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Hello from Zimbabwe!
It’s been awhile since our last blog because finding good internet has been difficult and besides, we have been busy walking with lions and rhinos!
We left Malawi and headed across the top of Mozambique to Zimbabwe. We only spent one night in Mozambique, bush camping, but it was a nice stamp in our passport!
Driving through Mozambique we starting noticing a change in the scenery. It was becoming a lot less tripical and arid and we were now seeing more grasslands and woodlands with large granite boulders. We bush camped for the night and you still have to be very careful not to stray too far off the road because Mozambique still has a land mine problem.
We hadn’t really followed the situation in Zimbabwe in the newspapers before we left, but I’m sure many of you know about the political and economic instability that the country is experiencing. We were getting pretty good at border crossings, but the Zimb border was a totally unique experience. The biggest shock was that our visa was $65 US, more than any other country (more than even the Americans and Brits even).
We’re not sure exactly what Canada has done to Zimb in the past few months to deserve this! We then had to bring our packs off the truck to be searched (a first) and Paul had to explain every over the counter drug we had (all I heard was “headache… diarhea …diarhea ……..”). The truck was thoroughly searched (another first) and they went through every cabinet and even into the two safes we have on board, rooting through every persons moneybelt. They were not happy that they were not being given a bribe and our tour leader refused to give them our beer on board. We had eached declared $200US on us and they were very unhappy because they thought we had undeclared. Since you cannot rely on ATMs in Africa, we have to carry large amounts of hard currency around with us.
Next we had to go to the bank to convert our foreign currency to Zim $s. The Zimbabwean economy is very unstable, with yearly inflation at 780% and a huge gap between the bank exchange rate and the black market rate. Because of the incredible inflation, the largest bill they have is the equivalent of $0.50US.
This means we have to carry large wads of bills to pay for even the simplest things, like a coke. $1 US is = to $100,000 Zim bank rate and $200,000 black market rate. Buying a pizza costs $1 million, so we are loving being millionaries here. The prices of goods are quite expensive here and we often pay what we would at home. A lot of places will not let foreigners pay with Zimb $s unless they have a bank receipt showing that they changed their money at the bank. People therefore change $20 at the border, to get a receipt and then get the rest of their money on the black market. This really isn’t great for their economy, but your money goes twice as far.
We arrived into Harare, the largest city in Zim on Sunday, when everything was closed. We were loosing two of our passengers and picking up two new ones. After 21 days, with every one, we all have a pretty close bond, and it was sad to loose Tim & Phil. We toured Harare and spent the afternoon at the Zimbabwe cricket club, feeling like we were in a UK pub.
Across the street was Mugabe’s (the controversial leader) residence and even walking by we had to be quiet and walk on the opposite side of the street from the armed guards.
We stopped for a night at the Great Zimbabwe ruins, the largest ruins in Sub Saharan Africa. The ruins are in good shape because they do not get many visitors and are from the 11th-13th century. One of the unique things is that they built walls 7 m high with no grout material. The king’s compound was up on a hill where he could look out over his kingdom (and 50 wives) and there were some beautiful views.
We headed to Gweru and a campsite called Antelope Park. One of the girls on the truck (from Canada) was born here and we got to drive by her house. I was on cook group and made Curried Chicken Divine (a recipe from Barb – thanks!) and it was a huge hit. Antelope Park is a private wildlife reserve and they have tons of activities you can partake in. The most famous is the walk with the lion cubs. We watched a DVD with activities
and then picked what we wanted to do, and they scheduled them (kind of felt like summer camp). The campsite is on a river and it was a beautiful place to wake up to each day.
Our first activity was game viewing by horse back. I have only been horse back riding twice before and both times I was terrified, so Paul was a bit confused when I suggested we go riding. And I will admit that I was terrified for the first 10 min, but relaxed after that. We rode through the park, seeing wildabeast, zebras, antelope, and buffalo. It was a totally sureal experience to be able to get so close to the animals and see them in their natural environment. We did lots of trotting around the park and as a result, we were both pretty sore the next day. It was a real highlight for us (Paul wants me to clarify – he’s not sure it was a highlight because his butt was pretty sore, but it definetly was for me)and such a peaceful way to spend the morning.
Antelope Park is known for the lion program where they raise cubs in activity, teach
them to hunt and then to release them into the wild to help increase the decreasing lion population throughout Africa. We did a cub viewing, where we got to play with lion cubs 8 mo. old (sounds crazy doesn’t it!). You are expecting little cats, but lion cubs are not all that small and they have sharp paws. We spent some time petting them and playing with them.
The next morning, we went on the famous lion walk for a few hours in the early morning. You walk with cubs that are 17 mo. old. This is such a unique, once in a lifetime experience. You walk around the park with the two lions and you just follow along behind them because they consider you part of their pride. We were able to sit with them and pet them and watch them run through the brush.
They also have elephants at Antelope Park and you can do ele rides or swims and it was hilarious to watch some of our friends swim with the eles. We’re going to do the ele ride is Asia instead. We spent lots of time relaxing and it was funny how you would
get used to seeing eles walk right beside your tent many times a day. I went to the morning ele training and we got to see them do lots of poses and tricks, feed them and lots of photo opportunities. They are magnificent creatures, but surprisingly covered with coarse hair.
Other highlights of Antelope Park were having our clothes washed in a washing machine (the first on the trip) and very exciting. We have an area on the front of the truck called the beach that is open topped and we slept up there under the stars one night. It is starting to get cooler in the evening as we go farther south and it is a nice change.
We headed to Bullawayo, another large Zim city. We did a rhino walk safari here in Motopo National Park. We had a white Zimbabwean guide and he was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife. We actually had to track the rhinos (learned a lot about the ways to differentiate the different footprints and dung). We would drive around in the safari vehicle and then get out and track through the bush. We only saw zebras, giraffe, and wildabeast in
the morning. By mid-afternoon, we still hadn’t seen a rhino and our guide was getting a bit worried. But after afternoon tea in the bush, we spotted a huge male and so we were able to walk up very close to him. Absolutely huge animals and it was really exciting because that was our first rhino we saw. We also saw some San Bushmen stone painting from thousands of years ago.
The Colonial Train
The truck had gone ahead to Victoria Falls and as part of our trip, we were taking the “colonial sleeper train” to Vic Falls overnight. We weren’t too sure about this, but our guide assured us that it was a great experience in this great colonial train. We ended up in 2nd class, with 6 of us in a compartment, the train smelled like pee, there were cockroaches and there was nothing colonial about our compartment! We were not very happy, but managed to chug chug into Vic Falls after 14 hours and 3 hours late. We were very glad to leave the train and meet up with our lovely truck.
We will be here in Vic Falls for 4 nights and then we
head into Botswana. Hope you’re all enjoying the spring!