The week began with us departing Mutinondo for the capital, Lusaka. Before leaving we chatted with one of the owners, Lari about plants and the upcoming AEAFET conference in Nairobi. She said she was helping to put in a bid to have it held in Livingston, Zambia in 2020. Maybe I can attend and share my Ledebouria research then. The long drive to Lusaka was uneventful and straightforward. We did manage to snag some African chanterelles from a little boy next to the road. Killian, being the food connoisseur that he is, was dying to give them a try so we picked up probably 2 lbs for .60 USD which is crazy cheap compared to western prices. Killian then spent about 2 hours of the drive cleaning the dirt from them while we enjoyed the thunder clouds that surrounded us and brought much cooler weather. We finally arrived at Eureka camp later than expected (after dark) which made figuring out where the ground was dry difficult. After locating a spot, Killian got to work cooking the mushrooms while I set up and dried the tent. Our delicious dinner was accompanied with much-needed drinks and the view of zebra munching on the grass just on the other side of the hedge. Showers, reading and sleep soon followed. The following day was to be filled with research permit excitement so all possible strength was needed.
The rain came lightly the following morning as we prepared to head to the University of Zambia. The main road through the city center was congested with heavy traffic which caused us to waste 1 hour just getting to the road towards the university. We had to ask a few people directions to the department of biological sciences but we eventually found it and proceeded to the main office. There we were directed to another building where I received my affiliation and ethical clearance letters. During the process I was informed of yet another visa I needed in order to conduct research (surprise, surprise). Unfortunately, my contact was out of the office so we dropped off the forms and decided to return tomorrow. We then visited a couple of malls in an attempt to find reliable Wi-Fi and finally found a place with service but it was the slowest internet ever. In 30 minutes I only managed to check one e-mail and update my Facebook status. The struggle is real, y'all. We then got some groceries, headed back to camp and relaxed. We decided to grab dinner at the campsite instead of cooking. We hopelessly tried to get their Wi-Fi to work but with no success. So we enjoyed our burgers and fries, returned to the tent and capped the night off with gin and juice (actual fruit juice). Killian says it helps ward off malaria and since I'm not taking antimalarial pills I've gotta do whatever to keep me from getting it. Again, the struggle is alive and well. ;-)
Wednesday started with a foggy morning that soon gave way to our first dry day in Zambia. For breakfast, I introduced Killian to rusks which paired wonderfully with our coffee. We then set off for the university to meet with Dr. Chuba in the biological sciences department. Traffic was moving and we arrived shortly after leaving camp. We met with Dr. Chuba during which time I was informed that I needed a research permit and not a study permit as I was told. The miscommunication was mostly my fault since I had not included him in the e-mails with the research department. Fortunately, the process is quick and I had all of the necessary documents to submit an application, which the department would complete. In the meantime, Killian and I decided to head to Zimbabwe and meet with colleagues there about my research. In order to kill the rest of the day we found a lovely cafe with free Wi-Fi that actually worked! Maybe you saw the previous posts. We then went to a Total gas station where we had a leaky tire repaired. A nail had punctured the tire and the solution was to pull it out and insert some string looking thing coated in goop in its place. $7.50 USD later we had the tire repaired and took off back to camp where we spent the rest of the day preparing for Zimbabwe, reading, and relaxing. Hopefully the crossing at Chirundu doesn't warrant its own blog post.
The fairly short drive to Chirundu was beautiful! Mountains and forest surrounded us as we made our way to Zimbabwe. Killian and I had already decided we would not be employing the help of a tout during this crossing and we stuck to our guns as we made our way through the border. Customs, check. Immigration, check. Vehicle import, check. Interpol...speed hump. We made it all the way through the entire process and gkt hung up at Interpol, which is where they needed to see police clearance report from Tanzania stating the vehicle wasn't stolen. We had never heard of this when crossing into Zambia but that was where we were suppose to receive it. After dealing with a bafoon who had a poop-eating grin across his stupid face as he told us, "This makes it very difficult for us to clear the vehicle into Zimbabwe", we went back to the parking lot where we met Ernest who works for Intercape. I'll leave the details out but after some questionable money exchanges we received the stamp from the official in the office which then cleared our vehicle into Zimbabwe. The officials knew what they were doing and saw us coming from a mile away. They are clearly as corrupt as their country. Our welcome into Zimbabwe was pothole ridden road and lovely car inspection by national park officials. As we made the longer drive to Harare we met Martin, who was a friendly police officer who provided me with all of his contact details with the hopes that I would get him to Florida one day. Maybe one day, Martin. We eventually arrived in Harare after dark. The streets of this large city had more potholes then the one we drove from the border and street signs were hard to see if they existed. After some directions from some nice locals and a few u-turns, we finally arrived at Small World Lodge where we got a room for two nights. The welcoming staff, self-cook kitchen and free Wi-Fi were very appreciated after the day we just experienced. Sleeping that night came easier than normal.
On Friday we visited the National Herbarium of Zimbabwe where I met with collaborators and examined their over 300 Ledebouria specimens. The meeting went wonderfully and we agreed to work it out where the staff would make collections for me since we had issues getting permits in order before my arrival. We then ran a few errands around town trying to find somewhere to get cash back. We went to the Zimbabwe equivalent of Whole Foods and were told that if we spend $40 we can get $100 back in cash. So Killian and I filled the cart with lamb, wine, cheeses and veggies, and made our way to the counter. Turns out they always have issues with Visa cards so we tried all of our cards with no success. We were about to go return the groceries when the cashier accidentally processed the transaction. So that night Killian and I ate like kings while enjoying the peaceful surroundings of Small World Lodge.
Saturday was a day of driving to Bulawayo en route to Victoria Falls. After what we experienced I will never be returning to Zimbabwe, at least not as a self-driver. There were over 15 police check points between Harare and Bulawayo, and we were stopped at several. When stopped the officers would go fishing for anything wrong with the vehicle. We were fined for having luggage in the backseat. Turns out this law only applies to buses. We were then fined for having too small of a fire extinguisher and missing one white reflector. It fell off sometime after entering Zimbabwe. Later, while driving through a town that had only 2\5 traffic lights working, we were rushed down by two men in a normal car in police uniforms. Apparently we had run a red light but Killian and I both know this did not happen because we slowed to a crawl through all intersections looking for a light. They threatened to have our car impounded (we found out they can't do that) until we go to court to pay the fine. After pleading with them and explaining that we were leaving the country the next day, they decided that they could be bribed and that was the only option. The police in this country are the worst people I have encountered so far. Good luck getting tourism to return to this corrupt place. Anyways, after the nasty encounter with those two idiots we arrived in Bulawayo and found our place for the night, Burke's Paradise. There we met Vicki who sympathized with us and told us the location of an ATM that accepted US cards. After a trip to town to get money we returned to camp. Away from the horrible police that reside in Zimbabwe we were finally able to relax and prepare for our last day here.
The drive from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls was uneventful except for getting stopped and fined as soon as we left town. Luckily, we learned from the previous day that explaining we were tourists in transit and that we had no money (but we did) always worked. That day we were only fined $5 thanks to our wonderful acting skills. The drive went quickly that day since there weren't many stops and this is probably due to the fact that the route is heavily trafficked by tourists, and Zimbabwe needs to do whatever they can to keep us happy and coming back. Again, good luck with that one. We pulled into Shoestrings camp which was lively with tourists from all over AND they had free Wi-Fi. A pleasant surprise that we were ecstatic to discover. The rest of the day we relaxed and decided to visit the Zimbabwe side of the falls in the morning before crossing back into Zambia. Hopefully this border crossing goes well since none have so far.
See ya, Zimbabwe!