Sunday, June 7, 2015, 02:31 PM
Last stop before going home. Flying back from Jo to Frankfurt to SFO tomorrow, arriving SFO on June 9.
Staying at Shoestring Airport Hotel, 85 Gladiator St, Rhodesfield, Kempton Park, email@example.com 3 kms from the airport - 300 Rand ($24). The people at the information desk of the airport had told me the cheapest hotel near the airport was $240... i managed to find something 1 tenth of that price. And they give you free rides to/from the airport.
Friday, June 5, 2015, 09:56 AM
Two days in Mauritius. Staying in Mahebourg, 7 kms from the airport, but a 1-2 hour bus ride from the capital, Pt Louis.
Mauritius is an interesting anthropological experiment because it is 70% Indian, a former colony of a Catholic power and it has a lot of mosques. So it is a hybrid of Hindu, Muslim and Catholic civilizations.
Much cheaper than Seychelles and with a lot more to see.
The capital, Pt Louis, is an experiment within an experiment because it looks like a little Singapore. Maybe that's the model they are aspiring to.
Even the architecture is beginning to resemble Singapore's.
I am staying in Mahebourg, 7 kms from the airport (25 rupees by bus).
My guesthouse is Le Saladier (Rue Lachaux, aubergelesaladier.com 1000 Rupees for a room with private bath, tv set, etc) and there are others in the same price range, a few blocks from the sea.
Nearby there is an excellent restaurant, La Colombe, with western and chinese menus, where i had a colossal vegetarian dinner for $10.
Foreign exchange at the airport is easy, good rates and no commission... exact opposite of Seychelles.
Mauritius has millions of taxi drivers. The bus stop at the airport is in the middle of the parking lot, before exiting the gate.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 04:32 AM
Not my kind of place, as expected.
After the fascist immigration (they asked every possible question about my staying), i was however pleasantly surprised by the prices. The place i booked for $40 is actually a chalet with kitchen, bathroom, etc, a very good deal, and buses cost 5 rupees, and most things in the supermarket are the same price as in the USA. Most tourists will never know any of these because they take the "package" for throusands of euros that include nice hotel, car rental, etc.
It is very hot and humid.
Victoria (the capital) is the typical superpolluted and supercongested town of the third world except with prices of the first world. Hard to breath with this heat.
Visiting the other islands required a budget that i don't have: the 20 minute ferry to Ladigue vosts $140 round trip.
Sad to see the giant turtles for which Seychelles are famous: they are kept in enclosures. These animals evolved elephant-like paws because they had no predators in these islands. Now there is a ferocious (and stupid) predator: the dog. So they have to kept in enclosures. Best place to see them is the botanic gardens.
Residence Charlette in Au Cap $130 for three days
All bus rides are 5 rupees.
Au Cap is 5 bus stops from the airport. The bus stop is outside the tiny airport: walk to the highway (50 meters) and walk left about 200 meters (to go to Au Cap) or just cross the street (to go to Victoria)
There are several guesthouses in Au Cap, all pretty much in the same price range (40 euros/night) eg Jamelah (by the beach) and Charlette (across the street).
Victoria (the capital) is a 30 minute bus ride from Au Cap.
Biking is impossible here because the roads are narrow and there is absolutely no bike lane, in fact not even walking (sidewalk or anything).
Restaurants are rare and extremely expensive. But you can buy snacks from the Indian "supermarkets".
Monday, June 1, 2015, 08:33 AM
One day in Pretoria waiting for my flight to the Seychelles (land of the giant turtles).
Staying at Pumbas (firstname.lastname@example.org, 1232 Arcadia St, 300 meters from the last Gautrain station called Hatfield): 290 rand ($22 or so) for a single room.
South Africa is a bit less expensive than Zimbabwe (and uses its own currency).
Gautrain from the airport to Hatfield is not cheap: 164 rand ($14)
Tomorrow i'll take Gautrain to go back to the airport.
Not sure if i will use the Internet at the Seychelles because everything seems to be so expensive there, but i will be back in Johannesburg on June 7.
Seychelles accommodation: most likely Residence Charlette, which is relatively near the airport, near a bus station and has chalets for $40 (that's cheap in Mahe/Victoria): www.residencecharlette.com
Saturday, May 30, 2015, 07:21 AM
Reached Harare, the capital, very nice city. I'm here till sunday night, then fly back to Johannesburg on June 1, then Seychelles.
Harare has very interesting and westernized architecture. Hard to believe that i am in Africa. I took dozens of pictures of buildings.
Epworth is about 20 minutes from the 4st st combi station and it has some balancing rocks along a 10 km loop. A very hot hike. The combi ride is 50 cents. entrance: $10.
Domboshava is about 30 minutes away from the same combi station ($1) and it has some petroglyphs. Personally i think the "ancient rock art" is neither ancient nor art, so the cave is mostly crap, but the landscape is worth the admission price ($10). I followed one route to reach the cave and then returned after summiting these petrified dunes or whatever they are.
People routinely complain about the government (although it is illegal to criticize Mugabe) but Zimbabwe is doing a lot better than most of Africa. If this is Zimbabwe with mismanagement, Zimbabwe with good management must be a rich country. I have seen absolutely no political riots/demonstrations.
This is one of the safest countries ever, certainly a lot safer than the USA.
People are always gentle and helpful. Good English is widely spoken.
And they seem to be very religious.
My diet has been a lot of bread, avocado, cheese. I rarely had to use a restaurant. I can buy everything at markets (most bus stations are also markets).
Favorite drink: Pure Joy juice (the last one that doesn't come in plastic).
Transportation in Zimbabwe is very easy and cheap near urban centers.
When you travel to the national parks, transportation turns into hitchhiking. The remote corners of the country can only be visited by rental car and sometimes only rental SUV.
Being a hiker usually helps me around the world but not in places where there are wild lions and elephants...
There are many bus companies but most foreigners only know Pathfinder, which is the luxury one. Anyway, they had a special from Vic Falls to Harare for $33 and i took it, so i experienced first-class travel. Still 12 hours total (7am - 9pm) plus stops.
I am staying at Small World Backpackers Lodge for $20 in a caravan (yes, an old RV converted to cheap room). Dorm beds are $12.
The combi from the bus station (Port Road ) to this place in Avondale (just past the Kensington shopping center) is 50 cents.
Small World is located on Argyle St & Ridge Rd, two blocks from Prince Edward Ave. If you continue straight on Argyle you get to the Avondale Shopping Mall in about 500 meters (restaurants, supermarkets, internet cafe, flea market).
There are frequent combis from the lodge to downtown for 50 cents.
Then i took a combi to Epworth (another 50 cents) to see the balancing rocks ($10), but way more interesting is the village across the street built among some other balancing rocks.
There are several buses Harare-Johannesburg but it will take you 18 hours to get there. The flight with Air Zimbabwe is $195 (Warning that Air Zimbabwe quotes prices without including the $50 airport tax).
Other places that would have been nice to see in Zimbabwe but require a car rental or an expensive package tour:
Lake Kariba (border with Zambia)
http://www.zimparks.org/index.php/parks ... ake-kariba
Mana Pools http://www.zimparks.org/index.php/parks ... mana-pools
Chimanimani park, south of Mutare (hiking, border with Mozambique)
http://www.zimparks.org/index.php/parks ... himanimani
Thursday, May 28, 2015, 10:10 AM
Seen Victoria Falls and hiked the whole way.
Best pictures are in the afternoon.
Virtually impossible to take pictures of the whole thing because the middle section is heavy rain nonstop and in any case the falls are wrapped in a thick mist. You do get completely wet. Completely. Luckily it was warm enough that my clothes dried in less than one hour. So my pictures will mostly show only about 10% of the whole span. And that's enough to dwarf any other waterfall i have seen except Iguacu (which remains #1). Baboons and warthogs on the trail (not very comfortable with the latter). Elephants roam the town after dark so you can't walk after 6pm and before 6am. Lots of cute signs "walk at your own risk".
Tomorrow 7:30am bus to Harare $33 - 12 hours with change in Bulawayo
Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 10:50 AM
Just reached the town of Victoria Falls. Tomorror big day at one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.
After hitchhiking back to the highway at the Mabale junction, i waited till about 12pm when the first bus came bound for Victoria Falls: $7, 3 hours. (Pathfinder is the only one that you can take at the Safari Lodge but arrives at 4pm)
Note: Tour vans returning empty to Victoria Falls might pick up hitchhikers for a small tip.
Confusingly, there are two "backpackers" hostels. One is called Victoria Falls Backpackers Lodge (357 Gibson Rd) and it is a bit nicer but out of town: $18 for dorm bed and i have the whole room for myself. The other one is closer to town, also has food and it is a bit cheaper ($15 for dorm bed) and it is called Shoestring Backpackers Lodge (one block from the main road).
The entrance to the falls is a steeeeep $30 and it is good only for one day. Since i arrived at 4pm, i decided to wait till tomorrow so i can do all the trails for the $30.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 10:50 AM
Quite an adventure to get to the park, which is the main "game" park of Zimbabwe. The bus drops you off at a junction on the highway.
There is no direct transportation to the park.
I had no doubt i could walk the last 11 kms even under the sun of Africa.
What i forgot is that lions and elephants don't really know where the borders of the park are, so it is not terribly safe to walk on the road.
I had to wait for rides. People do stop and give you rides. It is just that on this specific road that was very little traffic, so it took a while.
Note: i learned later that i was the only tourist who arrived this way. All the other (much younger) tourists arrived with either an organized tour or a rental car. That's the meaning of "adventure" and "backpacking" in 2015.
Anyway, the park is wonderfully organized, from campsites (not recommended unless you have a very sturdy tent because there are hyenas) to luxury lodges. I took a chalet surrounded by impalas. In the morning i woke up with the sun and saw Gyraffes and honeybeeja (spelling?) nearby. The real game drive was a bit disappointing. I was lucky to see a lion at the very beginning. After that, very little (at least compared with previous game drives i took in Africa).
People are very kind, helpful and honest.
And Zimbabwe is one of the safest countries in Africa.
I am pretty upset with the WEstern media that depict it as a country in ruin. It seems to be a rule: the safest countries are the ones described as dangerous.
Bus Bravo from Bula to Mabale $10 - 4 hours
Then hitchhiked to the entrance of the Hwange Park.
Game drive $45 for 3 hours
Campsite $17 (but you need a tent that will survive a hyena attack).
Pathfinder is the only bus company that takes the detour to the Safari Lodge (13 kms from the park entrance). The other companies leave you on the highway at Mabale (11 kms from the Safari Lodge).
The water is very drinkable (unless you are a paranoid Westerner who never drinks natural water).
Monday, May 25, 2015, 10:23 AM
I took Gautrain from Johannesburg's airport to Park Station (158 rand)
then bus to Masvingo with Greyhound (460 rand).
Exchange rate $1=12rand (but you'll never get that rate)
The flight from Jo to Harare would have been $200 with Zimbabwe Air.
Any way, the bus ride would have been fast on good roads except for border crossing. Wow. Never seen anything like that.
It took about 8 hours to get to the border. Nice, comfortable bus,
upper deck, window seat.
Then 2 hours to go through South African immigration, then we reach
the Zimbabwean side. I got the visa in 15 minutes ($30) and thought this was really fast. Then i got back into the bus and... started waiting.
There was a looooong like on buses in front of us. The driver had turned off the engine and started napping. It took 5 hours to reach the customs inspection. They checked all the luggage and then we finally entered Zimbabwe: at 4:30am. Then 4 hours to Masvingo on a fast highway.
We arrived that it was morning so pointless to look for a hotel. I looked for the combi to Great Zimbabwe (the medieval ruins). They are on Hughes Rd next to Pick & Pay supermarket. $2 for a 30 minute ride.
Walked the last 1.5 kms into the park past he touristy lodge.
There is a campground for $10 and dorm beds for $7.
Entrance to the ruins is $15. Very Inca-like ruins from 1,000 years ago. Then back to Bulawayo and got on a bus to Bulawayo (from Takawira St, four blocks from Hughes St). $8 for a 5-hour ride.
People are extremely nice, friendly and helpful, which makes it very easy to find where things are and how they work.
I had met two Canadian kids in Great Zimbabwe who recommended Packers Paradise so i went straight there (12th ave past the park): $25 for a single room. Bulawayo is the cultural capital of Zimbabwe, a really nice city with wide boulevards and every store you can think of. Definitely not the starving nation i was expecting.
The currency is the US dollar. No more Zimbabwean coins.
Mapotos Park is the main attraction nearby (32 kms away) but it is for rich tourists only: $175 for a day excursion (no, you cannot just walk in).
I saw 4 Internet cafes, best the one on Nkomo & 9 th.
Sample prices: 3 avocados for $1, huge bread loaf for $1, soda can $1, internet $1/hour.
So far Zimbabwe is not only far from being poor and derelict but even better and safer than South Africa. Customer service is excellent.
Tomorrow i take the bus (from Amacos Theater, way out of town) to Hwange Park. Hopefully Hwange Park is friendlier than Matopos to independent travelers. I do have my bivy sack to camp among the lions :-)
Saturday, May 23, 2015, 05:08 AM
Arrived Johannesburg after a 21-hour flight. Visa formalities were the easiest ever. All electronic. No forms to fill. The line took 5 minutes.
Alas, the worst tourist information office ever at an intl airport: the girls didn't know anything, didn't have any map, were totally clueless about everything (and a bit annoyed that a tourist was actually asking for information).
Anyway, i took Gautrain to Park Station (158 rands). Waiting for the bus to Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
Incredible that in 2015 they still haven't cleaned up this city. I walk 100 meters outside the bus station and people start telling me to go back if i want to stay alive. I managed to take 5 pictures of the neighborhood. Security is the #1 thing that African countries need.
Zimbabwe May 21 - 31
Saturday, May 16, 2015, 04:04 AM
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