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Victoria Falls December 2009 Travel Zimbabwe ken welsh / alamy

ollowing the track once cut through the rainforest by Livingstone's hobnailed boots, I suddenly sensed a latent excitement welling up inside me. Eighteen years might have passed since my last visit to the precipice, but I still knew exactly what was about to hit me. The force of the Victoria Falls is profound, evident even before you reach the tumbling torrent. Its clouds of billowing spray can be seen rising like steam on the horizon. Reaching the Devil's Cataract viewpoint, I was humbled by the Falls' booming presence. I stared into cascading downpours, listened to thundering echoes, and watched rainbows forming before my eyes. Its energy is palpable, and all- encompassing. As evidenced by some of the advice issued by Ishmael ( the driver charged with dropping me off at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge earlier in the day), some things were very different to my last visit. " Don't buy anything with Zim dollars," he'd said. " They are useless." While the days of parity with the US dollar were already long gone, the Zimbabwe dollar has now been replaced entirely - the mighty American greenback and South African rand now rule the land. " Oh, and close your windows or the baboons will steal everything!" Ishmael bellowed before leaving. Some things never change. The lodge, decorated in tasteful ethnic furnishings, seemed in fi ne fettle and bristled with large tour parties. As I watched the 1pm feeding of white- backed vultures and those bib- and- tucker bullies, marabou storks, I spoke with Alessandra, one of the Italian guests. " We included a few days in Victoria Falls as part of our Zambia itinerary, but we're amazed at how well-maintained everything is on the Zimbabwean side," she said. " We're also surprised at how safe it feels," she added. What struck me, however, was the sheer number of visitors. In conversation with management, I discovered that the lodge's occupancy rates have risen dramatically, almost back to their 1999 peak. The 34- room Ilala Lodge, which sits close to the waterfalls, was also similarly busy. How was the 105- year- old bastion of British colonialism, the Victoria Falls Hotel, doing? I arrived to fi nd its terrace packed with international visitors tucking into high tea served on three- tiered Edwardian cake stands. Even in the town centre, a little careworn through lack of business, I detected a spirit of new enterprise from the curio sellers. One of them was offering a 100 trillion dollar note printed during Zimbabwe's hyperinfl ation madness. Despite what Ishmael had told me earlier, I succumbed to John's salesmanship and parted with US$ 3. To me it was a quirky souvenir of Zimbabwe's past, a period of economic madness that everybody here hopes is fi rmly behind them. " The future looks bright," enthused Ross Kennedy, CEO of Africa Albida, whose portfolio includes Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. " The adoption of the US dollar has enabled businesses to function properly again and political developments are sending out a positive vibe," he said. " The key to keeping going has been maintaining high standards. If guests wanted yoghurt for breakfast and we couldn't get it here because of food shortages, we sent someone over to Zambia to buy some." He also praised the slick GotoVictoriaFalls. com marketing campaign for keeping the destination's profi le high. The more I spoke with those in the tourist industry who'd survived the lean years, the more impressed I was by their sense of forward planning. Consequently, there are some exciting new developments for Vic Falls in the pipeline. Africa Albida is launching Santonga, which it's calling the ' world's fi rst bio- park'. Opening next year, it promises a ' fusion of a multi- faceted wildlife park and entertainment theme park'. Also opening in 2010 is Wild Horizons' Sanctuary Lodge. This new luxury nine- tent venture is under construction in a 4000ha forest concession within Victoria Falls National Park. Importantly, part of the project includes plans to What struck me, however, was the sheer number of visitors. In conversation with management, I discovered that the lodge's occupancy rates have risen dramatically, almost back to its 1999 peak Victoria Falls 22 WAYS TO SPEND YOUR DAYS LIONS' PLAY Walk with lions. Yes, really - join two or three healthy young cats and walk with them around their natural stomping grounds. Participation funds the lion rehabilitation programme. FREE FALLING Hurl yourself off Victoria Falls bridge for an 111m bungee jump like no other. Or try the gorge swing, which will see you free fall for three seconds before swinging like Tarzan across the dramatic chasm. 10 Travel Zimbabwe December 2009 WILDCARD With several private wildlife reserves in the vicinity, you can enjoy walking safaris, horseback safaris, classic wildlife drives or even an elephant-back safari. If you like reptiles, visit the crocodile farm. lions AFRICA ALBIDA TOURISM