Adventures in Africa

Chapter 13 - Heavenly Zimbabwe II - Hwange and Bulawayo

We wake up and go to take the car. Something is strange: in the car there is no jack, no insurance documents, no license documentation nor a sticker of Budget on the car. The only proof that we have that the car is rented is the rental contract which is printed on a Budget paper. "Don't worry about it", says the manager, "as the only car we have went out of service, I decided to give you my own car". He gives us a jack and we leave for our 3 days safari.

We have to drive about 200 km to the park gate. We thought it would take us 4 hours at least - but we were wrong. The roads are of western standards and it's easy to drive 110 km/hr! In fact it's better than the roads in Israel because there is very little traffic. We especially like the "Beware of crossing elephants" sign... We arrive to the park gate.

We especially like the "Beware of crossing elephants" sign....

In our guidebook it's written that: "Although Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe's most accessible and most wildlife-packed national park, by Kenyans standards it would rank as scarcely visited. It's normally uncrowded... The best time to visit is the dry season (September and October) when the animals congregate around water holes (most of which are artificially engineered with petrol-powered compressors). When the rains come and rivers are flowing, the animals spread out across the park's 14,650 square km.". We think to ourselves that we are lucky about the timing - it's September now.

We try to book a good place to stay overnight but fail. All cottages and chalets are already occupied. We will have to sleep in our tent tonight. We make an afternoon circular game drive. Wow! there are so many elephants that it's hard to believe what your eyes see! In the morning, before sunrise, we join a guided walking tour. It's the only official way to be in the park outside the car. We are a small group of 6 persons, and we have an armed ranger with us. The ranger hardly uses the gun. The only case he uses it is when he is attacked by the animals, and that almost never happens. We see zebras and giraffes from a very close distance as well as wolves and birds from a greater distance. We even see elephant shit. After the guided tour we go by ourselves to explore the parks. It's very impressive. We see some "banana" orange hornbills. It's a bird that we know already from Papua New Guinea, of which we are very fond. We try several times to take pictures of them, but every time we try to get closer, they fly away.

The elephants congregate around the water holes.

Around noon we decide to have a break in white hill pan. We get outside the car (it's forbidden...) and stretch our muscles. Suddenly we see some banana hornbills and franklins (the later resemble the better known Guinea Fowls). Tali throws at them a small piece of bread (it's forbidden) and they grab it readily. We start to feed them, and they dare more and more, and eventually eat from our hands. We call the franklins Miss Franklin (maybe because of its chicken-like appearance) and the hornbills - Chaschpu (itĘs a Swiss-German name which Lukas gives them, don't ask me what it means...). We get so excited that we take (too) many nice pictures. After Lukas finishes his film, and I make more than 30 photos, we decide that itĘs better for us to leave these friendly and cute birds alone.


Miss Franklin.

We arrive to Sinamatella Camp and go to the office to ask about accommodation. Before us is a German couple. The clerk tells them that there is only one chalet left, and some places in the campground. I think to myself, "Damn we will need to sleep in our tent again!" But no, because of some unknown reason the Germans prefer to camp. I'm so relieved. I ask the clerk about the chalet and he says that he is sorry, but it's the most expensive accommodation in the park. "Well, how much it is?" I ask, but the clerk continues to prepare me to the obviously high price: "The chalet has 2 double bedrooms, toilets, a bath room, a fully equipped kitchen and a big living room. The chalet is situated over a cliff overlooking the park", he adds. "How much is it?" I repeat. "Well, there is a problem concerning the price. It's a fixed price for the chalet. Although you're only 3 you will have to pay it fully". Then he reveals the secret - it costs 300Zim$ (around 12$US) for all of us together. "We will take it!" I say with a determined voice, and feelvery rich by doing so...

In the evening we cook a nice dinner, drink the good "Mukuyu select" red wine, and go to the restaurant for a desert. On the way back from the restaurant to our chalet we see, only few meters away from us, many Kudus. A Kudu is one of the greater antelopes, but is normally very shy. Actually it's so shy that it's difficult even to take a picture of it with a 300mm zoom lens. And now we see it so close...

On the last day we happen to see a hyena. We stop quietly in order to take pictures and then a white Nissan patrol with Swiss authorization plates beginning with "TG", bypasses us. Not only they prevent us from seeing the hyena, but they stay in the middle of the road and block us. When they finish they stir abruptly making a big cloud of dust behind them. The hyena, quite naturally, runs away. Lukas swears: "Ah, these stupid Swiss people from Thurgau, they have only apple juice in their heads!". He explains to us that their behavior is typically Swiss.

We go back to Vic Falls town.

In Vic Falls town we give back the car and eat supper in a fast food shop. Then we go on the night train to Bulawayo, the second largest town in Zimbabwe, some 450 km away. I write "night train" not because there is also a day train. In fact, all long distance trains operate at night. Our train, for instance, leaves at 6 and a half in the evening and arrives at around 7 in the morning. We take a 2nd class coupe which is a compartment for 3. There is everything in it - 3 bed sheets, pillows and blankets and also a sink and a mirror. A waiter wearing a white tocsido and a black butterfly tie asks whether we would like to dine in the restaurant wagon. As we've just eaten in the fast food shop we answer no, but go to check how the restaurant wagon looks like. Wow! The tables are covered with nice white maps, the porcelain plates are accompanied by a silver cutlery and in a brief look at the menu we understand that we did a big mistake having dinner outside the train. Lukas doesn't stop to praise in Swiss dialect: "Soooper, Tip-top, Hachte" and "Haily-Gesicht" are some of these expressions. In the comfortable bed, under the warm blanket, I say to myself that in the next train ride we will dine in the train.

In the morning tea is served to us, and we disembark from the train in Bulawayo at the right time. We find a backpackers' place for the night (Shaka's Spear) and go to conquer the town. Bulawayo is not an outstanding town. It's quite modern and very comfortable. There is a very pleasant atmosphere in town, and the people are very warm and helpful. There are all kinds of facilities in town and we pass the day strolling around in the streets and in the excellent natural history museum. Every sort of wildlife indigenous to Zimbabwe and Southern Africa - birds, antelopes, predators, fish, reptiles and even the world's second largest stuffed elephant - is represented in well-realized displays. They even have a kind of walking safari inside the museum, with all types of vegetation, but the animals you see while walking, are all stuffed. In all, 75,000 animal specimens are on display.

While walking in the street, a white woman approaches us. She heard our conversation with Lukas in English and is interested to know whether Tali and I are Israelis. Bingo! Her name is Rosy, and she is one of the few Jews who are left of the big Jewish community in Bulawayo. I tell her that my father's cousin used to live for 20 years in what was then called Rhodesia. Yes, she remembers her! What a small world...

Back in the backpackers' place a black guy called Tolly offers to arrange a private horse safari for us. It's like a normal safari, but instead of being in a car or walking, we will be riding horses. We fix to meet tomorrow at a certain place and hour. As usual in Africa, Tolly isn't there on time,and after an hour we leave the place and return to the backpackers' place. We start to think about alternatives when Tolly appears non-chalently in the door gate, like nothing has happened. We yell a bit at him and go en route. The horse-riding safari is indeed a special experience. Only poor Lukas doesn't get along with his horse and almost falls twice...

When we're back, in the afternoon, we go to the federal butchery to buy 2 entire kilos of meat (Fillets, Entrecotes etc.) almost for free (An excellent fresh fillet costs 1.3$US per kg.! - partly because of the devaluation...).

We take advantage of the BBQ facilities in backpackers' place and prepare the meat for ourselves and for whoever wants to join us. We remember not to eat supper since at 9 we will take the night train to the capital city, Harare (formerly - Salisbury). Needless to say that dinner was not served in the train. It's served only on the line connecting Vic Falls and Bulawayo, the conductor explains to us...

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Last modified: Sat Jun 19th 20:05:00 IST 1999