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Journal 5

Free Travel

Free travel began on October 26 in Durban, a city with beautiful beaches, nice
restaurants and plenty of options for filling the nine opened days on our schedule.
With such a paradise at our fingertips Eric, Kendra, Meredith, Rhoda and I decided
to head 2000 kilometers north to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe one of the seven natural
wonders of the world.

We left Durban on the first bus on Sunday morning and by Tuesday afternoon we five
weary pilgrims reached our Mecca looking forward to a few days of relaxation. That
relaxation did not immediately happen upon us though as there were money issues to deal with first.

Our accommodation in Victoria Falls was a buzzing backpacker's lodge near the center of town. Just minutes after checking in the establishment's owner sat the five of us down and explained the situation to us.

Zimbabwean dollars (Zim) are worth nothing on the world market. In fact many
businesses in Zimbabwe (or at least Victoria Falls) prefer to work in foreign
currency rather than Zim. But many other businesses and vendors will still only
accept the local currency. We quickly realized that we would need to exchange money and our kind host was very willing to show us how.

She explained that we had three options. We could exchange money at a bank or a
Bureau de Change at an exchange rate set by the Zimbabwean government (825 Zim to 1 US dollar) and get ripped off. We could exchange money on the black market at a far better exchange rate (5500 Zim to 1 US dollar) and run the risk of getting arrested. Or, she could call up a connection of hers who could give us an excellent exchange rate (5000 Zim to 1 US dollar) in a manner that, she assured us, was okay with the police.

Stuck in somewhat of a predicament, wanting to make the most of our money and not wanting to see the inside of a jail in Zimbabwe, we took our host's advice and asked her to make the call. She did, and five minutes later the connection showed up wearing dark sunglasses a bucket hat and carrying a small duffel bag which, we would soon find out, was full of cash. His name was Victor he made the deal out in the open at the hostel's restaurant.

In the end we never did figure out what made made his little business different from
the black market. But, I suppose what is ultimately important is that both parties
walked away happy. We with 700,000 Zim dollars in a stack about a foot high and he
with 1000 South African Rand in ten neat 100 Rand bills.

- Kevin Docherty

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