Thursday, April 26, 2012

Helicopters over a World Heritage Site

Still Toka Leya - Zambia

Dear Dorothy
After a nice night's sleep my little eyes spied light to the east this morning so either the sun was starting to rise or the neighboring tent was on fire. Either way I should probably get out of bed. After a cup of coffee I turned on the computer to find it was 5:30 am so I guessed that my neighbors weren't calling their insurance agent.

Breakfast and then a town tour with Sam and Caroline and Oliver the Northern Irish couple. We were going to stop for about an hour while the boys went on a helicopter ride over the falls. I just didn't want to pay $300 for 30 minutes. Besides Caroline didn't seem all that interested and she's good company so what the heck? I'm on vacation and really what would I be doing otherwise?

In 1995 in Macedonia my team leader introduced me to an English helicopter pilot while we were at a party. I'd had a couple of "Cokes" by then and I said "So when are you going to take me on a helicopter ride?" - "Uhhh.... after you sleep with me three times." --- "Well today is Monday. So that means on Thursday?" He just looked at me. I don't think he had a come back to that. He did buy me a cheap dinner, and I never fulfilled any of the preflight requirements so hence never did get that helicopter ride. (helocopter = helecopter or maybe helicopter even) Maybe there is another "L"

We arrived at the United Air Charter at Baobab Ridge about quarter till ten and Oliver announces that all four of us are going in a chopper. WTF?? Over?? I tried to beg off but he was having none of that. It was his treat. We had been together since the beginning and we were going to stay together until we left. WOW!! Just shows you the difference between the British and the Irish I guess.

Pilot and two passengers in the front. 4 passengers in the back. Well after the ride was over all I can say is that I sure got Oliver's money's worth. That was something I'll keep in my memory for a long long time. The helicopter ride was spectacular as well.

I got center front with Oliver to my side. Caroline and Sam were each supposed to get a window seat, with 2 strays getting the middle of the back. Poor Sam got stuck in one of the middle seats for half the trip. The 15 minute flight was just Victoria Falls and the 30 minute flight added the gorge. The strays were just the shorter flight. So two take offs and two landings for us. Sam did get the window seat after the falls.

Victoria Falls
Smoother than a Rolls Royce pulls away from Buckingham Palace we lifted off and were over the falls in a matter of moments. What a great sight. Seeing both the Zimbabwe and the Zambian side really put in perspective just how enormous the falls are. I don't know how wide but say 1/2 a mile all this water pouring over them and it wasn't a trickle either. Then it hits a narrow gorge and the rapids begin. This is another of those... you gotta see the pictures because my vocabulary is lacking in adjitives. After Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum exited she took us up but not to the 1500 feet we did over the falls. This time it was about 100 feet off the deck screaming across the bush and having the trees scooting along under my feet at over 100 miles an hour was quite a rush. One instant we were screaming across the veldt and then the bottom dropped out and we were over the gorge. When I say dropped out I mean dropped out.  The Helo came over the lip of the canyon and we dropped 50 feet in a heartbeat. One moment screaming across the ground, the next second screaming. She took us down to about 50 feet (she said. I thought it was lower) over the river and zigzagged down through the canyon. It was like a Charlie Sheen movie.  Rotors a thwacking. Water rushing below us at speeds that should be illegal. Banked turns so steep and tight that they ARE illegal on the rides at Disneyland. The walls of the gorge so close if you had a strike anywhere match you could be smoking a cigarette for the second half of the trip. Then she shot up to the sky, flipped her tail around and we did it again. And to think I would have missed it because I am too cheap to spend money on vacation. "That'll larn ya, Theresa"

Back on land. Grins that wouldn't erase we had a soft drink and went on the town tour. I'm sure it was nice but my mind was still replaying the ride over the falls and I was not on the town tour mentally.

On the road in to camp we saw some elephants in the trees and watched them for a while. And then had lunch and reminisced the flight.

Now a little after 3 pm. The final boat ride of my trip here is at 4 pm. I hope the hippos are going to do their dance again today.

Hippo smile
The first thing after telling Histon that he wanted to see elephants was that Oliver wanted to set foot in Zimbabwe. Histon said it could be done even though it was quasi legal at best. I knew there was no quasi in it, it was totally illegal and I didn't want anything to do with it. Besides I had already been there, though I didn't get the t-shirt. So we scoot across the river and nose onto a low beach after looking for crocs Oliver and Caroline stepped onto a different country. The Oliver starts hollering for me to join them.  If you see the pictures. That is not me in them. It must have been done in Photoshop. Honest. Oliver, Caroline wanted to see elephants and I wanted to see birds. So we hunted elephants. We found a few later in the cruise drinking at the river's edge and so that was crossed off our list. We did pass a plethora of hippos along the way. One big hippo did give us that giant Disneyland smile where they open their jaws almost 180 degrees. He kept it open much longer that I expected. I was anticipating it to be more of a yawn than a show of dominance. Oliver found a giant croc on the river bank. He saw us and slipped into the water.
Croc on the Mighty Zambezi
Histon located a medium sized croc camouflaging himself under some trees. Histon pulled up and cut the engine. After a few minutes the croc just sank and disappeared. I had my hand resting on the boat's railing about a foot off the water. Something moved off to my right and I glanced into the water and this same six foot croc was maybe 10 feet away swimming directly towards where my hand was laying. It looked to me that he was right on me and I snatched back my hand quick as a lizards tongue. I was seriously scared for my safety. I wanted to get close to the animals, but honestly that was about 20 times closer than I ever, ever want to get to a croc for the remainder of my life. The sunset stop for snacks and drinks and by that time it was getting rather darkish and we got back to camp around 6:45.

As soon as we landed some mature (I won't say old cuz we are about the same age) Frenchman stuck his paw out to me. "Hello, I am Rene'" I was expecting to have dinner with Northern Ireland and Sam, but Sam said he had to babysit the solo eater, Rene'. I knew that Oliver and Caroline both wanted to keep the four of us in our own tribe so I suggested that Rene' join us. That way we got Sam. Dinner was nice. It would have been better without Pepe Le Pew (actually he was from Belgium, but I don't know nuttin'Belgium) Rene' had his own agenda for the conversation and it didn't include much more Dominant Male (in his eyes) - Oliver. If a member of the staff came over to tell us something. They would stand there patiently while Rene' pontificated about the world banking situation to Oliver. Never acknowledging that they might be someone who had something to say besides him. We did get some communal conversation in but it was never very long and always self directed back to Rene'. I can see how "Survivor" works now. He's the first one voted off the island. Put out your torch Rene'.

I got back to Casa Sweet Casa around 10:30. Hopped under crisp white sheets and was in the Land of Nod in an instant. Previous days started with my internal clock at 4:30 and 5:30. Without the wake-up yell it would have been 8:30. I stumbled through the morning coffee and breakfast. Said goodbye to My Mates. Sam stopped me and told me what a good time he had with us (it was mostly Oliver who made it all happen) that it was almost a vacation for him. I honestly felt that, that was not the normal canned "Goodbye from Toka Laya" speech.

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