Wayne: OK, the trip has been great so far, but the next 8 hours were really bad! Up til now we had seen the modern Africa; now we were taking a step back in time to the 18th century.
First, we took a tiny, 5-seat airplane from Leopard Hills back to Nielsprit. That's 2 seats for us and 3 for our bags, plus one for the pilot who looked like he was 12 years old! Just as we took off it started to rain. Things were ok until we got to 10,000 feet (I could see the altimeter from my seat!). We were flying through thunder clouds! Heavy rain! Wendy thought we were going to die, and I wanted to! On and on and on.........then we came down out of the clouds and landed. It was only a 20 minute flight but it felt like 2 hours!
We then got on to a 30-seater for the flight to Joburg. We landed at 1:00 and it was sunny and warm. Our next flight was scheduled for 2. We waited in line for 10 minutes to get our tickets and then we checked in and they said our bags were overweight and that we would have to pay extra, so we had to go back into the same line! I went to the front and pleaded with the woman to process us so we could catch our flight and she actually did! Went back to check-in, ran through 2 passport checks, got on board the shuttle bus, and got to the plane at the last minute!!! Aaaahhhh! A 737! As we taxied, the flight attendant said "Welcome to this flight to Zimbabwe". I said..."You mean Zambia?" "No, Zimbabwe". We learned later that our flight to Zambia had been canceled so the tour person put us on one to Zimbabwe. It's not as bad as it sounds ("OK...any old "Z" country"); they share a border right at Victoria Falls. When we landed we went into the "terminal" (a metal shack) and got in line and were told we needed a visa to enter, even though we could see out next driver waiting for us outside, across the street, IN ZAMBIA! Because we were at Leopard Hills, and because of all our tight connections, we hadn't been to an ATM and were down to our last 100 Rand. But the Zimbabwe agent would only accept US dollars! We needed $90, but only had $8 between us, so we had to borrow $5 from the woman behind us! Pay; stamp, stamp. Customs: "What's in your bags?" "Clothes." "OK.". Then out the door, and across the street, into Zambia and onto the minibus. Whew!
After 20 minutes we saw rainbows and mist from the falls. Then we stopped and had to get out and show our passports and get them stamped. We all thought we were officially entering Zambia; no! We were officially leaving Zimbabwe! Ten more minutes of driving; stop; off the bus (yes! Zambia!), show passports. Believe it or not, they actually had our names on the list of people expected to come through that day! Stamp, stamp. But two UCT kids were not on the list and it took them 10 minutes (and some cash!) to get approved. By now it was 5:30 and we were supposed to be on a 5:30 cruise up the Zambezi River. AArrgghh! Back on the bus. But wait. There seems to be a problem. The driver says it is a new bus and has the wrong markings, so he can not cross the border! So he calls for another bus to come. It comes in 5 minutes, but has no room for any luggage! First the driver says he will deliver it later, but we are all a bit uneasy, so we're trying to decide who will go first when 2 more minivans show up and say they will take us and our luggage! So the group splits up and finally we make it to the Royal Livingstone at 6:10!
What a day! We are greeted with some kind of weird ice tea, but the resort is beautiful (like a Caribbean or Hawaiian resort), and as we check in we see the sun setting over the Zambezi River. We are about 500 yards from the falls.
There are monkeys running around and in the trees. Our room is beautiful. We relax a little and then head for dinner. The current exchange rate of the Kwatcha is 5,000 to one US dollar. So on the menu, starters ran from K25,000 to K40,000 and entrees from K50,000 to K120,000! The food is fabulous and everyone is so nice and friendly. Our dinner came to K335,000 (ok, $70). Wonderful!
Then, back to the room and sleep. During the night I figured we spent 1/3 of the trip sleeping (that's normal), 1/3 traveling, and 1/3 eating! How did we find the time to do everything else we did???
Wendy: Our trip has been great, but Thursday caught up with us in full 3rd world logistics. The small plane from Kruger was a nightmare. The experience in the Zimbabwe airport was nasty. In retrospect, a little humorous, but it didn't really have to happen had we been better informed. The rides in the buses and trying to get through Zimbabwe and Zambia customs was almost comical. I kept holding my breath that nothing more would happen. We didn't have any money left, we'd lost our sense of humor, and were missing out on the African Queen sunset cruise. Having said all that, when we finally got to the Royal Livingstone it just about made up for the whole day. I thought it was just breathtaking; just like at Mauna Lani. They checked us in at a comfortable place and gave us a cool refreshing drink. I loved the property from the get go. It was so beautiful, serene, romantic....
The service was over the top, all around. Everyone was so genuine, so nice, so willing to do more. We had a fascinating conversation with our dinner waiter, Joe. He lives in a township but said the native heritage gets passed down through the elders who still live in the villages. His grandmother lives two hours away; has no running water. He said he would have liked to take us to the village, but we just didn't have enough time.
Friday, June 20
Our last real full day of vacation.
Wayne: We had a 6:45 wake up call but were so excited to see the falls we were up at 5:30. So we got ready and walked to breakfast (outside, along the river) at 7:00. There were lots of monkeys running around and climbing in the trees. The staff warned us not to feed them, but apparently no one told the monkeys! There was a basket of croissants on the table and suddenly, out of nowhere, a monkey jumped up on the table, grabbed several, and ran away! We didn't even have time to react! The staff shooed him away and brought us another basketful (as if we really needed it), and we resumed eating when a few minutes later, another (the same?) monkey jumped up and did it again! Why only our table when there were other people eating, too?????? So this time we told the waiter not to bring any more rolls!!!
Then we headed off to see the falls. We met our guide, Active (yes!), and walked over. It is hard to describe them. The roar is incredible and they go on for miles (we only saw a small part). And we saw many rainbows, including doubles and even a full circle!
And even though we had raincoats, our pants and shoes and socks got soaked! But thanks to Em (who had visited here a few months earlier), we had purchased a waterproof camera. Fantastic views! Awesome power! Active told us that about 400 million liters per minute go over!
The afternoon activity was an elephant ride! We had to go back into Zimbabwe and went to this place where they take orphaned or abandoned elephants and train them to be ridden. They told us theirs was the first group to train African elephants to do this (usually it is done with Indian elephants which are more docile). So there were about 10 people and 6 or 7 elephants (which was OK since we wanted to ride together).....
..and they told us their names and asked which one we wanted to ride. So of course, we said the one named "Emily"! Yup!! There were also two baby elephants who walked alongside (without riders). We were on a nice soft pad holding on to handles behind the driver. Very smooth and soft; much better than a horse, and, of course, no trotting! We walked single file through the countryside looking for big game. Saw impalas, kudus, and wart hogs. Stopped at a big water hole to let the elephants drink. Got back to camp just as the sun was setting over a ridge. A great experience! Then they let us all feed little sweet kibbles to the elephants. You put your hand out and they suck them up with their trunk. neat! Then, another great dinner and to bed for the last time. :-(