Exploring Victoria Falls and enjoying high tea with zebras

Our flight landed at Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe just as the sun was going down. The air was balmy and not as hot as I was expecting which was a relief as my forecast said it was 38° every day. Border control was very quick but bizarre as the inspector said we couldn’t pay for our visa by card as it was after 6pm which I’ve never heard of before. There didn’t seem to be any public transport from the airport to Victoria Falls town and taxis were extremely expensive so I’d prearranged a taxi company to pick us up and take us to Livingstone, across the border in Zambia for a whopping $45 which was the best price I could find. We were met with a sign donning Craig’s name but spelt ‘Graig’ instead. It’s only the second time we’ve been met with a sign so we felt very important. The sky was now an intense red colour as we walked across the carpark to our car.

When we reached the border we were quickly stamped out of Zimbabwe and carried our luggage across to another driver meeting us on the Zambia side. There were lots of local ladies queuing up to get stamped back into Zambia. They cross the border to work in Zimbabwe each day and many of them were carrying big sacks of oranges which are cheaper on this side. Many of the ladies wore colourful sarongs and they wrapped fabric across their back which acted as a bag while they balanced anything extra on their head. Instantly we were surrounded by culture and it felt like the real Africa we’d been hoping to experience.

As we began our drive through Zambia towards Livingstone town we passed through the Mosi-oa-Tonya National Park. The area was pitch black without any street lights yet locals were cycling along the road. It seemed to be mostly men and they and big boxes filled with produce on the back of their bikes. They also had no lights to see where they were going, let alone to warn traffic of their presence. When we reached a bridge about 6 cyclist had come to a halt and were just waiting in the dark. Our driver began to slow and said “there’s elephants around here!” Apparently they attack the cyclists for their food, or being territorial if they have babies so the cyclists just have to wait until it’s safe to cross. Sure enough we managed to spot elephants just a few meters from the road! When we were entering Livingstone there was a man by the road with his bike on the floor and his box crushed. He was picking up all his possessions and then we saw another man trying to fix his bike so we asked our driver what had happened “elephants charged them”. Wow. This is wild.

We arrived at our accommodation which was a couple of kilometres out of the town. It was half price to everything else we found and the reason why we stayed in Livingstone instead of Victoria Falls. We had a bit of a strange welcome and it almost felt like they weren’t expecting us or we’d arrived at the wrong guesthouse but it was fine in the end. As soon as we entered our room we were hit with a wall of heat. My goodness I couldn’t believe how hot it was, the cool night air led me into a false sense of security. In true hot country style we had a long train of ants travelling across the entire room. We didn’t have any air conditioning and even with the two fans on we were dripping with sweat so we slept terribly. The bed felt like it had an electric blanket heating it up so we woke early, swatting a couple of blood-filled mosquitos – which is always a little disconcerting in malaria zones. Our plan for the day was to cross the border back into Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls. The falls are shared between both countries but they’re said to be best viewed from the Zim side, especially at this time of year as the Zambia side mostly dries up.

To get to the border we opted for a shared minivan for 50 cents per person. It was absolutely crammed full of people and when we thought a row of seats was at maximum capacity they’d somehow squeeze another person on. It was fun though and we were so happy to be travelling with the locals again after avoiding it in South Africa due to safety concerns. The journey was just 10km to the border but half way along our driver began slowing down. Ahead of us were three cyclists who’d come to a halt and then we spotted the reason why…a herd of elephant were right by the roadside, exactly where we’d seen them the night before.

The van parked in a different place to the border so we were a little confused as to where to go but a lovely lady walked with us to the border where we got our stamp and had a 2km walk through no-man’s land to the Zimbabwe border. We got our first view of the Zambezi river flowing through the gorge as we walked across a big metal bridge. There were white water rafters, kayakers and even a surfer playing in the rapids way below us. Then we crossed the border into Zimbabwe and arrived at the entrance to Victoria Falls. Entry cost a whopping $30 per person which was absurd, especially as the bathrooms were filthy and didn’t have any running water in them. But anyway, we set off on a walk to see the waterfall which is the largest curtain of falling water in the world.

It’s peak dry season right now so the falls are at their lowest water levels, which meant instead of one huge wall of water we saw lots of individual waterfalls plunging down the cliff-face. The mist was blowing in the wind and occasionally sprinkling us so I can’t imagine how wet people must get in the rainy season. Above the biggest waterfall was Devils Pool on the Zambian side. It’s where tourists pay a hefty $110 to swim in the pool right where the waterfall spills over the edge. Sure it would be a fun thing to do but not with a price tag that high!

After a couple of hours checking out all of the viewpoints above the falls we headed into Victoria Falls town. It was 12pm and we wanted to visit the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge as they have ‘vulture culture’ shows everyday where they feed the vultures…it’s free to watch, even for non-guests so we definitely wanted to check it out but we didn’t know how to get there. Our original plan was to walk but it was 4km, unbearably hot and we were running out of time so we popped into the visitor centre to ask about any local transport or buses. They said it’s not safe to walk due to wild animals on the route and that a taxi was the only way, for €10. It was way overpriced but luckily we managed to get it down to $5 and off we went. We arrived quite early so we had a drink in the Buffalo Bar which overlooked a watering hole. While we were there we saw some Kudus coming down for a drink…apparently a couple days ago lions were spotted there so maybe it’s a good job we didn’t walk to the lodge!! Vultures began leaving the treetops and circling in the sky as they knew what time it was. A staff member who had been feeding the vultures for many years invited us down to a viewing area where he was about to feed the birds. He explained the reason he feeds them is to give them a helping hand as they are under threat, mainly due to poachers. When the birds smell death they fly over the carcass, so if poachers kill an elephant for its ivory the birds will turn up and rangers will see this and go and have a look at what’s died. As you can imagine the poachers hate that the vultures give away their location so once they kill the elephant they lace it’s flesh with poison so the birds all die once they eat it and there’s less in the area next time they make a kill.

So the man stepped onto some dusty land in front of us and began throwing stinky rotten meat on the floor. He said today he didn’t have much as it’s just scraps from the restaurant. The vultures began flying down and landing on the floor all around him but none of them touched the food until he walked away and then it was carnage. They all swooped in, flapping their huge wings which can be up to three meters long. It wasn’t just vultures though, there were some humongous storks with long model-like legs and a big droopy neck. It was fascinating to witness but it was all over in a matter of seconds. They actually left the intestines on the floor as they weren’t sure if it was an animal and if it was still alive but eventually a stork took a gamble and was rewarded for taking the risky peck.

We found out that the lodge had a free shuttle service for it’s guests so we just confidently asked what time the next pickup was. We had a little time to wait so we dipped our legs in the pool while looking out for animals in the waterhole. The shuttle had tons of spare seats so I was very glad we were able to take advantage of that service, although we never found out if it was just for guests, we didn’t want to risk denial so we just acted confident and hopped on.

We found a cheap eatery back in Vic Falls, cheap for Zimbabwe at least but the same meal in South Africa would be half price, and then we began our walk back to the Zambian border for a minibus to Livingstone. It was a particularly tight squeeze as we were in the back row with a rather large lady. I was squished against her and sweat was dripping between our arms and the back of my legs.

The following day we had the opportunity to visit the Royal Livingstone Hotel and try their high tea. It’s a fancy 5 star hotel so we were going to arrive by taxi but they just charge too much so we hopped in a local minivan and had a short walk to the entrance. The driveway leading to reception was a very exciting walk as wild animals were roaming free around the lodge as it’s within a national park. So we had a huge giraffe peering down at us and zebras walking along the road. The hotel is built on the banks of the Zambezi river and just to the left of the river is where Victoria falls plummets over the edge and the mist is visible from the hotel.

We were sat on some big armchairs on the veranda with a lovely view of the Zambezi river and the hotel pool with zebras grazing on the grass. Arnold our waiter welcomed us and set down some fine china mugs with a floral pattern painted on them and a big gold picture-frame with the menu and tea selection inside. I opted for a wild card and picked the Choco Mint Truffle Tea and Craig got a classic English breakfast just incase we didn’t like the dessert style tea but it turned out to be absolutely delicious and I couldn’t believe how tasty and refreshing it was.

We were presented with a fabulous tiered high tea with finger sandwiches, an assortment of sweet treats along with cream, jam and scones. It looked incredible but I actually prefer the taste of the afternoon tea we have in our local village back in England, the setting however was spectacular! I was sipping my new favourite tea while zebras grazed on the lawn in front of us and hippos snorted in the river. There were also opportunist monkeys roaming the land and one came within a meter of our high tea before we managed to shoo it away. From then on we had security watching over us – armed with a catapult to keep all the monkeys away. After a couple of hours sipping tea and eating all the goodies I looked positively pregnant with a huge food baby! Although it didn’t fool the locals and no special privileges were given to me as we squeezed onto a minivan back to Livingstone.

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