Once In A Lifetime, Again


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, April 10, 2004 was originally posted on April 15, 2004.

DAY 175:  When you visit a place like Victoria Falls, you treasure every moment of it, taking in the beauty of its sights with your eyes and the monstrous roar of its waters through your ears.  The mist seeps through your pores and into your soul.  After all, it is, as they say, a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.  This is how I felt in 2000 when I first visited — in fact, the first photograph in the “Would You?” slideshow is Victoria Falls — but there I was again, at Victoria Falls again, arguably one of the Seven Natural Wonders of The World again.  (For the full effect, say this like Forrest Gump when he talks about visiting the President of the United States over and over.)

Originally, it wasn’t my intention to see Victoria Falls a second time, but with the mugging in Cape Town, which ultimately led to flight cancellations between Windhoek, Namibia and Lilongwe, Malawi, I was now going overland — Victoria Falls being one of the main stops on the way.  To differ things a bit this time around, at least I was on the Zambian side, which I hadn’t seen the first time.  So far the main difference from my vantage point was that Livingstone, the Zambian Vic Falls town, wasn’t as developed as Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe — although Shelle told me that that town went downhill fast in recent years under the dictatorial regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

THE PHONE AT THE BAR RANG AROUND FOUR IN THE MORNING Zambian Time and luckily the late night revelers of the Easter Braai were still awake and drunk for the bartender to still be around to answer it.  I was sleeping at the time when the barman came to the dorm and called out my name.  My time zone calculations were wrong and markyt was calling me three hours earlier than I anticipated.  (I am six ahead of NYC time, not nine like I thought with all the Daylight Savings rules.)  I told markyt to call our parents and have them call me.  (I would have had e-mailed them directly if only I had the cash and an open internet cafe the night before to access their address in my Yahoo! address book, since Jolly Boys had company e-mail and nothing more.)  Ten minutes later my parents were on the phone.

“Happy Easter!” I wished them.  They were happy that I called and that I hadn’t been mugged again.  I asked if they had the PIN for the emergency Visa card I had from them.  Love,Mom told me that it might be one of two numbers and that I should try them both.  Visa wouldn’t release a PIN over the phone, only mail one out.

Neither of the PINs worked when I went to the ATMs later that morning.  Luckily I found a single open money exchange that wouldn’t change travelers’ checks, but my extra 180 Namibian dollars into 115,000 Zambian kwacha (about thirty five American bucks).

I used 7,500 of that cash to get the “budget breakfast” and a coffee from the Jolly Boys bar and ate it at a picnic table with Deann, Shelle and another one from our dorm room Joyce, a German on holiday from her job in Pretoria, South Africa.  After breakfast, we all got ready for the Jolly Boys free 10 a.m. shuttle to the falls.

BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF BRITISH EXPLORER DAVID LIVINGSTONE, the enormous waterfalls of the Zambezi River were known by the indigenous people as Mosi-ao-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.”  When Livingstone discovered the falls to the Western World in 1885, he christened them Victoria Falls after the queen and for some reason — let’s say, hmmm… violent imperial conquest — the name stuck.  The original African name is still retained in the Zambian national park which holds them, the Mosi-ao-Tunya National Park, whose entry gate is next to a gift shop appropriately called “The Shop That Thunders.”  It was near here that the Jolly Boys bus dropped us off.  I used ZK49,000 (almost half of my available cash) to get in.

The falls were just as spectacular as I remembered, this time with a lot more water and mist from the unusually heavy rainy season.  I, along with Joyce, Shelle, Deann and many other tourists from around the world, walked the trails of the park, stopping by every lookout point for a photo (additional picture above).  The main trail led over the slippery Knife Edge Bridge, which took hikers on a drenching walk, whether or not they opted for the $1 (USD) raincoat rental near the start.

“It’s just water,” I said, saving the cash — and without my raincoat either, which I bought in Puno, Peru and might have misplaced in Windhoek, Namibia.  “People pay money in amusement parks for this.”  Deann agreed.

I regretted my decision when, at the other side, I had to wring out my shirt like wet dishrag.  “Smoke that thunders” my ass; it was more like “Smoke that gets your pants so wet, people can see what kind of underwear you are wearing.”  Luckily the sun was out in full blast and dried all four of us in no time.

AFTER VISITING THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF right before where the Zambezi waters plummeted below, we took a hike along the lesser-visited path designated “Best Photography Shot” — most people probably just wanted to get wet instead of a good shot.  Hungry, we walked over to the nearby Zambezi Sun Resort, passed the baboons dining on guavas, to get some Easter Brunch.  Shelle spotted me for the fancy buffet of beef curry, Cape Malay fish and other tasty African dishes, which we got at a lower price after negotiating with the waiter — we weren’t even staying at the resort.  With the confidence of a non-resort guest, Shelle asked the waiter if we could get a golf-cart transport to the nearby area where hippos might be seen.  He gave us instructions on what to do, until we changed our minds; having seen participants from afar, Deann wanted to bungie jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge.

“Excuse me sir.  Um, there aren’t exactly any hippos here.  Could ya take us to the bridge instead?” I joked.

Instead of a golf cart or even a taxi, we just walked to the bridge as it wasn’t that far at all.

I HAD ALREADY DONE THE BUNGIE JUMP off the 111-meter-high Victoria Falls Bridge in 2000 (I have the cheesy certificate to prove it), and just being at Victoria Falls again in 2004, one repeated once-in-a-lifetime event was enough.  That didn’t stop me from egging on Deann from doing the jump, i.e. “You know, the only way to dry your shirt is to jump off a bridge.”  In all fairness, she was thinking of doing the jump anyway. 

“If everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?” Shelle joked.

After simply clearing immigration at the Zambian exit — the jump site is conveniently on the border between in Zambia and Zimbabwe in “No Man’s Land,” so no government could be blamed for accidental death and/or dismemberment — we walked along the bridge over the mighty Zambezi River.  Being there again brought it all back to me when I was there four years prior, but I suppose every time you visit a place a second time, it’s a little different because you yourself are different — and in my case, this time with a new set of people.

“How long have you known them?” Joyce asked me as we walked towards the jump site.  She was referring to Shelle and Deann ahead of us.

“Just yesterday,” I told her.  “We checked in at the same time.”

Joyce thought we had been friends for years; I suppose we just had that American bond thing going for us and it showed.  “Isn’t that the great thing about backpacking?” Joyce commented.

A crowd of people were watching the willing participants crazy enough for the Vic Falls Bungie Experience.  The familiar countdown of “Five four three two one BUNGIE!” was heard every so often, right before another one fell off the side with a string of rubber wrapped around his/her ankles.  Joyce’s and Shelle’s hearts raced every single time, even just as spectators. 

“There’s no way I could do it,” Joyce said.  Deann was a little skeptical on jumping herself until she saw a 14-year-old kid gearing up to jump off the platform.

“If a fourteen-year-old can do it, I can do it!” she proclaimed.

I went with her to the registration office on the Zambia side.

AFTER PAYING, GETTING WEIGHED AND NUMBERED and ditching a somewhat aggressive street vendor trying to sell copper bracelets, Deann was back at the jump site at the middle of the bridge in No Man’s Land.  Because of the Easter crowd, there were over fifty jumpers that day, so Deann had to wait a while.  We watched as an entire South African family jumped one at a time — except two young girls who went tandem — along with other spectators, including some guy with a Hawaiian shirt with a print of Saddam Hussein.  The more people jumped, the more Shelle got more nervous for her friend.  “I’ll feel a lot better when this is all over,” she told me.

Finally it was Deann’s turn to harness up, wearing the Boli’s Pizzeria t-shirt she had so that she could get a photo on the North Carolinan eatery’s wall with really impressive bragging rights.  There was some sort of discrepancy with the cords or something and I saw the guy at the platform start arguing something in an African dialect to the support team below.

“Uh oh, they’re arguing,” I told Shelle.  Meanwhile, Deann was out of earshot and busy saying her final words to the videographer:  “You all think I’m crazy and this’ll prove it!”

The crew was switching things around for I didn’t know what reason.  They were removing the clasps or something and changing the bungie cord.

“What’s wrong with the other one?!” Shelle frantically asked to the guy.  “People went and came back with that one just fine!  Why do they have to change it?!”  She was more hysterical than Deann, and from my vantage point it was just funny.  Joyce was at the fence with her camera, ready to document the jump.

“Don’t worry, it’s safe,” the guy told us.  Easy for him to say.  One African saying goes, “Don’t worry until you have to,” but another one on a sign in our backpackers went, “If first you don’t succeed, bungie jumping is not for you.”

Deann hopped to the ledge with her two legs strapped together like a prisoner in shackles.  The only thing keeping her attached to the rest of her life were very rudimentary:  two towels, a nylon strap looped around the way you hook a strap to a camera, and a long piece of rubber.  She was instructed to put her toes off the edge, look out into the distance and jump as far out as she could at the end of the countdown which came immediately, giving her no time for second thoughts:

“Five four three two one BUNGIE!”

Deann leaped off.  Joyce and I shot photos.  Shelle feared for the life of her friend.  The elastic cord stretched.  Deann bounced back up and gave us double peace fingers with her two hands to assure she was okay.  When Deann was raised up to the catwalk beneath us, Shelle could breathe again. 

Us three spectators greeted her at the top, congratulated her and went to the office to see the photos and video, tritely scored to Tom Petty’s “Freefalling.”

THAT NIGHT, THE FOUR OF US WENT OUT FOR DINNER at the Funky Munky Pizzeria, a long walk away on a dark and, for me, nerve-racking road.  Apparently I wasn’t over my shadowy knifepoint mugging just yet, and its after effects were still with me.  But we made it to the pizzeria safely, only to have to wait almost an hour for our food to arrive.  At least we had some Coca-colas, which I’ve learned is the most refreshing thing to drink when you’re abroad for some reason.  Shelle agreed.  “It’s the nectar of the gods,” she said.

While waiting for our food to arrive, Deann recalled her big once-in-a-lifetime bungie jump experience at Victoria Falls.  She said it was just like how I had described it to her:  so terrifying the first couple of seconds of freefall that you yell a yell you didn’t know you had, but after you feel the tension of the cord attached to you, it’s pretty fun.  She said she would do a bungie jump again, just maybe not at Victoria Falls.  Like me, she probably wanted to keep that experience a once-in-a-lifetime one.

EARLIER THAT AFTERNOON, Joyce asked me why I decided to come to Victoria Falls again.  I explained to her that it was just an overland stopover between Namibia and Malawi since my flights got messed up after being mugged in Cape Town, but that, “Hey, I got to meet you guys!”

Perhaps meeting them was one of the positive after effects of the mugging.  When travelers on the road transform from just passing bodies to actual friends, it’s a great thing.  And that’s something I really wouldn’t mind doing all over again.

Next entry: Not-So Manic Monday

Previous entry: Hakuna Matata

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Comments for “Once In A Lifetime, Again”

  • I am ALWAYS excited about Victoria Falls pictures! Thank you - I’m jealous!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  05:27 PM

  • Hey Eric!  Its Deann, remember me?  I think you have a new blog addict.  Your writing is so clever.  I mean I was there with you but as I read the way you retell the story you have me laughing out load with tears in my eyes.  Thanks for the encouragement with the jump, I needed your strong support with Shelle kind of freaking out on me.  I’m glad we all hooked up at Jolly Boys.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  10:50 AM

  • DEANN:  Thanks!  Although you could have just TOLD me since you’re at sitting at the computer right next to me!  tee hee wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  10:52 AM

  • ah hah!....that must be why you sounded hella tired when i called you and no one could find you…i had to call twice!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  03:17 PM

  • Cool we have a new blog hog.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  05:24 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Not-So Manic Monday

Previous entry:
Hakuna Matata


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