Traveling by train is a luxury that I rarely pass up. In Zimbabwe these opportunities are few but I managed to confirm a second class ticket on board the “express” train from Bulawayo to Harare. Five of us crammed into the small cabin meant to hold one more, with me being the only foreigner.
One guy, an older gentleman, was hammered and through slurred speech and wobbly hand gestures he tried to explain to me the back story of British rule in Southern Africa.
At the same time one of the other guys, also well on his way to being drunk, wanted to regale me with stories of his brother who now lived in Wellington New Zealand. He seemed to find it unusual that I did not know his brother.
Eventually the sixth and final member of our Harare bound band enters the cabin. Realizing the festivities ongoing he quickly joined in with the idea of catching up.
Who wants to be sober in a cabin of drunks?
The cabin lights weren’t working so we made a fuss and were eventually moved to another one. When darkness finally fell, and it was time to sleep, we realized the lights in our new abode would not turn off. Now we want our old cabin back…no such luck.
It was a rough night; when we pulled into the station I bolted.
I had just one hour to find the Blue Arrow office in order to purchase my onward bus ticket. Tonkai, one of my cabin cohorts, insisted on us taking a taxi. Somewhere, on the outskirts of town, he and the driver get into an argument; so concluded the taxi ride.
I now have 20 minutes to find Blue Arrow.
At 7:40 AM the Blue Arrow sign comes into sight, ticket purchased I board, and the bus leaves immediately. For the first time in many hours life is peaceful and Tonkai and his band of merry drunks are left back in Harare as I head for the lake-shore town of Kariba.
Kariba is a small town sitting on the shore of man-made lake Kariba. It has two areas of shops. One being Kariba Heights. A collection of five stores all manicured and adjacent to the lawn bowling green filled with white Africans dressed in the appropriate garb. White spiked shoes, white or cream pants and shirt, a bowling hat with either a black or white ribbon around it. This area was on top of a hill and looked out over the surrounding area. A pinnacle of white dominance…if you want to go there.
The other area where goods and services were offered was down the hill and around the corner. It was the township of Kariba and as I wandered it was apparent immediately that here I was a minority of one.
It was busy, colorful, hot, and alive; I felt at home even with the stares. Nothing seemed awkward or unsafe and even though my newly returned money belt was again strapped around me I never felt alarmed. I think I was viewed as a bit of an oddity and this only intensified when the heat sent me into a dizzy spell. I drank water like I was trying to put out a fire deep inside. I burned up and swayed for some time. The only white face in a sea of black-faced smiles and concerned expressions.
On my initial steps toward departure I was offered a lift to my camp which I accepted and met a couple of drunk drivers who dropped me off safely with an ear full of local stories.
Walking in the blazing midday sun had been with purpose; I needed supplies.
The Zambezi is one the world’s great rivers with its most notable feature being Victoria Falls. It is 1600 miles long and cuts its way through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique before reaching the shores of the Indian ocean.
Tomorrow morning at 6:15 AM I will canoe the mighty river for four days ending my journey at another of Zimbabwe’s national parks; Mana Pools. Along with me will be four others.
On the night prior to setting out I eat dinner on the banks of the river; just a sandwich. I think about how this trip could be one of the great ones for me. I think about the adventure, the hippos being the recognized number one killer of man in Africa, the crocodiles, the lions, and all manner of wildlife that populate the route. I am mesmerized by my own anticipation.
The river flows by. It has already conquered the depth and turbulence of Victoria Falls, the devastating rapids of the canyons, and is now wide and meandering. On one bank is Zimbabwe; the other Zambia. My interactions with both, and the wildlife in between, will leave with me impressions I could not have foretold.
In the morning I will ride the will of the Zambezi.