I am ready to be home again now, and have been for some time, but I could easily do this again I’m quite sure. I will of course need to get an income of sorts….This morning the inevitable mosque kicked-off at the usual 0445h, this and the murderous chorus of crows, together with a meeting of locals on the tailgate guaranteed no more sleep…….. In Arabic, “Blah, blah, blah, Land Rover or Land Cruiser? Blah, blah……”!I’d been thinking overnight, there is no way we will be back in the UK by 15th if we do not get to Alexandria today. An early start then.Any chance of seeing the surreal ships crossing the desert on the Suez Canal were scuppered by a fugue of mist, and worse, as we crossed the desert road to Cairo, it changed to a thick, damp fog. Given Egyptian driving, we slowed and tucked in behind a HGV for shelter and safety!At least we did get a photo of the Suez Canal before we left town. Richie got as close as he could to the dockside fence and grabbed a couple of pictures before soldiers and police started shouting at him and waving guns about, we drove off pronto.
The fog cleared as we approached Cairo, only to be replaced by the haze and smog of the worst traffic congestion so far – by a long way – it even makes Nairobi look free-flowing.
The Egyptians are quite simply the worst drivers (or the best as Richie posed). At night they choose not to use their lights (“They might dazzle someone.”) The horn is a substitute for both brakes and roadsense. They cut-in, undertaking and overtaking into the smallest of inter-vehicle gaps and all at high speed. They have no lane discipline. The worst thing is just the sheer number of cars and drivers applying these skills in the crowded city streets. To be frank, even after the experioence of driving the length of the continent, Cairo was a complete shock,.
The normally reliable T4A (satnav) did not help matters as it could not distinguish between ground-level and flyovers, so it was directing us to non-existent junctions. It tried to send us down roads that werent there, and did send us down narrow alleys, grid-locked with other cars, buses, donkeys, people and street vendors.
I later explained to Richie the stress I feel driving the uninsured Azalai here. It has a value of £60k, all borrowed and secured against our house. He quite understood!
However, despite the little sleep, the intense stressors of Egypt city traffic, the irritating Cairo navigation of T4A and the paucity of detail in the Rough Guide, there is no getting away from the fact that me losing it is not helpful….
After trying to follow the one and only sign to ‘The Pyramids’ and going around infuriating, risky, Nile traversing loops, in a vain attempt to find these iconic structures, whilst kamikaze style vehicles came at us, seemingly from all directions, in anger and frustration, I ended up nearly tossing the SatNav out of the window, towards the murky river. “Please make a U-turn,” after we had just committed to a route the wretched thing had just given us!
However, just as it was about to reach a silt-laden and watery demise, I had a flash of lucidity and realising that we might yet need the device, threw it instead, with some vigour, into the passenger footwell. Of course the footwell was pretty much occupied by the bulk of Richie, and it hit him on the hand and foot on its way there.
There was silence for the next couple of hours., at least after my, “Fuck the Pyramids they’ve had their chance!” there was. Crass and selfish; necessary to get to Alexandria for the 4th December RoRo shipping. A shame for Richie as he was keen [to see the Pyramids] and in truth deserved it. I had every intent of doing a day-trip back from Alex’ – but would we make it? (We didn’t, and despite easily navigating 16000 miles, this most famous and enduring of tourist icons eluded us.)
T4A at least had clear directions to Alexandria, and the desert toll road was relatively fast. The Nile Delta is extensive, lots of cultivation and new walled, residential compounds.
We got to Alexandria at about 1500h. Marina Shipping Agents shut at 1600h. To our horror, the traffic was as bad or worse than Cairo’s! Seemingly it was complete grid-lock. We had an address but no idea where their office was ,or for that matter where we were. Desperately Richie hailed a taxi and went off to find it. He returned to the sidestreet where I’d parked up an hour later wiuthout success. The taxi had simply been stuck in stationary traffic. Bad news, after skipping the Pyramids, it’s now quite possible we’ll miss this week’s sailing!
We then spent another four hours trying to find a cheap hotel. Most of this was spent in traffic on the corniche. We decided upon the Ramsis Hotel as they had staff keeping an eye on cars parked outsuide. The bathrooms smell of sewage, but at 150£E it is a no brainer, and it has a certain old world charm (including a cage lift).
There is also aa bar underneath, in the same building, that sells beer! We think we’ve landed on our feet. However when it transpires they are 50£E for each small can, Richy says increduously, “FIFTY? FIFTY! EACH?!?” We leave.
As it happens, the hotel can source and serve beer for discreet consumption at a mere 11£E.
In all the mellee of a three city day, I stop to consider that I am at the end of my drive, the length of the most amazing continent on the planet. It seems fitting it’s on the 30th November. I feel tired and emotional. The day’s hassles have taken off the immediate edge, as has my slipping-up on seeing the surviving wonder of the ancient world, for essentially selfish reasons. We eat a lasagne at a nearby Pizza Hut, drink a couple of beers in the room and watch Mission Impossible on the 14” TV.
Richie says, “Well why would I want to travel all this way and see one of the wonders of the world anyway?…….”
Monday 18th July 2011 p.m. Meleme Dam
We managed to pick up some more Cadac gas which should see us through. A fond goodbye from Norman, Christine and Enid (mother), including tea and cake for me on the terrace! Norman helpfully, ran through a possible Malawi route (via Mozambique) based on his time working there as a safari guide.
A short drive south to the Matopos Park. The jovial guys on the gate pointed out that we were the only guests that day (they had 17 on Sunday). We stopped at the MOTHs shrine (memorable order of tin hats) a memorial garden from World War I and at White Rhino Cave paintings.
Inaccessible for me (the latter certainly) Rachel took some pictures. The geology is a stunning and bizarre as any guidebook will tell you. Especially scenic set against clear winter blue skies.
En route to Maleme Dam, we also called at Pomongwe Cave painting. The guide at the small museum gleefully explained how the area has a lot of leopard, and black mamba (a dried local one being a museum exhibit). Morbidly he recounted that, “One of our guys got bitten by one on the hand. There are no hospitals here so he decided to cut off his finger. He survived”.
He then try to sell us a hardwood “Zim” Eagle, all done in friendly good humour. The tickets here also grant access to Cecil Rhodes’ grave at his “view of the world”. We will visit there tomorrow.
We have quite a secluded pitch by the lake. An African Fish Eagle (click the link to listen) calls majestically to its mate, and his gull-like voice echoes up and down the valley.
We have already seen five klipspringer, scampering up the steep cliffs. Baboon scoff a sandwich trophy from the weekend picnic site and bark politics at each other on the other bank.
We are back to cooking on the open fire, ‘chicken sausages’ whatever they are! Courtesy of Bulawayo Spar. They are sure to attract the baboon on this side of the lake. Another beautiful African place indeed. Good for the soul.
Tuesday 19th July 2011 0950 hours, Matopos
It is cold this morning 7°C inside 5°C outside. The stove is also our heater, but as it failed to start again, by the time we got up, the temperature had risen with the sun.
Last night, sat at our campfire, I lamented that the other campers (South Africans living in Zambia) had a generator and a noisy toddler, but dutifully they observed the South African de facto curfew for camping, and were in bed by 9 o’clock. By the time our embers subsided enough to retire it was gone 10 o’clock. Rachel packed everything into the Land Rover due to baboon risks and in doing so the wheelchair’s chair handle pressed the door-lock fob in her pocket as she lifted the chair into the van .“Beep Beep!!” went the alarm, which then echoed four times up and down the completely silent valley! Sheepish apologies to our neighbours this morning.
A couple of words on poaching: Our camping neighbours saw a kudu with a spear in its rump yesterday and have gone off with the Ranger to see whether they can find it in the vicinity. The park has several common areas where the original, resident people live. In times of no money or if money from the park doesn’t go to a local community, who can blame them for hunting traditionally? After all, deer are tasty and nutritious for young and old alike once cooked.
In Bulawayo Norman said that he believes there are 40,000 elephants in Hwange. This makes it overpopulated as the ideal is one per hectare. He advocates a cull. (We saw little evidence of those sorts of numbers in Hwange, notwithstanding Norman is a guide in the area, with many years of experience!) Zimbabwe Parks have a no shoot policy for anything but problem animals at present. We talked about the rhino poaching epidemic in South Africa. He said, “They [South African stakeholders] laughed at us, saying we were corrupt. The problem they have is, that in three-quarters of cases it is the veterinarians involved.” There is truth in this based on recent cases in RSA, they have drugs and importantly silent.guns.
The difference is the rhino poaching is pure monetary greed, and it is not sustainable at its current South African rate. It also denudes parks of attractions that in turn draw money for communities from visitors. The poaching we’ve seen here is ‘traditional’, for food and small-scale in general.
Big Cave Lodge and Camp, Matopos
We drove to Cecil Rhodes’ grave, again not accessible to me, but Rachel went and paid due respects and took pictures from the ‘view of the world’.
We then meandered our way to Big Cave Camp. This is a private reserve with stunning accommodation, although the main lodge is a no-go with the wheelchair, it has a lovely campsite with really friendly and helpful staff. One guy behind the bar said, “Things are still bad, our President is old and should retire. Education here used to be good. But all the teachers don’t get paid so have left.” He was stoic but sincere in his view of things.
A family from, “Near Edinburgh” are next door to us on the camping ground. They have a Land Rover 90 and trailer and they keep this with friends, near Durban. “It has already paid for itself as we come out and do this every year.” A great idea and certainly cheaper than what we’re doing. We all agree Zimbabwe is brilliant. They have been several times over the years. We also agree that Hluhuwe Imfolozi Park in KZN ZA is probably the best park we have all come across to date.
Wednesday, 20th July 2011 Big Cave Camp
We went early, into the southern, game park part of Matopos today. It has to be the most picturesque park we have been to, with as good balancing stone stacks as anywhere else in the area. The early morning sun set them off beautifully, and the dams cast perfect reflections.
The game viewing was disappointing though. Fleeting views of Klipsringer, Bushbuck, Eland (apparently a rare spot in this park), distant Giraffe and a pair of Vereaux Eagles. We saw plenty of Rhino middens, and a few with the night’s top ups evident too, but no rhino.
We had a tricky hill climb on one very disused track. Rachel had to marshal and fill in some washout with rocks. At one point in trying to reverse our way out, the front nearside wheel lifted precariously as the rear offside dropped into a rut. I thought at that point forwards was a better option, turnaround and descend as the vehicle’s design intended. Rachel’s panicky marshalling helped confirm that decision, “Straighten the wheels” making a circular motion, facing me “No the other way!” not making allowance for the mirroring.
Anyway easy enough in the end, but hard work for Rachel, moving rocks around! (Notwithstanding that one of the reasons we were in the park was to try and see the elusive leopard that the area was once famed for. Apparently the densest population on the continent. Not somewhere to be farting around in the forest then.)
A quiet afternoon back at the campsite, where last night’s campfire was still smouldering. However the thin smoke, together with a concoction of repellents,did little to dissuade the many bothersome flies.
Neighbours from Malemi Camp did advise, “From here on iron your clothes after washing them. Putsi Flies lay eggs in them and the worms burrow into your skin, giving you a rash.” We have no iron.
In the evening Brown, the camp attendant comes over for a chat. He asks where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. We invite him to have a look inside the van. Rachel shows him the bed “Eissh!”, the fridge, “Eissh!” the running water, “EISSHHHHH!”
“A moving house, it is the first time I’ve ever seen inside one of those!” Surprising given where he works, and perhaps testament to how he and his peers are taken for granted. (The Lodge owner is Afrikaans, old, and somewhat ‘traditional’ in his world view.) Later Brown looks at our pictures on the computer, on seeing so many hippo in Hwange, “Eissshhhh!” Our Fire is too smoky, again”Eissh…” and it is quickly fixed with more wood and rearranging. Good old Brown, nice chap.
Fellow campers Ron, Kirsty and siblings Ewan and Ashley say goodbye as they too are off tomorrow. They donate us a ladle (after watching us struggle to get our soup from the iron pot on last night’s fire) as they have two and wish us a good trip. It is really a bonus of overland travelling, to albeit fleetingly, meet so many good people along the way.
Saturday 16th July 2011 Burkes Paradise Lodge Bulawayo (2230 hours)
We started by getting a taxi to the Natural History Museum. This is Zimbabwe’s largest and most lauded in the Bradt Guide. It could be said that it is a museum in the ‘traditional’ style. The ground floor houses many, unfortunate stuffed beasts, with cursory information on habitats, migration, behaviour etc. The second floor has people, colonialist and native, with many fascinating artefacts. The people on the door (US$10 each) were concerned that the wheelchair would, “..not be possible” as the lift wasn’t working. Good job that crutches were an option.
However, as we started on the top floor, the electricity went off. A common occurrence in Bulawayo and much lamented by all residents. (The Lodge has had electricity off more than on). The staff were apologetic and offered us free admission for tomorrow, but I do not think the Museum, in its seventies’ style, will see us back. It is overrated in the Bradt guide to be honest.
Our taxi driver, William, had promised to return at 1500. In the meantime we were entertained by some local children, “Calvin I am six,” pushed me about in the chair until their lift arrived. William was dead on time and we asked him, where might be good for a beer and a meal. He said, “My friend has a place over the road.” And true enough, less than 200m, on the other side of the wide, leafy boulevard, he dropped us at ‘Number 26 Restaurant on Park’. This was an old colonial style house, in lovely gardens. We sat on the balcony drinking Castle Lager and eating salad and chips. As the sun went down we went inside and watched the Sharks versus Bulls, Currie Cup rugby.
The friendly proprietor, Greg, got chatting and I was explaining that we had a couple of Zims come and play in Torquay about 10 to 15 years ago, “Charlton……..”
“Let me stop you there, Charlton McNab and Brendan French!” He knew them both. Charlton is now in the UK or New Zealand, but Brendan was living locally. He said he would see him Monday or Wednesday. He has been working as a chef in the UK and now back in Zim. I lent him a suit once for an interview. We asked to be reminded.
We ate probably the best meal so far. I had Chicken Chasseur with Tagliatelle, Rachel had Thai Style Belly Pork. William came and took us home about 22:00. We chatted, he proffered that, “The country now doesn’t need war politicians, it needs economists.” Everyone is obviously keen to see Zim reach its full potential, “Zimbabwe has everything” he said.
Back at Burke’s Paradise Lodge, I stood to get into the van then leaned quicker than my wine dulled senses could react, and fell over. Much rolling about on the grass until I got onto the tail lift to get back to standing. A good night indeed, William, Burke’s Paradise Lodge, Number 26, all to be recommended.
Monday, 18 July 2011 (10:40 hours) Berks Paradise Bulawayo Zimbabwe
A distinctly, average at best, steak meal at Cattleman’s Ranch last night. Staff looked ‘pressed’ and there was no atmosphere, a curse of themed restaurants worldwide! A bit of supply shopping then on to Matopos is the plan. We also seem to be erring towards Mozambique, Malawi route to Tanzania. Zambia seems expensive relatively, with less to see unless one commits to many circular expeditions to the parks ($50 US a day for us and camping). Burkes Paradise here is a hard place to leave too. Norman, Christine, Mother and Pedro have all been very welcoming and helpful. My shirts have even been ironed!
Thursday, 14 July 2011 20:50 hours Main Camp Hwange
Hard work today, both of us are suffering ‘Land Rover Back’ (shoulder ache) after yesterday’s drive, so we really needed a lie in (flat on our backs). It was not to be and in the end we did a hundred miles around the park on rough, corrugated roads. Game was still sporadic, Hwange is arduous. Sightings are as rewarding as ever when you get them, in particular there is something quite magical about herds of elephants ghosting through the Mopane and Cathedral Acacia Forest. We also were lucky enough to see Ground Hornbills (endangered), oribi, a large herd of thirteen giraffe, sable and waterbuck. I still think though, that lacking terrain, Hwange is not as enjoyable as (our still favourite) Hluhluhwe Imfolozi Park, KZN RSA.
We ate again in the Main Camp restaurant, having the traditional option of stew and pap (corn starch) which was very nice and filling. At the bar we talked to one of the Rangers, there was a large group of staff sat around the fire in the chill of winter. “Hello how are you?”
“Fine” the obvious reply in these parts. “Did you see the animals?” I explained yes, as above. Then unexpectedly and most touchingly in earnest voice he said, “Thanks for coming.”
Of course the park gets minimal state support and it’s been really tough as tourism has bombed. Charities and gate monies are the budget. Again I’m impressed by the dedication. In the gents’ some flowers are kept growing in plastic bottles. Everything is as immaculate as it can be. Hwange deserves success and worldwide support. It’s no Chobe River, but it is pristine wilderness and the people here care.
Coming out of the restaurant the head torch catches the many eyes of a harem of Impala, they shine yellow and move about like fairy lights, beautiful.
Friday, 15 July 2011 Main Camp Hwange 0800 hours
A full but broken night’s sleep as hyena whooped and howled throughout, in turn upsetting the baboon troop asleep in the nearby lofty boughs. The stove has not lit again, yoghurt from the shop that might have not always been chilled…..
Paradise Lodge (camping) Bulawayo 19:00 hours
It is quite high at 1385 m. An uneventful drive from Main Camp, but a long time in the saddle at five hours. Endless mopane forest, a stop for diesel at the Halfway Hotel (we should have filled up at Hwange town on the way in to Sinamatella, there was no reliable, advance reports of diesel being available anywhere on the road to Bulawayo – as it turned out it was in relatively good supply). There were three police roadblocks but we were only stopped at two.
“Hello how are you? Can I see your license? Where are you going? Where are you from?” And back on our way. No inconvenience really.
We drove through the city centre, busy but not too bad, but some of the robots (traffic lights) were inoperative! We arrived at Paradise Lodge to a very friendly welcome from Christine, Norman and Pedro the guard dog (a bona fide Rhodesian Ridgeback).
The consensus around town is that things are picking up now for business. “Every time Bob opens his mouth people stay away for a while, but I think we seen the worst of it,” would be the sort of thing one heard in response to casual enquiry.
Pizza for tea. Camped in the very pretty gardens. Pedro had squeezed into the van but he’s evicted now!
Monday, 11 July 2011 Victoria Falls rest camp 0920 hours
The Hadedas have made a welcome return, but fewer in number than in South Africa.
We head for Hwange National Park after our 3 days stop, the longest to date.
2125 hours Sinamatella Campsite Hwange National Park
An uneventful drive here, the road from Victoria Falls being through forest, although more hills as you approach the coal town of Hwange.
We saw a single elephant just before the gate, and as it retreated into the trees, we saw the sorry sight of a festering, snare wound around its rear, left leg. An inauspicious introduction.
The road to the camp was good to start, but bad corrugations for the last few miles. Nonetheless we arrived in time for a drive to Manduvu Dam, where hippos and crocs abound.
We saw lots of elephant herds through the trees, kudu, impala, baboon too.
However the highlight was viewing the empty wilderness (devoid of people and light pollution) from the hilltop campsite and listening to lion roar territory, elephant squeal (cause and effect?), branches crack and baboon chatter.
One’s mind does weird sums to reckon upon the blanks that the senses cannot reconcile in the darkness of night – what is out there watching us, listening to it?
In this natural space you ponder how puny a man is. How fallible, how vulnerable and how transient. Yes, on the back of one another, we build roads, drive cars, construct cities and beat back the wilds – but here, where it is quiet, slightly rundown and certainly understated, you can see how, but for a few hundred years, a man is just a man.
The staff are all very friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to see business at this, the less visited end of Hwange. We have booked tonight and tomorrow night before driving down to the imaginatively named “Main Camp”. We are mindful to keep an eye on our diesel, as there is none in the Park, nor nearby. We need to keep enough to subsequently make the hop to Bulawayo.
Tuesday 12th June 2011 0930 hours, Sinamatella Camp Hwange NP, Zim
Strangely this place is better for being slightly ‘off-peak’. The restaurant is ‘perma-closed’, despite the spectacular situation and view from the escarpment. The campers, and food for them are simply not here. Many roads are undrivable. Importantly, it is its redemption, that it lacks the business and ‘prepackaged’ hullabaloo we saw in Kasane, Botswana. Less game seen so far [c/w HIP, Etosha, N.Chobe], but it’s there – brilliantly, the lion roars woke me several times in the night.
My advice would be to visit before it picks up to where it obviously was. When it does I’m quite sure it will quickly become as exclusive as Botswana. In the meantime it is a throwback to how bush safari used to be, even as it was in South Africa just twenty years ago: simple, understated and peaceful, the latter being the most important. For me the African Wilderness’ (all of them) are more about contemplating our own mortality and place in things than simply haring about ticking things off a list. I think those that “get it” will appreciate that. Those that don’t, fine, but please don’t keep visiting just because you have the money. See it once, get what you can, but only return if you understand. That way peaceful spots like this may yet avoid the ‘Hollywoodization’ and/or ‘African Experience’ bought at the travel agents (In Botswana, expensive packaged tours are already possibly the only way in).
(2140 hours) A disappointing day’s game viewing, we saw no new fauna, and we were restricted to sporadic elephant, hippo, skittish kudu, giraffe and Impala again. The autumnal Mopane forest was worth seeing though. Despite being a Zim winter, the sunlight is still quite bright, odd to see the copper and red leaves set against this. (In the UK autumnal light is far less intense, so it was an alien experience to me.)
Back at camp, not the same close lion calls, a few, more distant and difficult to hear; as revelling, newly arrived campers are more audible! My shoes and wheelchair cushion are still not dry from the soaking they got at Victoria Falls.
A herd of buffalo viewable from Sinamatella did deliver, as some four-hundred, with many calves, emerged from the forest below and grazed their way from left to right, across a dried grass opening. In the quickly descending evening, at least a few kilometres away, they looked like a slow arrowhead as they stocked up for a night’s rumination.
It did rain today, and there were some spectacular rainbows against the big sky. Yesterday and today’s neighbour campers from Johannesburg (Trisha et al) lament seasonal and unusual weather, both here and in South Africa. It seems a recurrent theme on our travels. Many reporting it. Interesting.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 0700 hours, Sinamatella Camp.
A Honey Badger visited last night about 0245h to go through the bins. As the honey badger woke us up, I peered through the window from the bunk in the Azalai and saw what I thought was a solitary hyena (male? Brown?) slinking on the periphery, by the donkey boiler and ablutions. It was seemingly attracted by the honey badger’s antics and noise. A few more lion calls, but otherwise I slept incredibly well.
The stove has decided not to light again, after an unprecedented couple of relatively trouble free days. We have a long drive to Main Camp today.
1100 hours, Vindicated! In the morning hyaena spoor could be seen, together with the badger’s.
2030 hours – A long drive to Main Camp, five hours for 110 km, over bad corrugations and a vestigial tar road. Quite exhausting and tough on the Landie for sure. Not much game either, even the elephants were shy, but not surprising given the racket the shaking van must have made! We chose to drive through the park to avoid having to go out onto the main (good, metalled) VF-Bulawayo road and reenter, as this would have incurred another entrance fee. After being shaken about all day my advice would be do yourself a favour and stump-up!
We did see a white rhino towards main camp, but in general, I am not yet sure that Hwange is living up to its reputation as a game concentration hotspot. Theories abound that everything was poached as shops ran out of goods in the hyper-inflation era, but I think it’s is far more likely that game just voted with its feet as pumps were not pumped during this time (there is no natural, perennial surface water in Hwange, and the pumps can consequently attract animals from hundreds of miles around).
It is quite plausible that they just upped and left towards Botswana. Staff are wonderful though and doing a sterling job keeping everything going with the resources available to them.
We ate in the restaurant. The food was wholesome rather than gourmet. A South African family joke about unavailabilities and approximations to the somewhat dated, published menu, “So what do you have available?” they disingenuously mock. Personally I think that these guys are doing the best they can. Zimbabwe needs visitors, at this level, it is global heritage that is being squandered by the gross measures imposed by the world police upon Uncle Bob’s regime.