Once again, we were on the road, with my lap full of maps. Ol was driving as we made our way across southern Africa. We left Etosha National Park in Namibia and we were on our way to visit both sides of Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world, located in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
While rural landscapes passed us by, we watched children of all ages hauling water alongside the road, farmers tending their small herds of goats and cattle, and the occasional elephant. Elephants can be seen alongside the highway in Namibia and Botswana like deer can be seen along a highway in Mississippi.
We were driving through the African landscape that I had envisioned, but I was still astonished. There were many primitive villages with round huts constructed of sticks and twigs and mud with thatched roofs. These villages were more frequent than the small towns and isolated cities we passed through.
I had read about farmers battling elephants in their fields and hippos and crocodiles taking loved ones while fetching water. It is not uncommon for lions to take farmers while they guard crops at night. Driving through this countryside made it all the more real. I could see how this could happen. When we crossed a bridge and saw herds of elephants and water buffalo along the shore of the river, I was excited. We were passing into Botswana.
When we made it to the Botswana border we saw our first ancient Baobab tree. We met a large group of young 20-30 year olds Americans from New York. They had just visited Namibia and were on their way to Botswana and Chobe National Park. They had all met the year before in Europe and decided to all take a self-drive camping safari. They said that it was the best trip of their lives. When I saw all of the camper trucks, I was impressed with the coordination that this trip entailed. This is now on my bucket list, as a trip I want to take with our friends. If anyone is interested let us know!
In Namibia’s northeast corner there is a panhandle, a sliver of land that is north of Botswana and south of Angola. To the west is Zimbabwe and Zambia. Our guest house was in Botswana near where all of these countries come together. I’m embarrassed to say that it only costed us $26 a night with breakfast!
We found our lodging on booking.com and it was rated 8.8 out of 10. It had good internet, air conditioning, and a private bath, but the real reason we were staying there was that they offered to store our car and arrange transport over the border to Victoria Falls. We needed to hire a driver because we only had paperwork from our rental car company to take our car through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland. We were not allowed to drive in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
We drove along the Chobe river and passed several five star resorts. I was hopeful that our lodge would be just as nice. When we pulled into the iron gates in front of our lodge my concerns eased. The security guard opened the gates and motioned for us to park in the open air courtyard. There was a small bar, an outdoor kitchen, and an eating area. Adjacent to the outdoor kitchen was a sitting area with sofas and a large screen television.
The owner showed us to our room. It was clean, spacious and had mosquito nets over the beds. The only thing that was a little sketchy was the bathroom and shower which were added on to our bedroom and had a thatched straw ceiling. It had the feeling of being outside. Overall it was pretty good for $26 a night!
We had arrived late and we had an early start the next morning. Our driver was scheduled to pick us up at 8:00 for the 20 minute drive to the border. A Zimbabwe driver was scheduled to meet us at the border for the hour drive to Victoria Falls.
We repacked just one bag for our two night trip to the falls and locked everything else in the car. I knew that Ol was glad to not be driving.
The border crossing was quick and easy. Our guide took our passports, got the necessary stamps to leave Botswana and then pointed out the Zimbabwe driver, Nyasha, on the other side. We got our stamps for Zimbabwe and a visa to visit both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
We received a warm welcome from Nyasha. He was enthusiastic and charming. As we drove, he pointed out the elephants in the bush alongside the road. Occasionally traffic had to stop to let the elephants cross the road (this never gets old!). He asked a lot of questions about our country and shared many things from his.
Nyasha was fascinated with American nachos. He had seen them in movies and on television and wanted to know how to make them. Had we ever eaten them? Were they as good as they looked? Did we know how to prepare them? He decided that he wanted to own a Nacho business. Of course I love talking about food and also suggested that he add some Delta hot tamales to his menu.
While we discussed food from the movies he had seen, he drove us around Victoria Falls and proceeded to give us a tour. He pointed out the school he had attended. He took us past a group of beautiful baobab trees. I was surprised to see wart hogs walking around town and elephants moving freely on the outskirts of the small town.
By the time I was finished explaining nachos and tamales we arrived at our guest house in Victoria Falls. After dropping off our bag, we drove the short distance to the entrance of the falls. Nyasha said that we would need only two hours to visit, but if we wanted to stay longer we could call him.
The walk to the Falls was short. We were in a tropical rainforest and could feel the mist and hear the falls before we could actually see them.
We stopped at a statue commemorating Dr. Livingstone. He was the famed British explorer who became the first European to cross the width of Southern Africa. He devoted the last portion of his life to ending the African slave trade and is still regarded as a hero and a revered figure in the area. In 1855 he discovered a spectacular waterfall that he named ‘Victoria Falls’. It is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world.
We followed the self-guided walk for some breathtaking views of the falls. It didn’t take long before we donned our rain gear. We were getting soaked! We felt like little kids playing in the spray by the falls as we climbed out onto all the daredevil viewing points to take in the panoramic views.
Victoria Falls is on the Zambezi River, forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Kololo tribe describe it as ‘Mosi-oa Tunya” - “The Smoke that Thunders’. Columns of the mist can be seen from miles away.
At the end of our tour we stopped at cafe located near the falls. We were starving from talking about food all day! The fresh fruit juice and hot lunch were fantastic. I was surprised to find the menu prices listed in US dollars.
Our driver picked us up and then offered to take us to one of the area crocodile farms or for a kayak tour or boat tour. However, we had already made plans to have afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
The formal English afternoon tea was as magical as I thought it would be. We were served a silver tea tray of beautiful sandwiches, scones, and desserts. The piano music floating through the air onto the veranda was soothing.
We had a great view of the river and the bridge we would be crossing when we walked to Zambia to see the falls from the other side. After tea, we enjoyed exploring the grounds and seeing the old photographs from the Victorian expeditions. The hotel was beautiful and I didn’t want to leave.
After tea we walked to an adjoining hotel that boasts a casino. The carved wooden statues at the entrance were stunning. We enjoyed the ambiance of the courtyard bar so we decided to enjoy a bottle of wine and have dinner later.
After a long day, we had our driver pick us up and bring us back to our guest house. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon exploring Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side.
In the morning Nyasha was still asking us questions about nachos. I decided to take out my computer and pull up Youtube videos and teach Nyasha how to make nachos. Before I knew it, I was caught up in his excitement. I was even making a shopping list as he watched videos about nachos and Mississippi’s famous tamales.
When Ol brought down the bags I informed him that our trip would be delayed, we were going nacho shopping. While we drove to the store to shop for ingredients, I was busy writing out step my step instructions on how to make tortillas and then nacho chips as it is not possible to buy tortilla chips in Zimbabwe. I also decided to write recipes for burritos and tacos too since he would have all the ingredients. Luckily Nyasha is a sous chef at a five star hotel in town, so he understood everything. He only needed help with the spices and any substitutions if necessary.
It was a fun experience going to the market in Zimbabwe. I found everything I needed, with the exception of the tortilla chips so he would have to make those from scratch. After our shopping trip, Nyasha wanted us to meet his brother who is the cook at the local KFC. After meeting him, I am sure that their Mexican nacho stand will be a hit. Before he drove us back to the bridge to cross the border, we had come up with a catchy name for his new enterprise, Nyasha’s Nachos!
After hugs goodbye, Ol and I started our walk across the bridge and into Zambia. The views were staggering and the mist kept us cool. We met two great guys from Australia who were also crossing over to see the falls and we ended up visiting the falls together.
When we arrived over the bridge we were stamped into Zambia and walked right into the National Park. The falls were just as beautiful from the Zambia side. Once again we donned our rain gear and spent a few hours getting wet. Our Australian friends weren’t so lucky, they left their ponchos back on the other side. They were soaked!
I knew our hotel was close, but we decided it would be easier to just grab a cab. We negotiated with our driver on the price and climbed in. He drove about two minutes before we entered into the grounds of our beautiful hotel, The Royal Livingstone. We felt like idiots, not only did we waste money on the taxi but the grounds adjoin the falls and entry is free for hotel guests. Maybe we have been traveling too long!
The hotel was fabulous. For us it was a splurge, but the money we saved on our $26 a night guest house allowed us a little luxury. The best part of the hotel was that zebras, antelope, and giraffes just wander around freely. I was in paradise. A nice hotel and animals!
The view of the Zambezi river was fantastic. The water was moving fast and we were visiting just at the beginning of the high season. The rains across Africa had just ended and now all of the water from the major rivers were merging to flow down Victoria Falls.
I found it hard to believe that people were taking kayaking excursions amongst the hippos and crocs with the current being so swift. We wouldn’t be doing that, so we had nothing to do but enjoy the ambiance of the hotel and the gardens.
The next afternoon we checked out and had a car pick us up to take us for one more tour of the area. We had booked ultralight planes for a fly over the falls in both countries. It would also be a mini safari as we would see the animals in the adjoining national parks from overhead.
I was a bit nervous, but my pilot with his British accent explained how he was a retired military pilot and is licensed to fly everything 747’s to helicopters. He assured me that this was by far the safest. He said that in case of trouble he could land literally anywhere as the ultralight is basically a hang glider with a motor. If we had any problems we would just glide down. The only problem was to make sure that we avoid the hippos, elephants, and crocs once we landed!
The view was spectacular, but I did have white knuckles at take off. Through the headset my pilot pointed out all of the animals and then took me past the falls a few times. After ten minutes I was actually starting to have fun. Helicopters are required to fly much higher than the micro flights. Even when walking to see the falls it is difficult to see because of the mist. Up above we could see the rivers merging and the power of the falls in all of their glory as they carve out the steep canyons below.
By the time we finished our flights, the company driver took us back to the bridge to cross the border. We were running about an hour late, so the driver took our passports and went to the front of the line. He was an older gentleman and everyone seemed to know and love him. He was like a rock star or mayor as he shook hands and hugged everyone.
The line that would have taken us an hour to navigate, took him about five minutes. Again, we said goodbye to a new friend and were sent on our way with good wishes for our journey.
The walk back across the bridge to the Zimbabwe border seemed to take longer, maybe because we didn’t have the Australians to visit with. We felt bad that we couldn’t buy souvenirs from the locals trying to sell us things along the way because we didn’t have any cash.
All of the cash machines in Zimbabwe were out of money. Apparently this is common in both countries we visited. We were now officially out of our South African and Namibia currency and after several attempts we couldn’t find an ATM in either country. I thought it was funny that while Ol was trying to get cash, a street vendor was trying to sell me old bills in denominations of one million and one billion. He said that before the new currency was issued a few years ago it would cost over a million dollars for a loaf of bread! Now, they sell these big bills to tourists.
Soon we were back at the border to meet our driver. Nayasha wasn’t able to meet us, so maybe he was busy with his nachos (by the way, he texted to let me know that they turned out delicious!). Our new driver was just as nice. The one hour drive back to Botswana passed quickly. There were stops for elephants crossing and pictures of Baoboa trees. He helped to get us stamped out of Zimbabwe and back to our original Botswana driver who was waiting at the border to greet us. It’s amazing to think that in just over an hour we passed through three countries and border checkpoints!
After dropping us at our lodge, our driver thanked us for visiting his country and wished us well. He hoped that we would enjoy our visit to Chobe National Park and our journey through Botswana. If it was anything like the last three days, I knew that we were in for a treat!