Monday 24th January/day 112. Zambezi Waterfront, Zambia – Victoria Falls Rest Camp.
Border day… we headed off with some trepidation into Zimbabwe.
With a very easy border crossing behind us and no questions asked from the Zimbabwe border guards, we crossed the world famous bridge over the mighty Zambezi river. Although, do make sure if your are travelling through you get the vital piece of 2cm2 paper stamped otherwise the border barrier will not be raised!
Rob was very strict with Sarah who was eager to take photos as we crossed but thought we may be shot if we were caught doing so. Although, we did pass a bungee jump set up and thought people must be taking photos of that.
Wow, we were not disappointed with the falls. Vast, thundering, spiffing, slippery, very wet and great fun. One of the seven Wonders of the World and as the indigenous Makololo, who brought Livingstone here, called the falls “the smoke that thunders”, but at times we could have been in the lake district with the fog, haze and wet but low and behold there was a very large waterfall behind all of this.
We were soaked and after squelching our way back to Alfie we headed for the Victoria Falls Hotel as we had heard great things. Sarah made good use of the very flash ablutions and changed into dry clothes and dried her hair with the hand-dryer.
We had hoped for a slap up lunch or at least an early cream-tea which people have raved about but the hotel was a bit quiet. No-one was about, so we headed out to locate a campsite…the other end of the accommodation scale!
We opted to stay at the Victoria Falls Rest Camp which was in the Bradt guide and seemed to be the only one about. Apparently, it has now been taken over by a new group and standards are improving. The ablutions were all newly decorated and had steaming hot water. We hope the next stage is to upgrade the pitches and braai facilities as these are a little tired.
Anyway, opening up the back of Alfie revealed yet more ants! So out with everything once more and another sweep and doom moment.
The restaurant Da Belly was lovely. Sarah opted for ‘Wart-hog’ and Rob went for the safe, albeit lightweight option of ‘Ladies steak’ which was a smaller portion to that of the blokes!
The only downside of this campsite was the nearby nightclub which boomed until just after 4am.
Tuesday 25th January/day 113. Victoria Falls Rest Camp – Sinamatella Camp, Hawange National Park. Odometer: 94159.
A lot happened today…grab a cup of tea and settle down for a read.
Between cups of tea, Sarah suddenly noticed a Warthog family and felt a sharp pang of guilt. Surely, last night, she didn’t eat one of the family?
We had time to potter around Victoria Falls town, known locally as ‘the village’ which is made up of a colonial boulevard with a range of tourist shops selling local tours, local goods and loads and loads of tourist tat. From what we understand, Vic Falls suffered very little from the troubles. We were hounded quite a lot by touts wanting to sell us ‘experience’ excursions but politely we declined. Overall, it is a compact town and easy to walk around. However, Rob did give in to buying a batch of the old Zimbabwean notes which ranged from 20,000 to 20 trillion.
The road from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park is very straight and pretty uneventful. No-one was on the road and best of all, none of the dreaded police stops. Hwange is ranked amongst the top National Parks in Africa in terms of size and sheer numbers and variety of animals so we were hopeful of a plethora of sightings.
We aimed for Sinamatella Camp which is in the NW area of the park and arrived around 1.30pm and pitched camp on the hilltop overlooking the river and plains below. The Bradt guide describes Sinamatella as the most attractive. Sadly, the camp was not that great, very overgrown, broken fire pits etc and the loos were the most spooky yet. There was even a bath, only in the the female block though but Sarah still opted not to put toe in the water.
We accepted the standard of the campsite in view of Zimbabwe’s years of troubles, and wondered what it must have been like in its heyday. The staff were all very helpful though and we even got fire wood as part of the camping cost.
Low and behold, the storm arrived.
We had also been told that we could get fined for having a dirty vehicle. As we didn’t want any reason for the Zimbabwean police to stop us, regardless of how crazy the rule is, Rob took the opportunity to utilise the rain and wash Alfie.
It was a very dramatic storm and the loudest lightening/thunder strike/boom we had both ever experienced as the flash landed only a few meters in front of Rob. Blimey, did we jump! And then giggled nervously at how close that crash had been!
Having pulled ourselves together we then had some time to watch elephants on the plain below which was a great sight and very relaxing, and listen to the roar of lion which sounded quite far away, thank goodness!
As we were the only ones at the campsite and what felt like the entire game park we took a relatively early night. All seemed fine until the we experienced our second most scary moment of the trip so far…the most compelling/deafening/singular gun shot we have ever head. As we both shoot at home, we were aware of the sound of guns, but this had to be a high-velocity rifle. Our minds were racing, and we thought this can only be poachers. Quite a sleepless night followed. Not helped by a second pride of lions much, much closer then than the first.
Wednesday 26th January/day 114. Sinamatella Campsite, Hwange NP – Municipal campsite, Bulawayo.
Not a good night. What with the fear of the potential poachers and the roar of the lion we were glad to see day break!
Sarah climbed down the steps to be welcomed by a herd of Impala which was a welcoming sight and a calm start to the day. We didn’t hang around and headed off to explore more of the park.
The park has lots of look out points and hides, we opted to stop at two:
Masuma Dam – roofed platform and campsite. Met a great ranger called Godfrey who welcomed us into his look-out for a chat. Although, he did keep hold of his two guns throughout our visit and bearing in mind what had happened the previous night we were a little cautions. Soon we discovered that he hadn’t seen anyone in a week and then there were two cars in the space of 24 hours (us and two SA campers)….Sarah did comment that it was a bit like buses, but he didn’t understand the English sense of humour.
Next stop was Guvalala Pan – where there was a platform erected by the Kent Scouts in the late 1980s and has been recently re-roofed. It was a fantastic spot overlooking a water hole where we saw our first Ostrich, but no elephants. You can overnight on the platform but as there was only us two we opted out of this, but perhaps if there had been a few more, we would have got our brave pants on. See photos.
With temperatures climbing back in the mid-forties every venture into the game parks throws up new sightings and stories and we were lucky enough to come across a Black-back Jackal who hung around sufficiently long enough for us to get some photos. Still no elephant though but lots of elephant poop.
Next stop was Main Camp – as the name describes, the main camp for the park. It was as though time had stood still. The restaurant was set back in the 70s but in perfect order. Linen table cloths and serviettes but sadly there was no-one about, something we are starting to get used to. The menu looked good, although we Sarah wasn’t too confident about the ‘Cowslow’.
All the rangers were great and each time we were stopped we were asked what we had seen, asking us to come back and wishing us a safe journey. We left the park having seen very little wildlife in fact despite the claims the park makes. Never mind.
We arrived in Bulawayo late afternoon and drove through streets lined with marvellous old colonial buildings. A busy place and a city which even had working traffic lights. The city is easy to navigate as it is built up around Rhode’s trademark grid system. The roads are also very wide as they were built to accommodate a wagon with a full span of oxon (24 pairs) to perform a u-turn, so Alfie had no problems when the satnav took us on a wild goose chase or two!
The campsite was yet another time-warp. More baths! But only bulbs in the bathrooms and not in the loos. Oh, and only one working hot shower which was in the mens so a very quick shower for Sarah! There was also a large frog in the ladies loos.
Met John and Anika from Harare who were also driving around in a Land Rover 110 along with Anika’s parents from Holland. A good chat was had by all.
Kms travelled: 428 kms.
Thursday 27th January/day 115. Bulawayo Municipal Camp.
A great day as Norman came over, the Scout leader we had met in Mwanza on Christmas Day. Over the tea during the afternoon we had a good catch-up on our mutual travels and adventures. It was great to share stories about Malawi and Zambia. We did feel like there were police all around us listening to our conversations. We made plans to meet up again in a few days.
We ventured off into Bulawayo to eat and visited the Golden Spur restaurant which Norman said used to be very good. The restaurant had been closed for some months, like so much of Zim, but had been re-opened only four days earlier by a South African couple. Serving either steak and chips or chicken and chips at $4 a go, we thought this sounded like a pretty good deal. They didn’t have their alcohol licence as yet, so it was an opportunity to walk around Bulawayo and experience some of the shops. All shops were stocked but hardly anyone in them. Sadly, a lot of the supermarket food is still far too expensive for the locals and this is also backed-up by the amount of street sellers on the side of the roads and pavements selling fresh fruit, veg, CDs, household goods etc.
As we arrived back at the camp, by foot, the camp guards nearly fell off their seats when they realised we had walked. Apparently, we had walked through a very dangerous path where people often got mugged. Hey ho, we’re here to tell the tale….
Kms travelled: 0 kms.
Friday 28th January/day 116. Bulawayo Municipal Campsite – Norma Jeans, Great Zimbabwe. Odometer: 94743.
It rained throughout the night and didn’t stop until something around 7pm. Co-incidentally listening to the ‘Thunder and Lightening Polka’ as we drove through more rain! The rains are late and they seem to be following us wherever we go these days.
The plan for today was to head out to Antelope Park, at Gweru, for the night where we had read you can play with Lion Cubs which sounded right up our street. The road from Bulawayo was good albeit we hardly saw any traffic as there was a current diesel and petrol shortage. However, the approach to Antelope Park was a bit soggy and having driven through the first flooded river we came across a second. Hmmm…. Sarah was not very brave with the first one and as the water was now flowing twice as quickly and twice as deep we came to a grinding halt as a result of lots of noise (OMG/no-way/you’ve got to be joking if you think…) coming from Sarah. Sarah was now in a cold sweat and after a light-hearted discussion with Rob…not…the decision was made to turn around. A very quiet drive followed as we headed back down the track.
The next stop was to be Great Zimbabwe which we could still make in the same day, however, re-fuelling was in order and as mentioned there was a shortage. After a good tour around all petrol stations in Gweru, we found a queue for diesel at the Shell garage and joined it. Sadly, a 52 seater coach was in front of us and naturally took ages to fill, but the good news is there was still diesel available for us, hurrah, not such good news was the by the time we had reversed adjacent to the pump the electricity had gone off! Bugger.
There we sat. And sat some more. Some time later we gave up and headed out to Great Zimbabwe with the hope we would make it on the fuel we had and that there would be petrol stations in Masvingo.
Some distance up the road we arrived at Masvingo and with the arrow on the lower edge of empty and to our delights we found petrol stations and what more they had diesel and what’s more, electricity as well…always a good combination. Hurrah! Bearing in mind the tanks take 120 litres, we put 118 litres in. I know we’ve mentioned our close call with low fuel before but this truly was our nearest to just coming to a stop somewhere on a roadside in Zimbabwe, not one of the most sensible actions to potentially take.
There’s not much to see in Masvingo so we headed 30kms towards Great Zimbabwe. We opted to stay at Norma Jean’s rather than the campsite inside the park. It was another example of a lovely colonial-style building with a dining room and lounge area straight out of a UK hotel. The gardens were magnificent (see photos) and when the rain stopped for the rare moment, the views over Lake Kyle (colonial name) or Lake Mutirikwe was fantastic.
Kms travelled: 415 kms.
Saturday 29th Jan/day 117. Norma Jeans, Great Zimbabwe – Antelope Park, Gweru. Odometer: 95158.
Great Zimbabwe – A World Heritage site: The largest stone structure ever built south of the Sahara, with the first structures believed to have been built as far back as AD1100. It has been a base for a succession of Kings and rulers spanning four centuries and has subsequently had the whole country named after it. The carved wooden birds which were found here have also provided the country with their national symbol.
We spent a good couple of hours here, climbing up to and clambering around the Hill Complex which proved a huffing and puffing exercise for Sarah again. (Hope people are donating as this lung disease needs to be cracked!). It was a great site to explore and even better as we seemed once again to the be the only ones there.
The weather was much kinder to us today and with no rain with we pondered about heading back to Antelope Park to play with the lion cubs. Therefore, quick call to Antelope Park confirmed they were open, the floods had subsided (phew) and the prices for the cubs, which seemed less than was quoted in any of the literature we had. With all this good news, we headed back.
En-route a UN vehicle passed us pulling their own fuel bowser – a very sensible move. Although, we were surprised to see the UN but judged this as a positive move for the country.
Soon after we were stopped by the Police at a check-point. The check-point being located approx 100 metres after a defunct single-gauge railway line. The, very young policeman with his cap perched to one side of his head, told Rob he should have stopped at the railway line. Rob very calmly asked where the road signs were indicating this. The policeman explained that they had been taken and as we didn’t stop we were to be fined $30 – not on your nelly were we going to pay for anything. So following a little discussion Rob utilised some more valuable advice and asked for the policeman’s badge number. “I don’t have a badge, Sir. Enjoy your journey”. Subsequently, we found out that there was no such law about stopping at railway crossings, just a whizz to get some US $.
Our first surprise upon nearing Antelope Park was that Sally sat-nav took us to another entrance to the Park which meant zero river crossings…now, if we had only known that the day before! The second surprise was that the prices quoted over the phone bore no relation to the ‘actual’. The worst of this was that we had especially asked about the cub feeding only to be told that the cubs only get fed every three days and this didn’t coincide with our visit. Grrrrrrrrr. So a bit of a wasted trip for us.
Having stayed at Antelope Park and subsequently discussed the location with Norman we wouldn’t recommend a visit. It is very ‘zoo-like’ and not a bit of the real Zimbabwe. For example – the lions are kept in very small compounds and frequently taken out to be walked with. The place claims to release the lions into the wild, but to do so with habituated animals would mean an early and certain death for them.
We also found the staff quite unhelpful at times…. at other times they proved elusive.
Kms travelled: 246 kms.
Sunday 30th January/day 118. Antelope Park, Gweru – Matopos National Park.
A quick stop to grab some food from a supermarket resulted in being given change in the form for two pens and a piece of bublegum!
A dry drive back to Bulawayo and much more traffic on the roads as fuel was now getting back into the petrol stations. We passed acres and acres of redundant farming land, but we guess the only bonus here is at least the land is returning to the original shrub-land.
We met with Norman and Chris, where we spent a very relaxed afternoon exploring some of the 200 acre Scout camp, and something UK Scouts should be very envious of. The camp even had its own Chapel where services are held twice a month.
We were then thoroughly spoilt…first of all we had sundowners overlooking the Koppies. This was followed by a slap-up meal cooked up by Chris.
A little more about the meal…the beef and vegetables were cooked in a cast-iron pot within an outside over heated by wood. The oven was constructed from old oil drums and resembled a pizza oven. Superb. Anyway, we have taken lots of photos as Rob was making sounds about a similar oven appearing in the back garden!
The dinner table was set up overlooking another view of the koppies and forest. The table was covered with cloth Chris had bought whilst visiting the Maasi in the Ngoooooorrrooooo Crater. Wine was served in engraved glasses and we ate from crockery which were made during the second world war for RAF pilots who had come out to the park for a break. Coffee was served in commemorative mugs whilst sat around a roaring fire. We even managed to see the Southern Star.
Norman was great to talk to about scouting and life in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe. We have to commend Norman for being the Scout leader for the 1st Bulawayo Scouts for 32 years. Keep going Norman, you are doing a truly fantastic job!
Monday 31st January/day 119. Matopos.
A full English breakfast, cooked on the outdoor stove, set up us for a day exploring the Matopos.
With Norman at the wheel of his series 3 Land Rover, our first stop was Rhode’s grave at ‘View of the World’ as Rhodes called it. With Norman also being a tour guide for a couple of companies we were provided with an impressive historical overview of the Matopos and Rhodes.
The views over the Matopos were incredible (I’m trying to avoid using ‘fantastic’ too often) and I hope you can see this from the pictures. I’ve also shown a photo of a small hole in the rock, which was a securing point for the 12 oxon (all black) to pull the carriage bearing the coffin up the steep rock-side.
To the right of Rhodes is the grave of Jameson.
Our next stop was Silozwane Cave to look at the rock paintings. Another venture up steep rock rewarded us with a spectacular cave adorned with many paintings of animals – some recognisable, some not. The theory is that the cave was probably a meeting place or site of spiritual importance. See photos.
Mesilume Dam was next on the agenda where Norman drove across the Dam wall and then back again. Sarah was very calm.
Our last stop for the day was at the Pomongwe Cave and museum, but a lot of the paintings had been lost or were very faint. Largely due to early efforts to retain the paintings which in turn damaged them even further. The doors of the museum are worth a mention though. These were rescued from the Old Motopas Hotel and have Rhode’s portrait engraved on one of the glass doors.
Back to camp.
We have to thank Norman and Chris for their very generous hospitality over the last couple of days. Excellent company and some great cooking, but above all, some new friends and we look forward to another visit to Zimbabwe, Bulawayo and the Matapos in particular.
Kms travelled: 0 kms.