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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

The Smoke that Thunders

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

“Why is it you can never hope to describe the emotion Africa creates? You are lifted. Out of whatever pit, unbound from whatever tie, released from whatever fear. You are lifted and you see it all from above.” - Francesca Marciano 

Early morning up and out.

David and Malinga wanted to beat all the other tours to the Zimbabwe border. Our plan was to leave at 5:45AM for the 6AM border crossing opening.

We did it.

We even beat the other trucks, which was good considering the lineup that developed while we were there.

Taking down my tent for the final time was euphoric.

Goodbye canvas WWII tent.

Goodbye awkwardly uncomfortable sleeping bag.

Goodbye sand and dirt and more sand everywhere.

Goodbye shit pillow.

Goodbye sticky, fold up mattresses. 

Goodbye rusty tent poles that turn my hands orange.

Goodbye flashlight to look for bugs and scorpions each night & morning.

Goodbye rain flap that cut off all necessary-to-survive “mesh window air conditioning.”

Goodbye broken & difficult to manoeuvre zippers caked with candle wax acting as lube.

Check ya later.

I say this with great fondness, but walking away from my tent was my official mic drop.

Beat it, tent.

As I passed the Zimbabwe border, I high fived myself for achieving success. I officially made it through Botswana without getting malaria. I’m sure it was touch and go there for a while, but in the name of a lovely complexion... sacrifices had to be made.

I am positive that I would have the disease by now, had the plague been carried by moths.

The Zimbabwe border was... I am momentarily at a loss for words...





Pick one of the words and roll with it.

It reminded me more of a decrepit old recycling depot than official border patrol. There were no directions, instructions or terribly useful information presented to us. Faded, worn and ripped paper signs were taped up on windows displaying information that was so sun-faded, it made it impossible to read. Within the perimeters of chain link fences & barbed wire, there was an excessive amount of litter, rusted equipment, metal bins, abandoned vehicles, semi trucks lined up with no where to go... and baboons. 

Lots of baboons. 

Circling the crowds... looking for any opportunity to steal something.


It was pouring rain.

We all stood, single file, under the rickety awning, trying to avoid being drenched as we waited entry in to the country.

The border patrol just randomly shouted out prices based on which country we were from and expected payment immediately... in US currency. CASH ONLY.

Germany $30

South Africa $0

Canada... $75

That’s right. And once again... just to drive the point home... cash only.

Now here is the clincher... the Kaza Univisa. As long as I live and breathe, I will struggle to comprehend the financial logic of this... but who am I to judge?

The Kaza Visa combines Zimbabwe and Zambia. If I agree to visit Zambia while I am vacationing in Zimbabwe, my fee, as a Canadian, drops to $50 US Cash. In accepting this, I am stronghold to visit Zambia.

If I don’t... there will be trouble with my passport.

Crap shoot...

Do I spend the $75 and concentrate solely on Zimbabwe? 


Do I upgrade to the two countries for the discounted price of $50?

I chose door #2.

Wish me luck.

Seems easy enough of a thing to agree to?

.... right?

Takako was still convinced that although we were all staying in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe... she had reservations in Livingstone, Zambia.

She didn’t.

She kept insisting that they are the same place.

They aren’t. 

Not only two completely different towns... but also two separate countries. The border patrol officer at the window was already aggravated with all of us. Takako was not making his life any easier with her bewilderment. 

Or ours.

Malinga had to literally take her phone, open up her itinerary and show her that she was booked at the same hotel as us for 3 nights... in Zimbabwe. She also opted for the cheaper joint visa... although I knew that she had no idea what she was signing up for.

Our last breakfast from the truck was in the puddle infested gravel parking lot of the Zimbabwe border. I can’t help but wonder if I will miss the cheap, mass-produced bread, the thin, sticky rubber cheese, the 98% fat spread, the instant coffee or the aseptic milk.

Probably not.

We washed the dishes for the last time.. with the rain water accumulated in the bins. Ahh... what a lavish lifestyle I lead...

Upon arrival in Victoria Falls, the boys pulled over at another activity centre so that we could all be given the opportunity to see what was available to us.

A few of the crew tried to convince me that White Water Rafting would be fun.

Beat. It.

I think I’m about as done with extreme sports as I am with tenting right now.

I chose a 12 minute, $150 Helicopter flight over the falls. That’s as extreme as I get. Once everyone had made their choice and paid their fees, David & Malinga dropped us off at the gate to enter the Victoria Fall National Park Rainforest. 

A cobblestone pathway lead us from the entrance to each of the 16 viewpoints. The finale was the view of the bridge to Zambia.

Before we even reached Viewpoint #1, we could see the falls up ahead.


Truly majestic and breathtaking.

I challenge anyone to not fall in love with this stunning natural sight.

They are considered to be the largest waterfall, based on height and width - therefore forming the largest sheet of falling water in the world.

Safety was obviously not of top priority or much of a concern, as there were little to no barriers at the majority of viewpoints. With the excessive mist (that could have easily been mistaken for heavy rainfall), the stones, the mud and pathways were slippery... forcing you to be very careful at times.

By the time we reached the bridge, each one of us was soaked right through

The Falls was originally named Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning "the smoke that thunders,” but were renamed by the first European to see them, David Livingstone, in honour of his sovereign, Queen Victoria.

David Livingstone, famous explorer and missionary was once quoted as saying “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

This was all I could think as we flew over this glorious and impressive natural curtain of power. I got tears in my eyes. It truly was the flight of angels... there is no better way to describe the beauty or the allure.

Chloe and I had been the only two who had opted to take the helicopter trip. When we arrived, the base crew followed us around the landing pad, snapping so many pictures that I felt the bother of paparazzi. They even shoved video cameras in our faces and asked us a bunch of confusing questions regarding our enthusiasm for our upcoming flight. 

One young local girl was with us in the helicopter. Belinda. The lady, who I naturally assumed was her mother, was taking her own share of photos as Belinda made her way towards the helicopter with us. She was very sweet, very confident and very affectionate. She held my hand in the back the entire time.

I promised her mother that I would take a lot of pictures of Belinda and would send them to her directly after the flight.

I did that.

Once she received them, she wrote to let me know that she was in fact, not Belinda’s mother. She was the head of the school that she attended, 15km away. The Flight of Angels company had donated a flight for the best student. That was young Belinda.

I read that the helicopter experience is the best way to appreciate the true splendour of the falls. Our helicopter was specially designed with ‘bubble shaped’ windows that were perfect for panoramic viewing. Every view was another fabulous photographic opportunity. 

It was expensive... and it was only 12 minutes long... but it was something that I will never regret experiencing.

Way better than quading.

After the flight, we discovered why they were taking so many photographs and video footage. They made a silly video that was meant to entice us in to purchasing it for $25US. 

Zimbabwe is not cheap.

We didn’t buy the video, although there were a select few photos I might have been interested in... it was all or nothing for them.

Their loss. 

There was a small craft market at the landing pad and the three of us took the time to go over and browse all of the goods that the man had on display.

One of the items that caught my eye was a small, colourful giraffe.

How much?”

He picked two up and brought them over to where we were standing.

“Two for $15.”

Ray took one, examined it with genuine interest and asked him, “How much for one?”


Great deal.

We said goodbye to Keith today...

The truck.

Although it was, in essence, an extension of the tent... it really became our sanctuary.

Keith was our private time, our social time, our sleepy time, our safe place, our protection, our storage, our change room, our fresh water, our air conditioning, our wildlife viewing, our game drives, our breakfast, our lunch, our dinner, our long drives, our short drives, our border crossings... our detours, our bumpy drives...

On top of hauling all of us, it carried the weight of the luggage, the tents, the cooking equipment, the fridge, the freezer, the food and the rest of the accompaniments that proved to make this voyage so successful.

David and Malinga were right at the beginning when they told us that Keith was the most important guide of all and we all had to respect him and ensure that he was taken care of.

We gathered our belongings and promptly vacated the truck.

The heartache of saying goodbye to Keith was short lived... we made our way in to the Rainbow Hotel... with the pool bar...

Keith definitely didn’t have a pool bar.

... hotel wins. 

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