Blog - South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (part 1)

Added on Saturday, 2019-05-18 12:35 CEST in category Traveling
Ever since our daughter was born, we have always taken her with us on vacation. Obviously it's nice having her with :), but it can also be bothersome, and you won't be able to do/see/visit as much. Furthermore, when my wife's friend and ex-colleague Michael invited us to come visit him in big, bad South Africa, my mom-in-law kindly demanded we leave our daughter with her in Prague where it's safe :)

Michael also invited us to fly over to Zambia to go see the Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. That did mean some precautionary measures: we had to get a cholera stamp, DTP shot, hepatitis A shot, and yellow fever shot. The latter we were told has live, but weakened yellow fever viruses in it, which we noticed alright… The side effects included fever, muscle pain, headache, and general ill feeling for almost a week.


But before all that kicked in, we had a 10-hour stopover in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Qatar's state religion is Islam, and because of that it's forbidden to import alcohol into Qatar. (Drinking it can apparently be punished by flogging.) We had a small bottle of absinth with for Michael, and at first weren't really sure what to do with it when we went out to explore Doha. Hide it at the airport somewhere maybe?

As it turns out, the airport confiscates your alcohol, but before your next flight you can come pick it up again. The border guard wasn't very happy we wanted to declare our souvenir-sized bottle of about 50 mL, and even had his border guard buddies laugh at him for having to go through all the paperwork, but hey, alcohol is alcohol, and we really didn't want to risk it.

Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, and it shows: once out in the city we were met by expensive cars, fancy lighting, great architecture, and very clean streets.

Skyline of DohaTowers in DohaSkyscrapers in Doha

After the city tour, we visited the Souq Waqif, which gave us a bit more of an Agrabah feeling:

Souq Waqif (1)Souq Waqif (2)Souq Waqif (3) Souq Waqif (4)Golden finger at Souq Waqif

Well, maybe except for the giant golden finger :P

South Africa

We were told South Africa in general, and the bigger cities specifically can be quite dangerous, so don't go anywhere by yourself, and just don't go anywhere when it's dark. We heard stories of mugging and carjacking at red lights, and read not to withdraw money at the airport because of the frequent robberies there. With all our precautions, though, we're happy to report nothing bad happened :)


The overnight flight to Johannesburg had mainly been sleepless, so we were very happy to be picked up by Bruce, our guide for the day in Johannesburg. Bruce drove us around some of the highlights of Johannesburg, which felt somewhat familiar due to its colonization by the British and the Dutch, but also quite new and interesting in its own way.

Johannesburg architecture (1)Johannesburg architecture (2)Johannesburg architecture (3)

The Johannesburg area (including Soweto) also felt very divided. South Africa has one of the highest income inequalities in the world, so besides gated mansions with rooftop pools, we also saw a lot of slums. This seems to largely be a remnant of South Africa's former apartheid regime, since white South Africans earn almost five times more than black South Africans.

Soweto slums (1)Soweto slums (2)Soweto slums (3)

Bruce explained these shanty towns are a temporary solution for most inhabitants as they're waiting for governmental housing, but some are stuck there for many years.

We also visited the Mandela House, where Nelson Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962, when he was imprisoned. It was bizarre to see the bullet holes from the police shooting at the house…

Mandela House (1)Mandela House (2)

As we were buying some water at a corner shop next door, somebody came up to us to ask if we could buy a bread for him, which angered our guide Bruce. If you want to make some money, there are always some chores to be found, making begging undignified.

In the evening we met up with Michael, who told us a bit about his daily life in Johannesburg: since you shouldn't be out when it's dark, he starts working at the crack of dawn, and if he does stay out until dark (e.g. meeting friends at a restaurant :), he always takes an Uber from door to door.


Before we ventured farther into South Africa, Michael invited us to fly over to Zambia to go see the Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls can be visited both from the Zambian and the Zimbabwean side, so upon arrival in Zambia we opted for the KAZA visa, which allowed us to cross borders between Zambia and Zimbabwe as often as we liked.


We stayed at the nearby city of Livingstone, which in a way felt very similar to Crimea: just a tad derelict, quite warm, but not overly so, quite a relaxed atmosphere, and with lots of people around.

We left exploring Victoria Falls for the next day, and decided to embark on a dinner cruise over the Zambezi river.

Zambezi dinner cruise (1)Zambezi dinner cruise (2)Zambezi dinner cruise (3)

The dinner cruise turned out way better than we had expected: we had an on-board braai and no music, allowing us to fully take in the splendor of the Zambezi sunset.

Zambezi sunset (1)Zambezi sunset (2)Zambezi sunset (3)

We also saw plenty of wildlife: monkeys, crocodiles, hippos, and an elephant.

Zambezi monkeysZambezi crocodile Zambezi hipposZambezi elephant
(Taking pictures through binoculars rocks, btw. :)


The next morning we told our taxi driver we wanted to go see the Victoria Falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, so without asking any further questions he brought us to the Zambia/Zimbabwe border crossing (I don't think we'd ever taken a taxi right up to the border before). The process of exiting Zambia turned out to be pretty easy. We went through a small building with two doors: one labeled "IN", and one labeled "OUT" :) After we got our exit stamp there, we went for a bit of a walk through no man's land, where we were met by some local artists (at least that's how they introduced themselves) trying to make small talk.

As we walked along we were thinking what an unusual situation we were in: here we are, an American, a Russian, and a Dutchman, in no man's land, walking towards Zimbabwe. How cool is that? :) I hadn't ever pictured myself going to Zimbabwe, let alone walk there, but since the opportunity presented itself, we thought "why not?" :)

No man's land artistsZimbabwean border
(We got wet from the spray from the falls; we were close!)

Once in Zimbabwe we were pretty much immediately offered to buy some (obsolete) Zimbabwean dollars. We ended up getting a few banknotes ranging from 100.000 to (!) dollars. Note how when the banknotes were printed some already had an expiry date. Zimbabwean dollars100.000 Zimbabwean dollars

Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls were gorgeous, but the spray was so intense that after a few minutes we were soaking wet.

Victoria Falls (3)Victoria Falls (4)

At some places the spray was so bad we couldn't even see the falls anymore :)


Getting back to Zambia was almost as easy as getting to Zimbabwe: due to a misunderstanding when entering Zimbabwe we hadn't gotten an entry stamp, so we got told off for that… "You should know the rules of the country you enter!" Well, maybe your colleagues shouldn't've let us in without an entry stamp… Anyway, we got both our entry stamp and exit stamp, and back we went into Zambia :)

On the way back the local artists we met earlier popped up again, whom we bought some wooden hippos from. Like in Soweto, there were hardly any beggars; everyone at least had to offer something.

Victoria Falls

By the time we walked back to the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls, the sun had broken through, making for these gorgeous pictures.

Victoria Falls (5)Victoria Falls (6) Victoria Falls (7)Victoria Falls (8)
(The last one shows the top of the waterfalls; no swimming there!)

In the evening we enjoyed another dinner cruise with a few girls we met at the airport, during which we saw even more wildlife, including a herd of elephants crossing the river.

Zambezi crocodile runningZambezi elephants wading Zambezi elephants crossing

To be continued…

After our flight back to Johannesburg we bade Michael farewell, and were off to Cape Town, about which and more I'll soon post in part 2 :)