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Livingstone, Zambia & Zimbabwe


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The day after our river cruise on the Chobe River we decided to travel to Livingstone for the day to see Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. We were returning the car in Kasane at 4pm so we left early to make sure we had plenty of time to see the falls only 75km away. Turns out we were cutting it close once the Botswana-Zambia border crossing was factored in. First we had to cross the Zambezi river on a ferry - well a floating platform is probably a more accurate description - which could only fit two vehicles and a truck. Luckily the line for the cars was short and we got on the first ferry but I felt for the truck drivers. Their line must have been 1km long, at least, and only 1 truck could cross at a time. We chatted to the truck driver we shared the platform with and he said he had been queuing for 2 days! Apparently there's been "talk" of a bridge, which sadly means it won't happen for years. The ferry was fighting a very strong current and even though we only had to travel 400m, we wondered if we would even make it. Somehow, we managed to safely dock on the other side and we were definitely not prepared for the chaos that followed.

This picture doesn't do the queue justice:
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The floating platform:
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First, the hagglers saw us tourists coming a mile away and swormed us as soon as we got off the ferry. There was no clear indication of where to go, cars and trucks were parked everywhere, but we needed to let our Zambian "friends" know we didn't need any help so we went the opposite direction to where they were pointing. That'll show them! Of course, that only encouraged them more and we now had twice as many around us. Avoiding eye contact, we made our way to immigration. There was no queue so our passports were stamped quickly. Yes, this is easy! I shot them a disapproving look for good measure. If only that would have been the end of the process. We now had to clear the vehicle. Our friends were telling us to go behind the customs counter for the vehicle but the immigration lady said to go to the customs window. Hmmm, what to do?? If we followed our friends did that mean we were accepting their help? Crap, we felt so unprepared! We realized the counter we were standing in front of was for declaration of goods so we proceeded to the vehicle clearance counter still ignoring our friends who were relentless. "We don't need any help" "Come, come, we are a peaceful nation". I didn't see how we were going to shake them off. We showed the officer all the paperwork, he took his time and eventually stamped a document. Woohoo, we'll be out of here in no time. Then he announced: "now you must pay". The tone suggested it was not going to be pleasant. He proceeded to list the fees: Kwacha 150 (approx US$25) Carbon Tax, US20 Toll Fee, KW20 Council Levy, KW115 Third Party Insurance (mandatory regardless). For a day trip, this was turning out to be a bit of a nightmare and certainly more expensive than expected. "Ok, where do we pay?" "The carbon tax you pay right here" and he pointed to a counter behind us, "the rest you must pay separately". Right, of course, paying them all at the same time would have been too simple. So we paid the carbon tax and the lady said: "ok so now you must pay the council levy in that building over there (where??), then the toll fee in US dolla only, behind there (where??) and then the insurance". Outside, it was a zoo and we had no idea where these government buildings were. We finally gave into our friends offer to "help" and followed them to the various offices. Finally the insurance had to be paid outside the gate so we went to collect the car and sure enough, it had been washed by the guy "looking after it" and he wanted to charge us KW100. Our mood was quickly turning sour. We gave him KW40 which we knew was too much but wanted to avoid more hassles. Turns out there were a few competing insurance companies and our friends worked for one of them. Of course they did. We paid KW115 and asked: "so are we done now?" to which they answered: "yes boss, done, now just the service charge." Greg and I looked at each other knowing we had reached the end of our rope - stay calm - "How much?" "Pulah 400" - Botswana currency equivalent to roughly US50 - "No ways" "ok, P300" "We'll give you P200 and we're done". We got in the car and drove away. Total damage including the round trip ferry crossing: US170. Wholly molly, we were not expecting that, specially after having spent the last 10 days in Namibia and Botswana virtually hassle free. Right, I kept telling myself this is all part of the adventure and I'm sure the first of many similar situations we were going to face on this trip. I tried to convince Greg it was all part of the journey and that we had learnt a valuable lesson. He was having none of it. Marie, my traveling companion in Morocco a few years ago and who knows me all too well, is probably laughing and thinking "Isa, I can't believe you fell for it again!!!". Yes yes, I know ;) We eventually shook it off and focused on Vic Falls which were simply amazing. Unfortunately our timing wasn't great because the water levels were too high for us to enjoy some of the rapids, which we had heard were among the best in the world. White water rafting would have to wait.

We were clearly tresspassing as far as these guys were concerned:
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Finally, what we had been waiting all morning to see:
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The bridge we were about to cross:
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Rain gear on? Check!
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Yeah...might as well have worn our bathing suits:
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The famous Victoria Falls Bridge connecting Zambia (on the left) and Zimbabwe (on the right). If you can zoom in, you may also be able to see the Vic Falls Hotel in the background (white structure with the red roof):
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We followed the trail down to the Boiling Pot:
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Unfortunately not clear on this picture but there were many natural (and massive) whirpools just behind me - not even the crocs hang around these parts for fallen tourists!
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On our way back to the border we stopped for a quick up-stream shot of the falls:
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Feeling reenergized, we felt ready to face the border again. Luckily, we only had to pay the exit council levy fee of KW20 and they left us alone. We were on the home stretch but one more misfortune awaited. Greg forgot his GoPro in the car and didn't realize until the guys that picked it up had been gone for 2 hrs. Nothing we could do except wait to hear back from them. We spent our last night in Botswana at the Old House, the lovely lodge on the Chobe River we had booked the sunset cruise with and enjoyed a much needed bottle of wine. What a day!

Patiently (read desperately) waiting to get on the ferry back to Botswana:
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Our transfer to Zimbabwe left at 10:30am the next day and we were at Victoria Falls Backpacker's by 12:30pm.

On the way to Zim:
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Our friendly host, Dennis, was very helpful and basically organized our entire stay. He also shared some personal stories about the hardships they faced in Zim in the 90's and how they are slowly rebuilding after having lost almost everything. It was sad, enfuriating, inspiring and fascinating, all at the same time.

We took a helicopter tour over the falls which gave us a great perspective of the falls and the Zambezi.

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I was riding shotgun while Greg was taking selfies in economy class behind:
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Approaching the falls - you can see 6 of the 8 fault lines representing the current and previous locations of the Falls:
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The mighty Zambezi:
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We spotted some giraffes on the way back to the base - have you ever seen one drinking water?
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We then went to the famous Victoria Falls Hotel for a drink before another very relaxing sunset cruise on the Zambezi.

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The VFH High Tea is so popular, even the warthogs make a celebrity appearance:
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The well-stocked sunset cruise bar:
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First in line, of course - the Safas will immediately understand if they look closely at the selection (hint: 6th bottle from the left):
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You can take a boy out of Rhodes.....
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Like a kid in a candy store:
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So...what happens if the engine fails???
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Sunset cruise Vic Falls style:
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Back at the hostel, Greg challenged me to a game of chess. Epic match, only 5 pieces left on the board but yours truly eventually prevailed. Grumpy Greg went to bed.

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Setting up the board. Greg: I think she rigged it based on the smirk on her face.
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We toured the Falls the next day and felt we had the whole place to ourselves! I'm starting to see what all this early morning fuss is about ;) Well, for now at least.

Devil's Cataract - experts predict this will be the location of the next fault:
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Where's Bambi?
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The spray produced by the massive sheet of water falling is mesmerizing - must....get....
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...closer...
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We really wanted to cross the bridge and luckily we were able to do so without having to go through Zambian immigration (again):
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Greg stopped for a quick peanut butter snack. Oh...wait....
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By lunchtime, we were in a minivan with 4 belgian chicks from the backpackers and headed to Mlibizi, on the Western side of Lake Kariba. We were all catching the ferry across the lake early the next day so it made sense to spend the night in Mlibizi. Other than the ferry and fishing, not much really goes on in Mlibizi.

Always reassuring, the Croc warning sign:
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The town's only supermarket and liquor store:
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Our resort did not offer any food so organized for us to have a dinner and breakfast at Don and Rose's place (basically their home). We weren't quite sure what to expect but were instantly charmed by their warm and friendly welcome. They are retired and supplement their pension by helping the resort in this way. The meal was absolutely fantastic: Don's freshly caught bream cooked to perfection by Rose. What an amazing evening in the most unexpected place.

The view from Don & Rose's place:
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Greg was craving the steak and got a generous portion to satisfy him - the crazy eyes say it all:
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Breakfast was just as pleasant and when the time came, Don gave us a lift to the Ferry - the Sea Lion. This would be home for the next 22 hours, which I must admit, I was very excited about, although Greg had told me there were no beds. "Impossible! we're spending the night on the ferry, surely there must be some type of arrangement" and luckily there was. The chairs were collapsible and in fact quite comfortable. Although that could be the wine talking. We met Cleo and Louis from the UK (Louis actually lives in Malawi) who were cycling around Zimbabwe - yes cycling! - and were having an amazing time. We also met Craig from South Africa and Neele from Germany, a couple traveling through Southern Africa on a motorcyle (BMW f650gs for those interested - Greg). We instantly liked them all and spent the rest of the evening chatting, drinking and playing games - lie dice for those of you who know it. It was Louis' birthday the next day so one bottle of wine quickly turned into many more until we ran out.

Loading the beast:
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Our "suite":
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Our fellow shipmates:
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So...what happens if the engine fails???
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Reassured we were in good hands, Greg was finally able to relax:
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Capenta fishing boats - they attract the fish (millions, about 5 to 10cm long) with light and at night it looks like city lights on the horizon because they are so many in the water. It's a big industry on lake Kariba.
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Louis' birthday candle - Craig and Neele leading the happy birthday cheer:
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Cleo and Louis - his surprised act was very good considering he had spent the whole day telling every passenger on board (including the baby twins) that it was his birthday the next day ;)
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Clockwise from the left: Mlibizi Departure, Sunset, Sunrise, Kariba Town Arrival:
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We arrived in Kariba town at 7am the next day and agreed with Cleo and Louis that a good coffee was in order. Craig and Neele had a long journey ahead of them so we said goobye to the cool couple and managed to find a great little cafe with a beautiful view of the lake. Coffee never tasted that good! - only instant coffee was available on the boat. Greg and I had all day to get to Siavonga, on the Zambian side of the lake, but Louis and Cleo had flights to catch from Lusaka the next day and needed to get there before nightfall. We hope they made it to their destinations safely and hope to see them again soon.

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Safe travels Belgian chicks:
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The fashion forward cyclists:
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The four of us had just hiked/cycled up a fairly big hill, we were hungover, dehydrated and already breaking a sweat when these kids casually rolled in for fairwells on their way to the border - space on there for 2 more?
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We walked/hitchhiked to Kariba Dam, walked the 4km down to the Dam Wall (which is apparently cracking so of course Greg did his best to psych me out) and up to the Zambian border.

Capenta farm along the way where they sort through the previous nights catch:
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The Kariba Dam:
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Quick Issy, you must hurry! The whole thing could collapse at any moment!
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Hard to believe, but there's a chameleon somewhere in this photo! Usually renowned for their camouflauge.
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We figured the poor fella was suffering from heatstroke and gently helped him across the road to the safety of the shaded grass and more natural surroundings.
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Next update on our Zambian adventure coming soon. We are now in Zanzibar (a bit short lived because of train delays - details to follow) and flying to Arusha later this morning (May 1st).

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 21:56 Archived in Zimbabwe

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Comments

Did you learn nothing from the boarder crossing in Mozam Greg? Looking forward to the train journey :)

by Rex

Once again, an exciting account of your experiences. So glad I have this to keep informed. Must say, I'd have popped a fuse at the border! Hope you'll be re-united soon with your Go-pro. Lots of Love from semi-civilization in PE ha ha

by Keith

Fabulous read once again. Such fun & hope you learning all you want to know about travel in AFRICA. xxxx

by Linda

Awesome guys! Looks like you're having a ball - Don't you just love the African border experience?? lol Enjoy your travels and keep us updated :-) Miss you much!!!!

by Nina Crabtree

Ahhhhh good adventures! The falls look amazing!
You should give yourself more credit Isa, you can be very hard core! Remember how we got our bus tickets in Marrakech: You wanna mess with us buddy? Well here is my friend the security guard.... so can we buy tickets at a reasonable price now!?!?! In your face!!! ;-)
Hope all is well! xox

by Marie-Noel

Dear Greg and Issy, We (Gran Bunty and Wendy) are sitting in my flat in Mouille Point, Cape Town looking at your beautiful photos and reading your travel diary. It all sounds very exciting! Bunty is off to London to visit Bev on 21st May.
Keep up the wonderful travel blog! The photos are stunning
Love Wendy and Bunty

by Wendy Vogel

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