Sunday, January 3, 2010

Victoria Falls (or - 125 dollars for 2 hours in Zimbabwe)

I woke up early in the morning, downed a cup of hot chocolate, and waited for the others to rise from their graves. (Rise from your grave!) This took far longer for some than for others. Many heads were aching as they woke between 9 and 11. I was up at six, but felt guilty about getting up as Hamish had just gone to sleep an hour and a half ago. At Seven thirty I could wait no longer though.

Around the cooling embers, I wrote Mia a thank you letter for being a great chef, and tour guide, adding pictures here and there to compliment the words. To be honest, it was the greatest letter I'd ever written. Once completed I stashed it away safely to give to her tomorrow, just before we all parted ways.

Raymond told us how the three jerks in striped shirts from last night returned at three in the morning. Raymond heard them, and saw them looking as if they were going to toss chairs on the fire. Hard to say what happened next, but one of them was lying sprawled on the ground about six feet from where he had previously been standing. The other two grabbed him, ran to their truck, and took off into the night.

By the time everyone had got up, twelve of us headed to Victoria falls to see what all the fuss was about. Three taxis were ordered. One of them had to change drivers mid route, as a check point was coming up, and he wasn't quite as licensed as he was legally required to be.

At the falls, we watched as the water cascaded down over cliff faces, and from unmentionable heights. Mark-o-pedia, who had grown up in Zimbabwe told us that the falls would have been too dry last week, and will be too wet next week. Once again, we arrived at just the right time. We all assume this is chef's luck once more with us.

We walked the paths, looking at the falls from every angle, taking a new picture with every outcropping.

I will tell you one thing – they certainly leave safety up to your own device here. Paths go precariously close to the cliff, and no one is stopped by any fence. One little stumble and you'd be thrown over the edge into the Zambezi. Good for you.

At the end of one path some guys jumped out of the bush, and offered to take our group to the bungee jump point. We just needed to follow them over barbed wire fences, and through illegal boarder crossings. Sounds like a great idea, yeah?

Another “guide” (which the signs said we were not to entertain – no dancing or juggling please) offered to take us to the devils pool. Where you can swim, and it looks like you're about to fall over the edge. We declined. A week ago someone was swept over the edge, and killed. It was a legal tour guide, who rushed in to save his foolish client. The client was spared, but...

After a few hours here, we left – taking pictures of a masturbating monkey – and talked about heading over to the Zimbabwe side.

We were told it was much better there, but what we saw was spectacular. How could it possibly be better? Still – would we ever be this close again? So off we went, to make use of our dual entry visas. $30.00 more than the single entry. We grabbed our exit stamps (I now have a passport stamp on my birthday, Christmas day, and new years eve, and new years day.) and headed off into no mans land.

It's always strange being between countries. Still – if there was ever a nowhere to be stuck, this would be it. On a beautiful bridge, with a perfect view of the falls between. From here you could also watch people jump from bungees. Hey, that jumper looks a lot like – it is – run! It was Danny coming back up onto the bridge. And Danny, it has been said, will kill us all!

The trek to Zimbabwe was a rather long one, but after all – we were walking to a different country, so it was expected. There, at the check point, we had to pay for our new visa. I got my thirty dollars out, and... Seventy five dollars?! Stupid Canadians! Canada is 75, UK is 50, Angola for some reason is 100, and everyone else 30. Ugh. But, again, we'd come so far. No turning back now. There was only forward to go.

And so, crossing into a new country we headed to Victoria Falls, where we entered and hoped that this would be 125 dollars better than the Zambian side.

And honestly – I have no regrets about the money spent. For those that know me – this might sound odd. No regrets whatsoever. The Zimbabwe side of the falls really, and truly, is worth the 125 dollars. And you have not experienced the falls until you've experienced them from this side. I'm glad I saw the Zambian side first, because seeing it after would just have been painfully disappointing.

The first thing you do is head down the steps, marked 73, but it must be less than that, to Devil's Cataract. There you get wet from the blowing waters, and peer out at the most beautiful view of any waterfall you'd ever seen. But that is only the beginning. You'll soon find yourself following the path past the Dr. Livingston (I presume) statue, towards the main falls.

Each outcropping here shows you more and more of the splendor. And you'll feel yourself get a little misty. Warning: Put your passports, wallets, and cameras away in something nice, dry, and water tight. You have been warned.

As you pass under tropical trees, you'll swear it's raining. Trees grow here that exist nowhere else in the country, for it is just here that tropical conditions exist. You'll feel as if you're caught in a rainstorm, growing ever fiercer while you're under the canopy of foliage. And yet, when you're under the sky there is nothing. Take the next outcropping to see the falls. Within a handful of seconds you will be severely soaked. From completely dry, to looking as if you'd jumped in a pool with all your clothes on – in only three or four seconds. This is the power of the falls, and this is what you will face – screaming into the winds causing the water to fall not only from above, but from below, the left, the right, front and back. Now you are experiencing Victoria Falls, and now you understand what it is all about.

The second vantage point has even stronger waters, enough for some people to shower under, if they were so inclined. And the views keep improving. I've seen Niagara falls many times, but they are nothing. Nothing. They are built up, and industrialized. The only sign of modern life here are the three cell phone towers, and you'd only be able to tell those existed if you were aware that those three palm trees off in the distance were in fact cell towers, not just more plants growing atop the cliffs.

Next, you'll have cleared the splash zone, and the 38 degree weather will start to dry you instantly. You'll be presented with a sheer cliff. I did the only thing that was reasonable to do. I lay down on my belly, and stuck my face over the edge. It was an experience to behold. I tried to convince the others with me to join (Helen, Mitchel, Courtney, Bridget, Hamish, and Amy) but there were no takers.

Sitting on a rock we took more pictures, tossed things over the falls, and in one case almost saw Mitchel topple over, as he went to look at his dirt clump strike the water below.

On the way back out Hamish lay down with me to see into the gorge below. He stayed only a few moments, before he had to leave. Mitchel joined. I found this position to be the most relaxing I'd been in since the tour began. While others found it either exciting or distressing. So zoned out was I, that when Hamish showed me a picture later, a man had laid down beside us to look as well, without our even noticing.

With your head over the cliff, arms out, and body slightly off balance you could feel as if you were flying. The water was kicked up from below, cooling and refreshing your face, while off to the left bigger bubbles of water joined together, and danced on the winds. It was a beautiful perfect moment. I can only assume that all of Zimbabwe is as beautiful as this.

It is, right? There are no problems in this country at all. No dictators destroying farm lands.

Back through No Man's Land we crossed, and caught a taxi back to the Waterfront. There we ordered dinner, and after an hour of waiting it was delivered. People went off to their group meetings while I headed for a swim in the pool with Niki. Hamish, after, his meeting and joined us as well. We splashed, we talked, and we found strange things at the bottom. Hamish left, Mitchel joined. And then the night came to an end.

After a shower, and drying off, I sat by the fire. One by one everyone went to bed early. This was our last night, but we had all made our peace the night before. For the last time, I crawled into the tent, and passed on to the land of Nod.

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