Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Do you know the way to Zimbabwe?

After a brief stay in Johannesburg, South Africa (where we flew into from Madagascar, and about which we'll blog in the future), we made our move to escape crazy World Cup prices and boarded the overnight bus to Zimbabwe.

We weren't sure what to expect from Zimbabwe. Obviously, it doesn't have the best reputation politically in the international press, and their currency has tanked so badly that it's now officially defunct, and you pay for everything with SA rand or US dollars. But everyone we've spoken to who has actually been there said it was one of their favorite countries in Africa, so we didn't want to skip it. In the end, we only spent five days and covered a small part of the country, but we saw some terrific wildlife and gorgeous scenery and felt very welcomed by the people. And in terms of crime/street harassment, it also felt like one of the safest places we've been in quite some time. So if you're in the area, check it out!

The adventures began at the border post, which we reached in the middle of the night. On the SA side, the bathrooms featured signs asking you not to use Zim dollars for toilet paper, as they clog up the toilet (ha!). Then on the Zimbabwe side, our bus driver tried to take up a collection of 10 rand (about $1.20) per passenger to "bribe" the border guards not to search the bus's luggage. Andy and I did not contribute, saying that we don't pay bribes, but pretty much all of the other 60-odd passengers did. Surprise, surprise, the border guards still made us sit outside the bus with our luggage for two hours until they'd completed their search! (And no, not because Andy and I didn't kick in.) We're pretty sure the driver just pocketed the money--some passengers were pretty pissed off. A friend of ours took the same bus the day before and the same thing happened...

But then we arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. It's a very calm, orderly place. Not much to see (apparently, we took no pictures), but we managed to arrange a couple of tours to nearby wildlife parks...our first safaris in southern Africa!

Our first tour was a day trip to Matopos National Park and the nearby Whovi Game Reserve. Our guide/driver was eagle-eyed and spotted these giraffes off in the brush. I thought we were SO close to them...but we would actually get much closer in future parks.

Quoth Andy: "Giraffes, schmiraffes--I only like lizards."
In addition to hosting cool animals, Matopos also has these amazing giant rock piles, formed by volcanic eruption millions of years ago and ensuing erosion.

The highlight of Matopos was seeing one of their troupes of white rhinos very close up. Our guide let us get out of the car and track these guys into the brush...until a couple of them turned around and started heading toward us, instead. Then he said, with a mild note of panic in his voice, "OK, let's go, let's go!" You should have seen us hightailing it back to the jeep. Rhinos are HUGE and move a lot faster than you'd think.
PS, "white" rhino is a misnomer, as it's not white, and the black rhino is not black. These were originally called "wyte" rhinos in Afrikaans because that means "square-lipped." These types of rhinos live in groups and have square lips for grazing on grass. The much rarer "black" rhino has a curved lip for eating leaves off bushes and such, and is solitary. They are much harder to find.
Here is a yellow-billed hornbill, quite common in Zimbabwe. One of our guides called them "banana beaks"...which I think Scar calls the bird in The Lion King, no?
Cute little vervet monkeys were also common in the park.
After viewing wildlife all morning, we climbed up to the "View of the World," a mountaintop with incredible views of the surrounding countryside.
That also happens to be where Cecil John Rhodes, crazy British conqueror of "Rhodesia" (modern-day Zimbabwe) is buried.
View of the World + View of Andy and Tara = Pretty Darn Good Viewing, no?
Also in this part of the park were some pretty darn impressive cave paintings. This one featured the leopard in many different positions and looked like it was silk-screened on there last week, rather than thousands of years ago by the San people...
I think that our Australian buddy Ben--whom we met in Zimbabwe and ended up traveling with through most of Botswana and Namibia--spotted this mantis on the streets of Bulawayo. He had a really good eye for urban wildlife!
Our next destination was Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's largest and most wildlife-packed. We spent a night inside the park in a little hut, and in the morning found elephant poop all through the parking lot just meters away! We didn't actually see many elephants on our game drives there, but we did see...
More giraffes, much closer up!
And zebras! Who apparently often hang out with the giraffes. The giraffes can see far away for predators, and the zebras can...smell them, maybe? We're not exactly sure what the zebras are contributing to this mutual-warning system.
Hwange hosted an amazing array of birds, too. These starlings probably aren't the most exotic, but they were so blue and shiny close up, we loved them.
Hello there, Mr. Giraffe. Do you know Geoffrey?

Andy and I aren't sure how we managed this, but for both of our wildlife drives at Hwange, we had the safari truck to ourselves. Zimbabwe just doesn't get the number of tourists that its neighbors do, I guess. Anyway, being out on an open safari truck for two hours in the late afternoon or early morning in winter in southern Africa is COLD. Thank goodness they give you blankets!
Yeah, you probably can't tell from most of these pictures, but it is full-on winter in the southern hemisphere. That doesn't mean snow, but it has been quite chilly for the past few weeks, like in the 40s or 50s Fahrenheit at night, and I often find myself wearning most of my layers.
Beautiful sunrises and sunsets are the norm at Hwange. I think this one is sunset on our first day, but don't quote me.
First ostrich of Africa! Andy and I had actually both forgotten to even be psyched that we might see some ostriches. A cool bonus on our first Hwange safari.
Why did the zebra cross the road? To get his picture on this blog, of course!
I'll give you one guess at who took this lizard picture.
OK, our final destination in Zimbabwe was the famed Victoria Falls. We hoped to catch a bus from Hwange to Vic Falls, but actually ended up hitching a ride with a lovely Belgian family instead. They have been living in Johannesburg and took a big camper van into Zimbabwe for a family holiday--the parents actually lived in Zimbabwe 20 years back and wanted to show their kids all their old haunts. Luckily, Andy and I got adopted for the day and got to visit a few spots we otherwise wouldn't have seen en route to the falls.

We also ended up staying in the same "rest camp" as that family once we got to Vic our first tent of Africa! Definitely not our last, but maybe the poshest one we'll ever reside in--two beds with boxspring mattresses, a nighttable, and an electric light! Seriously, most of the beds in hotel rooms in west Africa didn't even have boxsprings. We thought this was a pretty fun deal for about $25 a night.
(Speaking of lodging prices, we thought Zimbabwe was expensive til we got to Botswana, and we thought that Botswana was REALLY expensive til we got to Namibia. Oh, Namibia, you ridiculously expensive country! But I am getting ahead of myself. Bottom line--Zimbabwe wasn't all that expensive in the end, I guess.)
Andy with an elephant skull at the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park. Elephants are frickin' enormous.
Monkey! I think this is another vervet, eating a wild guava, near Vic Falls Park. I almost beat it up and stole its guava. I love guavas.
OK, here are your obligatory pictures from Victoria Falls. I have to admit, Andy and I were slightly underwhelmed. Maybe it was the foggy skies the morning we went, and the drenching mist that overwhelmed all of our "waterproof" wear. Maybe it was the ridiculous $30 pp price tag to get in. Or maybe after Iguacu and Angel Falls in South America, our standards are just too high. Anyway, here's the small section that I think is called the "Devil's Cataract."
Here's a larger, more impressive swath of the falls. And some chick with a plastic bag that she stupidly thought would keep all her stuff dry.
The best part of the falls was probably the very end, where you can see lovely rainbows by the bridge to Zambia. Also, the sun had come out by the time we got down there, which helped.
I am technically in Zambia in this picture, and I didn't even pay for a visa. Sweet!
OK, maybe even better than Victoria Falls itself is the game reserve in town that you can walk around in for free! We happened upon this huge elephant JUST next to the road and had to wait for a car to come by to shield us from it before we passed. Yup, just didn't feel like dying that day...
There was no car to shield us from this herd of buffalo, though, which was also not far at all from the road. When a whole bunch of them looked up from their grazing and seemed to start taking a few steps toward us, I nearly wet my pants. (Seriously, why do they let people just wander around in this area on foot?)
We'll leave you with a shot of one of Zimbabwe's most impressive creatures, the fuzzy caterpillar.Victoria Falls is a town that's pretty much all set up for tourists, so it has a different feel from the other places we visited in Zimbabwe. Accomodation prices there are lower (since there's more competition, I guess), and that's the only place in the country where we could find a working ATM. But it's also the only place where people bothered us on the street a lot to try to sell us souvenirs...or barter for them!
This may be a throwback to the days when Zim dollars were fast plummeting toward worthlessness, but only in Vic Falls, people will come up to you and say "I like your hat. I'll trade you for this carving!" etc. My dirty shoes, dinged-up Sigg bottle, and not-so-waterproof-after-all jacket were also much-coveted, apparently. If we had wanted some souvenirs and knew where we could replace our old gear, we might have seriously considered trading some stuff.
So, Zimbabwe. Not scary. Beautiful landscapes. Great birds and wildlife-viewing. And better infrastructure than you might think. Our Belgian friends who used to live there lamented that thanks to the useless government, almost no development had happened in 20 years. Apparently, things have been "kept clean," but very little new building or renovation has taken place in that time. Well, we have to say that what we saw of apparently frozen-in-time Zimbabwe is still so much more developed than, say, the whole of West Africa. There are paved highways, a pretty good electricity supply, plenty of supermarkets with food on all the shelves, and buses to help you get around if you don't have a car. No complaints here.


  1. The photo of the two of you in this post is awesome. I would use it for all your future promotional needs. :)

  2. Choose from the best Hotels and lodges in Sizohlala Lodge. Find the perfect accommodation for you. Free reservations and bookings.