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18.02.2011, 22:45   ---   Adventure Zimbabwe

For 3 days I’m on my own now and enjoying it a lot – even though Zimbabwe is a country which is way more different to those before than I expected. South Africa , Namibia and Botswana are quite similar. In contrast, Zimbabwe is still struggling somehow. Buildings and streets are extremely run down, electricity breaks down regularly, phone connections are often very bad, supermarkets are badly stocked and means of transport are in a catastrophic, if not even dangerous, condition.
Furthermore there’s quite a currency chaos going on. After the collapse of the Zimbabwean Dollar the US-Dollar was introduced as the official currency and is currently available at most ATMs. But there are only notes, no coins, so change of less than one Dollar is always given in South African Rand or alternatively in candys. Rand is accepted throughout the country anyway, just as the Botswana Pula and sometimes the Euro. Very confusing!
To that add the facts that taking photos of towns and cities (not only of government und police buildings) is not allowed, TV-channels and most newspapers are controlled by the state and any negative statement about the president Mugabe is strictly prohibited – so pack away the camera and shut your mouth!
Very outstanding in a positive way though are the friendly and helpful Zimbabweans! They kindly greet you wherever you go and when I arrive somewhere with my entire luggage everybody tries to help me to find my way and be safe.

My first destination in Zim was Bulawayo , where I finally arrived after 6 hours on the train… not too fast for only 200 km. ;-) The trains are simply dead slow (and so neglected, that they would possibly fall apart at more speed), it takes them ages to reach a decent pace, stop at the tiniest places in the middle of nowhere and wait there for an eternity. I guess it’s because people have to unload all those heaps of goods that they carry by train, which already caused long departure delays before, as the loading took very long as well… but we have of time!
Last but not least the border control officers, that were supposed to arrange the immigration formalities during the train ride, didn’t show up and so just at dawn I arrived in Bulawayo without a visa and an entry stamp. Half way to my hostel a worried local advised me to take a taxi, because that area is too dangerous in the dark and so only minutes later I sat in the crappiest car (if that can still be called a car at all…) I’ve ever seen, along with a driver who had way less of an idea about the right direction than me – I’m not too sure, that this was safer than walking. ;-) As I eventually arrived there was no power at the hostel, but candles were readily available throughout the building yet and on the next morning I could make my way to the immigration office to explain those fellas several times how I managed to get to Zimbabwe without having a visa. Apparently they tried to blame me for that, until I got to the headmaster’s office to tell him the whole story again. Eventually he begged my pardon that those officers didn’t show up on the train and that I had to spend my time with this mess now instead of enjoying my holidays. There we go! :-)

Together with another backpacker I planned to go to Matobo National Park next day, but we didn’t make it very far… The ticket dealer on the bus was pretty drunk and told us 20 km too late that we had to get off. Half an hour later we flagged down an overcrowded minibus in the opposite direction, which miraculously still managed to make some room for us and entertained by 90s Westlife music (on a portable DVD-player, professionally taped to the sunshield) we drove back to the park entrance. Well, at least to its turn-off from the main road… from there it were 1-10 more kilometres (depending on who you ask) until the gate, where from it’s apparently not even allowed to walk to the viewpoints… Long story cut short: We gave up and hitched back to town on a transporter’s cargo space. The whole trip didn’t work out as we hoped though, but for sure it wasn’t a boring day after all and the same evening I went on a 15-hour-train-ride to Victoria Falls (500km).  

21.02.2011, 11:15   ---   The smoke that thunders

The Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe belong to the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and are one of the 3 biggest waterfalls in the world. Along a 1,7 km strip up to 1 Mio. litres of water per second fall down a 108m drop. Just that much about the facts.
In the area’s indigenous language the Vic Falls are called “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the smoke that thunder, which is pretty much what it’s like. This enormous waterfall causes a lot of noise and so much spray that it looks like a huge cloud of smoke, which can even be clearly seen from several kilometres away.
On the Zimbabwean side, there’s a footpath along the gorge leading to various lookouts with a phenomenal view of the falls, absolutely stunning! The only bummer is the mentioned spray… At some places it is so thick that you can’t even see the falls on the other side of the gorge anymore, it comes down like pouring rain, you get totally drenched and there’s absolutely no way to stay partly dry at all. But it was well worth it! :-)

During the last 5 months since I left home I missed horse riding a lot and yesterday I just couldn’t stand it anymore - along with two experienced guides I went on a ride into the nearby Zambezi National Park . I bet I never spent so much money before just to get on a horse, but I have also never seen elephants so close from horseback. ;-) One of them even seemed to be quite annoyed of us and came threatening towards us a few steps, so we better left quickly! Anyway I enjoyed it a lot and that must probably be enough now for quite a while again.

The rest of the time I didn’t do much apart from chilling and having a few beers at night with some funny people. Later I’ll go back on the night train to Bulawayo , where I’ll check out how to continue my trip.  

25.02.2011, 17:45   ---   New plans

After the night on the train from Vic Falls to Bulawayo I spent another day on buses and minibuses (they are smaller though, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they carry less people… ;-) ), until I eventually arrived in Great Zimbabwe. The ruins of this ancient city date back to the 12th century and gave the country its name. Tourism in Zimbabwe is – apart from Victoria Falls – pretty much non-existing and so I shared the huge campground with only 4 Spanish people and a bunch of monkeys. The Spanish were extremely nice and with hands, feet and a little bit of French (I don’t speak Spanish or Catalan and they don’t speak German and know less English than I know French…) we even managed to have some kind of conversation. The monkey’s presence was way less comfortable, as they always lingered around us with thieving glances. I spent an entire day inside Great Zimbabwe and enjoyed it a lot! It’s been a while since I saw the last ruins on my journey and the landscape here is absolutely beautiful!

Next I went to Chimanimani and those about 250 km on several means of transport took me easily the whole day. The buses have a rough schedule though, but in the end they don’t leave before they are merely full. That can take a while… The minibuses only leave when completely full anyways and so one spends plenty of time just waiting. As a white woman I’m often privileged to sit in the front next to the driver. On the one hand that’s great as there’s way more room than in the back and so it’s more comfortable. But on the other hand you have a clear and frightening view on all the huge potholes in the streets, which the drivers usually manage to avoid. And during the bus ride you can conveniently do all your food shopping right through the window at every stop.
In the evening I finally arrived, found a cheap accommodation quite easily and today I was at Chimanimani National Park . Well, I didn’t get as far as I wanted, but it was great! The manager of my lodge took me to the NP, we agreed on a pick-up time and off I went into the mountains. The landscape is truly stunning, but after a while the track became worse and overgrown, hard to recognise as a track and eventually disappeared completely in the bush. Those orange markers were spread all over the place and therefore not very helpful and there was no more track to be found. Unfortunately not even the way back… Not the nicest situation, but in the end you actually just have to climb down the mountain that you climbed up before. ;-) Anyway, I was very happy when I recognised certain places after a long time of searching and after 3 hours I got back to my starting point. As it was still some hours too early for the pick-up I just headed back the 19 km to the village on foot and luckily got a lift for the last part. Another day that didn’t work out as planned, but still exciting. :-)

Tomorrow I’ll move on. First to Mutare by minibus and then straight through to Mozambique . My last plan was actually to go from Zimbabwe to Malawi , then south to Mozambique to fly out of Johannesburg … Anyway, I changed my mind: Mozambique first, then Malawi and probably flying out of Dar es Salaam/Tanzania. I like it better that way somehow. The only problem about this new route could be entering Mozambique . As I skip Harare I can’t go to the embassy to get my visa in advance, which is well recommended for Mozambique . Well, I’ll try my luck at the border tomorrow and hope for some nice officers! :-)


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