Zimbabwe – The Final Day as a Group

Our cabin was still flooded this morning. Last night when we went to bed, there was the most orchestrated sound of frogs we have ever heard. There must have been a bullfrog right out side our door and we will swear he was hooked up to an electric amplifier. If the cabin were equipped with a phone, I am certain people in Namibia would have called to complain about the noise these frogs were making. Regardless, we slept well; it had a lulling effect one would not expect. Though this was not the common consensus of the group. Many had difficulties sleeping through it. When the sun broke through in the morning, the sounds stopped again like someone pulled the power cord and cut it off. Breakfast was set out for those of us who were staying behind while the rest went on the river cruise yet again, but under better weather conditions than last night. We started out later this morning so we could pick up the others directly at the pier and then we are driving to Zimbabwe. Some of the group needed to get more cash. We were not informed we had to pay US cash at the Zimbabwe border. As we approached the Botswana border, we were leaving the country for the last time. As far as I was concerned our stay was entirely too short; I could have stayed much longer. At the Zimbabwe Border Control, we had our filled in forms ready. We lined up and handed our form, passport, and cash over to the officer. For Europeans and US Americans, the fee was $30.00 in US currency only. The Brits had to pay $35.00 and the Canadians $65.00, which no one could figure out why. As the officer took our passports, he put the money in his shirt pocket, which was suspect in itself. They held everyone’s passport and we had to wait in the parking lot for about thirty minutes before getting them back. We had heard rumors that the money paid at the border goes directly into Mugabe’s Swiss bank account and that his first wife is the number one customer of Herrod’s in London. Others told us that commercial airline flights are cancelled if Mugabe or his wife want to fly off somewhere to go shopping. It gave me and others in the group the creeps to be here. It would have been much better if the tour had ended in Zambia rather than here. Within the hour, we were in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We stopped at the lodge, but the rooms were not ready yet. Bruce took us to the Outdoor Adventure provider for a presentation for those who wanted to book something while we were here. The options were bungee jumping, elephant rides, helicopter rides, microlight rides, and so on. Bruce had primed us that the Zimbabwe currency is no longer tradable with any other world currency, so we should be careful with how much we withdraw from a bank machine. He said there was an official exchange rate and a black market exchange rate with a wide gap between the two. He also warned that using ATMs or credit cards could be dangerous, with many finding shocking surprises on their statements once they were home again. He suggested using US dollars whenever possible. There are signs in stores stating that non-residents must show the receipt from the currency exchange before their Zimbabwean currency will be accepted. Jean found this to be true when she want to by batteries for her camera. Jean, Omo, Ron, and I were going to take a thirteen-minute helicopter ride over the falls for $90.00 each. I have always wanted to take a helicopter ride and this was a great opportunity to do. This is the first time Ron has agreed to do it with me. The only time we could go was the next morning, but the company was booked solid. The guy found another company, but the timing was bad. It had to be that afternoon. It was disappointing. Everyone in the group signed up for a dinner river cruise for tonight at $45.00 per person, our last night together. The truck took us back to the lodge and we got our keys. The t-shirt man was there to take our order for custom t-shirts that show our trip on it. When we settled this, we went to our rooms with the plan to meet at reception by 4:00 for the cruise. It did not turn out that way. We went to our room and I stormed back looking for Bruce. The cabin was four walls with two beds in it. There was no sink, no running water, no toilet, no shower, no towels, nothing. It was no better than a permanent tent. For our last night together after a wonderful trip with some exceptional accommodations, this was like a slap in the face. As I looked for Bruce, there were others who felt the same as I did, we were all furious over this. When Bruce looked at the rooms, he agreed. He had not been to his yet. He spoke to reception and had us changed to lodges, where we were supposed to be four to a lodge. We anticipated sharing with Omo and Jean again, but when they saw the lodge, they made plans to find another place for the night. As you enter the lodge, you are entering a dining area. To the left and right, there is a bedroom with two beds in each. Beyond the dining area to the left is a kitchen and the right is the bathroom. The tub had no shower. When Bruce asked if it was okay, I was not going to make a scene over it. It was dark and dreary, but for one night, we did not really care as long as there were clean sheets and towels. Our other concern was the Visa waiver we were supposed to have for Zambia. Supposedly, if you are staying one night in Zambia to travel on, you do not have to pay the fee for a Visa. Bruce did not know anything about this and he called the hotel where we would be tomorrow evening. They faxed the form that I turned into Go2Africa so we had it in hand. Others on the other hand, still had major problems with the new rooms and spread out looking at other hotels and making other reservations spending upwards of $250.00. Some were able to negotiate lower fees, but then they found out that they had to have a residence card from an African country to get the rate. This really put a blemish on our last night as a group. There is a sad hopeless feeling in the air and I was very uncomfortable being in the country, but anticipating going on to Zambia tomorrow. The bike rack at the lodge was a large metal pole with a series of hang man nooses going across it. It really threw me and I did not know what the reason for it was until people started to hang their bicycles seats from the nooses. Perhaps the message is if you steal this bike, you will hang for it. It was creepy to say the least, but it seemed apropos for this country and its government. At 4:00 sharp, the vans were here to take us to the cruise, but we had to wait for some to return from other hotels. The pier was at a fancy hotel and in spite of our being a little late, the food was not ready or perhaps waiting for our arrival to stay hot. Once aboard, we were given safety instructions and the bar was ready for happy hour. It was an open bar inclusive in the $45.00 fee for the cruise. We were floating above the falls. The crew included the captain, bartender, waiter, and two chefs. We had a choice of three salads, chicken, beef, macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, and two desserts. The food was delicious and we mingled about the boat, but when a crocodile was discovered floating along side us, everyone rushed to hang over the rail to get a better look. As the boat trip progressed, we saw elephants, hippos, and a huge lizard on shore. The cruise was supposed to be two hours, but lasted closer to three. After we reached shore again, the captain allowed us to stay aboard for another hour. It was a fitting ending to our 20 days together. Back at the lodge, we were again faced with the unpleasantness of a cheerless accommodation and people went in all directions for their place to sleep that night. It had the feelings of a family breaking up after the patriarch and matriarch are gone. We went to our uninviting lodge, but after five gin and tonics on the cruise, it did not seen so bad after all. We filled out our feedback form for Nomad Tours giving them the complements and the negatives. Some of us are meeting at 7:00 for breakfast and those who are not going for the adrenalin rush, will go to the falls together. Our total mileage as a group has been 5,090 km, a 45 minute plane ride, and a speedboat return.