The Blue Marble

viktyo

7 Reasons To Set Sail With Semester At Sea

viktyo:

Many people choose to study abroad, but few people choose to spend a semester at sea. A lot of people have questions about the cost of the program or its effectiveness in providing a cultural experience. They have yet to fully explore what this program has to offer. Here is a list of why students…

Zambia: Victoria Falls

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I could see the edge of Victoria Falls and hear the water roaring. If the motor failed on our little boat  we’d be doomed. 

We were taken to Livingstone Island where we would get to see the falls up close and then enjoy a breakfast. I was guided to the edge by my guide who showed me where not step and where to do so. The rocks were slippery and I wasn’t wearing any shoes (as instructed). I really worried I’d slice my foot on a rock and have to be taken to hospital. Once I made it to the edge I felt a rush of adrenaline. 

I didn’t look down. I was much too scared to do that. In all my life I have never felt my hands feel so clammy, but maybe it was the mist and not the fear I had in me. There I was, on the edge of Victoria Falls. Only my balance was keeping me from going over. 

This experience concluded my time in Zambia and I was on my way home via Jo’burg that afternoon. I can’t wait to be back in Zambia.

Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls

Getting to Zimbabwe required a bit of effort. While I can appreciate the Zambians being proud of their side of Victoria Falls, I wanted to see both sides and this was my chance to do so. 

Drivers refused to take me to Zimbabwe because I was a solo traveller. As I negotiated with my hotel’s Activities Desk in the most diplomatic way I could without fully revealing my frustration, a fellow group member said he’d go with me. Two travellers weren’t enough. Another group member overheard and volunteered himself and his girlfriend. Soon, another couple joined in. We were all set to head to Zimbabwe. 

Before we headed into Zimbabwe we had to “check out” of Zambia. The border post had an interesting fishy aroma to it and on the TV screens were of Zambian soaps. As we waited to have our passports processed we couldn’t help but find these soaps to be most amusing. One group member said that we were probably watching “The Real Housewives of Zambia.” It really seemed like it. 

Once across the Victoria Falls Bridge we were in Zimbabwe where we were greeted by our guide, Peter. Peter showed us to the border post where we were issued our visas. One rumour I (and others) had heard was that you could get a “Victoria Falls Day Pass” for $10 instead of paying the appropriate fee (based on one’s nationality) for a single-entry visa. This is all  a bit outdated, as this “Day Pass” was scrapped about 10 years ago, I was told by a GAdventures representative. How to get your visa is very easy, though it can be confusing because unlike in the UK, there are no queues despite the border crossing (when I was there) full of British people. You have to pay an officer the appropriate visa fee in USD. Once you pay and hand over your passport you join another “queue” to pick up your passport with your visa in it. It’s very simple once you sort out the organised chaos of queuing that is taking place. 

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Our guide Peter was fantastic. He was informative and more than willing to answer our questions. He showed us how Victoria Falls compared to Niagara (Horseshoe) and Iguazu Falls. Victoria Falls is twice the height of the Horseshoe Falls and bout 20m taller than Iguazu. He explained how nobody has survived going over and when asked about daredevils he laughed and said, “This isn’t Niagara Falls.” I guess Zambians and Zimbabweans are a bit more sensible when it comes to these sort of things. 

As this was the start of the wet season I knew I’d get wet. The roar of the Falls could be heard a mile away and the mist was as if there was a light drizzle. With the Falls in view Peter distributed us each a pancho. I only wore it to protect my passport that was already in a water-tight pouch. My hair, face and sandals were drenched but I didn’t care. The water felt nice and it added to the experience.

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What Peter had shown us of Victoria Falls was primarily the main sites: Devil’s Cataract, the Rainbow Falls, the Main Falls and so on. Peter was such a nice guy and was always happy to take our photos.

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On our way back into Zambia we parted with Peter and were picked up by our hotel at the border. My group had double-entry visas for Zambia, though I had elected to get mine ahead of time at the high commission in London. If you plan to head to Zimbabwe and back into Zambia you’ll need the double-entry visa purchased at the border or secure one ahead of time at your local high commission. The officer in Zambia asked me how long I wanted to stay, and when I told him I was leaving the following day, he told me, “Oh, okay, 10 days it is!” 

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Overall, the big question is this: ZIM or ZAM? Do both- it’s easy enough and worth getting the views. Neither side felt commercialised like how Niagara Falls, Ontario is, and so if that’s your concern, you can’t go wrong with either side. As for the airports, my understanding is that Victoria Falls is more expensive than Livingstone, so the choice is yours, really! 

Zambia: Where Friends are Made

"Best friend, best friend!" I heard the men yell out. If they were really my "best friend," surely they’d know my name (and I’d know theirs). The men claiming to be my our long-lost buddies in Zambia were men trying to sell us some overpriced souvenirs.

Like the rest of my group, I loaded my bag into the van where we would wait for our guide Arthur to process our passports. I managed to sneak on by and safely get in the van without being forced into buying a bracelet with my name on it or a wooden hippo. Members of my group were bombarded by these men to buy their souvenirs. Stories ranged from how one of the men selling the wooden hippos “made them [him]self,” while another man claimed the same thing. One man continued to tap on my window insisting I needed new salad tongs.

As we waited for Arthur to return, several people bought souvenirs and I eventually caved in when a man selling old Zimbabwe notes came by. I knew my brother would get a kick out of the notes’ high denominations. His $20 trillion note cost me $2US, two granola bars and a toothbrush. Another group member swapped his bug spray for a high-denomination note. 

As group members haggled some more souvenirs, we all noticed a man in a bright purple suit, alligator skin boots, and a bright yellow bow tie. It was surreal how ridiculous this man looked. He stood there with a wad of cash in hands staring at us and waving the money in his hand. He looked like the definition of a pimp, but without the cane. 

We asked one of the merchants about this man, and it was explained to us that he’s basically “The Boss.” He oversees his minions and tells them what to sell, how to sell, and for how much. This guy even had gold teeth. 

Finally, Arthur was back with our passports. As we set off for Livingstone our van had to inch its way through the crowd of people who came to see who we were and to sell us what they could. Being bombarded by people trying to sell me souvenirs that are horribly overpriced is by far the most off-putting impression I have of a place. I must say that this was far more relaxed than in some African countries I have been to, and that all-in-all, I’d return to Zambia. Next, Victoria Falls! 

Botswana: Chobe National Park

There were hippos galore chomping away at the grass which lined the Chobe River. Those which ignored us continued to eat whilst others entertained us by playing hide-and-seek under water. I couldn’t tell if they were being playful or it was their way of saying, “When I resurface I expect you to be gone.” 

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The river cruise I was on was only the first half of my two-day visit to Chobe National Park, Botswana’s first national park. The tour wasn’t totally structured, as our skipper needed to be flexible with his route. His route was purely guided by whether or not we saw animals. Most were hippos, though the most exciting moment was when a herd of elephants came running out from the bush. We stood there in awe- we had never seen so many elephants in our lives. 

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On the River we saw the Zambezi Region (formerly the Caprivi Region) of Namibia and all of the luxury accommodation along the shores overlooking Chobe National Park. The Region looked far more lush than the Khomas Region (where Windhoek is). There is something about Namibia which is luring me in for further exploration. Perhaps I can convince a few of my friends to join me. Any takers?

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On the Namibian side of the River were crocodiles. Huge, motionless crocodiles which blended in with the mud. They let us get incredibly close to them, assuming we probably didn’t see them or they were preparing to attack- I’m not quite sure. Just as we were about to pull away from the crocodile a hippo surfaced, got out of the water, and took off. It was really neat to see. 

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While the river cruise was enjoyable, the following morning was extraordinary. The drive into Chobe began with an elephant grazing on the side of the road. We pulled over for a photo opportunity and the elephant didn’t seem bothered at all. Further into the Park were impalas and baboons. The baboons were fun to watch; they were curious creatures who would get close to you and then realise you were bigger than them. Many of them had their young ride on their backs or hanging from their stomachs. What appeared to be the elders would “inspect” our jeep and then carry on. Sometimes the elders would make a cry and all of the baboons would scatter. 

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Further down the road I spotted a lion, so our driver stopped (I have a sharp eye for these things!). Everyone grabbed their cameras and our driver continued to inch forward. This was a time I had wished my new camera wasn’t still on backorder (Thanks, Nikon). I could have had so many great shots but no, my point-and-shoot camera would have to do. 

I was several metres from the lion. I prayed the lion wouldn’t launch itself at me and so I scooted next to my fellow traveller, who was also concerned we’d be this lion’s breakfast. I had memories of South Africa where a lion really wasn’t pleased we were getting close to him. That experience was rather thrilling. Then appeared a lioness. And then things got awkward- I’ll leave it at that. From here we carried on.

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The other half of our group were in another jeep ahead of us. Unfortunately for them, their jeep had a puncture. Thinking this was a blessing in disguised, we waited with them to see if maybe a leopard or another lion would appear. Nothing. Except for a massive beetle which sounded like somebody’s phone was vibrating against some metal appeared. Its pinchers looked like it could slice off my fingers.

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Many zebras were spotted, though they were a bit shy and dashed off. Wildebeest appeared as did the African Eagle. One the way back to our hotel to gather our belongings we spotted more cape buffalo grazing on the side of the road. They were quite shy and so they hid their heads in the bush, suggesting that if he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him. 

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After collecting our belongings it was time to head to Zambia!