On to Zimbabwe

Tuesday, we woke up in Windhoek to a cold sunny windy day. The phone said 41F feels like 33. We bundled up and went to breakfast. Claire from Lark Journeys, who put together our itinerary, joined us and we had a nice review of the trip. Her driver took us to the airport for our bumpy flight to Johannesburg. At one point it got so rough that Maria nearly dislocated my thumb squeezing my hand. My hand had some miraculous smoothing power because as soon as we dropped below the clouds, things calmed down.

On to Johannesburg where we got a shuttle to our hotel, the dumpiest businessman’s airport hotel we’ve been in for a very long time. OAT Strike 1. In our room, we rearranged our luggage because we’re leaving a bag at Victoria Falls to be retrieved at the end of our trip. We discovered that someone had rifled through one of our bags, didn’t take anything but emptied little zipper bags that had toothpaste and toiletries. A gift of blueberry jelly that we brought was torn open, including the gift wrapping. Fuckers!

Zambezi Coal Mine

Wednesday, we went down to the hotel’s buffet breakfast. When we gave our room number to the hostess, she said, “Oh! O.A.T! You sit there” and directed us to a reserved table. There we meet Paul and Pam from Minnesota, and Rick and Mary Ann from Maryland. We meet the rest of the group in the lobby where we boarded a shuttle to the airport.

At the Fastjet (services about 6 airports in the immediate region), we were told we could only check one bag each. The other would have to be gate checked, so we carried the red bag that was broken into yesterday. The thieves rifled through the bag but didn’t take anything. We weren’t so lucky at security.

The red bag had our city clothes for Cape Town and gifts we’re bringing back. Including the blueberry jelly we’re bringing to the family that is hosting us for dinner later in the trip. The same jar that the thieves tore the gift wrap off yesterday. Stupid security confiscated it because it’s a liquid or gel. One of the stupider of all the stupid airline security rules (they are ALL stupid. For all the decades of time wasted in airport security lines each and every day, it would be worth a hijacking every once in a while to just skip all the expense and bother). Stupidest of all, he tossed it into an overloaded trash bin so it was right on top. As we were repacking the bag, he focused on the next terrorist so I just reached in, retrieved the jar, pocketed it and walked away. Don’t tell me security makes air travel safer.

The flight to Victoria Falls was uneventful. We landed, sailed through immigration and customs and met Berv, our tour leader for the next 16 days. We piled into a small bus, driven for the first time in our travel experience by a woman, Sofrit (spelling is my guess). She drove us the hour and a half to the entrance to Hwange National Park. 

Zimbabwe is an economic disaster. The Chinese loaned them money to develop the exploitation of their coal. When they couldn’t repay, no problem, we’ll just take over the coal industry. We passed numerous trucks hauling coal, much of which gets shipped to China to increase their carbon load. We passed a brand new power plant that was belching a huge column of brown smoke into the air. After we turned off the main road to the park access road, there was the open strip mine. Black coal dust everywhere. A multi-acre dump littered with the carcasses of hundreds of defunct vehicles and heavy equipment, abandoned there because it didn’t cost the Chinese anything to dump it there. Worst of all, this was former National Park land that corrupt government officials had leased to the Chinese coal interests. Berv said they wanted to take more of the park but the outcry was too loud so they backed down. For now.

The US exerts its influence primarily through the military. Our first thought when looking at other countries is how can we kill these people when we need to. The Chinese are simply buying the world. We’ll see which philosophy prevails.

Eventually we got into the park where we transferred to two safari vehicles for the hour drive to our camp. On the way, we saw kudu, baboons, a couple of elephants, some warthogs and plenty of birds. It’s a brown season, few of the trees have leaves, it’s dry and dusty.

The camp is very nice, and our tent is quite comfortable. It is hot here. It was high 80s today and is in the 70s right now at 9:30 at night. We have a fan, the windows are open. Humidity is low.

We had our first group meeting to introduce each other and hear the rules of the road. Mostly sensible stuff, most important, discussion of US politics is taboo. Then dinner which was very good. We are starting to get to know our new companions. Everyone is very nice, this kind of group is self-selecting.

Now to try to get some sleep before our 6am wakeup knock.