Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 3 - Zambia

Somehow I actually managed to sleep last night. The storm definitely helped. But the sun came up early - and directly through my open window and on to my face. And the birds. Jeez - so many weird sounding birds that started chirping and tweeting at 5am. Needless to say, I was already awake when my alarm went off at 6:45. 

I got dressed, packed everything up, ate a banana, and sat out on the patio while I waited to leave at 7:30. Janine, and even more so Lorraine, were adamant about getting me to the airport super early. Just in case there is traffic or a wreck or whatever. Haha. They don't know how I usually travel, but I didn't argue. 

So we were out the door at 7:30 and I got my first good look at Johannesburg. All I'll say is never seen so much razor wire and barred windows in all my life. The unemployment rate is like 50%, so of course there is crime. People break in and steal just to survive. 😔 

Lorraine is quite excited for my trip. She kept going on and on about Vic falls and how there just isn't anything quite like it. She was born in what used to be Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and grew up going to be falls every weekend! Somehow Janine has never been, despite being so close, so I promised her lots of pictures and videos. 

Anyways, we were at the airport just shortly after 8. My flight was at 10:40!!! Might officially be the earliest I've ever been to an airport. More time to shop I guess!! 

There was a kiosk just inside the door that let me scan my passport and check in. Printed my boarding pass, found the entrance to go through security...and decided to walk around for awhile and scope out the airport instead of going through. I mean I had like 2.5 hours. So why not. 

First shop I went in, I walked out with a new hat, tshirt, and of course some jewelry. I might have a shopping problem... but only in foreign countries.  Does that make it any better?? ;)

I was wandering around in there for quite awhile so I decided I better just make it through security in case it was a disaster or there were problems. I must screen "tourist" because before I could even get to the security screening entrance, some guy grabbed my arm and asked me where I was going. I mean I wasn't even looking confused or looking at signs or anything. It was pretty straight forward. But of course I started talking to him, and all of a sudden he had my boarding pass on his hand and was walking off telling me to follow him. 

Ugh. How does this always happen to me?? I grabbed it back and was like oh thanks I'll just hang on to that. And where are we going?? He was saying something about that security like being for business class and I was economy. So I had to go through a separate line. Much quicker line. Which I KNEW was a load of crap. But he showed me his airport credentials and he had on a uniform. So I followed him. It got a little sketchy when we walked to a pretty empty part of the airport and literally BEHIND the check in counters (that weren't being used) -- and that's when he started hitting me up for money. 

Ha. Yeah right dude. It's not happening. I had my bags clinched and just kept walking. He was all oh I was so nice to you to show you his shortcut and I take any currency. I repeatedly said I didn't have ANY cash (minus that wad of hundreds in my pocket!) and he wasn't getting anything. But thanks for showing me the way. I mean I was nice about it. He did show me to a really small line in a back corner of the airport to get me right through to be gates. But come on. I'm not paying you for that. He eventually stomped off and I walked right through. :)

No restrictions on how many liquids you can have, but my Swell bottle full of water definitely didn't make it. The guy took it and said he had to go dump it. And was literally gone for like 5 minutes. About the time I decided he was probably just going to steal it, he came back around he corner waving it. Haha. No idea where he went but I was happy to have it back! 

Still had plenty of time to walk around and shop at the airport. They had Tumi and Burberry and all kinds of fancy shops. None of which I went in. Found a little cafe instead and had a water and a banana muffin for breakfast. 

I found a couple more bracelets to buy as I sloooowly made my way to the gate. I actually burned enough time walking around that I didn't have to sit and wait for long. Maybe 10 minutes and then we started boarding. Which meant taking a bus out to an airplane on the runway. Africa...

Quick two hour flight to Livingstone, Zambia. It wasn't even close to a full flight so I went to the back of the plane where there were some empty rows and laid down to try and sleep. It didn't happen. Too excited for this waterfall...

As soon as we stepped off the plane, I was greeted with a wave of heat that about knocked me over. I don't think I'll ever get used to the African heat, haha. Just so HOT here!! And we had to walk all the way across the runway to the airport. My leg was ready starting to sweat in that stupid boot. Going to be a long 10 days in that thing...

New hat!! ^^

Didn't have to wait in line too long for a visa for both Zambia AND Zimbabwe that is also good for a day in Botswana! Score! Just knocked out all three countries in 5 minutes for $50. 

As soon as I got to the arrivals area, I saw my guy holding a sign with my name on it. I generally don't like messing with airport transfers. It's so easy to get ripped off and I don't won't to waste time with it. So I hired a guy to drive me around today. And he showed up on time AND in a big tour bus. For just me. And all for like $12. Haha. Africa's the best. 

So while we were driving through Livingstone and he was talking and telling me stuff, he realized I didn't need to be at the hotel for another 2 hours before I was supposed to go see the falls. I asked if there was something else we could do, and I meant like go get some food or something. But he said, "Well, do you want to see some lions and cheetahs?" Ummmm is that a serious question?? I about jumped in his lap trying to hug him I was so excited! 

So his friend works for some wildlife refuges place and they do safaris but they also have animals that they are trying to reintroduce in to the wild. They keep some for breeding but almost all get sent back to the wild. So we pull up and get out and his friend comes up...they exchange some words and off we went down some dirt path. YES!!

This guy could have written a book about lions. No joke. Or maybe I could after listening to him for so long. He spewed out more information about the species than I knew existed. All the while I'm trying to keep up with him on an unsteady a boot that is no longer gray but turning more African red dirt color with every step. 

We got to the first enclosure and he just kept talking about these specific lions. He knew all there names and birthdays and anything else there is to know about them. I was captivated by these huge cats just separated from me by a thin fence. It was hot (like way super hot and my shirt was soaked in sweat) so they were just relaxing under a tree. Then I spotted the gate. I wanted in. 

He said only workers can go in. So, knowing how it usually works out for me in Africa, I said if I pay you $10 can I PLEEEAAASE go in? Done deal. That easy. So as he quietly opened the gate and went in, he turned around and asked if I was sure I wanted to do this. Something about "are you sure you are brave enough to come in here?" But by the time he turned around, I was already on his heels and headed for the giant male. Hahaha. For some reason I wasn't scared. I don't know. Maybe I'm like genetically missing the fear thing? I mean I was walking in to a cage with three lions in Africa.  ??

I squatted down right by them and the worker guy was just standing there kind of nervously. I think he was worried either 1 the lions would sense someone new and act unexpectedly or 2 his boss would see that he just took a bribe (and not even a good one - I would have went way higher!) to let a tourist in the lion cage. 😁

I reached out and touched both the female and male closest to me. The male kind of rolled his giant head up and looked at me but didn't really seem to care.  He had the most amazing eyes I've ever seen.  His skin was think and his hair was course. Oh and the kicker?? His name is Terry. No joke. No wonder I loved him!!

I slowly walked over to the other female laying a little further away. Bent down slowly. Reached out for her. She instantly shot me a look like wtf do you think you're doing?  And right after the picture (below) she got right up and was heading for me. HA!! Took all of .5 seconds for the worker to be in between me and the lion and he was scolding her (her name was Diane) and shewing her away. Before I even knew what happened! 

So that was all the adult lion enclosures I got to go in. Haha! But it was enough. I totally loved it. 

We went to a couple of other adult enclosures. One white lion who was pregnant and didn't like me in her face. A really giant male. A couple other adults...

And then the best - the Cubs!! Two eight month olds!

They were so curious about the camera and my bag and my boot...just anything that moved in general they thought was a toy. 

Saw the cheetahs after that and they were so hot and tired they didn't even notice we were in their faces. 

It was a quick and unexpected little trip but was so so awesome. Sometimes the on a whim things are the best. :)

So the next on a whim thing? Oh we still have time to kill and I can go bungee jumping?? Sign me up. 

The bungee place was just down the road from the lion place. I'm not going to lie. It looked pretty sketchy. Like not all the safety and security measures there were when I bungees in California. But I was still listening to the guy tell me about it (I was the only one out there) and was going to do it until he realized I had a bum foot. And he said no way. The reasoning? They don't pull you back up to where you jump from - which was basically a rock. They lower you down to a platform in the bottom of the gorge AND YOU HAVE TO HIKE OUT OF THE CANYON! I thought they were joking. They weren't. Either way I was mad they wouldn't let me do it. He said I would t make it out. I knew I could. Regardless, there was no bribing him. We left. :(

The platform I would have had to jump off of. And what I would have had to hike up out of... 

We didn't have that much time to kill so we drove to the super fancy hotel where a boat would take me to Livingstone Island. I didn't even know places like this existed in Africa! As soon as we drove in, two zebras were just casually walking across the street. 

And when we pulled up to the reception building, my jaw dropped. Everything was so nice and it was open air and looked out on to this green lawn and a pool...and then the mighty Zambezi river. Pretty. Rest taking views, with "the smoke that thunders" just off to the left. That's what the locals first called Victoria falls. The smoke that thunders. Because the waterfall is so high and powerful that the spray from it really looks like smoke and you can see it (and hear it thundering off the rocks) from a long ways away. 

That's the boat I got in ^^

So you know me. Never giving up until I get my way. Or at least feel good that I have it one heck of a shot. I was SO determined to get in the water and to the edge of the falls. That was mike half the reason why I came down here anyways. I've seen the pictures of the tourists dangling their feet off the edge of the worlds largest waterfall snd I wanted to see it, hear it, experience it. Take it all in. I had to do it. Despite repeatedly being told no, because the water was much too high and the tides too powerful to get there safely. I kept asking. Kept begging. There had to be someone... Someone willing to take a risk with a crazy American for a few extra bucks. 

Persistence, as usual, paid off. I found my guy. For $50 he took me to the island (along with three other people and another guide who didn't know what was up) and then he did it. 

Ooooh wait, let me back up. This is good. I was told a hard absolute "not happening" so many times when I was back in the states that I didn't even bring a swimsuit to Africa. I mean it's not like I'm going to be lounging around in a hot tub in a refugee camp in Uganda. And I really didn't think this was going to happen. That I would actually find someone to take me in high water rushing. Soooo next best option? Borrow a piece of fabric from a lady and strip down to your bra and thong.
Yeah, that happened. The guy was really cool and said what happens on the island stays on the island. 

So off we went. Me in a nude colored bra and nude lacy thong. And a piece of African cloth. I totally downplayed my stress fracture and told him I was fine to walk anything. I didn't realize what that meant. We slipped through mud up to my ankles first. And that was the easy part. 

Just trampsing through Africa in my bra. No big deal...

I started to wonder just what I had got myself in to as he had a death grip on me and we were side sliding along a plank of moss covered wood to get out to the also mosd covered jagged rocks. The rocks that you can usually walk across when the water is low during summer. But this is rainy season. And it was sloooow going. Almost impossible to get a grip on a shsrp rock with powerful water up to your knees or higher was trying to knock you over. 

The waterfall is about 5 feet in front of me at this crossing... ^^

Like I said, he had a death grip on me and wasn't letting go. So that was nice. But man. Not safe. Like, at all. And that first side was better than the next side! 

So there are two sides of Victoria falls separated by this island. We made our way to one side first and I literally can't even describe it. I mean I was soaking wet from slipping and swimming and just the spray. But when he found a semi uncovered rock and let me sit down with my feet close to the edge. And I could look down and see this powerful water gushing straight down. It literally took my breath away. I was clapping and screaming like a kid in a candy store. He was great and brought my iPhone with him -- inside his bodysuit and under his rain coat. (Yeah he was all covered and I was basically naked.) and took tons of pictures. I could post at least 75 right here...but I won't. 

On the other side of that rock the current probably would have taken me over.

Oh man - I just can't describe it. I have probably hundreds of pictures and none of them even come CLOSE to doing this place justice. It should be on everyone's bucket list if you ask me. ;)

Okay so as if that wasn't enough - I mean I thought that was it. (And my foot was hoping that was it.) We walked back through the island and to the other side. The waterfall was even bigger on that side. Which meant more powerful. First he found me a spot close to the edge but no so far in to the waterfall where I could sit. It was wonderful. Just absolutely wonderful.

But then we kept going. Further and further out in to the stronger and stronger currents. And the only things keeping me from just toppling over the edge with one misstep was a ridiculous little rope at the edge of the falls, and my guides death grip. I mean that rope though. Come on. If anyone did fall, who would be in the frame of mind to reach up and successfully grab it and then hang on as you went over?! Yeah, right. It was the first time I was seriously thinking I might have gotten in over my head by asking for this. The water was so strong and coming at me so hard and fast. I could barely stand up and when i did I just started to fall. Towards the fall. He eventually got me to a spot I could sit with my legs over a rock facing away from the falls and told me DO. NOT. MOVE. haha. He left me and went back for my phone to snap some pictures.

That water is coming FAST. Trust me. ^^

I didn't move. And have never held on to any rope tighter in my life. 

I literally could go on and on about the whole experience and time spent at the edge of the falls. But it's getting late here and I have another full day tomorrow. So I'll just leave it with this: coolest thing I've ever done. Aaaaand probably one of the most unsafe. Haha. (Okay I know I say "coolest thing I've ever done" at least once on every trip but this one might take the cake.) 

Oh and once we got back to dry land he asked me how I liked it. I gave him the biggest bear hug and said it was the most amazing thing ever. He just kind of stood there frozen. And then I realized I was still basically naked - the water had pulled my cloth almost completely off and I was too hyped up to realize it. So I guess hugging a big Zambian guy when your barely clothed is a little awkward. Don't care. ;)

I got dried off and dressed and we ate some snacks on the island before heading back to the hotel. Man. Still can't believe that happened...

My same driver was waiting on me there and he drove me to the border of Zimbabwe. 

The falls from the bridge 

That was as far as he could drive me. But he took me in and got my passport stamped and then walked me across the border to another driver to take me to my hotel. Totally paid off to hire this company to take me around. Just made today so easy. If you're ever in this part of the world, I definitely recommend Shearwater Adventures. 

My new driver took me through the town of Vic falls and out to my hotel, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. 

Now I always (ALWAYS) book a super cheap hostel or couchsurf or whatever I can find. I'm cheap. And I like to meet new people. So it's a win win. But I have a confession. I splurged this trip. I got a crazy good deal on a room at this fancy place last minute and just decided to go for it. It has great reviews and looked amazing...and I stayed for free in Joburg and am staying in free and then mike $10/night places in Uganda. So I said why not. Just once.

Man oh man. This place is really something else. And I don't mean for African standards. I mean this place would be way fancy in the US, too!! And get this. When we pulled up to the main reception area, they said I'd been upgraded to stay at the safari club. It's a five star place. No joke. I don't think I have ever ever once in my life booked a five star place, haha. And it wasn't even that expensive. Expensive for Africa but not expensive for the U.S.  

I was totally blown away just when we pulled up. The guy took my bags and walked me down to his patio with a view of a watering hole where like 6 elephants were just hanging out.  This whole place overlooks a national park so there is siloce everywhere. 

He brought me some juice and a cool hand towel. Then he walked me up to my room. 

I couldn't believe this place. Just ridiculous. And everything is free. Two bottles of free wine. Full bottles of shampoo and conditioner and lotions and bug spray and four different options to choose your own pillows!! A deck win sweeping views of the park and the watering hole. A stereo system that connects to my phone. Is Bluetooth. An espresso machine. A fully stocked fridge and mini bar (all free). Wooden chandeliers. I couldn't get over it. :)

After it set in that I really was staying at this nice of a place for two nights, I took an amazing rain shower...but didn't wash my hair. I might never wash my hair again. It's the hair that is soaked with water from Victoria falls. Hahaha. Okay that and I just didn't want to mess with it. (Even though there are nice hair dryers here -- which I used to dry the only bra I brought that was STILL soaked from the waterfall dip) 

Oh and no boot tonight. It is so sweaty and smelly already. It just needed a break, and my foot is shockingly feeling alright. Even after that barefoot hike. 

I made reservations to have dinner at The Boma, a buffet restaurant on the property that sounded fun and had good reviews. 

So for dinner I had alligator tail, warthog...and a mopani worm. No joke. The workers were teasing me about it and didn't think I would do it. I don't back down from a dare. Especially one I get a certificate for!!! It certainly wasn't good but I guess it maybe wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting? Definitely chewy. Ugh. Pretty funny video of it I'll have to post...

Alligator tail wrapped in cucumber^

Also had spinach and green beans and beets and fruit all that stuff you're not supposed to eat in Africa. I swear if I live through tonight without something coming up or out it will be a miracle. So far so good. Intestines of steal. (Probably just jinxed myself...)

The entertainment was pretty intense. Lots of crazy fast and loud dancing and loud hollering and drum beating. A lot to take in and a little touristy but still a fun night. 

At one point they called me up to dance with them. 

Hell. Yes. I can get my African groove on with the best of them!! 

Got to drum a little too. Not so good at that one, haha, but it was fun! 

Aaaaand I got a mosquito bite. Dang it!! I've been trying to be really careful but sitting around outside at night it was bound to happen. It's on my elbow. And I think I have malaria now. JUST KIDDING MOM!! I mean not about the mosquito bite but I actually took my malarone last night. And Im hopefully going to remember to take it tonight to (I'm on a roll, haha. I usually don't take it at all!) so I should be in the clear. :)

Okay - back in my fancy room with all my pillows and under my mosquito net. What a day. This one will be hard to top. 

Off to Botswana tomorrow for a safari in Chobe national park... Should be another good day!! 

Ummmm sorry this is so long. #longestupdatedever #sorrynotsorry 

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