Paddy and I have a guilty admission to make. We have been keeping a secret from the world of social media, enjoying our time together until we could return to reliable internet service. On July 24, 2014 Paddy asked me a very important question on the banks of Angkor Wat. I was hangry for my meager noodle bowl and covered in snot, sweat, and mud from a long day’s bike ride through the temples of Cambodia when he went down on one knee and proposed that we finally make this official. I was too shocked to say much at first - the poor man was subjected to a lot of “Really!?” and many kisses before he could peel Mikela the barnacle off and get my final answer of “Yes, of course!” We ultimately had to flee our picturesque picnic spot when we were attacked by ants (that happen to bite). We were tragically unable to save Paddy’s noodle bowl, but we made it out with the wine intact. In our first moment of engagement bliss, I swallowed all my selfish food tendencies and shared my noodle bowl. It was only a few days later in Bangkok that he revealed his sneaky plans - the beautiful Claddagh ring on my finger was not actually my engagement ring. We were stopping in Antwerp on the way back to Ireland so I could pick out my ring in the diamond capital of the world! And here we are…diamond selected and band designed, eagerly anticipating the arrival of a very special symbol of our next adventure together.
Today is (or was, depending on when we scavenge wireless connectivity) our second to last day in Zimbabwe. The great adventure draws to a close and we depart Harare tomorrow for a surprise stopover somewhere in Europe. More on that later…
For now, I know what it feels like to be an oddity. Paddy and I are apparently the only tourists who ever visit Zimbabwe, despite the claims of the locals that this is off season. I’ve never had so many children open mouth stare at me in my life. It’s cute and endearing in a sweet sort of way - but also completely disconcerting. The range of reactions we’ve received has been almost laughable, especially for me as a female Muzungu (and as someone who will stare right back at them with a silly grin). I’ve had no less than five people shyly ask to take their picture with me, and two guys give me their number - with Paddy sitting alongside. I’m starting to crave anonymity because I can’t keep a smile plastered on my face 24/7 but I don’t want to give a negative impression. Effectively, I feel like the last unicorn from that 80s fantasy movie with Tom Cruise.
The sad aspect of our travels is seeing a country that appears to have been frozen in time - buildings, styles, and roads all belong in the 1980s with the exception of the railway which hasn’t been updated since the 1960s. It’s a little surreal, like you’ve entered a time capsule or the set of some post-apocalyptic sitcom. Zim is apparently the final resting place of all US $2 bills, along with US $50 and US $100 bills, which might explain why everything is so expensive here. I don’t understand how people make a living, because the cost is higher than the States.
Meanwhile, there are police checkpoints everywhere, ostensibly to check commuter bus or “combis” for licenses, but we suspect the real reason may be a bit more insidious. Our government-sponsored bus from Masvingo to Harare was quick and comfortable but dropped us off in Mbare - unbeknownst to us, the super ghetto of Harare. A kindly police officer offered his body guard services until our ride arrived, although we later learned that he was from the military policy support unit. Hmmm. Funniest moment - seeing a random local sporting a US Air Force t-shirt. That more than anything left me scratching my head, although the “Everything is Better in Texas” meat shop also ranks up there.
We are safe and sound with the wonderful Spiritan brothers in Harare, who have been the most gracious hosts. There is definitely hope here for a better future. The brothers come from Zim, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya - they are all bright and eager to learn. Paddy and I can’t escape the thought that Zim has so so so much potential. Vic Falls and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins were incredible, world class tourist destinations that are completely underappreciated. Lodging is available but terribly overpriced and seemingly nostalgic for bygone eras. The Zimbabweans we met were universally awesome. They have been so warm, welcoming, and friendly, I’ve never felt so at ease. Everywhere we go, people graciously give us the best seats, points us in the right direction, and get us to the right buses - all without trying to hustle us! Everyone is so tickled that we chose to come here for vacation that they immediately offer to help.
The one elephant in the room is He Who Must Not Be Named. Zim needs to get itself a Harry Potter.
We are, in fact, alive! Life without internet can be quite harrowing, but we managed to survive our 20 day camping tour. We are officially done with the tour, having said our farewells to the crew, and now we are going to enjoy Vic Falls for a few days before continuing our adventure in Zimbwawe on our own. We will try our best to throw up some photos, on no particular order, of the magnificent landscapes that Africa has to offer.