This day was the longest stretch of driving we have to do. Nearly 600 km to get to Mana Pools National Park on the northern border of Zim and Zambia. There were no contingency plans or places to stop for an overnight along the way, nor could we arrive at the NP after dark as they are closed at dusk. So we had to hope for no hold-ups, bad traffic or anything else that could slow us down.
We left early and drove on the usual rutted and pot-holed roads steadily making our way north. Originally we had planned to stop at the Chinoyi Caves on the way but with the pressure of time, this had been taken out of our itinerary. But as a reward for getting away earlier than planned and as we were making good time, we stopped at the caves and had a little time to explore these not too extensive caves. The highlight of the cave system is a cobalt blue pool of crystal clear water reaching some 350 feet in depth. Some scuba divers were in the pool and could be seen, along with some sizable fish, quite a long way down. Half an hour was good enough to see it all and we headed off again passing through the northern countryside. This part of Zimbabwe seems poorer and more down-at-heel. Although not that far from Harare, the capital, it seems not to have benefited from this proximity and appears undeveloped and remote. Some large industrial towns dot the region but don't seem to be thriving for the general populace. It was Sunday though, so perhaps the places are more alive on weekdays. But also, since it was indeed Sunday, the churchgoers were out in force. Many people wear white on Sundays and small crowds of people in white were gathered under trees praying and listening to sermons. Others were crowding into factory sites or car yards and we could hear singing at full voice coming from the most unlikely places.
We reached the Zambezi Escarpment and quickly dropped from 1200m to around 450m in altitude. The road was narrow and twisty and full of trucks at their slowest speed in both directions. If you were behind a truck it would be a long time before there would be any opportunity to pass. At one point we stopped behind a long line of traffic and wondered if this was to be the hold-up that would make us too late. On the next corner a truck had crashed, spilling its load all over. A crane arrived to extricate it but fortunately we were able to get around it in good time.
Once down on the floodplain of the Zambezi River, we turned off the tar and drove on dirt roads again to the park entrance. Finally just as the light was starting to fade we arrived, set up our tents on the banks of the river and cooked a light though late meal. Down at this altitude the temperature is more in tune with our latitude (16 deg S). For once we have still been in T-shirts at bedtime!