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Published: June 14th 2019
Our 4th day of the trip was a morning of "optional activities", those we chose earlier that week. Then we would have a 5 hour drive to Bulawayo for our Rhino trek the following day, something none of us were looking forward to. Optional Activities
As mentioned, another girl and I had planned to go skydiving, having pumped ourselves up for it the first dinner and following through with the sign up and then scheduling it, only to be told the second evening that it was no longer an option. Bummer. We were only allowed to choose 2 activities, though if you were smart, you could probably have fit in more. However, they were not cheap and I was glad for the limitations. Instead, I signed up for the helicopter ride over the falls and the "gorge swing" with S instead, which we were also joined with by R.
So, I had a granola bar for breakfast and we went to the local heliport to prepare for a 13-minute jaunt around the falls. Yes, just 13 minutes and $180, but honestly it was worth it. After a safety demonstration, we were weighed and grouped into five people -
one for the front, four for the back, everyone got good views. Most people brought their backpacks with them, but I just had my small cross-over purse, so I was able to sit up front, the first time I've ever done so. It was quite amazing. We flew over the local resort hotel, then down the Zambezi, then over the mist (one woman did not believe me when we saw it from the distance and I told her it was the mist from the falls, she thought it was smoke, but lord knows I've seen Niagara Falls enough). You could see the rainbow over the falls, the meandering gorge downstream, the river above. It was beautiful. The pilot did a figure 8 over the area so people on both sides would get the same amazing views. The audio accompanying the ride mentioned to be on the lookout for hippos and not a minute later I spotted 3 below my feet and soon after a huge pod of about 20. I tried to get the attention of the girl behind me, but we could not communicate so I was the only one in all three flights who saw them and no
one believed me (until our river cruise later that week).
While we had been preparing for our ride, some employees were videoing and taking pictures of us the whole time. So, when we got back, they sat us in a room and we got to see pictures from our trip immediately. Obviously, they had a nice little system going and it was fun. Of course they wanted money for it, another 50 bucks (!!!), but it was well done, so S and I went in on it. The files also include photos during the various seasons so you can see the change in the falls as well as a typical video of the ride.
We were then taken back to camp to get ready for the next activity. This was kind of an adventure area near the falls which had multiple options including our gorge swing, zip-line, flying fox, and canopy walk. Most people chose the canopy walk, which turned out to be a series of about 7 zip-lines in the trees, not a 2.5 hour walking tour that they thought. Those of us that did not sign up for it were a little jealous. Me, S, and
R chose the gorge swing while the boys R and S chose the zip-line. So we put our harnesses on and went to the gorge swing which was first. Girl R had asked if we were nervous earlier and we were both like, Nope! - after all, we had planned to sky dive. However, as I was putting on the harness I did start to get super nervous, not freak out, but it was coming. S was still calm as a cucumber. So, when the guide asked who first, I said "S!" and she was cool with it. She went to the ledge, and down she went. When she came back up we asked how it was and she was like, "I need a minute" and looked freaked out, which proceeded to freak me out. Fortunately, R wanted to go next and when she came up she was like, "That was amazing! Can I go again? Seriously, I'm already hooked up!"
While she tried to negotiate a discount, it was my turn. I got to the ledge (god, my heart is pounding just thinking about it), and had a minor panic attack, the first of my life. The guide
was like, don't worry, I'll help you, just look at the sky when you get to the ledge. The rest is a blur. As I fell the 75m, I squeezed my eyes shut completely and as soon as I felt the tug I opened them and looked up, thankful to be alive. It was so heart pounding, I did not really get to enjoy it, but I tried to look around at the water rushing below my feet and soak it in. Then I was getting pulled up and you have to do a little wall walking so you don't scraped along. I was shaking like a leaf when I got there and R asked if I wanted to do a group jump and I was like..... um not right now. Lol. Boy S was jealous and decided to also do the swing, so he got up after me and did the "star" where you hold your hands out and actually jump. He loved it.
It turns out S was not nervous initially because she thought it was a 'swing' with tension in the rope the whole time, not a free fall! She said she was glad I told
her to go first otherwise she might not have done it. Finally we just had to wait for the boys to do the zip-line before the five of us headed back to camp for a well deserved drink while waiting for the group from the canopy tour. I was able to get back and take a nice long shower, have a good lunch, and have a drink to calm my nerves. Drive to Bulawayo
So, after our initial journey the day before, we got a feel for the bus - the suspension was awful. So we determined those who sat in back would switch halfway through. I just sat in the third row by the window. Not super comfortable, but I made it my own and this was my seat for most of the week. We all took bets on how long the drive would actually be based on our "15 minutes vs 50 minutes" of the previous day. I said 6 hours and others said much longer, but I think it turned out to be just under 6. We only had one stop at a completely out of the way gas station to use the toilets, which
were holes in the floor of an outhouse that had a strong smell. It was so gross, so me and one girl L were like, let's just go behind a tree. I searched and searched for a tree, but there were people all over the place. It was so weird. Finally the owner, without us asking, opened up a real bathroom just for us and I went first and waited for L, then he locked it again. So nice of him. Everyone else was jealous. :p
We made it to the Banff Lodge for dinner at the New Orleans restaurant. I was excited - Banff? Hello Canada! New Orleans - did they have their food choices? It had nothing to do with either, though the decor of the restaurant was a bit on the jazz side. The staff were super nice and I felt so bad for them having to run around for 20 people on vacation who have drinking problems and just got released from a 6 hour drive. The good news was that it was about half the price than in Vic Falls - obviously VF is driven by tourism. I got a vodka soda for $1.
Yes! Then a few of us split two $8 bottles of wine. The food was good too - I got a Mozambique baby chicken - basically roasted chicken with peri peri sauce.
After dinner, we went to our hostel for the night. I was imagining some in-town basic accommodations. But no, we pull up to the location, a little tipsy and see a giant cross on the wall of the main building. Crap - some of us were worried about burning in our beds. We shared with one person, I got put into a room with A who I actually get along with quite well. Our room was beautiful. And a real bed! I was so excited. I love camping, but the ground was so hard and the mattress so thin, I literally had bruises on both hips that were super painful, so I was happy for a change even if for just one night. The place was called Burke's Paradise and was out on the edge of town, with beautiful grounds and lovely little buildings, and some people had just thrown up tents in the yard. The bathroom was big and clean, though shared in our building of
three rooms. The best was the sky. I was kicking myself for not bringing my tripod, but I did manage to get a few photos anyway. Everyone was still up late and the older women in the room next to us, knocked on our door just as we had turned out the lights, so we stayed up a bit longer to chat and have a sip of whiskey. I honestly wish we could have stayed here two nights....
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