The original plan was to head to Harare (the capital of Zimbabwe) to find my friend before going to Victoria Falls. However, due to a lack of time and sold out bus tickets, I had to change my route by going to Bulawayo (second largest town) before taking the train to Victoria falls.
I took a 16 hour overnight bus journey from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. Many people warned me of the impending long wait at the South Africa-Zimbabwe land border (Beit Bridge border crossing), but the flights were not cheap so I decided to save money by crossing the land border via bus. Read more about my border crossing experience here.
Once I had arrived in Bulawayo, the nice guy whom I had made friends with in the bus showed me to the train station. I got my tickets for the shared bunker (10usd) and since I had a few hours to spare, decided to go to the local supermarket to get some food. On my way out, I bumped into a familiar Asian face with that familiar Singaporean accent, it turned out to be Eileen with her Ukrainian boyfriend, Andrii! We had not met before but I immediately recognised her as the girl whom we have been chatting on Facebook about traveling around Southern Africa. It was so wonderful to meet a fellow Singapore here in Africa and we were taking the same overnight train.
We even managed to take a hot shower at the train station by asking the station manager for the keys to the bathroom. It cost 70 cents but I think it is worth it because we would not be able to shower on the train. I felt so clean and refreshed after that.
On board the train, it was like the olden days Victoria style steam train that chugged through the countryside during the night. The three of us were the only tourists on board the train. I made two new friends who shared the same cabin as me. One of them was a father of two sons who went to town to develop some photos and he has to make the long journey back to his hometown. He told me that the train is the most convenient mode of transport for him because there are no roads leading to his house and from the train station, he still has to walk a distance to reach his house.
The good thing about traveling by train in sleeper is that I get to lie flat on a ‘bed’ and I fell asleep easily to the rhythm of the train traveling along the tracks. I woke up the next morning but there was not much of a change of scenery, except some baboons outside my window when the train stopped at an intermediate station. They were climbing all over the stationary train wagons at the station, probably in search of food. We reached Victoria Falls station at 9am, exactly as pre-determined.
The first thing that greeted us was the drizzle, then by a tout who was trying to sell the Zimbabwean inflated dollars. Luckily we were not gullible tourists who are willing to pay 5usd for the billion/trillion note that cannot be used anymore, so we just walked away.
We stayed at Shoestrings backpackers in Victoria Falls, which is about a 15 minutes walk from the train station. This hostel has been featured in the amazing race, where teams of two had to travel around the world to complete tasks and challenges. Unfortunately, this hostel did not live up to my expectations. The room was musty and dimly lit, the wifi was chargeable, the pool was dirty and the showers did not have hot water, except for one or two.
Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe was definitely built for tourists, unlike across the border in Livingstone (Zambia). There was nothing much to do except to splurge on adventure tours such as flying fox, bungee jumping, tightrope walking, whitewater rafting etc., all of which cost at least 100usd per activity. I had planned to do the bungee jump, which I thought would offer me a perfect view of Victoria Falls, However, the bungee jump is done off the Victoria Falls bridge into the canyon which was brown and bleak, so I decided against doing it, plus the cost of 150usd put me off because I could use the money for better things. Apparently the bridge was designed in England, then transported from Europe in pieces and was assembled on site, bridging the Zambezi River and linking Zimbabwe and Zambia in 1906. In the end, we just visited the Victoria Falls national park to see the falls.
Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks are situated on the western tip of Zimbabwe. The Falls, known by the locals as Mosi oa Tunya- The Smoke that thunders, is one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” and one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls on earth.
The entrance fees to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side are as follows:
International tourists US$ 30
Regional tourists US$ 20
Zimbabwe Permanent Residents US$10
Zimbabwean tourists US $7
The falls are 1,7 kilometres wide and nearly 550 million litres of water cascade 70 to 108 metres into the chasm below -every minute- during the Zambezi River’s peak flow. However, when we visited in December, the water flow was quite little as it was the end of the dry season. Victoria Falls is made of five different “falls”. Four of these are in Zimbabwe: The Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls -and one, The Eastern Cataract, is in the bordering country of Zambia.
As with my luck with most waterfalls, it started to rain heavily when we were visiting Victoria Falls so we got totally drenched. It was not an enjoyable experience and I did not even see the famed rainbow over the falls. Hopefully the Zambian side will bring us better luck.