At Victoria falls, I celebrate three years of traveling to the south pole. And all I’d like to do is to jump of a bridge. So here goes…
I look at the falls by the light of the moon. Watch the beautiful ‘moon rainbow’, shining across the water. The mist makes this picture look totally unreal. Dreamlike, the stupendous waterfest flickers in and out of vision. Mostly black and white, because of the night, and a full colour rainbow. Unreal.
So, the next day I jump off a bridge.
I’m totally super happy without having a clue of why that should be. What kind of demented flake would become happy an instant before plunging down a 110 metres or so? Arms spread, I’m poised on the edge of the bridge. The view is deafening! I look sideways. Shouldn’t there be some doubt about all this? Isn’t there supposed to be some sane person rushing toward me right now, trying to forcefully restrain me? Should I restrain myself?
Unrestrained happiness. Oh well.
I jump off.
Only thing I can shout out loud, on the way down:
I love you world!
You are soooo beautifulll!
And in my head, whispering loudly:
…What a wonderful world…
At Vic Falls I met Marleen. She walked into a bar near Shoestrings campsite, where I was camping. A dutchwoman who has been living in Zimbabwe for three years now. Left Holland only a few days after I did, in 2005. Fun facts are everywhere.
Marleen works for ‘Shearwater’, a company that organises several recreational activities in Vic Falls: Bungee-jumps, gorge-swings, elephant safari’s… She drags me all over the place and I’m enjoying every second. We visit the small village of Monde (‘World’), and Mpisi’s family that have adopted here. There we eat satsa in their clay hut, listen to Mpisi’s stories. Mpisi has a hut set aside especially for tourists that want to experience Africa from ‘the inside’.
When Marleen finds out that I have barely seen any wildlife during my 2,5 years of African travel (though heard plenty of it at night from my tent), she introduces me to Ian Dupreez.
He is a wildlife ranger in the reserve that is Vic Falls. And this is how a tractor safari ensues, complete with heaps of wildlife way close to me and the tractor…
Ian brings his whole family.
Marleen Post takes pictures… from safe heights
We team up early in the morning in front of Ian’s house. Marleen hitched a ride on the tractor, a 90 minutes ride, and it’s cold like a dutch winter morning. Mom’s got the coffee ready and everyone climbs into the car. I stay behind on the tractor. The house is surrounded by zebras and warthogs.
We enter the reserve. First target: Black rhinos. Yeah right. These are about to go extinct. As if we’d ever gonna see those! But after 30 minutes of beautiful nature, we halt at a watering hole.
Ian has been nursing black rhinos for over a year. 6 months ago, they were reintroduced into the wild, but they tend to return sometimes, for a drink. Ian notices that they’ve just been here, and my short flare of hope comes down again.
Breakfast is being conjured into existence by mom. Cornflakes.
I’m being camped out in the wild, with breakfast and tractor, while Marleen and the family chat and chow at a safe height, on a scaffolding further along. The three kids run and play with a stunning display of ignoring the possible existence of predators. They grew up here. The youngest tends to get nervous only with people around.
That’s when three black rhinos choose to make an appearance from behind the bushes. Swiftly, safe positions are taken on the scaffold. Ian stays on the ground to keep an eye on things.
Rhinos are, mildly put, somewhat unpredictable (and become easily aggravated, something I’d really like to not know at this moment).
They eye the green tractor anxiously. ‘What the flipping heck now…?’ Ian makes some soothing noises, tosses food around.
Slowly, a black rhino approaches the tractor…
‘yeeeeesss, good boy… goooooooood boy!’
A tremendous silence engulfs me.
I’m totally taken by the moment.
Three of these gargantuan, about to be extinct creatures in front of my face. Blowing, snorting, growling.
Everything drops away, I sense an enormous amount of peace coming over me. Try to stay like that. Calm.
And at the same time: alertness. I’d better start the engine if the proverbial excrement makes tentative attempts to interface with the fan. Rhinos are pretty sensitive to noise. I’m totally ready for this.
Them and me.
One by one, the animals come forward to check this thing out. Grazing around. An occasional look. Heavy shit. Big respect for these guys, contact is the thinnest line here. A few times things get severely S-C-A-R-Y. Which, of course, I’d never admit to myself right then.
When one of them, with those giant horns, stands there watching me, close to my leg. Soil seems to be trembling with excitement. If he chooses to lash out at this very instant, there will be no more leg. I can’t move. Not even my hand on the ignition of my tractor. Going to have to wait until he moves, though I’ll probably never match the speed of this prehistoric thing.
Unbearably slowly, he turns around. Slides his horn over my front tyre. Hhhhhm! Sniffs the hood and scrapes his torso against the tractor. Gets his horn stuck on the Deutz-logo panel. Tractor and I are being rocked as if we weigh nothing.
After an hour, when the rhinos have moved off to other pastures, Ian smiles and states that it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t realize just how tense this whole thing was.
My legs tremble. You could say that I must have had some tiny inkling of the tensenessness, and yes, that was quite sufficient, thank you.
and okay, rather exciting.
We move on in our vehicles. Into the bush. With one hand on the wheel trying to control the tractor on these bumpy sand tracks, I video Marleen and the kids on the back seat of Ian’s 4×4 with the other. The kids keep staring at the green tractor.Apparently, they think it’s quite cool.
We’re on our way to the lion’s nursery. I’m pretty certain that Ian is already racking his brains about the way the cats are going to react to the tractor. This does not entirely pacify any of my own insecurities. We’re talking about the guy that parked me next to three black rhinos here!
Just before they unleash the lions upon me, he tells me keep a straight eye contact… ‘Never break eye contact!’ They also generously supply me with a little stick.
‘If they jump the tractor, you have to shout a resolute ‘DON’T!’ and point at them.’
I’m not quite sure how convincing this is going to be in a volatile-lion-shaped-object-approaching-by-way-of-an-arial-Manon-bound-trajectory-situation.
And he thinks HE’s nervous?
I’m somehow reminded of the pictures I’d seen the previous day at the ‘Ultimate Lodge': A hunter’s lodge ran by Russel, a mega tough fellow in a wheelchair. He showed me a photo of a lion he had shot , together with some other wheelchair guy.
Jeeeeez, its head is about the size of me.
Fortunately, these cats are younger, not as huge.
I might have sincerely shat my pants then and there.
a couple of lions… And yes, I’m up on the tractor poking my twig…
Easy. There’s hundreds of ‘m in and around this reserve, and in neighbouring Botswana. The animals here are the biggest in the world. Something to do with some specific substance in the soil and therefore the food chain. The whole family gets excited when we encounter two elephants. They are Gigantic!
Ian tosses a few lumps of food on my hood so Marleen can take pictures, which gets me surrounded by elephants in no time.
Some VIP-treatment, dear god! The grey behemoths are way higher than me.
I feel like Queen Elizabeth on her throne. Though I wonder whether she’d have been able to keep her majestic cool, with one of them tremendously huge tusks wedged toward her rib cage…
Wild elephant feeding.
Farewell to the worlds’ biggest mammals. Starting engines, off home again! We have a coffee at Ian’s and I feel positively charged from all I’ve seen. That was some walk in the park!
It’s the afternoon, I’m teaching the street children of Vic Falls how to drive a tractor. Spontaneous initiative.
We left the village toward the big baobab tree, all together on the tractor. At the tree, I tell stories of my journey, about camping out in the wild.
The street children of Vic Falls have united, calling themselves ‘streetwise’. A vic falls girl has originated this group. She makes sure they get food on a regular basis, teaches them, and made contact with a.o. Robert Koch’s ‘Drumming Company’ (who arrange concerts and drumming lessons in Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana). Regularly, the children perform, with the drummers backing them up.
It’s great to see a community of young people taking good care of these children. And I’m glad I can join in. Teaching tractor driving. Apparently small things that might help people aspire or dream. And I believe these street kids have a tremendous amount of talent for self-development, enabling them to go out there and get things done. When given a chance. It’s nice to know they don’t have to do it on their own.
Meanwhile, political developments aren’t exactly static. And although up to here, this article hasn’t mentioned any of it, the reality is that every day in Zimbabwe is coloured by the political status quo. Inflation is totally out of control. Food becomes unaffordable. Stories and rumours about violence reach the little town. In between photo opportunities, conversations are mainly about politics. People worry, or are amazingly perseverant.
In some neighbourhoods, people are drafted at night for ‘re-education’. A new method of the ruling Zanu pf party, instructing them in ‘proper voting’. Chanting party hymns. Marching in the streets. People working the tourist trade at night only find out from family or friends.
Morgan Tsvangirai, opposition leader, finds shelter at the dutch embassy. Marleen and I discuss the meaning of all this. I decide to phone the embassy and I have a long talk with Anna, who I got to know there.
Two days before the elections people suddenly start to talk. I find out that everybody just kept quiet until now, trying not to worry others. Now I find out that nobody sleeps where he lives, for fear of violence. There’s an armed raid on a beautiful lodge in the reserve 60 clicks from here. In plain sight of the guests, local staff is forced to sing party hymns: If they don’t ‘properly’ vote for the government party, they’ll return to massacre their families. All tourist companies in Vic Falls assemble. Many of them decide to halt business for now. Hoping this will all be over soon, there are many mouths to feed off the already pover tourist industry.
The Dutch embassy (and anna) cautiously ask me to leave the country. There was so much more to do, but anyway. must move on.
I leave at election day. It’s almost impossible to get all my stuff packed in time, saying goodbyes, go.
I discover I won’t be alone on the tractor today: Rob (“drumming company”) will be joining me, and Kelly, daughter of one of the local opposition leaders wants to come too. Her parents think it’s a good idea, they’ve been in hiding for days, not even their daughter knows where. Kelly has been living at ‘Shoestrings’ the last weeks, and has doubts about her security.
It becomes pretty obvious how everyone here has been trying to keep one anothers hopes up. Hope, needed for a peaceful transition. But this is the day of truth. The day people talk about the situation, what is really going on. Barely anyone bothers to go out and vote, but all of them put dye on their fingers to show proof that they did.
In the morning soldiers were marching the streets demonstrationally. Apparently that’s normal. The street children are off their normal spots, they’ve been invited at Shoestrings for food and shelter.
It’s already getting dark when I pass the gates. Suddenly everyone I’ve taken to are in front of me. They give Rob, Kelly,Biba, tractor and me a little shove. “and off you go!”
At the border, stuff becomes exciting. My visa papers aren’t entirily up to specs (which everyone failed to mention when I crossed the bridge together with Marleen and Garth two days ago).
The woman behind the counter looks at me with an expression that women have been known to express. Not good. Rob and Kelly try to help out, but that only derails the situation further.
The border lady gives me my options:
2. she doesn’t want to say.
A secret service person asks questions.
The woman gets even more angry and is definitely NOT liking me more and more. This issue is flying off the hook right here.
I give prayer a shot. Up to here, I was having a great time in Zimbabwe!
I don’t have to pay a $ 100 fine.
Nor will I be locked away.
Free to go.
Outside, in the dark, the secret service man and a few other cops come over to have chat. They seem truely impressed with the journey and the tractor. They kindly ask me to forget what just happened, and ask loads of questions. They wish me the best, and courage.
Great Zimbabwe, farewell…
I wish you nothing but the best.
…and your people are great, intelligent, gentle and beautiful
We cross the bridge in the dark, driving a tractor to Livingstone.
We spend the night in a ‘drummer’ house. Next day, a gig in a beautiful lodge along Zambezi River. Reminds me of a japanese drum band I played with in Holland, and I miss it.
After a weekend in Livingstone (Gruppy?s Grotto, Jolly Boys and a somewhat obscure discotheque) I move on toward the Botswana border…
And suddenly time stops.
Check this out:
three years on the road, and the hour counter has come round to 000000!
The ferry crossing the four-country border:
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana & Namibia!
At the Kasane-Botswana border, they make me wade through a tray of decontaminant. Which is, in fact, totally blackened by the hundreds of people who went before me, but never mind. Botswana is mortified by foot and mouth disease, these trays are all over the place.
Biba, on the other hand, doesn’t have to do anything, is allowed to stay reclined on the tractor, sitting there being beautiful, with dry feet. And nobody is hassling me when I drive her over the border.
Which is for the best, since we’re expecting company!
So who are they, on the tractor?
For the first time in 3 years, my parents are visiting!
They’ve never been to Africa. It’s hard to believe, they’ve been with me in my thoughts for all this time.
But now it’s for real!
On our first day, we have to stop to make way for a crossing elephant. And that’s just the beginning!
“Chobezi”‘s Rex is planning a safari for us, eight days of nature in little tents and a 4×4. Meanwhile, his wife Bettina does an interview with me for the local paper. On our first safari day, we encounter Rex’s family on an afternoon trip through the reserve. Bettina calls out: ‘Now you’re on the front page of a Botswana paper! Everyone will know about your journey now!’ And hey, after a few days it looks suspiciously like every single person in Botswana knows everything about that girl on that tractor, collecting dreams.
This safari is going to be unforgettable! It’s impossible to keep count of the wildlife. Left, right, up, down, under, well basically everywhere: leopards, lions, elephants, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, impalas, kudus, cheetas, giraffes, pelicans, ground hornbills, African skimmers…
Birds in any colour you could wish for.
Sitting by the camp fire, every night. This is what I wanted my parents to experience… But I couldn’t have dreamed that it’d be this beautiful!
How nice to have my parents visiting!