Ok yeah I realise it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this, or generally been in touch in any way…as friends constantly remind me; but unfortunately (but definitely for the best) Zimbabwe and Mozambique aren’t quite packed full of internet cafes yet.
But, as I’m sure you’ll be pleased to here, I did manage to ring my dad on his birthday from a random phone shack on a beach in Mozambique, so it could have been worse…
It’s been an interesting, enlightening, eventful and truly lucky 2 months and there’s quite a large amount to write and write about so you may have to tackle it in several sessions (as will I).
After finishing exams in Grahamstown, and attending all the essential parties, Tinashe Tashinga Simbarashe Nondo (my Zimbabwean friend), Calvin (my South African friend) and I drove up to Johannesburg to start off summer travels. Crossing endless landscapes of dry grassland, thicket, karoo, koppies and baboons; and Tinashe defying the impossible by sleeping with one eye open.
After 10 hours of driving we eventually reach Africa’s richest city, warmly welcomed by an upside down car in the middle of the road and signs warning us of people throwing rocks. ‘Welcome to Joburg’ says Calvin, which was pretty funny. Though not very funny I guess. But also pretty funny. The city has a universal reputation of being the crime capital of the world, with every house having electric fences, razor wire, blood-thirsty guard dogs, metal railings and roof-mounted automatic machine guns. Surprisingly when I arrived I soon realised that although this isn’t completely true, it’s almost completely true (apart from the roof-mounted machine guns). Generally people completely avoid the centre unless they absolutely have to go through it, and in which case they will drive (though South Africans in general drive literally everywhere). Walking around by yourself in the centre in daytime let alone at night would be literally asking for a robbing or worse. But anyway, the city does also have some nice spots and there is a lot of cool stuff going on like gigs, plays, cool little cafes and restaurants.
Me and Tinashe stayed in Calvin’s house in Hartebeespoort just north of Joburg (see when people say they live in Joburg they most likely dont, because no one lives in the centre), which was crazy. The house itself was top notch (including the largest window I’ve ever seen), but also it’s built next to the dam surrounded by mountains, and in the estate there’s a little population of gemsbok, impala, springbok, wildebeest and some other cool African animals just wondering around. Once one of the wildebeest fell in Calvin’s pool and drowned. Oh dear. His mum prepared an amazing roast dinner for us when we arrived after the 10 hour trip so that was a VERY appreciated nice surprise.
The next day involved many cool and classic South African things such as
> eating amazing biltong (dried beef or springbok)
> chasing impala and being chased by impala
> oh, and driving a speedboat. Yeah we went for a drive in the family speed boat with a coolbox of beers and biltong which was one of the most fun moments in recent history (and yes of course I had a go driving). As we were out on the dam a massive storm approached but luckily missed us by a few hundred metres; we could see the line of rain in front of us, it was amazing (see incredible photo).
Me and Tinashe then stayed with his sister, Rudo, for a bit which was actually very interesting because she lives within the city and so got a first hand taste of how crazily busy, razor-wired and divided this city is. Calvin might have got it right when he described his city as ‘not a nice place, but it’s a place where things get done’. Touché my friend.
The next day me an Tinashe watched James Bond and then got on a bus to Harare (Zim capital). The contrast between Zimbabwe and South Africa may not seem dramatic to a normal foreigner, but after living in South Africa for 5 months I noticed a lot. Crossing the border the mountainous and hilly dry grasslands of Limpopo are replaced with miles of flat bare red soil, with the occasional hill and balancing rocks (oh and hippos). The well maintained, smooth roads of South Africa are taken over by crumbling, narrow paths, despite (though maybe because of) the fact that this is one of the main routes within Zimbabwe. Dotted across the landscape are round huts made of mud or bricks and straw roofs surrounded by goats and mango trees. In some ways South Africa seems not so African, compared to this.
Harare is a busy, quite crazy city. It’s actually quite a city of contrasts; packed full of beautiful flame and jacaranda trees, but pavements and roads riddled with potholes. Top money-makers rolling around in new Mercedes and in Italian suites, but bribing poorly paid police because of a ‘chip in the windscreen’ on literally an everyday occurrence. Friendly Salvation Army Christmas concerts in a clean fancy shopping mall, but litter lining most city streets.
Two interesting points
} When walking in central Harare, me and Tinashe heard a woman screaming, looked up and saw a white woman chasing a guy down the street holding a handbag. Everyone around was staring and some laughing. At the end of the street some random people stopped the guy, grabbed the handbag and gave it back to the woman. They then starting hitting and slapping the guy and chasing him; people on the streets were cheering. I found this quite a strange experience (but other Zim people I told this story to laughed and said that he got what he deserved). Interesting. Despite this event I felt very safe (especially if you compare it with Johannesburg where no-one will ever walk in the CBD)
} People do not ask you for money. I was quite expecting to get bombarded with people asking after living with it in SA for 5 months and being white, but it just doesn’t happen in Zim (though I did hear some people mumbling murungu (white person). Tinashe says that there ‘people work for their money’.
The most obvious and important thing about Zimbabwe is the people. They are incredible. Never before have I met so many genuinely friendly people in one country. Even people you would never expect to be so friendly (such as policemen) are. Wow….people had told me about this before I left but there really is a national happiness. I had a 30 minute conversation with a local craft-seller about his daughter’s school project…
I stayed with Tinashe and his great family in a very nice house with a pool, big gardens and seemingly unlimited sadza (maize mash) and stew. Tinashe’s unbelievably generous brother-in-law Ron drove us to Nyanga National Park in the Eastern Highlands where we rented a lodge for 2 nights and hiked/hitchhiked up stunning mountain ranges with views over the Zimbabwean plains. On a bus up the road literally everyone was staring at me, and you know how normally when you look at people who are staring at you they realise and look away….they continued staring for about 40 minutes while we winded our way up the Nyganga mountains playing Zimbabwean sungura music (a white guy? on a bus? oh my word).
Afterwards we hitched to Mutare a really pretty city in the Eastern Highlands where we stayed in a old British gentlemen’s club (don’t ask). Here we met Ron again who drove us up into the Bvumba mountains where we gazed across into Mozambique, had lunch at the Leopard Rock Hotel (where the Queen stayed) and possibly the best tea and cake I’ve ever had at Tony’s cafe.
So on to Victoria Falls! One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the others being Mt Everest, the Northern Lights, the Grand Canyon, Paricutin volcano, the Great Barrier Reef, and Rio de Janeiro’s harbour. It’s indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) and its the largest waterfall in the world; an island of rainforest surviving off the spray from the falls (you have to wear full waterproof gear otherwise you’ll get washed away).
Unbelievably beautiful place. After watching a family of vervet monkeys for a while, we entered the site through the rainforest and found a clearing with the perfect view out onto the falls. It felt like we had just discovered it- thick forest surrounding it with very little development and few people.
In the words of David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer who was the first non-African to see them, they’re ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.
At the end of the falls is Rainbow Falls, where because there’s so much spray, rainbows are almost constantly formed over the mighty Zambezi river. Must be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
Then we sat on a bench and ate our peanut butter sandwiches with the monkeys.
Victoria Falls town isn’t too exciting, pretty touristy, so we spent the rest of our days partying at the hostel with crazy old American guys, driving out to a buffalo kill in the middle of the night to see lions and leopards, oh yeah and going white-water rafting down the Zambezi. A very fun experience though when they said ‘this is going to be intense’ and made us sign a form saying that we won’t sue them if we die, I (maybe naively) didn’t think that it would be too tough. Put simply, being trapped under the boat after capsizing on the rapids was for sure the closet I’ve been to giving up the ghost….I did think while underwater at one point ‘wow, so this is it’, but luckily I found the rope just in time, so don’t worry I’m still here (just about)! Oh and just to add to the craziness, we saw crocodiles just next to boat a few minutes later. On our last day before heading back to Harare we went to a boma; basically where you eat loads of crazy African animals and drum and dance like a crazy man (I had crocodile, kudu, impala, warthog, mopane worms…)
On our arrival back in Harare, we went to Ron and his wife Tendai’s party which was an interesting experience. Out of roughly 150 people I was the only white person. Funnily enough though I didn’t even really realise and when I did the thought didn’t linger in my mind for more than a few seconds. I guess after living in SA for 5 months and with Tinashe and his family in Zim I don’t even really think about it anymore (despite the constant talk of race in SA)… That was quite a nice realisation.
After a fond goodbye to Tinashe and his amazingly hospitable and generous family, I managed to squeeze onto a bus and head into Mozambique.
After staying overnight in a random town on Christmas eve eve, the hostel owner advised that I try to make it down to Vilankulos that day which ‘should only take a few hours’. ‘Should’ and ‘Reality’ are two words that are clearly mixed up in Mozambique. It took me 12 hours to finally reach Vilankulos, via chapa (small minibus), hitching a ride in a truck (which included a wheel falling off and giving a ride to a guy and his car which had broken down) along the worst roads you’ve ever seen, another horribly full chapa, so full that the was the door was left open and I had one leg hanging out, and trekking around the town at 11pm trying to find the hostel. Eventually I found it and the amazing hostel owners gave me coke, beer and pizza. What a great Christmas eve!
On Christmas day I woke up early and joined some Mozambican, Canadian and French guys on a dhow (rickety old sailing boat) trip around the Bazaruto Archipelago, snorkelling on the coral reef, climbing up desert islands and eating the freshest fish, crab, calamari and pineapple known to man (and woman). The sea is crazy clear and so flat, but the most amazing thing is how warm it is. Actually, hot. The sea is hot. It’s like sitting in a hot bath, but surrounded by tropical fish and pretty Mozambican girls…
Of course the whole time it was boiling hot (~35°C) and didn’t feel like Christmas in the slightest, despite being able to have a quick Christmas-related chat to my loving family.
At the hostel in Vilankulos I met a very friendly group of South Africans who invited me to stay with them in their tent in Tofo for New Year… so of course I joined them. Before leaving Vilankulos, we got chatting with a random guy who said he would invite us to his house and cook us an amazing meal, so that happened. We went to the market which was intense, full of weird & wonderful smells (though some not so wonderful like thousands of tiny dried fish), and then rode to his house in the back of a pick up truck to a rural, sand-filled area with palm trees and mango trees everywhere, and we feasted on coconut rice and fish. Neighbours seems very shy to see us white folks but waved and giggled when we said hello.
So we then set off to Tofo, a beautiful beach on the Indian coast in Southern Mozambique. For New Year clearly the place had been pretty transformed; there were stages, stalls and braaing South Africans everywhere… It was incredibly hot, and often you just had to sit under a shade and couldn’t really do anything else (not a too bad way of life if you ask me). So hot you couldn’t walk on the sand and the roads were melting…well, the hole-infested remains of roads….
So yeah basically I camped with these cool South Africans in a great hostel which was on the beach and hosted a 5-day reggae beach party. That was pretty cool.
On the last day we decided to try and find some whale-sharks which are most abundant off the coast of Mozambique than anywhere else. We didn’t find any. But we did swim with dolphins which was cetaceanly fun. Had amazing and amazingly cheap rice and fish/chicken here in some real cool little ‘restaurants’ (little wooden huts), which was all that you could get.
Having said bye to the excellent little group of South Africans (and Mauritian) I had been hanging around with I headed to Inhambane, a really beautiful little town just inland from Tofo. It was quite unique in that it looked well painted, clean, green and safe…not a normal scenario in Mozambique…..probably a left over popular place with the Portuguese. Oh yeah, so incase you’re unaware, Mozambique was colonised by the Portuguese, hence why they speak the language….and not much else. Hardly anyone speaks English, so I used my Spanish which seemed to work quite well, until I say something and everyone stops what they’re doing and stares at me. That’s when you claim you’re a ignorant British tourist and leave quickly…
Maputo was my last Mozambican stop which contrary to what people had told me, I found quite pretty and good fun. Its very green…trees everywhere and markets and tuktuks. And actually the roads here were pretty OK. Only probably was that the pavements were horrendous. I guess they substituted the funding from the pavements to the roads. So I guess the message is if you’re old or in a wheelchair, Maputo isn’t the best place to come for a relaxed break (maybe more so a bone-break….ha ha ha…….). Anyway, spent the days walking around the city, going to museums, sitting in cafes with a great Australian guy I met and pretending not to speak English so craft sellers get put off and very confused.
It was also very hot here (like averaging ~40 degrees), but on my last day it rained as got on my weirdly religious coach (they bowed their heads and said a prayer to protect the coach and passengers on ‘this long and dangerous journey ahead’) back to Jo’burg.
When I arrived I met my great friend Calvin from uni, and stayed with him for a bit and then another friend who lives on a farm just outside the city which involved in the hilarious situation of me attempting to drive her dad’s tractor.
I then flew to Cape Town, where I stayed with my friend Paul from uni. Ok this is a very serious point, and if you only remember this one sentence from this whole post I will be happy; Cape Town is the best city in the world. I cannot think of a city I’ve ever been to, or a city that could possibly be, as good as Cape Town. The best thing about it for me is how you can do literally what ever you want, Cape Town has it. Mountain climbing? Yep. Swimming in reservoirs in a gigantic national park? For sure. Wine tasting in vast vineyards while watching the African sunset over the Atlantic ocean? Too easy. Walk casually through insanely beautiful gardens, see 100,000 year old stone tools, see Desmond Tutu, shop for real cool t-shirts and African CD’s, slouch in a cafe with the perfect view of Lion’s head, kitesurf/surf/swim in the sea surrounded by fish&chips shops, the best ice-cream this side of Bangladesh, and Table Mountain National Park? Yes we can.
There’s literally not enough space on the internet for me to write enough cool stuff about this incredible place. I stayed with Paul and his parents in Muizenberg, which was idyllic. 5 minutes from beautiful beaches, 5 minutes from stunning hikes and walks in table mountain national park, 1 minute from the local train station connecting you to anywhere from central Cape Town down all the way to Simon’s Town (yes it’s a real place, and yes it’s definitely a sign that I should move there) near Cape Point.
So anyway I was there primarily to carry out some research with a professor in archaeology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which also happens to be the best university in Africa. I organised this by emailing him randomly, and it involved looking through 110,000 year old ‘shell midden’ samples from caves along the Western Cape coast. This was stuff that early humans unearthed and I was identifying animal bones in the samples to find out what these early humans ate and also I found a stone tool (the first person to touch it since the early human 110,000 years ago)…pretty flipping amazing.
The professor (Prof. John Parkington) took me to look around some of the caves he excavates in around the Western Cape one day which was absolutely incredible (there were wall paintings and handprints everywhere) He drove me up in his landrover which was a great opportunity to ask any questions I wanted over the 3 hours about how I could get to be a world-famous palaeoanthropologist (which is definitely going to happen, don’t worry).
UCT must be one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, set on the slopes of Table Mountain and it’s old buildings covered in ivy. One day I went and chatted to other researchers in the department and it was at this point that I realised that I have to live in Cape Town at some point, or preferably for most of my life. Wow. And so I hope to my masters at UCT in palaeoanthropology (human evolution), which is so relevant here as the fossils are being found literally down the road. Craziness.
Turns out Paul wasn’t actually in Cape Town for most of the time I was there but staying with his dad and step-mum was a real pleasure; they were incredibly hospitable and gave me my own little flat in the garden to stay in (which Danny Devito’s son also stayed in weirdly). To partially try and repay them, I cooked my famous Thai green curry one night which if I recall correctly Paul’s dad regarded as ‘the best thai green curry I’ve ever had’. I can easily say that this period was one of the best times of my life.
The people in CT seem so on the ball and great. I met a guy who came up with the idea to improve lighting and nutrition in the townships by placing plastic bottles fill of water in the roofs of houses which would otherwise have no lighting, and growing vertical gardens on the side of the house. These people seem to really care about their city and everyone in it.
I also met up with some SA friends I met in Mozambique who live in CT, so hung around with them for a while which was amazing; including going to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens to see the SA band Freshly Ground live which was a great gig and insane venue. This is actually one of the best things I love about Cape Town: how you can so easily feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, completely in the middle of nature, but you’re right in the centre of the city. Just the most amazing place.
Me and Paul climbed Lion’s Head (one of the famous two mountains next to the table) also one day which has mind-blowing views of the stunning Clifton beaches and the ‘twelve apostles’ on one side and table mountain and the city along the other. The only thing I could think and which was recurring in my mind the whole time I was there was ‘can this place get any better?’ Apparently so, yes.
We also drove over to Cape Point (the Cape of Good Hope) where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. In a moment of geniusness, I hid in the boot so we would only have to pay entry for on person…
It was very hard to leave this incredible place but Grahamstown was a-calling. I actually felt right at home arriving back, and it’s been a great first term now that I know a lot more people and understand the weird languages and behaviour (like saying ‘hey’ at the start and end of every sentence and also using the pool as a shower during 4-day water outages like right now).
My parents are arriving in 3 days time so it’s a very exciting time, and I’m sure there will be sufficiently interesting news to tell all soon…