Victoria Falls Trip! (And the story of Rachael surviving a hippo attack)Cape Town, Spring 2012
Our last big trip of the semester: Victoria Falls. A couple of my friends and I planned this trip because we had always wanted to see one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. Our plan was to see both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side of the falls. So, during the awkward week between the end of classes and the start of finals, we ditched studying and went on our last big adventure.
See, my friends and I tend to have terrible travel luck though. There was a medical emergency on our flight out of Cape Town, so us turning around resulted in us missing our connector in Jo’burg. Luckily, we only had to stay the night and we could catch the next plane out in the morning. We were clearly off to a really good start.
Starring out the window of the plane, I could feel my excitement building. Zimbabwe reminded me a lot of what Mozambique looked like from the air, desolate. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of development aside from the airport and the tourist attractions and resorts in the little bubble of Vic Falls. It was really interesting to see.
So, on the first day, after we got off the plane and dropped our stuff at the Backpackers, we headed right for the Zambia.
Since we had lost a day there was no time to waste. We also made the spur the moment decision to bungee jump off the bridge that connected the two countries.
I’m not sure why I decided to jump, but it was probably one of the craziest things I have ever done. Just to note: this was also the bridge that a girl jumped off of 6 months ago and the rope broke. I was seriously hoping they had upped their safety standards since then.
The good part is one you go off, there is no turning back. You just have to enjoy the ride.
We finished bungee jumping just in time to sprint to the border control office, get our passports stamped, and run to the park entrance of Vic Falls. But when we got there it was closed; we were really upset and we thought we were going to have to turn back. But just when we were about to give up, one of the park rangers said he would take us in after hours, despite the fact that it is against park regulations. Thank goodness for the good people in the world!
We danced in the rain (which actually was the massive amount of spray from the waterfall) and got completely soaked. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I will never forget just how beautiful it was.
The next day we went canoeing on the Zambezi River. It is one of Africa’s longest, most famous rivers, along with the Nile, Congo, and Niger Rivers. I never thought I would be able to say I did anything like this in my lifetime.
We paddled all day long. At first, the canoeing was really relaxing and the water was calm. But as the day went on, we realized that we really needed to pay attention to our surroundings and stay alert.
The Zambezi is just swimming with crocodiles. Our guide told us not to worry too much about them, as they are afraid of big boats. The only time we would really need to worry about them, he said, was if we fell out. I didn’t realize this was a legitimate possibility until we hit the rapids.
I didn’t fall out, which is pretty much all I can ask for. For those who know me well, they know that I am not exactly a water bug. I am a huge baby when it comes to water-related activities, because I have an irrational fear of being eaten by things and/or drowning in the process. The rapids were by no means unmanageable or too big, but they did really freak me out at times. My poor partner, Crystal, had to listen to me swear for the better part of the day, as I was always afraid that we were about to tip. We never did, but for some reason that didn’t stop the slew of obscenities that continued to flow from my mouth.
The whole time I had been so worried about being eaten crocodiles and falling out of the canoe that I forgot about one animal that cares not whether you are in a boat or in the water—the hippo.
We were trying to avoid a whirlpool in the center of the river at one point, so the four boats were all in a single file line paddling relatively close to shore. I was the last person in the last boat, as I was steering for Crystal and I. We were paying careful attention to the rapids in the middle of the river when all of a sudden our guide screamed at the top of his lungs, “PADDLE!” I looked to where he was facing and saw a huge hippo standing on land approximately 10 to 15 feet away from us. With two large steps, the hippo had plunged into the river and was charging us from the side.
I don’t think I have ever been more scared in my life. The hippo is considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa, particularly because of how hostile they are toward humans. Hippos claim hundreds lives every year. We paddled for our dear lives. However, being the last one on the line was particularly scary. The two front boats were already past the hippo by the time it had started swimming towards us. Me, not so much. I had just squeezed past the hippo by about 3-4 feet. I was perpendicular to it when I realized my obituary was probably going to read “death by hippo.” Despite us being past it, I paddled vigorously until we reached land.
I kissed the ground when we finally stopped for our lunch break. We were all still pretty shaken up by what happened. Lunch was a nice chance to sit back, take a deep breath, and mentally prepare for the paddling we would be doing the remainder of the day.
The rest of the day went relatively smoothly. We were happy we went on this adventure, but also really happy to be out of the water. That is a canoeing trip I will surely never forget.
The next day was jam-packed. We first started out with a horseback safari. We saw lots of animals, including elephants, kudu, buffalo, and zebra. We also rode our horses along the Zambezi River. It was so much fun. Though I hadn’t been on a horse since I was a little girl; it was definitely an adjustment.
Following our horseback safari, we went to see the Zimbabwean side of Vic Falls. Everyone told us it was better, but I did not fully understand why until I got there. In fact, I still can’t really articulate it properly, but oh my goodness… I have never seen anything like it. We came during the rainy season, which means gallons upon gallons of water barrel over the falls every second. Apparently, during dry season it actually dries up to a trickle and people can walk across the top of the waterfall. This was not the case for us, I have never seen so much water in my life.
If you ever go to Vic Falls during the rainy season, leave your camera at home. As you walk through the park and get closer and closer to the falls, you actually can get very wet. While there is a trail along the outside that you can walk on to avoid getting wet, what fun is that?! My friends and I ripped off our ponchos and danced in the pouring rain when we got closer to the falls. (Though it wasn’t actually rain, it was the “mist” from the falls). It was probably one of the most liberating feelings ever. When we were literally directly next to the falls we saw the brightest rainbow I have ever seen in my life. It was incredible.
That night, we went on a booze cruise on the Zambezi River. This was a really nice way to wrap up our trip and relax. We also saw some hippos while on the river, but these were more manageable. I felt way safer in the boat.
We also saw one of the best sunsets I have ever witnessed while on the river. As much as I miss New York, the sunsets will never compare with African ones.
And with that, our trip was done. We shipped out the next day and made both of our flights back to Cape Town. And thank God… because I had a final the next day. But not studying as much as I should have was totally worth it, as this was the trip of a lifetime.
Well, until next time! -Rachael
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