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Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 17 FINAL DAY!

HEADERNovember 20, 2015

In my seat on Delta Flight 1190 bound first for Akron/Canton.  Our expected take-off time is in 3 minutes.  I’m excited to be home in 1.5 hours but it was sad to say goodbye to Aryn, Kathryn and Judy in Atlanta.  The 16.5 hour flight felt faster than I expected.  I watched some movies but mostly slept.  Hard to believe that yesterday I was in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Let me catch you up on that morning’s events.

With our first expected meeting time at 10:15A, Vitalis was happy to tell us that we were all able to sleep in that last morning.  However, Aryn and I were up at 7:00A and met her mom and sister for a buffet breakfast by the pool.  I had a freshly-made ham and cheese omelette with a hearty side of fresh “pawpaw” (papaya) and coffee.

Then, Judy, Kathryn and I walked to the little strip of brick and mortar shops in town.  They were primarily focused on looking at clothing so I separated off with no real purpose in mind and no cash (only my credit card).

Victoria F alls Shops

Row of shops in downtown Victoria Falls

I stopped and chatted with Moses, the shopkeeper who had gone to fetch Vincent (the artist of the beautiful baobab tree drawing I purchased the day prior).

Baobab Tree Art

Here is the baobab tree drawing, now framed by Michael’s in Fairlawn, Ohio hanging in my sunroom. You can also see one of the woven pieces I bought at the Lwaavo Basket Weaving Center in Botswana. (The porcelain heart is a piece I bought a few years back in Paris).

Then, a few shops down the way, I found myself admiring a small sandstone hippopotamus.  It was marked with a small $8 price sticker.  Sadly, I had no cash.  However, the shopkeeper could tell that I really liked it so he offered to give me a “good deal.”  I explained that I had no cash and even pulled out my wallet to show him.  I, then, remembered the cheap pair of sunglasses on top of my head.  I was planning on throwing them in the trash anyway.  The guy said I would have to either come up with more or pair the sunglasses with some cash in order to make a deal.  I reiterated that I had no cash and then remembered that these guys like socks.  I asked if he wanted the socks on my feet and he asked me to take off my shoes so he could have a look.  After reviewing the socks, he agreed to trading my socks and sunglasses for the hippo!  I was thrilled!

Hippo Soap Dish

Sandstone hippo soap dish. In it are the copper bracelets I bought in Zambia and the Giraffe bracelets from the open-air market. The soap dish is sitting on the fabric I bought for $2 upon our initial arrival into Victoria Falls.

From there, I walked over to The Victoria Falls Hotel for a final iced coffee on the back terrace.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to quietly sit and reflect over my 3-week adventure.  As I approached the entrance to the hotel, a family of warthogs was crossing the street.  They stopped to look at me and I quickly took out my camera for a picture.

Victoria Falls Hotel

Front Entrance of The Victoria Falls Hotel. Notice the beautiful flame tree to the right of the entrance.


I walked through the main entrance of the hotel straight through to the terrace.  The time was 8:45A and I had the entire terrace to myself.  I looked out at the Victoria Falls Bridge in the distance accompanied by the beautiful lush green scenery.  The setting was so peaceful and the ice cream-topped iced coffee was deliciously refreshing.

Terrace View

View from my table on the terrace of The Victoria Falls Hotel

Iced Coffee

Best iced coffee on the planet!

Around 9:30A I headed back to The Sprayview Hotel.  Even though it was only a 15-minute walk, the back of my shoes were rubbing into the heel of my foot.  I can’t imagine how these people don’t wear socks over here because the pain from the rubbing really hurt.  As soon as I reached the hotel, I B-lined it for our room to put on a fresh pair of socks.  Then, I grabbed my 2 carry-ons and proceeded to where Vitalis requested we all meet: the room with the fireplace and sofas.  There, Vitalis hosted a debriefing of the trip and everyone was able to share some of their favorite moments and favorite things they learned.

Throughout our three weeks together, Vitalis spoke of a “global village.”   He explained that we, as travelers/tourists to his continent, can act like ambassadors by sharing our experiences in Africa with people back home.  By sharing what we learned and discovered, we help to encourage the future growth of tourism.

Everyone in our group got along really well.  I was also glad they were all so curious and kept asking so many questions because it allowed me to gain even more knowledge about the different countries, their people, the culture, the different terrains and all the amazing animals we encountered.  So many of their questions I would have never thought to ask.

During the debriefing, I did mention that when I began planning this trip with Aryn my expectation was for it to be another destination checked-off my “bucket list” of travel.  However, after having had such a wonderful, exciting and educational experience, I would love to return to Africa someday.  Everyone in the group all seemed to agree and you could tell this made Vitalis very proud.

Vitalis gave each one of us a small brown envelope.  Enclosed was a sheet explaining the history of David Livingstone, a list of learning & discovery highlights and a list of the collective noun terms for the animals (ie. “a pride of lions).  There was also a sheet with the contact information of everyone in our travel group so we could keep in touch!  Thank you Vitalis!

After the debriefing we milled around for a bit waiting for our minibus.  All of our bags were loaded in the minibus and we were whisked off to the Victoria Falls Airport.  On the bus ride, Vitalis instructed us on the do’s and don’t of Johannesburg Airport:  Do not accept help from anyone at an ATM unless it’s a staff member of the bank that approached you from INSIDE the bank.  Don’t get in an elevator alone.  Keep your luggage in sight.

We had a rather long wait at the airport to board our plane to Johannesburg but there were 3 really nice gift shops to explore and, surprisingly, the prices were very reasonable.  I bought another hippo soap dish!  I also had a crocodile burger at the restaurant/bar.

Crocodile Burger

Crocodile burger at Victoria Falls Airport

Once we reached Johannesburg it was time to split off from Vitalis and those going on the trip extension to Cape Town.  Lots of hugs and goodbyes occurred between us.  Aryn and I kept joking that we were bringing home “rocks” – meaning all of our sandstone sculptures.  Our carry-ons were quite heavy.  Kathryn bought this beautiful sandstone rhino for her brother David that was very heavy.  Regardless of lugging this bag around, I can’t wait to display these new treasures in Aaron’s and my home in Akron.  I hope he likes them all!

Red Billed Hornbills

Here’s the sandstone carving of the red-billed hornbills I bargained down to $20 at the open-air market in Victoria Falls.

Here I sit, 30 minutes from landing in the Akron/Canton Airport in Ohio.  Aaron is picking me up.  I’m excited to see him and, our pug, Louie.  I have so many happy experiences to share from this trip of a lifetime to Africa.  Also, excited to unpack the stuff I bought and situate it throughout the house!

Lwaavo Baskets

Two of the beautiful baskets I purchased from the Lwaavo Basket Weaving Center in Botswana

They say you can’t truly call yourself a world- traveler until you’ve done Africa.  What a privilege to now have these unforgettable memories.  I  think I can speak on behalf of everyone on this trip that we each experienced something pretty special there.  Suddenly, I’m reminded of one particular moment during a jeep ride back to our first camp (Baobab Lodge) after an evening of bar-hopping in Botswana.  I was captivated by the magnificent backdrop of an ever-changing sunset draped along the beautiful African scenery.  I was at perfect peace and felt blessed to be enjoying the simple pleasures of God.

Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) truly did a fabulous job of arranging this Ultimate African experience!  Thank you OAT!  I will recommend your trips to everyone I know.

Thank you to God for getting me home safe and in the smiling words of our wonderful guide, and friend, Vitalis:  “Good Good!”




Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 16 Part 3


Wednesday November 18, 2015 cont …

The Victoria Falls Hotel is situated in the Victoria Falls National Park along the southeast corner of town across from the falls.  Built in the early 1900’s, its grand Edwardian architecture capture the spirit of old aristocratic England.

Victoria Falls Hotel

Front entrance of The Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe

We entered the main lobby and walked all the way back to the exterior terrace (known as Stanley’s Terrace), passing through an open garden area and ornate guest parlor.

Stanley Room

The beautifully elegant “Stanley Room” at The Victoria Falls Hotel


From the terrace you could see the Victoria Falls Bridge framed in lush green trees.  It was absolutely stunning.

Victoria Falls Bridge

View out to the bridge from the terrace of The Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe.

A host seated us at a table along the terrace.  We all ordered the iced coffee and Aryn also got some multi-colored drink.  I was hungry so I ordered the Caesar salad with grilled crocodile – yes, crocodile.  I couldn’t resist it when I spotted it on the menu.  When it came out, I thought how strange to see this salad with beautiful greens, shaved parmesan cheese, creamy balsamic dressing and fresh cracked pepper with slices of crocodile on top.  This was definitely a first.  I took my first bite with Aryn, Kathryn and Judy eagerly watching to see my reaction.  It was amazing and actually tasted sort of like chicken.  LOL   The iced coffee was amazing as well.  It came in a tall clear glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Victoria High Tea

Judy, Kathryn, Aryn and Me seated for high tea at The Victoria Falls Hotel

After enjoying a relaxing time and nice conversation with the ladies we went to the lobby to call for a cab.  Aryn and Katheryn couldn’t help but hit the gift shop.

That night was our dinner cruise on the Zambezi River.  Our white minibus took us there where we were greeted by a quartet of tribally dressed men with drums singing and dancing.  It was really cool and they sounded awesome!

Tribal Dancers

African “tribal performers”

Then we all boarded the boat and sat down at two long tables.  Vitalis informed us that the first two rounds of drinks were on OAT.  This was the only group meal that we would have to pay for out of pocket.  I ordered a Merlot from South Africa but for my second drink took Vitalis’s suggestion when he said:  “You’re on the Zambezi River you gotta drink a Zambezi beer!”  Perfect idea, so I did.  Waiters took our orders but we were quick to jump up from our seats to snap photos of the oncoming hippos.

Zambezi River Hippo

Hippo yawning in the Zambezi River

All of a sudden, the starboard side of the boat was pulling up to the river’s edge so we all gathered over there to look.  There were two crocodiles: a mother and a baby.  They barely moved as we all stared and snapped photos.

Zambezi River Crocodile

Crocodile at the edge of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe

As the boat continued on down the river the sun began to set and, once again, we were all up out of our seats taking photos of the beautiful sunset.  In fact, I think our group may have set a new record that night for the most sunset pics on a given night.  Haha!  What a wonderful way to spend our last night in Africa.

Zimbabwe Sky

The sky over the Zambezi River was stunning that evening.

Sunset Boat

The sunset would not quit. It was so beautiful we were constantly up and out of seats taking pictures.

Zambezi River Sunset

God saying good night over the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.

As a special thank you to our amazing trip leader, Vitalis, one of the ladies in our group, Nora, sang “You Are My Sunshine” with new lyrics she had written that captured many of the highlights from our unforgettable trip.  The lyrics were so thoughtfully clever as well as “hilarious” (as Cheryl would say).

We all had a fantastic time but it was also sad as we realized we would all be leaving the next day (minus those traveling on to Cape Town for the trip extension.  I would have loved to include Cape Town and see the penguins.  However, I only had three remaining weeks of vacation time since I had already used up my fourth week traveling to Boston and Washington DC during the spring.  The folks going on to Cape Town were Cheryl, Norma, Barbara, Dana and Norm).  I also wish I could have done the pre-trip destination to the Thornybush Private Game Reserve in South Africa.  Donna was on that part of the trip and told of many wonderful and close-up animal sitings.  Perhaps next time.

Well, its’ been a long and eventful day and I really should get some sleep.  It feels funny to be back in a conventional hotel room, versus a “tent”.  I miss my African nights soundtrack of cicada’s accompanied by scattered calls from prowling lions, hyenas and baboons.  I should try and find a CD of that somewhere when I return home.  Being immersed in the crux of nature facilitates for a peaceful, drowning and delicious night’s sleep.  Although I miss Aaron and my dog Louie, it’s going to be hard to leave this place.  Africa has exceeded all my expectations.  I love it here and hope to return someday.  I would love to actually stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 16 Part 2

HEADERWednesday November 18, 2015 cont …

This was to be my first time ever riding in a helicopter!   I wasn’t nervous at all – only excited.  There were six of us seated in the back with Judy up front next to the pilot.  I was seated against a window but honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered where I sat because the windows spanned both sides of the cabin area and they were crystal clear.   There wasn’t a bad view from any seat in the chopper.

Victoria Falls Helicopter

Our helicopter for the “Flight of Angels” over Victoria Falls.

Brian in Helicopter

Me inside helicopter before take-off.

The 14-minute flight was called “The Flight of Angels” and took you up along the entire length of Victoria Falls and out over the wide Zambezi River.

Victoria Falls Bridge

Dry season for the f alls. During the rainy season, this would all be waterfalls. You can see the Victoria Falls Bridge in the upper left-hand quadrant.

Victoria Falls View

Aerial View of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Rainbow

The mist from the falls makes beautiful rainbows. Here is one of them.

The pilot formed a figure eight over the falls dipping us down just to the edge of the rocks.  As he made the figure eight he titled the helicopter on both sides presenting us with a complete bird’s eye view.  On the portion of the falls that were dry, he flew low enough to see the beautiful detail in rocks of the canyon walls.

Flight of Angels

Dipping down into the amazing falls.

I took lots of pictures and savored every minute.  What a fabulous way to experience my first helicopter ride!   When we returned to the helipad and deplaned we were all smiling from ear to ear.  From the helipad we were walked back to a the gift shop area and into a small room where a video was played of our flight.  There was an option to purchase the video but I opted out.

Now it was time for the short minibus ride back to the Sprayview Hotel.  Aryn, Kathryn, Judy and I sat down for a quick lunch in the pool area.  While we ate a baboon leaped up onto the half wall behind the pool.  Apparently, it was thirsty because it made its way to the edge of the pool and stuck its face in for a drink.

Thirsty Baboon

Baboon comes to our pool for a drink.

Then another baboon appeared on the roof, reached up into the low-hanging tree branches and grabbed a piece of fruit.  Got some great pics of that.  The two baboons didn’t stick around too long nor did we.  As soon as we were through eating we were on a mission to hit up the open-air markets with our money and various items for trade.

The “curios” market area was wide-spread and located just behind the post office and banks.  It was a $5 taxi ride or 15-minute walk.  We took the taxi figuring we’d save time so we’d have more time to shop and make it to the Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea.   The open-air curios markets consisted of three long corrugated metal roofed structures supported by heavy wooden posts.  A narrow dirt walkway ran all the way from one entrance to the back of the shops, then looped around and continued back along the opposite side all the way to the other entrance.

Zimbabwe Curio Market

View of one section of the open-air curio markets in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Each vendor’s space was squared off and stocked full of hand made, locally-inspired  curios – mostly animals carved from sandstone and various types of wood.  You could also buy African masks, bowls, beadwork, bracelets from elephant or giraffe tail, fabrics and the discontinued Zimbabwe currency.  (Inflation had taken so much hold on the Zambezi currency that the government discontinued it and now they use American Dollars and South African rands.  Those who cannot find work and are stuck with this useless currency have resorted to selling their bills as souvenirs to tourists as a means to make money to buy food).

Curio Market Zimbabwe

One the vendor spaces at the curio markets.


These vendors were eager to capture your attention and relentless to get you to buy.  They all offered “a good discount my friend” as none of the prices were fixed and cash could be paired with an item for trade.  The first thing I bought was an olive wood statue of two giraffes.  The original price was $55 and I ended up paying $15 plus my Spiderman tank top and Boston Red Sox T-shirt.  I also had two plain white T-Shirts that I traded later on for two olive wood bowls that had “The Big Five” carved along their exterior.  One of my last trades was the small desk-top battery-operated fan I had brought for the trip.  I traded that plus $5 for a small, hand-carved wooden bowl with a lid.

Market Trade

Trading my Red Sox T-Shirt and Spiderman tank for a wood carving of two giraffes.

Across the way, I spotted a cute little sandstone hippo soap dish.  I loved it but wanted to save my cash since we still had a number of other shops to see.  The guy wanted $15 for the small soap dish.  I thought about it as I stood next to Aryn who was busy bargaining her wares for some bright-colored beaded bowls.  As I told the salesman “no” he lowered his price to $12 and I reached in my pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill.  I explained that $5 was all I had left (not true).  He said he couldn’t lower his price to $5 so I thanked him for his time and walked over to Aryn.  The guy quickly followed me and said he could lower the price to $10 but that was it.  I explained again that all I had left was $5 and he asked if I had anything to trade.  Unfortunately, I had traded everything at that point (it’s amazing how fast my trade items went).   That is when the guy asked to see my socks.  At first, I was confused.  He looked down at my feet and asked me to take off my shoes.  Apparently, socks are wicked expensive and with Zimbabwe’s 80% unemployment rate most people can’t afford them.  In fact, I noticed this guy was’t even wearing socks.  My socks were Puma brand and when I rested my hand on his shoulder for balance and took off one shoe at a time he wanted to make sure there were no holes in my socks.  Pleased to see there were none, he offered to trade my socks and my five dollar bill for the hippo soap dish.  Aryn and I could hardly believe what we were hearing.  I explained to the guy that I had been wearing these socks all day but he didn’t care.  So I took them off and for my dirty socks and five bucks I got my hippo soap dish!  There were a ton more shops to hit and there I stood with no socks.  LOL  I thought the whole experience was hilarious and I mostly did it for the great story I could tell people back home!  Haha!

Curio Market Trading

Aryn doing some serious buying and trading in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

From that point on, Aryn and I followed one another very closely.  We had lost Judy and Kathryn and almost tripped over a warthog as we exited the first curio market.  In the next section I bought 2 lace pitcher screens (to cover a beverage pitcher from bugs) for $7 and just across the way two sandstone carved statues.  One featured the heads of two giraffes (this was going to be a gift for my dad) and the other was a statue of two red billed hornbills (this was for me).  The lateness in the day was to my advantage as I was able to take the sales guy down to $40 for both of these statues.

Sandstone Carvings

Sandstone Carvings for Sale & Trade

I was quite happy with all of my purchases/trades.  Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to pack all these items to keep them safe during the flight home.  I did bring an extra that I could carry on the plane, just for this reason.  I will see if the hotel is willing to give me some news paper or something to wrap everything.  I’m also glad I brought a travel luggage scale to verify that I stay below the maximum required weight permitted by TSA.

Eventually, we spotted Judy and Katheryn who were ready to leave and so we did.  Our next stop was Victoria Falls Hotel.  On the way there, the photographer from our elephant back safari came out of one of the stores with my photo CD from my ride.  I had completely forgotten I had ordered one so I paid him and on we walked through town and along the train tracks to the beautiful and famous Victoria Falls Hotel.


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