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Friday, June 17

Zimbabwe - Beit Bridge and Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Mary: We were fairly nervous about what the Beit Bridge border post would be like on a Friday morning after a public holiday and being warned by so many people, but were pleasantly surprised. On the South African side it was very quiet for us  and the guys were very organised & efficient. On the Zim side it was slightly more confusing, especially because we couldn’t find the necessary forms to fill in. We have decided we aren’t going to use fixers unless absolutely necessary, and it really wasn’t necessary there – although busy, the officials were very helpful. Some Mlungus ahead of us in the queue had fixers doing the work for them and they were through in about 5 minutes, but it doesn’t really seem that ethical to jump the queue when the hassle factor is relatively low anyway. We have written up the details of the border crossing below. I think if you get there early it takes quite a short amount of time. We were about 10 minutes on the SA side and only about 40 minutes on the Zim side, which isn’t bad.
Then we were off! We headed for Masvingo and it just looks like you are driving through the bush, with savannah type vegetation all round. There were quite a lot of donkeys, cattle & goats in the road, and we saw 3 dead donkeys on our way (as well as about 12 rusted/burned out dead cars). Lots of little dusty homesteads but only one or 2 commercial looking farms. It is very pretty though, and the people seemed very friendly. We stopped for breakfast at a little roadside picnic spot and were visited by a road worker who was digging a trench from Joburg to Harare for internet cables. He just wanted to check we weren’t broken down as they were going to be blasting for the ditch shortly with dynamite!

Brett: There was a lot to see on the road and Zim has a great feel with everyone waving and smiling at us. We also saw the biggest baobab I’ve ever seen in my whole life! hollow inside, with a little fireplace. The guy there said it was his house. There were $1 toll roads along the route every 150km or so. We came across only one police speed trap in a 60 zone – where the police officer asked why his machine said we were doing 66 km/h (he pronounced it “sigisty six”), so we told him we weren’t sure, but in any case we were sure we were only going sigisty! Anyway, we were friendly and had big smiles and left with only a warning. We decided to take the Old Main road as a shortcut anyway which is two strips of worn out tar just wide enough for the wheel tracks. We had to go off the road when people were coming the other way. It was really scenic & quiet.
The Zimbabwe Ruins (Zimbabwe House) are “the greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa” built between the 11th and 13th century with the kingdom including Zimbabwe, Botswana and some of Mozambique and South Africa. They are very interesting to walk around – the walls up to 11m high and 5m wide, build from stone with no mortar. The Hill Complex and the Great Enclosure are the highlights. We stayed at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins camp site and had it almost to ourselves and the amazing stars. We just chilled in the afternoon, reading and catching up on sleep, enjoying hot showers (which we don’t expect to find often). There was a massive wind storm in the evening and the tent doesn’t feel as sturdy as my Cadac Isodome. We had to watch out for the monkeys, who looked like they might try to make off with our stuff. Mary did a great job chasing them away with a variety of baboon barks and assorted crazy lady noises.

Beit Bridge border post details below for overlanders:
On the SA side: we parked outside the customs building where we had to show the Certificate of Reg of the car, plus passports. Then outside to the Immigration tent where our passports were scanned. Finally the vehicle inspection, which consisted of a nice cheerful policeman asking us where we were headed and telling us the Zim side could take up to 2 hours, as they don’t have the automatic passport scanners, so they are “slow, slow, slow”.
On the Zim side: it looks noticeably poorer. We parked quite far from the main building (people seem to refer to it as The Shed because of its corrugated roof) but in retrospect could have pulled up pretty much outside the main entrance. I’d do this in future as the car guards look fairly dodgy. Inside the main building the first room is Immigration & Gate Pass, then the second is Customs. There are usually long queues for the Immigration desk. No forms in sight, but if you walk through into the Customs section, right at the far end at the furthest edge of where the counter goes there should be some piles of forms that the fixers haven’t moved/taken. The Immigration for is an A5 white form, and the Customs form is blue. Also take a TIP form (yellow) even if you have a Carnet (you’ll see why in a minute). Take one of each for each person & fill them in while you wait in line. Head back to the first room, Immigration & Gate Pass. First stop is the Gate Pass desk where you pay R70 or $9 per vehicle and get a fancy white receipt with your car registration printed and a nice hologram logo. Contrasts nicely with the old & worn down surroundings! Then start the queue for Immigration. This is normally where the fixers will try pick you up. You can just ignore them.
At the Immigration desk you show your passport & Gate Pass (if you don’t have this they will send you back) and have a nice chat with the guys behind the counters who are very friendly. From there, go to the queue for the Customs desk for Visitors. Here you show your Carnet or TIP and pay for Carbon Tax, Road tax,3rd party insurance etc all together. It cost us R390 and that seems to be a fixed amount, whether or not you have a Carnet, and includes the TIP. So basically we wasted a whole page of our Carnets when we had actually paid for the TIP as well. D’oh! The lady here was also very helpful/friendly and pointed out where to go next. Next we went across the forecourt where the vehicle inspections are done, to do the Police Clearance. This is in a small brick building with a counter at the front – however the entrance is round the back. In the first room, a guy looks at your vehicle Reg Cert & owner’s passport, and stamps the back of your fancy Gate Pass. From there we moved our car up for inspection. The inspection consisted of handing the white Gate Pass to a guy who was facing the other way and not that interested. Then we drove up the hill to the exit gate. There are 2 places to stop and we missed the first, which seemed to annoy the official there. At the second stop there was another inspection which consisted of a nice friendly guy chatting to us about the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and commenting that we should take lots of water as it is hot there! If you get stuck, there is a help desk, so no need to use a fixer.
NB at no point were we asked for the blue Customs forms, which we filled in. We still have them with us. Probably those should have been handed in at the Customs desk, but we weren’t asked for them at all. Oh well!

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