Just when you thought I’d exhausted Africa of tall things to jump off I found myself at Victoria Falls, home of the famous 111m bungee jump. In recent years the jump has become more infamous than anything after the rope snapped mid-jump, leaving one poor lady having to swim for safety in the raging waters below.
I’ve always wanted to bungee jump, not because I thought I’d enjoy it. On the contrary, I knew I’d hate every terrifying second. I just wanted to know how it feels.
We’d arrived at Vic Falls mid-afternoon, after a border crossing that was more reminiscent of our West African days than of the smooth efficiency of southern Africa. Three hours of queuing in the sun for no apparent reason. So many kinds of fun.
Our Vic Falls fixer briefed us on all the things we could do (read: spend exorbitant amounts of money on) at Vic Falls and I asked to sign up for the bungee first thing in the morning. I made an off-hand joke about how I’d do it that very minute if it meant I didn’t have all night to panic, and before I knew what was happening she’d called a car and we were being whisked away to the Victoria Falls Bridge in a race to get there before closing time. I somehow managed to convince Nick and Stanley to jump with me, and it all happened so quickly I didn’t have a chance to talk myself out of it. One minute I was sitting at the hostel bar enjoying a beer and watching a marketing video. The next I was standing at the edge of the Victoria Falls Bridge, shaking, with my legs bound, and just praying that I was correctly attached to a rope of some kind.
The guys that worked there had to actually pry my hands from the railings, but I was determined not to hesitate. So when they shouted the countdown: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1. BUNGEE.” I bungeed.
Those few seconds plummeting towards the Zambezi River were the most gut wrenching of my life. I will surely never put myself through it again. But I did it, and I survived!
Visiting the falls is an experience in itself. They don’t call it “the smoke that thunders” for nothing. It’s as though you are walking through a rain storm. I might as well have been swimming, I was that soaked! The falls are 1.7 km wide and there is so much power in them. I was one part in awe, and one part thankful I’d packed my water proof stuff sack!
Once we’d sufficiently emptied our bank accounts on all the adrenaline activites Vic Falls had to offer, we headed to Bulawayo where I opted to do a rhino tracking day. Norm and Andy, our two guides, are probably unique as far as rhino conservationists go in that their background is as hunters. Despite this, they are passionate about educating people on the issue of rhino poaching.
The first activity of the day was the rhino walk itself. We drove into the scrub and hopped out to do the rest on foot. Andy seemed disappointed that we found our first rhino so easily, but we certainly weren’t. He was beautiful! We stood all of 10 or 15 metres away from the gentle giant. In the back of our minds there was the niggling thought that one charge and it would all be over, but the rhino seemed completely unfazed by us and kept eating until he decided he’d given enough of a show and walked away.
Andy took us walking through the bush, pointing out signs of rhino and other animal activity along the way, teaching us about different plants, and showing us how to become the ultimate trackers. Truth be told though, the only thing I wholly absorbed was to do with hyena reproduction. I’ll save on the gory details, but lets just say giving birth for a poor lady hyena would be like birthing a watermelon through a cucumber. OUCH!
We climbed up high up to the top of a granite rock face to see ancient rock paintings done by the San bushmen. The detail in some of them was incredible and so much more sophisticated than you would usually associate with cave paintings.
The most intense and touching part of the day though, was when Andy took us to see the skeleton of a poached rhino. The poachers had taken to the defenceless rhino’s face with a chainsaw, right down to the bone. You can see, in the pictures, a hole where the chainsaw has taken a big chunk out of the bone. It’s horrific, and incredibly confronting to see up close. This poor rhino would have come to, in absolute agony, missing its horn and much of its face. Andy was close to tears while he was talking about having to put the rhino down to ease its pain. It’s so easy to see why they are so passionate about putting an end to poaching.
It was also in Bulawayo that we finally, after 6 months in Africa, went to our first African football game. My first football game ever in fact.Those who know me know what a massive, cough, football fan, cough, that I am. Despite this, I was excited to get amongst it and harassing my friend Darren with all kinds of questions about the rules. Apparently offside is much too complex a subject for us to touch on just yet. Our local team were the Highlanders, and apart from the black and white strips, fans can be identified by the frequent crossing of arms above heads whilst screaming, “HIGHLANDERS,” followed by bumping said arm crosses into the arm crosses of anyone in the vicinity.
The stands erupted in cheers when we walked into the stadium, a reaction I’ve never once gotten walking into Suncorp Stadium at home. I get the impression that tourists don’t frequent Highlander games, so we were a bit of a novelty.
Highlander fans packing out the stadium
Our newly adopted Highlanders didn’t just win, they absolutely obliterated the opposition, and every single person in the stadium (except the ones wearing green) went crazy. It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, and pretty soon I was among the crazy arm cross bumping supporters screaming “HIGHLANDERS.”
Sadly, the Highlanders are not part of the English premier league and so I shall have to find another team to support when I’m back home, but I’ll never forget my first football game, and will always be a Highlander at heart.