I just returned from a weekend getaway to Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I’d been hoping to make it up to Zimbabwe since I found out I’d be studying abroad in Botswana, so I was thrilled that we finally figured out the details of the trip and made it happen! A group of 11 of us left late Wednesday and drove through the night. Our driver was over an hour late to pick us up, so we all started to get worried and frustrated. All it took to calm down was to remind myself that I am in Botswana and this was perfectly normal and acceptable. After a long drive, we arrived at the border crossing around 9am and got our visas with no problems. This was quite a relief- you never know what kinds of issues you’ll deal with when crossing borders. We checked into our hostel, Shoestring Backpackers, by 11. The hostel was extremely welcoming and had a pool, extremely cheap meals, and various vendors. Upon arriving, we had to stop at an ATM to pull out American dollars. Holding American money was such a foreign feeling- I missed it! We soon headed out to check out the tiny town of Victoria Falls, which was super touristy, but full of great souvenirs. We discovered that the entire town only had three restaurants (excluding fast food). That made meals a little difficult, but the food was still a nice change from what I eat in Gabs. I also discovered that vendors in Gabs are not quite as aggressive as I thought. In Zimbabwe, the men would get in your face and refused to back away after being told no. We had to slam the car door on them to get them to leave us alone! They were trying to sell us billion-dollar Zimbabwe currency, now worth less than a penny. I was definitely thankful to be in a group and not walking around the city alone.
Later that afternoon, a few of us headed to the Victoria Falls Bridge to bungee jump. Many people asked me what could possibly entice me to jump off a bridge, and I’m still not quite sure about my answer. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and what better place to experience it than in Africa, where I’ve already pushed myself so far outside of my comfort zone. As I waited for my turn and watched a few friends jump before me, I started to get extremely nervous. I actually started to feel sick and debated backing out. After I was harnessed and my legs were wrapped together, I walked to the edge of the bridge. As I stared down at the water below me, I started to panic. The bridge was so much higher than I’d expected. The workers tried to calm me down and instructed me to jump out as far as I could. They started counting and I told them I wasn’t ready. When they got to three, I couldn’t jump, so they pushed me. I ended up going down vertical in the beginning, which was definitely not supposed to happen. Regardless, those few seconds of free fall were the coolest feeling I have ever experienced. I can’t even describe what it felt like, other than to say I wish I could do it again and again. When the bungee cords caught me, I was extremely relieved. I bounced up and down and spun in circles before finally hanging upside down above the water waiting to be pulled up. That was my least favorite part- the blood was rushing to my head and I could feel my heart beating irregularly. As I made my way back to the bridge, my body was shaking and I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I’m so glad I followed through because it was an amazing experience that I know I’ll never forget. What a crazy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful to my friend Claire for encouraging me and never allowing me to back down!
After recovering from the adrenaline rush and a wonderful cold shower, our group headed to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed my pesto pasta, even if it was nowhere near the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Our options were limited! Our waitress spilled a Fanta Orange on me, and I certainly did not enjoy being sticky the rest of the night. We took turns saying what we are thankful for and enjoyed the evening together. I was incredibly thankful to be surrounded by such wonderful people and traveling to places most people will never be able to see. That night, the sleeping situation was less than ideal. The hostel blasts music until midnight and without a fan, we were pretty miserable. We were in a malaria zone, yet the hostel wasn’t able to provide mosquito nets for every bed. I woke up the next morning covered in mosquito bites. I counted this morning and found at least 140. I look like I have a funky skin disease- no exaggeration. I’m thankful I’ve been taking my malaria medication. Here’s to hoping it works!
The next morning, we headed to the falls to see the view. We walked around the area for a few hours, gazing at the gorgeous surroundings and snapping pictures. The waterfalls were breathtaking. It was hard to believe such as an immense physical structure was real. I had to just stand there awhile. It was so nice to be surrounded by green, as I’m used to nothing but dirt. We even saw a few rainbows stretching over the waters. One of my friends commented that staring out at the falls made her understand why people believe in God. I couldn’t agree more. There were 16 stops on the trail, so we got to see all angles of the falls and we all got pretty soaked. It’s pretty hard for me to describe the beauty of Victoria Falls. Check out my Facebook pictures to see for yourself! After walking around all morning, we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant in the park and then wondered around the town for some more souvenir shopping. We stayed at the hostel that night and enjoyed a cheap dinner, good company, and even a tribal dance performance.
After another night of vicious mosquitos, we left early Saturday morning to head back to Gabs. I was bummed to be leaving such a beautiful place, but I was excited to get away from the mosquitos and to get a good night’s rest. Traveling is so much more exhausting that you’d think! On the way home, we were stopped at several checkpoints and asked to wipe our shoes in a mysterious substance that looked like dirty water to me. The purpose was apparently to stop hand, foot, and mouth disease, but we all agreed that it seemed it would only spread it. Most things in Botswana don’t seem to make sense, but you learn to just do it so you can move on. I overall had an extremely wonderful weekend and I’m so thankful I made it out to Vic Falls during my last two weeks here. When I got back, I was met by tons of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah photos of friends and family. It was a little upsetting, especially because my older sister surprised my mom by showing up in Louisville. I miss them both so much! It was hard to miss my family gatherings and friends being reunited, but at least I got to spend the holidays in a magical place. Plus, I’ll be home in just a little over a week!