Day 7: Goodbye Botswana, Hello Zimbabwe

Today was a chance to reset – B was starting to slowly recover as the drugs kicked in, and we said goodbye to Botswana and crossed over to Zimbabwe. $30 for B and $55 for me for a visa (Brits pay more than anyone else to enter Zimbabwe these days) and we were in.

Zimbabwe has been independent from Britain since 1980 and has been ruled by Robert Mugabe every year since. Having been one of the most prosperous nations of Africa in the 90s everything started unravelling during the early 2000s when Mugabe championed a land re-distribution policy from white to black farmers. Who knows how noble were the original intentions, but it was definitely poorly executed, with murderous farm takeovers being the norm.

The country has still not recovered. The inflation was so intense during this time that Zim Dollars were losing money by the minute. So they say, buying groceries would need stacks of bills which would be barely worth the paper on which they were printed. The currency became so worthless that they gave up printing on the reverse side. B has always liked to collect the odd coin or note from different countries – in Zimbabwe, she has now bought a 20 million dollar note that’s being sold as a souvenir. It is literally worthless, however, the Zim dollar is no more and US dollars is now the official currency of Zimbabwe.

Our guide, Shingi, is Zimbabwean and was evidently cautious in being too forthright in his assessment of the country’s politics. However, he was optimistic that the coalition government currently in place is starting to make progress. Corruption is still rife, however, and it’s a real shame to see a country go backwards over the past 20 years.

Relatively cocooned from all this economic strife has been Victoria Falls where we stopped for the next couple of days. Weather-wise it wasn’t great falls viewing, it being overcast and with showers falling. One thing I really love about this place is that there’s a sense of build-up as you come along to different vantage points to see the waterfall. Whereas Niagara Falls is delivered on a plate – you drive up and look out of the car window and there it is – Vic Falls is surrounded by trees and teases you since you can see the spray from the falls rising upwards.

The falls were formed along a fault line of basalt rock and the wide Zambezi just tumbles into this in different places along the canyon. The first part we saw (the devil’s cateracts) were pretty cool, and B was a little nonplussed. But by the time we reached the “horseshoe falls” (sharing a name with that in Niagara) it was breathtaking (and very wet!). A great example of how powerful natural forces put into perspective any insignificant worries we may be having. I love it when that happens. Here are a few pictures of the “biggest” waterfall in the world:

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I say “biggest” because it depends what metric you use to measure the waterfall: Vic Falls is the highest, Niagara Falls transports the most water, and Iguazu Falls is the widest.

After an introduction to monkey attacks over lunch – around the falls there are plenty of them hanging around looking to steal food (amusingly, the only theft was of some curry powder) – we were taken to our unexpectedly grand accommodation for the night, The Elephant Hills Hotel. This place was built in the 70s and is on the outskirts of town, with awesome views over the rolling forests of Zimbabwe, with the “smoke that thunders” (the name locals called Vic Falls before Livingstone came along to give it a European name).

Weirdly, we appeared to be the only guests at the hotel (which must have had at least 800 rooms). They were staffed up for many more guests, so we felt almost over-pampered, as we were taken to our comfortable rooms. For dinner, which fortunately B was well enough to attend, we had about 20 members of staff to serve us. This came into its own, however, when they all came out after dessert to sing a beautiful african-choir style rendition of “happy birthday” to B, complete with candles to blow out. (I’d love to take all the credit for organising this, but it was down to our awesome guide).

This didn’t quite make up for the previous day, but it was a good way to get a smile on B’s face again 🙂

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