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!

http://www.painteddog.org/the-dogs/

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.

http://www.miombolodge.com/