The falls and money to burn

Tongabezi, Zambia - Johannesburg, South Africa - Windhoek, Namibia

Oh another early morning wakeup call, except this time it’s not a call but Given coming down and telling us it’s time to get up. This morning we are being picked up for a tour, at 7:30am, of the falls from the Zimbabwe side and then being taken to the Victoria Falls airport for our flight to Johannesburg and then our connecting flight to Windhoek, Namibia.

Our Tongabezi "go-to-guy" Given

I’ve already packed up my bags so I’m pretty much ready to go after a shower and a cup of coffee and I head on down to the bar area to use the wireless to upload the blog from the 3rd of October - damn I’m getting behind on my updates, I think it‘s 3 days now. It’s hard when the days are so busy and the connections are so few and far between.

We had time to grab a quick breakfast, say goodbye to the staff and then we were in our guides van heading for the Zambia/Zimbabwe border. Our guide was a young man named Albert from Beyond Africa and based in Zimbabwe.

After we’d hit the highway we were asking him how the conditions in Zimbabwe were now that the US dollar is the currency. He said things were getting better and he talked how inflation was causing so many problems and as he was talking he reached down into his bag and pulled out some Zimbabwe banknotes that he gave to me. The first one was a 5 Billion Dollar note and the second one a 25 Billion note! Then he gave me a $1 note, apparently they had just taken the 1 Billion and deleted all the 0’s. 

I'm a Billionaire! 

A couple of minutes later I noticed these 3 distinctive palm trees in the distance. As we got closer to them we realised that they were disguised communication towers LOL! 

Fake Palm Trees

It’s about half an hour to the border from Tongabezi and then about 15 minutes to the National Park, that’s if all goes to plan. This morning there were a few obstacles in the way and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the park. The first obstacle was a roadblock! There was a Zambian policeman and policewoman flagging down cars and trucks on both sides of the road and Albert pulled over to the verge. We asked him what they were looking for, he said drivers licenses, vehicle checks. He hopped out and had a chat with one of the officers and a few minutes later came back saying that they said he should have a first aid kit in the car. He called back to base and then went to talk to them again, returning to the van to ask me if I had change in two $5 notes. I had the change and he walked back to the officers, chatted for a few minutes handed over the cash and we were on our way.

To cross from Zambia to Zimbabwe you go across the Livinstone bridge which is actually neutral territory, but it’s age and narrow path means only one car in one direction at a time.

Livingstone Bridge

Livingstone Bridge

The next obstacle was the Zimbabwe border. Here we had to stop, go into the customs building, fill in a customs declaration and buy a US$30 visa. That didn’t take too long but it seemed to take Albert a while to get all his paperwork in order and finally we drove to a gate that the local officer opened for us and we were in Zimbabwe. Heading to the Falls from the border stop we drove for a couple of miles through the bleak Zimbabwe countryside.  

The road into Zimbabwe

After that it was only a few minutes and we pulled into the parking lot opposite the park. 

Park Entrance

Our entry to the park was paid for as part of the tour so we sailed on through into the main reception area. Albert gave us a briefing on the park and the path we would take to see the falls as well as the history and fauna of the park. 


Thoroughly briefed we set off for Livingstone’s statue.... 

Livingstone's Statue

...and a view of the Cataract Falls

The Cataract Falls

Now this time of year is when the flow of the river is at it’s lowest but it‘s still impressive and you can see down into the crater. For the next hour and half we walked along a trail that provided a number of viewpoints back to the Zambian side of the falls. At some viewpoints the spray coming up from the gorge floor provided a much welcome refreshing cool off.

As we walked further along the path we drew level with Livingstone Island and the Devils Pool.

The Devil’s Pool where we were yesterday

One of the guides was already standing on the edge of the pool waiting for the swimmers to arrive, I have to say it looks quite a bit more dangerous from this side than when you are right above it. The last viewpoint is called Danger Point, as it can become very slippery in the raining season when everything is just mist. We were talking to someone the other day who’d been there in the raining season and they said you couldn’t see anything and all you got was wet! At this time of the year you can see so much.  

 Danger Point

We got back to the van about 11:30 and headed off for the airport about half an hour south east of the falls. When we got there it was a bit chaotic with a long line waiting to book into our flight but Albert took our bags and through his contacts not only got us checked in first but also got us an upgrade to business class. After waiting for about an hour we finally were called for boarding and our brief visit to Zimbabwe was over. 

Victoria Falls Airport

We made one purchase in the departure lounge, that was a beaded rhino. You see we have a regular Sunday morning ten pin bowling group, we bowl scratch so its hard for me to win but I keep plugging away, and the prize is a little plastic rhino. Now the poor thing has lost part of his back leg so I told Greg that I’d bring a new one back from Africa and this is it.

The Rhino

Finally it was time to board, so we filed out to the plane and in no time were headed for Johannesburg. As we came into land the captain advised us that a storm was moving over O R Tambo airport and there was some rain and hail and that once landed we’d have to make a run for an airport bus. From landing to clearing customs, picking up our bags and getting back to the Intercontinental to pick up our checked luggage only took us 35 minutes, pretty good eh, getting to know my way around the airport. So far we have made 4 landings and 3 departures in just over 2 weeks.

At the hotel we changed into clothes in our checked bags and I discovered that the lock on mine had been cut completely and someone had gone through my bag. I don’t think anything is missing as it was mainly clothes and my tripod but I’ll check later. (Follow-up report, nothing missing) At the airport, to protect your luggage, they have these wrapping services for R 50 per bag that makes your luggage look like some giant spider has covered it completely in a web of plastic.

Bag all wrapped up

 We figure that O R Tambo shouldn't be too bad so we trusted to the locks on Kelly’s bag and our two big bags, checked in, cleared customs and headed for departures. Kelly went off to check the shops and see if she could find some swimmers for me. I sat in the restaurant and had a beer. A group of girls/women at the table next to me were singing and drinking and I got talking to them. Apparently they were on the way to the birthday of one of the women, her 87 year old mother had started a Chimpanzee rescue reserve on the Congolese border, they even had a cake with her picture, holding a chimp, on it. Unfortunately they’d been stuck in the terminal since 8am as the plane they were going to take apparently had its wing break off! I think it was Air Zambia, and they didn’t know when the next flight would be leaving, so drink and song was their solace. I asked them if they had any Johnny Cash and they had “Ring of Fire” so they played that for me and I joined in singing with them. I hope they made it to the birthday.

Our flight was leaving from the same location as our disaster boarding the other day but this time we were there in plenty of time. We got the flight and took off for Windhoek through an amazing lightning storm climbing until we were over it.

Thunderstorm over Johannesburg on our flight to Namibia

Arriving in Windhoek airport is pretty cool as its 40 km from the city itself and there is nothing around it. So when you land and walk across the tarmac to the arrivals area it’s a small oasis of light in a sea of darkness. After clearing immigration and customs we were met by our representative from & Beyond. He took us out to the Budget Rent-A-Car where we picked up our Nissan X-Trail, checked it for scratches, dents etc and then followed him through the desert to Windhoek. Fortunately in Namibia they drive on the left hand side of the road, so aside from having a stick shift we were in pretty good shape except for some strange road signs we weren't sure of.

After about 40 minutes we arrived at our hotel the Olive Grove, by this time it was getting a bit late but they put together a salad and sandwich for us and then Kelly and I hit the sack excited about our first full day in Namibia and our drive north to Namutoni and the Fort at Onguma.