There were four things I knew I wanted to do during my time in Africa:
- Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
- See lions, elephants, and giraffes on a safari
- Work with the beautiful women of Living Positive Kenya
- Bungee jump over Victoria Falls
Yesterday, I managed to check number four off of that list.
However, for a while there, I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to get into the country.
Two weeks ago, a friend instructed me to make sure to withdraw American money before leaving for Zimbabwe. The country is literally strapped for cash. People sleep outside the banks here, waiting desperately until the next time the bank has access to more money. People may have money in their accounts, but the bank doesn’t have money to give them.
The reason? For several years, the country ran a trade deficit, importing more than twice of what it exports. The result is that there’s just not enough physical money to go around.
To solve this problem, last year Cairo’s African Export-Import Bank, provided $200 million so that Zimbabwe could print $200 million worth of its own bond notes, which are equivalent to US dollars.
The government also limited the amount of money one can take out of the country to $1000.
The whole reason Zimbabwe uses the US dollar is because Mugabe destroyed their own currency in 2009. Mugabe had 100-trillion-dollar notes printed, the economy went down the crapper, and by 2009, one US dollar was equal to 2.6 decimillion dollars. (That’s ten to the power of 33.)
Note: I got this information from a 2016 article from The Atlantic. Several locals, on the other hand, seem to think that Mugabe quite literally had $8 billion hidden under his mattress.
One thing President Mnangangwa has promised to do to help remedy this situation is bring money back into the country. According to an article in the Gazette, many wealthy individuals and corporations have externalized $3 billion to other countries over the last three years. He’s given them from December 1, 2017 to February of next year to return that money. After that, people will face legal consequences.
Why am I telling you this? BECAUSE I’M AN IDIOT AND I FORGOT TO WITHDRAW MONEY IN UGANDA, SO I CAME HERE WITH NO MONEY AND NO CERTAINTY THAT I’D BE ABLE TO PAY FOR MY ENTRY VISA, LET ALONE SURVIVE FOR 9 DAYS!
The realization hit me as soon as I walked into the airport in Uganda. My first thought was to ask for the nearest ATM. Apparently the airport in Entebbe doesn’t have ATMs.
What the what?
Whatever, I’ll just take money out in Ethiopia while I wait for my connecting flight.
ATMs only give out local currency, and for some reason, there was no currency exchange place in sight.
So I boarded my flight to Victoria Falls uncertain as to how I was going to pay for my entry Visa, since the e-mail I got from my hostel explicityly said that they only accept cash payments for Visas at the airport.
It was a long flight.
I anticipated being stuck at the airport for at least a day. Of course, my bungee reservation was for the next day, so I figured I wouldn’t be able to make it on time.
Miraculously, the Visa desk had a card machine and I was able to pay by credit card. Hallelujah!
Next problem: Get American dollars. I didn’t want to pay for EVERYTHING by credit card for the next week.
I had thankfully e-mailed my hostel from Ethiopia and told them of my situation, and they had sent a taxi to the airport to pick me up.
At the hostel, the guy at the desk informed me that since I had gotten the Kaza Visa (thank you Liz from Zambezi Safari & Tours!), I’d be able to walk over to Zambia after my bungee jump and take out some American money. Hallelujah!
Had I gotten the normal Visa like most bungee jumpers, I would have had to pay another $50 to enter Zambia.
The Victoria Falls Bridge is right at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, so I could literally get my passport stamped, walk across the border to the nearest hotel, and take out money.
With that settled, I was ready for my jump!
I had purchased what they call the “Big Air Experience.” That means that I was booked for bungee jumping, the gorge swing, and the zipline.
Now I have gone skydiving in Toronto, paragliding in Korea, and ziplining in both Canada and Nicaragua; but I can say without a doubt, that bungee jumping is the most terrifying thing I have ever done.
With skydiving, the fear is only anticipatory. Once you take that leap out of the plane, all of your fears disappear. You don’t feel the rush of a bajillion butterflies fluttering in your stomach; it’s just a blissful freefall.
And with paragliding, sure, your life flashes before your eyes as you run for everything you’re worth towards the edge of the cliff to take that leap, but once your feet leave the ground, your gaze rises to the clouds, and those fears once again disappear.
With bungee jumping, however, I felt like the ratio of crippling fear to joyful adrenaline rush was reversed.
There were so many different emotions going through me in these shots.
So this is how it works:
You step into the harness, and some dude hopefully clips all the right clips and secures all of the straps properly. You’re just watching his every move, thinking, “What does that do? What is that connecting to? Are you sure that goes there? Did you tie that tightly enough?
Then you step through the gate to the platform area and more clips are clipped and more straps are secured.
Then things get weird.
You sit down, and a guy wraps a pair of thick towels around each of your ankles and secures them together with a sling that is attached to your bungee rope. As the sling takes the load, everything is supposed to get tighter. Supposed to…
You then have to waddle over to the edge of the platform, with your feet tied tightly together, and stand with your toes hanging over the edge and your eyes looking straight at the horizon.
Your jump master counts down from five WAAAAY faster than you’d like, and you’re expected to jump as far out as possible with your arms stretched outwards. You’re supposed to jump outwards because if you just fall straight down, you’re likely to tangle and spin.
So here’s why bungee jumping was far scarier than skydiving:
First off, that Dead Man’s Walk to the edge of the platform with your feet tied together was brutal. I half expected myself to lose my balance and just tumble over the edge. I held on to those handles as tightly as possible.
Now, once my mind processed what was happening as the ground came rushing towards me, those three seconds of freefalling were actually the best part of the whole ride. Those butterflies were screaming in my stomach, and I laughed hysterically the entire way down.
Then I bounced back up and began to spin, and I had no idea what was up and what was down anymore. It was really dizzying and completely disorienting. I’m pretty sure if the rope had snapped at this point, I wouldn’t have noticed until it was too late because my head was spinning at a speed of 200 km/hour. To be honest, it was actually kinda fun.
BUT THEN IT STOPPED BEING FUN AGAIN!
As I hung in the air and I noticed for the first time just how shallow the water was directly below me, I couldn’t help but feel like the towels were slipping off from around my ankles. Now, sure, there was a harness around my ankles that was holding me safely in place; and sure, it was probably just all in my head; but holy crap, that was when it really stopped being fun.
I had so many action movies flash through my head. But these weren’t the ones where the hero grabs somebody’s hand or wrist just in time and saves them from falling to their death; no it was the scenes where the hero just can’t hold on. It was the scenes where their fingers are slipping. It was the scenes where the rope snaps just a second too soon. With every bounce, I felt like the towels were slipping further and further down my ankles. I wanted those guys to pull me up IMMEDIATELY!
They started pulling me up, and soon enough, there was a sitting in a harness in mid-air, waiting to grab me. I’m pretty sure I told him to not let me go. I’m also pretty sure he knew that already.
There was a platform directly underneath the bridge. We were pulled up to the platform, and then I was clipped onto a cable that extended all the way to the end of the bridge so I could walk safely back to the surface…AND DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN!
This time, I was to do the gorge swing.
I’d met a Zimbabwean girl in Ngong, Kenya, and she had said that, as a huge thrill seeker, she loved the gorge swing much more than the bungee jump; so I was curious to see what this experience had in store.
Once again, harnesses, straps, and clips were involved.
Once again, the countdown was far quicker than I was comfortable with.
This time, though, I was instructed to just step off the edge and let gravity do the rest.
Sounds easy enough, right?
I somehow managed to screw that up.
Rather than falling straight down like a pencil, I felt my body start to lean forwards as I plummeted. Not sure how this would affect my fall, I started kicking my feet like an idiot in a desperate attempt to straighten myself out.
Once again, the butterflies screamed in my stomach like there was a Slayer concert going on inside there.
This time, though, I, too, screamed. Oh, how I did scream. I don’t know if you’ve ever screamed so loud and intensely that you actually wondered if it was even you making that noise, but I sure have. It’s a bizarre and terrifying feeling.
Once the rope tightened and I became a human pendulum, though, everything became right in the world again–except for the fact that the harness was crushing me in a very uncomortable and sensitive area. I’ll leave it at that.
Nonetheless, what a view. I could’ve hung there all day.
Last up was the zipline. That was a piece of cake.
Once back at the hotel, I had just enough time to order lunch before my safari group arrived.
I had signed up for a rhino game drive, since the rhino had eluded me on my Tanzanian safaris. The guy at the desk at my hotel had told me that this tour specifically goes to a certain area known for rhinos. However this turned out to be another regular safari through Zambezi National Park. If I didn’t see rhinos, I was going to be pissed.
The guide asked us which animals we were hoping to see. The two couples in my group were desperate to see lions before leaving Africa, but I made it clear that I wanted to see a blasted rhino.
As you can see, there was certainly plenty of natural beauty to behold, but no signs of rhinos.
Our guide pointed out rhino poop, but I wanted to see a freakin’ rhino, not his excrement!
Thankfully, my fellow tour mates were two retired couples from the UK. They made the tour a lot of fun. I have to say, I hope that when I grow up, I become an old Englishman. They just have the best sense of humour. It was like going on a safari with John Cleese and company.
I perked up when we stopped for a snack break. Our driver got out of the vehicle and popped a grill out from under the hood. He then pulled out a delicious plate of deviled eggs, perogies, sausages, and skeweres of something called kudu.
One of the British guys turned to his friend and said, “You’re going to eat that after just seeing one and commenting on how beautiful it was?!”
His friend replied, “I also saw a cow earlier, but I’m still going to eat my steak for dinner!”
To top it all off, our guide also offered us a cooler of wine and beers! I had three glasses of wine and a beer. Needless to say, we were all in great spirits after our snack break, despite not having seen either a lion or a rhino.
AND THEN WE SAW A RHINO!
Everybody was just tipsy enough that we couldn’t keep our mouths shut. They were all happy for me. Our guide had to shut us up before we scared the momma and baby rhino away.
And with that, the sun went down, and our safari was over. But I saw a rhino! Two, even!