From Great Zim. we drove to the small village of Chimanimani in the Eastern Highlands. Located at the eastern border with Mozambique, Chimanimani also gives its name to a national park and a mountain range. We had been told that there’s great walking and views to be had and that there was a great place to stay just outside the village called Heaven’s Lodge. It wasn’t a bad place but it wasn’t fantastic either. A sort of backpacker’s retreat with little chalets dotted around the large grassy paddock that sloped down the hill. The chalet we had was cold and the door wouldn’t stay shut unless we propped something against it on the inside but the view across the surrounding green hills and down into the lowlands from where we had just come wasn’t bad.
The mountain range of Chimanimani was 19 kilometres away, well at least the starting point for all walk tracks at Mutekeswane base camp was. There was vehicle access as far as this but we had heard that the road was in bad condition so bearing in mind the temperamental nature of our car’s battery terminal we decided to catch the lodge shuttle. We made the right decision! The road was as bad as it gets. This time there was no bitumen between the potholes, it was just one unceasing pothole punctuated by large boulders. However as is the norm for transport in general in Africa it was half an hour late which meant we had less time to walk.
The track we took up to the mountain hut was called Bailey’s Folly. No one could tell me why it was called this but it didn’t take long to realise that the track was aptly named. A track in name but not in structure, it was basically a way marked with stone cairns (when we could find them) through rough rocky and slippery terrain. I will say that the first section through a forest of Msasa trees was well marked and an easy climb, it was just the second bit that was frustrating. I’m one of those orderly people who like to follow a well defined track, even if difficult and not have to keep trying to figure out where we are and if we going in the right direction which in this instance we often found that we weren’t. Once the track reached high ground it leveled out and then become a lot easier to follow until we reached the Mountain Hut.
The views at the hut were worth the effort. We could see right across the flat yellow grassed valley to the mountains of Mozambique just across the border. Mount Dinga Chimanimani’s highest was directly in front of us and Skeleton Pass was to the right. Our intention was to go on to Skeleton Pass. The ranger living at the hut told us that it was only about a fifty minute walk away but to avoid the muddy section of the paddock that lay between us. Skeleton Pass is actually a major trade route between the two countries. Even from the hut we could see tiny figures strolling to and from the border (it’s unmanned) as if just walking down to the local shop. In fact during the wars both countries have had over the years, it was also a major guerrilla route for arms and people.
After a thirty minutes or so of trying to avoid the quagmire we seemed to getting nowhere and by now had lost sight of the pass and any clear track. It was now midday and we only had until 4.30 pm to get to the pass and back and then down to base camp to meet the shuttle. As it took us two and half hours to get to mountain hut there just didn’t seem quite enough time. So reluctantly we turned back and to our dismay ended back down the mountain an hour early. Still it was just as hard coming down as it had been going up so we were grateful for a rest, a drink and the obligatory sugar injection in the form of a chocolate bar.
Our companions for the bumpy ride back to Heaven lodge were Andy and Caroline, an English couple from Oxford on a three week holiday. They had originally booked to go to Zaire but had to cancel due to the turmoil that was happening there and decided to come to Zimbabwe instead. I mention this because Zaire is not your usual holiday destination; in fact Zimbabwe would not have been either a few years ago. These places were once the domain of the die-hard rough and tough travelers like us!
We had dinner with them at a restaurant called the Msasa Café run by a couple of women who by the looks of them regretted not being old enough to experience the sixties and go to Woodstock. Mind you they may have been hard to take seriously but their food most certainly wasn’t. It was the best we had since leaving South Africa.
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