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Wednesday 15 Feb 2012
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Onward to Mugabeland

'Orrible 3am wakeup call before the long drive back to Windhoek airport to catch the 11am flight. I drove east as the sun rose directly in front of me.... very beautiful.

Once again my phone GPS had to come to rescue, not so much for getting to Windhoek, which was straightforward, but for navigating through Windhoek itself during morning rush-hour. I'd forgotten how undeveloped/badly-maintained Windhoek is and this came back to bite me when I found there were no signs in the city telling me how to get to the airport. It was only because I had my phone with me that I managed to find my way there eventually!

When I got to the airport, I naturally assumed I would be able to fill up at the petrol station before returning the rental car, but alas no petrol station in sight. Clearly this was a cunning way to get you to pay the extortionate fees for a refill, so I denied them the priviledge and drove back the 45km into Windhoek to fill up! The tank was nearly half-empty so it made sense at the time!

My destination-du-jour was to be Zimbabwe, specifically Victoria Falls. I had originally wanted to go the length of Zimbabwe, but this would have meant sacrificing large chunks of Namibia, let alone my enjoyment of the trip as I'd rush around barely having a day to enjoy each place. Zimbabwe has a rich history: long before the white settlers came it was central to the Shona kingdom who built large cities like Great Zimbabwe. I was quick to fall in love with Zimbabwe and discovered it was nowhere near as dangerous as the media make out.

I was on an empty Air Namibia flight up to Vic Falls. I don't see how Air Namibia can remain profitable as most flights I went on were like this. We briefly stopped off in Maun, Botswana to pick up some extra passengers along the way and we had to disembark. It was the rainy season in Botswana and we were welcomed by a tropical thunderstorm as wild winds blew us around the tarmac and left us saturated! Hmm glad I decided to skip Botswana so...

Vic Falls town is directly beside the waterfalls and the airport is quite close to town, but unfortunately we didn't get to fly over the falls on arrival (the closest we could get was about 2km, which allowed us to see the mist flying into the air). It would be roughly 5 days before I would get to see the falls as I was due to head off on safari the next morning.

My first impression of Zimbabwe as we flew in was how green it is when compared to both Namibia and the Western Cape. This is exactly what I wanted, the REAL Africa! I had a choice whether to do a safari in Etosha, Namibia or Hwange, Zimbabwe. I chose the latter as Etosha would have been very dry, whereas Hwange would have lush green African landscapes full of animals.

I decided against getting a double-entry visa when I arrived at Zimbabwe immigration as Lonely Planet specified that you can get into Zambia and back on a day trip with the single entry. Later I found this wasn't so and that I should have gotten a double-entry but it didn't matter as there was little to do on the Zambia side during the wet season as the Devil's Pool was closed due to the high water-level of the falls. The Devil's Pool is famous as the place where you can swim out to the top of the falls and look over the edge.

The price for a single entry visa is normally US$30. I had to pay US$55 as Ireland is considered part of the UK (!) under Mugabe's regime, and this is part of the way they get back at the UK for years of oppression. Curiously enough Canadians also have to pay $55 and aren't allowed double-entry visas... "What did you guys do to tick off Zimbabwe so much?!?" asked the immigration officer as I went through. I have absolutely no idea.

I also had no idea about where I was going to stay nor how cheap/expensive Zimbabwe was going to be.

Fifty Billion Dollar...
Fifty Billion Dollar note

I found out rather quickly that it was going to be expensive. 2 hotels I looked at were priced US$250 and US$500 per night respectively! Zimbabwe apparently used to be a cheap destination when the Zimbabwe Dollar was the currency in use, but the comical hyper-inflation that occurred (Fifty billion dollar notes were commonplace) meant that the US dollar had to be adopted as the standard currency around 3 years ago, which brought a bit of stability to the place, but also meant that prices shot up. They don't use cents here, just paper notes, so the cheapest thing you can find will still cost a dollar, and everything else is typically a multiple of that.

I eventually got a room in a hostel called Shoestrings, which I'd later discover has a notoriety as a party hostel for the Overlander Bus crowd, although it was fairly tame when I was there. Pillows stank of sweat, but apart from that it was centrally located and good place to base myself. Not the friendliest crowd of backpackers staying when I was there though.

Victoria Falls was a town built speficially for tourism so I wasn't going to see the "real" Zimbabwe here. Rather it was tout-heaven with locals following you trying to sell carvings or even old Zimbabwe currency. Everyone seemed to have a shop of some kind: asking a security guard minding the bank for directions to the falls, and he gave me directions to his friend's workshop which is on the way to the falls. At first I was polite and kind in my demeanor which meant they continued to follow me around as I walked through the town. I quickly grew tired of them, though, and developed a rapid-walking, stern-faced demeanor that they possibly found threatening and consequently held back, save for a few die-hards.
In days to come when I returned to Victoria Falls I would understand how desperate they are to get some money for food, and how hard it is to find tourists to sell their wares to.

Victoria Falls Hotel, a...
Victoria Falls Hotel

I took a detour into Victoria Falls Hotel, the original colonial resort built here in 1902 by the British. It is in excellent condition, a museum exhibit in it's own right with a spectacular garden overlooking the gorge beside the falls. You couldn't see the falls themselves, only the mist rising above the rainforest, but it was a perfect picture if ever there was one.

Elephant Turd plat du...
Elephant Turd plat du jour

I decided it was too nice to leave and set myself up on the terrace, sipping several delicious Coffee Martinis, while watching the sun go down. The air was lovely and temperate, in fact Zimbabwe is renowned as having one of the best climates in the world. I was enjoying every minute of it! (despite the touts... who now seemed charming in my martini-fuelled brain)

I stopped off at a restaurant near the railway line close to the Victoria Falls Hotel called "Mama Africa's". The staff were nice, but when I ordered a Croc Tail Napolitana pasta and received a tiny portion of crocodile sitting on one strand of taglietelle costing $25, I knew it was a complete rip-off.

They did sell something called Elephant Turd... gives you the shits apparently.

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Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving

20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

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Photo Album

  • Airport

    Victoria Falls


  • Fifty Billion...

    Victoria Falls


    Fifty Billion Dollar notes
  • Elephant Turd...

    Victoria Falls


    Elephant Turd plat du jour
  • Gorge as...

    Victoria Falls


    Gorge as viewed from "The Lookout"