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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