Victoria Falls and the Smoke That Thunders.
As much as I had enjoyed the small town charm of Bulawayo, and the pleasantness of Burke’s Paradise, I decided to head north to Victoria Falls, to spend a good few days exploring the falls, and the town of Livingstone.
I found that the road was pretty good, and there was more beautiful Zimbabwean scenery to match. I was having a good morning’s drive until I came across my first police checkpoint. In Zimbabwe there are many police road blocks. But unlike in South Africa they don’t have patrol cars or any fancy kit. Each stop is just a few people, most often in the middle of nowhere. The officers are nice enough, however, they are so numerous that at points I was driving through three checkpoints in 10 minutes. And it get’s rather tiring explaining to every police officer that no, I don’t want to sell my car, but thanks.
I arrived in Victoria falls after 500km and about six hours. I had only planned to stay on the Zimbabwean side for one night, and here has been my biggest mistake so far, but I’ll get to that a little later.
I had been told that the Zambian side and the town of Livingstone was far more established and much better with dealing with tourists. It boasted more restaurants and more options for accommodation. And since I had made a rule, after the disaster in Gaborone, that I would only cross borders in the morning, I decided to spend the night in Victoria Falls.
My backpackers, Victoria Falls Backpackers, was full of Finns and Germans, which is always lovely. I went out for a pizza and found that the restaurant and the staff, like everyone else in Zimbabwe, were very charming. I stayed up talking to the europeans at the backpackers, around the fire, and I believe I was happy there. I felt a little sad to leave Zimbabwe, but better things lay across the bridge, in Livingstone. Or so I believed.
In the mooring I said my goodbyes and headed off a cross the famous bridge. The view across the falls and the river was incredible. The spray from the falls really did reach passersby on the bridge. Just as Rhodes had ordered.
At the Zambian border I was soon surrounded by fixers and clearing agents once again, offering their help. I man offered to wash my car. “Do not wash my car.” I said.
I stood in line for immigration all the while being told, once again that I could cut the queue if I wanted. No thanks. At customs the official explained that I need my car to be registered on a database, and that there were agents around who could do that for me. At this point they pounced. They pulled me from the line and ushered me towards the door. “You see we put it in the database, and then you pay $300 dollars, and our fee, then you can go into Zambia. Or else you just wait”
“What’s your fee?” I asked. “No we talk about that later” they replied. “No, we talk about it now” I felt myself getting angry. I pulled the AA Carnet from my bag, and they said that doesn’t work here. I marched back to the customs officer and put it down in front of him. “Oh, if you have a carnet then it’s fine”. He stamped it and sent me on my way.
I went back to my car to find it had been washed, and the man responsible wanted $10. The fixers again wanted money for their help. “Please, just $100”. I left, feeling irritated.
From the border it’s a quick drive (and a $20 fee) to the falls. I parked my car at the market and headed down a path to the “boiling pot”. The climb was a severe one through a tropical rain forest. Baboons hung about the path, not bothering to move away from the humans. Occasionally I could catch a glimpse of the famous bridge through the jungle canopy. At the boiling pot I had a clear vista or the falls and the bridge. The noise was awesome. A few children swam in the rock pools around the edge, and I chatted with some other tourists who had made the climb down.
I started for the top of the valley and found the humidity in the tropical jungle immense. By the time I reached the top I was bathed in sweat. So I set out for the Knife Edge Bridge, I thin bridge suspended in the spray if the falls. The noise was deafening. It was perfect. The cool water was just what I needed after my walk. Other tourists walked about in plastic bags and rain coats to keep themselves dry. “Why would you?” I thought. I truly believe it’s a privilege to stand in awe of the falls, to be soaked to the skin, and soul in the spray. Why would you protect yourself from it?
I sat in the sun afterwards, drying off. A passerby took my photograph, amused by how drenched I was. I emerged from the park to find my car surrounded once again. I was shown endless Afro-kitsch by the men at the market. “Sit down. we talk about price” every store seemed to sell identical things, wooden hippos and elephants and copper bracelets. I was then informed that my car had been guarded very well, for a fee. It seems the magnificent falls are surrounded by what is perhaps a tourist trap posing as a city. I immediately missed Zimbabwe, but headed, still foolishly believing that Livingstone would be even better…