Sunday, 4 December 2011

Victoria falls – From both sides

The town of Livingstone was a well equipped town by African standards, with large shopping centres, plenty of ATMs, cafes galore and millions of taxis offering you rides out to the falls.  I guess that’s the result that mass tourism can have…. It was a little strange to suddenly be amongst so many tourists again after having days being the only non-african people around.

In the morning we decided to take our hostel’s shuttle service in order to visit the Falls.  The ride turned out to be an open cut jeep with bench seats to sit on… it was great cruising along convertible style except that we ate a second breakfast of dust on the way :-)

After being dropped off we went through the entrance to pay our fees, which is when we found out that the Zambia and Zimbabwe parks are separate (thanks to a large gorge), so you have to pay twice if you want to visit both sides, not to mention the visa fee that you have to pay to cross the border for the afternoon…

topWe found out we were short on cash due to the above dilemma, and we were contemplating not going to the Zimbabwean side of the falls until a German we’d met at the hostel came to the rescue and lent us 50 euros, and it turns out that he really saved us from disappointment later on.  (Neither park entrances, nor the border crossing, accept credit cards).

We began on the Zambian side of the falls which consisted of walking along several trails against the face of the falls followed by a hot hike down into the ‘Devil’s Throat’ at the base of the bridge that spans the gorge and serves as no mans land between the two countries. You could also walk on top of the falls and stare over the edge and watch the water plummet below.  This is only possible to do since it was low season and there wasn’t much water – however, we had been warned that a week before two tourist had fallen to their deaths after getting too close to the edge while swimming!!

To be honest we were thoroughly disappointed with Victoria Falls (Zambia) as the dry season didn’t really produce enough water to completely flood the plains above the falls, and the result was underwhelming. In addition, the long hike down to the Devil’s Throat was not worth the effort as the river wasn’t flowing fast enough to create the desired whirlpool effect and we discovered later that you have a much better view anyway when you cross over the bridge to enter the Zimbabwean side.

bridgeLeaving the Zambian side, and feeling a little bitter that we’d spent 16 hours on buses from hell and a lot of money getting into the country to see the falls, we wondered if we should even bother crossing the border and forking out even more money to see the falls from another angle.

We took the attitude of ‘while in Rome’ and decided that since everyone recommended it we should at least check it out.  We effortlessly exited Zambia and crossed over to the Zimbabwe border post (this walk is pretty safe, with lots of tourists and cars).  Entering Zimbabwe was also easy, although expensive, and we had the feeling that these African countries just like to price gouge the ‘rich’ tourists – but having said that we did receive a very fancy looking visa stamp for our $30USD/each.

The Zimbabwean Falls complex was much more impressive than the Zambian one with picnic facilities, toilets and “drinkable” water fountains.  The park has a set path showing off the falls from left to right, starting at a point where you can see the river flow off the side of a gigantic cliff, then slowly moving aroundrainbow2 in front of the falls until your reach the Zambian border gorge.  We were very, very disappointed…that we even bothered going to the Zambian side!  The Zimbabwean side has much larger falls (for dry season) and there is even a mini “rainforest” which was sustained by the mist from the falls. It was really beautiful to see the falls with rainbows forming in the mist, and the panoramic views from the centre lookouts were excellent as was the refreshing mist that wet us as we admired the view.

After walking around the falls we needed to get some U.S dollars out (Zimbabwe's currency is worthless, so they have adopted the U.S currency), so we set off in search of an ATM in the town of Victoria Falls.  We found out there is a shortcut into town directly opposite the Falls entrance, passing in-between all the vendor stands. When we asked if it was safe, a shop attendant said “Yes, very safe, lots of police!”  We found the ATM with ease and laughed at the sign that told us not to carry around large notes as we may be robbed… mainly because the ATM only gave out $100 notes.

We headed back to the border after an expensive but worthwhile afternoon in Zimbabwe and found a friendly “tout” that offered us a taxi ride at the right price to our hostel.  He impressed us by naming every Australian Prime Minister over the last 50 years, so to test him out we then said that Sarah was from New Zealand, and he started rattling off every NZ Prime Minister (we assume he was correct as we have no clue about NZ Prime Ministers – sorry Myers relatives!). He had an incredible memory and said he knew nearly the Prime Ministers for all the countries… it’s a pity his memory wasn't put to good use and instead was working as a taxi tout.

Arriving back in Livingstone, we settled for a cheap supermarket dinner since our budget was not in good condition after the day’s activities!  After dinner we spent the evening by the pool chatting to a group of German doctors who were doing an internship in Cape Town and had come up for the weekend.  They were fairly traumatised by what they’d seen in the hospital with all the violence and punishment that they’d witnessed.  Besides this they did give us some good advice for when we would visit Cape Town, but first we had to fly to Johannesburg and head into Kruger for our much anticipated week of Safari-ing!!

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