A Travellerspoint blog

Day 100 – Procuring Guides

31st December 2011

rain 19 °C

Arriving at our lodge the previous night we were little unsure as to what we should expect for twenty dollars each per night. Delight filled us from head to toe as we walked in to a four bedroom, thatched lodge complete with log burner and interior thatching to boot. An old wagon wheel, restored as a chandelier hung from the roof beams some twenty or twenty five feet above. The curtains had flower patterns and a pelmet. The stone walls screamed, Oxfordshire village, and the wooden floors were pleasant under our bare feet.

Another night of listening to mosquitoes through a net ensued. Which is still an incredibly unsettling feeling, and despite the net Somers took three head shots as her brow came against the net mid sleep. The morning came with the sun and blue sky. There was no time for idling. The tent was put up to dry, the cover came in for repairs, [we had both spare canvas and contact adhesive like good boy scouts,] the mattress was put out for another round of drying and the underpants were washed saving us a solid six dollars. The smell of fresh filter coffee accented the crackling of the eggs frying in the pan; a noise punctuated only by the pop of the toaster signalling breakfast was almost ready.

The bulk of the day was spent with Somers reading and me writing the last ten days of our blog. At three o’clock we went down into the village to find out more about hiking up to the summit of Mount Binga and find some diesel. Laura got chatting to a guy that led her to a dreadlocked chappie named Collen who was a mountain guide with his friend Morgan. We went round to the Blue Moon Mountain Club for a beer and to chat more about the summit. They could guide us for the next three days, business was very slow and so other than asking that we would pay at least a basic sum they told us we could decide when we finish. The club, that sounds so civilised a venue for a chilled beverage was in fact the basement of the petrol station. The slope of the hill meant it was at ground level and opened onto a small beer garden. The dingy brown walls of the Blue Moon held a few posters and only spirits and beer were served at the bar. We arranged to meet our guides at seven thirty the following morning, New Years Day. From there we could head to the base camp where our next adventure would start.

At our extremely comfortable lodge we got the fire roaring, roasted squash, mushrooms and tomatoes and baked some potatoes. As our under crackers dried in front of the crackling fire we drank wine and, eventually, I stopped writing this blog and paid attention to my lovely girlfriend who was sat cross legged writing her scrap book on the settee. We drank red wine and counted down the end of the year and the end of the first half of our trip. One hundred days down, one hundred days to go.

Posted by ibeamish 02:56 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 99 – Who’s going to Chicken Inn?

30th December 2011

semi-overcast 24 °C

The first thing to do was take another spin around the ruins and take some pictures whilst the rain was only light. From there we headed out to the craft market, after a minor debacle trying to chase my four dollars change at the parks office. We took a fancy to one particular fish eagle monolith, made of highly polished, black serpentine stone. A few minutes making sure he was the one, two minutes bartering and we had a deal. Fred the fish eagle joined the Scramble. He’s a beauty but he lacks Joseph’s charisma. He acts all high and mighty and says very little. To be fair, his new home was a stinking hulk of damp.

We continued our journey to Masvingo in search of the Laundromat. We found one and by the time our Liverpool track-suited launderer had totted up the list we had a grand total of forty two dollars worth of washing. This was a price, which in all honesty, wasn’t too bad considering the volume and rank nature of our one week old damp belongings. But still, I had to try to barter. I failed. Somers pointed out he was charging a dollar per pair of under scratchers, the same for a towel or T-shirt. That was too much, we took them back. Our pantie-less price adjustment came to thirty six United States Federal Reserve Dollars to put smiles back on our faces and freshness back into our bedding; a bargain. They’d be ready at four. It was half eleven, time to go to the bank and head for lunch. It was whilst I was stood in a rather long queue at Barclays, (it made me feel at home,) that Miss Somers approached. “Do you want to know our latest mess-up?” I only managed a growl. “We left my shoes on the wheel at the campsite.”
I’d put them on the wheel under the wheel arch to keep dry. We would have reversed over them as we left. Forgetting stuff is what I’m good at, but as a team, we were presently a liability. One good thing came of our forty kilometre return journey; once again we met Kenny and Tracey as they pulled away from the craft market. We pulled over and chatted for a while. They’d stayed in a hotel in Nyanga, which at £200 a night wasn’t cheap, and they’d been put in the family wing. When the Zim family next door started going mental making noise galore, Tracey had phoned down to ask reception if they could have a word. Two minutes later a burly black Zimbabwean father of four had knocked on her door to ask what her problem was and ask why the hell she was complaining. He threatened her and Kenny and told them they were no longer in Rhodesia, they should go home. Tracey called reception to tell them to move her. They did, and the problem was solved until evening when, in the restaurant the Zim-daddy came over and berated them in public for complaining again. Kenny was a fighter, his reasoning was thus; “If he knocks me out, then that’s fair enough. But when I knock him out, I’ll go to prison.” His words rang true in this part of the world; in Africa, it’s only racism if it comes out of a white guys’ mouth. I liken it to a man in an England shirt on the Algarve. One guy can stain a nation.

The good news was that their stay at the ‘Lodge at the Ancient City’ had been magnificent. The service, food and room had been tantamount to luxurious perfection and half the price of the room that came with the angry next door neighbour. Once again we said our goodbyes, this time had to be the last, they were heading south and we were heading east. We found the shoes and about turned to Masvingo. On route we stopped to buy about a kilo of mushrooms, one the size of Lauras’ face. That journey brought our total of ‘stupidity’ miles to two hundred. Back in Masvingo we were late for lunch; we hungered for some traditional African fare, but, at the last minute, just metres from the door, we walked straight past Chicken Inn and into the Pizza Inn next door.

With all this enterprising time wasting we still had an hour and a half to spare. Somers is a people watcher; she’s very good at it. If someone catches her, she can stare them down until they think that they were the voyeur. An hour and a half was time a plenty for a spot of ‘Wig or Weal.’ It’s not a hard game, we sit in Redvers, partially disguised behind a lightly tinted windscreen, and take it in turns to say whether the lady walking by is wearing a wig or if it’s her own tufts on display. There’s probably an eighty-twenty split, wig to weal, Somers’ rule of thumb that will get you right eighty percent of the time is; long, sleek and shiny, the hair has been bought; short and fuzzy, its home grown . We slipped in a game of “Who’s going to Chicken Inn?” You could see the fatties coming from a mile away, but some would keep you on your toes. Having picked them at fifty yards they would hold true on their course, until, at the last second they’d bank hard right and head for a bucket of greasy chicken wings. Inside the car we’d be rejoicing. One woman missed out on our discriminatory advances as she momentarily bewitched us due to the fact that she had a toilet on her head. It was clean – brand new in fact – but none the less, an entire, sit down, porcelain throne, balanced with no hands on top of her head. She marched on, we sat in silence. Show me a single woman in ‘Great’ Britain with skills like that.

We booked a lodge in Chimanimani, collected our pristine, folded, lovely washing at half four and Somers drove like a pro for four hours all the way into the mountains. The highlights were a random elephant at the road side and a bridge, exactly the same as the Runcorn bridge in a little town called Birchenough Bridge

Posted by ibeamish 02:53 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 98 – The Very Wet Great Zimbabwe Ruins

29th December 2011

storm 24 °C

Sheets of water were cascading down the windscreen as we drove slowly to our camp site spot at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, 24 kilometres outside of Masvingo. The lightning had knocked out the water pump and since we had only fifteen litres of drinking water remaining, Somers decided to collect water for washing and cooking. Using cups, pans and bowls she successfully collected fifteen litres in twenty minutes such was the downpour. The ‘Bear Grylls’ effect had become evident once more.

That afternoon we hired a guide by the name of Helene to take us around the ruins. She was actually in her third year of a degree course in history with international relations at the Midlands Campus of the University of Zimbabwe. The ruins date back to between the 12th and 16th centuries were Arabs and Swahili middlemen sought to trade their fabrics, copper and iron, with the king, for gold and salt. The granite stone walls were built almost seamlessly into the huge boulders of the escarpment. As the passage led higher it became narrower so that only men in single file could approach. At one point the track passes between two huge boulders barely shoulder width apart. It is believed a warrior stood at the top of this gap next to a huge boulder balanced precariously on the edge. Should a ne’er-do-well approach, the boulder was tipped and an Indiana Jones style rolling-boulder-squishy-death would ensue. Even better, the king had up to 200 wives whom he could summon from the top of the Hill Complex by sitting in a cave whose acoustics amplified his voice down into the valley below.”Number one-five-seven get your glad rags on, it’s your lucky day. Oh, and twenty three, start washing, you’re next. Seventy eight, put that skin on I like and don’t eat too much, me, you and my sister are having steak for dinner.” It was believed that birds were the crucial link between man and God and so the Fish Eagle was revered and its statue has since become the national emblem of Zimbabwe. The plot thickens further as not only is it said he ‘serviced’ all 200 of his wives to satisfaction he was also partial to a spot of Royal incest on top of a crocodile skin with his sister as it was believed it somehow imparted strength and power upon his being. When he was made king, he had to go and kill a crocodile and eat the stones he found in its belly. These would give him the strength of the crocodile and keep him in power over his people. There were eight kings, but only the last was documented as only he existed during the period in which the literate Portuguese arrived. It was fascinating stuff and told of a great civilisation in Africa which had previously been unknown and of a type that had been unheard of during that period and that far south in Africa. We’d taken a shine to the bird sculpture and had decided we’d quite like one. The guy at the village only had small ones but he said he could have a bigger one by morning if we came back. We agreed, telling him we’d be visiting the craft stall first to see if they had what we wanted.

The rain had eased but was still coming down as we got back to the camp from our tour. We’d parked near to a boma that we could use as shelter and inside we had hung all our wet clothes. They were drying slightly in the damp air but at least they weren’t mulching into a mildewy mess. We found comfort in the fact that our tent would be cosy, I had put it up earlier and left it sealed on purpose thinking of how soft and cosy everything would be come nesting time.

Braai’d beef shoulder, sadza and baked beans was the dish of the day. (Sadza being the powdered maize meal also known as mealie meal, pap or papas.) We read our books by torch light until bedtime and climbing the ladder in the drizzle I opened the tent. The musty clinging smell of damp enveloped me.

I climbed in and where I knelt, my trousers became saturated, everything was wet, soaked through, the sleeping bags, the mattress, the sheets, the blankets, the feather pillows and their cases, the mosquito net smelt the worst. “Feck, feck, feck.” I shouted. Somers came to see what was going on, this was horrible news. This was dangerous news, we couldn’t sleep in damp things; we’d catch a cold. But how had it gotten so wet? The mattress told the story, the rain had come from the front and bottom of the tent, the rain cover hadn’t been replaced properly towards the front of the car and the torrential rain over the last seven hundred kilometres had been ploughing straight into our tent. The small holes in the cover had only made matters worse.

We bundled out stale, smelly, damp bedding, piece by sodden piece. We slung them over makeshift lines in the damp air of the boma. We stripped the mattress, the foam was like a sponge; this was an unmitigated disaster. We had to hope there was a dry cleaner or Laundromat in Masvingo. Our morale was rock bottom. As for that evening, we had to revert to old-school practices; out came the now priceless inflatable mats that we’d acquired from the Frenchies in Windhoek, we slept fully dressed in the sleeping bag liners we’d taken out of the tent when we went canoeing, using jumpers for pillows. The one blanket that had been protecting Joseph Junior became a duvet, until about two o’clock in the morning, when it became Lauras’ private blanket and my pillow became another layer.

Posted by ibeamish 02:51 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 97 – Have we forgotten anything? And Henry

28th December 2011


The prop shaft was replaced first thing and a test drive revealed that the squeak was gone! Oh yeah. We indulgently patted each other on the back, we were genii.

On the way out of Harare we needed a new pair of decent circlip pliers, those bolts and the much talked about UJ’s. I was also going to get my Christmas present, a fishing rod and reel, on the basis that at a going rate of two dollars per kilo, I’d have to catch enough food to cover its cost. I now have to catch 42 kilograms of fish on our way home. Only the fish that we eat counts, anything endangered is considered cheating too. As I caressed my new rod and reel with a grin like Christmas we realised we’d left all of our food in the kitchen of the backpackers. Somers turned around and travelled the three kilometres back to fetch the grub whilst I went after nuts and circlip pliers.

At the land rover spares shop we procured our UJs and our bolts but sadly no nuts. Somers got chatting to the security guard who had his own farm that he runs growing, paprika, soya beans, tobacco and sorghum; the payday cash crops. He didn’t mention how he acquired his land, a sensitive subject as much was ‘reclaimed’ by war veterans when Robbie needed votes in 2000 and stepped up ‘indigenisation.’ He was a fascinating guy who said he actually preferred living under white rule when fair salaries arrived, in full, on pay day. He postulated that “when the old man goes next year, things will be better, we need you guys to come and open businesses; you can have a black man fronting it so you don’t get problems but you can run it and make it successful.” He was referring to the general elections due to take place in 2012, postponed from March 2011 for dubiously unclear reasons and the fact that white run businesses seem to be successful in creating job opportunities. It was another angle on the country and especially interesting given the outburst at the market the day before.

Our mission objectives were accomplished; it was time for the 300 kilometre drive to Masvingo and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins , at a quarter to four, Somers started asking questions. “Did you bring the books from the room?” ”Yes.” “Did you check the room was empty?” “Yes.” I retorted with, “Somers, did you bring the washing in?” “Oh bugger.”

My swish nylons were still swinging in the rain in Harare, as well as my smelly t-shirts, our towels and some of Somers’ skimpies. We made a second about turn and travelled the eighty kilometres back to the lodge. The washing was both of our responsibilities; we had to stop acting like Muppets. To avoid setting back our schedule we would stay in a cheap dorm and head out early the following morning. The alternative, five hours dusk and dark driving, would not be advisable.

We picked a dorm with no one in; it would be like it was ours alone. But at seven o’clock, in came Henry, a moderately built black guy who was staying for one night only. A little later two American guys appeared with a streak of Italian in their features. Our room was a dorm after all. Somers had a bubble bath, as ladies do, we watched a classic film called Local Hero, (thank you Adrian at Jollyboys,) and fell asleep with our damp clothes strung from anywhere we could find. A short while later I was slipping deeper into the night when the world started shaking. Furniture vibrated and pictures shuddered on their hooks. It was deafening. It was physical brutality. It was Henry. As the snoring roared; I thought of what qualities give a soft palate such depth and power, neither of us had never heard anything so loud, it eclipsed even the fattest, ugliest guys who sound like every breath sucks their soft palate inch by inch into their lungs before growling and gargling it back out. It was incompatible with anyone else’s sleep; all of a sudden four people were rolling uncomfortably in their beds. I spoke out loud. The snoring continued. I spoke out louder. The snoring knew no restraint. I rose and walked over forcing my way through the sound shockwaves as they pushed me like the strongest of winds. With one hand gripping the bed post and my hair flowing in the wind I reached out and touched Henrys arm. He awoke startled. “Dude, you’re snoring like a trooper.” “Uh, sorry man.” He rolled over, the next half hour was bliss; and then there was the very faintest of grunts. That first palatal movement, so faint you can’t be sure if it exists, until it comes again, and again, that palate inching ever higher until it finally occludes the airway and obstructs the breath. A gargle, a snort, a half choked series or ngugh-guh-gugh and out it flaps, breathing resumes, snoring continues, the process repeats. Dormitories are actually for peasants, as every minute passed in the jarring and inharmonious darkness my hatred for them and for Henry’s soft palate increased. Give me a plastic flysheet and blanket any day. We got up at half five and left. We forgot to hand our key in, we forgot to collect our deposit, we were losing it, that place held a curse over us.

Posted by ibeamish 02:50 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 96 – ‘Experienced Mechanics’

27th December 2011

rain 26 °C

Up and at ‘em; we had things to do and places to see. One of the cleaning ladies offered to do our washing for a lot cheaper than the backpackers charged. Somers paid her ten dollars and gave her a mountain of clothes which had become particularly ripe with the smell of hard labour and sweat. Under the car the UJ was now in a dire state. We’d found our disease. We would still need a grease gun, we also needed a couple more UJ’s for when the others go wrong, some circlip pliers to get the UJ’s out and a few nuts and bolts to tide us over. It would be a simple quest that had no easy answer on a national bank holiday. Interestingly the black population had not stopped work; while the major stores were closed the smaller privately owned stores were busy trading. The only problem is that they weren’t well stocked. Five or six stores and a rather large market in which there was only white person, me, we had grease and a grease gun for a lot less than $35, we also had inside and outside circlip pliers, but no UJ’s and no bolts. The sad moment was when some bell-end shouted “Oi! White man. Go back home, you’re not welcome here.” I put my thumb up, smiled and shouted “Thank you.” A few guys around me giggled; I think, I hope, at my joke.

Anyway, a guy at a stall helped me out and became a guide as we toured the market for the right bolt. Imagine knocking on twenty of your neighbours doors for each of them in turn to root around their coffee jar full of nuts and bolts and you’d be there. Somers was on car guard duty as it was no place to leave Redvers unattended.

On our way back we stopped in Sam Levy’s Village, a shopping centre in the rich neighbourhood of Borrowdale. That’s where Robbie Mugobbie lives these days; the state house isn’t as nice as his multimillion dollar mansion. The Spar was in the style of the Spar in Cape Town at the Cape Quarter. The car park was full of cars which was a luxury in itself; but Mercedes was the brand of choice, BMW’s and 4x4s were also well represented, but senior politicians prefer the comfort of the E-class. Anything you desired was on the shelves of the Spar; fine champagnes and vintage wines, grapes, strawberries, blueberries and any out of season produce; fresh fish, cheeses, meats, the lot, all at a price. I picked up a melon and took it to the chap to weigh and price, the sticker he put on it said $8.54. Nearly six quid for a gala melon, it didn’t stay in my hand much longer, but we took the sticker for the scrap book.

Coming out of the Spar we heard a shout, “You vets get everywhere!” Kenny and Tracey had just returned from Mana Pools, this time we swapped numbers and e-mails, we’ll visit whenever we’re back in Durbs.

With the prop shaft off again we were dismayed to see that every time we used our new pliers the ends wore away a little more. In the end we destroyed them just managing to get the clips off on the one universal joint. Our technique involved various combinations of one of us plying and one trying to squeeze a screwdriver underneath to flick them out. An hour of hammering later and we had lots of pieces of old universal joint successfully extracted from their previous locale. [Whilst all the tools are amazing, the hammer has to be the best, when things are too tight, when you need more force, or when frustration gets the better of you, nothing beats, or beats like, a hammer.] Fixing the UJ took us securely to level three Haynes mechanics. The prop shaft, the UJ, the brake drum, all three spanners out of five difficulty; we are officially, ‘experienced DIY mechanics.’ It wouldn’t happen with a Toyota.

Even though the UJ was replaced the torrential rain meant it would be the following day before we put the prop shaft back on and we confirmed our diagnosis. For now it was back to the suite for a wash and a night on the tiles. Somers had cleverly brought in the drier half of our washing to finish it in the room, noting that in the heavier cotton t-shirts not all of the ‘hard labour and sweat’ had been removed. The rain came in litres, drops the size of grapes that soaked you through in seconds. The remaining clothes were getting rinsed again.

We booked a taxi and spruced ourselves up. Tuesdays in Harare would never be the same again. Jeffrey the taxi driver arrived in a white E-class, (Hunts Cross Taxis are going to have to pick their game up,) and off we went in search of the flashest bar in town; Number Seven, Honey Bear Lane. Well, it was closed for Christmas wasn’t it; as was every other decent bar. Sinking back into the plush interior of our taxi, Jeffrey had a plan and it wasn’t long before we were sinking back into the plush leather sofas of a bar called Millers which could have been a Wetherspoons in any city in England. Except that a can of Kilkenny cost £4.50 because it had come a long way you see. Somers was getting stuck into the wine and that Kilkenny tasted as sweet as the day it was brewed.

When Jeffrey returned to collect us the rain had gotten even worse. The roads were under water which meant that the pot holes were now invisible. The water was so deep that the Mercedes created a bow wave as it ploughed on through. We tried for one more bar, The Book Cafe but apparently Tuesday nights aren’t big news; it too was closed.

Posted by ibeamish 02:49 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 95 – Redvers Anniversary

26th December 2011


Two minutes before we awoke I was still dreaming of moored canoes and hippos splashing in the river. But no more, today we would see if four days convalescence had improved Redvers’ squeak. We wanted to see the Kariba Dam wall, (cue “Are we going to see the Dam Wall?” “No need to be terse dear,”) and go up to the lake viewpoint. Pulling out of our lodge and driving up the muddy rutted track the squeak was as present as ever, at least animals get better or worse, Redvers just squeaked. Still, we’d drive him until he collapsed.

The Kariba Dam wall was one of the biggest in the world when it was built by an Italian engineer in the 1950’s. He built seven massive dams in his career and the fact that six of them subsequently fell apart caused him to find solace in suicide. Somewhat fittingly his son is now the engineer in charge of structural stability at Kariba. At around three hundred kilometres long by forty kilometres wide the dam isn’t small. When they started flooding the valley they created ‘Operation Noah’ trying to save the animals from the islands created by rising water levels that would soon be submerged. The operation enjoyed moderate success but by all accounts there were certainly a few ‘Rhino-fish’ and other exotic non-aquatic species briefly created. The dam wall allows a hydroelectric power station to do its thing, but in comparison with the Dam we saw in Lesotho, the Katse Dam, this one was a bit rubbish. It was too steep, no wonder the others fell over, and not very tall either. As always with these things the dam had also served as a concrete burial chamber for the misfortunate souls whose concentration lapsed whilst building it.

The garage workshop in Kariba was open on our way out and so we stopped in and spoke to guy called Kevin about our squeaking. We went for a quick spin so he could hear our pain and when we returned he reckoned it was the UJ. He got underneath while Somers and I went to get refreshments. We returned with his coke and I had a look underneath with him. The UJ did have some play in it, where it had previously been solid. He wanted $35 for him to grease it; he apologised and said his boss had a minimum charge. I gave him a thank you for his advice and we set off. I could get a grease gun and grease and still have change from $35 in Harare, only 380 kilometres away.

Five and a half hours later we arrived in the run down capital of Zimbabwe. We hunted for our backpackers which turned out to be the least signposted accommodation in the world and the Lonely Planet had conveniently labelled it in the wrong place on the map. They are geniuses, or is it genii? We found our humble abode after an hour of doing laps around Avondale in Redvers and checked into their finest room, en-suite, no mosquito net, double bed and even a TV with rubbish, I-made-this-on-my-home-camera-and-intentionally-used-actors-with-no-ability soap operas. I watched a man dressed in a leather bomber jacket talk about AIDS for a half an hour in dull, dreary monotone. Even the show-hostess’ eyes had glazed over ten minutes in; she was barely even nodding by fifteen minutes and had lost all interest at twenty. Just one western producer would have sorted it out. It was a five minute piece that stole thirty minutes of our lives.

We spent the night turning on the lights once an hour and going mosquito hunting.

Posted by ibeamish 02:47 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 91-94 – Four Days and a Thousand Hippos

22nd-25th December 2011


Dr Jonny Cave, surgical hero, had insisted that the canoe trip from Chirundu into Mana Pools National Park would be the highlight of our trip. Somers’ extensive telephonic chasing had ensured that we were on board this expedition. We awoke positively tingling with excitement. Over the next four days we would cover 70 kilometres of river, pass hippos galore, swimming elephants and some of the most spectacular scenery on God’s green earth. For the duration we would carry all we needed, we would sleep on islands in the middle of the river and awake on one such island on Christmas Day.

We sat through a less than standard safety briefing that included such gems as ‘what to do if your guides die,’ ‘what to do if a crocodile attacks your boat’ and ‘what to do if capsized by an angry hippo.’ The answers to the last two are; if you swim away you might die and if you hold on to your boat you might die. But Somers and I had inside knowledge. If a crocodile attacks it generally drags you down stairs and spins until you drown. He can hold his breath for 30 minutes, I can hold it for 43 seconds, small lungs, Somers reckons she’s good for a full minute; he lives in water and we live on land; he’s made of muscle whereas I’m about 3 percent muscle, Somers has a better ratio but her overall weight means she’s no match either. So basically, the odds are in his favour. However, the standard eye gouge that first comes to mind won’t work, he’s a reptile with a brain like a chestnut programmed by dinosaurs to be on auto pilot where dinner is concerned. But, like I mentioned, we had the inside line; while he’s spinning you around, all you need to do is reach inside his mouth and pull his tongue forward. That opens his airway and he starts drowning as well. He lets go, you swim away, simple. With that in mind we were essentially bomb proof as far as crocs were concerned. Hippos would be another matter, but they are ‘river horses’, and I work with horses so I decided my actions would come naturally when the time came.

With our knowledge banks hardly added to, we boarded a land cruiser with Teki, our driver and trainee guide and, we set off for Chirundu. It wasn’t long before the wheels rolled to a halt behind a rather large truck that was now parked at a precarious angle in a ditch on the side of the road. This angle was perhaps preferable as the other side of the road was an unfenced steep drop into the valley. What made this truck unusual were the huge letters emblazoned on its side. ‘Danger. Explosives.’ Who crashes a truck filled with dynamite? Fortunately we arrived as the recovery team were retrieving the lorry from its three day ordeal. The drivers’ brakes had failed going down-hill; he’d literally had to ditch the vehicle to avoid a firework display in the valley. Imagine the fear...

We’d met two Swedish ladies at our briefing; Maria and Tesso would be captaining one of our Armada. The fifth and final public member of our rapscallion outfit was Ryan; a Zimbabwean by birth who had been living in New Zealand for the last seven years. His description of New Zealand was that it was a ‘sterile country... with too few people... and a noticeable lack of culture. The crime rate amongst the indigene was far higher than that of the general population... and that Africa was a real continent with real experiences and vivid life.’ I apologise if my imperfect memory has paraphrased any of this. He was a man who had left his heart behind as he exited Zimbabwe out of necessity. He had been doing the 6 night 7 day trip and we were joining him for the latter two thirds.

Arriving at our start site, the Chirundu Bridge lay behind us linking Zimbabwe to Zambia across the Zambezi. Ryan stood before us, with a grin as wide as the river, a 5kg Tiger fish in his hand and some of the most spectacular, and surely painful, sunburn caressing his feet, shins, forearms and face. His shins looked like they’d slough and you’d see bone any time soon. Our guides introduced themselves, Mr Anywere ‘Kebo’ Chibungwa and Mr Cloud Magondo who would be our head guide. Kebo and Mr Magondo were, first and foremost, nice guys who just so happened to be brilliant guides. Kebo was twenty nine, enthusiastic as a mouse with cheese and all knowledgeable about the birdlife, plant life and animals in his territory on this river. He was a human textbook, the bird, the call, the migration status, and the migration route; the number of offspring per clutch and its feeding habits. Any call, any bird, at any distance, he could fill us in. He was in the lead boat with Ryan. Mr Magondo, in his early fifties was slender and ripped, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on him and he found it all too easy to keep up even though he was alone with the heaviest boat, omniscient at the back. He was the all seeing eye, observing disaster before it arrived and directing us on the best route. Maria and Tesso and Somers and I formed the remaining two pairs in our open Canadian style canoes. The adventure was on.

We came across our first hippo pod minutes after leaving. Hippos would be the defining animal on this trip. We would see far in excess of a thousand of them over the next seventy kilometres. The thrill of sharing their water was scintillating, the stories we’d heard about them chomping men in two made it even more exciting.

That same afternoon we enjoyed our first ‘wallow.’ And what a wonderful thing it is to wallow. Pulling into our first sandbank, Mr Magondo ploughed ahead of the fleet. Suddenly he leapt from his moving boat into one foot deep water and hurtled through it towards a lazing crocodile. He actually bent down as if to try and catch the creature as it was speedily evicted from its domain. He turned and smiled, “I’m getting slower.” This newly croc-free section of river was ours. The heat of the sun was incredible, the waters’ coolness was amazing and we jumped in fully clothed, lying, rolling, giggling and splashing. Someone produced a bar of soap and we promptly had a quick wash before re-boarding and continuing. As we reached our first island we’d had a quite brilliant afternoon.

We struck camp, leaving the flysheets off our tents; the starlit sky was too pretty to hide behind canvas and there would be no rain. Kebo made tea and coffee and Ryan told me he had two fishing rods and I could borrow one for the trip. He had given the big Tiger away; Mr Magondos’ family would be eating it for Christmas, but Ryan had already bagged a couple of Chessers whose fillets would do nicely as bait for the Tigers. Superb.

The stars looked sublime, the hippo pod just thirty metres from shore grunted an evening chorus and the occasional splash of a leaping Tiger fish quickened our anticipation for the trip ahead. The beer and wine softened our insides and the chicken curry filled our bellies.

We awoke at day break, slipped on some clothes and began fishing. With my first cast I landed a one and a half kilogram Nkupe, quite how it got its tiny mouth around my massive hook was a mystery but its fate was Tiger food. Into the cool box it went.

The days’ structure was to rise at first light, cast rods (optional) and break camp whilst coffee and biscuits were prepared. We’d then canoe for around two and a half hours, avoiding grumpy hippos, to a suitable breakfast spot where we would enjoy a fry up and fish some more. Another two or three hours canoeing and we’d find a lunch spot for some more fishing and then a siesta in the shade away from the animosity of the midday sun. After lunch a couple more hours canoeing into the evening would take us to another island and we would strike camp once more.

The river was filled with hippopotamuses. We’d zigzag between pods only for a head to pop up right in the middle of our path. The characteristic wet blow of an exhaling hippo as it surfaces caused our heads to swivel towards it instantly as our heart skipped a beat and our stroke rate increased. Hippos supposedly kill more individuals than any other African creature, bar for the mosquito. According to Mr Magondo and Kebo, this might not be wholly true. They’re herbivores and so they have no business eating man steak. What seems to happen, so our guides informed us, is that the hippos will be disturbed by people who encroach their territory, (us,) and they will upturn a boat like a piece of driftwood in a waterfall. The individuals then start splashing and panicking and a submersed crocodile completes the disappearing act. Anyone who sees the accident says a hippo was responsible and their reputation is solidified. Meanwhile the stealthy croc has its fill reappearing with a man shaped belly twenty minutes later. As a general rule, for the most part, as long as you’re not between the hippo and high water, or between a mother and calf and as long as you’re near the bank, (so they can’t get beneath the boat,) you’ll be fine.

So when we rounded a dead tree that had fallen from the bank and we suddenly spotted a big male in the shallows, we were in deep water in both senses. Kebo shouted, “Paddle hard.” Mr Magondo shouted, “Faster.” The splashing was loud and close and less than five metres to our right as the hippo crashed forward towards the deep water. We were blocking its route and were paddling furiously. “Not fast enough,” shouted Magondo, a mild sense of urgency building in his voice. The feeling of fear; of blood coursing through your body, of oxygen filling every muscle cell, of the splashing and grunting ringing in your ears as time slows and sphincters clench was exhilarating. We gained speed and crossed the river, lengthening our distance from the unhappy chappy. Grins all around betrayed the fear that had just danced through our souls.

Huge baobabs lined the banks like wise old men who have seen so many moons they don’t have enough branches to count them. Crocodiles lay silently on the banks or floated with only their eyes and snout visible, disguising their two metre length waiting patiently below the surface. Fallen tress interrupted the water-carved mud walls of the banks. Dead hippos interrupted our journey, lying on their sides, bloated to the point of bursting, their rotting, gas filled, turgid insides contained only by their six centimetre thick skin. One floated by, dislodged from its sand bank, dead, distended and malodorous in the extreme, it still moved occasionally as crocodiles nipped at the thick decaying flesh that formed the one and half tonne floating carcasses’ hull.

One live hippo raced from the left bank towards Mr Magondo’s canoe; Magondo’s boat moved faster as the hippo continued. Apparently he knew it was only a mock charge, his smile didn’t break, but even as the water got deeper the hippo continued towards him. Even though his stroke rate didn’t appear to quicken, the boat quickened as his strokes became longer and more powerful.

Lunch on day two was a splendid affair. As we prepared sandwiches a small herd of five elephants appeared at the far end of our bank. Slowly they meandered towards our party; they climbed the bank behind us, stopped for an inspection and then walked around to our other side before plunging into the river becoming almost fully submersed using their trunks as snorkels and swimming to the far bank for richer grazing.

On our third day we stopped for another wallow in the late morning. Our paddles were driven into the sand and, with them acting as anchors, we tied our boats up. Our wallow became an impromptu lunch spot and a table and chairs were set up in the water. We ate sandwiches whilst sat in the river, and, afterwards, as the team siesta’d under an acacia, Ryan and I went fishing. I caught my first Tiger fish, snapping my borrowed rod in the process. It was a beauty, almost three kilograms perhaps, but since I was alone and had no camera we’ll never know. My priority was to get it back in the water; Somers appeared just as I unhooked it; at least I hadn’t been the only one to see it.

Christmas Eve was to be the best fishing so far, even with a significantly shortened rod. At the eastern end of the island, two deep fast flowing channels converged and that was where those Tigers would be hiding. The half-rod still managed to get the line out into the channel and it played out into the thick of it. Feeling the rod twitch is a feeling like no other. One tug, a second tug, then, bang, the drag whistles as the line is pulled out. The Tiger leaps out of the water on the end of your line, a powerful fish fighting for its life. You bring it in, play it out and reel it closer, fighting all the time and protecting your line. I caught a couple of two kilogram fish and one time, as my rod was almost pulled from my hands, the line suddenly went limp, my hook, line and sinker were taken clean by what looked to be a monster, he ate the lot in one bite.

One of the Tigers had been destined for the pot and I’d put him on the bank, to suffocate. But, after five minutes he was still alive. That was bloody good going for a Tiger given our previous experiences. He was a fighter, and his tenacity was pulling my heart strings. I decided he deserved a second chance and so crept down towards the waters’ edge, looking for crocodiles, and placed him in the water. He turned upside down which isn’t normally a good sign for a fish. Maybe he would be dinner after all, but as I turned to put him back on the bank his hellish fanged mouth opened. I changed my mind again and held him upright in the water pushing him back and forth to get the water flowing over his gills. It took five or six minutes, back and forth, always looking for crocs, but slowly he came to and eventually after about ten minutes he groggily swam off back into the river. An ‘expert’ in fish resuscitation, now there’s a niche market for a vet. As night came and the light died I put my line out one last time and settled down for a few beers, when I finally gave up and reeled it in just before dinner there was a cheeky little Catfish on the end. Three Tigers and a Catfish, not bad for a Christmas Eve spent fishing in Zimbabwe! And better still they all survived; four fish and no fatalities. Times were good.

After a special candlelit dinner, candles and extra rations of drink to celebrate the season, we exchanged stories with the guides, finished a few bottles of the Christmas wine and drank until late. The night was to be a little rougher than the previous two. A mean wind kicked sand into the tents, the rain came and the flysheets went up, the tents flapped and the precipitations’ pitter-patter softly maintained our consciousness.

We awoke on Christmas day to see the sunrise, but today the light entering our glazed eyes hurt our heads. We packed up and set off for breakfast at our final landing site at Mana Pools’ Main Camp Site. After breakfast we visited the main office at the camp site and found elephant femurs as high as my chest, elephant foetuses the size of a rat preserved perfectly in jars of formaldehyde and any number of skulls, tusks, horns and teeth.

As we drove out of the park we momentarily spotted Tracey and Kenny again and exchanged excited waves. They were a lovely couple, it was a real shame we wouldn’t see them again. The drive back to Kariba took five hours. The latter half of which we watched, bemused, as huge lorries overtook each other up hill on blind crested corners. One truck started to overtake us only to screech as the air brakes whistled and brake pads over-heated. A huge lorry carrying iron ingots hurtled downhill around the corner ahead. The uphill driver grinned as the iron truck had to half mount the verge to avoid a collision. In a fight between two 16- ton trucks, little old us would have been crunched in the cross fire. We ate Christmas lunch, sandwiches and cokes, under a huge baobab and arrived back to Redvers and our pre-booked boma (cottage) at about three.

Christmas dinner consisted of mixed nuts, a mince pie, some Christmas chocolate, melon and mango juice. We sang Christmas carols in the humid warmth and danced around our boma. Christmas phone calls were placed, through Colin, late in the afternoon before we passed out on the bed, exhausted beneath our mosquito net.

Posted by ibeamish 02:46 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 90 – Into Kariba

21st December 2011

sunny 30 °C

The nights’ sleep was never going to be a particularly good one; perched on a seventies wire deck chair with the stars sailing by. We were up just after four and stood looking out over the starboard side as the suns’ rays started to grapple over the hills of the mainland. The boat picked up speed again, (the leaky fuel pipe had been fixed with gaffer tape,) and we continued along past the Kapenta fishing boats. (Kapenta is basically what we call white bait in England and here it’s fished for by lowering a wide circular net into the water and shining a light above it. As the fish come to the light you raise the net and bingo, you have a catch.) We arrived just after 2pm, only eight hours late, travelling faster than we had been when we started. (I believe the efficiency of speed was due largely to the depletion of the not insubstantial food stocks and their subsequent voiding into the lake via one individual’s gallant efforts and multiple visits to one of the onboard water closets.)

At Kariba we were straight off the ferry as the manager told the guy with the scratched car to deal with the problem himself. We picked up some bolts that Redvers may find useful and a visit to the supermarket allowed us to stock up on beers and cider for the forthcoming canoe expedition, as well as a few Christmas supplies for the day of our return. On the way to our campsite Somers purchased a Tiger fish (my elusive quarry) from a chap with a cool box and a monopoly on fish mongery at the petrol station. Our campsite overlooked the lake from the hillside. Down at the beach, near the water, Somers jumped out of her skin as she realised there was a metre long crocodile barely submerged and looking right at her. We retreated to a safe distance and sat and watched it cruise around the bay for a while. Back at the camp we braai’d our Tiger fish, some T-bone steaks and cracked a few cold ones. We’d need the energy; the next few days would be spectacular.

Posted by ibeamish 02:44 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 89 – Ferry ‘cross the Kariba

20th December 2011


We were up and at ‘em early doors. Our ferry was leaving at nine and we had to be ready, wildlife permits and tickets in hand, and in line by eight. All this preparation and rising at sparrows to get things ready and we found out that the boat was late. It had a fuel leak and only one engine was working. I think that’s the industry standard for these parts. We queued for an few hour getting pestered by one beggar in particular who insisted that if he had five dollars, he’d give it to Laura. But, since he didn’t, would we mind giving him a dollar. He got a Pine-Nut soft drink. (Coconut and Pineapple juice made fizzy – weird.) `

As well as a minor problem like a fuel leak, the ferry folk had overbooked. A small pang of fear streaked through our spines as we wondered if we were the troublesome ‘extra car.’ Like all good Southern Africans however, they quickly ‘made a plan’ and reckoned if one car lost its roof rack things would be good. We told him the Ferry Man it wouldn’t be us. The landy in front told Ferry Man that he was welcome to try but the ferry folk would be doing it themselves and would pay for any damage that resulted. Some mug in a Toyota took one for the team. I’m sure he winced bitterly as they lowered the rack dragging a large scratch down the side of his car. I reversed on just before twelve pm. I had three inches between the right hand side and the boat and eight inches between my left hand side and the very last car on. Still, last on, first off and all that.

We boarded the good ship Sea Lion and set off on a twenty two hour cruise with one engine, a fuel leak and a prayer. Boarding we could see that our life rafts actually resembled large foam sponges with bits of rope hanging off the edge. Downstairs, the boat was rammed, mostly because of a morbidly obese coloured lady and her plump offspring that were consuming most of the viable oxygen. I worried that if our diesel situation became critical, she’d eat all the food before we got to land. I made a mental note that we’d have to send her off on the ‘life sponge’ first. With nowhere else to go Somers explored and found a beauty of a spot on the top deck at the back of the boat. It was covered with canvas but had open air sides. It was perfect. We occupied the two remaining old-peoples-home wire sun loungers and introduced ourselves to the slender Zimbabwean family of six, a Jo’burg couple, and a couple from Waterfall (ten minutes from the McVeigh’s house in Hillcrest,) named Kenny and Tracey. Our chairs were beauties, they could be sitting chairs, recliners or beds. They had leg extensions that didn’t quite fit but did the job and cushions that came straight out of an Indian furniture store in the seventies. We ate on blue plastic, rectangular all-in-one food trays; the type of which I’ve only seen previously in prison movies. The trays may have been lacking but the food wasn’t. We were fed five times a day.

The first evening we queued, politely chatting to some fellow overlanders, when suddenly my vision went from glorious Technicolor to grey. I looked to my left and then to my right; only grey. I turned my body left to see a large crease in which the grey darkened; wet t-shirt. As I turned right I could make out the second moisture ridden cleft of an armpit as it dawned on me that the big chick had pushed in-front of us. Thankfully there was no smell but we watched, mouths ajar as she nailed all, every last piece, of the chicken, it was piled high on her plate as she drooled languidly all over it. With her eyes wide, her slavering features were all consumed by the thought of the chicken. We said nothing and waited for another ten minutes whilst the astonished chef and his team prepared more chicken. Who needed life rafts; at eighty percent blubber I’d just hold on to her.

Our journey was from west to east along the length of Lake Kariba which is at least a few hundred kilometres. Our top deck provided the perfect spot to see one of the most incredible sunsets so far as the sun dipped into the inky blue waters of Kariba. As the sun went the stars came. In the distance an electrical storm broke out, huge forks of lightning crashed silently to the ground as huge clouds glowed like flash bulbs on the banks. Above us the sky was cloudless and with no light pollution the stars were a joy. As we fell asleep the engines slowed and the smell of leaking diesel faded. The stars appeared to glide alongside our apparently motionless boat in a conveyor belt of magnificent beauty. Downstairs people began to cough as the chicken scented fug built and the snoring began.

Posted by ibeamish 02:44 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (1)

Day 88 – ‘Christmas Box’

19th December 2011

semi-overcast 28 °C

After such a sweet game drive it was time to see if Redvers would step up to the plate. As a car doctor I’d essentially given him antibiotics and sent him off, knowing it probably wasn’t going to fix him. We said our goodbyes and tuned the Sat-Nav for Mlibizi, the town from which we’d catch our ferry across Lake Kariba. Police engagements ten and eleven ensued. Ten was a formality. Eleven replied “Not good” when I asked how she was. Here we go, I thought. Out came the drivers’ license. Out came the car papers. Out came the car ownership papers. We were airtight. “Christmas box,” she stated looking me in the eye. “What?” “Christmas box, something for Christmas...” You cheeky little... “That’s illegal,” I said “We’ve spoken to the police down the road and they say we shouldn’t pay any bribes.” “Which police,” she replied. As we told her about the cops at the last stop her will broke, we had her, I carried on smiling at her, got back in the car and thanked her as Redvers grumbled, and drove away, squeaking.

Our sources told us there was nowhere to camp at Mlibizi, so we’d planned on finding a local chief and making use of his lands for an evening. It turns out, there are a few places to camp. We chose a lovely spot on the banks of the lake. The folks got lucky as ‘Colin’ patched us through to England via the magic of satellite technology, he’s a beauty. For seven dollars each we had a lakeside view, a chap that fetched fire wood for us, and when Laura asked about the mango trees a bag appeared ten minutes later with seven large, ripe, sticky and sweet fruits which Somers et upon like a ravenous fruit bat. Her comedy orange smile betrayed her age as the sweet juice that coated her lips glowed brilliant orange in the evening sun and another mango met its sticky end. We had cold beers as we watched monitor lizards climbing into the bins to retrieve fish guts from the days catch while the sun set.

Posted by ibeamish 02:36 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 85 -88 – Squeaking Around Hwange

16th – 19th December 2011

rain 23 °C

Police engagements seven, eight and nine happened over a 28 kilometre stretch south from Victoria Falls. License and temporary import paper examinations and vehicle inspections followed, but, no bribes. The nature of Zimbabwes’ past decade and the stories we’d been told about the traffic cops, combined with a good old sense of British pessimism meant we were sceptical adventurers. We expected bribes and long discussions with police officers. To be fair they were all legitimate checks, we were never asked for anything but our papers though some officers were a little more fervent than others. They were a heart quickening inconvenience and we were in no rush.

Hwange camp site was brilliant. It was probably very swish whenever it was built, presently it is clean but distinctly run down with tell tale signs of times gone by. The most noticeable was a complete lack of showers in the ladies wash rooms. Ladies don’t shower, how vulgar; they bathe. Accordingly, there were only baths available. The gents had one bath and one shower; we’re obviously more basic creatures. The piece de resistance was to be found between the sinks in the bathrooms. Shaving is a perilous enough task without having a cigarette in your mouth, but the interior designers at Hwange had had a gentleman in mind who showers before and after he bathes and who likes the sweet taste of tobacco in the morning. In order to prevent any mishaps the Zimbabwe Parks Board had provided an ash tray, wall mounted, so a man can shave and not be too far from his cigarette throughout. We’d arrived in an establishment with class.

The evening game drive led us to some elephant, some more dead elephant (Prussic Acid poisoning? Answers on a postcard,) and gave rise to an annoying squeak from beneath Redvers; a squeak that gave a solitary Pangolin something to think about as we pulled nearer. As usual, it had been Somers that had spotted it, one front leg raised as it momentarily paused to rethink its crossing of the road in front of the squeaking hulk that approached it. What a pleasure. Rangers can spend all their live in a park and never see one. We’d been hanging out for a leopard and found something a little more rare.

The next morning we drove some more. We knew there was a problem when we started debating whether the animals would be able to bear the sound rising from somewhere between the front wheels. Redvers was sick again. Half way through our drive to Kennedy water hole, the squeaky scrape was joined by a graunching metallic noise and the sound of a small bell being dinged occasionally. There was a body piercing concerto being broadcast from Redvers, no animal in its right mind would hang around to see what the sound of death looked like in person.

Performing laps of the camp site we took it in turns to try to see under the car whilst running alongside it. We had a shortlist of differential diagnoses and we started ticking them one by one. Brake pads were clean, wheel bearings felt stable, the front prop shaft was solid and the universal joints that hold the shaft to the differentials had no play in them. When two Land Rovers pulled in we nipped over to ask for advice. Brian and Andy were a couple of white Zimbabwean wildlife guides that had been booked to run a couple of days drives for an overland company called Dragoman. They immediately dropped what they were doing to come and have a look. Andy came for a spin with me and agreed it wasn’t the wheel. He settled on a diagnosis of squeaky prop shaft. Back with Brian he agreed, we also thought about changing the front differential oil and maybe the universal joints. We talked for an hour about their lives in Zimbabwe, what had happened, what was happening and the hopes for the forthcoming elections in 2012. Back under the car I drained the front diff to make sure it was water free and topped it up with oil. After another few hours of fannying around Andy and Brian said they had a bush mechanic who was coming from their base to look at their landy and he could have a look at ours too. In the meantime they suggested that whilst Redvers was incapacitated we should join them on their drives. Bloody nice blokes.

John the bush mechanic looked under and decided it was the front diff. He checked the oil that I’d just filled and seeing it was OK changed his mind. He said he’d look at it at properly at two o’clock. It was twelve o’clock. That sounded fair. We had two hours to kill; It was time we learned about prop shafts. It took a while but I got it off and, with it removed and Redvers in BMW style rear wheel drive mode, there was no noise! Ooh yeah. Now I just had to work out if it was the prop shaft or the diff.

Andy and Brian were leaving at two so off Laura went on safari and I waited for the mechanics. John turned up just after two with his boss the senior bush mechanic whose name I still hadn’t caught at the third time of asking. Through embarrassment I stopped short of asking a fourth time. He looked underneath, he jacked up the back wheel and revved the engine. The handbrake drum was making a scraping noise. That was probably the graunching we’d heard earlier. He told me I needed to take the brake drum off and clean it out, I told him the prop shaft was the squeaker but he looked at it and seemed to think it was fine. I smiled and nodded with conviction as if I’d spent years taking apart Land Rover hand-brake drums.

Off he went, and under the car once more I went, Haynes manual in hand. Two hours later I’d removed the rear prop shaft and had the drum off. I wire brushed it clean, and reassembled the lot, including the front prop shaft to recreate the squeaky noise. The scraping noise stopped; the squeaky noise continued.

Whilst performing my act of amateur mechanic extraordinaire – think Jason Donovan bare chested with oil smears across his chest, looking from under the bonnet to see Kylie Minogue, gooey at the sight of such a handsome and ‘farmers-tanned’ gent – I’d met an Aussie couple called Nick and Eleanor. They’d been working in Cape Town as a building engineer and teacher respectively. They seemed like nice guys on first impression. I asked did they want to put their beers in the fridge and their answer secured a little get together for later on.

Laura and the guys returned from their game drive, by which time Redvers had been pieced back together. At that point a problem ignored was a problem solved. We’d have to let this one develop. We’d soon know how bad it was.

After all had returned Nick and Eleanor joined us for a few cheeky ones as the suns last rays died and the frog chorus began. They’d bought themselves onto a game drive the following morning having bartered their guide from $45 to $35 per person. They’d paid up front.

The next morning, we readied ourselves with bleary eyes at 5am and Andy took us out on a second game drive. We passed a pair of waiting Australians as we left. They didn’t realise it yet but their ‘guide’ was 80 kilometres away going for his life in Hwange town with seventy US dollars. Never pay a man in advance. On our tour everyone else was part of the overland group who had paid through the nose for the pleasure. We were ‘special guests’. We saw close up male lions, lots of buck, a flap necked chameleon, marvellous crowned cranes, martial eagles and Andy diagnosed the blisters that had formed on my shin as the markings of a blister beetle that I must have rolled on when I was frolicking in the grass under the car. I’d popped one blister and the juice ran down my leg a bit. I didn’t wipe it off. Two hours later another blister formed where the juice had run down. Blinkin’ blister beetles.

Posted by ibeamish 02:34 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 84 – Finding Ferries

15th December 2011

sunny 28 °C

Our plans for a twenty two hour ferry journey along Lake Kariba sank when we found out that although the ferry was running, (very exciting news as we were unsure if it still existed,) it was fully booked and there was no space. This was a big spanner as Kariba was the place from which we’d planned on doing a four day canoe trip along the Zambezi. Furthermore Laura’s phone calls were starting to indicate that the canoe trips weren’t running either.

Without a ferry there were three remaining paths to Kariba; the first was to border hop into Zambia and along 600kms of tar road, by far the shortest and quickest route, but requiring entry fees, visas and red tape. The second would be 600kms through park land just south of the lake, consisting of varying road, some 4x4 track and some roads that are supposedly closed in the wet season; we were already in the wet season. The third and, though the longest, perhaps the most straightforward path was south to Bulawayo, north east to Harare and north to Kariba; twelve hundred kilometres of good tar road.

Laura spent a day and a half on the phone, speaking to local tourism agencies: e-mailing, faxing and pestering. The ferry man called every person already booked to check vehicle measurements. A chap called Edmore at the Wild Horizons office helped tirelessly in calling other contacts and allowing us to use a phone and internet. But Somers was making a plan and eventually her miracle came together nicely. Out of the blue, the next morning the chap at the ferry office called to say someone had cancelled and we had a spot. With Edmore’s help a company called Natureways had been located that was running a canoe trip the day after our ferry docked. The three days that we had to spare could be spent in Hwange National Park just south of Victoria Falls and we’d wake up on an island on the Zambezi on Christmas Day. I love it when a plan comes together. Somers had forced this plan together.

Posted by ibeamish 02:33 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 83 – To the falls and Mama Africa

14th December 2011

semi-overcast 26 °C

Victoria Falls is a tourist town built at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi. We’d pulled into Shoestrings backpackers the previous afternoon. We’d made straight for the pool and had an impromptu game of volleyball with a couple of locals, Nigel and Bashia. The night had been a big one and the bar got busy when thirty Swedes arrived from nowhere all gagging for a session. The pool table had been jammed with the local guys taking on all comers. I’d duly put my money down and was waiting to take on the table. By the time I got to the table I’d had quite a few beers that had been washed down with rum and coke; it was time for a bit of flamboyance. I hit the table, the arrogant joker, telling the guys they were in trouble now and that they’d met a Scouser. I played like only a drunk man can. I told them what I’d do before pulling off the perfect shot. Chip shots, doubles, even a treble; all preceded with a self confident “Guys! Watch this, get your video cameras out, you won’t see this again.” The first game was over, too easy, but then the rum slipped into my blood stream. I became rubbish again. The dream was over, the arrogance gone.

A couple of white Zimbabweans joined the table and Laura had got chatting about the last decade in the country. In the latter part of the 2000’s inflation rose something like one sextillion percent so the goods that your one Zimbabwean Dollar used to buy could now only be bought with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 dollars. It was crazy, bread would be worth one price in the morning and be a fourth price by the time the shop closed. Suitcases of money were needed; the treasury produced million dollar notes before billion and finally trillion dollar notes. For the guys who had US dollars life was cheap. For those that didn’t, by the time you got to spend your weekly or monthly wage it was no longer worth a loaf of bread. Ironically the money is worth more now as 80 billion dollars gets you a pair of snazzy binoculars from a Scouse tourist. Back then it got you a piece of bread.

The Falls were far more spectacular from the Zimbabwe side, a better view of the length of the Falls was gained and we could see the Devils pool across the drop, in Zambia, where we’d swam a few days earlier. Beneath us, where the water hit the river, iridescent rainbows sprang from the rocks looping all the way back to the rocks again. We got soaked as we danced in the spray and we sat for an hour on the rocky edge staring down into the falls.

The heat of the sun soon dried us and on our way back we had a bite to eat in Mama Africas’ cafe for some hot pot and respite from the heat. We stopped at the Spar on the way back to stockpile some booze. Dark rum for five pounds a bottle; and beers for one pound a litre. That’d do the trick.

Posted by ibeamish 02:31 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 81 – Finding Benjamin and Saving Joseph

12th December 2011

semi-overcast 27 °C

Benjamin Mibende had visited the Livingstone Museum yesterday morning. He had been present as we entered, in actual fact we had probably walked past him. Yesterdays sleuth pursuit had resulted in a phone number. By the time we had found a way of dialling it, only to find it didn’t work, the museum had closed.

The following morning, a nice receptionist informed us that Mr Mibende had indeed visited again that morning, not thirty minutes ago. We were close. The receptionist had the same number for him, but with her phone the number dialled. It rang. And it rang out. Our timetable loosely said that we would be in Zimbabwe by evening. We’d already put our border crossing off by a whole day to chase Benjamin and, on our broader time table, we’d overstayed Livingstone already. The receptionist gave it one more go; “It’s ringing.” Seconds passed as the phone rang, just as we lost hope, there came an answer. A short conversation later and we were informed Mr Mibende would be here in ten minutes.

Benjamin Mibende is a fascinating man. It was he who had organised the layout of the exhibitions in the museum, it was him that put those exhibitions together to start with, and drawing was how he relaxed. We spoke for half an hour as he talked about the meanings behind his work. He talked about his work to reduce deforestation in Zambia and repeated his maxim that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Our mission was accomplished. First he had to nip home to get the prints we so keenly wanted. When he returned the deal was done.

With that we turned tail and made for the Victoria Falls Bridge; our way across the Zambezi, out of Zambia and into Zimbabwe. But first we had a few spare Kwacha to get rid of, the market was two hundred metres from the border is there such a thing as too much tat?

As we pulled in to the market we were being watched. We’d seen him before. At least if we’d not laid our eyes directly on him, he must have been watching us when we first visited the market one week ago. He was watching us now. We had no idea of his existence. At least, his existence was not yet significantly different to any other in the market. His little plump belly and his skin, the colour of teak, somehow made the rolls of fat that hid his neck acceptable. We wandered the stalls a hundred metres away. Still, he was watching us.

As we wandered the market, we were tired. The previous night had involved little sleep, in part due to the weather and in part due to the continuing party in the bar from which we’d retired. Laura spoke politely with each man in trn as he came rushing to shake hands, make introductions, work out where we were from, sit us down and begin negotiating; whether we wanted anything or not. But as the hounding began I was rapidly becoming belligerent. I was approached by a guy trying to sell me Nyami-Nyami necklaces. (A mythical Zambezi dwelling dragon that eats people now idolised by a small carving on a necklace and sold fervently to all tourists.) I asked how much, taking care to tell him not to take the piss. He suggested the equivalent of nine dollars. It was worth between one and two. I carefully told him that he’d lost his chance to do business. He was acting silly and taking me for stupid. The necklace was worth one or two dollars depending on how hard I was willing to barter. I told him he’d sell more if he started reasonably and valued his product. He wasn’t a happy bunny, ‘silly’ was a grave insult. I didn’t quite realise that I’d just angered most of the stall holders within a twenty five metre radius. To be fair, I’d lost my humour and had stopped playing the bartering game. But he had to know that at least one white guy gets pissed off when told fifty pence is worth four pounds fifty.

Across the market, behind the hanging curios, he stood silently, still watching. His height was unremarkable but he probably still weighed at least seventy kilograms, maybe even eighty. He must have seen me arguing with my stall holder. But he hadn’t moved.

It was ten minutes later that we came face to face. I was looking at a walking stick when Joseph, the gent looking after the stall, introduced our mysterious and stranded observer to Laura. His name was also Joseph, and he was for sale. How could we even think of paying for him, we wouldn’t have enough money and how would we get him into Zimbabwe, even with Redvers we might struggle, hiding him fully would be impossible. We laughed, sadly, before apologising and continuing. But our minds couldn’t settle. Joseph was stuck there and we had done nothing. We had to do something. Anything was better than smiling and pretending he didn’t exist. Joseph Snr had wanted a thousand dollars for him. We didn’t have that sort of money. What could we get him down to? What could we afford? How big a burden would he be? We thought a while before going back and asking for a quiet word with Joseph Snr. The bartering began. We bartered hard, we had to.

Joseph Junior was silent for the duration, he was fifty yards away and had no idea his future was being bartered for. Finally we found a price. We handed the money to Joseph Senior and he turned to his cronies instructing them to bring Joseph to the car. It took four men to drag him out and hoist him inside Redvers. As we saw the eighty kilogram solid teak hippo nestle in the back of Redvers we burst out laughing. Myself, Laura, Redvers and Colin (sat phone) had a new friend, Joseph Junior. He’s too big for us to lift between us, he occupies most of the back of the car and he’s been rescued. He’s coming home at all costs. I’ve never seen a wooden hippo so big.

Laura drove sedately over the Vic Falls bridge; it was a cinematic moment and a bridge you can’t drive over quickly. Whilst I took pictures I tripped on the railway lines making a huge thud as I landed camera first, followed by elbows and somehow, arse. Smooth Beamish, smooth. Women cried out ‘Sorry!’ as if they were responsible. I dusted myself off, smearing the blood on my arm and then legged it after Redvers. That was how we entered Zimbabwe.

Posted by ibeamish 04:40 Archived in Zambia Comments (2)

Day 80 – Christmas Cards and Booze

11th December 2011

overcast 24 °C

We visited the Livingstone Museum which was both fascinating and very well laid out. It taught us all about the cultures and history of Zambia and Africa as whole. A large section on David Livingstone including many original letters that brought to life the idea of arriving here as the ‘first white man’ to see the falls when only a series of small villages existed. Also in the museum we saw some prints of work by a local artist that Laura fell in love with. They were too expensive at the museum though and so began a mission to find one Mr. Benjamin Mibende.

Outside we wandered the markets for Christmas cards and interest. We bought hot corn on the cob from a street seller and stopped for an early beer in a random bar, much to the bemusement of the locals. We bartered for a couple of bottles of wine, one a Casillero Del Diablo for five dollars and the other, a Zimbabwean blend, 2005 vintage, for the same price; cheaper than Tesco’s. We had a chat with the guys and drank some ‘Shake-Shake’ Chibuku with them, commercially brewed maize beer with bits still in it. It went like this: drink, wretch, chew, screw face, drink more to prove you’re not weak, chew, fake smile, hold on to your stomach as it rises to your throat, re-chew those bits that just reappeared, then slug off the rest taking care not to breathe, chew or taste. Next, wipe your mouth, smile and say “That’s blinkin’ disgusting... you should drink more wine.”
Back at the hostel we drank one bottle of red, corked, Zimbabwean wine from 2005. At least there was no chewing involved.

Posted by ibeamish 04:37 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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