Day 63: Livingstone, Zambia (9 November 2009)
It was five o’clock in the morning when we got up this morning as we were being picked up by a man named Daniel to go on an adventure to walk with the lions and the cheetahs of Zambia. Incredible, right? Even writing the sentence and saying the words it’s hard to believe that it actually happened that this is what we did today. Hope you’re ready for it because it’s one for the record books, well, for us it certainly is!
We got to the BIG FIVE EXPERIENCE before 6:30 and sat with a few Kiwis and a girl from Chicago who were on a 50 something day camping tour and chose to do this option and we had some tea and coffee and signed our lives away. We watched a video of what we were about to do and had to pinch ourselves that this was real. First, we were given walking sticks to use if the lions got too feisty and looked right at us. Yeah, because a little wooden stick was going to save us from the mouths of babes..well, these were no ordinary babes! We were taken with many handlers to see four lion cubs and with our walking sticks at hand we were able to get right down beside them and pet them. No joke…petting a lion! And these were no cowardly lions I assure you! We walked beside them, held their tails and more or less became one with the lions! I mean I actually held the tail of a lion as it walked, the tail, really! It was incredible! I think I held my breath almost the entire time! One of the handlers took my camera and just kept snapping and snapping photos even as close as the inside of their mouths when they opened them…just plain crazy that’s for sure!
After this mind-blowing experience we got to see the older lions in a gated fenced in area and then the next ridiculousness of the day came. There was a large enclosure with five cheetahs in it and we were going to go inside it and pet them. Yup, you heard right…cheetahs. Big orange spotted cats with sharp teeth that could spring for kilometers and run faster than a speeding bullet! There were four cats seated where we were (another was over relaxing far away from us so we didn’t pay much attention-but yes, there was a large cat somewhere behind us) and we could pet them. One of the four just sneered right at you and wanted nothing to do with us so we left him alone. You were supposed to go right up to them (no sticks this time) and pet them and rub their bellies as if they were puppies…and in perfect puppy fashion they licked you! Yes, no joke, licked by a cheetah! I think both of us held our breaths the whole time it was incredible. Their tongues were rough like sand paper (good exfoliator for the sunny day we were having) and let me tell you that holding your breath from total fear and trying to smile at the same time is not an easy task at all! The pictures are unbelievable and the experience is out of this world! Totally and completely scary but amazing at the same time.
After agreeing to buy the video-because seriously, who does this in their lifetime, we left the big five experience and were driven over to the Royal Livingstone five star hotel. The Big Five was just amazing and so nice to know that they are really a conservation sight and help to raise these lion cubs but when they get large enough they are brought over to reserves to roam freely as they are taught more how to be in the wild. What a day and it was not even 9:30 in the morning yet.
The Royal Livingstone Hotel…now this is a place to holiday! White glove service all the way for Dr. Livingstone, I presume! We wandered to the back and hopped into a small boat for a short boat ride over to Livingstone Island which was a small island first set foot on by Dr. David Livingstone as he talked about the views of angels when he first laid eyes on Victoria Falls. The boat docked and we were told to follow a guide (David). He took us past a changing room of palm trees and bamboo where we put on our bathers and next to it was a bathroom made out of the same materials titled ‘a loo with a view’. Then we walked over many large rocks where we saw other people’s clothing and belongings and we left ours in the same place. We then met another guide who would accompany us out to Devil’s Pool. So, if you don’t know what this is, devil’s pool is a small pool of natural water created solely by rock formations on the edge of Victoria Falls. Our guide took my camera and held it in the air and swam with it across a small area from the rocks where our clothes lay to another group of rocks and we were to swim and follow him across, so we did. Now, we were on top of a group of rocks with a small pool in front of us, a few rocks in front of that and there was the edge, the actual edge of Victoria Falls! Crazy! We watched a group of travellers in front of us do it and they smiled and lived…so we were here right, might as well! Our photographer had our camera as he had already taken many photos of us on the edge in our clothing he was now ready to take them of us jumping to what could considerably be our death, but they seemed to assure us we’d be fine. The photographer was on the rocks on the left, the cliff edge was in front of us with another guide standing atop it to catch our hands if necessary and we were atop a huge rock ready to jump into a pool of water and hoping not to fall over the edge. The man with the camera says jump and insanely…you jump! We did it! WHAT A RUSH! We jumped and we lived…Mathew was on the end and just grabbed the good side of the rock as the other side would have plummeted him over the side. It was out of this world! After you jumped you could sit on the edge and lean backwards to literally see the falls rushing over the side and as you sit with the photographer snapping away there are little fish nibbling at your toes. Trying to keep the fish away, while smiling and not falling over the edge…now there’s a sight! Now these guys truly live on the edge every day!
We were even luckier as mother nature gifted us with double rainbows in the falls that day! We tried to steady our breathing enough to swim back across to where our clothes were and pick up a towel and get dressed all the while shaking in disbelief at what we just did! What an incredibly magical moment for the both of us! We had come across the paths of so many people in our travels who said if you’re going to Livingstone don’t miss Devil’s Pool and this is one of those times I’m so very glad we listened! After our breathing slowed and we were able to get dressed, we found our way over to a beautifully decorated canopied table with white glove service. The other jumpers were there with a few others who were just guests for breakfast. We ate eggs benedict on a scone with hollandaise sauce and tea/coffee and an extra scone (for good luck which we needed awhile ago). It was a lovely morning tea (or as Ian and Louise-our British friends-would have called it elevenses-since you have it around 11) and after signing the guest book we were on our way back to the boat.
We were driven by boat off of the island and after a short ride arrived at the docks. After walking past the monkeys, some carrying babies, we wandered past the beautiful pool to the gorgeous five star hotel of the Royal Livingstone which is absolutely huge! Manicured lawns, impeccable service, cool wildlife and beautiful people. We wandered in and out of the fancy gift shop, used the five star facilities which were completely bug-free and were off and running again for more endless adventure on one of our most memorable days!
We hopped in the free shuttle from the Royal Livingstone to the three star Zambezi Sun hotel where you can walk right through a small game park with Zebras straight up to the back entrance to the Victoria Falls craft market and into the Zambia border patrol post. At the border we got our passports happily stamped to exit Zambia (knowing that we already had the double entry visa to return) and we walked ourselves over a bridge and down a street and straight into Zimbabwe! How cool is that! And we thought walking into Namibia was neat, but Zimbabwe…amazing! We filled out some paperwork, paid some money, got a stamp and added Zimbabwe to our list of countries-Zimbabwe…CHECK!
We walked about 10 meters or so and found our way into the Victoria Falls entrance on the Zimbabwean side and were so glad that we did as the sound and the spray that we were looking for was totally there! It was awesome! The whoosh of the water as it tumbled over the rocks can be heard from kilometers away and the spray made me once again so glad that I had lasik surgery done as even my sunglasses were covered in water when we were many meters away from the edge. It was the sight only seen on photographs before this and just what you think Victoria Falls should look like…talk about not disappointing! We managed to call the hotel and arrange to get picked up a bit later by the driver so we had some more time to run, jump and play at the falls as it took a good 45 minutes to just walk across the bridge to Zim.
Over an hour later we had made our way out of the falls (with a pair of Green Zambezi shorts for the hubs). We walked over the bridge in the boiling hot sun where it melted the bottom of my thongs from the heat of road and sunburned the part of my hair that held my braids and the backs of our shoulders where our singlets didn’t cover and finally made it back across the Zambian border and waited in the increasing heat for our ride to appear. When Daniel was over 30 minutes late we called Constance back at the hotel with the phone number that was written on the key and she arranged for a driver and car to pick us up and bring us back to the hotel free of charge, which was great! As we waited I ran through the sprinklers fully clothed just to stop my body from overheating as quickly as I felt it was doing. Our driver showed and safely got us back to the hotel where we jacked up the aircon and drank our weight in water! We tried to rehydrate and recouperate from such a daunting day, hand washed a bit of laundry and grabbed a taxi up to Subway for dinner!
We were overjoyed to see a Subway (as we hadn’t seen any really since Capetown) and sadly it just wasn’t the best sandwich in the world, but it was still Subway so that was nice and nothing could ruin any part of this day. We grabbed a taxi back to the shoprite and then went to the minimart for some water and then walked ourselves back to the hotel. We were surprised that when we got back to the room some of our laundry was gone; but shortly our room attendant came to the room to tell us that he saw some of the stuff was really wet and took it to put it in the dryer for us free of charge which was so very nice of him. We had chatted to him before as the first day we were there we had a leaky aircon unit so he took care of that for us and when we did our laundry last time he made sure the laundry attendant brought the clothes back straight away to the room. The staff at the hotel was really wonderful, which was even nicer to know now that we were there on our own without a tour manager anywhere in sight. Well, with a day of insane feats behind us, we hung out a bit, caught our breath, checked some emails and were finally able to rest our weary heads.
Tomorrow: Intrepid Tour begins!