Zimbabwe

Written by admin on June 21st, 2009

Sunday 3 May

At the Zim border we got charged the customary high Visa fees for being British and the various other taxes that the customs guy was adding up for us included a $5 ‘handling fee’, which they didn’t issue a receipt for.  We questioned this and he said sometimes he let people off it.  We asked why he didn’t like us and then he decided that he would also let us off on this occasion.

We arrived at Vic Falls and found a backpackers to camp at, half the price of the local campground. Then we went down to the Victoria Falls Hotel to enjoy the view over a couple of ciders (not the traditional afternoon high tea).

Tuesday 5 May

It was a drizzly day yesterday, so we caught up with email etc.  This morning the rain had stopped, so we walked to Victoria Falls.  The water was very high, due to the exceptionally high rainfall there had been this year and it was also a bit misty when we got to the Falls, so it was quite hard to get a view of them through all the spray, which drenched us as we walked along the trail.  However, once the mist had burnt off there were waves in the spray when we could get a decent look at the Falls and a good impression of how powerful and immense they are.

In Vic Falls you could get a strong feeling for just how desperate a state the country is in.  Although it is quieter being low season the town looks pretty rundown for what was one of Africa’s most popular tourist attractions.  Most obvious though was how desperate the street traders are.  The currency is now completely worthless (Forex being used instead), except as souvenirs sold to tourists who want one of the newly printed 100 trillion dollar notes, and the traders are willing to barter almost anything for their ware, including one guy who wanted to trade for some bread we had in the back of the car!  Despite this though, our experience wasn’t that they became a nuisance; a polite and firm no was still accepted and often resulted in a friendly chat.

 We left Vic Falls for Hwange National Park and had a game drive through to our campsite when we arrived.  It felt like we had the park to ourselves (we saw one other vehicle while we were there) and we were surprised by the amount of wildlife we saw, including good general game, a large herd of sable, quite a lot of ele, giraffe and buffalo.  

Wednesday 6 May

We had a morning drive in the Park, stopping at a viewing platform to cook up bacon sandwiches for breakfast.  During breakfast we spotted a cheetah; actually the giraffe spotted and stared at it for long enough for us to notice it too and we watched it for a while until it was time to head off to Bulawayo.

We arrived just after dark at Packers Paradise where we stayed and after some negotiation on price we were going to reluctantly leave Bob and the gang to catch the coach back down to South Africa.

Tuesday 12 May

On Thursday afternoon we caught the coach down to Joburg and then on to Durban for the Indaba travel show; a business to business trade show where lots of tour operators, lodges etc. exhibit.  We spent 3 days there and caught the coach back on Monday evening, arriving back in Bulawayo late today.  Our experience of the coach journeys was not fantastic and definitely no plans to trade this for driving.  The 4 journeys included one where we seemed to have one of the very few working speakers which meant we were blasted by the Best of Jazz Hymns and crap African dramas loud enough for everyone else to hear, one very religious route where the entertainment was almost entirely preaching and one sweaty sauna coach where they seemed unwilling to put the air on at all.

However, our most surreal story from the few days was from our journey down to S.A. from Zim.  We reached the border at about 20.45 and crossed quickly through Zim immigration.  However, reaching the S.A. border post we found a queue of literally thousands of people and none of them white, which was barely moving at all (we later learned that about a week earlier S.A. government had granted free visas to anyone from Zim).  As we stood waiting, lightning approached, the wind picked up and eventually it began pouring with rain.  The crowd ran toward the buildings, trying to get some shelter from the overhanging roofs and squeeze into the sheltered passageway.  We were still stood out in the rain with no coats, getting soaked and in the crowd Marc luckily felt someone trying to unbutton his pocket and pick his wallet.  The queue still seemed to be going nowhere, but we squeezed with the crowd into a covered entrance to a courtyard.  This started to feel a little unsafe, as the crowd would surge forward from time to time and it was becoming quite crushed.

Eventually we made it into the welcome space of the courtyard where we could see the entrance to the immigration office that thousands of people were waiting to get into.  In the chaos and rain there was no semblance of a queue and it seemed immigration were refusing to let people in, shouting at them that they must queue, but no one could really hear them in the crowd.  We tried to join what looked like some form of main queue and continued to wait in the rain.

At about midnight, all of a sudden an immigration official came charging out of the office door with a large cane bull whip, running at the crowd that we were stood in and whipping violently at them.  Everyone panicked to try to get out of his way and we got swept back with the running crowd, struggling not to trip over and losing our shoes.  Everyone then stood pressed up against the walls surrounding the courtyard with loads of shoes scattered in a pool of water in the middle and all too scared to try to get them.  Both of us were completely shocked by this and Marc had enough and walked out to find our shoes, luckily without a further attack from psycho whip man!

Still there was no real order and it was difficult to know where the queue was intended to be, so we just moved a little away from the place where whip man was and watched.  Again he launched an attack on the crowd like something out of a movie.  After this whipping was over one woman stood nearby us was crying and rolling up her sleeve to look at her wrist, as if it were broken and revealing a large, bleeding whip mark across her arm.  We tried to move to where we thought the guy was forming the queue and he suddenly started coming at the people we were walking with, shouting ‘doesn’t matter black or white’ and caught Felicity on the heel with the whip.

Finally, after about 4 hours, another immigration guy managed to lead some South African passport holders, who would not take long to process, out of the courtyard to form another queue outside and then file around to the exit side of the immigration building.  We jumped at the opportunity and snuck ourselves into the small group.

Finally we were stamped in and made it back to the coach where we had to rest while those who had given up trying earlier had to go back again with the driver.  A couple of hours later everyone was back and we just had to unload all our bags and carry them through customs before we could set off. 

At 4am, after about 7 hours of a completely unbelievable experience we were on our way to Joburg again!

Thursday 14 May

We left Bulawayo and drove to Antelope Park yesterday.  After a good 3-course dinner we rushed back to the room, excited that we could finally start watching Prison Break Season 4!

Today we were up early for a walk with some of the lions that are part of the rehabilitation programme there.  We then had to drive all the way back to Bulawayo, because we had left the power cable for our laptop at the internet cafe and chances of picking up a replacement anywhere on our route any time soon were very slim.  Thankfully the drive was at least worth it, as the cable was there.

As soon as we got back to Antelope Park we went on an elephant ride with some rescued elephants and then lazed in the sun by the lake.

Saturday 16 May

Yesterday we made the long drive to Mana Pools, which we had really been looking forward to.  Everyone who we had spoken to who had been and even many who had not had raved about this place and rightly so.  We camped last night at a perfect spot right on the edge of the Zambezi River, which is packed with hippos and enjoyed the sunset to the tune of their calls.

This morning we had an early drive and explored the fairly minimal network of tracks along the river and Long Lagoon slightly inland.  Late morning we found a lion and lioness mating, which someone had told us were in the area.  We got back to camp to find a large ele bull stood under the tree that the night before had been our shade and sat and watched as he nonchalantly did a massive poo in our camping area and then strolled lazily past some of the other tents that had been left set up.

After sitting out the heat of the afternoon we were packing up for another drive when we spotted what we thought was the same ele bull, or actually the tip of his trunk, making its way across the wide river to a small island in the middle, which had obviously taken his fancy. 

This evening we stayed at a private wilderness campsite again by the river, because it was so close to where the lions were.  We set up camp, lit a fire and a semi-circle of tea-lights, had a good dinner and then retired to Bob’s deck for an open air cinema viewing of Prison Break under an amazing starry sky with lions calling in the background!

Sunday 17 May

We had just enough cash to stay another night and get through the border to Zambia and we really wanted to see the Wild Dogs, so we stayed another day.  On our morning drive we saw 4 hyena one with an impala head and horns in its mouth.  After our drive we parked up and then went for a walk – Mana Pools is one of the only parks in Africa that has lions and elephant and you can walk unaccompanied.  

Monday 18 May

We had decided not to drive to Livingstone in Zambia today, as it was a very long diversion off our route and we were going to be there again in December, so there was no rush to set off.  We had a short drive and then breakfast by the river, but sadly still no Wild Dogs.  

On the way out we drove through a blizzard of white butterflies for kilometres along the road. Then way up in the distance Marc spotted something lying in the road and then we made out it was a Wild Dog!  As we got closer we could see there were quite a few of them lying just beside the road and they were very relaxed with us.  We parked up and watched them for a while, with no one else around, and counted 21 in total; an excellent finish to our stay in a very beautiful Park. 

 

 

 

 

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