Thursday, December 5, 2013

Americanas in Zim: Part Dos

“It’s Been a While,” This seems to be a recurring statement to the beginning of my blogs … but I have decided that this is more like a monthly newsletter than a daily blog. Plus I have a legitimate excuse this time! My computer has been acting up and I was afraid it would crash and I would lose everything. My life is on this computer! Pictures from previous blogs and adventures I have yet to write about! So I have now safely backed up my computer and can continue to share a piece of my world with the rest of the world.. 

And now for the second half of Adam and Megan's trip! Catch up on the first half here.

Although Masau was a priceless trip in and of itself, Adam and Megan still had 6 more days in Zim! After a slight delay **cough-adam-cough** we departed almost on schedule for the longer trip out of the Zambezi Valley to Bulawayo.. It’s always a sad drive out, because you know the holiday is over and are never too sure when you will return. 

Again, being in such cramped quarters and having already spent a good amount of time together, it didn't take any time before we were goofing off and being weird. Makes for a more interesting trip. I will say on this road trip, we were a lot more jolly than on the drive in. Belting out songs like "Only the voooiiicess, can bring us back hooOooOOOme" and "In the Jungle the mighty jungle...." and of course Sweet Caroline, "Because the good tiiimes never seemed so gooood…" All were a part of our personal singing playlist on the 11 HOUR drive home, no music necessary. I think our driver Cuan was getting a little annoyed by about hour 2.. But we made it to Bulawayo with only one issue on the way. It was actually the first time I’ve been legitimately scared living here. 

So we are driving through one of the towns along the way, and decided to stop and stretch our legs before the last few hours of the trip. We pulled over somewhere in the middle of town and hopped out, only to quickly be yelled at by a passing taxi: “City Council! City Council!” followed shortly by Cuan franticly shouting for us to get back into the car.

 Keep in mind this is only about a week after the elections, which are always a heated time here. The only thing I remember when we pulled up to our rest spot was seeing a ZANU-PF (current political party) sign in front of us, so my mind immediately went to the worst. And it didn’t help when a truck full of policemen screeched in front of us and threw down road spikes. I had no idea what we could have done, but at that point it could have been anything. 

Turns out, it was really nothing. Just an over-dramatized attempt to catch somebody parking in an illegal spot. The taxi that passed us was only trying to help, letting us know that we were parked in front of the City Council building, which isn’t allowed. The cops just happened to be driving around right as we stopped, and high-tailed it to us so they could give us a fine. The spikes were just to keep us from fleeing and avoiding the ticket. This one Cuan couldn’t talk his way out of.. 25 bucks later we were back on the road and, after nerves were calmed, got back to serenading our chauffer. 

After what seemed like days we finally made it to Bulawayo! First time I’ve got to show of our little home to some American friends. Its felt nice to prove that I’m not living in a mud hut here in Zim, we actually live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Cu and I got a few days to catch up on the real world before heading off to our next destination. 

We struggled to figure out how we were going to spend the last few days of Adam and Megan’s trip. They were flying out of Harare on the Monday but we still had another half of the country to cover. Victoria Falls was a must. You can’t be a few miles away from a Natural Wonder of the World without going to see it. But Cuan and I were also aware of how many amazing things were along the way. So we decided that spending a night in Hwange National Park was worth one less day in the Falls. 

Our plan was to spend Friday night in the Park, head to the Falls on Saturday, and book them on a bus to Harare on Sunday, so they would be there with plenty of time to catch their flight on Monday. The problem with that was the bus left at 7am on Sunday morning. Giving us only about a half a day Saturday in the Falls, which wasn’t ideal, but doable.. Our first option would be to book them on a flight to Harare at the end of the day on Sunday, which would allow for almost another full day there. But unfortunately, all the seats were booked on that flight. So we carried on with our plans.

We left early Friday morning to get the most of the daylight in the Hwange National Park. I’ve mentioned this place before, as it’s the location of the remarkable Nehimba Photographic Lodge from a previous post, and also happens to be a great stop on our way to Victoria Falls. 

It only took about two hours before we (and our smuggled in little four legged friend Savuti, the new addition to our household) made it inside Hwange NP. Being the largest in the country, the park is home to an unbelievable amount of game. But we were all surprised at how quickly we ran across multiple herds of various animals. Not 20 minutes into our drive (of course Megan and I are already on the bench in the bed of the truck) we spotted a large herd of Elephant and Zebra. This particular trip through the park yielded us more “this is extremely rare” moments.

 All-together it takes around 4 hours to get to Nehimba, our stopover for the night. And in those short hours we saw some incredible sightings. Just before reaching the camp, Cuan pulled off the main road towards a water pan where we had a chance of seeing more game. And lo and behold, three elephant were awaiting our arrival and allowed us a few photos before wondering off into the sunset. 

After hanging around to enjoy that sunset with a few more photos, we were heading back to the truck when Adam spotted something replenishing his thirst at the pan. As we all turned to look Cuan couldn’t believe his eyes as he told us it was a wild dog! AKA Painted Dog, aka endangered species in Africa. This animal does not resemble your typical domesticated pet. He actually looks more like a hyena than a dog to me: Giant ears with a uniquely spotted coat. This animal typically hunts in packs so seeing a lone painted dog was also not something one witnesses often. He didn’t seem very spooked by us as he took his time drinking, while we all watched in wonderment, then as stealthily as he arrived he silently trotted away and disappeared into the distance.
The Wild Dog, and our little dog in the wild...

It was just a short while before we made the turning into Nehimba lodge. The sun was set by this point, but that did not mean we weren’t about to behold some pretty remarkable stuff. As we walked through the main building of the lodge, we were welcomed by a heard of elephant AND buffalo socializing not 30 yards from where we stood. As I mentioned in my previous post about Nehimba, this is an everyday occurrence here during this time of the year. But it was my first time being here when the animals are around! As many photos as I’ve seen of this place in high season, it still doesn’t do it justice. It is really an amazing sight. We sat and enjoyed the view a few moments, then walked to our rooms/cabins to freshen up before dinner. 

I don’t know many other places in the world where you can stand in your private outdoor shower while simultaneously watching elephant and buffalo walking around as if you weren’t even there. Nehimba has done an incredible job of providing 5 star luxury while keeping you as in tune with your surroundings as possible. These animals are not in your territory, you are in theirs. And it makes you have a huge respect for them and the very land they on which they are standing.

We later sat down for a delicious dinner, with sounds of elephant all around us… and lion. Yes, Nehimba also has a few resident lion that run the territory around the lodge. Perhaps that’s why there is a trained professional guide permanently there. After dinner we sat around the fire and chatted, while the elephant were walking up to drink from the pool right next to us.  Moments later, that professional guide I was speaking of came to see us with some interesting news. The lions we kept hearing? Yeah they were hanging out right behind his cabin. As he went around to light the boiler, he spotted them just a few feet away! 

We jumped at the opportunity to get in the Land Cruiser and go see them. All of our hearts we racing as we rounded the corner, and wouldn’t you know to top off the excitement, a hyena ran across the road before we even made it to the lions! First time I’ve seen them… this was getting intense. We slowed our roll as we got closer to where the guide had seen them. With the spotlight out we scanned the land in front of us for any sign of movement. Then we spotted two sets of glowing eyes staring back at us. We crept closer and closer trying not to startle the giant creatures until we were almost at arm’s length to the couple. The male and female lions were too tired they couldn’t be bothered with the likes of us. For what seemed like hours we sat there and watched them yawn, stare, half fall asleep. It was the first time I've seen lion in the wild so it was all too remarkable for me. However, we were eager for a little more excitement, so we started making noises to get a rise out of them. And boy, did we get a rise! Out of nowhere a THIRD lion popped his head up right next to the other two! We had been sitting there for at least 15 minutes and hadn’t noticed him lying right under our noses. Really makes you think about how camouflage these animal can be. Shocked and satisfied, we left the kings to enjoy their slumber.

Goofing off and enjoying at Nehimba

After such an eventful night we managed to get some sleep and woke up refreshed and ready for the day ahead of us. The drive north towards Victoria Falls allowed us a few more hours of game-viewing opportunities. And we were not disappointed! Ran across a beautiful heard of buffalo, more elephant and zebra, and wouldn’t you believe ANOTHER rare sighting! Cuan spotted a cluster of animals that I had not seen before and didn’t recognize. It was almost humorous at this point with the amount of times he had said “I cannot believe you guys are getting to see this.”

It was a small herd of Roan, a rare antelope and what they call “Royal Game” in Zimbabwe. Meaning, it is not allowed to be hunted in any part of the country. Cuan, who was born and raised in the bush around animals of all kinds, has only seen this unique animal twice in his whole life. And get this, during our drive out we saw not only one but two separate herds of Roan. It was difficult for Cuan to explain that some people come to this part of the world many times and spend weeks even months trying to catch a glimpse of  what Adam and Megan have seen in just a few short days. But regardless of rare or frequent, common or unusual, I think they were appreciative of everything they set their eyes on.


Made it out of the park and into Victoria Falls with ease. Our first goal: get Adam and Megan on that later flight to Harare. We decided to test our luck at AirZim to see if any seats had opened up on the flight we were so desperately trying to get them on. Cuan walked in to speak with the guys and after a few moments, walked back out and did a happy dance. Two seats had opened up and we were able to get Adam and Meg on the flight! That really lifted all of our spirits (as if they were even down to begin with) as it gave us a whole extra day in Victoria Falls. 

So with a little more time to chill, we checked into our rest spot where we would spend the night and had a nice lunch by their pool. Our exhausted driver wasn’t able to move much, so we left him, and Adam, Megan, and I headed off to the market. I’m not sure they knew what to expect, but there is a reason that I wanted Cuan to be with us. Vic Falls is the biggest tourist town in Zimbabwe and the guys at the market know it. They do NOT give up until they have sold you something. The Falls has quite a few nice shopping areas, but I wanted to give them the real experience. This particular market is the more native, if you will. These guys set up in little shacks that share a wall with the next stall and the next and the next… so as soon as you feel you have escaped one salesman you take two steps and are in another person’s territory. They hound you, make you feel bad, and they take advantage of you. In other words, it’s quite an experience. I think we were all too exhausted to even speak by the time we left. And cussing Cuan for not being with us. If we had a local who could speak their language, they I’m sure they would have backed off a bit. But either way, we all found a few treasures and made some interesting memories.

Air Zim, you came through for us in the last minute woo-hoo! And some interesting people at the market...

Our evening activity that day was going to “The Boma.” This is also another touristy place that I had yet to partake in. It’s nice having other foreigners around to enjoy these things with. The Boma is basically a huge buffet with local food and after-dinner entertainment. Upon our arrival, they dressed each person with African cloths and painted our faces to set the mood.

The food was actually pretty good! Warthog on the spit, kudu stew, sadza, and some really nice salads. One thing on the menu that Adam and Megan were a little hesitant about were the infamous Mopane worms. I’ve pointed these little guys out before, but allow me to explain again. These are a local delicacy here in Zim for the natives. The worms live in the Mopane trees found all over the country. As I stated before, some people love them and others despise them. But when in Rome right? So our two friends reluctantly took a bite of their not-so-appetizing looking critter… and absolutely hated it. At least they gave it a shot! 

For our evening entertainment, each person was given a small local drum so that we could participate in the music and dancing. I was blown away at the talent these guys had on the drums and when they got us involved, the sound in that boma area was unreal. We watched ladies dance tribal dances to the beat of the drums while we attempted to keep up with the main percussion. By the end of the night Megan and I were up dancing with the best of them! After the show was finished all of us were too tired to do much of anything and went and had a chill night in our chalet. 

The next morning we woke up energized and excited for what lie ahead. Today was bungee day.. Adam had been trying to psych himself up for this endeavor for the past few days and convinced himself he had to do it. This bungee jump is the third longest in the world and drops you over the Zambezi River just below the Victoria Falls and into one of the most amazing gorges of that stretch of the river, quite an adrenaline rush. The walk to the area is intense in itself. The jumping point is located directly in the middle of the bridge that divides Zimbabwe from Zambia and is one of the highest lookout points over the river. The only thing that separates you from the roaring, croc infested waters of the river 400 feet below is a steel mesh walkway. Gives me vertigo just thinking about it. 

After signing the proper documents, Adam was strapped in a ready to go! I’ve been in that situation before so I know his nerves were on high alert by that point. Next was the countdown.... “3—2—1—BUNGEE!” and off he went! Disappearing under the bridge beneath us.. Aside from the woo-ing and yelling, we could make out one sentence as he was dangling below: “MEG, YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!” Well she didn’t need any more convincing and, before Adam had even made it up from his jump, was already suited up. I think it’s safe to say that the Vic Falls Bungee is a once in a lifetime experience and one that they did not regret.

On the bridge amidst all the excitement we met up with Cuan’s mom, stepdad, granny, and little sisters who were spending a few days in Livingston (Zambian side of the Victoria Falls) and walked across to spend the day with us! We all went together to enjoy Victoria Falls’ biggest attraction. THE Victoria Falls. I’ve only been once before but I think I would love it just as much if I went a hundred times. It really is one of the most stunning things to witness. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the bungee or the Falls excursion (I know.. shame on me.) But there were plenty of cameras there I just haven’t gotten my hands on any photos yet! If you’re curious about what I’m talking about just type in Victoria Falls into Google and you will understand. I will say its much different when you are actually there. Listening to the constant roar of the waterfall and feeling the mist on your face from the spray are breathtaking sensations that pictures can’t quite capture. So we spent a lovely time with Cuan's family enjoying the indescribable view of the Victoria Falls.

That evening we went to Gorges lodge just out of town for a quick drink before dropping Adam and Megan off at the airport! I have mentioned this place as well in a previous post. The lodge that is teetering on the edge of the gorge that drops down to the Zambezi. One last stunning look at this amazing country before our two American friends headed back to the real world. After a sad goodbye our two adventurers boarded the plane back to Harare before heading back the good ole US of A. 

I can’t say enough how happy I was to show off Zimbabwe to friends from the other side of the world. We have made a bond that I hope will last forever. 

I know I write a lot about this place but there are so many things that I experience down here that without actually seeing with your own eyes, you don’t fully understand. And now I have friends who really know what I’m talking about! Adam and Megan have made it a plan to get down here every year if time and financial situations will allow. And these people are just like so many of my friends and family back home! They had no idea what they were getting into and I hope that they weren’t disappointed! 

We shared a million laughs and made some insane memories. A lot of the things we did were for our two friends, but I will take any excuse to get out of town and see more of this country, so it was more a pleasure than a sacrifice. This blog is just a glimpse of the life I am living and I just can’t wait to show more people the true Zimbabwe. Adam and Megan, thank you so much for having the courage to come to a land you knew nothing about, and keeping such positive attitudes the whole way through. It really was a treat having you both, and I hope that we are able to do it again. We still have so much more of the country to cover! 

Just a snip from a very sweet email Adam and Megan sent us after returning home: 

           " We are so thankful that you 2 basically put your lives on hold for us for 2 weeks. I know this probably set both of you back, but you did it anyway. We will forever be grateful to you both. It was such a wonderful experience… I honestly cannot think of anytime either of us have laughed so hard, as the amount of laughter the 4 of us shared….we look forward to many, MANY more trips to Zim!"

And I hope you mean it! 

Well that just about covers it! Thanks for reading.. until next time!