Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Smoke That Thunders

I am sure you are all sick of hearing of our transportation horror stories, but they just keep coming. We took a packed matatu to the town closest to the Malawi/Zambia border and then packed into a tiny car with 9 other people (the driver was literally sitting on someone's lap) to the immigration office. But, those trips were short and pleasurable in comparison to the next. We piled onto a bus at 7 am and 5 hours later it departed. There were 5 seats to a row, which meant at least 2 people needed to lean forward at all times. We were the lucky ones though, because at least 15 other people were standing or sitting in the isle for the entire 12 hour journey. This is highly illegal, so the bus company hired a taxi to take these people past where they thought the police check point was. Ironically, about 500 meters after they let the folks back onto the bus, we came across the actual police check point. Another 2 hours and several fines (or bribes?) later, we again departed and finally arrived in Lusaka at 10 pm, 8 hours late.

Fortunately, the rest of our journey to Livingstone was lovely, and Livingstone itself is also a pleasant town. The city has a long history as the former capital of the region, but has now been updated to cater to tourists, with plenty of places to get a proper cappucino.

Victoria Falls is a few kilometers from Lilongwe and straddles the border betwee Zambia and Zimbabwe. It's the dry season, which means that we experienced only 4% of the water that descends over its edge at its highest capacity. The falls that you could see from the Zambia side were quite tame - not the massive rush of water that inspired its Zambia name Mosi-oa-Tunya (which is roughly translated as "the smoke that thunders"), but rather a few elegent cascades of water that fell daintly into the deep, dark casm below. But, because river flow is low we got the chance to walk across the top of the falls and right up the edge, which was a pretty cool experience. And, we got a much better look at the narrow canyon that this powerhouse has cut into the rock, which is really quite magestic in its own right.

The second day we ventured over to the Zimbabwe side. It was a costly excursion because of the visa fee, but definitely worthwhile because it gave us a look at an entirely different part of the falls. The main falls are much bigger than those you can see from the Zambia and you could really hear the rush of the water crashing onto the rocks below and feel the spray in the air. From this vantage point, you got a much better sense of Victoria's awesome power, as well as her spectacular beauty, as seen in the many playful rainbows that appear in her mist.

We were not sure what to expect when we crossed over to Zimbabwe, because the country is decending into total economic chaos with inflation approaching 8,000%! We found that the town of Victoria Falls is safe and trying very hard to maintain its status as a tourist destination, but the effects are visable everywhere you look. We stopped at a cafe for lunch, but less than half of the menu was available due to food shortages. I can't imagine how bad it is further in the interior of the country, because at least these people have the opportunity to go over to Zambia to buy bread and other essentials (which we saw them carrying back by the armload). The markets were pretty depressing as well, with hundreds of men trying to sell crafts and no more than a handful of tourists browsing. We heard a lot of desperate pleas for us to make a purchase or, preferably, trade them something of use, like a pen or our shoes! Still, the spirit of the people remained strong and they continue to do what they can to earn a buck, be it performing traditional dances in costume to playing in a murrumba band. We can only hope that the situation resolves itself quickly and peacefully.

No comments: