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Vail Travel: Victoria Falls are quite spectacular

Luc Pols
Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Luc PolsVictoria Falls in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
ALL |

Happy new year to you all from hot Zimbabwe. When even the Zimbabweans complain about the 100-plus degrees, you know it is hot. Today to my next UNESCO Site, the Great Zimbabwe National Monument. A bit tough to get to when my second minibus drops me two miles from the site in this heat, but a worthwhile place nevertheless.

It is here where a 1,400-year-old civilization built structures without any mortar, structures that are still standing. Quite miraculous, and it makes you reflect on this and other older peoples such as the Egyptians (pyramids), Incas (Machu Picchu and Mexico), Cambodians (Angkor Wat) and even our U.S. Indians (Mesa Verde). Virtually all of them have disappeared and/or sank into oblivion. Is that the U.S.’s future? Think about it!

On to Bulawayo before heading to Vic(toria) Falls and, should you look at a map, you might wonder why I am going there in such a roundabout way. The reason is quite simple: I don’t want to be near the falls during the holidays because of the expected throngs of people there, so I take my time exploring Zimbabwe.

Bulawayo is a nice city, and I visit two more UNESCO sites: the Matopo National Park and the Khami Ruins. The former reminds me somewhat of the U.S. Southwest – and not just the temperatures – while the ruins at Khami are OK, but should you have to skip one when in this area, skip this one.

Been wanting to take the train in Africa, but it just hasn’t happened until today. I stand in line for an hour and a half to get a first class ticket for this 300 mile-journey for the grandiose price of $8. It should have told me something. There is no water, no electricity, no sheets, no restaurant or bar car and the trip takes 14.5 hours! It almost makes me a believer in buses, which I’m told (later) take around five! It makes me also reflect on previous train rides, the ones I took with Peter Franke. His recent untimely and unexpected death saddened us all, especially, of course, his family. I not only lost a good friend, but a great travel companion as well.

In any case the train ride is once again worth it. Victoria Falls is just spectacular, and that’s an understatement. Someone told me they prefer Niagara Falls, but they must be on something illegal. What a sight! What an experience! Just incredible. The force of the water and the width of the falls are so overpowering, it makes you feel so incredibly small, and that is something a lot of people need to come down to earth. I came to Africa with two objectives, the “game,” i.e. animals, and Vic Falls and they both prove to be absolutely outstanding!

On to my ninth and last new country – Botswana. First of all, I am scrutinized quite thoroughly at the border, because I have no reservation and don’t know my schedule (as if I would want to stay here). But maybe I should have shaved. Then I realize quite quickly that this is the most expensive country of all the ones I visited. Resorts line the national parks and don’t even blush when they ask for $500 per night, but “some are kind and include breakfast”! So it’s back to a tent for me. I swear, when this is over, I never want to see the inside of a tent again … and I mean ever!

I spend the night in Kazane and see a bit of Chobe National Park, before heading South to Maun, where I find a backpackers’ place which only charges $32 for a tent, but at least is a pleasant site. I take a boat ride in a Mokoro, a dug-out canoe (mine, however, is made of fiberglass, but at least no splinters) through the Okavango Delta, which is quite interesting and remind me a little bit of the Everglades.

When taking the bus in a 100-degree temperature through the Kalahari Desert from Maun to my next destination Gweta, and I can’t believe my eyes – there is this young woman standing in the hot bus with a (fake) fur-lined ski jacket on! Can you believe it? I have a hard time since I’m sweating like the proverbial pig.

Come here to see the famous Makgadikgadi (try to pronounce that one) “pans” (dried salt plains) here, but I am told that it has rained too much and the roads are impassable. Try hard, but to no avail. So, the only plans I made this trip are changing once again (that’s why I don’t make many), and I’ll let you know next week where I’ll end up going. I should know by then!

Vail Valley traveler returns to tent in Botswana

By Luc Pols

Travel Correspondent

Happy new year to you all from hot Zimbabwe. When even the Zimbabweans complain about the 100-plus degrees, you know it is hot. Today to my next UNESCO Site, the Great Zimbabwe National Monument. A bit tough to get to when my second minibus drops me two miles from the site in this heat, but a worthwhile place nevertheless.

It is here where a 1,400-year-old civilization built structures without any mortar, structures that are still standing. Quite miraculous, and it makes you reflect on this and other older peoples such as the Egyptians (pyramids), Incas (Machu Picchu and Mexico), Cambodians (Angkor Wat) and even our U.S. Indians (Mesa Verde). Virtually all of them have disappeared and/or sank into oblivion. Is that the U.S.’s future? Think about it!

On to Bulawayo before heading to Vic(toria) Falls and, should you look at a map, you might wonder why I am going there in such a roundabout way. The reason is quite simple: I don’t want to be near the falls during the holidays because of the expected throngs of people there, so I take my time exploring Zimbabwe.

Bulawayo is a nice city, and I visit two more UNESCO sites: the Matopo National Park and the Khami Ruins. The former reminds me somewhat of the U.S. Southwest – and not just the temperatures – while the ruins at Khami are OK, but should you have to skip one when in this area, skip this one.

Been wanting to take the train in Africa, but it just hasn’t happened until today. I stand in line for an hour and a half to get a first class ticket for this 300 mile-journey for the grandiose price of $8. It should have told me something. There is no water, no electricity, no sheets, no restaurant or bar car and the trip takes 14.5 hours! It almost makes me a believer in buses, which I’m told (later) take around five! It makes me also reflect on previous train rides, the ones I took with Peter Franke. His recent untimely and unexpected death saddened us all, especially, of course, his family. I not only lost a good friend, but a great travel companion as well.

In any case the train ride is once again worth it. Victoria Falls is just spectacular, and that’s an understatement. Someone told me they prefer Niagara Falls, but they must be on something illegal. What a sight! What an experience! Just incredible. The force of the water and the width of the falls are so overpowering, it makes you feel so incredibly small, and that is something a lot of people need to come down to earth. I came to Africa with two objectives, the “game,” i.e. animals, and Vic Falls and they both prove to be absolutely outstanding!

On to my ninth and last new country – Botswana. First of all, I am scrutinized quite thoroughly at the border, because I have no reservation and don’t know my schedule (as if I would want to stay here). But maybe I should have shaved. Then I realize quite quickly that this is the most expensive country of all the ones I visited. Resorts line the national parks and don’t even blush when they ask for $500 per night, but “some are kind and include breakfast”! So it’s back to a tent for me. I swear, when this is over, I never want to see the inside of a tent again … and I mean ever!

I spend the night in Kazane and see a bit of Chobe National Park, before heading South to Maun, where I find a backpackers’ place which only charges $32 for a tent, but at least is a pleasant site. I take a boat ride in a Mokoro, a dug-out canoe (mine, however, is made of fiberglass, but at least no splinters) through the Okavango Delta, which is quite interesting and remind me a little bit of the Everglades.

When taking the bus in a 100-degree temperature through the Kalahari Desert from Maun to my next destination Gweta, and I can’t believe my eyes – there is this young woman standing in the hot bus with a (fake) fur-lined ski jacket on! Can you believe it? I have a hard time since I’m sweating like the proverbial pig.

Come here to see the famous Makgadikgadi (try to pronounce that one) “pans” (dried salt plains) here, but I am told that it has rained too much and the roads are impassable. Try hard, but to no avail. So, the only plans I made this trip are changing once again (that’s why I don’t make many), and I’ll let you know next week where I’ll end up going. I should know by then!


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