Vic Falls Carnival: When nature’s splendour meets hard partying

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Bruce Ndlovu
For a few years now, there has been light-hearted debate on social media between Zambians and Zimbabweans about which of the two countries offers the better view and experience of the Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe and Zambia have always been two countries whose fates seem chained together, and nothing symbolises this more than the Falls, a piece of natural wonder sandwiched between these two blood relatives.

Rather than the tug of war that one would envisage when two countries have to both play with and share such a lucrative toy, Zimbabweans and Zambians mostly live in harmony with the fact that they have to both profit from one of nature’s foremost wonders.

Indeed, most back and forth exchanges between Zimbabweans and Zambians are coloured by the undeniable sense of humour that these two countries also share.

However, for three days of the year, at least there is no dispute which side of the Zimbabwe-Zambia divide is more attractive to anyone wishing to visit the Falls.

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For 29 to 31 December each year, the Jameson Victoria Falls Carnival jolts life into the resort town and transforms what would be an otherwise serene sightseeing experience into one where energy filled partying is just as important.

The latest edition marked my second visit to the year-ending carnival although in a lot of ways it felt like my first. The last time I had been to the carnival, I had done so on my own, only to pool together with fellow comrades-in-partying from Bulawayo when I got there. So in between the partying, I had felt somewhat marooned, only getting time to sleep, eat and nurse a hangover before plunging into another fresh night of partying.

Thus, the first commandment in the carnival rulebook should be that one needs to arrive with an entourage that would make any “bling” wearing rapper green with envy. The carnival is not an experience for lone wolves, but instead, it is tailor made for those who hunt in packs, with the scraps that one salvages, be it crumbs of food or a precious bottle of alcohol, shared equally.

My trip to the carnival had been a few months in the making and so I had managed to assemble a team whose mutual interest was sampling the finest that Victoria Falls had to offer, which in essence boiled down to the best music, food, parties and alcohol.

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The journey to the Falls had been smooth, but after so many hours on the road, it was clear that the first day would not satisfy our thirst for a good time.

This incredible thirst for a party had survived and was unquenched even after a night of partying to Black Motion’s irresistible drums and the all important multi-genre deluge that is Oskido’s Homecoming. Sandwiched between those momentous events were nights spent drinking and dancing the late hours away at Club Eden, Hartsfield Tshisa Nyama and an assortment of other joints that make up Bulawayo’s vibrant club scene.

Only the carnival, held appropriately next door to the waters of the magnificent falls, could come close to finally satisfying this demanding thirst.

After a hearty meal at the KFC, our first stop was at the Shoestring Backpackers and Bar, the joint that had been slated as the official host of the carnival opening beach party. There was no beach of course, but the party was undeniably there, with those present seemingly not sharing our fatigue from travelling.

Plunging into the party like that after our journey we were like deer caught in the headlights, struggling to get our bearings among all the massive numbers of obviously intoxicated carnival goers. We resolved there and then to have an early night.

As things turned out, we became engrossed by a group of boys, apparently from one of Bulawayo’s private schools, who seemed eager to physically settle a dispute that had spilled over from the school term into the festive season and was now threatening to stain everyone’s first day experience at the carnival. With fists and teeth clenched, the muscle-bound boys, who looked like they belonged to a rugby scrum than anything resembling a dance floor, had decided to resolve their differences while the majestic falls watched over them.

Alas the fight did not happen and by chance so did our early night, as by the time the dispute was resolved, tequila and whisky had taken hold and we were in no mood to see our blankets just yet.

We went to bed a few hours later than we had planned.

What does one do with a hangover in Victoria Falls? Foremost in our minds was the highlight of the carnival, the train and bush party later that day and we knew that if there was to be any more intake of alcohol, we would have to nurse our bodies back to reasonable health.

Our first stop the next day was at the Shearwater Cafe, a pricey but exquisite joint at the centre of Vic Falls. Burgers, chips and an assortment of wraps and salads soon had us in tip-top condition, and after a bath and a change of clothes, we were ready for the unique and mobile party that the carnival train offers.

We got in just before the second train was about to leave at 6PM and what we found inside the train lived up to our vivid imaginations. Everyone seemed to be in a party mood and before long, we had managed to unearth a few friends and colleagues from the City of Kings who had also made the great trek to the Falls.

The party proper kicked off once we were in the bush where the magnitude of the carnival truly hit me. Africans of all colours and tribes had converged for a truly unique party where cultural difference was celebrated rather than shunned.

Tshewa, Tswana, Shona, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa and English mingled in the evening air as new friends and relationships were forged in the bush. While the carnival concept traces its roots to Brazil, South Africa’s DJ Diloxclusiv showed that house music, not the samba, rules in this part of the world with a set that had some of us feeling like we were back in Bulawayo’s dance crazy clubs.

We woke up the next morning to help each other piece together the events from that night from flashbacks, before heading out to a joint called the

Three Monkeys to quell the hunger that had found a temporary home in our stomachs. Cocktails, burgers and a mountain of chips did the trick, and after some crocodile diving, we freshened up for the New Year’s Eve concert.

The entertainment on offer from the likes of Sulumani Chimbetu, The Kiffness and Tressor sufficed for a night when we had decided that our bodies could not possibly handle yet another night of hard partying. Whether it was our own creaking bodies resisting the urge to party or the music on offer, the last party of the carnival seemed subdued, with many minds seemingly resigned to the fact that this was the tepid end of yet another festive season defining experience.

The next morning, after yet another visit to KFC, we turned back towards Bulawayo. While there was a collective hint of sadness in the car, our minds were full of joyful memories while our tongues itched to tell those back home of our adventures while partying beneath the glare of the Victoria Falls.

 

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