July 15 2014
Dark and early, we are driven to Harare Airport. The domestic terminal is a desolate and lonely place. It is so early that no stores are open yet. The scales at check-in are not electric, security takes up one line in a narrow hallway, and the gate takes up all of a single room.
At Victoria Falls, the terminal is no bigger than the one at Harare. We’re greeted by two men and a rental car, hired to take us around town. The airport is remote, and we drive down a small two-lane road for twenty or so kilometers to get to our hotel. Elephant Hill Hotel is classy, the staff polite, and the orange cocktail that they give us refreshing. It is a pity we do not get to spend more time exploring the grounds, but we do spot some baboons lounging about.
We take the van to Victoria Falls Park, rent raincoats, and queue in the line to wait for admission. The park looks typical of the African bush in winter: yellowed grass, bare shrubbery, and dry leaves all around. I can hear the faint noises of rushing water in the distance. We have no idea where we are walking, but it seems fun. We see the statue of Livingstone, some flowers that are still alive, and the end of the trail. Turning around, we brave the eastern part of the trail, running along the waterfall and all of the spray that comes along with it. We are accosted by spray so heavy that our raincoats keep only our backs dry. Near the bridge connecting Zimbabwe to Zambia, we see a double rainbow, a reward for our efforts. A little farther, the water mercifully stops and we see a family of three baboons gathered around an overturned trash bin.
We change into dry clothes before lunching at the Victoria Falls Hotel. It evokes thoughts of colonial Rhodesia. The view is superb. A vast back lawn where the restaurant is situated gives a clear view to the bridge on the border. Numerous black and white sparrows and a wild hog putter about on the lower terrace of the back lawn. The restaurant food seems substandard in contrast to the view. On the way to the ladies’ room, I see a massive portrait of the Queen Victoria.
Right after lunch, we go to the sunset cruise, though it is far from sunset. The drinks being complimentary, we order Cokes and red wine. The captain and bartender know what they are doing, as they point out various animals along the banks of the Zambezi River: crocodiles, hippos, and elephants. We watch the sunset and are immediately hurried back to the dock.
We have dinner at the Boma for a bit of cultural context. Cloths are tied around our shoulders in the traditional African way. The guava juice is good, though the crocodile starter tastes like really tough chicken. Not much in the buffet is to my liking, though the Sadza, a traditional south-eastern African dish, is good. Eating cooked insects come with certificates of accomplishment here. The performances are great, but the audience participation is truly awkward.
July 16 2014
An early morning awaits us as we wake at 5:30 to go on the game drive. We get on a safari vehicle and the driver hands out thick ponchos that double as insulation against the early morning cold and protection against the harsh wind. The driver picks up more people before we bump all the way out into the bush.
We spend more than three hours driving through the dirt roads in the reserve. I swear that all the poop that we see is equal in weight to all of the animals we see. The driver points out countless zebras, a herd of buffalo, a mass of rhinos, bush and water bucks, kudu, giraffes, vultures, and even a lion ravaged kudu carcass. We have breakfast in the reserve (it’s included in the game drive) and then return to the hotel.
The largest portion of our morning is spent at the helipad where we spot antelope and ride a helicopter for 12 minutes. A visit to the crocodile farm follows, and we are bored by the crocodiles but enamoured with the lions. We then visit the Big Tree where we are peddled to by determined souvenir vendors. Lunch at the Ilala is amazing; they do know how to cook. At the flea market behind, we haggle for a wood carving and some coasters. On the drive back to the airport, we ask “Do people live in the bush?”
“Yeah. They just don’t go out at night without a vehicle.”
“You remember all of the animals you saw on this trip?”