Today’s forecast: Torrential rain

Livingstone, Zambia

The group split up this morning — some went canoing, others horse back riding; some did nothing nothing at all. A couple of us opted to make our way to Zambia for a different perspective of the falls.

Near the border, we passed a couple of elephants and several baboons without second thought. It’s amazing how a couple of weeks in Africa will make you immune to such occurrences. (I’d compare it to “temple fatigue” in Asia.) Several local people accosted us to sell old currency; a few others approached asking if we had any old shoes, socks or t-shirts. “Need clothing,” they said. How terrible this place has become.

Walking by some construction workers (with an 8:1 watching to working ratio), we stamped out of Zimbabwe and crossed the bridge that straddles the border. About halfway across, one of our buddies signed up for a bungee jump. Not for me.

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A one-day visa for Zambia was $20USD; from the border it was only a couple of minutes to the park entrance. And because the falls are actually located on the Zam side, the trails brought us right to the edge.

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After, we put on our rain gear for the walk to Livingstone Island, which sits just a few hundred feet from the falls. The bridge was barely visible as a torrential downpour completely soaked us.

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We left the park and stamped out of Zambia — thus marking what might have been my shortest stay ever in a country. Lunch back in Zim was at a fast food place; my chicken sandwich, small fries and Diet Coke was $9USD. Prices have skyrocketed here due to food shortages.

Back at the lodge, we got $20USD hour-long Swedish massages, checked the Internet and braved a temporary (yet commonplace) blackout. As the sun set, we piled into the back of a pick-up truck for a ride to the Victoria Falls Hotel, the classiest place in town, if not the country.

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The terrace overlooked the falls; drinks were surprisingly reasonable, just $2 for beers and $5 for mixed. After checking out the menu, we were on board for dinner also. The Zimbabwe beef, cooked medium, was served with a mushroom sauce, some mixed vegetables and chips.

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It was either delicious or my first red meat in 8 days.

The “Smoke that Thunders”

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We started this morning at 6 a.m. with a freezing cold game drive into Chobe National Park. After such an amazing viewing experience by water yesterday, we had high expectations for what wildlife we might spot on land. And very quickly, they were met.

Just inside the gates was a pack of wild dogs. We spent a couple of minutes watching them hunting for breakfast before moving on. About 20 minutes later we returned to see them feasting on an impala.

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Next were the usual suspects: hippos, baboons, springbok and a fish eagle hunting prey off in the distance.

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Our biggest find was several African buffalo, which, up until this point, have eluded us. They are also some of the most dangerous animals to see in the wild. We got within 15 feet. And then, on our way out of the park, we spotted several hyena — half cats, half bears; just weird looking.

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We left Kasane and traveled about 20 minutes to the Kazangula Road border crossing into Zimbabwe. Our visas were $30USD; the cash was simply thrown into the drawer by an immigration official. Who knows where it ended up?

It was only another 80 kilometers or so to the town of Victoria Falls. We checked into Savanna Lodge and then made our way to the famous falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Upon seeing Victoria Falls in 1855, Dr. David Livingstone wrote in his journal: “On sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flight must have gazed.” That could be an understatement. With the rainy season having just ended, there were between 8-9 million liters of water pouring over the edge every second. It was simply awe-inspiring — and wet.

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The falls have the scenic backdrop of Iguazu and the amazing power of Niagara. It’s not hard to understand why Livingstone was so choked for words and why they remain one of Africa’s largest tourist attractions. Yet, the park was surprisingly quiet, which might have been more an indication of tourists’ unease about visiting Zimbabwe than the falls themselves.

The situation here is actually quite sad. Due to the notorious hyper-inflation, Zim has abandoned its currency and now accepts U.S. dollars, Euros, South African rand, Botswana pula — essentially anything but its own. On the street, young men try to sell souvenir 100 Trillion dollar notes — today, they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on — by advertising “the worst inflation in the world.”

Once back, we only had a half hour to shower and change before departing for our sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi. It was one of those all-you-can-drink packages so we all enjoyed ourselves as the sky wowed us once again.

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Arriving back at shore, we posed for one last group photo.

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Dinner was at another backpacker lodge, Shoestring, which served up some tasty pizzas. Incredibly, the kitchen ran out of flour — which shows just how scarce basic food items have become here. The former “bread basket of Africa” no longer has any bread.

We stayed out late, celebrating the end of our 1,800-kilometer trip.

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