Travel Journal

Zimbabwe, John Henry style

(Wednesday 26 January 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 167-168 1/19-21/11
The next morning we got some food to go from the deli and bakery section at the supermarket I mentioned in the previous blog, packed our bags and jumped in the shuttle. After the passengers for the Falls got off, the driver offered to drive us to the border checkpoint which we thought was extremely nice until we realized it was only about fifty meters further down the road.
Our passports were stamped and we got a ride from a local across the bridge we had seen from the Falls the other day. Getting a visa to Zimbabwe was painless, and we spent the few remaining shillings from Zambia on sodas. I may have mentioned that Zimbabwe no longer has a currency since their economy went bust about fifteen years ago so everything is in US dollars – bills only. If you need change the Rand is used when can get confusing sometimes. I had converted all our sterling to USD in Zambia with just a little set aside for the supermarket so we were good to go. I had read that there were no ATMs in this country but that information was a year old and a traveler had posted on Lonely Planet that she found some that worked for her. Victoria Falls Town is so tourist driven I could not imagine them not having ATMs and I was right as we found one on the long walk from the border into town. I pulled out some extra dollars to replenish the stash I started with when I left the US as they are very handy to have anywhere.
Our plan for Zimbabwe was simply to get across it as quickly and cheaply as possible. It essentially was just an obstacle in our way to Mozambique. We wanted to take the train across the country which tends to be slow and only run at night but we were warned that it was not reliably, the schedules often change without notice, and it’s not a comfortable means of transportation. Undaunted, we made our way to the train station and waited a while as the ticket office doesn’t really follow the posted open hours on the sign. We the clerk felt like opening the door, we found out there weren’t any first class berth on this run but we could buy second class berths. He assured me after seeing my apprehension that the first class was the same as second class it’s just you don’t get sheets in second class unless you pay an extra dollar. We decided to take the second class but had to pay for 3 tickets to get the entire compartment since we were (gasp!) male and female sharing a compartment. I had read about this rule in Tanzania but didn’t know it was here as well. Total cost was 21 USD for the three tickets. The train was to leave at 7 PM and arrive the next morning in Bulawayo at 9 AM so we had some time to kill. We left our backpacks in the cloak room at the station and headed out.
After eating cow’s knee caps and taunting the baboons, we still had six hours for the train. We wandered around a bit and visited the tourist office where I found the “big tree” I had read about was not inside the park on Zimbabwe’s side but outside and we could visit it for free. A big tree for free! What were we waiting for! It was about 2 and a half miles away, and when we got there we saw it was indeed a big baobab tree. Actually it was interesting in that it was the oldest living thing in Africa or so they say. I don’t think it was worth the long walk though.
We waited at the train station and I read a book while Julie chatted with a lady from Bulawayo who ended up in the same cab as we for the trip. Julie enjoyed shopping from the train window and looking at the wares the people brought up for inspection at the station. I think she was seriously considering buying a large wooden bowl but conceded that it would be difficult to carry for the rest of the trip and gave up that plan.
The train left the station on time and the porter dropped off the sheet, blanket and pillow (Julie stole my pillow btw) for me while Julie used the purple sheet liner only. The sunset was the most unusual one I’ve ever seen. There were clouds so you couldn’t actually see the sun, but the reflection on the clouds started as a light blue and then turned to a darker indigo color.
We slept alright with a roach or two and pulled into the station at Bulawayo only an hour late which is actually very good. Julie said goodbye to her friend Florin. You are only allowed to buy tickets at the departing station for trips but the clerk in Victoria Falls was nice enough to reserve us first class tickets for our second leg to Harare which we picked up. The clerk said there were no first class tickets for our third leg so we didn’t beg him to book that for us.
We got a good lunch in town and then went to the National Gallery which has truly hideous works in a fantastic turn of the century (I guess since we have a turn recently, I should clarify by saying 1899) house which I forgot to take a picture of. I did, however, take this shot which is rather humorous. We went back to the train station and Julie splurged by spending a buck to use the shower at the train station but I was having none of that! We didn’t leave until eight and had the porter put the sheets on right away so we could sleep.
Harare is the capitol and the largest city. It is not large enough to have a laundromat; it’s unfortunate as we were running short of clean clothes and had plenty of time to wash our clothes as our train didn’t leave to the border until nine on the shortest of the three legs. We spent the time just walking around, checking out stores. The do have one of the most interesting office buildings I have ever seen though with an old factory theme to it. Anyways, it was back to the train station where I broke down and paid the dollar for a shower.
Early the next morning we pulled into Mutare and got a shared cab to the border.

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