The famous Dr. Livingstone. From the moment we stepped out of South Africa (where Nelson Mandela rightfully rules the land) till our last day in Tanzania, the number one person we heard about was Dr. Livingstone. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania all laid claim to him and it is easy to see why. While I had obviously heard the line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” and knew that he was a famous explorer, who seemed to have a penchant for getting lost, what I didn’t know was how huge a role he played in ending slavery in Southeast Africa and even in leading the charge for African Independence movements. While no one can actually say where the famous line was spoken, Victoria Falls lays claim to it on a rock near the falls.
Well this post is about 2 months late in coming and while we can definitely blame part of it on the internet, it’s mostly our own laziness. To be honest our trip through Africa was exhausting and until we removed ourselves from the stress, it’s been a bit difficult to reflect and write. Over the next week(s?) we will get caught up with posts about the travel (oh the “buses”), our time volunteering in Malawi as well as our time in Tanzania, and even a bit about getting swindled. It’s been an exhilarating and exhausting journey and now that we are gone, all I can say is thank goodness and when can we go back?
So let’s go back two months to Chris and my leaving South Africa. Cape Town was this super sophisticated, almost European city (at least according to Chris since I have never been to Europe). However, then we left the city and things definitely got interesting. We had done our research, read everything we could, and talked to a lot of people, but still one’s first time travelling and hanging out in Southern Africa, is going to be a shock. There is just no way around it. The infrastructure is almost non-existent, the cultures are all wonderfully different, nothing is as you expect it, and EVERYTHING, is just a bit more difficult than you think it’s going to be.
During our travels through Africa we have broken down on a train, bus, car, and even a boat!
Chris and I had had a great time in Cape Town, spent a few days in Johannesburg, and headed out of South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Chris will fill in with more details about the travel part but let’s just say getting to Victoria Falls, our next stop, involved Chris getting pooped on by a bird at 2am at a border crossing and meeting one of the most wonderful and helpful ladies of our trip. (Her story was also amazing. Her mother had been widowed when she and her four siblings were very young and her mother had supported them by importing goods between South Africa and Zimbabwe. This meant she took buses basically 20 hours in each direction. As Chris and I can attest to that is one exhausting trip, fraught with perils such as broken down buses and cops who need to be bribed. But her mom put them all through school and her sister is now an engineer, who unfortunately can barely find work since Zimbabwe is so under-developed, and two of her other siblings are professionals in Scotland and I believe England. Her youngest brother is now in University and plans to be a lawyer. She was a really wonderful lady and reminded us that sometimes trusting people and letting them help you is a good thing.)
Sunrise in Zimbabwe.
We arrived in Victoria Falls to find a town that is full of tourism without the tourist infrastructure. Scary roads, terrible Internet, no phones (seriously just needed to call freaking Comcast, oh the horror that is Comcast), and very little to do other than very expensive, extreme sports (i.e. bungee jumping). Plus there was a UN conference going on so the place was packed.
The town’s Baboon colonies definitely rule the roost. Traffic constantly has to stop for them and the poor shopkeepers are forever having to clean up after the messes they make.
The first night we arrived, after 36 ours of bus travel, we were exhausted. We actually ended up getting in a night before we meant to, thanks to the most wonderful lady in the world, but due to the conference, there were no private rooms available and we ended up in a four-person dorm. Which to us was no big deal. We met our one roommate, a nice enough guy who didn’t speak much, and went to bed as early as we did. However, the other guy was never there and after we fell asleep the weirdness started. First, this guy kept barging in the room, flipping on the lights (major no-no in a dorm, if your roommates are asleep, use your flashlight) and then disappearing. One of us would get up, turn the lights back off, and shut/relock the door. He was obviously drunk (the UN crowd was definitely partying) and I was getting super pissed though Chris was just sleeping through it (seriously snored through most of this).
However, than it got worse. He came pounding back into the room (probably about 1am?) again only to I guess notice Chris and I for the first time. He and the other guy had taken the bottom two bunks and we were on the tops. He wakes up the other guy (not sure if they were friends?) and starts yelling at him about how there is a guy (Chris) in his bed. Saying the same thing over and over, “there is a guy in my bed”. He storms out, our roommate turns off the light, locks the door, only to have the guy storm back in. “There is a guy in my bed” and storms out again. Next time the drunk guy comes back, he can’t get his key to work and starts pounding on the door. I refuse to answer it (hoping he will just go pass out on the couch) and Chris just keeps sleeping. After about five minutes our roommate lets him in. The guy this time goes straight up to Chris and starts berating him about how he is in his bed, over and over again. Chris finally wakes up and sleepily, and obviously having no idea what is going on, just starts saying no this is my bed. I however, roll over and start going at it with this guy, (shocking my red-headed temper got the best of me), telling him this is a four-person room and he will have to talk to management in the morning, as Chris and I are not leaving. We go back and forth over and over again and finally he says, I am sleeping in my car and storms off again. The other guy is apologizing to us (I think he felt guilty since he was from the same African country as the drunk guy) and we thought it was the end of it. However, the drunk guy once more came in, flipping on all the lights to apologize. Seriously, I appreciate an apology but not at 4am when I finally get back to sleep. It was also lovely to walk back into our room the next morning to him in the process of changing. Obviously has no idea how a hostel works.
So that was our first night. Luckily we got a private room the night after and things started getting a lot better. The town turned out to be okay with some decent restaurants and the falls were absolutely spectacular. We spent a day exploring the park they are in and I have to say I have never seen anything like it. Victoria Falls is over a mile long and just beautiful. The locals call them Mosi-oa-Tunya or the “the smoke that thunders” and they can shoot mist 100s of feet into the air. Sometimes out of nowhere it was like it was raining or a beautiful rainbow would flash for an instant. It was definitely fabulous.
I absolutely loved that the falls felt almost untouched. It’s a National Park so unlike Niagara Falls where you are surrounded by casinos, here you are just surrounded by the lush forest the mists cause in the middle of the otherwise dry grasslands. As an added bonus, thanks to Zimbabwe not being the foremost enforcer of safety, you can go and sit right up on the edge of the gorge. As Chris and I have no fear of heights we loved sitting there with our feet dangling over the 350-foot drop.
The other amazing thing we did was take “high tea” at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Victoria Falls had originally been a major resort area for British colonizers and the Victoria Falls Hotel was and is the place to stay. (Even the Queen stayed there!) While we definitely couldn’t afford a night we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity for an afternoon of fanciness. The elegant food was delicious and the setting divine. It was so easy to imagine hundreds of years ago, women in hoop skirts swishing around, while elephants and warthogs lumbered nearby.
Victoria Falls was also our first introduction to African wildlife. There were baboons and warthogs running around town (do NOT walk around with food, baboons are mean and huge!) and while we actually only saw one elephant during a nature cruise, the evidence of them was everywhere. One night Chris even woke me up to hear elephants that were outside our hostel thumping through the trees and calling to one another. I have to say it was definitely one of the moments where you can’t believe you ever thought about staying home.
Evidence that elephants do exist.
During our nature cruise we also saw a ton of hippos and met a Zimbabwean man who knew more about American politics (and political scandals) than my poli-sci professor in college. Seriously made me feel guilty since I couldn’t even have told you who the Zimbabwean president was. (It’s Robert Mugabe by the way.) It was fascinating hearing what he thought about our country, as well as learning about the horrid challenges he is facing as a professional in a very under-developed country where jobs are scarce, resources are non-exist, and the government probably just doesn’t care and may be exploiting you.
After the rough start it actually turned out to be an awesome and educational couple of days filled with cool people and awesome sights. I have to say every time I start to get really sick of the trials of backpacking, something happens or we meet someone who reminds me of just why we are doing this and not home in our own quiet, comfy bed. (It really seems to be that the more horrid the bus ride, the more awesome the people we meet. And for some reason night buses are the best for this.)
After a couple days at Victoria Falls, Chris and I headed on to Malawi via Zambia. Unfortunately at this time I came down with a cold/flu and can’t remember much. However, Chris will be sure to fill you in, in the next couple days.