We boarded the plane that would take us to Zimbabwe at Mpum'alanga Airport in Johannesburg. I couldn't resist going into the safari camp set up there.
Zimbabwe is a very poor country. Right now they use the American dollar as their currency, but there was a time when the inflation was out of control. They were printing astronomical sums of money that was worthless. An average day's wage is $1.85. A great number of Zimbabweans are illiterate, and the unemployment is sky high.
We stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a holdover from the times of the British Empire. It consisted of a rambling compound of buildings with different purposes, and it exuded a quiet elegance. The service and the food were outstanding. There were gardens, art exhibitions, a pool, a wonderful restaurant which only had a roof over it, gathering salons, and marvelous views of the Victoria Falls.
Our room was quaintly old fashioned, with period furnishings. It had air-conditioning. Only the guest rooms and dining salons were so equipped. Most other areas were open to the tropical breezes.
The gardens were extremely well kept, and there was a myriad of fountains to cool the air.
We had been told to expect another lagniappe, meaning "something extra". it turned out to be a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. We were greeted by African tribal men, dressed in their costumes. The cruise was wonderful, and we had a speaker on board who told us the story of Robert Livingstone, the discoverer of the Falls.
The following morning we left early to go to the Elephant Camp, a privately owned outfit that subsists on donations made by institutions that spend time studying the elephants. They pay a fee to study there. There is also a gift shop, and visitors are encouraged to spend money in it, since that's another way of getting an income. There are guides and docents who get paid a small stipend. Its director is a veterinary; his wife, who is also versed in animal studies, assists him. It was raining when we got there, and mud was plentiful. The elephants who have been injured or maltreated are taken there, and the camp rehabilitates them. They are very bright and know half a dozen commands.
After eating lunch at the camp, we got to pet the elephants and were able to feed them. It was really cool, and I felt a great empathy with the pachyderms.
There were a couple of young ones, and we were told a birth had taken place a few days earlier. The baby elephants drink a special formula to supplement their mother's milk, and the one we saw did not want to relinquish his bottle, previously a large container of soda. We listened to a talk given by the woman director. Very interesting.
After lunch we went to Victoria Falls. We had been told to wear very comfortable, water proof shoes, and soon found out why. Between the drizzle that came from the sky and the heavy mist that came from the Falls, we were soon soaked, especially our legs, not covered by the rain slickers they gave us. Walking was treacherous; the roads were very slippery and the visibility was hampered by the rain & the wind.
We had been able to see the Victoria Falls Bridge from our hotel, as well as some water vapors, but nothing prepared us for the spectacle that surrounded us. The Falls are very unguarded, nothing like Niagara Falls. It would've been very easy to slip and fall. It's not practical to get close to the edge, the view is not much better and it's very dangerous. We walked for a couple of miles along the front of the falls, which were across the Zambezi river. When the mist cleared, we were able to take some photos.
The consensus among the sightseers who had been at Iguazu Falls in South America, was that the southern falls were much more interesting and majestic. Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall, but it claims to have the largest volume of water in the world.
All of a sudden there appeared a statue of Robert Livingstone, We could almost hear the famous "Mr. Livingstone, I presume?" question. A plaque explained some facts.
On the return trip we encounter some of the local fauna. This monkey brought to mind the possible origin of the expression "blue balls".
Upon returning to the hotel, we spruced up for the farewell dinner scheduled for that night. Pat & I got dressed up, make up and all, for the first time in 2 weeks. Pat exchanged impressions with a couple of fellow travelers, Dede Rowell, from CA, and Anne Marie Shea, from MA.
The following morning, after breakfast, we left the hotel to go by bus to the Zimbabwe's airport to catch a small plane to Johannesburg. On the way, we stopped to admire a majestic Baobab tree. We also saw an Umbrella tree. Zimbabwe's airport was very hot & humid. When we got to Jo'burg, I continued traveling by myself, on Business Class, which was as comfortable as First. Pat was going home via Paris; she had secured a free First Class round trip ticket before we left, and the return leg of the trip was through that city.
The Baobab is called the Tree of Life for a good reason. It provides shelter, food and water for the human and animal inhabitants of the African savanna regions. The cork-like bark is fire resistant and is used for cloth and rope. The leaves are used for condiments & medicine. The fruit, called "monkey bread", is rich in vitamin C, and it is eaten. The tree is capable of storing hundreds of liters of water, which is tapped in dry periods. Mature trees are often hollow, providing living space for animals and humans alike.
It is the centerpiece of Disney's Animal Kingdom, & it's featured as the Tree of Life in the musical "The Lion King". Some Baobab trees are over 2,000 years old.
As we left this ancient continent, we carried with us enough experiences to make us feel that we are not as important and omnipotent as we think we are. What a great adventure!