Category Archives: Zambia

Zimbabwe on foot (ZW)

I forgot the best part of the trip yesterday. I was in a mini van on the way to the elephants and this older American couple got on. The JR type from the tv show “Dallas” and his very facelifted wife with a lot of bling on her. Immediately he launched into his life story, he was a soldier in the US army and stationed in Ulm and Augsburg, Germany back in the day. Then he turned around to me and asked completely seriously “Can an old man like still have a Schatzi?” insinuating that in the 60s every man in Germany naturally had a sweetie on the side. Everyone in the van went dead silent and looked at me. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was supposed to be a joke, a proposition or just plain stupidity. Sadly it was the latter. The mortified wife poked him in the ribs before the offended girl from the Netherlands next to me could reply that this is in fact the year 2011 and even Germany would have moved on from whatever warped idea he had of it. He still needed confirmation from me and he didn’t quite believe me.
He then randomly wondered why John Cleese is in a new movie he’s never heard of before but the movie was playing in a “the-Ater” in Windhoek already. When nobody responded he finally shut up.

 

Last night we experienced African dinner serice par excellence again. Big group dinner at a relatively fancy hotel directly by the Falls. All I know is that the two people at the opposite ends of the table didn’t eat until much much later and one of them was me. I had ordered “Spaghetti Bombay” which sounded enticing because of beef in a chili sauce with roasted peanuts. The very first dish that came out was spaghetti with chicken which was shopped around for a while and didn’t find any takers. I could swear that it came back out a few more times. My dish which I reconfirmed dreading the result already was supposedly on its way as well. After everyone was done I ended up with the chicken and I actually needed to convince the waiter that this was not beef nor were there any peanuts. It took more time. The actual dish was worth waiting for in the end though I did think that instead of apologizing 20 times theyncould have just comped my Jaegermeister. When I paid I didn’t say anything when the waiter miscounted my beers in my favor.
Our driver also didn’t get his pizza – because after they had served 12 pizzas to the rest of the group they had run out of pizza dough! Unbelievable.
We asked for a group bill but got separate checks and here is where I always wonder how they get the money for all things consumed as I have yet to see one straight forward transaction in this department. It never adds up. In the end various leftover meals and drinks are not paid for according to them when nobody in the group was actually cheating. Likewise the last person paying could end up with drinks he didn’t consume and that were already paid on a different tab. All I know is that it’s usually best to be of the first to pay and then walk away.

 

This morning I went on a microlite flight over Victoria Falls. I loved it and was scared shitless at the same time. Although I didn’t have an adrenaline rush like I would have had with skydiving it very much felt like it since I was completely free in the air, only loosely strapped to a smallish seat with the pilot right in front of me. We went through the high mist of the falls (turbulence!) and the winds were strong and tucking at the few patches of exposed skin I had. We went over both Zambia and Zimbabwe, Livingstone Island and then some, we saw some elephants as well. I saw the distance I would have to walk between the two country borders with my bags on me and decided to delay my departure until after lunch.
Livingstone Island was pretty much flooded as it is the rainy season here. In dry times you can swim up to the edge of the Falls from the island, afterwards they serve breakfast or high tea depending on what touristy package you booked.
I will probably not have any pictures of the Falls as they are so wet that my camera is guaranteed to break. Google Images can fill in the blanks.

That’s a microlite in the middle of the picture

I was back at the camp early with no plans for the day other than crossing the border into Zimbabwe by myself and talking to nobody for a while. Strangely I was in no hurry though so I watched the world fall apart (Japan tsunami, etc.) on Sky News for a while at the pool bar and then had lunch there with some folks from the old group. Some folks were going to bungy jump from the bridge over the Falls and I shared a cab with them as that’s also the bridge I need to cross to get into Zimbabwe.

Conveniently I had waited until the hottest time of the day – 1pm – I was sweating bullets already on the 100 meter walk from the cab to the Zambian border for my exit stamp. I did however decide to walk across the bridge regardless, great views, and you couldn’t stop on the bridge if you were in a car anyway.

Unfortunately it was still a 10 minute walk from the bridge to the Zimbabwe border post. A rikshaw driver tried everything to get my business; he asked for anything from money in any currency to clothes, food or even a book. We heard this at the Zambian border already, clearly the people here are poorer than elsewhere but if you want to help where do you start… So I kept on walking and sweating, saying hi to a bunch of loiterers on the way who were probably wondering what the F I was doing to myself, and getting a funny “welcome to the very hot Africa” greeting from an equally sweaty local with a suitcase.

The folks at the border were extremely friendly. The first lady got a kick out of me as she clearly thought that I had no idea what I was doing. For one I first said that I’ll be staying in Zimbabwe for 10 days, then changed it to 8. She asked where I am going next and laughed at my pronunciation of “Tanzania” – stress is not on the second A but on the I. For years I thought it was strange that English speakers say “TanzAnia” but finally changed my own pronunciation as well and this is what I got. I had been right all the way.
Turns out the right answer would have been “Malawi” anyway…ooops, next time I should check the itinerary first I guess. In general the 3 people I ended up speaking with at the border were surprised that I would travel through Zimbabwe at all without any intentions to return to Zambia or Botswana. But I guess claiming that I’m overlanding it but didn’t have a truck with me didn’t really help clarify this either.
The visa fee was $30 today – I gave her $55 according to the visa fee list posted directly in front of me and she went “how did you come up with that?”. Ummm…
While my visa was processed directly in front of me people came up behind me and tried to get their passport stamped as well. It’s fascinating how little personal space means here. I was also offered the now defunct Zimbabwe money – “50 trillion dollars” bills etc. Nobody at border posts throws these people out.

I cabbed it back to the new camp ground. It’s not as nice as the place in Zambia, but it is right by shops and the overall action which is great. Not sure if $5 for a 3 minute cab ride were a ripoff or not but I didn’t care at this point.
I am staying at a chalet, two single beds and a fridge, the room is spacious but has the charm of a prison cell. Actually, a prison cell comes with a toilet, my chalet does not, but it’s ok, I just wanted to sleep in a bed for one night. Tomorrow I will move back into a tent. The Dragoman group is already here but I am in no rush meeting them.
This will be another internet and book reading day, it’s nice to do nothing for a while.

More elephants in Livingstone (ZM)

Because I love elephants so much and the ongoing roadside stream of them is not enough for me I booked an elephant ride today. It was fantastic. We sat on those giants with three people including the guide who basically trains them with a short plastic tube and some nibbles.

All elephants were tame but that didn’t stop them from occasionally heading towards the bushes and tear down entire treetops. In those situations we were supposed to hold on tight…I mean what else is there to do.

After the ride we could feed them again. For that we sat on their front leg as they were kneeling. These elephants are the largest in Africa and they have to meet you half way.


I spent an extensive time playing with the trunk of our giant, and with the 2 year old orphan who at 300kg was regarded as “tiny”. I was in heaven.

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Zambia (ZM)

We crossed the shortest border in the world today; Botswana to Zambia, via ferry. It’s only 70 meters apparently. As always we were prewarned about the border crossing. Bring a book, a drink and sunscreen, it can take hours. The visa fee depends on the mood of the person working at that time, and the ferry is known to break down and not be in use for days on end. For the Africans this isn’t increased waiting time but more time to relax. As always we were lucky, 30 minutes max for the Botswana exit stamp, ferry ride and waiting time for the Zambian visa (50 US$ today). The ferry pier, basically just a muddy hole, was packed though. There were plenty of trucks waiting in line already and tons of people with and without goods were hanging out in the heat but without further frustration it seemed.

Our driver walked right up to someone and I imagine he bribed him because before we knew it our truck bypassed all others and so did we, on foot. The ferry holds exactly two trucks only, yet nobody seemed to be upset that this group of white folks nonchalantly walked on and none of the waiting people got on instead. TIA – This is Africa. Efficiency is not their thing, but at least they don’t care either.

According to our tour guide ‘the real Africa’ begins here. So far everything seemed pretty civilized and easy if you had the time to spare. My first roadblock was encountered at various ATMs – they only take Visa cards here and I have 3 Mastercards. As a result I am now paying for my water bottles in US$ and I get local change back, who knows what rate they are using.

We are staying at a campsite approx 8 km away from Victoria Falls. Pretty much everything is 8 km away and you need a cab to get to places but that is normal here. You can see the Falls in the distance, they are huge. We had the opportunity to upgrade to real rooms again but since I am not sick of the tent yet I will skip that and save the money for the various not cheap activities. Also, I am alone in the tent for the next two nights – it looks like a bomb went off in here. I decided to do laundry tomorrow, i.e. drop my stuff off rather than handwashing it, and it’s an equivalent price to what I would pay for 10 lbs of laundry in Brooklyn, but evidently it’s the last time the clothes can be machine-washed and not shredded for a while.

We booked a booze cruise for the evening. First I didn’t want to go, but I’m here for 5 nights in total and I was told that the food would be included and good. I anticipated drunk British people pestering the bartender and I was right. Unfortunately we already left at 4.30 pm and not at 7 pm which I find a more appropriate time for this. Then again we are not in Manhattan where everything is lit up at night and no elephants roam the bushes.
The food was mediocre and we didn’t spot animals but that’s partially because I eventually also bought into the original idea of the booze cruise; drink your weight in alcohol. Still, I made it back on two legs with all clothes on me and with the good mind to fill up on water afterward. Most of the others are letting it rip on the dancefloor now and it’s not pretty.

This campsite is run over by vervet monkeys. If you don’t pay attention for a second your stuff ends up half chewed on a tree.

Chobe (ZM)

As this current tour comes to an end we are now at Chobe National Park, home to the largest elephant population in Southern Africa ( about 120,000 of them). The city is called Kansane and it is at the borders of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and of course Botswana. On the drive here we already spotted random elephants next to the road. They are like my buddies now and I have so many pictures of them. Fascinating animals!
The drive was a bit wearing as we’ve reached the point where some people are getting on each others nerves, also most of us were badly hungover from last night. People were sleeping in the aisles and on the coolbox and there was less room on the truck than ever. That combined with muggy weather and eventually a heavy downpour added to a general foul mood that carried on to the sunset game cruise on the river.
Luckily within thirty minutes we were rewarded with animals again. Elephants of course, plenty of them of all sizes. One was lying down to play in the mud. Fish eagles, small monitors and a crocodile, a buffalo, some kudu and springboks, baboons, water snakes, impala and at least 50 hippos frolocking in the river with mouths wide open. I first assumed that the constant game viewing would become repetitive but I can’t get enough of the animals, they are so beautiful.
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