Another day, another pack-up. We had only a short day on the road finally hitting the main highway between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo. In fact we skirted Hwange National Park so we had closed the loop around the country. The countryside around Hwange town was full of mines and mining infrastructure with huge numbers of big trucks on the road. Not the prettiest part.
We entered Vic Falls town, a touristy little place and saw more westerners in a few minutes than we had seen for weeks!
Some of the group opted to stay at the campground but we took up option of staying the two nights at the old, and famous, Victoria Falls Hotel, a classic colonial hotel in the mould of Hong Kong's Peninsula or Singapore's Raffles. We hadn't booked but had no trouble getting a lovely room overlooking the lawns and with a little view of the Zambezi River' Devil's Cauldron, a swirling mass of water in a side canyon just downstream of the falls. The terrace (where we partook of High Tea and a couple of dinners which included crocodile and ostrich dishes) looks over the lawn to the "smoke that thunders", the mass of mist and water thrown up by the crashing water as it hits the bottom of the gorge. It indeed looks like cloud or smoke from an enormous fire.
In the morning we walked through a path towards the entrance to the falls. We took a side path to see the downstream gorge from above. Suddenly we were shouted at by some rangers who motioned us to go around through the bush - elephants were all over the path we were taking!
Entry to the Falls area is quite expensive for non-residents but what can you do! We had been to the see the Falls in Zambia on the other side of the gorge 6 years, but we couldn't miss them here in Zimbabwe where they are about 6 or 7 times bigger!
Also having seen them before, we also knew that we would get very wet, and so we were armed with plastic bags to keep the camera in, the little waterproof camera for when it was simply too wet to use the big one, and rain jackets to keep us and the backpack dry. Well, the rain jackets were completely useless. We were completely drenched, though I managed, just, to keep the camera from drowning.
The Falls are completely amazing. The sheer size, the spectacle of the incredible amount of water tumbling and crashing along the sheer basalt wall, takes your breath away. In some sections at the viewpoints, one minute you can see the falls then the next minute the scene is engulfed in a mist of water that causes complete white-out… and rains down on you. Rainbows form in gullies that you look down on but sometimes they are impossible to photograph with the volume of water pouring down like a tropical downpour. But it's not rain and the sun is shining brightly - it's all waterfall water being tossed high into the air and coming down again.
We returned to the hotel to change every bit of clothing we had on; we were soaked to the bone! We had an hour or so to explore the local craft markets in town. Here were many dozens of dusty stalls set out with mostly the local specialty, soapstone carvings, as well as printed fabrics, hand-made beads, wooden ware such as bowls and carvings and metal animals. Amongst all the stallholders were perhaps a half dozen tourists. It's not full high season yet, but Zim's tourism industry clearly has a long way to go before it improves the lot of the people. We bought a few little things and returned to the hotel to be picked up for our sunset 'booze crooze' which we booked with Joan and Roger. We had chosen to go on the medium price offering with wine and beer on a punt. It seems that we were the only ones for that boat so the company up-graded us to the luxury boat with others. The boat was a beautiful African Queen-style canopied boat lined with polished wood. Our seating on board was some carved antique style chairs. Welcome juices, anything we wanted to drink (including all the spirits in crystal decanters) was on offer and a large place of tasty canapés was a far cry from what we had actually paid for but we weren't complaining! We cruised the upper reaches of the Zambezi (above the Falls) spotting animals in the water and on the banks while the sun went down. Not bad at all!
The hotel was certainly not the cheap option for our two days in Vic Falls, but completely lived up to all expectations. The rooms were beautiful, the staff were quietly friendly and superb, the food was excellent. All the little touches of a true 5-star hotel were spot-on. We certainly enjoyed a bit of luxury halfway through the trip.