Zimbabwean leg
The Vic Falls Municipal campsite, though centrally situated, was certainly nothing to write home about. The cold or at best lukewarm showers were generally overcrowded, unless one got in early. And campers' tents there certainly were, scattered all over the place in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. Vic Falls was indeed a international backpacker's crossroad, a meeting place, a hub of social activity. Much has been written about the over commercialisation of Vic Falls and the stress and impact on the environment and the need for more controlled and planned growth.

The immediate priority after settling in was to book for the multitude of excursions available in town, one of the most prominent agencies, Shearwater, being located just across the road.Everyone succumbed to the lure of a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. My bravado being somewhat more tempered than some of my fellow Whichwayer's exuberant joie de vivre, bungee jumping was not an option for me at this stage, though white water rafting was! As it turned out, we had organised ourselves perfectly into two separate teams of eight each. The Microlighting activity was literally "grounded" owing to some irregularity having taken place on the part of the organiser and so, as the Ultralighting activity was booked out anyway, that left a helicopter flight over Vic Falls as the only option available, in order to view the falls from altitude.

Needless to say, all this was adding up to a princely sum but then again, you only live once, and I had adopted the attitude of making the most of each and every opportunity! The sunset cruise is alternatively referred to as the "booze" cruise, for obvious reasons. No sooner have you stepped onto the raft after crossing the Zambian border post at Vic Falls Bridge, then you have an alcoholic beverage in the form of beer or wine thrust in your hand! Before you've even finished this, you are vociferously encouraged into accepting the next drink! Snacks, insufficient in terms of quantity, were also served.
Game there certainly was in abundance, though it almost went unnoticed. Elephant and giraffe on the riverbank and in the water crocodile, perhaps waiting for a booze-cruiser to lose his or her footing and plummet into the water below. This was truly an exquisite setting, the tranquil scene enhanced even more by the setting sun seemingly just beyond the trees towards the horizon, hanging over the blue waters, bathing it in orange, a moment one hoped would last forever. Though not excessively inebriated but in some state of disrepair, the task of recording this beauty on camera was no mean feat! The party was in full swing!

A bunch of old timers belonging to another tour group, whom I had thought would be appalled at our lot, were by no means being outdone. Jo, for instance, was being chatted up much better by one old geezer! The mood on the boat was one of joviality yet the behaviour sensible. Back at the camp, I clearly wasn't in the mood for an early night. A few of us grabbed a pizza in town and had some wine back at the truck.

We set off after breakfast for Vic Falls hotel, where our two rafting teams were formed. We received a hilarious introductory lecture by our compere par excellence. Tea and coffee was served. Helmets and lifejackets donned, we were led down a steep and slippery gorge to the Zambezi. Valuables and excess clothing were placed in a safety deposit. Soon we were in the self-bailing rubber rafts. We went through a rigorous introductory drill, practising righting the raft after capsizing it, sometimes in front of a video camera. Our guide announced himself as Grieto and he was simply great! Friendly, motivating and extremely safety conscious, he often repeated important instructions. It was then off through the rapids. With names like Morning Glory, Gulliver's Travels, The Muncher, The Devil's Toilet Bowl, Terminator and Oblivion, the fear was struck into even the bravest. And so our moment of truth arrived at the second rapid of the day, Stairway to Heaven.

Though Zimbabwe is entirely landlocked, its northern and southern borders are formed by the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, while the artificial 5000 km2 Lake Kariba, which feeds one of the continent's largest hydro-electric stations, is one of the largest bodies of water in southern Africa. The hot, dry Kalahari scrub of the west tilts up to a mild-altitude plateau and temperate highlands along the eastern Mozambique border. Temperatures are moderate to hot, with winter nights in some areas being surprisingly chilly. Annual rainfall figures are low, and drought or semi-drought conditions regular. Rain falls in summer, from November to March. The winter months of May to September offer the best all-round travel conditions. The hottest part of the country, not to mention the most humid, is the Zambezi Valley, also a particularly high-risk malaria area. The coolest area is the highlands along the Mozambique border. The risk of contracting malaria in the dry winter is negligible. A feature of the Zimbabwean terrain is the large granite outcrops known as koppies.

Tourism in Zimbabwe is centred on the magnificent Victoria Falls and the base for the ever-popular bungee jumping and white-water rafting. The largest towns are the capital, Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutari. The population of Zimbabwe numbers 11,500,000. Though the official language is English, other languages are those of the two largest black tribes, Shona and Matabele. Though less popular with backpackers but equally significant, is the ruined medieval city of Great Zimbabwe.The largest game reserves are Hwange, best known for its elephants, which number up to 20,000 at the height of the dry season, and Mana Pools, noted for being one of the few major African game reserves where there are practically no restrictions to exploration on foot, though hitching is not permitted. The eastern highlands offers wonderfully scenic hikes, ranging from serious hikes in the Chimanimani Range to those in the misty forests near the Mozambique border.

By definition, if one is thrown from the raft when going through a rapid, a very likely proposition, one may grab hold of the safety rope on its exterior, if this at all possible. This being achieved, one then becomes what is referred to as a short swimmer. The other more frightening possibility is that one becomes detached from the raft entirely - this condition is referred to as long swimming. As luck would have it, the latter is what transpired at the second rapid. Three of us literally ended up in the drink as the raft tilted to one side. Being submerged and tumbling in water for what seemed an eternity, was a terrifying experience. I caught a glimpse of the blue sky but with too little time in which to take a breath, I soon gulped down another bucket load.
Once in calmer waters again, one is able to make one's way towards a raft, to be rescued. My immediate thought once I had taken up my position in the raft again was: "God, give me a break on the next few rapids." I needed time to recover and couldn't face another episode like that immediately. At each subsequent rapid, we would paddle as if there were no tomorrow, on instructions from Crieto, the guide. Fortunately, luck was on our side and we survived this ordeal until we finally capsized at the Muncher. I ended up underneath the raft, though this wasn't half as bad as being a long swimmer. We stopped for a welcome lunch of grilled sausage and salads before continuing from rapid 10. An all-girl team decided they'd had enough at the halfway point and bailed out, barring one of their members, who joined another crew. Although we all felt lethargic after lunch, we continued to function well as a team. We beat the rest of the rapids from then on and even went through the last one backwards. After carrying our gear up the gorge for what proved an exhausting climb, we enjoyed some drinks, then departed by bus for town, ending what truly was 5 hours of marvellous fun! This was going to be an early evening, though we did go and watch the rafting video first and order photographs which had been taken from the river bank by Shearwater.

After acquiring some Zim dollars at the bank, I went off at about 11h30 to watch those who had elected to do the bungee jump. In all, Faff, Chris, Jo, Mark, Nic and Aviette from our tour group did the jump. A great sense of team spirit prevailed. I took some photos beforehand and also used the motor-drive during some of the jumps, so as to create a sequence of shots. The tension was clearly evident as each one took the plunge, which was soon followed by elation and enormous relief at having completed it successfully. The organisers used their experience in preparing each participant psychologically for the jump. On occasions this involved some humour for light relief: "If the rope snaps and you end up in the water, then remember to swim for the right embankment to avoid the crocodiles!" We watched the videos afterwards once they had been edited and walked back to the camp in time to catch the bus for the helicopter ride scheduled for 15h00. It was spectacular yet over before it had even started.  We watched the second half of the New Zealand versus South Africa rugby match on the box, which served to stir up emotions in the camp. In the evening we booked in and ate pizza at a restaurant across the way from the camp, before heading off into the pub next door. It was packed yet I did not stay long. The rest of the night passed restlessly.
Vic Falls from airborne helicopter SCENES OF ZIMBABWE
After retrieving some washing which I had paid someone to do, I walked down to the Zimbabwe side of Vic Falls and took photographs while wandering through the rain forest. Lying on my stomach with the top part of my chest overhanging the gorge for a photograph was a fairly unnerving experience. I returned to pick up he bungee shots I'd handed in for processing. Showered and then packed in for the next phase of the journey. We drove to Mlibizi via Hwange, arriving in the late afternoon at a beautiful campsite with lawns and excellent ablution facilities, on the southern side of Lake Kariba. It was a tranquil setting, which belied its hidden dangers in the form of crocodile and bilharzia. Ferries could be seen arriving from the other side of the lake. Dinner consisted of a delicious pepper steak rice dish.

Being the first or second to shower in the mornings was now becoming a habit, which on this occasion allowed me to go down to the lake to take a few photographs. After a late breakfast, we pressed on to Binga, travelling on some horrendously bad roads. The campsite being no better, we pressed on through Chizarira National Park. The countryside was extremely rural, the lifestyle seemingly primitive, the landscape scattered with huts and dense vegetation. It was very much the dry season, which on one hand may have made the view less attractive but on the other would reduce the possibility of coming down with malaria. The roads got worse. We stopped for lunch. Events of the last two days had placed me in a particularly bad frame of mind such that I had to force myself to become emotionally detached. The sunset over the hills that evening served to allow me to find solace in the nature surrounding me. We arrived in Karoi late in the evening and a quick pasta was prepared.

A WhichWay adventurer bungee jumping Victoria Falls.
We headed off early into Karoi town. I wandered around looking for a ground mattress, as my self-inflatable mattress had developed a fault, rendering it ineffectual - there were none to be found. I changed $20 Zim at the bank or provisions. Left for Kariba, travelling through beautiful countryside, arriving there in the afternoon. It was hot and the sky was extremely hazy, making it difficult to see the horizon over the lake. The approach to the town was steep, the landscape somewhat reminiscent of a Mediterranean setting. Perhaps it had been the numerous luxury yachts moored side by side in the yacht basin. We struggled to find a suitable spot in the campsite, requiring some careful manoeuvring with the truck from Werner. It was a super campsite, with huge trees affording one ample shade. We went over to the yacht club for a swim in the pool. Prior to sunset we headed off up and down a series of hills for a sunset drive, stopping at a hotel known as "Most highest", Beautiful soap stone curios were being sold in the vicinity. Supper was prepared upon our return to the campsite.

We arose early in order to allow sufficient time to get to the border post at Kariba Dam, which passed without incident, as we drove into Zambia.


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