The sun cresting the horizon over the Batoka Gorge stung my eyes as I slowly returned to the waking world to the sound of a gentle orchestral refrain. It took a few groggy moments for my brain to kick in and realise that it was my alarm which had been ringing for almost an hour. It was 0650. We had arranged to meet at the breakfast bar at 0700. Like a springbok, I leapt from my bed, feet finding purchase on a rug that found none on the smooth floor. Catching myself from falling to a painful concussion as the rug fled my sweaty feet, I dashed through a skin meltingly hot shower, threw on my clothes, zipped up my case and miraculously made it to the bar at a few seconds past 7.
Karry regarded me curiously as I arrived, and handed me a tea. We were alone save for the staff. The group had rearranged for 0730 and i hadn’t been informed. Feeling slightly foolish, Karry and I laughed and talked and admired the sunrise. An aching feeling came over me. The excitement of adventure to come and the beauty of the sunrise in her company, laced with the looming shadow of knowing that I was leaving her.
We embraced, said our farewells and then, heartsore, I climbed into the bus unsure as to how to deal with these conflicting emotions.
Our first stop was the Victoria Falls Hotel, originally set up in 1904 as a place for the workers building the bridge to stay. Over the years it grew into one of the most prestigious hotels in then Rhodesia, and commands stunning views over the bridge and falls beyond. We had a tour of the grand hotel, seeing the different suites before enjoying breakfast in the restaurant.
From the Victoria Falls Hotel, we wound our way down to the falls themselves where we met up with Butch and headed into the rainforest, first heading West to the Livingstone Statue and the Devil’s Cataract.
There, Pej and I sat in a canoe and pretended to be explorers in the shadow of the Livingstone Statue. Butch explained that the Devil’s Cataract, the first part of the falls, were so named as the tribes reportedly used to throw people in, either as sacrifices or as punishment.
We walked along the top of the falls, winding our way through a rainforest that receives 24/7 “rainfall” from the spray from the falls. The majesty and grandeur of 550 million litres per second cascading down into the river below cannot be exaggerated. Livingstone himself is quoted as saying “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” and I found myself unable to disagree.
There’s not really much that I can say about the falls that pictures don’t communicate better.
We finally came to Danger Point, the highest point of the falls, with no barriers. There under the spray we got absolutely drenched but also some stunning photos of the Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pot beyond.
From the falls we walked back to our transfer, and stopped off at the curio market to buy some souvenirs. I picked up four beautifully painted hand made stone bowls after some serious haggling.
After we finished shopping, the others clambered into the transfer whilst I rode in the cab with Butch and talked about Zimbabwe and eco-tourism. I told him flat out there and then that I wanted to live and work in Zimbabwe. I meant it. I had found a country I loved, and a woman that I loved even more.
We eventually reached our turnoff where the tar road met the dirt track that would take us to Zambezi Sands, our final lodge of the tour. We met Clint and a few of the other Imvelo staff, before hopping in for another long game drive to the rivers edge.
We came finally to Zambezi Sands itself, wonderful stilted rooms right on the water’s edge. We enjoyed a light lunch of fish and salad before retiring for a few moments to freshen up ready for the afternoon’s activity; canoeing down the Zambezi.
I think it’s fair to say that, as we prepped for our adventure, Pej and Paula were more than a little hesitant, but neither wanted to miss out on the experience. So it was that Paula shared a boat with Blessed, our guide, and Pej sat in the front of mine, as I’d done a fair bit of canoeing up and down the Thames when I had lived on the boat there.
We set off down stream in our two-man canoes and it wasn’t long at all before disaster struck. Reaching our first corner, with neither myself nor Pej communicating properly and Pej panicking a little at the corner, we drove the boat into a full spin around the corner, getting ourselves stranded on a reed bank midstream. Try as we might, we couldn’t shift the boat from the reeds, which had bent under us holding us fast. I could hear Blessed yelling something at us, but couldn’t make out what it was. Then I heard Butch yelling, a hippo had surfaced maybe 20 feet from us – way too close for comfort.
“I am not jumping in!” echoed in my head. So I did. Without pausing for thought (else I’d not have done it) I vaulted over the side of the canoe and began to drag it from the reed bed. After several hard tugs (and submerging myself after losing my footing) the canoe finally slid free and I found myself clinging to the side of a canoe drifting downstream. It was only when I felt things (hopefully fish) moving past my legs that the situation dawned on me that I was in the Zambezi, a river full of crocs and hippos. Several panicked attempts to clambered back in later, and I finally flopped back into the boat.
From there the going was absolutely fine. Pej and I found our rhythm and we finished the rest of the journey without hitch, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just before sunset we landed on the banks where Butch and Clint met us with drinks.
Back at Zambezi Sands after a sadly barren night Safari, we enjoyed a fishy dinner before moving onto the verandah to sit around a fire pit on the river’s edge telling stories. I was utterly bushed from the late night before and, missing Karry terribly, I retired early for some sleep.