Monday, April 27, 2009

Victoria Falls!!

Hello once again. Thanks for stumbling upon my blog. Hopefully it will be worth your time, but if not, I am sorry.

Last Friday I awoke at 5am, got ready, then rolled out of campus to the bus rank.
There the tree of us, Carlos, Alex, and myself, hopped on a bus to Francistown and began our super long day of travel.
The ride to Francistown (previously mentioned in the blog of me) is around 5 hours, but luckily I slept through most of it.
Arriving in Francistown we were to catch the bus to Kasane (also mentioned previously), and we immediately found it. What was not so immediate was its departure time, as we sat on this small van for 2 and a half hours, watching the bustle of the bus station, with people selling food, drink, music, and illegal movies.
Eventually, finally, at last we left on our second leg of the trip. This portion was around 7 hours of driving, which is quite long on a cramped bus.
We did have on rest stop, where I saw the "No Worries" Shipping truck drive by:

The ride to Kasane was mostly pleasant, though the hour of driving over the worst roads in existance was not fun. For most of that part we weren't even driving on the road. The dirt ditches were in better shape than the road.
I did spy around 12 elephants hanging out on the side of the road though, including this one:
Eventually we made it into Kasane, where we quickly learned that the hotel we planned on staying in was quite full. So was the one next to it. In fact, virtually all hotels were full.
Luckily, for the three of us at least, 4 other people in our program happened to drive up to see Vic Falls the same weekend, though they were staying at a friend of a friends house. This person never really showed up, thus they were in the same quandry of having no accomodation. Eventually we did find a place with rooms, and we fit 7 of us in a 4 person room. The floor was quite comfortable.
In the morning we began our quest to figure out how to get to the falls, inquiring at the lodges around town to see how much a day trip would cost. They turned out to be quite expensive, so we ended up getting a cab to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border and finding a cab on the other side.
We ended up getting a ride from a great guy named (I can't remember, but I'll find out).
It cost $30 US dollars to get into Zimbabwe, which is by far the most we have had to pay for a visa.
The other group that drove up had to bribe some officials to get their car into Zim.
So after an hour drive, we arrived in the city of Victoria Falls and our driver took us to the national park were we would view the falls.
For those not up on their world politics, Zimbabwe has been politically unstable for many years now. The president, Robert Mugabe, has been president since 1980, the year of independence. Since then, Zimbabwe has experienced great growth and recession. Blessed with many natural resources, Zimbabwe has the potential to become a leading economy in Southern Africa. However, Mugabe has hindered that growth. With controversial land reform plans, which removed white farmers from their land and giving these farms to black Zimbabweans, food production has been greatly reduced.
With the economy in shambles, hyper inflation kicked in. I have a banknote from Zimbabwe which for $100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. People couldn't buy a loaf of bread with the money they earned.
Politically, Mugabe has been quite brutal. Elections in 1998 and 2005 were seen as neither free nor fair, with the opposition party, the MDC, claiming election fraud. In the 2008 elections, in which the MDC mounted a very strong campaign lead by Morgan Tsvangirai, state sponsored violence erupted. The MDC claims that over 200 supporers were killed, 2,000 arrested, and over 10,000 forced from their homes. Tsvangirai withdrew from the elections to protect his supporters.
This violence drew great international outcry, forcing Mugabe to agree to a unity government with the MDC. This government came into power in February, and since then there has been some advances in creating some stability and improving the economy.
So getting out of our cab, we were immediately besiged by men selling crafts. Now, this is not too abnormal in Africa, as we encountered the same thing in Mozambique. However, the difference in Zimbabwe is that these people will take ANYTHING for their crafts. This includes any currency, extra clothing you might have, pens, pencils, the dirty socks on your feet. The desperation in Zimbabwe is very real.
After making it past the craft people, we walked over to the national park and paid the $20 US dollar entry fee (once again, quite pricey, though I suppose the government needs the money)
We didn't quite know what to expect from the falls, as I only had a handful of pictures to go off of.
Needless to say, it was astonding.
Here's the nice wooded path to the falls.
A friendly baboon greeted us as we walked along.
Our first glimpse of the falls!!!
So much mist!
A view from behind the falls.
So right now, it is the dry season. This means that the falls should be quite tame. However, there has been great flooding in Angola, which is upstream of the Zambezi River. Thus, the river is very much swollen with flood waters. This had two effects: One, the power generated by these falls blew us away; it was incredible. Two, the power of the falls generated a great deal of mist, seen below. Sadly this obscured much of the falls to us.
In awe.
This is just the beginning of the falls. They span a width of almost 1 mile. 1 mile of waterfalls!!!
More falls!
The main falls.
Looking a little soggy.
Here's the mist I was talking about. It shoots straight up out of the gorge like a cloud. A cloud that soaked us.
yep, it was very wet
This is the boiling pot, where the water from the falls first gathers before heading down river.
The bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was very beautiful. This is also the bungee jumping bridge.
Downed telephone lines. Once again, Zimbabwe has a long way to go.
It was here that I realized that instead of stoplights, they are referred to Robots in Africa. And there wasn't actually a robot/stoplight on this bridge.
The Zambezi heading away from the falls.
More boiling pot and rainbow.
So, on the bridge, there is bungee jumping. It is the 3rd highest in the world at 111meters. It also cost over $100 US, so not only did I have great fear, but no money.
However, my roomates Max and Alex did our apartment well and decided to jump.
Here is one guy. He could taste Skittles on the way down.
After Max and Alex jumped, we went and bought lunch (pizza) then bought some crafts.
After crafting, we decided it was time to return to Botswana, so we piled into the cab and headed out. The entire distance between the falls and Botswana is a national park, though on the way in we saw no animals. Not the case on the way out.
Just after we were being told that there were many water buffalo, a herd decided to cross the road right in front of us.
Soon after we caught giraffe at dusk. It was beautiful.
Eventually we did return to Kasane.
At 5:30am the next day we were on the road again, in a VERY cramped van back to Francistown. Out Sunday of travel was sandwiched by stange music. Getting into the van before the sun rose, we were greated by 98 Degrees, the wonderful (no) 90s boy band. We listened to the same CD 3 times. Terrible. When we finally arrived in Gaborone after 13 hours of travel, our cab driver back to the university was blasting Dolly Parton.
Oh Botswana, how I shall miss you.
I leave in 16 days, so there will only be perhaps 2 more blog entries. Catch them while they last! (In actuallity, this blog will probably be online for a long time, years perhaps)
Welp, I must run to class.
Farewell! Come back soon!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


This post is solely being made because I feel obliged to post every week. In fact, since my last post, nothing really has happened.
I had my 21st birthday, which was neat.
I've been here for exactly 15 weeks.
The mornings and nights are starting to get, cold?, yeah, that's the word.
We visited a pottery place where I bought a new mug. My favorite mug here cracked earlier that morning. (Seriously, I'm writing about a mug cracking....)
Classes end next Thursday, so we're finishing up with all our learning for the semester.
I think I'm going to Victoria Falls this weekend.
On that note, I shall end here, as next week's post should be infinitely more interesting, full of waterfall pictures. It should be glorious.
To make your visit not entirely useless, here's a picture of the sun setting over Gaborone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Journey to Mozambique

I'd like to start out this blog post by stating that I really should be writing a paper for my history class that is due tomorrow and I haven't started, but instead I am writing this. For you. So enjoy it. I on the other hand will be up late writing about the IMF and World Bank in West Africa.

So on that note, Adventure!

On Wednesday, four of us, Rebecca, Lisa, Jami, and myself met at 5:45am and caught a combi from the university to the bus rank in Gaborone. After some wandering, we came upon the combis which went to Johannesburg, the first stop on our trip. After a while waiting, we all piled in, with 8 other passengers, and headed out on the road.
Here's our combi. Quite swanky:

The ride was around 6 hours, with a border crossing and another stamp in my passport. I found the borders in Southern Africa are quite lax and confusing. You get out, walk to a building to fill out a form or just get a stamp, then wander around until you see people who know where they are going. Signs, arrows, or anything would be nice. But we made due.
We arrived into Johannesburg around 2 in the afternoon on Wednesday and it was wonderful to be off the combi. There was one woman riding with us from Botswana who immediately passed out Tupperware catalogues and was quite loud. She turned to the four of us at one point and told us that we were the most beautiful people in the vehicle because we were white and everyone else was ugly. It was quite awkward. What do you say to that?
Anyways, we finally made it to Joburg and let me tell you, I have not been in a real city in many months, so Joburg was quite a shock. I mean, it has a population 4 times the population of the entire nation of Botswana. There are SKYSCRAPERS! And MCDONALDS!! Quite cool.
Getting off the combi we were swarmed by people asking us if we needed taxis or guides and we were quite overwhelmed, but finally we escaped the hordes and figured out where we were. After getting to the bus station, we realized we were hungry, so out came the handy Lonely Planet guide for Southern Africa, which gave us a nice restaurant to eat at not far away. We ended up eating at a nice place with a balcony overlooking the city streets so we could observe. Here's the view:

The food was great. The restaurant was founded in 1885 and I can definitely see why it's still around.
Joburg was pretty nice, with big buildings like this one, which was the city council or something.

After food, we headed back to the bus station, a very nice building indeed. Our bus was leaving around 8pm, so we had a few hours to waste. Lots of people were wasting time too:
So driving into South Africa, you can easily see the wealth disparity. One second there are beautiful houses, then a big slum of shacks. Even though apartheid is over, the country is still segregated.
While sitting on the bench waiting for the bus, Lisa realized that there were some words on the bench. We turned and were shocked by what we saw:Just add a "Whi" before the "tes" and an "l" between "N" and "Y" and you get "Whites Only".
We were shocked that something as simple as painting over these words was not even attempted. Racism is still very real in South Africa. Maybe the whites running the station don't want people to forget, both the whites and blacks.
Eventually our bus came and we departed Joburg in the cover of night.
I woke up to find we were at the Mozambique border around 5am. Sleepily we made our way through customs then looked out and saw the sun rising over the Mozambique country side.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and it can be seen from the border, which poorly constructed shacks as far as the eye can see.
A few hours after the border we pulled into Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and this influence showed. If you imagine an African city, Maputo would probably be the one which would come to mind. It is crowded, with many run down houses which are quite pretty, trash everywhere, and people selling crafts and fruit and vegetables all along the streets.
After dropping our stuff off a the backpackers stop, Fatima's Place, we headed out into the city. We stopped at a big fancy hotel to eat ice cream, but just ended up having lots of tea. The view was beautiful, especially since I haven't seen that much water since January.

Artsy photo:
It took a very long time to get our bill. So long in fact that we began to think the waitress either forgot about us or thought we were staying at the hotel and the tea was covered by our stay. After an hour and a half, we just got up and started walking away. That was when she finally realized we were still there, running after us about the bill. We paid. It was sad.
After some nice sleep, we got breakfast at this cafe, where the menus were all in Portuguese so it was hard to guess what was what. I got a donut though, quite nice.

I liked this guy. Not sure why.

This dog hung out at Fatima's Place. He was cute.
We headed out from Fatima's Place around 9 on Friday on the shuttle to Tofo.
I ended up in a combi, or chappa as they are called in Mozambique, with an interesting crew.
We consisted of 4 Peace Corp volunteers (3 from Botswana and 1 from Mozambique), two backpackers from Germany, and 4 students studying abroad in Cape Town.
It was fascinating talking to the Peace Corp volunteers. They all had very different perspectives on life in Africa and the effectiveness of their work in general. The girl, Anna, who was in Mozambique sat next to me and told me all about her village and everything she does (teaches English to teachers) as well as the whole Peace Corp process.
Driving to Tofo, one could see the poverty which exists in Mozambique, especially in the more urban areas.
After a 7 hour or so ride, we finally made it into Tofo.
The shuttle took us straight to Fatima's Nest, where we were staying for 2 nights. We got out, found the desk, checked in, then we were brought to our bungalow:

However, on the way to our place of residence, I heard something that I haven't heard in a while, "Jeremy Shea!!!!"
I looked over in shock to see Mary McGrath and Marissa Taylor running at me.
For those of you not from Fairfield, Mary and Marissa are both Fairfield students with me and they are studying abroad in Cape Town this semester.
I am literally still in shock that I saw them.
Lets go over this. First of all, we had to have the same break. On this break, we both decided to travel outside of our respective countries, and both decided Mozambique for our destination. For them, it was their final stop on around 12 days of travel. For us, only day 3. Then where in Mozambique. We both picked the tiny town of Tofo, which is not only small, but a pain to get to. Then to top it off, we picked the same backpackers place for the same day.
It amazing.
Here's Mary.
I have been making that face for days now.
Anyways, still in shock, the four of us who had just arrived were hungry. Mary told us to go down the beach to a place called Dinos for food.
Oh, this is the view from Fatima's nest.
It's kinda beautiful.

Just kidding. It's really beautiful.
We sat down and at some great food on the beach while watching the moon rise over the Indian Ocean.
After dinner, we wandered down the beach back to Fatima's Nest, where we ran into the Peace Corp volunteers from Botswana. We talked to them for a long time.
As opposed Anna, who was very welcome in her village for what she was doing, these volunteers felt less useful. They were all working on AIDS reduction programs, and their villages did not really want them there. They were also in the middle of nowhere in Botswana. In one village, water had to be shipped in once a week. Their reviews were not great. It made me think twice about the Peace Corp, though the experienced of Anna also made me want to do it. Conflicting emotions!!!
After chatting with them and drinking some fine Mozambican beer, 2M, Mary got back from dinner. We sat and talked on the dunes for a few hours until we realized it was close to 1am and she had to take the shuttle back to Maputo at 3:30am.
It was so nice to see a friend from school. I still don't believe it happened.

The next morning the four of us got up at 5am to watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean:
I love this photo. I child was walking down the beach with his mother, and while running to catch up with her, he stopped for a moment to take in the rising sun.
After sunrise and breakfast, Jami, Rebecca, and I set out for our sea safari. This is the road we took to the place where the safari left from:
The sea safari was pretty much a snorkeling trip. We were in a small boat with snorkels and flippers, and whenever the spotter would see something in the water, we would jump into the sea and check it out. Very soon in we jumped out and saw this:
That's a whale shark. It is the largest fish in the world. I did not take that picture. I didn't have an underwater camera. It was an amazing thing to be about 10 feet away from the largest fish in the world, swimming in the Indian Ocean the day before Easter.
We also saw a manta ray and flying fish. 3 out of 15 people on the boat got sick because the sea was so rough.
After our trip out food followed. FISH! I miss fish. This was good.
Boat on the beach:

This is the group of us sitting on the beach on Saturday night. We got up at 3am on Sunday to head back to Moputo with heavy hearts. Tofo is beautiful and we wish we could have stayed for a few more days.
We couldn't.
Instead we saw a goat ontop of a bus:
Back in Moputo we wandered around for hours. All of the streets are named after famous Marxist and communist leaders, like Vladimir Lenin Av and the below Mao Tse Tung and Salvador Allende Av.s
Here's one of the old houses in Moputo:
We left Moputo and headed back to Joburg. Our bus broke down for 4 hours somewhere in South Africa, which I slept though, but we did make it over the border. Night crossing:
From Joburg we took the bus back to Gaborone. This is South Africa, very farmy:
After close to two days of travel, we finally arrived back in Gaborone.
Along with trinkets, I also picked up some physical souviners.
In Tofo I was struck by bed bugs. I blame that rhyme for them. They left little red bumps all over my arms and even my forehead. Not cool bed bugs. Not cool.

So this was a long post. I hope you enjoyed it.
It is now 1am. I need to work on this paper.
Thanks for reading everyone!!!
There will only be a few more posts from Botswana, as I leave in exactly a month from today!
Stay tuned for more and stay well.