REPUBLIC OF NAMIBIA ENTRY 25 FEB 2008 HOSEA KUTAKO AIRPORT
A brief moment of fear among the passengers that we might have to tote our own luggage through customs, but that's quickly taken care of. The rich may not be happier, but they can travel as lightly as a kid carrying his security blanket.
I could get used to this. I don't want to get used to this. What about all that hard travel I've done, the arctic camping, sleeping in train stations in Communist countries, taking public buses in places where road signs are just exclamation marks? Hey, I was a traveler back then, this is just tourism, this is …
But wait, I'm having a blast. Thanks to the access factor, I'm seeing things I never would have seen on my own.
I really could get used to this.
The next three days are the sand dunes around Swakopmund––a town where fine dining seems to be the Kentucky Fried Chicken. My hands get massively sunburned and turn into arthritic claws from quad biking, I spend hours waiting for a crazed German to dig holes, looking for some kind of gecko that, if brought into daylight, will spontaneously combust, blood boiling in its translucent skin.
Chameleons only bother to look at us with one eye, and thirty miles inland, I walk around seal bones dragged from the ocean by jackals.
But for the most part, I just try desperately to ignore our local fixer, a woman who looks exactly like my ex–girlfriend. Each time I catch a glimpse of her, I'm back to that day that actually registered on my pacemaker, when things ended, a moment that led to drug addiction and several of my less decorative tattoos.
Sorry, but that's all I remember of Namibia.
Except for the fact that I could really get used to traveling like this.
Or except for the fact that I really don't want to get used to traveling like this.
I'm not sure which.
But I will admit: if there was a way to erase that Namibia stamp from my passport, I'd have to consider it valid. I was in the country for three days. I don't think I spent five minutes actually in the country, though, because all I was thinking about was the smile of someone who wasn't within ten thousand miles of the place.
How to Play Strip Passport, Part 4
The Marie Is Jealous Because I've Been to Timbuktu and She Hasn't Rule:
"Fake stamps should incur penalties. Like Ushuaia, Galapagos, Timbuktu. Those aren't countries. They're vanity stamps."
"So if you are losing badly, you get a penalty shot."
"I'm down to my T–shirt and undies, getting desperate, and I say â€˜Penalty shot: Timbuktu!'"
"Then whoever has it has to take something off, thereby evening the odds."
ZAMBIA [illegible scrawl] 28 FEB 2008 LVA 004
A monkey holds me hostage in the edges of the spray off Victoria Falls.
The Zambezi runs huge, all that water falling from the edge of the earth, mist rising fifteen hundred feet into the sky a quarter mile or so to the left.
The monkey isn't interested in the view, though. The monkey wants to kill me.
I'd gone onto my balcony to watch the river flow, have a drink. But as soon as I sat down, the monkey was on the rail. Then on the table right in front of me.
Learn from my mistakes: when a monkey is standing on your table, do not kick the table to get the monkey to move.
The monkey does move, but straight for you, hissing and showing very sharp teeth.
Which is when I find out somehow my balcony doors locked behind me, and I'm stuck in Zambia with an enraged primate.
And yet. For the first time since I stood in the Bight of Benin, the sand of Africa and the water of the Atlantic ruining my shoes, I think I'm accomplishing something, getting a travel moment that I'll come back to.
Unless the monkey rips my face off. Then it's just another "stupid ways tourists die" story.
The zebras on the lawn don't even bother to look up when I call for help.
How to Play Strip Passport, Part 5
No Excuse Penalties:
THE REPUBLIC OF ZIMBABWE VISA RECIEPT No. 549533
I feel distinctly dirty, like walking into a strip club in front of a line of picketing nuns, when we get into the taxi. "Oh, yeah," the driver says. "A lot of people do this." He cranks up the air conditioner, turns out of the hotel. Three minutes and half a Duran Duran song later, we're at the Zambia border, the west side of the bridge across the Zambezi. The east side is Zimbabwe.
And everything goes to hell there. Two months before the presidential election that we already know Mugabe will steal, unemployment in Zimbabwe has hit 80 percent, inflation, 150,000 percent. No, that's not a typo. Prices are doubling roughly every 12 hours.
Doubling. Every. Twelve. Hours.
The driver grabs our passports, pushes to the front of the line. A few minutes later, there it is, pasted into a full page: the Zimbabwe visa.
Back in the car, drive maybe a mile. Pay twenty bucks to get into the national park while the driver takes another twenty from each of us––he's making enough today to feed a Zimbabwe family for a year––to buy postcards while we go look at the waterfall.
Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side. Beautiful, but none of the power of the Zambia side, none of that feeling of standing in a monsoon rain, none of being blinded by spray and seeing the waterfall peek out like a polar bear's nose in a whiteout. None of that sound, like the sound effect from Fantastic Voyage when the mini sub went into the guy's heart.
On the Zimbabwe side, thoughts are not drowned by the overwhelming force of the water, as brutal as enlightenment.
Quite frankly, it's a view I won't even remember in six months.
The border guards laugh at us––quite loudly and quite rightly––when they stamp the exit visas.
Fifteen minutes, in and out.
I need a shower.
How to Play Strip Passport, Part 6
My Little Sister Amanda's "Stamp Whore Clause":
"Anyone who claims a country without departing the train or airport––or crosses a border for less than an hour simply to accrue stamps––and is called upon this BS by a knowledgeable opponent––must EAT THEIR OWN UNDERWEAR. Bluffing, therefore, is acceptable, but highly risky."
[stamp nearly out of ink; illegible] 29 FEB 2008 VICTORIA FALLS
But no matter how dirty I feel, we hurried out of Zimbabwe for a reason. Never mind that we shouldn't have gone to begin with.
We squeal to a stop in front of the hotel, go straight from the taxi to the game drive Land Rovers. I wanted two things from Africa: an antique trade bead for the person dearest to me, and to see a rhino in the wild.
Got the bead in Timbuktu.
Now it's time for the rhino.
So we are headed for Mosi–o–Tunya National Park, which has, I'm told, the last white rhino in Zambia. Up until a couple months ago, there were two, but some asshole shot one to sell the horn to other assholes who think rhino horns are useful for things other than beautifully decorating rhino noses.
One wishes there were an open market on asshole noses.
Mosi–o–Tunya is tiny, 66 square kilometers, and our driver is crappy: I see the impala and the warthogs long before he does, and I'm the only one who sees the giraffe at all. Tricks learned from my summer as a bear guide: how to spot variations in the landscape pattern, like those games you played as a kid. What does not belong in this drawing?
But the rhino is impossible to miss.
The last white rhino in Zambia is surrounded by Land Rovers and clicking cameras. This is not the first day his life has been like this, though, so he's just going about his business of being a rhino, which mostly means eating a couple hundred pounds of grass a day.
We're so close we can hear him chew.
The rhino, who now has his own round–the–clock armed guard, is completely uninterested in us. The grass tastes good here, and he is in the only place he needs to be.
The last white rhino in Zambia has never seen a map, a passport, does not even know he's in Zambia.
The rhino knows only his world up close, and in staggering, staggering detail.
Tomorrow, I will go home and begin planning my next trips: North and South Korea, Italy, Mongolia, Yap, Tanna, Fiji, Tahiti, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, Australia, and the Canadian arctic, all in the next four months. By the time I finally can go home and do laundry, my passport, one of the last 48–pagers made, will be full, will have all seven continents in it.
Very soon, I will be able to kick Marie's ass at Strip Passport.
The last white rhino in Zambia takes two steps to the left, finds another patch of sweet grass exactly where he knew it would be.
And he's still there when we drive away.
Edward Readicker–Henderson is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, Sierra, Modern Bride, AARP, and dozens of others. Edward has won a Lowell Thomas Award for cultural writing, a Northern Lights award for the year's best travel story on Canada, and has been short–listed in Best American Travel Writing. His new book of narrative stories, Under the Protection of the Cow Demon, has just been released.
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