Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Relieve me

Never tell a Zimbabwean you are going to Zim or you may find yourself smuggling strange goods

We’d driven the pile of nappies over hill and dale, lake and mountain, gravel and pothole and through four countries. Now we had finally reached Zimbabwe and could dump them. So to speak.

I’d originally agreed to carry a small parcel to Bulawayo. Six boxes had turned up. Six vast boxes, unsubtly labelled Dis-Chem and containing a hundred and fifty adult nappies. Half a bakkie-load. And there was a blanket too. But not just any blanket. One of those giant blankets that comes with its own zip-up carrying bag. A blanket large enough, in fact, to make a sizeable bivouac.

Never tell a Zimbabwean you are going to Zim.

We cunningly buried the boxes under our camping equipment and agreed to tell any inquisitive officials that they were for my personal use. In my fiftieth year I was obviously about to lose control of my faculties and liable to urinate or, heaven forbid, defecate uncontrollably at any moment. The disposable contents of the boxes would allow these actions to be carried out discreetly. I suggested, when crossing borders, that I should perhaps wear a pair of absorbent briefs over my shorts, superman-style, to reinforce the situation, as it were, but it was agreed that this strategy would come into play in emergencies only.

Our padded contraband passed unnoticed out of South Africa and through Mozambique, unsullied even after a dodgy prawn in Inhambane. We had established, in case explanation was required, established that the local word for nappy is fralda and that incontinent, not surprisingly, isincontinente in Portuguese. So far so good.

On reaching the Zòbué border between Mozambique and Malawi, however, things got a bit, erm, stickier.

We declared ourselves to be carrying ‘camping equipment’ but officialdom wasn’t having it. A sturdy woman in a tight-fitting uniform into which you couldn’t have squeezed a small tissue, let alone an absorbent pad, insisted that we provide a detailed list or unpack the vehicle. And no amount if jolly humour on our part was going to talk her out of it.

Item by item, we slowly removed bicycles, tents, sleeping bags and mats, food boxes, a braai grille, kit bags, charcoal, a tool kit, a 40-litre water tank, two pairs of muddy hiking boots and then our secret weapon – an open bag full of dirty laundry. At this point she quailed. No smuggled discovery was worth the discomfort of dealing with soiled clothing. Little did she know what else was lurking deeper under the canopy …

The nappies passed unchallenged through Malawi and unnoticed into Zambia where they spent four happy nappy days in South Luangwa before pushing south-west and unsprayed over the bridge at Victoria Falls. And now here they were in Bulawayo.

We called the number we’d been given to arrange delivery. In Hope Foundation Road – how apt, we thought. Look for a nurse in a pink T-shirt.

We drove up and down the road. No nurse. No pink T-shirt. We called again.

Next to the Greenhouses? Green houses? Or greenhouses? Just past the Sunlight bus stop.

We asked a blue-overalled passer-by, pushing a bicycle. “I don’t know, boss, I am new here, sorry, from Masvingo, but, please boss, I need job.”

Still no pink T-shirt. Stymied at the last. We’d driven these oversized pampers 8000 kilometres around Africa. Now we couldn’t deliver them where they were so sorely needed. Giving up reluctantly, we left them at a spaza shop with a gentle dollar-bribed guard.

I heard later that afternoon that the nurse had taken delivery. Mission accomplished. Just in time, according to Nurse. I was so relieved I almost wet myself.

Neighbourly Love

Despite a few scares on the way to the ablution block, Chris Harvie finds Zimbabwe ready and willing for visitors

Leander Starr Jameson stood on the steps of Bulawayo’s first hotel in 1874 and declared the town open. His speech – his entire speech – went like this:

“It is my job to declare this town open, gentlemen. I don’t think we want any talk about it. I make the declaration now. There is plenty of whisky and soda inside, so come in.”

That was it. And the good news is that, after years of chaos, the whole of Zimbabwe is open for business again and not only is there whisky and soda, there is also fuel at the pumps and food in the shops and restaurants. The electricity is on most of the time and there’s water in the taps. The phoenix has risen from the ashes and is soaring in almost-full flight.

Crossing at the Beitbridge border has never been easy. It’s still uneasy but if you follow the arrows, you won’t need any help from the chancers who will stalk you. The roads are in reasonable nick and the $1 tolls every 200km are obviously being put to good use in patching up the few remaining potholes.

The most surprising aspect of our stay was the outstanding quality of the game viewing. Far from being poached out, the animals and birds seem to have reclaimed their territory from mankind during the past few quieter years and are more visible and relaxed than ever before.

Zimbabwe’s national parks all have their individual appeal and each offers a range of accommodation, from well-equipped chalets to basic camping. It would be wrong to suggest that everything is perfect. Some of the buildings are inevitably a bit run down and the ablution blocks in the campsites are not in a great state of repair, but camping is about roughing it a bit, after all, so it’s no great hardship to push a rock against a shower door where the bolt has broken. The water is hot and the toilets are clean and functional. Surely that’s all you really need?

If you haven’t been to Matopos (officially now known as Matobo), you haven’t understood Zimbabwe. Standing on a giant koppie next to Cecil Rhodes’s grave, you can look out over bright lichen and boulder-strewn peaks, with seemingly endless ridges rolling away towards the hazy horizon.

It is truly a majestic place, which brings home all the contrasts of this disrupted land. Everybody wants a bit of Zimbabwe and the issues and claims are real but despite numerous attempts by the powers-that-be to shift him, Cecil Rhodes still has his World’s View, with Jameson, the whisky-drinker, alongside him.

We tried in vain to visit King Lobengula’s nearby grave but nobody seemed to know exactly where it was, this missing link in history seeming somehow anomalous in a confident land, proud of its heritage and broadly tolerant of its past.

Its views aside, camped on the dam at Matopos at the end of two days filled with rock art and rhinos and looking into an unpolluted star-scattered sky, we reckoned it couldn’t get much better – until we arrived in Hwange the next day.

After checking in at the main camp, we quickly pitched our tent next to the mangled fence. One of my co-voyagers had never been on safari so a quick drive in the late afternoon was called for.

“Oh look, there’s a wild dog,” announced the game virgin, and he was right.

In fact, at Hwange, he was to see three wild dogs and then two lionesses stalking a sable before he saw a kudu or an impala. A leopard brazenly dodged the potholes in the road in front of us and we photographed numerous idyllic borehole scenes with scatterings of antelope, zebra and giraffes. The bird life was equally rewarding, with sightings of crowned crane and frequent crimson-breasted shrikes.

A couple of days later, dragging reluctantly north towards Victoria Falls, I was filled with foreboding. On my previous visit, I had cycled across the bridge from Zambia for lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Successfully fighting my way through the hordes of hawkers, I found myself alone on the hotel verandah, where I was offered a warm Coke and cheese sandwich, “If we can find some cheese.”

This time? Transformed. I had one of the most delicious pieces of salmon I have ever eaten on the same stoep, which boasted a polished refurbishment and dozens of tables filled with revelling tourists.

Camping on the river’s edge at the Zambezi National Park’s Chundu camp, with a long-drop loo and washing in the river, we walked along its banks, startling close-up waterbuck, kudu, baboons and numerous smaller critters. And yes, we saw wild dog on the way in. Eleven of them. Hunting. Wow.

The drive to Mana Pools from Vic Falls requires a stopover and ours was at Binga – rather a sad spot on Kariba, littered with abandoned houseboats. But Mana Pools is one of the most beautiful places on earth (once you’ve reconstructed your shattered skeleton after the road). Nine wild dogs wandered through the Nyameni campsite as we put the tent up. Truly.

By day, we walked freely in the bush, scattering the baboons and walking up close to eland, waterbuck and zebra. The earth-quaking roars of a pride of lion over the river in Zambia kept us awake all night and the hippos pulled up on the banks next to our tent, lying like fat ticks in the sand. The animals are described as “habituated”, which is an interesting term. They are not tame but they are used to human presence, which means a wide berth is still advisable. I had more than a few scares on the way to the ablution block.

Nyameni camp is truly astonishing. Next time, I shall stay for a week. Or maybe two.

Late one afternoon, we hired a kayak from a park official called Lovemore and a fishing rod from another called Trymore. Lovemore took us down the river gurgling with grunting hippos, stopping on an island or two to fish for bream in the pools. A pair of elephant tussled on the bank.

The sun dropped through an orange sky into the river as we headed back upstream with two fish bagged and the hippos erupting loudly around us. Safely ashore, we were greeted, unbelievably, by another member of the staff called Givemore. These names seemed to sum up the new Zimbabwe and all three of these Mores begged us to spread the word and send our friends. We promised we would.

A few last words of advice when visiting Zimbabwe: don’t rush. Be appreciative of the Zimbabweans’ enthusiasm for their new-found stability. Buy your supplies at TM supermarkets countrywide. Pay your fines with a good grace and get a receipt. Beware of wild dog everywhere.

And avoid Jack’s Zimbabwean Whiskey – it tastes like meths, and is slightly purple in colour, so probably is meths. Even Leander Starr Jameson, however enthusiastic he might have felt for highland flavours, would have had to draw the line somewhere well above this tipple were it to fall to him to celebrate the reopening of Zimbabwe with a tot or two, but that reopening is nevertheless worthy of huge celebration.

On the road to Rhodes

Exhausted from standing in the burning sun of the Beit Bridge border and dealing with its long-winded officialdom, we stopped only once, for an ice-cold dry lemon at a spaza on the roadside, then pushed on to Bulawayo.

In a lay-by a few kilometres south of the city, a horde of hardy Ndebele women were flogging red onions and pumpkins alongside one of the $1 toll booths that now liberally sprinkle Zimbabwe’s thoroughfares. Cheerful pedestrians milled around in the hot afternoon sun, their smiles darkening only momentarily as a dusty twister blew through.

A bored policeman had recently and disinterestedly checked our vehicle papers before waving us on but Karen, our trusty Garmin Australian, was uncharacteristically confused (we found that Karen, with her obvious aboriginal roots, pronounced African names better than Serena, her pukka British counterpart).

We weren’t exactly lost. We were on Cecil Rhodes’s road on what is, I suppose nowadays, a somewhat politically incorrect pilgrimage to his grave. This required, we realised, a small detour from his Cape-to-Cairo route, up to the hills and balancing rocks of the Matopos. We just weren’t sure which was the quickest route, the afternoon was wearing on and we still had a tent to pitch.

We hailed a would-be red-onion-buyer, a tall man in his 30s, an oversized mac shielding him from the blazing sun. Hello. How are you? Fine and you? Fine and you? Fine and you? Etcetera. One must be especially polite when seeking directions from people in foreign climes.

“Which way to Matobo?” I asked, pleased with myself for using the new name of the park where Rhodes companionably shares his impressive World’s View resting place with his old buddy Leander Starr Jameson, eponymous of raid fame, Patrick Coghlan, a former Rhodesian PM; and sundry victims of the Shangani raid.

“‘Matopos?” said Mac-man, using the old name with reckless abandon.

“Yes, please. There seem to be hundreds of roads to Rhodes,” I jested, pointlessly.

“No there aren’t!” he politely corrected me, going on to prove himself conclusively wrong. “Travel straight for 3km, then, at the second junction, turn left into Cecil Avenue and go 1km, turn right and then left into Matopos Road.”

Cecil Avenue sounded promising.

“Or carry on and just before the Ascot Racecourse, turn left and go 1km and turn right and then left into Matopos Road.”

“Or go a bit further and at the Kenilworth Towers skyscraper and the Ascot Shopping Centre turn left .

“Or go on past the museum and Centenary Park and then left onto Matopos Road.

“Or just go straight and ask somebody,” Mac-man helpfully added at the end.

We decided to go straight on. Bulawayo is renowned for its wide streets in which you can turn a full span of oxen, so a U-turn in a bakkie wouldn’t be a problem if we went wrong.

What a place. Broekie-lace abundant in faded colonial glory; many mock-Tudor mansions with ill-fitting tiled roofs. The Natural History Museum with the world’s finest collection of stuffed animals and birds. Everywhere, Bulawayo’s droopy-Y-shaped streetlights towered above us. This was no longer a decaying city. It was alive with traffic and commerce.

But I digress. We had a grave to find and we were looking for Matopos Road.

Which was all very well except that it isn’t called Matopos Road until further out of town. Numerous oxen-free U-turns later, we found it. It’s called Samuel Parirenyatwa Road.

Karen, who would later in the trip get horribly confused trying to find the “Hwan”‘ National Park, says Parirenyatwa much better than I do. Nevertheless, it seems after all that Mac-man was right. All roads lead to Rhodes.