Published: June 12th 2006June 5th 2006
Other Travellers: We lost Charlie. Yes it took Jas and I quite a while to get over that blow. Fortunately we started travelling with two English guys Pat and Finbar, and an Aussie chick Lucy.
Vic Falls Highlights:
Getting asked by a local guy to dance. I didn't, but it was still flattering.
President's and assholes occupied most of our times once again and truth be told it was quite fun. Since I lost almost all the time I was performing various humiliating acts. Use your imagination.
We have also managed to accumulate thousands of 500 dollar bills that are utterly useless. Thanks to Fin for getting ripped off by a couple of street kids. So poker is making an introduction.
The other thing that is really amazing from this city is that not only you can actually see the mist shooting up from the falls within town, but at night you can hear the roar from the sanctuary of the hostel we stayed in.
We decided to hop on the train from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo. Although only 451 kilometers, due to the slow speed and the frequent stops, and the occasional elephant, the train ride takes over 12 hours. The five of us booked an entire room and began freaking ourselves out as soon as we got on. Horror stories of being held up a knife point, people breaking into room and frequent train derailments had us quite spooked. We thus locked the door with one of my locks (as apparently employees are almost as bad, if not worse) and had my fears reinforced when the conductor told me not to open the door all the way to give him the tickets. He even told me to close the shutters that go into the hallway because some locals were looking in. As it turns out, the train ride was not that bad, and aside from all the cockroaches and people opening the door (until my lock kicked in), it was a pleasant ride. PLus on the train Fin ran into Evan (a local from Vic Falls) who offered us a place in Bulawayo.
Truth be told I was a little nervous about the offer, and not sure if it stood or not given Evan's drunken state that night. However, sure enough the following morning we were 5 people and all of our bags crammed in a cab heading to his parents' house (making up our minds was that much easier once we found out the hostel was 20 dollars American...American currency too). My thanks truly go out to Evan's mom, dad and brother who made us feel at home. And the one girl who seemed to be superwoman or something. She did everything, and I think she was just a daughter of one of the families' who were renting sheds from Evans' parents. It was one of the better experiences of the trip.
Before dinner a girl came around to each of us in the living room with hot water and a bowl. Luckily the father went first, because otherwise I would not known what to do. She knelt at each person holding the bowl in one hand while pouring warm water over your hands while you washed. After she had gone around to everyone, she then came around with our food that consisted of chicken, this maiz mashed potato dish, and some vegetables: a good home cooked meal. We ate with our hands (right hand of course) and had some good golden papaya for dessert. After a little campfire discussion outside with the family (the men of course) I decided it was time for bed. The girls still had not gone to bed and when I had woke up in the morning they were already sweeping and dusting, and heating water for us to wash our faces and hair with.
Bulawayo to Harare:
Evan joined us on a mini-bus (I think of them as collectivos still), one that proved to be one of my worst bus trips so far. It was just really cramped, slow and hot. I had a window seat and fought vigorously to keep it open, but unfortunately the locals could not stand the 'cold'. It was cool to see them fill up with black market petrol in seemingly the middle of nowhere though.
poker, visas and just trying to get to Moz quickly. On wednesday we probably have to fight to get on a bus to Malawi at which point we will head east to Ihla Mozambique. With a little luck, we will be there by the weekend.
The currency is ridiculous. Seriously. We change 25 dollars each which amounts to about 7 million on the black market. You then have to spend counting all of the bills to make sure you got enough. The 50,000 bills are not that bad, but today I got 2 mil in 20,000 dollar bills. Almost worthless but not quite yet. For all you cashiers and waitresses, just imagine if everyone was paying in 1 dollar bills all the time. I have to admit though, the workers are damn fast at counting.
On a more serious note though it has been hard walking through the streets. Not hard in that you have to be careful, but hard in terms of how much poverty there is. Victoria Falls itself has to be better off than the rest of the country due to it being a major tourist attraction, but the signs are very clear that Victoria Falls has been falling. Nearly all the places are empty and tour operators are desparate to sell anything. For that matter everyone (who must have been used to a city packed with tourists) is desperate to sell anything. While it is hard to ignore them (and you have to ignore them) it is even harder to just ignore all the kids who are asking for money. The weirdest thing is that I imagine that I will just get used to it, especially given the fact that it only gets worse from here on out (e.g. India). Also, even the family that we stayed with, who were clearly more well off, did not have that much to provide in terms of food. If it were not for the maiz mash, I think it would be hard to get enough calories. Of course, as Jas points out we have been to poor countries before, but I think this is the first we have seen with all the infrastructure that should point to a well-off country.
I would upload pictures but that would probably take all day. The hostel still had a dial-up modem. DIAL-UP!