Adventures in Africa

Chapter 14 - Heavenly Zimbabwe III - The $ lottery

The train station in Harare is in a not-so-nice part of the city. We have difficulties to find a place to sleep at. In the end we manage to find a double room in the well known "sable lodge" for 14US$. Don't be mistaken by the world "lodge". It is a backpackers' place with a small garden and a swimming pool. Its price is a fortune even in Zimbabwean standards. Remember that we paid 12$ for a chalet in Hwange ! They also accept Zim$ in an exchange rate of 21. We go downtown, and find a big branch of the English tour agency "Thomas Cook". They also cash traveller cheques and have an up-to-date exchange rate. We see that now the US$ is worth 23 Zim$, so paying to the lodge in Zim$ is cheaper. That time we don't know how many times we will look at it.

We start to use taxis a lot in town. There is a taxi station next to our lodge. Differently from elsewhere in Africa, the taxis here work by the meter which is much easier. You don't have to bargain, especially that a ride costs only about half a US$. Practically we stop using our legs and start to utilize the taxis for any distance grater than 500 meters...

Next day we pass by Thomas Cook and see that there was again a 10% devaluation and the rate is now 25. We decide to pay for the accommodation all in advance before they will update their prices. We decide to go to Mbare market which is described in the guidebook as "Zimbabwe's largest market. Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., it hums constantly, crowded with shoppers, travellers and sales and business people. Shoppers can find everything from second-hand clothing and appliances to herbal remedies, African crafts and jewellery. Fresh fruit and vegetables can bought in the local produce stalls at a fraction of supermarket prices.". They have there also a section which resembles a bit La Paz's (Bolivia) witch market. Another special thing is a beer garden, but not as in East African countries where they sell the international brands, here it is all "Chibuku" locally made beer. Its acid taste, ugly appearance and relatively low alcohol content make it a beer for the poor and simple people. In the beer garden you see people who are drinking the beer from a one litter containers. They are all quite drunk and the line to the toilets is very long. The atmosphere reminds the one of Oktoberfest in Europe. What we see here for the first time in Africa are completely drunk women. What a pity for them.

We have about one more week in Zimbabwe. Lukas has even less. He flies back to Switzerland in 3 days. We decide to go and check what is the best way to go back to Kenya, where our flight back to Israel is from. We think about several alternatives (listed from the cheapest to the most expensive):

  1. Go all the way by surface. We will spend at least 4 days on the bad roads of Africa.
  2. Go to Malawi by surface (there is a good road connecting Harare and Blantyre in about 10 hours drive). Continue to Kenya by air.
  3. Fly to Kenya through Malawi and have a stop over there.

We go to Thomas Cook and ask for the prices. The 3 hours one way flight from Malawi to Kenya costs around 300US$ and is payable in US$. A flight From Harare to Kenya, with a stop-over in Malawi, costs around 330US$ and is payable in Zim$. Every 3 months the airline companies make the calculation of the value of the 330US$ in Zim$. Since in July 1st, the last time they did the calculation, the exchange rate was 17 and now is almost 26, the flight ticket will actually cost us only 210US$ !!! A real bargain! It's like we are paid 90US$ for not making the Zimbabwe-Malawi section by bus, but by air... Needless to say that we buy the tickets.

The last days with Lukas we will spend camping in a resort called Hippo Pools. It is a resort which is ran by a white family and is located inside a national park. It's ideal for few days of hiking, canoeing and relaxing at the camp. There is also a swimming hole in one of the tributaries of the Mazowe river. The name "Hippo Pools" derives from the numerous hippos that live in the river. Before going to the resort we buy delicious food in the supermarkets - a "Mukuyu Select" bottle, good cheeses and all kinds of other products for cooking. Hippo pools itself is discovered to be as Lukas says, "Very Yeke". This means that the reserve is a bit too much organized. There is a nice veranda overlooking the river and an extensive net of marked walking paths. There is a viewing platform on a tree overlooking a small water pan, so one can see the animals from the platform without interfering them.

There is a nice veranda overlooking the river.

Overall we plan to stay 4 days in the resort. The first 2 days we spend with Lukas, who is going to fly back home right after that. We mainly have a big pause consisting of talking and eating. The farthest we go from our tent is to the water hole, 10 minutes walk away. After Lukas goes away, we go one day to hike in the resort and on the other day we do canoeing. Rowing the canoe upstream isnĘt easy at all. We approach a group of hippos and decide to stop and have a look at them from a small islet. 5 meters before we arrive to the shore, a crocodile who was sleeping on the shore is awaken by the noise we make and rushes into the water! We really get scared and decide not to stop there. If the crocodile were clever it would wait for us to get on shore in order to eat us... We get closer to the hippos and have a thorough look from around 10 meters. We feel that we are indeed in Africa...

The water hole.

We go one day to hike in the resort.

We return to Harare. It's Friday today and we plan to go to the synagogue for the evening ceremony. Before that, we pass by Thomas Cook and are amazed to see that the US$ is at 31.85Zim$! more than 20% devaluation during the last 4 days, and more than 50% devaluation since we arrived, 2 weeks ago! We have the feeling that Zimbabwe is "on sale", and that we should take advantage of it. In other words - we feel rich! The only country in the world where we have ever felt rich is India. Differently from India, where you donĘt have many things of good quality, here you can do very much with your money. And this is why and when we started a 3 days shopping trip in the stores of Harare. We bought all kinds of cloths - shoes, swimming suits, skirts, dresses, several pairs of jeans, and many shirts. All of good quality and are worn by us till today. We also eat very well. We go for lunch and for supper to the best restaurants in town, and choose the dishes without looking at the prices... It is in Harare that I first eat crocodile meat. Tali, who usually isn't interested in finance, starts to be so. Before we change money we always shop around, since the differences between the banks are huge. Mainly because they change the rates at different times during the day. Yes, that's right, the banks update the exchange rates several times daily! It's only Thomas Cook who updates the rates once daily, at 11 o'clock sharp. In our last day in Harare, we see from 8 o'clock rate that the Zim$ becomes 10% stronger than yesterday. We rush to Thomas Cook and change a big amount which for sure will suffice for today's shopping. What is left, after the shopping we sell back to Thomas Cook, after 11 o'clock, and make from it even a profit...

Apart from shopping, the other major events in Harare are Friday night in the synagogue and the Jewish New Year. On Friday evening we go to the synagogue. The Jewish congregation in Harare is very small, and everybody promptly recognizes us as strangers. When the people understand that we are backpackers from Israel we are welcomed very warmly. There aren't many Israeli travellers in Zimbabwe, and as far as we know, we're the only ones in Harare. In that night we are invited to eat the Sabbath dinner with somebody from the synagogue. Another man invites us for the New Year's dinner at Mrs. Naim's. Mrs. Naim is about 80 years old, and invites every year some 30 people to the new years dinner. She has a big house in a very good neighborhood. In fact, she lives less than 100 meters from where the prime minister of Zimbabwe lives. She has a crew of about 5 black servants who help her with the household. She herself prepared the food, and the serhelp in serving it. We sit around a big U-shape table covered by an elegant white tablecloth. The cutlery is 100% silver made. Mrs. Naim is an excellent hostess. She is all the time looking at her guests to see that they are well. If somebody looks a bit bored she will talk with him. If she feels that somebody is too shy to take a second portion, she will gently offer it to him. She has a silver bell which she uses in order to call the servants. In the beginning we feel a bit uncomfortable about the black servants, but soon discover that they are well treated by Mrs. Naim, and that they will have all the extra food which will be left after the meal is over. In fact, it is well known that black servants prefer to work for the Jewish residents of Harare. Talking about food - never have we eaten in such luxury such good food. The desserts are especially good - an excellent strawberry souffle and an overwhelming marzipan that simply knock us down.

Before we go to the airport to catch the flight to Malawi we pass by the supermarket and buy several bottles of good red wines - Zimbabwe's Mukuyu Select and South Africa's Nederburg. Because of the devaluation, imported South African wines are cheaper here than in its country of origin...

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Last modified: Sat Jun 19th 20:35:00 IST 1999