Sunday, October 30, 2011

Victoria Falls!

The kids had a few days off school for 'spring break,' so Katy and I decided to head out on an adventure with them. David had to work, so we'd be leaving him behind. At first, we were planning a grand road trip - including days at Matopos, Hwange and Vic Falls. It's about 2-3 days driving each way. Well, my dear sweet,  paranoid concerned brother didn't like the idea of the womenfolk (and childfolk) embarking on this journey alone. In a mini-van. With no 4WD. So, we decided to fly and just concentrate on Victoria Falls. We could make the trip a little shorter and David wouldn't have to miss his kids so much (and Katy and I wouldn't have to miss any ultimate frsbee games. Priorities, I tell ya!)

Now, as you might imagine, flying on Air Zimbabwe is a challenge of it's own...  the airline was actually shut down for several months and has only recently started flying again. It's reputation is less than stellar for reliability, safety and overall quality.  As a matter of fact, some days the planes don't fly at all. And for no apparent reason. It's the only choice between Harare and Vic Falls, though, so we risked it...  Good fortune was on our side and our flights actually ran on time (very unusual) and we survived. But they were some of the steepest, bumpiest descents/landings I have ever experienced. At one point, both Katy and I were holding on to our children for dear life...

But I digress... let's talk about the fun we had in Vic Falls!!!  This was Katy's second trip to the falls and my 5th. (Zavion's first.)  The falls is listed as one of the seven wonders of the natural world and they do not disappoint. We were taken in by an old friend of my, Brent ('old' as in we've known each other for a long time, not age...) and he and his family totally took care of us. A place to stay, a car to drive, good friends to hang out with and, because he owns one of the adventure companies, he also sorted out all of our excursions and activities. THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, BRENT!

The town of Vic Falls is lower and much smaller than Harare.  It was HOT- so everyday included pool time, which suited the kids just fine. :)  Throughout the little town, you see baboons and vervet monkeys trolling about, warthogs grazing on the side of the road, birds everywhere and the evidence of the elephants that occasionally wander through town. Many of the houses sport large holes in their walls/fences where the elephants have crashed through. And, not being the most courtious of houseguests, they always leave through a different spot - creating TWO giant holes in said wall/fence. It's also not unheard of for lions, giraffes or other wildlife to make an appearance. The river skirts the town, but isn't suitable for plopping in for a swim - what with the crocs and hippos upstream and the class V rapids downstream... it's pretty to look at and great for boating/rafting, though.

We arrived on a Sunday and were going to go on a sunset cruise in Brent's boat. Unfortunately, the water level had dropped significantly since his last outing, and we couldn't get the boat in the water.  Not to worry, we enjoyed drinks by the river - kids playing in the playground - and watched a beautiful African sunset...

The next day, we hung out in the town - went to see the falls in the morning before it got too hot. There are several kilometers of walking trails across the gorge from the falls - with several viewpoints and specatacular scenery all around. The falls create their own rainforest, so even though it is the dry season and the land is parched elsewhere, along the gorge, the landscape is lush and verdent. The water level is at its lowest this time of year (in April, there is several times the flow that there is now,) but the falls are still lovely. More of a series of cascades then one huge wall of water. And easier to see this time of year - during heavy flow, you can't really see the falls for all of the spray. And you need serious raingear. We had a lovely walk - enjoying the coolness of the mist, the greenery and the monkeys. Oh yea, and that little trickle of water called Victoria Falls. As usual, I took far too many pictures... here are a few.

First view

park friend

See the dead bushes? That's all that is protecting you (and the kiddos) from plummeting down into the gorge. Keep a close eye on the kids, for sure.

so pretty

Yes, those are people right on the edge of the falls. (this can only be done during the low water season)

This is the part of the falls that really dries up during the dry season. This is one solid sheet of water in April!

Still an impressive amount of water - even in the low season!

An afternoon at the pool at Ilala Lodge and a yummy dinner at the Vic Falls Safari Lodge rounded out an excellent day. And made for some tired kiddos.

How afternoons are supposed to be enjoyed :)

Sunset at the safari lodge. Warthogs and crocs (and later elephants) in the waterhole below.

The next day, we took a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. Up early, drive across the border, a boat safari on the river, lunch and pool time at a hotel, game drive in the afternoon and back home (after a VERY long wait at the border getting back into Zim.)  All in all, a great day - no big cats, but we saw painted dogs, giraffes, hippos, warthogs, crocs, monitors, buffalo, lots of antelope and a TON of elephants!! We're talking ellies as far as the eyes could see... And the highlight for the kids? A giant crocodile feasting on a dead elephant in the water. Ahh, nature :)

On the boat.

Someone needs to tell this elephant that he's with the wrong species. (Cape Buffalo) 

Monitor lizard (AKA legavan)

National Geographic shot

This cheeky elephant was having a blast!

mud bath! 
Check out the size of that croc's head! Yummy.

Waiting his turn...


We were lucky to see these painted dogs - they are quite elusive.

The 'five legged' elephant. This sure brought up some interesting questions from the boys...

This picture is for you, mom. Pretty, isn't it?

Sable - another usually elusive creature :)

A hot drive back to Zimbabwe, an even hotter wait at the border (they had run out of visas and someone had to travel several kilometers to bring new ones back,) and a nice dinner with Brent and his family rounded out another great day.

On day three, Katy and I split up so she could go rafting. I would have loved to go, but there would have been nothing to do with the kids. Since I had already rafted the Zambezi several times and Katy never had, it was a no-brainer for her to go. And she loved it (though was suitably terrified :)) Check out her blog as I'm sure she'll have an update all about it soon :).  The kids and I had an adventure of our own - spending the morning at the crocodile farm and the afternoon swimming and lunching at The Kingdom.

Petting the baby croc. When asked if they wanted to hold it, both boys said, 'No way!' But Eliza...

...jumped at the chance and was the bravest by far :)

Not to be outdone by his little sister, Miles stepped up.

Zavion gave it a go, but the little croc snapped at him and Z was over it :)

Yes, that is a pile of crocodiles. A little disturbing... according to Zavion and Eliza (peering over my shoulder as I write this,) their names are Cool, Sprinkles, Handsome, Toilet, Glitter, Hero, Weewee, Oshodaham, Skippipzip, Feloshure, Hedgie and Iyaham. 

Feeding time!

Mmmm... those children look delicious!

Though the kids loved the crocodile farm and begged to go back the next day - I found the whole place a little depressing. There were other animals in cages, too, that just looked sad. On the way out, there was a shop selling all manner of crocodile skin merchandise. Eliza was immediately drawn to a hot pink crocodile skin purse that she just HAD to have, but I was able to talk her out of it. That afternoon, we hit the pool at The Kingdom, had some lunch and waited for Katy to return from her river adventure.

The boys relaxing after a hard swim

It may look like the boys are just striking a pose, but look closely....

This butterfly was attracted to the blues in both Zavion's and Miles' swim trunks and spent a good amount of time on each. The kids were thrilled.

The next day (that would be Thursday, for those of you keeping track,) I decided to do the gorge swing for a bit of an adrenalin rush (I had bungee jumped the last time I was here and this was slightly different.) Katy was off and on about whether she'd join me, but in the end, she did and we did it in tandem. FROM THE BROCHURE -
Imagine swinging in a child's swing in the imagine a giant swing 95m long and 120m high above imagine a 70m free fall before you begin swinging. Stop imagining and come and try it out! Our highwire is suspended across the gorge at a point where the width is 316m and 120m deep. A harness is attached to the jumper and then the jumping ropes, the other end of which is pivoted to the middle of the cable. The jumper leaps off the edge of the gorge, free falling about 70m before going into a 95m long pendulum type swing.  What a rush!
We explained to the kids what we were doing and we all went to the gorge together (with Brent - who was kind enough to watch the kiddos and take pictures while K and I plummeted into the canyon below.)

The Batoka Gorge - site of the gorge swing

Katy and the kids checking it out

At this point, Zavion walked up to me and said these words; "Um, Mom, are you SURE you want to do this? You're very brave for trying, but I will be a little scared for you." sweet. 

Making a fashion statement in our harnesses.

Making our way to the edge...

The following is the conversation between Katy and Reason (the name of the dude on the platform that hooked us up and sent us flying.)
R- I will count down from 5 and then you will jump.
K- What are we going to jump ON?
R- You will jump OFF this platform and INTO the gorge.
K-No, are we jumping ON one or AFTER one?
R-I will say 54321 and then you will jump.
K- Hear that, Tracy, we are jumping AFTER one!

(Not that it would matter, if one of us jumped, the other was coming along. Nice stalling tactic, though, Katy :))

And we jumped. And it was awesome. Katy pedaled her legs frantically the whole time as if she could outrun the fall. Apparently, the kids were yelling, 'Go, Mommies!' but we couldn't hear them through the wind in our ears and our own ear-piercing screams. My throat was actually sore from the yelling :) We fell too fast and too far for a good picture, but Brent videod it. Basically, it's us screaming and disappearing quickly over the cliff and then reappearing as a tiny dot swinging across the gorge below. I highly recommend it. A great sister-in-law bonding moment :)

Being hauled back up to the platform after the swing. We are giddy.

After another afternoon spent swimming at the Ilala Lodge pool, we met up with Brent and family and tried the sunset cruise again. Turned out to be more of an adventure than any of us bargained for :)  The boat was still not in the water and it took about 20 men 45 minutes to dislodge it from the mud and get it floating. We hung out watching the warthogs, playing with a crab and keeping the kids from getting too close to the hippo and croc infested water (while the men were knee deep in it!)

This guy kept us entertained

Along with this guy

Zavion, Katy and Jodi (Brent's daughter) looking on...

Heave ho!

Finally - on the boat :) That's Zavi, Miles and Mitchell (Brent's son.)

It was a lovely evening and from the boat we saw hippos, crocs and elephants. At one point, while trying to get closer to the elephants, the boat got stuck on a sandbar. Brent had to get out to physically move the engine and he was visibly nervous (a couple of years ago, he had been attacked by a croc while skulling on this very river.) He finally got us floating again, but now the engines wouldn't start. Well, we could always just float down river, right? Except... for that tiny waterfall a couple of kilometers down river. Hmmmm.... finally got the boat started again and then there was a question of running out of gas. Well, if we can't float, maybe we could just anchor for the night. Except.... is that a huge electrical storm on the horizon? And we're in a metal boat? With no lights? Ha. Well, needless to say, we made it relatively unscathed - and enjoyed good drinks, snacks and company -along with a beautiful sunset. I love Africa.

Brent, our fearless leader, and Jodi.

Checking out the elephants and the sunset. I believe this is right about the time that we got stuck...


It was definitely more exciting than if we had paid $65 per person for the touristy cruises! Oh, and I should mention that I got the crap scared of me by a croc swimming right up to the boat - between the pontoons!

On our final day in town, we were scheduled to take a late morning flight. Well, Brent had a little surprise for us on the way to the airport. He brought us to his elephant rescue center and let us ride on and feed the elephants! It was so cool and such a great way to end our trip. The kids loved it. All of these elephants had been rescued (including one whose trunk was bitten off by something (lion? hyena?) as a baby.)

Miles, the big boy, got to ride alone with the guide. Note that his elephant is the one with the bitten off trunk.

Katy and Eliza

Me and Z

Brent showing us the proper way to feed the elephants.

Zavion gives it a try

"Their little hairs are so prickly!"


This elephant is copping a feel!

That's better :)

All in all, it was a great trip and fun was had by kids and mommies alike. Thanks again, Brent, for EVERYTHING and it was so good to see you after all these years!  If any of you are ever planning a trip to Vic Falls, please look into Brent's company for accomodation, activity planning, etc. 

Thanks for reading. Until next time...

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