Remember your history:  Former Rhodesia divided into Zambia and Zimbabwe in the 60’s, Nkomo and Mugabe leading the nationalism movements against white minority rule.  Robert Mugabe, elected in 1980 has been in power ever since displaying the progressive Machiavellian deterioration.  2008 Morgan Tsvangirai won the popular vote, but Mugabe refused to step down.  Now Mugabe is president with Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.  The economy is very different from when I visited in 1995 as part of a site visit with the Women’s Opportunity Fund, when I bought kilos of Shona stone sculpture in the days of no weight limits on luggage.  Now Zimbabwe, under the power-corrupts-absolutely Robert Mugabe, has a multi-currency economy as the Zimbabwe dollar is so devalued.  I bought Zim dollars in denominations of $250 million, $5 and $10 billion.  I purchased over $30 billion Zim dollars for $1 US.  Zimbabwe uses the US dollar, South African Rand and the Botswana pula as their currency.  The government estimates that 3 million Zimbabweans have illegally left the country to earn money in other countries, causing illegal immigration problems in nearby Botswana and Zambia.

        We stayed in the lovely Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls, although the 100 year old Victoria Falls Hotel is still the reigning grand dame and my preferred venue.  It overlooks the bridge (opened in 1905) and Zambezi River Batoka Gorge with the monstrous clouds of mist and spray, “smoke that thunders,” from the falls, which on a clear day you can see from 50 miles away.  On my first visit to Victoria Falls (as high as Niagara and 1 ½ times as wide) there was no park or formal entrance (nor a “resort town” dubbing itself the “Adrenalin Adventure Capital of Africa” with white-water rafting [my last trip], river surfing, bungi jumping, hang gliding, ultra-light cruising), I just walked from the hotel along a path that led to the falls avoiding the aggressive and annoying monkeys.  Now there is a little visitor center and a lovely pathway that leads to different viewpoints and through the mini-rain forest created by the mist.  I paid no heed to the instructions for bringing a raincoat and got delightfully soaking wet.  This time I was in Victoria Falls 4 days past the full moon and didn’t see a moonbow (lunar rainbow) as I did last time, but the falls are awe-inspiring.  Vic Falls is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World (along with the Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef, the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Northern Lights, Paracutin Volcano, and Mount Everest [which does not make my list of things to do]).  There are now all kinds of activities to keep you in Victoria Falls for days: the Lion Encounter, where you walk with cubs; the elephant encounter, where you sit astraddle and plod through a preserve, then feed and pose with your elephant; casino gambling at The Kingdom, which is, unfortunately, conspicuously like Las Vegas; the helicopter “flight of the angels” over the Zambezi and Victoria Falls; shopping, shopping, shopping with miles of soapstone sculptures.  The Boma, the Eating Place, is a touristy restaurant where they wrap you in beautiful African fabric and lead you to your table where you begin a feast with the disgusting sorghum and millet beer and interesting munchies.  Then you make your way to the grilling stations to sample warthog (delicious), impala (too tough), mopani worms (definitely an acquired taste despite receiving my certificate for successfully eating mopani, which means I swallowed) and the requisite chicken, fish, ribs all accompanied by Nbelele entertainment.  Fun, and once is enough.  The brochures announce Victoria Falls as the place for your wedding, corporate gatherings, and family vacations.  Despite tourism in high gear, it’s still a high point of places to see. 

        Before arriving in Vic Falls, I spent 3 days in an elegant safari camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest and oldest national park, roughly the size of Belgium, providing a home to over 100 mammal species and 400 bird species.  Hwange was once the hunting ground of the Ndebele King Mzilikazi, the Zulu leader after Shaka.  The area was proclaimed a preserve in 1928 when animal populations had virtually been exterminated by hunters.  Fewer than 1,000 elephants remained and the white and black rhinos had been wiped out completely.  Located in the transition zone between the Kalahari sands and the savannah woodlands and teak forests, there is little natural water.  Ted Davidson, the 22-year old founding warden, drilled dozens of boreholes and established 60 more salt pans in the park.  Slowly animals began returning to the area and over the years the animal population recovered and many species started thriving with water and food readily available.  Today most of the park's water is still pumped through boreholes into the pans and troughs, so every now and again you can hear a pumping engine, which doesn’t seem to bother the animals.  Hwange has among the highest diversity of mammals for any national park in the world, including 19 large herbivores and 8 large carnivores.  Of the recorded 400 bird species, over 50 are species of raptors.  The population of African wild dogs in Hwange is thought to be one of the largest surviving groups in Africa, and I saw nary a one.  The Linkwasha Camp was situated around a large watering hole and had private outdoor showers.  Totally hedonistic to shower in the sun while watching zebra and impala frolic, which I did several times a day.

        I inaugurated 2010 by bungi jumping off the bridge over the Zambezi River Batoka Gorge in Zambia--twice!  Omigod, what a rush, when I figured out I wasn’t going to die.  Leaping out in a swan dive for 111 meters toward the Zambezi felt like my chest was being crushed and my head about to explode.  I began screaming somewhere, then laughing as the rubber band jerked and bounced me up and down.  It’s right up there with sky diving.  The Zambian guys told me it was better than sex.  As I walked back across the bridge to do it again (it was $25 more, a bargain), an Australian young man asked me how it was, I said, “It’s better than sex.”  His woman friend looked at me and said, “Then you aren’t doing it right.”  So when I went back to the launch point for my second leap, the guys asked how the first jump went, and I told them I couldn't be sure that it was better than sex, that I would have to try out the three of them to be sure.  Not only did each of them ensure me he was the best, but that Zambians were better than Zimbabweans, and so on with much hooting and chest pounding.  A great way to start 2010: flying into fear and then laughing for the next few hours, repeating the story.

© LeslieAnn Williams 2010

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© LeslieAnn Williams 2010
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