A Trip to the Majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

One mom treats her seven-year-old son to a bush adventure at Vic Falls where they encounter spectacular wildlife and some interesting characters
By Sue Segar

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Thomas and I are incredulous. And it’s not because we are soaked through from the spray of Victoria Falls. We are gobsmacked because we have just seen our first 50-trillion-dollar note. We are standing outside the Zambezi Blues River Café, a shady haven of a restaurant in the small town of Victoria Falls, having strolled up from the thundering waters. A very charming man is asking for R100 in exchange for a large wad of Zimbabwean dollar notes, which includes a couple of 50-trillion-dollar notes, a few 500-million-dollar notes and some 200-thousand-dollar bills. My favourite is the pretty purple 50-million-dollar note. “Will this money buy us a coke and a hamburger at the Wimpy?” I ask the man, thinking it’d be worth R100 just to be able to touch such large denominations. “Of course,” says Mr Charming and the deal is done.
 
Enquiring Minds
 
I have come to Zimbabwe with Thomas, who is seven, because I wanted to be the one to show him the Victoria Falls, to instil in him a spirit of adventure, a passion for the African bush and an enquiring mind.
 
“Will there be DStv in the room?” is the main concern of this soccer-mad boy.
 
We will be spending three days seeing the Falls, taking in the majestic 2 700-kilometre-long Zambezi River, enjoying the wildlife and getting time to bond.
 
Apart from a rather vociferous spat over the use of my camera next to the imposing statue of David Livingstone and an altercation over manners during dinner at our hotel, we have, so far, survived quite well together on our African adventure. I have fielded his questions about our trip to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World: “Why is it called Victoria Falls?”
 
“They are named after a queen of England.”
 
“Oh, was her name Victoria Falls?”
 
“I don’t think so.”
 
“How do you know?”
 
We are based at the gracious Stanley and Livingstone Hotel, where we spent our first day unwinding on our veranda and keeping a running list of all the game that come to drink at the water hole outside our room. So far we have seen baboons, warthogs, zebras, kudu and impala and an endless array of birds, from storks to hornbills to nightjars.
 
We take our trillions of dollars and walk to the Vic Falls Wimpy. When I offer my 50-trillion-dollar note, the woman shakes her head. “We don’t use that money any more,” she says. “Only US dollars and South African rands.” The newspaper vendor won’t give me a copy of The Herald. No, not even for 50-trillion dollars. The men selling nyamanyamas and tigers’ teeth don’t want it either. They are far more interested in our rands, or Thomas’s Arsenal cap. I realise we have been duped by Mr Charming.
 
But aside from the cunning money swapper, we have experienced nothing but friendliness, humour and optimism from the local people we have met so far – the hotel staff, the guides from the adventure company, the traders at the markets. We have discovered, to Thomas’s delight, that Zimbabwean men are as crazy about soccer as he is. Tendai, the waiter at the Stanley and Livingstone might not be an Arsenal man like Thomas but, in between dishing out delicious bread rolls with silver tongs, he has Thomas riveted with his view on English soccer teams and a promise to kick a soccer ball in the hotel gardens.
 
Bush Banter
 
We meet our guide Ben at Shearwater Adventures for our next activity – a night game drive in the 6 000-hectare Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve. We are part of an interesting group: a Japanese vet; a young couple, who work in banking in Harare; and a glamorous Zimbabwean woman who works as a diplomat in an east-Asian country. Our driver Mike is a laugh a minute and full of bush anecdotes. Thomas joins Mike in the front seat of the vehicle and, before long, is acting like the main man, giggling helplessly at Mike’s banter.
 
Zebras, Mike tells us, are just donkeys in pyjamas. When we see a warthog scuffling not far from a group of four buffalo, he says, “There you go, you’ve seen the Big Five.” He stops the vehicle in the dark and whispers, “There’s a lion on the road.” It turns out to be a telephone line. Thomas loves that. He tells us that elephants, which eat an enormous amount every day, can grow to a weight of 7 000 kilograms. Our jolly group erupts with joy when we drive past a group of elephants, which includes two babies. Mike tells us that elephant dung, mixed with water or burnt and inhaled, is a great pain reliever, especially for women in the throes of labour. “I used it when I gave birth,” says the diplomat, from the back. “It was wonderful. I hardly felt any pain.”
 
As it gets darker, Ben hands out some thick blanket jackets and we settle in to an evening in the bush. More warthogs, elephants, buffalo, baboons and zebras. In the middle of the reserve, we almost drive into two men with guns slung over their shoulders. “Poachers?” we gasp. “No, they are members of the anti-poaching unit,” says Mike. “When it comes to poachers, we shoot first and ask questions later,” he adds, and Thomas, enthralled, gives a macho shudder. The Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve is extremely proud and protective of its black rhino, particularly as they recently produced some babies. We are on high alert for the babies, but tonight we are out of luck. We stop at a simple camp, where a bush supper of kudu stew has been prepared for us.
 
We sit down to dinner under the African moon, recounting our action-packed couple of days. Highlights include a morning spent spotting game from the backs of elephants, and an evening watching crocodiles cruise past our boat as the sun sets on the wild and beautiful Zambezi.

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