What the heck is Mosi-oa-Tunya?

The Smoke that Thunders, of course!

Amanda Vallone

 

One cannot visit Zimbabwe, or Victoria Falls for that matter, without at least hearing the story of David Livingstone. A Scottish explorer set out to Africa, David Livingstone may have been the first white man to set his eyes on the beauty of Mosi-oa-Tunya. In May of 1856, Livingstone reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean, making him the first European to cross the width of southern Africa.

The waterfall system that is shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe was named Victoria Falls by Livingstone himself, after Queen Victoria.

It is said that among all the dry land throughout Zambia and Zimbabwe, Livingstone could hear a thunderous roar and see a plume of smoke above. It looked as though there was a massive fire until he got closer. It was the smoke that thunders of Mosi-oa-Tunya, the largest falls in the world.

Victoria Falls is 355 feet in height and spread across the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. David Livingstone landed at the biggest island at the lip of the falls, which is now known as Livingstone Island. On our walking tour of the falls we stopped at many lookouts and ended at a statue of the explorer himself. Victoria Falls was simply spectacular! This UNESCO world heritage site is also known as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. For those checking off their bucket or “live it” list, Victoria Falls is surely one not to be missed.

My Opinion: I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and every single field trip seemed to be a trip to Niagara Falls. Though Niagara is quite spectacular as well, and it too boarders two countries (USA and Canada), its size alone is 167 feet to Victoria’s 355. Though I completely recommend going to Niagara, Victoria Falls was the most amazing falls I have ever experienced… It might be because of my next adventure though… Devils Pool.

Handicap accessible? Sure! We actually had 4 wheelchairs being pushed around the falls on that day. 3 of my ladies plus my mom were not able to make this long walk, but certainly did not want to miss the experience. So our guide set up a few wheelchairs to meet us at the entry and some strapping young gents to push my non-walkers. The cost was only $20 and the money was well earned. All my non-walkers knew how strenuous it is to push a chair on uneven walkways, and a gratuity was surely rewarded for their labor.

Child friendly? Of course! Aurora absolutely loved the falls and giggled in delight at how loud they were. She even loved the little monkeys roaming all over. Strollers could get around just like the wheelchairs. But a word of advice to parents, hold your wee ones hand or keep them strapped in a stroller as there are many lookout points and stairways without guard rails or steep cliffs.

Devils Pool

Located at the top of the falls on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, the Devils Pool takes a boat ride, a hike, a swim and a jump to complete. After thousands of years of erosion, many rock pools have formed at Victoria Falls. Devils Pool just happens to be one of them. Located right on the very edge of the sheer drop of the falls, adrenaline junkies can make their way to Devils Pool and jump right in. This is indeed the ultimate infinity pool.

On our adventure we had a group of 6 courageous—and many might think somewhat brainless—people take on the Devils Pool challenge. But I have to say, our crazy decision was one of the best experiences of my life.

So how did we survive the jump into Devils Pool?

Well, after upping my life insurance before leaving the states (just kidding), we set our minds on our edge of the world survival jump.

Our party of 6 was taken from our hotel in Zimbabwe over to a 5* property, Livingstone Manner – one of the most amazing properties I have ever seen. With zebras right on the property and a seating area with views of the waterfall, river, and herds of hippos, we felt like we died and went to heaven. But we did not want our minds going down that path…

We had two guides bring us on a boat ride to Livingstone Island, where we then were welcomed with a celebratory drink and the ability to change our clothes into swimwear.

Whatever happens do not forget your water shoes!

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One guide explained everything that would happen, and the other was in charge of our safety. As the river is only low enough to allow visitors to take this jump from August to January, safety is of top concern. We took some photos at the top of the falls on land first. I had a few mini heart attacks along the way. All I kept thinking was how dumb we all were (primarily me, bringing 5 others on this crazy adventure). One more step back and over the falls we would have been. Just writing this sends shivers down my spine.

Then we all left our belongings on the rocks of the dry land before making the swim across the rush of the river. We had a guide rope, and any poor swimmers had the guide to help them along. This area was not deep, but super rocky so you had to swim rather than walk.

We then proceeded onto dry and uneven rocks before making our way to the Devils Pool—eeeeek!

The first person to jump was our guide, showing us how to accomplish this daring feat. Next up was Barbara, then everyone else followed suit.

This pool was very deep in areas and the water was like a whirlpool. Our guide instructed us on how to get to the devils arm, the ledge at the end of the earth that was supposed to keep us safe. Call me crazy, but how does a ledge that we will sit on in the rush of water keep us safe from going over?

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But… it did!

We were then instructed to pose for the camera – you know, we had to prove that we made it and actually didn’t chicken out.

After playing around in the water, taking tons of photos for proof, and gazing over the edge of a 355 foot-tall waterfall, we decided it was time to go back.

Mary Lou was my only one who did not jump in… but being in her 80’s and making it all the way to Devils Pool is pretty freaking amazing, right? The rocks to the pool were just too uneven for her.

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This experience was not only exhilarating, it was my first point during this trip where I realized “this is the best trip I have ever been on.”

After making it back to land, we were served a fresh and home-cooked breakfast that was to die for.

What can I say? Devils Pool at Victoria Falls was a life changing experience!

 

 

And this wasn’t even the end of the trip! Keep an eye out for what happened next!

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Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 1

by Amanda Vallone

 

Every year we plan a trip for the first quarter to go somewhere “big” as a group. In 2015, we went to China; 2016 it was Germany. For 2017 we decided to visit Iceland. Automatically people ask, “Why in the world did you go to Iceland in February? Wasn’t it cold?” Well the answer is “Yes!”

Iceland in February is very cold. It ranged anywhere from 0 to 32 degrees, depending on where we were located and the day. But the temperature was not really that bad.  Being a native of Buffalo, New York, I grew up in cold weather; what got to me was the wind. The wind was freezing, bone-chilling cold. So, I suppose that make you want to stop reading and say, “ehhh Iceland isn’t for me!” Well WAIT ONE MORE MINUTE!!!

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To answer your question, we chose February because of the Northern Lights. We were on an Aurora Borealis trekking expedition. If you have read a blog by me in the past you may know my daughter’s name is Aurora, and though she may be a princess in my book, Disney’s Briar Rose was not her namesake! Rather the beautiful greens, purples, and blues of the northern lights were the inspiration for my child’s name – Aurora and our quest for viewing these lights everywhere we can. Many people travel to Iceland on a journey to discover these beautiful lights during the winter because there are few hours of daylight. Actually, sunrise is somewhere around 10am and sunset is somewhere around 6pm, so you have the largest opportunity to see the auroras during the winter months. Also, Auroras go in cycles. Aurora flares go in 10-40 year cycles and this year was the last year in the cycle. Quite honestly, Aurora is a bit of a diva – even on the best of auroral flares you may not see her in all of her beauty because she will hide under cloud cover.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland we did not truly see the Aurora Borealis the way we thought we would. We did however have a heck of a great time experiencing everything else Iceland had to offer. One evening in Reykjavik, we sailed into the darkness of Faxafloi Bay in search of the northern lights. My hubby George and best friend Sherri both saw a slight streak of green dance through the sky for a moment. But the even better part of that excursion was getting into these crazy outfits. It was one size fits most and for a 6’4 “retired” football player (offensive lineman) squeezing into this tiny red suit was quite the entertaining event for all of us to watch. And it was a great show that George put on.

 

 

So besides Northern Lights, why else visit Iceland?

Well honestly, the rest of the trip was the icing on the cake, it was spectacular!

From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanos to fun food this trip was superb. So I will just go stop by stop.

 

The Golden Circle

 

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This is a route that encompasses many of Iceland’s most renowned national wonders and some of the best stories.

We went to Thingvellir National Park – Iceland’s most historic area where in 930 A.D. Icelanders gathered and formed one of the world’s first parliaments.

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It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The views were so magnificent here it was unbelievable. We walked along a very icy path to see each of these sights and the sun hitting the water and ice in the background was so worth the cold, wind, and walk. Simply stunning.

There was one section that was quite disturbing. Our guide told us a story that back in the 17th century public execution was part of Icelandic way of life. From beheading to hangings, there were multiple ways of punishment. But at Thingvellir there was one disturbing part in particular – the pool of shame. A stain on Icelandic history, it is now recognized by a plaque at “the drowning pool” where parents would bring their “loose moraled” daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock to this pool and tie them up and drown them L How Sad!

 

 

 

Gulfoss- aka the Golden Falls

 

Gulfoss is a spectacular double cascading waterfall that is simply stunning. You can view it from above and see the rush of the waters (as seen in the video clip here). OR view from below.

 

 

To view from below, be VERY careful! You must go down a very steep set of about 100 wooden steps. In the winter the mist from the waterfall creates ice on the stairs and makes it difficult.

*****Packing tip: This was the second place we noticed you really should have Yak Trax or something similar for traction. You will need them! ****

 

 

 

Seljalandfoss

 

Gulfoss may be the most popular of all the falls in Iceland, but Seljalandfoss was my favorite. We could actually walk behind the waterfall! This is again a place that you must have the proper footwear and rain jackets/waterproof jackets or you will not be a happy camper. In order to protect my water “resistant” jacket I wore one of those cheapie ponchos and I was happy I did. I still got soaked! Was it worth it? TOTALLY! Seljalandfoss is a MUST for an Iceland trip.

 

 

 

 

 

VIK

 

From there we went onto the southwestern-most village in Iceland, Vik. We stayed at Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, in the “new” side. From the outside pulling up it was slightly worrisome. I was told it was somewhat like a compound by others who had gone before me. When I pulled up, I thought – OH NO, the 22 others I brought with me will hate this. Oh boy was I wrong! This place was spectacular! Truly amazing! The outside of the hotel looked slightly like a “compound” sure. But the rooms inside were very stylish and “ikea” inspired. The breakfast and dinner we had daily at the hotel were wonderful! And if you can get a room at the very end of the hallway it is even bigger than all of the rest. SCORE!

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While in VIK we experienced some very bad weather. All buses and drivers were grounded because there were gale-force winds in Southern Iceland and that same day 4 buses had been blown off of the road, as had a few cars. For our safety we actually missed some of our planned tour. So instead, we had a cocktail party. Because that is the way Roseborough Travel likes to make our clients happy. And honestly, the bar was the only thing that was open. The hotel brought in a speaker that told us the history of the area and land that Hotel Katla was built on.  We also took a hike up the mountain in the background.

 

 

 

YOU EAT WHAT?!?!?!?!

 

Have you heard of the local delicacy and culinary tradition – Hakarl –  fermented, putrefied, shark meat? It is Greenlandic Shark that is not only extremely ugly, but doesn’t have kidneys so it is toxic to humans to eat. So years ago the Vikings devised a technique to be able to eat this shark – squeeze out the toxins,  burry it, dig it up, hang the meat, and let it rot. When it smells nice and ripe – like rotten cheese and turpentine – it’s ready. GROSS! And they eat this stuff! It is on buffets in restaurants and offered to guests as a kindness in tradition.

So did we eat it? Of course we did! I am not one to pass up any crazy food while traveling to a destination. And we washed it down with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor with the taste of caraway seeds.

Now the question is: How would you say cheers to that? Skal! In Icelandic!

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Look out for Iceland Part 2!