Arrived in Harare after a long flight from London, January 6th, 1999. A bit nervous as didn't really know what to expect from Africa, and having heard plenty of bad stories expected the worst.
It seemed pretty normal upon arrival. This is the view out of the
'Small World' guesthouse in Harare. Sat, had a tea, visited with other
backpackers, feeling better already. Later it would become clear just how
easy and well organized Zimbabwe is compared to its neighbors to the north.
Looking down one of the sidewalks going to the downtown. Seems lush, nice. We are warned to avoid walking around at night however. One girl staying at the guesthouse had her passport picked when she was walking downtown. Having photocopies of the ID page of her passport plus the relevent visas would have made her life a lot easier.
Harare's downtown also seemed pretty normal. Feels british in a lot of ways, a lot more colonial influence than I was used to from travelling in Asia.
I had two weeks on my own before the tour started. All I had as a definate 'must do' was to see Victoria falls and do some white water rafting there. While at the guesthouse another traveller enthusiastically recommended canoeing down the Zambezi. Organizing this was a simple matter taking myself and my Visa card to the travel agent in the guesthouse.
Up at 4.00am to catch the minibus for long ride to Chirundu, where
we loaded our canoes and set off. This is what I booked:
on the Chirundu to Mana Pools trip.
The canoeing itself was mostly straightforward, what made it tough
...all the 'pods' (herds) of hippos everywhere. Apparently these seemingly mild looking cow-like creatures are quite capable of rushing the canoes and knocking them over, whereupon if they don't get you in the water the crocodiles will.
Quote: "Nearly all of the famous African explorers and hunters--Livingstone,
Stanley, Burton, Selous, Speke,
DuChaillu--had boating mishaps with hippos. All considered the hippo to be a wantonly malicious beast. Not long
ago Spencer Tyron, a white hunter, was killed while hunting near the shores of Lake Rukwa, Tanzania. A bull
hippo turned over the dugout canoe from which Tyron was shooting, and bit off his head and shoulders."
BIT OFF HIS HEAD AND SHOULDERS?!!
Writing this now, I think back to when I was standing on the riverbank with a big lump of dirt in my hand, thinking, 'should I throw this at that big hippo staring at me or not?' I didn't, but it was a close thing. Ah, human nature.
Article on hippos:
Setting up camp for the night. It was warned to sleep INSIDE the tents, no matter how hot it was. Hippos (again) are the problem, as they wander from the river to the shore and if you are sleeping out, they can simply step on you. As they weigh a ton or more this is not good. The tents are seen as more of a solid object by them and they go around.
Waking up in the morning and finding (yep) hippo tracks around the
Overall the canoeing trip (4 days, 3 nights) was a great experience,
the best single thing I did in Africa. Other than more hippos than one
could shake a paddle at, we saw elephants (this one crossed the river behind
us, quite a sight in itself), crocodiles, deer-like things, snakes, and
at night got an earful of lions roaring at each other. Fish jumped in the
boat, storms chased us, and one night it rained harder than I have ever
seen before or hope to see again. The guides (thanks Goliath safaris) and
the other people on the tour were all excellent.
Once back in Harare I caught a plane to Victoria Falls. This is the
loft of our guesthouse, very nice.
Victoria falls themselves, impressive, but nothing like the whitewater
rafting that followed.
The rafts all bunched together before heading down the Zambezi. Got thrown out twice, the second time when the entire raft flipped end for end in a particularly bad rapid. Very happy the raft did not go over a third time, was just about done the second time they fished me out.