Hola a todos,
I guess it's silly to say hello in Spanish when I'm traveling in Africa, but who cares. Since I don't have too much to say since my last message, I will touch more on what it's like to travel alone, and some of my feelings toward the people and culture of the different countries I have visited. Hope you don't find it too boring.
I left off about 10 days ago as I had just departed from my dear brother. After three and a half great days of doing nothing but relaxing, running, and a bit of partying, I decided to finally sightsee. So I left with Amy to go to Bulawayo, a town five hours southeast of Vic Falls. Amy headed on to Johannesburg while I found myself a hostel to stay in. I ended up at Shaka's Spear for no other reason than it was close and it sounded good in the Lonely Planet Guide Book. By then, my stomach bug was still persisting and I was getting pretty sick of it, literally. So I went to the doctor two days later.
The next day I jumped on a tour of Matopos Park. I was joined by a really nice French couple, Isabelle and Paul. Their English was so-so but together they understood most everything. It was cute because Paul said that in France no one knows of Zimbabwe but he closed his eyes and pointed on a map of Africa and Zimbabwe was where his finger landed. So when they arrived, they had little knowledge of the country and no idea about what has been happening politically. Matopos is where Cecil Rhodes is buried. He's the British colonialist who founded De Beers, helped start some tribal wars, headed colonialism in Africa and wanted to expand the British Empire from Cape Town to Cairo. But aside from his grave, Matopos is known for its interesting rock formations. When I saw pictures I was not all that impressed, but in person, it's quite beautiful. Lots of balancing rocks that look like people or objects. In part of the park there are also San cave drawings from thousands of years ago. The drawings were cool because they looked similar to some of the Native American ones except that instead of cows or goats being painted, there are rhinos and giraffes depicted.
After checking out the cave drawings, we headed to another part of the park where the game tend to hang out, especially the rhinos. We were allowed through our tour to get out and walk to within 10-15 meters of them. They were huge, a mother, child and male. The male was not too happy with our presence and kept looking at us head on like he'd like to charge us. Brian, our guide, said that a mother rhino can weigh up to 1600 kilos (or was it pounds?). Pretty intense. Paul asked me, "Ahr you zure dis ees not danjerus?" (think French accent). We just followed the guide and I assumed as long as we did what he told us, there would be no problems. These were white rhinos by the way, as compared to black rhinos which can be much more dangerous. Both are in the park.
When I got back I was thoroughly exhausted, and I was now coming down with a cold. So I hung out first with the French couple, another French man named Jean and a nice Dutch woman named Jeannette. We had a nice dinner and then later I headed inside and had a nice discussion with a Canadian couple, Toby and Arlene .They had been travelling for almost the same length of time as me and had also started in East Africa. We were comparing notes and difficulties and high points. We both agreed that while Tanzania is a beautiful country, the people are not as friendly towards tourists as in Zambia, Malawi, or Zimbabwe, and how frustrating it can be sometimes because often employees in a shop or restaurant or hotel answer the way they 'think' you want them to. So, when you really want the truth, good or bad, you get an answer that may be wrong, but that sounds more positive. For example, is the water okay to drink? Well, maybe after a couple times you'll find out it is not, but they won't tell you that on the first request. I have many other situations like that but I won't go into it. Then of course there is the beloved transportation system and trying to get from one place to another. Furthermore, for me, as an American, it had been quite educational to get differing opinions about my country, what it has done to or for other developing countries and so forth. A lot of the opinions are very negative which I can understand. But, it is hard at times when I, one single person, represent a huge country with millions of people. I frequently get asked about my feelings on our current president. I, personally, am not impressed. But, as a country, that is who we picked and that's what they see. Enough musings.
The next day I was feeling pretty bad so I went to see Dr. Naik, a nice man who started practicing medicine when Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes.) He prescribed me medicines for my stomach and cold and I took some of them. I just hung out and did nothing which was nice. I made a nice dinner with Jeannette and we talked some more. It was a very thought provoking trip I guess. Every day I stayed I met new people and had new discussions. I didn't do much sight seeing in town but I did do a lot of thinking.
The following day I headed even further east to Masvingo. The town has very little to see but very near are the Great Zimbabwe ruins. They are supposed to be quite interesting because those kind of ruins are rare to the tribes and their style of living and building. Some say the Egyptians built them, others the Portuguese and others say the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe. Either way, I stayed at nice guesthouse in Masvingo where I was the only guest. Kind of sad and not what I had expected, but I was sick anyway and wasn't up for much. I went to bed early and rose early to go and explore. I met a nice couple, the woman, Nannie is Dutch and her boyfriend, Deln, is Zimbabwean. They met three years ago when she was travelling in Zimbabwe. He now lives with her in Holland. When we got to the gates of the Great Zimbabwe, we were informed that the price to pay was now only excepted in USD unless you were a Zim resident. I had only Zim dollars and was quite frustrated that they were not going to let me in. Luckily, Deln paid for us, the two non-natives with no foreign currency, and I paid for him. Nannie acted as a guide and we walked around quite happily. A really nice couple to be with. Then we headed back to town and parted ways, hopefully to meet up the next day in Bulawayo.
I got to Bulawayo the next day after a nice four hour bus ride. On the way there I noticed that I was the only white person on the bus. It was the same on the way back. It's not that it was a bad feeling, but more of an acknowledgement that in most of the world, the majority of people are not white. If you do overlanding or group travel with Westerners, it can be easy to forget where you are. Moments like these put me in my place. But, in general, when travelling, all people, black and white are quite friendly and helpful. There are more white natives here and hearing their part is interesting too. A lot has been happening against the white Zimbabweans of late. Many eventually are leaving because they feel it is too dangerous for them. But when talking to most blacks, they rarely show animosity towards whites, or make me feel in the least bit threatened. Sad though, how their country is struggling because their president is taking all the money, while the people themselves have so little.
So, I returned to Byo (short for Bulawayo) on Tuesday, parked my stuff at an inn in town and walked to the train station with my new friend Steven. I met him while leaving my stuff and when he told me he was from Tanzania I told him I had already been there. He got sooooo excited, even though I was just a tourist and had never actually lived there. I used my small amount of Swahili with him and he was duly impressed. He told me that he also has found that many of the Zimbabweans tell nice white lies. You never know when they're telling the truth. At least, it seems many people make up stories just for the fun of it so later you question everything they say. After buying my ticket for the night train, I headed back into town to call Nannie and Deln and see if I could meet them for dinner. She said that would be fine.
Anyway, while I mentioned that being in that hostel in Masvingo was a bit lonely being all alone, getting the train with the help of Deln, Nannie and their friend Mike was the flip side of the coin. They would not leave me until I was safely on the train. Mike, who didn't even know me for more than fifteen minutes, drove me to the station and made them all stay until I could board.they even carried some of my bags. So, sometimes, being a single woman traveler has its advantages. It was a good week of meeting lots of really interesting people from all over the world and swapping stories and advice and future plans. You figure not just anybody goes to Africa, so the people you tend to meet are often like minded.
I made it back to Victoria Falls after 13 hours on the train. Why it took five hours in a car and thirteen on a train I do not know. I was in a sleeping coach with a mother and daughter pair. The mother of the daughter had been living in Jo'burg and was returning to live in Zambia. Her daughter told me she had had 10 children and she herself had 8!!! I could not believe it. They get equally surprised when I say I only have one brother. I did nothing most of the day but I did meet up with some of the people I had met and hung out with before. The next day, yesterday, I got on the Intercape bus heading to Windhoek, Namibia. It took 18 hours and we headed through three countries to get there - Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. We went through the six border controls in a matter of 2 hours. And then later we had to pass through the Caprivi strip. This is a thin piece of land surrounded by Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Angola. Since there is a civil war in the south of Angola, we were escorted by a convoy (with big guns) through the 200+ kilometers of the strip. Made for a more interesting journey and once again reminded me of exactly where I am.
Now, here I sit, in a nice internet café in Windhoek. It's so big and western here. There are shopping malls and the people look more Western in their appearance. I met a nice black woman who is doing Peace Corp and she said she fits right in when walking the streets. In East Africa, the people look much more African in that even if you were to move them to the States and dress them up, they would still look like they were African. Here, it's harder to tell.
Tomorrow I head off for my first overland trip of seven days. I'm touring the south of Namibia. Should be nice but lots of driving.
Until my next letter of wild and crazy adventures which are not so wild anymore,