Zambia and Zimbabwe probably feature at the end of the alphabet of places you’re
planning to visit, but you might want to consider putting them higher up on the
A group of friends and I recently spent an immensely enjoyable
10-day trip to both of these southern African countries, which offer a broad
range of attractions to the visitor – from animal safaris and African drumming
sessions to whitewater rafting and bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls
The top attraction is undoubtedly the spectacular Vic Falls
(known locally as Mosi oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders), one of the original
seven natural wonders of the world, which you can see from both the Zambian and
We also did a helicopter tour of the falls, which was
At first, we stayed at a lovely backpackers’ lodge in the
small town of Livingstone (named after the Scottish explorer who “discovered”
the falls and named them for his queen) called Jollyboys, which has
air-conditioned huts, a warm staff, a cool rock pool and a reasonable
restaurant. (Board is $50 a night for a couple.) Not being one for heights, I
chickened out when our group was taken by a local guide to the edge of the falls
at Livingstone Island. Those in our group who braved it reported that the
experience was simultaneously scary and exhilarating.
I did, however,
enjoy a morning rafting on the Zambezi River – which was quite a challenge,
especially when our raft tipped over in one of the rapids and we were left to
fend for ourselves in the deep water.
More relaxing was a “booze cruise”
on a proper boat on which we had a barbecue and drinks, watching a family of
elephants cross the river at sunset, colorful birds nesting, and crocodiles
peaking at us from the banks.
The hippos we passed freaked some people
out, especially because an Israeli man had died there just a month before when a
hippo rammed his family’s dinghy, and he dived into the water to save his child
who fell in (his children made it safely back to shore, but he didn’t.) We had
an enjoyable day at a local safari, driving through in an open ATV with a local
guide who had an encyclopedic knowledge of every animal, bird and tree we
encountered – and there were many.
I was enchanted by the giraffes, zebra
and impala – all of which are fascinating animals to watch in the wild. The real
thrill for most visitors, though, is to spot elephants and lions.
spent a meaningful afternoon at an orphanage in Livingstone (the trip was
organized by Jollyboys), playing soccer and other games with the
The rates of poverty, unemployment and AIDS are very high in
Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the orphanage we visited was full of children desperate
for love and attention.
While in Zambia, we witnessed a historic election
in which opposition leader Michael Sata surprisingly beat incumbent Rupiah
There were celebrations and rioting in the streets on September
22, when the results were announced – but most people in Livingstone seemed to
be happy with the results.
“The Banda regime was corrupt,” our driver
told me. “Maybe now there will be change.”
The Zambian economy and
tourist industry seem to have picked up at the expense of its neighbor,
Zimbabwe, where street-sellers sell paper money to the tune of billions and even
trillions of dollars as souvenirs to the few tourists brave enough to visit.
(Following years of unbridled inflation, the country now runs on US dollars.)
After spending a couple of nights at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side of the
border, at a lively backpackers’ camp called Shoestrings ($35 per couple), we
took a 13-hour bus ride via Bulawayo to Harare.
And it was the city of my
birth (then called Salisbury, Rhodesia) that turned out to be the highlight of
Firstly, the city – whose streets are lined with lilac
jacarandas and beautiful buildings – is unexpectedly pretty.
the people – and we spent a couple of days just walking through town and talking
to locals – were welcoming and delightful.
Finally, the hotel we stayed
at in central Harare – the Bronte ($146 for a couple) – was superb, with
luxurious rooms, gorgeous gardens and fantastic food.
While we were in
Zimbabwe, I watched President Robert Mugabe’s address to the UN General Assembly
on local television. Mugabe may be the primary cause of Zimbabwe’s economic
woes, but one cannot ignore the strength of this 87-year-old leader who has been
at the helm of his country since 1980.
Although photographs of him hang
all over the country (I even saw one in a local casino hotel, placed between two
pictures of lions), one can only pray that Zimbabwe’s sorry state will improve
significantly when Mugabe is history.
We watched actors in a Harare
outdoor theater rehearsing for a play that looks forward to a prosperous period
in the future, titled “Ten Years From Now.”
If the play’s forecast is
accurate, Zimbabwe could become a major travel spot by then. It possesses a fair
share of the tourist attractions that its northern and southern neighbors,
Zambia and South Africa, have in abundance.
And the view of the Victoria
Falls is best from Zimbabwe!
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