Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We Visited Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe -11 May to 13 May 2014

Having gone that far one should not miss seeing the great Victoria Falls, was the advice given to us from all the friends, who had been there and done that. To a large extent it is true. I do not think we will visit South Africa again – there is so much left to see in the world. We flew from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is spectacular throughout the year but the best time to visit it is from February to May - after the rainy season. This is when you'll see the greatest flow of water although it may be a little difficult to photograph the falls up close without getting your camera wet! Our timing was perfect. One can see the falls either from Zimbabwe or Zambia – the choice is entirely yours – we made an informed choice and decided to view it from Zimbabwe.

A word about Zimbabwe will not be out of place. Zimbabwe was originally called Rhodesia. It attained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.English is widely spoken here. Robert Mugabe has been at the helm of affairs since then – he has ruled the country for 34 years – a record of sorts. At the age of 90, Mugabe is currently the world's oldest head of state. Mineral exports, gold, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners for Zimbabwe. A very interesting feature is their economy. Inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998, to an officially estimated high of 11,200,000% in August 2008 according to the country's Central Statistical Office. This represented a state of hyperinflation, and the central bank introduced a new 100 billion dollar note. Zimbabwe dollars have become collector’s items. Rand and USD are both widely accepted currency since 2009. I now own two bills – “Fifty Billion” and “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars” – in a frame over my bar.

Figure 1 – I am a very rich man indeed. Zimbabwe's central bank introduced a $50 billion note on 20 May 2008 -- enough to buy just two loaves of bread. $100 trillion was issued on 16 January 2009

Unlike SA, all the white, mostly British population has left and the country is entirely managed by their own people. The country is in very dire straits. Unlike SA the country portrays a very desolate picture – one of mismanagement and neglect.  As one leaves the airport, the change becomes even more evident. Shanty road markets, badly maintained roads, junky vehicles, loads of hangers on, empty shelves in the market and so on. 1 Kg Beans cost – 240 INR, Potato – 60, Mushroom 270 and so on. The country had a vibrant agriculture and was exporting the excess, today they import.  Some 3.4 million people have fled to neighboring countries as refugees – mostly to SA and Botswana. All the Brits have also left the country. A few expatriates from UK, Sweden and Germany manage some of their hotels and other attractions. There are a number of curio shops and their curios are terrific value for money. On sale are curios made of wood and soft stone. Bargaining is a must.

11 May 2014.

After a lot of research on the net we homed in on Mandebele Lodge located very close to the falls. A very private, quaint and well maintained guest house with four well appointed rooms and a swimming pool. The property is owned by a Swede- Jansson Hans Paul and ably assisted by Ze. Considering the exorbitant hotel room cost in Zimbabwe, Mandebele lodge was a steal and good value for money.

Figure 1a - Spacious garden in the lodge

Figure 1b - Our room beyond the umbrella

Figure 1c - With Mendebele staff - Ze next to me in yellow top

Victoria Falls Town with a population of around 20,000 is a ‘one horse town’. Apart from the main activity of visiting the falls there is very little to do in the town. The day we arrived, we were late for the falls and instead we took a beautiful ‘Sunset Cruise’ on the Zambezi River. Their brochure says it all “Heed the call of Africa while sipping traditional cocktails and enjoying delicious snacks in the fading twilight hours on this fabulous two hour cruise.” The cruise is slow moving, peaceful and exhilarating. If one is lucky you can spot hippos bathing in the river. All the guests are welcomed by a local band and dance group dressed in their tradition dress. We could see the spray of the falls in the sky at a distance. It took a few seconds to realize that it wasn't a cloud but the spray.

Figure 2 – Serene Atmosphere

Figure 3 – Hippo coming up for air

Figure 4 – Approaching Sunset

Figure 5 – A lovely Moon rise

Figure 6 – A fabulous Sunset

12 May 2014

After a sumptuous breakfast we drove to the falls. A visit to the falls is a life time experience. One can hear the roar and the spray miles before the actual falls. It is called “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning the Smoke that Thunders. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, is believed to have been the first European to view Victoria Falls on 16 November 1855.

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls. The unmatched beauty lies in the fact that the full width of the river plummets in a single vertical drop into a transverse chasm 5604 ft wide. The water spray can be seen from a distance of up to 50 Kms – on the way back to the airport, we saw it from a distance of 10 Kms.

The viewing starts from the Western part of the falls leading East and ends at View Point 15.The Victoria Falls Bridge is visible from this point. The bridge was built over a period of 2 years and was completed in 1905. The height is 111 metres above water level during the lowest water level and it’s about 198 metres long. This bridge links Zimbabwe and Zambia. The adventurous lot can do ‘Bungee Jumping’ from the bridge. We were satisfied by merely looking at a few jumpers. The bridge harbours two permanent rainbows. The rainbows are fascinating and we were reluctant to move away from that wondrous view.

The route winds through the rain forest and one gets to see the falls from various viewing points. The beauty defies description and no amount of writing can capture its amazing splendor. The force and the majesty of the falls leave you spellbound. In May, the water flow is at its peak and the whole area is covered by the spray. One has to wait for an ideal opportunity to click a photograph. The entire walk to the bridge and back takes around 2 hours. After a good lunch at the falls restaurant, we returned to the lodge satiated by what we had seen.

Figure 7 - Description of the falls as viewed from Zimbabwe. Markers 1 to 16 are along the walking path from the Devil’s Cataract to the bridge.

Figure 8 – Devil’s Cataract

Figure 9 – Little further

Figure 10- Indians everywhereSri Chinmoy Kumar Ghose Peace Marker.[August 27, 1931-October 11, 2007] was an Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher who emigrated to the U.S. in 1964.

Figure 11 – Two more spiritualists from India

Figure 12 – Totally engrossed

Figure 13 – Walk path to Danger Point. With utmost care I walked up to the point. The wind, the spray and the wet path were a treacherous combination. Not forgetting a very angry wife howling away to glory.

Figure 14 – Main Fall from View Point 8

Figure 15- Another view

Figure 16 – Livingstone’s View Point 12

Figure 17 –The Bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia

Figure 18 – A bungee jumper in search of adrenalin rush

Figure 18a – Totally wet but feeling happy 

Figure 19 – A very happy state after viewing the falls – Lunch in the forest

From whatever little interaction we had, the people appear to be warm and helpful. According to Hans, Zimbabwe is very safe but for the elephants. It’s not uncommon to find the pachyderms entering your compound to feed on the vegetation.

After a bit of a snoozzzze and rest we dressed up to dine at the carnivore restaurant ‘Boma”. Guests are welcomed with a traditional greeting in Shona and Ndebele, the local languages and thereafter dressed in "Chitenges" (traditional robes) including paint on the face. Boma has been created to resemble a traditional village hut. We joined the welcome party in a tribal dance. This is followed by an evening of music and dance. The chief cajoles the entire guest audience to join the beat. Mouth watering display of game food which includes smoked baby crocodile tails, Mopane worms (caterpillar), Ostrich steak and many others are the main attractions. Dinner at the Boma is a legendary affair, with what looks like literally hundreds of local dishes served in buffet style, including impala terrine, warthog, Peanut butter rice –sadza, Umzingeli the hunter’s stew, a variety of salads, bread and desserts... A witchdoctor is available to tell you your fortune by throwing his bones. Jai and Navin enjoyed the show in spite of the meat overkill. They had lovely salads, baked vegetable, goat cheese and a variety of breads. They finally made up for what they missed with a huge helping of all the desserts on display.

Figure 20 – The entrance

Figure 21 – Dressed in "Chitenges"

Figure 22 - We joined the welcome dancers

Figure 23 – Warthog barbecue in progress

Figure 24 – A unique ambiance

Figure 24a – Curios on display

Figure 25 – A couple enjoying Mopane Worms

Figure 26 – Vegetarians delight

Figure 27- A traditional dance

Figure 28 – An emancipated tribal dancer

Figure 29 – Navin joins the dancers in gay abandon

Figure 30 – The dance reaches feverish pitch with mesmerizing drum beats

Figure 31 – Jai joins the head drummer

Figure 32 – Navin enjoying drumming

Figure 33 – I joined a local dance

Figure 34 – Jai with other revelers

Their menu card proudly proclaims "An essentially African experience not to be missed. The Boma is a celebration of Africa's tastes, vibrant song, dance and time-honoured customs”we totally agree.

13 May 2014

While having breakfast Ze told us that her grandfather had 7 wives and 20 children which included 3 pairs of twins. She spends 300 USD for schooling, 600 USD for house, rent and electricity. In the afternoon we flew back to Johannesburg totally satisfied.

A great travel experience

Ze wished us ‘Lisale kuhle’ (Goodbye)

Figure 35 – Victoria Falls from a distance of 10 Kms


  1. I'm a fan of falls, wish I could visit those ones, they look amazing!