Saturday, March 1, 2008

Victoria Falls, It’s Outta Sight (or The Zim Zam Shuffle)

When planning this trip, one of the places both Kristi and I were most excited to see was Victoria Falls. I'll get one thing out of the way first, it is amazing. We were lucky enough to arrive in the middle of an especially bad rainy season upriver along the Zambezi. The upstart of this is that the experience of the falls is less about just looking and more about being in the falls. Any attempt to prevent a full soaking is a joke. The ponchos, they do nothing. The falls split Zimbabwe from Zambia which affords the opportunity to get two distinct views of the falls.

Zimbabwe Side: First off, Zimbabwe has not experienced the best political, social run in the last few years. Strong arm/corrupt leadership combined with a staggering 6000 percent inflation rate has made the town of Victoria Falls into a ghost town. What once served as the hub of tourism is now a crumbling small town with children attempting to sell or barter crafts with the few tourists who do come through. Not that there is a upside of political and fiscal turmoil, but one of the effects is that the park that contains the falls view is nearly empty allowing a particularly unhurried experience.

The Zimbabwe side allows more unobstructed views of smaller parts of the falls. But when I say smaller part of the falls, here that measns the equivalent of, say, half of the horseshoe section of Niagara Falls. The Zim experience of the falls is much more about short walks through the woods to various viewpoints. At least two of those viewpoints provide a royal soaking from the the falls spray. You would think that there is no real difference between types of soakings. But Zambia would teach us how wrong that is.

The Zim Zam Bridge Shuffle: So to get to the other side of the falls, you have to walk about 2 km across a bridge (with its own wonderful view) to get to the actual border. The experience is truly unique due to the line of trucks caught in limbo between the two countries for-we found out-up to 3 weeks. That's right. If you are transporting, say, a truckload of wicker lawn furniture from Zimbabwe to Zambia, you may be sleeping at the edge of a bridge for 21 days while officials decide whetther or not to allow your wicker bounty to pass.

For Kristi and I, this over-officiousness manifested in a rather protracted border crossing. Because of our country's recent ability to piss off the entire world and make it impossible for others to visit the US, other countries have begun to exact revenge by raising Visa fees by insane amounts. Entry to Zambia used to be free (mere months ago when we budgeted our trip) but is now $135. And, no matter what the Zambian information website says, they do not take South African Rand. They only accept payment in US dollars. We did not have enough US dollars to get both Kristi and I into the country. So, after briefly thinking of ditching Kristi at the border, I had to go into town and change money from South African Rand into Zambian Kwatcha and back into U.S. Dollars (the only way they will do it). Once I sprang Kristi we could make our way to Livingstone and later the Zam side of the falls.

Zambian Side: On this side of the falls, there are far more vantage points to see the entire falls. And, rather than going from viewpoint to viewpoint you walk along the edge of the falls. Because of your proximity to the edge, the spray is like being in a torrential downpour. Just at the point when you think no more water can possibly hit you, you come to a bridge that goes over a small portion of the falls to an island in the river. To give an idea of the insane spray, the water flowing down the incline of the bridge was at leat 4 inches deep and absolutely rushing past. There were moments on the bridge where I thought that the falling water would physically push me backwards. But honestly, the euphoria of being in the midst of such awesome natural power makes it all worth it. As Kristi said, it was like being in the most insane thunderstorm without the fear of being struck by lightning.

Either Zim or Zam, the falls have been one of the most amazing things we have seen on our trip. And unlike Niagara Falls (which has its own sleazy appeal), there's not a casino or laser light show in sight (and likely won't be for the forseeable future).



Lee said...

Ah, the joy of securing hard currency on the Zim-Zam border!

BTW - There is a casino in Vic Falls, a very sad, barely functional casino, but it's there!

tracy said...

ok, i really want to get Nica a passport... or babysitter and come join you all. xoxo.