Zimbabwe

Boarder crossing pretty straightforward. Stopped in Mutare for food and fuel,a busy town and funny to hear everyone speaking English again! Very expensive, though, as there’s 40% tax on everything imported, which seems to be nearly everything. Headed for Chimanimani,taking a beautifully scenic route ,past the Vumba region .Roads good tar and for the most part, deserted.

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read the book – scene of recent horrors

Found ourselves a great place to camp called Frog and Fern, run by Dee and Jane, they also had some pretty little cottages01-001,but being on a (strict) budget,opted for the tent again. Chimanimani has an unfortunate recent violent history. Michael says you must read “The Fear” by Peter Goodwin, (banned here) which provides details of the horrific events around the 2008 election. It’s strange to think that this took place in such a normal small village.

The scenery in this area is extremely mountainous, 2,000 plus metres and was the centre of the forestry industry, now dysfunctional, like the rest of Zimbabwe. The people, however are extremely friendly and welcoming with waves, whistles, cheers and thumbs up’s ,everywhere we go. The police road-blocks/average age 10, apparently wearing their Dad’s uniforms, have clearly been told to leave the tourists alone and simply wave us through.(that being said, it would appear their aren’t any other tourists, or not that we’ve seen!)

Continued South, through the mountains, then East to Masvingo and The Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site. On the way passed through an area of weathered Granite Inselbergs/ blooming huge rocks to you and me!! Amazing boulders ,balanced as if placed there by somebody, these of which Zimbabwe is famous. The most well- known being The Matopas hills further South-East, but we’re not going there so this will have to do…….anyway,there’s only so many rock photo’s a girl can take …..and I’ve taken a lot!

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Spent the night at The Great Zimbabwean National Monument, camping on a lovely site and very reasonably priced at five dollars per night.

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main enerance to hill top

Next morning, we hired a guide called “Brighton”, a history under-graduate, on a year’s Intern ship as part of his course,which proved extremely worthwhile. A very bright guy, who was both interesting and informative. The layout of the site is quite incredible, massive stone walls with very narrow passages leading everywhere, clearly no fatties here,as you simply wouldn’t fit through the openings.

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Queens enclosure viewed from kings hilltop

The Kings enclosure sits on top of a Granite hill with all sorts of chambers,levels etc, 350ft below,were a series of circular enclosures, housing huts for each of his two hundred wives. Separated from the Great enclosure a 250 metre circumference, 11 metre high perimeter wall which was home of wife number one. This includes numerous other walls and the stone pillar you may have seen. The whole place was abandoned in 1450, no-one really knows why,although it’s thought the empire was based on trading Gold and other artefacts as far away as China, so it’s possible the trading shifted or it was simply unsustainable.

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Brighton in one of the passage ways

Fascinating and mysterious, well worth the visit.

Some of the family buildings

Some of the family buildings

 

Having left there we headed to Mushandike Sanctuary, a small park,with a lovely lake,fantastic setting and must have been extremely busy back in the day, but once again we were the only ones there.

After a couple of day’s doing washing and other chores,we set off towards Matusadona NP. We drove for several hours(9 in fact) far too long ,but could find nowhere to stay, any camps on the GPS have clearly shut down some time ago.

Feeling very tired and getting extremely ratty(mainly with each other)we finally came across the junction for Matusadona and a policeman hitching a lift. We piled him into the back and carried on.

His name was James, very nice and chatty, he had to reach his home 30 k away, a small village called Chikyro and as it was in our vague direction, we were more than happy to help out.

Along a dirt road, we finally reached James homestead just as it was getting dark,so grateful was he for the lift,he said it would be possible for us to camp on his land, this was a huge relief! Introductions to the family were made to his wife,five children his sister and her children and later his father. After some good chats about their life in Zimbabwe ,James wife fed us some boiled mealie cobs and sugar cane (or something similar) and we retired to bed-exhausted, it has to be said.

The family seemed to have a very well organised set-up, consisting of five circular wattle and daub thatched rooms, two being kitchens and two living /sleeping areas, a chicken coup and housing for five donkeys, all very neat and orderly. The children were delightful and had treated us to some funky dance moves Tonga style!

Up at 6:30 the following morning,the children said there goodbyes before school,sadly, all we could offer were some pencils and sweets. It was lovely to spend the evening in such a traditional way,with a warm and hospitable family.

 

On arrival at Matusadona, the rangers told us the roads in the park had been washed away and bridges down, so we abandoned the idea and left for Mana Pools a bit further East (250k) along a dirt road,very remote,we didn’t see another car all day, but was mainly heavily wooded savannah. For much of the way we were travelling along the escarpment of The Zambezi Rift Valley-all very African and jolly! No towns or even villages along the way. Finally joined the main road up towards Zambia, 90k further we reached the park dropping down through stunning scenery to The Zambezi proper, quite spectacular.

Picked up two ladies and offspring at the entrance gate,who were after a lift and continued 80k through the park to a camp-site right on the banks of The Zambezi. Camp sadly quite run-down like most here, a shadow of it’s obviously former self,but superb setting nonetheless. Hippo and Hyena wandering about, one of whom tried to nick our food box,Michael is at war with the monkeys and our only neighbour informed us Lion had walked right passed us in the night roaring away, but we heard nothing,although we did hear a shot the next morning which the rangers fired to scare it away from the nearby staff accommodation!

Went on a drive this morning,didn’t see anything unusual,but it’s definitely 4×4 territory only,if you’re precious about your car don’t come here!

having a bit of a tussle

having a bit of a tussle

We knew it wasn’t the best time to come here as it’s overgrown and difficult to see animals,but it’s a nice place to be all the same.One beast we saw lots of was a thing we called green meenies. At night they came towards us in droves seemed to particularly like emma – not mutual – i had to keep picking them off everything all night while emma tried to avoid them by standing on a stool

a geen meany

a geen meany

Oh and Laura, we finally saw some REALCreasted Guinea Fowl, although I’m nor sure it counts for you to tick them off in your book!!

 

Having left Mana Pools,We visited Lake Kariba, after the dreadful roads in the park, The Blue Beast had developed a serious juddering problem once again. A helpful guy called Philip who worked for Zimbabwe NP recommended another called Alex who fixes all The Parks Defenders, based in Kariba, so off we juddered in search of Alex. After some time searching we tracked him down and he kindly agreed to come to our camp-site, having established the Pan-hard bushes had completely worn. He arrived complete with bushes, ten tonne hydraulic press and set to work with Michael as his assistant, no mean feat as this is in the middle of nowhere!

men at work

men at work

After much effort and a test drive, the Beast was declared fit and well once more, I hardly dare say it but he’s been performing quite well of late.

Paid a visit to Kariba Dam, a massive128 metres high and 260 metres wide,but not gushing when we were there. The Lake is also pretty impressive and beautiful with the mountains beyond.

the dam

the dam

 

Next day was an extremely long one,passing through Harare (the capital) and onwards towards Tete. No camping around Harare, obviously, so continued for some considerable time before finally seeing a camp-site sign advertising “The Village Place” we drove a few km along a dusty track and ended up in some sort of paradise rather bizarrely. A family run business, consisting of Chalets, restaurant and several bars with swimming pool and spotlessly clean loo’s and showers ( I would just like to mention, it’s been a while since we’ve seen any of them) The owner was a Zimbabwean banker in Harare, who has travelled the world quite extensively,,so I guess this could have something to do with the facilities!———–but what a find, especially when it’s getting dark(as it does at 6:30) it’s started to bucket down and your starving!

Left early, travelling along The Tete Corridor,a busy main route, which links Zimbabwe to Malawi,via a narrow slice of Mozambique. Two border crossings, one visa,one car insurance and two tickets for minor driving offences later,we arrived back in Malawi,with five minutes to spare until they closed the border. Next problem, to find somewhere to bed down,once again it was nearly dark and the border towns are always extremely busy and highly populated ,so feeling shattered after 400kms on the roads some of which were badly potholed, hence the bad timing,we started to look for a good wild camping spot.

I saw a sign to “camping”, we felt relieved, but not that hopeful, but set off up the dirt road anyway and continued for 16km, but still no sign of anything and about to give up we spotted a light in the distance,certainly the only one for miles around and just kept heading for it. We eventually pulled up outside what turned out to be a huge Lorry depot. The security guards there said they hadn’t heard of any camping,but understood we just wanted to park up for the night and let us camp outside the entrance. How grateful were we!————-After half a Papaya we went to sleep.

 

As the new web album thing seems to be working i have posted all the photos in various albums on the blog photo page – hopefully makes things easier for all.

 

 

More Mozambique

Celebrated Michael’s birthday with a toasted sandwich, cooked on a damp smouldering fire, whilst Staying on a rustic little camp, just outside Gorongosa National Park. Unfortunately the park itself is closed at this time of year, due to the rains,so we were unable to visit. The park has become something of a success story over the last few years,with substantial funding from a private investor. (The Carr Foundation)

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They go out to sea in these !

 

As we travelled further North, the weather continued to deteriorate,with heavy rain falling for several hundred k’s. The car smelt so bad,due to nothing able to dry properly and there was not a lot of point in washing anything either

.We draped our bedding, towels etc behind our seats, but with humidity so high, it was a waste of time. That said, our sympathies,were really with the people whose houses were under several feet of water…….but why they build so close to The Zambezi, with all the river flood plains when this happens year after year, it’s a given fact, not an exceptional event.

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We met a Zimbabwean who’s been living here for a few years who was very cynical about Aid/ NG0’s here and he pointed out this very fact and said nothing was being done to stop people inhabiting such areas, the government just screams help and agencies turn up and dish out food, every time it happens,the people know this also, so plan the minimum then hold out their hands knowing they will be helped, The country is clearly fertile and with a small population for it’s huge size with plenty of food everywhere,we saw first hand an example of what he meant. A small town affected by flooding – not surprisingly, as its in the flood plain of the Zambezi delta, on one side of the road a huge lorry offloading food aid – sacks of maize flour, the local staple, with queues of people waiting for a hand out and on the other side of the road a local market with farmers selling sacks of corn on the cobs and other stuff with no customers. Do you think they will plant next year or just join the queues?

This type of thing has been encountered everywhere we have been in Africa, after 50 years of aid/ NGO’s and billions of dollars nearly every country is way behind where they started on every measure you can think off – GDP, life expectancy, education etc – whatever it is they are doing is clearly is not working. One thing we have noticed is that in all regional towns you will see major international consultants names on the most substantial buildings ( budget conscious as ever!) not bad work -advise donor countries for a nice fee then get another fee at the other end monitoring/distributing the aid you recommended . All projects have a multitude of signboards listing the endless list of consultants’ funders etc each board probably costing the equivalent of a water supply to a village. Then there’s the fleets of smart white Toyota land cruisers which seem to travel in convoys – a dangerous place Africa!- before they return to their compounds and go and eat at expensive restaurants that deal only with them – Africans can spot an easy buck a mile off. Everybody wonders what it is they all do as they clearly make no difference, the main players locally, run rings around the” highly qualified “ expert consultants as ever and only they benefit from those who need help -smart boys – if only they were more constructively engaged. Did I mention cynicism? Not just me for once – its a very common theme in every country we have been in.Rant over!!

Anyway, we continued to Caia, stopping briefly in Quelimane, one of the oldest towns in Mozambique, but nothing of great interest to report here,very run- down, full of rubbish and with, as it point’s out in the travel guide, potholes of such a magnitude they could hide a family of wallowing Buffalo’s in the rainy season! as the guide says we went through what appeared to be a small one in the town and the water came over the bonnet – wondered why no one else went that way.

After too many miles in the car and no obvious places to camp for the night-we finally spied on”Tracks for Africa” a stopping place, but with no details attached….…… we would soon discover why!

Having driven down a track,with puddles deep enough to swim in,(not their fault) we soon realised we were back to West African standards. It was basically a run-down homestead and after some hanging around,the owner sauntered up. We asked permission to camp in his rather waterlogged yard. Communications,being a bit tricky here, due to the Portuguese spoken. He offered us a room,but we declined, due to the Termite and Mosquito population, preferring to stay in our four star roof tent. He agreed to this and we set up in the mud, being eaten alive by Midges and Mossies. In his so-called Bar,the owner offered us food, we were extremely grateful at this point,as extremely hungry, but fairly desperate when it arrived two hours later! A cold plate of Batatas fritas (chips) and we retired to bed, taking it in turns to swipe the mossies,whilst rather bizarrely some Modern Jazz and Classical music kicked off, played at ridiculous volumes until the small wee hours! We left at the crack of dawn the following morning………..Not all the guy’s fault, but he did rip us off good and proper! We’ve obviously been far to spoilt of late.

 

Decided we didn’t need any more picture postcard beaches,so, instead of moving further North headed back South- West towards Zimbabwe.

Roads here were not bad, but washed out and pot-holed due to heavy rains, meant that we had to play Super Mario pothole Kart, swerving all over the place, penalty for getting it wrong resulted in serious jolts and bangs and potentially worse. Streams of people each side of villages, as is the norm, generally carrying everything on their heads, or by bicycles African stylee, special mention must go to ladies carrying Watermelons on their heads (try it) and two little girls, one who had a coke can complete with a straw and another with flower-pot and plant, balancing rather well I might add , as ever in Africa ,children are allowed far more freedom and expected to contribute to family life. It’s not unusual to see very young kids carrying huge water-containers,with younger siblings,in a sling on their backs.

 

We are generally a keen source of interest once again,along the road are the usual cottage industries,Charcoal sellers fruit sellers bicycle repair shops and the like. One I don’t think mentioned before are The Stone people,who, as there are no stone crushers in Africa it would appear, so gravel and stone chippings are made by people bashing rocks into smaller pieces ,which are sold in conical piles on the roadside. It sounds harsh, but is clearly employment for a lot of people. A similar phenomenon is the verge cutter’s, gangs of men with panga’s cutting down the three ft high roadside vegetation,they work like machines,impressive to watch in the midday heat, clearly very strong and fit with a physique that you’re average gym goer would be more than happy with!Women likewise very lithe and fit – no pie eaters here.

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Animal lovers out there won’t like it here. Selling Chickens here involves swinging live ones madly in the air and jumping up and down in the middle of the road to make you stop the car, the other speciality is bicycle goat transport,which involves strapping the poor goats to bikes in ingenious ways,that are not necessarily welfare friendly…………..I could go on, the list is, rather sadly, endless.

 

Stayed overnight at a lovely place called Mphingwe ,30 k south of Caia. Comes highly recommended,we met a very nice young couple helping to manage the nearby Gorongosa NP, exchanged our varying experiences, but can only be jealous of their funding and the way in which they are headed. They gave us a copy of a National Geographic film on the parks recovery, which has helped enormously in raising the parks profile/ if only something similar could be achieved in Malawi.

On that subject, we are heading up to Nyika in Malawi via Zimbabwe, to do a month or so’s hand-over with Geoff and Patsy, who are returning to New Zealand, then we’ll hold the fort for six months before returning home early next year.

Many South Africans were full of words of caution -quoting police corruption etc and all sorts of “difficulties” when we were there. Trust us, this was not our experience, it is a very nice country,with lovely people and well worth a visit, I am sure you will enjoy it – certainly one of our favourites. Sad to leave, but visa running out.

Hopefully posted new photos in usual place

trying new experiment below as well to see if it works