(Okay, it was the dry season, so we didn’t actually see any of the rains down in Africa, but I did want an excuse to share this video.)
We’d been talking about going to visit Tiana in Zimbabwe since she moved there two years ago due to her husband’s job with the Foreign Service. In the spring, Erin, Julie, Jackie and I decided we were definitely going to do it. So one night on Google Hangout, we went online and bought our tickets, and with that, we were going to Zimbabwe!
Sunday, August 7
We were flying through Dubai—Julie, Erin, and I from Boston and Jackie, who lives in DC, meeting us on our Dubai flight. Our flight left at noon. Twelve and a half hours—the longest flight I’d ever taken. I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, so my plan was to try to stay awake until normal sleeping hours, then sleep. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I liked, and I know that’s a controversial opinion) and watched some of the Olympics. (I’m pretty obsessed with the Olympics, so back at home I was DVRing the primetime coverage.)
Monday, August 8
We landed in Dubai and had a tight layover—about an hour and a half. After wandering through the huge airport, we got to our gate and discovered they were already boarding. And it was kind of weird—the gate didn’t lead to the plane, but to an escalator, and they would only let a certain number of people down at a time. Jackie met up with us during this time and joined us in confusion. It turned out that the escalator led to the shuttle bus that took us to the plane.
So, anyway, we got on the next flight, which made an hour-and-a-half stop in Zambia before continuing to Zimbabwe, and I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake and should have tried harder to sleep on the previous plane, since it was morning by the time we took off. I actually like long flights, but I hit my limit on this trip. I ended up getting very little sleep.
We finally landed in Harare. Zimbabwe has been having a currency crisis in recent years and they now take the American dollar. You can’t really get money from ATMs if you’re a tourist, and most places don’t take credit cards. I got a taste of that right away when I got my visa—they didn’t have enough cash to make change for me and I had to wait while they found some.
Then we went over to the baggage carousel to get our bags. We waited. And waited. And…nothing. We were thinking, “They can’t possibly have lost ALL of our bags.” But…yep. They had. When we went over to the lost baggage claim area, they already had printouts from Emirates with our names on them. We would have to wait twenty-four hours until the next plane from Dubai landed.
So that was a bummer, but at least we were going to Tiana’s house and could borrow most of the things we needed from her. And by the time we got that sorted out, I was no longer tired. At her house, we said hi to her husband Nick and her adorable eleven-month-old baby, Evelyn, and went to bed.
Tuesday, August 9
The plan for the day: lunch at a restaurant Tiana likes, then a visit to a wildlife sanctuary called Wild Is Life, then pick up the bags.
We drove to the restaurant, and after we parked, Tiana suddenly said, “Hey, get over here on the grass so this car can park.”
I should mention that I have another college friend, Bridget, who also works for the government and has been living in Pakistan for the last few months. At the reunion (which, ha, I never wrote about), we FaceTimed with her, and I figured it would be a long time before I saw her again.
Well, you can probably see where this is going. The car behind us pulls in…and out of it steps FREAKING BRIDGET! She’d decided to come visit during her R&R and had been corresponding with Tiana about it secretly. It turned out she was bcc’d on all of our emails with Tiana about this trip—we had no idea!
We had a great lunch outside at this restaurant Arroma Caffé. There were chickens wandering around. I felt a little weird about it, since I was eating a chicken sandwich.
Then we headed to Wild Is Life, a sanctuary in Harare for orphaned and injured animals. It was pretty freaking awesome. We got to feed some of the animals—including giraffes and a warthog named Pickles.
Giraffes are pretty awesome.
We also saw a lot of elephants and impala and watched them feed the lions.
We also met Marimba the pangolin. I’d never even heard of a pangolin before—it turns out they’re highly endangered, and there are so few of them that no one really knows how long they live.
About halfway through the afternoon, we had tea, which was fun. At the end, we had rosé as giraffes looked on and tried to steal the drinks from us. You know, like you do.
After all that, we went back to the airport, where, thankfully, all of our bags had finally arrived.
Wednesday, August 10
This vacation turned out to be a nice combination of sightseeing and relaxing. Wednesday was nothing but relaxing—hanging around Tiana’s house with her cute baby and cute dogs. Evie is a really great baby—so cute, so easygoing, so happy, so easy to make smile. Everyone would be having kids if every baby was guaranteed to be like her.
And Tiana’s two dogs, Kiro and Moki, are pretty awesome, too. I saw a lot of animals in Zimbabwe, but these two were my favorites.
A friend of Nick’s from work came over for dinner. Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Victoria Falls.
Thursday, August 11
We headed back to the airport to go to Victoria Falls! We were flying on this tiny African airline, Fastjet. Julie had looked up the airline’s baggage rules earlier and found this gem:
We actually had a great experience with the bucket-of-fish airline, though.
Here’s the hotel, where all the rooms were named after animals. Tiana and I were in “Buffalo.”
We went out for lunch—where we ate, among other things, impala and crocodile—and did a bit of shopping.
For dinner, we went to the Boma, where we tried warthog and I even had a piece of a fried worm! They had a show toward the end of the night, where they gave us all drums for an audience response-type drum thing.
After we got back, Tiana and I were settling into bed in our hotel room when the hotel phone rang. We both looked at it in confusion. Tiana finally picked it up and discovered Erin and Bridget on the other end. There was a spider in their room, it turned out, and they weren’t sure if it was poisonous or not. I only heard Tiana’s side of the conversation, but it was hilarious. Erin was saying they’d actually been trying to call Jackie and Tiana was like, “How would Jackie know if it’s poisonous or not?” I was cracking up by the time the call ended and headed over with Tiana to see the spider. In their defense, it was pretty huge, and Tiana pretty much laughed in my face when I asked if you could just kill it with toilet paper. Tiana ended up whacking it to death with the hotel room bible. Or smiting it, if you will.
Friday, August 12
We headed off to see the falls. They were pretty awesome—there’s a reason they’re one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
It was the dry season in Zimbabwe, and usually you can’t go too far out on the rocks because they’re too slippery, but we were able to go out farther than usual. We also didn’t need the raincoats we’d rented.
Then we got lunch at the Outlook Café, from which you could see people ziplining. Ziplining is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. There were three options— these two looked way too scary, but the third, the Flying Fox, didn’t look too bad. So I decided to do it and managed to convince Erin to do it, too.
IT WAS AMAZING! So much fun—as close to flying as I’ve ever come. The operator even let both me and Erin do a second run for free.
Afterwards we went shopping and bought safari hats to wear on the safari the next day, then went out for dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Saturday, August 13
Safari day! We had to get up early to get in the car that was coming for us. The safari was actually in Botswana, just over the border. (Victoria Falls is right where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia all converge.) So we had to go through the post at the border, then get in the safari vehicle. Ours was called the No. 1 Ladies Safari, after the book and TV series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana.
On the land portion of the safari, we saw a lot of elephants, giraffes, some buffalo (including one old buffalo who crossed the road right in front of us), mongooses (spellcheck just informed me that “mongeese” isn’t a word), hippos, impala, crocodiles, and some cool-looking birds.
We then went to the safari lodge for lunch and began the boat portion of the safari. It was pretty awesome—we saw animals like crocs and hippos up close, and this fantastic scene with elephants.
When we got back, we got dinner, then went back to the hotel and drank wine while watching the opening scene of The Lion King.
Sunday, August 14
Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we spent the earlier part of the day shopping, then headed back to Harare. Tiana was happy to be reunited with her cute little girl, and we had dinner and played with Evie again.
Monday, August 15
We packed, got lunch at a place near Tiana’s, and headed to the airport for our flight to Dubai. I got almost no sleep on the plane, which was not the plan, and I started going stir-crazy. I also engaged in some airplane parkour at one point—the guy in between me and Erin was sleeping, so when I had to use the restroom, I had Erin get up, got up on my seat, and literally jumped over the guy into Erin’s seat without waking him up.
Tuesday, August 16
Dubai day! This whole day felt like a weird dream, actually. For one thing, we were all really tired from not getting any sleep on the plane, and for another thing, Dubai is a study in contrasts. You’re very clearly in the Middle East, but you’re also surrounded by American and British stores.
The most surprising thing about Dubai? It was humid. I knew it would be really hot there, but I was thinking, oh, it’s the desert, it will be dry heat. No. It wasn’t. It was so humid you really couldn’t go anywhere outside. Which wasn’t a huge problem because everything we wanted to do was indoors, anyway. (Including skiing- one of the things I’d wanted to do indoors was skiing in a mall, but in the end I didn’t have time.)
We checked into our hotel rooms, then got in a cab to tour the Jumeirah Mosque. The cab driver, who took us right from the hotel, was a bit sketchy- he kept trying to get us to change our plans and go somewhere else, and we kept telling him to just take us to the damn mosque already. But luckily, that was as sketchy as the trip got. The mosque was beautiful, and we listened to a woman talk about Islam and answer questions.
Then we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was pretty cool, but you actually couldn’t see that far from the observation deck due to dust. That is a weather forecast in Dubai—dust.
I think I mentioned that in London, we went to tea at Fortnum and Mason. After discovering that there was a Fortnum and Mason in Dubai, we decided to do it again! It was just as delicious as it was in London.
After that, it hit us that we were jet lagged and had gotten very little sleep, so we went back to the hotel to lay down for a bit.
Then we went out to dinner. Bridget wanted to have a great last meal before she headed back to the not-so-great food in Pakistan, so we went to a nice French restaurant.
And then it was time to head back to the airport. Bridget headed back to Pakistan, Jackie to DC, and Erin, Julie, and I to Boston.
Wednesday, August 17
Okay, I wish the story ended there, but I have to describe the absolutely INSANE flight back to Boston.
It was going okay until we were somewhere over Greenland. Then all of a sudden, on the map that shows where the plane is, I saw that we were going BACKWARDS and our destination was now Iceland. We were, it turned out, experiencing a medical emergency and had to land the plane. Someone told us later that the emergency was a little kid with pneumonia. Because we landed at a small airport, they had to jettison fuel and then re-fuel at the airport. So that took even longer, and then as we were taxing through the airport, we paused for a long time. Apparently, there was a SECOND medical emergency. (I have no idea what that one was.) So we had to wait some more.
Also, not long before we went on this trip, Emirates had this incident where a plane burst into flames. I think the flight crew was paranoid from that, because a couple of hours before we landed, Erin opened her eyes to find two flight attendants standing over her sniffing. One of them apparently thought she smelled something burning, and they made our whole row get up as we all looked at each other like, “What the hell? I don’t smell anything!” I honestly think the flight attendant must have been imagining things, because no one else smelled it and we returned to our seat pretty quickly.
So, we landed, finally, about five hours after we were supposed to. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to spend the whole day sleeping at home, as planned, but things didn’t end there. Logan Airport took over two hours to return everyone’s bags. I have no idea why- they said something about being short on grounds crew but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took as long as it did. We were standing by the baggage carousel as a small amount of bags would emerge every fifteen minutes or so.
So, yeah. Not the best flying experience I’ve ever had, but at least it made me happy to be home. Because this trip was such a great time, I didn’t want to go back to my normal life.