September 22 - October 21, 2010
I spent 4 more days in Victoria Falls then finally left. From there it was a guantlet of Zimbabwean National Parks. Which meant lots of nature, hiking and of course camping. Not exactly my thing but it was nice.
Saying bye to some of my Victoria Falls homies
First was Motobo National Park, a big park with strange rock formations, cave paintings and some wildlife. It had some pretty nice scenery. I was lucky to get rides from some people so I saw a lot more than I had expected to. One night I walked out of the shower and saw a leopard walking by my tent.
This is a famous rock that looks like a mother carrying her baby on her back
After that I went to Great Zimbabwe National Park where ruins from one of the few African civilizations are found.
Looking down from the king's residence to the Great Enclosure where his first wife would live
The "phallic tower" in the Great Enclosure
Then I headed to the Eastern Highland Mountains where I did some "serious" hiking in Chimanimani National Park and spent a couple days in the Bvumba Region. It took me 5 hours of walking to get the mountain hut where I could sleep in Chimanimani. Then I hiked for 2 days straight. One day I climbed Mount Binga. The trails were really poorly marked so I got lost alot and I was really late coming back. The sun went down and I was still like 2km away. I called out to the ranger and fortunately he heard me and came to show me the way back.
Bvumba was nice but the highlight was definitely playing golf at the Leopard Rock Golf Club. It's a world class course and I only paid $35 which included rental clubs. Also, I was the only person on the course. If I wanted I could have had a caddy for $10 too.
Those monkeys are only in the Eastern Highlands (Samango Monkeys)
Getting to the parks was a bit of a hassle. They all seemed to be about 20-40km from towns (just far enough that I couldn’t walk). This meant a lot of waiting for transport, hitching and LOTS of walking. Another problem was food. I had to bring my own food, sometimes 4 days worth. I could only bring food that didn’t need a fridge. Basically I lived on bread, peanut butter, some fruit and vegetables, oil and long last milk.
After my tour of National Parks I spent three days in the capital Harare with my couchsurfing host Hannah and my unofficial couchsurfing hosts Christiana and her son Philip (they all live on the same property). It was a very nice stay. I was well taken care of (at times spoiled) after “roughing it” for 3 weeks. We had lots of nice talks. Hannah works for a German NGO and spent 2 and a half years in North Korea! I could hardly believe it. I really enjoyed hearing about it and seeing pictures.
These trees are all over the city
Finally after 5 weeks in Zimbabwe I caught a bus to Lusaka the capital of Zambia and that's where I've been for the last 4 days.
In general Zimbabwe is in some very difficult times. It became independent from the Europeans in 1980. Since then Robert Mugabe has been the president and slowly run the country into the ground through corruption and bad governance. Zimbabwe was once one of the most developed countries in Africa with an excellent education system and low unemployment. Now people struggle just to eat.
In the 90's Mugabe started kicking white farmers off their land by force. This was devastating to the economy because these farmers were very good. Zimbabwe used to export food to all of Southern Africa. The black people that took the land were poorly trained as farmers and now Zimbabwe imports most of its food from South Africa. By 2008 inflation was so bad that money was useless the day it was printed. All the shops were empty. Things have improved since the country started using US dollars last year but life is still very tough. Support for Mugabe is getting less and less but he still manages to stay in power through violence, intimidation and of course rigging elections.
One area that has been hit especially hard is the tourism industry. At all the national parks I was often the only person there. Occasionally a couple with a 4*4 might stop for a couple nights. The only company I would have would be the occasional park ranger. Victoria Falls was the only place I really met any other travellers. I was always a bit worried when I would leave in the daytime because my tent would just sit alone in the middle of some open campground but the rangers insisted it was safe. The camping facilities were really rundown (despite costing $10/night). There was rarely hot water or any electricity/lights. After 6:30 it was dark so there wasn't much I could do. I was usually sleeping by 8pm.
At times it was a bit depressing. Everywhere you can see signs of better times like an empty, cracking swimming pool in a huge overgrown campground or stickers from overland truck companies that would come with groups of 30 people at a time in a lodge that now gets the occasional backpacker. People told me how the streets used to be full of tourists in Victoria Falls and Chimanimani Village.
Transport in Zimbabwe was always an adventure. Vehicles are hardly maintained. My guidebook said not to take minibuses. I thought it was just the usual Lonely Planet paranoia but sure enough my first trip both the 2 back left wheels on my 6 wheel minibus just fell off at over 100km/h. By some miracle the driver kept control. On my second trip the engine overheated and wouldn't cool down.
The honeymoon is definitely over. I'm starting to have complaints about the “unique” African culture.
Asking directions in Africa can be really annoying. Even if an African has no idea where the place you want to go is he will make something up, ex. “next street”or “that way”. Obviously this causes problems. If an African does know where you want to go they seem unable to give organized step by step directions ex. “1st right, 2nd left, walk 50 meters and its on you right.” They give vague, confusing directions ex. “head round right then go that side and it's just there.”
As usual in foreign countries lineups are a free for all. If I'm not touching the person in front of me someone will slowly snake in infront of me as if I don't see what their doing!
There isn't a lot of variety to the food. Really the only meal you find is a plate with maize meal (a thick white corn mash that looks like mashed potatoes, basically just fills you up), chicken or beef, and some rich green vegetable stuff. Its cheap and you eat it with your hands.
Me and my Maize meal
The security situation has been ok. I avoid going out after about 8pm when there aren't a lot of people around. The biggest risk seems to be pickpockets or someone swiping a bag when I leave it unattended for a moment. I try to maintain a healthy level of paranoia. I was reassured in Zimbabwe. Some guy got caught trying to pick a pocket and a mob formed. They brought him to any open area and took turns smacking his face (as police watched).
I've finally come to the conclusion buses are a terrible form of transport. The shaking, the cramped, uncomfy seats and looking out the nausea inducing window wear me right out. I can't get anything done, I can hardly think properly. Any time I can I try to take trains. They are slow but comfy.
So now I am in Zambia. Lusaka seems to be just a big city, nothing special. The people seem a bit unfriendly so far, kind of rude. This is a big change from Zimbabwe where in general people were really nice. I don't think I'll spend too long in Zambia. There is just a couple places I want to see. I'm trying to speed up. Even if all goes as planned I'll be lucky to be back in Canada before March :o
African Sunset in Chimanimani