Arriving in Botswana is not like arriving in other African countries; it’s quiet. Usually, border crossings are a hive of activity with vendors selling everything from fruit, gum, water, wooden statues, clothing, all the way through the list of life’s necessities to include accommodation. Before arrival you prepare yourself to be followed and excitedly chatted to in broken English as the sales pitch of the “simultaneous many” flows into your head and overwhelms your senses. This is not the case in Botswana…think crickets.
Hitch-hiking in Africa is as normal a mode of transport as walking and this is especially true in Botswana. Specific road-side areas, miles apart, are delegated as bus stops and come with a small red-roofed shelter for the comfort of intended passengers.
The actual bus infrequency however, paints a whole other picture of public transportation. Just because the bus schedule, if one is available, says the bus will be there at 9:00 am that does not mean the bus will be there at 9:00 am, no. What this nugget of information means is that the bus will be there, at this stop, where you are standing, somewhere between 9:00 am today and 8:59 am of the following morning.
This kind of timetable is fertile ground for free enterprise. Anyone with a car, truck, motorcycle that works, even intermittently, can get in on the action.
But for right now I was still in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Botswana is a couple of days away.
I had been staying at a hostel where, upon my arrival, I had been greeted by grunts and stares at the front gate by a multi-member family of warthogs, straight out of the “Lion King”. All of them, except mama warthog, were laying in the center of the road, basking in the late afternoon sun. She was vigilant and had her eye on me from the moment I came around the corner. Unaccustomed to barging my way through groups of wild animals to clear an easier pathway, I opted for a safer approach.
Always gotta please mama; great rule of thumb.
It took me an extra 30 minutes to navigate the loop through the streets and bush of Victoria Falls in order to arrive back at the hostel. This time on the other side of the family Warthog and with more open ground in which to pass through the gate.
It was January and the heat of summer was at its most intense.
Victoria Falls is a small town with a big history and offers up a host of adrenaline pumping activities; bungy jumping, white water rafting, paragliding, hiking, canoeing, safari excursions, and the tree under which the famous Doctor Livingstone of “Dr. Livingstone I presume” inscribed his name.
It is however, without doubt, the falls themselves that are the main attraction. It provides the backdrop for everything else. Through one of the five senses, or a combination of them, the falls are ever present; the mist of the cascading river spreads a wet layer over everything and can be felt, tasted, and heard long before it is seen.
The first stop for any traveler to Vic Falls, is the falls.
For the best views, your passport is required. Crossing from Zimbabwe to Zambia will afford you the experience hoped for; an uninterrupted view of the thunderous chasm enhanced by the vibrant aura of an almost constant rainbow.
The falls themselves are like no other. The river flows over a rocky cliff and pounds onto itself several hundred feet below. Instead of flowing forward like would be normally expected, the water makes a sharp left in order to continue its journey.
Flowing forward is not an option.
It’s like the earth cracked across the river and sucked it down; changing its course and creating a sink hole constantly filling with water so turbulent that it appears to boil in its newly confined space. The only escape is to break left and continue cutting a swath through the earths crust until it finds freedom and room to relax.
It is on this part of the river that one of the worlds most wild rides takes place. Highlight reels shows 16 man rafts being flipped end over end and people being thrown through the air by the force of the torrent; this section of the river claims lives every year and some of the bodies are never found.
Lady luck may have had my back today as, for me on this day, the day I had planned to ride the wild, the river was declared unsafe.
Instead, over the next few days, I hiked to Dr. Livingstone’s tree, which is guarded 24 hours a day, kayaked upstream and encountered several elephant families, paraglided over the falls, and threw myself into the activities that bolster the significance of the Vic Falls moniker as the adrenaline capital of Africa.
Paragliding over the Zambezi and looking straight down onto the backs of crocodiles swimming in a Canadian Goose-like formation was something to marvel at. Like an arrow head they swam directly towards a man fishing on the shore. The lead crocodile estimated to be 16 feet by my pilot; he was huge even from a couple of hundred feet up.
The paraglider pilot asked if I wanted to play it safe or take a risk.
As I began to answer he put our colorful kite into a spin. The ground was no longer beneath me but in front. As we dove straight down, in circles, the crocodiles grew in size. What seems like right above the murky water of the river, we banked left and then right, swooping across the Zambezi in a maneuver to capture the fall…I completed my answer through the clenched teeth of excitement; risk.
The crocs swam on unknowing. We drifted over tree tops, grasslands, and through the mist of the falls until finally settling in a pre-designated meadow.
The next day I woke early and hitch hiked to the border.; now I was in Botswana.