Crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe over the Vic Falls Bridge is a no-fuss affair. After being stamped out of Zambia, you can just walk across the bridge to the other side. A fellow traveller we had met a day earlier was planning to cross as well, so critical mass made hiring a taxi a smarter option and on hindsight that was a good decision. Only one vehicle is allowed on the bridge in either direction due to weight restrictions. The bridge is also the site of adrenalin activities like bungee jumping etc. Visitors from the Zambian side wishing to just view the gorge from the bridge can walk on the bridge without officially entering Zimbabwe.
It was still early in the day and the Victoria Falls park entrance is just a short distance from the border post. So instead of making our way into town we headed there to see the falls from the Zimbabwe side first. Fortunately for us the officials at the park entrance agreed to watch our belongings, so we could focus on sightseeing without being burdened with our packs. (Surely we were not the first to come up with this plan, a lot of other people have probably done the same thing before).
Four of the five main sections of the falls that comprise the entire Vic Falls, namely Devil's Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe falls, lie in Zimbabwe while the Eastern Cataract lies within Zambia. A pathway leads you through trees along the lip of the gorge and parts of the precipice opposite the falls have been cleared of undergrowth to enable clear viewing of various sections.
As was the case on the Zambian side, spray from the pounding water rises more than 60 feet into the air before tumbling down to create 24 hours of solid rain. We managed to get a few photos close to the Devils Cataract, while we were still some distance from up-pour. But as we approached the Main Falls, we had to quickly put away our cameras or risk equipment damage. The trail ends at Danger Point, so named because it leads to the very edge of the cliff and provides and excellent vantage point to view at the Eastern Cataract and look across into Zambia. Rain ponchos only help so much and we were throughly drenched by this time. But the hot mid-day sun meant we were mostly dry by the time we made our way back to the park entrance and headed into town.
Unlike Livingstone, the town of Victoria Falls is a purpose-built town with needs of the tourist in mind. Just a kilometer from the entrance to the park, the main street is lined with hotels, restaurants and agencies that cater to every imaginable adrenalin sport and activity. We decided to bed down at a very mellow and tastefully decorated backpacker lodge even though it was located slightly away from the main town center. We stayed in one of their rustic A-frame huts that were set amidst trees around what seemed more like a park than a lodge. So we had a chance to indulge in more backyard birding without leaving the premises. This time we were chasing around Paradise Flycatchers, a beautiful bird with long tail feathers. Blue waxbills and Fire finches frequented the bird feed and kept us entertained for a long time.
We made a trip to Vic Falls railway station to enquire about the daily train to Bulawayo, our next destination. While a daily overnight train does exist (First class coupe with 2 and 4 passenger variation, second class, and third class (seat only), they would not take reservations and we were asked come back on the morning of the desired departure to buy tickets.
Just outside the station our interest was piqued when a street vendor approached us offering to sell a set of the now defunct Zimbabwean dollar. For a little background, the country introduced the Zimbabwe dollar in 1980 to replace the Rhodesian dollar. At that time it was considered among the highest valued currency units. But after two decades of hyper-inflation its value eroded rapidly and the country was headed to an economic meltdown. In 2008, Zimbabwe's world record inflation was running into the billions in percent annually and prices were climbing each hour. The country continued to issue higher face-value currency denominations to keep up with inflation. The highest denomination note, One Hundred Trillion Dollars, was issued and was in circulation for just a few months when the currency collapsed and it was officially suspended by the government in April 2009. At the time, the 100 trillion bill was just enough for a cart of groceries!
This period of hyperinflation was also a very risky time for foreign travelers as any money that they exchanged on a given day could be and was worth a thousandth of its value the next day! People who absolutely wanted to visit the country during this period got around this problem by signing up for fully prepaid tours rather than risk independent travel.
In early 2009 the country allowed US dollar, South African rand and Botswana pula to be used locally. The United States dollar is now legal tender and is used for all transactions in Zimbabwe. While currency notes are not a problem, there aren't enough coins in circulation causing some consternation. At the grocery store, one will often get back candy, matches or pens to make up the difference. When we bought some stuff at the supermarket, we got change back in South African Rand. But on the whole the decision to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar seems to be welcome decision and we learned that prices are relatively stable now.
While the old Zimbabwe dollar notes are worthless as legal tender, they are now hot items as souvenirs. The most sought after of course is the One Hundred Trillion dollar bill. Depending on its condition it sells at anywhere between US $5 and US $10 or much higher online. The vendor pitching his collection to us was offering to sell a partial set of notes but was not eager to part with the highest denomination note. After some back and forth haggling we were able to settle on a mutually agreeable price for the set including the One Hundred Trillion! And it is in relatively good condition too. Most of the other denominations were more or less just thrown into the deal. They are sometimes just bartered for something the seller desires. In fact, just as we had crossed into Zimbabwe, a young man casually pointed at a carabiner hanging off M's camera pouch and offered a 50 billion dollar note for it. M was tickled at the prospect and readily handed it over. With several others hanging off her backpack, it would not be missed. Where on earth could you get 50 billion dollars for a carabiner? It was one of the best trades ever!
I am much in awe of knowing trillionaires !
Much disappointed in not seeing a picture of V chasing Paradise Flyctchers :) From , on Feb 26, 2013 at 09:30PM