The Curious Town Of Vic Falls, On Visiting African Big Game Country

We’ve now emerged from the Kalahari on the north end and are in the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where the countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia come together. Famous for the massive waterfall complex where the mighty Zambezi river drops more than 300 feet into a gorge (a truly awesome sight: see pics),  the town Victoria “Vic” Falls is curious place. An African tourist mecca, you can arrange for anything from bungee jumping to trips up or down the Zambezi to helicopter overflights. The town has the standard accompaniment of curio shops, artisan stalls, tourist traps, and hustlers selling anything you want (and a lot you don’t). But Vic Falls is also within the Victoria Falls National Park, and there is no fence surrounding it, so that means that elephants literally walk down the main drag of Vic Falls at night, as evidenced by their cannonball sized leavings in the middle of the street. The hotel we’re staying at, on the banks of the Zambezi, regularly has hippos grazing on its lawns, herds of African buffalo coming down to drink, elephant feeding nearby, and more. All these can be dangerous, even deadly, but the locals seem to accept their wild neighbors almost nonchalantly. We hired a local guide to take us birding  on foot along the banks of the Zambezi, and we came across three bull elephants feeding just outside downtown Vic Falls. They moved away but with much ear flapping and trunk raising/sniffing – a sign of agitation. “Don’t worry about those guys…”, was our guide’s advice, looking at them dismissively. But I was worried a bit, and kept an eye on them as they moved away, as did they on us. We hired another local guide to take us up the Zambezi above the falls. He casually described how he probably saved the lives of some tourists the previous week who were canoeing on the Zambezi and accidentally got between a bull hippo and his cow herd. The hippo destroyed their canoe and flung them into the water, which is full of huge Nile crocs. He picked them up from their misguided adventure, unharmed.  And this is not the first time he’s done that.

So, are big African animals dangerous? Potentially, but no more so than driving or interacting with a car, I’d argue. We dismiss the carnage that happens every day on our roads because driving is familiar to us. The same can be applied to the African bush. Do people get killed by African big game? Yes, but not often and some simple, common-sense tips from the locals make your journeys in the African bush as safe as driving to the airport for your trip, I’d say. Here are some of them. Don’t sleep in the open at night in the African bush. Sleep in a tent. Hyenas seeing you laying on the ground not moving will assume you’re fair game. We met a woman from Zimbabwe who lost an eye and half her face by making this error. Don’t hike or walk at night any more than you have to and always scan continuously for eyeshine. The big predators and hippos own the night. If you venture into the night very far on foot, you’re fair game. Elephant cows with young calves can be very protective – give them a wide berth. Same with bulls in “musth” (see previous post). While resupplying in the Okavango delta town of Maun in Botswana, our guide Ant ran into another guide that used to work with him. Recently, one of his clients apparently blundered between an elephant cow and her calf and he intervened on behalf of the client.  Using her dexterous trunk, the cow picked him up by his belt and tossed  all six foot two of him into the thornscrub, which would be about like being thrown into a large pile of extra sharp barbwire. He was scratched up, but otherwise ok. Hippos emerge from their watery daytime hangouts to graze like cattle at night, sometimes miles from the water source. Water for hippos is like the Peanuts cartoon strip character Linus and his security blanket – get between a hippo and his watery security blanket and you’re asking for trouble. Joseph, our guide that brought us up the Zambezi probably saved the life of a tourist when they decided to take a dawn  stroll along the river behind our hotel, and right between a grazing hippo, which he somehow failed to see, and the river. The hippo charged (hippos generally don’t bluff charge) the tourist and Joseph pelted the hippo with rocks to distract him while yelling at the clueless tourist to run. The hippo  called his charge off and was unhurt.  The tourist escaped unscathed, but probably returned to his room for a change of shorts, then to the bar for a shot of whiskey. So is all this any more danderous than, say, crossing a busy boulevard in any city where not knowing the protocol can get you smacked by two tons of steel? I say no. You have learned how car drivers behave and know what to expect. Are there “rogue” car drivers that can kill you? Of course, but that risk is low and manageable with a bit of common sense. The same with the African bush, and being there is an unforgettable experience, and the edge provided by the presence of dangerous game is part of it.

We’ve now traveled overland more than 5,000 miles from Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in Southeastern Africa. The people we’ve met along the way have been warm, friendly and accommodating. The landscape ranged from beautiful uninhabited windswept coastlines that run on for hundreds of kilometers to wildflower carpeted desert and beachside  landscapes to snowcapped peaks to quaint 400 year old Dutch/Africaans towns to the wilds of the Kalahari desert, the Okovango Delta,  and the big game strongholds of Chobe,  Kruger and iMfolozi. So many stores to tell…some of which I’ll relate in future blogs.


Bryan (and Jane)

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1 Response to The Curious Town Of Vic Falls, On Visiting African Big Game Country

  1. Donna Cavaillé says:

    Great post! Your descriptions really help me to “see” what life must be like in that part of Africa. I want to go! Sounds so fascinating and so different from what we experience day-to-day. Again, can’t wait to see all of the pictures and hear some good stories!

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