As the lighthouse high on Cape St. Blaize winks and watches Mossel Bay was the opening line of my primary school’s anthem. Today I finally got to see that view for myself.Continue reading
The Saturday night I dinner at the lodge, this African Proverb was on the menu:
Wisdom is like a Baobab tree; No-one can embrace it
Oddly enough, I saw it in a friend’s Instagram newsfeed today and thought The Universe is telling me to finish my post about the sunset game drive at The Old Drift Lodge, during which we saw a beautiful Baobab tree, about 800-1000 years old.
There is an even bigger one outside the reserve with a rather stout trunk: Victoria Falls’ own Big Tree, estimated to be about 2000 years old.
Saturday had been a rather exhausting day with all the excursions I had done, so the afternoon game drive was the perfect way to wind down and process all the sensational things I’d experienced during the day.
Vusa was the guide for the excursion which I shared with Alex & Dawn, a couple honeymooning from Canada, and Tova (who was traveling with friends – they opted for the sunset cruise) from Norway. It is clear that Vusa knows his field, and he has a practiced eye for spotting animals that are extremely well camouflaged by the vegetation and grass.
The first animal we saw was a Monitor Lizard (also known as an Iguana). I initially thought it was a baby crocodile. After that faux pas, I cleaned my spectacles and saw the reptile for what it was. They are usually found close to water and at this time of the year are on the prowl for unattended crocodile eggs to eat. This one was digging in the dirt, and Vusa explained to us that it may be looking for eggs or insects.
Further along the drive we saw a journey of giraffes. That is the right collective noun – Vusa told us so. These tall animals, despite their size, are extremely graceful when they move. The older they are, the darker their markings will be, and like no two humans will have the same fingerprints, no two giraffes will have the same markings. We sat at a spot where they were grazing for quite a while. As a South African, I admittedly take seeing African game for granted, because I’ve been on a few safari-like outings in my life. However, seeing the sheer childlike-wonder and hearing the squeals of excitement and wonder of the other people of the drive with me made me smile. Ah, the magic of Africa.
My favourite African animal is by far the elephant. Maybe it’s because they operate in a Matriarchal society, or maybe it’s because the baby elephants are just so damn cute.
I’ve been fortunate enough to interact with them up close, at places close to home that do such things, but I’ve never been in a Mexican (or would that be African?) standoff with one, like we were during our excursion. One young elephant ventured away from the herd and came to stand squarely in front of our vehicle, of which the ignition was off. It didn’t show any signs of aggression, but it was still intimidating.
At one stage I was holding my breath, thinking if it hears me breathe, I may be a goner. First the hippo that morning, now an elephant in the evening.
Who says Africa isn’t exciting?
Another interesting sight was that of a Cape Buffalo carcass. It has been taken down by lions about three weeks before.
The temperature began to drop, bringing with it welcome refreshment in the form of a pop-up-bar next to the Zambezi River.
What a privilege to stand next on the bank, enjoying a creamy Amarula on ice, while listening to the babbling of the water and intermittent birdsong.
I didn’t take many photos during the drive, partially out of complacency coupled with slight exhaustion, but mostly because I was simply enjoying the dusky coolness of the sunset.
I’m a huge Batman fan, and I particularly love Joker (as portrayed by Jack Nicholson) and his signature line “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
No, I haven’t, but I have swum in the Devil’s Pool, which is way better. I guarantee it.
This was by far my most favourite excursion. Make no mistake, all the others touched me deeply on some level, but not many people get to see the Falls from this perspective; the Devil’s Pool is only open for a few months a year (when the water levels are low) and the number of people that get to visit during the open window is about 80 per day. So I am very privileged to have been one.
The day started super early: first to watch another breathtaking sunrise and then hop on to the transfer bus which took me to the border post. Farai, the manager on duty at Old Drift Lodge kindly had a light breakfast packed for me, in case I got hungry. Once through Zimbabwe, I was met by another driver who took me into Zambia, to the Livingstone Island launch site. Check-in was done with Prince, a Zambia local, who says he has been doing this job for many years.
I signed the indemnity form, which I got to keep as a souvenir.
Prince said that I was in actual fact signing a marriage certificate; that he was going to make me a Zambian woman. I had a good chuckle. Soon more people arrived and once the first six were ready, we set off. I was in a group with an American father and his daughter, a Canadian man stationed in Lusaka for work, and two students (from the Netherlands and Japan) who are studying English in Cape Town.
The speedboat ride to Livingstone Island takes about seven minutes and in some parts the water is a little tumultuous, but nothing remotely rapid-like.
That happens further down, in the gorge below the Falls.
For the most part, the water is flat, not unlike it was during my sunrise cruises at the lodge.
A short swim across a small area is required, but the water is smooth and there is a rope for support if required. You don’t have to be an exceptional swimmer, but some relative swim-fitness won’t do you any harm.
I expected the water to be freezing (as it is in South African natural pools), but the water was a comfortable temperature, like that of a tepid bath.
Our entire group slid into the pool under the careful instruction of our guides, Kevin and O’Brien and remained in the water until it was our individual turns to get onto the ledge and experience the wonder of this natural infinity pool. It is a little scary, especially when the mudsuckers decide to lightly nip you but with adrenalin flowing through your veins, you don’t get a chance to think about fear, only have fabulous you feel!
The view is indescribable and the sound of the water rushing by so close to you is almost deafening. I am so grateful that I got to see not one, but a double rainbow. Later that afternoon, when I did the rainforest walking tour, the clouds had covered the sun and no rainbows were visible.
Some friends said I was completely robbed of my senses wanting to be so close to the edge, but as an excursion-goer you never feel unsafe because all through your turn on the ledge, a guide is either next to you if you’re sitting, or holding your feet while you’re trying to pull out your best model-pose for the other guide who is photographing you. One thing I know after this experience is that I would suck as a model.
After our excursion, we took a walk along the warm, black basalt rock and got to see a statue of Dr. David Livingstone and were told some history about him.
After that we headed back to shore, where a light breakfast awaited us. There was an option of a croissant with cheese and tomato, or Jungle Oats with some berries. I opted for the former, which was delicious. The coffee was a welcome boost after the energy I expended in the water.
I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone wanting to experience the Victoria Falls from within the waters of the Zambezi River that feeds them.
Go on! Be a little daring!
Another must-do excursion when in Victoria Falls is The Flight of the Angels: a short helicopter flip of ±13 minutes above the Falls. The operator I was booked with was The Zambezi Helicopter Company.
There is a comprehensive safety briefing given by one of the friendly staff members and the thing that most women dread, a weigh-in. Getting on the scale is necessary in order to evenly distribute the weight of passengers so that everyone has a safe, comfortable experience.
If you get thirsty while you wait (quite likely with the African sun beating down), there is a bar on the premises where you can purchase something ice-cold to drink. I imagine they’d have something a little stronger too, for those who need their nerves calmed a bit.
A member of staff is on hand with a camcorder in hand, filming everything. After the flight the group gets to view their video, along with still photos, which are available for download onto a memory stick (provided by the company), for a fee of US $50. Credit cards are accepted.
Before this flight, I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was thrilled to be seated in front, alongside our Captain, Lesley.
It was a little surreal because one moment I was still on the ground and the next I was in the air, kind of like a giant magnet that picks something up in a cartoon. I didn’t hear too much of the commentary through the earphones, because I was in awe of the sights below.
The flight takes the form of a figure 8, so that everyone gets a fair view of the Falls and the opportunity to take photos.
If you have a quick eye, you may even see some elephants grazing on the ground, along with some other game species. The group before us said they saw giraffe, but I was too mesmerized by the lush greenery and beauty of the Zambezi and Victoria Falls to see any animals.
I was a little sad that it was over so quickly, but it was an experience I will never forget. The view is magnificent!
Trains are in my blood. My maternal grandfather worked for the South African Railways all his life, and The Toppie started out his career as a steam locomotive stoker. When we were still living in Johannesburg, I caught the train from Park Station to Doornfontein to attend school and back again every day for four years, before we left to come and live at the coast.
When I saw that there was a dinner experience on a steam train at Victoria Falls, I was like, Shut up and take my money! The train only runs twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and booking is essential.
The Bushtracks Express boards at the beautiful Victoria Falls Station, a stone-throw from the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel. It was the first hotel built in the village and is known to the locals as The Grand Old Dame.
While waiting on the platform there was a gentleman playing the saxophone. When he did a Satchmo number, I shed a few tears, because in that moment I thought about The Toppie, and how he and The Bean would have loved to have experienced this.
The train chugged into the station with a familiar toot-toot. While waiting to be checked-in (which was a quick process handled efficiently), passengers enjoyed cocktails on the platform before boarding the luxurious coach for its destination: The Victoria Falls Bridge, where guests could disembark, purchase souvenirs from the vendors, take photos of the sunset, and even get into the drivers’ seat for some photos.
I opted to sit at the rear of the train, on the balcony, hoping for some reprieve from the heat. The train manager, Tulani introduced himself and shared some history about the railway line; Cecil John Rhodes envisioned a railway from Cape Town to Cairo, but unfortunately the line ends in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Prince and Melinda, two local celebrities provided the entertainment, filling the air with both local- and international songs.
The food provided on the excursion is of the finger-variety, beginning with simple snacks like peanuts and dried figs, progressing to canapés of seeded crackers with hummus and guacamole, to goat’s cheese and salmon, to other savoury treats so delicious I gobbled them up before taking a picture (#facepalm) and the perfect dessert to round the evening off. Drinks are included in the fare paid for the trip.
Before the train comes to a stop on The Victoria Falls Bridge, it makes a short stop at the hydro-electric power station, where Tulani shared some interesting information.
The stop on the Victoria Falls Bridge lasted about 45 minutes, which was more than enough time to purchase souvenirs, take photos and drink in the sunset, while listening to thunder in the distance, and seeing the occasional strike of lightning. I was even fortunate enough to sit in the cab, and make the train toot-toot myself (and I made sure I did it good and proper, but the video clip I have is too large to share on my blog).
The ride back to the station was a bit more jovial. (A few drinks will do that to you!) Passengers joined Prince and Melinda in song, and some danced. Tulani even grabbed me for a few twirls, which I found very sweet.
There are many benefits to solo travel, but moments like that are when one misses having someone to share the fun with.
As we slowly re-entered the station to the synonymous na-na-na-na-na-na of Hey Jude there were cheers of “one more song!” which were heard, and we all joined in to pata-pata for one last time.
I left that station with a full tummy, a happy heart and the coolness of the first raindrops on my face.
What a memorable excursion it turned out to be – the first of many during my visit to Victoria Falls, in fact.
Arriving at the five star Old Drift Lodge was an experience in itself. I was welcomed by the Manager on Duty, Farai and the resident “Granny”, Hilda, who is learning the ropes. To ward of the sweltering heat, I was given a cool, damp towel and my suitcase was whisked off to my quarters, while I was checked in, over my first (of what would be a few) cocktails.
The main area of the lodge, where all meals are served, overlooks the Zambezi River. The furnishings are classy and comfortable. The décor speaks to the history of the Old Drift Town, and has the touch of Africa visible throughout, with chessboards that have wild animal pieces.
Every day the lodge has brainteasers up on the chalkboard, which is a great way to get the travellers (which are from all corners of the Globe) to interact with one another.
I was escorted to my accommodation by Granny and taken aback by the size of it. The king size bed was covered in crisp white linen, and there was an elephant made out of the towels on my bed, along with a personalized note, welcoming me to the lodge.
I was given a quick tour of the lodgings and told that if I needed anything (including a change to the beverages in the minibar), it would be arranged. I tested the theory by asking for a bath to be drawn for me upon a return from an excursion my last evening, and it exceeded my expectations.
While the lodge specializes in being a couples-destination, the luxury tents are able to sleep four persons: two on the king size bed, and two more on twin beds, in a separate room. My personal feeling is that this is not the sort of place to bring small children, given the wild animals roaming around, and because the idea is to retreat from life and truly rewind.
The bathroom boasts beautiful his-and-hers handbasins, made of copper.
There is a large indoor shower, as well as one outside. What sold me on this lodge (and I considered a few!) was the outdoor bathtub. Who wouldn’t want an indulgent bubble-bath, while overlooking the Zambezi, with the possibility of view game as an added bonus?
If you’re wanting to cool down, every room is equipped with its own private splash pool; sometimes used by the passing elephants to grab a drink. If this happens and the water is left a bit murky ‘n muddy, one call to reception is all it takes for it to be turned back into sparkling blue. On my last day, I enjoyed an ice-cold local ale, Zambezi Lager in the pool.
After dinner every evening, each resident is accompanied to their room by a ranger, in case there are wild animals roaming about. This is a requirement of the National Parks Authority, and a necessary one. One evening there were both Cape Water Buffalo and a herd of elephants roaming around the lodge.
I had a busy time during my holiday, wanting to do as much as I could in the short time I was in Victoria Falls, but the staff at the lodge are flexible and always willing to help. For example, lunch is served between 13:00 and 15:00, but if one arrives back from an excursion a bit later, something to nibble on can be arranged.
The lodge offers sunrise-, and sunset cruises (whether a single person, or a number of people) are booked, as well as game drives, and nature walk safaris. The sunrise cruises include coffee, hot chocolate, and tea for your enjoyment on the river. For those that can’t resist, there is Amarula for the coffee too. Oh, and the most delicious biscuits too; the oats crunchies are dangerously addictive!
During afternoon excursions, there are alcoholic beverages available – on the sunrise cruise you can enjoy a sundowner while you gently chug along, and the game drive has a pop-up bar somewhere along the route, where travellers can sip on something cold, enjoy some bite-size snacks and soak up the breathtaking view.
All the guides that accompany guests on the excursion are extremely knowledgeable of the area, the animals and the vast array of birdlife that can be found in- and around the lodge.
The meals at the lodge are next-level delicious! Chef Gabriel and his team indeed know their onions. The menu is a five-day rotational one, as Farai explained to me, but if there is something specific a guest would like to have, it is easily arranged.
Breakfast is a continental one to begin with, and guests can order an assortment of hot meals, which are prepare to order. I had eggs benedict one morning, and the Rangers’ breakfast the next. One thing that I love about the meals served is that the hot meals are served on hot plates, keeping the food warm throughout.
At every meal, Chef Gabriel makes a turn at the tables to make sure the guests are enjoying their meals. The waitstaff are polite and always at the ready to fill your water glass or get you a drink to have with your meal. I only had lunch at the lodge once, given my hectic schedule. It was Fillet of Tilapia (one of the 80 types of fish found in the Zambezi).
The dinners at the lodge are a culinary experience, with a selection that caters to all tastes.
I had dinner on two of the three evenings I was at the lodge (as I attended a dinner excursion on the Bushtracks Express one evening).
The travel agent that booked my stay at the lodge is a friend, and mentioned to them that I was coming to Victoria Falls as a to-myself-from-myself-40th-birthday-present. On the last night I was there, the manager on duty, Lessley, joined me for dessert. Halfway through that cheesecake, all the staff on duty came out singing “Happy Birthday”. For a minute I thought it was Lessley’s special day, but it turned out that I had been blessed with a birthday cake, which I was quite willing to share with the other guests, but they were all “well fed” with no extra space for cake. I ate a piece and had the rest divided amongst the staff.
On my last night, I came back to my room to find an envelope with my name on it, and a note inside. Again, it could have just read “room 6”, but that personal touch made it special.
I wish I could remember everyone’s names to thank them individually for their incredible hospitality, but for fear of (unintentionally) leaving someone out, I am simply going to say a universal “thank you!” to everyone at Old Drift. Being at the lodge has opened my eyes to the beauty of Victoria Falls town, the Mighty Zambezi and given me renewed hope for the future. I arrived at the lodge as a weary stranger, but left feeling like part of the Old Drift family. I’ve left a part of my heart there.
You may be rated as five-star by travel standards, but in my book, you’re a 10 out of 5 😀
Thank you for the memories! Ones I will treasure forever.
Now, I live in a tourist country, as many of you know. More so, I live in what is regarded as a tourist town, although out-of-season, the streets are rolled up at 5 PM. My favourite local destinations are Cape Town and closer to home, Wilderness and the Tsitsikamma. I’ve been to Durban and I spent the first nine years of my life in The City of Gold, and while it holds a nostalgic place in my heart, I’m not sure I would ever want to live there again. I’m a lover of small towns, with history or places that have trees. Cape Town has both characteristics, so that’s why it qualifies for me, despite being a city.
Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa, or you don’t”. I thought it was a joke. Seriously! Yet, ever since I was 12, having learned about Cecil John Rhodes, David Livingstone, and Henry Morton Stanley in history, I’ve had a yearning to visit Victoria Falls. I finally realized, after a stint in hospital earlier this year following a major depressive episode, that it’s time to realize long-term dreams, and then dream some more, turning those dreams into goals, with a definable deadline.
I’m going to blog about the best experience of my life in parts, because a single post will not do it justice.
I had a lovely flight from George to Johannseburg on Mango, enjoying a Zulu Blonde, a beer brewed in Eshowe in Natal.
I spent Thursday night with Kayla, at her home close to OR Tambo International Airport and met another amazing soul, Caroline. For the first time since my hospital stint, I had a drink, and then another and then another and well, at the end of the evening, it was 4 ½ bottles of wine and a truckload of laughter later.
Kayla made me swallow two paracetamols before bed, which thankfully warded off the worst part of an insane hangover. Caroline kindly dropped me at the airport, which was somewhat chaotic as the national airline, SAA is once again striking about wage increases. It irks me every time to hear about strikes, but even more so after my visit to Victoria Falls.
I went through passport control quite quickly because I was keen to browse around the duty-free area. So many shops, with so many wares, but nothing was bought because I didn’t want to have to lug anything all the way there, and then back again. Soon I was at the boarding area, where I sat reading my book, drinking coffee to properly wake up, and copious amounts of water to flush out the Wrath of the Grapes.
The BA flight to Livingstone left on time, and while I unfortunately had an aisle seat, the flight was pleasant. As we approached for landing, the Mighty Zambezi was clearly visible through the opposite window and I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed. My dream was slowly becoming truer by the second. Exiting the plane on the tarmac (which I’m used to, because we do it at George as well) at Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, I was hit squarely in the face by stifling heat. I hate getting hot, but there is something magical about the rays of the real African sun kissing your skin.
Declaration to enter in hand, Customs formalities were dealt with. Quickly and efficiently. Soon I was on the transfer bus, with another declaration form to complete to cross the border into Zimbabwe, which would be my home for three nights. The bus driver’s name was Stanley, a Livingstone local.
He drove me and some other BA travellers to their respective hotels (if within Livingstone), and the rest of us to the Victoria Falls border post. Once again, Customs entry was painless. Stanley handed us over to another driver, Lungile, and we entered Zimbabwe. I was the last person to be dropped off, as my accommodation was in the Zambezi National Park itself – an incredible place called The Old Drift Lodge.
My next post will be about The Old Drift Lodge, in the form of a review, which I will post to other-travel related sites, such as Tripadvisor.
I’m still reeling from Frances’s expected-yet-still-unexpected departure to the Other Side. And tomorrow, Malcolm will also be gone for three years. It feels like just yesterday that he too was sick one day and then gone the next. It’s comforting to know though that they’re both in a Better Place, free from pain and the oddities of the world.
My last conversation with Frances was a long one, where we spoke about many things. She said she had a few regrets but was grateful for the opportunity to be able to make amends and ask for forgiveness. I asked her if she could give any person in the world one piece of advice, what it would be; her reply take the risk if it means you’ll be happy – as long as it isn’t at the cost of someone else. I know exactly where this pearl of wisdom stems from, and why she gave it to me. I’m going to miss her a great deal – after such a long time without any communication to the last nine months of intense kinship, it feels like I’ve lost a sibling. I felt the same when Malcolm died. He was my best friend for a long, long time. I know that time heals all wounds, but it will never erase the memories, thankfully.
As an empathetic person, I don’t do well with negative emotions – be they hurt, grief, anger, sadness, anguish, guilt or (insert your own here) – so in an attempt not to wallow in the sorrow of losing my friend, I stayed busy. Frances would have understood; in fact, she would have expected me to.
Work kept my mind occupied during the day, and most evenings I had something to do – getting my bi-weekly manicure, dinner with friends, that kind of thing, but Friday…that was an a-maze-ing experience. Exhausting, but fun.
Every year, one of the main tourist attractions in our area, the Redberry Farm, where co-incidentally, Malcolm worked for a while, has an event called the Moonlight Maze. Their hedge maze is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere! Charlie and I did it during the day last year, in August and honestly, had it not been for him, I probably would not have found my way out. So, bravely (or stupidly, seeing as the line is very fine) Elizabeth, Chantel, Yasmin and I set off on our adventure, donning sneakers, glow-in-the-dark-glasses, and of course, mandatory flashlights in hand, which Yours Truly didn’t remember. Fortunately, I’m a creature of the night, so just used my night-vision.
Now, the object of the maze isn’t to go in at one end and out another – it is to find seven different stations within the maze and obtain a stamp at each one. Sounds easy enough, right? Uh, no! We found the first three stations with relative ease. Being in the maze even during the day is understandably disorientating. Add to that the black of night and crowds of people – amongst them excited kids of all ages and well, you might as well have put me on another planet. We spent almost the first hour of our time in the maze walking around in a circle around the very stations we already had the stamps from. We knew we had to get to the other side of the large structure resembling a giant strawberry, but we kept taking a left, or it could have been a right and ending up right where we had been before. All in all, we walked over 5 Km (a little over 3 miles) within the maze and with the help of one of the staff we crossed over to the side we needed to be to get the remaining stamps we needed. As a token of our completion of the task, we were awarded these badges as a souvenir to take home.
I had another souvenir when I woke up on Saturday morning – seriously stiff legs. I think that next year we should do it again – in memory of Frances whose star I know will light the way for us.