African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Eighty Eight Bulawayo

Our actual room was part of a block of four away from the house and quite tidy although as in most things in this country a bit run down. We made ourselves comfy and then getting a lift from Louise headed out to the centre of town to hunt down a cheap hire car and book our accommodation at our next destination, Hwange National Park. To book this accommodation (which by the way is almost mandatory) we had to go to the National Parks Booking Agency in Bulawayo. The main booking office is in Harare and they are not connected by any sort of technology except an unreliable fax. Consequently, we had to request certain dates and places and come back the next day to see if we had won lotto after they faxed head office to check availability.

We almost got what we asked for……………. There are two camps in Hwange, Main Camp and Sinamatella and we asked for two nights at Main and one at Sinamatella. What we got was one at each with a night’s gap between the two. We weren’t particularly worried as we had heard that there are lots of no-shows (no deposit is required with the booking) so we had good chance of plugging that gap.

The hire car we managed to get was a Nissan Sunny that had seen better days. A few chips on the paintwork, a couple of small dents, an interior of heavily worn upholstery and a windscreen with a huge crack across the passenger side gave this car ‘character’ and it was also the best of a bad bunch at the price we wanted to pay. We hired it for ten days to travel around Zimbabwe and drop it back in Harare.

We were rapidly getting the idea that maintenance was a dirty word in Zimbabwe everything seemed in need of repair or simple maintenance. Apparently its been a slow almost unnoticeable deterioration that has been going on since 1980 the year of independence, even though for a time in the eighties Zimbabwe enjoyed a prosperity unequalled at that time on the African continent. So we were sort of hoping that this car had been maintained sometime in its long life.

The centre of Bulawayo wasn’t quite as run down as other parts but didn’t particularly excite us. It’s just a functional town, its wide streets built around a grid system full of unexciting functional buildings. Even the museum didn’t enthuse us. It just seemed a well ordered assembly of rooms that housed hundreds of stuffed animals.

What Bulawayo did have was Haefelis!……… Located on Fife Street, Haefelis was a little gem of a café that served cakes, fresh bread, rolls, coffee and pizza. This was the local trendy hangout and a good place to wile away some time, people watching. This was the place of the new Africa or certainly the one the world would like to see if not necessarily some of the African politicians. Young well-dressed Black and White Africans mingled with each other, laughing and joking, putting the world to rights and obviously enjoying each other’s company. Of course in modern day Zimbabwe whites make up less than 1% of the population so their influence should be minimal but still important.

The bigger racial conflict over the years has been the two dominant tribes, the Shona (75%) and the Ndebele (18%). At the end of the ‘bush war’ that lead to independence in the seventies these two groups came close to starting a civil war and now live side by side in an often uneasy atmosphere. As a tourist there is no real evidence of this except the odd incident that gets a mention in the national or local newspapers. Local Europeans who, as in South Africa, tend to dominate the tourism industry and probably have a slightly different perspective than some of the Shona or Ndebele, fed us our information.
We heard quite a few times how simple the majority of the population were and how difficult it was for the farmers or other local employers to get consistent productive work from their employees. If that’s true then as more whites and consequently valuable skills leave the country then the bigger the hole Zimbabwe will find itself in unless it takes steps to educate and teach its population the skills necessary to prosper.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m not in favour of turning all these African countries into western societies and I’m fully aware that everybody was doing just fine until Europeans came along and tried to ‘civilise’ the various African tribes. But the damage is done and the clock only goes in one direction so westernisation is all we have got until someone comes up with something better, which I might add there must be, after all a society that’s produced McDonalds, Emnem, bell bottoms and Ronald Reagan can only be improved on.

If you like this then hit “follow” on the side bar

Khiami Ruins near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe

Khiami Ruins near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe



African shoestrings – Namibia Day Fifty four – Windhoek

Strangely enough the train actually got into Windhoek at 6.15 am, on time!
We had managed to sleep a little despite the noise and the fact that my seat leaned to one side and changed on its own accord from recline to upright once in a while.
That’s the thing about Africa the colonialists had put in all this infrastructure and then pulled out leaving the Africans to maintain it. With few exceptions, Africans are not big on maintenance, so the little jobs are just left until it actually it becomes bigger & then bigger again and a full-scale breakdown occurs.

We had managed to book a room in the Cardboard Box; a backpackers hostel a couple of kilometres walk from the station. Now it was time to test out these backpacks. With the big ones on our back and the daypacks on our front and feeling like a couple of packhorses, we trudged in the general direction of our destination.
There were several times in the course of our travels that I wondered what we were doing. And this was one!

Here we were walking along early in the morning in a strange town with our wardrobes on our back, through who knows what kind of district and being continual ‘honked’ by eager taxi drivers to stay with people younger than our own kids.

We could be in our comfortable home having breakfast on the patio, or better still asleep in our four star hotel provided for us by Abercrombie & Kent or another equally famous and expensive Tour Company.

The Cardboard box was open but its ‘reception’ was closed when we got there.
We dropped our packs and slumped into the usual overused ready to throw out couches and waited.

This turned out to be the friendliest hostel we had stayed in so far.
Owned by a couple of local white guys it was run by two girls, Irene & Louise. Irene was Irish and Louise was English and like most of the people who run these places they came here travelling and ended up staying a while.
The hostel also had a their own travel agent with plenty of info on tours, local attractions and adjoining countries like Botswana, which is where we were headed next. These guys turned out to be pretty handy in organising our next few weeks.

At home we had we had worked out how we were going to get as far as Windhoek by public transport but had drawn a blank from there to anywhere else in Namibia and then on to Botswana and Zimbabwe. It had become obvious to us that for us to see what we wanted to see in Namibia and then to go to Botswana we would have to either hire a car or join a tour or overlander.

We ended up doing both.

Regular backpacker tours run from Windhoek to the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park in Botswana and then drop you off in Livingstone, Zambia, which is right next to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We didn’t book that right away as we hoped we could find a cheaper tour that maybe spent a bit more time in Botswana but we now knew it was there.

The next thing we did was get Cardboard Box to organise a cheap hire car and some camping gear whilst we trundled off into the city to organise the next 3 weeks in Namibia.

If you like this then hit “follow” on the side bar

The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz