30/12/91-4/1/92

And so we came to the end of our time in Africa. Back in Harare, we celebrated New Year with Scotty and Devi at a dance held in the ZANU-PF headquarters, and on New Year’s Day, we went for a picnic with Devi’s relations out to a lake near the city. 

And it was on our way home from there that we saw the final wonder of all our African travels: three Rhino, a male and a female with a youngster. The male walked across the road in front of us, turned and glared malevolently at us from behind the impressive protection of his horn. An amazing site to end our African adventures with. 

A 4-hour flight from Zimbabwe put us back in Nairobi and we stayed the night at the New Kenya Lodge. There was no water, we were overcharged, and the manager had become an arsehole, so we left the next morning and moved out to Mrs Roche’s Camp on the outskirts of the city. 

By a stroke of luck, we got our flight to Karachi moved forward from Thursday the 9th to Saturday the 4th, so at 1 p.m. on that day, we lifted off the runway aboard a brand new Gulf Airlines Boeing 767-300, bound for Oman and Pakistan. 

The dark continent fell away below us: a vast patchwork of brown and green beneath the scattered clouds, and soon was lost under 30,000 ft of hazy air.

***** 

On the ground far below, a herd-boy boy listened to the distant roar of a jet engine from far away. He gazed skyward for a moment, squinting his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun beating down between the clouds, catching a glimpse of light reflected off steel wings. His attention was drawn back to his cattle by the bleat of a calf, momentarily separated from its mother. Thoughts of the aircraft disappeared from his mind, and he returned to the thought that an occupied the minds of his people for thousands of years…survival.

29/12/91

SUNDAY 29 DECEMBER The train arrived in Bulawayo at 9 a.m. We took a taxi to the camping ground. Repeat the 10th and did some washing then walked over to the Natural History Museum where we spent a couple of hours looking at the very well set out displays. Then we wondered about in the gardens for a while gradually moving in the direction of town. At 5:30 we went to the movie theatre and watched Robin Hood Prince of Thieves from the comfort of Z$6.50 armchairs. 

For tea we bought greasy chicken and chips which we ate back at the camp, then we hit the hay in anticipation of an early start in the morning.

28/12/91

SATURDAY 28 DECEMBER We had breakfast with Paul and Lisa at the Falls Sun Hotel, then Linda and I made an attempt to hitch up to Bulawayo after checking out of the camping ground. Our 5-day stay cost us a mere Z$30 as opposed to the $150 that we should have been charged. 

But it wasn’t the day for hitching, so at 2 p.m. we gave up and went down to the station and booked two sleepers for the night train which left at 5 p.m. We had dinner in the buffet car, then stretched out on our bunks and slept the night away is the train rolled through the bush and the African darkness to Bulawayo.

27/12/91

FRIDAY 27 DECEMBER Paul, Linda, Lisa and I spent most of the morning a the breakfast buffet down at the Falls Hotel. Then we wandered around the local craft market and lazed about at our camp.

At 7PM we went down to the Lulala Hotel and watched a video of the spectacular rafting trips to be had on the Zambezi River. Once again a bunch of us partook of the “½ price” buffet at the Falls Hotel, and made a few more free phone calls. We had a long yarn to our friends Jennie, Jules, Nicky, and Viv who were staying a someone’s house in Aberdeen.

26/12/91

THURSDAY 26 DECEMBER – THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS  Jim, Corina, Linda and I went over to the Zambian side of the falls for the morning. Border formalities were speedy on both sides, with a 2 km walk between costumes posts over the Zambezi Bridge which spans the gorge at a dizzying height. A rock dropped from the bridge took 6 1/2 seconds to reach the water. 

The Zambian side has none of the crowds of tourists, safety barriers and fees, that the Zimbabwe side features. Here there is just rock, water and adrenaline. The falls were almost close enough to touch, and the only thing to hold you back from the edge is your own courage…or lack of it. Jim and I followed a narrow, slippery track along the very edge of the precipice, while Linda and Corina took the safer concrete path, stopping every now and then to lie out on the edge and peer into the swirling depths. At the apex of the cliff, Jim and I climbed out onto a small pinnacle of rock standing out above the river as it left the falls, much to the fear of Linda and Corina, then we walked back through the dripping forest and along the track leading upstream. About 100 metres above the falls, we spread out clothes out to dry in the warm sun while we sat and talked with a couple of Australians. 

One Foot Over the Void. Vic Falls. L-R: Corina, Linda, ferg.

After an hour or so our stuff was dry, so we wandered back over the bridge and returned to our camp. We had a snack and a drink then the four of us went down to the Vic Falls Hotel for a beer. Jim and I left the girls on the veranda and walked down a steep track leading into the gorge. The path dropped steeply through the bush, first over a well-defined but very steep watercourse, and finally a series of step ladders and ropes descending the rocky streambed to the bottom of the gorge. We sat on the rocks above the thick brown water of the Zambezi River where it slows, fresh from the violence of the falls, and takes a 170 degree turn around a sharp point of rock, then finally drops out of sight over a huge rapid. The place was quite peaceful apart from the annoying Flight of The Angels aircraft buzzing around overhead. The water below us turned in a slow eddy creating a large pool of leaves and branches slowly turning anticlockwise in the current. 

We sat there for an hour or so, then climbed back up the steep path to the hotel, stopping on the way to watch a family of mongooses chattering about in the undergrowth. At the hotel, we had a drink and I made use of the phone in the lobby which some enterprising soul had discovered could be used to call anywhere in the world for nothing. 

I rang Ann and Betty back in Britain and wished them a Merry Christmas and Linda did the same. Later in the evening, a group of us returned and made calls all over the world. I rang Joe and Mick, Linda rang her friend Kerry and we scored some more free meals at the buffet.

25/12/91

25 DECEMBER – CHRISTMAS DAY We were up at 7 a.m. and looked out to a more promising day of weather. We exchanged our presents: Linda gave me Simple Mind’s latest album, Real Life and some chocolates, and I gave her a Zimbabwe t-shirt, and a carved stone hippo. We cooked up a breakfast of bacon eggs and sausages. 

A UTC van arrived at 9 a.m. to take us and a lot of other tourists down to the river for a morning cruise on the Zambezi. The cruise lasted for 2 hours and was very pleasant, with the sun shining through the drizzly squalls that persisted. We sat with a British bloke in his Danish girlfriend as we motored up the river as far as the First Cataract. There wasn’t any wildlife to see apart from a couple of hippos just visible out in the middle of the river, but the bush growing to the edge of the water was pleasant and the glassiness of the river was perfect for boating. 

Back at camp, we prepared for a second trip down to the Falls. The sun was shining this time, lighting the misty depths of the chasm and spreading rainbows amongst the spray and the rock. The spectacle of the falls was no less impressive on the second viewing, and we took a lot more photos of the falls and each other, dripping wet amongst the downpour of spray. 

Preparing Christmas Dinner at Vic Falls.

Our Christmas dinner consisted of potatoes, peas, carrots, and fried luncheon meat, washed down with port, drunk from the bottle, and beer, and then we sat around the camp resting. Paul Stroud, the South London bloke we met at Sable Lodge in Harare, and his girlfriend Lisa, turned up and we arranged to go down to the Victoria Falls Hotel with them for the evening buffet, which proved to be a good cheap feed because of the system they have whereby nobody checks whether or not you have paid!

24/12/91

TUESDAY, CHRISTMAS EVE. Up in the town, we stocked up on groceries and booze, which we stored in a box in the tent to keep the ants away, then we prepared ourselves to go and see the Victoria Falls for the first time. 

It cost a mere Z$5 to get into the Falls area, and we walked down through the dense forest, wet from the heavy rain, towards the roar of water echoing up through the trees. Our first glimpse of Mosi-oa-Tunya¹ was through the trees across from the Devil’s Cataract, where tons and tons of water roar over a 93-metre cliff into the chasm, sending up a cloud of spray and a deafening noise. As we walked along through the trees bordering the cliff edge, it became wetter and wetter, as the spray from the falls fell in dense clouds, soaking us in minutes. 

The Main Falls were a cataclysm of water exploding over the rim of rock and crashing down into the deep gorge. At Danger Point we stood out on a point of rock and looked over the edge down into the seething pit of black rock and swirling spray, flying up into our faces by the blast of air thrown up by the falling water. 

The track along the clifftop ended at a small clearing, from which the Zambezi Bridge was visible spanning the deep gorge with a brown water of the river, now free from the horrors of the falls, surge away downstream as if running in terror from the violence of the cataract. 

Back at camp we put on some dry clothes, then hired a couple of bicycles and cycled the five kilometres out of town to the Spencers Creek Crocodile Farm. They had an impressive range of crocs, ranging in size from little footlong hatchlings up to a 12-foot Silurian monster, sunning himself beside the fence with a smug look on his face. A well set-out group of cages housed a leopard, several wild cats, and a serval, and there was also an informative AV program about crocodiles and other aspects of conservation. 

Cycling home we saw a large group of baboons, a family of warthogs, and a couple of antelope, which flitted through the trees at the range of our vision. We passed an old baobab tree known as The Big Tree, upon which a history of missionaries and explorers have carved their names and dates, the oldest visible one being 1891. 

Back beside the river upstream of the falls, we stop to watch the river drifting swiftly yet calmly towards the distant roar of the falls, and then the rain drove in in torrents, soaking us for the second time that day in seconds. 

We cycled back to the camp through the downpour and found that Jim and Corinna had arrived. The evening was spent with a Kumuka crowd under an awning, playing drinking games, while sheets of rain turned the camping ground into a lake. But our tent stayed dry, thanks to the network of trenches that I dug around it to channel the water away.

23/12/91

MONDAY 23 DECEMBER – BULAWAYO TO VIC. FALLS We packed up camp and walked into town for breakfast, then took a taxi out to the edge of town and began hitching. It started to rain soon after but we only had to wait for about half an hour for a lift with some young, dumb, Zimbabwean youngsters. The male was a showoff and sped all the way, which suited us, as we were at Victoria Falls 4 hours later. 

The camp at Vic Falls was a pitiful scene of bedraggled tents and mud-filled caravans after 7 days of perpetual rain. We set up camp beside a tree and I dug drainage ditches all around the tent, as it was obvious that a lot of water had been flowing through the campsite.

22/12/91

SUNDAY 22 DECEMBER – MATAPOS NATIONAL PARK It was overcast and grey when we arrived in Bulawayo, the site of King Mzilikazi’s kraal, and rain threatened even though the old taxi driver we hired to take us out to the camping ground said that it was too cold for rain. 

The campsite lived up to its reputation as the best one in Africa: hot showers, clean toilets, well-kept ground, and cheap at just Z$13 for both of us. 

We rang a safari company from the office and arranged to be picked up at 7 a.m. for a day trip out to the Rhodes Matapos National Park, then we pitched our tent and had showers. 

The safari Land Rover picked us up at 9:30 and we drove the 30 km out to the entrance of the park, which was bequeathed to the nation for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by Cecil Rhodes on his death in 1904. 

Our first stop in the park was Rhodes’ grave atop a granite hill where Rhodes would come to get away from it all and to look at what he called “one of the views of the world.” The grave is cut into the living rock and is covered with a brass plaque bearing the simple inscription: “Here lie the remains of Cecil John Rhodes.” The magnificent Matapos Hills roller away in all directions, covered in thick forest and broken by pinnacles and ridges of stark bare granite. 

“One of the views of the world.” – Cecil Rhodes.

We drove deeper into the park, catching occasional glimpses of antelope and warthogs in the bush, and stopped for lunch beside a small water hole where some Egyptian geese were wading and a small group of impala grazed nearby. After lunch, we headed for the game park to try and spot some rhino. The park is well stocked with game, but the weather wasn’t great and all we saw were impala, warthog, bushbuck, kudu and a lone ostrich. The rhino were nowhere to be seen. 

We left the park and drove about 20 km to a clearing where we left the truck and began to walk up into the hills to look at some cave paintings. After about 10 minutes two startled women came running down the track towards us, explaining that they’d seen a leopard in the bush beside the track. They were very scared but the leopard was long gone by the time we walked up to the spot, so we carried on up the track through the bush, and out onto a bald granite dome above the tree line. 

The rock was warm and had the texture of rough concrete, and the sun broke through the clouds to the west to light up the landscape with gold. Rock hyrax, large rat-like mammals, scrambled and chattered amongst the rocks, which took on the shapes of large animals asleep in the evening sunshine. 

On the crest of the hill was a small stand of forest, at the back of which a small cave had been hollowed by wind and water, and here inside its shelter, men had daubed the rock with cave paintings of men and animals from an age unknown. 

The place had a car wet area feeling to it with the wind rousing echoes across the hill above the cave, where, for thousands of years, men came and left their mark and their history. When the rest of the party had begun to descend the hill, I lingered for a few minutes. Far up in the sky above the clouds and the sound of the wind, the roar of an aircraft could be heard: as isolated from that place of wind and ancient history and warm rock as the men who left those abstract shapes of dark red are from the technology flying across the sky 5 miles above.

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SATURDAY 14 DECEMBER – SATURDAY 21 DECEMBER We spent the whole week mucking around in Harare. On Saturday night, Linda, Ross and I went to a midnight showing of those two brilliant films Terminator 2 and Total Recall. Then on Sunday, we went out to Scotty and Devi’s house for a BBQ lunch which lasted well into the wee small hours. 

On Tuesday we went out to the airport at 6 a.m. to meet Jim and Corina off the plane. They were very surprised to see us and glad we were there to help ease them into life in Africa. At lunchtime, we treated ourselves to the sumptuous buffet at the Sheraton: all we could eat for a mere Z$38 each. 

On Wednesday we met Scotty for lunch at Ramambo’s Restaurant and on Thursday I took some of our stuff out to store at Scotty’s until we leave Zimbabwe in a couple of weeks. While I was there, I helped Jim and Corinna’s driver, Hog, and courier, Don, change some tires on their overland rig which is named “The Scott.” That night we took Jim and Corrina to Ramambo’s Restaurant, along with Scotty and Devi, and we spent a goodly part of Friday beside the pool at the Terreskane Hotel. 

And on Saturday (today) we went out to Scotty’s again for another bri (BBQ) in went to the railway station to catch the 9 p.m. train to Bulawayo. 

Our cabin was a small 3-berth sleeper, but we had paid a surcharge to book the whole cabin so we had plenty of space. The cabin was fitted out with green vinyl seats and polished wood trim with stainless steel fittings. The small sink was made by Beresfords of Birmingham, and the mirror on the sliding door carried the logo are the old Rhodesian Railways Company. 

We bought some drinks and settled down to wait for the train to depart, which it did exactly on time at 9 p.m. We were both quite tired so soon after the train rattled out of Harare Station we climbed into our bunks and fell asleep to the rockin’ rollin’ ridin’ motion of the train.