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

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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

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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.

 


Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 16 Part 1

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November 18, 2015
I set my phone alarm for 5:00A this morning to be in the hotel lobby by 5:40A.  Our optional excursion is a rhinoceros game drive in Livingstone Private Game Reserve about 25 minutes outside of Victoria Falls.  I am going on this game drive with Dana and Barbara and we are very excited.  We have been told we have an 85% chance of seeing, at least, one rhino.  This will complete my viewings of “The Big Five” as they say here in Africa.

The ride to the game reserve was in an open jeep on a main road.  The sunrise was beautiful but through most of the drive my eyes were closed because of the wind.  I was freezing and wished I had worn my hoodie.  I couldn’t wait to get off the main road and into the game reserve park because, I knew, we would slow down, so the wind wouldn’t feel as cold.  Just as we entered the park we saw baboons.  They crossed the dirt road right in front of us and skittishly took off.  Then we saw five radiant zebras.  They were feeding off the dry grass just a few feet on either side of our jeep.  It was great seeing these animals up so close.  You got a much clearer sense of how striking their alternating white and black stripes are throughout their coat.  So beautiful.

Zebra Eating

Zebra at Livingstone Private Game Reserve in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Impalas at Livingstone

The impalas we saw right after the zebras.

Stork and Egret

Saddle-billed stork and a great egret. Not sure about the name of the smaller grey bird.

We also saw some impala, kudu and egrets but the pinnacle moment was when we encountered a “crush” of five rhinos.  There were three adults and two babies.  The babies were amazingly adorable.  Our guide said the adults were two females and a male.  We pulled the jeep right into the area where they were and our driver shut off the engine.  There we sat, for at least a half hour or more, spellbound as these creatures walked around.  They came so close to the jeep that you could reach out and touch them.  Their eyes are mere slits just barely open but they would walk up to the jeep, lifting their heads and opening their eyes wider to get a good look at us.  All three of us got some great pics and I took some awesome videos, as well.

Livingstone Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros in Livingstone Private Game Reserve.

Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros at Livingstone Private Game Reserve. This one came right up to our jeep.

 

I was amazed that regardless of however close they came to our jeep, I never felt threatened.  There was a moment that one of the females felt the male was getting too close to her young.  She grunted and butted horns with the male.

Rhino Face Off

Male & Female Rhinoceros face-off.

The sun was shining bright and I was finally feeling warm.  There were two stone water troughs permanently placed and the rhinos would mosey on over there for a drink.   I also got some great pics of the mother nursing her baby.  So cool.

Nursing Rhino

Female rhinoceros nursing her young.

Five Rhinos

The five rhino all gathered together for my photo. LOL

The time on this excursion was limited because our guide needed to drive us to the spot where we would start our elephant-back safari.  Sadly, we drove away from the rhinos.  As we continued on, I wondered if we would see any more.  We did see a herd of elands.  The driver took another road that brought us  right behind them and as we drove up from behind they all took off running.  It was so cool to see them in motion.  Beautiful, regal-looking antelopes.

Elands

Elands staring us down before they took off running.

We drove back to the main road and soon, thereafter, we could see the coral where everyone was mounting the elephants.  Our elephant-back safari was to last one hour and then we would be served breakfast.  Kathryn, Aryn, Judy, Nora and Donna were already on their elephants when Dana, Barbara and I arrived.

Elephant Profile

Love this pic. Great shadowy backdrop paired with a detailed close-up.

As I waited my turn to step up onto the elevated mounting stand, I was paired up with a very friendly woman from England.  Her name was Susan.  She had asked if I would take pictures of her and email them to her since her husband had forgotten their camera back at the hotel.  All the elephants were trained from birth to be mounted by humans.  They were all teenagers as after that age they would be released to the wild as they were no longer considered safe for tourists to ride.  Susan and my elephant’s name was Deka.  He was 16-years-old.  Susan sat in the back, me in the middle and in front of me was our guide Benjamin.  He was a local.

Elephant Ride

Susan, Benjamin and I ready to go for a ride on Deka.

Susan was very nervous about riding the elephant.  At first, I was a bit uneasy sitting up so high and feeling unsteady at the same time.  Fortunately, there were stirrups and once I was able to get my feet secured I had a better sense of balance and was able to relax.  Still, I held on fast to the horn of the saddle.  I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of just how wobbly this ride would feel.  I kept remembering our  camel ride along the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt and the unbalanced strides of my camel.  Right away, I felt the elephant ride was much more stable.  As my ride continued, I felt comfortable enough to free my hands from the harness to take some photos and videos.  Susan could not get over the fact that I was holding on to nothing while taking pictures.  I was, however, extra careful to keep a tight grip on my camera so I wouldn’t drop it.

Elephant Safari

Look! No Hands!

Our guide, Benjamin, was very informative and shared a lot of information about the elephant’s training, what they were fed and so forth.  I asked if I could pet the top of Deka’s head and he said: “Sure, go head.”   Deka’s skin was so dry and rough.  Benjamin told me to feel behind the elephants ears.  I did and I was amazed how soft and smooth they were – like finely-polished leather.  That part of their skin was also extremely cool to the touch.  Very interesting.

Elephant Caravan

Our caravan of elephants.

We mostly saw birds and impala but the experience of riding an elephant was exciting enough.  We did pass by a crocodile laying in the grass.  About three quarters of the way into the ride our guide pointed out some vultures.  They were gathered together, high up in a tree.  We knew that vultures would often lead you to a cat.  So our caravan of elephants began to head toward the vultures.  As we walked there was a main guide in front of everyone walking along side a cameraman.  I couldn’t believe these two men felt safe walking through the grass on their own.  Especially past the crocodile and now we were searching for a cat (who is able to jump up to six meters to attack).  You couldn’t pay me enough to be walking down in that grass, especially when we spotted a lioness lying in the shade beside her kill (an impala).  Wow!  How cool was this to be on the back of an elephant and watching a lion just a few meters away.  The lioness got up and slowly walked around for a bit.  I think she was getting nervous seeing all these elephants.  The guides had the elephants stop and we all watched the lioness for a while.

Lioness in Grass

Lioness carefully watching as our elephant caravan passes by.

After the ride, our guide motioned for our elephant to kneel down so we could come and sit on his leg and feed it the little pellets.  Deka whisked his trunk over to my hand and took all the pellets up into the nostrils of his trunk.  He then reached the end of his trunk around into his mouth and ate all the pellets.  Benjamin gave me another handful of pellets and Deku’s trunk took those quickly as well.  This went on four times while Susan took pictures of me feeding Deku.  It was so cool.

Feeding Elephant

Me Feeding Deka

Elephant and Me

Me posing with Deka

After this, we walked over to a table that was selling large sheets of paper made out of elephant dung.  Printed on the paper was an elephant footprint and they were each marked to identify which elephant the foot print belonged to.  The souvenir was $20 and I opted out because I really wanted the CD of the photos the professional photographer had captured during our elephant-back safari.   Next we all gathered into a large roof-covered areas with tables.  There was a buffet breakfast prepared for us and by now I was starving.  There was fruit, yogurt, sausage, seasoned ground beef, dry cereal along with coffee, juice, milk and water.  Just outside the canopy was a grill and a man frying up eggs.  The food was delicious and as we ate a video was played of our experience with the elephants.

Safari Breakfast

Serving up breakfast after our elephant-back safari.

After breakfast we all boarded a white minibus and everyone was delivered back to their hotel.  Aryn, Judy, Kathryn, Dana, Barbara, Donna and I, of course, were taken to the Sprayview Hotel.  We hung out in the lobby until a new driver arrived at 10:45A to take us to our next optional excursion:  a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls!  I was so excited!


Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 3

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November 17, 2015 cont …

The walk from the Sprayview Hotel into Victoria Falls town center was quick.  I was amazed how friendly people were.  Random locals passing by would smile and say “Hello” or wave and greet me from across the street.  It was such a friendly and open atmosphere.  I loved it.  My first stop was the post office and much to my dismay it had just closed.   An iron gate covered the glass doors of the entrance and through the glass I could see two clerks behind the counter.  As I looked in the slatted windows a woman called out asking if I needed stamps.  I answered “yes, just thirteen post card stamps.”  She asked if they were intended for the United States and I told her they were.  I thought she was going to tell me to come back tomorrow but she said:  “that will be $13.00” and in a minute she came to the window, handed me the stamps through the slatted glass panes.  I, then, gave her the cash and thanked her.  Wow!  What nice people!

Just outside was a red post office box and as soon as I stamped each of the post cards I slipped them inside.  The time was a few minutes after 5P.  From there, I walked across the parking lot and street to check out the strip of shops along the main drag.  The sidewalk was beautifully festooned with vibrant flame trees.

Flame Trees

Beautiful Flame Trees along the strip of shops in the town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The shops were packed full of locally inspired curios all made by local artisans and very reasonably priced.  I was told you could not bargain in these shops but I soon learned otherwise.  All the shop keepers were very friendly.  You’d walk in their store and they’d greet you and ask where you were from.  If you found something of particular interest they’d say “I can give you the sunset discount.”  If you were not interested you could just say “thank you” and walk away with zero harassment.  As you exited their shop they thanked you for stopping in.  These interactions were very refreshing compared to some of the other overseas shopping I have done (particularly the Aswan and Khalili (open-air) Market in Egypt).

Victoria Falls Shops

More shops in downtown Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Shopping and Dining

A small cafe among the shops in Victoria Falls

In one of the shops I was captivated by a beautiful 11×17 pencil sketch of a baobab tree.  I thought what a wonderful representation of Africa to display at home.  The artwork was signed by a Vincent and I asked if he was there in the store.  The young man who helped me quickly went and got the artist (who was outside but somewhere nearby).   Vincent Mathe was a young man from Zimbabwe probably in his late 20’s.  He told me about the piece and said his original asking price was $65.  I explained that I was not prepared to pay that price and I was concerned about getting it home without it being torn or creased.  Vincent said he could make me a cardboard tube to store it.  I agreed that should work and knew I would just have to carry it on the plane myself.  From there, he and I negotiated the price of the artwork down to a final $40.  We shook hands and Vincent signed the back of the artwork and wrote down his contact information.  I told him once I had it framed I would send him a picture of it hanging on my wall.  He was so excited about that.  Then we walked to the back of his shop and he picked up a cardboard box and proceeded to tear it down to the right size to make a sturdy tube.  Then he carefully rolled up the artwork and placed it in the cardboard tube for me to safely take home.  I was so happy with my purchase.

Vincent and I took a quick picture together outside the shop. We shook hands again and then I began my walk back to the hotel.

Vincent & Brian

Vincent and I outside of his shop in Victoria Falls

Across the street from the hotel was a small park with iron statues of horses, cape buffalo and other animals.  There was a “congress” of baboons moving through the park.  I tried to get their picture but they moved quickly and soon disappeared.

Before dinner we all gathered into a small room extended from the hotel lobby.  We sat in chairs surrounding a long table and in came a men’s quartet.  I was extra excited for this because I’m really into music.  The group had a robust and dynamic sound.  They sang their own interpretations of a handful of American doo wop songs.  I was hoping for some local tribal singing but listening to them was very nice and reminded me of some of my High School singing days.

Dinner was served poolside and the main course was one of the best entrees I’ve had this entire trip – roasted warthog.  Yes, you read that correctly – warthog!  I could hardly believe how good it was.  Perfectly cooked.  No fat whatsoever and deliciously seasoned with a nice dark brown gravy.  :)   Too bad we can’t get warthog back in the Ohio.  LOL

After dinner, I sat at a table beside the pool and Facetimed with my mom and dad for a while (they live in Florida).  I was able to catch them up on most of the highlights from this trip and then I went to my room for some air conditioned sleep.  Before dozing off, Aryn and I chatted for a while.  Apparently, that night she had seen a lizard darting around our room.  I warned her she better check inside her shoes before slipping them on in the morning.  I had to be up earlier than her the next morning (5:00A) for my rhino game drive in the Livingston Private Game Reserve.  So excited!  I was told we have an 85% chance of seeing at least one rhino.  I really hope so since it will complete my goal of seeing all five of “The Big Five” (Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhinoceros and the Cape Buffalo).  Night Night!

 


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