Zimbabwe


After the chaos of meeting up with everyone and getting all of our kit onto the boat, we find ourselves sitting on the deck and sipping a drink as the boat chugged out towards the blue hills on the other side of the lake. Kariba is a huge man made dam, over 200km long with a large proportion of its shores on National Parks Wildlife areas. Fully staffed with a captain, cook and deck hand, our cruise would ensure, even enforce 5 days of total relaxation. Our days are spent fishing, eating, sipping drinks and playing board games while watching the elephants and other game go about their business. The nighttime is punctuated by the sounds of the many hippos snorting and bellowing. Once a day when the boat is far from shore it stops and we all take turns jumping from the upper deck into the water.

One of my favourite things about Kariba is watching the clouds building up into massive, looming, towers of white, which in the late afternoon and evening start flashing with lightning. This spectacular display can be seen seemingly every day, but on the first day it was particularly epic. The clouds built and build, but this time they were lit by the most amazing pink and orange light as the sun went down down in a blaze of orange on the opposite horizon. As if this was not enough, it gave way to a huge show of lightning that lasted well into the night. It was accompanied by an amazingly strong, unrelenting wind that was blowing over the heavy chairs and threatened to take the whole carpet off the deck.

All in all a wonderful trip and a good chance to catch up with friends and family. After shopping for a few curios in Kariba town we heading back to Harare, well fed and well rested, ready for even more feeding and resting over the Christmas period.

Our lodge is in a beautiful spot right on the Great Zambesi, overlooking the floodplains on which hippos and elephants graze, backed by the Zambian side of the escarpment. After the previous day and night’s adventure we are quite happy to relax under the trees by our lodge looking out over the plains and drinking tea. In the afternoon we venture out for a very safe drive on the roads near the camp. There are impalas everywhere, the rains having brough with them innumerable little impala calves. The baboons too have their young and are out in their hundreds, playing and grooming and shouting.

After a walk along Long Pool, at random we take one of the roads heading to a different camp. There is a wet patch that we get through with difficulty, but I am not too worried, having gone through many of them on the previous day’s drive. The next wet patch is different. We get stuck. I soon realise that this particular mud is a particular type of hard, sticky, black clay. It sticks into the type trends, turning the wheels into slick, black balloons. Over the next hour we dig, push, rock, and stuff a variety of grasses, sticks and logs under the tyres to no avail. In the plains nearby, zebras and elephants watch curiously and the rumbles of distant lions can be heard. Initially I am more worried about all the photo oppurtunities I am missing as the last sun lights up the trees and the sky is painted a series of wonderful colours. To the horror of the girls, now caked in mud, I am compelled to take a tiny little break to take a couple of photos.
Then it was getting dark and, our huge efforts not having more the car a single inch, we where faced with the choice of sleeping in the car, or walking back to the camp in the dark, not something you want to do if you have ever experienced the amazing density of wildlife in the park. Nonetheless, Soph and I set off bravely into the dark, headlamps on bright, knobbley sticks in hand and talking loudly to warn lurking creatures of our approach. It was terrifying yet oddly comforting to know that we were only a few km away from help and not 50km, as we would have been had we got stuck the previous day.
As it was we were lucky and a returning Parks guy picked us up about a km down the road. But it soon became obvious that we weren’t going to get any help from the Parks guys. Their 4×4 was broken, and in order to “Mobilise” they would require some kind of compensation. So we get them to drop us at the neighbouring lodge, where the occupants very kindly agree to drive out and rescue us. Annie, who has been waiting in the car anxiously with doors locked, is very happy to see us. On the way we learn that some others in a white Isuzu had gone out in the morning and not yet returned. On getting back to the lodge we all have a well needed shower and take our rescuers a bottle of wine. Another day, another adventure.
The next day we make an even bigger effort not to get ourselves into trouble. There is much relaxing and game viewing from the safety of the lodge, but we also do a short drive out to see some lions that had been spotted by one of the other groups. In in the mid-afternon a very muddy white Isuzu drives past our lodge. They had spent the night in their car. In the late afternoon I am happily getting my camera ready for my first chance to take evening photos uninterrupted by peril. Its just then that Annie comes and tells me that the beleaguered white Isuzu is now bogged just outside our lodge. Cursing, but not wanting to anger the karma police, I am compelled to leave my camera and pull them out as the precious minutes of sundown pass by. We get them out eventually and tell them that its probably not a good idea to be heading out at this time of day, but they seem very determined to leave. As they go we are half expecting to come across them on the road the next day.
I put out my camera that night to attempt a star trail photo. I have to leave it for longer than I planned when I notice an elephant lurking not 10m from where it’s set up.
The next morning we leave early for kariba to give us plenty of time for stoppages. We have a keen eye out for the mythical baobab, by it evades us on the way out as well.

Our lodge is in a beautiful spot right on the Great Zambesi, overlooking the floodplains on which hippos and elephants graze, backed by the Zambian side of the escarpment. After the previous day and night’s adventure we are quite happy to relax under the trees by our lodge looking out over the plains and drinking tea. In the afternoon we venture out for a very safe drive on the roads near the camp. There are impalas everywhere, the rains having brough with them innumerable little impala calves. The baboons too have their young and are out in their hundreds, playing and grooming and shouting.

After a walk along Long Pool, at random we take one of the roads heading to a different camp. There is a wet patch that we get through with difficulty, but I am not too worried, having gone through many of them on the previous day’s drive. The next wet patch is different. We get stuck. I soon realise that this particular mud is a particular type of hard, sticky, black clay. It sticks into the type trends, turning the wheels into slick, black balloons. Over the next hour we dig, push, rock, and stuff a variety of grasses, sticks and logs under the tyres to no avail. In the plains nearby, zebras and elephants watch curiously and the rumbles of distant lions can be heard. Initially I am more worried about all the photo oppurtunities I am missing as the last sun lights up the trees and the sky is painted a series of wonderful colours. To the horror of the girls, now caked in mud, I am compelled to take a tiny little break to take a couple of photos.

Then it was getting dark and, our huge efforts not having more the car a single inch, we where faced with the choice of sleeping in the car, or walking back to the camp in the dark, not something you want to do if you have ever experienced the amazing density of wildlife in the park. Nonetheless, Soph and I set off bravely into the dark, headlamps on bright, knobbley sticks in hand and talking loudly to warn lurking creatures of our approach. It was terrifying yet oddly comforting to know that we were only a few km away from help and not 50km, as we would have been had we got stuck the previous day.

As it was we were lucky and a returning Parks guy picked us up about a km down the road. But it soon became obvious that we weren’t going to get any help from the Parks guys. Their 4×4 was broken, and in order to “Mobilise” they would require some kind of compensation. So we get them to drop us at the neighbouring lodge, where the occupants very kindly agree to drive out and rescue us. Annie, who has been waiting in the car anxiously with doors locked, is very happy to see us. On the way we learn that some others in a white Isuzu had gone out in the morning and not yet returned. On getting back to the lodge we all have a well needed shower and take our rescuers a bottle of wine. Another day, another adventure.

The next day we make an even bigger effort not to get ourselves into trouble. There is much relaxing and game viewing from the safety of the lodge, but we also do a short drive out to see some lions that had been spotted by one of the other groups. In in the mid-afternon a very muddy white Isuzu drives past our lodge. They had spent the night in their car. In the late afternoon I am happily getting my camera ready for my first chance to take evening photos uninterrupted by peril. Its just then that Annie comes and tells me that the beleaguered white Isuzu is now bogged just outside our lodge. Cursing, but not wanting to anger the karma police, I am compelled to leave my camera and pull them out as the precious minutes of sundown pass by. We get them out eventually and tell them that its probably not a good idea to be heading out at this time of day, but they seem very determined to leave. As they go we are half expecting to come across them on the road the next day.

I put out my camera that night to attempt a star trail photo. I have to leave it for longer than I planned when I notice an elephant lurking not 10m from where it’s set up.

The next morning we leave early for kariba to give us plenty of time for stoppages. We have a keen eye out for the mythical baobab, by it evades us on the way out as well.

Our last trip to Mana was quite an adventure with huge numbers of bugs, strong winds, rain, a rampaging wind scorpion, and a hyaena seige of our campsite combining to make of of the most hectic nights of camping I have had. But having scared Annie with all of the stories, I am was confident that it would be unlikely for such adventure to find us a second time in a row. I was wrong.
Our first adventure happened before we had even found our way to the camp. I had been told tales of a huge Baobab tree, possibly the largest in Africa, maybe even the world! This mythical tree was to be found, around 20km from the first checkpoint after entering the wilderness area. Despite asking every National Parks person that we passed in the different Parks checkpoints, I they could not narrow it down more than, just off the road on the left, between 18km and 20km from the boom. Being a keen photographer I was of course very interested in seeing such a tree, but as we drove it was obvious that the lush bush, which would be very dry at other times of the year, would make it difficult to spot. So come 18km we crawled along with our eyes peeled. Of course there were no signs saying “Largest Baobab in Africa to Left”, or even a track or path for that matter. Shortly after 20km though there was a track to the left. Surely this is the way! We head off down the rough track. It is not long before our four wheel drive is tested with a quite hectic crossing of a dry river bed. After a few km there is no sign of any overly large Baobabs. Looking at our trusty map of Zimbabwe, I notice a green line that follows where we have gone and joins up with the main road 20km or so along. The bush is beautiful so I decide to continue on, trusting that we will join up later. We cross a couple more dry rivers and charge through a few more muddy puddles. At some points we temporarily lose the road. It’s easy to do as many areas are very open and flat and one can choose their own route through. I am not really paying attention to which direction we are heading, confident that the green line on the map will deliver us eventually.
At 30km we still have not joined up with the main road. Normally at this point logic would have kicked in and told us the very obvious course of action would be to go back, especially after Annie looked at the map and realised that the green lines signify park borders and not in fact, roads. Maybe it was the stunningly lush green bushland that we were driving through, maybe it was our indominable spirit of adventure or maybe sheer stupidity, but we drove on in the hope that we would end up somewhere. Having given up on the illusion that we would meet to the main road we now paid attention to where we were actually heading. Had we been doing this earlier it would have been obvious that the road was heading north and not east as it was meant to. We were now hoping to reach the road that runs along the river. I was really regretting that I had inexplicably not taken the shiny new GPS that my dad had offered us.
We drove on through more amazing bush scenery, which was now beautifully lit by the late afternoon sunlight. The hills to the north of us seemed to gradually get closer, promising that we were nearing our goal. The road splits off a couple of times and try keeping north.
50km. The sun is down, we’re not at the river yet. Time to face the reality that we’re going to have to set up and sleep in our flimsy tent out here, “Somewhere in the bush near Mana Pools”. I set up the tent while the girls start preparing our elaborately planned first meal. Its dark by the time the tent is up, and I am not happy being out in the open so dinner is canned and we have peanut butter on bread huddled in the tent. Through the night we can hear hippos bellowing and snorting, there are distant lion sounds, and very un-distant sounds of large animals moving near the tent. I spend a fair bit of the night praying that it does not rain heavily, as it is prone to at that time of year. I have finally come to the fairly obvious realisation that if it does, the numerous muddy puddles and dry beds that we only just got through to get here will be innavigable and we’ll be stuck in the bush 50km from the nearest road that we should have been driving on. I don’t mention this to the girls and hope they are sleeping well.
We rise with the sun in the morning and get to walk around the tent looking at all of the footprints of all the animals that have been wandering around our tent during the night, antelope, baboons, hyaena, elephant and a few that I don’t recognise. Although I am fairly sure we are now on, or at least near, the river road, we have no idea how far we have to go. As much as it pains me to backtrack, we wisely decided to head back. Luckily the cars tracks are still fresh on the ground so we have no problem following our path back. We manage not to get stuck and I am very relieved when roll back onto the main road two hours or so later. We take no more detours on the way to camp, but not far along the road we see a large pack of twenty wild dogs. Endangered, and very seldom seen, it is a real treat to see them, even worth spending the night in the bush. We watch them for a good while as they relax and play by the road before going on to our lodge.

Our last trip to Mana was quite an adventure with huge numbers of bugs, strong winds, rain, a rampaging wind scorpion, and a hyaena seige of our campsite combining to make of of the most hectic nights of camping I have had. But having scared Annie with all of the stories, I am was quietly confident that it would be unlikely for such adventure to find us a second time in a row. I was wrong.

Our first adventure happened before we had even found our way to the camp. I had been told tales of a huge Baobab tree, possibly the largest in Africa, maybe even the world! This mythical tree was to be found, around 20km from the first checkpoint after entering the wilderness area. Despite asking every National Parks person that we passed in the different Parks checkpoints, I they could not narrow it down more than, just off the road on the left, between 18km and 20km from the boom. Being a keen photographer I was of course very interested in seeing such a tree, but as we drove it was obvious that the lush bush, which would be very dry at other times of the year, would make it difficult to spot. So come 18km we crawled along with our eyes peeled. Of course there were no signs saying “Largest Baobab in Africa to Left”, or even a track or path for that matter. Shortly after 20km though there was a track to the left. Surely this is the way! We head off down the rough track. It is not long before our four wheel drive is tested with a quite hectic crossing of a dry river bed. After a few km there is no sign of any overly large Baobabs. Looking at our trusty map of Zimbabwe, I notice a green line that follows where we have gone and joins up with the main road 20km or so along. The bush is beautiful so I decide to continue on, trusting that we will join up later. We cross a couple more dry rivers and charge through a few more muddy puddles. At some points we temporarily lose the road. It’s easy to do as many areas are very open and flat and one can choose their own route through. I am not really paying attention to which direction we are heading, confident that the green line on the map will deliver us eventually.

At 30km we still have not joined up with the main road. Normally at this point logic would have kicked in and told us that the very obvious course of action would be to go back, especially after Annie looked at the map and realised that the green lines signify park borders and not in fact, roads. Maybe it was the stunningly lush green bushland that we were driving through, maybe it was our indominable spirit of adventure or maybe sheer stupidity, but we drove on in the hope that we would end up somewhere. Having given up on the illusion that we would meet to the main road we now paid attention to where we were actually heading. Had we been doing this earlier it would have been obvious that the road was heading north and not east as it was meant to. We were now hoping to reach the road that runs along the river. I was really regretting that I had inexplicably not taken the shiny new GPS that my dad had offered us.

We drove on through more amazing bush scenery, which was now beautifully lit by the late afternoon sunlight. The hills to the north of us seemed to gradually get closer, promising that we were nearing our goal. The road splits off a couple of times and and we try keeping north.

50km. The sun is down, we’re not at the river yet. Time to face the reality that we’re going to have to set up and sleep in our flimsy tent out here, “Somewhere in the bush near Mana Pools”. I set up the tent while the girls start preparing our elaborately planned first meal. Its dark by the time the tent is up, and I am not happy being out in the open so dinner is canned and we have peanut butter on bread huddled in the tent. Through the night we can hear hippos bellowing and snorting, there are distant lion sounds, and very un-distant sounds of large animals moving near the tent. I spend a fair bit of the night praying that it does not rain heavily, as it is prone to at that time of year. I have finally come to the fairly obvious realisation that if it does, the numerous muddy puddles and dry beds that we only just got through to get here will be innavigable and we’ll be stuck in the bush 50km from the nearest road that anyone would ever expect us to drive on. I don’t mention this to the girls and hope they are sleeping well.

We rise with the sun in the morning and get to walk around the tent looking at all of the footprints of all the animals that have been wandering around our tent during the night, antelope, baboons, hyaena, elephant and a few that I don’t recognise. Although I am fairly sure we are now on, or at least near, the river road, we have no idea how far we have to go. As much as it pains me to backtrack, we wisely decided to head back. Luckily the cars tracks are still fresh on the ground so we have no problem following our path back. We manage not to get stuck and I am very relieved when roll back onto the main road two hours or so later. We take no more detours on the way to camp, and not far along the road we see a large pack of twenty wild dogs. Endangered, and very seldom seen, it is a real treat to see them, maybe even worth spending the night in the bush. We watch them for a good while as they relax and play by the road before going on to our lodge  and setting about preparing a huge and indulgent cooked breakfast lunch.

The next leg of our trip would take us up to the far north of the country. We drove up, stopping in Chinoyi to visit the Chinoyi Caves and going on to Mana Pools, an amazing wildlife reserve that sits on the banks of the Zambesi River and is absolutely packed with wildlife, as well as some of the most beatutiful scenery Zimbabwe has to offer. From there we were going to meet my family in Kariba for a few days on a houseboat.
So after piling all of our things into my dad’s 4×4 we set off, our first stop Chinoyi, about an hour out of Harare. The Chinoyi Caves is a big limestone sinkhole, at the bottom of which is a deep pool of the most beautiful, clear and strikingly blue water. The bottom of it winds down through limestone caves to a depth of over 300ft, 300ft being the deepest any diver has so far dared to go. Ajoining this big cave is a smaller set of caves through which one can climb. Aussie Health and Safety would not be very happy about the state of the place, and the fact that tourists are allowed to explore, without helmets! It is nonetheless fun to explore and the views looking down from above the pool are amazing. After having our fill of scary caves, we head further north.

The next leg of our trip would take us up to the far north of the country. We drove up, stopping in Chinoyi to visit the Chinoyi Caves and going on to Mana Pools, an amazing wildlife reserve that sits on the banks of the Zambesi River and is absolutely packed with wildlife, as well as some of the most beatutiful scenery Zimbabwe has to offer. From there we were going to meet my family in Kariba for a few days on a houseboat.

So after piling all of our things into my dad’s 4×4 we set off, our first stop Chinoyi, about an hour out of Harare. The Chinoyi Caves is a big limestone sinkhole, at the bottom of which is a deep pool of the most beautiful, clear and strikingly blue water. The bottom of it winds down through limestone caves to a depth of over 300ft, 300ft being the deepest any diver has so far dared to go.

Adjoining this big cave is a smaller set of caves through which one can climb. Aussie Health and Safety would not be very happy about the state of the place, and the fact that tourists are allowed to explore, without helmets! It is nonetheless fun to explore and the views looking down from above the pool are amazing. After having our fill of scary caves, we head further north.

Not long after Annie’s arrival we head up to the Vumba again. Apart from me getting up for sunrise every morning it is an extremely relaxing weekend with much walking, snoozing and reading of books. It really is a great place to go to relax.

One of the highlights is a visit to Tony’s Coffee Shoppe. An institution in the Vumba, no trip is complete without a visit. The prices are heavy, but the chocolate cake is even heavier and worth every cent. The hot chocolates that we have are so rich with chocolate that is difficult to finish a cup. That doesn’t stop Soph and I from having refills, however, and as a result we are feeling very queasy when we leave, but in a good, chocolatey way.

Welcome back everyone! And sorry for the long lack of posts, its been very hectic over Christmas and New Years, with much visiting of family and travel. I have been keeping notes however, and fully intend to catch up to the present. So we’re going a bit back in time, way back to 2009!
A few days after we got back from our first trip up the the vumba, Annie arrived. A friend of Sophie and mine, she flew over from Birsbane to spend the remainder of the Zim leg of the trip with us. Unfortunately for her, the day after her arrival, or rather, the day of her arrival, as she was delayed and only actually got her in the early hours of the morning, we had some rather painful chores to do in the city. We needed to extend our Zim visa’s, and also to buy Mozambique visas for our upcoming road trip. Two seemingly simple tasks in most countries, in Zim I knew were definitely going to cause us grief somehow…
Now, the city of Harare is one of my least favourite places to visit. It is busy, crowded, dirty and hot, and usually I am there for some completely undesirable purpose such as renewing my Zim residence in the immigration office, as was the case today. The first thing we had to do though was meet with a friend of Sophie’s from her last visit, Emmanuel. He is a local musician, somewhat outspoken against the government as I would imagine it would be difficult not to be as a musician in the current envirnoment. Over the years since we were last here he has had a rough time, and after unsuccessfully seeking refugee status in the UK, he is back in Zim hoping for the best with the new joint government. It is very interesting chatting to him, he tells us about his life in Chitungwisa township where there is much poverty and sewage runs in the streets. Despite his situation though he is glad to be back home and hopeful for the future.
We stop to look in the supermarket on our way to the immigration office. I am amazed at how well stocked it is, with just about everything you could want there on the shelves. It is a stark contrast to the last time when supermarkets were almost entirely empty and most shopping had to be sourced from South Africa. The prices however are now in US Dollars and most of the imported items are much the same price as they would be in Australia. The local produce however is still quite cheap and I am glad to note that alcohol prices are still intoxicatingly low. Local spirits are as low as three dollars a bottle, and even imported liquor is less than half the price as it would be in Australia, US$12 for a bottle of Gilbeys Gin for example. Beer is a very reasonable 60c a bottle or so.
We buy a few niknaks and carry on to the Immigration office. If you live in a first world country, Zimbabwean municipal offices really have to be seen to be believed. They are old, dark, dirty, smelly buildings. If you imagine a once good looking building that has had zero maintenance for the last two decades. They also invariably involve a lot of queuing on uncomfortable benches. This paricular one however, had just closed for its lunchbreak and would only open again in two hours time.
Now regretting our frolick in the Supermarket we walked to the Mozabique embassy. The guy at the gate with an AK tells us that they are closed, and that they are only open until twelve. We will have to try again tomorrow.
Dejected we walk back to the Immigration and join the queue that as already formed in the 30 seconds it takes us to walk up the dark grimey stairs. After some time we reach the counter and the guy flittingly explains that we don’t need to extend our visa and it wouldn’t be a problem at the border, next please. We hang on there a bit longer poking a bit more information out of him to make sure this would indeed be the case, and finally satisfied, we leave. Harare city 2 – Us 0.
The next day we are at the Mozambique embassy at eight o clock sharp. We go through the security gate. The metal detector beeps in alarm as I walk through, but the guy with the AK doesnt seem to mind so we go on. There is no staff present so we have to explore a bit to find our queue. Half an hour later some staff appear and the queue starts moving. We finally reach the desk. US110 for a visa in a British passport! I can’t believe it! The girls only have to pay half as much. We cough up and I leave, hissing, but glad that I won’t have to come into the city again anytime soon.

Welcome back everyone! And sorry for the long lack of posts, its been very hectic over Christmas and New Years, with much visiting of family and travel. I have been keeping notes however, and fully intend to catch up to the present. So we’re going a bit back in time, way back to 2009!

A few days after we got back from our first trip up the the vumba, Annie arrived. A friend of Sophie and mine, she flew over from Birsbane to spend the remainder of the Zim leg of the trip with us. Unfortunately for her, the day of her arrival, as she was delayed and only actually got here in the early hours of the morning, we had some rather painful chores to do in the city. We needed to extend our Zim visa’s, and also to buy Mozambique visas for our upcoming road trip. Two seemingly simple tasks in most countries, in Zim I knew were definitely going to cause us grief somehow…

The city of Harare is one of my least favourite places to visit. It is busy, crowded, dirty and hot, and usually I am there for some completely undesirable purpose such as renewing my Zim residence in the immigration office, as was the case today. The first thing we had to do though was meet with a friend of Sophie’s from her last visit, Emmanuel. He is a local musician, somewhat outspoken against the government as I would imagine it would be difficult not to be as a musician in the current envirnoment. Over the years since we were last here he has had a rough time, and after unsuccessfully seeking refugee status in the UK, he is back in Zim hoping for the best with the new joint government. It is very interesting chatting to him, he tells us about his life in Chitungwisa township where there is much poverty and sewage runs in the streets. Despite his situation though he is glad to be back home and hopeful for the future.

Next we head to the immigration office  stopping to look in the supermarket on our way . I am amazed at how well stocked it is, with just about everything one could want there on the shelves. It is a stark contrast to the last time when supermarkets were almost entirely empty and most shopping had to be sourced from South Africa. The prices however are now in US Dollars and most of the imported items are much the same price as they would be in Australia, so VERY expensive by Zim standards. The local produce however is still quite cheap and I am glad to note that alcohol prices are still intoxicatingly low. Local spirits are as low as three dollars a bottle, and even imported liquor is less than half the price as it would be in Australia, US$12 for a bottle of Gilbeys Gin for example. Beer is a very reasonable 60c a bottle or so.

We buy a few niknaks and carry on to the Immigration office. If you live in a first world country, Zimbabwean municipal offices really have to be seen to be believed. They are old, dark, dirty, smelly buildings, imagine a once good looking building that has had zero maintenance for the last two decades and you begin to get the picture. They also invariably involve a lot of queuing on uncomfortable benches. This paricular one however, had just closed for its lunch break and would only open again in two hours time. Damn.

Now regretting our frolick in the Supermarket we walked to the Mozambique embassy. The guy at the gate with an AK tells us that they are closed, and that they are only open until twelve. We will have to try again tomorrow.

Dejected we walk back to the Immigration and join the queue that as already formed in the 30 seconds it takes us to walk up the dark grimey stairs. After some time we reach the counter and the guy flittingly explains that we don’t need to extend our visa and it wouldn’t be a problem at the border, next please. We hang on there a bit longer poking a bit more information out of him to make sure this would indeed be the case, and finally satisfied, we leave. Harare city 2 – Us 0.

The next day we are at the Mozambique embassy at eight o clock sharp. We go through the security gate. The metal detector beeps in alarm as I walk through, but the guy with the AK doesnt seem to mind so we go on. There is no staff present so we have to explore a bit to find our queue. Half an hour later some staff appear and the queue starts moving. We finally reach the desk. US110 for a visa in a British passport! I can’t believe it! The girls only have to pay half as much. We cough up and I leave, hissing, but glad that I won’t have to come into the city again anytime soon.

We have had a few very relaxing days of being looked after at home and are in need of another quick adventure. Ngomakurira is another favourite place of mine and is in easy driving distance from Harare. It is an area inhabited by enormous, granite domes that rise above the rural countryside. We head off with our overnight kit, our mission, to spend the night in the hills and wake for sunrise.

The forty minute drive out is an interesting one. Along the way are numerous little general stores and drinking spots with names such as “Bro Joe’s Nitespot”, “Try Again General Dealer” and “Try Again General Dealer 2″. They have a dilapidated charm that is so African. Big handpainted CocaCola signs, now pealing, with men sitting around drinking and the old broken down bicycle here and there. Further out are small huts, skinny goats and stray dogs, children who wave and chase the car. At one point some industrious kids are filling the huge potholes with dirt. They wave us down and ask for recompense as we pass. Then its a short dirt road and we are below a towering wall of rock, steaked with water paths and different coloured lichens. We pay our US$2 entry fee and haul our bags up the rocky path.

On top of the first hill, we can aready see the landscape stretching into the distance, with small groups of huts and rectangular hand tilled fields. There are numerous small springs running down the rocks with crystal clear water. We follow the path about half way up and then start looking for a spot to set up camp. There is a grove of trees in between the  big domes. Although there are some unusual arrangements of rocks around the place, we judge it to be far enough off the path to be out of the way and set up our tent.
At around ten o’clock we hear black voices approaching the tent. We freeze in our tent in silence. Who could be up here at this time of night? A small group of them, they stop nearby and are talking quietly. I can’t tell if they have seen us or not. We lie there absolutely still. Then to our surprise they start singing. The african voices combined with the sounds of the night is a wonderful sound, but also quite creepy given the situation. Later they start talking animatedly in what I decided was prayer. I assume they are a religious group, probably apostolics, but we are still frozen in the tent and can’t bring ourselves to peep outside the tent.
After some time they stop and are quiet and I doze off. But a couple of hours later the singing begins again. This repeats through the night and combined with the sounds of small animals creeping around the tent, it made for a restless sleep. I am wondering what will happen if they are still there in the morning, but they leave around 4am, just in time for us to get up for sunrise. We tiredly get up and pack the tent.
The sunrise is worth the effort. Sophie snuggles up in her sleepingbag and watches while I scurry back and forth with my huge tripod trying to find the best shots as the sky lightens. Later on we move and Soph finds a nice little furrow in the rock and catches up some sleep while I continue scurying around with my camera.
On the way down we have a quick swim in the crystal clear stream that runs down the rock. Further down some enterprising kids approach with custard apples and the local Mahobohobo fruit. Mahobohobo is not my favourite, and in any case at this time of year they can be found on hte ground all over the place but we buy a few to help them out. They are not satisfied, “Money for school fees!” they chime together. We ask them how much school fees are. “Five Dollars”. We give them a few dollars and continue walking down. We notice that they are still following us, whispering to each other. When we get to the car, we turn round to see them all standing there, “Take for free!” they say. It seems our donation for school fees was unacceptably generous. Sophie thanks them and encourages them to rather sell them to someone else. As we speak more children are arriving with more goods to try and sell so we quickly say goodbye and set off home, looking forward to an afternoon snooze.

We have had a few very relaxing days of being looked after at home and are in need of another quick adventure. Ngomakurira is another favourite place of mine and is in easy driving distance from Harare. It is an area inhabited by enormous, granite domes that rise above the rural countryside. We head off with our overnight kit, our mission, to spend the night in the hills and wake for sunrise.

The forty minute drive out is an interesting one. Along the way are numerous little general stores and drinking spots with names such as “Bro Joe’s Nitespot”, “Try Again General Dealer” and “Try Again General Dealer 2″. They have a dilapidated charm that is so African. Big handpainted CocaCola signs, now pealing, with men sitting around drinking and the old broken down bicycle here and there. Further out are small huts, skinny goats and stray dogs, children who wave and chase the car. At one point some industrious kids are filling the huge potholes with dirt. They wave us down and ask for recompense as we pass. Then its a short dirt road and we are below a towering wall of rock, steaked with water paths and different coloured lichens. We pay our US$2 entry fee and haul our bags up the rocky path.

On top of the first hill, we can aready see the landscape stretching into the distance, with small groups of huts and rectangular hand tilled fields. There are numerous small springs running down the rocks with crystal clear water. We follow the path about half way up and then start looking for a spot to set up camp. There is a grove of trees in between the  big domes. Although there are some unusual arrangements of rocks around the place, we judge it to be far enough off the path to be out of the way and set up our tent.

At around ten o’clock we hear African voices approaching the tent. We freeze in our tent in silence. Who could be up here at this time of night? A small group of them, they stop nearby and are talking quietly. I can’t tell if they have seen us or not. We lie there absolutely still. Then to our surprise they start singing. The african voices combined with the sounds of the night is a wonderful sound, but also quite creepy given the situation. Later they start talking animatedly in what I decided was prayer. I assume they are a religious group, probably apostolics, but we are still frozen in the tent and can’t bring ourselves to peep outside the tent.

After some time they stop and are quiet and I doze off. But a couple of hours later the singing begins again. This repeats through the night and combined with the sounds of small animals creeping around the tent, it made for a restless sleep. I am wondering what will happen if they are still there in the morning, but they leave around 4am, just in time for us to get up for sunrise. We tiredly get up and pack the tent.

The sunrise is worth the effort. Sophie snuggles up in her sleepingbag and watches while I scurry back and forth with my huge tripod trying to find the best shots as the sky lightens. Later on we move and Soph finds a nice little furrow in the rock and catches up some sleep while I continue scurying around with my camera.

On the way down we have a quick swim in the crystal clear stream that runs down the rock. Further down some enterprising kids approach with custard apples and the local Mahobohobo fruit. Mahobohobo is not my favourite, and in any case at this time of year they can be found on the ground all over the place but we buy a few to help them out. They are not satisfied, “Money for school fees!” they chime together. We ask them how much school fees are. “Five Dollars”. We give them a few dollars and continue walking down. We notice that they are still following us, whispering to each other. When we get to the car, we turn round to see them all standing there, “Take for free!” they say. It seems our donation for school fees was unacceptably generous. Sophie thanks them and encourages them to rather sell them to someone else. As we speak more children are arriving with more goods to try and sell so we quickly say goodbye and set off home, looking forward to an afternoon snooze.

The very next day we are off with the family to one of my favourite places in the world. My parents cottage in the Bvumba. Meaning “drizzle” in the local language, Bvumba is in the highlands right on the eastern border with Mozambique, near the town of Mutare. It is an area of beautiful, forest covered mountains and home to hundreds of bird species, many that are only found here. Our cottage is set up on the slopes overlooking the valley, in about eight acres of beautful forest.
We spend the days walking, relaxing and eating. I am up every morning at four o’clock, to walk through the forest to our lookout for sunrise. It is in a grove of mountain Msasas, all adorned with Old Man’s Beard. The lookout is on top of high rock cliffs jutting out over the valley. The view is spectacular. Though often cloaked in cloud, this time I am lucky enough to have clear views the sun, a red ball rising slowly above Chinyakwiremba, one of the bigger hills in the area.
One of the days we go down to Leapard Rock Hotel, which is just down the road from our place. They have a small game park stocked with zebra, giraffe, eland, wilderbeast and others. We spend the morning walking through. Sophie is very excited to see giraffes again.
On the way home the Msasa trees around Mutare are turning. The Msasa is a classic Zimbabwean tree. Once a year it changes its leaves, the new leaves are red and change through various autumn hues, painting the countryside in red and orange and yellow. It is a beatiful sight, especially for Zimbabweans, who don’t get the autumn colour show of the cooler climates. Later on we watch the clouds building into huge towers and are eventually assaulted by the huge raindrops of an afternoon storm.

The very next day we are off with the family to one of my favourite places in the world. My parents cottage in the Bvumba. Meaning “drizzle” in the local language, Bvumba is in the highlands right on the eastern border with Mozambique, near the town of Mutare. It is an area of beautiful, forest covered mountains and home to hundreds of bird species, many that are only found here. Our cottage is set up on the slopes overlooking the valley, in about eight acres of beautful forest.

We spend the days walking, relaxing and eating. I am up every morning at four o’clock, to walk through the forest to our lookout for sunrise. It is in a grove of mountain Msasas, all adorned with Old Man’s Beard. The lookout is on top of high rock cliffs jutting out over the valley. The view is spectacular. Though often cloaked in cloud, this time I am lucky enough to have clear views the sun, a red ball rising slowly above Chinyakwiremba, one of the bigger hills in the area.

One of the days we go down to Leapard Rock Hotel, which is just down the road from our place. They have a small game park stocked with zebra, giraffe, eland, wilderbeast and others. We spend the morning walking through. Sophie is very excited to see giraffes again.

On the way home the Msasa trees around Mutare are turning. The Msasa is a classic Zimbabwean tree. Once a year it changes its leaves, the new leaves are red and change through various autumn hues, painting the countryside in red and orange and yellow. It is a beatiful sight, especially for Zimbabweans, who don’t get the autumn colour show of the cooler climates. Later on we watch the clouds building into huge towers and are eventually assaulted by the huge raindrops of an afternoon storm.

The landscape below us is very distinct as we fly over Zimbabwe. The rural land is divided into hundreds of small rectangular patches around a central areas of red dirt, spotted with a few round huts. The clouds too are very distinct, egions of tall billowing cumulus clouds march across the landscape.
Landing in Harare is always a bit of a worry. As I am on a UK passport, one never knows what could happen. Since multiple citizenship was outlawed a few years ago, my only right to abode is a dodgy stamp in my passport that I have had to get renewed every twelve months. Its been quite some time since mine expired, but the last time they didn’t seem to mind. So I shimmy over to the returning residents queue and hope for the best. They are not convinced. The large and colourful, full page, Australian permanent residence sticker does not help my arguement. I’m pointed over to the end of the visa queue, which has since grown. Sophie is almost through. It takes over an hour for them to process the ten or so people in line. Snap! I’m charged US$70 to return to the country I grew up in. On her Aussie passport Soph gets charged only US$45.
My family are very excited to see us, we hop in the car to drive home. It doesn’t seem too different since I was last here two years ago. There is a lot of litter, the road is very pot holed and many of the traffic lights are broken beyond repair. As we are stopped at some working traffic lights, a man crossing the road walks round the back of the car, which has our bags sitting in the open tray. Having been in SA for a couple of weeks we are very wary and watch the man like hawks. He notices us watching him so beadily and throws his hands up in the air laughing with a huge white toothed grin. We all laugh and smile as we drive off. Its moments like this that make it good to be back home.

The landscape below us is very distinct as we fly over Zimbabwe. The rural land is divided into hundreds of small rectangular patches around a central areas of red dirt, spotted with a few round huts. The clouds too are very distinct, egions of tall billowing cumulus clouds march across the landscape.

Landing in Harare is always a bit of a worry. As I am on a UK passport, one never knows what could happen. Since multiple citizenship was outlawed a few years ago, my only right to abode is a dodgy stamp in my passport that I have had to get renewed every twelve months. Its been quite some time since mine expired, but the last time they didn’t seem to mind. So I shimmy over to the returning residents queue and hope for the best. They are not convinced. The large and colourful, full page, Australian permanent residence sticker does not help my argument. I’m pointed over to the end of the visa queue, which has since grown. Sophie is almost through. It takes over an hour for them to process the ten or so people in line. Snap! I’m charged US$70 to return to the country I grew up in. On her Aussie passport Soph gets charged only US$45.

My family are very excited to see us, we hop in the car to drive home. It doesn’t seem too different since I was last here two years ago. There is a lot of litter, the road is very pot holed and many of the traffic lights are broken beyond repair. As we are stopped at some working traffic lights, a man crossing the road walks round the back of the car, which has our bags sitting in the open tray. Having been in SA for a couple of weeks we are very wary and watch the man like hawks. He notices us watching him so beadily and throws his hands up in the air laughing with a huge white toothed grin. We all laugh and smile as we drive off. Its moments like this that make it good to be back home.

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