Zambia     
       
  
 
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AFRICA!  Windhoek to Livingstone Part 4
Travel Tales goes above and below Victoria Falls and through villages of children.
 
 
July 19 continued ...  

The Zambian customs office consisted of one man behind a glass window which has a slot big enough through which to slide passports ... and money. Pubic access to this glass window is through a tiny anteroom which has a door to the outside. When we reached the lineup we were only a few people away from the outside door. We waited ... and waited ... the same person at the head of the line was still there when the next ferry load emptied onto the Zambian shore. Our necks craned to see the vehicles pass ... Joseph was not amongst them.

The line began to move and just then a woman squeezed in from the side and stood beside Alistair.

Her invasive movements caused everyone else behind to squeeze up tight so as not to allow anyone else to use the same tactic. It was most difficult for Alistair's English-gentleman training not to let this aggressive woman in front of him ... but for the betterment of the G.A.P Group the next time the line shifted he slid in front of her. She didn’t like it and "accidentally" gave him a poke or two ... we’ll count the bruises later. Sherrie moved in front of Alister and had Samantha move in ahead of her. The G.A.P Group now had control of the doorway. Gerda and Terry got up to the customs window and Gerda started asking for people to pass forward their passports. "He wants all American passports please with .... ," and she would give the cost for each visa in US currency. "Now the Irish," she called, "no money needed." "Canadians next." "Everyone else, please give us your passports." Terry watched as the man looked through the passports and hit them with a stamp.

At the end of the exercise the customs officer presented Gerda with the total cost of the visas. She checked it, passed him the money through the slot and asked for a receipt. He carefully counted out a portion of the US dollars and put them into his right pocket; then he took the rest of the bills and put them into his left. The receipt required two signatures; he signed on one line and, without hesitating, used a different name and a different style of writing to sign on the second. Now that all the official business was done, he slid all the passports back through the glass opening.

To the relief of the people behind us we left them to their pushing and shoving.

Guts met us outside and announced that Joseph and the bus had made it across. As Guts had already done most of the paperwork, Joseph just needed to verify registration numbers with the officials.

"Welcome to Zambia" Guts said as we headed towards Livingstone.

The Fairmont Hotel and Casino was not the nicest of endings to what was a most incredible journey with G.A.P Adventures. Our room was so dirty (including leftover food in the fridge and Terry, in his sock feet, stepping on a syringe) that we spoke with the manager (in the presence of Guts and Gerda). Our room was then cleaned, but the "yuck feeling" remained.

When we asked at the front desk if we could use a phone for a local call, they said they didn’t have one! "You don’t have a phone?" Terry asked.

"No." came the answer.

"How does the hotel get phone calls?"

"We don’t."

"Where can we go to use a phone?"

"You will have to go into town."

"We would like to go into town, but we would like to call a taxi first. "

"We have no phone!"

We wanted to stay on in Livingstone for a couple of days after leaving G.A.P and it was quickly decided that it would not be at the Fairmont.

We didn’t stay long at the hotel before the group left to have dinner at one of the more upscale lodges where picnic tables overlooked the Zambezi River and Velvet monkeys played in nearby trees.

At the entrance to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Guts told us that if we waited 15 minutes before entering we could get the lower evening rate. This rate usually only allows for a quick look around before leaving again, but tonight was different.

Victoria Falls are spectacular; they must be seen, felt and heard to be fully appreciated. This is where the wide, seemingly calm, Zambezi River plummets over the rim of a deep gorge, nearly two kilometres in length, and turns into a ferocious torrent. The spray and mist is squeezed up the gorge walls and rises high above the rim.

The mist made us feel like we were being engulfed in rain as we followed asphalt paths and crossed over the Knife Edge foot bridge on the Zambian side. As we walked along the edge of the gorge, the sun dropped below the horizon and we waited for the moon to rise.

 

Tonight was a full moon, and during full moons the park stays open until 23:00 to give visitors an opportunity to view a lunar rainbow (also called a moonbow). This phenomenon happens on dark clear nights when the full moon’s bright beams reflect through the mist of the falls. As moonlight is not as bright as the sun, the colours are very delicate to the human eye. Guts opened the exposure on his camera to 50 seconds and captured a rare lunar rainbow and its colours.

Our days with the G.A.P Group were coming to an end; tomorrow would be our last full day.

 
 

July 20

We were picked up from our hotel and taken out to the Baobab Ridge Helipad of United Air Charter.

"There’s a fire," someone said looking out from United Air Charter’s lapa (a thatched roof supported by poles). It wasn’t a fire but the plumes of mist rising up from Victoria Falls. It was this sight and the roaring sound which caused a local tribe to give the falls its original name of "Mosi-oa-Tunya" ... "the Smoke that Thunders".

We were led out to a shiny black helicopter and outfitted with head sets as our pilot, Nina, took her seat and began the aircraft’s check off.

The helicopter pad is 4 km from the Zimbabwe border crossing.  We were the first flight of the day ... the light was beautiful.  During our flight over Victoria Falls we flew in both Zambian and Zimbabwean air space. The flight let us see the entire falls at the same time, which is not possible to do from the paths at the National Park.

 
 
 
The aerial views were breathtaking.  We could see the Knife Edge foot bridge we had walked across last night. 
 

The excitement of the day was not over but for the rest of the morning we kept ourselves busy securing another hotel and found just what we wanted at the Protea Hotel ... and only $6 USD per day more than the Fairmont. We booked for two nights beginning tomorrow ... "How early can we come?"

Livingstone is much smaller than we had imagined, however, as the tourist infrastructure across the river in Zimbabwe continues to crumble, this area is undergoing a building boom.

Most of the construction is in upmarket hotel complexes along the river while the buildings in the centre of Livingstone remain simple and ageing. As we have seen in other African towns, impromptu vegetable markets are set up outside commercial enterprises.

One of the more modern structures in town is the new Livingstone Curio Market opened in December 2007, replacing an array of temporary shelters. Some of the craftspeople work outside their shops, like artist Michael Livingstone whose paintings, he proudly showed us, were featured in an American magazine.

 
 
 

In the afternoon, Tony, from Jet Extreme, picked us up in an oversized 4x4 truck and drove into the countryside where the vehicle’s 4-wheel drive was needed to traverse the dirt road’s rough terrain.

 

We passed through a number of small villages. In one village we saw a little, two door, mud building painted white and blue with a butterfly and the words, "The Butterfly Tree". It was a communal latrine built by a United Kingdom charity whose focus is to assist rural communities in Zambia which have suffered from the effects of HIV/AIDS.

 
 

The palace of the Mukuni chief, munokalya Patrick Siloka Mukuni, was pointed out to us. From the outside it is a modest home by Western standards, with terra cotta plastered walls, sitting behind a decorative thatch fence. We were told the internationally educated chief also has his palace equipped with internet access.

As we drove through each village, children ran toward us and waved. During brief stops, children would gather around our vehicle. What child, whether in Zambia or any other country in the world, would not be in awe of a huge yellow and blue truck. There were so very many children. In one village we were told the population was 540; 400 of those are children under the age of ten. Children looking after children.

   
 

When we arrived at Jet Extreme's launch site, we could look down into the deep Zambezi Gorge below Victoria Falls and see, at the bottom, a jet boat and some beached yellow whitewater rafts. We were taken from the rim of the gorge to the river in a cable car which stopped about three-quarters of the way down. "There is going to be a jerk," Tony advised and then he explained he would engaged a cable which would lower the car vertically to the river bank. Ingenious.

We stored our valuables and anything we did not want to get wet in a locker. Getting wet was not an option ... the only unknown was how wet?

   

We walked over the rocks and left our shoes on the sand. Some of the G.A.P Group were there. They had just completed a whitewater rafting trip down river. We climbed into the jet boat and were seated in the back ... Terry on one side and Sherrie on the other.

 

We flew over the water coming precariously close to rock outcrops. Tony, now pilot, would put his right hand high in the air and circle it around as though he were a cowboy with an invisible lasso ... a signal which meant ‘Hold on! ... with two hands .... TIGHT’ It was like being inside a stunt car during a wild chase scene, going full throttle and then having the brakes slammed on and the wheel cranked to one side so that the centrifugal force spins the vehicle around "on a dime" to face in the direction from which it came. The difference was that this was on water ... water doesn’t know to stop ... it just keeps coming ... over the sides .... over the back with waves of wet splashing against the backs of our heads, around our faces to the people in front of us. Wow! We hadn’t experienced this since we jet boated on the Dart River in New Zealand. Water covered the back seat and sloshed back and forth between us as we zig-zagged back down the river to shoot rapids. We were soaking wet ... it was a blast!

 

Evening brought another boating experience as the G.A.P Group spent our last dinner together. It was just our G.A.P Group onboard the open sided sight-seeing vessel as we cruised the Zambezi above the falls.

After dinner, Guts again brought out his infamous ‘Black Book’. Each person was called forward and acknowledged for their contribution to making this "Delta and Falls Discoverer" tour a memorable journey.

 
 
Photo by Jill 
 

Joseph was given well deserved accolades for bringing us through the trip safely, without getting stuck ... not even a flat tire, a most outstanding accomplishment considering the Namibian, Botswana and Zambian roads.

We toasted our wonderful leader, Guts, who managed to remain upbeat and positive despite caring for 20 people (for one day 24) on a twenty-one day non-stop schedule ... 504 continuous hours of being responsible ... we are impressed and grateful. Thanks to Gerda as well.

Guts had one last surprise when we disembarked from the cruise boat. He guided us to the very up-market Zambezi Sun Hotel for one last drink ... a Springbok shooter ... named after the delicate antelope of which we saw so many. There is an ‘official’ way of drinking it. Guts demonstrated.

First you step a few paces back from the bar; put your hands up on your head ... thumbs to your temples and baby fingers stretched out while the other fingers curl to the palm; hop forward to the bar and with your hands still firmly upon your head, bend down, take the shot glass in your mouth, throw your head back, swallow ... try not to choke.

Well done, Guts ... not just the Springbok ... the whole trip. Thank you so much.

Admittedly we had reservations about being part of a "tour group" (not having travelled this way before) but G.A.P Adventure’s "Original" style tour allowed us to see Africa in a way we could not have done on our own. It took out the worry and time which would have been spent making travel arrangements and finding appropriate accommodations. G.A.P gave us opportunities we would not have discovered on our own and yet allowed us enough freedom for personal experiences. Thanks G.A.P Adventures.

We would have no hesitation in travelling with G.A.P again and feel comfortable in recommending them to others ... in fact ... in Africa we would encourage travelling with G.A.P.

 
 

July 21

Our backpacks were on and we were ready to start a new phase, the last phase, of our African adventure. In front of the Fairmont Hotel a crowd of people had gathered. They must be waiting for someone important because many of the men were dressed in suits and ties. There was a cleared walkway from the street up to a man who held a bouquet of cellophane-wrapped flowers in his arms. It appeared as thought the arrival was imminent, so we waited awhile.

A vehicle pulled up, not a particularly impressive car as we would expect, but a safari vehicle. It was Carley, Samantha and Alister returning from a morning jump off the border bridge ... bungee style. We enjoyed the looks on their faces as they made their way from truck to flowers. ‘Wow, for us? We’re pretty proud of ourselves but we didn’t expect this!’

   

We said goodbyes once again and walked a few blocks into the centre of town and hailed a taxi to take us to The Protea.

 
 
 

The extent of our activities today was a walk around the mall next to The Protea, doing a little sink laundry and hanging out in our new surroundings.

 
 

July 22

The plan today was to cross into Zimbabwe and have afternoon tea at the grand old Victoria Falls Hotel. We had viewed the hotel during our helicopter flight a couple of days earlier and figured the walk was doable.

Entering Zimbabwe would require us to purchase visas and to reenter Zambia would require another visa. We had been unsuccessful in cashing American Traveller’s Cheques at hotels, banks and money changers. No one wanted them. What we didn’t want was to get into Zimbabwe without having enough US dollars to get back.

We were told we could purchase Zimbabwe visas for less money at the Immigration Department in downtown Livingstone than at the border.

The immigration office was one of the more impressive buildings in town, other than the banks, however, its little entry had no adornments and no sign of life. A dark, narrow hallway of doors led us to the appropriate office which we entered; to be followed shortly thereafter by an official looking fellow.

"Can I help you?"

We told him of our plan and he told us we would have to purchase our Zimbabwe visas at the Zimbabwe customs office across the border. They would cost $30 US each. We asked him if there was such a thing as a day pass out of Zambia. "No," he explained, we would have to pay the full visa entry cost ... "in US dollars."

"Can we not pay in Zambian currency?"

"No."

"No? But this is Zambia."

"The Zambian government will not accept Zambian kwacha." We were a little stunned.

We recalculated our cash-on-hand: the cost of buying our Zimbabwe visas, based on his $30, our Zambia visas, $55 each and the taxi fare from Livingstone to and from the border. We figured at an upscale hotel like the Victoria Falls, we would be able to use our credit card for tea. Good, we could manage this.

The taxi dropped us off at the Zambian border crossing. The border was not busy and the fellow in customs was very pleasant as we explained what our plans were. He stamped us out of Zambia.

We walked along the road which parallels Victoria Falls to the border bridge. The centre of the bridge is the dividing line between Zambia and Zimbabwe; it is also the site where some of our G.A.P Group did their bungee jumping this morning and where tourists get inundated with Zimbabwe peddlers.

They are not supposed to be on the bridge but they manage to get here most mornings. There were no other tourists around, so we were "the target group" and one of the fellows walked with us beyond the bridge as far as he could go without being in view of the Zimbabwe customs office.

A woman customs officer took our visa application forms and our passports. "$130 US"

"Pardon?"

"$130. $65 each."

"We were told it would be $30 each."

"Today it is $65 each." A man behind us said something which didn’t please her and she snarled and said, "I’m the one that works here, so I know what it is."

"If we pay you $130 US we will not have enough money to get back into Zambia."

She shrugged her shoulders.

We went back out the door. "Well, we are in Zimbabwe; but it looks like this is as far as we get." We just couldn’t chance that they ‘might’ cash a traveller’s cheque at Victoria Falls Hotel. If we could pay for our return Zambian visas with their own currency, we could manage, but they had already advised US dollars only. We didn’t have any choice so headed back to the bridge.

As soon as we were in sight again we were everybody’s best friend and as such may provide their family’s income for the day.

We did buy some items from them including ... $5,000,000,000 and ... $25,000,000,000 Zimbabwean bills. Yes ... 5 Billion and 25 Billion. The latter was a new issue this past May. When Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980 a Zimbabwean dollar was worth slightly more than the US dollar. Today the $25,000,000,000 note we purchased on the bridge is worth approximately 30 cents American. Tomorrow?

Speaking of money, we were a little frustrated with the fact we would now have to pay for a visa to get back into Zambia. Perhaps if we tried to explain?

We were surprised and delighted to see the friendly customs officer behind the counter ... the same fellow who had stamped us out an hour and a half earlier. "Hello again," we said with cheerful smiles and proceeded to explain what had happened. We passed him our passports.

"I will just cancel the exit stamp," he said putting a line through the exit stamp and initialling the change. "Enjoy the rest of your stay in Zambia," he smiled handing our passports back. We thanked him sincerely for his kindness.

We may not have been able to reach Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe for afternoon tea but it didn’t mean we would have to go without this British pastime. We walked from the border post to the Royal Livingstone Hotel trying not to look too heat exhausted by the time we got there.

 

The Royal Livingstone reflects the ambience, luxury and sophistication of Africa’s colonial era with its rich interiors cooled by slowly swirling fans and shaded verandas overlooking the Zambezi River just slightly upstream from where it cascades over the falls. We sat on the lounge’s veranda in high backed rocking chairs and watched high society being pampered by uniformed staff with a level of service reminiscent of a bygone era. Each service and each station within that service has its own uniform. The pool attendant wore white shorts, a sailor inspired shirt, white high socks and shoes and upon his head a straw hat.

 
 
 
 

Several men and women were dressed like police with pocketed shirts and stiff caps ... their responsibility is to keep monkeys from bothering or stealing food from guests. This battle between man and beast was most entertaining. The very sly monkeys know precisely how the game is played. They use trees as camouflage to advance towards the restaurants and lounges. When the ‘police’ are distracted or walking in another direction, they make their move with a goal in mind; by the time the ‘police’ hear the guests scream, the four-legged bandits are halfway across the lawn with a piece of sandwich. The ‘police’ whip their slingshots out but the projectiles seldom hit their mark.

 

Remaining on the veranda we moved from the wooden rocking chairs to upholstered chairs and a larger table between to have afternoon tea. This lovely tradition reportedly started in the 1830's when Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, was alleged to have described the tiredness she felt between luncheon and the evening meal. On finding that a pot of tea and a light snack relieved her pangs of hunger, the Duchess began to invite her friends for regular afternoon tea.

Strolled around the manicured Royal Livingstone grounds before heading back to The Protea ... luxurious in its own right (no uniformed pool attendant) at a fraction of the cost.

 
 
 
 

July 23

Flew from Livingstone, Zambia to Johannesburg, South Africa and stayed at a bed and breakfast near the airport. Tomorrow we will fly on to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania before heading to Zanzibar. 

   

   

     

continue to Tanzania part 2 ...

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