Saturday, July 12, 2008

2 hours in Zimbabwe

This morning, I decided to go to Zimbabwe just to see Vic Falls from that side of the border. I'm glad I did - the view is more extensive and, I think, better than from Zambia. I can also add another country to my roster! I took a local minibus for 60 cents to the border, walked from Zambia across the bridge to Zimbabwe, then strolled around at the Falls for a while. It was amazing coming back to Zambia and realizing how many Zimbabweans are not just fleeing the country, but simply coming over the border to buy food because there's no good food in Zimbabwe. I held a 50 billion dollar note in my hand from Zim - that's how bad inflation is there. And that note? Worth about $10, if you're lucky.

I watched a few bungee jumpers from the Victoria Falls bridge and got nervous just watching them. Tonight, I'll meet my overland group (although I've already met a few girls in my group and they seem really fun). Then tomorrow is white water rafting, and then onwards to Botswana.

Other events in the past few days: a microlight flight over Vic Falls (incredible!!! such a beautiful view of the falls, the setting sun, and animals on the Zambezi River, including a bunch of elephants. I even got to fly for a minute, which is another item on my Bucket List!), curio shopping (spent too much money. again.), hanging out at Jollyboys with new friends, and changing lots of Zambian kwacha into US dollars. Niagara Falls cannot compare to Victoria Falls - Vic Falls is twice as high, I think twice as long, the forest around it is lush and pristine, and it just evokes a sense of power and raw nature that Niagara can't even touch. Just breathtaking. You also get completely soaked by the spray coming off the falls - it's literally like being in a monsoon. The locals call it "Mosi-oa-Tunya", which means 'the smoke that thunders' - and that's probably the perfect description.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Livingstone, Zambia

I spent my last couple of days in Tanzania staying in Stone Town, Zanzibar. I met a couple of Scottish med students, and between our various tours and activities, we managed to get dinner and drinks together a couple of nights in a row. I'm glad I met them, as they gave me some much-needed company. Two days ago, I flew from Zanzibar to Johannesburg. At first, I wasn't too keen on spending a night there (horror stories of violent crime, at least in the city center), but I stayed in a backpackers lodge for the first time about 2 kilometers from the airport. It actually was great to stay somewhere fairly Westernized for a night - the shower was so hot, and the water pressure was so good, that I was nearly scalded and knocked over at the same time. Wonderful!!!

Yesterday, I flew from Joburg to Livingstone, Zambia in the center of Southern Africa. We were greeted at the airport by traditional dancers (who were there to greet someone more important, but that's okay), and I was picked up by a shuttle, along with two other girls, to the Jollyboys Backpackers Lodge. What a great place! A pool, lots of places for lounging, a bar/restaurant, gift shop, internet, a desk where you can book all your activities, a book exchange, and it's full of people. This is my first time backpacking, and I have to say, I rather like backpacker 'culture'. I'm staying in a dorm room - 4 bunk beds which hold 8 people - for $10 a night.

Last night, I very spontaneously decided to go on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River with an Australian girl I met on the shuttle from the airport. I'm glad I went with her, and didn't decide to go another night when I didn't know anyone, because it was a very small crowd. It's nicknamed the 'booze cruise', and we had unlimited drinks for the 2 hour cruise, along with a barbecued dinner. We met a couple of Japanese guys who are in Africa volunteering for 2 years. After the cruise, we had a few minutes at a campfire with a few performers playing marimba and other instruments in the background. The ride back to Jollyboys was interesting, but so much fun - riding in an open-sided safari car along a fairly bumpy road, belting out songs at the top of our lungs (and sounding terrible while we did so) and laughing a lot. We chilled with our feet in the pool for a while when we got back, then hit the sack pretty early.

In a little over an hour, I'm going to see Victoria Falls! More updates soon.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stone Town

The past few days on Zanzibar have been great. If you can get around the touts always hawking you for business, the atmosphere still retains an age-old aura. Diving was wonderful - lots of really gorgeous fish. It felt great to be diving again. Saw a few dolphins during our surface interval, but unfortunately none while we were in the water. Matemwe was a beautiful, quiet little village, and every morning we watched dozens of people wade into the water to gather seaweed and fish. It seemed so timeless, with the feeling that they've done this for centuries - which they probably have.

We've been in Stone Town for the past few days, taking in the sights and shopping (and spending entirely too much money). We stayed at the beautiful Tembo House Hotel, right on the waterfront. Yesterday was our Spice Tour, which took us into the countryside to show us how various spices, fruits, and medicinal plants are grown. Zanzibar is nicknamed the Spice Island because it's so famous for these spices. Finally, last night we celebrated Mom's last night in Africa, and my onward journeys, with dinner at the Tower Top Restaurant at a fancy hotel in the center of town. It literally is on the top of a tower, with a circle of low cushions and little tables where you sit cross-legged like a Sultan. I wore a new dress and sandals I bought in Stone Town, and it felt nice to dress up a bit after roughing it and being pretty dirty and rugged for weeks on end. We watched the sun set over the tin roofs of Stone Town from what seemed like the highest point in the city. It was a fixed menu, and we had so many courses - hummus and pita to start, then soup, king fish, sorbet, chicken massala with coconut rice, and finally a chocolate cinammon mango cake. Mmmmm! Way too much food, but delicious. In between courses, there were several local dancers and musicians that performed for us. A wonderful way to top off this portion of the trip.

This morning, we visited a museum in the center of town and did some last-minute shopping. After saying goodbye, Mom headed for the airport to fly home. I'll be in Stone Town for a few more days, including more diving tomorrow, before continuing on. I'll be on my own until July 12, when I join an overland tour (description of what my overland is at Basically, you travel with up to 30 people in a "truck" that carries your food, water, camping equipment, etc. Camp out in tents every night, travel to a new place almost every day, help shop for food in local markets and prepare it, too).

Good news that I got today (and that relieves a lot of my anxiety) is that my overland tour, which was supposed to start from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, has been re-routed to avoid that country (due to the major political unrest) and will begin from Livingstone, Zambia, just over the border and where I was planning to stay for a few days prior to the trip anyways. It's sad that Zimbabwe is in such a terrible situation right now, but I'm glad I am now able to avoid it.

So, here's my general itinerary for the rest of my trip:

July 5 - July 7: Stone Town, Zanzibar
July 8: Fly from Zanzibar to Johannesburg, stay overnight
July 9: Fly from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia (Victoria Falls)
July 10-12: Enjoy the sights at Victoria Falls from the Zambian side
July 13: Overland trip begins from Livingstone, Zambia
July 14-15: Chobe National Park, Botswana
July 16: Maun, Botswana
July 17-19: Okavango Delta, Botswana
July 20: Rundu, Namibia
July 21-22: Etosha National Park, Namibia
July 23: Cheetah Park, Namibia
July 24: Spitzkoppe, Namibia
July 25-27: Swakopmund, Namibia (sleep in a real bed!)
July 28: Sesriem, Namibia
July 29: Fish River Canyon, Namibia
July 30: Orange River, South Africa
July 31: Cederberg, South Africa
August 1: Cape Town, South Africa (another real bed!)
August 2: Fly home from Cape Town

Whew! I can't believe what I'm able to do in this trip. I'll see most of Africa's famous natural wonders - Kruger National Park, the Kalahari Desert, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, the Namib Desert, and Fish River Canyon - among many other wonderful sights. I continually feel so lucky to be on a journey like this. While I've felt a few twinges of homesickness lately, I know the next few weeks will just fly by. In less than a month, I'll be back in the States! I'm not sure I'll know how to take a normal, 10-days-or-fewer vacation again after spending 3 months traveling.