The Smoke that Thunders -Bulawayo, Matopo and Victoria falls

Day 338 – Gweru to Bulawayo

A short drive to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city. We were stopped on the way for “speeding” and for having back lights not working, both policemen looking for a bit of a pay out. We stocked up on supplies, headed to set up camp in a suburb of the city, and after lunch arranged taxis back in to explore the town. None of us expected spectuacular but were just hoping to understand what ‘normal’ was. Zimbabwe’s tourism has suffered, and even in recovery concentrates on safari so the town had little in the way of sites. We were dropped outside the city hall and took ourselves on a walking your past grubby looking shops and buildings, however the city still has an air of its colonial past, wide streets and some grand buildings. We passed interesting combinations like ‘bar and butchery.’ Part of the group even found the Bulawayo club, a colonial drinking hole complete with its grand wood decor and polka scores. In this way, parts of the town appeared frozen in town, in other ways we were a novelty as we found out when a camper van of local men reversed the full length of the high street, dodging other cars and pedestrians, to keep up with us and call “hello, hello.”

We passed the statue of Joshua Mkomo, a hero of this part of Zimbabwe. (Photo taken sheepishly as it’s not clear whether it is allowed or not!). Zimbabwe is made of two main tribes, the Matabele represented in this part of the country and the Mashona of the north. Mugabe is of the Mashona and Mkomo of the Matabele. Mkomo was eventually made Vice President and our taxi driver explained to us that he was against some of the radicalism taking place in the country. It was after his death in 1997 that things changed in the country, usually marked as 1999 and the beginning of the land grab against the white farmer.

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We had a good look around the few remaining markets, a mark of the small remaining tourism in this area and returned for the evening to our campsite. The frogs croaking was an amazing sound and gave the camp a very remote feel.

Day 339

Today we headed out for Matopo National park which has a high concentration of rhino which we would be tracking on foot. We pulled into the park and got out at a rocky hill which we scrambled up. From the top our guide Courtney spotted one lone rhino and two other rhino. After observing them from afar we climbed back down the hill and began tracking them on foot using footprints, observing dung for its freshness and approached the rhino. It was a mother and her baby, amazingly relaxed and let us in quite close which was exhilarating to not be in a vehicle, defenceless if something was to happen.

Courtney was telling us about the extensive poaching of rhino, particularly in South Africa which has seen negative growth this year. This has led to the announcement that all rhinos will be removed from Kruger national park after a lot of the poaching is an inside job. The money involved makes it very difficult to defend against however he told us the case for making sale of rhino horn legal so that game parks can sell their reserves from dead rhino and flood the market and also have control over the revenue. A lot of rhinos are now being dehorned and their horns do regrow every 8 years, however this isn’t 100% effective as when poachers spend days tracking it and find it with no horn they sometimes kill it to prevent tracking it again.

We tracked another group of 3 rhino taking shade under a tree. When we approached they stood up to observe us but soon relaxed and sat back down again. Although getting close was amazing, it shows how defence as they are against poachers.

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Lily found a jaw bone on the ground and the guide deduced it would be a zebra and could identify it as a male due to its canines. Back in the truck we drove on through the park spotting black eagles on the way. The park is the final resting place of Cecil John Rhodes, whom Rhodesia was named after. His grave still remains, rather controversially, as a tourist spot.

The park was very quiet, lacking any kind of tourist activity and we had a lunch in a camp with no people however the view and the tranquility was amazing, despite the baboon calls. As only half of the group had chosen to do the full day, our small group continued on out of the park through small fringe villages with local schools to a large group of hills. We were coming to observe the bushmen paintings which are extremely we preserved in this area however they were up this hill. We were climbing a very steep granite rock to find them, but after a tiring ascent we were amazed by the prominent red drawings in a cave. First glances were of red stick men and amazing depictions of giraffe and rhino, but once you looked closer the cave revealed layers, story on top of story. There were depictions of links to another dimension or a spiritual presence, hinting at the believes of the time. The paintings have been preserved incredibly well and it is believed they were painted with gall bladder of a kill as they are not only coloured but burnt into the cave. These people were small and oriental looking but believed to be incredibly in tune with the land and living sustainably off the area.

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We continued to the top of the rock formation for one of Zimbabwe's beautiful sunsets looking over plains of unspoilt land with the occaisonal roundhouse. A truly special day.

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We returned down the hill at pace so as to make use of the remaining light.
At the bottom we had tea and ginger biscuits and discovered young children had set up stalls nearby, bearing in mind there was no one around for a few kms. There they were with baskets and carvings, having waited 2 hours or more.

I wasn't prepared for just how beautiful Zimbabwe would be. I have found it particularly special thinking about my grandparents emigrating here in 1970 and how much life they gave into this country. Grandad who lost his health to this country during the civil war. Although we have tried as warned to stay away from political topics, many people have been open in discussing with us the troubles and the difficulties of the troubles since.

Day 340 – Bulawayo to Victoria Falls

Another early start for a 6am departure. The bumpy road to Victoria falls took us 6 hours and when we arrived we were taken to be shown information about all the high adrenaline activities at Victoria falls. The group once again was going to follow separate itineraries.

We met altogether for dinner at local restaurant in-da-belly named after the Indebele tribe and I sampled the crocodile tagliatelle, remarkably like chicken. After dinner tribal dancers came out to perform. They used drums and their voices to create an incredible sound. Their dancing involved slapping their feet on the ground, coinciding with a perfectly timed clap from the rest of the group. After Ella and I polished off ice cream sundaes Martin asked "Are you embarrassed you just ate that?"

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Day 341

The jokes about my sweet tooth continued into the morning when Carolyn presented me with my new favourite treat, smarties chocolate bars.

Late morning we went to the falls which sit on the fault line which separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. The water is the mighty Zambezi river and makes one of the seven wonders of the world. The sound and the power of the falls is incredible, it throws up a huge mist. It's local name is Mosi-oa-Tunya or 'the smoke that thunders.'
Walking around it you realise the scale and width of the falls. We started at the devils cataract and walked on to horseshoe falls and the main falls, getting wetter and wetter along the way. I wore a plastic bag poncho (but took it off for the photos!) The water looked calm and glassy as it approached the falls, then hit the jagged edge and turned into spray and flew out at all angles in a mesmerising ocean. At the end of the main falls on a calmer spot we sat and had a snack overlooking a double rainbow from the mist and sun. At the far end of the falls is the bridge and border crossing which takes you into Zambia.

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We walked back the length of it taking it all in again, it's true that it never looks the sand, varying in visibility and atmosphere all the time. At this time it is coming to the end of the high water season.

The truck I was travelling on was a Joburg to Joburg trip meaning they would be taking a different route from now on. Our pre departure meeting was held at the new truck and was a chance to meet our new friends. Our tour leader was a capetonian girl named Christa and seemed like fun, and our driver and chef both Kenyans. The group once again a mix in ages was dominated by Aussies! At the meeting I was asked three times whether we had been using tea towels to dry our plates after a meal, after answering yes I was assured on the new truck there was none of that, they were flapped dry!

We returned to our old stronghold, some of the group were joining a new group to Nairobi and some having new people to Johannesburg, and although the signs looked good for the onward journey, their was an air of sadness at the parting of the truck family. We all got a takeaway to bring back to the camp and sat around talking.

Day 342

We had breakfast at our new truck, only metres from the old one but a mark of new times. We had to swap to a new, smaller tent as well, Bob number 1. After breakfast sure enough we stood around flapping our plates dry as if bringing planes into land.

As a lot of the group were out on activities, Barbara and I sat at the pool sunbathing for most of the day. The friendly Spanish contingent of our group brought us lunch to enjoy by the pool. They have brought us a great deal of entertainment on this trip as some speak no English which has led to some interesting charades (particularly when Marta wanted to know if we had seen the bra she had left in the bathroom!)

The naughty vervet monkeys were also enjoying the sun as well as rummaging through the camp bins and trying to sneak into car windows.

At 5pm we all headed out to Victoria falls safari lodge where Lee and Amy had honeymooned years before and wanted to bring their children. It was a short drive out of town and a beautiful surprise! The lodges bar overlooked a watering hole in the game park, so whilst enjoying a drink we watched crocodile in the water, buffalo drinking and stalks and eagles circling. The sunset was, as always, beautiful and as it hit dusk a giraffe came out to drink. It's gangly legs split to come right down and drink, a funny sight to see.

We got the taxis back to town and went to Lola's tapas bar, a mixture of African and Spanish tapas. A dance group performed and drummed whilst we ate, and for the last dance came and got members of the audience to dance with them. To my embarrassment I was called up to dance. We danced together and in part were pulled forward in pairs to perform a move.

We said more goodbyes and slept in our new tent, only metres from the old, ready for departure in the morning.

Next stop, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

2 comments

  1. My dear Lauren, another truly amazing account of your camping trip and visit to what was your grandparents home land for many years. Love all the pictures. XX

  2. You’ve brought back memories of our visit to the Falls in 1999 and my first visit to there in 1989. There is a timeless quality to that whole area. The sight of the falls and the thunderous soundtrack they provide is truly a wonder. Your description of your venture in to Bulawayo transports me to visualise it clearly. It has certainly passed it’s prime and sadly is now a poor reflection of what it must have been.

    Thank you for sharing your trip. I love the photo of you with a Rhino quietly grazing in the background. That’s brave. XXX

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