Nov 162008

A rather peaceful day’s drive brought us to Chobe, the last game park in Botswana, where they have over 20,000 elephants (including the 2 day old one that we saw) who are very playful.

This elephant is very old and very excited.

Maybe he was watching the young whippersnappers?

Lots of babies, the teeniest to the right.

Fish eagle mating pair with prey.

What are you lookin’ at, punk? You making fun of me?

Zen baboon, zen wannabe baby

Kingfishers in tree


Yet another African sunset…

Economic collapse
I have very few photos in Zimbabwe, save of the Falls themselves. It hurts to see the kind of desperation and economic collapse that exists there. Vic Falls’ position as a tourist destination makes even more surreal: Within a few hundred metres of people paying $150 a pop to bungee jump, white water raft, abseil, skydive, etc, there are grocery stores who have nothing on their shelves– even if they have the money. The local restaurants have hand-lettered menus with prices crossed out, and more often than not, your choice of meal rests on what’s available.

Outside of each backpacker’s or hotel there are five or more men with Zimbabwean curios who wait to sell or trade their wares to you. Outside of ours, there were a total of ten people who left. People traded socks, sunglasses, tank tops, towels; nearly anything has value. I asked a few people and the way this works is there’s a wholesale-style craft market outside of town which will also trade for goods. Then, there is a secondary barter market where the traded goods are exchanged again, sometimes for food. All along, things can go to families.

Foreigners are required to pay for accommodation and meals in foreign currency, though locals must buy in Zim dollars at markets (when there is anything to buy). Banks are required to submit all forex cash to the central bank each night, which means that they will loan money indiscriminately, especially later in the day. This keeps a flow of currency and goods coming in, and keeps a flow of money going to the government via the central bank. The central bank sets the official exchange rate, which is somewhere between 25% and 30% of the market rate.

Meanwhile, the finance ministry prints Zim dollars as fast as it can.

Set prices, and chalk for the Z$ price

It’s a terrible cycle, and one that no one knows how to break, if it can be broken at all. It’s set up a horrible system whose lynchpin is Mugabe. The alternative would be a power vacuum, in which anyone, someone who could be worse (yes, we have seen worse than Mugabe, and probably will again) could fill that role.

The people
The Zimbabwean people, however, are quick with music, with laughter, with wit and with knowledge and understanding of the world around them– People could and did speak intelligently about the US elections, the South African ANC split, moves for land redistribution in South Africa (and fears that it would go similarly to the way it did in Zimbabwe, without learning lessons from their own past mistakes). Many people in Africa consider their primary and secondary (pre-university) education better than any in Africa. (This is one of the few areas in which Mugabe has to be recognised as doing something good– he maintained the top-tier education system that he inherited from Rhodesia). Smiles are everywhere, and they come quickly. The tribal differences between Shona and Ndebele have been put aside– there is no longer the violence that has been very recently seen even in ‘civilised’ South Africa.

If people can fix it, they will, if not, they seem to live with it– and not to complain or worry too much about things outside of their control.

The Falls
David Livingstone named everything he could after Queen Victoria. The falls were originally called “Mosi-a-Tunya”, which means “smoke that thunders” in Shona. They’re pretty cool, even at low water season (like now).

Gerit takes photos of the falls

Smoke that thunders– in high water season, one can’t even see down the falls, the mist is so thick.

Ruud gets close to the edge with his magic camera. Ruud was like Macgyver– with binoculars, nightvision goggles, and a supafly Canon D30.

Hartman “goes beyond this point” (where it was decidedly not slippery)

The bridge from which the foolhardy bungee jump. More from the Zam side than the Zim, unfortunately.

Water buffalo stare-down, from 10m or so. All of Vic Falls is in a national park & game reserve. There are elephants & baboons, too. One is advised to not have a shiny camera out all the time.

End of the (truck) journey
Mariah and I had planned to travel through Zim, to Great Zimbabwe, a medieval-era fortified city, on our way to Malawi and Mozambique, but the situation in Zim has given us pause. We’re going to transit back with the truck for 2 days back to Jo-burg, see Keith, I’m going to interview for a job there, and then see what we’ll see. Probably Mozambique, but maybe just the eastern side of South Africa.

The overland truck tour was, I think, a pretty good– and relatively inexpensive– way to see a lot of stuff in a reasonable time. It was roughly US$1250 for 21 days, including (almost) all meals, accommodation (18 nights in tents, 3 in lodges), park fees, etc. There were a couple of other things we had to pay for– the Zim visa, for instance (they change the fee all the time).

It’s a good way to also get a fairly safe intro to traveling overland in Africa, and some slices of information (depending on your guide– I think we were very lucky here) that otherwise might be missed. And there were interesting people to meet, which was nice.

It was, however, a little bit isolating at times. Much of traveling in Africa as a white, comparably wealthy, foreigner, however, will always have an element of this. Most of the campsites and backpackers are gated & fenced, for security reasons. Most of the time you’re riding on trucks with the other extranationals. This protects you from petty thieves and touts, but also means less interaction and less understanding. I might do second trip like this, but it would have to be something or somewhere that I needed to see, or be on my way somewhere– transit with a bonus, more or less.

Farewells, and on to the next thing!

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  One Response to “Chobe elephants and crossing into an economy on the brink”

  1. […] difference in Zimbabwe from the last time I was here six month ago is palpable. And the country is, quite simply, beautiful. It’s not […]

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