Monday 26 May 2014

Francois Ghanem: Vic Falls - "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..." (And is a baboon smarter than I am?)

Let me start by saying the Falls are spectacular!!!  As for the baboon question I am afraid you'll have to read on....

We had decided to see the Falls from the Zimbabwe side to avoid yellow fever vaccination issues and the walking proximity of our accommodations to the Falls.
Upon arrival at the tiny airport - the situation for the 150 or so passengers waiting for passport formalities (including visa aquisition for some nationalities) and baggage collection ranged from  mad mayhem to absolute chaos.  But we made it through unscathed!
Our objective was to see the Falls and the Zambezi animal and bird life.   What success we had!!!
On a sunset river cruise we saw crocs and hippos;  birds and a magnificent sunset.  I was hoping to see a hippo on shore and a yawning (aka smiling) hippo - alas the hippos we saw were all in the water.  But it was great to see and experience the Mighty Zambezi with all its life.

We also enjoyed a walking tour of the Falls.  In preparation for the tour we were advised that we wd oulget soaking wet.  We expected that since the Falls are at peak flow this time of year.
We did get wet.  Some portions of the falls were obscured by the mist.  Conditions were  variable - in some spots the mist would dissipate and give us a chance for a great look.  At a few spots the mist was like "rain falling upward."  When we encountered this "rain"  - it ranged from a light showery mist to a thunderstorm-like downpour that required umbrellas.  Managed to keep camera dry for many falls photos. 
Peak flow at the Falls also means rainbows and double rainbows.  We enjoyed seeing some!  (Not to mention some birds and interesting fauna along our path.)
So that was the best of times.  Read on for the worst of times and the answer to the baboon story....

Worst of times: Touts and street vendors.  We ventured away from the hotel and walked around town to a supermarket, restaurants, the Elephant Walk "Mall" and the curio shops around it.
WARNING: if you do not like to bargain, do not like your personal space invaded, and do not like persistent sales pitches that involve vendors following you - then you should stick to hotel areas and areas where the tourist police are found.
I did not find the vendors threatening or menacing - but way way way beyond pushy. (A few would even ask for a handout if you don't want to buy their wares). We put up with the vendors and touts because we wanted to check things out on my own.  To most others we chatted with at our hotel - not something they wanted to  deal with.
In conversations with locals, the authorities are aware of the severity of the situation and are working on it.
Another thing is prices.  Essentially Vic Falls is an "island" (so to speak) in Zimbabwe.  It is a tourist town that prices things at what the western world market can bear.

A side note: I opted for a "last minute "  ( 2 hours before flight time) arrangement for a  helicopter flight over the falls.  The 12 minute flight has the potential to be spectacular.  I say " potential" because you are not guaranteed a window seat.  In my case I ended up in a middle seat contending with a passenger who insisted on using an IPAD for a camera.  You must be kidding me!    Also, the whole process from pick up to return to hotel took almost 2 hours (including an obligatory viewing of the flight video for purchase and waiting for others to finish whatever they were doing to get a ride back to hotel.)
Was it worth it?  I have a once in a life time experience and a few spectacular aerial photos!!!  So in retrospect - absolutely!!  At the time when every thing was  happening - not so much!

Oh yeah the baboon story....
At breakfast one morning I saw a troop of baboons  around the hotel grounds.  (later in the day saw a bunch of warthogs).  One of the baboons with an adorable baby approached our table and stopped for a few moments as if to show us her baby.  In the split second I reached for my camera the baboon dumped the baby and swooped in on a pastry I had on my plate and moved on to the next table before it was chased away.  So there you have it....
In summary,  we enjoyed our visit to the Falls and found the people to be very welcoming.  The vendor problem was not an issue for us and we felt safe walking around.  We'd recommend a visit to see the Falls.  (Whether or not you are seeing the "real" Zimbabwe is an open question I 'll leave for others in other forums to discuss.)

On to Chobe next...

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