Botswana and Zambia are separated by the Zambezi river, so too are border formalities. The Botswana exit was smooth, no inspection, not even a glance at the truck just a stamped carnet. Then we boarded a pontoon ferry to get to the Zambian side where we were inundated with fixers. One was particularly persistent and boarded the ferry with us on his BMX bike. After managing to fob off most of the fixers we were extorted by the ferry (who only accepted Botswanian pula which we had none of anymore) and gave us a terrible exchange rate. Then the Zambian side required visa and road tax with all the problems of African borders. One desk will ONLY accept US dollars in cash. Another only Zambian Kwacha. After finally clearing the red-tape, we bought overpriced vehicle insurance from a shipping container office and joined the queue of vehicles, mainly commercial trucks with tarpaulin covered loads, to exit the border. A few military inspections and we were on our way to Livingstone.
Livingstone is right on the border with Zimbabwe, it's counterpart town being Victoria Falls, the two being separated by the actual cascade. Almost everything in town is 'Livingstone this' and 'Stanley that' (for example, you can have a G&T on Stanley Terrace at the Royal Livingstone Hotel). Historically it was better to visit the Zimbabwean side but now the Zambian side is much more developed. From the Zambian side (at the top of the falls) you don't get the view of the actual falls, but for most of the year neither does the Zimbabwean side as there is too much mist/spray from the falls. At the time of year we visited (just before rainy season) the Zambezi is low and the falls are not so violent, offering a better view.
Joining the two towns is a bridge in no-mans land that tourists can visit without a visa and bungee jump off (Interestingly the bridge was constructed in Darlington by the Cleveland Bridge Company).
We reviewed our accomodation options in Livingstone and decided to spend a few days at Waterside Lodge. They are on the Zambezi, they have 2 swimming pools and a bar. The place is busy, lively, but slightly out of town. The other options (Jolly Boys Hostel and Fawlty Towers Hotel) required us to sleep in the car park.
Kim and I decided that we would spend some of our budget doing touristic activities in Livingstone. We opted to go on the Devils Pool excursion. Devils pool is a shallow pool right on the edge of the falls that you can swim in at certain times of the year when the flow is low. We booked our tour and the next day drove to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, a five star resort and luxurious by western standards. After avoiding the Zebras down the tree-lined drive, we parked our vehicle over two spaces in the car park between some Mercedes. Stepping through the lobby was like entering another world, the landscape flattened by perfectly manicured lawns and dotted with teak sun beds, coffee tables with white tableclothes, and uniformed staff marching drinks to skinny women in oversized sun hats. We headed towards Stanley Terrace and checked in with others who would go on the excursion with us.
The plan was to take a small motor boat to an island in the middle of the falls, walk to a changing area, get changed into swimming gear, visit the pool, then return, change, and have breakfast on the island before heading back. The numbers worked out that 6 people boarded the boat first, filling it up so we would take a second boat.
Unfortunately the boat we were to take failed to start, a mechanic was found but on testing it, it fired up straight away. We board and our skipper reverses the boat out and we zoom away, weaving in between rocks, reeds, hippos, and crocodiles in a well rehearsed route. As we near the island and the falls, the roar of the falls gets louder and the current faster. We round the last rock and head to the island, but the the engine abruptly cuts out. I thought we were a bit far to drift in so I look back at the skipper who is clearly panicking. He yells "it wont start, quick" and abandons the steering wheel to grab a paddle. I also grab a paddle. After one stroke our skipper reconsiders his plan and drops the paddle, to my confusion. We are now drifting with the current towards the falls. He opens a hatch and grabs a small anchor on a rope and throws is out. He is yelling to a colleague on the shore who starts launching a second boat. I go to the helm (do you call it that for a small boat) and try to start it again and it fires up. I notify the suspicious skipper who return to the helm, revs the engine and tells me to pull up the anchor. We make it to the beach and part ways, laughing in relief. We state that we'd prefer a different boat on our return.
We catch up with the rest of our group, change into our swimming trunks and enter the water. There are some ropes half-submerged in the water to funnel you in the right direction and we catch up with the group as they reach a waiting area near the pool. The water is fast flowing in places and the falls are loud. From beyond the horizon a cloud of mist rises from the canyon. We wait for our turn and then move towards the pool. Right at the very edge of the waterfall is a ledge with a pool just before it so you can rest your arms on the ledge and look over the falls to the cascade below. It is really quite a spectacle. A few feet away the ledge is absent and the water flows fast and relentlessly over the edge. To protect tourists from this obvious risk is a local guide who holds your legs as you look over. When I tried to inch 'too far' over the ledge I received an authorative tug on my leg. Kim and I posed for a bunch of photos as directed by our other guide and after our couple of minutes at the water's edge we made our way back to the camp. Breakfast was very civilised, eight of us sat around a large table with african wax print table linen, sat on canvas directors chairs within a large safari tent overlooking the river. For the record the vegan option was a a coconut milk oatmeal with granola with local raspberry jam, and the others ate a savoury filled croissant.
After our excursion we rested at the camp and met a Brit who had driven his defender 'Monty' from the UK down the West coast of Africa and returns whenever he can to continue his travels. His (very outdated) website can be found here: http://www.across-africa.com/. Ben was a great guy and we chatted until late into the evening. Kim excused herself early (I assumed from all the car/travel talk) and while Ben and I enjoyed a few more beers past sunset, I came back to discover that Kim was actually ill and had been suffering in the truck waiting for me. A few doses of Ciprofloxacin and some heavy admonishment later we were back on speaking terms.
A couple of days later we returned to the no-mans land bridge (which requires obtaining a blank bit of paper from a disinterested border clerk) to do a bungee jump. Kim opted out of the experience but encouraged me to do it. It's not cheap but it felt like a once in a lifetime experience. I'd had the opportunity before but in much less spectacular settings. We gave a lift to a motorcyclist Paul who was staying at the camp next to us (our first passenger in fact).
I paid the fee and stood on the scales next to the desk. My weight was read, permanent markered onto my arm, then double checked. I cautiously triple checked every step. Then I walked to the centre of the bridge and was harnessed by one guy while another read my arm and started measuring out rope. The harness was very secure and didn't leave much room for comfort. After watching Paul jump, and hearing him yell it was my turn to prep. The harness was checked, ropes and carabinas were being coiled and attached and then two beach towells were wrapped around each ankle. Just regular towells. A foot harness was placed around the towells and tightened. I was given a camera to hold (with a wrist strap) and told to waddle to the edge of the platform, to the very edge with toes over the lip. I was told to "jump far out in 3....2....1" and without any time to re-consider I jumped off as far as I could (rather half-heartedly as the video ref would conclude).
For 3-4 glorious seconds of freefall I knew what a jump-suicide would feel like. Elation and plenty of time to regret ones decision. I had mentally committed to not scream during the jump but the head-first inversion, weightlessness, and sight of the canyon below forced an involuntary "fuuuuuuck" . The enjoyable descent was interrupted by the elastic jerk of the cord which straightens the spine and induces all blood flow to the eyes. After the bounce, a few more seconds of free fall before another jerk. The cycle continues a few times, getting less enjoyable each time until one of the guys on the bridge abseiled down, attached a rope to my harness, and winched me back up. Kim took a short clip of the event which we'll upload to YouTube.