Dumela. My name is Faisal Bakhteyar and for summer 2011, I will be interning at True Men Trust, an organization targeting HIV/AIDS issues in Francistown, Botswana. Through this travel blog, I hope to share with you my thoughts, experiences, and adventures in the most unadulterated manner.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls has been a location of dreams for me. As a self-proclaimed nature documentary nerd, I had seen the falls on tv on many occasions and was just absolutely blown away by their beauty and shear power….I knew that my trip to Botswana would put me well in reach of seeing the falls. I succeeded, but it was in no way an easy task. Here is my post about the last weekend on the Botswana trip:

As a Pakistani who is very fond of travelling, holding a green booklet labeled Islamic Republic of Pakistan is quite the challenge. I love my country of birth, but damn travelling is hard. Canadian, American, and British passport holders, if you want to bring new meaning and appreciation to your travels, become a Pakistani national and travel on a Pakistani passport (or not). That passport was my first challenge for the trip. I needed a visa for Zimbabwe prior to arrival at the border post. I set about getting all my papers and documents ready, making calls and what not, and basically held up the entire group’s ambitions while I sorted my stuff out. The last full week rolled by and I still hadn’t gotten my passport with a visa. Frantic phone calls with embassy officials yelling at me became the norm and I probably became the most hated figure at the Zimbabwean embassy in Gaborone.

At the end of the half working day on my last Friday, I had received confirmation that my visa had been stamped but my passport still needed to make its way back to me from Gaborone before I could start my journey. Isabelle and Thomas headed out and I stayed back anxiously waiting for the arrival of my passport. At this point, an amateur traveler who has not faced visa trouble before would have been in tears sobbing over the missed opportunity to see Vic Falls. Luck has played in our favour too many times this summer for it to be called luck. Fate. I woke up 7:30 Saturday morning, bags packed, with the intention of going and sitting in the DHL office when it opened at 8:00AM and waiting for my passport to arrive. At 8:30, just as the DHL office was in sight, the kind lady at DHL who I had convinced that this passport was a matter of life and death called to tell me the passport had arrived. I walked in while I was still on the phone with her, grabbed the package, thanked her, and literally ran to the bus rank.

At the bus rank, the Chobe Express heading to Kasane was waiting for its passengers. This is where the whole “we’ll move when the bus is full and not when we are scheduled to leave” policy just got too frustrating. I had a banana, made conversation about aging with an old man, and got too anxious. Plan B: hitching. I grabbed my bag and took a shared taxi to the hitchpoint for cars heading north. Traffic was thin and barely anyone was headed as far as I needed to go. I was getting desperate. On the other side of the road, an open back safari car had just pulled up and it belonged to one of the lodges operating day trips into Chobe National Park. The driver was buying cigarettes (and some other smokable stuff) and snacks for the trip. Desperate for a ride, I approached him and his biggest worry with letting me hitch was that the wind would be really bad. When is wind ever a concern? When you have a 6 hour journey in an open back car that actually can’t go more than 90kph because of the wind resistance. Make that 7 and a half hours. It was definitely a good time though. Amazing and genuine conversation with a safari guide who had left the hard drug life to do something he was passionate about. We got stopped by police and got a ticket, had lunch, and all along he was throwing knowledge at me like it was nobody’s business. By the end of that leg of the trip, we were basically bros.

The sun was going down fast, but atleast I was at the Kazungula Border Crossing into Zimbabwe with a valid visa in hand. The immigration guys were surprised (in a good way) by my passport. We made jokes. The Texans standing behind me were also surprised…but they were definitely sketched out. It was only fitting that their driver was the one that offered to take me from the border crossing into the Vic Falls town to meet up with the rest of the crew who had gone to Zambia for the day to swim in the Angel’s Armchair. Check out their blogs…some crazy stuff.

Zimbabwe was different. You could sense desperation from people and I, for the first time on the entire trip, felt like a tourist. To everyone in Vic Falls, that’s exactly what a I was and it was weird. The desperation was so bad that I felt uncomfortable at times. People selling souvenirs to tourists were offering 3 or 4 souvenirs for silly things like the white t-shirt I was wearing, or my water bottle, or anything I was carrying really. Money wasn’t the biggest priority. The biggest priority was securing the 5 elemental necessities for life.

Saturday night I went to sleep in our tent knowing that I had accomplished a MAJOR hurdle and that I had literally won the battle of travelling. (Im actually fearless because of that experience). The rumbling of the waterfalls a kilometer away was the perfect lullaby.

Sunday morning, Thomas and I headed out for our adrenalin pumping white water rafting attempt on the world’s most dangerous rapids on the Zambezi River. The girls went bungee jumping and gorge swinging on a bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe with the falls a whole 30 meters away. For us, A 700-foot gorge descent in crappy non-hiking shoes, clear skies, and raging white water. We’re a crazy bunch.

Thomas and I returned at 2 absolutely exhausted. I had yet to see the actual falls and had an hour before we Haddd to leave for Botswana. With soggy shoes, I ran to the Vic Falls National Park, paid a very hefty entrance fee, and headed for the falls. The next part is a bit strange to describe. I don’t even have good pictures of it because I was too scared to pull out my camera with all the mist (It was practically raining). Think of a kilometer long waterfall that drowns out all of the sounds in your head and covers you in shiny cool water that rises from below your feet. Add a double rainbow. That is Victoria Falls. The desperate commercialization and overpricing was a bit sad, but I succeeded. Now how on earth do you get back to Francistown, Botswana from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on a Sunday evening when no buses run between the two places? You hitchhike. I’m not going to talk about these hitchhikes, but they were a death-defying good time. In the end, we made it back for work on Monday morning and I achieved the unachievable.