Category Archives: Personal stuff

A different tourist experience

IMG_3505home_africaA full day in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), beginning with an early-morning game drive (5:30am????), followed by a visit to an off-the-grid village, and finished with a dinner boat cruise on the river.

It was the village visit that stood out from everything else. We’d been to Tanzania previously, and seen all the Masai villages close to the highway, each one looking just like the last except for perhaps a different ratio of tour busses to vans parked in front. We hadn’t stopped at one in Tanzania, because they all looked just a little bit staged. I assumed the same would be true today; I couldn’t have been more wrong. Our tour guide drove down a lengthy deserted dust track into this “village” which is really a collection of homesteads, each one belonging to a particular family. No running water, no electricity, and even money is something of an inconvenience for them since they have no means to accumulate it (they don’t use banks but rather barter/trade for just about everything, and money requires that you go into town).

IMG_3490african_guestsThis was to be interactive, and out tour guide was rather stern with us ahead of time on this point… we were to ask any and all questions that came to mind, regardless of political correctness or how dumb they sounded. That included an interesting discussion on politics, NGOs (non-government organizations) and more. Our host spoke reasonably-good English and understood it even better. I asked him about the changes he’s seen in the last 20 years (he’s 48), and he replied that there was nothing positive he could come up with. Most of the negatives dealt with the massive departure of the NGOs when the government changed the terms of the deal they had with the predominantly-white land owners, confiscating property instead of buying it from them. The changed view of “outsiders” scared off the NGOs and investment (but was seen as a necessary act after 10 years of government inaction on plans to turn the land back over to its original owners, native Zimbabwians).

So seriously not what you’d expect on an African tour! My biggest takeaway was the importance of NGOs, something I’ve always had a somewhat cynical eye towards in the past. And bicycles… darned few of them because they’re just too expensive, so people walk everywhere. Having a bicycle is seen as something of a status symbol.

A bit more on this village. Until recently, water was brought in from a well 5 kilometers away. An NGO built a new well much closer, and while you’d think a village might normally finance and build its own well, that’s not how things work when you have no means or culture to accumulate anything beyond what you need for the next season. NGOs also provided concrete and plans for outhouses, which most now have. No plans for electricity or running water. Cell phones? Yes, the younger members have them, and they’re charged off solar panels.

IMG_3485supermarket_africaAll in all a very fascinating three hours. Ah, one last thing. The guide suggested that instead of offering them money, we go to a local grocery store and buy them sugar, rice, oil and soap. Things that, to this village, have more value than money. Interesting thing, that. We value money higher because it gives us the flexibility to buy what we want, when we want. They’d rather have what they need, and to them, there’s a disconnect between money and having things.

Getting late; another big day tomorrow.

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So what is Crocodile *supposed* to taste like?

IMG_8218croc_steakI mean seriously, let’s get real here, Crocodile tail steaks taste just like slightly-overcooked chicken. Just a bit dried out, slightly crispy on the outside, with a few tender spots that make you wonder if there’s some unfulfilled potential there. So the question is, was this slightly-overcooked Crocodile? But this is getting ahead of things; that dinner was in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and somehow I got here without riding a bike. With my wife, which is one of the reasons I got here some way other than riding a bike. Not that you could, but if you could, it would be a lot more comfortable than flying. For me anyway.

Recovering from back-to-back redeye/overnight flights has probably reduced my discernment capabilities to mush. I would recommend not having a break between long (11 hour) flights if the flights occur during the night so the break in-between is during the day. We did rent a day room at the Sheraton in Frankfurt, and it was most definitely a worthwhile thing to do. Got a few hours sleep, nice shower, and felt like we were ready to hit the next leg of the journey, the long overnight flight to Johannesburg. Heck, we survived the first long flight from SFO to Frankfurt, so how bad could it be?

Perhaps the safety video should have been a warning. Positively eerie; just one guy and maybe, in a couple of the shots, just one other passenger on the entire plane… a plane done entirely in ghost-white. Kind of ominous if you ask me! At least ghost-white had some heavenly connotations, an implication that you were headed to the right place. Then again, when that 747 hit the tarmac at Johannesburg, my goodness did it hit hard! Thought the nose gear was going to collapse. Thought at the time I ought to look at the tires and see if any flattened, but the lack of sleep rendered me unable to carry a very long string of thought.

Johannesburg transfers are intense. Think of LHR (London Heathrow), getting from one terminal to another, with all the walking and bussing as if you’re heading to an entirely different city. Johannesburg is like that, except there’s no bus, it’s entirely walking. But eventually you get there, and that last hour and a half flight seems so nice.

Zimbabwe customs line
Zimbabwe customs line
Customs/immigration at Victoria Falls? That’s another thing entirely. Word to the wise- in less-developed countries, when you get off the plane, RUN to the terminal. You want to be one of the first processed, or you might have wasted that night’s hotel stay ‘cuz you’ll be spending so much time at the airport. I can’t even put a finger on what makes it so slow. But eventually we get through and on to our hotel, the pretty-nice A’Zambezi River Lodge. That’s where I had the Crocodile tail steak dinner shown above. Karen had something more conventional; peppered beef filet. Both were actually pretty good, and reasonable. The amount of beef she got for $14 was impressive, far more than she could eat on her own.

Tomorrow it’s up at 5:30am for morning game drive, then an “authentic” village tour (I’m skeptical) and a dinner cruise later in the evening. That’s one of our less-full days. More soon. Meantime happy that Becky and Kevin and MikeF can keep things running at the shop so my wife and I can get away and “relax” for a bit. Whatever “relax” means.

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