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Tuesday, June 21

Zimbabwe - Eastern Highlands, Bulawayo and the Matopos

Mary: We decided to go to the Eastern Highlands (which has a very Drakensberg-esque feel to it) at the last minute and Lonely Planet suggested Chimanimani village as a good stopover point – most of the accommodation was 4 times higher than the 2010 LP price (the LP also mentioned that a lot of the lodges that were once open to guests have now been taken over by war veterans and been closed), so we settled on camping in the the Chimanimani Hotel grounds. We walked around town to get a feel and realised that we were 50m from the local shebeen and quite visible to all the roaming drunks from the road – there were people coming and going through the casino on the hotel grounds. I was nervous because there were a lot of aggressive drunk men around who had obviously been drinking since the morning, and we were the only foreigners in town. We moved our tent out of sight and used the red lights on our head torches to keep a low profile while cooking. In the night, a bus full of shouting drunks playing vuvuzelas (celebrating soccer result?/ political hooligans?) pulled into town and it got worse – they were separated from our campsite by only 20m of darkness and hedges. At 3am, a car pulled up outside the hotel’s (thankfully locked) boom and started hooting and shouting until 6:30 – the guard had joined the party much earlier. When we left at 7am, the music across the road had just been turned off and all was back to normal - we were glad to be out of there and back on the road to civilization!
We crossed the impressive Birchenough Bridge, where they only let one car cross at a time. It looks really out of place among the leafless forests of Baobabs and dusty surrounds.
We did some shopping at the OK in Masvingo – it was a big shop, but didn’t have very much fresh stuff – no lettuce, just potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers and a few others. There were vast shelves of those long green & blue soap sticks though! I was really surprised by how little variety there is available – guess I have been spoiled by Joburg & London! Meat is cheaper than fruit or vegetables. The lady at the counter looked at my two potatoes and commented that “that is surely not enough for my big body” – not sure how to take that :)! They don’t have change, so if it is less than a dollar, you can either pay in rands or get change as sweets.

Brett: Since we entered Zim, we have passed through a lot of police road blocks – at best, they wave us through or want to chat about where we are going next – at worst, they ask for our drivers licence and TIP, but they are generally very friendly & chatty. Some of the road blocks were less than 10km apart.
We reached Bulawayo in the afternoon and checked into the aptly named Packers Paradise - we took a room to as it was cold and to charge up all our electronic stuff (our inverter isn’t powerful enough for the laptop even through the rating suggests it should be). We walked through town which is very run down – we were warned that it is dangerous after dark due to desperation caused by unemployment. Less touristed places in Zim don’t seem to have enough tourists yet to support more than one or two places to stay, so without any competition they overcharge – prices in less touristed places have gone up 2-4x what our 2010 LP quotes and they have only been on US dollars a few years.  At Packer’s we were paying $10 pppn for a campsite with no electricity or hot water.
We visited the Matopos National Park, with its amazing landscape of balancing rocks. We took one of the 4x4 tracks down to one of the dams and had a picnic at a brilliant spot on the water with amazing rocks coming out of the water, reeds and water lillies around the edges and Fish Eagles in the trees. We only saw one other tourist the whole day and the sign-in book had only 3 people enter the day before. I feel like we really missed out on camping there, but with the villages so close, it wasn’t safe to camp there at night alone.
Over the last few days, it has generally been 25-30 degrees in the day and 0-5 at night, so we have been making hot water bottles to take up into the tent at night. In general we have found accommodation to be expensive for what you are getting, and we had to have a look at the budget. I suspect the farther North we go the cheaper it will get. Parks are also quite expensive at between $15 –$25pp, but I think Tanzania will be at least double that. We are looking for cheap thrills where we can and on our last night in Bulowayo I took Mary to the movies - set up in the rooftop tent with the
laptop, a dvd & a mug of wine :).
Next up, Vic Falls…

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