Zimbabwe (Part 2)
We boarded the Vic Falls to Bulawayo train after a nice buffet lunch at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel in company with a few Baboons and three grazing Warthogs.
The old train rattled off down the track and as I sat in my sleeper compartment and began to think of where we were headed and what I’d see over the next week or so, I realised I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.
In every one of the African countries I’ve visited I’ve done my research before arriving. I’ve read the travel guides, Googled the places I wanted to see and listened to travel advice from people I’ve met along the way but with Zimbabwe I did none of that.
I know about Mugabe and his devastating thirty year rein and have been told by a few people that Zimbabweans are the friendliest and most peaceful people in all of Africa but further than that I have no idea what to expect.
The train ride was enjoyable and exactly what I had hoped for. Carriages that had seen better times with cracked leather seats, wash basins that have long since stopped working, worn signage and plenty and rattle and shake as we chugged along across the state of Matabeleland North.
Arriving in Bulawayo was one of those stepping back in time moments. One of my travel buddies said he felt like he was in Cuba.
We made our way to the Bulawayo Train Museum which is just about the only tourist attraction in town and well worth a visit. With my $2 entry fee I received an original train ticket from the 1970’s, a first day cover with some old stamps and a map.
The museum is packed full of old trains dating from the 1840’s to the 1970’s and its impossible for anyone not to have fun exploring and climbing through the old loco’s and carriages.
That night was the coldest I’ve had in Africa so far and I was in bed early in preparation for the big day ahead…. Rhino tracking on foot through Matobo National Park.
We started with a safety briefing which included topics like:
• How dangerous can a 2500kg Rhinoceros be?
• How to sneak up on a crash (herd) of Rhino.
• What to do if you get charged by a Rhino.
• Other things in the park we might come across that can kill you.
Full of knowledge we jumped in the safari vehicles and headed cross country, soon finding an armed ranger on the side of the road ready to take us on foot.
After a while we could see our targets up ahead and we slowly crept closer careful not to spook them. We moved slowly through the bush until we were only several meters away.
After our exhilarating close encounter with the Rhinos we walked to a World Heritage archeological rock art site in a cave amongst granite boulders overlooking the park. The art was painted by the Bushmen who inhabited the area between 9-13,000yrs ago, before they were forced out of their land and south to the Kalahari by the current occupants.
The park also contains the grave of Cecil Rhodes, who Rhodesia was named after. As the sun was setting over the granite landscape I visited his grave and read his long list of achievements, amazed how someone could acheive so much in a single lifetime.
We sat on the granite outcrop, known locally as World’s View and watched a magnificent sunset over the park.
From Matobo we drove to a private game reserve further north called Antelope Park. Even though the nights were cold , the days were sunny and we spent a couple of days relaxing in the sun and doing a few short local walks.
On the first morning I walked down to the local river and watched a family of African Clawless Otters feeding in the shallows.
The next day we toured some of the 3000 acre reserve watching Lions, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Zebra.
We continued east to the Great Zimbabwe World Heritage site, which is a part of a complex of architecturally impressive pre-colonial structures which covered a vast area of southern Africa and gave it’s name to the country.
The civilisation was the greatest in Southern Africa covering a huge area across modern day Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and part of South Africa. It’s central to Zimbabwe’s identity as a nation.
After a month of desert and savanna we continued east towards the Mozambique border and climbed into the Chimanimani Mountains for a dose of rainforest and waterfalls.
The mountains, prior to Mugabe were a popular hiking destination and home to Africa’s southernmost tropical rainforest.
It was good to spend a couple of days in the mountains. It made me want to get to Malawi and Rwanda quicker. Both those countries are the two I’m most looking forward to seeing this year. I won’t have to wait long for Malawi, as I’ll be there next week.
For now I’m in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe and getting ready for another border crossing into Mozambique tommorow.
Tommorow is also national election day here and it’s the first election without Robert Mugabe in thirty years. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not a hundred percent sure it’ll be free and fair but you can only hope there’s a brighter future for the people of Zimbabwe somewhere down the track.
My next post will be in a fortnight after we’ve traveled the full length of Malawi and I’ve hopefully spent a considerable amount of time underwater.
Bye for now.