08.04.2011 - 08.11.2011
Man oh man. Getting around Africa has been interesting (and very tough at times). Unless you want to pay a small fortune for private transfers, you are stuck with local transportation, which can inexplicably range from easy-peasy to mind-numbingly painful. “Well, this is Africa”. You have to say it to yourself like a mantra.
We left Maun, Botswana for Zimbabwe with a stopover in Francistown, Botswana to change from a combi to a bus. Our bus was an extremely shady and rundown old school bus. A lot of buses/combis leave on a “when full” schedule. We had to wait almost two hours for it to overflow with passengers and luggage before it left. While we waited dozens of men and women marched up and down the aisle selling ice cream, fried chicken, wallets, passport covers, socks, belts, CDs, DVDs, you name it. We were the only foreigners on the bus, which will always get you a few second glances. Twelve hours after we left Maun, we arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
While in Bulawayo, we took a day trip to visit Motobo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike most parks in Southern Africa, it is known more for its scenery than its wild life and is considered to have some of the best granite scenery in the world. Given all of the granite surfaces (ancient canvases), it is also dense with Rock Art left behind by the San people thousands of years ago. The landscape here is so impressive that John Cecil Rhodes (wealthy entrepreneur who created Rhodesia) chose to be buried here. His grave is located at a spot called “World’s View” – the top of a hill which provides a 360 degree view of the park. The landscape is unique and beautiful. It makes you wonder how all of these gigantic boulders ended up in one spot – it almost seems unnatural.
Granite Scenery in Motobo Park
On top of World's View
It's a tough job...
After Bulawayo, we travelled on three bone crunching combis (even Jeff complained about the squeeze) to Great Zimbabwe National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great Zimbabwe consists of stone ruins from a city occupied between the 11th and 14th centuries. It was a powerful religious and political center, but due to overcrowding and the exploitation of local resources, the city was eventually abandoned. The ruins are the oldest surviving structures in Africa after the Pyramids. We had never heard of Great Zimbabwe before, but several locals recommended it. I was impressed by how much of the site is still intact, especially given that the walls were made without mortar - just stone stacked on stone. We stayed inside the park for two nights in rondavels (small circular huts) and spent the evenings relaxing by campfires. It was a cool site to see and if you’re ever in Zim (next month, I know), we would definitely recommend a visit.
View of the Great Enclosure
The Hilltop complex
The walls of Great Zimbabwe
Jeff relaxing by the campfire
The moon that night...I was just impressed at the detail Jeff got with the camera
To conclude our tour of Zimbabwe, we traveled back to Bulawayo and caught an overnight train to Victoria Falls in order to see the falls from the Zim side. It was noted in our guide book and by fellow travelers that we should get 1st class/sleeper car tickets for the train as the economy cars were sketchy and overcrowded. Well, as luck would have it, there was only one 1st class/sleeper car ticket left, so Jeff opted for an economy ticket and I took the 1st class/sleeper car ticket. When we got to the train platform, we realized that the economy cars were going to be crazy because the masses started to run- like full sprint- to claim seats (no assigned seating). When I say that economy was crowded, I mean like “combi” crowded - some people didn’t even have seats, they were sitting in the aisles and standing in between cars, it was insane. After we found Jeff a seat (e.g., a spot on a wooden bench), I walked leisurely to my 1st class/sleeper car, a small compartment with seats that convert to beds. It was decent by western standards, but amazing in comparison to economy. Surprisingly, no one else showed up in my compartment. So after the train departed, I found a conductor who was willing to upgrade Jeff in exchange for the difference in fares. I ambled my way through four train cars, stepping over people in the aisles and pushing through drunks in the dining car, to find Jeff scrunched between several locals, his bags on his lap and his head down. “You’ve been upgraded…let’s get the heck out of here” I said. He looked at me like I was the Messiah. We now refer to this as the “rescue mission”. We paid the difference (from $6 to $8…crazy, right) and the conductor even upgraded us to a private sleeper. Jeff said it was by far the best $2 we’d ever spent. It was a much more pleasant evening knowing we were both in the same place and that Jeff could go to the bathroom without losing his seat. This is Africa!
Our train arrived in the morning, so after taking a hot shower at our hostel (one of life’s simple pleasures), we headed out to see the falls. In the end, we found Victoria Falls to be more impressive from the Zimbabwe side than the Zambia side. The views are broader and, as a result, grander. The town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe was nicer than Livingston, Zambia as well. It was designed to be walkable, so we made our own way to the falls and enjoyed lots of nice views. Since we were further back from the falls, we also did not get as wet as we did on the Zam side. The water is unseasonably high right now, so the falls are really gushing. We also stopped by the “Big Tree”, an enormous Balboa Tree that was once a trading point between Zim and Zam. Our guide book indicated that high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel was a must-not-miss experience and having such a positive experience on the Zambia side we had to try it out. High tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel was delicious and provided us a few minutes in luxury, with a beautiful view, but we agreed that high tea at the Royal Livingstone was the winner between the two.
Downriver from the Falls- nice views of the canyon
Vic Falls on the Zimbabwe side
Interestingly, Zimbabwe recently made the US Dollar its official currency which made it very easy for us to restock our supply. Unfortunately, the US Dollars available in Zim are old and beat up. We even received two dollar bills as change a few times (that must be where all of our two dollar bills went). But, strangely there is a short supply of US coins. As a result, people use South African coins instead of US coins.
We are waking up early tomorrow morning to cross back into Zambia and catch a bus to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We will write again soon! Thank you for reading and staying in touch with us!