Maybe It’s Just Me…? (A Not So Casual Encounter)

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sitting on a park bench, cross-legged, hugging my cup of coffee, with my journal on one side and book on the other, not touching either –  instead, just staring off into space, as I often do. I’m approached by an older gentleman in his late sixties to early seventies. He had a sweet demeanor, tired eyes, weathered face, and soft smile. His voice and knit sweater made me think of Mr. Roger’s, and I secretly wanted to sing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…”

 We had a brief exchange about the weather, then coffee; we both agreed that it’s hard to find the perfect cup. Within minutes, the conversation turned to his late wife. She had red hair and green eyes, just as I do. Although they never had children, he’s quite certain I would resemble their daughter, if they had. Even though he didn’t admit it, I could tell that it was a regret of his.

 He spotted me from across the park, and said that for a moment, it was almost as if he was watching her. It provided him with a sense of comfort that he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. In one hand, I was happy to have unintentionally given him that gift, but at the same time, it instilled a sense of sadness.

 As he got up to leave, he leaned in, placed his hand on my back and said, “If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s that this, what you’re feeling, it won’t last forever. It might get worse for a while; in my experience, it usually does, but life goes on, and so will you. You’ll be okay, my dear, you’ll be okay…” I sat there, slightly perplexed, as I hadn’t shared anything about myself, beyond the surface. I wanted to ask him why he felt compelled to share that with me, but for some reason, is all I could say was, “Take care”.  

I’m not sure why, but these types of encounters are quite common for me. Complete strangers often go out of their way to give unsolicited advice, a kind word, or thought pressed upon them. I’m not sure what it means, if anything at all. Is there some sort of emotional weight latched to my back that others can see and I can’t? Perhaps I just need to smile more? Your guess is as good as mine…

Visiting Victoria Falls (Mosi-o-Tunya)

June 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve all seen the lovely photos of Victoria Falls and the beautiful rainbow hovering above. It’s easily the most famous waterfall and considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The falls is split between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Seeing as how we were only a hop, skip, and a jump away, passing up on a visit seemed out of the question.

Upon returning from the Delta, there was talk of incorporating a trip to Chobe National Park, since our detour would have us knocking on its doorstep. Instead of working out the details in advance, we opted to leave it up to chance, as the travel agency we entrusted for Kwara (Travel Wild), left a bitter taste in our mouths. Had we gone directly into Kwando Safari’s office, just a few blocks away, we would have splurged for an extended stay in the Delta, seeing as how our ‘3-day package’ offered zero savings and was based on a daily rate significantly higher than that of Kwando (queue long, exasperated sigh).

Travel Wild makes a killing by taking advantage of others and providing false information. The worst part is that Kwando is well aware of this and simply doesn’t care. In fact, when we questioned a member of their staff, she openly admitted that they often refer clients to their office, so that they can make a ‘little something’ for themselves. What!?! Not only is that bad business, but the fact that she openly shared that, as if to slap us in the face, was just baffling. To be completely honest, the most upsetting part is that with one more night, I would have seen a leopard. Yes, a real, live, furry, leopard – shame on you Katia for taking away my childhood dream… shame on you.

With our bags still packed, we boarded another plane, headed for Kasane. We considered driving, but poor road conditions, weather, and our already excessive mileage stood in the way. In all reality, it was nice to give the car a rest and take to the skies for a while. When we landed, we caught a cab to the Zambezi River, waited along the shore for a boat to ferry us across, and then emptied our pockets at immigration, followed by another cab ride into Livingston; everything’s a process.

We opted to base ourselves on the Zambian side, knowing that we could cross the bridge into Zimbabwe for the day, in order to see the falls from all sides. What we didn’t know, but should have assumed, was that this little excursion is far from free; Victoria Falls will flatten your wallet in no time, so be prepared. I shudder to think of the price tag attached to our visit, but experiences, such as that one, are priceless. I’d far rather fill up my mind and memory cards, than closet.

Choosing between the sides wasn’t easy, but in the end, Livingstone seemed to make the most sense, as it offered a wide range of accommodations and services. The Zimbabwean side was once considered the premiere destination, but thanks to their president, Robert Mugabe, and his off-your-rocker policies, inflation skyrocketed, the economy went bust, and the country spiraled into dark and depressing times. Note to those in charge: circulating bills in the billions and trillions is a no-no. My personal favorite was the one-hundred trillion dollar bill (see photo below).

It is said that the falls receives somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 visitors annually, give or take a few. The park opens at 6am, so we awoke before sunrise to beat the crowd. You can imagine our surprise when we arrived at the gate to find that everyone else had decided to sleep in that day; we were completely alone. We arrived in the off-season, something we developed a knack for. The heavy rainfall provided us with quite the display, as the falls was roaring in full force. It was, to put it simply, amazing. There’s something incredible about standing in the presence of something so powerful, so grand, that it completely envelops you. The spray soaks you, sounds shake you, and for a moment, you feel as though it’s all for you. I felt, for lack of a better term, lucky. In fact, much of my travels made me feel that way.

After exploring for much of the morning, we hired a boat to take us to Livingstone Island, in the center of the falls. We enjoyed a private tour and were treated to a lovely lunch. Covered from head to toe in raingear, we stepped into the water, letting it crash against us, as we peered over the edge. A few seconds is all it takes to get your adrenalin fix; not exactly something for the faint of heart. I secretly wanted to do it again… and again. Junkie? Perhaps.

After lunch, we were given the ‘OK’ to enter Zimbabwe, without our passports, to view the falls from the bridge that links the two sides. We met some interesting folks, all attempting to make a quick buck, and rightfully so. My favorite part was when I met a man that wanted to trade just about any souvenir he had for my 99 cent super-glued flip flops that I had been stringing along since leaving home. I would have gladly given them up, had they any life left in them. At that point, they were strictly sentimental and far from functional. I could feel every pebble, nail, and shard of glass from underneath my feet, but I didn’t care. They were strapped to my feet when I boarded my flight to Istanbul in September and I was determined to wear them home, even if it meant daily applications of superglue.

We were about to call it a day, when Rich’s curiosity got the best of both of us. We knew that Victoria Falls was lovely from the ground, so naturally we wondered about the view from above. He enlisted the help of a German pilot to fly him over the falls in an ultra-light, open-aircraft, known as a Micro-Light. After watching him soar up, up, and away, I decided to follow in his footsteps. Twenty minutes later, it proved to be the best $120 I’ve ever spent.

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My little niece, Madelynn, made this picture for me. It’s supposed to be Rich and I at Victoria Falls… she’s darling.

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