Our visit to Victoria falls ended up being more interesting than we expected. Our original expectation was to only visit the falls, but because our local contact was so engaging we learned a lot about Zimbabwe and the current economic situation. I booked an AirBNB and they reverted with an offer for help with transfers from airport and any other tours through their affiliate Tsoka Travel. We ultimately found out Tsoka travel was one ambitious young man named Lionel who had set up the local small lodges on AirBNB and was running his own company, which ranged from airport pickups application development for smartphones.
Lionel set us up with a good balance of ideas and was helpful on entry visa (KAZA visa is the right one – online it is unclear which to get) and after airport pickup on the Zimbabwe side and dropping our stuff off at our the AirBNB (called Gerties Lodge – pictures above), drove us to the Zimbabwe side of the falls where we went into the national park. On the Zimbabwe side, you are only looking at the falls cross the river gorge.
Last year about the same time, I went to one of the other three great waterfalls, Iguazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina. Very similar situation to Victoria Falls & Niagara Falls with the borders.
After pickup we went straight to a sunset cruise – we were expecting to just have a drink and appetizers and watch the sunset, but soon into the cruise we saw elephants on the river bank and then hippos and finished with a herd of elephants crossing the river. Compared to some of the nature scenes we saw later on the much more expensive safari – this was just as good.
During the drive and at dinner where we talked to other young people, we found that many were highly educated but no meaningful jobs so they had come to Victoria Falls as it was “the best place in the country” as there is over 90% unemployment nationwide. Going back to the 1970’s with the expropriation of the white farms followed by a corrupt government with Robert Mugabe becoming one of the richest people in the world while the country struggled. Mugabe was recently removed from power and hopes are high with the new president. But reform is tough and they latest currency is artificially pegged to the USA Dollar which makes everything very expensive and a couple of days before we got there they entered a currency crisis – we couldn’t even get Zimbabwe Dollars and US currency is the defacto currency. This leads to stores/restaurants having to artificially overprice items in Zimbabwe Dollars that are charged on credit cards – because it could be weeks before they get the money and everyone is fearful a dramatic devaluation will occur. So, price of a hamburger is $18 Zimbabwe which means officially is it $18 US – but if you pay cash in USD you get a discount of 50% which gets you back to a reasonable price. It is a challenging day to day existence – even in the best place in the country.
The photo shoot
The following day Lionel had made reservations for the “Livingstone Breezer” on the Zambian side of the falls – I had assumed a booze cruise with a hike on Livingstone Island which is in the middle of the falls and lunch. Couldn’t have been more wrong and we ended up having a photo shoot in Devils Pool. Like many things that appear to be awesome, there is usually a pain in the ass factor. Because we had to cross the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia (and back), we needed a transfer car on each side. Of our 4 hour trip, 2 hours were immigration lines (4 times) and shuttles. We had 1.5 hours for hiking and breakfast on the island which was nice and 30 minutes at Devils Pool. We had 20 minutes in the pool, first 15 minutes is miserable as we were waiting for the other couple to get their pictures. The current is strong and the pool is deep, you can’t stand and then there is a wall right at the falls so only about 6 inches of water goes over where pictures are taken. But while you are waiting, it is like you fell out of a raft and were constantly banging your knees and shins against sharp rocks trying to get back in the raft. Finally, our time came and it was only about the pictures – no real opportunity to just enjoy the moment. The guy taking pictures was great and was in way more danger than we were but in the social media age he assumed people were only about the pictures. Since I wasn’t fully prepped, I didn’t tell him that a couple pictures would be enough and we were happy just looking down over the falls. But still a great experience and I highly recommended it (even though I sound like a whiner). He took about 300 pictures and a couple minute video – I am sparing you 298 pictures. If would have known the details – I would have hit a tanning booth.
Our final evening was a nice dinner and traditional dance show at a colonial British hotel. The hotel was stuck in the 1940’s and championed the conquests of the British Empire…..as an example, Victoria Falls is named after Queen Victoria who had nothing to do with the falls.
Headed out the following morning for a flight to Johannesburg and then to our safari. Picture with Lionel at the Victoria Falls airport.