A Travellerspoint blog

Day 101 – Mount Binga

1st January 2012

sunny 26 °C

The alarm rang out at six o’clock. We had a mountain to climb.

As we‘d fallen asleep we’d had second thoughts about leaving Redvers parked alone in the National Park whilst we walked for three days. Especially now the entire village knew we would be in the mountains for three days. It made more sense to leave him parked with our present houseman, Timothy, and arrange alternate transport to the hills. (In hindsight the park guards with their AK’s may have been more of a deterrent but hindsight is clear for a reason.) A cup of tea and two hours later Redvers was packed, as were our bags. We’d booked the lodge for our return evening and we strolled the one and a half kilometres into town getting excited about the promising sky above us.

Collen and Morgan were waiting for us in town. We told them we needed transport and Collen immediately set off on a mission. Morgan took us shopping; two kilos of rice, two loaves, four packets of soup flavouring, a kilo of biscuits, a kilo of sugar, six candles and eleven lollipops. We had tea bags, a half kilo of beef and some left over bread already. The car situation turned into a debacle. Collen returned to say that he couldn’t get to the door of the car owner’s house as there was a dog there. His totem was a dog and he thought that was bad news. I joined him and five minutes later was creeping closer to a door guarded by a salivating and barking old timer with a look of ‘don’t make me do it’ in his eyes. Two metres from the door, the dog would concede no more ground. In turn, with our pants still clean, we conceded that had the car owner been in the house, he’d have been out here by now.

Back outside one guy with a pick-up wanted fifty dollars. We waited, leaving the responsibility in the hands of Collen and Morgan. Eventually, we found a taxi driver called Joseph. He was from Mozambique and was Collen’s connection. His price was a handsome thirty five dollars and he’d be available in fifteen minutes. Collen suggested some breakfast and with that we were scurrying through the market to a stall that was a particular favourite with Collen and Morgan. The ladies had three huge pots cooking on wood fires in the open surrounded by a scaffold of wooden poles that formed the barest skeleton of a hut. Two benches sat either side of a table and we sat, pouring ourselves some water from the jugs on the table. Collen reappeared with a jug of water and bowl to wash our hands before eating. The price was one dollar for a plate of sadza, sauce and a piece of chicken. The sadza was piled high and the guys insisted we’d need full bellies for the climbing ahead. The chicken was delicious and beaten only by the mouth watering tomato and onion sauce.

We washed our hands again in the traditional way after eating and clambered into our taxi. Joseph would need every cent of that thirty five dollars as he bumped and bashed his way past old overgrown coffee and tea plantations, now owned by those ‘heroic’ war veterans; past diamond fields, now owned by those ‘friendly’ Russians; and up a battered stone track which required a vehicle with a little more ground clearance than the Toyota Corolla that we were in. By the sounds coming from the underside of his car he’d need to reattach his exhaust as well as patch a few holes and polish out a few dents.

Collen and Morgan filled us in on the farms. They told us that the white farmers who were active in politics were the ones who had lost their farms. The guys who now had them used only small sections for their own ends. Tea plants grew six feet high, with no one to pick the tender fresh leaves and keep the bush preened. The diamond fields were at one time unregulated; people were picking the ‘stones’ from the mud and selling them to passers-by from the city for a few dollars. The Ruskies had bought in. Fifty one percent of what they mined went to the Zimbabwe coffers. Forty nine percent went to a similar place within the Russian establishment. That is, around ninety percent of all mining profits probably lined the pockets of a few oligarchs and corruptioneers.

Now that the diamonds were owned, they were protected with guns. People still tried to mine them illegally but with armed guards it had become a very dangerous game. They added that where we would be walking there was a lot of gold. The ‘illegal panners’ were always trying their luck and the National Parks had posted some rangers at one particular site were the panners had most luck. That got me thinking.

At the parks office, Joseph needed paying. Fully aware that the job was only half done, and that a return leg may not be looked upon with great enthusiasm after half of his car had been left on the slope, I offered him fifteen dollars. The rest, he was told, would be given to him on his return. He didn’t look happy, which made me more confident that he might actually come back. He spoke to Collen, Collen spoke back and then turned to me. “He says he’ll return and that he wants all of the money now.” “How do we know he’ll come back?” “He promises.” “He’ll definitely come back because I’ll have his twenty dollars.” “I can vouch for him, he needs the money today.” That was the crunch. I told Collen that in vouching for him it was his salary on the line. He agreed. We handed over thirty five sheets, said our farewells, turned around and started our climb.

The rains of the last week had suddenly abated that morning. Mountains that we had come to climb were visible for the first time. Blue skies with wisp edged cumulus came closer as we ascended our first days climb. Water had been one useful omission from our packs. There would be lots of streams and waterfalls from which we could refill our half litre bottles en route. As we gained altitude the views grew in both their range and majesty. Frequent breaks took the pressure off our legs, (legs that I’m sure are emaciated from three months sat in the car.) As we rounded the summit of our first days climb we were taken to see some ‘bushman paintings’ on a nearby rock. They weren’t particularly great and though nice to see, they were nothing to dwell upon. A little further we reached the mountain hut; and what a place it was. The hut was set overlooking a slope of Msasa trees that gave way to a valley; a valley through which flowed a small river feeding and draining several small lakes. The land then turned slowly upwards peppered with huge granite boulders and outcrops building towards the cloud topped peak of Mount Binga powerfully straddling the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The hut was built from granite blocks procured in the immediate vicinity. A veranda led inside to a large concrete-floored communal area with an open fire as its centre piece. The place was tired, black soot lined the mantle-piece and the wall above the fire where one too many fires had raged a little too brazenly. Either side of the fireplace a door led into a separate dormitory with eight beds in one and two rooms of four on the opposite side of the building. The inside would be cosy enough but this building was all about its location.

We got the fire going, using plastic bags in preference to paper, cardboard or kindling, and got the kettle going. We had no milk and so black tea sweetened with teeth-browning amounts of brown sugar would be the tonic for tired legs and thirsty bellies alike. We dunked cobs of bread into this sickly sugary soup and revived our selves. We sat on the porch, bare footed, looking at the mountain ahead of us. Clouds merely grazed their hulls as they sailed across its summit. I had big plans in store for that summit. The weather had to hold.

Later in the afternoon, we walked down into the valley for a swim in one of the lakes. The tannin stained water mirrored the mountains above it perfectly whilst the small beginnings of the river meandered their way south. There was no delay, t-shirt off, shoes off, and in, head first. Cold, cold water; the kind that makes your eyes three times as wide and magnetises your eyebrows towards your hairline. The water was cool, refreshing and delightful to taste. As we swam we could draw in huge mouthfuls, the taste of tannin enriching its flavour. This was storybook material; the granite house, through the wood, atop the hill; and us swimming in the lake in the valley over which our stately home resided. Collen jumped in too; his short dreadlocks maintaining their semi-erect stature and his beard glistening in the water. Morgan stayed on dry land as we swam laps to keep warm before sitting on submerged rocks and splashing ourselves clean. More stories of gold ensued; we were almost definitely swimming over nuggets of gold worth thousands of dollars.

Back at the hut we restored the fire, prepared rice with beef stew and had a candlelight supper. After dinner we sat around the fire and talked about Collen and Morgans’ families, Zimbabwe and the climbing still to come.

We doubled up the well used ‘distressed’ foam mattresses and climbed into our sleeping bags, it would be one of the best nights sleeps so far.

Posted by ibeamish 07:16 Archived in Zimbabwe

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