Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Africa Part 2

Okay. So "tomorrow" turned into "next week". Sorry. I'm in the crunch before finals (19 and 20 May), and so I'm a little stressed. But thought I'd do a quick update.

I believe I left off with THE PLAGUE of bugs outside my door.

The next morning we got up early and headed up river about 20 minutes. We drove past red mud huts and little thatched villages. Absolutely amazing to see people living like this. (Remember what I said about National Geographic?) At one point, we had to brake fast as a herd (about 10) wild elephants came out of the ditch to cross the road. Not running or anything...just heading out for a drink at the river. They're like deer, I tell you, except a lot bigger. I tell you THAT would dent your bumper. (Perhaps they have elephant whistles on their cars to scare them off the road? I'll follow up on that.)

Eventually, we got to our destination where we met an adventuresome guide named Paul. Paul is Zimbabwean, and he's a rugged African adventurer sort. His wife (our local guide for the week) told us a story about how they'd had a leopard in their house a while back and Paul ended up fighting the thing with his bare hands. (Needed 40 some stitches to clean him up.) I know that sounds crazy. But I've seen the scars, people. This guy is unbelievable. Anyway, back on task...Paul spends a lot of his time paddling the rivers of Africa, and he runs a Zambezi River canoeing business as his main job. So he was waiting with canoes (more like sturdy kayaks, really,) and we did a little paddle down the Zambezi. Check that. The MIGHTY Zambezi. It was pretty easy, really. The current is direct and strong enough to move you in the right direction, but it's not turbulent or particularly wild where we were. It was a float, really, with hippos and funky birds to entertain us. We were on the river for about an hour, and then stopped for breakfast along the banks. Another Out of Africa dining experience, with a full English breakfast at our disposal. If I go back with more time, I think I'd like to do a proper canoe trip for the day. It's a great way to see the river.

After breakfast we headed out to the "Elephant Experience." If we'd had more time we could have ridden elephants into the bush to go on safari, but since we didn't have all day to spend we just got to feed them. We were given bags of pellets, basic elephant handling training, and then we fed them a snack.. For those who haven't fed an elephant, basically you either a) put handfuls of the stuff into their upturned trunk, b) let them stick their trunk into your pellet bag, or c) take handfuls and dump it directly into their mouth, where they will gum it in their freakymoistmuscular chops. I recommend method A, as c gives you a mitt full of elephant spit (and they are droolers, let me tell you,) and the undulating sucking/grabbing of their trunks makes the pellet bag hard to hold onto in method B.

Back on the bus. Home for a hotel tour, lunch, and then a walk around the falls. I'd had a cold before I left, and was feeling less than fantastic, so it was nice to get out of the sun and have a cool...wait for it, wait for it...gin and tonic. Had impala for lunch that day. Yum Yum.

The walk around Victoria Falls was spectacular. The falls are huge (established in the helicopter ride message,) and when you're near them the mist and the roar are overwhelming. There is a path that goes along the edge of the falls and out to an island of rock that puts you really close. As you start on the path, they give you rain slickers. I say just wear something that you don't mind getting wet and be sure you're not wearing a lacy bra. The rain slicker is little better. The mist from the falls was still like buckets of water dumping on us. I was soaked through. There's a swingy bridge that links the mainland and the island, and it had about two inches of water running all over it. My camera went on the fritz after that. But there were spectacular vistas, and it was truly worth it. Once you're out there you realize how high the falls are, how cool the crevices are of the river canyon that proceeds from the falls, and how amazingly powerful these things are. Much cooler than Niagara, plus no casinos.

When we finished the trail, we stopped off in a little craft market they have near the hotel. Basically, the hotel lets local merchants bring their artwork/crafts to an organized forum where guests and visitors to the falls can then bargain directly with them rather than buying from a shop. I wandered the stalls and got a few little things for kids back home. Still soaked to the skin, I headed back to my room for a warm shower and dry clothes.

We met in the lobby around 5, and we had gin and tonics on the deck by the river before heading out to catch our sunset train across the bridge that spans the falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The train was an old 50's steamtrain, and it has a mahogany walled club car where you enjoy cocktails and canapes while looking at the views. The train stops on the bridge, you can get out and see the view (again, spectacular), and then you head back. Nice little sundowner experience.

Back at the hotel we changed clothes again, this time for an upscale dinner. We were supposed to be on the lawn...they have tables set under trees, with candle chandeliers suspended above them...but the skies opened up as we were ending our train trip and so we moved into the restaurant. Fabulous gourmet dinner, with killer South African wines to compliment each course. Ended in the colonial looking bar with gin and tonics. Had a rousing conversation about the good old days when the sun never set on the English flag. They found the English colonial feel really historic and cool. I saw their point, but felt a strong surge of colonist rebellion, as well, and secretly cheered the Zambians for their independence.

Okay. That's enough for tonight. I still have two days to tell you about. But I need to go back to studying. More next week. (Or maybe tomorrow, you never know.)

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