As spring break rolled around, I finally had the chance to do some real traveling. 5 friends and I had planned for weeks, laying out a trip that would take us up through Zambia and Zimbabwe. While they had planned on spending two weeks traveling, I had decided to return after only one in order to not miss school, so I would have to find my way back to Gaborone on my own.
Our bags packed, computers stashed in a friend’s apartment, and minds steeled against the rigors of bus travel, we stood on a warm Monday evening waiting for the bus to arrive. The Gaborone-Livingstone Express would take us up through Francistown and Maun, cross the border into Zambia at Kazungula, and deposit us in Livingstone, Zambia, a journey of some 15 hours. We boarded at 7 pm, and hoped to arrive in Livingstone at 10 the next morning.
When we arrived at the border at last, we were all relieved to spill out into the cold morning air to get our exit stamps. As we walked down the road that crossed the no-man’s-land at the edge of Botswana, we were unprepared for the sight that greeted us. The border, we discovered, is the Zambezi river, and the only way to cross is by ferry! We gladly boarded the ferry, and crossed over into Zambia for the first time. The ride to Livingstone after we had gotten our visas was mercifully short, and we arrived at around 9:30 in the morning.
Livingstone was something of a shock to us, as it was the first time we had been outside of Botswana. Compared to Botswana‘s relative prosperity, it was surprising to see dirt roads in the middle of the city, broken concrete, and other signs of disrepair greeting us as we left the bus. Following the directions of some brightly-painted signs, we walked a block or two to the Livingstone Backpackers Hostel, where we would be staying. The hostel itself was staffed by friendly Zambians, and there was an international crowd who made their temporary and semi-permanent homes there. After pitching our tents, we decided to spend the day at Victoria Falls, since we had the time.
On the taxi ride over, we were surprised and delighted to discover that there is a small pack of elephants that roam the area in and around Livingstone. Though the locals consider them a nuisance, it was delightful to drive past them as we wound our way up to the falls. We arrived and wove our way through the small shops selling souvenirs to find the entrance to the park. Once we had paid to get in, we were led down a path through the woods by two local guides.
Up until this point we hadn’t actually seen the falls, but as we rounded a corner suddenly the land simply disappeared, and we were left clinging to a railing, gazing out at a primeval, magnificent tableau that stretched to the horizon. I could never have conceptualized the falls themselves before I saw them, and even to explain the sight is a task. The falls spring down sheer rock walls for what seems like miles, and series’ of connected gorges crisscross the land. Our guides took us through the pools and rocks at the top of the falls, following a path that only they could see, and brought us to the edge, where we peered cautiously down into the abyss. We found a pool large enough to swim in, and jumped in to cool off, crawling as near to the point where the water spilled off into nothingness as we dared. After we had our fill of swimming, we walked back across the top of the falls and spent the rest of the day exploring all the nooks and crannies of the park.
On the way out, we were accosted by the street vendors again. They were far more pushy than any we had encountered before, and it was only with great effort that we disentangled ourselves. A few of us were practically forced into buying items in order to leave the shop, but once we were free we headed back into Livingstone, exhausted. After a light dinner from the grocery store, we retired to our two tiny tents.
The next morning, we arose in preparation for our day at Abseil Zambia. Abseil is a series of extreme activities, including rappelling down cliffsides, both face up and face down, the Flying Fox (riding across a gorge suspended from a wire above you), and the terrifying Gorge Swing. The Gorge Swing is simply insane; you attach yourself to a rope, and then step off a cliff, falling 180 feet straight down before the rope ends and begins pulling you across the gorge near the bottom. After a great deal of fear and twitchiness, I did manage to do every one of the activities (the Flying Fox was the most fun). Between walking between them and getting each person ready for them, this took basically the whole day, and we returned to the hostel sore and utterly tired. Unfortunately, there was nothing but the cold and the hard ground under us to welcome us to sleep that night, but we soldiered on.
After the long day of adrenaline thrills, we decided to call the next day a rest day. We lounged by the pool, some people visited a crocodile park, while I gave myself over to reading good books from the surprisingly large hostel library. We also discovered that there was a Mexican restaurant in town! Missing home, we decided we had to try it, and see if it lived up to what we were used to in the US. Overall, it lived up to expectations, and I had the most delicious nachos I’ve tasted in possibly years.
The rest of the trip was less exciting. We crossed the border into Zimbabwe to continue the journey, but then I, who had planned on leaving early from Zimbabwe in order to get back to the University when school began again, found out that there is no good way to leave Zimbabwe. Short on time and options, I was forced to return to Zambia to catch a bus back to Gaborone. Nonetheless, it was a superb trip, and one of the best experiences I’ve had in Africa so far.