Friday, May 5th:
It feels so good to have an organized, slightly lighter bag as we load our luggage into the Uber to head to the Nairobi airport. Security to get to the airport is the most intense that I’ve ever seen- all passengers have to leave the vehicle and they do a search while the driver slowly passes though a gate and the passengers walk through a metal detector. Your pockets are emptied and all contents x-rayed along with any handbags. There’s also a light pat down. Then we enter the airport where we are checked again before going to the gate. Our repacking paid off- just 40kg total to check-in so we don’t have to pay fees for the first time since Zanzibar! Yay! They also don’t notice or maybe just aren’t concerned about the seashells. Our first flight of the day departs Nairobi at 6am and we are both surprised that they feed us a full breakfast on such a short flight to Malawi. As we are passing over familiar Tanzania, we see Kilimanjaro but miss the opportunity to take a picture since we are sleepy and don’t realize right away that it is the famous mountain. Hopefully we’ll see it again soon! Our first stop of the day is Lilongwe, Malawi where we sit in an awkward lounge with nothing to do for hours. Sher is really saddened by the lack of food and the fact that the soccer on the television is only old highlights. The security to enter the airport in Lilongwe is quite intense as well… they do a thorough hand search of every bag and rescan a few of our souvenirs. But at least they are friendly while probing our bags and bodies! Finally we are on our next flight from Malawi to Lusaka, Zambia. Lusaka is a nicer airport with some food and a large TV screen showing nature videos. To pass the time, Sher and I start a soduku competition that lasts all day. Our last flight from Lusaka to Livingstone is scenic and we get a view of the falls from the plane. It’s a small cloud of mist rising from the ground in the distance but we already have an impression of the power of the mist. Livingstone, Zambia isn’t a very exciting place… the people are friendly and laugh easily, everyone walks in the main area, the foliage overtakes the small properties and on a lot of streets there are no lights at night…. I would describe it as tranquil. We eventually find the one popular restaurant that is recommended by everyone we meet, called Cafe Zambezi. There’s live music and good food and surprisingly, a crowd of people! It’s a bit of a relief to be surrounded by strangers after getting lost in the dark, quiet town. Livingstone was starting to feel a little TOO tranquil, as if everyone had left for the weekend!
Saturday May 6th:
Feels like a lazy morning today. Stay in bed for couple of hours and catch up on the world. It’s not often that we get wifi in our room. We watch all recent episodes of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert (Mariam’s favourites). Barely make it in time for breakfast so we request a late checkout. We finally check out around noon and our taxi driver picks us up (the same taxi that picked us up from the airport) to drop us at our new hotel in Zimbabwe… Google Maps says it is about 15km away. Our driver explains to us that he can only drop us off at the border (which is at the beginning of the long Victoria Falls Bridge) and once we cross over, we have to take another taxi to the next hotel. He tells us that Victoria Falls viewing point on the Zambian side is just meters from the border. Sounds great! Perfect chance to check out the Zambian side of the falls before we join our tour group on the Zimbabwe side, with whom we will spend a whole day in Victoria Falls. Only problem right now is that we have all our luggage- two large backpacks, one suitcase and two small carry-ons. At the border which is also beside the Zambian entry to the falls, we ask around and finally find a security guy who is willing to lock away our bags in a room with all their cleaning supplies while we check out the falls. That’ll do! We watch him lock our things up. One ticket to visit the Zambian side of Victoria Falls costs US$20 per person. As we enter, we see a photographer standing next to a little studio, Mariam asks him about taking a picture before we walk along the falls and get wet. He says the studio is not his and he is available if we want a photo shoot at the falls, for only US$1 per picture that we choose to keep. We decide that’s perhaps a better idea since we will not be able to take our iPhones out for photos in the mist. Our photographer shows us around and taking photos all along the falls, he’s a very good guide. We are blown away by the magnitude and the thunder of the water dropping down. It blows mist nearly all along the hiking trails and viewing points. Thank God we rented out rain coats and flip flops or else we would’ve got drenched. We go through all the photos at the end and choose 10 photos out of the collection. We give the photographer/guide $10 and he transfers the photos to my iPad.
We hang around just outside the falls and watch the locals do a traditional dance plus there are baboons in action, these baboons are very used to humans. We collect our bags, I have my big backpack on my back and Mariam’s backpack on my front (see photo). Mariam is carrying the two carry-ons and rolling the suitcase on as we start walking over to the border, 200m and we are there. A rough looking local approaches us and offers to find us a taxi on the other side of the border, I refuse his help (even though it’s only US$5, he doesn’t look fit to drive) but I take him up on his offer to exchange money. He gets his friend to change my remaining Kenyan shillings for some USD. I get an awful rate but I exchange anyways as I need some small bills to get to our new hotel and I don’t feel safe taking out my $100 bill. We go through the Zambian immigration and get our exit stamp. We start walking over to the Zimbabwe side, crossing the Victoria Falls bridge and taking in the magnificent views of the falls, we still feel the mist on our face, it is very refreshing. As we cross the bridge and look around the bend, we don’t see the border but instead a very long road of queuing up trucks. It is so hot and we are already exhuasted from the walk that is taking much longer than expected. My shoulders are killing me but I keep going, luckily Mariam has had enough and she stops. It’s a much needed break for me. She comes up with a brilliant idea, she takes one big backpack off me ties it on to the roller suitcase. Brilliant!! I feel so much lighter instantly. She hands me over the suitcase and walks away carrying the smaller backpack, basket, her purse, and our paintings. Great, I am now responsible for all three big bags and the border is still at least 200 meters away. I just go with it, pushing the suitcase with my own backpack on my back. This is still so much better than the agony five minutes ago. We also stop for an ice cold bottle of Coke, possibly the best coke I’ve ever had. At the Zimbabwe border we both get our visa, it costs $75 for Mariam with her Canadian passport and $55 for my Irish passport. We are happy the Zimbabwe visa is a sticker that takes up an entire page, another page closer to filling up the passport. After the crossing we hop into a taxi and make it to our hotel, Shearwater Explorers Lodge. It’s 3pm and at the reception they tell us that we join our tour group at 6pm for an orientation meeting and that is when we will be allocated to our rooms. We burn the next 3 hours having lunch and we both get a spa treatment in the little “spa” tent. Mariam gets her eyebrows done and I get a 30 min well-deserved shoulder and neck massage.
We meet our group at 6pm and our tour guide Maryke gives us a briefing and confirms with everyone that it is a camping tour. I look at Mariam all confused and a little guilty for not knowing it was camping. I make light of the situation and with a nervous laughter tell Mariam that we are going to have a lot of fun with our new group. We have all our camping gear from Kilimanjaro supplies except for sleeping bags. I ask around and I am told I can buy them in town but it would have to be in the morning. We upgrade to a chalet hut for tonight so we can to sort out all our bags, we can only take one bag into the tents with us instead of dragging all our luggage around. We also get a briefing on all the Victoria Falls activities. We decide to do a sunset cruise the next day and I put my name down for bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge. I try to convince Mariam to do the same but she decides to be a baby and do zip lining. She gives me at least a hundred excuses why she doesn’t want to bungee but we all know she’s just a chicken.