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Africa Part 4 of 6 Zimbabwe and Malawi

For part one of my Africa Series please click here
For part two of my Africa Series please click here
For part three of my Africa Series please click here

Africa Part 4 of 6: Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi

Contents
Victoria Falls The City
Victoria Falls Village Trip
The Waterfalls
Crossing into Zambia
Entering Malawi
Hike to Livingstonia
Crossing into Tanzania

Zimbabwe has an interesting history and painful history, it was known as Rhodesia until it gained independence 1980. Mugabe since 1980 has been president. One of his famous and probably his most disturbing quote is “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold.” He’s known to be charismatic, well educated, racist, and has been described as a power monger. His people have suffered dearly because of him. An amazing documentary that anyone interested in this region is Mugabe and the White African it gives a really good and in depth account of the “Willing Buyer Willing Seller” land reform which was to distribute the land which white farmers held back to the blacks. In reality it was to Mugabe’s men and the people never saw any of it. I know that Zimbabwe is much more than just Mugabe. I was excited to see the country, get acquainted with the people, and of course see Victoria Falls.

Most people know a little bit about Zimbabwe’s ‘funny money.’ At one point the largest single note was One Hundred Trillion Dollars ($100,000,000,000,000.00). Ray told us that in the past their dollar was 1:1 with the US Dollar and the most valuable currency in Africa. In 2009 the Zimbabwean Dollar officially was discontinued and all of the ATMs in Zimbabwe distribute US Dollars.

Victoria Falls is the name of the city, which is in the park, which houses the falls themselves, all of which have the same name. We arrived in Vic Falls and before setting up camp were forced to watch another video offering all of their optional activities including bungee jumping over the Zambezi River for $130 (which was $30 more than I paid to go from the highest bridge in the world), elephant safari for over $100, walking with lions over $100, river rafting on the Zambezi for over $100 per person, and a few other BS activities that were WAY too expensive. This is Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries on the planet and they expected us to pay these outrageous prices for their activities. We later met a local guide that would have taken Cori and I rafting with his group for $40 a person, so if you shop around you don’t have to pay as much for the same activities.

We set up camp at one of the more beautiful camp sites we’d been to. We could hear Victoria Falls in the distance rumbling and see mist rising from it in the distance. We had a beer by the pool and hung out for a while before going out to wander around. We decided that we were going to go walk across the bridge to see Victoria Falls from one perspective and walk a few meters into Zambia. We watched a friend bungee jump and walked around town a bit more. One of the coolest things about Vic Falls is that there are a ton of Pumbaas (warthogs) running around town. They would let you get right up to them and take their picture. We saw a Pumbaa getting into the garbage at the campsite when a monkey attacked it. It was a brief altercation but pretty cool to see nonetheless.

The end of the first night we had our goodbye dinner. The tour was split into two parts the first was Cape Town to Victoria Falls the next was Victoria Falls to Nairobi. So those who were leaving at Vic Falls were stopping here. We had an amazing time that night, after dinner we went to Shoestrings, a hostel in town, which was lame-o-potato and left when it closed at midnight. We decided to go to Hunters, a kind of locals only joint, we had to walk down a dark path to get there. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal but because we were in a National Park, there were animals around and elephants had been known to kill people in the streets that spooked them (this is what we’re told and I no reason not to believe them). The walk went fine and a large group of us went into the bar and were greeted by blaring beats. Super good African music pulsed and the place was absolutely packed. We all drank too many beers and got back to bed around 2am. It was one of the happiest nights that I had on the trip. It was awesome to hang out and be welcomed with open arms (sometimes the local guys would grind up a bit too much on the women from our group, but it was a friendly grind); we danced until we couldn’t stand, partied with the locals, and got to listen to some awesome music.

We had to start saying goodbye to some of the people we had gotten so close with. David and Cinzia were leaving, Cameron was heading back home to Mozambique, and Rob and Marieke were deserting us as well. I could go on and on about all the people leaving, but it happens. Janus and I were drinking a Fanta by the pool when a black guy covered in tattoos asked me where I was from. I said America and he said that his brother Tupac was from America too. He went on and on about Mugabe and what a horrible person he thought that he was. He even said that he wanted to be a security guard for him so that he could “make it an inside job.” Once he said that, I freaked out a little bit and left not wanting to get involved with a guy like that.

For pictures from Victoria Falls, the City please click HERE

That day Cori and I went on a village tour to see what people lived like outside of the city. We paid too much for it, but in hindsight was a pretty good experience. We went to a village about an hour outside of Victoria Falls and first met with a farmer who didn’t speak much English. We learned about making some traditional foods. Culturally it was a funny experience for me. The guy’s place we were visiting was obviously a little buzzed. We all sat inside of his mud hut which was built by his wife. Women build the huts. I got to sit on a small chair inside of the hut while Cori sat on the floor with the man’s daughter, because, women of course, aren’t allowed to sit on chairs either. Elephants from time to time will terrorize villages, take all of their food, and sometimes knock down their huts. So from time to time these elephants are shot and killed by the park’s authorities. Everyone from all around will share in the booty from the elephant and no part gets wasted.

The man was a sculptor and made hippos from teak wood, which was technically illegal to chop down but he said that he did it in the night to not get in trouble. While he was trying to sell us his wares, he kept talking on his cell phone. I asked him where he charged his phone and he said, “At the bar next door to my house, of course.” This is where the memory gets a little better. I’d read about Chibuku before coming to Zimbabwe and knew that it was a popular drink and hard for Westerners to get accustomed to. It comes in a two liter plastic bottle with a screw top lid 5 centimeters in diameter. When you take a sip undoubtedly, your nose will touch the brew. It is to be served at room temperature, which in Zimbabwe is hot. The brew is not at all fizzy like beer, but it flat and chunky. The brew is also to be shared and not drunk alone. To recap, Chibuku is a warm and chunky brew to be shared warm everyone around while their noses touch it. We had six liters of the brew while we were there.

Throughout the day they kept asking if we had any questions. I didn’t know if it was okay to ask about Mugabe or if he was feared enough to where people didn’t say anything. His picture was up all over the place and I thought that it would be taboo to ask the questions that I really wanted to know. I asked them if they had any questions that they wanted to know from an American. They were interesting and thoughtful questions. The first question was, “why did your government impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, why does your government want to hurt the Zimbabwean people, and what do you think about it.” My jaw hit the floor and I think I said something along the lines of, “we’re citizens of a country which does things all around the globe which I don’t believe in; we’re here spending money in your country and I’m buying the next Chibuku.”

We got to go to the township of Victoria Falls as well to see what the people hawking goods on the side of the roads lived like. Which in all honesty, the township looked better than a lot of places in Los Angeles or Arizona. One thing about Victoria Falls which is wears on us is the number of people hawking goods on the side of the road. They pester you and walk with you the entire length of the walk which makes it impossibly difficult to avoid or ignore. Cori thought it was so bad that she didn’t want to leave the campsite; which even there people were trying to sell us goods through the fence. We ended up trading a lot of used clothing for some pretty cool wood carvings.

We had our briefing with our new team leader which left a lot to be desired. He seemed like he was in a partial coma and didn’t do much talking at all. He wasn’t the charismatic leader that we’d gotten used to with Ray.

For pictures from the village tour around Victoria Falls please click HERE

After the briefing we went to see Victoria Falls. They were magnificent and truly amazing. There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about them.

For pictures from Victoria Falls please click HERE

The next morning we went to Livingston, Zambia. Crossing the border was simple. We paid our $50 visa fee and went right across. Livingston, like many African cities is much more modern than you’d expect, has a few malls, and restaurants all around. We went to the grocery store and picked up some wine (which is getting more and more expensive the further away from South Africa we were getting). Our camp site that night was at a beautiful location right on the Zambezi River. Charles and his wife Thien-An joined us for a few beers by the river. There was a giant crocodile sleeping under the deck by the river that afternoon.

Jan and Karen joined us for beers as well. We bunked with them when we had our party dorm in Swakopmund were an amazing duo. Jan’s daughter was married to Karen’s son. The two of them planned their wedding from New Zealand as the “kids” (who are Cori and my ages) lived in England. They are such troopers, leaving the significant others behind to camp with a bunch of kids half their age and loving it. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for these ladies and hope to do something that cool when my kids are all grown up. We’d gotten close with them on the first leg of the trip, but naturally had gotten closer as time went on.

Zambia as far as Cori and I are concerned doesn’t really count as a country we visited, but rather a country we paid to get into and drove out of three days later.

The coolest things about the drives were the kids and getting a sample of “real Africa”. The kids we’d see would get so excited to see our big green truck coming. They’d all wave like crazy. Some of them would be jumping up and down because they were so excited. Our arms would get tired from all of the waving back we’d be doing. It was really cool to see to start seeing the women who were draped in colorful sheets (called Kanga) walking slowly with baskets on their heads. The roads surprisingly weren’t as bad as we’d anticipated and certainly better than a lot we’ve been on in Asia. Nonetheless, it was tiresome only being able to go a maximum speed of 80kms an hour (about 50mph).

Long boring days of playing cards in the truck pursued for the next three days until we crossed into Malawi. Malawi for whatever reason had been calling me. I really wanted to visit and was ecstatic to be going. Crossing into Malawi was a breeze, no visa fees for most of us, except oddly the nations who need one which include Ireland, South Korea, and Switzerland.

One thing that was very different about this trip versus the previous one is that there was a fine line between whom the crew was and who the people on the trip were. On the first leg, Ray stood up to make it more accommodating for us and anyone who wanted could sit up front with Christie. This leg our guide sat alone on the best and most comfortable seat. Our cook, who actually was a great cook, sat in the cab next to our driver the entire way. We were given strict chores and the men were referred to as “dog’s bodies.” Dog’s Bodies is a derogatory term for someone who is meant to do menial tasks. These menial tasks were performed by us men while the crew stood back and watched. The women were assigned to be in different groups. One group would do the prep work with the cook. The next would clean the truck.

The cook was a complete and total scum bag who would treat the women poorly and degrade them while they were on his duty. He wouldn’t even tell the women what it was that they were helping him make. One of the women on our trip was constantly being harassed by him and had to fend off his sexual advances on a daily basis. He asked one guy on our trip who took a slice of avocado which was waiting to be served, “What’s your problem,” when he did so. It was a much different vibe and one that I wasn’t happy with. I feel okay posting negative things about Africa Travel Co because we complained to them and never received any response back from their office. If anyone was going to do an overland trip, I wouldn’t suggest using them.

For pictures from Zambia please click HERE

Malawi is home to Lake Malawi, the second largest lake in Africa. It is wide enough to not be able to see the other side and is the border with Mozambique on the east and Tanzania on the north. 20% of the country is water. David Livingstone came to Malawi in the mid 1800s and played a large role in the colonizing of Malawi by Britain’s as bringing Christianity to some of its people. There is a town which we hiked Livingstonia which was the site where he successfully settled after a few failed attempts at other locations.

We stayed at Kande Beach for three nights; but we arrived late the first night. It was a beautiful location right on Lake Malawi. Beautiful clean sand as far as we could see in both directions and an island covered in rocks laid a few hundred meters from shore. It was a perfect location and a wonderful and welcome stop after all of the driving we’d been sitting through. We chilled out, drank a few beers, and swam out to the island on the first day. Later we were met by Janus and Marlene, the doctors from Denmark that traveled the first half of the trip with us. It was good to see that Janus still hadn’t shaved. Nate, Charles, Janus, and I all decided that we weren’t going to shave until the trip was over. If you look at us day one versus the last day we look more and more like we’ve been camping through Africa.

That night we got sauced and forgot that the second half of the trip had been pretty bogus so far. Janus and I got up to our usual no good and Cori and the girls enjoyed themselves pretty well. It was a stellar night and one of the fondest of the trip.

Liz, who has a heart of gold and has been travelling with us since the beginning stopped by an orphanage the day before and told the man who ran it that we’d be by to give some things to the kids. The next morning I was super hung over but persevered. We went to the orphanage early in the morning and a few minutes later Jonathan showed up and let us in. We first went and met with a group of women who were all HIV positive and were making crafts that were sold in Australia. Jonathan said that these women were all free to stay there and that living with HIV wasn’t the end of the world for them. It tore my heart out to see all of these women, some with babies in their laps, and know that despite everyone’ efforts they wouldn’t get the medical care they needed and may not be around much longer.
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Cori and I bought coloring books crayons, and bubble mix in Lilongwe so that we could donate them. We gave them to the kids who were incredibly appreciative. They were very careful with the books and crayons. They didn’t fight over the goods nor did they cause any fuss when someone else was using the colors that they wanted. It was the first game of the Premier League season and we were invited to Jonathan’s village to watch Liverpool play Sunderland at one of the few televisions in town. We went with Jonathan to his village which was about a twenty minute walk from the beach through cassava farms and palm groves. We arrived to an outdoor hut which had bamboo mats up on the walls so that people couldn’t see in on 3/4 of the sides. We weren’t asked to pay an admission but the rest of the people were. There was around six of us from the trip in total and the rest of the place was packed with locals. I decided that we all needed to pay for Fanta (alcohol was not allowed) and buy some snacks as well.

Luis Suárez scored a goal for Liverpool. Everybody in the place booed and hissed. Remember, Suárez was the guy who during the World Cup while playing for Uruguay used his hand to score a goal against Ghana and eliminated the last African team. Everyone in Africa from what we were told hates this guy. It was funny because everyone wanted Liverpool to when but was disgusted to see him score.

That night we did more of the same. We had to go the next day early in the morning which didn’t make much sense because it was only a short drive up the coast to our next site. We stopped at a market along the way. The power was off which made shopping more difficult and made me worry about eating the meat we’d be served later that night. We stopped for hours to pick up supplies and by the time we arrived it was already too late to enjoy the scenery.

For pictures from Malawi please click HERE

The next morning I went on a 35km hike up to Livingstonia. The hike itself wasn’t that great. We got up there and the church we were supposed to see was closed and didn’t seem to be worth it regardless. We stopped by a beautiful waterfall on the way back which made the trek completely worth the while. We swam in a pool and took some great photos. On the way down my knee crapped out on me and I struggled almost the entire way down.

For pictures from the hike to Livingstonia please click HERE

The next day we were to go to Tanzania! Animals Animals Zanzibar Animals! Crossing into Tanzania was the easiest one that I’ve ever had to do. We gave our passports and visa payment to our leader; he went in, returned with our passports, and a receipt. We didn’t even have to leave the truck.

Africa part 1 of 6 To Overland or Not to Overland

An organized tour doesn’t sound like the way to do anything; one travelling more than 10,000 kilometers in a truck full of strangers, camping every night, and having zero flexibility on route or schedule sounds especially tedious and lame. So why did we chose to do an overland trip? Simple answer, we didn’t feel like we had a choice.

The longer answer, we both wanted to see Africa the same way that we saw South America. We traveled overland on our own from Bogota, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina stopping at cities and small villages down the entire continent. Truthfully, we were a little overwhelmed and underprepared for Africa; it is not in our repertoire to plan to far ahead. Having arrived in Cape Town with nothing more than a backpack, a wife, and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. This is the first time that lack of planning seriously bit us on the hind sides. After speaking with a couple who had done the trip from Tanzania through Malawi to Mozambique and another guy who’d done the same and hearing the perils and tales of woe. We gave in and decided that it would be the easiest and most importantly the safest way to see as much of Africa as we could. Shortest answer, we got a half off promotion which sealed the deal. I’m glad we did it this way because stress is no way to spend a vacation and that is what Africa would be if we tried to do it on our own.

Looking back six months from this point, I still have no idea if we did it the right way or not. Also I would say that I do not regret the decision and am happy we did so because I have some of the greatest memories of my life because of the trip. We met many incredible people, saw scenery only previously known from National Geographic, and got to see Africa.

Africa, like I have told many surprised faces is expensive. It is expensive by western standards in that you don’t pay for what you get and it is assumed that if you’re there that you’ve got money. In Africa hostels will be on average a little less expensive than Europe but the quality will be vastly different. We stayed at a hostel in Arusha and paid $20 for a room with no windows, no fans, no sheets, and not enough room between the floor and bed to put our bags. This was the cheapest room available in the city. Everything is imported throughout the continent, so a candy bar in Botswana will cost you more than it would at home, a coloring book and crayons in Malawi will cost around $12; it is bloody expensive in Africa.

We were in Outdshoorn, South Africa and decided to talk with a woman at their official travel desk. She had a recent fax on her desk that was a promotion for Africa Travel Co that said that if we book the first half of the trip (Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) we would get the second half (Vic Falls to Nairobi, Kenya) for free.

After doing the budget, we found that overlanding especially because we got the promotion with an organized group would cost us less in stress and money than if we were to rent our own 4×4 vehicle and explore some of the same parts of Africa.

We went from Cape Town, South Africa north into Namibia visiting Etosha National Park, then going east along the Caprivi Strip into Botswana visiting both the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, we then went to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, made a mad dash through Zambia, spent a week on Lake Malawi, we then went to Zanzibar, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park and finished our overland trip in Arusha before heading back to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on our own. Here’s an interactive Google map showing where we went, zoom in for more information of specifics. I will try to be as specific as possible about where we went and what we did in the blog. There is a flaw in Google Earth and it thinks that Spitzkuppe, Namibia is in the water.

For part two of my Africa blog which took us from Cape Town up through Namibia, please click here

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