Trip Closing Time - Victoria Falls!

Part IV of IV
At the end of all eMi trips, we try to have a day or two of ‘closing time’ where we spend time together doing something fun and also have a chance to talk through and process some of what we’ve experienced on the trip. On my past trips, this has typically been an overnight at a lodge or something small like that. Other eMi trip leaders have done larger scale activities, such as 3-day safaris or other sight-seeing trips. Well, since we were going to be in the same country as one of the seven wonders of the world, I thought the team would be mad if I didn’t get us over to see Victoria Falls. Since it was around 1200 kilometers from the project site, we had to add in a couple of travel days. But when I went to purchase our airfare, the travel agent told me that we would save about $400 per person if we waited to go home the next day! So, we ended up with a four-day closing time that included two full-days of travel!

Note: In lieu of pictures in this post, I've uploaded a slideshow (with captions) of our project 'closing time' onto YouTube. Go there now by clicking this link: Closing Time Slideshow Link
...If you'd like to get the full story, read on...

Sunday 9/12
So today was the second travel day, and we got up early to head down to the bus depot to catch the bus to Livingstone. To my surprise, the bus was very nice (we had paid the extra $3 to ride the business bus!) – here is a list of some of the amenities: it had only two seats per row (on each side of the aisle) and they were nice, plush seats; it had air conditioning (unbelievable!); they handed out a small snack and a drink; and best of all, the bus stopped 3-4 times for us to use the bathroom! Each of these things differs significantly from my past bus experiences in Uganda, so it was all a big surprise to me!
The trip only lasted just under 6 hours, which was ahead of schedule so that was yet another surprise. The place where we’re staying in Livingstone is a backpackers hostel and it’s comfortable with free wifi in their lounge. In all, 1200 kilometers (about 750 miles) travelled since we left the project site in Samfya! Tomorrow we’re off to see Victoria Falls. It should be fun to see, but personally I’d rather be heading home to see Alisha and the boys! 
One thing I didn’t mention the other day about the closing meeting was that at the end, Watabu (the chairman of the board) got up to say a few words. He talked about the important need for their ministry in the rural, village areas. (If you recall, the Samfya Bible School targets pastors who either return to their rural villages or pastors who want to go church plant in rural villages. There are very few Christian workers in these villages (where Bembe is the native language) and they have little access to bibles or good bible teaching.) Anyway, Watabu explained how the Luapula province (where Samfya is) is the largest province in Zambia and there is no other bible training facility available. Consequently, it is very tough for pastors to get a good knowledge of the bible – which results in substandard teaching to the people.
In addition, the agricultural training program will give these pastors a tool to bring to the villages in some cases to help gain access for planting a church, but in all cases to improve the lives of the people. So Watabu thanked the team very graciously for our work and for helping them take their vision from thoughts and conversations into a master plan to move forward. Since they already have some money to start, the first building we designed – a housing unit for married students – will be under construction in just a few weeks!
Monday 9/13
Today was an amazing day. I love seeing ‘water’ landmarks, so seeing one of the seven wonders of the world and one of the world’s largest waterfalls was a real treat. We took a taxi in the morning out to a very nice hotel near the falls. Once there, we walked out to the back deck next to the Zambezi River to board a small, 8-man motor boat that ferried us out to Livingstone Island (an island about 100 meters long that ends at the falls). We got off the boat at the far end of the island, about 100 meters from the falls, and then walked on the Island to the falls. It’s in the low water months, so we were able to walk out right to the edge of the falls on the island (during the high water season, much of the island is submerged in rushing water). It was surreal. I knew Victoria Falls was going to be impressive, but nothing could prepare you for seeing it in person.
This is where is got a bit interesting. We were told that we could swim in a “pool by the falls”, so 8 of us had brought swim suits to swim. We walked over to the North end of the island, took off our clothes down to our swim trunks and water sandals, and then were told that we’d be swimming across to the pool location – yikes! So following the guide, we jumped in and swam across the current about 30 meters from the falls! There was a safety rope downstream about 20 meters from the falls that was there in case the current was too strong for any of us. When we reached the small rock outcropping, we walked over to the Devil’s Pool – all I can say is, wow! The guides gave us specific safety instructions, showed us where to jump, jumped in and then called us out one at a time to jump in and float over to the edge of the falls. I was second to jump. Once we were in the water and up against the think rock ledge that kept us from going over the edge, it really wasn’t as bad as it looked. Sitting up against the rock you could feel the current of water going by and over the edge, but as long as you stayed down in the water it was easy to stay there. After lots of pictures (one of the guides took one of our cameras and did all the picture taking for us), we departed the pool, swam back across the river, and had our breakfast on the island, just meters from the falls. It was quite a morning. We then ferried back to the mainland, somewhat in disbelief over what we had just done!
We hitched a ride on two of the hotel golf carts over to where the falls viewing park in Zambia was (maybe 1/2-mile from the hotel). After perusing through some shops (the vendors were much more aggressive than in Uganda), we headed out on foot to Zimbabwe to see the falls from the other side of the chasm. It was just a couple hundred yards to the border post, and then about 3 km walk to the Zimbabwe immigration building. At the beginning of that walk, we crossed over a very tall bridge over the Zambezi River flowing below in the gorge created by the falls. They have bungee jumping and swinging from the bridge, so we watch some poor lady do a tandem jump on the swing with one of the local guides – talk about crazy! Once in Zimbabwe, it was only another 100 meters or so to the national park entrance to see the falls. The view of the falls from the Zimbabwe side is much better, so we were all thankful that we’d crossed over. Seeing the amazing beauty and power of those falls made it well worth the visa fees and long walk – seeing the spot where we swam earlier in the day was a little scary though!
Tuesday 9/14
Today the team went into Botswana on a one-day safari. We actually were originally supposed to leave today, but we saved $400 each on the airfare by staying an extra day, so it worked out well. In the morning we took a boat ride to see the crocs and hippos, and in the afternoon we did a game drive seeing lots of elephants. Also, for the first time, I saw a leopard! We just caught it from behind before it disappeared into the brush. Chobe National Park, where we were, has the largest concentration of elephants in the world at over 90,000 elephants in 11,700 square kilometers. Elephants make me very nervous since they are able to flip a safari vehicle over with one little flick. But our driver did not share my sentiments, so we found ourselves very close to the elephants on a number of occasions, including once where we stopped 10 feet to the side of the one of them that turned and stared us down (we were in an open-air safari vehicle and I was sitting closest to this 10-million pound beast). I just sat there not looking at it, and thinking about how I think I am more of a fan of zoo’s than I am safari’s.
During the boat trip, I actually got to set foot in Namibia as well, since the other side of the Chobe River is Namibia. So I could say I’ve “been” there (still deciding whether it counts as a flag on my backpack or not), I asked the boat driver to pull over to the bank and let me get out for a picture! Fortunately, he found a spot with no Crocs or hippos near by, though they weren’t too far away down the bank!
I think by the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted and ready to head for home, even though that 18-hours consecutive on a plane is looming in all of our minds.
Traveling - Weds. 9/15 to Thurs 9/16
The long trip home finally came! After a brief trip to the local markets for some souvenirs to take back home, the team was picked up and taken to the airport in Livingstone to begin the trek home. Overall, the trip home took 34 hours. There’s not a whole lot to report from the plane, other than to recommend that if you ever fly to Africa, try to route through Europe where you’ll have two 8-10 hour flights instead of a single, 19 hours on a plane! Including time on the ground for boarding we were on the plane 19 hours straight from Johannesburg to Dakar, Senegal, and then on to Washington DC. Let me assure you, it was as fun as it sounds! The plane was mostly full, so that made it even more fun! Overall, it was a fairly smooth flight except for the last 2 hours or so coming into DC. I have fortunately become good friends with Bonine (motion sickness pills), so I really do well on planes now for the most part. When we landed in DC, we had to pass through immigration, then collect our bags at customs, then pass through security again before heading to the gate for our flight to Denver. So even though we had 2 hours and 40 minutes between flights, we really only had about 15 minutes at the gate before we started boarding. Oh well, I guess it’s good to get it all over with.
Flying into Denver, I could see Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs out my window – it’s funny how I was really excited to be ‘home’, but at the same time felt weird that this was home. In many ways I felt much more at home in Zambia than I do in Colorado, of course excepting the fact that Alisha and the boys were here. I am very excited to see them and can’t wait for school to be out at 3pm so they can come home. I spent 2 hours unpacking and doing my laundry so there wouldn’t be a big mess when they got home. This is my favorite part of project trips – finally seeing the 4 faces I love most!


shelahjade said…
I am SOOOO jealous!! Haven't been to the Falls in a very long time. We have done white water rafting there several times. Glad you got to visit my "homeland." It was fun to see your blog! I hope you are all doing well!!
Shelah and Jade Acker in Uganda

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