You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 6, 2010.

Our policeman friend with the shotgun in Matobo Hills had recommended that we follow a shortcut to the border that would avoid going to the normal Plumtree crossing 60 miles away from Bulawayo. He said we would be fine but we needed to keep asking people after the last town! I was worried we would be sent back to Bulawayo to get the carnet stamped for the Landcruiser. He also said the shortcut would only take an hour!

Two hours later we were at the border. The roads were OK up to a point then they turned into a corrugated nightmare. The GPS was flicking away from the border, then one minute it looked like we were getting closer. We stopped and asked people along the track and I was convinced that it was a tiny border post with no stamps. We hit some sand and thought we must be near Botswana. It is known for its Kalahari sand which is deep and rocky in places.

Finally we reached a signpost and we were only 7 miles from the post. Before the border we stopped and packed away the small amount of meat and cheese we had. Botswana has high foot and mouth controls and you are not allowed to take any dairy or meat products into the country.

To our surprise the border post was quite high tech considering the road we had come down. The Zim side was done quickly and before we got to immigration on the Botswana side, we had to get out of the vehicle and step in a foot and mouth dip and have the tyres sprayed down.

Our fridge wasn’t searched. This border post wasn’t used much by overlanders and they had no idea what to do with our carnet. It did bring us closer to Francistown and we were there within the hour.

It’s good to be finally in Botswana – a ‘must see’ country on our route. We want to spend three weeks here starting with the Makgadikgadi salt pans and Kubu Island.

We’ve been Watching and listening to: The god’s must be crazy. A funny look at a travelling Kalahari bushman who encounters modern civilisation in the form of a Coca-Cola bottle that brings him bad luck & Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – I learned the hard way

05/06/2010 – Bulawayo – We had been keeping an eye on the Landcruiser as we noticed one of the rubber boots covering the cv joint had worn away and split. We got the Landcruiser to Toyota and they put us in touch with a workshop that specialises in drive shafts. We were greeted at the gates by a man from West Ham in London who has been in Zim for 30 years. He came for gold back in those days and never went home. We exchanged some banter and he was on the case straight away with our drive shaft.

We were worried that the split had allowed sand and dust to get inside and cause damage to the cv joint which would have been expensive. He had his guys strip it all down. When they showed us the joint they said it was looked at just in time and we were lucky. There was some minor wear but nothing to worry about. They put on a new rubber hood and re-greased it and we were on our way.

A quick zip around town and some lunch and we were off to the Matobo Hills. The park is separated in two. One side includes World View, where you can see the grave of Cecil Rhodes and a fantastic view across a landscape of boulders and balancing rocks. The other  isa game park, where you can see Rhino if you lucky.

Like some of the parks we have been to before , the cost of accommodation is high if you intend to stay within the park overnight. We knew we needed to try and get to Botswana tomorrow, so thought we should try and find a site in the park. I told the guard we would sort out the payment  when we arrived at their recommended site, so we paid the park fees and carried on.

With all the running around Bulawayo, we got to the park late. We had time to visit the grave and then find the campsite. The policemen guarding this area got chatting to us for ages. I  managed to persuade them to let us camp in the car park near the benches for the night instead of spending $50 for the night at one of the camp sites. It took a while to get them around, but they liked the idea, that I would pay them $40, and this included two visits to the grave of Cecil Rhodes which costs $10 and a visit to the rock painting the next day.

It all worked out well for us, and when we woke early the next day, we walked up to World’s View again and got to see the sunrise. We chatted some more to the guards before we left. One of them called Washington had been on his early walk to check out the surrounding area. Bun asked him about his gun that he had wrapped up. He produced it and said it had come from the museum in Bulawayo. He said it was a hundred years old and was used by Cecil Rhodes. We had our doubts about this! A sign that the government has no money whatsoever to spend. The guards were without electricity or solar panels to provide light at night. They would spend seven days up there, before taking leave and returning to Bulawayo for a few days rest.

04/05/2010 – Hwange National Park to Bulawayo

Before we left the park, we got in a visit to the painted dog conservation. Painted dogs are near extinction and at Hwange the project is aimed at protecting, rehabilitating and re-introducing packs into the wild. The numbers are very low in parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, said to be down to 3000. They used to live throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. They are odd looking creatures with Mickey Mouse ears and spotted bodies.

They are closely related to the civet rather than Jackals or hyenas. We got to speak to the man who looks after and trains the dogs in captivity. Their approach is to keep there animal instincts intact so they can be easily re-introduced into the wild. Their feeding programmes were designed to keep in line with their natural hunting patterns. He would also train the dogs at a distance using poles, so not to get too close. Poaching and road deaths have decreased their numbers. Poaching is widespread as it can be sold in villages over people using their own livestock which has high value. In Africa, the animals you own is like having a bank account. Bush meat is sold as a replacement.

No surprise, we got stopped on the road to Bulawayo by the police. We had been doing 5 miles over the speed limit. Everyone we met had said, you have to watch the police in Zimbabwe, they are corrupt and don’t take any nonsense. Not our experience and we got off the $20 fine very quickly. They were very firm at first and he then asked for $20. I said I had no money. This went on for a while. We got in that we had never been stopped in the whole seven months we had been travelling so far. He then asked, how much can you give? I said $2 knowing I had some small dollar notes in and amongst the bigger notes. The officer didn’t seem to like my offer and must have thought there’s no point with these people and let us move on. 3-1 to Bun in the getting stopped competition!

02/05/2010 & 03/05/2010 – Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park.

Got away from Victoria Falls early to make the 110 mile journey to Hwange. Despite the warning, we didn’t see any elephants wandering in the road we went along.

Hwange is the largest Wildlife park in Zimbabwe, and home to Africa’s largest elephant population. Game park prices were said to have increased recently due to the World Cup. Once we got to the main office, it seemed that the price increases had only affected accommodation. We found a place that we could camp on the edge of the park at Miombo Lodge.

Unlike Zambia where there are large numbers in the parks, Zimbabwe has suffered as it constantly appears in and out of the headlines making it unclear if it’s OK to visit.

We got a visit into the park the next day from when it opened to just before dark. The real freedom was we felt like we had the park to ourselves. The distances were large between the pans (watering holes), and at this time of year it was hard to locate the right pan to find the animals. It wasn’t dry enough for the animals to be forced to the one remaining pan, so we ended up driving around a loop that took all day, taking in the park. We did get to see a lot of elephants which were much larger than we saw in Zambia. Bun went on a bird watching mission and tried to spot as many different birds as possible.  With her Wildlife guide to Southern Africa, she made me stop every five minutes and reverse to get a better view!

We ended the day at one of the viewing platforms watching a herd of elephants head towards a pan for a late drink. They were joined by a croc and a hippo. We headed back to the gates and to Miombo Lodge.

The Victoria Falls bridge that joins the two countries and tourists now go between the two sites to sample the falls from both locations. We opted for the Zambian side as we were not sure if we were going into Zimbabwe at this point. Either side, it was great to see one of the seven wonders of the world. We got up at five to get there early. The mist that is created from the falls is incredible and can be seen from miles away.

The walk down to the boiling pot is  steep taking us down to the banks of the Zambezi to get some good views. After we did the footbridge walk to the eastern cataract and in the process got soaked crossing the footbridge. A group of Japanese looked at us in amusement as we approached them soaked as they were there with their raincoats and umbrellas. In true Japanese fashion, they looked immaculate and colour c0-ordinated. We didn’t see them after they returned from their soaking on the bridge, so that might have changed. Bun went back and forth on the bridge three times to get wetter.

Zimbabwe was still an option. We had been reading about some really good options that would take us on a loop to get us back into Botswana, exactly where we needed to be. As we were not going to the Chobi National park in Botswana, we thought the Zimbabwe idea was a good one. There we get to see the Hwange National Park, home to the largest elephant population in Africa, then to Bulawayo before entering Botswana near Francistown. From Bulawayo we could easily see the Matobo National Park made up of a landscape of balancing granite rocks and boulders.

Nothing we had heard put us off where we were heading there. After the economy collapsed in 2008, the country is using the American dollar, which has stabilised the country, but the cost of living increased after it was introduced. Its record breaking inflation is a thing of the past. I bought a set of these notes before we left Zambia. The set starts at Twenty trillion dollars, through to Hundred trillion. The cholera outbreaks that killed almost 4000 people in 2008 has abated.

We ended up crossing into Zimbabwe that afternoon. After we found a place to stay, We went to the Victoria Falls hotel for high tea! A slightly surreal experience, sitting there stuffing ourselves on mini sandwiches and cakes looking towards the gorge and the Victoria Falls bridge.

(we stayed at Malumba Safari Lodge & The Waterfront campsite)

After a long day Thursday, we took it easy in Livingstone on Friday. We woke up thinking we were in South Central LA with the sound of helicopters and microlights taking people on early trips over the Victoria Falls. There are some great adrenaline options, but we thought it a good time to save some money and take in a visit to the falls the next day.

With the day free, we took it easy. I noticed that the back tyre was down so had a tyre centre look at it. They found a nail and had it fixed pretty quickly. Afterwards we stopped at Ngoma Zanga for lunch. We had some great Zambian food, including the kapente, the smallest fish found in Zambia that is deep-fried and served with chilli sauce and lemon

In the evening we went for cocktails at the Royal Livingstone hotel! If we sold the Landcruiser we could have afforded a night in a room there! We were told it would be a great spot on the decking over the Zambezi to watch the sun set and watch the colours changes over the Victoria Falls. Back at the campsite, whilst we were opening the tent on the roof, Bun fell from the Landcruiser to the ground, escaping with a sore elbow. Too many vodka martinis!

May 2010