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Monday, May 26, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Victoria Falls Hotel Day 2

Our final early morning and full day in Africa. The alarm went off at 5:30am, indicating it was time to get up to find the elephants to ride for our safari. The driver picked us up at 6:20am from the hotel and off we went to the Wild Horizons Wildlife Sanctuary.

When we arrived, we were introduced to the elephants and encouraged to touch them while they took photos and video for us. Christine and Debbie were also doing this activity as part of their adventure pass. Once we had acclimated to the elephants and listened to the safety briefing, we were escorted to the loading zone. We climbed onto Tendai, a female of 27 years with two little ones, with our driver, Sydney. We walked around, exploring the shrubland and crossing a creek in the area, for about an hour or so, pausing to take photos along the way. It was certainly an interesting experience. But very staged and we saw no other wildlife while on the safari.

Following our safari, we gave our elephants some treats to thank them for the ride. We were treated to an English breakfast, which seemed to be extremely common here in Africa. During the breakfast, the team at Wild Horizons frantically put our video together, so we could watch it before deciding to buy. The whole time Ben was curious about whether this was for rehabilitation or strictly for the amusement of people. The elephants did not look as fit, healthy or happy as the ones we encountered in the wild at Chapungu. It was actually a little sad and depressing. Oh well. We were glad to do it once, but we probably will never do it again.

After our time with the elephants was complete, we raced back to jump in a van for our lion encounter. A whole load of people from Mahogany Vacations joined us on this adventure. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the lion rehabilitation area, we were informed that one of the lions had escaped. Thus, they had to cancel the morning walk, due to safety concerns. Having a flexible schedule, we were able to reschedule for the afternoon. Feeling bad, our driver, Liki, drove us to see the famous baobab tree near town that David Livingstone camped at during his exploration of the area. The 1500 year old tree was very impressive but we were in a hurry to squeeze in our next activity.

Back at the hotel, we quickly changed clothes and began our journey to Victoria Falls, modifying our day just a bit. As we approached the edge of the property of Victoria Falls Hotel, a security guard asked if we were heading to the Falls and offered to escort us. This was helpful in several ways. First, he helped us correctly navigate the path, pointing out things of note along the way. Second, we were able to ask questions to learn more about the area. Finally, and probably most importantly, the street vendors left us alone while in his presence. He walked us all the way to the entrance of the Falls before turning back to the hotel.

Instead of just entering the park, Ben wanted to see if it was possible to look at the Falls from the bridge, viewing the Falls as Cecil Rhodes intended. To do this, we had to exit Zimbabwe, but we could not enter Zambia for fear of not being allowed back in the US. It turns out that many people want to do this, so it was rather simple. We had to get a stamped form from Zimbabwe immigration to exit, then we were free to walk out onto the bridge. This turned out to be a longer walk than we originally imagined. At the center of the bridge, on the line indicating the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, we admired the view and took several photos of the Falls and the gorge below. Cecil Rhodes picked the perfect spot for a bridge to admire the view and the awesome power of the Falls. Once we had our desired photos, we headed back to Zimbabwe immigration to get our slip stamped and enter back into the country. Super simple.

Back in Zimbabwe, we walked into the Victoria Falls National Park. Skipping our normal routine of reading all signs due to a lack of time, we headed straight for the Falls. There are 16 lookout points along the footpath, highlighting different vantage points along the Falls. Earlier in the day, we were informed that we would be soaking wet before we were halfway through the walk. After the first five lookouts and only barely speckled from the mist, we were really starting to question how wet could we really get. We soon learned as we approached Danger Point. Danger Point is a slippery path where the mist turns to rain. We got drenched! Absolutely soaked! We laughed quite a bit at how wet we got.

With little time left before pick-up for Round 2 of our Lion Encounter, we raced back to the hotel to change and put on some dry clothes. Thankfully, the second lion returned, so everything was a go. When we arrived, we signed waivers and listened to the safety explanation, then we got to meet the lions, Washe and Wadiwa. They were absolutely beautiful. During our walk, the five of us guests took turns walking next to and petting the lions. At the halfway point, we stopped to take photos up close with the lions. We must have magic fingers, because Washe rolled over to let us rub her belly. It was so soft.

Once our walk was over, they fed the lions and we went to have refreshments and learn more about their rehabilitation strategies. Their current plan is to raise a pride of breeding animals to release to a no-human-contact zone and allow them to have cubs that never have interacted with humans to release in the wild. So far they have had mixed results, but the program seems promising. This was a fantastic and wild experience.

Following our lion encounter, we were driven back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Tonight, we ate at Jungle Junction, which is a buffet with live entertainment. The entertainment for the evening was some local African dancers. It was delicious food and a great show, especially the dancers on stilts in costume! We both tried crocodile tail to add another exotic animal to the menu and Kari tried ox tail.

After dinner, we chatted with Christine and Debbie before heading back to the room. It was certainly a full and great day! It will be bittersweet leaving Africa in the morning.

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