Beside 2000 year old Baobab

Having written a number of articles on our overseas trip in May 2006 I thought that it might be appropriate to tell you something of our local travels.

 Beside 2000 year old Baobab

Standing beside a 2000 year old Baobab Tree

South & Southern Africa have some of the most beautiful scenery, people and animals in the world. In the Province of kwaZulu-Natal where we live one can be at the sea, in the mountains or in a game reserve within 2-3 hours of one another. Until 1990, South Africans could not easily travel into Africa as, due to the apartheid laws, South Africa was a pariah state.  I had always wanted to see the Victoria Falls and the only way to have done so pre-1990 would have been on the Flame Lily Holiday offers but these were too expensive for us. During the 90s, as South Africa became a democratic country, restrictions on travel were gradually dropped and as time moved on we decided that it might be a good idea to travel to Zimbabwe returning home via Botswana.

This was our first foray into Africa and in a way it was quite daunting. We had heard so much about the poverty, poor roads, security issues and the bribery required that we went off in a bout of trepidation. We were not only going to see the Victoria Falls and other tourist options but Trevor’s Dad & step-mother lived in Bulawayo and his Uncle and Aunt in Harare and we had not seen any of them for many years. Also, this was the first time that I had made bookings on the internet and had yet to learn how deceptive that can be.

Vicky at the fallsAn umbrella is essential when visiting the Falls

We left Durban and spent a night in Johannesburg with my sister and her family and then drove on up to Musina to be near the border in the morning. Beit Bridge Border Post was one thing we had received many warnings about, the long queues and slow service in particular. All the warnings were not wrong but we encountered no bribery or threats. But, we were stunned at the queues of trucks and pedestrians waiting patiently to get through the border in each direction. By 2000 there were already severe shortages in Zimbabwe and the local people preferred to walk to the Border Post and then another 5kms to Musina to shop for daily supplies. Not only were these available in South Africa they were considerably cheaper than they would have been in Zimbabwe. What I so enjoyed seeing in this areawere the Baobab Trees for the first time having learnt so much about them at school. By the end of the trip their presence had become quite boring.

It did not take us too long to get through customs and passport control but I came close to getting into serious trouble – I took a photo of Trevor having his passport checked. Three guards quickly walked up to me and informed me that taking of photos was NOT ALLOWED. They did not arrest me though and for that I was most grateful but learnt a very valuable lesson. Taking photos in any government building is a definite NO-NO!

Once officially in Zimbabwe we drove for miles without seeing any actual sign of life. We learnt afterwards that this was because the farms we were passing were all game farms and so there were no homes near the road. After a while we saw the first sign for the next town, West Nicholson, and learnt that it was just 150kms away which was very comforting as we had been up early and had the wait at the border which left us really wanting some liquid refreshment. What a let-down. It turned out to be one of those places where, if you blinked, you missed it. There was a small grocery store but to buy a cool drink one had to have a glass bottle to return as the deposit. We had no idea that this was the rule in Zimbabwe. I had not done any homework for this trip but the learning curve was beginning. They kindly gave us some water and we were on our way to Bulawayo where we would spend a few days and make an opportunity to see Trevor’s Dad.                          

We had been aware that there was a petrol shortage in Zimbabwe but did not expect to find that there was NO petrol in Bulawayo. This was very restricting as we had planned to visit the Matobo Hills and a local game reserve and we were scheduled to drive to Hwange Game Reserve on a return from 3 days at Kariba to which we were travelling by air. We did lots of walking, including to visit Dad, and then drove to the airport, leaving our car there and praying that there would be fuel on our return.

CJ Rhodes graveCecil John  Rhodes grave in the Matobo Hills

The Matobo HillsThe Matobo Hills

We discovered that we were the only guests at the hotel for the 3 days and were treated as if we were royalty. On our return to Bulawayo we discovered that petrol had arrived that very day so we were able to visit the Matobo Hills before driving up to Hwange. How come there was petrol you may well ask? It turned out that President Mugabe was to visit the next day and it had been agreed that he should never see the queues for petrol or any other goods. With the tank filled up we drove to Hwange where we were welcomed with open arms. There, some more surprises awaited us which I shall tell you about in my next article.