I should forewarn you.. Zimbabwe caused us quite a bit of frustration from the start, so prepare yourself for some honesty, and to probably feel some of my inner-rage come through….
Day 11 continued:
As soon as we crossed into Zimbabwe territory (in other words the customs office), it felt like we stepped into another world. The office was a complete mess. There was no sense of order, no lines… It was a shove your way to the front & do your best to make it happen. We were looking all over the counter for forms to fill out, but we could not find them. Thankfully, a representative from Pack Clearing Company was there. He got us the forms from the service counter, and we filled them out quickly. He then directed us to one of the agents and willingly helped keep other nationals, who were trying to push their way forward, at bay. We gave them our visa credit card to pay for our entry visas. The process to run the card took forever, but it may have been because while we were waiting, a massive and thunderous rainstorm began to assault the building.
Funny enough, because running our card was taking so long, the building began to fill up with other people hoping to get through. I don’t know if we beat the crowd or caused the crowd. Finally, with both of our entry visas paid for, we could move onto the car. For some reason, that chair was empty for an extensive period of time. We stood there waiting around, until finally our rep from PCC started to take control into his own hands… (Africa…) He began to fill out the paperwork, and finally had us back on the move, so when the rep showed up, it was just a matter of payment again. Another charge on the credit card, and $50 USD cash for the PCC guy.. and we were back in the car.
When we got the gate, we were not sure who was working. No one seemed overly attentive, but that may have been because of the rain. Finally, a man came up to the car, and decided to just climb in the back seat (Africa…). He was trying to avoid the rain, as he asked for our proof that we had paid our fees and gotten or stamps. However, we didn’t have what he wanted. We showed him all that we had, and without much hesitation, he let us through.
Thankfully the rain had quit as we approached a police stop not even a quarter mile up, just along the Zambezi National Park. The officer asked us how many safety triangles we had, if we had safety vests, and walked all the way around our car. At this point, he had Brad get out of the car to show him that our car didn’t meet their requirements because we did not have two red reflective stickers on the back of the vehicle (instead we had white). He told Brad that he would have to fine us $100 USD. NOTE: The funny thing about this was that there was no paperwork, he just expected us to give him $100 USD, and be on our way. In our eyes, and realistically, he would probably just pocket the money because it was obvious that we were tourists in a South African car, and had no clue about Zimbabwe road rules, not too mention, it wasn’t our car to put stickers on. If Zimbabwe wanted to fine us, they instead need to fine the Britz. We had the money, but we were not going to give it up because we obviously needed it… We were not going to give into what could potentially be organized crime behind the badge (haha). When we told him that we didn’t have it, he tried telling us that the total fine was now $200 USD. (too funny). We told the man that we had 27 Pula (Botswanan currency) & some change from a couple other countries. We had no problem giving it to him, but the funny thing was that at this point, he turned it down. Apparently, it was all or nothing, and he sent us on our way.
Zimbabwe was off to a very rocky start. It was just flat out ridiculous.
As we drove through Zambezi National Park, we were able to see the mist from the rains move through the jungle. It was truly beautiful. As we continued to drive, the sun had set. Traffic was practically non-existent until we got closer to the city, in which case we ended up in a small traffic jam due an elephant blocking the road. We were sitting completely stopped, unsure of what was going on until he walked more into the light. No one was doing anything (because the last thing you want to do is piss off a large elephant) until Brad turned on the brights. The elephant apparently didn’t like the blinding spot light, and decided to clear off the road. Finally, we were in motion again.
When we made our way into town, the small buildings began to slowly turn into a cluster. We did our best to find our way into the hotel, but the car was moving faster than the dot on our iPhone map, but we eventually figured it out. When we reached A’Zambezi River Lodge, we were somewhat shocked to find out that they could not find our reservation, they even called their reservation department (one man) to verify, and nothing. I had obviously booked through Hotels.com (gotta get those free nights), and paid in advance for the room, but they still showed nothing. This required me to log into their wi-fi to dig through my email, and get on the website, just to get them the confirmation information. NOTE: I was frustrated because I had read in the hotels reviews that this had happened a few times before with other guests, and I didn’t think it would happen to me, but that’s probably why it did. When it was all worked out, they put us in a room, but what we realized is that they put us in a garden view room, when we had paid for a river view room.
We figured we would deal with specifics in the morning because we were already frustrated and mentally exhausted. We decided to go grab dinner. We got the menu, and only had a few options to order from because they were out of several ingredients. So, I got the schnitzel and Brad got fried crocodile tail, which is like eating chewy chicken. Dinner was mediocre, and we were wiped out. It was the type of exhaustion that you can see taking over in the eyes, so we just headed to bed.
We had our bags packed and ready to be moved. While, I finished getting ready, Brad went to the front desk to have things sorted out. When he got back, he told me that they wouldn’t have any rooms available until that afternoon because they had to wait to check someone out. They were also unwilling to issue us any credits for the price difference between the two rooms or apparently comp meals, even though they screwed up.
With that slightly out of the way, we headed to The Lookout Cafe. A beautiful cafe/activity venue that overlooks the gorge of the Zambezi River. From here, you can also see the Victoria Falls Bridge, and the mist rising up from the crashing water. It’s absolutely beautiful. We were here for breakfast, and we both ordered a poach egg dish that has had me craving poached eggs ever since! We wanted to sit along the railing, but it was a cool and windy morning so we moved further in behind the partition. We watched the other tourist as they cheered on their friends who were more daring than they, as they jumped off ledges and slid across cables. The Lookout Cafe was the place that makes you want to retire in Victoria Falls.
We had decided that we wanted to head to Zambia, so we ran back to the hotel to grab all the things we thought we may need, and then headed to the border. It was much more orderly there than it had been at our initial crossing into Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t until after the man had stamped our passports that he told us that we would be paying multiple fees to get the car in and out of both Zambia & Zimbabwe and that we would have to get a new entry visa every time (this was not what we were told at the hotel, shocker!).
This felt like a devastating defeat. A true blow. We were frustrated beyond measure, and didn’t know what to do since we didn’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars just to spend the first part of our day in Zambia. We ended up just heading back into town to wander around. We figured that we would check out the shops and grab some lunch. So we did just that. Most of the shops just offered the same old things that did not excite us at all. After wandering aimlessly for a little while, we stopped at Lola’s Tapas & Carnivore Restaurant, which offered exotic game meat like giraffe and zebra to name the weirdest two. FACT: Turns out that Brad loves giraffes so much, that it’s the one game meat that he won’t eat. I opted for pasta (not the best choice), and Brad chowed down on a burger. We enjoyed each others company and tried our best to not let Zimbabwe get us down and rebuild our spirits.
After our refreshing lunch in the warm Zimbabwean air, we headed back down the street to the out door curio market. We were on the hunt for a mask to put with our one from Zanzibar. The market was a decent size, and had a lot of touristy trinkets to take home family, and some fun things for yourself including large carved sculptures. We didn’t buy anything that day, as we figured it was best if we just left it as a browsing day. I think we were both, also, so frustrated that we didn’t feel like haggling with the shop keepers, let alone have them continually follow us trying to get us to buy things that we don’t want.
We stumbled into another shopping center just up the street, The Elephant Walk, that actually had stores where hassling and negotiating was not allowed; everything had a set price. It was just passed the crocodile cage diving facility where you could actually cage dive with crocodiles… It looked about as exciting as it sounds (I didn’t think looked exciting at all).. Basically… It’s a shallow curvy swimming pool that can’t be more than three feet deep with only one or two crocodiles. They put you into a cage & lower you down, and you can use oxygen if you want… but I don’t think you actually need it. Then they use bate to draw the crocodile near. NOTE: When we exited the shops we walked back by, and I touched the crocodiles foot… I was feeling bold.. I ‘m a real wild child! haha.
The shops were really nice, but the one that had real tourist stuff was extremely over priced. We have some of the same stuff here in Arizona, at one of my favorite shops, that is cheaper. It was insane, so naturally, we skipped it.
After that, we headed back to the hotel to hang out for a while, after all… we were supposed to be moving rooms that evening. We just wandered the grounds in attempt to find the river walk that our hotel claims to sit on…. We walked from one end of the grounds to the other, but there was no path… Turns out, it doesn’t sit on the river walk (which makes sense since it is quite a distance from the falls)… just another disappointing blow. All we could find were boat ramps with tour boats, pretty flowers, and bright insects… We didn’t know what else to do, so we decided to sit at the room for a while until they called. I ended up on the patio, and as I sat there waiting I watched the staff. One member walked along the sidewalk opening every room door of the river view building as he walked along. I thought this was kind of strange. As he disappeared, I got up to inspect because I was fearful that it could be a security issue for other guests that may be in those rooms; or if they were empty, I was curious why we weren’t already in one. Sure enough every one of those rooms was empty and I was flaming mad at this point. There was no reason why one of those ready rooms wasn’t provided to us that morning, especially since they weren’t going to reimburse us for the difference, or comp our meals.
Anyways, we finally got transferred to our new room overlooking the central grounds and a “view” of the river. (I would, also, like to note that a big part of why I picked this hotel was for the wildlife that visits.. warthogs, a hippo, and all the monkeys.. We only saw monkeys during our time there.)
We ended up heading back into town for dinner, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where we ate. Neither can Brad. so on that note… After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to hang out and watch TV before we fell asleep.
Since we had pretty much seen all that we had seen, we decided that we wanted to try and head to Hwange National Park. We were running behind and didn’t feel like trying to track down breakfast, so we decided to eat at the hotel. This, once again, was a frustrating dilemma (but partially our fault). Prior to being seated, we were offered the option of three breakfast “directions”: the buffet, the continental, or order from the menu. That was all that was said. Not thinking much of it, we chose the buffet. We had our fruit, toast, and omelettes, tea and coffee. ..and tried to relax while caffeinating for the day. When we got the check, we were incredibly shocked that the bill was $70 USD for our breakfast because we go the buffet. We were frustrated that no one or nothing pointed out the extreme price differences, but we also, should have though to ask (lesson learned) .
Once again, we were both in a funk of disbelief, and got in the car to head to the park. There was just one problem. The road was blocked off. We immediately, were feeling the defeat… again. Frustrated, we just turned back around to figure out a plan.
Our plan ended up being to visit Victoria Falls. So, with our water resistant jackets in hand, we drove back toward the border (Victoria Falls is a dividing point for Zimbabwe & Zambia), parked the car, crossed the street & bought two tickets. Brad had heard rumors of people getting drenched, but at the first stop it was just a light mist, and didn’t seem too bad. The sights were so beautiful. Everything was so green. It was like being a rain forest. It was a beautiful walk along the paved paths. It wasn’t very crowded which was great because it made me feel more at peace with nature. This was the first time that I actually began to feel love for Zimbabwe. The paths were lined with giant trees encased in vines and tall grasses and shrubs. At one point a small antelope stood next to railing eating the grass that lined the cliff. We wondered how he found his way there.
As the path progressed, so did the mist. Eventually, as you reach the long line of falls, you begin to get more and more wet. You end up drenched, from head to toe. My water resistant shell was, indeed, not water proof. It had become useless as my tank top began to grow lengthwise. But it was incredible. It was the type of experience that makes you feel more alive. You can’t help but laugh as the water streams down your face as if you are in a rainstorm. We now understood why the locals rent out raincoats across the street from the entrance.
I think it was the first time in Zimbabwe that Brad and I were truly having fun. We were laughing at the situation and at ourselves for once again underestimating the situation, while simultaneously hoping that my Fjallraven Kanken, kept my Nikon from getting wet (it did!) . It was great fun to watch as the mist would clear out to present the beauty of the water collapsing over the cliff’s edge, and then watch it fill back up again as if you are staring a cloud in the face, should a cloud have a face…
We made our way toward Victoria Falls Bridge where we were able to get a beautiful view, and see the people and cars crossing. As we began our departure from the park, the mist/rain began to clear. We could finally see the sun shining through again, and the we were able to enjoy the beauty of the park. We were able to see some fuzzy orange caterpillars, and there were monkeys running amok through the park, as well.
FACT: When the rivers are at their highest and the waterfall is pouring at its most, The intensive level of mist that rises from the falls actually will create rain in the town of Victoria Falls. It creates an environment all of its own for a brief time in the year.
After having a nature shower, it was time for a man-made shower. So we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. I, also, got to spend some time on the patio, monitoring the monkeys that were running circles on the lawn & rough playing with each other, and jumping into the trees for snacks. All, while Brad waited for hotel maintenance to fix the hot water that went out (If it wasn’t one thing it was another with this hotel. Seriously, I haven’t even mentioned that the toilets in both rooms looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned – thank the Lord for antibacterial wipes, i just did it myself). I had a great time photographing the little lunatics, and was even able to get in a long phone call with my parents before we headed to dinner.
We headed back down by the markets (that I mentioned above), to an Asian restaurant called Nam Took (I’m pretty sure). It was really good. I got a spice chicken & noodle dish, and Brad got some other noodle thing… We enjoyed a little bit of each other’s while we engaged in meaningless chatter & perused social media. For the most part, it had been a really good day, and things were looking up. We even decided, after careful deliberation, and thought, that we would go to Zambia the next day.
After dinner, we needed to get some cash for the next few days, so we went in search of an ATM. We drove around in search of one (which took a while, and a few stops), and there happened to be a few ATMs behind the big grocery store. When we got to the ATM, we were trying to get $100 Zimbabwe Dollars. We tried a few times, and then the security guard told us to try a lower amount. It finally worked, at about $30.00. We ended up having to go to 3 ATMS (all in one area) to get the money we needed, and ended up having to use all of our free international ATM transactions that our bank gives us. (Could Zimbabwe, make life anymore difficult? haha).
Finally, with cash in hand we headed back to the hotel so that we could have our adventure the next day.
to be continued…