Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Mosi oa Tunya with the Wild Bunch

Before walking to the falls
The following day I didn't see Eve and Andrea until evening because they left quite early. I started the day with laundry and then had some toasts with honey and tea for breakfast. I spent most of the day at the backpackers taking care of the laundry, lounging by the pool reading and playing ball with the English people who had come along for the football game the previous day. They even had me play some cricket for 5 minutes in the small compound. Around six thirty in the evening I saw Mitra, Eve and Andrea who were back from their Chobe day trip. They saw a lot of elephants, a lion, hippos, crocs, a rhino or two (if I remember well) and so on. We then all went to Cafe Zambezi for dinner. It's not the cheapest place, but they usually play salsa music and have good food. They have a mix of local and Caribbean dishes interspersed with classic western culture meals. They have salsa classes there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in which Torsten takes part. When we got back to the backpackers our now almost “traditional” cuddling session followed. Mitra took part as well and we chatted for quite a while. The girls were planning to go to the falls the next day, and invited Mitra and me to join them.

Mitra, Andrea, Eve and me
That is how we ended up all going to Victoria Falls. Andrea had never been to Africa before, so it was her first visit to the Falls. Mitra had been there on a full moon visit and Eve had visited previously with her family here in Zambia. You all know I have now been there multiple times on multiple sides in multiple seasons. It's always good to go back and experience it one more time. I would have gone more if the entry fee wasn't that high (USD 20 in Zambia and USD 30 in Zimbabwe). At least the 11 kms ride to the park entry was free because we took the 10 am Jollyboys shuttle which runs every day. I had managed to spend most of the cash I had taken out of the ATM at the restaurant so I didn't actually have enough cash for the entry fee. Eve paid for me and we took a picture before getting all soaked.

I didn't remember the layout of the falls on this side. I had completely forgotten that there was a bridge crossing between to points. Last time I came to this side, the whole wall was dry and there were only a few tiny water streams going down at some points. The main water could be seen from afar on the Zim side. But now the roar and thunder of the Zambian falls was tremendous and covered all sounds. The water rained up, down and sideways and we got soaked quickly. The paths are slippery because of the algae that grow during the rainy season. The water level should slowly drop again from now on. We crossed over the walking bridge which was more like a river. The girls sang all the rain songs they could remember at the top of their lungs during our visit. We had quite a lot of fun, even though the temperature wasn't really warm yet. Winter was approaching, and you could feel it by the chillness of the nights.

After that we went to the top of the falls, where I previously had walked right at the edge of the drop. Now there was so much water you would be dead meat if you tried it. Most probably your body would never be found by humans, but by crocodiles in the lower Zambezi where the water is calmer. We ate our sandwiches we had prepared before leaving and got warm and dry in the sun. The sun stroke hard and hot.

We then decided we had to walk down to the Boiling Pot. The path down there is quite steep, but when the rafting season is going, they manage to carry down all the boats and other equipment without problem. A troop of baboons watched us walking down, scrutinizing our bags closely to check them out for food. Some of them were quite big and unafraid of humans. They sat on the path where we had to go around them. Their strength is much more than ours, and they could break us in pieces quite easily. But we managed to get through without any problem. The walk down was gorgeous and the view on the bridge amazing. Arriving at the Boiling Pot, the water was quite high and we sat down on boulders at its edge. At some point I needed to cool down (now it was getting hot) and sat on the ledge from where they launch the rafting boats taking care not to be washed away by the swell. Walking back up was a tad slower and we had to stop midways for the girls to rest before reaching the top. There was a bench where we sat a while and watched the view.

It was then almost time to go for High Tea (again) at Royal Livingstone Hotel. It's located a couple of hundred meters before the falls on the Zambezi. I was doing a lot of British activities lately. I already had High Tea (my first time ever) with some British people in Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe about a month earlier. In any case, we walked to the hotel gates, where they let us pass even though we were not in a car (obviously). They said to pay attention to the wildlife, as the hotel compounds serve as private game reserve. Not far from the gates, we stumbled upon a small giraffe.

At the hotel we had to wait a while until High Tea was ready. They were setting up a buffet and gave us a menu with the list of teas. The desserts looked really amazing and we tried from everything. The one chocolate cake was really good, but not as good as the Solid Whiskey Chocolate Cake from the Bvumba Mountains. I was disappointed getting the only green tea that was served with a Twinings tea bag instead of leaves like the others. But in general it the food was much better than the one in Vic Falls Hotel.

After spending quite some time eating and drinking our teas, we paid our dues (or better, Eve paid mine) and we ordered a taxi from the reception. The hotel could provide us with a lift to town that would “only” cost us KR 75. But the lady called a taxi that picked us up and it cost us “only” KR 50. A shared taxi would normally contain 4 passengers and would cost KR 6 each (KR 24 total) but we would have had to get that from the taxi rank. But Mitra had to get back to the backpackers to get ready for his airport transfer. As we drove towards the exit, we spotted a dazzle of zebras which caused quite some excitement as Andrea hadn’t seen any zebras so far. Which is quite incredible, in a land usually so full of zebras.

At Boiling Pot
That night we had some food from the kitchen at Jollyboys. I wasn't too happy about the chicken wrap which wasn't nearly as good as some food I had had at other places (and more expensive as well). Our next cuddle session followed after that, but without Mitra this time, who had managed to lose and recover his iPhone just before leaving.

The following morning, I woke up around 6 and got ready to take the seven thirty bus to Lusaka. I planned to meet the Oshivambo Germans at Kalulu backpackers the previous day, but then changed my plans when I met Eve and Andrea. It was their last day in Kalulu and we tried to start a party. They had partied quite hard the previous days and were quite exhausted. But anyway, we had drinks at Kalulu, they prepared a good meal and the evening went on well. We did silly things and had fun. Eve texted me she had had two, and later three drinks and that she was feeling drunk. At 8 she said she was going to pass out and sleep. Unfortunately I missed that part. We went out to a dancing bar where Eva (German Eva, not Eve) started feeling unwell so that Jeanine had to bring her back to Kalulu. Franziska and Martin disappeared as well and we somehow ended up being 3 guys left in the dancing bar. We drank another beer and called it a night.

High Tea dessert buffet at Royal Livingstone Hotel
The following morning, the Germans who all called me “Schweizer” were a bit late getting out of their rooms. They then left for a 20 hours bus ride to the northern parts of Zambia, from where they would eventually cross over to Malawi. I plan to go to Malawi from Lusaka to Chipata the border town, and on to Lilongwe. My path drives me in a mostly northerly direction trying not to get trapped south by a Zambian or Mozambican border. Visa fees always apply if you want to go to these countries.

I spent the rest of the day chatting with Marc, who is from South Africa, and traveling all around the place with meager savings. He is an English teacher and also a kid entertainer. He's been staying for quite a while in Kalulu. I had already met him during my first stay in Lusaka. I didn't need to provide anything else than the days food, so I chilled and relaxed. In the evening we went to the Indian restaurant with Tim the American from LA (Burbank) and Jan the German who just arrived and will be starting a practical of six months in the Western Provinces.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Wallet as Big as Texas

Wall painting by Zig Zag
Coming “home” from the football game with the Lubasi orphanage kids, I planned to give my clothes away for laundry. So I put everything from my pant pockets onto the bed and covered it with my sleeping bag so I could quickly change clothes and give the laundry bag to the lady who would take care of it. I went to the lady, she weighed the bag and said it was KR 25 per kilogram. Do the math for 3.5 kgs. Instead of giving her the laundry, she sold me a washing paste for KR 5 (about USD 1). I took it and went back to the dorm to get the KR 5. Only, my wallet wasn't on the bed. I wildly searched on the bed, in the sleeping bag, under the pillow, around the bed, on the shelf next to the bed, in the pants in the laundry bag, in the bag itself, in the backpacks, in short, everywhere. I couldn't find it. When I left it on the bed, I didn't notice anyone in the dorm. Now there were two girls chatting on a bed. After I rummaged through my stuff a couple of times, ran erratically in and out and around the dorm and said “shit” a couple of times, they asked me if everything was alright. I told them I lost my wallet, and that it probably had been stolen. What was weird though, was that my passport, my phone and other things were still under the sleeping bag on the bed.

I went to the reception and told them what I thought had happened. They advised me to wait a while, because if it really got stolen, the thief would probably take the money out (about KR 4) and toss the rest somewhere. I was worried about my bank and credit cards without which I would be stranded pretty soon. I still have some cash stashed away for just such emergencies, but it sucks anyway to lose one's cards (including driver's license and ID card). They advised me to look again if I hadn't dropped it somewhere and told me they would ask security to investigate. I went to the security people at the gate myself and told them what happened. I then had a whole squad following me to the dorm, all putting up a serious crime investigation attitude. Arriving there I quickly told them the two girls arrived only after I lost my wallet to avoid any confusion. They looked around, and I told them I already searched everything two or three times.

Jollyboys relaxing lounge area
I couldn't do anything but wait a while before calling my credit card security number to block the card. I didn't want to block it for nothing. I chatted a while with the two girls, Eve and Andrea, who are both from Texas. Eve was visiting her sister who works for USAid in Lusaka and had already been in Zambia for 5 or 6 weeks. She had visited the lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and had already been to Vic Falls. Andrea just recently joined her. She's got a job in Illinois (far out of Texas) from which she only could take about a weeks holidays. She would get the most out of it (she met me). Her husband had already consumed his holidays by going skiing earlier in the year so he couldn't join her. She had arrived a couple of days earlier in Lusaka.

After a while, still not showered (that was initially another plan I had) the lady from reception called me and told me I should come to reception in a few minutes because some people had found my wallet. My hopes grew because I had remembered the taxi ride during which we were squeezed and I remembered not being able to put my wallet back into my pant pocket. So I waited a little bit longer until they got there. It was the taxi driver and one of his buddies. No sign of my wallet so far, but they told me they have it. They finally produced it out of their pockets and gave it back to me. After checking that the main things (credit card, banking card, ID, driver's license, 4 Kwachas, etc) were still inside, I gave the taxi driver a USD 20 finding fee. I thought it probably was more than what he would end up getting in a normal day of taxi driving.

Nyami Nyami
Relieved and happy, I went back to the dorms where Eve and Andrea were still chatting on their bed. I joined them and we chatted a while. Eve wanted to see the now so famous wallet I had lost and recovered and when showed to her, said it was huge (probably as big as Texas). I told them I still needed a shower because I was still dirty from the football game. The proof was the sand that was now on their bed. I took a shower, and later convinced them to join me for a walk to Barclay's ATM.
Later we came back to Jollyboys, me with money from another ATM which only accepts Visa and not Maestro debit cards, and them with themselves. We sat down in the lounge area which has a lot of cushions and pillows. At first I was a bit far away, so I went closer, but closer meant going down a step and really close, as the space was a bit small down on the bottom. Eve said it wasn't too close, and that they are cuddling people. So a new friendship started with Ladies from Texas.

A bit later Mitra walked by and I introduced him to the Ladies, because they would all be going to a day trip to Chobe NP the following day. I had met Mitra a couple of days earlier when he tried to get in touch with a guy he had planned to meet in Cafe Zambezi. Mitra only had a Kenyan phone number and the credit took some time to load, so he borrowed my phone to call Bryan, his meeting partner.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Livingstone, Zambia

After 3 nights of chilling out, chatting to people, going out and generally not doing much in Lusaka, I took a bus to Livingstone. There I would be meeting Torsten whom I met in Tofo in January. He dove with us a couple of times and he came to my snorkel test. Apparently we met another fellow, Matt, but only after I had emptied my snorkel. I don't remember anything from after that point.

Road gang
I asked Shawn, the manager at Kalulu (which means rabbit in the local language) about the buses to Livingstone, and he told me I had to book. New information, as the previous I got, was that I could just show up and buy a ticket. He tried to call one company which they always use, but they didn't answer. As it was getting late I decided to go the following day. Shawn told me he would call them again and book for me later in the day.

The following morning I woke up early and got out quickly. I was intent on getting to the bus station quite early as they might leave without me otherwise, I was told. It wouldn't be the case, because they run on schedule. In any case, it was a wise choice, because Shawn apparently didn't call them, and I booked the last available seat there and then.

Biogas digester diggings
In the bus they gave us a newspaper for 2 and then a snack and a drink. When we closed into Livingstone I was getting excited about seeing the place again. I very seldom come back to a place I have visited before, and I had good memories here. I remembered all the things we did and the good times we had spent with Vincent, Irka and J├╝rgen. When we drove along the road I recognized more and more the layout of the town which is quite small.

I met Torsten and his friend Matt, who arrived the same day, that evening in Jollyboys where they had a drink. He told me to call him the following day to arrange a visit of his project which was a bit out of town. I sent him a message the next morning, but he only answered later that he had had a busy day with some problems on the construction site but that I could come and meet him at his salsa course that night. Around 6 I went out to Cafe Zambezi and met him and some of his friends from the salsa course. When it ended, Julia, a South African, that doesn't look like a South African at all, drove us back to our respective resting places. We dropped Torsten first, so I saw where his project was happening. Elefants come visiting quite often in the evenings now, but we didn't see any on that occasion.

Croc at biogas dam with people walking close by
The following day I decided to walk down to the construction site. It took me about an hour with a stop on the road where some road gang was putting up electrical poles. I chatted a little while with one of them, and took a couple of pictures with the promise to print them out and bring them to them the following day. To that day I still have the pictures in my stuff, as I didn't find them again. When I arrived at the gate of the project site, the cook came to it and I asked him if Torsten was there. He said he thought he wasn't but that I could come in anyway. I asked him again and he said he didn't know, maybe he was somewhere around. The guys from the road gang had told me they had seen him drive by on a bike, so I thought he should be here. Everyone seems to know Torsten around here. I went to the holes where I found Torsten. So he was there after all.

Shima with Kapenta and coleslaw salad
They are building 3 underground containers which they will feed with hyacinths from the ponds. The hyacinths will then rotten and in the process, release a usable biogas. They had dug out the second out of three holes, and were about to lay in the foundations when the wall crumbled down on one side. This put them back at least two days. The Zambezi being quite high still, the water was soaked to about 1-2m underground. Some was even flowing into the hole freely from some underground source. I walked to the ponds where I saw the hippo, a baby crocodile and later an adult crocodile. How they will collect the hyacinths without being eaten by a crocodile or run down by a hippo, I don't know. And Torsten doesn't know either yet. It has to be simple, and if possible with as less engine as possible. The digesters will eat about 5 tons per day or week (I don't remember) he told me. At lunch he shared his shima with kapenta (small fishes) and coleslaw salad with me. After that we walked around to the village that would benefit mostly from the digesters and went to his house there. From there we came back and I left for another horizon.

David Livingstone Hotel
I walked down to the waterfront where there are lodges and hotels. I went to see the David Livingstone Safari Lodge where you can reside for no less than USD 800 a night (or something completely aberrant like this). It is a beautiful but impressively huge building with a waterfront pool on the river. I didn't even dare to take a beer there of fear of the high price. Talking about it later, we came to it, that it would cost about KR 25 for a bottle of Mosi or Castle. In town the current price was KR 7-10 depending on where you get it. So I walked out again and went to the Waterfront Lodge where we camped at the end of our camping safari in 2010. I drank a beer that cost me KR 12 on their deck bar and fooled around with my camera taking self-portraits. From around there I tried to get a minibus taxi back to town, but it probably was a staff minibus. It was the first time I was told the minibus was full. There's usually always room for more. So I walked back trying to hitchhike on the way back, but without success as nobody wanted to stop. Then I saw this compound and I thought I could go and see if I could buy some local beer there. I met a few guys with whom I drank some Chibuku. It's quite a cheap brew as you will get between one and two liters for KR 3. Then you drink it passing on the container to the next person. It's usually served in a cut open 2 liter plastic oil bottle. In some cases they serve it in tin cups. This particular brew was quite tasty and, as I would discover later, better than the commercially available Shake-Shake. Chibuku is a thick local beer made of maize and sorghum. It's completely unfiltered and its smoothness depends on the brewer. It tastes a bit sour, where some are more sour than others. Its alcohol contents is about 5% but its effects are lessened by the heaviness of the brew. Larry whom I met there accompanied me to another compound where I could buy some Shake-Shake tetra-packs.

Drinking a Castle at Waterfront
Later I met Zig-Zag, an artist who paints the walls of Jollyboys Backpackers. He uses it as a big advertisement board for his work, but gets the paint from the backpackers. He travels quite a lot around the worlds when he's got money and has even seen the Northern Lights from Norway. His paintings are painted with completely different styles and some are really beautiful. He had an exhibition the previous week from which he sold about 25 paintings. But he doesn't want to show those paintings to the Jollyboys public.

Brick-master's boy from Nsongwe
On the following morning I agreed to go on a “free” village tour with Elver. He said he could show me his village for free. I told him nothing was for free when he asked my why I didn't go the first day. He then explained that the apart from the transport expenses, I could just give him what I thought was right in appreciation of his job. But that's always a bit tricky as you never know with how much he is going to be happy and how much is definitely too much. But seeing as an unskilled labourer gets KR 20 per day, I had a starting point. We took a shared taxi down to the falls from where we walked to his village. It wasn't really close and it took us probably about 30 minutes to go there. Once there we walked around and he showed me a village which was really widespread. I saw the house where his family lives. He explained some things, but not with many details. And he didn't tell many interesting facts. He is actually quite a poor guide. But it was interesting anyway. We spent some time in one of the villages shebeens or bar drinking Chibuku (I don't remember the local name). Then we got a lift and a taxi to Mukuni village where we drank some 7-days beer, which is browner, smoother and had a yeasty taste.

Drinking chibuku in a shebeen in Nsongwe
When we came back to Livingstone we went straight to Cafe Zambezi because there was to be another salsa course. The students were there but the area was occupied by tables with customers. So the students, including Torsten, decided to drink out their beers and go out to see the lunar rainbow at the falls. During and close after the rainy season when there is still a lot of spray, you can see a complete circle rainbow when the moon is full or close to full.

We went to buy a family meal at Hungry Lion and came back to Jollyboys to consume it. I told Elver he should consider building some traditional houses and host tourists. It could be an “authentic” experience for the traveler looking for the African Spirit. He told he had thought about it, but was looking for interested investors. I told him I was interested and we started making some plans. He told me building houses could be done for about USD 100, so the budget should be quite low according to him. But then we started putting together all the things that would be needed to accommodate foreign tourists. Even if they go for the traditional experience, they still want some comfort. So included a toilet and shower facilities, a self-catering area and so on.
One of ZigZag's wall paintings
We didn't even calculate what a bar would cost so far. The total price would be at least ten times as high as he thought. When we talked about employing people for the cleaning, I asked him his advice about how many people he thought would be needed to clean and laundry eight houses. He said two people per house. What they would be doing the rest of the day after having finished cleaning the house for about an hour, I don't know. So I said maybe one or two for the eight planned houses would be enough, and asked him again which number would precisely be accurate. He answered that one or two would be fine. I told him I expected him to give me advice because he was supposed to know how local people work, and so on. So he said two people would do fine. When asking him why he couldn't answer. He was annoyed with my questions, and I was annoyed that he couldn't answer them. He definitely wasn't the partner I was looking for. We went out that night and the following morning, instead of going to see his elders at the village, I told him he wasn't what I expected of a local business partner.

Jollyboys, currently my office
So instead of checking out, I booked another three nights and got one for free because I would be staying more than a week. After that I would go to Lusaka and from there to Malawi.

On Friday night, with a bunch of young German ladies "Die Oshivambo Bande" (and one guy), and basically the rest of Jollyboys' residents, we went out to Livingstone Backpackers and then Fezbar. There I met Webby, a guy I had previously met in Kalulu in Lusaka and Torsten as well. Coming home around 4 am we went to the kitchen and ate some cheese and toasts. After that, we went to remove Janin's bag that was still on her bed. Unfortunately we woke up the whole dorm of 16 (or so we fear).

On Sunday afternoon we went to Lubasi home for orphaned children. Each Sunday there's a football game between Jollyboys residents and the children. They are young, quick and trained. Just by looking at them we thought we would be losing the game. But after a long, sweaty match with the sun in the eye, we managed to win 5-4. But it was a tough game. We had to assets, one was Steven the American and the other, Emma the Swedish girl who played quite well. I mostly assured defense by sticking to one guy or the other that came too close to our goal. All sweaty, tired and for some sunburnt (not me) we returned to our backpackers and took a shower.

I managed to drop my wallet in the cab, and thought it had been stolen while it was lying on the bed. Luckily the cab driver was honest and brought it back a while later with everything still inside. Thank you. I gave him a nice tip.

Today is going to be Vic Falls from Zambia with two Texan girls I just met the other day. I seem not to be able to leave this place.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Zim Zam Zoum

In the Intercape luxury coach from Harare to Lusaka I met Sam the tour guide who was going to get a six month contract for walking safaris somewhere in Zambia, Resh* the Indian guy working for an international company and Thomas* the German guy working for the same international company for about 6 months. Thomas was still in his studies as a lawyer, and was doing a practical for the time being. It was a night bus leaving around 10pm so we didn't talk much then. When we got to the border around 4 am, we had, once again, to wait for the post to open at 6. I barely slept on the bus, and I couldn't sleep while waiting at the post. Inside was uncomfortable and outside was a bit cold.

Just before 6 Sam came to me and told me they sold coffee at the bar at the gates, so we went and I bought a cup of tea. I quickly swallowed half of the scalding hot cup of tea because the coach was ready to drive into the border aera.

Zambian visa
We then all jumped back into the bus and we crossed the Zambezi, which struck me as odd as we didn't leave Zimbabwe yet. But the border post was a new one, and both countries used the same building. Smart and easy. It had been opened in 2009 by Cde President R. G. Mugabe. The queue was long and started way out of the building. But it was relatively quick, as all the officer had to do was to quickly look at people's passport and put a stamp in them. After that, we had to queue again on the other side, for the Zam immigration. Again the queue started way outside, and was quite slow. After waiting for quite a while, I saw Thomas going to a teller and leaving the teller, go around and behind them towards an office. I thought this must have to do either with his tourist visa he had to make, or with the fact that he was working. Not knowing I waited in the queue, and as it finally was my turn, I too, was sent to that office. Waiting all that time for just being told that I had to go to another office without queue was a bit stupid, because it made all the other passengers wait for us until we finally got our visas.

In the office I saw Thomas again who was in discussion with the officer and got out a little green book which was his temporary working permit. He didn't take it out at first, because he wanted to tour Zambia and get a normal tourist visa for a while. The officer had already filled out and stuck the visa sticker into Thomas' passport, but as he saw all the other entry and exit stamps, he wouldn't have it that way. He said they could sort me out first, and then discuss a win-win deal without me in the office. By then I had filled out my immigration form and was ready to get my visa. While preparing my visa, he still talked to Thomas and discussed the options. He finally stuck the visa sticker into my passport in a way that the corners overlapped and he had to fold them around the page. At that moment, a person came to the office looking for us because we were the last ones from the coach. He asked me if I was done, and I said I was, although I hadn't paid my visa yet. We left the office, and went outside where my bag was waiting. It had to be searched. I just opened it quickly and without removing anything, the searching officer felt around my things a little bit. I closed it again after a few seconds. I realized I didn't know how long I was allowed to stay in Zambia and told my helper so. So we went back to the office. I thought I would have to pay for the visa, but the officer just showed me the stamp on another page. It was actually the first time a country put the effective time I had asked at entry instead of the maximum allowed time. So I got 3 weeks instead of a month. It would be enough anyway.

Stamp with expiry date
We then walked back to the search unit where I quickly opened my laptop backpack and then showed my brand new unpaid visa to the officer at the gate. Nobody would know I didn't pay, as the fee of USD 50 was written on the visa and all the stamps were in the passport. We walked over to the bus where the helper asked me to give him something for a drink. I gave him my last one dollar bill. I only had a one hundred dollar bill left in the wallet now. Another bloke came and asked me for something, but as I had nothing I told him so. He didn't believe me and pulled a face when I asked him what he thought I should be giving him. I wasn't going to take out the 100 dollar bill.

When I climbed into the coach and the driver was starting the engine and about to leave, but I told them that Thomas was still waiting for his visa. So we waited. His friend Resh was through and waiting in the bus. My helper wanted me to go and look, but what could I do in any case? Nothing. After a few minutes, Thomas came to the bus and asked me if I could lend him USD 150. He told me he needed USD 800 and already had collected what he and Resh had together. He told me Resh would pay me back in Lusaka when we got there if he didn't make it and had to go back to Harare. I was a little unsure about lending money to the first person met in a random bus, but as his friend and colleague was going to be on the bus, I agreed. I took out my reserve US Dollars and gave him the USD 150. After another little while he came back and told us the new visa was in the process, but that it would take some time for it to be ready. He told us we should leave without him. On the way to Lusaka I changed seat and went to sit next to Resh who told me he was working in Zambia for about a year before going back to India. He's got family in India.

When we got to Lusaka we got out at a petrol station before the official intercity bus station with Resh. He negotiated for a taxi fare with a driver, and then told me I could get in. We drove in silence for most of the way, being so tired from the sleepless bus drive. The traffic was heavy and we got on very slowly. At their office, we waited a while and after a couple of minutes, Thomas arrived. He told us he only had to wait for about 5 minutes before he could come into Zambia. He hired a taxi and drove to the bus station where he learned we had left the coach earlier. He then took another taxi to the office.
He gave me back my US dollar notes that he finally didn't use, and invited me to lunch on the company's account. This struck me as a bit odd, him being a student. But then he started explaining his situation.

His job at the international company is to restructure the branches that are falling apart because of mismanagement. He goes to the country in question, fires all the incompetent staff, rebuilds the business, and hires new staff if needed. He was doing that in the Lusaka branch office and has already been here for 7 months or so. When he first arrived, he got a temporary work permit of one month. Resh quickly upgraded that to another kind of temporary work permit of six months (the green book). When his visa expired, they made a trip to Zimbabwe and planned to come back in with a tourist visa as they wouldn't need much time anymore. There were no other options, as the work permit was not extensible and he wouldn't be able to enter Zambia again for a year if he wanted to be officially working. His job wasn't finished though, so he came up with the story of a student who was helpless and lost. He finally managed to get a last visa for a week. Otherwise he would have had to go back to Harare with a “rejected” stamp in his passport, and his passport would have been blacklisted. With his position and his many travels, that doesn't sound to be a good idea.

After lunch at the best Indian restaurant in town, they drove me to Kalulu backpackers where I would be staying for two nights. The two of them would have a long week now, because they would have to finish the job, and find a new manager in less than a week.

* Names changed

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Zimbabwe national flag
With the last three weeks of traveling Zimbabwe still fresh in my mind, with names like Innocent, Privilege, Blessing, Pain, Talkmore and so on in my mind, with things seen, read and experienced, I can say full of emotions, that I still don't know what's happening around me. How did these people get by when a monthly salary couldn't buy a loaf of bread ? How did they keep their optimism, their friendliness and happiness ? Can you imagine Switzerland, or any European country, experiencing an exponential inflation like they've had here in Zimbabwe ? It might happen you say ? I don't think so, because we're “first world” countries where any other big power will step in and help us out of the worst. Whereas Zimbabwe didn't have anything valuable for the big powers to step in for. HIV is still a big problem in Zimbabwe, but people tend not to speak about it too much, or at least not in public. You can even get circumcised against HIV. If you think about it, it's not worse than South African President Jacob Zuma saying on national news that he took a shower after having sex with young girls to prevent himself from getting AIDS. Where is this going you say ? Why is this post called “Harare” you ask me? I don't know, I just wanted to summarize briefly before going away out of the country.

But everything you see from Europe about Zimbabwe is not true. The people here are very welcoming and very friendly, even if anything but nothing is free. Every service rendered costs a price. But then, why not? It's the same for everybody.

I'm drinking my beer in a room in an improved container outside a lodge in Harare, instead of being in a backpackers like and having a couple of beers with other backpackers. But who can blame me ? It's not like there were tons of backpackers in Zimbabwe, in fact, there's only a couple of them in the whole country. Of what I've seen, there's 2 in Vic Falls, 1 in Bulawayo, one in Masvingo and 1 in Harare. I haven't been to Gweru, but in any case, you can count maybe ten backpackers for the whole country.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, it's not a country where it's easy to travel on your own without a car. But let's start where I left off last time.

In Mutare I said goodbye to Marco and Claudia the evening before leaving, because they would only leave for Beira around 9 or 10. My plans were to be off in a bus driving towards Harare at 7.30 latest. So I woke up at 6.20, got ready, and wanted to leave, but no one was around to call me a taxi like promised. I waited a while, and then decided to start on foot and catch a taxi anywhere. Just then my promised help came out and called me a taxi that was here not 2 minutes later. The taxi drove me to the bus rank where I caught a coach with 5 people in a row instead of 4. It was a bit squeezy, but still ok. We got to Mbare in Harare about 4 to 5 hours later.

One of the famous Baker's Inn
In Mbare I got a taxi to go to Westgate, which was quite difficult. A fellow helped me carry my bag and looking for one. We finally got one that brought people over to Mbare. I asked him to drive me to Westgate, and he said it would cost me USD 10. This I was ready to accept as Claudia & Marco had told me not to pay more than 15 I think (if I remember well). But the problem was, he didn't know where it is. But this I discovered only once we already were way on our way and through the city. So I took out my Lonely Planet and looked at the city map and found out we were at least in the right direction. I directed him further, but he still asked people (never trust a tourist with a map). We finally got there.

My sister's milk
The following day I went out at 9 and took a minibus to town to go the Embassy of Malawi. I asked the operator, and at some point told me to go west on a road. From where we were, that was not the right direction. Luckily I took the Lonely Planet. At least its maps are still useful, even if half of the companies have moved since they printed it. So I walked a while to another main road, and took another combi towards the embassy. At the embassy I was served quickly, and was told I needed photos, which I actually knew (Claudia & Marco had told me) but had forgotten to take with. At least Avondale Shopping Center wasn't too far, and I was back with photos in less than an hour. Unfortunately the person responsible for accepting payments wasn't here, so I should come back later in the afternoon. I wasn't keen to come back again the same day, and was given instructions to come back around 8 the following morning to make the payment and receive the visa.

After that I went back to town and went looking for the best way to go to Malawi from Harare. I found out following:
  1. A border crossing to Mozambique would cost me USD 110 (more expensive than ever);
  2. A flight with Air Malawi is not possible anymore, as they do not currently operate;
  3. A flight with South African Airways would take me to Jo'burg overnight and cost me USD 485;
  4. A Zambian visa would cost me around USD 50.
So I chose the last option and later booked an intercape ticket from Harare to Lusaka for the 19th at 10 at night.

Visa for Malawi
Then I went out to find a way to send back my souvenirs, and learned that DHL only had an express service and that it was obviously to expensive. Another operator was the same. So I just bought a box and will send the package in a day or two when I got everything together over the normal post office.

Like every time I arrive in a new city full of people, I dread the moment I have to step out of the relative safety of the bus or coach into the streets full of thugs, robbers and murderers (haha). You have to be aware that where the bus and coaches stop, are mostly mugging zones. People get their bags snatched away. But if you're careful to keep everything under your control, you should be fine. Don't take a picture in these moments that can be confusing if there's a lot of people, which is mostly what happens. Between the ones getting of the bus, the ones getting on, the ones selling stuff and the people that are around for any given reason. I'd have loved to take a picture of Mbare when I got of, and capture the essence of the moment. But that's not possible anyway. Mbare is so different to the rest of the city and its suburbs (at least those i've visited).

So to come back to the initial subject (don't ask me what it was, I don't know), I will just add that it has been a great pleasure traveling for three weeks in this awesome country. The roads could improve a tad, the roadblocks could get less, the tourism industry better, but hey, it's only starting off again. In ten years' time, this place will be busy.

If you want some authentic African Experience, try Zimbabwe with its awesome people. They're always up for a chat and a lot will want some money from you in some way for some service. But they don't hassle the tourists, they don't hate the tourists, they are just a little perplexed at what we are doing here as Zimbabweans mostly travel to visit relatives and friends. They usually don't visit places and sights. Although they should, and I've met a few who did. Be aware of muggers who are swift, I experienced this first hand this day. I felt a tugging on my daypack and when I checked the bag, the small pocket was open, and the stupidly placed phones were gone. I guess I am lucky I haven't been mugged when I had wallet and passport in there.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Chinhoyi Caves

Sleeping Pool Cave
Finally, after all this time in Zimbabwe, I got to visit these famous caves I had heard are beautiful. Initially, I wanted to go straight from Vic Falls to Harare, but you have to go over Bulawayo, so I took the train back to Bulawayo. In Bulawayo someone gave me the incentive to first visit Great Zimbabwe and the Eastern Highlands, so that's what I did. And then I went to Harare, I arranged my visa for Malawi, and the day after, went to visit the caves.

It's one and a half hours drive northwest from Harare by minibus taxi. I woke up at 6, and was at the road just before 7. I chose to go in a bigger van (like those airport shuttles) and was seated in the front seat between the driver and another passenger. The uncomfortable part was only that I had to move away a bit for the driver to be able to change gear. I got to Chinhoyi around 9.30 and stayed around there for about an hour. I waited to see if the sun would shine more into the cave and reach the water, but the cave isn't orientated that way.

Sleeping Pool Cave viewed from the Dark Cave
After that, back to Chinhoyi, for a pizza at Pizza Inn (a food chain comprising Chicken Inn, Bakers Inn, Creamy Inn and Pizza Inn that's present over whole Zimbabwe). For the way back, I was squeezed on the last row of a combi, with 3 other passengers. For once I was the first to go off at Westgate and all the people sitting right in front of me had to get up and some out. But there were only about 20 people in this combi.

That day I almost had accidents twice, with two different combis, but the same mistake: they both went back on the road without looking. The first almost got hit by a truck, and the second by a bakkie. Fortunately nothing happened. Sometimes these drivers are really careless.

It has otherwise been a nice little outing from which I came back to Harare around 2.

Drip in Dark Cave

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Alpine Lowe Travel Trekker II 70

In July 2012 I toured all the sports and bag shops I could find that would have trekking backpacks. I was looking for an improvement on my old backpack which is still in really good condition, but unfortunately not spacious enough. It's other disadvantage is that the bag has one opening on top and one in the bottom. I was looking for a more modern view with mid or side opening.

Alpine Lowe made the Travel Trekker II which opens like a suitcase. You get instant access to the whole length of the bag. Although you still have to dig underneath your stuff for access to the bottom, at least the bottom is not as deep down as in a traditional backpack.

Carrying the bag doesn't have to be different than carrying a backpack. For quick grab, there's one handle on top of the bag, and another on the side. A strap has been added for carrying the bag on a shoulder. But the more convenient is the hidden backpack shoulder and belly straps. They are packed into a compartment where they are out of the way during transport.

There's also a rain cover, inside bags, an outside compartment for strapping on things, inside straps for holding down clothes and you can lock the zips with a padlock.

The downsides are the weight and the compartments in the bag. The backpack weighs about 3 kgs when empty, which is too heavy. The reason seems to be a quite solid structure on which the whole bag is built. The compartments are supposed to be useful for putting in dirty shoes or dirty laundry, but not really practical, as it uses a lot of space at the bottom of the bag.

You will have to be careful not to overweight the bag. And it can get quite bulky as well if you strap on a sleeping bag and some other things on top of the bag.
After almost 1 month of serious traveling through Southern Africa, I can say the bag still looks new, and I didn't particularly spare it. It's filled to burst the seems sometimes. The quality seems really good and would it not be for the weight of the empty bag, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Friday, 12 April 2013

3 Swiss in Nyanga

Connemara lakes and World's View

I slept quite early this night, and woke up just before seven. I had plenty of time so I watched an episode of Southpark before going out to breakfast at 8. I had packed my bags the previous night. Watching out of the window, I saw the weather hadn't improved from the previous day, and it seemed to be quite fresh. Nevertheless, I decided to be optimist and put on a short. At 8 I went out to the dining room to join Claudia and Marco for breakfast. They had already made tea and I brought out and prepared the toasts. Once we had finished, we finished packing, brushed our teeth and left northwards in direction of Nyanga.

cottage and car
From Mutare the road to Nyanga soon splits from the one to Harare. It's something like a special road that almost only goes to the park. At one of the numerous roadblocks we were stopped by one of the ZRP officers. He asked us if our radio was a radio and when we agreed it was one, asked where our radio license was. It had happened before, when I went to the Matobos, that a policeman had asked for the radio license, but I wasn't responsible for the car at that time. I don't know if it is a real law or just a make-up law, but the police seems intent to raise some funds with it. It cost us USD 10.

The Nyanga National Park lies in the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe. The height ranges between 1800m and 2500m above sea level. The climate is similar to the one in England.

The warden in the misty drizzle
The weather was drizzly and the fog covered the sky for most of the time. We had been advised to look out for accommodation in Juliasdale, about 20 km south of Nyanga, but driving through there we discovered a very small place with only the Montclair Hotel and Casino which was way out of budget. Not knowing how the car would behave on the tracks in Nyanga, we didn't want to take an accommodation there anyway, if we wouldn't stay around. So we drove on and eventually arrived to Nyanga NP. The fog was getting worse and made it all look like a Scottish or Jura landscape. Arriving at the NP office we talked to the officer working there and asked him if our 2WD would take us around the park. He said that we could go to a trout culture, an old village and Nyangani Mountain which is the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. The whole rest of the park is only accessible by a 4WD vehicle. Especially with the weather not being too sunny, we didn't know if we should expect heavy rain or not. The drizzle already made the roads slippery, and on some slopes we might just not get through. Then we asked him about accommodation and he poured out a variation of prices, bed numbers, rooms, etc. that was quite confusing. The only thing he seemed to be sure was that some roads are pretty bad, others quite OK and the entry fee of USD 5 for residents, 8 for SADC and 10 for all others.

Tea time to escape the cold
We decided to first go buy some supplies and eat something in the town of Nyanga some kms further north out of the park. There we briefly looked at other lodges and asked for prices. But being outside of the park, we would either have to go to the park only once, or pay twice if we came back the second day. We first went to eat some sadza and stew (for Marco and me) and sadza and soup for Claudia that we took in in a place called Food Inn. Next to it was a local supermarket where we didn't buy anything, but asked where we could find vegetables. We still had rice, oil and spices. When we found the market place, it was actually quite busy in comparison to the town center where there were only a few people around. There were shops, stalls with vegetables, stalls with clothes, bars and bottle stores and so on. We bought some tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, avocados and an onion for veggies and beers for drinks. After that we drove back to the park entrance, but not before checking out a lodge on the other side of the road. But at some point the track to the lodge went down very steeply and we were afraid we wouldn't be able to get back up if it rained more.

Nyamziwa Falls
At the entrance, the same officer awaited us and made us pay the resident's fee (USD 5 per person, and USD 3 for the car). Then we drove to the information center where we booked our accommodation. We opted for a 2 bedroom cottage with electricity for USD 60. The lady at the desk said that it would cost us a certain price if we weren't residents, but never said how much. For a whole cottage, the price was really OK. It is sometimes difficult to find the cheap accommodation and as we already were residents for the officer at the gate, we had to go through with it anyway. The lady saw that we weren't but didn't say anything more and didn't ask us any IDs.

Tough roads for a 2WD
The drizzle got even worse while we talked and while we drove to the said cottage, about 8 kms further in the park. At first the road was almost all flat and really in good condition, but after a while we had to ascend a steep bit, and then descend a steep bit. The descent worried us most as we would have to bring that car back up there the following day. But now we had the cottage, we decided to go and see the next day. It wasn't pouring hard, it was still just drizzle. After finding number 5, the best looking house, and apparently the only one available for the night, we quickly carried everything inside.

In the house, there was electricity for the light, and there were two plugs in the kitchen. One for the fridge, and one for the kettle. The heating and the cooking was by fire. Luckily we weren't there in wintertime with temperatures going down to -3°C because the house isolation was nonexistent. The windows were single glasses and some doors and windows had up to a centimeter of opening when closed. But otherwise the cottage was like one that you would expect to find in an English countryside. The weather and climate here seemed to be the same as well. Thus we spent our time here indoors making and tending to the fire, playing cards, writing blog articles and cooking yet another fine meal. We weren't looking forward to going out in this drizzly windy weather. We hoped that the next day would be much better. We even asked Innocent, the caretaker here, if he was going to make it a sunny day and he said that he definitely would. So that's all settled.

Dip at Brighton Beach
At 9 the lights went out and we thought they cut the power every day. Not much later we decided to go to bed as there wasn't much more to do and we were quite tired anyway. But it was only one of the numerous power outages and the lights were back a while later. The heavy sheets were keeping us warm and we slept quite well.

The next morning I woke up around 7 and went out to the living room to meet Marco who was already making fire. It was still a bit misty, but much less than the previous day. Marco met Innocent, the caretaker, outside the house when he started out for a walk and asked when we had to leave the cottage. As usual the time was 10. So we decided to wake up Claudia, make breakfast and get ready to leave. We had Innocent take the cottage's key instead of bringing it back to the main gate because we wanted to drive around the park first. The sun was out and the mist all gone when we finally left the cottage.

Mare Dam
We started to visit Nyamziwa Falls which are the only falls accessible with our car. The falls were nothing spectacular and we didn't stay for long. We just took a few pictures and left again on the dirt tracks. We drove all the way to the office where we quickly told the wardens we had left the key with Innocent because we wanted to visit the park before going out. They weren't too happy about it. After that we went down to Brighton Beach, which is a small strip of sandy beach of about 10 to 20 square meters next to a river. Marco and me put on our Bermudas and went in. It was quite cold, but no less than 15°C, I think. It was quite bearable. There is no ice in those mountains. When we were finished cooling off from the “heat” (no more than 25 °C in the sun, and less than 20°C in the shade), we had a picnic lunch of untoasted toast bread, cucumber and tomato. We then made a quick jump to Rhodes Hotel which was Cecil John Rhodes house to start with. It was nothing spectacular and the view was blocked by all the trees. We then decided we've had enough of Nyanga NP and left the park aera.

Early panorama of Connemara lakes 

The next place we visited was World's View which lies somewhere above Troutbeck, which itself is a few kms north of Nyanga NP. In the Lonely Planet we read we just had to follow the signposts to find the way, but again, the LP was not up to date. There were no signposts indicating World's View from the main road. After passing it once and going on to Troutbeck Village, we turned around and tried another dirt road. After a while we finally found a signpost that showed us we were on the right road. We drove on for a while and were astonished at the number of private properties on the way up. The road was about 10 kms long but was in quite good condition. Once up there we thought we would have to pay USD 5 per person to get access to World's View if there actually was anyone to take in the fee. In fact it happened that it cost us only a dollar per person. The Lonely Planet was not up to date again. When are they going to rewrite the Zim chapter ? World's View is an absolutely great view. Much more than World's View in the Matobo's. Although the boulders in Matobo's are amazing, the view itself was not that impressive. In Nyanga, World's View is high above lower lands and offers an amazing view over it for a long distance. I took 13 minutes to climb up to the almost highest point from where I got an even better view on the land and over the Connemara lakes.

Me on top of mountain at World's View
Around 3 we left the place and took less than two hours to drive back to Mutare, where we went to eat at Nando's and gave the key of our trustworthy Toyota Sprinter back to its rightful owner. We asked him about the radio license and he told us he had it, but forgot to give it to us. Thank you. We tried to get some money back for the 20 liters of fuel that were still in the tank, but he said he didn't have any money with him, and that he would see us in the morning. I would be gone, so I wouldn't know. But I don't think anyone of us would ever see a cent for that fuel.

We spent the rest of the evening talking about traveling and especially about my next step and what could be expected in South or Central America. I wanted to go to Malawi, but the visa costs USD 150 and there isn't that much to do. I wanted to go to Zambia, but the transport there is said to be even worse than in Zimbabwe for independent travelers and the cost of living even higher. A budget accommodation costs USD 50 in Lusaka according to LP. What choices do I have ? I definitely will go to Harare, and from there to the Chinhoyi Caves. But after that, who knows ? I might go to Guatemala or Mexico to learn some Spanish ? But after all, just pay the USD 150 and go to Malawi over Zambia. See you there.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

3 Swiss in the Bvumba Mountains

Burma Valley
In the morning we prepared toasts and got some tea from the guesthouse and looked sadly at the heavy clouds that had built up during the night. While we ate our breakfast the guys came to bring in the Toyota Sprinter that was to be ours for 3 days. The owner wrote an affidavits with my name on it before giving us the keys. Although the car wasn't new, it was in a pretty good shape (for African standards anyway). The tires were pretty worn out though.

Around 9 we left for the Bvumba Mountains and drove on the scenic road that goes into the Burma Valley. This promptly reminded me of Midnight Oil's song “Mountains of Burma”. We got quite far until we reached the Essex road where the potholes got worse and where suddenly, the tar disappeared and there was only a dirt road left. The state of the road was slippery in the light drizzle and it went quite some way down. We decided it wasn't worse to go and stick the car somewhere into a hole where there is no mobile reception. So we turned back and drove all the way back to the junction to the road that leads to the National Park. There we went up that road and followed it until we reached Tony's Coffee House.

Finish the pic, I want to get to that CAAAKE!
By that time we were hungry and eager to go and taste Tony's famous cakes. We walked down from the parking spot and looked at a house with a nice view that looked very English. Inside it looked even more English in so far as it was like a tea house. We sat down and a waiter brought us the menu. The prices were exorbitant: about USD 11 for a piece of cake, USD 6 for a tea or coffee, and so on. We decided to get a cake anyway and got some explanation from the waiter. Claudia and me ordered the Chocolate Whiskey cake, or the Solid Chocolate. Marco ordered the special that was a chocolate, ginger and pear cake. Marco managed to finish his and his girlfriend's cake and I barely managed to finish mine, and this only after about an hour. The cakes were excellent, but really heavy. The hot chocolate with ice cream on top of that would have been suicide.

The whiskey chocolate solid cake
After that we drove up to the Leopard Rock Hotel and took a few pictures of the view, its golf course and the hotel itself. When we were done, we tried getting back to Mutare by the Bvumba Road that rejoins the Essex Road. It started really well, but after a while there were some potholes, and a while later still, more potholes. Then the road got narrower, and suddenly the potholes were so numerous and deep that we had to drive at a very slow pace. And then the tar was replaced by dirt and the wet road seemed really slippery and unsuitable for a car like ours. So we turned around and drove around all the potholes again on the way up, while worrying that the fuel we put in in the morning would be enough. But we managed to get back to the main road and drove safely to Mutare.

Beer and police, the best combination :)
ZRP: Zimbabwe Republic Police
In the Lonely Planet we found a small chapter about Cecil Kop Nature Reserve where they apparently fed the animals for people to watch at around 4pm. So we decided to go have a look. When we got there the officer of the park told us there wasn't much to see and that the animals were quite far away and that there was definitely no feeding going on. So we left again, and went for some shopping.
We bought some meat, vegetables and beers and went back to the guesthouse where we had our beers and prepared another fine meal.
Map of the aera (red: bad state; green: good or ok)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

3 Swiss in Zimbabwe - Intro

I came back to Mutare and Homestead Guesthouse from my failed attempt at camping in the Bvumba Mountains when I met a couple of tourists in the lounge of the guesthouse. After hearing them talk a little bit I felt they were probably Swiss Germans or Germans. Asking them confirmed my “suspicion” of them being Swiss Germans from around St. Gallen. We got along quite well and started talking about our different traveling. After a while we finally exchanged our names anyhow. We were so preoccupied by other more important things that we forgot about the simple courtesy of asking for and telling names.

Claudia and Marco had been traveling from mid-August the previous year and visited Central and South America before coming to Southern Africa at end of January. They were doing a break from an overland tour they had left and would be picking up again in Vic Falls. The tour goes from Cape Town to Nairobi. They were together for about 7 years and had long before decided to go traveling. Claudia wanting a bit less and Marco a bit more time, so they had settled for ten months on the road. As they didn't want to schedule too much in advance, they had booked some intercontinental flights only. The rest was all up to how they felt. We both kept track of our expenses, and when they showed me their numbers they showed me that South America was much cheaper than Southern Africa. I showed them my numbers and we saw we were at about the same level in and around Zim. Their blog address should already be figuring in the links on this blog.

I told them about my failed attempt at camping in the mountains and that I wanted to return my faulty sleeping mat and try and sell the cheap Chinese tent to someone. I told them I had planned to go to Nyanga as well, but then gave up the idea as camping was out of question and the lodges would be too expensive and transport to and in there quite difficult.

The two were talking about renting a car and asked me if I was interested in joining them for a few days. I agreed and we phoned a few people and asked others in town. We finally found one that looked good for USD 75 a day from some private persons in town. It was quite difficult to find a renting car as there was but one operator in Mutare and he had already rented all his cars out. Other people were private people's cars.

I managed to get a refund for my defect sleeping mat at the shop, and would have done so quite easily for the tent as well if I still had had the receipt. But I remember throwing some receipts away the previous day, thinking I would never use them again. Mistake. But the person at the shop told me he could look out in the system for the operation and probably give me a refund. But it would take him an hour and he didn't have the time now. So I told him I would look for the receipt and come back the next day, with or without receipt. The next day when I came in with my tent, he finally asked one salesman if he remembered me and when he said yes, he told him to refund me for the tent. The official reason was it was too small for the three of us.

Claudia and Marco bought some meat and a few other things in addition to the rice, butternuts and avocados I still had and we cooked ourselves a fine meal for supper.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Bvumba Mountains or a Failed Attempt at Camping

Bvumba Mountains: pronounced Vumba mountains.

View from the campsite

In Mutare I tried getting useful information for transport and accommodation to and and in the Bvumba Mountains. The Lonely Planet is definitely out of date on the Zim chapter, and the tourist information center wasn't much more up to date with its old phone numbers. Mostly there were old prices that are totally incorrect or falsely indicated in USD as they probably were Zim Dollars and the phone numbers were old land lines not so much in use anymore. Moreover, the landlines are of a poor quality.

Everybody use mobile phones nowadays. From the tourist information office I was sent to the National Parks Department office where they gave me following informations:
  1. the cheapest accommodation is camping
  2. getting there would be easy using the daily taxis
  3. there are combis driving to Nyanga NP
my campsite with view
This is how my decision to go camping got taken. The next step was to find a cheap tent that I could leave without too many regrets after having visited the Bvumba Mountains and Nyanga NP. I went into three shops where they sold tents. In the first one they had run out of the 2 people tents. In the second there was one that cost USD 140, definitely too expensive. And in the third one, they had a tent, but unfortunately, the poles were missing. I got directed to Mutare Mart where they sell Chinese products. There I found a very small four people tent without rain protection for USD 45. I did the same other shops in the other direction to find a sleeping mat, and found an exposition model that I got for USD 30 instead of 45 in the last shop. USD 77 later I was equipped with tent and sleeping mat and went to buy some supplies to last me a few days in the mountains. Or so I thought, although I had heard it would be cold up there, especially at night.

Botanical gardens
At some market shacks in the street I bought 4 medium sized butternut pumpkins, a pack of tomatoes and two big avocados for USD 5. In the supermarket I bought some rice, curry and bread. I hoped there would be some cooking facilities at the campsite.

All the while I considered my two jerseys and my light sleeping bag and thought this would end up with me freezing to death in some country in Africa.

After that I took a taxi back to the guesthouse and asked him if he could take me out to the place where the taxis leave for the Bvumba Mountains the following morning at 8. I prepared and left a bag with most of my technological stuff and a bag of laundry for storage at the guesthouse fearing the laptop might not survive a rainfall or a misty night in my “roofless” tent. The laundry was to be washed during my “holiday” in the mountains.

Trying to get water boiling
The taxi took my out to were another taxi would drive us to the Bvumbas. We just had to wait until it was full and the two remaining seats – out of 4 passenger seats – to be taken. It didn't take long and we were off. The taxi was an old boxy car with a large flat boot space. It didn't have any suspensions anymore and most of its innards had been tore out long ago. After a while of driving, I asked the driver if he knew of any campground from where I could go hiking. He said he would bring me to the National Park. I paid the man USD 5 for having driven me up there and then down a side-road to where the National Park's office are. I probably could have dropped the price a little, but I didn't really care. I was more anxious about the coming stay in the mountains. So far the weather was still sunny and the temperature quite hot. I knew the night would get cold, as even in the lower laying Mutare, it was quite cold at night.

Victor, one of the NP officers, the water was currently out, but that it would be running again in the afternoon. It was only about 10 in the morning and I had ample time to set up my camp. He told me I could come up to the office a little later as they were currently having a staff meeting. I had only brought one bottle of water thinking that in Mutare the tap water was drinkable and that I thus should be able to drink the tap water up in the mountains. But Victor said I would have to boil it first. There were no cooking facilities but he could probably arrange some pots for me to use.

I put up my cheap “roofless” Chinese tent at the campsite from where I would be overlooking Mozambique. I never bought anything Chinese before because I had heard so many bad things about how the Chinese wares would wear out after having used them once or twice only. The tent seams were already showing weakness and the quality of the fabrics used was really low. But that was to be expected for a tent I would only use a few times. What wasn't to be expected was that the sleeping mat, when properly inflated, was defect and showed a bulge at one end, like a pillow, but very much uncomfortable.

Some Samango monkeys were adding a touch of exotism to a place that otherwise looked like it could have been in Europe.

The whole thing reminded me slightly of “Into the wilds” when the guy went to Alaska on his own, although I was quite luckily very close to some infrastructure, and help, if needed. I wasn't equipped, physically and mentally, to go out on my own to some faraway wilds anyways.

I sat there for some time, reading a bit, and considering what to do next. I didn't sleep well the previous night and I felt really tired. A butterfly came to sit on my shin for a while during this time of contemplation. After some time I decided to see whether I was still able to build a fire. I didn't find the leaves that burn well straightaway so I used some of my whiskey, and managed to get a fire going. I used the leaves to relight the fire in the evening.

After that I took a nap with the fire safely burning in the fireplace. When I woke up I decided to go check out the botanical gardens and spent an hour walking around these English-style gardens. In the evening I restarted my fire and built myself a system to hang a can of beer with water over the fire. But it never boiled unless the can actually was on the embers. Having no cooking tools I made myself a wooden spoon and cooked half of a butternut by putting it naked in the embers. I ate some toasted bread with avocado and later a halfway cooked butternut.

I watched the stars and the lights of what I thought should be the Mozambican border town of Chimoyo. Having nothing else to do, I went to my tent, read a while and went to sleep.

Samango monkey
At around 3 or 4 am I woke up feeling cold so I put on my second jersey over the first one. It wasn't enough and after a while felt cold again. I tried to get another fire going, but neither leaves nor whiskey would light the now cold and wet fuel. So I gave up and tried to go to sleep again. I managed to sleep a little a while later before the sun got up until about 7 when the sun fully hit the tent and dried it up in minutes. It was getting hot, so I went out.

I decided that spending another sleepless night in the mountains would be pointless as I wouldn't be fit to go hiking anyway. So I had Victor call the driver who brought me up the previous day, and he came a while later and even had to wait for me to finish packing. It naturally didn't please the other passengers too much. I really wasn't equipped to go camping in the cold like this.

I came back to the guesthouse in Mutare and felt even more tired than the previous day.

The following day, before going to the Bvumbas again with Claudia and Marco, I had managed to bring back the defect sleeping mat and the cheap Chinese tent to the shops and get full refunds. In a way, I used camping equipment for free for a night.