We leave Mana early in the morning, Fi and I in our four-seater, piloted by Sidney. As we near the Falls, he gives us a bird’s eye view, sweeping down low in a 360. We can see the rumours of low water are horribly true – Zambia seems little more than a trickle. They have been siphoning off the water for hydro power, leaving the Zimbabwean side horribly short. Harare has suffered 24 hr power cuts in recent days.
On arrival at Gorges Lodge, a charming small hotel perched high on the gorge’s edge, overlooking the Zambezi, Debbie the manager greets us warmly. ‘Do you still want a twin room?’ she asks. Fi and I look at each before bursting into giggles. Long experience has taught Debbie never to take anything for granted, so she always checks…
Our room is large and airy, billowing mosquito nets festoon the beds, and the balcony has a wonderful view over the gorge. We spot a couple of white water rafts and tiny people, no larger than dots, disembarking at the end of their journey. The bathroom is enormous – not only do we have twin basins but also a double walk-in shower! The gardens are luscious and bursting with colour; in the morning the grass is littered with puffballs of fluffy kapok.
We are here to chill so decide to spread out our ‘activities’. The first evening we join some of the other guests for sundowners, while watching a pair of black eagles soaring over the gorge. They have just lost their second chick this year to horrible crows. In fact, they have only bred twice in the many years Chris and Debbie have been watching them.
So the next morning after a swim in the small and refreshing (synonym for chilly) pool, we set off for the grand old colonial Victoria Falls Hotel, where the be-medalled doorman greets us with a jolly ‘Hello girls!’ and ‘Nice dresses!’ (we are both wearing elegant outfits having decided to be ladies who lunch, and in anticipation of the sunset river cruise). Well, this puts us in a good mood as you can imagine and we are soon sitting on the cool terrace, sipping spritzers and enjoying a Caesar salad, while we look out over the pristine green lawns, which are hosting a family of warthogs digging away.
After lunch we decide to brave the local craft market. No sooner than we leave the safety of the hotel, we are set upon like a swarm of bees to honey (we are the honeys obviously). ‘Hello, my name is Prince! Let me show you the shops’… ‘I got more bling to show you, just like yours’, pointing to my antique Arab silver bangles…a cacophony of offers. Soon we are surrounded by royalty – everyone seems to be a King, Emperor or Duke and all want to take us round. We realise this is building up to trouble later, but we manage to chit chat in the universal language of football – they all seem to be avid Liverpool supporters so we discuss their 3-2 win over Aston Villa with delight.
Having made some purchases it is time to find the bus to take us the cruise. As we leave the market all the vendors descend upon us not like bees now, but an angry flock of vultures, ‘Buy this, you promised, only $10/$5/$1. I am hungry, I need to feed my family. Here take the small five (five carved animals), only $5’ and so on. What can you do? We give in and stuff bowls and wooden animals into our overfull handbags and money changes hands. The thing is, in a country with 90% formal unemployment, you know that they are not exaggerating.
The river cruise is a relaxing experience in contrast. We meet up with our fellow guests, a family from Australia but originally from Kariba, and a nice American couple; she looks rather like Jennifer Anniston and he is in medical research and soon buttonholes Fi. Much more interestingly, he is a quasi professional cyclist, having competed with the best in the world (‘Lance Armstrong’s real problem was not that he cheated, as they all did, but that he was such a dick.’) Brent, the son of the Australians, is intrigued. ‘Do you shave your legs?’ Not only legs but arms too, he says, brandishing completely hairless limbs.
On our final day we decide to do the whole Vic Falls sight-seeing trip, both sides. We cross the iron suspension bridge, where the bungee jumpers leap, but we are too early for them in our efforts to miss the heat. Several dollars but not many minutes later we are in Zambia, where the Falls really are a trickle. Barely any water to be seen so we head back. It is very hot by now so we get a cab over the bridge (in fact we discover later that it was 41 C and we had walked 10kms altogether. Wow!).
Not deterred we wander round the Zimbabwe side where there is more water, and a very good view of the bathers in the Devils Pool, opposite, where you can ‘swim’ at the very edge of the waterfall. Not for the faint-hearted. The Americans had done it and said it was ‘awesome’.
And so our little mini-break comes to an end – I go to Joburg for a night with an old friend and meet South Africa’s biggest-selling author, Deon Meyer, and Fi heads straight back to London.
Farewell, continent of my birth…it’s been great couple of weeks.