Saturday, April 28, 2012

BULAWAYO


I reached Bulawayo on 4/26 and was taken up by Noma and "Z" from Silvane tours.  I was pretty sure, but not positive, that Tandy from their sister office in Victoria Falls had made my room reservation at Cresta Hotel while I was sitting there, but Noma said that when she called they had no rooms.  She said she also called twenty other places, so they were going to take me to their co-worker's house to see if I liked her spare room, or else we would look for another lodge.

I went to meet Christine and her fiancee Richard at their home in the Northend suburb.  The room was fine, but I did not fancy her having to take me on when she is on vacation this week, since that seemed very intrusive.  We went to another lodge that had told Noma they had a vacancy, but they had booked the room.  It is the annual Trade Fair week, so rooms are extremely scarce.  We drove around and investigated a few other lodges.  One in the industrial area had a room up three flights of stairs with a shared bath, which I declined.  We kept finding "no vacancies" till we found another in the Ilanga suburb that had a decent room with shared bath down the hall for $130.  That seemed a rip off since the best hotel in town had quoted me $105, even though they "lost" my reservation.  It is apparently the practice here to jack the prices way up for Trade Fair week.  It must work, since there are almost no rooms left in the whole town and the Fair did not officially open until the next day.  My last option was a room at Z's house.  He is a bachelor and does not cook, and the house was a little messy, though the huge yard is beautifully kept up by the gardener.

After two hours of driving around, I decided to go to Christine's.  We made a detour to the Trade Fair, which was having a preview day before President Mugabe comes for the official opening.  The place was packed, with exhibitors from all over the world, including Ford autos.  It was kind of like a county fair, with permanent exhibition buildings, livestock, agricultural exhibits, music, dancing, and food.  We walked around, but I was a lttle tired at this point and not too much I was interested in.  It reenforced my feeling that, despite what we hear about it being next to last on the list of "failed nation/states," Zimbabwe is doing well.  Downtown was busy, with few empty storefronts, lots of people walking around, and no clunker cars in sight.  In our search for a room, I saw many nice, orderly suburbs.  I rarely saw white people apart from at the Trade Fair.

Christine in front of her sister's house
Christine and Richard are very nice and welcomed me to their home.  She apparently has no money and no food in the house, since "payday is far off."  Z took me to the supermarket and I bought salad and bread for dinner and Christine made some chicken.  There was no butter, milk, or salad dressing in the house.  Then I discovered that Christine and Richard live elsewhere in a room they rent for $135 a month and they are house sitting for her sister, who is currently in South Africa and getting ready to move to Wales with her new husband, who she lived with five years ago before he disappeared when she was six months pregnant.  I am sleeping in the sister's bed, and hopefully she will not be back before I leave, although she may show up tomorrow, along with her two kids.  The new husband is already back in Wales and she is trying to get them all visas to join him.  Christine, Richard and I stayed up late talking about Zimbabwe and the life here.  They were born before independence and consider themselves white Rhodesians.  They had some horrific stories about violence and corruption in the country.  A few years ago the markets had no food and you could not buy anything.  Inflation was so bad that millions of Zimbabwe dollars would not buy you a loaf of bread.  You were not allowed to take money out of the bank, and many people were forced off their properties with no notice so ended up leaving the country with only the clothes on their back.  Christine works full time and gets the standard wage of $200 a month.  Richard is currently an unemployed miner, but has made as much as $1000 a month in the Congo.  He is unable to get a passport, though, since they say he is not Zimbabwean since his grandfather was English.

Christine's daughter has an African father with AIDS



Z and Noma picked me up the next morning, along with Shah Shah, an experienced guide who is also a second year law student.  Noma apparently had been working in the butcher shop next to the travel agency until the week before and I am her first client.  Christine trained her and has been advising her even though she is on vacation.  Z is the owner's brother and has his fingers in other pies besides driving for tours.  The owner works for the UN and is currently in Sudan.  Tandy in the Victoria Falls office also came from the butcher shop and just moved up there a week ago.  So I am kind of a test client for all these people.  The hotel room was a major mix up, but they seem to be bending over backwards to make up for it.  My one day tour is stretching into three.

We are going to Matopos National Park today, where they have Bushman cave paintings and Cecil Rhode's grave.  They made some mistakes in picking me up half hour after the agreed on time,and stopping to get diesel, food and drinks after they picked me up, so we had a late start for Matopos.  It is about a 45 minute drive from Bulawayo.  

The first stop in Matopos was the Memorial for the Tin Heads (MOTH), which is apparently an international organization that maintains graves for soldiers from WWI and WWII.  The ashes of several soldiers were brought here when it was established in 1927, then the WWII victims were placed here in 1947.
MOTH WWII memorial

Shah Shah in front of MOTH














Cave painting
Next we visited the White Rhino Cave.  It was kind of a difficult climb up for me, since I had to scramble over some rocks, but would be no problem for a younger person in normal shape.  There is a huge rock cave with pictures of animals and men.  Shah Shah says the paint is a mixture of blood and an unknown plant.  After we climbed back down, I saw a cobra about two feet from me.  Luckily it was a youngster and quickly moved away.

Matopos National Park is known for its rock formation

Next we drove past many interesting rock formations to the "top of the world" hill that holds the graves of Cecil Rhodes, some of his friends, and soldiers that were killed in a skirmish nearby.  The 360 degree view is extremely impressive, since you just see all the interesting rock formations all around and no manmade structures except for the road as far as you can see.  This was part of Cecil Rhodes" South African empire, besides the Kimberly and De Beers diamond and gold mines.  He actually died in South Africa in 1902, but his will stated that he wanted to be buried here so he came in state after being seen off by a huge crowd in South Africa.  Our guide says the area is rumored to hold the legendary King Solomon's mines, which probably is what drew old Cecil here.


Noma, Shah Shah, and Z


Cecil Rhodes' grave

Rocks have colorful fungi
Memorial to fallen soldiers








































We had lunch at Mekele Dam, a picnic area with a small lake.  Noma had purchased roast chicken, rolls and fruit, which was perfect.  The only problem was many small flies that seemed to like me and were getting into my eyes and ears, though they didn't seem to bother the Africans much.

Mekele Dam picnic site
After lunch we went to the Pamongwe museum and cave.  This was much bigger than the first one and almost a half round like a bowl.  The cave paintings were faded but you could still make some out.








Our next stop was the Natural History Musem in Bulawayo.  The first floor had a lot of very bad (or very old) taxidermy showing different African animals.  Upstairs was more focused on history and entomology.  Some of the exhibits were empty, like the African gold artifacts.  A lot of the lights didn't work so some exhibits were hard to see.

I had stated that I had not seen any poor Zimbabweans, when that is all we hear about.  They drove me through the township, where the white people's domestic workers and such used to live.  It is still a thriving community and much more like what I think of as Africa, with outdoor stalls, rutted roads, small and block houses.   Not as bad as the townships in South Africa though, and there were a lot of satellite dishes around.

Back to Christine's for more chicken and salad.  Kevin from Chipangali called and will pick me up in the morning.

Friday, April 27, 2012

VICTORIA FALLS


Our tour ends in Victoria Falls, my fourth time here.  This has always been my favorite place in Africa, and I thought Okavango supplanted it, but seeing the falls at peak flow with several rainbows along the length has put it firmly back on top.  I had my umbrella but still got totally soaked walking on the path above the falls, as the spray is incredible and at places you can't see in front of you because the mist is so heavy.  It was a beautiful sunny day, unlike the gray day I had here in December.  I had my lunch with me in a baggie and planned to find a nice spot to sit and eat it.  Everyone else had already eaten theirs since they missed breakfast due to the early game drive.  I was walking past some baboons and one made to grab it.  I batted him with my closed umbrella and he ran away.  Then some others on the path were eyeing it but I stared them down and they walked away.  Finally one big bruiser just came up and grabbed it.  He sat as high as my waist and had very long arms so I just let the bag go, as I knew not to mess with him or he would use his big teeth on me.  Some of the Germans who were walking with me took pity on me and gave me a sandwich and an apple.




















For our farewell dinner that night, we went to A Zambezi resort.  They had a nice buffet, including grilled warthog, which sounds awful but was actually a lot more tender and flavorful than the grilled beef and chicken they had.  For entertainment, they had an African marimba band.  Several men played xylophones, drums, and marimbas.  Most of the songs sounded African, but they did play Guantanamera.  After that, they had some male African dancers, who were quite good.

I elected to stay two extra nights at Elephant Hills resort.  The second day I went on an elephant safari through the bush.  We were six  tourists plus handlers on three elephants.  It was hard for me to get on and off, and when we went downhill and I had to lean back, very hard on the hip joints.  I survived.


View from my room at Elephant Hills




View from Victoria Falls Hotel








The third day I took a shuttle into town to see about the train to Bulawayo.  Air Zimbabwe has an office but confirmed they are not flying.  The office is apparently open just to give the information that they aren't operating, but they haven't been for at least a year.  When I looked online, the airfare to Bulawayo was $1200.  It is only a five hour drive, but you can't fly there directly, only from Johannesburg.  The train takes 12 hours (or more), but I really like trains so I would like to try it, at least one way.  You have to book it the same day you travel, so I got there on the first shuttle at 9:45 and first class sleepers were already sold out.  I did not fancy sharing a second class sleeper with three others, plus they don't furnish bedding in second class.  I ended up making a bus reservation for the next day.

I had lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel, the oldest hotel in Zimbabwe and always a treasure.  From the terrace restaurant I could see the mist from the falls and watch the bungee jumpers on the bridge.  I could hear one girl screaming, presumably as she fell.

I went into a travel office to investigate tours in Bulawayo, since I will be there an extra day before I have to get to Chipangali, the wildlife orphanage where I will volunteer next.  I booked a Friday tour of Matopos National Park.  They also arranged for me to stay at Cresta Hotel in Bulawayo for two nights.

The next afternoon I splurged and paid $130 for a helicopter ride over the falls.  I thought it was well worth the money.  It was a beautiful day and I saw several rainbows, sometimes two at once.

Since I am not overnighting on the train, I moved to the Kingdom Hotel for one night.  I got them to give me the internet rate of $175, but it is still $45 more than Elephant Hills.  It felt like coming home, though, after having spent a week there in December.  One reason I moved was to get better internet, and I never got it to work there.  So I am extremely late on my blogging.

After a rushed 7 a.m. breakfast, I got on the Pathfinder bus at 7:20.  The bus goes daily and I wasn't expecting much, since this is Africa.  It was very luxurious though.  There was a driver and a host, who wore a dress shirt, tie, and sweater vest.  At 8 a.m. he offered Cokes, and at 8:30 we got sandwiches (chicken salad or cheese and tomato).  Then he came by with bottled water.  We had a 5 minute rest stop at Hwange Safari Lodge in the National Park, and only two other brief stops to pick up people.  While I was on the bus, Noma from Silvane tours called me to find out when I was arriving, so when I got off the bus at 12:35 (25 minutes early), there she was holding a sign for "Mrs. Morris," so I felt well taken care of.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

CHOBE


After spending the night in a Bakalunga hut at Planet Baobab in the middle of a huge salt pan that used to be the largest inland sea in Africa, we drove to Chobe National Park.   We took a 3 hour cruise up the Chobe River and I saw a lot less  water buffalo and a lot more elephants than I did on a similar cruise at the same place in December.  There were plenty of crocodiles.  An amazing sight was watching elephants swimming across the river in a line.  Their trunks sometimes touched the elephant ahead of them, and sometimes they were completely submerged with only the trunk up in the air.  One by one they heaved themselves up onto a shallow ledge on the other shore.  There was one elephant lagging behind and it seemed he was having trouble swimming across, as I saw only his trunk at intervals, then it seemed like it didn't some up anymore.  The boat went ahead though, so not sure if he made it.  We enjoyed sunset on the river before heading back to the lodge in Kasane.  Our driver, Dengi, barbecued kudu steaks for dinner.


My room at Planet Baobab

My hut at Planet Baobab



Elephants

Water buffalo and elephant


Elephants crossing the river

Check out those teeth!

Hippo

Playing in the mud



Some people got up at 5 a.m. for a morning game drive, but I slept in since I had done one here already.  We left around 9 and crossed the Botswana border into Zimbabwe.