Time to Walk on the Wild Side…

Amanda Vallone

 

A trip to Victoria Falls allows for a great adventure opportunity. There are helicopter rides over the falls, bungee jumping off the bridge, diving in the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and white water adventures.

Many of the people in our group could not choose what they wanted to do as a side trip so they chose to enjoy a few things.

About 8 of our Explorers took a helicopter ride over the falls. From what I heard, it was quite an incredible experience.

15 of us decided to live on the WILD side…

The evening after our daring jump into Devils Pool, 15 of our group members decided to walk with the lions. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into. Would we be eaten alive, would we get to touch them? Would we only get to be with the cubs?

We would soon find out.

Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel and brought us out into the bush to a wildlife refuge. Along the way our bus broke down and we had to hoof it about ½ a mile through the bush. We were all concerned a lion would find us looking quite yummy for their dinner…

Upon safe arrival to Lion Encounter, we were offered a beverage and given a briefing as to how to walk with the lions. We were all given a stick to protect ourselves. You read that right, a STICK was our protection against these creatures. If a lion lunged at us we were to point the stick at them and say “no.” Whaaat?????

So, off we went. Splitting into two groups, my group took the path with more of a hike and the other group went along more flat land in the opposite direction.

And out came the first two lions.

Trained they were! But wild animals just the same.

Paula was the first one up to walk with the lions. I think everyone stopped breathing as she approached him.

Then each of us took our turns to follow walking with these amazing creatures and getting photos along the way.

When I say this experience was magical, I really mean it. To say you walked, and even touched, a lion is quite spectacular.

I to this day cannot believe we did it.

The walk alone was a full hour or more. When we were done we were served a nice small meal and given some drinks. We then learned a lot about the conservation, how the lions were brought here, and how they’re prepared for release into a pride.

I had a few guests on my trip who did not want to participate in this experience because they watched a documentary about experiences like this that would kill the lions after they were done with them. How horrible!

The Lion Encounter is all about ethical rehabilitation and release into the wild. They do not declaw or de-tooth their lions, which is what you hear of at some of those places. It was the goal and priority of Salute Africa not to fund any of the inhumane projects. So, they paired us up directly with Lion Encounter.

Our group was so impressed by this experience and what they do for the lions. It was incredible. But a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out our photos:

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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!

Goodbye South Africa, Hello Zimbabwe!

Amanda Vallone

After an early morning flight on South African Airways (great airline – they include a meal on every flight and perfectly poised flight attendants), we landed in Zimbabwe, home of Victoria Falls!

After exiting the airport, we were welcomed to Zimbabwe by traditional singers and dancers—It was amazing!

Visas: When you fly or Drive from South Africa to Zimbabwe you actually cross borders into a new country. Often times people I run into think of Africa as one big country — it is a continent!!! When you go from one country into another you have to cross the borders of that country and go through their visa and passport checking system. I will say South Africa was the most intimidating one to me, but Zimbabwe was no joke either. After debarking our plane we were walked down a ramp to the checkpoint. My group had to be prepared for 2 different kinds of visas. Six of my people needed a multi-entry visa from Zimbabwe and Zambia called the KAZA because these 6 were going to take a jaw dropping adventure to jump into the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.

The rest of my group only needed a single-entry visa. These Visas range from $30-50 cash depending on the type.

Of course, when we went to purchase our KAZA visa they were not issuing them anymore L Did this mean we wouldn’t get to take our Devils Pool adventure?

No… We just had to buy 2 single entry visas at the airport, then another visa at the Zambian Border—i.e. spend more money. It seems like all government is on the same path worldwide hehehe.

So we all had our visas and we were on our way. •

The Best Welcome!

After exiting the airport, we were met by a group of 10 men wearing traditional dress of Zimbabwe and singing the most amazing songs. I believe they were performing a traditional Mbakumba dance. Since dancing is very important in the Zimbabwean culture, it was a fantastic way to start our journey through Zimbabwe.

Climate: Opposite of South Africa being very green and chilly, Zimbabwe was about 80-90˚F and extremely dry. Before hopping into our transfer vehicle, we all stripped off all those layers from the morning to t-shirts and pants or shorts.

This is what we all thought Africa would look like.

After a short ride with our tour director, Mombassa, we made our way to Kingdom Lodge, Victoria Falls, where we were met again by a traditionally dressed man.

Kingdom Lodge: We stayed at a 4* resort in Victoria Falls called Kingdom Lodge. It was extremely beautiful and the rooms were quite spacious. Breakfast in the morning was amazing. And this was our first real opportunity to use the pool—refreshing! Our resort had a bar, a pool, a gift shop, a few restaurants, and even wildlife living on property. It was anything you could want and more from a trip to Zimbabwe. It was family friendly too!

But we weren’t there to soak up the hotel amenities. We were there to experience the Mosi-oa-Tunya (read on…), but we would have to wait until the morning.

So, for our evening experience we enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river.

Our small pontoon boat sailed slowly upstream meandering along the banks of the river in search of wildlife big and small. The Zambezi River is Africa’s fourth largest river system after the Nile, Zaire, and Niger Rivers. This river actually runs through six countries and into the Indian Ocean. Many of its dams are harnessed for power, though the Zambezi is the least developed in terms of human settlement, as many of the areas are protected.

Along this cruise we saw elephants on the bank, hippos peeking up out of the water, and various species of birds. This was our first “wildlife adventure” and we loved it. We were served hors d’ourves and had an open bar along our journey, meaning we were able to toast the most amazing African sunset!

This was a great experience!

Was it handicap accessible? Yes and no. As you can see there was a ramp to get on the boat. So boarding and disembarking the vessel was certainly accessible. To get into the port-a-potty type bathroom you had go up 2 steps, and it would not be safe for anyone to attempt if they had a walking disability like my mom. But it was only a 2 hour boat ride, so don’t let that deter you from taking this adventure if you are wheelchair bound.

The location that we boarded the boat however, had a steep hill to walk down that was not paved so getting a wheelchair down this would have been very difficult. I am pretty certain the operators would have moved the boat to board a wheelchair or had a backup plan. My mother walked it. It was not easy for her but she did it and was happy she did.

Boma Dinner: Known as more than a night out, it was an EXPERIENCE!

The Boma Dinner Experience began after dark with a traditional greeting in the local languages, Shona and Ndebele. We were all hugged, dressed in chitenges (traditional robes) and prepared to enter the main enclosure by the addition of a face painting.

After we entered, we were invited to take part in a hand washing ceremony and then let loose to  sample traditional beer (that was worth one try, but not on my top 10,000 things to taste again) and snacks, as a prelude to dinner.

Partially open to the African skies, the Boma offers a unique experience that bombards the senses with the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of Africa. There was not only food and entertainment, but handicraft workers and artists selling their wares. You could even go and have the bones cast by the Sangoma (traditional healer). All of this together with the warmth and hospitality of Zimbabwe and its people, Boma was the perfect dining experience for our group.

Several of us even were awarded a certificate of bravery for eating the Mopani Worm- that’s right! We ate a WORM, people.

Don’t believe me? Watch the video umm chewy!

The food was plentiful, there were many vegetarian options as well as desserts, meats, and sides. In all honesty, I enjoyed this food much more than the dinner in Cape Town. To anyone going on this adventure, I would recommend not choosing one over the other- go to both Gold & Boma—they are too different to only choose one.

Don’t tune out too quickly though… wait to see what we did next!