Last night was our 'farewell' although 2/3 of the group is continuing to Vic Falls for the 3 day extension of the tour. Nothing fancy; a private room at the hotel's dining room, and yes, it was a buffet. Did I mention it's pronounced "BOO-fay"?
Departed the hotel on time. Jo’burg airport was still chaos, although Andres (under Allenby’s direction) parked the bus outside the terminal instead of 400 yards away in coach parking. Getting to the luggage storage for our excess bag took close to forever—two of the elevators were closed because of the construction, and these were the main elevators to the parking garage as well. Only 4 or 5 people, depending on luggage, could squeeze in at a time. Once that was done, we schlepped back upstairs, got in line to have our checked baggage weighed, then continued in the queue for boarding passes. From there it was through security, where they had all of one person screening everyone. Then passport control, where there were two people at first, but eventually, they had four windows open. And this is a major airport’s International terminal, although I think it was the South African Airlines end of things, for flights to other African countries, because once we got through the process, we followed signs to our gate and ended up in a modern, “normal” looking airport. The hike to the gate was another ‘forever’, then a bus to the airplane. As we boarded, we discovered the bag we put in storage would have fit as a carryon despite Allenby’s warning. He also didn’t get the message about liquids in the quart ziplock, and told everyone ‘no liquids’ and made them put them in checked baggage. As it turned out, they let me through with my half-empty bottle of water.
If leaving the Jo’burg airport was crazy, that was nothing compared to the entry in Zimbabwe. There, they have a $30 visa fee to enter the country. Tiny airport, no air con, and what looked like two lines to get the visa. There was a restroom, although there was one stall, no lock, and an attendant to deal with flushing since there was no handle. However, as long as that ‘break’ took, it didn’t appear the line had moved. Turned out, the two lines were really part 1 and part 2, and all semblance of who was next disappeared. You paid one man, showed him the passport, and he wrote something down, then passed you off to the man seated next to you who filled out the visa form by hand and stuck it in your passport. For $30, at least it had a pretty hologram. Eventually, two more clerks showed up so there was another line, but people now thought there were 4 lines. I’d estimate something like 90 minutes or longer until our group made it through. Once you did get your visa, it was just a matter of finding your luggage (no carousel, just lined up on the floor), pushing it through customs and then finding our new guide, Mike, in the lobby. Native dancers outside gave us something to occupy ourselves as we waited. The harmonies they create have been impressive all throughout the trip.
Mike is African, so we had a new accent to get used to. He speaks something like 10 African languages, plus English and a smattering of probably half a dozen more. We got to the hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which was a thatch-roofed structure that looked very appropriate for the setting, albeit a bit on the ‘elegant’ side for the sparse country. There, we had our welcome drink and an orientation with strict caveats about keeping the balcony doors closed when we left the room because the monkeys liked nothing better than to get inside and trash them. Turndown service would be provided nightly, which entailed lowering the mosquito netting around the beds, closing the louvered shutters on the balcony and delivering two bottles of drinking water, as well as an aromatherapy disc on an electric burner. It wasn’t clear if it also contained a mosquito repellent, as we were officially in malaria country again. We were also pleasantly surprised to learn SmarTours’ caveat that cash in Rand or US dollars was the only option for payment due to the unstable economy, was wrong, and the hotel would take AmEx.
We went to the bar for a drink and late light lunch and stared out over the waterhole onto the red-earth of the flat veldt beyond. We recognized Maribou stork, and there were weaver bird nests (although a different species—‘sloppier’ nests than in Hluhluwe) and some kind of vulture type birds as well. We spotted a croc, too, and antelope that were probably kudu, but might have been eland. Wart hogs with cavorting piglets were all over the property.
Our room was ‘roughing it in luxury’. There was an a/c, but you could only run it with your room key in the control. No television (will Dan survive?). Limited space, but a decent bathroom, although the shower curtain was chest high.
Our evening’s event was a river boat cruise down the Zambezi River where we were served drinks and hors d’oeuvres as we watched elephants, hippos and crocodiles, as well as many more species of birds. There were probably some impala, but we hardly notice them anymore. The weather changed abruptly shortly after we turned back, and it was a race to beat the rain. We did, just barely, but the wind captured Simone’s sunglasses.
Since we’d had a late lunch and more food on the boat, we opted for room service and called it a night. Figuring out where the mosquito netting opened was a bit of a feat, but the bigger challenge was navigating the three steps between bathroom and bedroom in the dark.