People ask if I am scared traveling alone, and the answer is I haven’t been yet, but I will say that my first hours in Zimbabwe were my least comfortable so far.
I arrived in Zimbabwe after a short flight from Johannesburg. I have been told by multiple people not to travel around the country and a few have said that in their good conscience, they would not travel here until corruption at the expense of the people was curbed. That said, people also reported that going to see Victoria Falls from the Zim side (as opposed to the Zam side of Zambia) could not be missed. So, I was conflicted, but decided on two nights in Victoria Falls.
I arrived in the rain with only $60 in US dollars. After totaling losing value, Zim switched to US currency. You can actually buy old billion dollar Zim bills on the street as souvenirs. I had enough money to buy the $30 entrance Visa and pay for a taxi to the airport and then planned on visiting an ATM upon arrival.
On the plane, there was a young Japanese man next to me who did not speak English. On his customs form, he wrote that he was going to the same hotel that I was. I tried to tell him we were going to the same place and his friend who spoke English heard me and offered to have me join in the taxi they arranged which was $20 cheaper than a single fare. That was a win. The driver agreed to stop at the ATM for me.
So, in the pouring rain, we stopped at what he believed was EVERY ATM in town…five of them. And one after another was out of cash. I sopped through puddles that were so stinky that I only guessed what flowed in them and my pant legs were drenched on the bottom with water oozing up my legs.
When I arrived at the hotel, my room was not ready, so I headed back out in the rain to find money. The desk clerk told me about one more ATM in the area behind the grocery store. She said to be careful as I headed out the door. As I walked, a warthog started walking next to me. I wished I had Googled warthogs to find out if they are dangerous or not, but I just kept walking and so did he. Along the road, I had to walk on a muddy roadside path as I headed the few blocks into the center of Victoria Falls with people trying to sell small items along the way. One car passed and waved, so I smiled and kept my swift pace. For me, it is safer to be friendly and appear oblivious to advances than to be rude. This time, the car, a Mercedes, pulled over up ahead and waited for me to get there. When I arrived, I met the driver and his friend, with beers in hands, asking if I had plans. I wonder…do people actually get in cars like, “Hey, I’m free. Let’s go!” Anyway, he graciously drove away when I said I was on my way to meet friends. I wasn’t meeting anyone, but it is always a good out. I found the ATM in a small walkway behind the grocery store. I am not sure it was the rain, or my general transition to Zim, but I got my cash as fast as I could and headed home. In the evening, I was on a computer in an alcove at the hotel, when a man passed the small, dim space and asked if I was “offering any services.” I don’t think he meant typing services, but I acted like he did and just said, “No, just doing my own work here.” He walked away and I decided to leave the cozy alcove…seemed like maybe more than computer usage was expected there.
I went to bed wondering how my walk to the Falls would be. And guess what…I woke up this morning, the sun was shining, and the town of Victoria Falls looked much less foreboding. I walked comfortably to the Falls in a bright town, filled with people, and a general sense of comfort. I enjoyed the little shops along the main area and was amazed at how sunshine and a new day changed things. Clearly my attitude influences how I view the world. If I want to find fear, it can be hiding around every corner.
Victoria Falls is the largest in the world. The power of the water was intimidating. As I walked along the nearby path, the sound of the Falls was vibrant and the water poured over me like rain. I got soaked as I walked and stopped at each viewing spot. The most surprising thing to me was that there were no fences…no safety measures at all on the slippery rocks above the Falls. As I sat on the rocks, I was scared…scared that one clumsy slip would send me over the edge. I was just inches from the plunge,
so I didn’t linger for very long. I laid down for a photo and semi-crawled away from the edge.
New Year’s Eve…just hanging out in my room and preparing for a morning trip to Lusaka, Zambia. I have to take three taxis to Livingstone where I will catch my bus…a taxi to the border, a taxi for between countries and a taxi to bus station. For 10 kilometers, I need three different taxis because drivers are not permitted access to border crossing.
Africa is cool because everywhere I look there is something interesting to see. As I was leaving a store today, I felt something moving overhead, and it was a monkey climbing off a tree…unexpected, but increasingly familiar! I didn’t even jump!