Birthday blog! Posts have been infrequent because of the problems I am having with data. It’s not that downloading the words is difficult, but it is the pictures which are causing me big problems. So I had to wait till there was access to some high-speed wifi.
After Christmas we had an excursion to the Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. It may sound like an alien concept to some people but we do like using maps that can be spread out on a table and poured over – I know, how quaint! Sadly, on this occasion our map of Botswana let us down badly (there will be words with Stanfords on our return to UK!) and the appalling inaccuracies sent us on a 100 km detour to a town that didn’t exist! To add insult to injury we attempted to make a ferry crossing over the river and into the Park (African ferry crossings are wonderfully hair-raising experiences) but failed due to our weight (I mean Buster’s).
We spent a fantastic couple of days in Gweta, driving round the Pans, visiting the Baines’ Baobabs (a group of huge Baobab trees made famous by an explorer called Baines who painted them, though I haven’t ever seen the actual painting) and watching large numbers of elephants and hippos as we travelled along the beautiful river bank. Sadly, because of our earlier wasted journey, we ended up with not enough fuel to get to town to fill up, and the newly opened fuel station at Gweta didn’t have any diesel! We eventually managed to buy a few litres from a friendly South African and carry on our way.
Back in Maun for New Year we had a great night at The Old Bridge Backpackers bar celebrating with mein host, who generously plied us with alcohol (mind you, we were still in bed by midnight!)
From Maun we didn’t travel into the Okavango Delta, simply because of the cost, and decided to try and get to the Khwai Community area instead (it is still not cheap to stay in their camps but the fee goes to the local community and not into the pockets of the big tour operators). However, we clearly had not done our research properly because when we tried to enter Moremi NP which we needed to cross to gain access to Khwai, the Park Warden asked us the weight of our vehicle and we told him. Mistake! Any vehicle over 3.5 ton (we weigh 5.4) has to pay US$100 plus the park fee per person. We decided to drive round to Khwai via another, longer route. Camping right beside the river in one of the Community run camps we had a wonderful evening, visited by a herd of Impala, watching Hippos as they travelled downstream just a few feet away from us, and seeing Buffalo chewing the cud just across on the opposite riverbank. It was blissful.
On into Chobe National Park where, miraculously, we weighed 3.4 ton and paid $5 for the van instead of $100! We took the Marsh road through Chobe and it was fabulous. One of the first sights to greet us was a pack of Spotted Hyenas, angrily guarding their breakfast, a leg of some sort of antelope!
Because we are travelling in the rainy season, much of the wildlife has dispersed, so we didn’t see much more game but the landscape of Chobe is fabulous, so our trip through was very enjoyable. That evening, after many miles of driving through deep, soft sand we exited the National Park and camped in a small clearing in the forest just outside the gate. During the night we heard a lot of trumpeting, grumbling and crashing about. This continued in the early morning and we are unsure whether it was just the elephants having a few histrionics, or if there was a lion in the area causing a bit of a rumpus.
Back into Chobe Riverfront the next day we saw a lot more game, including the endearing Waterbuck which we hadn’t seen before and, of course, hundreds of wonderfully entertaining elephants. As we drove along the track we would come upon individuals or herds moving to and from the river where they bathed, played and drank. Occasionally, one of them would give us a trumpet, ear flap and swing of the head, but generally these huge animals take no notice of the vehicles and just meander on their way.
We stopped at a lovely campsite on our way to Kasane where we ate the best salad we had had on the trip so far! The campsite has its own, beautifully tended vegetable garden and they sell the produce to campers. Our next campsite, in Kasane, was also very good but we had to adjust the scenery somewhat in order to fit Buster in. The sight of Bruce balancing precariously on the bonnet, wielding his saw was highly entertaining to everyone! Once in, we decided to spend a few days here enjoying the facilities of this Lodge, including the beautiful restaurant, the pool and a river cruise along the Chobe to see the wildlife from a different perspective (somewhat marred by loud Russians and yelling babies – don’t get me started!).
Now it was time to leave Botswana and enter Zimbabwe, sad but excited! We stocked up with as much fuel and food we could carry because we knew that Zim would be very expensive. The border crossing was yet another walk in the park. So unlike our previous experiences of border crossings in Africa. Plus, no Police blocks! This post-Mugabe Zimbabwe has been great for us as the roads are clear of the dreadful blocks which used to occur every few kilometres, in order that the corrupt Police could extract bribes and/or impose spurious “fines” on the public.
We spent a few days in Vic Falls, visiting the essential sights: the Falls themselves, in fine flood and so very impressive; a stroll to The Lookout Cafe overlooking the gorge where people (with a death wish in my opinion) can hurtle across on zipwires or fling themselves off the bridge on a bungie; and enjoying afternoon tea at Vic Falls Hotel, an icon of the colonial era, with its terrace and beautiful lawns overlooking the gorge and bridge. It was at Vic Falls that we caught up with Richard, an old friend who lives in Zim and works with wildlife, and he took us for a lovely tour round the Zambezi NP, what a stunningly beautiful river the Zambezi is!
From Vic Falls we went to Hwange National Park for a day, a really lovely park to travel round with good roads (makes such a difference to us in Betty!). Here we watched a couple of crocodiles tucking into their dinner – a buffalo carcass! What immense and evil looking beasts crocs are, but so fascinating!
We arrived in Harare a few days later after stops in Bulawayo and the aircraft museum in Gweru, and having been merrily waved on by the very few Police encountered en route!
We have had a few days “holiday” from our travels in Betty Buster, staying with a dear friend, Jenny, and being taken around town and out into the beautiful surroundings for lovely walks and picnics in Dombashava hills and Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens, as well as looking round Patrick Mavros’s incredible studio (gold and silversmith to royalty and stars) and being spoiled rotten by Jen and introduced to many lovely people who live in this amazing country! It has been a joy and a delight! Wonderful Zimbabwe! So good to be here in the best country in Africa! Well, the population believe that and who are we to disagree? We feel the spirit of optimism and unity here at the moment – long may it last and here’s hoping that the new, emerging Zimbabwe prospers! The people are without doubt the friendliest and seemingly the happiest we have encountered on our travels. I love this country!
After a sad farewell to Jenny, we moved on to spend a further couple of days in Harare staying with Richard and his wife, Sian and meeting yet more lovely folk, visiting an impressive private classic car collection, a walk in Mukuvisi Woodlands and being given a guided tour of a large tobacco farm. This was incredibly interesting but horrifying at the same time. We were led through the hottest, steamiest drying shed along a deep, dark tunnel of tobacco. Imagine smoking thousands of fags all at the same time – we emerged from the shed coughing, spluttering, bright red and with our eyes streaming. The workers can cope with being in the shed for 20 minutes at a time. 5 minutes was too much for us!
From Harare we moved on to the Eastern Highlands, stopping off in Marondera in order to try and find the farm which once belonged to some relatives of mine. They had been turned off their land in the bad old days when farms were requisitioned by Mugabe’s cronies, and they have long-since died but I have vague, happy memories of visiting them in 1983. Unfortunately, the house no longer exists (or if it does is unrecognisable as a house) but we did find the spot where the farm once was, a very beautiful area in the hills.
The Eastern Highlands comprises Nyanga NP, Bvumba Reserve, and Chimanimani Hills NP. In Nyanga is the site of the highest mountain in Zim, spectacular far-reaching views and some amazing waterfalls (not on the scale and breadth of Vic Falls, but one of the longest drops (479 metres) in Africa. Cecil Rhodes used to hang out here and there is a nice old colonial style hotel and a museum at the site where he stayed. Nyanga is also where there is an area of wonderful tea plantations, which we enjoyed visiting and taking a tour round the factory (although the subsequent tea tasting was disappointing – think cold, stewed, black liquid that would make a pot of builders’ taste weak and watery)!
From Nyanga we went to Mutare and into the Bvumba where there is a lovely Botanical Gardens to wander round admiring the tropical trees and plants as well as spotting many, many birds. A trip to the Vumba must include a stop at Tony’s Coffee Shop, set in beautiful gardens. We were served tea in an elegant silver set with wonderful bone china, AND the most delicious (and most expensive) cake we have ever tasted by the charmingly camp Tony! Also a must is a visit to The Leopard Rock Hotel, another colonial-era icon of elegance and sophistication with a stunningly appointed golf course (I sound like a commercial, but it’s true!) After we had a look round and a drink on the terrace we asked, just out of interest, how much a room would be and they offered us a bargain dinner, bed and breakfast deal we just could not refuse, and the biggest ever super king-size bed! Luxury! We had a lovely walk all round the beautiful grounds – if golf courses in England were as lovely as the four that we have visited here in Zimbabwe (The Royal Harare where Jen plays, The Country Club, Newlands in Harare, Aberfoyle in Nyanga and this one at Leopard Rock), then I would seriously consider taking up the sport myself! From our room balcony overlooking the gardens, pool and the golf course we had Sykes/Samango monkeys swinging in the trees opposite.
Onward to the Chimanimani NP with its very dramatic landscape where we camped at the National Park Base Camp site from where it is possible to hike up into the hills. In the morning, Bruce yomped up the mountain and I took a much shorter and more leisurely wander (in between the outbreaks of rain and wind).
We have been very lucky with the weather on the trip so far. Although it is the rainy season we have had very little rain (good news for us, not so good for the local population).
Time to head for Mozambique! So sad to leave Zimbabwe and we will definitely be back one day – there is so much more to see and explore here.