Saturday, August 6, 2022

ZIMBABWE'S MOUNTAINS ROCK

 

Entry generally takes a bit longer than exiting a country, but Zim (as Zimbabwe is affectionately known) is not too bad. Covid & temp check, new visas purchased (because they don’t recognise our Kaza visas here), carnet paperwork slow as he has no idea and has to consult the boss, then the usual payment for insurance etc. $100US later we are stamped in and free to go with nary a look at the vehicle. Hello Zim.

We head through the town of Kariba, admire the many houseboats jammed along the lake front, organise yet another canvas guy to repair John’s firewood bags and find a great spot to camp at a fishing resort. We are sitting outside enjoying the evening when we hear rustling and get a heck of a shock when a huge hippo passes by just a few metres away. And in the morning, we enjoy the antics of the zebras as they play around us.

Time to collect our new modified bags before heading across country to Mana Pools National Park – the gem in the crown here. A lot of dirt road, the first half good and the second corrugated (John’s favourite!! Not) We have been told to just turn up and fortunately there are riverfront spaces free and we gulp as we pay the foreigner entry & camping fees $202 US for 2 days. Here all the campers head out twice a day at both dawn & dusk to animal spot. So being good little people we do just that. Sadly, only invisible cats for us, but plenty of elephants, hippos, antelopes and baboons. The rest of the day we can laze beside the river and meet friendly people. A lovely family invite us over for dinner and we spend the evening chatting. He lectures at a Bible School in Harare and 2 of their adult children are home from college in Idaho enjoying time with their parents.

Finally, time to hit those corrugations again and head south towards the big smoke at Harare. But we won’t make it in one day so we stop at the Chinhoyi Caves National Park to camp and of course check out the cave with its stunning blue lake. Later that night our guard (with a gun) comes twice to check on us and then again at 6.30am knocks on our door to check we are OK. Hmmm perhaps he wants a tip, but that won’t happen by waking us up!

Then on to the busy chaotic city of Harare. There is not too much in the way of sights so we head to the centre and drive up and down the main streets watching the usual city craziness. Much easier from the truck as we can see so much more than walking down the footpath. Eventually we crawl through the traffic to the ring road and head west through areas covered with rocky outcrops. We stop for yummy meat pies at the famous Surrey Pies before heading towards the Rhodes Nyanga National Park, finally stopping for the night at the quirky Hidden Rocks. Sadly, it is way too cold to sit outside. There are lots of little tracks to explore for great views over some amazing rock formations and we eventually find the rock art. We also spend time chatting with a family from Harare who are in a chalet here. His take on the local currency confirms that we won’t be getting any, we will stick with the US$ that they prefer here. His family lost their farm years ago and now he runs a business, but won’t put his money in the bank as it has been swooped out in the past. Twice! Instead, he has a very high mattress. Oh, and you can become a millionaire in a few days here by simply changing local monies for US dollars a few times – if you know the right person! But I digress. As we have a glorious blue sky today, we head to “World View” set on top of a mountain. I don’t put on my boots thinking we will wander the grassy tracks, but of course John has other ideas and before I know it, we are climbing the rocky mastiff for more sweeping views.

 Later we head down the mountain to Cecil Rhodes house that is now a hotel. It has an attached museum which proves very informative. We stay for dinner and sleep in the carpark.  Spend a lot of time chatting to a successful and incredibly smart native farmer (with a degree from Monash) and his take on the country is fascinating.

The morning starts fine, but it isn’t long before we drive through mist as we head south. A long coffee break before it clears and we can enjoy the mountainous scenery.  As we head down the mountains, we see the town of Mutare sprawling along a lovely valley. And as usual we drive along the main streets admiring the chaos and the old buildings reminiscent of outback Australian towns. John spies a workshop and manages to get a Zim no plate to add yet more decoration to the truck. While it is still sunny, we decide to head to the Vumba region, stopping first at a great lookout. Below us we can see trucks stretching for miles waiting to cross the border to Mozambique. We plan to “drive” the scenic 70km loop, but after 10km of horrible potholes we give up and instead head to Vumba itself which a gorgeous forest area on the mountain top. Then of course we stop at the famous Tonys Tea Shop for ultra-delicious cake and hot chocolate. Tony suggests we stay at the Hot Springs for the night so we head there. It proves better than expected and the pools are a great to soak in that evening and again in the morning.

We hit the road, this time heading to Chimanimani passing over some glorious mountains dotted with thatched cottages and covered with rows and rows of terraced crops. As we descent towards town the whole area is swathed in forest and we discover a huge forestry mill. Trucks are entering with huge logs and exiting with huge loads of milled timber. At the old village we stop for permits and head to Bridal Falls. Amazingly the dirt tracks leads us right to the base of the falls, but we still find a track to trudge up to see the higher falls. Phew! Quite a steep climb. We head out before the clouds roll in to the amazing lookout at Pork Pie. Great spot for a chilly lunchbreak. By now the clouds have rolled in and we head out of the valley and over the mountains. Down down to lush valleys with crops of bananas and other tropical fruits.  Once we reach the main road we head west and cross the Birchenough Bridge, which looks remarkably like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, except I’m sure it has a lean. All trucks have to be weighed (if too heavy they are sent away!) and allowed to cross one at a time. Its nearly dusk so we stop at a rundown motel/camp area. John chats to the official looking group in a big tent and discovers that are waiting for people to come in and register to vote. They have been here 4 days and so far, 10 people have registered!

Today we move on to Greater Zimbabwe after which this country is now named. I have found a scenic drive around Lake Mutirikiwi, that takes us there instead of the main road, so we head along it. Pretty rough, but it improves and we pass lots of thatched villages with people busy in the fields and children streaming out of school waving madly. As we near the end of the lake we spy an Overland truck so pull over. It is Wolfi & Verena, who we met in Togo a few years back. It is great to catch up and we stay there beside the lake with them for the night, sharing a fire.

As always time to move on, so after our goodbyes we head into Great Zimbabwe. We settle into the lovely grassy camping area before walking through these amazing old ruins for the rest of the day. Apparently, they are the 5th Ancient Man-Made Wonder of the World.  The huge drystone walls are very impressive, the higher section up on the rocks are great to explore and the museum informative, even though you need a torch to see it as the power isn’t working. The last area to see is a replica Shona village with a local group playing crazy instruments while others dance.

Wake to rain, so a slow start. Chat to other camper and end up sharing coffee inside in the dry. Later we head out towards Bulawyo. On the way we see another Overland truck so stop to chat. Later we stop at Mbalabala to look at a friend’s old school. It is now a Military College so we can’t enter. The old primary and secondary school are still there, but further inside the grounds. Later still we roll into the city of Bulawayo and are pleasantly surprised at the lovely grassy campground right near the city centre.  In the morning we head off on foot to explore. It has massive wide streets and seems to spread out for miles. Quite a few old colonial buildings and a huge old Basilica. After lots of walking we head to a coffee shop. Wait for ages but its great people watching. We share our table with an older couple – he was an Economist and General in the Army, and spent time in Moscow. Fascinating.  Time to walk on to the Railway Museum which is surprisingly good. A train lovers paradise with so many trains & carriages. The curator opens Cecil Rhodes (the former leader after whom the country was formerly named: Rhodesia) personal pullman carriage commissioned especially for him. The height of luxury in those days. Back at the campground we decide we have time to head out to the Khami ruins just out of town. A lovely lady shows us around the mainly “reconstructed” ruins. We had planned to camp here overnight, but it’s Friday and people are wandering through the area, so we head back to the camp in town.

Monday morning, we head to a workshop who said they could repair John’s driving seat. The whole seat has sagged and he being propping it up with wooden blocks and towels. Success! Now a more comfortable ride, so we head north to our next destination – Hwange National Park. Much later that day, and on pretty good road, we turn off towards the park. But before we head to a camping area, we stop at the Painted Dog Research Centre. It has a fabulous display about the dogs and we are taken through to see 2 dogs they have at the moment.  Then on to Gwango Camp area, just outside the National Park for the night. In the evening we watch a group of elephants and their babies drinking at the water hole. A few even raise their trunks to drink from the upstairs swimming pool.

Bright and early (6.30am) we head into the park and start our wildlife drive. And wow it doesn’t disappoint. A passing tour vehicle tells us there are cheetahs ahead, and even though the other vehicles have left we find them after driving back and forward a few times. A magic hour spent watching them. We are joined by a whole string of tour vehicles. As we head to where we hope to camp, we are told about a lion, so we hunt him down. He is reclining under a tree, just lazing the day away. We hop in the back of GR2, eat our lunch and hope he will move. He doesn’t so we head to camp. All seems OK and we are just getting ready for another drive when a group of vehicles pull in. We are told to leave as they have booked the site exclusively. Oh bother – we should have checked on entry. We head back out of the park just reaching the gate before closing time. But the bonus is the huge group of elephants crossing the road outside the park. And then the next morning at our campsite the elephants arrive to drink. Awesome.

We decide it is time to move on so we head north to the town of Victoria Falls and settle into the great camping area at the N1 Hotel right in the centre of town. We walk to a few free lookouts and stop at the gorgeously located Lookout Café. Dinner that night at the iconic Victoria Hotel. At the camp area we meet Heleen & James who we met in Zambia and they invite us to stay with them on their campsite beside the Chobe River in Botswana on Friday. What an offer – we jump at the offer, and so stay another day here in Vic Falls. Well as we are here, we really must go and see the falls again. Not so wet this time, but still magnificent.

Friday sees us heading out of town and heading to the border. It is an incredibly quiet border and before we know it, we are stamped out. Goodbye Zim. We have enjoyed our time here and the people we have met, some with memorable names. For example: “Pretty” who we met in a café, “Obvious” who fixed John’s seat, “Marvellous” from the Hotel reception, “Tellmore” who gave John another no plate and our favourite – “Trouble” who was the caretaker at Great Zimbabwe. Naturally John tells him he should have a twin called “Double”!!

 

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