Thursday, 13 August 2015

May 28: Localized rain, and WILD DOGS!!!

We left early (what a surprise) in order to beat the crowds at the Botswana/Zimbabwe border crossing, plus to give us plenty of time in Victoria Falls, since the drive was only 100 km. The border crossing took about an hour. We got the Kaza Visa (which you can read about in the Africa Travel Tips at the bottom of the post here), but the guy didn’t trust that we would go to Zambia, so issued me (and me only) a special form that I had to surrender at the Zambia border in Vic Falls.

The 100 km drive from Kasane to Vic Falls goes through two National Parks. We were warned to look for animals and some very special ones in addition to the “usual culprits”

More elephants 
Over 50 baboons in a troupe
One of the rarest sightings here are endangered wild (or painted) dogs. There are only about 1,400 breeding adults left in the world, and a total population of about 3,200. There are fewer than 400 in all of Zimbabwe, mostly concentrated in the northern areas. The remaining dog population is scattered into small clumps, so there’s little connect between them. They are heavily predated by lions; they took 40 to Etosha to try to get a pack established there, but all were eaten by lions.

As we were driving along, a pack of 5 ran by us on the road.

Love the colours 
Very cute 
Tolerant for an endangered species 
Just amazing
That was extraordinary.

We arrived to the crowds of Vic Falls, and went for a walk along the canyon rim overlooking the falls.
Yes, I am 10' from the river 
Note the people on the cliff edge, top right.
Nope.Lean over all you want. 
The view down the gorge 
At the top of the falls on the left was where you can touch the river
The Devil's Cauldron Falls 
The main falls 
~400 m across 
Nitwits standing on the edge in Zambia 
Yep. You pay to dangle your legs over the edge.
The falls are about 1.4 km wide, and are made up of 6-8 main falls, each 3 times higher than Niagara. The spray is so bad in some places, it’s like standing in a torrential (but sunny) downpour, but 100’ away, it’s dry. The top is a fascinating mix of rainforest and dryland forest, and supports vervet monkeys and bushbuck populations.
A vervet
The last viewpoint overlooks the famous (and impressive) bridge.
Very wide 
You can just make out the bungy cord
People bungy jump off that bridge, but no one did it in the 20 min we watched for it. Despite being an international border crossing, the bridge is very busy. Zambians are always bringing goods into Zimbabwe to sell, mostly produce.
Everything's in a suitcase on your head 
Endless stream of merchants 
Better balance than me
The falls to me was like Ayres Rock. It's a cool thing to see, and pretty awesome, but about 2 hrs after you've seen it from a few angles, it's still just a waterfall like Ayres is just a rock. An impressive waterfall/rock, but still just a waterfall/rock.

From the falls, we did a brief truck tour of the downtown markets and core area, and then headed to our last hotel, the A’Zambezi River Lodge, a 4 star resort.
Our room 
Our balcony 
The check in area 
The entrance 
The welcoming gateway 
The grounds 
The pool
The property sits right on the river about 1 km upstream from the falls.
Sunset on the river 
The falls are that way
The grounds are pretty, and they had poinsettia plants that attracted butterflies.
I probably took 50 pictures 
One landing, one taking off 
Multiple fliers
Once checked in, we tried again to cancel Karen’s Visa card on line (the 'net connection here was the best of the entire trip), but you can only do it by phone. So she went to the office, and called the “collect” number to cancel her card. It took 3 tries (the calls kept disconnecting) and cost $1/minute to make any call, including a collect long distance, so cost $14. Afterwards, someone suggested that we should have used Skype calling to make the call; probably would have been a better idea.

While she was spending time on a flakey phone connection, I tried to check in for our homeward flights home on-line, totally without luck. I couldn’t even prove that we had flights, never mind check in. Made us very nervous about getting home tomorrow.

We had an afternoon free -- at a 4 Star expensive resort 5 km from town in the middle of nowhere with lions wandering around and elephants that occasionally wandered onto the grounds (so much for going for a walk). Not wanting to sit and do nothing, we opted to grab the complimentary (but infrequent) hotel shuttle and go into town for a last shopping trip.

The market area we were shown was supposedly “hassle free” and “tourist friendly”. The shuttle driver, however, tried to drop us at a different market, a shantytown place devoid of tourists. We asked to be dropped closer to our recommended market, but only got a bit closer. We wandered though some upscale shops on our way, past a tank where you could dive with crocodiles, past a guy wearing a University of Toronto t-shirt he bought the shirt in the market, and into the “tourist friendly” place – that was no different than shopping in the high pressure markets of Cape Town or anywhere else.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I would shop more if I spent more time shopping than I did fending off sales people. For instance, Karen took a look at a tablecloth (we already have one; we weren’t interested on buying another) and within seconds, she was surrounded by a dozen ladies all showing her tablecloths. We were looking for stone bowls; suddenly, we had 100 stuffed in our faces. Then there was the negotiating. All prices, we were told, were negotiable. The bowls started at 2 for $10. Then were 2 for $8. Then were back to 2 for $10. We countered at 2 for $5. 2 for $9 was the next offer. We turned away, then they were 2 for $8 again. Karen countered at 2 for $6. She was firm at 2 for $8. We turned again, then it was 2 for $7. Karen held firm at 2 for $6, and I caved and agreed to 2 for $7.

I liked a malachite bowl; the sales lady said it was “too expensive”. I asked how much; she said $10, non-negotiable, because it was her cousin’s shop, not hers. I offered $8, she said $10, non-negotiable. So I paid $10.

As we were trying to leave, a lady stuffed two pretty carved wooden elephants in my face. She started at 2 for $12. I essentially ignored her, and the price came down to $10, then $8, then $7, then $5. Without making an offer, I got 2 for $5.

I hate shopping in African markets. It may be your thing, but it ‘ain’t mine.

We ate dinner at the hotel; it cost more than eating in Canmore, including $40 bottles of wine (that you can buy in South Africa for $5). Between the dinner and the wine, I was reminded that even in the most inexpensive places, there still exist hotels (mostly targeting the business or tourist crowd) that will charge you through nose for everything. We were indeed staying at one.

Dinner included a show from a local performing arts troupe; I liked them so much I bought their CD. If you go, don’t buy the CD. Pretty sure it was recorded on a guy’s phone 10 years ago; the recording quality is dismal, which is a shame because the performers we saw were good.

Being our last dinner on this section of the tour, we had a bit of a celebration like we did in Windhoek. Still, as I mentioned in a previous post, it was a significantly more subdued event, due to the nature of our “family” these days.

Around here, I started to get a sore throat, a sure sign of an oncoming cold. Karen was fighting a stuffy nose but was getting better.


Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Politics

Don’t talk politics in Africa. There’s no upside in it. Many on our truck were interested in getting our Zimbabwean crew’s thoughts on Robert Mugabe. First thing our crew said to us 21 days ago was that they would talk about anything EXCEPT politics.

The closest thing we came to talking about Zimbabwean politics was when Laban, our guide and leader, gave us the usual country briefing and overview when we entered Zimbabwe. He told us about how Zim used to be the “breadbasket” of Africa with over 4,000 commercial farms, and now was a net importer of food with fewer than 1,000 farms as a result of “land redistribution”. His pride in his country was obvious, as he went through some of its history and cool things (I really would have liked to get to the Old Zimbabwe ruins). It’s interesting that Nomad (our tour operator) basically doesn’t even tour in Zimbabwe, despite hitting every other country in southern and eastern Africa.

Here’s the thing you have to remember about talking politics: if they voted, the voters picked the circumstances they have. If they didn’t vote, they don’t like the system. Trying to convince them they were stupid to vote that way or not vote is like trying to tell Americans they were idiots for electing George W. for a second term. First, you won’t convince them, and second, you flatly don’t understand their situation.

So better to not talk about politics. You’ll look less stupid. 

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