Sunday, May 27, 2012

The conversation was giddy – like excited monkeys calling to one another across the treetops- we bantered, quipped and dreamed aloud . The small confines of our transfer bus was bursting at the seams with energy – the one that would deposit us at the doorstep to a plane that would take the Flight of the Angels from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
From the air, the landscape was a gnarled form of dry rivers stretching to the horizon in shades of red, sandy beige and muted green. The straight lines of roads cut like scars into its organic surface. The air breathed in layers of white, turquoise and limitless blue.
Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most iconic destinations, is now a land bruised by its past with an uncertain future. The popular bookstores of South Africa delight in travel guide books of all sorts, yet finding a Lonely Planet or Frommer’s of Zimbabwe feels more like panning for gold. Clouds cross over the eyes of loved ones at the news – I am going to Zimbabwe.
This is the first introduction to Africa Time to many in the que – “these some few minutes” – as they say. Thankfully, I know the drill and look on with resigned amusement. Eventually, we are released from our Pergatory.
The airport is a relic – built in the ’70′s it stands like a time capsule. The flood of excitement of my fellow passengers starts to recede in dramatic measure, replaced by clock-watching and smart comments. The line for Immigration inches on, the sounds of endless stamping “bang-bang-bang” answering our grumblings as the voice of apparent productivity.
Driving from the airport into town we pass locals walking under the shade of umbrellas and our driver pulls aside for Baboons making an appearance on the side of the road, much to the delight of my fellow passengers who exclaimin in unison, “Monkeeeeys!”.
We pass a sign marking the start of the Victoria Falls National Park. Formed by metal lettering attached to a backing, the word “National” has nearly fallen off. Hanging on by just one of its last letters, it sways from side to side, saying more than it intends to.
The town of Victoria Falls is tiny – only two main roads, lined with shops, hotels and adventure companies. Our driver notes with a twinkle in his eye that we may well see wild animals roaming the streets – entirely possible, yes, but likely? Not so much.
The wildest encounter is probably one with the locals selling souveniers, who invite you to come to the craft market with desperation in their eyes. They walk along with you, offering to barter – for soap, my sandles, or the American dollar. Personal space is foreign, they close in, constantly asking, offering, pleading. They follow me a long way. Three to one – it is uncomfortable. Suddenly they make a hasty retreat in view of uniformed Tourism Officers, there to ensure tourists are not harassed.
I breath silent relief and look skyward to tomorrow’s treasure – the mist of Victoria Falls, visible from where I am standing. This is the breath of the Zambezi, rising from a great crack in the Earth up towards the heavens. Tomorrow, I think, Victoria Falls will rain on me.

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