A distance aerial view of Victoria Falls as my flight approached Victoria Falls International Airport is a field on fire with white smoke bellowing into the skies. As you close in on the falls itself, you realize that the ‘smoke’ is actually a cloud of water rising up as the Zambezi River pours down the falls with amazing force and power.
Once on the ground, the 24 km drive from the airport to Victoria Falls town is an extremely smooth highway. Both sides of the road are lined up with beautiful trees. Victoria Falls town can easily be confused with a small modern city in the developed world. It is clean; the buildings are modern and very well maintained. The roads are very well paved and marked. The flower beds and gardens well nurtured. The town does not have so much traffic apart from the hordes of buses and minibuses shuttling tourists from the falls to various lodges in the town.
Park entrance fee is paid at the falls entrance. Please note that park entrance fees is paid in United States dollars, cash. This is the most preferred mode of payment. Any other mode of payment may be a big hassle and give you unprecedented complications. A lady ahead of me on the queue had US travelers cheques of 50 dollars denominations and had to go away because she could not be given back her change. Zimbabwe dollars cannot be used by foreigners to pay park entrance fees.
Before you arrive at Victoria Falls, it is very important to prepare for a ‘rainy’ day. It is guaranteed that you will be rained on as you view the falls. This will not be rain water but from the cloud of ‘smoke’ I mentioned early. The best item to protect you from the rain is a poncho. A raincoat will also do. Also have shorts if possible because long trouser will definitely get wet from your knee downwards. Non-leather open shoes would be the best option for footwear.
First stop would be at the Livingstone statue. This is a relatively big statue that was put under immense security guard when the locals wanted to destroy it due to political differences between Zimbabwe and Great Britain several years back. Next stop would be a view of the Devil’s Cataract and Cataract Island. The Devil’s Cataract is the western end of the falls and there is a huge force of water flowing down the Devil’s Cataract. From the Cataract Island, the next stop is the Main Falls. This is where one might experience the heaviest rainfall though this is the best sight of viewing the falls. From the main falls, I head to the Livingstone Island. It is said that Dr. Livingstone docked at Livingstone Island and spent the night there oblivious of the falls right after that. As I continue eastwards, the next stop is Horseshoe Falls followed by the Rainbow Falls and finally the Eastern Cataract. Words cannot express the sight at Victoria Falls as the scene is never static. The width of Victoria Falls from the Devil’s Cataract to the Eastern Cataract is 1,700 metres. The mean height of the Main Falls is 83 metres. The mean height of the Rainbow Falls is 99 metres. The mean height for the whole falls is 93 metres. The average flow of water over the falls is 34,000 cubic metres a minute.
The best time to see the falls is between February and June. This is the time the falls is full and complete from the Devil’s Cataract to the Eastern Cataract. During the other months when there is less rainfall experienced, the Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls and Eastern Cataract have no water flowing on them. The paved walkways along the entire falls are well maintained and accessible by wheel chair.
Immediately preceding the falls, the Zambezi River has 4 rapids that zigzag one after the other. The current falls is the first rapid and it is in favour of Zimbabwe. The best country to view the falls now is from the Zimbabwe side and not the Zambia side. However, several centuries ago, Rapid 4, which formed the first ever falls along the Zambezi was in favour of Zambia. Rapid 3 was then created and it was in favour of Zimbabwe. When Rapid 2 was created, it was in favour of Zambia. The Zimbabwe/Zambia famous bungi jump bridge is located on Rapid 2. The current falls and Rapid 1 is in favour of Zimbabwe. Judging from the amount of water flowing down the Devil’s Cataract, it is predicted that the Zambezi River is already cutting its new path heading towards the Zambia side. This will create a new falls and rapid which will be in favour of Zambia. This will however take hundreds of years to form.
As we exit the falls after the Eastern Cataract, we head to the famous bridge joining Zimbabwe and Zambia on Rapid 2. This is the bridge where bungi jumping is done. Water rafting is also done from Rapid 2 downstream. River cruises are done upstream before the falls.
The best method to view the falls is by helicopter. The Flight Of Angels provides one with the perfect experience and excellent view of the falls.
Victoria Falls has all kinds of lodgings and hotels to cater for all classes of travelers. These include Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, A’Zambezi River Lodge, Elephant Hills Hotel, Nyati Lodge, Lokuthula Lodges, Victoria Falls Hotel, The Kingdom Hotel and Casino among others.
Some of the activities available at Victoria Falls is a Sundowner Cruise which provides a very good experience. A visit to Victoria Falls will not be complete without a visit to The Boma – The Place of Eating. This is a wonderful dinner location with traditional dances. One can also do elephant rides and visit the crocodile farm. There is also canoeing and white water rafting along the Zambezi.
Botswana is just an hour’s drive away from Victoria Falls, if one has more time, consider visiting Chobe in Botswana for a night or two.
My flight back to Harare stopped over at Bulawayo. I could not miss noticing that Bulawayo International Airport seemed to have been expanding the airport with a modern massive airport building. This building however seems to have stalled several years back.
Harare is a modern city with well paved and maintained roads. As I traveled around Zimbabwe, it is evidently notable that this is a country that previously had enormous economic growth and focused development which now seems to have hit a brick wall.
Felix Koskei is the editor of http://www.safariafrika.com and an experienced tour operator offering safari vacations to various African countries. Travel Connections has provided hundreds of travelers with highly personalized safari packages. For more details visit Travel Connections Ltd.
The Victoria Falls are on the Zambezi River, at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa. They are one of the Great Natural Wonders Of The World.
A mile across and 400 ft high, they form the largest vertical sheet of water in the world.
They were “discovered” by David Livingstone in 1855 and named for Queen Victoria.
Before that, they were known locally by a more romantic name – Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “Smoke That Thunders”
The falls are part of two national parks, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe, and they are one of Southern Africa’s major tourist attractions.
They are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fly from Johannesburg Airport to Victoria Falls Airport (Zimbabwe) or to Livingstone Airport (Zambia).
Both flights take around an hour and a half. Both airports are around a 20 minute drive from Victoria Falls.
Most flights leave Johannesburg early in the morning, so you will need a hotel at Johannesburg Airport for the night before.
If you have the time, and the courage, you can travel overland on a “Safari” from Cape Town. This can be a fabulous way to see Africa, but the quality, safety and price of these trips varies enormously.
WHEN TO VISIT
Victoria Falls enjoys a mild, dry season from June to August.
The temperature then rises steadily until the rains start in mid-November. It is then hot, wet and humid until the rainy season ends in late April. If you don’t like heat andhumidity – avoid the rainy season!
It is also extremely hot here just before the rains begin. Late October/early November is known as the “Suicide Season” with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees!
The Falls are at full power during the March and April floods but the immense amount of spray obscures the view and can make you very wet! For a mild, pleasant visit – come between June & September.
Visa regulations change in BOTH Zimbabwe and Zambia on an almost daily basis.
Also, Victoria Falls is right on the border, and you will certainly want to see it from both sides.
I would advise you to arrange multiple entry visas for both countries before you embark on your journey.
The Zimbabwe dollar is unstable and exchange rates can vary alarmingly from moment to moment.
By far the best currency to use in Zimbabwe is the United States Dollar.
Pounds Sterling and Euros can be used, but the exchange rate is poor.
Travellers Cheques are a waste of time on the streets – but they can be used to pay for excursions.
Basically, you must have Us Dollars (cash) to change into Zimbabwe Dollars – preferably in smaller notes. South African Rand and Botswana Pula can be exchanged as they are regional hard currencies.
It is illegal to change money on the streets of Zimbabwe.
If you are caught you will be arrested and prosecuted. If somebody on the street offers to exchange dollars with you – walk away! No matter how good their rate is!
At the time of writing this, the government has closed all bureaux de change – so the only place to legally change money is in a bank. The exchange rate in banks is only a fraction of the street (black market) rate, but at least it’s legal!
Ask your tour-guide or hotel manager for the best banks to change money. And don’t change too much at once – The Zimbabwe Dollar is totally worthless outside of Zimbabwe.
You will need cash US Dollars to make all major purchases – including entry to Victoria Falls National park.
Finally – Never use a credit card in Zimbabwe for anything!
You will be charged a fortune for this privilege -and could end up paying several times the cash price!
Zambia’s unit of currency is the Zambian Kwacha, which is divided into 100 Ngwee.
Notes are issued in denominations of K10,000; 5,000; 1,000; 500; 200; 100 and 50.
There is no limit on how much currency you can bring into Zambia – but you must declare it when you enter the country.
Most visitors will find the exchange rate is in their favour. US Dollars, Pounds Sterling and Euros attract good rates in banks and bureaux de change. Travellers cheques (US Dollars) are widely accepted.
Entrance to game reserves etc can only be paid in Kwacha.
Most hotels, restaurants, and large shops will take credit cards.
Most of the bigger banks will advance local currency against a credit card.
Standard Chartered and Barclays Banks have ATMs which accept Visa cards for cash.
Tipping is discouraged in Zambia.A service charge goes on your bill.
Haggling over prices in local markets etc is perfectly acceptable.
Take a course of anti-malarial tablets before visiting the Victoria Falls area – just to be on the safe side.
Most of the people you meet here will be wonderful.
And they are keen to promote this area to tourists – so crime is generally very low.
But please don’t tempt fate by flaunting your superior wealth.
Leave your Rolex and your diamond-tiara at home – or at least stash them in your hotel.
Remember – this is an area of extreme poverty.
You must, must, must visit Victoria Falls! It is an unforgettable experience!
Terry Jenkins has travelled here there and everywhere as a professional photographer. He now works for the British Government, and in his “spare” time he helps to run The Top Ten Site. Read his travel articles (with pictures) at http://TheTopTenSite.com
Africa is a unique investment destination for many obvious and well discussed reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that it is now recognised as one of the last places on earth where super returns are possible.
Its uniqueness also derives from the fact that its geographic, infrastructural, cultural and political environments are very different, not only from developed economies and other emerging markets but, within the continent, from one country to another. So, what works in non-African markets cannot simply be imposed on Africa. Moreover, what works in one African country won’t necessarily work in another.
Super returns are indeed possible. But they can’t be achieved by a conventional approach to funding and investment.
Which is downright marvellous!
Because it means that people and institutions with money to invest have a chance to participate in the coming of age, after centuries of evolution, of the concept of investment finance – and, this time, to get it right.
Ad hoc is good, coherence is better
Historically, financing of projects, business, and growth has been an ad hoc process – driven by individual investors, human or institutional, making opportunistic decisions in search of profit. The ancillary benefits to investees have been a useful by-product, largely because more profit could be made if investees prospered. But pro-active creation of benefits for the investee was rarely the primary objective of an investment decision.
The invention of various types of financial tools and mechanisms has also occurred mostly in response to opportunity. Lines of credit, for instance, were first made available when knights off to the crusades found it too dangerous to carry their gold and silver with them. The Knights Templar stepped in by providing letters of credit that would be honoured in Jerusalem. In fact, the extended financial network operated by the Knights was an early form of banking.
One could say, I suppose, that there was a broader and faintly humanitarian motivation behind what the Knights Templar did – at least, from their point of view, in terms of keeping Christianity alive in the face of attack by the Ottoman Empire. But there was no thought of providing general benefits to the people of Europe and the Middle East, for whom the Middle Ages remained financially and otherwise extremely Dark.
Markets are good, communities are the reality
The point being that the willingness to provide money for the achievement of a specific purpose has arisen in relation to a specific need at a specific time, with no real coherence in the processes used or, more importantly, in the motivation driving the willingness.
People and institutions have always been motivated to risk their money on the chance that someone else will make more for them. They always will be. But they haven’t worked together in any coherent way, with a shared objective of building communities rather than simply markets.
As to coherence of process, that has developed gradually, at least in terms of creating global regulations that prevent the abuse of those in need of finance. That, though, deals only with the negatives of investment.
The difference that Africa makes to both motivation and process is that its own evolution out of millennia of oppression and conflict has peaked at exactly the point in time when the world is in a position to use in an integrated way everything it has learned throughout history about politics, medicine, technology, education, business, and money – for the greater good.
An economic conscience
Africa is an opportunity for the evolution of the human conscience to have no regrets – about the way Africa emerges from its own political and economic Dark Ages into an era of equality and equity.
Those of us in a position to provide the financial means for that emergence haven’t arrived on the continent in a galleon, having set sail from Europe to see if we would fall off the horizon. We haven’t marched into Africa with a Roman legion, trying to extend an empire.
Antibiotics and anaesthetics have been discovered. The human race has learned how to fly. We can light up the night, not with rushes soaked in oil, but with a switch on a wall.
We’ve learned so much. Specifically, we’ve learned so much about how to invest rather than exploit; about partnering rather than conquering; about the fact that capital is not only financial. It’s also human, social, environmental, and natural.
We’ve also learned that all forms of capital have to function together for any return we seek to be sustainable.
We know all this because our ancestors made all the mistakes. We don’t have to. What we need now, though, is the opportunity to apply what we’ve learned. Africa is that opportunity.
And here’s one example of how it can be done.
Restoration of a bread basket
Zimbabwe, once southern Africa’s breadbasket, has spent ten years in decline. Hyperinflation, sanctions, and internal political turmoil have decimated liquidity.
Two years ago, however, a power-sharing government was formed – and it dollarized the economy. The resulting stability has triggered a slow but persistent economic recovery, with growth being recorded at the end of 2010 for the first time in a decade.
Obviously, Zimbabwe’s neighbours have a vested interest in its recovery. So, in 2010, Zimbabwe and South Africa signed the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Act (BIPPA) in order to create favourable conditions for investment between South Africa and Zimbabwe; provide security of tenure to South African investments in Zimbabwe; and unlock opportunities for the Zimbabwean local industry to access lines of credit from South Africa.
First of a kind
On 18th March 2010, the first deal to be done under BIPPA was signed into life – with South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) providing a six year term facility of US$ 30 million to the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe (AgriBank).
Established 82 years ago, AgriBank is one of Zimbabwe’s oldest banks and is a leading provider of finance to the agricultural and industrial sectors. It also provides banking services to some of the country’s largest commercial organisations and, in recent years, has extended its client base to include the small and medium enterprise (SME) and consumer markets. In the process, it has developed one of the country’s largest branch networks. Increasing AgriBank’s own access to finance, therefore, holds extended positive repercussions for its client base throughout Zimbabwe.
AgriBank will use the IDC facility to on-lend to its blue-chip and medium-sized clients, some of which are listed on the Zimbabwean Stock Exchange – with a focus on increasing their production capacity.
US$ 20 million of the facility has been allocated to firms operating in the agri-business, manufacturing, and mining sectors. US$ 10 million will be on-lent to the Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe.
The IDC Agribank deal is a significant step towards easing liquidity constraints for the Zimbabwean financial services sector and will, overall, assist in boosting economic activity in Zimbabwe.
In this particular instance, we and our Zimbabwean co-advisory partner, Neverseez Capital, arranged that the borrowing from the IDC not only be forwarded at competitive LIBOR-indexed interest rates but also be structured to ensure that a large portion of the funding will be used by Zimbabwean companies to purchase South African goods and services. The IDC facility will, therefore, also provide revenue opportunities to South African firms.
This is an example of getting investment right – in the sense that we, as Musa Capital Advisors, always advise our partners, clients, and competitors to link global capital (even when it’s right next door) to Africa opportunity in general and, wherever possible, to use investment to link African opportunities to one another.
The AgriBank IDC transaction goes well beyond simple investment, however. AgriBank’s main shareholder at the moment is the government. So opposition parties within that government had to come to the table to make the transaction happen.
In other words, the transaction brings together opposition views on Zimbabwe’s future as well as uniting commerce and government, commerce and the people, and a number of neighbouring countries – all with the single objective of bringing Zimbabwe back into the economic mainstream.
What was a breadbasket became a basket case. And with coherence of motivation and coherence of process aimed at making possible the right funds in the right place at the right time, Zimbabwe’s journey back to breadbasket is accelerated.
It’s an extremely practical example of how Africa provides the opportunity to get investment right.
William Jimerson, founder and executive director of Musa Capital, was born in Mississippi in the United States, studied at MIT, and worked on Wall Street as a financial analyst, before forming Musa Capital with three friends. Believing their skills could make more of a difference to more people if they applied them in the middle market in Africa, they have a fifteen-year track record of growing small to medium sized businesses that want to expand but are too big for donor organisations and too small to interest large investor firms. www.musacapital.com
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As I drove up over a tiny hill, I noticed a huge cloud of misty white smoke rising up from the horizon. Unlike typical smoke which appears to rise up through the air and thin into the sky, this smoke seemed to ride on the air, then eventually settle back towards the earth.
I traveled about ten miles closer when the smoke began to sparkle like a rainbow. Spectrums of color gradually appeared and faded while bright pinpoints of light pulsed like a thousand beacons. The sight of this shimmering cloud was so captivating that I did not realize a 10,000 lb. elephant was crossing the road directly in front of me.
I slammed on the breaks, screeching the truck to a halt. The startled elephant spun his body around to face me. He spread his ears out to the sides of his head displaying his enormous size. Then he loudly trumpeted as he swung his trunk back and forth in rage. Threatened by my sudden appearance, he assumed this defensive posture to frighten me away.
I held my ground by remaining where I had stopped. After several quick flaps of his ears, the elephant stepped towards the truck and held his head high above his ten-foot tall shoulders. Then he stared down at me over his gigantic six-foot long tusks; each tusk must have weighed over 150lbs.
I noticed the elephant was “right-handed”, because his right tusk was more worn down than his left one, which meant he used that one more often. Unfortunately, that was the one almost knocking on my windshield.
The elephant then raised his trunk into the air, and began sniffing my vehicle. An elephant’s trunk contains nearly 150,000 muscles and nerves, providing it with extreme flexibility and sensitivity. Lacking any bones, the trunk is equipped with two finger-like points on the end.
An African elephant can pick up fruit the size of a marble as well as break a 12-inch thick branch off of a tree. This elongated proboscis provides a means for smelling, breathing, touching, drinking, and eating. During the dry season, when water is low, an elephant will dig holes and use its trunk to tap underground springs. The trunk also acts as a hose, whether for a drink or a dust bath. A coating of dust or mud on the skin repels sun and insects.
In the past, many people would unearth an elephant’s skull and think it was the skull of a Cyclops; the hole to facilitate the elephant’s trunk was mistaken for an eye socket.
When the elephant’s trunk began to gently investigate my vehicle as if it had a mind of its own, I began to slowly creep my truck forward to show a mild aggression. This is something that needs to be done to an overzealous animal that has the ability to tip your truck over. As I slowly inched forward, the elephant spread his ears out and took a charging posture. This massive wall of muscle standing six-feet taller than the hood of our truck was the ultimate form of intimidation. From ear to ear he was wider than the truck.
As he stared down at me, his tusks were inches from my windshield, and the heavy breathing from his trunk fogged our glass. As the largest land animal on earth, one would believe its enormous size carries an equal sense of confidence, but it does not. When most elephants threaten a human with a charge, they are bluffing, especially the males. When encountering male elephants while on foot in the bush, one can usually ward off a charge with a fair amount of yelling and waving of the arms. Believe it or not, sometimes simply throwing a small stick at an aggressive elephant will send them running in the opposite direction. Not that throwing a stick could ever hurt an elephant, it is much like throwing a pencil at a human. But the mere action of a measly human throwing something at them is enough to confuse them and discourage further aggression.
But, the case can be much different when encountering a female elephant, especially with young. Do not try the stick throwing approach with a mother elephant. She might chase you down with the stick you have just thrown, and.jam it where the sun doesn’t shine.. As with most animals, including humans, mothers protecting their young can become very unpredictable and aggressive. But, when you think about it, they are the most predictable: you know they will kill you. How can you tell the difference between a male and female elephant? Let’s just say that when you see a male elephant, “it” is quite obvious.
While I continued inching towards the elephant he began to back away. Then with an amazing amount of grace and speed, he lumbered off the side of the road and into the bush. I lingered in the area for a few minutes, watching him pull off trunk full of dried thorny leaves and stuff them into his mouth. Occasionally he would turn his head in my direction and give an aggressive earflap and headshake, just to let me know he did not forget I was there. Then after he slowly disappeared into the thick brush, I continued on my way towards the shimmering cloud.
About one-half mile past the elephant, I pulled the truck off to the side of the road and walked down a thin path on foot. As my feet touched the African soil, a dust cloud lifted into the hot dry air. The sun baked ground emitted heat like a stove, causing hundreds of tiny lizards to dart around the ground, panting like dogs while searching for the tiniest shadows of shade. The surrounding land was parched, the sparse clumps of bristly dry grass crackled beneath my feet, and the larger surrounding vegetation seemed to pout from thirst.
I followed this thin sandy path as it meandered through the barren grass. It led towards a patch of dense jungle which seemed to carry the shimmering cloud. I started to hear a faint rumbling sound in the distance and it became louder and louder as I approached the jungle.
Soon all I heard was a constant thundering roar. Then within a matter of a single footstep, I entered a lush jungle. The change in my surroundings was so extreme, that at one moment as I stood on the path, my left foot touched bone dry sand and scrub brush, while my right foot was stepping within a lush rainforest. It was as if I were standing on a page in a photo album and walked from one photograph to another.
Green broad leaf vegetation grew towards the sky, so tightly interwoven with each other, that it seemed as if a giant could run by and pick up the entire rainforest like a basket.
A cool mist continuously fell from the sky and the fallen water would collect in the forks of trees like tiny ponds. Around these miniature watering holes, small multi-colored birds gathered to drink, bathe, and preen their feathers.
The birds sparkled within this micro-jungle, as the sun reflected off the mist that collected on their feathers. Suddenly a three-foot tall monkey jumped out of a tree and landed directly in front of me. He sat on his hindquarters and stared at me with deep curiosity, almost as if he was trying to communicate with his mind. He then turned around and began to walk down the path. As if acting as a tour guide, he walked in front of me and occasionally would turn around to see if I were following.
Soon the monkey, and I, became soaking wet from the mist and the rumbling noise became so overwhelmingly loud like a freight train. As I made my way through the showering mist the monkey lazily hopped up to a branch and I walked up next to him. The roaring sound rattled my ribs and through the thick cloud of churning mist, roared one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls,
The largest curtain of water on the earth, the Kolovos tribe living in Zimbabwe during the 1800.s named Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders. At a mile wide, the Zambezi River fuels Victoria Falls.
Suddenly, this calm, glass-like river violently transforms as sixteen hundred million cubic feet of water per second (yes, per second), plunges 300-feet creating continuous explosions of water in the pool below. It vibrates your skin, shaking your soul.
In every direction, rainbows faded in and out. Blowing mist filled my eyes with water and soaked my clothes, while a hurricane of rising spray exploded hundreds of feet into the air, capturing the attention of anyone within a 25-mile radius.
At one thousand, six hundred and fifty miles long, the Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa. It flows through eastern Angola, western Zambia, forms the border of northeastern Botswana, and separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. It then crosses central Mozambique where it branches out into the Mozambique Channel.
I had a great dilemma in writing about Victoria Falls. The human mind is too limited to accurately translate such drama and beauty. A language that could fully describe what your eyes see, does not exist. Words cheapen the vision.
Gazing at Victoria Falls is hypnotic. Her explosive roar deafens all conversations forcing one to silently stare at her, inhale her mist, and absorb her beauty. She demands all of your attention, and you are more than willing to give it to her.
Within seconds, Victoria Fall’s image, power, and beauty, creates a passion within one’s soul that would take years to develop between two people. When you leave “Victoria”, you feel as if you are forever walking away from a soul mate. You leave wanting to take her home with you. It is a desire you will always feel, but never fulfill. There are no words to describe this “Queen” that would do her justice, and I will not try.
I stared for as long as I could. I began to lose track of time, so I reluctantly Pried myself away from “Victoria”, and walked along her edge toward the Zambian border.
As I passed my monkey friend I said to him, “Come on, let’s go to Zambia”. The monkey looked at me with a slightly tilted head, his hair clumped together from the falling mist, making him look like a punk rocker. Then he slicked back his hair with both hands, which made him look like a 1950.s greaser.
As he continued to slick back his “do”, I walked along a cliff hanging path on the edge of the falls, but the monkey never followed. I am sure he believes there is no better place for him to be, than where he is. He is right.
After a short walk, I passed through a small border post of custom agents ready to inspect my immigration documents. After they stamped my passport, I walked into Zambia.
From this location, one must enter Zambia via an old iron railroad bridge. The Victoria Falls railroad bridge was completed in 1905, and it quickly became a vital trade route between the two countries as well as hosting many clandestine operations during times of political turmoil.
The bridge helped kick start Victoria Fall’s tourist trade which has grown year after year. Not only was it a vital trade route, it is currently a tourist attraction. The bridge is home to the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. For roughly 100 U.S. dollars, one can bungee jump 350-feet off the bridge, over the Zambezi River. I never had the desire to pay money in order to jump off a perfectly sturdy bridge, so I continued on into Zambia.
While looking deep into the gorge of the Zambezi, I realized that if the bungee cord ever broke, the hippos and crocodiles would have a field day. I am sure that from years of watching people “fall” off the bridge, then miraculously spring back into the air just before hitting that water, has the hippos and crocs gathering below the bridge in hopes of a “technical failure”. After leaping, the bungee jumpers are lowered into a small boat and brought to shore. Then, they must scale a craggy cliff to get back onto flat land, making recovery seem more treacherous than the leap.
I walked along the railroad bridge into Zambia where we met four young native boys caring five-gallon spackle buckets full of flavored ice.
“Hey boss, would you like some ice?” one on the Zambians asked.
“Lets see what you have” I replied.
Immediately each of the boys sat on the railroad track and pried the tops off their buckets while holding them between their knees. After a fair amount of effort, they popped their lids and displayed their inventory. Each of their buckets were meagerly filled with half-frozen bricks of juice, all floating in a smorgasbord of previously melted flavors. The spackle that the bucket originally held would have been more appetizing, but I both a block of ice to acknowledge their proprietary efforts.
As I departed company with the boys, one of them said, “Thank you sir, my name is Osborne, if you ever need ice in the future, please look for me.”
“I will Osborne, and you guys keep up the good work.” I replied while we began to walk down the railroad tracks in opposite directions.
After taking a rather uneventful stroll along the Zambian border, I walked back to my truck in Zimbabwe. I then decided to drive into the city of Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls has turned into a tourist town. Twenty five years ago Victoria Falls had just less than 100 permanent European residents. Now the streets are filled with Europeans, as well as souvenir shops, tour guides, and street merchants.
As I drove into town, I almost forgot I was in Africa. The city seemed no different than any American vacation town. Being one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world provides many opportunities for the few people within the tourist industry. But it does not provide solutions for much of Zimbabwe’s social problems.
In Victoria Falls, as well as all of Zimbabwe, poverty is an extreme problem. Minutes after I parked my truck along the roadside, groups of sickly people swarmed around me begging for food or money.
This is always a difficult situation to face, especially when the children are begging. I had enough money in my pocket for them to retire on. But if you are seen freely handing out money to strangers, you can get into serious trouble, particularly when you run out of money to give. In situations like this, I keep an eye on the individuals in need while we are in their vicinity, then when I am ready to leave, I discreetly pass them what money and food I can spare, then quickly move on.
In addition to a lifetime of poverty, Zimbabwe’s involvement with the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. The average income in Zimbabwe is under $ 1,000 dollars a year. But that “average”. is not average. There are few middle-class citizens in Zimbabwe. It seems that the citizens of Zimbabwe either have it all, or have nothing.
Unfortunately, AIDS is steadily weakening Zimbabwe’s already crippled economy. Having the highest rate of AIDS infection in the world, one out of every four adults in Zimbabwe is afflicted with the virus that causes AIDS. Two thousand five hundred Zimbabweans a week die from the disease and that figure is expected to rise rapidly in the coming decade. AIDS is not Zimbabwe’s only major problem; they have a severe orphan epidemic. Currently one out of every five Zimbabwe children has lost at least one of their parents to AIDS.
As the people gathered around me, I firmly made it clear to the adult beggars that they were not getting anything. It is healthy to sometimes put up a “tough” front to the overzealous adult beggars; otherwise they can become very pushy and demanding.
When I started speaking with the children, the adults wandered off to look for other income opportunities. The specific attitude of adult beggars can shed light on why they are begging. The gentle polite beggar generally has suffered much hardship and is making the best of their depressing situation. The beggars that act pushy and demanding are more often people too lazy to get a job and would much rather beg than work. But these rules do not hold true for the children, pushy or not, they are alone, scared, and fighting for their lives everyday.
I started talking to a girl and her two younger sisters. All three of them looked like little neglected rag dolls; their tattered oversized clothing barely hanging on to them. I asked their names and the oldest girl replied,
“My name is Kambo. These are my sisters Mudiwa and Chipo.”
“Why do you need money, does your mom and dad Work?” I politely asked
“No sir, they can’t work, my mommy and daddy died.”
“I am sorry to hear that. When did they die?”
Her little face grew sadly depressed as she replied, “My daddy died two years ago, and my mommy died last year.”
“How old are you?”
“I think I am nine”, and after a long pause she added,
“Mudiwa is seven, no six, and Chipo is five, I think.”
“When are your birthdays?”
“I don’t know.”
“None of you know you birthdays?”
“Once I remember my mommy saying that Chipo was born in the summertime but I am not sure when.”
“Who takes care of you and your sisters?” I asked.
“I do.” She proudly replied with a smile.
“Where do you live?”
“Anyplace we can sleep, where no one will bother us.”
“Do people bother you a lot?” I asked with great concern.
“Yes, all the time. But it is always bad people that bother us; nice people never pay attention to us.”
“Why do the bad people bother you?”
“They try to take our food, blankets, and sometimes try to hurt us. Sometimes if I scream, they will run away.”
It is sad to think that their only perception of “nice people” are the people that ignore them.
“You and your two sisters have been living on the streets all alone for the past year?”
“Yes, sometimes when it gets so cold at night, we hug each other to keep warm.”
“Do you have any family, grandparents, uncles, aunts?”
“No, they all have died.”
I wanted to ask how their entire family died. I assume most of them died from AIDS, and the grandparents from old age. The average life expectancy in Zimbabwe is only 37 years old. But I noticed by the looks on their faces, that talking about their parents was too painful for them, so I never asked.
“Our family is the three of us.” Mudiwa said.
“You are the three musketeers.” I replied with a smile. And they all politely replied “Yes”, not quite sure what I was talking about.
I then told them I was going to take a look around town, but I would like to see them before I leave..
“We will be around”, she promised with a bright smile. I think she was surprised that I was giving them so much attention. “Then I shall see you soon,” I stated and lightly patted the three of them on the tops of their frizzy heads. As I walked away, they crossed the street and then tightly tucked into a dark alleyway to keep out of the sun.
Needless to say my stroll through the city of Victoria Falls was rather depressing. It is a vacationer’s paradise, but it can be a resident’s hell. Hidden within Victoria Fall’s overwhelming beauty, the harsh realities of life continue to exist. Every night these lonely discarded children tuck themselves into the dark and dingy alleyways of this beautiful city, only to wake up the following morning, alone
and hungry, like the unnoticed pebbles lodged in the grooves of a Ferrari’s gas pedal.
While exploring ultra-modern storefronts and tourists arriving in their luxury cars, I thought about the girls’ situation. I have to admit our first thought was
to scoop them up and take them home with me. But when reality set in I decided to give them money, just to make their coming days a bit easier to handle.
I devised a plan to safely get the money to them. When giving children in this position money, it is not safe to hand it to them in view of adults in their same position. Unfortunately, there are some people in this world that are just “evil”, if they see a child with money, they will steal it, and perhaps do far worse to the child. Predators live among the civilized as well as in the wild.
My plan would keep them safe from that possibility; at least until they got the money, then it would be up to them to hide it. I had to convince myself that my new little friends gained enough “street smarts” during the year they have been homeless and alone.
In Victoria Falls there is an old locomotive “parked” as a monument in what seems to be the “village square”. I placed a generous amount of money in a brown paper bag, crumpled it up to look like it was thrown away garbage, then hid it beneath the locomotive. I then walked to the truck, and I called the three girls over. Just as I suspected, when they began to walk out of the alley, an adult beggar perked up like a hungry lion, and began to follow the girls as they walked towards us. As the girls approached I yelled at the man behind them.
“I didn’t call you!.”
As he began to give a phony excuse for following, I cut off his words.
“But nothing, go away, and mind your own business.”
As he turned and walked away mumbling, the girls shook
their heads and laughed.
“Is he a “bad person”? I asked.
“Yes!” They all replied, as they all rolled there eyes is disgust.
“I thought so”.
While I knelt down to say my goodbyes, I could see several of the adult beggars staring at us to see if I gave them money. I then told the girls “Did you know that I asked around town and found out that your birthdays’ are today..
“What?” they giggled, then sheepishly covered their smiles with their hands to hide their imperfect teeth.
“Yes, all three of you were born on the same day, just different years”.
They continued to laugh as I said,.So I have a birthday gift for you all, but we don’t want anybody to see me give it to you, so I hid it”.
When I said “I did not want anybody to see us give it to you”, they rolled their eyes again, knowing that if the gift was seen by the others, it would be stolen seconds after I leave. As I said “I will tell you were I hid the gift”, they all moved in closer to hear me whisper. I softly said so the others could not hear..
“Do you know where the big locomotive Is?”
“Yes”, they all replied.
“I put your birthday gift in a brown paper bag and hid it underneath the locomotive.”
“Now listen carefully, this is what I want you to do.”
“After we say goodbye, go back to the alley where you were sitting before, if anybody asks you what we were talking about, say I was asking for directions. Then after a few minutes, walk over to the locomotive and get the gift. Remember that it is in a brown paper bag, it looks like garbage but it
is not. I will sit in the truck and wait until you return safely with it. But when you return, remember not to wave to me, or talk to me, so the others do not realize that I gave you something..
“Got that?” I said with a hint of seriousness for their safety.
“Yes, we will sit down for a few minutes, then sneak over and find the gift, then come back. Ohh, and don’t talk to you when we get back.”
“But we can quickly say goodbye now.” I said. And three warm little hugs later, we parted ways. I sat in the truck pretending to read a map as the older beggars approached the girls to figure out why we were all talking so long. I heard her say, that I was lost and was looking for directions. And when the older beggars saw me with a map, they believed her.
The girls carried out my orders as if trained soldiers. They sat for a few minutes, before “aimlessly” wandering towards the locomotive, then they disappeared behind it. A few of the adult beggars seemed curious of where they were going, but quickly lost interest when they found a new group of travelers to harass.
About two minutes later I saw three huge smiles coming from around the locomotive. Looking like the cats that ate the canaries, they grinned ear to ear, while uncontrollably giggling like young girls should. With a look of overwhelming excitement on their faces, their eyes seemed to be uncontrollably drawn to me as they fought to pretend not to see me. It was almost as if they needed to look at me. While they carried out my “orders” almost perfectly, there was one order they did not follow. When they saw that the adult beggars were preoccupied with the tourists, they all hopped up on my truck’s step panel, stuck their heads in our window, and whispered,
“Thank you, nice man Rusty.”
“You are welcome sweethearts, but you better go in case they see you.. I said trying to smile through tears, while these little ones just had smiles. They know no other way of life.
They all quickly patted me on the on the hand while saying thank you again and again, then they continued down the busy sidewalk with an extra “life in the steps until they became a part of the bustling crowd.
It is baffling how our planet possesses so many natural riches, and yet we still create a world that determines one’s level of happiness, safety, and quality of life to the amount of thin sheets of colored paper (money) they have. Money dictates our lives. Although these girls live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, they are forced to believe that there is nothing more valuable than that colored paper. It will be the only way they can survive in their world.
But money does hold a mystical power for its owner. I witnessed this when they came to the truck and whispered “thank you”. They seemed like “newer” children. Their smiles were brighter, their posture was straighter, and their eyes sparkled like Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders.
Several years have past since that day, and I still wonder what has become of the girls. I am sure it is a question that will never be answered, so I seek comfort in believing that my gift made a part of their lives easier.
Whenever I think of Victoria Falls, the girls.’ smiles shine brightly in my mind. Since my daughter Ayla was born, I think of them more than ever. On many nights, as I tuck Ayla into her warm bed, I wonder how Kambo, Mudiwa, and Chipo are doing. Are they safe, are they hungry, are they warm,….are they alive?
The Harare agricultural show officially kicked off on Friday. The two-day long exhibition is the main agricultural gathering where farmers and other institutions dealing in agriculture showcase their products to the local and international markets. This year’s edition of the show was graced by the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane who was also guest of honor. Officiating at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Thabane said Zimbabwe and other African countries should work hard to become efficient in food production in order to avoid some richer nations who use food aid as a tool for manipulation. Fazila Mahomed, Press TV, Harare Follow our Facebook on: www.facebook.com Follow our Twitter on: twitter.com Video Rating: 4 / 5
1. Is it safe to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe as a whole has received a great deal of bad press in recent years due to its political instability. Therefore the question “Is It Safe” to visit is well justified. Victoria Falls has however always been its own entity and should be viewed separately from the rest of Zimbabwe with regards to crime and safety.
To understand this clearly you need to be aware of the tribal structure of the local people of Zimbabwe. Supporters of Robert Mugabe are the Mashona people from the Mashonaland Province. The Victoria Falls region is in the Matabeleland Province and is the stronghold of the Matebele people, their dominance here is so strong that Mashona supporters don’t dare venture here. For this reason Victoria Falls has been free from the Political unrest that the rest of Zimbabwe has been subjected to.
As I write this I would confidently state that Victoria Falls is a perfectly safe tourist destination. Reviews on all the travel forums will endorse this.
Petty crime does exist as with anywhere in the world but this is a tourist town and the people know that their livelihood depends on visitors coming in. On the whole they will not do anything to jeopardize this. Be aware and be sensible as you would traveling to any destination worldwide.
Recently the United States removed travel warnings to all its citizens wanting to travel to Zimbabwe showing their confidence in Zimbabwe’s recovery. Other countries have also followed suit. Japan excluded Victoria Falls from its travel warnings in April 2009.
2. Is the Zimbabwe dollar still in use?
No – The Zimbabwe dollar is obsolete for the foreseeable future. Goods and services are now priced and paid for in United Sates Dollars. Although the Rand, Pula and British pounds will also be accepted at the exchange rate of the day.
3. Can I use Credit Cards?
The banking system of Zimbabwe does not facilitate the use of credit cards. Therefore, only companies who have external bank accounts or sister companies outside the country are able to accept credit cards. Although the larger Hotels groups have this facility, some of them charge levies and some battle to get authorization through quick enough, so it can be a very frustrating experience. The small shops and restaurants will not accept cards and neither will most of the tour operators. Therefore it is highly unwise to depend on using your credit card within Zimbabwe. ATM machines are definitely not operational and no cash can be withdrawn. The best advice is to pre book and pay for your accommodation and activities as much as you can, then take some cash with you for spending money and extras.
4. How do I pay for my accommodation and activities?
Paying for your accommodation should be done prior to arriving in Zimbabwe, through your travel agent. Package deals including flights and accommodation are by far the most economical way to do this and they can be paid for prior to departure. Travellers cheques are accepted at some hotels and not at others.
Cash is of course accepted everywhere, but carrying large amounts is never advisable.
All activities like white water rafting and bungee jumping etc. can also be pre booked and paid for through reputable websites prior to travel as most of the tour operators do not accept credit cards when you are there.
5. What type of accommodation is available in Victoria Falls?
Victoria Falls a small tourist town situated only one kilometre from the mighty Victoria Falls. This town has developed for one reason and one reason only – Tourists.
As a result there is a wide range of hotels and lodges, bed and breakfasts, self catering and camping. From the most luxurious accommodation to backpacking hostels, whatever your budget there will certainly be something to suit you.
6. What Activities can I do in Victoria Falls?
Victoria Falls is the undisputed Adventure capital of Africa. There is an incredibly wide variety of activities that will satisfy just about everyone’s needs. For the adrenaline junkies there is the wildest one day white water rafting trip in the world, the 111 meter high bungee jump, river surfing, kayaking, helicopter and micro light flights, heart stopping gorge swings, zip wires and many more.
For the more sedate there is River cruises, elephant rides, rich local arts, crafts and cultural experiences, fishing, golf and game viewing and the list goes on and on.
7. How do I get to Victoria Falls?
Victoria Falls is accessible by Air, Rail and Road.
By Air – Both British Airways and South African Airways operate daily flights to Victoria Falls direct from Johannesburg. Air Namibia operates four flights per week from Windhoek via Maun to the Falls and Air Zimbabwe operates daily flights from Harare, on three days of the week these flights go via Bulawayo.
By Road- The roads in Zimbabwe are all still in very good condition and are probably some of the best in Africa and they are beautifully quiet to travel on. Fuel supply is unpredictable so ensure that you carry enough to travel the whole distance. Fuel is normally available in Victoria Falls at the hefty price of US$ 1.50 per litre.
By Rail – The Luxury Rovos Rail service travels between Pretoria and Victoria Falls and is a 2 night 3 day trip. Botswana Rail have trains that run between Francistown and Bulawayo and Zimbabwe railways have an overnight train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, this is an option but it is certainly not luxurious. The trains are a bit run down and I have heard reports on some of the carriages not having lights – but it is a unique African experience if you are up for it!
The train station in Victoria Falls is right next to Victoria Falls Hotel and the Kingdom Hotel and less than a kilometer from the town centre.
8. Do I need a Visa for Zimbabwe and How do I get one?
If you are staying for less than six months, you can enter Zimbabwe with minimal formalities. You will need to check whether your country of origin requires you to obtain a visa. See the Victoria Falls Travel Guide website.
Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months from date of entry, a return ticket to your country (or enough money to buy one) and sufficient funds to cover your stay in Zimbabwe are required.
Visas for British passport holders cost $ 55 single entry and $ 70 for a double entry visa. United States passport holders pay $ 30 for a single entry and $ 45 for a double entry visa. South Africans are issued with Gratis (Free) visas at the port of entry.
Citizens of many countries can obtain entry Visas very easily at the port of entry, and therefore it is not necessary to arrange this prior to you traveling, however some countries do require that their citizens apply prior to travel so please check this out and all other visa details at the Victoria Falls Travel Guide Website
9. When is it the best time of the year to visit Victoria Falls?
There is never a best time; each season has its own magic. From December through to May the water levels are at their highest and there is a huge volume of water plummeting over the falls which is quite spectacular. As the water level drops, from May through to December there is less water plunging over the Falls so there is less spray and the Falls become more visible. In late October and Early November before the rains arrive, parts of the Falls actually stop flowing particularly the Eastern cataract in Zambia.
As the water levels recede so the white water rafting gets wilder. The birds and wild congregate at the river for the essential water of life.
There is always plenty of sunshine, but the winter months of June and July do get extremely cold in the evenings. The months of December and January normally experience heavy rainfall.
10. Is there malaria in Victoria Falls?
Yes – Malaria does occur in Victoria Falls and travelers would be advised to take a suitable prophylactic. Please ask your travel agent or doctor for advice before you travel. Other precautions such as mosquito nets and insect repellent are advisable.
More advice can be found at the Victoria Falls Travel Guide website.
11. Is it true that there are food shortages in Victoria Falls?
In the past there have been a shortages of food but things are now improving and you will find most things that you need – although it is very expensive.
If you are staying in a hotel, you will not have any idea that there are any shortages the menus are full and exquisite.
12. Are there fuel shortages?
Tour operators all provide their own fuel, so as a visitor this will not have any impact on your trip what so ever.
If you are a self drive tourist fuel is now normally always available in Victoria Falls, although this is not guaranteed as some weeks it is available and some weeks it is not. It is always very expensive. And I would advise filling up all fuel tanks prior to entering Zimbabwe.
13. What will happen if I get sick whilst at Victoria Falls?
Whilst it is standard practice to advise all tourists to purchase the necessary medical and evacuation cover when traveling to foreign countries, we are pleased to advise that there is an excellent private clinic in Victoria Falls manned by qualified and experienced staff.
They also have a Medical Air Rescue Service (MARS) base in Victoria Falls in the event that an emergency evacuation is required. Most activity operators and some hoteliers include MARS evacuation cover in their charges.
14. Can I drink the water in Victoria Falls?
Yes – Most, if not all locals, drink happily from municipal supplies. However, if you suspect you may have a sensitive stomach, then bottled water is recommended and is readily available.
15. What is the difference between staying on the Zimbabwean side as opposed to the Zambian side?
The most fundamental difference between staying in these two different countries is that the geographic layout means that Zimbabwe has 85% of the Victoria Falls on its side of the border. So any visitor traveling to see the Mighty Falls and then only seeing them from Zambia would have been seriously deprived.
Although wildlife conservation is now much more controlled in Zambia, much of the wild life in the past has been depleted, unlike Zimbabwe where the Zambezi National Park and surrounding wildlife conservancies are prolific with game.
The Victoria Falls Travel Guide has in depth answers to all these questions, plus many more questions and answers from travelers who have visited the Victoria Falls
The author of this article, Tony Peel, is a Zimbabwean who is passionate about his country. Together with his wife, Boo, they have developed an informative and unique Web site all about Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, a natural wonder of the world. Please visit their Web site, Complete Travel Guide to Victoria Falls. You will be amazed at the enormous volume of free information available.
Note: If you wish to publish this article on your Web site, blog, etc., you can do so with pleasure as long as the article remains in its full entirety, including the links to the author’s website.
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