’ major problem in building a railroad from Cape Town to Cairo to achieve his dream and here the great river was crossed. If we had more time in the area, we would have taken a bridge tour given on the Zambian side to learn more about the engineering behind it.
As it was, our tour was finished and we were taken back to the hotel where we made reservations at the famous restaurant known as The Boma. Pretty much everyone we’ve talked to on this whole trip has recommended this place to eat, so we have to go. The couple we met on our first nights in Matobo Hills also recommended viewing the sunset from the Safari Lodge deck, so we planned to do this as well. Amazingly enough, The Boma was just down the street and accessible by free shuttle from the Safari Lodge.
Everyone came for sunset on the deck and I finally got to see the iconic red sun dipping down behind the African landscape while Mark enjoyed his African beer. The deck was full and we were glad to have come early enough to grab chairs and a small table with a great view of the waterhole down below where a herd of buffalo were grazing.
The Boma: The Place of Eating was amazing. I agree that it was a bit touristy, but all in a good way. The restaurant is huge will hundreds of people eating. First, we were greeted as we got off the shuttle and given a traditional African wrap to wear, then our face was painted, and we were seated. The seating areas were elevated on platforms over looking a performance area with a huge buffet behind. The servers walked around with a bowl of water and we were to dip our fingers in and do a traditional washing of the hands at the table. Only then we were given some finger foods as appetizers to munch on while everyone arrived. There were roasted nuts, and either a squash or potato. Mark was also given a taste of traditional beer that he said tasted like beer mixed with corn meal.
The first course buffet included crocodile tail (tasted like turkey), impala (very very dark meat with a liver texture, but not the liver taste), and guinea fowl (chickeny flavor), as well as other more common foods. We also got some butternut squash soup in little 3-legged cast iron pots with a handle and a top so that we could carry it to the table and let it sit warm before we ate it. I dont think I’ve mentioned all the butternut squash we’ve had on our trip. It seems as if every meal so far in Africa has included some form of butternut squash.
The dinner buffet consisted of choosing some raw meat and having the cooks cook it on a grill right in front of us. We tried the buffalo steak (tastes…well like steak), warhog (Mark loved it, similar to pork tenderloin, but drier), ostrich skewer (tasted like very chewy chicken), kudu stew (tasted pretty much like beef stew, but with a slightly different flavor), peanut butter rice (just as it sounds and incredibly yummy), and last, but not least, Mark tried the Mopani worm which was crunchy and burnt. I had heard about the worm, but we figured it would be more wormy in texture. Their worms were more like crunchy snacks. I still couldn’t do it, though. =)
Dessert included the usual very tasty dessert fare. Then the fun really got going. As we were finishing up dinner, the performers were giving us a big dance and drumming number, but once they had cleared all the plates, they passed out individual drums to all of us. We were given drum lessons and proceeded to have them time of our lives playing music with everyone else in the place. It was a very special night being able to join in and I would certainly recommend The Boma to anyone visiting Victoria Falls. After drumming, we were all expected to join the performers on the dance floor in a circle and then forced to dance one at a time inside the circle to the music! And boy did people really know how to dance. After watching several people give great performances, I was ready to inch away, but soon it was our turn and we had fun.
Finally, the evening was over and we took a taxi back to the hotel. On the way we encountered an elephant traffic jam as cars were lined up unwilling to cross in front of an elephant on the side of the road. The elephant being much bigger than the sedans looked pretty dangerous in the dark and it took some time before we could sneak past. We’ve now been in all kinds of animal traffic jams including bear jams, elk jams, moose jams, etc.
Tonight is our last night in the fancy Victoria Falls Hotel. We are off tomorrow to spend 2 nights on Bovu Island and then we fly back to Marseille for a day. We can’t believe the vacation is actually ending.
Below you’ll find a slideshow from flickr showing more photos. If the slideshow does not appear, please click on this link to see the original post: http://thetravelgeeks.com/?p=536 and scroll to the bottom. To view the slideshow, click once on the play button, or triangle, in the middle of the image below.