Livingstone, Zambia to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
26.06.2010 - 02.07.2010 0 °C
Just finished watching a very disappointing USA World Cup round of 16 loss against Ghana. Well, I guess Americans can go back to ignoring soccer for another 4 years. Earlier today, I spent quite a bit of time getting caught up online with the sister hostel's free wifi (such a luxury!). Wandered around Livingstone a bit, checked out the museum, then grabbed a cab back to the Falls - full moon tonight, which causes a once-per-month lunar rainbow to rise above the falls. It was quite spectacular and worth the second admission ticket!
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
I'm alternating from washing some clothes with a bucket out by the deep sink, and watching the Germany-England World Cup match at a bar in my Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) hostel. This morning I took the Livinstone hostel's free shuttle back to the Falls, but instead of entering the national park for a third time, walked across the bridge to Zimbabwe. Visited the ATM across the border to withdraw Zim's legal tender, U.S. dollars (guess the 10,025,000,000,000 old Zimbabwe dollars I picked up in Mozambique won't get me too far).
It was only a couple km walk from the bridge to the Vic Falls town center, but I was thoroughly peppered with touts trying to sell wood carvings or said disused Zimbabwe Million/Trillion notes along the way. And, I was surprised not necessarily by their persistence here (I have been in Africa now 6 months, after all), but rather the sense of desperation - the willingness to trade my clothes for some of their souvenirs. I guess there are poor African nations, and then there are poor African nations. I politely told them I didn't have very desirable clothes after backing 16 months straight. I got checked into this party-time hostel where people were already going strong late morning at the bar (I wondered if I'll get any sleep tonight with the bar located just outside my dorm room!), and wandered around town a bit. Certainly being a Sunday makes most African towns a bit quiet, but Vic Falls seems downright ghostly and depressing compared to its sister city Livingstone across the Zambezi. I had lunch at a grill spot, then stopped in colonial-era ritzy Victoria Falls hotel
for a beer and views of the falls from their bar... about the only thing I could afford at that place!
Next I wandered away from the small town, up river a bit... I was curious to see what landmark my guidebook referred to as "big tree" - turns out, it was just that.
Other than the evidence of elephants nearby (their droppings being all over), it was really desolate. As I was looking for hippos by the river, a couple guys with wooden carved animals approached me. I was thinking, it was probably a good thing I left my wallet back at the hostel locked up. And, considering how desperate the locals seem, was still a bit concerned seeing no one else around. But, even with their failed sales/barter efforts, the guys turned out to be really friendly, and interesting to talk to about the local culture here. I think even after all this time traveling, it is good I can still be pleasantly surprised now and then by the locals.
Here in Zim's "second city", Bulawayo, and heading from my hostel in the middle of nowhere next door to the sports bar to watch - what else - World Cup. Got up around 04:00 this morning back in Vic Falls to take a taxi to the bus station. It was too far to walk and, according to the locals here dangerous in the middle of the night... not because of potential muggers, but rather the wild elephants around. Well, the 05:00 big bus I was expecting to take never showed. There was a minivan bus parked at the bus station which was heading to Bulawayo at 07:00, with the driver and conductor asleep inside. The taxi driver knocked to wake them and asked if I would stay inside until they departed. Well, climbing in the pitch black minivan failed to see the rusty metal headliner support bar hanging down - until I scraped a good chunk of skin from my scalp on it. Dug into my pack to fish out the old trusty Q-Tips and antibiotic ointment that I've become a bit too familiar with recently. Rested (as best one can with a new gash on the noggin'), and then woke as we took off surprisingly close to on-time (meaning around 07:25). Pulling into Bulawayo was greeted by a big billboard announcing a cholera alert. Ah, yes... just the sort of warm reception I was looking for.
Walked over a couple kms from city center to the suburbs and checked into the city's only hostel. After checkin in, I headed back into the city center, wandering the streets lined with really beautiful old colonial buildings. One of the buildings itself, housed a National Art Gallery.
Not so impressed by 90% of the photos/paintings having the World Cup theme, but a couple older sculptures were photo-worthy.
Tomorrow, making my way to Great Zimbabwe.
Well, there isn't a heck of a lot to see in Masvingo. The Civic Center & Gardens park in the town center had some old steam engine relics which was actually pretty cool, maybe more for the park atmosphere with folks sitting around picnicking than the items themselves.
I arrived at around 12:00 today, barely caught the 07:00 bus this morning back in Bulawayo waiting for a taxi to pick me up from the hostel and take me to the bus station - caught it at 07:15 as it was pulling out. For once the delays with African bus schedules pays off! When I arrived here in Masvingo and checked into the cheapie (and dumpy) hostel, the women working here advised me to visit Great Zimbabwe in the morning. So after wandering around to kill some time, now sitting with a bunch of locals and one other backpacker watching the world cup - good thing there is a generator backup!
I am having my beer for dinner at the hostel here in Harare - nutritious! No supermarkets/restaurants are open nearby past 20:00, and since the hostel is on the outskirts of city center and would cost US $10 for a taxi ride into town and return, I said 'no thanks' and ordered a beer from the bar. Side note, it seems a majority of hostels I've stayed in Africa, have been located outside the city center - essentially being stranded unless willing to pay for a taxi with jacked-up nighttime fares, or risk getting mugged by walking. Anyway. Earlier this morning back in Masvingo, caught a minibus to the Great Zimbabwe ruins - awesome collection of stone ruins dating from the 13th c. It had been a while since I'd wandered around ancient ruins, but these were worth the wait and did not disappoint. Started over at the giant Great Enclosure, housing the famous and mysterious (no one still understands what it was used for) conical tower.
Visited the Eastern Ridge Enclosure teeming with baboons, down Eastern Valley past Western Valley and up the narrow and steep Ancient Path,
to the incredible Hill Complex - mix of stone buildings built into natural boulders clinging to the cliffside.
Had spectacular views of Great Zimbabwe below to one side,
and Lake Mutifikwi and the Beza mountains on the other.
Spent a few hours in total at the ruins, then made my way back to Masvingo and caught a really slow (despite what the traffic officer woman told me) minibus here to Harare. While on the ride, sat up front next to a very very large woman (seems most of them who I sit next to on busses are), and watched as she devoured a fried chicken leg - meat and cartilage, stripped it clean. But then, I hear crunching and look over - she started chewing the bone. Uh... bon appetit! Once I arrived, it was not exactly easy finding this hostel - city minibus from the bus station to the general area, but no one heard of the road or hostel that I was asking about. No street lights work in Harare - literally, not one light was on and it was already pitch black at 19:00... I'm thinking to myself, "Seriously, does Mugabe actually WANT people to get mugged here??" But, eventually found the place and despite my beer being a great dinner and all, will be anxious to eat breakfast tomorrow morning!
Today was spent wandering Harare - I like this city! After an overpriced breakfast (what choice did I have after not eating for about 24 hours??), took a local minibus down to Harare Gardens (their "Central Park"),
then the National Art Gallery (second one I've hit in Zimbabwe!), with a very good collection of paintings and sculptures.
Headed down First Street promenade to Robert Mugabe Road, it was too good to pass on the photo opp. Although, selecting someone who looked honest enough to be trusted with my camera from across the street took a little bit of searching... finally settled on the guy selling juices out of a cart, I paid for 2 but only took one juice in exchange for the photo... figured he wouldn't be going anywhere too quickly, anyway!
Then, after an unsettling meat pie for lunch (ugh), headed back up to Chancellor Road where the Presidential Palace is located. Well, as soon as I reached in my pocket to get my camera, I noticed a soldier - camouflage fatigues with semi-automatic weapon drawn. Not slung over his shoulder, but drawn and pointing out to the road. Back in the pocket went the camera! In fact, all along Josiah Tongogara Road, I noticed more well-hidden guards (soldiers), and from what I've read, they're given an open order to shoot any trespassers on site without warning. Therefore, I wasn't about to provoke any trigger-happy Mugabe guards -- just kept my camera in my pocket and barely looked toward the well-fortified presidential palace as I walked down Chancellor Road. This road is closed between 6 pm - 6 am - not even pedestrians may walk down the sidewalk during this period - so I figured I'd better get a look now while its still legal (and safe). Walking back to Chancellor/Josiah Tongogara intersection, I stepped back behind a tree concealed from the guards and braved a quick photo of the warning sign... it came out blurry, but there was NO WAY in hell I risked taking another!
Back in Bulawayo - hadn't planned to stop here, but the realistic view should have been predicted once I left Harare at a very late 10:30 - no way I was going to arrive in time to transfer to another bus. Sure enough, the minibus from Harare stops every few kms, coupled with my favorite: minibus gets "hired" for a different route and ends up dumping all passengers at some stop to wait and switch to another minibus... got me into Bulawayo around 19:00. And this ride I had to exercise particular patience with the 5 kids I got stuck with crammed in the back of the minibus... good thing there's a bar next door!