A few days ago I received an email from my friend, Victor Sibanda, who lives in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There is so much bad news coming out of Zimbabwe these days that it surprised me to learn Victor has started his own tour hosting business. I was encouraged by his news; it indicates there is still some small sense of normalcy in this devastated country.
I met Victor last year when I backpacked around the world for six months. I spent about a month and a half in Africa and realized my childhood dream of going on safari. The other destination I had always dreamed of seeing was Victoria Falls, so when I planned my safari, I also booked a side trip to Zimbabwe.
All the arrangements had to be made prior to leaving the U.S. because the tour operators and hotels will no longer accept the local currency, as it is virtually worthless. Consider the following:
- The regime is surviving by printing money. The German firm Giesecke & Devrient holds the contract for printing Zimbabwe’s currency and they have been delivering bank notes at a rate of Z$170 trillion each week. Last month Giesecke & Devrient decided they would no longer print bank notes for Zimbabwe, bowing to pressure from the German government.
- John Robertson, a respected Zimbabwean economist, estimated inflation in July 2008 to be forty to fifty million percent.
- An egg costs $50 billion Zimbabwean dollars and withdrawals from ATM’s are limited to a maximum of Z$100, about the cost of a loaf of bread.
- On August 1, 2008, the government devalued the Zimbabwean dollar, making Z$10 billion worth ZW$1
- Shops can only cash checks if the customer writes double the amount, because the cost will go up by the time the check has cleared.
- Most credit card companies will instantly cancel any card used in Zimbabwe
At the time I booked and paid for my trip, the situation in Zim was not yet dangerous, but by the time I was scheduled to to visit, the situation had deteriorated. I contacted the company that had handled my reservations and asked their advice, explaining that I would rather lose my money than put my life at risk. The tour operator assured me Continue reading
As I leave Africa and wing my way toward Switzerland, I have been thinking about the three words I will assign to each of the African countries I have visited. I have decided not to do this for Zambia, for I only spent a couple hours in this country and then only in the Victoria Falls East Cataract National Park, so I don’t feel that I had adequate exposure to the country to really get a sense of it. However, the following are the words I have chosen for the rest of the African countries I visited: Continue reading
I’d been told that there was an incredible diversity and volume of wildlife in the country of Botswana, so on my last full day in Zimbabwe I elected to do a day safari in Chobe National Park, which is located in Botswana, just an hour’s drive from Victoria Falls. In this part of Africa, four countries come together along the banks of the Zambezi River: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia, and it is quite easy to go back and forth between them.
For the entire hour drive to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border the transport jeep traveled through the Zambezi National Park. I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife, if only to hone my spotting skills for the day’s safari, and I was not disappointed. I spied the occasional elephant or two hiding in the brush just off the road and then began to see trees full of vultures. Suddenly, a very fat, sleek spotted hyena darted across the road in front of us. The driver said this was an auspicious sign – spotted hyena are rarely seen in the daylight as they are night hunters. With the vast number of vultures and other birds of prey that were gathering in the surrounding trees he speculated that there was a fresh kill nearby and sure enough, a bit further along the road we came upon a skull in the middle of the road. The driver stopped and kicked it around but it was so mangled that he couldn’t tell what kind of an animal it had been. Whatever the species, it was big, and the raw meat hanging off it confirmed the recent kill.
At the Botswana border I passed through Immigration, getting my passport stamped before walking over the border at a small dip in the road that was full of what appeared to be rainwater. I was instructed to step on a saturated foam pad that sat on the curbside, wetting the soles of my shoes. I walked along the curb while the jeep drove through the pit of water. This is a treatment to guard against bringing Hoof and Mouth Disease into Botswana, which I found truly ridiculous – they sanitized the soles of my shoes but my pants have been dragging around in the Zimbabwean soil for a couple of days.