Today we fly back to South Africa, Cape Town via Joburg. It was a long way down and the whole day was expected to be spent on flying. Our transfer picked us up at the lobby after our check out and our vehicle pass through the bridge over to Zambia. Gone through the customs and travel into Livingstone town which we missed on the first day while heading to Botswana. Small town with repainted old style building, pretty but nothing much. It was at most a 30 mins drive to the airport.
Soon we were back at the small airport; with a line already waiting for check in. While waiting, went over to one of the little shops selling stamps and got myself a souvenir, with some Zambia currency. There were 2 flights during that morning but only one gate. We found ourselves a seat and waited till when it was time to board. It was then the earlier flight started to board. We had a bad feeling that our flight was going to be delayed and so subsequently missing the connecting flight. We flew off 1 hour late.
Upon reaching Joburg, there was a long queue at the immigrations. As we exit the arrival, we rushed towards the BA counter to ask for a another flight and a free pair of tix for Cape Town, as it was their flight that was late and we missed the connecting because of that. It was another hour before the flight but as we boarded the plane, there was a technical issue that held the plane back for another hour. I wanted to call the airport transfer at Cape Town to postpone to a later time but as I searched my reservations emails, there were no mobile number stated and the internet chose to fail on me too. By the time we arrived at Cape Town, we were 3hrs later than planned and I also received an email from the guide that mentioned that he had waited for 2hrs but we did not turn up. Still I didn’t have his mobile so I returned the email and took a cab straight to our hotel. The biting cold was back after avoiding it for the 5 days while we were in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Reached the Cape Heritage hotel without drama. Welcomed the nice and warm atmosphere within the hotel, with really friendly staff to help us check in. We absolutely loved the deco, modernity within history. The room we had was really beautiful with a nice tub and huge toilet! A great place to rest albeit the many unfortunate events that took place earlier. Had to worry whether the guide was still gonna come pick us for the guided tour the next day but was tired from all the hassle. Went to bed after the bath.
Night was cold and the wind kept shaking the window panes. As we slept, we hoped for better weather the next day but knew that the forecast was showing otherwise.
Morning started with a nice Al Fresco breakfast, choice from the menu for cooked food and bread & cereal from the self help buffet table. Overhead, we heard flights of angels and microflights going about their rounds. There was a morning tour of the falls that was included in the package. In the afternoon, it was free and easy. We were thinking of visiting the devil’s pool in the Vic falls and thus thought that we should check with the tour guide if their company could arrange for such trips. The bus picked us up about 15 mins later than the agreed time. We initially got worried and ask our recept for assistance and he called on behalf and assured us that the vehicle was on the way. Eventually we chilled and surfed the free wifi for info till the bus picked up us and a few other passengers thereafter before reaching the gate to the national park. It was really close to our lodge but because of the detour, it took awhile.
The tour consisted of some intro, history of the discovery of the falls by Dr. Livingstone and other misc stuff. It was a really easy walk along the full length of 1.7km with very easy path (and rainy spots too). Our time of visit was at a period where the falls was picking up since it was breaking from winter to spring. It was a good time to see the falls since the misting wasn’t too much, but then you would not be able to feel the full force of the falls. It really depends on what you want. For this walking tour, our entrance fees were all taken care of. The only thing that was required was basically registration of ourselves for the visit.
The smoke that thunders, native name translated was really appropriate. The various vantage point along the 1.7km provided the experience as you proceeded towards the fall. The initial devils cataract viewpoint already shown the massive amount of water gushing earthwards, roaring as the water made contact with the ground 100m below.
This waterfall was wowing us over as we moved from view point to view point. There was a stretch of pathway on the way to the main falls that had “rain” coming down from the sky but actually from the falls. We brought our poncho and wore them quickly. Some of the other visitors didn’t and just went ahead. One such couple actually said they enjoyed it! I tried to take photos of the middle section but was not able to, having so many droplets formed on the lens, even though the camera was splash resistant. Within minutes we were already near the end of the falls.
From the tour I finally understood that the difference between seeing the Vic Falls from the Zimbabwe side vs the Zambia side. The main path for viewing was accessible from Zimbabwe and the remaining short section from Zambia. Therefore, it would be best to visit Zimbabwe for the various viewpoints of the falls. However, Zambia side actually offered something more exciting, the dip in Devil’s pool and Angel’s pool! So if you want to do both, you gotta really plan.
After the end of the falls, we arrived a viewing location where we can see a bridge that links Zimbabwe and Zambia. This was actually on a no man’s land and the bridge has various activities such as bungee, zipline and bridge swing, hosted by a Zambia based company. We decided that we should do a zipline across the ridge since we were too scared for the bungee or bridge swing.
At the end of the tour, we talked to the guide on our intentions to stay so that we can walk at leisure the places where we want to spend more time. Also inquired about the dipping at Devils’ pool. He thought that the pool might be closed and that the one opened was probably Angel’s pool. This all depended on the strength of the waters leading to the falls since a boat ride was required to bring interested people to Livingstone island. He advised us to check back with the main office in town for a clearer picture. We went around for a bit more before we walked back to town for about 15mins. There was a dedicated space opposite the entrance of Vic Falls that was for the curios stalls. There I asked for my 100 trillion dollars note, which I negotiated for USD3. Seemed like the quantity of these notes were running low, not everyone had them and these notes were no longer printed.
We went to the various tour agencies in town to check out the prices for the Vic Falls dip and the zipline. After comparison, we booked our dip in one of the tour agent that was the cheapest and the zipline at Shearwaters. It was kind of funny when the other agencies mentioned that there weren’t anymore slots left for the Vic Falls dip but heck, we paid and so it should be ok. The other problem was the agent said she was unable to get to the Zambian agent and we arranged to have the pick up at our hotel at 3pm since we were going ziplining first. Shearwaters provided a transport for us to the bridge which was a short distance away from the Vic Falls entrance.
We had to bring our passports but inform the customs that we were going to the bridge and not crossing to Zambia. They would then provide us a stamped paper to give to the gate guard when we returned. The walk to the center of the bridge took about 10mins as it wasn’t really that close. Then it was another 5mins across the half of the bridge and up the slope to reach the registration area.
For those that were not used to chaos would not like that place. It was really messy, people crowding at the table to get registered, no queue or anything like that. For Singaporeans like us, we were kinda lost and didn’t know what was going on. I asked the person at the table and he just told us to wait while registering one bungee jumper and another few persons. And it was then we knew we could just have bought the tickets on the spot, without having to go back to town to do so and wasted that traveling time. Then it was 12 noon. Even before I could move, he announced to all the disappointed waiting customers, to come back after lunch, 1pm-ish. We asked if we could wait at the registration and he said no, just wait around. Luckily, there was a cafe operated by the same company cooking lunches and selling beer. We ordered a meal and sat at a table in the open, out in the sun under a picnic umbrella for lunch. It got worse. Soon a group of baboons came up from the open, jumped onto the seat, reached for our fries and became aggressive with teeth showing! I instinctively grabbed my camera (after hearing how some tourist fell to his death trying to save his camera from baboons back in the safari time) and my beer bottle to try to scare it away but it wasn’t scared! I had no choice but to remove the plate and we moved back into the sheltered area. We had to throw away everything since the baboon touched the fries and most probably our chicken chop. With that minimum lunch, we waited close to the table as the time approached 1pm. In the meantime, I was trying to call back to the tour agent to see if there was any confirmation and if they could pick us up at the customs instead but it didn’t get through, all 3 numbers and handphone.
1pm and the registeration wasn’t open. One American was standing there lining up, I guessed that he was used to the same system that I was familiar with. I stood behind him and soon, a line started to form. Despite this, the table guy told us to sit around first, reason being the stations master and assistants were not back for their lunch yet! It would take probably another half an hour for them to get back, eat their lunch and go back to their stations. What?? More waiting? That sucked. We stubbornly stood there until the table guy suggested that we should remember and agree our queue position and go back to sit around. Well, we thought it was workable and did just that.
2pm. Got registered. About the solution that was suggested, it worked fine for the first 4 people. Others behind started to argue that they were 5th and what not. Chaos again. Unfortunately, the bridge is dominated by absolute monopoly and I do not see that any improvement would come about from this. I think the only tip I would give if you are interested in bungee jumping into the valley from the bridge is to go really early, beat the crowd, have lots of patience and not too much planned out for the day.
Even after registration, we had to wait for the station master to prepare us, donning the harness and stuff like that. We had to wait for the camera guy too. For this, we could not bring loose items like bags and had to leave it with the guy at the table, in a black box next to him. Talk about security. Not much of a choice anyhow. Walked along a footpath until we reached the launch site. Took many pictures, even one that the station master took for us. The camera guy also shot some but did not object to our photo taking. Loaded up, camera ready, one, two and off we went. Videographed the whole 10secs journey. Was really a thrilling experience. But too damn short to wait 3 hrs for it. But I guess this experience was much longer than the bungee people.
By the time we walked the whole bridge back to the preparation place for the return of the harnesses, the reclaiming of our belongings and the rejecting of the professional photos, it was almost 3pm. We were rushing back to the customs where the Shearwaters driver was still waiting for us! Really thankful for his service, tipped him after we reached the hotel. The recept then informed that a lady was looking for us and had told us that the trip was cancelled as it was over booked. That was disappointing. There weren’t even timeslots for another week! I should have booked in advance. You should too if you are thinking of dipping in the infinity pool of the Vic Falls.
So the afternoon was void of activities due to this change. Went back to the hotel to rest instead. The view from the room was entertaining too as we see wild animals pass in front of us.
Didn’t want to go out for dinner and so had ours at the restaurant in the lodge. It was one of the best as according to tripadvisor and so we had to try. Took Alfresco again and though it was a little dark, the food was pretty tasty and we enjoyed the romantic night out. An interesting thing happened, a hippo and a buffalo actually visited the lodge, the same grassy area in front of our room. I tried to take photos of it but it was really dark. Even when we returned to our room, I could see its silhouette amongst the trees.
Returning to South Africa the next day for our final leg of the tour.
Another early start to the day, this time with much more crowd. The bus load of tourists were here, on top of the usual crowd. During move out, we were told to wait till our vehicle arrived, along with a few other guests. We waited and soon all the crowd cleared out except for the passengers that were to board the same safari vehicle as we. Again we were informed to wait, the vehicle that was supposed to pick us had broke down and they were sending another one. We had a sinking feeling that this was not going to be a smooth day for us, and we had to decide to abandon the tour if it came too late as we had to cross over to Vic Falls today and we might be late for that too. After waiting like for an hour since the guests left, the vehicle finally arrived. The female guide didn’t seemed sure of what was going on, took ages to get the warm drinks, drove really slowly to the Chobe park and took a lot of time with the registeration. Luckily, another familiar guide arrived soon and picked up from there. Soon we were moving but already day had broken.
The interesting part of the drive was when we drove into the path of a massive group of buffalos that came from the river. We were surrounded as they moved across the pathway into the land beyond.
No cats. After the break, we ventured more. The guide knows that we weren’t interested in the other animals and really tried his best to bring us to the lions’ territories. No luck though there were footprints. We heard news that previous days some of the safari passengers actually saw a lioness with her cub feeding on a buffalo in the park. We were unlucky and the lions were possibly full for these couple of days.
We saw a group of zebras, first time in the Chobe NP.
On the return, we saw a Jackal in the plains, first time for us. But safari experience did not turned out as what we hoped for. We saw and experienced the grandeur of existence in the wild but missed the infrequent predator presence that would really showcase the art of survival of these animals. We should revisit another safari in the future, Kenya perhaps?
As expected, we were late when we returned because the guide actually extended our stay at the park for the delay in the morning. So it was all a rush again. We wanted to put some items back into the luggage but the helpers had already brought out all our stuff and left them at the lobby. One helper assisted to bring back one of the luggage and we rushed to keep whatever we need to keep in the room, used the toilet and a final check before moving to a waiting safari vehicle that would ferry us to the Botswana and Zimbabwe check point. It was a 30mins drive and almost the same route back to the ferry terminal, only to turn at the cross junction. All the crossings was really just close to each other, so it was no wonder this trip with Chobe and Victoria Falls was so popular.
When we reached the crossing, we saw a long line of tourists waiting to get their passports chopped. After unloading the luggage, we searched for the Wild Horizons rep who easily recognized us (easy since it was not too difficult to identify Singaporeans from the other Caucasians). There we also recognised a Japanese family who shared the morning safari game drive with us. They were also going over to Vic Falls. Had a conversation with them and found that the husband was working in Joburg and they were there on a holiday before heading back to Tokyo with the kids. Awesome!
And the great thing that I pride myself as a Singaporean traveller is my red book of a passport. This document allows me to go many places without a need for a visa, and with that, less hassle at the customs and of course a short cut to the front of the queue. The rep took our passports, went to the customs, stamped the passports and we were on our way to the mini van, where the rest of the passengers were waiting. Another 1hr ride, the van reached Vic Falls area, delivered the 2 groups of passengers to their respective hotels and finally to ours, Ilala lodge, which was closest to the Vic Falls. Check in and went to the activities counter to book our heli ride to check out the falls.
There wasn’t much time and soon the Shearwater group rep was at the lobby to pick us up for our flight. Travelling some 15mins to the helipad, we waited for our turn and looked around the shop of sourvenirs. The helicopter could pick up 6 passengers at a time. We were lucky to secure a slot because these trips were really always fully booked. The best seat was obviously the front one beside the pilot and you had to be shameless to really get that seat. The back had 5 seats and if you took the middle one, which I did, you might not get the best pix. I had to move into a position cleared of the body parts of the passenger beside the window to have a good shot of the falls.
Before boarding the heli, the crew would take photos and video the whole experience on the helipad location. Therefore, if you had the intention to purchase anything, you gotta remember to look good. It was kinda costly to purchase those photos and video, which in my opinion was nothing much as it did not feature video shots on the flight itself but a video of the falls taken (god knows how )long ago. Not much a value to me. This was of course shown to us after the flight and no one from our group bought it. We were pretty sure those images on our cameras were worth much more.
We took the cheaper option Flight of Angels, at a price of about 180SGD per pax for a 15mins flypass experience, tilting at both sides for equal amount of time.
Just fired away! You had only 15mins, what would you expect? Vic Falls is magnificent from the skies and an experience worth the money. I supposed the microflight would be interesting too, just that it was only offered at the Zambian side.
After the sales pitch in the form of the video presentation, we left the area, boarding the vehicle that brought us back to the lodge. Hungry since we hadn’t had lunch, we went into Vic Falls town to look for food.
After lunch, we walked around town to see what’s available. It was a really small town, not really interesting. There were many tour agencies selling different activities packages and a few cafes and eateries. There were also people that goes around selling trillions of Zim currencies. I bought some but did not checked myself, there was just too many zeroes. I googled when I was back in the hotel and then I knew the biggest one was 100 trillion dollars. The rest of the 8-10 notes costs me 5USD.
The pickup from the hotel came about half an hour before the cruise and luckily we were informed by the recept that that’s the norm for waiting. The bus we boarded proceeded to go to a few places to picked up the other passengers for the cruise. About 30mins and we arrived at location. Saw a group of native africans dancing and singing, as a performance for the people on the ferry. That was also to promote their CD that consisted of their music. The wait to move off was really long as tour buses and mini vans arrived bit by bit and passengers slowly boarded the ferry. Went to the front of the ferry (away from the drinks bar) to get the best view.
The ferry was an easy ride along the Zambezi, with introduction to the falls, the surrounding and the wildlife around. Drinks were unlimited which included the various types of beer that you could try from around the region. There were some snacks too.
When we arrived back at the jetty, the dancers are still there, seemingly giving the passengers a second chance at purchasing their CD. But tough luck, the passengers left for the waiting buses. I supposed if there is another day to dance and sing, there is hope.
The return trip was boring as there weren’t anything to see. We passed by a couple of hotels where passengers alighted and we were the last ones to alight. Back at the hotel, there was a restaurant but we weren’t exactly liking it. Was a little uncertain about walking into town since it was not really brightly lit but we went anyway. It was actually not that bad. Made it to a restaurant called Mama Africa and it was crowded! We didn’t have any reservations and thus waited for about 20mins for a seat. Ordered crocodile steak and had to wait another 30mins at least due to the crowd. While waiting, a another native group of dancing singers came to promote their CD. Difference was there were people from the crowd that joined them for the dance. Some entertainment. Food was ok and as expected, tasted like rubbery chicken but definitely worth a try for some native cuisine.
Went back after dinner for internet and TV and a great sleep on the King size bed.
Escape Plan to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe in August 2013:
Total duration 17D16N Singapore is 6hrs ahead of South Africa Flight time is 12hrs direct flight on SQ (converted Krisflyer points for free tix!) from Singapore to Johannesburg Night flight on 2nd Aug, arrive on 3rd Aug Saturday, early in the morning.
This was not the initial plan that we have as we wanted to do a partial garden route. The weather was bad on our final leg in Cape Town and thus we changed the Garden Route planned on Day 14-Day16 to the those stated above in order to try spend more time in Cape Town.
Budget nature: Budget Buster
The total costs spent is about SGD5.5k per pax (inclusive of main flight taxes, meals, souvenirs, books (lots of them), toys and macadamia nuts and wasted no-shows on hotels). The amount looks alot but considering the itinerary and the duration and comparing with some of the quotations I have inquired, it is of good value in my opinion.
Complexity: DIY for the seasoned traveller
I guess there’s going to be alot more planning to do if you are to arrange everything yourself. I was really concerned with the crime in SA and thus had prearranged all tours and transfer back at home. But it is really nothing much to worry about if you maintain the usual street smartness required and not visit places that you really shouldn’t go and you should be fine. I have seen many DIY tourists whilst travelling similar route and they seemed fine on their own.