We flew back to Jo’Berg, after almost a month at home. It felt great to be back of the road and our short trip home had revitalised both of us to travelling. We retrieved Stanley from a lovely family who had been looking after him for us, and they also offered us dinner and a bed for a night, living us to our experience of all South Africans and their insane generosity.
The plan had been to progress into Mozambique, however, after some light googling, we found that some of the roads we would have had to pass, were… troublesome. These roads now required a convoy in order to drive along them, and some of these convoys had been targeted by armed rebels. So that was a no for us. The plan quickly changed for Zimbabwe, and I for one, am extremely glad it did.
Arriving in Jo’berg, we drove to Pretoria to set up camp to fix up Stanley. This took us a bit longer than we expected, as we needed to order some parts, and we spent five days in the country’s capital. Although pretty, we struggled with things to do for five days, so when James heard the Lions were playing in Johannesburg in the Super Rugby final, we seemed to acquire tickets faster then I could say no. We got the train there, and got an eye-opening bus ride through the city before we arrived at the stadium and saw the Lions (South African) destroy the Highlanders (New Zealanders). After dancing with the celebrating rugby fans, and listening to an ad hoc brass band that had come to watch, we head home very merry.
We left South Africa, after a car service and acquiring a few bits and bobs for Stanley, and headed towards the only border with Zim. Beitbridge, has a bit of a reputation for being a long winded border, but with Zim being our 24th country on the trip, we decided to get on with it. Well, the reputation is well earned. It took hours. Nine, in fact. The queues were just phenomenal. There was the same amount of stops as any other border, but each queue seemed to last at least two hours. Zimbabwe has extremely strict rules on what can be imported, in order to protect the few remaining dollars that they have, and support their own industries. However, South African goods are much cheaper, and what results is thousands of people crossing the border each day to shop in South Africa, and then bring back the limited amount they are allowed in the same day. Each must be stamped in and out of each country, and also searched to ensure they are not bringing in over their quota. It took forever. We also discovered an Italian family who had just rented a car for their holiday, who were also stuck in the chaos. This was probably not the introduction to Africa they were hoping for, but they seemed to be coping well. Finally, after receiving all our stamps, insurance and tax we got back in the car and immediately realised our error. We had parked near the entrance so as not to obstruct anyone else. No one else had followed suit, but had abandoned their cars nearer the offices, blocking the path to customs and through into Zim. So we had to sit, and wait for everyone to also complete their paperwork.
Finally, we got the car searched, and I rallied a few customs officials to try and get them to speed up and get to us quicker. I explained to the official we had been there for nearly nine hours, he replied, “Yes, well we try to see tourists quicker.” He clearly thought I meant this as a compliment as to how quick they were…
We made our way to the nearest campsite, and passed out in a haze of straight-to-wok noodles and South African beer. The next day, we were off to Gonarezhou National Park, a little known park on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. It is in fact the other side of the border to Kruger, so should prove to be a lovely place. We arrived at the campsite on the shore of the Limpopo river and discovered we were to be totally on our own. There were a few other tourists, mostly Zimbabweans, but the campsites were incredibly spread out. We even had our own shower and toilet block. As we pulled in, we jumped out of the car as we realised a pod of hippos were parked right outside our camp spot. I reacted even faster when I realised an elephant was munching its way towards us from the other side of the campsite. This was clearly going to be an amazing place. We set up our campfire and tent, and watched the sunset over the hippos, and other than the odd grunt from them, all was quiet. We slept deeply and woke the next morning to a pile of elephant poo outside the tent. It seems we’d had visitors.
We drove around the park, and encountered few other tourists, but many an elephant, as there were around 11000 in the park. We had a very peaceful day, and had a walk up to waterfalls at the end of the campsite. We passed some other tourists, who seemed to be having trouble from the baboons. On entry to the park, the officials are very clear – the baboons will have anything that you leave out. They had possibly not heeded this warning, and had set up a tent that they called “The Kitchen Tent.” This was their first mistake. Their second was leaving it unguarded, as a team of baboons expertly tore open the tent and extracted their food from their cool box. Clever.
That night, we settled down to another quiet night and were both relaxing into the unfenced campsite. We were just about to pop to the side of the river for a final pee before bed, when my head torch caught a glint heading directly towards the fire. I jumped up as a hyena continued to slope towards us, with a wry little smile. James lobbed a rock and he ran back off into the night. We got in to bed quite quickly then leaving a smouldering fire. I awoke in the night to the sound of a large animal outside, but there was little moon and I couldn’t see him. I was just about to wake up James when the fire suddenly started hissing and spluttering, as if someone had poured water on it. I woke James, and we both studied the fire, as we heard the sound of said very large mammal plop into the water. These are the facts. Our interpretation of this is one of two things. A) The large animal, likely a hippo, was walking past the fire, at exactly the moment when it spontaneously started hissing or B) The hippo peed on our fire. I know what I believe.
Next on the cards, was a hike up in the Chimanimani Mountains, so we drove up to the nearest town through field upon field of coffee and sugar cane. The area had clearly had some Irish influence throughout the years, as there were names like Roscommon and Cashel on the farms and villages, and the farms were flanked by long, tree lined drives. It was stunning, and as we ascended further it began to look like a Nordic forest, rather than the African savannah we imagined. We worked our way up to base camp, and started the three hour hike from 1800m to 2200m where a hut was situated that you could either stay at, or use as a base. We made it there around four pm, to discovered our tranquil mountain had been taken over by 30 local school children, and there would not have been space to stay in the hut, even if we had wanted to. We decided to head off in search of a cave for the night and with some locations marked on our extremely basic map, we set off. The map was incomplete at best, but with some luck and by navigating by the rivers and waterfalls, we managed to find our cave just in time for sunset.
In Digby cave, just down from the waterfalls, we bedded down for the night and made a little fire to keep us warm, and “for morale” as James always says. James wandered off for a pee – possibly the least relaxing pee of his life, as the fire spread like, well, wild fire through the cave. I was happily pouring tea as I looked up and noticed, screamed for James and jumped up and rescued our bag, which was seconds from being engulfed. James stamped it out, and it would be fair to say we both had a lot more respect for our campfire from then on. We even went down to the river to get extra water so we could be a makeshift fire service if necessary. The mountains were so quiet through the night, and every time we woke, we could stare up at the stars. Beautiful.
The next day we made our way back down to camp, and the weather got worse with every step we took down. We were lucky as when we got down the wind was blowing a gale and rain was definitely threatening so we had a hot shower – the man running the campsite had lit the fire for our showers already as he knew we were coming down, and it was hugely appreciated, and an emergency beans on toast and drove as fast as we could away from the bad weather, and down the mountain.
That evening we made it to Great Zimbabwe, which is a bit of a rarity in Africa. It is a ruin of an 11th century – 15th century civilization, which is in amazingly good nick. Most buildings in Africa are built from wood or mud, and so don’t last particularly long but this was a stone civilization and is now a World heritage Site, and rightly so. We walked around the ruins and it was very refreshing to see a historical site in Africa that had nothing to do with Europe, and their involvement in the continent.
On our way north to our next destination, we drove though some good sized towns. As mentioned above, Zimbabwe is having a bit of a problem with currency. In 2009, after extensive hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar, the government made a novel decision. They decided to use U.S. dollars, admittedly not with the sanction of the USA. In fact, Zimbabwe has four currencies – USD, Pula, Rand and GBP. Now, the currency has been generally accepted, but there is a huge deficiency of dollars in the country. They will not allow internationals to take out any money in the country, and locals are limited to a small amount they are allowed to withdraw. This has resulted in huge queues at ATMs and banks in the towns around the country.
After a quick stop off in Harare, for a posh lunch of pizza and sandwiches, we head off to Mana Pools. This is meant to be one of the most remote and wild parks in Africa and we were very excited. We entered the park and made our way to the campsite. Our site, number 12, cheaper and therefore away from the banks of the Zambezi had been completely taken over by a South African family. They obviously needed a lot of space as they seemed to have brought everything they could think of, including the kitchen sink and a maid to man the kitchen sink. We went back to reception to complain, and after much ado, we were told to find somewhere else. So we did. By the water, in a huge plot. We would have even had space for a maid of our own. We had some lovely neighbours, but however nice they were, they were nothing compared to the animals we had wandering through. Every hour or so, a small herd of elephants would come through, eating the berries off the ground. They were completely unphased by the campers and were a joy to watch, day and night.
The first few days were quite uneventful in terms of big sightings and we enjoyed our morning and evening drives surrounded by elephants, kudu, impala, fish eagles, warthog, hundreds of hippo and we even got an exceptionally rare sighting of African Wild Dogs, of which there are 400 left in the world (This was possibly one of James proudest moments as he located and tracked these on foot). But on our last night, things got really interesting. We drove off early and spent a few uneventful hours game viewing. We were getting to the stage when we were going to give up, sit on the roof of the car with a beer, and watch the sunset overlooking the hippos and crocs, when we spotted a lion. And then five others. We stayed with them, watching them groom each other and then wander off to the water until the last moment we could so we could get back in time for curfew. We joined a small procession of cars, high-fiving each other and bombing it back to camp, when we drove into four African Wild Dogs feasting on an impala. We stayed as long as we could, flaunting the curfew rules and eventually pulled ourselves a way. We once again drove into a pile of cars, pointing their lights of into the distance, as we saw a leopard slope off away from the camp. What an incredible evening, and we celebrated with a braii with some of our neighbours, as hyenas ran around the camp
Thanks to Ding.com for supporting us with communication throughout our trip. Zimbabwes has been a weird mixture between 4G and no signal for days.
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30