Ali and I had finally left the airport in Jo-Burg onboard a South African Airways plane. Man, this thing was old. But I was too tired to really focus on that. I was glad to land safely in Zimbabwe, but I was unsure how the Passport control and Visa acquisition would go. You never really know when it comes to these things. Plus I had read a lot about corruption and back-handed deals. This process was even easier than Tanzania. Unfortunately, the couple in front of us only had Australian currency. The Visa requires USD, EUR or GBP. I am always baffled when countries do not allow their own currency to purchase a visa (I’m looking at you, Egypt). I later came to find out that the reason you couldn’t use Zimbabwe Dollars is that the country had devalued their currency with exponential hyperinflation to the point they had to just abandon it completely. US Dollars are now the standard currency. This should have been a warning to me about the people that visit. But I put it aside in my head.
As we walked out of baggage claim, we met our guide. I had set up this whole leg of the trip with Victoria Falls Guide. As it turns out, VFG actually turns and outsources this to groups like Shearwater and other local tour groups. I had been duped again. I need to get better at vetting these things. Ali and I both had to hit the Men’s room, and as we walked in, we were greeted by a local man wearing a leopard loin cloth. Neither he, nor I, knew what to do. After we finished, we headed outside to see a whole group of the locals. They were there to greet the tourists. Of course we took a picture
Our driver rolled out and made his was to our resort. The A’Zambezi Lodge had been selected and I am glad we picked it. It was outside of the town of Victoria Falls a little bit, but it was perfectly situated on the river. It felt so remote. As I came to learn, Victoria Falls is a town that was created to cater to tourists. Livingstone is its counterpart across the river in Zambia. VF reminded me of a safari ride in Disney. Everything was fabricated and contrived. Yes the animals are real, the people are human and local, and the waterfall is amazing. But ultimately, everyone in the city has the goal of providing service to tourists… for the most part. I realize there are people who take care of animals.
Our first order of business was to check out the room. Our view was spectacular. I was glad that we got the river view room. We were picked up for our PM Safari and shuttled to the Zambezi National Park. We made small talk about the different animals we hoped to see. The guide sold it low: we would definitely see impalas. Okay, cool… that is what we wanted to see? In my opinion (could be a conspiracy theory) I think they sell it low and then use the radio to coordinate animal encounters that cater to each tourist. We proceeded to see elephants, warthogs, hornbills, zebras, impala, and finally giraffes.
Like I said: even if this was all a setup, it is still amazing to see these wonderful creatures. Ali and I were tired, so we chose to eat the buffet at the hotel. They offered some exotic meats, crocodile and warthog. The food was pretty decent. After the meal, the same crew that we saw at the airport showed up for our entertainment. It had the feel of Medieval Times but set in Africa.
Our second day, we woke up and got ready for the Lion Encounter. I had read mixed reviews of this. Some, like me, love cats and saw this as a great time and a worthy cause, yet others saw this as cruel and that it forced these predators to go against their nature. I don’t know where I stand ethically. I do know it was amazing to walk with a male and female lion. I realize their ferocious nature and their killer instincts, but some things they did reminded me of a big housecat. We learned about the repopulation efforts for lions in Zimbabwe, and that put my mind at ease. I could tell these cats were not drugged and mistreated.
After walking with the lions, we spoke with our guide and chose to add a quick helicopter ride over Victoria Falls. The largest waterfall in the world… from a chopper? Heck yes. This piece carried a slightly high price tag, but to me it was worth it. With my desire to see the wonders of the world, this was perfect. The Falls, known formerly as Mosi-oa-tunya (The smoke which thunders), are truly magnificent. They are wonderful. We landed and returned to town where we had a nice lunch with Gratitude, our tour coordinator at Shearwater.
Mit had finally arrived from his adventures in London, so after a little recharge, we got ready for our Night Drive and Bush Dinner. At this point we were paired with three ladies. Two of them were very focused on birds, and the other was very outspoken and opinionative. We added several more big time animals to our sight list: baby lions, baboons (who were tormenting the lions), kudu, black rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and some more birds (umbrella bird was pretty cool). We made it back to the lodge at the Livingstone park where they made us a great dinner over some fire.
Turns out the next morning we came right back to the Livingstone grounds, where we met our elephants that we would be spending the morning on. My bull had lost one of his tusks to disease, but he was still capable of big things. He had a sweet heart. We learned all about their eating habits and their social structure. Elephants are such lovely creatures. Don’t worry, I know they are very dangerous and can be very destructive. But they are caring at their core, it seemed. Seeing the way the handlers cared for each elephant made me happy. This could all be a big front, I realize this as well, but the elephants seemed well-treated.
We decided to venture back into town to show Mit around. While they went and got some massages, I wandered around some of the shops. I had found a lady that was beyond sure that she could make a shirt that would fit me. I let her show off her handiwork. She ended up making me an authentic dashiki. It is a pretty cool wardrobe addition.
That night we took a jet boat cruise. It ended up not really being a jet boat… or a cruise. But it was nice. There were only 5 of us on the boat. And due to the smaller size, we were able to get very close to the water. The noise was impressive. I could see why the natives would be scared of it back in the day. We came across a group of hippopotamuses, hmmm hippopotami… no wait. It is a Greek-rooted word, so it is hippopotamuses. And I guess it isn’t a group, but it is instead a Pod or a Bloat. Okay, so we came across a bloat of hippopotamuses. That was cool.
After the cruise, I was pretty tired, so I opted to hang around the resort while Ali and Mit headed to the local watering hole. I sadly, cannot comment on the nightlife in Zimbabwe. But the next morning, we split up. Ali heading to Dubai and Vietnam, while Mit and I continued deeper into our African Saga.
Overall, I came to find Zimbabwe exactly what the online reviews said it would be. It is so wonderful that I got to see the animals I did. Even if I was disappointed that we missed the jaguar, the fact we got to see two rhinos so close is pretty great. And hey when you look at it, we were able to see the whole cast of Lion King and most of Madagascar. So that is cool. If you are planning an African adventure, make sure to stop by the area for a day or two, but I would recommend heading to other places as well.
There is most of the Lion King Cast.