Installment 15: Zimbabwe – Don’t believe everything you read and hear!

Jen: The last few weeks have been spent in Zimbabwe and we’ve had a thoroughly great time. We’d heard mixed things about Zim before we arrived – obviously there are the politics, issues with the economy and lots of horror stories about corruption and bribery. Having said that other overlanders we’ve met on route have had lots of positive things to say, especially about the people so we were keen to find out for ourselves….

From Joburg we had a couple of big driving days to get up to Harare and on route faced our  1st Zim challenge: The border

We’d heard lots of nightmare reports about the border crossing at Beitbridge, – huge queues, big bribes, fixers scamming you and staff that take a pleasure out of making your day a misery …. we therefore made an early start and were prepared to be very patient and not let any immigration staff get to us. All this was pretty unnecessary as by 7:30 we were through into Zim– no big queues, no bribes required and helpful smiley staff throughout – the crossing was as straight forwards as any border we’ve crossed since Sudan into Ethiopia.

As soon as we entered the country it was clear to see that everything is a little run down with quite a lot of rubbish around and buildings and land looking very tired, however it was good to see people on the roads and small market stalls – we were back in Africa!

As we drove we faced Challenge no 2 – Zim police!

If we were to believe what we’d been told we’d be stopped every 20km or so, the vehicle would be thoroughly checked, the police would find something wrong or make something up in order to get some money out of us and we’d need to budget for the police bribes for each journey … from our experience we drove through a police road block every 50-100km, not every block would even stop us, when they did sometimes all they wanted was a chat, to find out how were enjoying Zimbabwe and find out where we were from. A couple carried out some cursory checks but we found the police nothing but professional and generally extremely friendly – Tanzania police could learn a lot from these guys!

We arrived in Harare where we stayed at the Small World Backpackers Lodge which was heaving with lots of people there to go to the Harare International Festival Arts (HIFA). Our camping spot was a very tight space in the car park and it wasn’t very long before we got chatting to our new very close neighbours Nikos and Georiga, a really fun overlanding couple from Greece who were also camping on their roof – within an arms length of us. We had a fun day at the HIFA festival with a good crowd from the hostel, unfortunately we couldn’t check out quite as much music as we’d have liked as at the HIFA festival you have to pay for each act so we just popped a long to a couple of gigs – over to our resident gig reviewer Butler:

Ben – The festival is on for a number of days, we could only visit for one.  It’s a slightly strange setup with one free stage where acts come and go and you can sit and chat with friends (this was nice but none of the acts grabbed me at all).  Around this there are a number of other tents/stages where you can pay to see specific acts, we went to see 2 gigs, Kunle Ayo & Adiana Mabroke in the afternoon, and Bheki Bhoza & Victor Kutonga in the evening.

Kunle Ayos was nice enough with lots of lovely African guitar & a guest appearance from an Aussie trumpet player (who’s name escapes me), who added something quite jazz oriented and unique.  Adiana Mabroke is a vocalist from South Africa I think, not my cup of tea, a bit Celine Dion, and lyrics cheesier than a Roquefort and Camembert Sandwich with side serving of cheesy Watsits.

In the evening we saw local boy Victor Kutonga on stage with Bheki Bhoza.  This was much more like it.  Some typically African outfits set things off on the right foot, then the guitar work of the 2 main guys cut in on top of some very smooth work from the backline-chaps. 

Before the gigs started we were all warned not to dance on the “grandstand” we were sat in as it might collapse, and indeed it might of done!!!  Luckily the dancing was left mainly to a very energetic white girl who seemed to take great pleasure it diverting attention from the acts with here crazy moves in front of the stage.  Her efforts to drag the serious looking men in suits (Friends of Roberts maybe?) from their positions on plastic chairs in the front row failled though, shame.

Jen: My brother Andy arrived the day afterwards and we headed north out of Harare towards Lake Kariba. We knew the road wasn’t going to be great and accommodation options were somewhat limited but as we do our best not to do the same road twice it was the only way for us – Andy was certainly thrown into overlanding with a good long, rough road day. Due to there being so few places and bush camping not being an ideal start to Andys holiday we headed to Chizaria National Park – we arrived as it was getting dark and the road was as rough as we’ve come across (not a good combination) this led us to having an impromptu bush camp outside the Park Offices. We spent the next morning having a drive around the park but didn’t see a great deal, we therefore headed on to our next stop and enjoyed a very nice campground, complete with swimming pool on the shores of Lake Kariba (Andy seemed much happier with this set up!)

We then made our way to Vic Falls and camped up at a backpackers place. We had a fantastic day viewing Vic Falls from as many different ways as we could find on the Zim side. We walked along the 14 view points in the park. Initially we laughed at the tour groups in their huge ponchos… Being just after the rainy season we were expecting it to be wet in places but as we got towards Danger Point (one of the views that is directly opposite the main falls) the amount of rain (spray) coming down was like being in a huge downpour – the multi coloured poncho people were indeed very clever!

JustaLittleWet_VicFalls

JustaLittleWet_VicFalls

TheSpraythatThunders

TheSpraythatThunders

Later that afternoon we took a little trip out to Vic Falls Hotel which is a beautiful old colonial building with views of the spray and Vic Falls Bridge in the distance. It’s a very fine place to go for afternoon tea with lots of very nicely dressed people having lots of fancy cakes off twee cake stands. We decided $30 was a bit pricey for some cake so opted for some hot drinks and not only enjoyed the views but also smiled at the well to do people having a jolly afternoon (we fitted right in as I’m sure you can imagine!).

Hwange National Park was our next stop and as it’s been quite a while since we’ve been on a safari Ben and I were really looking forward to it. We entered from the less used side on the West and stayed at Robins Camp before making our way East over the next few days to Main camp. We got to enjoy the numerous animal hides and water pans that are dotted around Hwange (known as Wankie locally which we couldn’t help but find amusing). It was really lovely to sit, relax and watch the animals come to us rather than drive around for hours and hours in search of them. The last morning around Nyamandhlovu Pan was particularly special with so many different animals arriving.

HwangeMorning

HwangeMorning

We also have to say a big thanks to Rich and Ali who we’d taken a safari with in Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda – they’d shown us how interesting the smaller mammals and birdlife can be. This meant we had a far more interesting safari in Hwange with a much better appreciation of everything around us. We had one particularly nice afternoon/ evening at Mandavu Dam. The local park attendant – Knowledge (there as so many amazing names in Zim, we’ve met Privilege, 2-Years and Talent) could spot Waterbuck, Impalas and Kudus on the opposite shore which was about 1km away. We all picked up the binoculars to look where he was pointing and sometimes struggled to see things straight away. We were all in awe at how he could spot animals so far away with just his eyes. The dam was full of hippos which made lots of good noises during the night!

We then headed for Bulawayo, Zims second city and had a good couple of days enjoying the old colonial architecture, an art gallery and the lads also had some fun in an old railway museum. Bulawayo was most memorable for me because of the amazing friendly people we seemed to meet everywhere, all with the most enormous smiles.

Matobos National Park is just slightly south of Bulawayo and is famous for it’s granite landscapes, some ancient San Rock paintings and also being the burial place of Cecil John Rhodes. We spent a couple of days exploring the park, it’s stunning with some massive granite rocks just balanced on top of others. We attempted to walk up to one of the old caves which is famous for rock paintings but unfortunately started out a bit late in the day and weren’t expecting to find the navigation quite so tricky. It all seemed quite easy before we set out – “just follow the yellow arrows” however the yellow arrows came and went and not being a particularly well trodden path we spent some time walking around in circles in search of the elusive arrows. At 3:30 we decided to cut our losses and head back to camp as we didn’t want to be in search of arrows in the dark!

InsearchofArrows_Hwange

InsearchofArrows_Hwange

When we got back to camp we met a lovely South African couple – Gerhard and Santie who invited us over for drinks. When we arrived they’d cooked us 2nd dinner and were also keen to share lots of drinks with us. We had a really lovely evening chatting about our travels. On our last night in Matobos we decided to go rhino trekking with a local guide. We spent a few hours looking for footprints, dung, scratching posts and pathways but unfortunately didn’t quite manage to see a rhino, apparently they were “very very close”. Despite not seeing the rhino we all had a great afternoon and learnt a lot from our guide and it’s made us keen to do more guided safaris in future.

We then headed to Great Zimabwe, an ancient city built with big stone walls in between the massive granite bolders which dates back to about 1100AD and is therefore pretty unique in Sub Saharan Africa.  Coincidently we bumped into Sam and Kat again who’d we’d met in the Drakensberg, we had a good night with them catching up on travels since we last met and made some tentative plans to join them in Luangwa for a night drive.

Finally we headed back to Harare, had a very nice last night with Andy by visiting the Book Café – Harare’s leading venue for music and arts. Following previous African gig experiences we had a little bit of a shock when we popped down there at 6:30 to check out what was happening later that night – there was a band already on the stage! We headed back a little later to enjoy some good African rhythms and  lots of locals very much enjoying themselves with a lot of dancing.

Next on the agenda is another truck service (yep we’ve completed another 6000km since Nelspruit) before driving up to Zambia to visit South Luangwa and then checking out Vic Falls from the other side.

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4 Responses to Installment 15: Zimbabwe – Don’t believe everything you read and hear!

  1. SandAntz says:

    Go see the crocodile farm at Siansowa, Zambia! Awesome to hear all about the Zim travels. Drive safely. ant, S and Zoe

  2. Andy Bower says:

    Hi guys, trip is still sounding as amazing as ever, finally started to catch up a bit again. Sounds like Zim is a far nicer place to visit than European news/views would have you believe, sounds that way with a lot of Africa, did you get any video of the music festival? Keep on trucking and hope the beast keeps on doing sterling work (got to say I’m amazed how well it’s been doing given the terrain at some points!)

    • Sadley we didnt get any video footage of the festival, only stills.
      You’re right about real life verses the impression in the world media, they have to fill pages and airtime with something, and bad news seems to sell better!
      We have been putting the wagon through its paces, and we’re touching 40,000km now. Shes going well!

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