Monday, April 17, 2006

Into Africa: Part I

The big gap in postings is due to another trip, but this time we didn't leave Africa, we went even deeper into it!

I scarcely know where to start sharing what we experienced on this amazing continent so I guess I'll just begin at the beginning and move on from there in what will probably be days of postings about our trip to the center of Africa.

We (mostly accidentally) went from here to Africa Lite, then on to Intermediate Africa, finishing up in Africa for Experts (although the experts were our hosts and certainly not us!). We left Ghana after midnight and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa where we never left the International Terminal- just caught our next flight to Zimbabwe and arrived just after lunch.

Our purpose in Zimbabwe was to stop and see Victoria Falls on our way to see Africa in the wild. Victoria Falls is where Stanley met Livingston, and it's an astonishing sight. Feast your eyes:

The Zambesi river flows up to the edge of this huge precipice and just zooms over the edge down hundreds of feet where it hits with such volume and force that it sprays back up and drenches the gawkers on the other side. You can see the cloud of mist and spray from everywhere in the town- it hangs above the falls like a beacon in an otherwise cloudless sky...

We stayed in a very nice place called The Kingdom Hotel- strictly for sissies (which is what we often become on vacation). We didn't even have to turn our hot water on like we do here at home! There was a drawer with candles and matches though, just in case, so we felt more at home once we discovered those. :-)

The man who introduced us to our room proudly showed us our balcony (very nice, with comfy chairs) overlooking the hotel's lagoon, complete with signs warning parents to keep small children from the water due to the crocodiles who live there, and then told us to please remember to shut our sliding glass door when we weren't in the room or we would return to find it inhabited by baboons!

Heh. Being the immature people we are, it was a struggle to obey his request. We really wanted the baboons to come in and play, but fear of destroying hotel property and the reluctant realization that baboons are wild animals kept us from "accidentally" leaving the door open...

We settled in, took a nap to recover from our red-eye flight, and then headed to the main part of the hotel for dinner. We stepped from our room into the outdoor hallway and had just begun to walk when Cooper said, very quietly, "Hakuna Matata." We looked at him, followed his gaze to the lawn outside the hallway, and saw, peacefully grazing on their knees, three big, bristly, black, fanged Warthogs.

Whoot! Our first seriously dangerous wildlife. :-)

In the morning, we left the hotel with an extreme adventure operator who offers all kinds of really suicidal experiences in the Zambesi river gorge. Ted and I used the high cost of the activities as our excuse for not flinging ourselves off cliffs into the whitewater abyss, but we told Cooper he could have ONE activity of his choice from the list of:

Flying Fox (run off the cliff in a harness, fly across the gorge, get hauled back)
Gorge Swing (jump off the cliff on purpose, free fall for 70 meters(!) then swing free)
Abseil (rapelling down the cliff face 120 meters)
Zip Line (using a harness to hang from a wire and zoom 425 meters across the gorge)

He chose the Zip Line- 90% on the brochure's "Adreno Meter" (exceeded only by the 100% rush from the Gorge Swing!).

Ted and I stayed on the viewing platform, in the shade, overlooking the gorge and the raging Zambesi as Cooper and his fellow adrenalin junkies (all people in their late 20s and early 30s except him) hiked over a little ways to feed their addiction. While they were waiting their turns, they were entertained by a troop of baboons who wandered through their group and thankfully came all the way over to the platform where we were waiting and watching.

When Cooper's turn came, he just walked to the edge of the platform, jumped off and whizzed down the zip line at 80 miles an hour. No joke- 110 kilometers an hour. In mid air. On one of the longest zip lines in the world. They allow the to reach the end of the line, coast back, coast forward, etc. until they come to a stop in the center. That is when I took this picture...

Then a guy comes hand over hand harnessed to a different line and hooks the customer up to a pulley and they are both hauled back to the cliff edge. We couldn't slap the smile off Cooper's face.

After lunch, we hiked from the hotel to Victoria Falls and got thoroughly wet just trying to see into the gorge. The thundering power of the Falls is unbelievable. They stretch on for hundreds of yards- just tons and tons of fast moving water racing over the edge and crashing into a river bed that is completely obscured by the spray of so much water being forced to stop its downward movement all at once. We walked and clicked and walked and clicked and here are a couple of pictures that only begin to describe the experience.

Ted thought, when he stood real still, that he could feel the vibrations in the ground. Cooper and I tried, and failed, to feel what he felt, but given that Ted is not into flights of fancy, we'll give it a chance of being true. Certainly those tons of rushing water had the capability of moving the earth even just a little.

The final amusing bit of Victoria Falls was our hike to and from the hotel to see the Falls. The pathway is lined with vendors, much like streets in Accra. They know tourists will use the path and wait there with all sorts of crafts and items of use (water, raincoats) hoping to make a sale. We were limited to 25 kilos of luggage in soft bags because of the small aircraft parts of our trip, and had no space for doo-dads (which is fine since we can get swell doo-dads right here in Ghana!), and kept walking doggedly through the gauntlet saying "No, thanks. Nope, but thanks." The new twist here was that Cooper (in black high top Converse sneakers) and I (in plain old white Reeboks) both got an offer, to wit: "I like your shoes! I will give you...(fill in the blank) for them." Ha! We didn't ask what we were supposed to do for shoes if we traded ours, but smiled bigger as we repeated "Nope, but thanks." and continued on our way. Ted still wants to know what's wrong with HIS sneakers.

Stay tuned for the next part of our trip: Intermediate Africa- Wild and At Our Feet!