One Crazy Day Hitchhiking To Zimbabwe

February 26, Day 572
The alarm goes off at 4:30 am. Goaba gets up to take a bath and I get up to roll up our sleeping bags and pack things up to go.

At 5:05 am I hear a car go down the road, but then it leaves 10 seconds later. No way that’s our taxi, I scheduled ours for 5:30 and he didn’t beep or call or anything.

At 5:25 am we go outside and wait for the taxi. Nothing shows up. Our bus leaves at 6 am and it’s a long walk to the bus rank. We wait, and wait, and wait.

Nothing.

At 5:35 am I am too nervous to wait any longer, and we decide to walk to the bus station while I call the taxicab company. I have called no less than 5 times and no one answers the phone. Finally, a strange number calls me and I think it’s the taxi driver.

“Dumela, Rra. Where are you? We are going to be late,” I say.

“I already came. I came before and waited and no one was there so I drove away,” he says.

“Rra, I’m sorry. I did not hear you beep. Did you beep? Did you call? Did you knock on the door?” I ask.

“No. I sat outside,” he says.

“I saw a car at 5:05 am. Was that you? If so, you were very early. How was I supposed to know in the dark that you were there? That car didn’t wait for more than a minute!” I reply.

“Yes that was me. Now I’m too far to drive you. I cannot drive you,” he says.

ARGGGGG.

We absolutely positively CANNOT miss this bus. We have a separate driver waiting for us at the Botswana border to Zimbabwe that we have paid and need to be there by this afternoon! We cannot miss the bus.

I hang up, angrily, and Goaba and I decide to walk as fast as we can carrying our heavy things and look for a taxi at the same time.

After several attempts, we find a 5-pula taxi that pulls over to pick us up. Hooray! He gets us to the bus rank just in time for the 6 am bus.

There are no buses leaving when we arrive at the bus rank.

What the???!! We are confused.

We see one small sprinter van parked where the Kasane buses should be, and Goaba goes to talk to the driver. She comes back and tells me that the bus usually isn’t supposed to leave until 8 am, but this morning it will leave at 6:30 am.

There are no early morning buses to Kasane today, she says, and this bus isn’t even going to Kasane. It’s headed somewhere else, but the driver says we can get off in Nata and then we will have to hitchhike the rest of the way.

Nata is a few hours from Kasane, so it is possible. This is really our only way to get there today.

The bus isn’t leaving for another 30 minutes, so Goaba says we can leave our bags on the bus to reserve our seats and the bus driver will watch them. We walk to a nearby petrol station and use the restroom and buy bananas for breakfast.

Walk back and when we arrive, the bus is packed. Sure enough, our things have not been touched and we have reserved our seats. We climb into the last row of the bus and eat Doritos and sip on water and chat.

When you get to the North of Botswana, where the tourists go on safari, there are several stops you have to make. Usually, the police stare at the bus and wave us through.

Today, the police do not wave us through. The police pull our entire bus aside and we are required to get out of the bus on the side of the highway. The driver goes to talk with the police people while I crouch behind a police car and go to the bathroom (totally normal).

Goaba explains that the buses are required to leave at specific times. The police know what bus is supposed to arrive at each checkpoint at certain times. Since our bus left earlier than it was supposed to, the driver likely violated protocol.

“I think the driver will be arrested and we will need to find a new bus. Or he will pay off the police,” she says.

WHAT?!

Okay, so we might be stranded…

We wait, and wait, and wait.

The bus driver says something in Setswana, and everyone climbs back on the bus.

Okay, I guess he won’t be arrested today.

Goaba and I go back to chatting on the bus and a few hours later, we arrive in Nata. It’s a small village in the North that is what I consider to be the gateway to safari land in Botswana. Once you get to Nata, you can often see elephants walking along the side of the road and there are palm trees around. Things are green! Not like the desert village I live in.

The bus lets us off at a petrol station in Nata, and we grab all of our bags and walk to a nearby hitching post to see if we can hitchhike the rest of the way to Kasane. There’s a man who has clearly been there for a very long time trying to hitch with no luck.

“Eish, no one is stopping today!” he says.

Goaba says we have a very good chance of being picked up because we are the perfect team. People will likely stop to offer us a ride because they want to find out why a white person is hitchhiking, and she can negotiate in Setswana to protect us .

It is HOT HOT HOT today.

We take turns flagging down cars while the other person waits in a nearby hut and sips water in the shade.

I use my best tactics to do the praying hands towards cars so they feel bad and pull over. It seems every vehicle is full and there are almost no cars going by.

We wait, and wait, and wait.

Goaba calls Mr. Boat Cruz to let him know what’s going on. Mr. Boat Cruz is a man that we met in Kasane last time we went on safari there together last year. The real kicker is that we don’t actually know what this man’s real name is.

All we know is that he runs professional boat cruises around Kasane, and Goaba saved his telephone contact as “Mr. Boat Cruz” in her phone. Therefore, we call him Boat Cruz. She has arranged for him to send a car to meet us in Kasane and drive us to the Zimbabwe border, and then have someone in Zimbabwe drive us to our hostel.

Mr. Boat Cruz is expecting to meet us at 12 pm in Kasane to drive us across the border, and clearly that’s not going to happen anymore as there are no buses and we are now hitchhiking.

ARGGGGG!!!
I hear a loud, high pitched squeal come from the road, and I see a pack of dogs run out of the road, except for one that is laying in the road. I realize that a car has just hit a dog.

“Oh my gosh! That dog has been hit! Should we help it?” I ask.

“What? Oh yes a dog has been hit in the road,” Goaba says.

My heart sinks to my stomach. I am absolutely horrified and concerned for the dog. Goaba is dealing with Mr. Boat Cruz and is perhaps not as concerned. I feel like I’m going to cry and swallow back the tears.

I watch the dog scream in pain, and then drag itself on its front two legs across the road as its rear hip is likely broken and it can’t walk on its hind legs.

I want to scream and cry, but I know that’s not culturally appropriate here. They have a different relationship to dogs.

The owner of the dog comes out of the bar where he is drinking and comes to stare at the dog laying in the dirt parking lot. He looks at it and walks away.

“How can he just leave the dog there???” I ask. I am horrified. Swallow it back, Abbie. Deal with it. It’s how things are, I tell myself.

Suddenly a GIGANTIC tractor-trailer with a flatbed on the back of it approaches in the road.

“Should we go for it?” I ask Goaba, getting a kick out of the thought of us riding on the back of a massive flatbed truck.

“Okay, yes, let’s try!”

We give it our best looks and wave the truck down, and to our surprise, it stops! There is a man sitting in the passenger seat in the front of the truck that climbs into the back and offers his seat to us.

This bottom step to the truck is about 5 feet off the ground at least. It requires major physical strength to climb in there with an 80 pound backpack on, but we both manage to climb in there.

The man in the back introduces himself, as he eats chicken wings. He is eating the chicken and throwing the bones on the floor of the truck. This guy eats like 100 wings, I swear. There are SO MANY bones everywhere. Good for him, he must have been hungry!

We relax on the truck for a bit, and suddenly it occurs to us that we aren’t moving very fast. Maybe the truck will speed up?

It feels like we are going 20 miles per hour. The truck doesn’t speed up, but it doesn’t seem like we have any other options. There were almost no cars out there! It’s the middle of the week and it isn’t payday. People are not traveling right now.

Goaba calls Mr. Boat Cruz and I can hear him yell to her over the phone in complete disbelief that we are riding on a tractor-trailer to Kasane. He demands for us to get off the truck, as by the time it arrives in Kasane it will be nighttime with how slow it is going.

“I think we should get off the truck and try to find something else,” Goaba recommends.

She asks the driver to stop, and he agrees. We really only made it a few miles down the road, but now we are really in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of a farm with nothing around. We climb out of the truck, grab our things and thank the men for the ride.

There is a tree offering shade, so I go out to the road and try to hitch another ride. Nothing comes.

After what seems like a very long, and hot, time a car finally approaches. It is a nice, normal car and not a gigantic flatbed so that’s a step forward. The woman tells Goaba that she is only driving to her home village and will give us a ride to her village. We agree and climb in. Heck, she’s got air conditioning so I’m okay with that!

We are riding in the backseat of a beige sedan and the woman is playing music that is singing about god. There is another man in the front seat, who I think could be another hitchhiker.

I doze off in the backseat for a few hours. Soon enough, we reach her village and have to get out of the car again and look for another hitch.

There is one shop in this village, and coincidentally, Goaba and I have been to it before! Last year, we went on safari together in Kasane and Goaba drove us to Francistown together and we stopped in this same village and went to the shop. I remember that this shop has EXCELLENT ma fresh (French fries), so we decide to go into the shops and use the restroom.

We each pay 2 pula to use the toilet. While Goaba is inside, the woman collecting money has a conversation with me in Setswana and asks the usual things. Who am I? What am I doing in Botswana? How do I find Botswana? Where am I going? I am very proud of myself that I am able to answer all of the questions and have a complete conversation in Setswana, for what feels like the first time.

It’s my turn, I go into the restroom and do my business. We find the ma fresh and I buy a 10-pula bag. I notice they are also selling beer, and decide to get myself a big bottle of Black Label.

Goaba laughs and says that’s a good idea, I’m on vacation, why not?!

When I first joined the Peace Corps, the staff in Botswana warned us about the public image of Black Label. Apparently, it has a reputation that only promiscuous women drink Black Label. The bottle says “Champion Men Drink Champion Beer” right across the front of it.

Being honest here, I LOVE Black Label. I think it’s a solid beer. I’m not promiscuous, but darnit, it’s a good tasting beer! I buy the beer and shove it into my backpack.

We walk outside and see the same guy from the beige sedan also hitchhiking. We decide to walk up the road a little bit and upstream him to take a ride before he does.

A few minutes pass by, and a totally souped up, old, beaten up sports car Toyota with a loud engine pulls up. The driver is a 20-something guy and the car is filthy inside, but he’s a really nice guy. He says he can drive us all the way to Kasane, about 2 hours away. He opens the trunk for us to put our bags in, and there’s a big can of oil that is spilled everywhere in the trunk.

We opt to instead, put our bags in the backseat of the car. Goaba climbs into the front with him and they talk in Setswana while I sit in the back and watch the beautiful farms blow by the window.

After an hour, Goaba turns around to me. “I think it is okay for you to drink your beer while we are on the way to Kasane, girl. He doesn’t mind,” she says.

Okay!

I crack open my beer and relax in the backseat, sipping on the Black Label and chat with Goaba and the driver.

A few hours flies by, and we have finally arrived in Kasane! He drops us off at the bus rank. There are wild hedgehogs roaming around the parking lot looking for food. I watch a hedgehog play fight and get a kick out of it.

We try to use the bathroom at the Bus rank, but the man says we must pay to use it. I remember that there is a secret bathroom that is very clean at KFC across the street, so we opt to use the free and clean bathroom instead.

We walk to Spar and check our bags so we can buy food to bring to Zimbabwe with us. I run to KFC and sneak upstairs and use the bathroom. WOW, there’s even toilet paper in there! I’ve never seen that before in a Bots bathroom.

I meet Goaba, and she calls Mr. Boat Cruz to tell him we are in Kasane. Only two hours late from all of that hitchhiking, woo hoo!

We make a plan for meals and buy all of the food that we need for the week to bring to Zimbabwe and go to the ATM. In Zimbabwe, the local currency is devalued so much that it is never used. Yesterday, the main reason we went to the mall is because Zimbabwe only uses USD for money, and I have heard that there are no ATMs there. You must do a foreign exchange for USD at the bank before you go and bring all the cash with you.

When people heard that we were going to Zimbabwe, many people warned Goaba and I against it.

“They are relentless! Those people will follow you around and beg you for money!” we were told. “Hide your money! You will get robbed! Those people will stop at nothing!”

Many people told us these things. So, needless to say, we were both pretty freaked out about bringing all of this USD into Zimbabwe with us! So we opted to hide it in our bra, socks and in different pockets around our bodies in case we were robbed.

I also heard that US citizens have to pay more than Botswana citizens to cross the border into Zimbabwe, and I don’t want to give away USD, so I decided to go to the ATM and try to pay in Botswana Pula at customs before we cross the border.

We finish shopping, grab our things and look for Mr. Boat Cruz. He isn’t there, but sent a really nice and professional driver to pick us up. He loads our things in there. With the groceries and our things, it’s more than we can carry.

We crawl into the back of the van. It’s a big van, and just the three of us. He begins driving through various construction sites on the side of the highway, and then suddenly we are at the Zimbabwe border. It is a gigantic parking lot full of buses and trucks and cars parked everywhere, people walking around

I walk to the window and begin filling out the paperwork. A man in a polo shirt and matching hat walks up to us.

“Ladies! Ladies! How are you? I will help you!” he says.

It’s strange. He doesn’t seem to actually work for the border. He’s just a guy who hangs around the border and likes to help people. Is he looking for tips??? I decide to keep my distance, but he shepherds me through the whole process. I pay 500 pula, Goaba pays much less, our passports are stamped and we are done!

We find Mr. Boat Cruz’s guy, and he says he has another client to pick up and can no longer drive us across the border. But in the time that we were going through customs he went and found us another taxi and put all of our things into someone else’s car and they will drive us to our hostel.

I am immediately suspicious. Perhaps it’s the New York City in me, but I definitely don’t like someone touching my things and telling me they moved them while I wasn’t there. Especially as everyone has been warning us about how dangerous Zimbabwe is!

I smile, and thank him for his help, and then secretly case all of my things to make sure they are all still there. And they are. Eish, Abbie! Relax!

We climb into the back of an old, tan minivan and congratulate each other on FINALLY making it to Zimbabwe!

“Wooo hooo! We did it, girl!! What a crazy ride we have had today, and we finally made it!!”

We both open up cider and beers and toast one another.

“It’s party time! The hard part is done! We are on vacation!” I say. The driver is laughing and puts on some loud party music for us to jam out to while we snack and drink in the backseat.

I find it funny that here, they don’t speak Setswana. Everyone speaks English and uses USD. What a relief! I can finally understand what people are saying! Goaba keeps forgetting and accidentally talking to the driver in Setswana, and he answers in English that he doesn’t understand. Girl, I understand your struggle with language, I live it!!

About 45-minutes later, we arrive at our hostel and it is absolutely ADORABLE. The hostel is bedded deep into a beautiful residential neighborhood of big houses and gates all around them. I love watching the different architecture of each house go by out the window and the plush, green trees and grass. Zimbabwe has surprised me already with its beauty!

Our hostel is only $20 a night, so I wasn’t sure if it would be sketchy. When we see it, we realize it is fantastic. There are flag plates all over the front gate of all of the people who travel there, and we immediately take pictures, proud of our adventure so far.

We check in, and they show us to our own private bungalow. We have an a-frame style hut with a thatched roof all to ourselves! Two beds, a fan, a bed net. Great!! This is fantastic.

As we walk around, I suddenly hear two American voices that I recognize. I see two other Peace Corps volunteers that I recognize, Cindy and Karin. I give them both hugs and they tell me they are leaving tomorrow, but have had a great time. They tell me we can put our feet into the pond nearby and the fish will come and eat the dead skin off the bottom of our feet.

Cool!

There is also a nice pool and a big veranda with a kitchen and community table, personal showers and bathrooms. It seems that the restaurant is preparing a lot of meals for something while people lay around the pool.

We go back to our hut and unpack and decide to take showers.

When I come out of the shower, I see there are 20 to 30 men in construction outfits sitting around eating plates of phaleche and meat that the restaurant was preparing. It seems that these men live at the hostel and come from far away to work on nearby construction. They stay here for months at a time, and the restaurant prepares meals for them. They all stare at me as I walk by and then go back to eating.

Soon, they clear out and Goaba and I decide that we are hungry. There are storage shelves for our food and it is all kept on the honor system – just don’t eat food that’s not yours. Cool.

I cook a dinner for myself, Goaba cooks one for herself. As we sit down to eat, a group of people from all around the world start to convene in the kitchen. There are two girls from England who have hitchhiked across Africa, two from America who decided to take a girl’s trip, two guys from Sweden who just worked helping to build a castle on Work Away in South Africa and a random guy from Germany. We all sit at the communal table and play games and chat.

Happy we have finally arrived safely, are clean and fed – Goaba and I decide to go to bed.

We walk back to our bungalow, and fall asleep fast, preparing to see Victoria Falls tomorrow.

Boroko 😴

Bus from Francistown to Nata
Bus driver getting arrested? Great time to take a photo
Ridiculous tractor trailer we hitched a ride on
Goaba looking cute and pointing to the Botswana flag
I was probably trying to look cute and point to the American flag… but didn’t
What $20 a night gets you in Zimbabwe. Adorable!
Cooking dinner
Kitchen views
Dinner! Brussel sprouts (omg I found them in Kasane… I haven’t seen these for years!) and bread with “Brie” and a glass of wine
Goaba cooking

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s