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

 

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African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-One Hwange

Main camp is’ as the name suggests’ the centre of Hwange. It has most of the facilities, accommodation and the National Park office. It was here that we had to check in and try and organise our spare night.

The female official was not exactly helpful. “Yus we cun give you anuther lodge for dat night” After establishing that meant we had to change lodge I asked whether we could stay in the same lodge instead of changing. “Noo. Thaat is noot possible” There was no point in pursuing the issue further she wasn’t going to be any more helpful and that was that. She wouldn’t even give us the key to our first lodge until 2 pm. ‘Rules are rules’ in African government.

We consoled ourselves with a beer in the rather tired Waterbucks head and then attempted to find a picnic spot.

The road we took was so bad that we gave up after a while but then came face to face with a herd of elephants that came perilous close to the car. Hwange has one of the largest populations of elephants in the world at around 30,000 and most of them seem to be crossing the road right in front of us.

You know sometimes I can’t help myself, I just had to get a little bit closer to get that ‘great’ shot. It began to occur to me that we might be a little too close when one of the elephants turned and looked us rather menacingly and made to charge us. That was it, I was in reverse and began to move backwards so fast that the elephant was impressed enough to change his mind and went back to his herd. These guys are to be taken very seriously!

The lodge was quite comfortable if somewhat (like everything else) rundown. It was completely self contained with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and lounge. It even had a braai and a shady veranda. Better still we had a cleaner who came in to make the beds and do the dishes. But the best thing was that it was so cheap. US$4 per night! At that price rundown or not it was a bargain.

Hwange covers 14,600 square kilometres of hot, dry and dusty scrub interspersed with clumps of umbrella acacia trees and dotted with a few waterholes. It’s at these waterholes that most of the wildlife congregate, so most of us just drive from waterhole to waterhole looking for the most exciting wildlife we can find.
It’s sort of strange how we can become blasé so quickly about the wildlife that we do see. Everyone wants to see the big cats and rhinos.
At Nyamandhlovu (Nya to its visitors) Pan there is a platform where visitors get out of their car and sit for a while. Here we saw almost everything we had seen before wildebeest, kudu, giraffe and even elephants and still we wanted more.

We visited this spot again the next day but had to return back to camp when I noticed a nail in one of the tyres. Repairing and replacing tyres was a big enough business in Hwange to justify having a permanent workshop there, so getting it fixed was not a problem.
In the afternoon we returned to Nya and after an hour or so we got back into the car, turned the key and got nothing but a click. Now picture the scene we’re in the middle of an African wildlife park where the only time you can get out of the car is to quickly climb onto the platform and we’ve broken down. My first reaction was to get out of the car to have lift the bonnet. My second reaction when Sue pointed out that I could be risking my life in doing this was panic and then I got out of the car and lifted the bonnet but with my attention very much on the landscape around me rather than the slumbering piece of metal below me.

Fortunately there was an armed guard who we hadn’t seen nearby and he made his presence known by coming over and without a word just stood guard close to the car. The problem was the battery lead had come loose from the terminal connection and with my limited tool kit and my great versatility as a mechanic, I had it up and running in no time.

Back at main camp we washed down a ‘coldie’. Actually it wasn’t a beer but a gin and tonic. Gin was so cheap at US$1.00 for half a bottle that we thought we could save a little bit of money. Trouble was a gin and tonic without ice was like having a warm beer, it just wasn’t the same so that idea was abandoned after while and we went back to beer which at least we could have cold and was still only around US$0.80 each.

That afternoon we went on a guided walk to the nearby Sedina Pan and back. Douglas our guide had good sense of humour and led us through the bush to the pan where we sat and watched in the hide for a while. Whilst peering through slot in the hide Douglas pointed towards one end of the pan. “What dooo yoou see my friend?”

“What should I be seeing?’ I replied thinking that there was a lion or something equally as interesting.

“Oh I don’t know. My eyes are not sooo goood”

What was the point in having a guide whose “eyes are not so good”? We were relying on him to spot those animals that us mere tourists never spot!

The other two other couples on the walk were from France and USA. I’ve come to the conclusion that yanks who go overseas must all have training before they leave because they all seem act the same way. Once again they wore the obligatory designer label safari gear, were loud and this time had a video camera that they talked to. That was irritating. We would be watching quietly for some wildlife when behind me would come the murmur “heere we ‘re watching quietly for some anemals in Seedona Paan” I’m sure whoever watched that video was bored shitless! I shushed him and neither of them spoke to us again until the end of the walk.
Later we saw both couples having dinner together in the Waterbuck restaurant ignoring us as we walked past. Some people are just so petty!

As it turned out Douglas didn’t actually need his eyes. On the way back we walked across a grassy plain full of zebra, wildebeest, jackals, baboon, giraffe and incredibly two kudu having a scrap within a couple of metres of us.

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Two elephants mixing it up at a Hwange NP waterhole in Zimbabwe

Two elephants mixing it up at a Hwange NP waterhole in Zimbabwe