So, we crossed the border and stayed at Shoestrings hostel in Victoria Falls …nice place though pretty empty (we’re in the rainy season remember so not a top tourist time). First things first: Money changing!.There are 2 options: No.1 the official way ~ change 1 US dollar for 30,000 Zim dollars. Or no.2 black-market ~ change 1 US dollar for 2,000,000 (yes, MILLION) Zim dollars! …we opted for no.2 😉 So with money changed, its time for some sightseeing: The view of the Falls from the Zim side is fabulous! You get a ‘frontal’ view of the Falls and can walk along the length of them (though from the other side of the gorge).Incredible sight right the way along. And we got to see a rainbow from Danger Point too…which was nice. Downside is you get absolutely sodden! Again though: a sight not to be missed if you ever get here (the choice is yours as to whether you want to see the falls in full flow or fairly quiet).
We also had a walk to the train station to try and get the train down to Bulawayo – sadly the train was full so we must stay another night in the hostel and try again tomorrow (another couple of guys we met have been trying for 5 (I think) days to get on the train!!!
So, next day and back to the station to catch the ticket office early….except it didn’t really matter cos it didn’t open on time (Africa time, remember) Eventually we got to the front of the queue to be told by the fella behind the window that we had to go to the OTHER window!…We got to that window and booked our seats, but couldn’t pay cos they wouldn’t accept US dollars. We returned later with the Zim dollars and assured the woman that we had paid the official rate (oh yeah!) so she let us on.
We waited early for the train that evening (all trains in Zim are night trains for some reason) wondering what the compartment would be like (its a sleeper) expecting the worst, we got a real shock when we got on board to find a 1920’s compartment with polished wood and green vinyl and even a fold down sink!!! LUSH!!!!! Unfortunately there were no lights working so we had to got moved to another compartment which was similar, but in laminate instead of polished wood…still nice though….apart from the smell (we were next to the toilets……..which consisted of a fold-down loo seat above a hole in the carriage floor!…..nice!) our 14 hr trip also turned into 19 hours too, due to a long overnight stop in the middle of nowhere.
As soon as we got off the train we headed for the ticket office to book the train back the next Monday…they wouldn’t sell us a ticket till the next day though 🙁 We also got a bit of a shock trying to get into a hostel: the ‘Lying Planet’ advised that prices were $3-4US pppn….however this turned into $70US pppn!!!! Eventually we stopped in the Berkely Place for $25 per room phew! we had a walk around the city, which is kind of nice with a fairly modern feel and very safe feel too – sadly the shops have VERY little products in them…the food shops are virtually empty, however we found a nice coffee shop that sold good cappucino and DOUGHNUTS!!!!! WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!!!
Back at the ranch we changed some more money: $60US (in 2 notes: a $50 & $10) and got Z$120,000,000 in exchange…unfortunately the highest denomination note you can/could get was a $750,000 and I didn’t get many of them, so I ended up with a whole block of notes to carry around!…it was the equivalent size of carrying 4 bags of sugar around!!! ..I mean where are you supposed to put it?…you cant get it in yer wallet and pockets aint gonna help!…and at the end of the day it was only $60US
Next morning we were at the train station for 7am to join the mahoosive queue for tickets…after 2 hours of not moving (mainly cos they decided in their infinite wisdom to let the Botswana queue move first and that was the whole length of the station!) so we gave up and got a taxi to the bus station for the bus to Masvingho. The taxi was probably the worst taxi in the world: no dashboard, doors that wouldn’t open or close from inside and the worst sounding engine too, however the driver was canny and once he dropped us off he walked with us to find the right bus queue (another queue) an hour or so later and the bus arrived and we ended up right at the back!….amazingly we all got on – even though we were kinda pushed to the middle due to being ‘foreigners’ I think…..or maybe its cos Rags is blonde…who knows
The bus ride was another epic journey taking for ever to get there (the driver got out at one point and had his tea in a roadside cafe style thingee!) oh, and Joseph that I was sitting next to spilled diesel which the bus driver was carrying home for his dads car and it covered the bottom of my bag and also my cap…which was nice 🙁 It was kind of funny too watching the locals go mad to buy tomatoes from the roadside sellers at the bus stops as we went along (they had under priced the tomatoes badly so everyone was trying to buy by leaning out of the windows with plastic bags, whilst the seller girls were running around like mad eejjits trying to cope with the demand!
Anyhoo, we got to Masvingho and jumped on a minibus to Great Zimbabwe (with Josephs help to organise) the ride was OK except it was getting late and we were concerned that we wouldn’t get into the site as it was supposed to close at 7pm. Anyhoo, another story showing how incredible the Zim people can be: as we got off the bus near the Great Zim., I was trying to get off the bus with 2 bags and my hoodie and Rags fleecy jacket…as the bus drove off leaving us at the roadside I realised that I’d dropped her fleecy on the bus!…dammit! I apologies and we kind of tried to look on the positive side in that the guy who gets it could sell it, keep it or give it to his girlfriend. So, 2 days later we were back at Masvhingo sitting on our bags in the bus station waiting for or bus when this guy appears and hand us the fleecy, saying how we had left it on the bus!!!!!!! AMAZING!!!!!! I can’t imagine that happening ANYWHERE else on the planet, but for it to happen in Zim with the poverty and struggle those guys are having was just….AMAZING!!!
Anyhoo, back to Great Zimbabwe: we walked along the road and passed a craft market where the ladies shouted over the direction we needed to walk (we hadn’t asked, I guess we just looked lost!) and from there we walked thru the main lodge to the campsite, where we found the guy that ran the place…he asked us how much we wanted to pay, so we agreed on $25US…for a lovely thatched lodge with 2 twin rooms and 2 more beds, plus TV!!!! And a shower AND a bathroom!!! Fabulous!
WE retired for the night and then got up early to get breakkie at the main lodge which was nice, but expensive. Then we headed down to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe – the place that gave the country its name on independence. The ruins were abandoned about 500yrs ago, leaving stone walls and towers on and around a hill – very atmospheric place. This is also the place where the stone birds were found which are now the Zim emblem (the birds are actually in the museum on site too). We sat on the Kings balcony and watched over the masses below us (OK, there was 4 other tourists sitting down there, but I was KING FOR A DAY!!!!). There’s also a separate ‘area’ which was built for the kings many wives: and for no.1 wife in particular – she got a stone tower to watch the king from (so the story goes)
We went back to the main lodge afterwards and paid a kings ransom to get our laundry done (that’ll teach me….pride before a fall and all that) then we had a quick beer and had a chat with a local chief who introduced himself as chief ‘Bonnyface’! Nice guy who was very keen to make sure we were happy in his country
Another nice story from Zim: we were sitting in the bar that night having literally a couple of beers cos we had just about run out of dosh, anyhoo, the bar staff knew this as I had checked the prices with them and then paid partly in Zim dollars and partly in SA Rand that I had kicking about in me wallet…so a little later the barmaid comes over with a tray with some strips of fried beef and chillis for us to snack on!..they’d obviously taken pity on us! How nice????
Anyhoo, enough of the stories from Zim, we got back to Bulawayo without too much grief and spent the night in Berkely again. Next morning we queued for 6 hours!! To get a ticket for the sleeper train, only to be told as we got to the till that there were no tickets left!!! I still think we were %^&# on there (the ‘fat controller’ had a word with the ‘teller’ just before we got there) so ANOTHER night at Berkely followed by a 5am start to get a taxi to the bus station out of town to get the bus up to Vic Falls. Another (!) epic bus ride got us there without too much grief and then a taxi to the border and another to Fawlty Towers and we were back in Zambia
Author: Chuggy Charles, UK