Day 9: Zambezi River by Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe - Mon 01 Feb 2016


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Africa » Zimbabwe » Victoria Falls
February 1st 2016
Published: February 17th 2016
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After only a couple of hours sleep following last night's kitchen fire, the alarm went off at 3.30 am to get ready by torchlight for our next adventure. Our adventure came very soon - Don realised that he had lost his glasses in the dark. So after a search around the room and coming up with nothing I dredged the carrier bag into which he had thrown all the charging cables from the gadgets and found his glasses amongst the wires. We were summoned to the coach and in the pitch black with only the light from our iphones we wandered downstairs to the coach - the last on but only one minute late!



The reason for arising so early was to go from Cape Town to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe by early afternoon. This entailed a pair of connecting flights on South African Airways, one from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then transfer from there to the Zimbabwe flight. Although all were somewhat sleepy, nonetheless we said a genuine thank-you and goodbye to our coach driver Nando, who had provided great service for the week since our arrival in Port Elizabeth.

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We arrived at Cape Town airport in good time for the first flight of the day to Johannesburg. However, there were only two check-in desks open and the South Africans love their bureaucracy. Eventually after what seemed like a two-hour wait we arrived at the check-in desk, checked in and rushed down to the gate. We boarded and during the flight were treated to a kosher breakfast. Then at Johannesburg airport we had a two hour layover before our flight to Zimbabwe. During that wait there was plenty of time for davening, coffee, shopping for those who wanted it, or just charging our phones and iPads.

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Then it was on the plane to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. This was another relatively short flight. When we landed we were only the second aircraft in this massive, modern concrete, glass and steel airport. The airport was apparently built by the Chinese at the behest of the Zimbabwe President. When we arrived we all lined up for our Zimbabwe visa - cost to those travelling on Israeli or American passports $45 but for British passports $75. Amos is a man with connections and rather than wait two more hours for our passports and visas they were collected up and a man brought our passports to the hotel later in the day.

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Outside the airport a group of dancers entertained us whilst we waited for our coach. Unfortunately the big hired coach had broken down and so we were collected by Matt and Polite in two vans. From there we drove what seemed like one long and unbelievably straight road to the town of Victoria Falls and to our hotel. In the road we saw families of warthogs out for a walk and velvet monkeys (of which we were to see many). Despite the drought the scenery was very lush and green.

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On the coach we learned that the Victoria Falls stands 900 meters above sea level, almost as high as Table Mountain. We also learned that after independence in April 1980 when Ian Smith lost the elections to Robert Mugabe and his Zanu party (and everybody has been losing elections to him ever since!) the names of all places were changed. For example the name of the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and the capital Harare used to be Salisbury. But one name that did not change was that of the Victoria Falls. This was because it is such a tourist attraction and brings much needed currency into the country. In Victoria Falls there is a population of about 30,000 and they earn their money from tourism. We had more dancers greeting us at the hotel.
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The Kingdom Hotel in Victoria Falls was decorated in colonial style - dark brown and heavy furniture. In one block stood 12 foot carved “warriors” or gods, not sure what but quite an awesome sight. The grounds of the hotel were impressively lush.

We went up to our room which looked like something out of an Agatha Christie television scene. Very colonial. We were told to keep our doors locked not against burglars but against the baboons who are very partial to restyling rooms and stealing food.

This hotel was our 'home' for the next two nights. Jeff set about arranging the kitchen for our kosher meals. He prepared lunch which we ate in a dedicated corner of the hotel dining room.

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After lunch Don went up in a helicopter to see the Victoria Falls from the air. I stayed in the room writing up my notes. The next 3 paragraphs are by Don:

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Two groups of 6 each went to the heliport of the Zambezi Helicopter Company for their "Flight of Angels" over the falls. They operate Bell 206B-3 LongRanger helicopters which are nothing like the 'whirly birds' in which Lesley and I had endured other sightseeing flights. One passenger sits next to the pilot and 5 more in the compartment behind. There is relatively little vibration nor noise, and the flight is nearly as smooth as an airplane. During the 12-13 minute flight the pilot makes a lot of figure-8 turns and respectively banks both sides of the helicopter toward the ground so that everyone has a good chance to look down and take pictures. (They also offer to sell a custom composite video after the flight, which one of our group bought.)

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Victoria Falls was named 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' (the Smoke that Thunders) by the Kololo tribe living in the area. The falls dazzled Livingstone when he came upon them while exploring the Zambezi River and naturally named them for his Queen. Today the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe border the falls.

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The views from above Victoria Falls were amazing, almost shocking. The funny thing is that from there it does not look much like a waterfall, due to seeing the vertical drops from an odd angle. What it did provide was a unique swooping ride with impressive views and perspective of the very wide waterfall crevice, the Zambezi River and tributaries feeding the falls. the countryside up- and down- stream, and the Victoria Falls Bridge. All aboard agreed it was a great preliminary to our visit to Victoria Falls on Day 11, as shown by comparing photographs of these two blog days.

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Then we all met up for a late afternoon cruise on the Zambezi River. The Zambezi is one of four rivers that meander through Africa down to the Indian Ocean. The other rivers flow from Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique. As we cruised up the river we had Zimbabwe on our left side and Zambia on our right side.

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On the boat were refreshments and nibbles. I had a gin and tonic. The whole experience was like something out of an old film set.

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Looking about us the most common birds flying about or just idling amongst the reeds were the reed cormorants. Then we saw a pod of hippopotamus with the little egrets who have a symbiotic relationship with hippos. We were able to see the African open bill stork, wire-tailed swallow, what sounded like water teacups (I have searched my book of SA birds and not found anything near this name - help required), the white crowned plover (which also goes by the name of the white crowned lapwing) and the African jacana. We also saw Egyptian geese - they have a sad tale to tell. They mate for life and when one of the partners dies the remaining partner remains single for life.

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We also saw a big crocodile swimming surreptitiously along the bank of the river. Crocs and hippos get along fine in the river as they ignore each other. Also along the banks of the river we were able to see bushbucks with their distinctive horns and lots of termite hills each one taller than the next one.

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On the way back the gin and tonic had its effect and I nodded off to sleep. We arrived back at the “jetty” after sunset, to be greeted by more dancers on the banks including a fire-eater. That was an impressive act in the dark.

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We drove back to the hotel avoiding the warthogs. We had an enjoyable meal and wandered off to bed ready for our early start tomorrow.

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Scroll down to see many Additional photographs with overflow pictures of this day's blog.

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