despite our bumpy start to zimbabwe, our accomodation at vic falls, the victoria falls safari lodge, was quite lovely: thatched roof, high vaulted ceilings, very open and airy, and the lodge overlooked a watering hole that attracted a variety of wildlife.
here at the lodge we met the sixth member of our party, sarah harvey (also a fellow "bainee" from london on transfer to johannesburg). she had come from uganda where she manages her very own non-profit organization, a private school for ugandan children. sarah is perhaps the most incredible person i've ever met. i'm sure she's no older than i am, but in her short lifetime she has accomplished and seen more than anyone else i know. she's travelled to every sub-saharan african country and volunteered in many of them, been kidnapped (at machete-point) and held for ransom, been arrested, held a dying child in her arms, fired an AK-47, been afflicted with malaria with no access to health care, and the stories go on and on. i felt like a complete slob next to this girl... she is a total inspiration. i spent most of my time in zimbabwe listening to sarah's stories, sitting there slack-jawed in amazement, and asking her to tell me more. i don't think she has wasted a single day of her life. she is my new hero.
interesting sidenote: sarah's sister's mother-in-law is zimbabwean and lives in bulawayo, a town not far south from victoria falls. sarah had planed on going to visit the mother-in-law after our weekend in victoria falls, but during our weekend, right before sarah purchased a train ticket to bulawayo, sarah received word that her sister's mother-in-law's home had been bulldozed for no apparent reason by the zimbabwean government, and the mother-in-law was safe but now homeless. needless to say, bulawayo didn't seem like a safe place to be visiting, and sarah made plans to fly back to south africa with us. crazy!
after we had settled into the lodge, matt, chris klomp and i ventured into vic falls town to book our activities for the next two days and to take a look around. the second we stepped off the hotel shuttle bus, we were bombarded with men trying to sell trinkets or exchange our dollars on the black market (more signs of the failing economy). the guide with whom we were hoping to book our bungee jumping and canoeing activities was gone for the day, so we decided to take a stroll down to the actual falls. i have never been so touted in all my life. our little band of 3 was getting aboslutely harrassed by men trying to sell us crafts (or even trade our clothing for the crafts... they kept asking for my hat and jacket). in addition, there were 3 children glued to each of our sides begging for money, even to the point where they started to fake cry. it was heartbreaking really because we all knew these people had absolutely nothing and no hope whatsoever, and we would try to give a little when we could (especially to the children leading around their blind parents -- eerily common here in Zimbabwe), but the boys and i started to become extremely flustered with the relentless mob we had tailing us and were relieved once we reached victoria falls national park and the group dispersed.
due to flooding in angola, the zambezi river was extremely high and too dangerous to raft below the falls, so instead our group of 6 went canoeing above the falls the next morning. i thought this would be a lovely alternative to a wild, adrenaline-laced romp down the white water, but i my heart dropped when our guide (a portly black man named "innocent") sat us down to have a heart-to-heart about hippos and crocs, real dangers while canoeing down the river. how wonderful. we were instructed to not dangle anything, especially body parts, in the river because the crocs would not be afraid to take a bite. hippos were known to bump or even tip over the rafts while coming out of the water for air (they can hold their breath for up to 7 minutes), and if that were to happen, swim like the dickens to the shore (which wasn't exactly a quick lap or two... the zambezi is a big ole monster) because the hippo will come after the biggest thing it can see which will hopefully be your canoe.
with that instruction under our belts and the first set of mild rapids ahead, we manned our canoes in pairs: lucy and sarah, hugh and chris, matthew and me. ten seconds into our excursion, lucy piped up with a question: was the gigantic spider in the front of their canoe poisonous? as soon as innocent rowed over and took a gander at the ominous creature, he quickly motioned for us all to paddle back to the shore, sending lucy and sarah into a bit of a frenzy. innocent lost sight of the spider once they hit the shore, but he gave the canoe a thorough search and deemed it all clear of any eight-legged stowaways. once again, lucy posed the poisonous question to innocent, and he replied that if bitten by that spider (i think it was a violin spider, or a type of brown recluse) your skin would turn black and you'd need a skin graft. just another day on the zambezi!!
we all made it down the zambezi unscathed, but we did encounter some hippos lurking in the water, which was enough excitement for me. the day ended with a sunset river cruise on the zambezi. whilst cruising matt and i shared a table with a nice afrikaner couple from south africa celebrating their anniversary. getting an afrikaner perspective regarding south african current events was very interesting, and matt and i really enjoyed their company and hoped we didn't pick their brains too much.
sunday: bungee jumping and our last day of our african adventure. the bungee-ing was going to be taking place on a bridge across the zambezi (downstream from the falls) with zimbabwe on one side and zambia on the other. to get to the bungee-ing you actually get stamped out of zimbabwe, and although technically the bungee center is on the zambian side of the bridge, you don't have to check in at the zambian border. the bridge was within walking distance, so matt, chris and i (the others had an early morning ultra-light plane excursion over the falls) decided to take one last look at the falls before taking the plunge. i brought my waterproof poncho with me to the falls, expecting a light mist; i walked away soaking wet, even underneath my poncho. i guess they weren't kidding about that flooding in angola thing; the falls were so heavy that we had a hard time even seeing them through the mists. they were pretty spectacular, as far as i could see them, but iguazu falls definetly remains at the top of "erin's favorite waterfalls" list.
i opted out of bungee jumping, and it actually worked out well that i did. lucy, hugh, matt and chris all took the giant leap off the 130 meter tall bridge and lived to tell, but we were swifty running out of time to make our 1:30 PM flight, and we hadn't even checked out of our hotel yet. as soon as chris was back on solid ground, we all started jogging back toward the zimbabwe check point, about 2 miles up the road. one of the guides who helped us with the bungee started shuttling us on his small motorbike, one by one, to the zimbabwean border. it was quite the scene... a bunch of soaking wet white kids running away from the zambian border with a motorbike picking us off one at a time. we turned a few heads. once stamped back into zimbabwe and gasping for breath, matt did a mad-good job of bargaining for a rock-bottom price with a cab driver to shuttle all of us back to the hotel. the stuffed taxi sped us back to the lodge, we grabbed our bags, checked out in record time, and made it to the airport with time to spare. in retrospect, our exit from zimbabwe was about par for the course considering the rest of our stay there.
once back in johannesburg, we all parted ways: chris, lucy and sarah stayed, hugh was done with his transfer and headed back to nyc, and matt and i back home to the big d.
and that's africa.
stay tuned for the pics!!!