We've met some wonderful characters throughout the trip and many have some great stories to tell - stories of revolutions, of changing times and of difficult histories, however nothing compares to those we have heard here in Zimbabwe. Oddly when people talk of the most difficult time here, of the lack of currency, fuel and food they do so with an almost reminiscent smile on their face, and the phrase "I don't know how we got through it, but we did" has been echoed many times.
The best stories we have heard come from an Englishman, Ian Harvey, living in Zimbabwe for many years and the owner of Warthogs Rest camp in Kariba, and if you'll permit me I'll take some time to retell some of his stories.
After things started to get bad here a few years ago he was arrested for being unable to account for US$30. Hauled into a custody van and whipped off to prison he spent 6 nights in a 10 x 10 (foot!) cell with 6 other blokes, 3 of whom were local fisherman who had just come off the lake. You can only imagine the smell. Ian was never worried about the outcome, 'this is Zimbabwe I'll just buy my way out'. The question was how much. After 6 nights he decided enough was enough and a trip to the magistrates was in order. Due to the lack of police cars and fuel it fell to his sister to pick him up and drive him, unescorted (!), to the local magistrate who fined him 1 million Zimbabwe dollars. However not even the local magistrate was able to keep tabs of inflation, and this fine amounted to the princely sum of US$1.37!
After a while of being back running his pub some local white people got rowdy in his bar during a discussion on the cause for the countries problems. Blaming the British for giving up Rhodesia they vented their frustrations on Ian and proceeded to put 3 staples into his forehead using a staple gun. The next morning Ian barred them all for a month. "I didn't mind the staple gun thing, it was done in good humor" he told us "but afterwards they racially abused my staff, and I won't stand for that"
Zimbabwe is a truly wonderful country, the once bread basket of Africa has fallen on hard times, however the worse is now behind them, and with currency in their wallets, fuel in their tanks and food in their supermarkets it is only a matter of time before this once great country is back on its feet, and can return to the country we keep hearing so many good things about.
As for us, we have had a marvellous time driving 700km of dirt road across the bottom of Lake Kariba. Starting at Kariba we camped wild the first night in the middle of nowhere before embarking on the drive to Matusadona National Park. After being unable to do the Lake Turkana Route in Ethiopia we were looking for a challenge, and we found it driving down the er 'road' to Matusadona. A 20km stretch of the road took us 1 and a half hours to drive, but the campsite at the end of it was well worth the effort. We had grown accustomed to all manner of wild animals wandering through our various camps in Zimbabwe, including elephant, hippo, buffalo and hyena within 5m of the tent at night, but it was wonderful to see an african wildcat wandering into the campsite that evening.
From there we headed back along the 'er' road and on to Chizarira National Park where I dropped onto one knee, plucked up more courage than I've ever needed before and uttered those eternally romantic words "will you marry me"….
Moving on we dropped into Hwange National Park and spent a night in a hide overlooking a water pan, where under a full moon we watched 40+ elephants drinking, watering, socialising and fighting. We finally gave up the battle with sleep and went to bed, but once the elephants left the hyenas turned up and laughed the rest of the night. A really magical experience. We spent the next day in various hides around the park, and enjoyed a close encounter with a group of very friendly rock hyrax. We've spent a lot of time in many national parks in Africa, but Hwange is going to take some beating.
We are now in Victoria Falls and spent the day marvelling at the thundering power of the falls and getting drenched by spray (thanks mum for the heads up on the camera bag!).
Tomorrow we are heading for our next batch of adventures in Botswana, but we will be leaving Zimbabwe with some of the best memories of the trip so far, and will definitely be returning someday soon…..