Greetings from Zambia! But I’ll only be writing about our time in Zimbabwe!
I’m sure most of you would have noticed the scandalous English mistakes laden throughout the previous blog entry, one of my biggest ever embarrassments. I apologise profusely for that diabolical contribution, particularly to those still at school whose grammatical education I may well have corrupted. If there is even a thimble of mercy in your hearts, please understand that I cobbled that together in the wee hours of the morning after a day of rafting and emotionally draining farewells. You should be pleased to know however that I have now updated that entry and erased the most grotesque of errors in an effort to salvage some respect.
While I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through Namibia and Botswana, I don’t feel any considerable inclination to return to those countries in the future. The same cannot be said for Zimbabwe. I joined this tour with no substantive expectations for the Zimbabwe component of the trip, but after having now travelled through a portion of the country I believe that it is my favourite that we have visited so far. Zimbabwe is a nation I particularly want to return to in the future in order to see more of the country and experience it in a different season.
When travelling through Zimbabwe in January, you’re certainly aware that you’re in the tropics. The landscape is draped in the vivid green and thick vegetation reminiscent of Northern Australia and the weather is humid with regular downfalls of intense rain. We actually crossed the Tropic of Capricorn weeks ago in Namibia, but that was in the completely desolate landscape of the Namib Desert. It didn’t really feel “tropical” until we reached North-Eastern Botswana and then entered Zimbabwe as we had been travelling mainly through dry, desert areas. The differences in the landscape, vegetation and weather of Namibia with Zimbabwe are extraordinarily contrasting. Namibia was surreally bleak and often apparently lifeless while Zimbabwe was bursting with lushness, vibrancy and life. Travelling through this region in the wet season however is not necessarily advisable as the inclement weather makes camping nightmarish (if it wasn’t already) and potentially makes wildlife spotting much more difficult as the vegetation and grasses are very thick.
After departing Botswana, our new Dragoman truck picked us up at the Zimbabwean border to replace the coach we had temporarily used since the first truck broke down. Most group members were delighted to return to an overlanding vehicle but I failed to share in their misplaced enthusiasm as we said goodbye to air-conditioning, cushioned seats and sufficient leg space for six-footers. Some justified their gusto by claiming that travel in the coach ”removed” them from the surroundings, as if it confined our experience to a bubble which floated through the landscape and separated us from the African reality. But to me the choice of vehicle is effectively irrelevant; both modes of transport have windows and make the same stops regardless, the only difference is that one is more comfortable. When an entirely Caucasian group of 23 people arrive in town and proceed toward the supermarket to buy at least a trolley load full of meat and numerous other Western staples and luxuries and then head to the liquor stores to fill the truck’s countless eskies with booze, then surely that experience is a more poignant representation of the tour’s separation from the African reality. There are countless people in this region that simply cannot afford any of the contents of our trolleys; many depend entirely on a single grain (which I have admittedly forgotten the name of (maize- thanks Lou) for sustenance and many town roads are lined with beggars that we pass almost obliviously with these huge trolleys of unnecessary quantities of food. I’ve gone on a tangent but the point is it’s a bit rich (pun intended) to insinuate the choice of vehicle could make the trip anymore of an authentic African journey when clearly we are living in a ”bubble” anyway specifically in regards to our food consumption.
After crossing the Zimbabwean border, we travelled toward the country’s second biggest city, Bulawayo. Zimbabwe is a nation of comparative size to neighbouring Botswana but features a much larger population (in excess of 12 million) and a more opulent landscape. Consequently, the long drives across the country are far more captivating then in the previous nations visited as farms, settlements and towns were passed on a regular basis. Bulawayo was the first town we had been to on this tour which to me felt truly African and my impression was that its quite a pleasant city. Bulawayo features numerous dilapidated colonial buildings, both in the CBD and the wealthier suburbs, which have an amiable mystique about them in their decay. The central area is bustling with people that are shopping, selling or transiting; something we hadn’t really seen since leaving Cape Town. The suburbs are filled with tall grasses and trees with broad canopies which aides to the pleasurable atmosphere the city exudes. In Bulawayo, we stayed in the grounds of an old colonial mansion which featured rooms available but not enough to satisfy the demand for upgrades. English Dave and I were fortuitously the last drawn in the ballot for the beds and shared a room with two others in a small apartment-like area. The common room in this area became the group’s primary hang out location for the two nights we stayed in Bulawayo which contributed to this being among my favourite days on the trip. Others who were not so lucky in the draw for beds resorted to rapid consumption of alcohol and disco dancing on the truck to stifle the disappointment emanating from the rain, Australian Sue and particularly Danish Nadia the chief offenders.
We spent our first full day in Zimbabwe at the phenomenal Matobos National Park, located just outside of Bulawayo. Our journey into Matobos felt like a true safari experience as we were escorted into the Park by two white Zimbabwean locals who wore the stereotypical attire, were extremely knowledgeable about the local history and wildlife and transported us on safari-style jeeps. I fortunately sat in the jeep driven by the guide more interested in the wildlife of the area rather than the other guide who was clearly infatuated by the Cecil Rhodes legend. While the lectures that he presented to us about the Rhodes story and legacy and also of the Bushmen were fascinating particularly because of his hypnotic orating skills, I didn’t appreciate his dismissiveness of scientists and historians. I also question the legitimacy of accepting his theories considering how unreservedly favourable he was towards Rhodes; a person that I have always had the impression of was a racist and ambitious imperialist. Nevertheless, the group I was in had an outstanding day as we regularly screamed dramatically for photos “SAFARI!!!” as we drove around the park in the open-aired jeep. This evolved into “special needs safari!”, a slogan that English Dave egotistically believes should be attributed to him. Matobos is a spectacular national park, rich in thick vegetation (it was more like forest than savannah) and covered in exposed rocks and hills. The primary purpose of the visit was to track white rhinoceroses on foot and while that was unsuccessful, the experience in attempting to was very enjoyable.
The next destination in Zimbabwe we visited was the Hwange National Park, located in the North of the country. As with every game park we have visited thus far on the trip, the landscape of Hwange was completely different to any we had seen before. Hwange features a landscape close to the standard imagery of the African savannah; long grasses, open plains with the occasional tree and areas of dense bush. In Hwange we managed to see several elephants quite close up, crocodiles, a hippo which came out of the water to inspect and threaten us, antelope and troops of baboons. In the evening of our stay, I was lucky enough to join the game drive occurred just outside the park. The purpose of the drive was to spot nocturnal wildlife by driving slowly and shining a high beam torch onto the surrounding area to identify the reflections from animals’ eyes. After sighting some of the smaller creatures, we came across a sea of shining eyes in the pitch black darkness. These belonged to a herd of Buffalo, which our guide described as the only species he is genuinely scared of when on foot in Africa. It was truly awesome to be so close (they were crossing the road just 10m away0 to a herd of animals that large in the darkness, knowing how threatening they can be. When we returned to camp later that night we discovered that there had been sightings of lions in the area. Several of us including the tour leader then believed we could hear the sounds emanating from an animal close to the campsite. That was until we realised it was the insanely loud snoring of Australian Malcolm.
Now onto group talk. Australian Karen continued to impress with her passionate discussions on astrology, the area from which she forged her highly successful television career from. While I don’t necessarily believe in astrology, I do now appreciate, understand and respect the field much more. Several members of the group determined that my remarkable pearlers of wisdom and penchant for always being correct justified my coronation as Emperor of a new empire that shall be formed. Kiwi Hamish became undoubtedly the group’s chief belcher while Kiwi Becks was the only group member capable of asking the guides in Matobos and Hwange more interesting wildlife questions than “So does this place have leopards?”
The final destination in Zimbabwe and for the first component of the trip was Victoria Falls. The final group meeting of our tour occurred the evening after our arrival in the restaurant of the campsite. We said our goodbyes to Karen and Terrence from Australia and Kiwi Aloma and reflected upon how wonderful the trip was and how lucky we had been to have such an excellent tour group. The following day, I went white-water rafting on the Zambezi River, which was fantastic. I fell out of the raft twice and proceeded to float along the river quickly until they picked me up again which was great fun. Several people in the other boat did not however have such an enjoyable experience as their boat flipped and some got stuck underneath.
The following two evenings were highly enjoyable but also depressing as I farewelled 3 of my best friends from the trip. Irish Claire was the first, after one last drink at the bar. I found Claire to be perhaps the most joyful person I’ve ever met, someone who would always laugh with you at anything at any time. You merely had to stare at Claire and she’d burst into laughter. I’ll miss turning to her during or after a boring drive to have an easy laugh and I wish her well for her move to Australia. After that farewell I went with a group to an African style buffet which was ostensibly also the farewell dinner for Danish Nadia. The food was outstanding, featuring a selection of game meats which were grilled. Saying goodbye to Nadia was just as difficult but fortunately I can look forward to visiting her in Denmark this year. I thoroughly enjoyed Nadia’s company on the tour as I felt she was genuinely interested in me beyond the goofy antics for which I’m probably more famed for and likewise I really enjoyed learning about Denmark and its culture; quite different from almost everyone else’s on the trip. I’ll miss the reflective discussions we regularly had about the tour and her generosity in laughing at any of my lame jokes. The following night, Canadian Paul and I went to the Victoria Falls Hotel for his final dinner on the trip. The hotel was essentially the only major structure on the Zimbabwean side for many decades until it became a tourist hotspot. After enjoying a fantastic buffet, it was time to farewell another great friend. I believe that Paul is exceptionally well suited to his job as a golf course manager as he is clearly very knowledgeable about tourism and hospitality, leading to a very interesting reflection on the tour’s operation. I was really pleased someone else on the tour knew the awesome game 500s, allowing Paul and I to waste away many hours when we had nothing more interesting to do. And ok I admit I always lost, it was like playing with Father Peter and Brother Sean! I’ll certainly miss having a 500s buddy but I’ll also miss his interesting perspectives, discussions of the tour and his general banter.
Certain members of the group have labelled my blog writing as anti-social. Apparently 3-4 hours every half week is exceptional excessive; it appears I should be available for conversation for 17 hours of every day without fail, even when everyone else on the truck is asleep! Respite and moments of solitary contemplation are taboo on this tour. Well I say to those members (if they have bothered to read this far), stiff shit because I’m not changing. When there are times where the choice of activity is solely between the opportunity to update home or continue to engage in the endless trivial conversations the Australasian/British cohort have, its an easy decision regardless of the stigma.
Hope all is well at home,