August 24, 1998

Zimbabwe: Hitch Haven, Victoria Falls

Zambia: been there, done that. In one day no less.

Here in the adrenaline-cum-tacky-tourism capital of Africa, I make preparations to leave.

On Wed. 19th, had dinner with George & Amalia and went thru old pictures & brief family tree in old family Bible: found both, surprisingly, fascinating. Hopped on night train and plans for an early night were torpedoed by a many-beer drinking session w/Jim the world-weary Aussie & Tom the flamboyantly-gay fellow-countryman.

Woke, somewhat hung over, to a lazy day in Bulawayo: saw a movie (US MARSHALS), wrote postcards, ate venison pie, drank real coffee, visited the railway museum. Night train to Vic Falls, where plans for an early night were torpedoed by a many-beer drinking session w/Sebastian the Brit and Mike the Dutchman.

Woke, came to Hitch Haven - here - and dropped stuff, headed out to town and promptly booked a bungee jump. A nervous hour later, was on the Zambezi Bridge, looking down spectacular Batoka Gorge, attached to a giant rubber band, about to fling myself off.

What I hadn't expected was the sheer acceleration: the gorge-sides blurred like the stars in STAR WARS when the Millennium Falcon went into hyperspace. The lightning-bolt adrenaline rush I was expecting but not prepared for. Still buzzing hours later.

Drank & played pool with Sebastian, ate pizza, eventually booked rafting with Seb & Mike & Vanessa & Joanne after repeated clusterfucks, called it an early night.

Saturday, rafting day. Minibussed across to Zambia, brief instruction & indemnity session, and to the river. Our whole crew was catapulted into the water at the very first rapid: water pulled me down, down, down, before reluctantly releasing me. Amazingly, I was relaxed during the whole thing. But I guess I'm used to water.

Waves pounding, crashing, rearing like liquid mountains in front of us; paddling like crazy to our guide Alf's commands, half-heard over the surf; hanging on two-handed as a wave casually flips the raft at rapid #7, and the current trying hard to tear me away. Switching rafts to take the grade V "Star Trek" on #8, flung off as the raft double-flips, swept away by the irresistible force of the river. Walking around the seething boiling cauldron at #9...and watching a kayaker dance through it with ease.

Tons of fun.

Yesterday, did absolutely nothing except wander thru Vic Falls national park. Decent views at the falls, and one outstanding one: looking down the gorge, spray-induced rainforest crowding around, water tumbling down on the left, a standing rainbow connecting the gorge walls halfway up.

Today, rented a bike and cycled to Zambia: poor, dirty, small town of Livingstone reminded me much of West Africa. Incredible paperwork - had to sign my name 3 times to exchange cash. Nice hostels, Gecko's and Jolly Boys. Cycled back, sat at Zambian VF park for awhile, returned.

Tomorrow, Namibia: 8-day minibus safari.


August 19, 1998

Zimbabwe: Barclays Bank, 1st Street, Harare

Waiting for the forex teller, maiming time.

Ack. Thpbbt. I've really let this journal slip. Fortunately, it's been a fairly memorable ten days.

Fade out fade in: a Harare cybercafe, checking mail, waiting on long delays. Changed money at Manica Travel, the Amex reps, instead of Barclays.

Old Rhodesian society, as recently witnessed, is...strange. Rachael's comment about the seaweed tossed up by the highest wave is fitting. A mixture of 18th century aristocracy (estates, servants, rigid class structure), 19th century colonialism (surprise) (hunting trophies, tales of wild travel, "natives" comments) and 20th century angst (they are the last of a dying breed, their world is slipping away, and they know it).

Decorative tusks and an elephant-foot stool. Tales of Mozambican motorcycles towing bicycles and of the arms dealer next door. High rollers at the Leopard Rock Casino. A ride on a berry-towing tractor. Vast hardwood stands and lush green hills. Overgrown stairs, stage, & pool at Eagle School. Collapsed weathervane atop Mt. Binga.

Last Saturday, met the Fords, chatted with them at their near-bush estate in the lamplight (power outage), and went out for food & drink with Hallam, second-cousin/British paratrooper, n' his buddy Manuel. Excellent food - "Fishmonger's" and a pub on the outskirts of town where we met Chawa (sic?) a South African-educated Zimbabwean ex-schoolmate of Hallam's who plans to form a lobby group en route to political power.

Sunday, to a braai with Sue & David, old colonials commiserating about the good-old-days and the bad-now, unconscious racism; a few younger families, but Zim's white population is fading & graying. Not necessarily a bad thing...

Monday, a day off in Harare, doing very little.

Tuesday, helped George & Amalia move out to the ranch, then to the all-but-deserted night train to Mutare.

Wednesday, after some confusion and a long pack-carrying walk through nice-but-forgettable Mutare, hitched up to the Vumba and the Ndundu Lodge (nee Cloud Castle), and exceedingly comfortable and friendly place, where I could easily have stuck a week (but didn't). Wandered up Leopard Rock and through the pretty-and-pleasant Vumba Gardens, listened to some of Ndundu's impressive music selection.

Thursday, went on an epic - 35-40K - walk, along the Vumba road past once-Eagle School (didn't know it) and a "Drive-In Hyper-Kiosk", past Cloudlands, down Essex Valley Rd., through the Wattle Company's vast timber plantations and the terraced emerald-green farms of Essex Valley, to the Mozambican border for a couple of well-deserved Cokes, and partway back through the timber, before catching lifts back to Ndundu. Thick dark rainforests, rolling sculpted hills, high shoulders of tree-barnacled stone ridges, sparkling blue dam pools. Ate (great food) back at Ndundu and set off to the Leopard Rock Casino with other inhabitants - mainly archaeology students, strangely enough - and spent a few hours playing blackjack (broke even) and kibitzing.

Friday, travel day: ride down to Mutare, changed money, taxied to bus station, caught v. crowded bus for longer-than-necessary ride to Chimanimani and peacock-patrolled Heaven Lodge, crash and party pad, major milestone on the backpacker trail.

Saturday, off to wildly rugged and beautiful Chimanimani National Park, stiff rocky climb for 2 hrs. to mountain hut, stunning views over vast grassy plain surrounded by jagged mountains, dark clear mountain rivers burbling down the slopes and across the plain, forests of huge standing stones worn by wind and water to shapes more like coral than rock, fields & ridges of cracked jagged granite. Climbed up Mt. Binga, over fields of steep stone, drinking from clear cold mountain streams, somewhere crossing the border to Mozambique en route to the spire-laden view from the top, dark rippling layers of hills, down in all directions. Back to the hut just before dusk, met nice Dutch-Aussie couple, rolled out sleeping bag next to (too-pricey) hut, slept 'til dawn and its dew & drizzle.

Sunday - 16th - went walkabout for a few hours on the Chimanimani plateau, went up Skeleton Pass, returned, finished mountain food (rolls, tinned gunk, crackers & fresh sweet Chimanimani honey), climbed down with Thaddeus-from-Singapore, got ride back with Gary-the-local who's planning a weeklong foray to the even-less-touristy parts, sat in on guitar circle at Heaven for a couple hours (a Brixton-based guy there played amazing Robert Johnson versions), ate, drank, crashed early because...

Monday, got up at 3:30 AM to get first bus to Mutare to meet George & Amalia there at 8:30. Met, drove up to Vumba for brief tour of Eagle School, to Penhalonga and the gold mine gran-pere (once had an aka - "Pendrift" - in the WWI Navy) and gran-mere's father worked at, along scenic route to Nyanga, stopping at Mtarazi Falls, Honde View, and Pungwe View; seeing absolutely nothing because of the thing Nyanga mist, but otherwise I liked the mist, made everything seem a little magical. Stopped for night at Mare Dam, wandered 'round dam with George, ate, slept.

Tuesday - yesterday - drove up to meet Peter & Jane Storrer, exceedingly wealthy second cousins, at their exquisitely appointed farmhouse on the edge of the country. Then back to Harare via grandparents' grave in Marondera. A couple familially-historically-important buildings in Harare - 21 North and 36 Argyle - and back to Possum.

Today, administrivia: money-changing, email, gift-shopping, etc. Dinner w/George & Amalia and tonight's train for Bulawayo & Vic Falls.


August 08, 1998

Zimbabwe: Possum Lodge, Harare

Been a fairly slow ten days: I'm more-or-less kicking back and wasting time. Another couple days of sloth and then it's back to road-life again, I reckon.

L.A. Kings paraphernalia everywhere. Forests of soapstone carvings. Sunset like crimson cotton-candy sky over the boulevards of Harare. Great Zimbabwe's Great Enclosure looming out of the mist of the Hill Complex.

Great Zimbabwe quite impressive, though, as Kyra put it, not quite the Parthenon. Traipsed there through surprisingly cold wind & rain with John the Aussie & Luke the Luxembourger, after the bus dropped us 2K away.

(oh yeah: night before, met a Frenchman who'd been travelling for >8 years, working at scattered Alliances Francaise and then hitting the road to the next. Was off to Antarctica to complete his grand tour. Admirably insane.)

The Great Enclosure, layered stone twenty feet high, with a warren of narrow paths through many smaller buildings dotted with bulbous trees behind it. The Hill Complex, where the walls were built around, or met at odd angles, the towering slabs of granite. Narrow stone steps between two walls of granite. Chest-high passages and hidden nooks & crannies.

The rain, eerily, repeatedly cessated and waited for us to get out from cover before starting again.

Back to Masvingo, pause for lunch, and a bus back to Harare, BLOODSPORT on the TV followed by music even louder than the previous bus. Taxied to Possum, crashed.

Next day - Friday - ehh...did very little, in fact, nothing really worth recording, far as I can tell. Checked mail, ate Possum braai, watched movies, zoned.

Saturday, went over to George & Amalia's to watch a (v. entertaining) nature movie "Beautiful People" and were interrupted by a load of Witnesses coming from the south: Americans transferred from Mozambique to Zambia, South Africans coming to investigate construction problems in three countries. Interesting close-knit community. Always have time for people.

Sunday, helped the Watch Tower Society of Zimbabwe move office from inner-city building to outskirts ranch, loading & unloading furniture all day long. Not a bad day, actually.

Monday, fled the city - eventually, after laundry & errands - to Chinhoyi, where I stopped at the pricier-than-expected Caves Motel and refused to see the much-(?) caves (reportedly underwhelming).

Tuesdays, hopped on a bus to Kariba, not so much a town as several _widely_ spaced out clusters of buildings. Visited Kariba Dam's impressive curving span, dined & watched the sunset at the Lake View Inn.

Wednesday, went on a canoe-and-game-drive day trip; quite nice, but I was somehow expecting more. Saw, er, the usual. (Funny how blase you get, and how fast.) Fish eagles swooping o'er the waves. Back to the Lake View, where I bumped into Rich, a fellow-Canadian met at the Possum, and spent the night drinking with he and his British buddies. Entertaining.

Thurs. the 6th, walked up to pleasant Kariba Heights and back, about 20K round trip up and down hills. Nice walk, and terrific panorama of the lake from the heights. Later that night walked up to the dam observation point. A stunning elemental view: a million tons of concrete holding back 300 km of water, while a huge bushfire burned its warped elongated away across the river in Zambia and a strong wind ruffled even my hair. A full moon beaming down above. Quite a sight.

Friday, bussed back with Rich's Brits. Taxi ride on the most decrepit vehicle since Kayes back to Possum, which was full, so stayed at nice-enough-but-expensive Small World lodge up the street.

Sat - that would be today -