18th to 24th August

Monday 18 August

Today is our first rest day in Livingstone. We take our time in the morning, for the breakfast and organising all our stuffs. At the end of the breakfast, the monkeys arrive. Some are quite aggressive, showing the teeth and advancing fiercely towards the enemy.

Then we go to the city centre, a few kilometres away. We have many things to do: repair the cellphone (that cannot be charged anymore), buy a local simcard, buy food, get information to planify our stay in Zambia! In the tourism office, we are asked an interview by a reporter of the Zambia Daily Mail. The journalist also gives us the contact of “Uncle Ben”, working in forest protection and energy efficiency here in Livingstone. We settle a meeting with him tomorrow, perfect!

We have already been asked several times why do we come to Zambia. Well, partly because of the Victoria falls, because of the country’s location between South Africa and our original destination of Kilimanjaro, but also because it is a totally unknown country to us! No one talks about it in France or in Spain ! (I bet that the last thing you heard about this country, if you can remember any, was that they won the CAN in 2012). So it’s safe, but mysterious.

Tuesday 19 August

This morning, we have a meeting with Benjamin Mibenge, known in all Livingstone as Uncle Ben. As a retired graphic designer, he is now dedicated to sensibilize his compatriots to the need of protecting the environment. He is the local responsible of several government agencies or NGOs. We published a report of our meeting at this page. At the end of the meeting, he brings us to the Livingstone museum to comment his drawings.

We then visit the museum, which is very interesting, about archaeology, the local faun and ecosystem, the history of David Livingstone (the first European to see the Victoria falls, he fought against the slave trade managed by the Arabs, explored much of the region, and died in Zambia looking for the sources of the Nile) and the history of Zambia.

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In the afternoon, we go to the lookout tree. It’s a massive baobab, with a platform 15m high, from where we can see the blue waters of the Zambezi river suddenly disappear in a cloud of steam.

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The particularity of the fall is that a large body of water (more than 1km wide) disappears in a cliff and later follows in a deep and vertical canyon, with many secondary gorges. One can do many “adventurous” activities here, like rafting, bungee jumping, gorge swing, elephant ride, microlight, ! all this at the cost of at least 100$ each(yes US$)!

In the evening, we come back to the city of Livingstone, invited by Uncle Ben to his weekly radio program “TreeTuesday” on Zambezi FM.

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Wednesday 20 August

We get up at 5h, it’s still dark outside. It reminds us of some difficult mornings. After breakfast, we head for the Victoria Falls. We will visit the Zambian side today. We arrive among the first tourists, just after sunrise. The light over the waterfalls is wonderful, bringing warmth in this black and white scenery.

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In the early morning, we also see the magnificent “rainbow waterfall”, a wide curtain of water which steam gives life to a rainbow. The formation of the Victoria falls is pretty peculiar. Some 150 million years ago, lava recovered all the area, thus creating a layer of strong, dense basalt. However, while cooling, the basalt cracked, fissures that would be filled later with much softer deposits. 5 million years ago, as the Upper Zambezi (along with the Chobe, and Kafue rivers) was flowing into the Limpopo river, the uplift of the Botswana-Zimbabwe plateau stopped the flow of these rivers, thus creating a gigantic lake (Makgadikgadi lake, up to 80 000 km2!), which overflowed into the Lower Zambezi river. This huge escape of water created the first waterfall, clearing the deposits in the cracks of the basalt (it is a few kilometres downstream of the current falls). As the basalt is a very strong rock, its erosion is very slow and sudden. Thus, every few hundred thousand years, a basalt cliff collapse, creating a new location for the waterfall upstream. There has been already 8 previous waterfalls, that we can see now as gorges through which the Zambezi waters zigzag after the falls, and we can guess the position of the future falls.

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We continue upstream of the falls, where we find a passage to go to the middle of the river. We are guided by Gift, a teen from the local village of Mukuni. He knows this place like his pocket. After 20 minutes walking in the water, hopping from stone to stone, we arrive at the armchair (between the rainbow falls and the eastern cataract). There is a pool, 10 meters diameter, quite deep, with two small waterfalls feeding it.

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And the water gently moves out of it, just to make the big jump of 100m! The pool is just at the edge of the cliff. When you look above the stone barrier of it, you see the water falling and bursting on the stone chaos at the bottom. All the steam generated creates a rainbow over the canyon. And just behind stand the cliffs of the formers waterfalls, where the tourists walk (and look amazed at our direction).

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After this magical refreshing experience, we continue the visit of the falls, on the Boiling Pot trail (which goes down to the river, to a big whirlpool created by the topography), and on the Photographic trail. With a panoramic view on the falls, we realize the luck we had to be able to go to the armchair pool!

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Back in the camping, we are invited for a braai by John and Amy, a British couple. They left everything in January for travelling as backpackers in Tanzania, then they bought a car in Capetown, and came up till Livingstone. They are now volunteering here to promote the pacific coexistence of humans and elephants. Contrary to Kenya, where they are decimated, in Zambia, the population of elephants grows, by 5% per year. With the ever expanding need of land for humans, conflicts are unavoidable. The goal is to channel the pachyderms with specially designed fences out of the farms back into the Mosi Oa Tunya park whenever they are found near a house or field. While we are discussing around the fire, we hear elephants trumpeting, trees being moved, not far away, maybe 50m in the woods. What a wonderful day!

Thursday 21 August

We have a relaxed morning at the camping, playing with the vervet monkeys.

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It allows us to work on reports and do some reparations. In the afternoon, we go with our neighbours, John and Amy, to do some fencing job for the elephants under the supervision of Sandy. After several lifes in Europe and Africa, Sandy devotes now all his energy to protect the elephants here. A descendant of David Livingstone, he has developed a wire with iridescent tape that scare the elephants (both from the noise of metallic foils moved by the wind, and the ever-moving reflexion of the Sun or Moon in the tape), and uses it to protect the local farms from the pachyderms. There is much hatred in the local population at the elephant because these animals create a lot of damages on the cultures they cross, and they are dangerous if you threaten them. They are specially attracted by orange trees. They can smell food from kilometres away. We go to the place of Drago, a farmer that has been visited by elephants for several nights. The elephants are generally idle during the day, and more active at night). The only way Drago can scare them out is using firecrackers, or making fire to throw enflamed twigs at them. We see many ashes and burnt areas around the houses. We put a cable with metallic foil around the house, about 200m in diameter. It makes noise in the wind, and reflects the light, both effects scaring the elephants. This cable is only temporary, in a few days, is should be replace by an electric fence (but still with these pieces of tape as deterrent).

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Sandy does not have time to install these fences himself, he has to talk with the locals, to make them understand that the elephants were here for centuries, whereas human settlements are more recent (Dragon’s farm is only 5 month old). Sandy also uses biblical or historic references to strengthen his argument.

Friday 22 August

We have another calm morning, with the visit of the vervet monkeys during breakfast. In the afternoon, we go to meet Uncle Ben, to plant a tree. It’ll be a mango tree. We plant it in a wasteland, behind a guesthouse (at this precise location), so Uncle Ben invites several of the staff to the planting. Like that, they are involved and will take care of the tree (water it at the beginning), since later they will benefit from it (fruits, fresh air in the shade!). Uncle Ben has a ritual for planting the tree, where he explains the benevolence of the trees, giving fresh air and fruits, without even being asked for it.

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Saturday 23 August

We go to the city in the morning, for some shopping, and getting some baobab seeds Uncle Ben has left for us. Then, we go to the airport, to pick up Dominika. She is a friend of Mick, from Poland, and she will cycle with us till Lusaka. The mounting of her bike is very fast (the bike is much simpler than ours), and let’s go for the camping. Dominika remember, here they drive on the left! We go to bed early, because tomorrow we’ll go to visit the falls.

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Sunday 24 August

We get up at 5, with some difficulties. This night is especially cold, I don’t know why. We go to see the Victoria falls today, but on the Zimbabwean side. We have a first glance on the falls from the Lookout Tree, just a few moments after sunrise. Then we pass the border. We tied our bikes on the parking of the falls in the Zambian side because it’s controlled. We cross on the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, built in 1905 entirely in England and then shipped here by the Cleveland Bridge Company, for the Cecil B. Rhodes project of train connection from Cairo to Capetown. This bridge has a length of 198m and is 128m above the Zambezi river. It’s one of the only bridges in the world open for pedestrian, trains and road traffic. Today, the bridge allows 500 000 people to cross annually the border, about 2000 freight trains, and it’s a major tourist attraction (with even a bungee jumping, a swing, !).

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We have to wait half an hour at the Zimbabwean entry to get a visa, having arrived one minute after a bus of tourists.

From this side, we can see almost the whole length of the falls (whereas in Zambia, it was hard to see till the main falls). The morning Sun is bad for the photos, but it’ll improve during the day. The visit consists of a trail about 1km long in the “rainforest” (rain from the falls), with 15 stations to observe the various parts of the falls. The riverbed is lower here, so most of the water flows down in Zimbabwe. We clearly see a breach in formation, maybe the location of the future falls.

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At the end of the morning, we already have seen it all. In the afternoon, we go to see the other side.

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We stay there till sunset, it’s magical to see the waters glittering of yellow and orange. On the way back home, we finally see some buffalos and elephants along the road. Unfortunately, it’s already quite dark, so we cannot enjoy much.

I bet you come for the video… here it is:

In bonus, if you are sitting comfortably, come to the edge of the waterfall: