New Year’s Eve 2014 had to be different. I had had enough now. I wasn’t going to spend another year end in Durban, mildly letting the night pass me by, as I half-heartedly embraced others as the clock struck 12. It was a pretty damn fine year as well, by my standards. I set goals. And I kept some of them as opposed to my Modus Operandi of self-imploding by Feb and making myself feel totally inadequate as a human being. All in all, I was the Anti-Javi- I actually got things right in 2014. So surely a rather momentous year deserved a momentous finale?
The problem is, I had no idea what to do. Staying in Joburg would be breaking the norm, but that did not seem a worthy enough ending to my year. Then some divine inspiration was brought to me thanks to one of my oldest mates. His secretary would be able to hook up packages for three of us to the Jameson Carnival- a three day party in Vic Falls. Suddenly it felt like New Year’s would possibly refrain from being an anti-climatic, anti-predictable, Anti-Javi celebration. Before I knew it, I was taking my Yellow-Fever shots and making sure I had enough malaria tablets as I prepared to bring in 2015 in another country.
Now let’s be honest, Africa has not endured the most favourable of images in recent times. There may always be talk of it as being a growth market or the future for all businesses, but that’s always overshadowed by something else. Ebola, HIV, our inability to field a semi-decent team in a World Cup- we’ve not exactly been portrayed as the model continent. Stepping off the plane and entering the Victoria Falls airport in Zimbabwe, did absolutely nothing to enhance our beloved Africa’s reputation. As part of International Arrivals, we were sent back and forth between two opposite lines outside, like a bunch of shuttlecocks. No one knew what was going on, not least those in uniforms who were unable to decide which line we looked better in. Eventually we made it through customs after arduous exchanges with airport officials and what pained us most was that the buzz we’d gotten from the beers on the plane had now fade away thanks to the shenanigans in front of us. Everything was thwarting us. Even the automatic doors as we left the airport. The sensors picked us up 5 minutes after we walked to the doors. If ever you feel like rubbing your face against dirty glass, please, go right ahead.
Then Victor came along. Bright and bubbly Victor who was our guide/hotel transfer. As we trudged down Zimbabwe’s equivalent of the N1 in our bus, he proudly told us about Vic Falls and the multitude of activities we would be able to take part in during the course of our stay. There were local beers to sample, walks with Lions to appreciate, sunset cruises to savour. There was even what David Livingstone referred to as the ‘Flight of the Angels’, alluding to the helicopter rides over the Falls. The N1 was as narrow as the road to your house and we travelled along it, with two townships either side of us. Victor stayed in one them- an 80 year old domain where animals roamed freely. The population of Vic Falls is approximately 16 000 and Victor claimed most people knew each other. “Welcome to our world!” he proclaimed. We’d forgotten about the airport. We were ready for this town.
The first festivity was to be a train party. It travelled from the station all the way to a bush area where we would drink the night away. Glow sticks, whiskies, cheap cigarettes and an abundance of new people, allowed the evening’s time to burn away. We arrived at the bush area, doubtful as to whether anything epic could arise from our surroundings. After everyone let the liquor set in, a massive circle soon formed as random individuals from all over the party assembled, each with a burning desire to show everyone else what they were made of. The moves were vivacious. There were Zulu dances. There was break dancing. There was the worm. Yes, obviously there was twerking as well. I had never seen so many strangers get together to embrace each other’s madness. No judgement. Merely merriment.
The train ride there was tame compared to the one back. When you’re intoxicated, the possibilities are endless. Everyone jumped on the train seats to sing and dance. I looked around and took in the multi-cultural carousal that made the train in Under Siege 2 look like a safer place to be. We were like the Vengabus on acid. Yup, we liked to party. All of us. Indians from Zambia, a crazy Chinese guy from the States (who reminded us of Leslie Chow from the hangover), Rastas, South African boetjies. We were all there and nowhere else in the world mattered for the time being.
I don’t remember how I got back to my hotel room but when I woke up the next day I was grateful that I had taken my contact lens out, slept in the right bed, or not broken any bones. It’s the little things in life. But the greatest achievement the next morning was that there was absolutely no sign of a hangover. Drinking Jameson the whole day and night clearly agreed with my body and mind. The next party was to be the Holi Colour Fest which would began at midday.
No, we did not feel like walking around with dry powder and coloured water in our clothes and hair for the rest of the trip. No, we were not any less Indian for not wanting to be part of the festivity. No, we did not leave SA to travel the border to be a part of party that happens every year in Joburg. No, no, no.
So like good little creatures, we visited the actual Falls instead, starting on the Zimbabwe side. My friend and I took over fifty pictures between us of what we saw that day. I still look at every picture and shake my head. Like with all the great beauties in life, no image can do justice. As with women, as with paintings, you have to see it, away from a screen, to appreciate its sheer magnificence. I sometimes close my eyes now and try to bring back the sheer white of the water gushing down the rocks. The power and endless bursts that engulfed 1.5 km of terrain. The force with which the water hit the surface that it rose so high you thought it was raining. I always quietly thought to myself that the 7 Wonders of the World were slight hyperbole forged by man to encourage tourists to buy into the grandeur. How wrong was I. Victoria Falls is a wonder. The tranquility of the Zambezi river right before the robust and dominant Falls take over is surely one of nature’s finest juxtapositions.
We made sure we crossed the border to see the Falls from the Zambia side as well. It was pointless coming all this way and not making the trek across. That would be like booking the motel with the mistress to watch movies. One of my friends was adamant he’d get across with his South African driver’s license. Apparently, a passport was unnecessary for him to carry outside the hotel room. He may as well have bloody tried to get across with his Makro card, my other mate declared. The highlight of the Zambian side was the 30 minute hike we enslaved ourselves to. 10 minutes down, 20 minutes back up. I’d be lying if I didn’t think I was going to cough up blood after our fine little excursion. But, my oh my, was the sight at the bottom stupendous. It’s what they call the ‘Boiling Pot’. The Boiling Pot is at the base of the falls, where one hikes down the gorge to gaze upon a magnificent whirlpool that swirls at heavy boiling turbulence. We sat on the rocks for as long as we cared to, marveling at the natural splendor in front of us. The brutal walk back up made my knees creak and my insides grind but we made a pit stop at a bench where we had the one of the greatest views I’d seen on the trip. A blanket of seeping green forestry, to leave us in a far more serene mindset. Imagine having wasted the day at the Holi Fest?
Our New Year’s Eve party was to be at a high school. It sounded average and I cannot stray from the truth when I mention that I thought it would be. But this was the Vic Falls Carnival- it didn’t do average. We got to witness Zimbabwe’s sensational Oilver Mtukudzi on stage. A damn fine guitarist and vocalist, he got me going just as much as the gin in my hand with his contagious lyrics and entrapping melody. We were in a trance before Goldfish came on and ushered in the New Year. It pelted down. We didn’t care. We were drunk on life and the promise that Vic Falls had given to us that this would be our year. A holiday heals. What you do with that when you go back home, is up to. Strangers embraced me. I hugged back. Then I jumped on my mates. Maybe it was all the gin in me, maybe it was the music. Maybe it was just me. But I knew how lucky I was to have them there. Over 15 years of friendship is no fluke. They’d been many bonds that had been broken over the years but I appreciated being a part of something like this. They’re some of the best travelling company I have because, like me, they want to savour as much as possible as soon as possible. And they have no time for narrow mindedness on any excursion. I am better off when I am around them. Often, the company is just as important as the destination.
To celebrate the first day of 2015, we took a sunset cruise down the Zambezi. The only thing greater than idling down the fourth largest river in Africa, is idling down the fourth largest river in Africa in a boat that has an open bar. We were lucky enough to see Hippos sprouting out water, crocodiles lazily grazing on the banks and mint green uninhabited islands on either side of us. After a few Zambezis (our favorite local beer that we consumed more than any juice or bottled water), I thought I saw some form of God on the water. He smiled and gestured to me with his eyes- a look of ‘do you know how lucky you are to be here?’ I did know, but before I could tell him the rain came again and took away any chance of us seeing the sunset. I didn’t see my Water God again. Still, I tried to drink as many Zambezis as possible to meet Him again.
On our final day, I eventually got my wish to be part of some bartering. I had heard from many people that bartering was popular in Vic Falls but all the while we’d been there, we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to trade with us. As a fitting finale to our stay, we found some merchants on the road trying to make a sale. Many had been harassing us to buy their Zim dollars. “A million dollars. Just for you. Or even better, I’ll make you a deal- buy a set of five! Great souvenir!”
A whole set? I’d rather buy a Barbara Streisand DVD. Vic Falls accepted every currency you could think of except Zim dollars. Eventually I got an elephant tail bracelet, two sets of salad cutlery and a set of masks to pin up on my wall. In exchange I had bartered six t-shirts and a pair of shorts as well as given one of the guys 5 dollars as part as the deal for the masks. Afterwards, as we passed through stores, I realized most people were selling the same masks for 15 dollars. I had ripped off my street buddy. Most people would say I’m a killer negotiator. My mates thought I was Harvey Specter when I used the bold tactic of, “All I have is 5 dollars.”
I was just an idiot who really had nothing but 5 dollars left in his wallet from the trip.
If you haven’t been to Vic Falls, go. Paris, London, New York- they can come after when you have bigger fish to fry or more refined memories to create. For now, gawk at what your own continent has to give. Let yourself be overwhelmed by what’s right on your own extended doorstep. Everything will make you smile, for reasons you did not care to smile for before. My friends both had close encounters with the biggest baboons we’d ever seen. The apes roamed freely everywhere, even within the hotel yard. One night we thought we were walking through a graveyard; we tiptoed through, trying not to disrespect the dead. In the morning we realized it was a craft market. We laughed about it on the way back to SA. We laughed about many things.
That’s how you know it was the right trip to take.