Victoria Falls is a Place of thrills and Spills in Darkest Africa
Glossy travel guides tell you all about what to do at the Victoria Falls but a personal encounter helps to enhance the experience. Share our travel tips and learn things you won’t be told by any dry documentary. When you live in Africa like we do, you are not too interested in the local hotspots that attract people here from around the world. But they are worth adding to any bucket list even if they are on your doorstep. We are intrepid backpackers and my husband Jim lived in Zimbabwe many years ago.
We were married there and our first visit to the “falls” was on our honeymoon. Being young and starry-eyed we were more concerned with just being together. Getting drenched by the waterfall’s mist under a rainbow just made it all the better. 35 years later we returned to pay attention to all the details we had missed.
Two baby boomer backpackers on a budget. We had just come from the Chobe Game Reserve, via Zambia. We headed off to a luxurious yet reasonably priced hotel within walking distance from the Victoria Falls. We had survived the customs office and had nothing to declare except our love for each other.
The Kingdom hotel was built like an African palace with high curved thatched roofs, elephant tusks (fake, of course,) and suspension bridges across the water features. A natural river ran through the complex and we were not sure that the warnings about crocodiles were for real. High fences around our hotel offered protection from the other wild animals.
We opened the gate and followed the path down to the falls. Nothing had changed or been tampered with. No hot dog stands, French fries, candy floss or popcorn: just a thundering wall of water dropping down into the cataracts below. Kelly Elmore of Info Barrel had provided an excellent guide to the Victoria Falls with all the statistics plus a terrific aerial picture.
We could hear the water rumbling as we strode along the rustic path through the thorn bushes. The landscape became very lush as we reached the rain forest along the great Zambezi River. The walk begins on the left hand side of the falls at the Western cataract and the Devil’s cataract. There is a steep cliff on the one side of the path facing the falls with only a few thorn bushes to guide you back on track. Nothing had changed. They still keep it natural and nothing detracts from the waterfall. But stick to the path because the rocks are slippery and wet in some places. During the rainy season you need to take an umbrella along. We didn’t mind getting wet – just like three decades ago but only more crazy about each other and the wonderful times we share on our travels.
A small monkey had followed us. Suddenly he dashed towards me and ripped the apple I was eating out of my hand. He sat down in front of us and consumed it with glee. The bushes were alive with birds and the hum of insects and bees. It was a warm and sunny day. To our surprise we saw people at the top of the falls on the opposite or Zambian side swimming in pools close to the rim of the waterfall. It was a case of not looking down, I guess.
Here is a detail of the area in the middle , where they do the epic plunge. Other daredevils can do white water rafting at the foot of the falls and also get thoroughly drenched. The guides are very good and you are in competent hands, should you wish to do so.
The steel railway bridge that joins Zambia to Zimbabwe is a popular launching spot for bungee jumpers. Down at the gorges there is a very exciting "foofie slide" or cable run. No thanks, we were happy enough to watch.
African food is worth tasting
A sumptuous buffet lunch awaited us back at the palatial hotel. I was pleased to see some local dishes standing ready to delight the foreign palates of tourists. Home cooked African food is generally a bit bland but they had added a few more interesting Western dishes. For typical family meals a mass of cooked corn porridge called “sadsa” is placed in the middle of the floor or table. Dinner guests take a wad of this in their hand and dip it into a communal dish of stew or vegetables. Mopani worms are a special delicacy in this part of the world. I was relieved to see they were not present. Bugs are bugs and I am rather squeamish. I grew up with Africans and loved their food and got used to seeing strange pieces of meat or "nyama" they ate.
“Maroc” is a dish of green vegetables that are stewed together with onions and sometimes potatoes. Our servants used to make it for me when I came home from boarding school. They would gather whatever greens they could: pumpkin shoots, wild spinach, dandelions and any succulent weeds that are edible. Here in Zimbabwe the chef proudly told me that his maroc was made from rape greens. Even if it had been grown from genetically tampered seed and rounded up with weed killer it tasted great with the roasted vegetables and spicy curry.
We spent a lazy afternoon around the swimming pools and then headed back to the river for the famous booze cruise at sunset. This is the easiest and safest way to view African wildlife up close. In the early evening large animals like elephants and hippos come to refresh themselves at the water’s edge. The tourists sit on the viewing deck enjoying local peanuts roasted on a coal fire with a free bar service. A peanut gallery indeed! Being so close to those mighty silent elephants merging into the liquid colours of the sunset on the river was memorable.
Adding to the local idiom were the dancers and musicians who bade us farewell. A line of black lady dancers stomped and waggled their buxom hips and bosoms in time to the drum beats. They were clad in an assortment of real or fake animal skins, bold prints and modern underwear. Our game spotter was also wearing an eco-friendly combination of fake furs that were blue and purple, but definitely had a few spots and stripes! He was friendly and kept us protected from wild lions and leopards, elephants and hippos with his plastic spear.
Not to be missed on a trip to the Victoria Falls are the lovely walks one can take from the little village to other places along the river. A short hike to the gorges costs you nothing and you get spectacular views of the area. We walked through the gate of the hotel grounds and after a few minutes we reached the viewing sites above the series of steep gorges at the base of the falls. Make sure you wear a wide-brimmed hat and always take a bottle of water with you. A stout walking stick is also a good idea because there are wild animals around. They are generally not interested in you, but monkeys and baboons are attracted to fruit or food that you may take with you.
Another walk takes you through the falls via thorn bushes, dry undergrowth and baobab trees. There are warnings about wild animals and plenty of elephant poo to prove it. But we came to visit another giant - the big baobab tree. It is over 1000 years old and has a trunk diameter of 18 metres and a height of 23 metres and is still growing taller. It was hot and we were nervous.
More elephant dung on the road and it was rather fresh this time. We felt something was watching us and did not want a direct confrontation with any member of the big five out in the open, on foot. It was time to go home and plan another adventure to some other part of the world. We said goodbye and thanks to Dr David Livingstone for having discovered one of the wonders of the world and for watching over us. You will enjoy our movie - I presume!
Come and join us at the Victoria Falls
The smoke that thunders makes you sopping wet!
Take a guide book with you!
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Get the hat for the sun and rain
The area to see the giant tree and the rain forest and walk along the falls. Below are the series of deep gorges.