The journey in Zim did not get off to a good start.
But I’m currently at an air-conditioned bar, enjoying a decent Zambezi beer, and camping just steps away from the archaeological site that gave this country its name in 1980, so all is good. And hot. Temps reached 40ish C today, so my much-needed afternoon siesta was an epic sweat-fest that left me parched and uncomfortably sticky, with small puddles scattered on my sleeping pad.
I left South Africa energized and quite ready to continue the adventure in another country.
After being asked for $50 for a single-entry visa on my American passport, I asked how much it cost for Mexicans. $100, the busy border agent said. So here I am, representing Uncle Sam.
It’s not that I’m not a proud American. But we’re targets, so when given the option to travel on a green passport, now that I have one, I’d rather do that and avoid sticky situations.
Speaking of which, immediately after crossing the border, I realized that I was looked upon as a light-skinned, walking ATM. NB: that feeling has not ceased a week in. It’s absolutely insane what they want to charge here.
Bus touts got so physical with me at the bus station that I had to get serious real quick, break a really big black guy’s grip, and threaten to use my knife. I stupidly ended up on a bus upon which I can officially bestow the title of Worst Ever. Unfortunately, it was the best of all the available options. Yeah, welcome to Zimbabwe.
After being told it’d be leaving soon, I waited almost two hours for it to actually leave. Not only were they trying to fill it up with passengers, but cargo, too. The bus was towing a trailer, but the interior was a sight to see. I was in the last row and had boxes upon boxes behind me. As the bus filled up, the aisle was packed to an utterly ridiculous point.
When we finally departed, I was hot, irked, and feeling like riding that bus for 5 hours in darkness was a bad idea. Then the driver’s assistant told me I didn’t pay for my luggage, which I refused to store and had with me. He asked for $4 and I gave him a firm “no.” He told me I had to pay or get off. I told him I’d get off, then. People around me started piping up to the guy, in my defense, I think, as it was not in English. A minute later, as I was grabbing my bag to gtfo, he said he was just joking. Mhmmm, sure, guy. Just trying to rip me off, but F that S.
We got pulled over, or waved over by a cop on foot, rather, 2 minutes after that little incident and 10 minutes after departing. All of a sudden, there was all sorts of gesticulating between the driver’s assistant and the cops, huffing and puffing, angry cell phone conversations, and officials inspecting the cargo hold.
After all that, I listened to the omens and got off the moving death trap. It was the first time in my travels that I deemed a mode of transport so unsafe and unappealing, that I decided to walk off and voluntarily relinquish the $10 I paid to get on. Of course, it took me a while to do so since I had a 40-pound bag on my back and had to squeeze, climb, and hop over and around all sorts of obstacles on my way out. Some passengers laughed, some told me to stay. But I was getting the hell out of there.
So began the search for a place to stay. Border towns aren’t known for their warmth and appeal, and this was no exception. With the sun fading fast, I walked back to town and searched for a place for two hours. I walked a lot, getting quite frustrated in the process and the lack of options. The best I could negotiate was $30, which was way over budget and absolutely unreasonable in an impoverished country.
Frustrated, I followed a sign that said Caravan and Chalets to a far end of town, walking along streets where there are lamp posts, but the streelights aren’t turned on. Good work, Bob.
I gave up after a mile and was heading back to the main street when I ran into Simba and his girlfriend, who pointed me to the caravan place. Except that it really wasn’t the place at all, as I found out after knocking on a stranger’s door.
This is where the tide turned.
The stranger whose door I knocked on, spoke with a neighbor. Both ladies were super sweet and told me I should not be walking there at night. I knew that already based on the area, but didn’t really have an option to avoid doing sos. They were teachers at the local Catholic school and truly acted like it. After huddling up with the principal, who also lived on site, he offered me a bed in his humble home.
I was beyond happy and truly appreciative of the kindness of these strangers.
I spent the night at Mr. Moyo’s house, feeling absolutely terrible that it meant his maid had to sleep on the kitchen floor. I was totally onboard with busting out my tent, but they deemed it unsafe. They also refused my offers to sleep on the couch or floor with my camping gear. I was humbled beyond words.
We – Mr. Moyo, Mrs. Moyo, and their adorable 4-year-old daughter – chatted for a couple hours and watched Generations (as well as a terrible B-movie from the US) before going to bed. The next day I was awakened by their chickens, took a shower, thanked the family, and left. Not before leaving a small token of appreciation, of course.
Two shared taxis, 4.5 hours, $14, some good jams, and 100 pages of The Alchemist later, I arrived at Great Zimbabwe. It’s one of the most important archaeological sites on the continent.
In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve had good talks with a few locals, met the local chief, and taken more pictures with strangers, at their request, than I have in all my trips combined.
I’d experienced this phenomenon 2nd-hand before, seeing blonde girls get asked for pictures in Egypt by locals. Never before had I been asked for pics, though. But hey, if a Zimbabwean girl wants a pic with me in a prom pose while her boyfriend snaps away, who am I to say no? And if he wants one, his friend wants one, and his girlfriend, and a girl at the pool, too, sure thang. It’s good diplomacy.
After the craziness of my first 24 hours here, taking it easy, setting up camp, and delaying the hike up to Great Zimbabwe tomorrow was a great call. For now, I’m enjoying some EPL, beers, and a welcome rest for my legs and back.
Some pics from my eventual visit below: