Victoria Falls (In the much-dreaded blow-by-blow format):

Since the last installment, our intrepid hero has:  flown Air Malawi (and survived), realized that Lusaka is a real city and that Zambia is significantly more wealthy than Malawi, seen one of the seven wonders of the world (from both land and sky), and eaten a Subway sandwich.  And, oh yeah, Malawi has a new president.

After spending a VERY quiet election night in Lilongwe on Tuesday (there was literally no one out and about), Jana and I headed to the airport at the crack of dawn on Wednesday.  Though I had been somewhat apprehensive about flying Air Malawi, it was actually a fairly pleasant experience.   The plane is a turbo prop from the 1970s, and to get to Lusaka, one must first land in Blantyre (Malawi’s other big city), but at least we got snacks!

In case it wasnt self explanatory

In case it wasn't self explanatory

We landed in Lusaka around 11 and got a taxi to the bus station.  I was amazed to discover that in Zambia, taxis are actually a standard color (sky blue) and registered with the government.  This is a significant departure from Malawi, where a taxi is a dude with a car, who may or may not be sober and working (not mutually exclusive) when you need for a ride.  With only a minor amount of heckling, we got tickets for a noon bus departing for Livingstone, the town nearest Victoria Falls on the Zambia side.  The seven hour bus ride was long, bumpy, and a little nauseating, but we made it.  We hopped in a taxi with another guy heading to the same hostel.  We later discovered that he was previously an Engineers Without Borders volunteer in Malawi, back from Canada on a visit, and that he was planning to come to a Saturday goodbye BBQ at my house for a mutual friend.  It’s a small world!

Thursday morning was another early wake-up, as we were scheduled to be picked up for our microlight flights over Victoria Falls at 7 AM.  Once at the landing site, we donned marshmallow man suits and waited for our turn.  Of course, photos followed:

Suited up

Suited up

The flight was only 15 minutes, and cameras weren’t allowed, but it was amazing.  Starting upriver from the falls, we were able to take in the national park and wildlife before getting a panoramic view of the falls.  Since the water level is still pretty high (the rainy season having just passed), it’s hard to see the falls from the ground – but from the air was perfect!  Jana and I both gave it our cheapskate seal of approval:  expensive, but totally worth it.  The weather was great, the pilots competent, and the view indescribable.

The microlight:  very little between you and imminent death

The microlight

After the flights, we headed back to Livingstone, had breakfast, and caught our hostel’s free shuttle to the national park that surrounds the falls.  The spray rises above the falls and is visible from quite a distance; it also obscures the view from the many lookout points surrounding the falls.

Falls

Spray on the left, falls on the right

Once inside the park, we took the path along the Eastern Cataract, which goes closest to the falls.  We scoffed a bit at the raincoat rental station (“how bad can it be?”) but forked over our Zambian kwacha to be outfitted with ponchos.  This turned out to be a good decision.  The spray was torrential, such that in most places, we couldn’t even see the falls.  This was one of the clearer lookout points, and captures the sheer amount of water pretty well:

falls2

(Photo courtesy of Jana)

We got moderately wet even under the ponchos, so took another trail to dry out.  Though further from the falls, we got some spectacular views – again, note the mist!

falls3

Water everywhere!

After this, we decided to trek down to the boiling pot – where all the water from the falls swirls as it makes its way down the Zambezi.  I am wary of paths that provide a number for both distance and elevation change, but it turned out to be a fun little hike.  Toward the bottom, we had to take off our shoes and wade through some water.  An informal (read: illegal) guide appeared to help us over the rocks.  We probably could have made it without him, but this gave me an opportunity to chat about nshima (the Zambian version of nsima) and dietary diversification in Zambia.  Once we made it to the boiling pot, Jana’s feet hurt too much to go further – so we sat on a rock for the photo op.

rock

After a rocky hike down!

I did a little more exploring, but the water was moving far too fast for swimming!  I also chatted up a Zambia Peace Corps Volunteer who was visiting the falls with her father, and just happened to know Mary Fuller, a new Zambia PCV from my hometown.  Another small world moment!

falls4

Near the swirling water

After hiking back to the top of the canyon, we spent some time at the curios market and then headed back to town.  Since it was only mid-afternoon, we took the opportunity to check out Livingstone proper, buy bus tickets, and snacks for our return trip.  I was also surprised to discover how much cheaper food is in Zambia.  Shoprite, a South African chain of grocery stores that is also present in Malawi, sold many familiar items for about half the Malawi price.  How did I end up in the most impoverished AND most expensive sub-Saharan country?

Around 4:30, we headed back towards the falls for a sunset drink at the Royal Livingstone Hotel.  It was quite a posh place, and we felt a little underdressed as we enjoyed our American-priced drinks!  The sunset was gorgeous, and reflected on the river as it flowed towards the falls.

falls5

Sunset on the Zambezi

Friday was largely a travel day.  We hopped on a 9 AM bus away from Livingstone and arrived in Lusaka around 4 PM.  Shockingly, at least compared to Lilongwe, Lusaka is a real city, with retail stores and a SUBWAY!  (The sandwich shop, not the underground train.)  I drug Jana to spend a few hours at a strip mall, where I perused a bookstore and, yes, ate a 6-inch Veggie Delite.  Then we were off to the airport and back to Lilongwe.  Though we probably should have gone to bed, we went to a farewell party for a few friends of mine.  The theme was “masks,” and it also doubled as an inauguration party as we passed around a Bingu mask.  Despite the hype about a close election, Bingu, the incumbent, won by a landslide and was inaugurated on Friday.  (For once, government efficiency?)

bingu

Thumbs up for Bingu

Saturday was spent exploring Lilongwe and preparing for a braai (BBQ) at my house; I was hostess for my friend Anna’s farewell party.  It all went off without a hitch, but I didn’t take any photos.  On Sunday, Jana and I had spent a few hours walking around Old Town and listening to Malawian church services (from the street) before I took her to the airport.  She is currently still en route to the US, but I think should be arriving soon.  It was a whirlwind of a week, but a lot of fun!

One of many Vic Falls rainbows

One of many Vic Falls rainbows

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One Response to “Victoria Falls (In the much-dreaded blow-by-blow format):”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Wow…looks like a lot of fun! I love the waterfall views!!

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