72 Hours in Livingstone to see Victoria Falls

On Wednesday, 12 April 2017, I woke up at 3am. It was an hour and 20 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I was too tired to actually be frustrated with myself for waking up. As I was starting to doze off again, my alarm went off. It’s that horribly generic iPhone trill. Not ideal for 4:20am. My uncle had told me that the cab would fetch me at 4:55am. I assumed half an hour would give me enough time to shower, get dressed, gather my last minute toiletries, drink tea and perhaps eat a banana. At 4:21am I got a missed call. This was shortly followed by a text saying, “Hi, it’s your driver, I am outside.” Fun. I told him I was expecting him a bit later but I was getting ready. Long story short I left the house at 4:55am. I know, I know. Off to a smashing start.

Did I mention that I’m not much of a morning person?

Off we drive to fetch my family. I didn’t see one other car on the road. There was some drama about leaving a camera charger at someone’s house, so en route to the airport, we’d have to stop by so my cousin could run in and fetch it. This was all too much for me so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes mostly closed.

We arrived at the airport and checked into our flight. We travelled to Livingstone, Zambia via Johannesburg.  I carried my overnight bag with me, along with a (heavy) backpack and my straw hat on my head. I got some stares, presumably from the hat, but it was now almost 6am and I didn’t really care because I was going to see Victoria Falls and nobody could stop me (except airport officials).

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I intended to nap on the plane, but once we took off and were above the clouds, I could see the sun rise. I want to say that it was so beautiful that I couldn’t sleep as a result, but it was damn bright and I felt bad closing the window shutter.

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After a brief layover in Johannesburg, we boarded out flight to Livingstone. I got a window seat and an aisle all to myself. Naturally I wasn’t able to nap. In my defence, I couldn’t lift the arm rest. As we flew over The Falls, the pilots did a little trick and we circled one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It was breathtaking. Overwhelming. Beautiful. There were rainbows. I didn’t take a photograph. One of my biggest regrets without a doubt.

We landed in such a quaint airport. It was obviously new, because it was very modern, but it was incredibly small in size. It is probably the ideal size for what it needs to be. We were welcomed by such friendly locals. Everyone just felt so warm. I might be biased about this, as my mother was born in Zambia and speaks fondly of her childhood. Most people that I encountered were simply wonderful and kind. The driver who took us to our hotel was very knowledgable and quite funny. He gave us a quick historical tour while we drove. He showed us the tallest building in the city (roughly 6 floors), and made a note of the only intersection with robots. Now, I don’t want to say that the town was rundown, but I think I expected a bit more development compared to what I saw. There were shops and nice buildings, but there was also poverty. Livingstone is quite obviously part of the third world but it is slowly developing. I can’t say the same for the rest of Zambia as I did not travel out of Livingstone.

We arrived in the compound which houses the Avani and Royal Livingstone Hotels. The whole estate is on a national park (I think). This means that there are wild animals that are free to roam around the hotels. We were warned to lock our doors properly every time we used them as the monkeys knew how to open them. Other animals on site were zebras, impalas, and allegedly giraffes.

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The Royal Livingstone had a strong colonial aesthetic. Thatched roofs, white walls, creamy floral couches, encyclopaedias, the usual. It was certainly striking. Upon arrival we were served their homemade ice tea. I couldn’t get enough of it. From the lounge, you can see the spray from The Falls. You can of course see the Zambezi river too. It’s truly spectacular. We were driven to our rooms, in a golf cart, and were greeted by Henry, the butler, with our luggage. He was such a sweet and intelligent man. I also didn’t take photos of the bedroom because I’m forgetful, but you can always google that. My favourite feature was the beautiful antique-looking mosquito net that was above the bed. The worst part of the room? There were almost no plug points. So be prepared for that if you ever intend to visit (please visit).

I washed my face, unpacked my bag and put on a bikini before my cousin and I headed off to the hotel pool. Did I mention how hot Zambia is?

At 4pm, we left the hotel to go on a sunset cruise aboard the African Princess on the Zambezi River. The boat leaves the harbour at 4:30pm and the ride is 2 hour long. The bar is quite well stocked, most drinks are inclusive of the package. A plate of snacks is also served to each passenger. A highlight was the homemade pretzels and the samosas were quite nice too. As we glided through the spectacular river, every now and then the boat would slow down while the captain announced a new animal sighting on the riverbank. It was an incredibly serene cruise with a captivating environment. I couldn’t stop myself from staring out the boat and taking hundreds of photos of the same thing. That night I saw the most quintessential African sunset.

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My first night in Zambia ended with some soup made with locally grown vegetables, a shower and a restless night’s sleep. Perhaps I was really excited for what was to come.

One of my favourite parts about travelling is the breakfast buffet. You can never really go wrong with breakfast. It’s the best, and most important meal of the day by far. Brunch is also alright. I had the most amazing bowl of oats that morning. I know that oats usually aren’t that notable but this was something else. I’m assuming it was a local recipe that had butternut and cinnamon and I wish I knew what else but my god it was delicious. I’m honestly going to do my best to recreate it.

But enough about that, because something exciting is about to happen. I went to see Victoria Falls.

A little boat was waiting at the river bank by our hotel. We put on these ugly orange lifejackets and commenced our ride, which unexpectedly ended after a few short minutes, where we arrived at Livingstone Island. To be clear, I don’t really know what I thought would happen. I think I imagined that we would steer by The Falls and watch it from a distance? Perhaps we would go find a spot to stand and take photographs? I hadn’t thought it through and to be frank, I had no expectations whatsoever, except that I knew that it would be magical.

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We were greeted by a tour guide who guided us to a little dining area, we walked past a “loo with a view” before reaching a changing station. Since we were a group of 6, we were told to take a maximum of 2 cellphones with us. Off came our shirts, shoes and bags and we started walking. In hindsight I should have worn high waisted shorts because my tummy doesn’t look too hot in the photos, but that’s besides the point. Warm mud oozed through my toes as we walked to The Falls. Although there wasn’t a cloud above my head, I was getting splashed with rain. This all came from the actual waterfall. Since the river levels are really high around this time of the year, we weren’t able to go to popular attractions such as the Devil’s and Angel’s Pools. As a compensation, we sat in the river. We all carefully trudged in, making sure to place our feet exactly where the person before us had, before grabbing a rope and just sitting down, shorts and all. It was spectacular. The current was strong but the feeling was just impeccable. In between rubbing water out of my eyes from the spray and making sure I was firmly put, we posed for some photos that a second tour guide was taking before leaving the water. Honestly it was an indescribable experience.

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But wait. There’s more.

Our guide then takes us to another side of The Falls, a side that doesn’t have a safety rope. One by one, he helps us into the water and let’s us pose with the waterfall in the background. It was so overwhelming that I forgot how to pose and just look like a pleb in the photos. Nothing new there. After we each had our turn for a crazy Instagram shot, we went and had a second breakfast, which tasted absolutely incredible and I don’t know why. Moral of the story: I just had really great food while I was there.

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A little bonus behind the scenes photo.

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We arrived back at the hotel and were greeted by some cute zebras. After a quick change, because I was completely soaked, I went to lie by the pool while I read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

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We decided to go to town and visit the curio shops that afternoon. A curio shop is basically a stall in a market that sells souvenirs, arts and crafts, fabric etc.  The aim of the game is to bargain with the sellers, but not haggle them too hard as they probably need the cash. I didn’t particularly enjoy this experience too much. We went to a fairly large market where all of the stalls were in a line. I’d estimate about 30? I’m no stranger to markets, I am quite adept at shopping in Thailand, but I found the people to be very pushy. There was a lot of pressure to buy something and to visit stalls that I had no interest in visiting. Each shop keeper shook my hand and I felt obligated to walk inside. I landed up buying two items from the curios from two sellers that I particularly liked. I bought a pair of masks for my parents that were made out of wood, and a bracelet with an ancient symbol for the falls, the Nyaminyami (pronounced: nee-yah-mee-nee-yah-mee). Although the curio wasn’t the best experience, we saw elephants on the side of the road on the way back AND I got to see the most spectacular sunset once we got back to the hotel while everyone else was showering.

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We met up for drinks at the sundeck after the sun had set, before going to dinner. We decided that we would walk to see The Falls the next morning. 6am wake up someone suggested while I moaned. I had (another) early night and went to bed straight after another delicious dinner.

I woke up at the crack of dawn, got dressed, grabbed my camera and off we walked to see Victoria Falls. Well, we started walking, but a golf cart picked us up on the way and dropped us off. 6am perks. The hotel basically gives you access to The Falls from 6am – 6pm every day. Once you leave the hotel grounds, it’s literally a 10 second walk to the entrance to the national park.

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And there it was. In all it’s glory. Victoria Falls.

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I’m really glad I saw The Falls from this angle after swimming in it. Isn’t it spectacular? I know I’ve probably used that word to describe it already but I only know so many words that are worthy of describing Victoria Falls. I was overcome by the sound of infinite waves crashing down. It’s almost exhilarating. In peak season, the water flow can be up to 500 million litres a minute. It’s peak season.

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We walked and saw the bridge on the Zimbabwe side. It was oddly breathtaking? It looked rusty and a mid unsafe yet sturdy, like it would outlast me by centuries. Perhaps the rainbows that were everywhere aided in my appreciation for the bridge. Yes, plural. Rainbows.

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After a while, it got to a stage where I couldn’t continue walking as the spray from Victoria Falls started interfering with the track. Since I had my camera, I stayed on the dry steps, that was right before the bridge, while some of the others walked around and explored a bit more. The area was so lush. I was honestly so happy just sitting there. Thinking back, whenever I was around that water, I felt content.

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We got back to the hotel, caught a ride to our rooms and went to breakfast. I had my oats (amongst other things). Later that day it poured. I sat on my balcony and read. Usually I don’t really care for rain, but perhaps because we’re currently experiencing an extreme draught in Cape Town, I was so happy to hear and smell the downpour. This trip just made me feel happy.

After lunch, we reluctantly got ready to go on a game drive. I was worried that the rain would steer away the animals, but our tour guide, Abel, said that since it had stopped raining for a while, the animals might be out grazing.

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He was right. Apart from seeing some pretty birds, we saw what felt like 100 impalas, a warthog, giraffes, elephant bones (I know shame), monkeys and the most special sight, three white rhinos. After not seeing too many animals, Abel said that we could take us to see the extremely rare white rhinos. We got out of the truck and were escorted by two armed rhino security guards. They said that they rhinos were under 24 hour surveillance. A new born was isolated on sight, and him and his mother got special security care. One of the officials said that originally the rhinos were called “wide rhinos” but the name got lost in translation when the settlers thought that they were named “white rhinos”, which explains why they aren’t actually white. Yes, I was expecting albino rhinos, sue me.

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I risked my camera in the rain to take some shots of the rhinos. It was definitely worth it. They’re beautiful creatures that were surprisingly relaxed by our presence. I’m assuming they are used to the attention. Shortly afterwards we went back to the hotel and I had the hottest shower imaginable. It was then dinner (someone ate crocodile ew), and you guessed it, another early night. To be fair, I wanted to pack as we were leaving the next morning at 11am. My cousin and I also said that we would go back to The Falls and walk over the bridge at 6am. I don’t know why everyone loves 6am so much, truly. It leaves me baffled.

For some unbelievable reason, I woke up at 5am. My body clock was so wonky. Well, I actually woke up at 12am, then for obvious reasons, went back to sleep. At 6 my cousin and I got up, changed into clothes we knew we’d get wet and trotted off to see Victoria Falls once again. This time I left my camera and cellphone in the room.

On our way, we encountered a miniature herd of zebras. We stopped and marvelled at their beauty. One started walking in the same direction as us. I was walking alongside a zebra. How about that? It turns out that it was walking to another miniature herd that was a few metres further and around a bend. Now isn’t that sweet? We stopped and marvelled yet again. Everything was going great and all of a sudden my cousin cried out “Ariana move!” and my body almost instinctively glided out of the way as I saw this black and white leg flying towards my stomach. So that’s the story of how I almost got kicked by a zebra. Needless to say, we ran the rest of the way.

We left the hotel, walked into the park and went down the now familiar road, and walked further than we did the previous day. As luck would have it, there wasn’t that much splash (for lack of a better word) that misty morning. However, things started getting wet when we approached the foot bridge, we got wet fast. I don’t remember how I got across but I managed. It was cold and warm and wet and slippery and exhilarating all at once. I was happy until I realised that I would have to go back. My cousin and I explored the other side of the bridge, in search of rainbows, gorges and views. We found all three. We decided that it was time to say goodbye to Victoria Falls and we turned around and begun walking home. The number of times that I almost slipped and fell off the bridge was shocking. I’m truly glad I survived, I did, however, get blisters from my Havaianas?

We got back to our room, showered, packed and went for breakfast. Guess what I ate. Just take a wiiiiild guess. After breakfast I had some tea at the lounge and watched, for possibly the last time, the cloud of splashes above Victoria Falls.

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Would I ever go again? Absolutely. Should you ever visit Victoria Falls? Without a doubt. This trip was possibly one of the best holidays I have ever had in my life. It only took three days to fill me with such happiness, that will undeniably last a life time.

x Ariana

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