We woke for 6AM and took our time to get ready. We went into the main area with Will to visit the grocery store and get breakfast. After grabbing breakfast, we walked back a bit the way we came to rent bikes for the day. Very difficult to find 5 bikes where the seats could be adjusted, had both pedals, chain didn’t fall off and had brakes but we managed to. $25USD originally was what the man asked for but we bargained for $20USD for about 5 hours. We rode up the dirt road to get to the baobab tree and continued towards the river that leads to Victoria Falls.
We ended up biking to Victoria Falls where we asked security if we could leave our bikes inside. The entry fee of $30USD is included with our tour price. The falls are lovely with many viewpoints along the way. You can also see the Devil’s Inkpot that is on the Zambia side where you can feel the rush and sit on the edge of the waterfall. At I think viewpoint 13, Lulu and Jin decided to climb over the short branch barrier to get a closer look over the edge but that was short lived as they got whistled to come back because it’s not safe being so wet (felt like it was raining in that area) and possible snakes hidden in the grass.
What made it even better was the fact that there was a vivid rainbow that formed at the bottom. We walked around to all the viewpoints and then decided we needed to rest and sat at the cafe – Shearwater Cafe where we ate our “picnic” and I got an energizer smoothie $5USD (ginger & orange etc). Will left us from here but told us the route to take to get back.
We continued on bike to the bridge border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We asked if we could go through with border patrol and they just waved us through. On the bridge the joins the two countries, they offer bungee jumping but we didn’t partake. We decided to head back and came back to the gate where we were told we needed a letter of some sort get back into the country but they let us through anyways.
We biked back and returned the bikes and decided to hit the pool because it was just so hot too do anything else and biking for half the day deserved a dip. Shearwater seems to be the spot where the safari tours start and end off so there was a mix of people beginning, ending and continuing their travels on-site. 5 of the people that joined our 12-day tour were continuing and joined from a tour that went to the Serengeti.
We grabbed a late lunch poolside from the restaurant on-site – Panini and a nice cider. We met Erik from the Netherlands who had just finished a tour and he filled us in on what he did and saw on his tour that was the reverse of what our tour was minus Cape Town. We all hung out by the pool and talk for a few hours but then realized we needed to switch tents so we rushed off, showered and packed up and moved over to our new tents. The tents we stayed in that night became our designated tent for the rest of the tour. Lulu and myself shared Timon as our tent. The tent is quite large. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and a lock but the tour company provides sleeping mats. After we moved in, the rain began to pour and all four of us stayed in our tent until to died down about 20 minutes later. We grabbed what we needed for the night and the next morning and threw our luggage into the truck. We went to Shearwater Café on the main road with Lisa and Katie which has the best wifi signal. I got the prefixed – $15USD – tomato soup, steak and frites and carrot cake.
I had a horrible time getting to sleep as my mind wouldn’t shut off and my nose was stuffy. Finally was able to sleep around 3AM – the wifi signal was strong around that time. We woke up for 6AM and packed, took down our tents, packed the truck and had breakfast. Off we went with the crew. First things first, the truck has storage below. The very front passenger side is cooking supplies, driver side front are tents, the 2 back tops on both sides are luggage’s and lower passenger side is chairs and tables. You need to climb a ladder (a little help from a step ladder) to enter the top seating compartment). In the seating compartment, the very back has shelves for the sleeping mat. The very front has sideways seating for about 8 people with a table, a 4-seater with a table then 10 more double seats. We get a combination cooler and the 2 giants chests go on board.
Once we hit the road, Will stated his speech on the breakdown of the tour as ATC brings together multiple tour companies like on the go tours and others to run the tour and not ask the information shared is the same. Once that got sorted, he broke down the day for us and told us the optional excursions. He also posted on the door our schedule along with our shared duties. This is a budget tour so everyone has responsibilities including buying ice for the cooler each day to security and bus cleaning duties to helping with keeping meals etc.
Info about Zimbabwe
-14 million population
-The House of Stone in Masvingo is the 2nd largest African civilization to the pyramids.
-Zimbabwe in the shona dialect means House of stone
-The British came and colonized Southern Rhodesia – They made a railway to promote trading from Europe to Africa.
-In 1980 Zimbabwe gained democracy.
-The tobacco industry deflated so the currency Inflated – For Eg – eggs could cost 10,000 rand one week then 20,000 the next.
-They adopted USD as currency but almost adopted Chinese yuan because of the trading and building.
-Zimbabweans are very well spoken (English ruling a different education) and very polite.
-Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of water and highest bridge bungee jump.
-Government officials weren’t really being paid and hospitals were expensive.
We drove to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana and had 2 check points. The first, we departed Zimbabwe and the second to enter Botswana. At the Botswana border, where we needed to bring all our footwear with us to dip the bottoms to “clean them” to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. I was welcomed with a warthog. Also quick note – no photos at the border.
Our first pitstop was an hour-hour and half stop to pick-up groceries, alcohol and exchange money for local currency of Pula. You should get Pula for tipping money. 10 Pula is 1 USD. The bureau Centre didn’t open until 9AM so we bought groceries at the grocery store Spar. At the Bureau Centre, you can change currency and purchase cheaper ice (Lulu’s responsibility for day 1). Note – The block of ice lasts longer than the cubes but needs to be broken up. We all threw in $20USD each and the Pula equivalent together became our tipping money.
In Botswana, you CANNOT DRINK the tap water. We all purchased 5L jugs for about $1.65USD. The tour stops every 2 days or so at grocery stores so you can pick up snacks and water etc.
We found Erik (our new friend we met the day before) at the grocery store as 2 other tour trucks were also doing the same thing loading up. Erik finished 1 tour and joined another. At one point, they were sitting in our bus as their bus disappeared and we all thought they left without them but that tour only consisted of 9 people. Turns out the bus was getting gas around the corner and off they went.
We also found out from Will that the information we got from Sarah was completely wrong in terms of clothing because she told us we needed to dress conservatively covering shoulders and knees. It turns out, on her last Africa trip, she was in northern Africa where there are more Muslims thus dressing more conservatively but on this trip, clothing didn’t matter as you can wear whatever you want. For safari however, neutral colour clothing. That meant all 4 of us packed clothing we didn’t need and could have been replaced with summer clothing such as more shorts.
We thought our ride to the next campsite was far but it was just up the street – Thebes Safari campsite. We setup our tents and then ate lunch – self serve sandwich station. We have 2 showers and 2 toilets on our campsite but if your walk further into the site closer to the pool area, there is a much nicer shower and toilet setup with hot water. The main hotel (upgrade is available) had free wifi in the lobby and 2 single toilets.
After eating, Stephanie, Susan and the girls and myself we went on the Chobe game drive in a safari truck and off we went (optional excursion for $70USD for 3 hours in the park). Our driver was very knowledgeable and had an amazing eye finding animals of all sizes for us. Usually noon is the hottest time of day so many animals are in hiding but we got lucky and spotted a good variety of animals. Impala, kudu, hippos, lionesses (one sleeping and one heading for a nap), baboons, zebras, eagles, vultures and so many beautiful birds as well as a leopard tortoise. I learned that elephants don’t have sweat glands so they overheat which is why they roll in the mud to cool down. We didn’t get to see a live elephant but we saw a 2-day old dead young elephant who overheated and was trying to get to the water to cool down but once it made it there, it was too late. You could smell the stench from where we were in the truck 300M away. Giant vultures circled and were eating the elephant. The lions like fresh meat so they probably had first dibs one day 1 before we saw it. The guide stopped by the sleeping lioness so it awoke briefly then turned over to return to slumber.
We finished this lovely game drive and was driven straight to our next excursion (included) of a sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River. The river separates Namibia and Botswana border. Shimmy was our guide. This is where our cooler of ice and alcohol purchased earlier in the day was present. The boat cruise had seats for everyone and a drop toilet in the back. Once they started up the boat sailing, you were free to roam around to spot animals and the boat driver found them and we got closer views of them. Tons of hippos, crocodiles, baboons, water buffalo etc. Definitely the highlight were the hippos.
We cruised down the river spotting animals and a cold drink which ended up with a lovely sunset. Near the end of the cruising, there were 2 hippos in a certain area where the water levels were lower and you can see them running right into the water. With the water level lower, the hippo kept bobbing up and down and eventually running and jumping up similar to a dolphin. We kept trying to follow where they would surface and one of the hippos decided to rush our boat and came up right under the metal guard in the front where Sarah was sitting and she flew back. The sunset was intense with lovely colours however all of us felt disgusting as we were all very sticky from being out all day in the sun.
We got back to the campsite and Clive had dinner waiting for us – chicken stroganoff and a salad. Will went over itinerary with us and call time.
We were told the pool seemed murky and we couldn’t find it in the dark so we showered and sat near the inner courtyard on the hotel and charged our phones. Finished off the night trying to journal and we thought the truck would be a good place as any to write and charge but turns out Clive and Frans sleep in there so we decided to journal in our tent. Hard to fall asleep when you haven’t really done much physical activity in a day when you are so use to walking everywhere.
My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.
Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.
We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.
We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.
The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.
We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).
The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.
We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.
The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.
Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.
Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.
We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.
The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.
For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.