Author: Jody & Dave
Our drive to Zimbabwe was a busy one - 3 countries, 2 days, 1 car drop off, 2 additional driving services and 3 border crossings. Our favourite quote of the day was from Avery, “Where are we now?” Yup - it was tough, especially considering there are five countries whose borders come together in a very small space!
This was the first time on this trip we had “walked or driven” over the border. Now, we’ve had many experiences passing through immigration in airports and have it down to a science but this was a new experience for the girls. During our first border crossing we were on our own. We filled out the necessary paper work, waited with 2 other people in line and got through without incident. Our border crossing out of Botswana and into Zimbabwe was a different story though. By this time we had a driver (the rental car had to be returned prior to leaving Botswana - they refused to have their vehicle enter Zimbabwe for fear of theft or damage!). Although very helpful, the driver was rushing us to beat the two tour busses that had arrived at the immigration office at the same time as we did. Eventually we got into the line and everything went well. In fact, this last border crossing of the day was by far our favourite.
Although it was extremely crowded and hot, Felix the border guard was fantastic. He was a hoot (and from experience, most around the world aren’t)! He was a man who enjoyed his work. More than that, he enjoyed meeting and visiting with new people. At this crossing we were applying for the joint visa (Zimbabwe and Zambia which would allow us multi-entry into the 2 countries while visiting Victoria Falls). This took time as the visas were written out by hand.
When we handed over our passports, the guard said, “You’re from Canada.” We prepared ourselves for the question we have been asked most on this trip - “Are you from Toronto or Vancouver?” To our surprise though the guard asked, “Ever heard of Brett Hart?” What?! We replied that yes we had heard of him and we were from the same city where he was raised. Not only that, I explained how I had previously taught one of his kids and a friend of ours is dating his nephew. We made the guard’s day! Apparently we were the only Canadians he had ever met who knew of Brett Hart (or the only ones who grew up watching WWF and Stampede Wrestling). Throughout our wait for the visas to be processed, we laughed and joked with this man. Needless to say, our entry into both countries was a smooth one.
On our drive into Victoria Falls our driver explained it was important to be careful at night and to be sure we were extra careful at dusk. I assumed it was due to crime as we had been warned in other places we had visited, but was surprised to hear dusk was when the baboons and elephants come out. They often wandered through the town site at this time. We saw evidence of this in the form of knocked down brick walls across the street from our hotel. Later we learned 4 lions were recently seen in the local school yard not far from us. We saw baboons (much to the girls’ chagrin - they HATE them after Meghan’s incident at the Cape of Good Hope), but nothing else during our time.
Our purpose for this part of the trip was to see Victoria Falls. Dave had raved about his time here during his African adventure 20 years ago. He was very excited to show us what he had experienced. The falls themselves were spectacular! The sheer width and power of them was incredible! The wind they created blew our hair straight back and the ‘mist’ in some places was a torrential downpour. It was sometimes so thick, we couldn’t make out the falls! Dave had been here during the dry season. He said it was a vastly different experience than what we were having at the end of the rainy season.
Having started on the Zimbabwean side of the falls, we walked over the border to the Zambian side. Although this was not our first ‘walking’ border crossing, it was the most dramatic. Semi trucks lined the road for a good kilometre with taxis and tourist busses negotiating their way between them and people walking over the border. We easily got our passports checked and walked over the bridge crossing the Zambezi River.
Despite there being poverty in Zimbabwe, there was a stark difference on the Zambian side of the bridge. The immediacy to make a dollar was greater (this would be the case for the remainder of our time in Africa). A “no thank you” response to a vendor wasn’t well-received like in other places we had been. It left no hope. Instead, a “maybe later” was more acceptable. We had to make sure that we were true to our promise though as the vendors remembered and approached us as we came back across the bridge.
On the Zambian side of the falls we hiked down to the “Boiling Pot”, where the water of the falls turns into itself in a funnel-like whirlpool. It was very interesting to see. Along our hike we saw many Zambian entrepreneurs offering their services as guides (while the Zimbabwean side had official guides). We also saw people renting rain ponchos in the form of garbage bags. This last service we used as we had just dried off from our exploration of the falls on the Zimbabwean side and the Zambian side was far wetter.
On our way back to Zimbabwe we were again approached by vendors. One gentleman continued to walk with us across the bridge. This is common here. Vendors often walked along with you conversing and trying to make a sale. This gentleman continued to decrease his prices though until finally he quietly offered Dave the opportunity to trade something instead of purchasing it. Dave was used to this from his last visit but the girls had never heard this before. They were most surprised when the grown man asked to trade something for Avery’s hiking boots which were hanging off of Dave’s backpack. Initially she thought the boots would be for him, but she came to understand he may have needed them for someone in his family or to resell to make needed money.
This was the ‘aha moment’ we knew we would have. We just didn’t know when it would come. We were all humbled in that moment thinking about our lifestyle and good fortune living in Canada.
The next day we had a similar experience at a local market. We were purchasing a few souvenirs and looking within a few stalls. We had bought all we needed as we approached the last vendor but he had invited us in. We didn’t want to be rude so we obliged and took a look at his items. He quoted prices quickly and then lowered them as we said no thank you to some of the wares. He then asked if we were willing to trade him for something within his store. Specifically, he needed bug spray to keep the mosquitos away. We understood. We were in a malarial zone.
We promised the man we would return and went to a nearby grocery to buy him bug spray. When we gave it to him there was such appreciation in his eyes and words. Something so simple, so inexpensive for us, yet so important to him. He offered us something from his store but we declined. We wanted to show the girls that everything doesn’t need to be a financial exchange or of benefit to us. Sometimes a kind gesture is all that is required.
A few days later we left for Dar es Salaam. A driver took us to the airport in Livingstone where we took a small prop engine plane to Lusaka before embarking on the milk run to Nairobi and then Dar. We first had to stop at a bank. Although we had American money (the preferred currency in these areas), we wanted to ensure we had some extra in case we needed it in Tanzania. We asked him to stop before crossing the border. Outside the bank was a long line up. The reason: no money in the ATM, not because it hadn’t been filled but simply because there isn’t any hard currency. This was very common in our travels through Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Along the way to Livingstone our driver shared some insights and points of interest including a hospital advertising a 2 year nursing program for the equivalent of $2 000 Canadian. The driver commented it was a very good program and VERY expensive. Dave and I quickly exchanged glances in the back seat of the car, thinking back to our tuition per semester almost 20 years ago.
He also pointed out a mall, similar to one we might have at home but smaller in size. It was just on the outskirts of Livingstone and completely abandoned. It had been built with the hopes of attracting tourists and locals alike to add to the local economy. However, it is now closed as tourists would rather buy from local artisans in authentic markets and most locals don’t have the money to travel to the mall or purchase the goods being sold there. It was a great idea but just didn't work in this environment.
The local indigenous people, the Tonga, called Victoria Falls “Mosi-Oa-Tunya” which translates to the “smoke that thunders” - a far more apt name than the colonial, Livingstone moniker: 'Victoria Falls'; as one can see the mist from both land and air. Yet, there are parallels to this patriarchal name and the impact history and governments have had on the people of this region. There is smoke and thunder as consecutive governments have tried to get this part of the world to achieve its potential - but have failed time and again. Foreign nations have attempted to step in with their own views on what is required to help this region prosper. With the recent, and abrupt, change in leadership in Zimbabwe a number of the local people we spoke with held out hope that life will improve with the departure of a long-term dictator. We were struck by the parallel to the name as the thunder continues to rumble with a faint hope that some new spark will create the smoke, and fire, required for positive change.
So, although our purpose in visiting Zimbabwe was to see Victoria Falls, the experiences and lessons we learned in this place far outweighed simply seeing this natural wonder. We all left with a deeper appreciation of how fortunate we are, and to a great degree simply because we are Canadian.
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).