Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Mighty Zambezi

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Just got back from a phenomenal weekend at Chobe Game Preserve & Victoria Falls. I've come into the hospital on this lazy (and all-too-beautiful-for-being-indoors) Sunday in order to use the computer facilities, which are quite difficult to get to in our present living arrangement.

Several of us (myself, Jon, Kara, Helen, George, Nabila as well as newly-arrived Head of the Penn Infectious Diseases Department Harvey Friedman and his son Steven) left work early on Friday and boarded a plane which took us from Gabs to Kasane, in the northern part of the country. One of our travel agent connections had secured for us a rather luxorious room at the Chobe Marina Lodge...on the banks of the Chobe River, fairly close to the Game Preserve of the same name. The weather was remarkably nice and made for a wonderful game outing, this time in a boat (similar to a pontoon boat) rather than a Land Rover. I read where there are 45,000 elephants in Chobe alone, and they did not disappoint! We saw probably about 25 elephants all told; several of them in a large female breeding herd. The highlight was watching one large male elephant cross the river just in front of our boat...he was really quite close! The rest of the drive featured several hippos, crocs, baboons, kudu, impala, eagles, and other birds. Very, very cool...

The next day we split up into two different groups: the adventuresome, and the not-so-adventuresome. I cast my lot with the adventuresome group, which had opted to begin the day by whitewater rafting the mighty Zambezi River. Ordinarily you can start just below Victoria Falls...however, because of all the rain we've had recently, it would apparently be far too dangerous to attempt the upper rapids, and we started much lower down. Mostly Class 4 and a few Class 5 rapids I am told. Just thrilling! We didn't flip the boat but several people tumbled out...towards the end I was feeling a little jealous that I hadn't yet been thrown out so I went into the drink semi-purposely during one of the Class 4 rapids towards the end...

After the rafting, we went to visit Victoria Falls, which were absolutely spectacular, throwing up mist so violently that at times when the wind blew it over towards us on the walking path that it was not unlike being pelted by a heavy rain. Raincoats were a prerequisite. I am told that when my friend went to visit during the dry season several months ago, there was no water coming down from the Falls whatsoever. Now they are literally several miles long of gigantic, raging waterfalls...

I should mention that although our lodge was in Botswana, we had to cross the border to Zimbabwe to get to Vic Falls (the falls form the border between Zim and Zambia). We ended our day at a crafts market in Zimbabwe, which was interesting and provided insight into the horrendous economic conditions in this country. They have nice stuff there--lots of wooden carvings, beautiful masks, etc, some of which is of very high quality. The vendors are incredibly aggressive to make a sale--probably moreso than anywhere else I've visited so far--and it is clear that they are willing to give away almost anything in exchange for non-Zimbabwean dollars. It's crazy--some of my friends were buying these beautiful wooden bowls for the equivalent of $5 to $10. They'll even ask to buy your clothes--I saw one person trade in a pair of water-logged running shoes in exchange for a nice mask, and another person even bartered a pair of socks! I had mixed feelings about the whole ordeal and ended up buying only a few animal carvings and a necklace for about $20 U.S. The funny (and perhaps also sad) thing is, is that both sides walk away from the encounter thinking they got the better end of the bargain...

Tomorrow begins my last day of service at Princess Marina Hospital! I'll actually be on-call Monday but the rest of the week not, which should hopefully allow me to have a relatively relaxing week...

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