In a beat up Mazda 323 the road trip from Harare to Victoria Falls began with my boy cousin and his bestie. The 3 of us are the same age and all through primary school we found ourselves in the same class. We never hung out together because cooties. We’re adults now but no where near mature.
I had packed a first aid and toiletry bag while the boys headed off to buy food and drinks which turned into bags of chips and coke. The boot of the car was loaded with my suitcase and a backpack each for the boys. I envy how guys can do that. Within an hour into the trip we had to stop in a small town to buy new spark plugs for the car but then we were on our way again.
This part of the trip seemed to take a while as there were police road blocks set up into and out of every town. This involved being pulled over every time to get the licence checked and to make sure the break and headlights were working. Did I mention we were in a beat up car that needed parts replaced an hour into the trip? We were friendly to the officers speaking to them in the local language (Shona). I think they appreciated this. After 4 hours we made it to a small city called Gweru where my father’s family live. It was dark and had been raining so we crashed at a cousin’s place. These were cousins I hadn’t seen in 6 years and yet a feast was put on for us.
The next morning was a very early start for us with an 8 hour drive ahead. Breakfast in our bellies, a tank full of fuel and an engine check saw us full steam ahead. I dosed off having the entire back seat to myself. When I was awake I saw lots of baboons sitting on the side of the road, cattle being walked alongside trucks and people selling fruits and souvenirs from the back of their vans. This was the first time I had ventured by car this far north west in Zimbabwe. As the altitude got higher the air became humid, thick and sticky.
At 4pm we finally reached our hotel in Victoria Falls. The A’Zambezi River Lodge sits on the mighty Zambezi River which seperates Zimbabwe and Zambia. We were able to hear the Falls from the lodge. The water features and thatched rooves with stone floors immediately brought a cool feeling over us. The check in process was quick and soon we were in our rooms under the air con.
After a shower and cup of tea we settled in for the buffet dinner. The Zambezi River was roaring behind us and an African band and dancers were playing in front us. To the left was the food and on the right the bar. I helped myself to the braai (barbecue) selection. There was a red meat that was grilled to perfection. I had no idea what it was but it tasted very good. I later found out I ate Pumba. The rest of the night was spent in front of the pool with many gin and tonics, constantly checking no crocodiles had wondered in from the Zambezi. Eventually I dragged myself to bed and somehow got myself tucked in under the mosquito net.
The next morning started with a buffet breakfast and then a shuttle bus down to the Falls. As soon as we got off the bus we were greeted by traditional Shona dancers. This was a lovely welcome. With sunscreen, hat and water bottle we ventured into the National Park after paying an entrance fee.
The start of the Victoria Falls began in a rainforest. I didn’t take a raincoat with me but I’m glad I didn’t. The cool spray was very welcome in the humid weather. I could hear the roar of the Falls before I saw it. The locals call it Mosai tunya – The Smoke That Thunders.
We got in close for photo opportunities with un-interrupted views even though there are barrier fences and lots of people. The rainforest led to an open uncovered space where there are no trees for cover and no spray from the Falls. We were out in the blazing sun, I surrendered myself to the fact I might get sunburnt. I had waited 27 years to see this wonder and nothing was going to stop me.
With a large pizza and more coke it was time to begin the 12 hour journey home to Harare. After 7 hours though we had to stop in a city called Bulawayo as the night was upon us and we were exhausted. With having a large family scattered across the country we were able to crash the night at another cousin’s place. We had cold beer and fried chicken while our bath water was heated over a fire. With squeeky clean skin and fresh clothes I was tucked into bed. The next morning was another early start. I think we were too determined to finish the last 5 hour drive that we forgot to check the engine of our beat up car.
An hour into the drive the heat gauge was in the red. Luckily we had stocked up on water bottles before we left. After another hour the gauge was fuming again. My cousin and his bestie diagnosed the car with a hole in the radiator. Any water that was going in was just leaking out. A mix of water and beef stock saw that hole patched up and us on our way again. Very slowly. What should’ve been a 5 hour drive turned into 8 but we did make it home safely.
My road trip to The Smoke That Thunders was indeed an adventurous one. One that I can look back on and laugh about now. Seeing Victoria Falls in person is one of my most cherished moments, one of the seven wonders in my own backyard.