Ok, after a bit of a break from my work trip to Baltimore, I’m resuming the blog of our Africa trip, where I left off at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Our second and last day in Victoria Falls was a busy one! Last night we had taken the Bushtracks Train across The Victoria Falls Bridge for a view of the Falls,
Our day started with an outdoor breakfast at our beautiful hotel, The Victoria Falls Hotel. The property is quite extensive and this restaurant is at the far end of the property down a tree-lined pathway.
After breakfast, we met our AMA Waterways group in the lobby of the hotel for the short bus ride to the Victoria Falls National Park. The Falls and park are actually walking distance from the hotel, but for our convenience we were driven there by motor coach. Once at the entrance to the park, we were given black ponchos to wear as we toured the park and its many trails, assuming we would get wet at some point. And wet we would soon get!
Actually you don’t really need the ponchos for the first 2/3 of the hike thru the park, however you definitely do for the last third as it is quite misty, if not drenching wet, depending how close you want to get to the Falls. I found this sign descriptive, but humorous as we started our walk thru the park.
We started out on the trails with our AMA Waterways group, but as we like to linger along a bit for photos, we asked our AMA Waterways guide Delia to go on without us and we could catch up, as we don’t like to be rushed. We told her if we were not back by the time the group was back to the bus, to leave without us, as we could walk the short 10 minutes back to the hotel, however we left our knapsacks on the bus, so asked if she would take those back to the hotel for us. On our walk we went past a large statue of David Livingstone, the 19th century adventurer/missionary who was credited with discovering the falls, and naming them in honor of Queen Victoria. Livingstone was quite an extraordinary man with all his adventurers throughout his life, and we would later here an interesting lecture about him, told by a local resident of Victoria Falls. Here is a link from Wikipedia about David Livingstone if you want to read more about him.
We took our time walking along the Victoria Falls trails, by now in a smaller group with our tour friends Kevin and Allison from NY, and Marco and Jazelle from Chicago. We took many photos along the way, as well as video, careful not to let the mist get on our camera lenses.
Our local tour guide we met last evening for our stay in Victoria Falls, Melanie, had given us a shower cap from the hotel as a means to cover our lenses. Great tip, and now we will have to start collecting shower caps where ever we go!
As we walked along the trail, there were many overlooks, each seemingly nicer than the last. From the Victoria Falls Bridge we had walked across last night, you can’t tell how large the Falls really are until you go thru the park – they are enormous and there are many sections to them, not just one gigantic Falls, but many flowing in together. The pathways are well marked, and there are signs along the way for exits should you not want to take the entire walk thru the park. These photos simply don’t do justice to the majesty of The Falls – they are truly breathtaking, but due to the mist and bright sunlight, a bit tough to photograph well for amateurs like us.
The Falls walk is quite safe and at least the time of year we went (late May) was not very crowded either, with no street vendors inside the park to distract you. Quite simply it was nature at its best, and we really enjoyed our leisurely walk thru the park.
Towards the end of the walk, we caught up with the rest of the group who were doubling back for the return to the bus, as we were determined to go to the end of the trail. The whole group looked soaked, and they warned us about the heavy ‘Falls’ ahead! We went past Livingstone Island, which was an island to the left of the falls named after David Livingstone, but it was way to misty and wet to take photos, so we just got a pic of the sign along the way.
We proceeded on, and got some great photos of the Victoria Falls Bridge we had been across last night. The mist from the falls and sunlight created a rainbow effect, which we tried our best to photograph.
While we had the area more or less to ourselves at this point, a lone man was standing with an umbrella, and seemed as if he was waiting for us. I finally asked him if he was a tour guide waiting on our group and he said yes, to which we said to go ahead and we will head back on our own. He then quickly headed out towards the exit; a bit strange as he wasn’t with our group. I guess everyone looks the same in those black ponchos! Mistaken group perhaps!
When we finally left the Victoria Falls Park trails, we made a mandatory stop at the gift shops, with DOS buying a couple T-shirts and other souvenirs.
We then walked back to our hotel via the dedicated (and private) pathway. We were told it was a 5 to 10 minute walk, but it was actually more like 15 minutes; not a big deal, but I see why they took the bus in the morning.
As we left the national park, we immediately were approached by some friendly street vendors; not aggressively, but wanting to sell their wares. We then were surrounded by two Tourist Police who ended up escorting us all the way back to our hotel!
We were skeptical at first of this as we walked along the deserted pathway thru the jungles of Zimbabwe, but they chatted with us the whole way back, seemingly genuinely interested in our travels to Africa and our lives back home in the States.
We asked them about the Tourist Police as we had seen quite a few the night before when we walked into town looking for the external hard drive, and they said the hotels hire them to protect the tourists from overly-egressive street vendors as they want the area to have a good reputation for tourists. We didn’t feel unsafe, but it was nice to have someone shield us from street vendors when we had just bought some souvenirs and just wanted to get back to the hotel. Not only that, we had to be reminded we were still in the jungle, and actually saw some large animals in the bush, and the Police pointed out elephant ‘doo’, which meant the elephants they were close by as well. It really added a layer of protection having a couple men that new the area for the wildlife as well, as they kept scanning the bushes for any movement of animals coming out. Though they didn’t ask, when we arrived at the hotel, we asked them if we could leave a tip, and also get our photos with them, which they gratefully obliged to both.
Now back at the hotel by noon, we were a bit rushed to have a quick lunch before going out on our helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, which met at 1:30pm. We had lunch again at the outdoor Terrace Restaurant at the hotel, again enjoying the weather and views outside, overlooking The Victoria Falls Bridge and Falls in the distance, where we had just been.
At 1:30pm, we were picked up at the hotel by the helicopter company’s van, who drove us a short distance to their launch site. There were actually 6 of us from our tour were going, and we were hoping we could go together as at least spilt our group up for this, as the helicopters were only six passengers.
Once at the helicopter launch site, we watched the safety video and were weighed for sitting positions in the helicopter.
Unfortunately they had to split our parties up due to weight and balance, so our group ended up being on 3 different helicopters, sorted in with other people from other groups. Steve (DOS) left right before me, so I got some photos of his helicopter leaving, and he got me on the return trip exiting the helicopter.
We both love helicopter rides, having done these before in Hawaii a couple times, Alaska, and Angkor Wat Cambodia. I took video and iPhone photos on my trip while DOS took still photos with his new camera on his trip. We also bought the photo and video footage from the helicopter company: they do a short interview of you before the trip, and have mini Go Pro cameras aboard and splice some footage together, along with photos they take of you getting on and off the helicopter. We had a 25 minute ride on the helicopter, and it took us first over The Falls:
and later over the Zimbabwe National Park, where if you had a really good zoom lens you could catch the animals. I saw some giraffes, but with couldn’t get any close up photos with my iPhone. Still, it was surreal flying over both the falls and the forrest filled with wildlife.
Once we had safely landed, several of our group had a celebration brewski at the outdoor bar their at the heliport site, while we waited for the bus to pick us up.
We had hoped to get back to the hotel and shower and change before our evening sunset dinner cruise, but as we had been split up on different trips, it had taken longer than we had anticipated, and the AMA tour bus picked us up on the way to the dinner cruise. We were cheered on by our fellow bus travelers for our act of bravery; i.e. the helicopter ride, and we we soon arrived at the tiny dock for our evening sunset cruise.
As everything AMA Waterways does, they really think of everything, and try to make you holiday as enjoyable and luxurious as possible, while still keeping you in the environment you came to visit. For tonight’s cruise they had chartered the whole boat, (of which there were several others at the dock area) and we headed out for a wildlife viewing and sunset cruise. As always complimentary drinks and Champagne were free flowing on these excursions, and we were served several hors d’ourves as well. By this time we really had gotten to know our whole group of 25 people, so this was like one happy party as we sailed into the sunset!
And one parting photo of me with the Captain.
But as we sailed back to the dock at sundown, the fun was not over yet!
Indeed we had a dinner show included back at The Victoria Falls Hotel, that featured an elaborate African-themed buffet, and authentic African outdoor show. The dinner/show was the same venue we had breakfast, but they had expanded seated outdoors, as well as the elevated covered patio area where we sat. The show was performed on a stage at the front of the restaurant, and featured not only the traditional African drums and dancers, but quite elaborate costume and set changes as well. Watching this under the minimal stage lights and outdoor tiki torches truly made this long and fun-filled day one to remember!
And after a long and adventurous day, we finally were happy to head to bed, with our mosquito netting bed all set! Nightie, Night from Zimbabwe!