River gonna take me, sing me sweet and sleepy....
Apr 16, 2012
|Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home
It's a far gone lullaby sung many years ago
Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come since I first left home....
Okay, I am back in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe after a whirlwind tour - Zimbabwe Rediscovered - over the last 10 days or so. First of all let me start by saying that the people of Zimbabwe are awesome. Their willingness to open up themselves and their country to me and those I have been traveling with has been second to none. The smiles and greetings and conversations have been the highlight of my time here in Zimbabwe.
That being said the country is not without its challenges. For many reasons (too long to go into here) the countries economy collapsed during the last 10 years to the point where their currency is no longer valid, even here in Zimbabwe. They introduced the multi-currency system a few years ago (accepting mostly the USD, ZAR and the EURO) which has slowly brought some stability back to the market place. The infrastructure of the country is in shambles. Everything needs repair. The roads, the buildings, the electrical supply, the water supply, everything! This was very apparent in the Cities, National Parks and Campsites we stayed at along the route. Zimbabwe is just now starting to make a slow economic recovery that will be a long uphill battle.
So, our little tour through Zimbabwe was one of the first Overland Truck Tours to visit the country in a very long time. Everywhere we went we were greeted with shouts and smiles and "Thank you's" for coming to their country to visit. Very cool.
It all started for me in Vic Falls, where the night before I was to join the tour I came down with the horrible, dreaded, painful, stomach bug. Or should I say stomach BEAST! It was not a nice way to start a 10 day "Camping" tour. I managed to drag myself onto "Kurt" the overland truck I was to be a passenger (prisoner?) on for the next 10, very bouncy, very uncomfortable, eventually very smelly, days. On board I was introduced to the crew, Johannes and Gladman and the other travelers and it was truly an international group. There was a dude from Belgium, a girl from the Netherlands, 2 people from Germany, an old broad from Australia, a quiet couple from Poland and a family from Denmark. The cast of characters complete off we went.
It was a Rediscover Zimbabwe tour but we actually left Zimbabwe immediately and traveled over the Victoria Falls Bridge and entered into Zambia (country number 21 for me on this journey). After a quick stop in Livingstone to change some money and buy some supplies we started driving. That day we drove and drove and drove until way after dark when we arrived in Chirundu. We set up camp (pitched tents) and had a nice late night dinner before falling into bed? (a thin mattress on the ground with a paper thin sleeping bag).
The following morning we set out on a 2 day Zambezi River Canoe Trip. And if I thought I was uncomfortable dealing with the "Beast" while using "shared ablutions" I was in for a lot of fun using "bush toilets" for the next two days! We set out in our canoes (I was to soon find out that mine was a very old leaky canoe that I had to bail out every few hours to keep from sinking) down the Lower Zambezi. We paddled and paddled and paddled, under a blazing hot sun, back and forth and down the river trying our best to not get killed by a Hippopotamus or a Crocodile. We stopped along the way to take in the beauty of the Zambezi with Zambia on one side and Zimbabwe on the other. By the time we made it to camp there was so much water in my canoe that all of my luggage was soaked and to make matters worse the tent I was allocated had a huge hole in it (thank god for duct tape) and a broken zipper for an entrance. I was worried about snakes and mosquito's when the real threat is the Hippo's and Elephants wandering past or over my tent! Oh yeah, and Leopards! (Which way to the bush toilet?)
Everyone had dinner, I ate dry crackers, and we were treated to a spectacular sunset and then a night sky filled with more stars then I knew existed. I then literally collapsed into bed (a really thin mattress and an even thinner sleeping bag) and slept until almost sunrise?
The sunrise was amazing and I greeted the new day with optimism. Then we paddled and paddled and paddled back and forth and down the river trying to not get killed by Hippo's and Croc's (sound familiar? - it was like Ground Hog Day!) until we eventually reached our final destination and set camp (pitched tents) on a large sandy island. There were Hippo tracks going right past my tent. I didn't worry too much about the hole and broken zipper that night. We watched another glorious sunset and then stared in awe as the full moon rose into the nights sky. Very cool.
The next morning we were picked up (rescued) by the motor boat that was sent to deliver us 40 kilometers or so back up stream to our original camp site and to "Kurt" and to our (from my new found perspective) not so bad shared ablutions block. I really needed a shower and a western toilet. The only problem with the whole plan was that they under calculated and did not bring enough gas for the engine. So there we were - so close, yet so far - out of gas and drifting out of control back down the river and past those same Hippo's and Croc's we had been earlier so careful to not get too close to.... Well thank god for cell phones (they can't fix a road or a tent or a leaky canoe but they ALL have cell phones) as we were able to make a call ("can you hear me now?") and eventually we were rescued and delivered safely back to camp.
After lunch and a shower we set out in the truck again and we drove and drove and drove all the way to the Zimbabwe Border at Kariba Dam where we re-entered Zimbabwe. Lake Kariba was created when the dam was constructed and is the largest artificial lake in the world. After a quick stop for a photo or two we drove into Kariba, Zimbabwe past the Baboons and Elephants to set camp (pitch a tent). That night in camp a huge Hippo was wandering around right next to our campsite while we tried to relax and have dinner. (You ever try to relax and have dinner with a 2 ton Hippo wandering around?)
In the morning we toured around Kariba before heading towards Chinhoyi. Then we drove and drove and drove. We made it to Chinhoyi in time to take a quick tour of the caves there. The caves are mostly famous as a scuba diving spot but unfortunately I was only here to see and not to dive. The color of the water in the cave is breathtaking. The caves themselves best explored underwater. Well maybe next time.
Camp that night was less than comfortable - as I previously stated there have not been many tourists to these parts in a very long time - so the neglect of the facilities is a huge problem. The site we set camp (pitched a tent) at that night had the ever popular "shared ablutions block" but there was no electricity, no hot water, actually there was no water at all, so no flushing toilets, no toilet seats, etc.... It is at this stage of the tour that I surrendered to my more sensible self and went around the corner and checked into a hotel! If I never sleep in another tent again it will be too soon.
So for the next 5 nights - while the rest of the cast of characters - became less and less attractive and more and more stinky, I bathed in hot water showers and charged every one's batteries and devices in my electrical outlets.
Our next stop on the adventure was Harare, the Capital City of Zimbabwe. We drove and drove and pulled into Harare on Easter Sunday so there was not much going on. We did a short wander around the CBD and then got back in the truck and drove and drove and drove and drove until it was way late and way dark and we arrived in Chimanimani only to find that our planned campsite no longer existed? Here we were in the middle of nowhere, hungry, tired, and just wanting a hot shower to find out that we had to make other arrangements.
Well the first other arrangement got us stuck on some local dudes front lawn for the better part of an hour. He tried his best to explain to our driver how to back out of his property but our driver insisted on turning around and promptly got stuck between a rock and a hard place. The local dude had the line of the night though when he loudly exclaimed "I told you! Now you sleep here!" hahahaa.... too funny. We eventually got out of there and found a "closed" under renovation? defunct, camp ground where we woke up the owner and he agreed to let us stay the night. It was maybe the scariest place I have ever spent the night. I kept thinking to myself that I've seen way to many horror movies that started just like this?
I survived the night in the "cottage" and in the morning we set out for a hike of the surrounding mountains and were to go see a waterfall or two. Now let me state right here that Africans (at least the Africans I have been in contact with) are extremely time and distance challenged. If I had a dollar for every time I have been told "15 minutes" and it took at least an hour or more I would have payed for this segment of my travels already. So, off we went with our "local" guide to visit a local village and do a 30 minute hike in and a 30 minute hike out. FOUR hours later we emerged drenched from the rain and with mud caked on our shoes to once again board the truck and drive and drive and drive. Eventually that day ended at the foot of the Bridal Veil Falls, which I do have to say (though not Vic Falls) wasn't a bad place to watch the sunset and have dinner. I then payed some local dudes a bunch of cash to drive me out of there and to the Chimanimani Hotel!
In the morning I was picked up from the hotel and we drove and drove and drove to Masvingo and stayed in Kyle National Park. We did do a short afternoon Game Drive where we saw a White Rhino and her baby strolling around.
The following day we only drove a little bit, believe it or not, and went to visit the namesake of this country the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Zimbabwe literally translates to "house of stone" and these ruins date back to the 11th century. They are awesome. Some of the stone walls tower into the sky and all of them have no mortar holding them together. It is basically huge stones stacked on top of one another to form the walls and structures of the once great city. It is believed that at its height there were over 18,000 people living here in Great Zimbabwe. We were treated to a heart felt performance by our tour guide as he passionately took us for a walk through history. Very cool.
Then....you guessed it....we drove and drove and drove to Matopos. The next two nights were spent in paradise at Big Cave Camp,. My fellow travelers were finally able to take a hot shower and I was nestled away in a beautiful lodge overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery I could ever imagine. Nice.
The next day we spent with Ian - a local guide - who was all knowledgeable about the Bushman, the local tribes and villages and the national park and the wildlife. We started the day with a visit to a cave and viewed and learned about the Bushman paintings. From there we payed a visit to a local African Village were we met the Chief - Mpondo (named after the British Pound) and were treated to stories of his youth (he battled a Cheetah and survived) and the history of the area. Then the whole village came out and danced for us. Mpondo took a liking to me and nicknamed me Two Dollar (he said that was because it was equivalent to a British Pound). So, being Mpondo's equal?, when I was prodded I joined in with the dancing and even tried to teach some of the younger ones the "belly dance". Believe me when I tell you that they are still laughing about the crazy white man named Two Dollar!
That afternoon we got serious and entered the National Park to track the Rhino. They have both Black and White Rhino in the park and our goal was to track them and then get up close and personal with them. After many hours of driving and walking around our guide had us all climb down out of the 4x4 and take off after a set of tracks. We crept through the bush and saw a herd of Eland and some Zebra but no Rhino. On our way back though one of our own - Maaike - spotted the Rhino. The group then spent the next 30 minutes or so slowly creeping up on the largest White Rhino in the park and taking photo's while trying not to piss it off. The white are much more level headed then the black so our little excursion was successful. Awesome.
That night we enjoyed a meal around the campfire while telling stories of our day. The next morning was my last. The rest of the group had a few more days of driving ahead of them but I was done. My original plan had been to leave them in the city of Bulawayo and take a bus back to Vic Falls. I was sticking to the plan. So after a not so long drive and a short wander around Bulawayo I bid my fellow travelers farewell and waved goodbye.
I then spent the morning checking out the Fabric Market (an unbelievable flea market of sorts where the locals gather to buy and sell clothing) and then found myself an Internet Cafe. I must have met Rod Serling at the signpost because I sure wasn't in Zimbabwe any longer. At least the run down, crumbling infrastructure Zimbabwe that had become so prevalent over the past 10 days. I took an elevator to the 3rd floor - the doors opened and WOW! Clean, new cafe with real breakfast and real coffee and a real computer and of course the really really nice Zimbabweans to help me. I almost missed my bus I got so comfortable.
Then the Bus - it was billed as Luxury - but I seriously had my doubts. Silly me. It turns out the Bus was beautiful, new, clean, reclining seats, air-con, clean toilets, and a "Host" who brought me a hot lunch from Chicken Inn and free soda and water whenever I asked. To make the trip even more pleasant they had a state of the art entertainment system and played Bollywood and Hollywood Movies for my viewing pleasure. The trip flew by.
Then they dropped me directly at my Hotel in Vic Falls - Elephant Hills. I checked in to find out that I had been complimentary upgraded to compensate for some troubles I experienced on my last stay and they promptly checked me into a Suite! it's beautiful. Full dining room, living room, huge bedroom, huge bathroom and a deck overlooking Victoria Falls and "the smoke that thunders" with Zambia in the distance. WOW!
That's where I'm at as I type this. Elephant Hills. I have a day or so more to patch my bones and my aching back before I start the last leg of my African journey. I leave on Wednesday for a 21 day East African Adventure which will take me from here to Nairobi, Kenya. There promises to be lots and lots of driving again but some spectacular highlights too. I am really looking forward to Zanzibar and the Serengeti.
The adventure continues.....