Published: August 16th 2011August 16th 2011
Wow - as predicted, the Victoria Falls is just amazing, and just definitely the highlight of my trip so far - this is saying something since it's been such an awesome journey already. For once, coming to the end of my trip, I'm actually more excited to continue travelling than to go home - normally around this time I get a hankering for a hot bath and my own bed, but not this time - it's just a great trip!
Before I continue with the praises of the Victoria Falls, I should really update on what I did since I last wrote, as the last few days have been pretty busy and I’ve lots of photos to upload even before arriving here.
Last I wrote I’d just arrived in Bulawayo, after a very pleasant lift on the back of a pick-up – not public transport this time, but private and kitted out with a mattress and pillow. It would never meet those ridiculous Health and Safety standards back home, but this has to be one of the best ways of travelling – being really in touch with what’s around you, and having the wind blow through
The Mother and Baby Balancing Rocks
You can make out the face, facial features and breasts of the mother, with her baby being carried African-style on the back
your hair as you speed through the African bush – great stuff!
Bulawayo was a pleasant enough town – a colonial centre having developed in the late 19th Century in a spot named “KoBulawayo”, or Place of Slaughter, in remembrance of the blood shed by the Ndebele Tribe, related to the Zulus, on their migration northwards to found their new kingdom. Unfortunately for them, a few years later, Cecil John Rhodes arrived and negotiated a deal with the tribe to build their trading centre there, which essentially sealed the end of their influence in the area and paved the way to the European settlement of Zimbabwe. What’s left of this era today are lots of beautiful colonial buildings in the centre of town, smacking of a romantic bygone past, and really looking rather spiffing indeed. Unfortunately I found out after having snapped one of these buildings that you’re not allowed to take photos there, when a policeman pointed at me and shouted something. I walked away pretending not to have seen, but later found out that taking pictures in Central Bulawayo and Harare is an arrestable offence! Whoa! Talk about paranoia, but will leave further comment on this situation,
The Victoria Falls
as mentioned, until a bit later…
While the city itself was pleasant enough, the main attraction of the area is the nearby Matobo National Park – a tiny park by African standards, but home to some of the country’s most beautiful balancing rock formations, and apparently one of the best places to see rhino. We managed to see loads of the former, but unfortunately none of the latter – apparently it was a bad day, as 90% of safaris end up with at least one sighting, but the only thing we saw was a rhino skeleton… The balancing rocks, however, were impressive. These are to be found all over the country, and were formed as solidified granite boulders which were spewn out of an ancient volcano were left stranded as the softer rock around them was eroded and weathered away over thousands of years (spot the Geography teacher!). These rocks often perform acrobatic tricks as they are left balancing precariously on top of others, and certainly are a sight to be seen. Unfortunately the rhinos were not. The park is also famous for its cave paintings, depicting various animals including elephants, giraffes and leopards, often being hunted by local
people. Carbon dating methods date these glyphs back 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, which was pretty amazing! Also in the park is the grave of the great Cecil John Rhodes, who in his will requested to be buried at a location known as World’s End – another area of amazingly balanced rocks, with views for miles around – spectacular! The park is also infamous for the Mopane Fly – an extremely annoying type of bee which, although it doesn’t sting, is attracted to the water found in our eyes and mouths, and also seemed to enjoy nostrils and ears too. This made for a rather annoying trip towards the end, wafting away the 20-30 little blighters which constantly buzz around your head. More than a day there would surely have driven me crazy.
From Bulawayo, I’d booked myself on the overnight express train to Victoria Falls. Another relic of the colonial era, the train is however sadly neglected today. My compartment and carriage in its day would have been just stunning, with wood panelling and lots of nice little features including a wash basin in each compartment, and small windows on the ceiling which open out to let the
Said to be 4,000 to 6,000 years old, Matobo National Park
wind blow through like a natural air-conditioner. However, years of neglect have made it look rather worse for the wear, and with no water or electricity at all, and with other clientele a tad on the shady side – referred to as a “brothel on wheels” by one of my guidebooks – it wasn’t quite so comfortable as it could have been. Though with the door safely locked from the inside, it wasn’t too bad, and indeed I spotted an elephant from the train as it passed through the Hwange National Park on its way north. I also got a fairly decent night’s sleep, despite a few rude awakenings by particularly bumpy parts of the journey…!
But wow – no words can adequately express this amazing place where I am right now. The Victoria Falls are just stunning.
Yesterday I spent rather sedately, being a bit tired after my train trip. Lunch was had at the stunningly located Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, overlooking a popular watering hole in the Zambezi National Park. During the course of my rump steak lunch, I spotted buffaloes, impalas, waterhogs and numerous birdlife coming to the hole to refresh themselves – though I
Matobo National Park
was secretly hoping that a lion might be popping in for lunch too... There was also a particularly frenzied feeding session of the vultures, which the Lodge does to keep them away from nearby farms – what disgusting creatures, no table manners whatsoever!! After lunch and a rest, I did an evening sunset cruise on the Zambezi, spotting hippos, crocodiles and elephants from the comfort of the large cruise ship and it’s drink-all-you-want bar – though anyone knowing me would know that one beer was certainly enough for me! After meeting with one of the cruise guides, called “Jealous”, I decided to list in this blog all the unusual names encountered so far in Zimbabwe, as it certainly is a country with a penchant for wacky ones! Girls are named more tranquilly: I’ve met a Rejoice, Honest, Blessing and Blessings. Guys are a bit more dubious, having met Jealous, Doubt and Never, although Shepherd did actually redeem the guys somewhat. And place names are no exception either – I have passed through the towns of Surprise, Cement and numerous Concessions – what a country!
But today – the Victoria Falls! Amazing, spectacular, stunning – just beautiful! The Zambezi, over
Grave of Cecil John Rhodes
Founding Father of Rhodesia: World's End, Matobo National Park
a kilometre wide at this stage, plunges more than 100m into a deep, steep-sided gorge, with thunder and spray to boot. Indeed, the local tribes named it “Mosi Oa Tunya”, or “The Smoke That Thunders”. From a distance, the cloud is visible for miles around, and certainly made me all excited spotting it as the train approached the town. You can also hear the thunder of the spray all over town (through the constant sound of choppers ferrying tourists around the falls, river, gorge and park). Up close visiting the Falls is a refreshing experience, as you get soaked to the skin from the spray – and this is just the dry season! The first part of the trail includes well-built, fenced off viewing platforms – but towards the end the spray gets thicker, the wind builds up, the rocks and ground become slippier and the railings just disappear – you can literally peer over the rocks and look 100 metres straight down into the gorge, with the falls thundering powerfully opposite you. Certainly sent a few shivers up my spine! You can also view the crazy bungee jumpers doing their thing off the Victoria Falls Bridge nearby – definitely
The Omnipresent President of Zimbabwe
not something I’ll be doing, ever…! And I’ll also be avoiding the whitewater rafting here, after my dire experience of nearly drowning twice in the Nile River, Uganda a few years back. I’m happy with the more sedate and leisurely options of just admiring the falls and gorge, and relaxing here – certainly a good place to do this!
But alas I have only 9 days of my trip left. As mentioned, I’m more excited about travelling than going home at the moment – it’s just so good here! Tomorrow I cross the border into Zambia, and plan to do a few things that side of the falls, before continuing on to Lusaka, and hopefully a safari to one of the nearby National Parks there. Trying to sort that out right now - not too successful but hoping that something will come together…!
But enough chit-chat for now – will get on with uploading the photos – quite a few this time…!
Hope all are well, and look forward to writing again soon!
All the best
There are more photos below