Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Our Zambezi rafting experience (video)

9 Nov

Keep an eye on the raft which got stuck. That was us….. The only person who managed to stay in was Hilje! The question is, who was better off?

With many thanks to Odi


Yes Way, in Botswana

1 Oct



Remark: The photograph page is updated!

It was early morning when we left ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, the real name of the Victoria Falls. It means ‘The smoke that thunders’. I have always found this a powerful name, but being called this might have been a bridge too far. Bou and Net were thinking of giving me this name. Manengu is exotic enough, I would argue. During our early car ride to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border we were still amazed by our experience in Zimbabwe. How dire the situation might have been during the current dictatorial ruler there is change in the air. There is a tensed and excited vibe which I would like to call positive. The more obvious clues are from some of the people we have talked to or from the active bustling city of Harare and its surroundings. Buildings, sidewalks and parks are being renovated. New urban developments are planned and constructed. The economy is growing, inflation in relative check and the people have hope.

Talking to some of the locals, they reassured us, that hope was always there and life has always been reasonable. Confronting them with the terror dictatorial government, farm invasions, hyperinflation and the economic meltdown both white and black would smile and tell us that sometimes you need to have patience. “We need to grow as a society and hopefully be lucky that our growing pains will be mild”. Since the shaky coalition government is in place and the introduction of the US Dollar as the official currency there are clearly some positive changes. The middle class is strong and seemed to be in charge, albeit in the background. The dollarization of the economy for example was pushed by the middle class. During the crisis years the grey economy in USD was growing so fast that the government could not ignore it any longer. Although for a foreigner all these stories and facts seems a bit over optimistic with the current ruler still in charge, there is hardly any doubt that there will be change, also in government. The current power struggle in the leading party Zanu PF due to the ailing Mugabe, proving a possible fractured party, might have something to do with it. But there is more, a combination of many factors that could at last reach the tipping point for the better.

The driver asked us whether he should stop when spotting wild animals. We both said yes. The drive to the border would take us through the Zambesi National Park and would last approximately one hour. A stunning landscape with few giraffes on the way. We walked to the border and were greeted by smiling immigration officers. Their office was clean and tidy and everybody seemed to be having a good time. This was a novice to me. I was a little bit overwhelmed and still had my normal immigration face on. “Enjoy our country, sir”, and she gave back our passports. I was actually thinking of writing a post about the personal traits and characteristics of people working at immigration and custom offices all over the world but unfortunately I can’t use this generalization anymore. Botswana was already living up to the promise. According to some, the best managed sub-saharan country after South Africa. We could not wait to see more of this country.

After a short ride to the main junction in Kasane we were dropped off at an obvious hitchhike spot. We knew we were too late for the regular bus, so the only other way to Francistown was hitchhiking. It is a kind of inter-city taxi service by private vehicles. People will offer you a place in the trunk, in a chair, on top of boxes or whatever space they had for a small fee. Some people at the junction seemed to be waiting for a long time already. Cars and trucks stopped while picking up or dropping off people. There was no logical way of doing this, but we finally got on to a pickup truck. I was sitting, or actually more struggling leaning against my backpack, in the back with a seasonal farm worker from Zambia and a business woman from Zimbabwe. Hilje was offered the front seat after some hours of driving. Elephants and especially ostriches were plentiful, surprisingly to me. For the animals it looked like the road had something else to offer than fast moving vehicles. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck talking to complete strangers from different countries and backgrounds made me realise again how special and rare it is that one wanders off outside their comfort zone. I always advocate this to people around me, but at the same time I realise its rarity in my own life. She, Udzi, was on her way to Gabarone to buy a mini van for her new venture, a 7-Eleven in Kasane. He, Phillip, was on his way to one of the many farms where he could work for the coming couple of months. All the differences in the world and a very hard ass! could not change my joy of being there at that moment.

A bit sore and sweaty but relieved we were walking through a genuine shopping mall where we would meet Dawn. I could see Hilje looking at the shops and she was smiling. The virtual shopping list was made. After being offered a nice refreshing drink in the mall we drove to their farm just outside Francistown, Way Side. The welcome was so warm it felt like home. “Are you with me?”‘ Mike asked. I was not sure what he meant, but I reckoned it was good. In this case it meant a nice cold Castle beer. A home cooked lasagna in a lovely outdoor setting made it complete. The 13000 ha farm is enormous and is specialised in breading stud cattle. The farm is also host to various game species where visitors can take game drives and shoot pictures or do the real shooting for trophy or meat. We had lovely game drives and were introduced to the whole family, each member had specific responsibility on the farm. We had tasty dinners, great company and I think I had the best steak ever. The cold beers were unmatchable and we immensely enjoyed the unforgettable sunsets.

Michael was right. We could not travel through southern Africa without visiting Botswana. Michael is Mike and Dawn’s son. We met him in Zanzibar. He took us for a couple of dives off Fumba lodge and we enjoyed some nice cold beers during various evenings on the island. On one of those nights out he made sure we would change our itinerary so we could visit Botswana. We are glad for that. It was the perfect spot to mentally and physically prepare for the next leg of our trip.

Mike’s brother Keith, the Don of the family and the captain of the farm had his lifelong dream come true when he realised a nine holes golfcourse on the farm. I definitely had to get used to it but just walking around the ‘bush-veld’ with Keith and Mike was already a huge treat. The sight of a lone kudu, impalas, steinboks and an incredible amount of birds compensated for my dissmal golf performance. The farm has been in the family for 100 years and it has evolved into a small village with hundreds of people working and living on it. During the many conversations it was nice to hear about the history of the farm and the family. Although challenging, Keith and his family have been able to difersify the activities on the farm and create the economic stability it needs to hopefully survive another couple of centuries.

Botswana as a country is trying to do the same. Blessed with an incredible amount of diamonds, it has been able to accumulate wealth for the last couple of decades. But unlike many other sub-saharan countries with an abundance of minerals, precious metals and other commodities Botswana has been investing the generated income in the country and its people. The next economical challenge would be to difersify away from the diamonds and create a stable economic and political society to last multi generations.






Zim, alive and kicking!

24 Sep


After just eating and eating, after far to many beers, after being lazy on beaches and terraces, it was finally time for some excercise! With no pressure from tight schedules of workhours or a social life and having all the time of the world, it is hard to keep up the running and exercise during the trip. Three months of hardly any exercise made our lazy asses started to be floppy and our bellies undeniable.

But there came Zimbabwe to the rescue! Meeting Issa in the bus to Harare was the kick-off of our sporty Zim experience. Issa’s stories about his boxing career made us excited so we booked a private boxingtraining on the grass field of our B&B the next day. Even though we could hardly move our bodies anymore we decided that we wanted more! We left Harare and took the bus to Vic Falls, the adrenaline and backpackers town north of Zim.

Vic Falls is obviously the place in Zim where you can visit the amazingly stunning and impressive Victoria Falls. The widest falls in the world that looses its water to the Zambezi river.
Falls + river = rapids. And rapids means….. Rafting! And not just rafting. No the Zambezi river is known for being one of the most challenging rivers to raft. Piece of cake for Manengu, but not for me. What is exactly so much fun about falling out of a boat into a rapid, swimming away from crocodiles, ending up underneath the boat or ending up in a so called ‘washing machine’ and thinking you are going to die!? That was what I was wondering together with some other travellers we had met in a bar. After quite some beers we decided that we were just as tough as all the others and signed up together for a boat and a whole day of rafting the next day. We did not realize than, that being scared on a raft is not very helpful; The better you peddle, the less chance the boat will flip over. But scared people tend to just hide away in the raft and completely forget to peddle, which obviously means…. flipping over.

It was only rapid three that already made our clumsy boat flip. Like some…. We got catapulted into the Zambezi….. Immediately we got known as the ‘Zambezi National Swimming Team’, as we still had 17 rapids to go and were already swimming. The names of the rapids did not really help either. Can you imagine approaching a huge and crazy rapid and your instructor says: “Okay guys, hold on tight please, because we are now approaching the “Devil’s Graveyard Rapid” or “The Angry Big Mama Is Going To Kill You Rapid” or even better: “The Suck your Brains Out Rapid…..”! And to make it even worse, he would each time add: “Please make sure when you fall out of the boat that you swim to the left, because otherwise you will be smashed against the rocks” or “please make sure when you fall out, that you stay in the middle of the rapid, because there are many crocodiles on the side here”. Whahaha!! Like you are able to THINK when you are being washed away by a rapid and having nearly death experiences!! And like you can do ANYTHING against the extreme current of the river!? But the more often I thought I was going to die and the more I looked at the scared faces of my companions, the more I started to understand the fun and thrill of rafting. Everytime when our instructor announced the next rapid I just laughed my head off. What else can you do except of surrendering and just enjoy it. And I did!! Rafting is the bomb! Can’t wait to raft the famous ‘Wall’ in India in November….

To complete our ‘Zim Exercise & Adreanaline Tour’ we decided to take our sore muscles onto a horse to do a horseback safari. These safaris are special, as you can approach the wild animals from extremely close. The animals are not able to smell us, as the smell of the horses is so much stronger than ours. This way we were able to approach elephants from just a few meters distance (like I did not have enough of that….) and walked right through a hurde of 60 buffalo’s. Such a special experience, realizing that the animals would have definitely attacked if we would have walked there.

Zim was not only just in time to get our lazy asses moving, but also just in time to safe us from becoming prejudice about Africa. After Zanzibar, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi we were starting to get a little synical, a bit frustrated and hopeless with some aspects of the general African mentality. What a relief to meet so many Zimbabweans that were well educated, fluent in English, hardworking and clearly on top of the current affairs. Do not get me wrong. One of the reasons that Africa is such an amazing continent to visit, is because of its differences with the Western World. But for most Africans you do hope they will have a better life one day soon. But unfortunately their different attitude, their lack of education and their way of only thinking about today and not tomorrow, makes change difficult. That is a complicated discussion we will leave for another time, but although Zimbabwe’s political difficulties are still very challenging, this country gave us hope and plenty of new energy!






Fighting through tough borders

17 Sep


It was 11 o’clock in the morning and we had just arrived at the Malawi border. Two hours behind schedule and no progression at the immigration cue. We had departed early that morning from the bus depot of the only bus carrier to Zimbabwe. Marlene, a Dutch expat in Blantrye, dropped us off. She offered us to stay at their house the night before after meeting Margriet. After a couple of days low budget sleeping, their beautiful house felt like paradise.

After another hour delay, we could finally embark the bus to drive for another 5 minutes before arriving at the Mozambique border post. People had warned us about the Mozambique border posts and they were right. A lot of discussions and frustrating moments were needed before the 80 passangers could board the bus again. Although the bus was in a relative good condition, unfortunately the tour operator wanted to increase his margin by selling 6 more tickets than the available seats. So, coming back into the bus was even after all the hassle on the borders not a relieve at all. We were cramped in the back of the bus, while some of the ‘extra’ passengers were forced to sit in the narrow aisle. The only working speaker of the dvd/radio was just above our heads and it was hauling and they have put the only dvd music on repeat. Every stop was used by our co-passengers to by as much food and drinks as they could. It has been clear to us, that for most parts of Africa, when there is an opportunity to eat, EAT! It could be your last chance. The bus started to smell of greasy chicken, beef stue and other beautiful odors. The aisle of the bus had become slippier by every stop. We were not sure whether it is chicken grease, beef stue or other unidentifiable liquids. Although we didn’t wanted to show our desperateness to eachother we must have asked ourselves: How on earth were we going to survive this 12 hour plus ride?

I was very happy to see Hilje was getting more and more creative finding a spot to wee when we had our stops, because it was hard for a guy to manouvre through smelly bathrooms, walls and other toilet areas let alone for a woman. In the bus we both tried to concentrate the bus by reading our books and occasionally peeped out the window to see the surroundings. The part of Mozambique we went through was dry, flat and clearly very poor. Besides a couple of huts of lone farmers there were no clear signs of villages let alone urbanisation.

The guy sitting next to me, was a professional boxer from Zimbabwe, Issa Phiri. We were lucky to have him as our seat mate, because he helped us through the border nightmares. He just got back from Blantyre assisting one of his junior fighters at an international fight. His son was also a boxer and was an olympic bronze medalist in Athens. We had some interesting discussions about the current political situation in Zimbabwe and other insights of the culture and possible future of his country.

After many more hours in the bus, we started to get in to the rythm of sitting in the bus, getting out of the bus and getting in again. Although it was even hardship for our local co-passengers they were still making the best of it. Some of them asked us why the hell we didn’t take the plane for this part of our trip. At those moments we realised that this was the only way to enjoy the real world. Getting to know the locals and their way of living. One of the guys who was sitting close to us in the bus emerged as the bus comedian and made jokes, in his local language, during the entire journey. Unfortunately he did not want to make an exception for us, so we could only try to understand and smile. Finally, we had even made a pact with some of the passengers in the back to urge the bus host to turn the volume of the dvd player down. Even the border crossings seemed to be easier than before.

After almost 16 hours we finally arrived in Harare. Issa arranged a taxi for us to share and escorted us to some of the possible hostels. Harare looked dark and very intimidating at night. Somehow, the stories about Zim and the current economic and political situation had made us both nervous. A couple of tries later he decided to call a friend of his to help us out. We finally ended up at her house and were offered a bed to spend the night. We even witnessed a full bred race horse giving birth that morning.

The couple of days in Harare would change the clearly misinformed perception of the world about Zimbabwe.


Malawian challenges

11 Sep


“Please, do you want to listen to this?”, Francis took the earpieces out of his ears and handed it over to me. It was a discussion on a liberal independent radio station between the DJ and the press officer of Mr. Bingu Wa Mutharika, the current president of Malawi. The president just gave a speech a couple of days earlier regarding the protests which were violently hit down by his government. Nineteen people were left dead during the protest and we noticed the anger of everybody we met in Malawi. The discussion on the radio was specifically about the speech after the protests, in which the president tried to defend the actions. The discussion was in English, so while I was struggling to climb the steep path to the top I was happy to be kept busy by the interesting radio show.

We met Francis while we were climbing the Zomba plateau. We were using the so called Potato Path, which is still used by farmers to transport the veggies and fruits from the plateau to town. Zomba town, which was the Malawian capital during the British time, lies in the shadows of the plateau. On the slopes of the plateau there is still evidence of the British. Most of the houses and gardens are some what intact but clearly neglected. While enjoying some of the views, Francis added his concern about the fact that his countrymen are not taking care of the beautiful properties.

The climb to the top of the plateau took us more than two hours. It was steep, very steep. Even Francis, which turned out to be a part time tour guide and a curio shop owner, had to stop for a breather once or twice. He also pointed out some people illegally cutting down the beautiful pine trees. The plateau itself is officially a natural reserve, but due to the extreme poverty and negative economic outlook, people are desperate and will do everything to survive. We were amazed how some of the women and kids negotiated the small path while descending the mountain with pretty large logs on their heads. We are definitely degenerating.

After arriving on top of the beautiful plateau we decided to ask Francis to guide us for another walk on top of the plateau for three more hours. Although we could see a lot of bare land due to the illegal logging, some parts of the forrest were very dense and the rivers and falls stunningly breathtaking. The viewpoints were out of this world. We could visually follow the road we took from Liwonde National Park winding through the dry land. It felt very strange to be in such a cool environment at 1800 m after the dry and hot savanne at Liwonde Safari Camp. Just 24 hours ago we were still enjoying an exviting hot ride through the Liwonde National Park with Frederick (http://www.liwondesafaricamp.com/) and now we could feel the cold night coming. We stayed at an abandoned trout farm on top of the plateau. We asked one of the local boys to fetch us some cold beers and enjoyed the mist slowly descending on us. While cooking our makeshift dinner we were joined by two other overnight visitors at the farm. They turned out to be the Dutch couple we met on our Train ride from Dar es Salaam to Kasama. What a small world! We enjoyed a surprisingly nice dinner, made of our combined ingredients.

The next day we took another exciting minibus ride from Zomba to Blantyre. We met Margriet, a Dutch local who has lived in Malawi for more than 45 years, at her bookshop in the shopping mall. She is also the initiator of the orphanage, Chiuta Childrens Home, Leanne has been supporting for the last couple of years. Hilje had been looking forward to visit this orphanage and now we were very close in doing that.

Greatly stunned by the beautiful and divers settings of some of the places in Malawi but also saddened by the extreme poverty, fragile political situation and incredible HIV statistics we had planned to take the 12 hour busride from Blantyre to Harare.






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