A Travellerspoint blog

Zimbabwe

Dichotomy

There really is a tourist bubble that exists here in Africa, with a different set of rules for us compared to the locals. Even something as simple as crossing the border is eyeopening, as we saw entering into Botswana and Zimbabwe. Sometimes it's blatant, where there is a dedicated lineup for tourists and VIPs, and other times it's somewhat unofficial, where taxi drivers or tour guides shuffle tourists to the front of the line, avoiding the hour-long wait that locals must endure. It's extremely unfair for locals, but it illustrates the true nature of people - if you could, wouldn't you take advantage of a situation, even if it meant stepping over your fellow man? I felt bad jumping to the front of the line, but did I refuse, and instead wait forever like the rest of the people? Nope ...

The gap between the rich and the poor here is enormous, and perhaps the best example we saw of it was the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. It probably costs close to $500 per night for one of their more basic rooms, roughly 600 times the cost of a loaf of bread in town. The cost of other simple items in Livingstone is off the charts, shockingly expensive, even for things like soap and suntan lotion. Having to replenish our supply of toiletries the other day after our backpacks were delayed, we couldn't believe that many of these items cost double what you would pay for them in Canada. Chapstick? $4. Suntan lotion? $20. How does a local afford to live here?

We've encountered nothing but friendly people in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. While it may be easy to assume that it's because we are viewed as nothing more than money, there seems to be a genuine quality about the people here. Vendors are always trying to sell you something, but are nowhere near as pushy as those you would find in Mexican resorts, or even worse, the souks of Morocco. Once they realize you won't buy anything, they will still have a nice chat with you, trying to learn something about you and where you are from.

It's surprising that locals don't harbour any resentment toward tourists - sure, we bring in money, and therefore jobs, to the people. But I would think if our roles were reversed, I would hate tourists and what they represent. We come here and stay in fancy resorts, take expensive tours, and wine and dine on imported goods, spending in a week an amount that may sustain a local family for several months. We spend and we waste, while villagers can't even afford to buy their children paper and pens to do their homework, instead relying on donations from foreigners. It's a testament to the character of the people here that they can still be so gracious and welcoming to tourists.

While I was out buying groceries for dinner tonight, I came across a vendor we had chatted with the other day, and of course, he tried to sell me something, once again. But in a moment of honesty, he confessed that he just wanted some money to buy some bread for his family, but rather than ask for 5000 Kwacha, the equivalent of $1 CAD, he'd prefer that he give me a trinket for that amount. I told him that I really didn't want anything, but that if he really needed it, I'd buy him a loaf of bread.

Who knows if that bread ever made it to his family's dinner table, as I noticed that he was carefully checking the prices of all the loaves in the bakery, trying to select the most expensive one - it's entirely possible that his intent was to sell the loaf of bread and take the money. I'd like to believe that didn't happen, that it really did go toward helping his family, in some small way. In the grand scheme of things, it was the tiniest of gestures, but still, it's comforting to know that I stepped outside that tourist bubble, even if it was only for a short moment, and returned the kindness that has been extended to us throughout the past few days.

Visiting Africa underscores the triviality of the worries in First World Nations, highlighting how lucky we are, and how good we have it. Economic and political stability, easy access to health care, clean water, the ability to provide food and shelter for ours families - these are all things we take for granted. Here in Africa, the majority of people can only dream of a World where all that is possible, and probably spend a great deal of time worrying about trying to achieve things on that list. Perhaps our most grim reminder of the challenges of African life was found in Botswana, which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the World. In the bathroom of the Chobe Marina Lodge, one of the fancier resorts in the country, we found a free condom dispenser, part of the government's approach to combating the problem. Even our short drive from the Zambian border featured numerous billboards imploring people to practice safe sex, and even for mothers to have their babies tested for HIV. Imagine if this approach was needed in North America? Thankfully, it isn't required, since our little tourist bubble extends outside of Africa, giving us all a safe place to hide in.

Africa has it all for the tourist, yet many are afraid to come visit this incredible continent. Sure, much of its reputation is deserved, and there are places that should be avoided completely, and even in the safe areas, your guard should never be let down. Amazing experiences, amazing sights, and amazing people - these are some of the biggest reasons that make Africa such a worthwhile destination. But perhaps one reason trumps them all - the opportunity for us tourists to help our fellow citizens of the World obtain a better life. Don't think of it as a handout - that dollar you spend here could end up paying for a child's healthcare, and those pens and pads you donated to the local school could provide the promise of a better life, through better education. Don't the people here deserve to be sheltered within our little tourist bubble?

Knife's Edge Footbridge, Zambian Side

Knife's Edge Footbridge, Zambian Side


Another Vic Falls Rainbow

Another Vic Falls Rainbow


A Sad and Sobering African Reality

A Sad and Sobering African Reality


Lies ...

Lies ...


Low Flow, But Still Spectacular

Low Flow, But Still Spectacular


Bridge Between Zambia and Zimbabwe

Bridge Between Zambia and Zimbabwe


Healthy Sugar ...

Healthy Sugar ...


Revenge ...

Revenge ...


Lunch at the Zambezi Sun Hotel ...

Lunch at the Zambezi Sun Hotel ...


Nibbles Platter ...

Nibbles Platter ...


Light Dinner ...

Light Dinner ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Warlord

Zimbabwe has a terrible reputation - infamous for being dangerous, for hyperinflation, for its corruption, and for its warlords, there is a definite ethical conundrum with visiting this country. From the steep $75 visa fee, to the $30 entrance fee to Victoria Falls, to the $4 beer at the park's cafe, even day trippers like us spend a significant amount of money here. Imagine how much one can spend while staying a week at one of the country's top-end game lodges, that easily run hundreds of dollars per night for a couple? Imagine how much of that actually makes it into the hands of the people, or at least, is put towards projects that benefit the people? Sadly, probably very little.

For the most part, a trip here does support the corrupt regime, further lining the coffers of those who don't deserve or don't need it. But some would argue that there is still some benefit to travel here, as some tourist dollars go directly to the people, when they take a taxi, shop at a mom-and-pop store, dine at a local restaurant, or stay at a small hotel or guest house. It may only be a fraction of the tourism dollars spent in Zimbabwe, but some will eventually make it to the deserving, and in a country where the majority of its citizens have so little, every dollar counts, even if it's only a small percentage of what one spends here.

The entire visa process seems to be a bit of a sham, paying $75 USD, cash only, for the customs agent to spend two minutes to review your passport and paste a sticker inside of it. At the end of the day, some corrupt government official probably walks out of the office with a giant sack, with a big dollar sign written on its exterior. Or even worse, perhaps some of the money even ends up in the hands of a Zimbabwean Warlord.

Today, we had a terrifying encounter with the most notorious Warlord, Sunni, corruption and perversion oozing from his pores, he made the most bone-chilling proposition imaginable. We were offered one hundred trillion Zimbabwean dollars for one hour with ... me! I refused repeatedly, until I tasted the back of Benita's hand, as she ordered "I'm yo pimp you stupid ho, so shut up and take da money!!! He be puttin' da shizzle in yo nizzle, and you be puttin' da bling in my Prada!"

I've never before felt so cheap and used in my life ... though those feelings subsided once Warlord Sunni graciously offered to take us for a day trip around Zimbabwe and Zambia with his private chauffeur/chef/bodyguard Peter, and his Warlordess, Adilina. Hey, what can I say? Give a Chinese man a freebie, and he'll forgive anything!

We had originally debated whether or not to even visit Victoria Falls, as this is the end of the dry season, meaning that the flow of the Zambezi river is reduced significantly, resulting in a less spectacular sight. Well, that debate faded into our memories after walking along the falls - they say that the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls is the best experience, and though we have yet to experience the Zambian side, we would have to agree, as it was simply spectacular.

If this is the dry season, I can't imagine what the rainy season would be like - the amount of spray in certain areas left us completely soaked in a beautifully cool shower, which washed away not only the heat and fatigue, but also the feeling of filth left behind after my encounter with Warlord Sunni. During the rainy season, I would imagine that parts of the falls are barely visible, with the extra spray generated by the higher flow of the Zambezi.

Completely soaked, we made our way back to the Zambian side and quickly dried in the blistering Zimbabwean sun. In need of refreshment, we headed over to the Zambian side for a spot of high tea at the Royal Livingstone, perhaps the poshest resort in the area, which is no small feat given the luxury prevalent here. Warlord Sunni joyfully proclaimed that the cost of high tea here was exceedingly cheap, at only 150,000 Zambian Kwacha per person - but unfortunately his conversion rate was off, thinking it was only a few dollars.

The true exchange rate is about 5,000 Kwacha to $1 CAD, so high tea was about $30 CAD, which Warlord Sunni subsequently proclaimed as being extremely expensive. You'd think $30 would be a pittance for a Warlord of his stature, but times are tough in Zimbabwe these days after the economic collapse a few years ago. But I didn't want to be the one questioning the size of his bank account, possibly infuriating him and subjecting myself to another sullying at his hands ...

But our day with the Warlords Yeow rapidly drew to a close, as American commandos burst onto the scene, hoping to capture and drag both of them to the Hague, to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. But fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the rest of the World, the pair managed to escape on their private jet.

Prior to hyperinflation leading to the rapid implosion of the Zimbabwean dollar, the Warlording business was much better, and Sunni had the most luxurious private jet this side of Dubai. Carpeted with the fur of extinct animals, gold-plated like his teeth, and complete with a stripper pole and an aquarium housing Megan Fox in a mermaid outfit, it was the envy of Warlords everywhere.

But times are now tough, and Sunni had to sell that jet to pay for the Cristal that spews from his Olympic pool-sized jacuzzi's jets, and the 1869 Chateau Lafite that fills his moat. So like working-class America he has downsized to a microlight aircraft, on which they flew off into the sunset, taking an aerial tour through the gorgeous Victoria falls, one last time. Oh, how the mighty have fallen ...

Zimbabwean Customs Official

Zimbabwean Customs Official


Fear the Warlord Sunni

Fear the Warlord Sunni


The Warlords Yeow Making Their Escape

The Warlords Yeow Making Their Escape


Rainbow

Rainbow


The Rare Double Rainbow

The Rare Double Rainbow


L'il Buddha at the Devil's Cataract

L'il Buddha at the Devil's Cataract


Getting Soaked at the Falls

Getting Soaked at the Falls


Lice-Picking Baboons

Lice-Picking Baboons


Picnic ...

Picnic ...


Out of Everything at Armadillo ...

Out of Everything at Armadillo ...


Armadillo ...

Armadillo ...


Asians!!! ...

Asians!!! ...


L'il Buddha Double-Fisting ...

L'il Buddha Double-Fisting ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

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