Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

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November 22, 2012

Zimbabwe: Finally the real Africa!

We decided to see the Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side since we were more interested in getting a frontal view.  From Zambia, you are getting a view right on top.  We got a bit late crossing into Zimbabwe, but along the way we saw tons of wild elephants taking shade under trees near the road.  It was getting a bit dark and we had even more elephant sightings, many of them crossing the road in a hurry.  We were a bit worried since we don’t like to travel at night and it was going to be dark by the time we hit the border.  We didn’t see much accommodation on the road, and thought we weren’t too far from the actual city of Vic Falls…let’s try.  We filled gas (didn’t want to take a chance on that at night, especially crossing borders) went through immigration and customs on both sides easy enough.  Funny, the immigration/ on each side asked us if we were scared to ride at night…we asked why?  Their reply was “The wild animals!”  We figured, eh we’d be okay.  Unfortunately we didn’t see anyone else crossing that night.  We started out on the dark, lonely road.  The surface felt weird…was it tar? Was it gravel? Was it gravel on tar? The bike would slip a bit.  In the distance we could see crazy streaks of pink lightening.  About a kilometer in, we were stunned by a family of elephants along with a baby in the middle of the road, not even 6 feet in front of us.   As if elephants weren’t enough, we were met by hyenas along the way.  We told each other we wouldn’t stop, even if it started to storm.  In the distance, we could see a car’s taillights gunning it.  No matter how fast we went to catch up, they would speed on.  At some point we lost them.  The thunder crashed around us while lightning struck in the direction we were riding.   Nick, whispered to me, “Now would be a good time do a prayer!” After a never-ending 70kms, we started to see some lights.  We couldn’t see people yet, but we were able to make out buildings and lights around us.  Finally, we caught up to some cars and breathed a sigh of relief.  Night border crossing?  Never again!  The first backpacker joint we saw we stayed.

After being eaten alive by mosquitoes the night before we woke up to a sunny, happy place.  Turns out we were riding through a game reserve that lies at the border of Botswana and Zim.  The nice thing about the town of Victoria Falls is that it’s walkable.  From the guest house, we were able to walk to the Vic Falls National Park entrance.  Which of course we were asked for a ridiculously high fee for non-residents.   We had been told by a few tour operators that the best time to go is around 3pm.  Sounds crazy because that’s also around the peak heat, but you get amazing photos of rainbows in the mist in front of the falls.  Plus, the mist from the falls keeps you nice and cool!  It’s dry season so the falls are not at their maximum capacity but for photos, that’s best or your photos (and camera) would be shrouded in mist.  We took a good 3 hours exploring each of the 12 points of the falls from start to finish.  Each point offers a different perspective.  The gorge to where the falls come down really is gnarly looking…especially from the bridge that connects Zam and Zim where it’s very popular to bungee from!  Overall a fun day! For the first time since South Africa, we ate out which was exciting for us (and a welcome break)!

Since we had been seeing a lot of nature-made sights, we were welcoming a change in Zim and were excited to see some cave paintings and ruins.  So we headed towards Matobos National Park.  We could already see a change coming from Botswana to Zim…there were people out and about, taxis, cars, even people on motorbikes!  People, with their own civilization that they had carved out over years despite any Mugabe madness.  People were selling things, doing business, had restaurants with their own food,  going to smaller shopping stores, it felt as if people knew how to do things and live life unlike some of the other countries we had been riding through as of late.  On the way to Matobos, we passed Bulawayo which seemed like a big town in it’s hey-day.  Also noticed loads of buildings  and offices that had Indian names attached to them…seems like a lot of real estate is owned by the South Asian community.  We found a campsite amongst the granite boulder ridden scenery of the beautiful Matobos area.  The next morning we learned we couldn’t go in to the park on motorbike.  The two ladies in charge at the gate started to get a bit scheme-y…they told us we could pay them around $25 (Zim only takes US$) and we could go in up to a certain point but if we get stopped we can say we’re just riding to the next town but we would have to come back out the way we came “and then we’ll see”.  that didn’t sound good at all.  Looks like they were going to take us for a ride for $25 a piece and who knows how much others would demand inside the park.  To our disappointment, we had to let it go.  What a bummer…especially since we had seen local bikes going in and out.

We headed for the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.  But before that, we needed to grab some petrol!  As we rolled into the petrol station, the attendant came running out towards us yelling “Paper! Paper!” We asked him what was going on and he said he’d be right back.  He came running out with a newspaper and asked “Is this you on your bike?”  Smack on the front page of the national newspaper was a picture of the bike with us riding…must’ve been taken in Bulawayo!  The caption read something to the effect of we being American tourists and they are traveling the world and see how many American tourists are coming to Zimbabwe!  Obviously a ploy to boost citizen confidence in tourism because when we made it to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the greatest civilizations of Africa, we found ourselves alone save for a Korean cyclist, Job.  Soon, we found we were not alone as there was a huge group of school kids on a field trip having fun amongst the ruins of their great civilization.  There is a good exhibit that has some old artifacts recovered from the digs and information of how the Zimbabweans once lived. The ruins itself are pretty large and much of it is well preserved while the rest is in crumbling heaps of granite bricks.  Towards the end of the ruins is a small grouping of huts where there was a dance troupe with traditional dress and dried pumpkins tied to their ankles to create sound like a rudimentary kungroo. Ladies sang songs and danced and the school kids joined in.  We walked back to the campsite after taking in amazing views of the sunset and ruins from the mountain top.  Hungry as hell, we made a simple rajma and rice (turned out pretty decent!) and listened to the kids in the distance as they sang, danced, and played games all night long.  Sad, because Zimbabwe is a safe country.  Putting it out there!  The country is safe…a bit expensive at times but perfectly safe with things to see and do.  We had to choose between Zambia and Zimbabwe and we are thoroughly happy with our choice.

One thing we’ve learned on the trip, if it’s hot…there’s got to be mountains somewhere!  And so far, almost every country has some sort of chilly hilly town.  So we did just that, we headed towards Chimanimani in hopes to be cooled off!  The curving road carved in the red dirt of the green carpeted hills, led us to waterfalls and eventually an old town with British style buildings.  It was nice, but nothing to keep us lingering.  We headed for the Bvumba Mountains that are on the border with Mozambique.  It seriously seems like the Bvumbas are the last stronghold for white Zimbabweans.  You have big typically African towns right before the mountains start and then you have the Bvumbas, where expats have built B&Bs, houses, and nurseries in the ‘safety’ of the forests.  The views are breathtaking with midst mingling with the hilltops to create romantic visions reminiscent of England.  We rode around the hydrangea lined roads and visited the very pink Leopard Rock Hotel which was where the Queen and Lady Di used to come and visit.  After getting in a day of cool weather, we pushed off.

Exiting the expat-controlled Bvumbas, we were brought to reality by a Third World problem.  One thing that is a bit annoying in Zim, are the police blockades, and it seems to be on all roads going in the direction of Harare (the capital).  We were stopped by a lady officer who wanted to see our ‘papers’ and drivers license.  Nick gave her his Texas license and she held on to it for a while not knowing what to do with it.  Then we began to ask her questions…”what’s the problem? Why do you need to see my documents?”  Police officers hate to have the interrogation flipped, so naturally, she was not happy.  But after being unable to give us any good reason and tiring from trying to debate with us, she let it go.  Majority of the time in Africa it’s money or power-trip fueled…little did we realize what was waiting for us in Malawi and Tanzania!  To get to Malawi, we had to either spend more time and moeny in Zambia or pass quick in one day through Mozambique…Moz it is!  Immigration and customs were again, straightforward on the Zim side (as straightforward as its going to get) and a bit confusing due to language on the Moz side.  But honestly, the crossings so far haven’t been as complicated as people have made it out to be!  Crossing into Mozambique was like entering India, as the bike started, stopped, sat–people stared, shouted, screamed, grabbed, and gathered.  Ummm how long are we here for?!

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