Monday, September 10, 2012

Far and Wide

As a ten-year anniversary present to Cheri, I sent myself off for a five-day excursion into the wilds of the country, leaving Cheri and Jonas behind to fend with increasingly long power cuts, a faulty home security system, and a short supply of groceries, half a roll of toilet paper, and cash that had to last us three more weeks until payday.  (You’re welcome, Honey!)  But since you’re more likely to want to hear about my week out and about than Cheri and Jonas’ week in (although they did have plenty of fun, too), here’s a rundown of what I got to experience.

Five high school teachers and 40 tenth-grade students boarded up onto three tour buses Monday morning at 8:30.  We were told to expect a four hour trip to our destination, with a bathroom break halfway through.  Thinking that this short trip wouldn’t be too much trouble, and having my iTunes and headphones to drown out much of the noise, I unwisely chose to board the bus that had ten girls and no boys on board.  Seven hours later (including two drained laptop batteries, twelve Justin Bieber albums sung by my fellow bus-mates at the top of their lungs, two fights about which girl was being the most annoying by screaming too loudly, four police stops to verify the legality of our tour bus, and three very costly wrong turns on deserted logging roads), we finally got off the bus at our destination and I kissed the first adult I saw.  (His name is John, and this action is illegal in my host country.)  Our trip wasn’t so bad until the last few hours (three hours to travel the final 19 kilometers on dirt roads).  In fact, the first few hours were quite lovely.   Here are some pictures of the landscape, including some of the misnomered Halfway House where we stopped two hours into our journey.


one of the few stores we encountered outside of the cities

 what my now vast experience tells me is a typical family farm

some of the freely roaming cattle—these were nice and weren’t blocking the road


 Halfway House—an old farmstead now turned into a quaint shopping center

  one of a number of antique tractors on display at Halfway House

Aside from overly excited, screaming teenage girls, the trip was quite lovely.  It was fascinating to see the countryside that lay beyond the city limits that had confined my experiences up until that point.  Take my word that these pictures do not do justice to the views.  You’ll have to come and visit to see for yourself!

Once we arrived to our destination—Far and Wide Adventures, the students were shown to their cabins, and the teachers were shown to ours.  While the students had to rough it in sleeping bags on bunks, the teachers split two chalets.  I shared with two other guys.  We had a two-story chalet with a kitchen, living space, two full bathrooms, a sauna, a fireplace, and a second-story balcony that overlooked the forested valley below.  We each had our own bed with plenty of comfy pillows and heavy down comforters, and the staff would clean up after us and light a fire each afternoon while we were away with the kids.  We didn’t want to leave our lodging, but when we did, we spent the hiking through the forest, camping overnight on a cliff’s edge (~760 meters fall down to the valley floor), and watching the kids negotiate a high ropes course (emphasis on “high”—some parts were over 50 meters high in the eucalyptus trees!).  On the last day, the three male teachers teamed up to compete against seven other teams of students in an orienteering competition.  Lionel (40) entered with a torn meniscus, John (36) was an overweight Scott, and I’m still carrying my sympathy weight from Cheri’s pregnancy three years ago.  We had originally convinced our two female teachers to join in, but the 14 kilometer course convinced them that the sauna sounded better.  (To their credit, we had just hiked 12 kilometers that morning to see the water falls, so the sauna did sound rather nice.)  We kept running into one student group that we thought we were in stiff competition with, and we more than once nearly killed ourselves running up a steep, rocky incline to stay ahead of them.  But when we finished the course and found out that we were first, we were surprised that our time of two hours and twenty minutes was the best.  We waited for other teams, but eventually gave up and showered.  We got out of the shower and went back to the finish line to see the second place team finish 40 minutes after we had.  Not bad for three badly out of shape men!

Here are some photos of our time and the landscape at Far and Wide:
main dining hall

looking from the dining hall onto the student cabins (left) and teacher cabins (right), with a fire lit in ours if you look carefully

 part of the high-ropes course

 the aforementioned 760 meter cliff face

 Mutarazi Falls—either the first or second tallest falls in Zimbabwe

 a monkey—I swear

getting ready to swim at the top of the falls