African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day One Hundred Harare
Our last session of paddling was a mere 6 kilometres to our final destination, Nyamepi Camp in Mana Pools National Park. All in all we had paddled a total of 58 kilometres and by the time we had finished we all felt strong and confident enough to have gone on for another three days. When we were asked later on what had been the best thing we had seen and done whilst travelling this always comes to mind. It had been one of the greatest experiences of our lives!
We were back in Harare at around 10 pm and settled into our very ordinary (especially at the price of US$65 per person) room in the annex of the Bronte Hotel. This was meant to be our treat but the room was tired and old and really was no more comfortable than an average priced motel found in anywhere in the western world. What was nice about the Bronte was the hotel lobby and gardens and we made sure that we fully enjoyed having our breakfast, a drink in the afternoon and a coffee after dinner in the tropical colonial style gardens. Dinner was actually the best event of the day (we had spent a good few hours at the Tanzania embassy obtaining our visas). The Italian Restaurant Fat Mama’s in the Russell Hotel was obviously the local white and ex-pats hangout and I could see why. Great food, great atmosphere and great prices!
The next few days were taken up with transport and what I call the bus rides from hell! What follows next is reality but not necessarily typical of public transport in this part of the world. Of all the people we met during our travels we were the only ones who seemed to cop the experiences that I’m about to describe. It just seemed to happen to us!
Bus ride from hell number one started with a pick up at our hotel, early the next morning, by the bus company Ute to take us the Mbare bus station across town. On his way (in fact out of his way) the driver went via Possum lodge and picked up two other unsuspecting white passengers.
The bus station was chaotic and frightening. People came from everywhere grabbing at our bags and us. Someone grabbed one of our bags and with me still hanging onto it, led us onto the bus and then asked for our passports. What then confused us was another guy sitting further down the bus also asking for our passports and at the same time shouting “Watch your bags, watch your passports, watch everything!”
This guy was obviously in charge and we held onto the passports until we reached him. The other guy mysteriously disappeared and there was no doubt in my mind that had we relinquished our passports to him that would have been the last we would have seen of them.
Once we found our seats we could see the chaos and crap outside the bus. I say crap because the diesel fumes were noxious and those working in the area had paper filters fitted over their mouths and noses.
The seats we had were one row from the back and directly behind the other white couple who seemed to have handled the situation a with lot more cool than we had. Our bags were on the seat behind and we had three seats all to ourselves. This wasn’t going to be so bad we thought as eventually the bus got going. But that was as good as it got! Fifteen minutes later it stopped at the bus depot to pick up double the amount of passengers and probably triple the amount of luggage. There is a rule in Africa; don’t allow your bags to sit on the roof of any vehicle ’cause there’s a big chance you won’t see them again. Even the locals hang onto their bags. This time despite our protests we knew we had no choice; there was hardly enough room for all the passengers let alone the bags.
I got out of the bus and stood and watched as they loaded the bags on to roof. The only other white guy, Andy stood next to me. Andy was a Zimbabwean and his girl friend Jenny was from South Africa.
“So what happens now” I asked
“I dunno” he said
“You’re the local”
“Yeah but I’ve never traveled on one of these before”
The bus driver, conductor and other helpers finished covering the bags with a huge tarp and tying it all down and we were beckoned back onto the bus.
Oh well I thought not much we can do now as we got back onto the bus.
We had now lost our spare seat to a small quiet man who spent most of the time dozing. His head flopped about as if connected to his body by a rubber neck and often ended up on my shoulder. We westerners are funny like that we cringe at someone encroaching on our space. I had to keep shrugging him off and I swear that if I had some rope I would have tied his head to the back of the seat.
The bus actually set off at 8.15 surprisingly only one and half hours late. It didn’t take long for part of the tarp to come away and start flapping against the side of the bus and on our first refreshment stop it was retied well enough to last around fifteen minutes before it started flapping again.
After that stop we acquired a rather sinister looking uniformed man who checked a few passports and then disappeared and then reappeared half an hour later to collect a Z$70 ‘border fee’ from everyone. It was the last of our Z$ and I had the feeling that we were being ‘had’ especially when no receipt was forthcoming even when asked for. This fee was apparently to ease the pain going through the Mozambique border post.
At the Nyamapanda border our passports were collected by this bloke and he made a sort of half hearted inspection of our bags before giving our passports and presumably money to the Mozambique officials. We had to wait around for about an hour whilst all this ‘officialdom’ was dealt with.
This was the pits.
The Zimbabwe side was not too bad but the Mozambique post was an old dilapidated shack with a couple of holes in the ground masquerading as public toilets a few metres away. They stunk! The stench was almost visible from 10 metres away.
The whole area was full of persistent moneychangers, curio sellers, drink sellers and sellers of anything else they could rip you off with. It was the first of only two times that we were glad to get back onto the bus.
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That link again