Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: What beauty!!!


I wanted to go on a boat cruise this afternoon but we planned a day at Victoria Falls and we did not return in time to go on the cruise (although our driver gave it a good boy scout try by driving at a breakneck speed to get back to the hotel in time for 3:30pm. Missed the cruise but we had a great day anyway.

I got up early (about 5:30am) and headed down by the river to take some pictures at daybreak. My pictures are looking quite good even if I do say so myself. I’m trying to upload them onto my hotmail site for pictures but I cannot figure out how other people can view them without going to the trouble of setting up a hotmail account. I have not had time to figure all of it but as soon as I do, I’ll send the URL.

Okay so our driver arrived at 7:30 which is the time we said we wanted to leave so we could get back in time for the cruise. The driver explained that he had to pick up 4 more people so I hopped in the front seat so I could interrogate (ummm, I mean talk) to him about the falls and whatever other information he could give me. We ended up with 6 more people and the van got quite crowded but I was okay in the front with the driver. We ended up splitting up into two vehicles at the Zim (that’s how we Africans call Zimbabwe) border so eventually we were all comfortable. There was an awful surprise waiting for us at the border. The queue was about 8 deep and we got our USD$30 each to pay for the Zim visa. Only thing is – get this – Canadians have to pay USD$65 each. Yes that is USD$130 just to enter the country for the day (or for a single entry visa). I just had to ask. I was told that since March, many people from Zim have applied for Canadian visas and have to pay an application fee but if they don’t get a visa, they don’t get a refund of the fee. It’s pretty costly for them because their money is worth so little. And most times they don’t get a visa to enter Canada.

The Zim government thinks that it is a money making endeavour for Canada and the hefty entry visa fee for Zim is their way of balancing the scales of justice. So does that mean that I can ask the Canadian government for a refund of my visa fees? Since they collect the visa application fees, how come I have to pay it at the other end? Anyway, it’s a good thing I had enough money because the other horrible surprise was at the Victoria Falls hotel where we had lunch. Robin ordered a Caesar salad and what he got for USD$15 was a plate of iceberg lettuce with two olives. I’m not even kidding. For USD$15 I got a half chicken breast and a few strips of carrots. I could have eaten my money and been much fuller. Guess the final bill. It was $11,400 Zim $$. Too funny. It’s almost as bad as the Italian lire.

Except for those criminally offensive high prices, we had a great time at the falls. It’s as beautiful as everyone says it is. From the Zim side, I could get a full view of the falls and people from the Zambia side can see the gorge. I think we had a better view but then again, I wasn’t at the other side. I took lots of pictures and those are beautiful too. I do however have to boast that the Kaiteur Falls deep in the rainforest of Guyana is spectacular. For those of you who don’t know, it is the highest SINGLE DROP water Falls in the world – about 838 feet in a single drop – meaning no ledges or breaks. Try going over that in a barrel!!

We saw so many baboons. It’s interesting to see them in a zoo and they look cute and harmless but seeing a whole pack of them running around me, walking beside me and chasing each other is a bit intimidating because they can get aggressive if they think you have something they want. Fortunately they were not aggressive and the baby ones were the cutest – sitting on their mommy’s backs (this information is for Izabel). When I go back to Winnipeg, I’ll get an album of pictures for my two babies and they can take it to their daycares for Show and Tell and they can tell their friends that their Nani went to Africa and saw lots of wild animals. I do hope that these pictures will create some interest for them in wanting to see and experience the world.

While lunching – if you could call it that – at the Vic Falls hotel, we had a great view (likely what we were paying for and if we kept staring we wouldn’t notice the lack of food on the plate) of the bridge that goes from Zimbabwe to Zambia. The bridge by itself is quite a lovely view but if you so desire, you can pay to bungee jump off the bridge. That’s like paying to kill yourself. Thanks but I can think of more interesting ways to spend my money like going to the Vic. Falls craft market. Our driver Abraham told us that when we go to the market, we would be told a price and we have to negotiate or else we’d be seen as silly. I wanted a hair comb and I was offered one for the special price of USD$22. The thing was made from bull horns which are plentiful. I looked indignant and he went down to $15. By the time I left the market 15 minutes later, I bought it for $5. It was fun to bargain but I felt bad after. On the way to the market, we had to stop on the road and three very ragged kids came to the car to ask for money. They had just finished garbage picking and pulled out a few bones that they were chewing on. The driver drove away before I could give them some money but I’m not sure what they would have done with the money.

I have to mention this and it may offend some people but it was so glaring that it’s worth mentioning. When we were at the hotel, every single person (except for me and Robin) eating there was white and I mean every person, and every single server was black. Our driver Abraham was telling us about an incident at the Vic Falls hotel. He said that a few years ago, he was at the hotel with some people who he had driven to the Falls. He was told by one of the staff that he was not allowed to eat at the hotel – it was only for Whites. He told the people he took there that he was not allowed to stay and eat with them and they were angry that a staff would say that to him. He said he told the server that he brings a lot of guests to the hotel and if he couldn’t eat there, he would take them someplace else. Not a real threat because many tourists want to say that they have eaten at the hotel. The surprising thing about the whole incident was that the server telling this to Abraham (who is black) is also black. Abraham thinks that he may have been mistaken for a Ndebele (one of the two predominant tribes in Zim) by a server who may have been a Shona (another tribe). Zim. President Robert Mugabe is a Shona. Apparently the two tribes do not get along and one is always looking for ways to make life difficult for the other.

After speeding back to the hotel for the boat cruise which we missed by half an hour, we sat by the pool and had a drink – non-alcoholic PacMan. I can’t even remember what was in it but it tasted like ice cubes.

Dinner at the Commissioner’s restaurant and then it was bedtime after another full day. Tomorrow we are going to visit the daycare that was started by Kostis from Greece. Co-incidentally, the daycare is located at the Kubu Lodge where we picked up one of the couples today. I peeked into the yard but the kids must have gone home already. Tomorrow we’ll visit and I have to remember to take my Canadian flags and pins.

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