Victoria Falls Trip Day 2: Victoria Falls

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The second morning we woke early, Jean getting up early enough to capture sunrise. We packed and went on a small guided nature walk before breakfast. Sam, our guide, showed us archeological evidence of both the early native bushmen, and immigrating Bantu tribes; clay dishes and pots, iron ore, cave paintings. We scrambled up solid granite and down sandy paths in the brush, and saw Darcies, and birds.

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After a delicious breakfast of toast and honey, eggs, sausages, bacon and drinks, we shoved off for a second day of driving. We made good time, though leaving late meant we stopped for a quick sandwich of cold cuts and cheese, which we’d brought from home, on the side of the road. We were keeping an eye out for the Painted Dog Conservancy, though not spotting it, we continued on. Stopping for fuel at a Total station when Jean was on fumes, Jean mentioned her steering had been squirrely for last hour or more, and at last had made a horrible noise as she pulled in. We checked it out and Jean discovered that the left tie rod had come loose, a cotter pin shearing off and allowing the securing nut to unscrew and pop off. We passed a few tense minutes while the gas station attendant looked for a nut. Fortunately he quickly found one and reassembled the steering system! We even bought a spare nut and paid the mechanic and attendants for their heroism.20130125-120210.jpg

We continued on to Jafuta Lodge, some 10km outside of Victoria Falls, did a quick check-in, and hopped in the cars again to get a late afternoon viewing of the falls.
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After parking and waving off the touts, we quickly paid our entry fee and entered the park, the late afternoon sun winking at us through the lush foliage lining the slick sidewalk. We made our way to the various lookout points, walking a couple kilometers altogether. The falls, though not at their highest volume, it being the beginning of rainy season, were spectacular. We took photos, videos, spotted a rainbow, and got misted on a lot. It was marvelous.
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We left, passed up on the “sunset prices” the vendors offered in the parking lot, and made our way back to Jafuta Lodge. Braving the mosquitos, we dined outdoors. The food, while not a five star restaurant, was adequate and filling. Butternut squash seems to be a specialty in this country, perhaps because it grows so well here. Retiring to our lodges, we bedded down, the girls sharing a cabin with Laura and Lucas with us. My parents, much to their delight I’m sure, were on their own. Jean and I shared a twin bed, quite a feat when you consider there was also a mosquito net. The animals at the watering hole made no noises that kept us up…

Victoria Falls Trip Day 1: Under African Skies

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On 14 December, Jean and the kids and I, accompanied by my parents and my sister, Laura, departed Harare for our great Zimbabwe vacation. We would drive a clockwise tour around Zimbabwe, beginning in Harare, getting to Big Cave Lodge in Matopos, shooting up to Victoria Falls, then coming back down a bit to Hwange National Forest, then over to Lake Kariba where we’d stay a night before taking Kariba Ferry the length of the lake and then deboarding for a short drive to Chinhoyi Caves and finishing in Harare again, six days later.
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The Maruti, made new with fresh suspsension upgrades, a new water pump, timing belt, new head lamps and other miscellaneous improvements, held half our crew, while our CRV held the other. We had basic provisions and a few jerry cans of fuel to hold us if we ran across a dry spell.
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The first morning we made good time from Harare, though about an hour out, Merrill decided to empty her breakfast onto herself and the floor, lending a characteristic smell that would last the entire journey. We made Kwe Kwe before lunch and refitted and watered, then made Gweru by lunch where we stopped for fuel and lunch at a Chicken Inn (South African version of KFC).

By late afternoon we arrived at Big Cave Camp, parking our vehicles in the scrubby shaded brush at the bottom of a kopje (KOHPYEE or KOHPEE), a rocky outcropping on top of which was the series of buildings at make up the camp. The hotel staff drove down a safari-converted pickup truck (benches and awning in the bed) drove down and picked us and our luggage up, crawling up the steeply canted sheer rock face to the reception and dining area.
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We split up among a few stone cabins, Jean and the kids and I ending up in “Ingwe,” or “leopard.” After exploring the rocks for a few minutes, observing many different types of lizards running about, we retired to the pool and enjoyed the late afternoon sun while the kids splashed around.

Dinner was a pleasant affair in the main dining room, though instead of lingering to chat, we excused ourselves just after dessert to view the stars, quite plentiful since we were well removed from civilization. I snapped off a few 30 second exposures on my tripod. Star trails will have to wait until I get a remote for the camera. We slept well, protected by our mosquito nets, though there were none to speak of in this season or elevation.
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Hello, Zimbabwe!

Seven weeks in the ‘States isn’t nearly enough time to get all we wanted done, but it was certainly enough time to visit with a bunch of family and friends, be a substantial part of American consumerism, and figure out just why our country is such a pleasure to call home.

The days leading up to our departure were hectic to be sure, filled with last minute errands, quality time with family and friends, and pet shipping SNAFUs. We longingly looked forward to the serenity a new post and house of our own would bring, still it was with some regret that we hugged our final good-byes and jetted out of Dulles International on the morning of the 26th. Jhili Mili took an alternate routing (thanks for dropping her off, Kathy!) on Ethiopian Airlines through Addis to Harare, to avoid South Africa’s ridiculous transit process and fees. United Airlines, as helpful as ever, offered to charge not only for the excess weight, but also for our second bag per person, something AFSA has long contended foreign service people shouldn’t have to pay for, and United representatives have also agreed upon…until actually declaring the opposite to hapless travelers.

A short hop to JFK, and then we were off to Jo’burg on a 15 hour flight in which we and the children took in multiple movies, slept, ate way to much, and generally lived it up. Near to 8:00 in the morning, the hazy skies gave way to a scrubby dusty landscape below, with patches of verdant green around waterways….AFRICA!
Another short while in the airport and we boarded our final flight to Harare, Zimbabwe, just another hour and a half. Our plane descended into Harare, the sparse landscape dotted by all manner of trees; short and scrubby, tall and leafy, brushy conifers.
Our immigration line, as slow as molasses, finally stamped our entries, and we picked up our luggage, all ten pieces of it, including my bike, and met our pickup, a very helpful AID employee.
The airport was even more deserted than Kathmandu’s, and the roads were nearly empty as we traversed them to the cargo terminal to pick up Jhili.
The checkout process took forever as each employee involved pulled out seldom-used stamps or learned new tribal knowledge from other employees who had performed this mysterious pet import process. Finally, a forklift driver brought over Jhili’s crate and deposited her at our feet. A more bedraggled cat we had not seen! Her water and food were empty, some food having been mushed into the bottom of the crate. Her food dish had broken from the door grate and the duct tape with which I’d secured it to said grate had attached itself rather securely to her hind quarters, effectively making her drag her food bowl around. At least she was still alive and kicking!
Family, Luggage and cat secured, our caravan zoomed through the roads of Harare, the purple Jacaranda trees shedding blossoms and shading our way. The red soil of the landscape provided for the sometimes brushy, sometimes lush plants that partially hid Zebras just off the roadside.
In stark contrast to the over-populated roadsides of Kathmandu, the shoulders here played host to just a few scores of people on our ride. Some corners were dotted by beautiful stone Shona sculptures.
We entered more shaded roads in upscale neighborhoods and passed large compounds with well-maintained frontage high walls. We finally came to our own compound. The electric gate slid open to reveal an enormous compound of a few acres. The bricked entry drive wound around behind the mansion revealing a large garage, entry way, and massive pitch. The staff quarters was nestled behind a hedge. Further around the house, back around to the front, an outdoor entertaining area with indoor room, and bathroom, built-in charcoal grill with adjustable grate, swimming pool.
The house is insanely over the top for us, we clearly will not have a place like this ever again in our lives. Everything is enormous and well-made.

We’ve now been here just over two days, and have been welcomed into the community with open arms. Our graceful colleagues have taken us shopping, shown us around and gone out of their way to make us feel at home. We’ve reconnected with old friends and are generally amazed at the modern marvel of Harare. Even with politics as they are, infrastructure seems to function relatively well. There are modern shopping centers with stores that have western-grade goods and functionality.

Last night we enjoyed a “braai” (South African term for BBQ) of boerewos sausage and fresh chicken and salad, outside on the veranda.

The kids start school Monday.

We are going to love these next two years…