Africa 2017: Our final phase - Victoria Falls (part 1)

I didn't forget that I had an African adventure to finish. Apologies for the delay in posting, but it has been a very busy several weeks! Coming back to my African memories, and rereading my other posts, makes me so happy, yet sad at the same time. So much has changed since coming home. I love allowing myself to travel back through the memories of such an amazing experience!

We're headed to our Victoria Falls portion of the trip. I call it Victoria Falls, verses Zimbabwe and Zambia, because that was what I thought would be the "main event" for this, our third and final phase (sad face). I was drastically wrong, and as I share the next few days adventures with you, you will understand why. 

The adventure began with our friends at Mack Air, once again, and for the final time. Everyone was in good spirits and feeling well, however to be safe we passed Marta all of the puke bags on the plane, since she has had a tough time in the air before (ha)!

We flew from Maun to Kasane, Botswana where we would catch our transport to the boarder and obtain our Zimbabwe Visa. Our transport when we arrived in Kasane was a huge upgrade! If you remember our transport from the Meno blog, we were pretty crammed together. Not the case as we head to the Zimbabwe boarder in style! 

Getting from the airport to our hotel was a bit of an adventure in itself. We had to check out of Botswana at one office, and then we had to check in with Customs at the Zimbabwe boarder. It was a longer process than we anticipated, and our charter was unable to cross over the boarder into Zimbabwe, so we had to unload and reload onto another charter bus on the other side of the Zimbabwe gate. Once we had our passports back with our Visa page (yes, that's right, they TAKE your passport and you get it back once the process is complete), we were on our way to our hotel, Batonka Lodge.

We were all pretty excited to be back in civilization (somewhat), and have a gated lodge where we could walk around at all hours safely. Our rooms were simple and clean with huge bathrooms with walk-in tiled showers and huge garden tubs. The linen was all white and the beds had beautiful netting drawn back during the day, and was pulled around the bed at turndown in the evening. The staff welcomed us with fresh juice, which was needed after our long journey to get there.

After we all received our room assignments, we met with our tour company to go over our itinerary for next few days. We worked with Pure Africa and they made our time in Zimbabwe so easy and, although very action packed, so special.

After getting settled in our rooms, getting a real shower, and actually being able to blow-dry our hair for the first time during the trip, we met up in the Batonka lobby to meet our driver and head to our first activity - Zambezi River Boat Dinner Cruise! This cruise was a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river followed by a four course dinner and plenty of adult beverages! The breeze on the river cruise was amazing, and we even saw some Hippopotamus hanging out in the current. It was really the first time that everyone got to dress up, make-up and hair done (for the ladies), and we had fun with it!

After a long day of travel, you'd think we would be so exhausted that we would want to go straight to bed once back to Batonka, after the dinner cruise. That was not the case! We enjoyed the night air out on the patio while popping bottles of champagne and wine to the wee hours of the morning. This was becoming a trend the first night that we arrive...we were celebrating our new location and our next journey! Batonka had such a nice porch, too. They have great daybed sized couches that were (almost too) comfortable (as they welcomed some shut-eye a couple nights), plenty of additional seating to accommodate our large group, and fans to keep the air moving.

The next morning, we were up early and headed to Victoria Falls! We had a tour guide take us through the falls, however if you're trying to find ways to save money, don't even bother getting a guide. There are plenty of posted pictures with history of the falls when you first come through the main gate. Take a few moments there to read about the falls before you head out to the scenic areas. In April, and due to the amount of rain they had, the falls were at their highest. Due to the amount of rushing water, the sound of the falls, and the spray was more than usual. It was actually pretty difficult to get a good view of the full enormity of the falls because of the amount of spray, and in some areas the spray was so heavy that it felt like it was pouring rain. The water was pretty cold, too, but it was welcome, due to the heat being retained under our rain ponchos. As we were walking through the paths, connecting the different scenic overlooks, there were lots of baboons in the trees. One even almost ran into Jenni and I as it darted across the path in front of us (I pulled Jenni back away from the baboon, although she will tell you I used her as a shield...not true, Jenni, not true...I saved your life! ha!). Victoria Falls are beautiful, but I would definitely recommend going during a dryer season if you really want to be able to experience the wider view of the falls, or swim out to the edge of the falls at Devil's Pool, which was closed while we were there due to the high waters. 

If you're looking for souvenirs, there are plenty and you have a choice between the store inside the gates at Victoria Falls, or at the market that is set up out in the parking lot. Be careful what you pay, because most vendors will have different pricing and try to get you for as much as they can. 

As always, my favorite way to share is through video clips...originally, the Victoria Falls clip was to Toto's Africa, however they have very strict copyright on that song, so a local gospel song that we heard during one of our transports in Africa is featured in this video. It's called Wa Mpona Na? and is by I.P.C.C., if you like it as much as I do you can purchase it through iTunes. 

Since we have a very full schedule today, we only have time to stop for a smoothie at the Vic Falls cafe on our way out, and a quick look through the souvenir market before we load back onto the bus and head to our next activity - the Lion Encounter!

We headed into town and back to the Pure Africa storefront to pick up our bus for the ride out to the lion sanctuary and encounter. On the way out we were provided an overview of how the conservation efforts were started and a little bit of background on what we would be experiencing today. Started by a man that was seeing the impact that the conflict between the lions and local farmers were having on the lion population, he first started taking in cubs that had become orphaned due to human encounter. From what I can remember, he raised the cubs with the intention to reintroduce them into their natural environment. However, they don't stay small and easy to manage for long and soon, the cubs were too big to manage on his own and play time became a danger to his safety. He actually ended up losing his arm, to no fault of the lion, because what the cub thought was play became a life-threatening situation. From that point, he knew he could not do this alone and decided to bring in help and develop a phased approach for the lion cubs. 

Lion Encounter has three phases that the lions go through as part of their conservation efforts. As cubs and through age 17 months, they participate in the program that our squad will be experiencing - Walk with Lions. We will have the opportunity for an up close and personal experience with the lion cubs including being able to interact with the lions, walk with them, and learn more about the overall lion conservation efforts throughout Africa from our educated and experienced guides. Once the cubs are 17 months, they are too old to interact with people in such a way, especially if they are to be introduced back into a Pride in the wild. They move on to the hunting phase of the program, where they are released into a semi-wild sanctuary and learn how to hunt on their own and fine tune their wild instincts. Once the lions are surviving on their own, they are introduced to a Pride and are able to live out their days as any other wild lion. 

Before heading out to meet our lions, we were provided a security briefing, and each of us were required to carry sticks (that would apparently protect us if the lion became overly interested in, yeah, ok). We then headed out into the bush. We stopped on a dirt road and our guide went into more detail about safety and how to distract the lion if it comes toward you, and is less than two meters away...point the stick at the lions mouth and give a firm, "NO" (what did I get myself into?). They instructed us not to touch the head, or the tail, as that can agitate them (noted!). While the briefing was finishing up, two lion came into view to the left of our group. They were walking freely toward us with two other staff members following on either side of them. My stomach dropped, my throat became tight...they were much bigger than I anticipated they would be and I started to freak out a bit (ha!).

Throughout the three hours that we were at the Lion Encounter, we were able to sit and pet the lions, walk with them and pet them as they walked, and we also learned a great deal about the unfortunate situation they are in, due to the continued conflict with farmers and overall growth in Africa. They are losing their habitat, which forces them to adapt to their environment, sometimes killing and eating livestock...and becoming hunted by farmers who rely on the livestock for their livelihood. 

The experience is like nothing that I can describe. I personally had a very hard time, and think I may now know first hand what a panic attack feels like! One of the things that made me so nervous is that I felt like our group had a false sense of safety, due to having our guides with us. Some people were too comfortable (in my opinion only) and lost appreciation for the animal and what could happen if they didn't pay attention to the rules we'd been provided. I mean, have you seen "When Animals Attack"? Thankfully, we all made it out with all of our fingers and toes!

We finished the experience with a light snack and a conservation video. If you are interested in learning more about the efforts or donating to the cause, please check out @LionEncounter on Facebook for more information. If you go to Zimbabwe, I would definitely recommend this experience...although I was extremely anxious during the experience, these animals are amazing and I am so fortunate to have been able to have such an emotional connection and appreciation for these exquisite creatures.

This is one video that just does not do justice to what we were experiencing. Part of why I love Africa so much is the feeling...a feeling that can not be explained or have to experience it. But, the video is still pretty cool...after all, I got to pet lions! 

After the lions we headed back into the town to have lunch and wait for our next transport. We'll be headed to the Stanley and Livingston reserve in hopes to check the final of the African Big 5, the Rhino! 

To be continued...I'll post the continuation of this day's adventures, including the Rhino safari and Boma drum and dinner, as well as our final day at Batonka, including the elephant sanctuary and Victoria Falls bridge jumping!

Stay tuned and don't forget to pop a comment in below!