Sunday, August 30, 2015

Victoria Falls Day

I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it was another early morning. We were visiting Victoria Falls today and some of us had other sightseeing adventures planned. We had to see the falls in the morning so we could get to our other adventures afterwards.

On the way to the falls, Michael, the bus driver, drove us by a sacred tree called the Baobab Tree. The circumference of the tree is 26ft.  It is 85 ft tall and between 1000-1500 years old.  the baobab tree has a huge significance in the African history and culture.

This info was grabbed from another website...

The baobab tree is a symbol of strength, wisdom, health, long life and beauty. It is a sacred link to the past, and is sometimes associated with the beginning of creation. The baobab tree is often referred to as the “upside-down tree” because its branches resemble roots sticking up. Thought to live thousands of years, the baobab has deep roots to enable it to find water underground, and it stores water in its trunk during rainy months to sustain it through the dryer periods.

The trunk provides shelter to people and animals, especially birds. People weave rope mats, paper and cloth from its fibrous bark, which regrows after it`s stripped from the tree. Baobab leaves are used as condiments and medicines for fevers and other ailments.

In the spring, the tree bursts forth, exquisite flowers, which then become fruit. The gourd-like shell contains a white pulp that`s used in porridge and juices. African peoples treasure the baobab fruit for its extraordinary health properties. Plentiful in antioxidants such as vitamin C, and packed with fibre, this super fruit contains most of the nutrients needed to live a long, healthy life.

One myth is that a lion will have you for dinner if you pick a flower from the baobab tree. Or, if you drink water soaked in baobab seeds hungry crocodiles won`t eat you.

There are many legends about how the tree came into being. One is about the god Thora who didn`t like the baobab in his garden, and so he threw it down where it landed on earth – upside down yet still growing. Another story is that the gods became so angry by the beautiful baobab`s conceit that they turned it upside down to teach it a lesson. In time, the tree became stronger and helped the African peoples thrive, as they too grew more resilient. Through the ages and across the African continent, people have told many versions of this legend. Yet the story always comes back to the unique circumstances of the tree, and its willingness to give so generously to the African peoples.

After a quick lesson in the baobab tree, and watching some Zimbabwean men come out of the bushes  to sell the tourists (us) their Zimbabwean crafts and money that is no longer in circulation, we were off to the falls. 

The bus parked in a parking lot across from entry gate into the falls area.  The parking lot has similar singers and dancers like the airport least they weren't singing that Lion Sleeps Tonight song. There were crafts being sold in the parking lot as well. 

We entered the gate after reading a little about the falls, and immediately head the rush of the water.  we walked down to an overlook and it was breathtaking to see how much water was falling off of a 300ft ledge.

Livingstone- Discovered Victoria Falls
The mist from the falls would come and go, and it was almost like being in a rain forest.  Good thing we wore our raincoats.  We continued to walk the 1.3 mile length of the falls, stopping at overlooks to catch the views of the falls.  It was spectacular.  Pictures really can't do it justice though.  The sound, mist and dizziness experienced from looking over the edge is something that you would have to experience to really get a good feeling of the beauty of it all. During the winter months (the time we were visiting), the water flow is less, so you are able to see more because the mist is "at a minimum." During the summer months the water flow covers the entire ledge and the mist is so strong that in some spots where we were able to walk out and look over the edge, you wouldn't have been able to do that.

Walking to the end of the falls, we saw the bridge that people bungee jump off of. The thought of bungee jumping crossed my mind for about 3 seconds.  Then, I thought about the country that I was in and how they probably do not have as many safety rules, and nixed the idea. We do have a friend from high school that was just over in Zimbabwe the week before we got there, and she bungee jumped and survived. :) We also got to see someone bungee off of the bridge, and that was quite a site.  They hung upside down for a few minutes before they were picked up by the worker and hoisted to the top.  I didn't see any wet spots in their pants...but we were a pretty good distance from them, so who knows...

Bungee jump bridge

The walk and picture taking took about an hour and a half to complete. Mo, Mrs. Healy, Ian, Karen and I had an appointment to take a helicopter ride to see the falls after we were done walking it.  I wanted to get some pictures of the falls from the air, and was excited to get up and check it out.  Laurie didn't need to go.  She said that she will take a look at my pictures when I got back. 

We got to the helicopter pad and signed some waivers that said something about giving all of our assets to the helicopter company if we don't make it back, but I don't really know the details, I didn't read it...thankfully we made it back.  One group ahead of us went up, then it was our turn. 

The flight lasted 13 minutes and it was just enough time to see what you needed to see of the falls and the Zambezi river.  The mist from the falls is so prevalent from miles away.  We had the best of both worlds by being able to see the falls from the ground level and from the air. 

Zambezi River

After our helicopter adventure, we got a ride back to the hotel.  We were having another farewell dinner tonight for those of us having to leave tomorrow, and had about 4 hours to relax or explore before dinner. We ate lunch and watched a "vulture feeding" at 1pm. The hotel feeds the vultures scraps from last night's dinner.  They do this to preserve the vulture population. If not, vultures feed on farmers' cows and other animal carcasses that lions or leopards kill, but the farmers will poison the carcasses to try and kill the cats and stop them from eating their farm animals.  When the vultures eat the poisoned carcass, they too are poisoned and die. Vultures are crucial to the eco system. 

After lunch Laurie and I hung out on the top floor where there was a sitting area with a couch and a couple of comfy chairs to hang out in.  It was an awesome spot for looking out at the watering hole and watching warthogs, impala, crocodiles trying (and failing) to catch storks on the banks and many other animals come down to grab a drink of water.  I caught up on some emails and Laurie read a little bit between watching the animals. 

Dinnertime came quickly, but the 4 hour relaxation was much needed after 2 weeks of going non-stop. While we were relaxing, Matt walked over to the Zambia side of the river and got some great pictures of the falls.  Mo and her mom caught the trolley into town and walked around.  Others relaxed by the pool or took a nap. 

Dinner was good but the conversation was better.  We had a few tables with our group members at them and we all reminisced about this trip, past trips and future trips that we would like to eventually take.  Don, our tour guide, really did an excellent job of making everyone feel that we were the only people in the world.  We sang happy birthday to our Aussie friend Karen, and her husband Ian presented her with a Southern Cross pendant for her necklace. the night was winding down and slowly people started leaving the tables and heading for their rooms.  We watched a hyena browsing through the leftover scraps from today's vulture feeding. There was a sadness in the air, as most of our group was leaving in the morning.  Only 4 members from our group were going on to Botswana for 2 more days.  Laurie and I had something to look forward to tomorrow. We were doing a lion walk with a lion rescue group outside of town.  It was going to be a 4:45am wake-up call, but it was going to be awesome.  It should be a great way to end an amazing trip. 

Ian presenting Karen her birthday gift

The Kims

From the left: Don (tour guide and friend), Mrs. Healy, Marg, Mo, Laurie and Matt

From left: Val, Vanessa, Terrance, Cameron, Ian, Karen, Cheryl & Kayla

Sorry the pictures are so dark! 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Trip to Zimbabwe

Monday, August 10

Another early wake-up call this morning. Today we are going to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls.  We are flying from Johannesburg to Vic Falls airport. After breakfast, we say goodbye to our friends that are going back to reality and their daily lives. Those of us that are staying are sad for our friends, but glad that we are staying...and thinking about how many days it will be before we are in their shoes.

Johannesburg airport is humongous! I thought Atlanta airport was big.  It's nothing compared to Jo-Burg. After walking our 10,000 steps for the day by the time we get to the gate, we are all worn out and ready for a nap. It's a 2 hour plane ride, so that might be possible.  We are flying back through Jo-Burg so this will be the last place that we would be able to buy souvenirs if we wanted to.

Don, our tour guide, warned us before we got to Zimbabwe that the Visa line would be about an hour to get through, but to just be patient.  We had no idea what kind of wait we were in for...

The flight was pretty uneventful and we landed safely. We got off the plane in Zimbabwe and the weather was beautiful. It was sunny and about 80 degrees. 

Flags of Zimbabwe
Our group was towards the back of the plane, so we got into the back of the line that lead out of the building and down the wall, then doubled back in front of the building.  It was basically like a snake line with about 150 people in it.  We thought it was moving fairly quickly and had a good attitude about it...well, 2 hours later we were FINALLY in Zimbabwe with our Visa and passport stamp. getting a Visa consisted of paying a man at a desk $35 each person to get in, getting a hand written receipt, then handing our passport to another person at the same desk and getting a hand written Visa and passport stamp.  The whole process for Laurie and I took about 5 minutes.  So you can imagine how long we stood in line after the 737 that we flew in was a full flight.  We could have complained, but we were in another country that has their own way of doing things.

After we were through customs, we were greeted by the bus driver and luggage porters that carted our luggage to the bus.  There was also a group of singers in the parking lot that were serenading us with a capella African music...The Lion Sleeps Tonight. (by the end of this trip we'll have heard that song 10 times. It seems like the singers know what the tourists like to hear...hmmm...entrepreneurs) We took the bus to our hotel that was only about 10 minutes away from the airport.  The hotel was located within the Zambezi National Park. The property was big, with a nicely thatched roof guard shack, warthogs grazing in the green grass, birds chirping and a huge thatched roof building for the hotel.  This was the place to stay in Victoria Falls, apparently.

View of lodge from the watering hole. (I did not take this picture)
Our room...or one like it. (I didn't take this pic either)
Deck to overlook watering hole where many animals come to drink throughout the day
Pool area...the water was cold! A few of our group members did brave the cold water though.
After dropping our bags in the our rooms and getting right back on the bus, we were off for a sunset booze cruise on the Zambezi River. We boarded the two story boat and our group took the top platform. There were tables and chairs setup for us to relax at while we cruised the river and were offered spirits and appetizers.  Our group was fun. We were ready to relax after a long day of travel and standing in line at the customs counter.  We laughed and joked, and saw a lot of hippo and crocodiles again.  We saw the spray from Victoria Falls off in the distance and got an idea of just how big they are. 



Mama and baby


African sunset

After a magnificent sunset, we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. Don told us of a restaurant called Boma, located on the grounds of the hotel property, that offered a unique African dining experience. We were very interested in checking it out because Don also told us that Boma served different kinds of meat...warthog, kudu and more.  Sweet!

We freshened up a little before dinner, then made our way over to Boma.  We made reservations for 18, so our table was long enough to seat our entire group.  We got to the door of the restaurant (it was an open air restaurant with a thatched roof) and were handed a colorful wrap to wear around our shoulders.  We were in for an authentic African dining experience...

Here's Laurie's wrap
  We walked into the buffett area where our table was and walked right past a lamb spit that was roasting on a fire. There was a barbeque aroma in the air.  the place looked like an African village on the inside.  an African village full of food.  If this was authentic African dining, I am not sure how Africans stay so skinny.  We ate and ate and ate and ate....various kinds of meat, vegetables, salads, desserts and everything you could think of.  Here we are, almost all the way through our trip and we haven't stopped eating since we landed 2 weeks ago.

Our table
 When we were slowing our chompers down a little, we heard drumming starting to take place. All of sudden 4 people came out of nowhere and started jumping and dancing around with some cool drums and music playing.

The dancing and music was wonderful. The musicians were very talented and all of the people had great rhythm. That girl can move!

 After some more dancing, they performers took a break.  Then, some other guys started handing out drums to all of the restaurant patrons. Of course that's when things got very loud because we all started behaving like 3 year olds who have been given a new drum set for Christmas. Ian and I were getting dirty looks from people around us because our drum beating was very loud and a little obnoxious. They just didn't understand the sound of good drumming.  After all of the patrons had a drum in their hand, we were given drumming lessons by the main drummer.  The 4 or 5 drumming performers kept a cool African beat, while the restaurant patrons tried to keep a cool African beat.  After losing a drumming contest against the other half of the restaurant, the drum crew asked everyone to come down to the middle of the restaurant for a dancing circle.  We all danced and jumped around to some drumming and then mo got pulled into the middle of the circle to dance and run around.  She did great! Then, I got chosen to go into the middle of the circle and dance and I ran around the circle for a second and then gave a mediocre Michael Jackson spin around move and chose someone else to join the circle.  It was lot of fun and energy and we all needed that to work off our buffet feast calories. 

 After all of the excitement, we headed back to the hotel. Before going to our room,  Laurie and I stopped to look out on the watering hole to see if we could spot any animals coming for a late night drink. Just as Laurie was about to walk away because we didn't see anything, I spotted something coming out of the darkness.  It was a herd of elephants walking down for a drink.  There were about 5 of them! It was so cool to be able to sit on the balcony of the hotel bar area and watch wild elephants from about 2 football fields away.  What a great first day in Zimbabwe.  I can't wait to see Victoria Falls early in the morning.