Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
James McIntosh, February 22 2013
Monday – Chobe National Park
As soon as we arrived we were told to pitch our tents and pack our day packs for a sunset river safari down the Chobe River and into the heart of the national park.
We loaded back into the truck with our cameras ready and the cooler full of beer and we made the short five minute drive down the road to the river dock.
At the dock we found a small speed boat waiting for us and our group squeezed in, with some passengers resorting to sitting on the floor.
As we set sail the hot afternoon sun beat down on the river and we were lucky the boat had a canopy to shade us and keep us cool.
Our river guide’s name was Cherry and as we chugged down the river toward the edge of the national park, he told us if we were lucky we’d we able to see elephants, crocodiles, hippos, water buffalo and a variety of other African wildlife.
Of course up until this point we hadn’t been very lucky on our safaris, so Tarynne didn’t bother bringing the zoom lens she’s quickly fallen in love with. In fact, at one point she even thought about not even bringing the camera because she figured we already had plenty of pictures of elephant poop.
Tarynne’s decision to not bring the zoom lens would quickly turn out to be the worst decision of our entire trip.
As we cruised down the river and into the national park it was only a few minutes until we saw our first piece of wildlife, the African Crocodile.
As soon as we turned away from the crocodile and the piercing gaze of its eyeball just above the surface we looked up to see a herd of elephants marching down the river bank for a drink and a swim.
As we moved closer to the river’s edge to get a better look at the elephants we saw a baby crocodile (a.k.a. 15-years-old) basking in the sun.
After getting unnecessarily closer to the crocodile due to the absence of a zoom lens we continued down the winding river to find a pair of reptiles camouflaged in a tree overhanging the water’s edge.
From under the trees we continued to follow the river as it curved to the left and as we came around the river bend we feasted our eyes upon a single water buffalo laying the the shallow water.
As interesting as this ugly fatty was, there was another crocodile a few meters away so the boat cruised right up, nearly banking on land so zoom-less idiots could get a good shot.
As we crept closer to the the croc there was a loud rustling in the bushes a few meters down the river and suddenly a pack a baboons came tumbling out of shrubbery and down to the river for a drink.
We all excitedly suggested we were over the boring crocodile and wanted to move towards the baboons. Well Cherry agreed, but informed us that unfortunately the battery was dead. So we waited, about 1m away from the crocodile for a jump start.
After another tour boat successfully saved us, we watched the baboons drink, play and pause for a quick mating session (yes, I sang The Bad Touch by the Bloodhound Gang out loud to our boat while the baboons were doing it).
While being entertained by the blue butted baboons, another parade of elephants stumbled out of the trees to the water’s edge.
From the riverbank we headed out toward the marshy reeds in the middle of the river where we were greeted by a large group of hungry hippos.
After closely watching the hippos (T: geez James cuts out the suspenseful parts. The boat died once more. This time it was with another crocodile just a foot from us and with hippos bopping around nearby) we continued down the river taking in the scenery and watching even more elephants, crocodiles and hippos as we went.
On the way back the sun began to set and we watched the orange and red rays of light shine through the acacia trees around us and glisten of the surface of the Chobe River.
When we arrived back at camp Prosper had dinner ready for us. While we ate he explained that we needed to be packed up and ready to go by 6 a.m. the next day, because we had a ferry to catch at the Zambian border.
Due to the early wake up call we only spent a few minutes looking through our non-zoom pictures at the bar before retiring to our tent.
Tuesday – Livingstone
On Tuesday morning our group was on the bus and ready to leave on time for basically the first time in three weeks.
It was a short 20 minute drive to the Zambian border crossing and after we all passed through immigration and successfully left Botswana we followed our truck by foot onto a flat barge, which took us across the river and into Zambia.
It took the better part of an hour for our entire group to buy Zambian visas and clear immigration, but once we did it was only an hour long drive to Livingstone.
In Livingstone we stopped for 45 minutes to take out Zambian money, go to the toilet and get a quick snack before getting back on the bus and driving straight to Victoria Falls.
We were allotted an hour an 45 minutes to explore the falls from the Zambian side and Tarynne and I took full advantage of the time we had.
Things don’t seem to be stuck in “African Time” here and the water level of the falls has already almost reached its highest level, about two months ahead of schedule. This means right now approximately 5,000 cubic meters of water is pouring over the falls every minute.
Needless to say, there is a lot of mist…
Almost the entire waterfall is on the Zambian side, which means one can only see about 10 percent of the waterfall from Zambia. In order to see the massive face of the waterfall, one must cross the border into Zimbabwe and look back at the falls.
After taking in the dramatic scenery, we climbed back aboard the truck and headed to camp.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on Tuesday bumming around camp and swimming in the pool. In the evening we ate at the campsite restaurant which is positioned on the bank of the river, upstream from the falls. In the distance the mist and spray from the waterfall is visible, spiraling up into the sky like smoke from a massive explosion.
Wednesday – Devil’s Pool
On Wednesday we woke up bright an early, as a full English buffet breakfast is included with out stay and we wanted to take full advantage of it.
As we sat happily enjoying our eggs, bacon, beans and toast, Tarynne stopped, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Why is everything around here named Zambezi?”
Dumbfounded I stared back blankly, wondering how on earth she hadn’t picked up in the last day and a half that the massive river we were sitting next to and the river that goes flying off a cliff a few kilometers away is named the Zambezi. Oh, and it’s also the fourth largest river in Africa. No big deal.
Anyway, with our bellies stuffed full of beans we met up with some others from our group and decided to fork over some cash to “walk in the footsteps of David Livingstone” and visit Livingstone Island.
Livingstone Island is a very small island in the middle of the Zambezi River positioned on the very edge of Victoria Falls. It is also the island were visitors can access Devil’s Pool and swim in the river on the very edge of the waterfall, about 80 meters above the water churning at the bottom of the gorge.
After a short taxi ride to the swanky Royal Livingstone Hotel, our group was picked up on the river bank by a small five person speed boat. The ride to Livingstone Island was only three minutes long and with out feet on solid ground we were led by our guide through the island to the edge of Victoria Falls.
Our first order of business was to creep up to the edge of the waterfall just to side of the highest point of the falls and peer over the edge to look at the rainbow below.
At this vantage point we were about 95 meters above the river below. The highest point of the entire falls was just to the left measuring 107 meters from top to bottom.
After looking over the edge, we turned around and posed for a few photos.
From this spot we were then led to the far side of the island and shown where Devil’s Pool is located. Unfortunately since the water levels are currently so high we were not able to swim in Devil’s Pool. Instead we were allowed to swim in a secondary pool that is also located directly on the edge of the waterfall.
The actual swim felt quiet safe, it was the walk to the pool that was pretty scary. Lead by our guide in a chain-like, we had to shimmy across underwater rocks hand-in-hand with the force of the mighty river pounding against our shins. If you slipped, you were going down and over.
Yes, the random girl we were with clung onto me the entire time. Tarynne was convinced she was going to slip and take all of us down, so suggested she’d just push her over the edge.
Fortunately, we all made it. And with some fabulous pictures of an idiot leech we don’t know.
After navigating the treacherous waters back to Livingstone Island we were treated to a very posh brunch under a white tent with Victoria Falls thundering in the background as we ate.
Since we spent the morning risking our lives, we ended up relaxing back at camp next to the pool and the bar.
Thursday – Zimbabwe
On Thursday we ate breakfast early and were headed for Victoria Falls Bridge and the border crossing to Zimbabwe by 10 a.m.
(T: James forgot to mention that we successfully avoided rabies that morning. A pack, as in like two dozen, monkeys that I previously called cute had raided our neighbors tent and found food. Apparently the food find also delivered a hefty confidence boost and when we returned from breakfast to pack our bags for the day, the monkeys were sitting on and in front of our tent and not willing to move. They hadn’t bothered us previously, so James playfully charged a monkey thinking it would scare and get out of our way. Oh he thought wrong. The monkey bared his ugly teeth, hissed, and then went straight for James’ legs. James bolted and started sprinting frantically. Imagine “high-knees” from highschool track. Both of us were still laughing at this point as we imagined this angry monkey would get over it and we’d all move on after their 100m dash. But this monkey was absolutely relentless. James picked up the pace and the laughing subsided as soon as we both realized this could potentially end in the hospital with inevitable rabies vaccines. I was paralyzed in shock as I watched James zigzag across the paths being chased by a bounding monkey, performing what would surely be the best Nike, Super Bowl-worthy commercial of all-time. With nowhere to go, James eventually ended up in the girls bathroom shutting the door. Phew. I watched the monkey impatiently pace in front of the girls bathroom. Stupidly I shouted to James, and the monkey then turned and came straight for me. He came flying up the concrete platform I was hiding on and hissed his teeth and with the same enthusiasm as displayed previously, came straight for me. I was holding a plastic garbage can I’d previously snatched in the commotion I was using as my shield. I was now hoping my time in Texas would serve me well as I would be attempting to lasso an angry monkey with a garbage can. Pathetically I threw it and ran. An employee was nearby and I ran to him as he analyzed my situation and threw a set of sheets on the monkey. I asked if the monkeys would bite, and if they have rabies, and he looked at me and reminded me there are such things as dumb questions. “Yes” he said. He suggested we take a metal pole and start swinging if this were to happen again. So yeah, we now cruise around the campground with metal poles in hand. Long story short, these little shits are not cute.)
The taxi ride was only about ten minutes and we were dropped off outside Zambian immigration.
After exiting Zambia we walked down a winding road and crossed the Victoria Falls Bridge into Zimbabwe.
Now, I always thought my boy George W. Bush did everything humanly possible to absolutely obliterate the U.S. economy, but it turns out President Obama stepped in just before things got Zimbabwe bad.
You see, inflation in Zimbabwe exploded to the point the country no longer has its own currency. In fact, it hasn’t had its own currency since 2008. And to give you an idea of how bad things got, one of the last bills ever printed was a ten trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill.
Yes, we obviously bought one. Okay, Tarynne got excited and bought two and we are now trillionaires.
Luckily for Zimbabwe shortly after this crisis they struck gold. Literally. And diamonds. So the country is slowly climbing back in the game, but is currently using U.S. dollars for its currency.
It’s a weird situation and because of the instability our travel insurance doesn’t work in Zimbabwe, so we had to be extra careful on Thursday.
Anyway, for the first time in five weeks we had overcast skies, and because of it we decided to go shopping in a few local markets in hope that the sun would come out before we went to see the falls.
Unfortunately even after some quality procrastination and buying a few goodies for the folks back home, the sun was still a no show and we headed for the falls anyway.
Let’s just say if you ever come to Victoria Falls, make sure you take the time to see them from the Zimbabwe side…
After taking in the unbelievable scenery we weren’t quite ready to leave Zimbabwe, so we snuck onto the grounds of the famous Victoria Falls Hotel and snapped some photos. If anyone asks, this is where we stayed.
From the hotel we walked back to the border, across the bridge and back into Zambia. Once again we spent the evening chilling out at the campsite by the bar and pool.
Friday – Angels in Flight
On Friday we happily awoke in a warm stuffy tent to sunny skies. It’s our last day in Livingstone before we hit the road once again on the second leg of overland journey.
Still in awe of the falls and having seen them from almost every other angle possible we decided it was time to take to the skies.
By 9 a.m. we were on board an open air bus and on the way to the airstrip for a helicopter ride over the smoke that thunders.
It’s too difficult to describe the immense beauty of the scene we saw below us, so I’ll let David Livingstone and our photographs do the talking.
“Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”- David Livingstone, Nov. 16, 1855
After the flight we took the campsite shuttle into Livingstone in search of quality Internet to update the blog.
Later is afternoon we’ll head back to the campsite to do laundry, relax and to prepare for the 20 days.