Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe & Zambia

Written by on December 2, 2012 in Africa, General with 2 Comments

After a brief overnight stay at a hostel near the airport in J’Burg, I headed back to the airport in the morning to catch my flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

I have wanted to come here since the last RTW trip 12 years ago, when I skipped it and the rest of Southern Africa in order to attend a friend’s wedding that was called off (a good thing) too late to make any changes to my Africa ticket.  So, this trip has been a long time in the making and I was already sure that I would love it here as Vic Falls, like Queenstown, New Zealand, is an adrenaline junkie paradise.  And for those who don’t know this about me, I am an adrenaline junkie!  I even flew in a couple days earlier than Karen and Alisa, two of my tennis friends from San Francisco who were flying over to join me for this leg, to make sure I had enough time to get all of my adventure activities in.  Still, I didn’t have much time, so headed straight to the Falls after checking into Shoestrings, a cute albeit run down hostel about a kilometer from the entrance.  Victoria Falls has 2 seasons – wet and dry.  I was there at the end of the dry season, and one of the only times during the year you can actually see the Falls.

Apparently during the wet season, the flow of water is so strong that it puts off so much mist/spray that you can’t get close enough to the Falls to see it, or take any pictures…unless you bring an underwater camera.  Anyway, I paid the steep $30 to get in and made sure to stop at each of 20 or so viewing points.  It was raining on and off that day, which actually worked in my favor to help cool it down a bit and also throw off a few rainbows.

I met a Dutch couple midway through and we traded off cameras so we could take pictures for each other.  The woman was a Dutch banker based in Singapore who knows someone I used to work with at ING.  Such a small world!

After seeing the Falls, I went across the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia to watch the sunset and see if anyone was bungy jumping.  I just caught a father and son jumping and met them in the bar afterwards.  They were staying at my hostel, so I caught a ride back with them and had celebratory drinks and then dinner with them.  Both Canadian, Doug (the father) is with the VSO (Canadian equivalent of the Peace Corps) in a small town in Mozambique and was a wealth of information for my upcoming visit there.  He’s put me in touch with a contact in Maputo, so will hopefully catch up with his friend there in a week or so.

Anyway, I turned in early as I had an early wake-up call for a full day of rafting down the “Mighty Zambezi”.  Now I’ve done plenty of white water rafting all over the world, but heard that Vic Falls was one of THE best places to do it.  The trip I’d signed up for was going to take about 5 hours and consisted of 19 rapids, all of which were class 4 or 5…and one that was a class 6 (which I’d never even heard of!) that we had to pull out the boats and walk around because it was so gnarly.  Rapids had names like “Devil’s Toilet Bowl”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Oblivion” and “the Mother”.  The prep talk was more intense than any I’d heard before, and they absolutely guaranteed that everyone in every raft would go swimming (aka, get ejected from the raft into the rapids) at least once.  There was one lady in her 50s that looked green already and seemed to be shooting daggers out of her eyes at her husband!  Everyone else had that “nervous yet excited” look in their eye and were ready to go.  Just to get down to the river was quite an experience as we had to climb down a super-steep gorge before putting in.

I had met a cool group of people on the shuttle from the hostel, and we all decided to stick together and share the same raft.  Alick and Tess were a couple from Melbourne on a 6 month RTW trip, and we became fast friends.  Owen was a walking safari guide on a short break from Botswana taking advantage of a free trip down the Zambezi, and took the lead at the front of the boat.  Then we had a Spanish and a German guy, and another American girl on board.  Our guide was super cool, and seemed to be the leader for all the other rafts too.  This was our crew.

All I can say is Wow!  Not only was the gorge absolutely beautiful, this was better than the best white water rafting I’d done previously in Colorado, Nepal and New Zealand…by a long shot!  This is our boat about to get crunched!

Well…I know rafting is very dependent on water levels and time of year, but I think rafting on the Zambezi is pretty crazy at any time of year.  I went “swimming” 3 times unintentionally.  As you can see here, I was hanging on for dear life (I’m at the top), but ended up in the river anyway.

It was crazy fun, and the adrenaline was flowing in a big way as some of the rapids were really scary!   What an awesome way to start out my Africa adventure.

The rafting outfit, Wild Horizons, had kayakers on the river that were out in front of the rafters taking pictures and videos, and they were having a screening at my hostel later that evening over beers, so everyone from my raft agreed to meet up for beers just before.  It turned out that Owen and I were staying at the same hostel, and he was going to cash in a free gorge swing, so I decided to join as it was something I’d been wanting to try.  They had a package called the “Half Day Adrenaline”, which consisted of one gorge swing, one gorge slide (similar to a zip line), and a flying fox.  I talked them into letting me do 2 gorge swings and one of the other ones, so I could come back the next day after Karen and Alisa arrived to do one of the activities with them.

Owen decided to go backwards off the platform for his swing.  I’ve done  a bungy jump backwards and it didn’t work out so well, so I decided to go the normal way…especially knowing that I’d have another shot the next day.  A gorge swing is similar to a bungy jump, except instead of the cord being connected to a bridge or crane or whatever and also to your feet, the cord for the swing is connected in the middle of a gorge and the harness goes around your waste/between your legs.  So, when you jump, you freefall like a bungy jump, but instead of bouncing up and down upside down from whatever you jumped off of, you swing across the gorge in a big pendulum motion, and all from a seated position like a swing.  It was very smooth and fun, but you still have to jump off the platform and freefall 90 meters before the rope catches.

High from the adrenaline, we headed to a supermarket to buy beers and headed back to the hostel to hang out before the gang arrived to watch the video.  I’m not normally one to buy the DVD or pictures taken on these types of things, but they turned out so well and I can re-live the rafting trip over and over.  The video included footage from all 5 boats, so there were some awesome crashes, flips, bloopers, etc.  We all exchanged email addresses and I made a plan with Alick and Tess to catch up in Cape Town in a couple weeks.

Once again I called it an early night as I had a 6am pick-up for my microlite flight over the Falls scheduled for the next morning in Zambia.  So, I get through customs and cross the border to get to the airstrip.  Too bad the company forgot to call my hostel to tell them that the trip had been cancelled due to high winds before I got all the way over there.  Booooo!  There was a chance that the winds were going to calm down that afternoon, but I was going to be meeting Karen and Alisa, so my microlite flight was off.  Such a bummer, as it’s one of the lower-key adrenaline activities I’ve been wanting to try, and this would have been the perfect place.  Oh well.  I saved $145 that morning.  And, I had a dual-purpose to being in Zambia as I had an appointment to go swimming in the Devil’s Pool in a couple hours.

The Livingstone Hotel is an old school hotel that has high tea in the afternoons, and a perfect location on the side of the river just before the Falls. There is a small natural pool just on the lip of the left side of the waterfall where you can jump in and then literally hang yourself out over one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world.

The Devil’s Pool isn’t open during the wet season when water levels are higher, but in the dry season, it’s open for business.  For a not small cost of nearly $100, you too can take cheesy pictures like this one!

It was actually quite a cool experience, other than my sunglasses falling off (and then over the Falls) after I jumped in the pool.  And, it was cool to see the from the Zambia side as it was much different from the Zimbabwe side…and presented more photo opportunities.

I ended up sharing a taxi into Livingstone and bummed around for an hour checking out the little town, but there wasn’t much to see or report on other than I’d definitely advise anyone going to Vic Falls to either splash out and stay at the Livingstone Hotel, or to stay on the Zimbabwe side.  I caught a taxi back to the Zim side to try to beat the girls to their hotel and crossed the border with some people from their flight, so timed it well.  I had a very nice surprise when I learned that I was booked into the much nicer 5* Elephant Hills Resort, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay for.  I guess the booking agent messed up, and I was going to take full advantage.  So, I took taxi back to Shoestrings, packed my stuff and then headed back to the resort to hit the pool while waiting for the girls to show up.

After a flash tan and a beer at the pool, they arrived.  Nearly 2 days travel to get to Zimbabwe from San Francisco, I expected them to be tired and surprised they were raring to go.  We quickly made a plan to head back out to where the gorge swing was, and then they were going to go to the Falls just before sunset.  They decided to do the gorge slide (zip line), as both had never tried it.

Pushing nerves aside, they were troopers, as the gorge had to be 500-600 meters across…and at least 150 meters down.  Quite big for their first zip line!   I think this picture of Alisa’s shock when the guy let her fly is fantastic!

It was the end of the day and the guys were being generous and let me do two more gorge swings, rather than having to do the flying fox, which I honestly would have just skipped.  So, I did the first one from a handstand position…which made it feel a lot more like a bungy jump.

Not a good idea though, as since the harness was around my waste, when the rope was fully extended, it snapped my back a little until the cord brought me around into a swinging position.  I saw stars for the first few seconds and was a little worried, but by the time I’d swung across the gorge and back, the shock subsided and I was fine.  Phew!

So fine that I went right back up there and did my third gorge swing, in a falling forward position that was much more gentle, but still as adrenaline-inducing as the other two.

Victoria Falls did not disappoint and I got my first big adrenaline fix of the whole trip.  Bring on the big bungy jump in South Africa!  But first, we had a tour to catch the next morning to Botswana.

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  1. Irina says:

    Very cool! Jumping into the Devil’s Pool has been on my bucket list since forever. So what month was it when you visited the falls?

  2. Deb says:

    I was at Vic Falls in early November

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