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Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls, Balancing Rocks, Croc Kebabs And More

Rita Bhimani

If tourist trap there ever was, this is it! But then, if you must view one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (as described by CNN), in all its dramatic whiplash-white onrush of  sheer falling water, where a rainbow appears in an almost omnipresent manner—then you have to pay the price for this most munificent experience. Statistics in their own way, showcase how more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge, over a width of nearly two kilometers, into a gorge over one hundred meters below. But to come face to face with Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke that thunders is to believe that the falls can smother you, not just with their constant spray, but much more with their continuous captivating magnanimous presence.

And so, you sally forth into the forest, wondering for a moment if you are really going to see the spectacle of the falls. It is a tantalizing walk, and you come upon the Falls quite suddenly, first, by the whooshing sound, and then the spray, and then the several stages of viewing from different vantage points. Entry fee: US $30 per person. The Zimbabwean dollar at the moment is equivalent to one US dollar, but these are called bond notes, and are useless outside the country.

It is a melee of tourists from all parts of the world, as our South African Airways flight from Johannesburg lands in Victoria Falls. Two hours of queuing, but then it is all worth it. A Shona tribe greeting as you exit at the airport and the hotel car with Lovemore is waiting patiently to get you to the hotel, and of course plying you with packages of activities. Want to go bungee jumping at US $160 or a full day of rafting and river boarding (US$ 190) or the Walk with Lions tour (US$ 150)? Whoa! All of it looks great, some extra adventurous, others superb for shutterbugs and the show-off factor. We opt for a quiet sunset cruise down the Zambezi at US$ 40 each, the evening we land, as you can’t miss a single moment.

And dinner thereafter? It’s all there, touristically planned to perfection—at The Boma, or Place of Eating. It nestles inside the “gusu” forest and is partially open to the spectacular African night skies—and that night was, luckily, a full moon one. Traditional greetings in the local dialect, and given “chitenges” to wear, we are ushered in to wash hands before sampling the popular light Zambezi beer and snacks. The banquet spread? A four course meal. You are given a special award if you can eat Mopani worms, but quite aside from that, a variety of beef, pork, fish, chicken dishes, game stews and a lot of veg options are laid out. There are some who try the warthog fillet, and the tender crocodile meat, halfway between fish and chicken in consistency and taste. To boost its flagging economy, crocodile skins and meat are being exported, with some farms feeding the crocs a vegetarian diet, to improve the quality of their skins, used for handbags and shoes, it is believed.

The highlight of the evening is the drumming and the dancing.

The viewing of the Falls is in two parts if you wish − the walking one and the one on a helicopter − a lifetime experience. I use my haggling skills to beat them down on their quote of US$ 150, which makes the viewing all the more pleasurable!

Take a flight on to Harare, the capital and be sure to see the phenomenon of the Balancing Rocks, a few kilometres southeast of the city. These formations of igneous rocks are unique in that they sit one on top of the other without support and look like sculpted pieces where you can guess at the shapes and personify them.

A visit to a Lion Park which has beautiful white lions shows them in a natural setting, the highlight being a 300 year old tortoise which a group of school children are quite fascinated by.

Wildlife apart, take time out to visit some of the open air restaurants in Harare, elegant and laid back.

But don’t miss a trip to Hwange National Park to see elephant, buffalo, sable, roan, giraffe, wildebeest, impala and even gemsbok.