Friday, August 26, 2016

25th Anniversary Celebration--An African Safari

It's our 25th wedding anniversary this year, and after months and months (and months) of waiting for our African safari, the time is finally here! We are flying from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then on to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Our travelling friends, Barb and Ed, are coming with us, but sadly, at the last minute, Jim's sister, Joanne and her friend, will not be joining us due to some medical issues. We will miss Joanne and wish her a quick recovery.

Ah yes, the flight to Johannesburg of 15 hours. We decided that instead of stopping over in London or another European city and having an 8 hour layover, we would suck it up and get it done in one shot. We're tough, right? (Who knows where that price of $1,038 came from. Not on any ticket we saw.)

We don't look too touristy, do we? Ha!
Here we are flying into Johannesburg with its neat circles. The flight was really long, because within two minutes of sitting down, my reading glasses fell on the floor...and we never saw them again! Seriously, how can that be? We looked, the flight attendant looked, the people in front of us and behind us looked. Nope, they were swallowed up, never to be seen again. Now it was going to be a really long flight. I couldn't read and I couldn't see the screen on the seat ahead of me because it was too close, so that let any movies out. I listened to music and dozed and counted the hours. Almost as a sign that this was a First World Problem, a group of blind people were sitting around us and they seemed perfectly content. They didn't have anything to look at either, so it was a good lesson.

We had a short wait before our flight to Victoria Falls. I immediately found a pharmacy and bought a new pair of reading glasses. These Out of Africa shops were quite nice, especially with Nelson Mandela in front.

Our first animal sighting!

Our flight to Victoria Falls was quick and easy. Looking back at our plane...

And heading into the airport...we made it! So happy to be here!

The flag of Zimbabwe...

Immigration was horrendous. It took over 90 minutes to get through a relatively short line. Even though they had a computer, they were writing out receipts and visas by hand and pasting them in your passport. Our first reminder that we were on Africa time...

Our driver was waiting patiently for us and whisked us to our hotel, The Kingdom. It was an older hotel, but very comfortable.

The beautiful bougainvilleas...

Sculpture in front of the hotel...


Lots of fish swimming in the "moat"...

Our room was very comfortable...

Looking out onto the pool...

We had a short nap and then headed to the bar area and ran across these guys. They were huge! Love African art so much...

Not looking too bad considering our overnight flight and short rest period...

Below are our wonderful travelling friends, Barb and Ed, and the bartender we met, Shingi. It was quiet in the bar area and we had a chance to ask Shingi questions about life in Zimbabwe. He told us he walks 3 kilometres to work each day. When we asked him if it was safe, he said it is dangerous walking...because of the animals. Not the answer I was expecting. The hotel provides drives home up to a certain hour, but he works later than that time, so he walks.

He told us he is lucky to have a job, but only makes enough to barely support his family and send his children to school. We had brought some school supplies and decided to give them all to him. It made our hearts happy to see the joy on his face.

Bar prices...a glass of wine and a beer for $7. The currency in Zimbabwe is the US dollar. The Zimbabwean dollar was inflated to the point where it was worthless, so it was abandoned in 2009 and the $US was adopted.

Here we are together again...I wonder what "fine messes" we'll get into this time!

Heading back to our room after a tiring but very happy day...

We had asked Shingi the previous evening if he knew of someone who could give us a tour of Victoria Falls. We didn't want to go to the Falls as we would be doing that as part of our safari. Shingi called Sam who came to meet us in the restaurant and lined up a tour of the town of Victoria Falls and a visit to a local village.

Our first stop was the post office where we saw the first of many carvings. The vendors are quite aggressive, but not in a scary way. After Egypt, we can handle any vendors! Ed bought the first of many little animals. So far, we were resisting...

Sam brought us to the Beer Hall, which is an important part of their culture and an area where many people go to relax and hang out at night.

$1 for a large beer...

This man was kind enough to let us take his picture with the large beer they buy for $1. It was a little scary looking. Sam told us he doesn't drink. I could see why.

This lady was making food along with the local staple of sadza, which is a cooked cornmeal. You can also buy a meal at the beer hall for $1.

An area for shooting pool...

And an area for mingling. It was about 11 a.m. so a very quiet time compared to the evenings.

J&K Take Away...if we decided to start a food business in Victoria Falls, it already had our initials!

We arrived at the village we were going to tour. It turns out that this is also the area where Shingi lives. He walks a long way to work.

You will see fences of some type around most villages. A kraal is the word for an African village usually surrounded by a fence.

Each of these huts will have a different purpose and several generations of a family will live in a kraal. There is no power or running water in the villages. They do not pay taxes and are given the piece of land. The well for this village was 2-1/2 km away and it is traditionally the woman's job to get the water.

The walls and floors of the huts are made with earth mixed with dung and they are painted different colours using charcoal, ashes, water and soil.

This was the winter kitchen. I was so surprised when I walked inside and my eyes adjusted to the darkness. It was beautiful and immaculate. The dishes have been obtained by bartering.

Sadly, I can't remember our host's African name, if I ever knew it. He carves items to sell to visitors and spoke very good English.

This was the summer kitchen and it was full of smoke. They cleverly build their huts in a certain location knowing which way the winds come from. He was standing on the smoke-free side. Smart! I, on the other hand, was trying to take a photo from the other side.

Everything has many purposes. The ashes from the fire are used to scrub the dishes and for toothpaste. No water is wasted. It is used for washing dishes and bodies and then put on the vegetable garden.

The dogs are not pets, but are kept to give warnings of animals, especially at night. If you hear the dog barking, you better get up and see what is causing the disturbance. They keep cows and goats, which are in danger from lions.

Only recently did the villages receive aid in constructing toilet facilities which you can see in the background. A small concrete building is poured on a slab over an 8' deep hole. This is so much better than the former practice of using the bushes outside the fence, both for security and hygiene reasons.

In the foreground, you can see their showering facilities.

This is the junk pile where any bits of lumber and metal are kept to be put to use in ingenious ways.

The hen house was made using various items from the pile, topped off with a bicycle frame. The area around the huts and the hen house is swept clean every day, so that if a snake is around, its trail can be seen in the sand.

Writing on the bedroom door...

He took us behind the hut to show us the gym. Cans filled with hardened sand on a metal rod make very good dumbbells.

The kids were near the vegetable garden and were having fun pulling the plastic trays around with a rope. Although the people in the villages have very little, they are happy people. Their needs are simple and they make their own fun.

Beer seems to play an important part in life as well. He was explaining the purpose of the drum and the word "beer" seemed to pop up frequently.

This is outside one of the sleeping huts, which was also immaculate inside. They light small fires inside close to the door as it does get cool at night. I wish we had thought to bring some solar lights, which are becoming very popular. They plant flowers outside these huts as the snakes don't like them.

I also wish we had brought some fun things with us other than food. We stopped at a store and Sam picked up items for us to buy. We bought cornmeal for making sadza, cooking oil, soap, salt, sugar, bread and a bunch of other useful things. It cost about $15. But nothing fun or pretty for the children. Next time...

In addition to receiving money for allowing visitors in their kraal, they also make items to sell. Our host wouldn't give us a price for these salad tongs as we had "provided for his family." We named a price of $15 and he seemed quite happy with that.

We asked Sam if he would take us to a local restaurant for lunch but he seemed hesitant to do that. We suggested Mama Africa which we had heard about from several people. Although he lives there, he had never been there as he can't afford it. We were happy to treat him to learn more about Zimbabwe before we headed back to the hotel.

It was bright and cheery and nice to sit and reflect on what we were learning.

These hot pots are filled with a variety of African dishes, most often a meat and sauce of some kind. I tried the sadza, which was the consistency of mashed potatoes. It has no taste, so mixing it with something is a good idea. It was certainly filling.

Lunch with Sam. He was extremely knowledgeable about world affairs. He knew a lot about Canadian geography, which was impressive, and was very informed on the upcoming American elections. He was a teacher, but they are so poorly paid that he was forced to quit. He started working in a hotel, and then for a tour company. He makes about $250-$300 per month. The level of education in the schools is low because of the teacher shortage, and those that are still working in the field are very demoralized. Young people are being faced with a low standard of education.

Primary and secondary education is no longer free in Zimbabwe as of 2002. Churches and other charities have set up schools for those whose parents cannot pay for them to attend regular schools. Some of these schools produce the best scholars, as these students take nothing for granted and see it as a way out of poverty.

Everyone we met in Zimbabwe is very outspoken against the President, Robert Mugabe. He has been in power for 36 years and his reign has been known for human rights violations, putting him up there with the world's worst dictators. Corruption is rampant in Zimbabwe. $15 billion recently went "missing" from the mining of diamonds.

Unemployment is between 60-80% depending on who we spoke to. The population has gone from 15 million to 12 million. Prostitution and AIDS are serious problems. A campaign to provide condoms was condemned by the Catholic church so people are unsure what path to follow.

We left lunch with our heads full of information and with heavy hearts for the wonderful people who are living in such unfair conditions.

More sculptures outside the restaurant. We were told if we wanted to buy anything large, to take it with us and pay the airline fees to bring it home. The vendors say they ship everywhere in the world, but it is extremely expensive and the chances are good you will never see it again.

We arranged with Sam to pick us up in the morning to take us to the hotel from where we would be starting our safari. Back at the hotel we took some time to enjoy the facilities...

Lovely pool area surrounded by more sculptures...

These pieces were throughout the hotel. It was fun to admire...

The next morning we were packed and ready to head to the A'Zambezi Lodge where we would meet our safari guide and the other six people who would be in our group.

Sam did a quick detour to the Big Tree. It is the oldest and biggest baobab tree in Zimbabwe, estimated to be at least 1000 years old. It is said, although it is doubtful, that David Livingstone, the explorer and missionary, visited and carved his initials in it in 1855.

While we were at the tree, two vendors selling carved animals popped out of the bushes. Barb and Ed made another purchase while we chipped in for a giraffe. Sam told us later it is illegal to sell on the side of the road as many people have been killed by elephants.

Sam showing us the fruit of a "sausage tree" or Kigelia. The fruit can weigh between 5 and 10 kg and is eaten by many animals.

There are beautiful roads in Zimbabwe thanks to British construction 40 years ago.

Arriving at our hotel where we will meet our safari group...

I loved the designs in the thatched roofs...

We had to wait for our room, so we checked out the map of Victoria Falls. Wow! That is impressive.

The grounds of the hotel. Even though it was the dry season, the grounds were lush and green.

Almost everywhere we went we saw President Mugabe's photo, this one taken at least 30 years ago. About 15 years ago, Mugabe's administration took over farms owned by white people. At one time those farms numbered 4000 and employed a large number of people. Today they are down to 400 owned by people who are loyal to his government.

Still waiting...

Ooh...monkeys! OK, not monkeys, but baboons. We were learning.

The Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, African buffalo and leopard) carved into the base of the table.

At last we got into our lovely room complete with mosquito netting.

Looking out from the balcony we could see a warthog and a baby baboon. The warthogs reminded me of the way moose kneel down to eat.

He's hanging out by the sign so he won't be disturbed. They were oblivious to us. I, on the other hand, gave him a wide berth as I walked by.

The Zambezi River in the background...

Praying warthogs!

Playing warthogs...

We met our tour guide, Manuel; our driver, Mbusi; and our travel mates, six New Zealanders. Should be a fun safari!

Crocodile bread...

And what the heck is this? Jim showed his arm to Manuel and he said "mosquito bites." Little did we know that Victoria Falls would turn out to be the worst place for mosquitos. Jim was obviously having some sort of reaction, but Manuel assured him as long as he was taking his malaria pills he would be fine.

Tomorrow, our safari begins as we drive to Elephant's Eye Lodge near Hwange National Park.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Beautiful photos! A lovely and fascinating tour. Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)