A Travellerspoint blog

January 2010

Zimbabwe

After the meltdown there are still dipped cones

sunny
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

Even before I saw the glass towers, it was the full fledged fitness gym that let me know I was entering a new world. Malawi was a rural country, which was visually rich in agriculture (though I was told there was a food shortage) with small huts dotting the tropical plains. Zimbabwe feels urban and sophisticated. In Malawi, search of cold water I would scour for power lines riding through the countryside. In Zimbabwe dipped cones are available 24hrs a day from the Creamy Inn. I've enjoyed Zimbabwe for these and other contrasts and strangities. It is a country of big boulders, beautiful babies with big eyes buried in their mothers backs and the world's biggest reserve of U.S. two-dollar bills.

After just a morning in Harare, I caught a bus for the mountainous east to mount my bicycle. On the way a raucous group cheered and jeered the driver as he passed and was passed by other vehicles. In Zimbabwe I cruised along on well paved roads, one day in the mountains and three days moving towards South Africa. The only thing that slowed me down was the heat and the constant police road blocks, which I learned to enjoy. The easy questions were straightforward: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you from? But the tough questions provided some challenge, here are some excepts:

ZIM POLICE: Do you know where Sean Paul and Riana live (pop musicians)
ME: NY, LA?
--
ZIM POLICE: Aren't you afraid traveling alone?
ME: No... should I be?
---
ZIM POLICE: You look like that swimmer, what's his name? Oh yeah, Michael Phelps.
---
ZIM POLICE: Didn't you bring something for us to remember you by, maybe five dollars?
ME: No
---
ZIM POLICE: Do you have cold water? Can I have some?
ME: OK
--
ZIM POLICE: Let's you and me go to the saloon tonight and find some ladies.
--
ZIM POLICE: What's your phone number? Will you call me when you get to America?

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Apparently the police were there in part to interrupt the diamond trade. All along the road men would hiss at me and make a diamond symbol with their fingers. The police policy to shoot poachers on site has massively cut down the trade I was later told at the empty hotel at which I arrived (which was often the case). According to the lonely and unpaid receptionist, the place was filled with diamond traders the previous year. On the road I found people in "Zim" more reserved than in Malawi. Or perhaps it's because white people are less of a novelty here. In any case they made up for it with fantastic whistling skills.

You are likely aware that Zimbabwe has been through some rough times, which hit the international news hard: an aggressive land reform policy that expropriated white farmers large land-holdings, hyper-inflation leading to empty grocery shelves (and they have so many grocery stores here!), cholera and bulldozed slums. Zimbabweans are very sensitive to this reputation and remiss about better days past. Indeed I didn't even consider coming here till I talked with some travelers. But I'm glad I did, because it's a fascinating mix of what I assume is old England and modern Africa. African women walk the streets with British wedding hats and bumbrellas, school children in flower cut dresses or khaki shorts worn high and belted tight with blue button-up shirts. Groups glad in white robes sing along the road. It's also a very pleasant place to be. The land reform issue is widely talked about, and I heard both sides, but their doesn't seem to be any active tension. The currency issue was solved by adopting three other currencies, the Botswana Pula, American Dollar, and South African Rand, all valued differently in different cities!

Sometimes the best thing after a long day of cycling is a cold bucket shower. But often in Zimbabwe the bucket was missing. As was the toilet seat. I have no idea how Zimbabweans bathe or use the toilet; I mean that literally. Most often there is a tub, but no drain stop and no bucket and no curtain. Similarly, they have western toilets, but no seat, I would think a squatter would be more effective. It's also the only tropical type country I've been to where wall to wall carpeting is common. A record temperature here is under 70 degrees, yet all the beds have a warm blanket under the comforter.

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I spent ten days traveling in Zimbabwe, most of it very independent and some way out where there was no one to ask directions and that was enough this trip. I tired a little of the evening power outages, always right when it got dark. Hot candles can be unpleasant when it's still 80 degrees. Outside of the cities, food could grow quite mundane as well. Every day the choice was the same, chicken or beef, rice or sadza (like cream of wheat, but corn), usually with either coleslaw or pumpkin leaves (quite tasty). Perhaps this routine lulled me into a daze of forgetting my Malaria pill or perhaps I did take the pill, but in any case it hit my full-on about an hour into a six hour bus ride. High fever, achy legs and general discomfort. The mini-bus let me out at the only town along the way with a hospital. I was diagnosed by "the sister" a nun I assume, and given some pills. Generally disoriented I somehow arrived at the guesthouse of the Zimbabwe Power Company, which overlooked a plant looking something like Homer Simpson's workplace. Of course even here the power went out, but I was satisfied for the comfortable bed and vanilla ice-cream. Not even the thunder and lightning which rocked the place could wake me from a twelve hour sleep. With the fever gone I traveled on and after a three day course I've 100% recovered. I'm now in South Africa making my way to Cape Town along the southern Coast.

While I couldn't manage or bother to capture Zimbabwe in photos, I will leave you with just a taste of culture from the streets of Bulawayo.

Posted by dericvito 07:07 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

From Mozambique to Malawi

It was the holiday season in Southern Africa too

all seasons in one day
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

My skin has turned the color of a honey-roasted peanut. There are constantly strands of fruit stuck between my teeth from tiny mangoes sold by children, five for a nickel. The air smells strongly of roasting cashews, though apparently the season is almost over. These were my last reflections from Mozambique

I spent Christmas eve and day with my traveling companion (hint: it has two wheels) riding from Nampula in north central Mozambique to the coast, Ilha de Mozambique. While the only visible signs of the holiday where the occasional santa hat and even more occasional small plastic Christmas tree, there was a palpable holiday spirit in the air. It was in the calls of 'boas festas' from those I passed and the busyness of the market on the 24th, ´dia de familia´. Perhaps it was even in the spirit with which women and children skinned down to their underwear and less when the rain started. They did so to take advantage of fresh puddles to the road to wash their clothes.

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I arrived in Ilha to a wedding. Along the way I saw many people taking advantage of the holiday season for ceremonies. There was traditional dancing, a circumcision ceremony and other occasions which I was not privy to. I landed at a private home and a courtyard filled with children. My room had an overhead fan and a bright
green bathroom. Over the next few days I plied the street of the island, one of first European settlements in Africa and the southern hemisphere. Young-men aspiring a career in tourism approach me with sophisticated and casual pitches. I usually had a ten to 16 year old accompanying me at all times. Ilha is home to some beautiful and smart European owned restaurants as well as a densely populated African villages. Children play freely on the beach, roll tires and enjoy their nakedness in the puddles. It was here that Mozambique's seafood reputation finally caught up with me. A chunk of fish in broth, lobster salad, shrimp and calamari. Some of it even lacked the customary grains of sand that have appeared in almost every dish I ate since my arrival. At night the sleepy colonial island filled with the beat of club Nautico and dancing youths. It was with reluctance that I left Ilha and caught a train to the border before my visa ran out as well as the year.

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I crossed the border into Malawi by bicycle. Either I was at some altitude or Malawi is all down hill, but regardless it was a beautiful decent down to Lake Malawi and the city of Mangochi. I managed to spend keep my bicycle in one piece and unpacked for my entire visit to Malawi although I found new obstacles along the road. Baboons, women dancing, and children crying out "Azungo". They would do so individually, "Azungu, Azungu," collectively AZUNGU, and even chant, "Azungu! Azungu! Azungu!. Their other favorite phrase was "give me money." I can almost imagine the vision in their head of a gangly (relatively) pale cyclist grabbing fistfuls of Kwacha notes from his bicycle bag and tossing them into the air. In fact I could afford to do this. There is only one bank note here worth more than $1.30. Should I? While perhaps it is a needed economic stimulus, my rationale not to is that it would reinforce paternalist notions that run strong here. Should I instead give to the international charities who have a strong presence in Malawi? I fear for propagating the NGO industrial complex. However it's hard to disregard foreign aid altogether when I get met workers at an independent foundation that has reduced malaria deaths by 90% in a community I visited, just by opening a clinic.
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From the peaceful, bicycle friendly town of Mangochi I biked to the water's edge to pass the new year at a small beach community. I fell in love with the large and beautiful Lake Malawi. On new years eve, the midpoint of my journey, I was plucked from my travelers isolation by by some Irish nurses and taken to the roasting of a goat. There we were entertained by the a band of children with drums. They played Malawian classics like "Who let the dogs out" and "How are you; I am fine." The next day I caught a ferry up the lake, which was a time of great peace, only briefly interrupted by Malawian tourists who boarded at every port to check out the ship on their day off and take photos with me (for status? strangeness, I don't know). A few days cycling and chasing wildlife and I'm departing for Zimbabwe tomorrow. This is the most travel intensive portion of my journey. I know I'm getting a bit worn down because I've been hanging out with other travelers for the first time and staying at backpacker places. Still I'm happy with this adventure and looking forward to the future.

Reflections in Bullets:


    I´ve been slowly trading away some of my high quality goods for handiwork. I took the frame off my backpack and had a tailor put in on my bicycle bag so I´m basically just carrying the bike now and a shoulder bag. Some guy liked the thick rubber on my heavy Chacos so I traded them for some flip-flops.

    I feel like somewhat of a friend sl-t here. I met so many people, but within a week I´m gone. I knew it would be hard and it is. Hard for me to process and II feel guilty for knowing there are few I will actually keep contact with.

    In Mozambique there´s a marketing war of epoch proportions between two cell phone companies, Vodocom and Mcell. They plaster there logo on everything, free shirts are particularly effective. Or perhaps its the absence of all other marketing I noticed.

    It is widely known police, like everyone, put the pressure on during the holiday season. Bus drivers will be stopped four times over four hours and either talk or bribe their way through checkpoints. My first night on the bike in Maputo I was waved over by a cop. My heart pounded as the officer requested papers for my bicycle. I stalled and eventually he let me go.

    Not bribing is one stalwart rule of the travelers to do no harm. Another I´ve tried to follow is to purchase down the economic chain. Buying from street vendors can be healthier for me (often fruits or homemade goods), the environment (generally no or natural packaging) and the least well off. Unfortunately It´s been a struggle , as those packaged cookies with the frosting inside can provide relief from a stressful day of travel.

    Malawi's got religion! The presence and prominence of both mosques and church and their respective schools and charities was distinct from subtle Mozambique.

Finally got to upload some photos, https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/DJG/

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Posted by dericvito 09:24 Archived in Mozambique Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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