After a breakfast of bread, peanut butter, and coffee, I met “John,” one of the staff at Adventure Lodge for a trip to the bank to reverse the accidental duplicate charge on my credit card. While waiting, I began reading Zambezi: the first solo journey across Africa’s mighty river, by Mike Boon on my phone’s Kindle app. Being familiar with some of the areas described in the book, it was fascinating and enlightening. The book helped to fill out some of the histories of Southern Africa that I had previously gleaned from friends and acquaintances who lived through the horrors of apartheid and Mugabe’s early rule.
From the bank, I ventured downriver along the brink of the Batoka Gorge. There are cables stretched across the gorge, high above the rushing Zambezi river, and I step into a full body harness, and then a second climbing harness that serves as a backup in case the first harness fails. I clip my GoPro camera to my harness with a climbing carabiner brought from home, while the staff attach multiple other carabiners to my harness and then to the giant cables that span the gorge. I’m directed to walk to the edge of the platform and step off. Despite my protestations to the driver, I screamed as my body flailed uselessly through free fall. When the cables finally became taunt, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride as the swing carried me back and forth across the gorge. After a couple of minutes, they reeled me back to the top of the gorge, and I returned to the Victoria Falls bridge, adrenaline coursing through my veins.
At the bridge, I prepared for my second leap into free fall: the famed Victoria Falls Bungee–110 meters of “Big African Air.” Here, I once again step into a full harness, then one of the staff carefully wraps my legs with towels, and all the attachments are checked and double-checked before I am instructed to hop to the edge of the platform. I am nearly paralyzed with fear, knowing that I will be leaping head-first towards the river, and that, despite the life jacket I’ve been given “in case the rope breaks,” impact with the water from this height will mean certain injury and probably death. Nevertheless, on the count of 5…4…3…2…1, I dive forward, screaming once again. As I reach the end of my fall, the bungee attached to my ankles rebounds, throwing me high into the air time and time again. When the bouncing slows and I am left spinning upside down, yet another member of the Bungee Crew rappels down to meet me, clips a carabiner and rope to my harness, and I am righted as they lift me back towards the bridge. A quick look at my GoPro reveals that the entire experience lasted less than 1:30.
I return to my room to continue reading about Mike Boon’s adventures on the Zambezi, and for a lunch of more bread and peanut butter. Buying my meals in bulk via a container of peanut butter and a loaf of bread is certainly cheaper than eating out for a week, but it does get monotonous to eat three times a day,
There’s a violent thunderstorm, something I’m no longer accustomed to, as Dar es Salaam, for all its rain, seldom delivers thunder or lightening. Just as the rain is slowing, the bus arrives to take me to the “sunset cruise” on the Zambezi, a fitting conclusion to my time in beautiful Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The sunset is muted by the retreating storm, but the cruise along the deceptively quiet river above the falls is relaxing and enjoyable. I meet a Canadian couple who are currently living in Munich, Germany, and am regaled by their tales of working in Nigeria as volunteer teachers long ago, and of trips to Kruger National Park complete with birthing impalas, stalking cheetahs, and unexpected leopards.
After returning to my lodge, I am lured to the restaurant/bar area by some live folk music, which is unexpectedly interrupted by a bachelor party and their excessive drinking. In the corner, waiting for the music to resume, I trade stories with the owner of the lodge and a visiting friend from Johannesburg, watching the wasted bachelor party continue on in a strange coexistence with the brilliant music being performed.
In the morning, I pack my backpack, pay my bar tab of $5 for the week, and check out. On my walk towards the bridge and the border crossing, I am hailed by a number of the raft guides from Wild Horizons wishing me safe travels and welcoming me back anytime. Part of me would like to return. It is an interesting little town, and the river is strangely addicting. Maybe once I fulfill my dream of learning to whitewater kayak, I will return to the mighty Zambezi. I cross first the Zimbabwe border, and then into Zambia, walking to the Zambian side of the Falls to take a parting view of the majestic Victoria Falls before returning to Dar es Salaam.
Once again, when I arrive at the bus stop, I am encouraged to climb aboard the bus leaving “right now,” instead of waiting for my originally scheduled bus. Doing so means giving up my preferred seat 3 and being shuffled to the back of the bus, where I meet “Martha,” a woman from Botswana who shortly proceeds to lie down and fall asleep on my lap. Her intrusion is unintentional, and certainly not intended to be rude. When we stop to let on more passengers later on our journey, she kindly offers me some of the unidentifiable fruit she is eating. I politely decline, insisting that I have just eaten, which is true. As the bus fills, a small boy is wedged between me and my Botswanan friend. My guess is that he is probably 10 or 11, and his big eyes are fascinated by my iPad as I type this blog post. I certainly got lucky in last week’s bus, as this one does not have A/C, and for some strange and unknown reason, people are not opening their windows (and mine is the one window in the entire bus that doesn’t open). Combine fifty plus sweaty bodies and five songs on repeat for ten hours…this is going to be a long ride.
Most likely, we have about three more hours on the road before reaching Lusaka. There, I will attempt to find a hostel or hotel with airport transfers to spend the night in before my flight back to Dar es Salaam tomorrow morning. Preferably, my lodgings will have wifi access so that I can upload this post, confirm my flight details, and chat with family and friends back home. We shall see. Once again, this part of my journey is going to be mostly “winging it,” though I did do a bit of research on Lusaka hotels on TripAdvisor before leaving Victoria Falls.