Zimsham flimflam

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Monday, October 16, 2006

Another day and another early start on the road. I had a rather uncomfortable night caused by a reaction to the malaria pills I've been taking and had pretty bad indigestion. The trip back on the hellish road was twice as bad, but what with my manboobs and bloated belly I was beginning to wonder whether the doctor had given me some dodgy pills.

All day we drove past small dusty villages and kids expecting handouts. We made camp in the grounds of Rufunsa School just as the sun set amongst a crowd of curious onlookers. The next morning we met the headmaster and handed over pens and paper we had brought for allowing us to camp. Due to government cutbacks (the district voted for the opposition party and so the president retaliated by cutting the budget) there are half as many teachers as required, so the school day is split in two with half the 400 kids - over 200 of which are orphans - in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This is just one reason why my money is on Zambia for the next celebrity adoption.

After a quick game of football it was back on the truck for the next country: Zimbabwe. Another $60 to get in (which I'm certain goes straight to the president and his cronies) and another profession. I toyed with putting BBC reporter but as British journalists are banned from the country I decided against it and put a profession they might find welcome. So I wrote down torturer and was only a little surprised when I didn't get a $20 discount.

As a continent Africa is poorer now than it was 30 years ago. Wars, famine and disease have all played a part, but if you want to see a beautiful prosperous country run into the ground by a so-called democratically elected president then you need look no further than Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

It's said that Zimbabweans have the highest IQ: I queue for bread, I queue for petrol, I queue for jobs. Because of a brutal and insane government the economy is in turmoil with hyperinflation running at over 1200%. Officially the exchange rate is 250 Zim dollars to the US dollar, but on the black market we got 1,100 (up from 550 the previous month). Menus and stamps have no prices as they change everyday, and the banknotes have expiry dates. You don't need an economics degree from a small public liberal arts college to work out that this is ruining the country and isn't sustainable.

But Mugabe doesn't care. He's a multimillionaire who orders his security forces to kill any opposition while the citizens suffer and starve. The only reason we came to the country is because it's home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world: Victoria Falls. Even ten years ago the streets were full of tourists paying good money to see them, but now most have been frightened away. I got talking to a shop keeper who advertised 'zillions of postcards inside!!' but only had about 50 - and they were all the same. We talked for about 20 minutes about the problems but he implored me to tell friends to visit as the only ones being hurt by tourists staying away were the people.

And so it proved. On the ten minute walk into town we were constantly hassled by people selling stuff. They wouldn't take no for an answer and wanted to swap shoes and shirts (because money is worthless) in return whilst telling their stories of despair. It really was difficult to tell them no especially as there were no other tourists to fob them off on.

The falls themselves are, not surprisingly, incredible. It says here that in the rainy season they make a curtain of water over a mile long dropping half a billion of litres a minute over 300 feet. They were 'discovered' by whitey in 1855 when David Livingstone stumbled across them and said 'Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.' Similarly impressed - albeit with slightly less eloquence - Hawkins in 2006 proclaimed: 'Holy sh!t.' The indigenous people called the falls mosi-oa-tuya meaning 'the smoke that thunders' as the spray can be seen and heard from miles around, but Livingstone decided to call it after a grumpy overweight battleaxe sitting in a castle in England who never even got to see them.

One afternoon I dodged the hawkers and went to visit the Victoria Falls Hotel overlooking the Zambezi gorge. It was like a time warp back to Victorian England. The walls were covered with animal trophies and photographs of royal visits and portraits of the Queen Mum. Incredible to believe I was still in Zimbabwe.

After driving over 3,600 miles Vic Falls marked the end of the trip for the Aussies Ken & Lyn and also Swiss Susy. Morgen was heading home to Harare for a break and Rino would be driving a new group back up to Nairobi. The rest of us would be joining another truck and group to continue on to Cape Town. I'll introduce you to them - maybe - next time as we head into Botswana.
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