Falling for Zim

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iol travel aug 13 Nt Vic Falls 33

Harare - Say you were blindfolded and taken to some mysterious location, only to finally open your eyes to the sight and sound of Victoria Falls. You’d be forgiven for asking to see that fellow Gabriel, in flowing white robes with wings and all.

Not for nothing is this place called the doorway to Africa’s paradise.

Not only are you a few steps away from meeting your maker if you dare to take a plunge, but angels do live here.

Where else in the world can a bunch of out-of-towners cheekily walk into a full nightclub and start randomly chatting up the local women without a fight breaking out? But more about my co-travellers’ nocturnal exploits later.

What is even harder to believe is that this idyllic setting – where the gushing waters of the Zambezi River whoosh spectacularly all day every day – is smack in the heartland of Zimbabwe.

This is, after all, the place where nothing is supposed to work. Some would even argue that Vic Falls and the posh hotels in its midst are among the last few things that still do function – and sometimes thrive – in Zimbabwe.

iol travel aug 13 NT zimbeer Zim& wild animals, wild scenery and not-so-wild beer. Pictures: Jason Worall INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Then again just last week 1time Airline launched a partnership with Fresh Air, a new wholly Zimbabwean low-cost airline with ambitions to do big things for tourism in southern Africa’s largely untapped, low-cost airline segment.

The introduction of US dollars and assimilation of rands in local currency seems to have restored a semblance of order to the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.

You no longer need a wheelbarrow to carry wads of worthless Zimbabwean dollars just to buy a loaf of bread. And Zimbabweans are loving it.

So much so that all their prices are solid dollars or rands. No in-between. No funny $8.99 business.

The scarcity of coins means everything is rounded off, which opens the door to all manner of price-fixing and makes you wonder how much undue profit is gained each day.

We stayed at the imposing five-star Elephant Hills hotel, a short distance from the falls.

Boasting a golf course, lush lawns, swimming pool, unlimited wi-fi connection and friendly staff, it is as First World as Barack Obama.

The hotel has an artificial but impressive waterfall along the passages, while glimpses of grazing buck and warthog await you on the east wing. If you’re staying on the west wing, a set of binoculars comes in handy to see the Zambezi.

We had dinner at the Afro-themed Boma restaurant, which serves a venerable array of African dishes, including crocodile and buffalo meat.

Drinks-wise, there was a choice of either Castle, Lion (yes, it does still exist) or the proudly local Zambezi beer. I took the “local is lekker” approach but was left somewhat disappointed.

The highlight of the night was the drum session, which involved most of the 100-odd patrons and ended off in emphatic fashion, making the complete amateurs in us believe we’re up there with the best.

We were out of there by 10.30pm and, suffering collective insomnia, decided to go pub crawling. Our taxi driver, a quiet fellow named Martin, recommended a pub called “The Wild”, which turned out to be anything but.

We were out in less than a minute, ending up at a shebeen in nearby Chinotimba township, where the livelier crowd watched a local dance troupe jive to 1980s “bubblegum” songs by Mercy Phakela and Splash. It was true time machine stuff. Joyous.

After an hour or so, Martin took us to The Kingdom Hotel whose casino slots stood eerily empty – in stark contrast to the “jumping” pub in the same place just metres away. For $3 each, we were in and the guys eagerly made new “friends” with the booty-shaking ladies right under the local men’s noses. All I’m going to say is some of them woke up smiling the next day.

After a leisurely morning, we ventured to the glorious Vic Falls, where sweeping views of the spectacular feature kept getting better as we moved along the viewing route.

Then it was off to a sunset cruise, where the experience was made even richer by our ferry pilot, who not only has encyclopaedic knowledge of the Zambezi River, but also the vision to spot a herd of elephants or a lone hippopotamus on the horizon.

It was a delightful getaway to an African treasure. As neo-soul crooner D’Angelo would say, heaven must be like this. - Sunday Tribune

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