IT IS the last morning of 2014 and we are standing in front of the largest curtain of water in the\ world, the spectacular Victoria Falls. The 1 708m-wide sheet of falling water is an awe-inspiring sight and is deserving of its place as one of the year’s New7Wonders of Nature.
The “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (Smoke that Thunders), as the local call it, hisses and rumbles as it drops into the Zambezi Gorge. We are viewing the mighty falls from the Zimbabwean side. Just across, on the Zambian side, is Devil’s Pool – possibly the most dangerous naturallyformed pool in the world. The rock pool on Livingstone Island is on the edge of
the falls and we watch as a small group of people, led by a guide, join hands and one by one drop into the pool. From our vantage point it looks like they’re flirting with death, as only a rock barrier separates the swimmers and the cascading water.
“It’s the most exhilarating thing I have ever done in my life,” says Heinrich Husselmann, 33, of Parklands, of the experience. He had to swim across the Zambezi to get to the pool. “Once you get into the water, there is no turning back. We spent about five minutes in the pool, just enough to take pictures… it was definitely worth it.”
Cape Argus photographer Cindy Waxa and I are in Victoria Falls for the annual Jameson Victoria Falls Carnival, a trip sponsored by Seed Experiences.
We drove 2 920km over three nights to get there. Our adventure started at Ashanti Backpackers in Gardens on a gloomy Boxing Day morning. Our group of six included ourselves, the Africa Travel Co crew, our driver Emias Dendere, tour guide Onery Chimunda and Husselmann.
We loaded our bags into a Overland Truck, a road beast, just before 7am. The truck already contained a tent – our accommodation as we travelled – and other necessities. The long drive was broken into three overnight stays. We spent our first night at Bloemfontein’s Reyneke Park. This is where we had our first lesson in putting up a two-man tent.We were to become professional campers over the next 10 days. Our tour guide, Chimunda, a colourful personality, immediately took us under his wing. A former chef, his cooking skills became a trip highlight. He whipped up restaurant-worthy food, including breakfasts of flapjacks and French toast and dinners of pasta chicken with delicious creamy white sauce. His braaing skills were also impressive and he soon had a few pap
(maize meal) virgins sold on the thick porridge.
Next was a very welcomed overnight stop at the Mufasa Backpackers in Joburg, where we ditched our tents for a comfy bed. In the morning we were joined by the rest of the overlanding party, from the city and beyond. We left in a convoy of about six trucks for Camp Itumela in Palapye, Botswana, between Francistown and Gaborone.
Located near the Morupule Colliery coal mine which supplies Morupule Power Station, Botswana’s principal domestic source of electricity, the campsite is as rough as they get. The water ran out on both occasions that we were there, an unpleasant experience when there are so many people around.
The 850km trek to Victoria Falls the next day was an epic journey, filled with breathtaking sights. We took selfies with elephants in the Pandamatenga Game Reserve and Chimunda was on hand to give us history lessons on Botswana and its wildlife.
We arrived at Victoria Falls on December 29, minutes before departing on a steam train to the secret Steam Train Party in the bush. This is where the carnival officially commenced.
Tickets to the train party sold out fast, so if you are planning to attend, make sure you buy your ticket early. The vintage steam train with its turquoise and camel-colonial decor is rusty, but there was something about jamming to hot tunes on a moving train as we rushed through the Victoria Falls National Park to a location deep in the bush. On disembarking, we jumped straight on to the dance floor, where we stayed for the next five hours, dancing to the musical arrangements of talented mixers from Zimbabwe and South Africa. Local acts included DJ Acedabass and one of the carnival founders, DJ Francis.
Francis explained that the carnival started slowly as a Forest Fest in 2009. It then officially turned into a three-day carnival in 2012. “I love that there is a fusion of local and South African artists. It brings people from around the world together. People get to experience my country by blending in with the locals – who we are and how we live – as well as to enjoy the beautiful sights we have to offer,” he says.
Cape Town-based DJ Toby 2 Shoes was my favourite of the night, unleashing a mixture of “home-grown” sounds and electro beats. The Vic Falls Rest Camp, a mixture of campsites and chalets, was our home for the next four nights. Days here were filled with lounging by the pool sipping Zimbabwe’s own lager, “Zambezi” beer. At (US) $1.50 (R16.50), it was the cheapest in town since the use of the Zimbabwean dollar as an official currency was abandoned in 2009 due to skyrocketing inflation. Instead, the country uses the South African rand, the Botswana pula and the American dollar as its official currencies.
The campsite is situated along the small town’s main road that is lined with fast food outlets and tourist offices offering adventure activities.
The Victoria Falls are about 5km from the town centre. The next three days included the carnival’s Colour Party at the Vic Falls Farm Schools and – unlike most music festivals where there is a constant lineup of music throughout the day – we were left to our own devices to take part in the many activities Vic Falls has to offer. Husselmann describes the experience as a holiday that ended up being an adventure. Besides a dip in the Devil’s Pool, he also canoed on the Zambezi and went on a sunset cruise, which turned into a booze cruise as there was no sunset in sight. Throughout our stay the weather was humid with intermittent rain.
“I am definitely blown away by Vic Falls,” says Husselman. “The people are welcoming and friendly, I definitely want to see more of Zimbabwe such as Harare and Bulawayo. Since the Vic Falls town is a tourist destination, it is a bit expensive, but if you do what the
locals do, it’s doable.” We spent our days doing just that. We shopped at the Elephant Walk shopping village, where you can get anything from beadwork to wooden ornaments, but be prepared to do some serious negotiating. Our nights were spent at a popular local hang-out called Club Imvuvu.
We met locals who asked us about living in “violent” South Africa. “We hear people kill each other for nothing there,” one man said. We danced to local music and ate pap and warthog (wild pig) meat into the wee hours of the morning. We counted down to the new year listening to the soothing sounds of Zimbabwe’s Oliver “Tuku” Mtukuzi and Cape Town group Beatenberg. The rain that pelted us did not dampen our spirits. As the clock struck midnight, we screamed our lungs out to South Africa’s favourite electronic
dance act, Goldfish.
” We met locals who asked us about living in ‘violent’ SA. ‘We hear people kill each other for nothing there,’ one man said”
We were exhausted when we started the journey back home on January 2. After days of being on the road and living out of a small suitcase, I missed my comfortable bed and a proper hot shower. But I will definitely do it again, as the awesome people I met made the trip memorable. Charlotte Kanter, marketing manager for Seed Experiences, says about 5 000 festivalgoers attended the 2014 carnival.
“We were so happy with the global audience that descended on Vic Falls, and we hope it keeps on growing year on year. #JVFC2015 planning starts now,” says Kanter.
Photographer Cindy says… IF I WERE asked which country I would like to travel to in Africa, Zimbabwe would not have been my first choice. But when I heard about the road trip to Victoria Falls, I was keen to go as I had never slept in a tent or at a
backpackers. Driving to Zimbabwe was tiring at times but I enjoyed the scenery. I saw places that I would not have seen if I had been in a plane, and by the time we set up camp at Vic Falls I had already made a few friends. I expected empty shelves with no food, and unhappy people, but instead I was greeted by friendly, warm-hearted people who are just
trying to live a better life despite the difficulties.
“Warm-hearted people are just trying to live a better life despite the difficulties”
Most people spoke isiNdebele, which is similar to IsiZulu, and it made me feel right at home. The music they played was mostly South African and the food, pap and meat, was familiar too. I also learnt some Zimbabwean dance and a little Shona. This trip was an eye opener to me, and as the locals would say, “Ndinorumbidza Zimbabweans” (I respect Zimbabwe).
This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on January 22 2015