African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Eight Zambezi River

We got to the Bronte at 5.00 am the next morning ready and waiting for our guide Peter and his offsider Greg who both turned up at 6.00 am with a driver Showee.
We were heading for Chirundu some seven hours drive away via Breakfast at Chinhoyi and picking up the final two other members of our group at Makuti, Peter and Susan. They were Aussies as well, like us travelling on a tight budget and (shock horror) were about our vintage.

Chirundu is a small town set on the river and serves as a border post with Zambia. It’s here that the real business begins.

A leisurely lunch was followed by a lesson on Canoeing and some tips about animal behaviour. This last topic made us all sit up and listen. “Iiif you are feced with hippo, den puddle towards shallow water und keep you distance. Iiif a hippo charges und turns oover de canooo den geet into anoother”.

Great!

I noticed that Peter (the Aussie) had some bad scratches on his legs and arms. “Oh that. We were charged by a hippo in Matusadona and I jumped into a very thorny bush” he said.

This was getting worse!

Now it was time to get on the water. The canoes were twenty-foot Canadian style (whatever that meant) and we climbed in after all our bags and supplies were loaded into the middle of the canoe. If this baby turned over not only would we get wet but so would all our belongings.

That afternoon we covered 16 kilometres and it felt like 100! I had the rear seat so the art of steering was all mine to conquer and needless to say our progress was a series of zig zags along the fast flowing water.

This part of the Zambezi is around 800 kilometres downstream of Victoria Falls and 140 kilometres from the eastern edge of Lake Kariba and the infamous Kariba Dam. I say infamous because when it was built in the 1950’s, nature (in the form of the god Nyaminyami according to the local Tonga tribe) did its damnedest to destroy the project with three unprecedented floods and a heat wave causing the deaths of many workers and severe damage to the work in progress.

The river was wide with the seemingly uninhabited terrain of mountains and hills of Zambia on the north side and the steep riverbanks dotted with hunting camps of Zimbabwe on the south. In between both banks, islands of marshy wet lands split the river creating tranquil channels with lush grasses and lily like growth. With the current flowing with us it all seemed very easy at the beginning. But it didn’t take long to realise that I needed to get the hang of this steering quick smart to avoid the hippos that seemed to be lurking around every corner and the odd croc that lay patiently at the water’s edge.

By the time we reached our destination a small sandy island a couple of hundred metres from the Zimbabwe side, we were ready to rest.
As with the rest of trip there are no washing or toilet facilities here. A spade with a toilet roll at the water’s edge is as good as it gets.
After we erected our tents around the dining table and the fireplace, Peter and Greg presented a feast fit for kings.
Amazingly we had steak and fresh vegetables washed down with the local Myuku red.
Add that to the good conversation and the odd snort of a hippo and roar of a lion and I felt like we were in paradise.

Not so Sue.
Her arms ached from the paddling, she was also concerned as to whether she could paddle the 38 kilometres the next day and she felt really worried about the hippos.
We later attributed the latter to the malaria tablets, Lariam that we taking. One of its side effects is anxiety and as you can see there was plenty to get anxious about.

If Sue was worried about hippos the day before then the morning doubled her fear. Soon after we set off we rounded the bend and the channel narrowed.
Suddenly out from the tall grass on the left bank, rushed a huge hippo straight into the water towards the opposite bank.
Steering and stopping a two berth canoe was still beyond Peter’s and my capabilities as first our canoe, then Peter and Susan’s jackknifed into the bank. We both came to a halt facing back the way we had just come, a few metres from where the guides were waiting patiently in their canoe.
Peter (the guide) opened his hand, drew it down his face and took a deep breath. “OK” he said, “You can’t turn around here so you’ll both have to go back and turn around keeping as close as you can to this bank”

Peter and Sue set off first and successful negotiated the turn. We (well actually me) didn’t do so well. We ended up with such a huge turning circle that before we knew it we were heading directly for the spot in the water where the hippo had last been sighted. There was nothing we could do except, as I yelled to Sue

” Paddle for fucks sake just paddle!”

Which is exactly what we did as the canoe passed right over the top of the hippo as the others watching in amazement or was it amusement.

Footnote:

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Hippos in the Zambezi River watching canoes in Zimbabwe

Hippos in the Zambezi River watching canoes in Zimbabwe

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African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Three Masvingo Zimbabwe

The next day was one of those days. Our early morning game drive yielded very little wildlife. It was our last opportunity to see wildlife in Hwange as we then commenced the 630 kilometre journey to Masvingo in the southeast. On the way out we flagged down by a ranger who asked us to drop off a couple of youngsters at the main road. No problem we thought. Except when we got to the main road they didn’t have a clue as to where they were. We obviously couldn’t leave them there and drive away with a clear conscience, so we ended up taking them into the actual town of Hwange 10 kilometres in the opposite direction, where they lived. This must have distracted me because it wasn’t until we had traveled a fair distance towards Bulawayo that we realised that we did not have as much fuel as I had thought. We found much to our dismay that there was not a single open petrol station between Hwange and Bulawayo. We were now sweating on whether we would have enough to reach Bulawayo. We did of course but as soon as I turned the key to drive off after gratefully refueling, you’ve guessed it, nothing happened. The battery lead had again come adrift. After again some basic repairs we were back on the road still sweating but these time about the battery lead. Worse still it was now getting late and that meant driving in the dark.

So what, you say!……………… Well, driving in the dark in somewhere like Zimbabwe is a challenge. Firstly, once out of the cities and major towns there is very little street lighting. Secondly, there are lots of pedestrians on the road who are not easily visible as they mostly wear dark clothing and are obviously black skinned. Lastly, the other vehicles on the road had at best, blinding headlights and at worst none at all but most seemed to have only one headlight working which meant that it was impossible to tell whether the vehicle coming in the opposite direction was either a motorbike or a car on the wrong side of the road!

Our intention had been to book a night at a place called Clovelly Lodge in Masvingo on our way. Do you think we could find a pay phone that worked? No! It wasn’t until we reached Masvingo itself that we managed to ring them, find out if they still had a room free and get directions. Needless to say we got there somewhat stressed and it didn’t help that we were immediately pushed into the dining room where dinner was now being served up (it was full board).

Clovelly was run by Bruce and Iris an elderly English couple who basically felt that the current situation in Zimbabwe was becoming intolerable for any whites to stay. At the same time they were trapped. Their assets and money were now worth very little outside of the country and that made it very hard for them to leave. Now of course with all the recent publicity of white farms being hijacked by black war veterans, I often think of people like Bruce and Iris and wonder of they ever found a way out.

By this time we had verbally booked a Canoe safari on the Zambezi to start in a few days time, so it was with great interest that we listened to a couple of German guys who were also staying there. They had just finished that same trip and had cut short their stay in Africa to fly home on account of one of them being badly bruised down one side of his body. Apparently they had been sleeping in their tent when a hippo trampled right over the top of the tent and poor old Klaus. Peter on the other hand slept through the whole thing and didn’t realise what had happened until the next morning when he awoke to see his mate writhing in pain and the tent collapsed and torn down one side. “What the fuck were you doing last night?” he had asked.

We later found out that hippos have their own paths from land to water and if by chance you happen to be between a hippo and water on one of these trails then he (or she) is not going to politely side step around you. That is apparently what happened to these guys. Fortunately for us they had used a different safari company so we could hopefully presume that there was little chance of that happening to us.

Now there was a reason we were in Masvingo. The town itself is just one of those typical small towns that can be found almost anywhere else with wide streets crisscrossing in the style of towns and cities established in the late nineteenth century. Its only real claim to fame is the general consensus that it was the first white settlement in Zimbabwe but that is not, in today’s political climate, much of a tourist attraction. What we were there for was not actually in Masvingo but 25 kilometres south. The Great Zimbabwe National Monument is one of Southern Africa’s greatest historical ruins.

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Two hippos grazing by the side of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe

Two hippos grazing by the side of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe