We took a quick trip to Victoria Falls last week. Victoria Falls is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and is located on the border of Zambia, Zimbabwe and pretty close to Bostwana too. We decided to see it from Zimbabwe, and stay in the town of Victoria Falls.
Here’s a bit of canned details from wonderslist.com:
The Victoria Falls “The Smoke That Thunders” is a waterfall in southern Africa on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is often called the largest waterfall in the world, although it is neither the highest nor the widest. It has a width of 1.7 kilometers (1 miles) and height of 108 meters (360 ft), roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls. In combined height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by South America’s Iguazu Falls.
When we arrived we noticed right away that everything was flat. This was very perplexing to me. I did not really have a chance to do much geographical research but I knew the falls were very high. So how were there “falls” anywhere, since that denotes starting at great heights and ending in lower heights. I just couldn’t quite figure it out because every other waterfall I’ve seen has been from the bottom, looking up. This time it was from the top, looking down, but still I saw no mountains. It looked like there was spray coming up from a giant hole over on the edge of town. Here’s what I found out:
Victoria Falls is the result of soft sandstone that fills huge cracks in the hard basalt rock of the plateau. As the Upper Zambezi flowed across the plateau in ancient times, it found the cracks and started wearing away the softer rock, eventually creating a series of gorges.
Well now that makes a little more sense. And indeed as we got closer we saw the very deep canyon with the Zambezi river flowing through at the bottom.
We stayed at a hotel called Cresta Sprayview, which sounded like it would be perched just next to the falls. Well, notsomuch. Evidently the spray can be seen for up to 30 km away so I guess a lot of hotels could call themselves “sprayview”. Victoria Falls is a pretty small town with one main street, a number of shops, a LOT of vendors trying to sell you their wares and wild pigs and monkeys in the town square area. It was nice enough to stay there for 3 days while seeing the falls but no one from Sherman, Inc felt like they needed to return or stay any longer.
The Falls From The Bridge
The falls themselves can be seen from several different viewpoints and angles. First we went to the bridge that spans the canyon, under which runs the Zambezi river after it cascades down over the falls. That bridge separates Zimbabwe from Zambia and we had to go through a special border control to get a bridge pass (you can only walk the bridge without a passport but you can’t go to the other side). That was pretty easy, and it was fun to cross over the bridge, see the spray from the falls, see the crazy bungee jumper and check out the river below. And we got to say we’ve been to Zambia!
The Falls From The Park
After the bridge visit we walked down the road back towards town a ways to the natural park area on the Zimbabwe side and paid a crazy high fee to get in (over $100 USD for the 4 of us). They had a nice long path that had 16 different viewpoints of the falls. We had heard you would get wet from the spray and that you could rent rain ponchos for the afternoon. Somehow we missed the Rain Poncho Vendor, although we certainly were accosted by all the other guys. Regardless, we figured a little spray was no big deal. Right? Ugh.
As we progressed down the path and saw the falls from different angles, we became more and more aware of our HUGE mistake in not getting protection from the spray. By viewpoint 14 we were soaking wet, head to toe. I was trying to protect my phone inside my purse and Haley was taking very quick pictures and then tucking away her camera again. By the time we got to the end, the closest viewpoint to the falls, you could hardly see anything. It was like you were just taking a shower and everything was white. It’s crazy how much water was billowing up from the thundering water across the chasm from us. And the vegetation near the spray area is completely different from the vegetation outside of the spray zone. It’s like it has it’s own little micro-climate in that little swatch of land. It’s fascinating.
They were breathtaking in their beauty. It’s really hard to put into words. They were loud and full. We heard that this year has been a good year for rain so they are fuller than normal for this time of year. But they reach their peak volume in May or June. I cannot imagine how wet people get then!
The next day Dan and the girls decided to do The Flying Fox which is essentially a zipline where you lay down as if you’re flying, over the canyon. I decided to do The Cappuccino from the comfort of The Cafe (no laying down required). A good time was had by all.
The Big Tree
Our taxi driver took a detour on the way back to our hotel and showed us The Big Tree, which was appropriately named. It was big!
Zambezi River Cruise
While we were there we also decided to take a short river cruise on the Zambezi. It was nice to have the boat to ourselves, entirely by luck, and our guide was very knowledgeable about all the birds we were seeing, as well as other animals that hang out in the river.
And then we saw them… HIPPOS. Oh I do love hippos! It was so cool to see them all hanging out in a pod, watching us. They started to get aggressive the closer we got and made us aware that they were none too happy. We learned so much about hippos that day and now we love them even more. Granted, they are a pretty dangerous animal but boy are they CUTE in a “I can kill you in an instant” kind of way!
Zimbabwe was an interesting country, even with the tiny glimpse of it that we got. They use US currency in addition to their own newly issued currency which is supposed to be 1 to 1 for the US dollar. If you know the history of the currency in Zimbabwe, you’ll know that we tried to NOT get their money as change. Didn’t want to be stuck with anything. And there are street vendors that will try to sell you some of their old money as a keepsake. It’s weird seeing money with 12 zeros on it. Seriously. I saw bills that said 1,000,000,000,000 and even higher. Crazy. Of course, it’s just a keepsake now. That’s not their new money.
Something you may not know, but Zimbabwe has a very high literacy rate, the highest in Africa at 91% literate. But a very low life expectancy (high 50’s) and unemployment is as high as 80% according to our taxi driver. It’s mind boggling really. It makes you wonder how people survive. But they do.
Victoria Falls was a great little jaunt out of South Africa and helped us see how other African nations are different than their Southern neighbor. Africa has a culture so distinctly different and all it’s own and yet within the continent, all the countries are also different from each other. You really have to see it to understand it. We definitely don’t claim to understand it, but at least being here we are getting a little taste for the real thing. Shakira said it best: “It’s time for Africa.”