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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe
MAY 30, 2007

Life's Not That Bad

As you can imagine there are many hot topics in Zimbabwe at the moment, many pent up frustrations, racist attitudes, and entrepreneurial ways of making ends meet. In order for these people to remain anonymous we have not used names in the Zimbabwe posts, however the two families who so kindly took us in and showed such generosity that made our trip quite special, they know who they are and we cannot thank them enough. Hopefully we will meet again in the future.

Getting malaria in Mozambique was not part of the plan (apologies for the quality of the previous posts, I was somewhat delirious while writing them), it did however have an interesting outcome. After a brief phone call home I was persuaded by my mother to visit the local Vilankulo Hospital for a check up before continuing north through Mozambique.

Let us clearly state, Vilankulo is back on its feet after the recent cyclones. Most of the shops are open with stocked shelves, the bars are selling booze, and the hostel (Zombie Cucumber) looks brand new. The hospital, however, was an absolute shambles. As we wandered aimlessly around the complex, we were shocked by the state of the surgery (no windows, no roof) and to see patients sitting on the dirt outside waiting for treatment. The nicest building was a UNICEF tent distributing food to the locals. As a poor soul in a wheelchair was pushed through the sand, presumably to a bed in another ward, we were directed to an English speaking doctor (we are now masters of charades). Unfortunately though he couldn't see us as we were not allowed into the maternity ward (no males allowed).

On our return to the hostel we discussed the matter with the owners, and were advised to wait until we were further up the coast. One thing led to another and one of the patrons at the bar who over heard us had rung a friend who was heading into Zimbabwe the following morning, while they were not heading to Mutare, (our planned entry point) there was a good local doctor in the town that they lived in. One of the benefits of having no set plan is it allows you to jump at any opportunity without to much hesitation. 6am the next day we were standing by the side of the road waiting for a white bukkie. No idea where we were heading, where we would stay that night, how we would move on to the next town, no Zimbabwe currency, fan-bloody-tastic.

Our trip into Zimbabwe was relatively uneventful. After three hours bumping along the ashfelt we turned off down a dirt track. As the back of the bukkie was closed up to prevent dust getting in, it had the added benefit of stopping the petrol fumes getting out, this thankfully did help me to get a few hours of sleep. I was awoken as we came upon the Sav River. We crossed in style that day, a steel pontoon, hand winched by four locals. On either side of us the locals crossed the river in small bark canoes, while the wives and children washed themselves, their clothes and various food items at the river banks. We were seeing a truly rural Mozambique in its purest form.

At Espungabera we were stamped out of Mozambique, and as we walked into the Mt Selinda border at Zimbabwe we were met with big smiles and the English language once again. Thanks to our driver’s regular crossing at this border post (and the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere, we were the only people at the border, and there were at least ten staff on duty) we paid our $US 30 and we were let into Zimbabwe without the slightest hassle.

We are constantly surprised by the landscapes we come across. In South Africa the country continually changed as we moved east, in Mozambique it was the tropical paradise we did not expect to see in Africa. In Zimbabwe, as we crossed the border we climbed up into a mountainous region, then down into a lush fertile plain, known as the Highveld. From everything we had read we expected Zimbabwe to be in disarray, however the farms were lush and plantations of coffee, nuts, bananas were growing as far as the eye could see. It was not until later we discovered that the local farms were in a mess, the few remaining plantations that we saw belonged to large corporations, struggling to survive through their political connections.

A further half hour on roads a donkey should not be allowed to walk on, brought us to the small farming community of Chipinge. First port of call was the local hospital where I was brought immediately in front of the local black doctor. After a thorough check up, and $200,000 worth of anti-biotics we set off to the farm.

With Matt still recovering from Malaria our hosts offered up their house for us to stay in, gave us a hearty feed and as we went to sleep that night we were in a good place.

So far on our journey we have spent most of the trip 'doing things'. While this may seem obvious, it involves largely staying on the tourist trail and gives you very little insight into the actual country. During the next few days we were made to feel part of the family, in addition to tours of the coffee and banana estates we went to the local club's braai's and briefly saw an insight into how they managed to live in this difficult country.

We decided to accompany our host's for a weekend of camping to southern Zimbabwe to the town of Chiredzi. The event was a National Selection Pollo Crosse Tournament that their daughter was competing in and promised a great time.

As we came down from the highveld into the lowveld the countryside changed, almost immediately, it dried up. The company farms disappeared and were replaced by barren scrub land, what had once been white farms were now vacant plots owned by corrupt politicians who had run them into the ground, unable to maintain or improve.

We arrived early Thursday morning and in true Zimbabwean hospitality were given welcoming cold beers from some of the campers already there. As it turns out the weekend was great. A real family affair, yet somewhat rowdy, rising at 6am it was not uncommon to be cracking the first beer at 10am and to drink till the bar closed at midnight. Oh - we did manage to take in some fast paced high quality games as well.

The tournament was set amongst the sugar cane fields at the Hippo Valley Estates, rising in the morning the smoke of the fires drifted through the camp and the sticky smell of brown sugar wafted through the air. Even though we were not competing it was tiring work rising early, walking about in the sun all day, enjoying the cool Zimbabwean beers, then revelling well into the evenings. Again - we met a lot of fantastic people here from all over Zimbabwe, and while they all have stories of struggle over the previous years, they welcomed us into their fold and we had a wonderful weekend.

Late on the final day we were introduced to the Bulawayo club, who secured us a lift to Bulawayo and accommodation while we were there. As said above, the Zimbabweans have been so hospitable on this journey that they have made this leg of our trip a definite highlight.

We had an easy five hour drive (this time in the front of the bukkie) to Bulawayo, where we were dropped off on the outskirts of town at our house for the night.

Knackered after a fairly hectic weekend we spent the next few days wandering around the town, getting up to date on emails, but most importantly - talking to our hosts. It gets tiring talking to travellers all the time - telling the same stories and talking about the same things. We learnt a lot about Zimbabwe, its history and life’s daily battles. On one evening we took a drive out to the Tribal Trust Lands where we met a local black farmer, struggling in this barren land while trying to make a meagre existence out of his small plot. Again he was all too happy to speak to us about his crops and to show us his live stock.

It was with some disappointment that we were dropped off at the Bulawayo Train Station for the overnight train to Victoria Falls. This ends a great chapter of our journey that we both look back on with fond memories. And as many a Zimbabwean said, although this is one messed up country, life's not that bad.

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What a fabulous journey you are both having. I read your updates with bated breath as they are telling the story of a different world which you are enabling me to see through your stories. For that I thank you. 

Leonie - June 10, 2007

Thanks Leonie, we are glad you are enjoying our travels as much as we are.

Matt & Donna - June 25, 2007

Although Lach and l were definately not thrilled with the visit to Zimbabwe, we are constantly amazed at your knowledge of the areas in which you travel and trust of people and circumstances, and admire your true independance and sence of adventure (hopefully and trustfully with safety assured or thought of) - living my dreams (mum xxoo)

Stella - June 08, 2007


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