African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Six Harare

We moved on the next day to an area called the Vumba Mountains around 250 kilometres to the north. This small area of high country also borders Mozambique and is much more green and lush than Chimanimani. In fact it’s reminiscent of the Dandenong ranges near Melbourne with its eucalypts, rhododendron and tree ferns. We booked into the Ndunda Lodge, an inexpensive thatched lodge nestled amongst the trees and surrounded by manicured lawns and bushy gardens that housed a multitude of bird life. The Botanical gardens are the big attraction in the Vumba. They overlook the Bvumba valley and the surrounding mountains and are expertly manicured outside of the thick rainforests. The forests themselves have lots of trails that allow closer contact with nature. As we strolled around we had the distinct feeling that we were being watched.

The Samango Monkey is as elusive as they are rare. They are unique to the Eastern Highlands and have this birdlike call and it was these little buggers that kept a watchful eye on our movements. No doubt it wasn’t just us that attracted our attention, we had a four-legged companion. Gypsy was the lodge sheepdog and for some reason known only to herself, wanted to lead us through the gardens stopping occasionally to look around as if to say “hurry up I haven’t got all day, you know”

But without doubt the best attraction in the area is Tony’s Coffee Shoppe. It serves nothing but coffee and cakes. I don’t know why but I expected Tony to be white. Maybe its because the concept is mainly a western rather than an African indulgence or maybe it’s the name Tony. Either way Tony and his waiters were dressed in bow ties and long white aprons and served each table as if it were in a fine dining restaurant. The cakes were absolutely terrible! Rich, gooey and laced with alcohol we pigged out and washed it down with coffee spiked with chocolate. Is that gross or what!

Another long drive took us to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe and the drop off point for the hire car that had somehow managed to get us there without further problems and despite all the extra weight we were carrying from our indulgence at Tony’s.

As far as historians can tell the Shona were the first inhabitants of this area and called it Ne-Harawa after one of their chiefs. It actually means “The One Who Does Not Sleep” which is quite an apt name for a now bustling metropolis. The poms arrived in the late nineteenth century and as is their way decided to settle here and construct a few buildings and called it Fort Salisbury again after one of their chiefs the British prime minister of the time Robert Cecil the Marquis of Salisbury. What Ho!

At independence in 1980 it was renamed Harare a sort of anglised variation on the original. Now of course it is like most other Southern Africa cities a mix of western and African culture. High rise office buildings, shopping centres and colonial buildings dominate the landscape with two large African markets offering the usual bargains and rip off’s.

We have a general aversion to most cities but Harare wasn’t so bad. Mind you we had been there before. At that time we had an overnight in the Sheraton courtesy of our travel agent. What I remember most about that stay was the power cut to the whole city fifteen minutes after we landed and at the same time as the bags were being wheeled out on a two large flat baggage trolleys (no automatic carousel here). With the aid of a fellow Aussie traveler’s torch we managed too locate our bags before anyone else decided to add to their collection of bags.

This time our arrival was by road and relatively uneventful until we dropped off the hire car. The attendant there had our credit card imprint and whilst we were there, phoned for authorisation only to be denied. We left it with him and went on to our accommodation. We rang him some time later and he had still no luck. In the end he sent his offsider to us with the existing credit card docket and a new one for a different card which I signed and all was well.
We didn’t think anything of it. In a place like Africa the lines of communication are often interrupted and mistakes are frequent.
However we did attempt to use the original card another time and came across the same problem. We were now down to our backup visa and we didn’t know why! It wasn’t until we reached England some 4 weeks later that we realised why. Two items appeared on our statement that we knew nothing about. The first was an additional transaction from the service station in Bulawayo that we had used on our way to Masvingo, the second was for A$1629.11 paid to the Amabhantu Safari Coy in Bulawayo. This last one was a worry we had never heard of the company; never bought anything for that amount and had not been anywhere in Bulawayo at the time of the transaction. Obviously these transactions had taken us over our credit limit and hence the authorisation rejections.
To the Commonwealth banks credit they acted quickly and cancelled both amounts and referred it to their fraud department and that was the last we heard of it.

Footnote:

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Tony's coffee house in the Vumba in Zimbabwe

Tony’s coffee house in the Vumba in Zimbabwe

 

African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Five Chimanimani Zimbabwe

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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Mountain Hut at the top of the Chimanimani rnage in Zimbabwe

Mountain Hut at the top of the Chimanimani rnage in Zimbabwe