When I last wrote we were headed to Zimbabwe, well not really as Victoria Falls is a small tourist bubble in a troubled country. Unlike most short visitors we stayed four nights. The country is bankrupt and everyone uses US dollars in the Falls, or credit card. We knew this in advance and brought dollars with us.
Getting there was a nightmare. After really enjoying Namibia we were left fed up and disappointed at the main airport in Windhoek. Chaotic, hot, disorganised and terrible staff, security took over an hour. We were delayed by about 45 minutes and when we got to the guest lodge the staff said be grateful Air Namibia often cancel the flight!
We were picked up by the guesthouse by a larger than life female taxi driver called Pretty. We are out of town in a lodge style place with pool, big room and air con. On Friday we just ate a simple meal at the lodge as we were too tired to go into town.
We had breakfast and shared a taxi in to town with a lovely couple from Edinburgh. Our taxi driver , Mr Green, was an absolutely lovely gentle man.
They had arrived the previous day and their luggage was still at Heathrow. We wanted to organise our time in Victoria Falls and went into two slick looking tourist shops and instead of listening to what we wanted said- helicopter flight. What we wanted to do was a guided visit to the Falls, to see a local village and have lunch there and then back to town for afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls hotel. Then next day we wanted a helicopter ride in the morning as we already had a booking for a dinner cruise on the Zambezi. We were just walking off to have a coffee when a guy said what were we looking for and could he help. His place was small and a bit untidy but in ten minutes he had sorted out exactly what we wanted at a price that suited us. Well done Osbert.
Off for coffee and then to buy stamps and postcards, very old style but Chris sends them to his granddaughters and I have been sending them to school in Casas Nuevas. We walked to the Victoria Falls hotel to organise afternoon tea. It was built in 1902 and is
still very traditional colonial style building. Its where people with money stay, the cheapest room was £245. It was hot but you could feel a breeze from the falls and with high ceilings and fans the lounge was perfect. The drinks were $1 more than in the cafe in town. Booking was not possible for afternoon tea unless we had 8 other people!!
We wandered back to our guesthouse and lazed in the lovely pool, trying to avoid getting burnt in the African sun. We got a taxi back to town and went to eat in a place called In-Da-Belly, Chris had Warthog schnitzel and I had beef stew with huge mountain of pap. It was fun the first time but essentially it is just hugely filling.
Saturday arrived and sure enough the taxi was on time, a slick guy called Washington tried to get more business but he left at the Falls. Our driver for the rest of the time was a lovey guy called Kauli,who worked three jobs to feed his family. Our guide at the falls was Maxton and we had an amazing two hours, it was a magical place. I got drenched, Chris wore
his poncho! We both agreed though that it lacked some of the wow that we felt at Iguazu.
Next stop a local village, which was the one where Kauli's family lived. We met his two boys and his mum, who cooked lunch, and his dad Mposi. He was a fascinating guy who had been a local link for VSO projects and Save the Children, he had visited Durham, not far from where we live and had met the Queen. Lunch was pap, tough chicken and a nice peanut-flavoured green vegetable.
We went back to town, ready for our afternoon tea at the posh Victoria Falls hotel, what a contrast. I got changed out of my wet clothes in the ladies and got some strange looks from some of the genteel ladies. Despite being told that there would be no problem finding a table the terrace was full so we went to the bar for a beer and a glass of fizz. We did get a table and chatted to a South African couple who were about to go on the very expensive trip on the Rolas train to Pretoria. They were bemoaning the state of Africa in general
and South Africa in particular. There is of course a common theme amongst white South Africans that the country is being ruined by the black led ANC with corruption rife from the President down. We were waiting for our order when the local troop of baboons arrived, apparently a daily occurrence, one jumped off the roof and stole food from a table before anyone could move! They then climbed up the drainpipe and into someone's room. I was not relaxed eating my afternoon tea. It was very nice Earl Grey tea, four types of sandwiches, scones and three types of cake. A good start to the birthday celebrations.
Monday was Chris 66th birthday and we had big plans. First stop a helicopter flight over the falls, WOW. He used part of the money he got when his mum died last year for this trip and insisted on paying. It was all very well organised, pick up, aerodrome, briefing, get weighed and your seat allocated and then off. I was sat at the front with the pilot, Mike, and Chris behind me but we could talk om the headset. It was my first ever trip in a helicopter and it was smooth. If the falls are impressive on the ground the aerial view was beyond words. AMAZING
Back in town I went for a pedicure which took twice as long as advertised and she managed to scrape some skin on the side of my foot. Chris meanwhile was in a cafe wondering what was going on, and eventually I wore their flip flops to the taxi as didn't want to wait for the varnish to dry. It was a fascinating place as the local women were having their hair done, their own hair plated tight to their heads and then either strips or chunks of artificial straight hair sewn in. It was a time consuming process.
We chilled in the afternoon and then got ready for the evening dinner cruise on the Zambezi, which was my treat for Chris birthday. We boarded our little boat at 5pm and there were 7 couples and the tables were all beautifully laid. Our captain Daniel did the briefing and our waitress was called Norma yaya, which means precious. All drinks were included but thankfully it wasn't a booze cruise. A nice G&T started the trip which was lovely and cooling as we sailed along towards the falls and could get another view of the spray, the local people call the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya, "The Smoke that Thunders". There was a group of elephants bathing under a tree in the distance.
We then sailed upstream a bit and were lucky enough to see a family of hippos, the two males facing off by opening their huge mouths. Made me think of the game hungry hippos but although they look cute they are dangerous animals. While this was happening we missed the sunset, but they happen every day whereas hippos are not a common occurrence. Dinner was delicious a little plate of nibbles then cauliflower soup, Zambezi bream and three small desserts. They continued to serve wine, white for me and red for Chris and we chatted with a German couple at the next table. A very pleasant evening.
Tuesday was moving and transit, to Joburg, and this time the frustration was Victoria Falls airport. Exactly one hour after Mr Green dropped us off we were just at the check-in desk. To begin with there was one economy desk open. We then waited in security and by we got upstairs to the gate our flight was doing last call. It was a South African Airways flight and the staff were pretty disinterested. We were in an emergency exit row and didn't get a briefing about opening doors etc.
Our transit to the hotel was fine and we basically unpacked our toothbrushes, ate at the hotel, slept and then headed off at 9am for Joburg domestic airport for our flight to Durban.
Which will be the topic for my final blog, for now I will leave it there.
Till next time,
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