Mozambique, my penultimate stop………..

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With plenty of fuel, and no major hiccups at the border (getting past Mozambique borders officials is not always without financial hazard – officials are poor and will take whatever opportunity to supplement their meagre salaries) I was on my way. I stopped overnight at Chimoio and realised my rear-right brake-pads had worn down to the metal – probably as a result of the leaking airbag suspension and subsequent excess pressure in the brake. It was quite worrying.  Chimoio, is far from anywhere metropolitan and a new set of pads was going to be a chore. In the morning I drove slowly to the only place that did brakes. They didn’t have any and had no idea how long it would take to get more. As I contemplated driving without the pads, and where the next obvious place could be, the mechanic (a Zimbabwean chap) set off to the building next door, indicating I should follow.  Another Zim chap, of afrikaans background cheerfully informed me that he could re-do them but I would have to wait 3 hours because they had to bake the ‘pads’ so the new carbon material stuck. Now that’s what I love about africa – can’t buy parts for love nor money, but if you have some time they can fix it. For the equivalent of R100 (£8) I was on my way before noon – Vilanculo here we come.  I skipped Beira and drove straight passed Inhassoro, arriving at Vilanculo before it got dark. There were plenty of places in the Lonely Planet and I found my camp easily enough.

Here, under some trees, I set up camp and went to check out the braai area and bar facilities. As ever, someone friendly offered cold beer and proffered a menu, tips of what was going on, etc. The Bazeruto Archipelago National Marine Park was just off the coast and warranted a visit, however, a careless tourist could find themselves being fleeced for boat rides. I bid my time, chatting to locals and working out who the shady guides were.  A diving company wanted to charge Meticais 4500 for a day trip with 2 dives, but you had to bring you’re own water and food. Odd. And when they weren’t really interested in my Padi qualifications the Klaxons sounded. Eventually I found a firm – Blue Dolphin – who took you to the closest island, provided snorkelling clear, refreshments and lunch.  After some haggling ( a must in africa) I settled on M1400.  Others went for M1200 but no extras, which initially appeared a good saving, until lunch was produced! Freshly cooked fish and rice, with juicy tomatoes, mangoes and a range of tasty titbits – were excellent. To walk it off I disappeared off and took some photos.

I wandered off just taking in the expanse of beach and lack of human presence, less for our party. You cannot camp on this island and so it is almost untouched.  The bird-life reflected that. The Blue Dolphin dhow is anchored just on the beach, and even the cooking was done on it so nothing is left behind when we leave.

 After some snorkelling, lunch and a bit of sightseeing with Nikon in hand, there was little else but to get back onto the towel and get out the kindle and spend the afternoon reading.

 I left Vilanculo and drove down to Tofo, where I had been told the diving was excellent. I found a really great spot near some palm trees at the Bamboozi Beach Lodge –

set up camp and headed off to find the Dive Club –

http://www.divingtofo.com

These guys were much better organised than the Vilanculo lot. After checking my Padi details, form-filling I was given the briefing and booked up a 10 dive package for the next 5 days.  I had dived at Ponta do Ouro in 2010 and this was to be my second bit of diving in Mozambique, so I was really looking forward to it.

Over the next week, I did a series of dives, seeing huge black manta for the first time, loads of kingfish, barracuda, grouper, nudibranchs and plenty of moray eels some , quite big.

One afternoon, I went out with a group looking for whale shark. These gentle beasts grow anything up to  9 metres long and only eat plankton. Nevertheless, it is with some trepidation that you drop into the water alongside and fin like mad to keep up. The emotion is immediately replaced by excitement and wonder and the temptation to reach out and touch it almost overcomes you. However, they have a slimy mucous which covers their exterior and holding onto them is said to expose them to harmful bacteria – so where possible leave alone. I say possible, the whale shark can bomb along at a fair rate of knots and sometimes to have to anticipate the direction and get in the water ahead, to watch as they swim by.

 On one attempt, the boat driver had got in front of our whale shark and we had misjudged its speed.  So when I dropped into the water and turned to face it, I was too late and it was approaching head-on.  After some helpless thrashing to attempt to move sideways, it merely head-butted me and I was washed away down its flank as it dipped under the boat.  I am not quite sure what it thought of the incident but those on the boat were in stitches after watching my calamitous and frantic efforts: it took some time for the laughter to die down and even on the way back to shore, a glance from one of the party would be followed by a laugh. What a fantastic experience.  I wanted to stay at Tofo, but realised I still had to get to Maputo, and then down to Joburg where Terry would be flying into from Dubai.  It was Terry’s first Xmas in SA for a very long time and I was looking forward to finished off my trip along the Garden Route back to Cape Town – where I started.

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And so we head south……….

Ngorogoro and Serengeti are large on my list of things to see before headin home. The great migration! Graeme had warned me off the costs of the Park fees (once again in US$), but the way I figured it, I’m come this far and in a couple of years, a few hundred dollars wouldn’t mean much. Ngorogoro first.  Nothing quite prepares you for this visual spectacle.
I soak it in, drive a little further and soak up some more. My campsite was on the crater edge, which I was going to illustrate, but considering there isn’t much to see when it is dark – I thought I’d show you my ‘just before dark’ set up.
I had a large fire going by sunset, with plans for a braai, but it seems that half the over-landers (like moths) were drawn to the light. And there I was  hoping for a quiet night. There are times I love chatting about travel – to travellers. There are times when I want to be alone. Such was an evening, and after an hour of being friendly – I adopted the silent mode, and if asked a question I would cup my ear and say ‘pardon’? Eventually even the most rhino skinned upped and left. I proceeded to season my T-bone steak and quaff the red. Another successful braai. I the morning I was offski – to the Serengeti. The migration wasn’t far. I barely got rid of my US$ stash and I had bumped into them, as I was briefed I would. At Simba’s koptjies – I found lion atop the granite kopjies. And then a bit further on, this…………….

….as far as the eye can see. Wildebeast! Everywhere. Interspersed are zebra, and the predators and the associate scavengers. I ran into hyena, cheetah amongst a plethora of buffalo, giraffe and lion ………….

But the rains had arrived and after 2 wet nights in the field, I opted to head south. Consulting the map, I figured it would be quicker to take the straight line south. I was, after all, in a Range Rover. Serengeti – Arusha – Dar – Iringa constituted huge distance. Seringeti via Dodoma to Iringa was about 800 km. I should have travelled via tarmac because the dirt roads were horrific.  Two 15 hour days left me stripped. I know the Rangy was knackered afterwards. Occasionally, on the route I would encounter the chinese building roads –

But is wasn’t all bad. Once past Iringa I was back on tar and approaching the Malawi border, I passed through beautiful tea country

Once into Malawi – I knew fuel was scarce. On two 100 lt tanks I would push as far south as possible. Along the way I encountered stuff like this – where dozens of the chaps attempted to take charge. 3 hours later,

success, as the overturned vehicle was shifted enough to allow traffic to pass.  I pulled into my old favourite – Myoka village. But without the owners present, it hadn’t the magic. I moved swiftly with an Aussie couple to Kande beach, which was somewhere some 60 km south. I would bump into a Scottish couple I had met in Nairobi – so a great party was on the cards. A quick check around a nearby village and we bought ourselves something for the braai.

Also, other activities (beyond dinner with the Head Chief) were as follows: 

After that, we sat in Blantyre for 2 days searching for fuel. And then there were discussions about the state of the roads, after the rains, all of which scuppered my plans for a southerly route to Vilankulos. So, headind advice, I headed back NE and then into Moz via Tete, stopping at Chimoio, before continuing south. But more of that later…………

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Arusha, Northern Tanzania.

I am going to jump to present day, so family and friends can see what I am up to. Still missing a blog on 3 weeks in Harare back in August with my cousins – nope you won’t escape: we’ll cover your lives with the cat that can’t see, a three legged cat, a dog that has all four legs but can only use her front two and the other dog who loves going for a run.

For now though, before I lose contact as I head for the Ngorongoro and the Serengeti I will tell you about Arusha National Park.  Nestled between Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro, and only a short drive from Arusha itself, it is a tiny reserve covering only 137 square Km. Three areas: the peaks of Mt Meru, the Momella lakes and the forest around the Ngurdoto crater. As ever some humour first. On-route, and without the Garmin on, I cruise down the main road from Arusha towards Moshi looking for the turning to the Park, which should be on the left. If you’ve heard anything about driving in TZ, you’ll know it is quite something: 2 lanes suddenly become 4 and motobikes weave in between! On the right, whilst trying to avoid a taxi joining straight in from the left I see a huge sign for Arusha Nat Park – it tells me there are 7 km to go. I note the Trip 2 tachometer reading as 433 km and programme my brain to look for the turning at 439. At 445km I begin to suspect all isn’t well – but this is africa and I haven’t seen a turning to the left, so I continue. At 450 km I pull over at a Police check point, much to their surprise: this mzungu hasn’t even waited to be pulled over?! ‘It is the other way – big sign – you can’t miss it’ I am informed. Two guys jump out of the bush and query what I am doing there – they are tour operators / guides. These guys don’t miss an opportunity!! I head back and funny enough – I see the big sign. And just under the 7km to go, is a tiny arrow pointing to the right. Too small to see without looking really hard. My trip meter now reads 467 km and I still have 7 km to go.

I love the Tanzania Parks: they take VISA, even if it is for large amounts of US$. I tried paying in cash, but the attendant didn’t have change in US$ and I didn’t fancy TZs,especially at the exchange rate she wanted give me. Cheekily, I asked if I could pay the fees in TZs: she didn’t even answer – what a daft question. Anyway, the gate guards eye up the Range Rover and remark among  themselves: I’m never sure whether they genuinely love it or they wonder what the hell I’m doing in this monster. Giraffe 20 metres in – lovely. Further up zebra. I hope for leapoard – just one. And an sms / text from my fiancée arrives on my phone – ‘hope you see a leopard today’ – who says people aren’t connected in thought?  I choose the crater route first and  climb. The track is surrounded by foiliage, trees and vines that Tarzan would swing on. 1st up I spot a black-and-white colobus monkey, although he is a little shy and moves away. These guys normally live up in the highest parts of the forest canopy.   The crater itself has no roads in it, so the buffalo and other game are well protected. You can drive around most of the rim though, and I use my Garmin to give me elevation figures – the higest on the western edge at 5256 feet.  There are various spots where you can get out and eat a picnic while taking in the scenes.  Date palms, orchids and lichens dot the grasslands. I spot buffalo crossing from one treeline to another. I count 34 in total through my binoculars, and without them, they look like black ants.

The views are breathtaking. Silent it is not – monkeys bark and the horn bill call. Quite an experience to sit for a while and listen, and I get the feeling I am being watched – perhaps they are waiting for me to leave so they can see if I have left them any tasty morsels?

I engage low gear on the drive down and let the V8 work. At the bottom I turn north-east, heading for the Momella Lakes. They have been created  by lava flow and thus, they have heavy mineral deposits that give a distinct light green colour. No animals come to drink, as they would ordinarily do, but the lakes attract a variety of birds, particularly those pink flamingos that feed off the algae.  They were on the edge of the lake that I couldn’t get to so the photo is somewhat limited – but you can see there are plenty………………………………
There are lots of observation posts that look over the lakes and, of course, the safari tour operators bring their clients to these at 1300 hours so they can picnic on packed lunches: the usual – clingfilm wrapped sandwiches, a yoghurt tub, carton of juice and a piece of fruit. I don’t have any of that, so I rummage around in the food draw. Tin of beans and some corned beef – haven’t done that in a while.   And out of the fridge, I fish out two beers. All sorted then.  After the lakes I head west towards Mt Meru and on the way I pass duiker and dik diks – all escaping too quickly to capture on film. I encounter some waterbuck though, and they patiently watch as I photograph them. Others think I haven’t spotted them ..
….On route, I also find great little families –
 The view east from the base of Mt Meru should reveal Mt Kili, but unfortunately this time of year is the ‘short rains’ and she is shrouded by cloud. I find a little place owned by the Park. I can imagine waking up and having breakfast and staring out to Mt Kili – on a clear day of course!
The park charges US$ 30 for a night. Got to be worth staying over one day.
Later on the way out of the park on my way back to the town of Arusha, I pass ‘little Serengeti’ where there are bushbuck, zebra frolicking, warthog, buffalo and giraffe. I wait patiently on the flank, engine turned off, and hope for a cheetah to give chase to one of the reedbuck, or perhaps catch sight of a lonely leopard thinking about snatching one of the many baboon chattering nearby. Alas – maybe in the Serengeti?
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Zimbabwe, Lake Kariba – on a houseboat back in August!

So stranded in the shutin (bush) not far from Kariba, with a broken prop-shaft and messed up gearbox wiring loom, I have informed people. Colwyn (my cousin) had phoned her friends, already in Kariba. They had arrived early with their boat to do some fishing. George and Shane arranged for AMC (Amalgamated Motor Company) to fetch me, but without GPS, they had to have good knowledge of the land I was in, and so I had to describe my location by proximity to rivers and villages. Whilst waiting for recovery, I met some of the locals, had them build me a fire, cook some sadza and share my nyama with them. I met Jacob (ZANU PF Commissariat) and Joesph (Village Headman) who were both welcoming. My primitive shona (local language) was earning me widespread acclaim as word spread of a mulungu, broken down who could tauora shona. Furthermore, he didn’t need assistance as his phone (with a big stick on top) worked even where there was no signal. Not only did he carry water, but he had cold beer. It was fantastic when someone would stop their bicycle, and enquire in english, whether I needed assistance and for me to greet them in shona – ‘maskati, maswera se’ (good afternoon – how’re you?) The astonished look on their faces was worth the breakdown.  These people rarely encounter vehicles, let alone some white man in a Range Rover who spoke their language. With a stash of magazines left by my fiancée,  I was keen to start the youngsters early.  See the little fella, reading as he walks…..in the pic on the right

 This little group managed to invade my pantry – believe it or not, tea bags are popular here, but in short supply. I lost all biscuits, tins of bully beef and pilchards – but smiles and pleading eyes meant I couldn’t resist. Besides, where I was going next meant I wouldn’t need those things. Rescue arrived the the next morning and the vehicle dropped off in Kariba. A mechanic set about sending the propshaft off to Harare for re-balancing and assured me all would be well on my return.

With members of family arriving, we set about loading the houseboat with supplies for four days. ‘Harmony’ as she was called, was to be our home on the water. Blessing was Skipper, Smart the Chef and Ed, the bar-tender. Colwyn, my little cousin, well known for her organisational skills (and also for for her rottweiler tendencies) oversaw the loading as the ship’s purser for the dozen or so people.  Looking at the amount of beer and rum, I wondered if others were joining the party at a later stage, but as the days wore on (in a hazy blur) I would see that my thoughts were unfounded  – the first thing I’d hear in the morning was a beer can opening!

We motored off into the distance, setting course for some remote spot (usually called Antelope Island or some similar description). It wasn’t too choppy if you’ve sailed from Tenerife to Falmouth in the Atlantic, but one or two of the landlocked Zimbabwean  group succumbed to the motion. Oops. I tucked into my 1st beer and headed up top for the view.  It was good to be out of the Range Rover and have some space. Colwyn and Ginge had planned far ahead and as the group of friends and family settled in, we were summoned to the central table on the top deck. Colwyn had ordered T-shirts: Name on front left and Kariba 2011 on the back. This was great for me, because I didn’t know everyone, and now I just had to look at their name before saying’ Ray – pass me another beer’.  The flaw in this plan, however, was that after a couple of days, people changed their shirts – so now how do you get another beer?

I can tell you that although fishing was the main sport, the little tender boats were used for other things.

These are called ‘sunset cruises’, although in Zimbabwe, we just call them ‘booze cruises’.

So early mornings were out fishing for bream and tiger. A cool box filled with beer, some fishing rods and worms.

I never really caught anything bigger than my hand, so my attention span diminished, and I spent more time chatting, getting to know everyone.

And photographing. The best time for photographing as we all know, is 1st light and last light. This is also when the wildlife tends to venture out before the hot sun becomes too punishing. Even the fish don’t bite at midday.

Over the 4 days we would stock up the cooler boxes and head out in enough time to get into position near the shore, in and amongst the dead trees (left from when the dam was built and the area flooded to create the lake (1953, I think). Here are a few of those photos:

 Because all the main rooms went to married couples, some of us found ourselves on the decks. Married ones on the middle deck and that left Rayand I  (less better halves) on top deck. I think this was actually the best spot. Ed would drag out the mattresses and bedding and at some hazy stage in the evening, you would weave to your pit and fall on it. Ray and I can both snore and I think we consistently woke each other up. On occasion, we even woke ourselves up.

However, one night it wasn’t the snoring that woke us up. ‘Harmony’ was anchored close to shore but the wind changed direction during the night, and a storm brewed. The flaps, battered by the wind, untied themselves and flapped and banged. Waves got up and every 3 seconds, Harmony would ground against the rock shoreline. No one downstairs slept properly. For Ray and I, we simply got further into our own bedding and tried to escape the racket and motion. By morning, calm was restored and George was off fishing again. It was also time to head back to port, and disembark. This was a good thing, because by now, the blood in my alcohol stream was thinning!

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Time in Dubai, my sister’s 40th, Happy Diwali………..and Eid Mubarak

The flight over from Nairobi (often referred to as Nairobbery) to Dubai was un-eventful. It was however, great to be in the land of civilization. I was no longer an ‘mzungu’ (white man) and subject to demands for money, or water – or subject to questions about whether I wanted an over priced taxi, or did I care to buy some curio stuff / vegetables ……….or anything that involved transferring the money from my pocket into someone else’s?  In fact, some very friendly – and pretty – air hostesses offered me things that didn’t involve getting any money out of my wallet.  How nice.  And when I arrived at DXB, I was very disappointed that no one rushed forward to help me through immigration and customs (for a small fee, of course). In fact, I had to wonder around aimlessly and when I did find someone interested in my passport, he seemed apathetic. He wasn’t interest in money (usually payable in $US), nor was he interested in how long I wanted to stay – simply gave me 30 days.  He was however, interested in my sister’s telephone number – but I think that must have been because I told him that is where I was staying. I don’t know. You can’t always tell.

I wasn’t in Dubai just for the above – Terry was waiting for me outside. She had some flowers in her hand which I thought was very kind, but a bit odd to give a guy. I was relieved when she didn’t give them to me and stated she bought them because they were cheaper at the airport than Spinneys (like Waitrose in UK or Woolworths in SA)! I must remember that.

As ever,  the Dubai social scene kicked in and I was duly carted here there and everywhere. From restaurants, to parties and even down to Fujeira  for a yachting experience. See piccy left as T and I savour the freedom. Our Aussie skipper sailed (motored – there wasn’t enough wind) over to an oil-free beach where one could snorkel.  Fortunately, he knew about applying vinegar to the sea-urchin victims that started arriving back on board.  The food was good, but I noted there was no (Family Hold Back – FHB) in this vessel. Families just tucked in and Terry and thought we might have missed the boat! Fortunately, the skipper again seemed prepared and brought some more out, for Terry and I.

I must say, Terry has some wonderful contacts in Dubai, both from her days in hospitality and currently here in her job where she can decide which hotels she sends people her people to stay. We get invitations to dinner quite often – recently, we went here http://www.theaddress.com/en/dining/hukama-1 Outstanding food and company. Adrian, who had invited us, wouldn’t let us pay anything, so I sent him a thank you card.

Later that week, Terry went and stayed at the Address (Downtown). Bit of luxury and pampering (mates rates – again). The view was excellent, service attentive and we had access to food and wine pretty much all the time.  The Club Executive Lounge made a great place to lay about and read, whilst sampling delicious quiches, tarts and other  delights – all to a very good Chardonnay, naturally.

At night, hoards flocked to watch choreographed fountains do their thing. Terry and I didn’t need to flock anywhere. We simply waved a hand and had to be ready to know what to order when the very friendly staff would enquire what we wanted. The views were spectacular from our floor. I am sure they were good for those at ground level, but you always get a tall fella stood in front and well, that kinda spoils it.

Next treat – Zuma for lunch. No not Jacob….DIFC!

Japanese food. At first they bring you tiny morsels of food, which aren’t even cooked. And the soup bowl has nothing with which to spoon the liquid with, so you have no option but to pick it up and slurp noisily. At firstI thought people might think it rude, but everyone is well mannered and they copy you so you don’t feel embarrassed. Before you realise it – even by holding back on the bread – there comes a point at which you realise you may not make desert. At that point you stop and do some conversing for a while, at least until you can pick up the shovel again.

Desert is always avoided – well that is the intent – until you realise you have the breaking strain of a ‘kit kat’ especially as it is included in the price.

And then there was Faulty/Fawlty Towers. An interactive dinner at a restaurant that includes Basil and Manuel, et al, doing their thing. From start to finish, we were in stitches as Basil, hounded by his wife, does his best to convey to Manuel how to serve nuts to the guests, distribute bread rolls, etc. Manuel chased my bread roll down the isle and jumped on it to stop it getting away. He then, with a flourish, deposited it on my plate. Basil instructs handing out the butter – and Manual promptly ‘butts her’ – Terry that is. She didn’t know what to do with herself.

But it wasn’t all decadence and luxury. Oh no. When Eid Mubarak was declared and Terry found we had a few days, we opted to go camping. One of the many nice things to in Dubai, or in fact, the United Arab Emirates. Armed with my trusty Explorer Off-road for UAE, – the very latest one – I chose and planned our next destination / camp-site.  All the usual suspects such as Mussandam, Fujeira and Hatta would no doubt be inundated with camping parties. I had a cunning plan in which we would avoid all of that. We were going camping up the West coast, on the beach.

Complete with new mini – portable braai – and a large bag padkos (roadfood) Terry and I set off for a three hour journey, heading west towards Saudi Arabia. I was looking forward to setting up camp on the beach, digging in the cool-box which contained boereworse, steaks, beers and wine. For african TV (fire) Terry and I had 20 bundles of wood in addition to the charcoal for the braai. Reading, eating, sun-tanning and sleeping would be the agenda for the next 48 hours.

What I hadn’t realised was that Murphy had decided to participate on this one. His laws are irrefutable, aren’t they?   The updated and revised 2011 Explorer Off road book failed to reflect there was a new motoway section – so when I instructed Terry to take the Dhanna exit we came off and went round and round a roundabout: the bit leading to Jebel Dhanna was closed!  A call to the Hotel in the area revealed we had to re-join the motoway and after some shennanigans (and a lengthy period) found ourselves in the right location. But there was more. Much more. The hotel, and it’s sister 2 star hotel had all the land on the beach and no camping was allowed. Whilst ordinarily this wouldn’t present a major problem, the fact that a Golf club carried on from there, and they didn’t want us either, left us with what lay beyond them, a new Oil Refinery in mid-construction. And we didn’t fancy being near them!  Manoeuvring to flank left around all this, we were chased off by a military chap brandishing a fire-arm. Terry and I didn’t wait to finished reading the signboard and all it’s restrictions. At no time did the camera deploy either and we finally gave up when we realise that the hotels were sandwiched by, on the one hand – an oil refinery and on the other – a thermo nuclear power station. And the latter wasn’t under construction, it has been there for some time.

By now darkness was approaching, so I opted for a re-shuffle.  Spend a night in the cheapo hotel and get going early next day in search of free beach. This we did. And because the pool was being renovated, we were able to use the 5 star one the next morning . It looked pretty good,

until Terry and I could no longer take the squealing kids. So we upped sticks and headed off to the beach in search of more peaceful surroundings. The azure blue sea, white sands, clear skies and unbound beauty and tranquillity were not to be found here.  The gasoline smell was strong, oil tankers lining up off-shore to take on crude somewhat covered the horizon and a pleasure boat was roaring up and down with one of those banana boats in tow. We left.

We spent a fair bit of the day deviating off onto tracks in search of beach – unmolested or unoccupied. We didn’t find any. Either chased off by military or stopped by hotel gates/fences, we eventually we ended up back in Dubai. So I can report conclusively that whilst the UAE Explorer Offroad book states categorically that there are no restrictions on camping, (although one should be respectful and not camp amongst someone’s crops) clearly they forgot to mention this excludes camping ON the beach. And how silly of me not to notice.

My biggest question though, is what to do with 19 & 1/2 bundles of fire-wood. It cannot be used for a braai on the balcony. Even the guard came to see if the building was on fire and 3 days on, Terry and I can still smell smoke as we enter the apartment.  We spent the remaining time having picnics on the beach, which aparently you are allowed to do. And when we weren’t doing that, we went to the movies.

Happy Eid Mubarak

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Given up…………………?

I realize many of you may be wondering what happened to the blog? The last blog was some time ago, back in July! Now, some time in October I am in Tanzania – the northern part – a place called Arusha.

Much has happened and I’ve gone forward – many of you won’t like that. So, at some stage I will go back to Zimbabwe, where some many kilometres from Kariba, I had a little breakdown. I shall tell you about:  the recovery; the subsequent 4 days spent on a houseboat in Kariba with friends and family, and what a spell that was; a trip to Harare and an introduction to what is happening there now – an eye opener; a hop to the garden route and Cape Town with daughter and fiancée before picking up the Range Rover and moving on up to Malawi, and the fuel shortages; and then bringing you up-to-date with Tanzania.

Just a week or so ago, I got my Nat Geo Cub Scouts badge. After breakfast, I returned to my villa, having left the door open and found a snake busy catching his breakfast. I decided to let him continue, and he was happy to let me take photos – here are some of them………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Order of blogs………

Today, 2nd August, I added 3 new blogs so you should go down until Botswana Part 2 and work back up.

As an interim update, I am in Harare with my couzens, checking how life is here. I have dropped the Range Rover of at the dealer as the propshaft chewed the gearbox wiring loom!

Harare is nothing like I have read about. This place is booming! SPAR is here big time and the shops are stocked just like in S Africa. Checkers is coming in and the restaurants, take away places sprout everyday. Houses are going up and property is being bought in abundance. There is electricity and water, albeit not on all the time. Their communications infrastructure is also coming along: in SA in 2007, internet wasn’t all that fast but now it is racy and affordeable. Zims going the same way, and foreign investors are wading in. Even the media has a lot to say, and stuff that 2 years ago would have them imprisoned!

Enjoying being in the City of my birth.

 

 

 

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Western Zimbabwe – Binga, Matusadona and Kariba……………….

Having left Terry at the airport, I need to backtrack past Hwange before being able to take the road north. I won’t make it to my destination tonight and decide I will try for Binga, which is about half – way up Lake Kariba. The road is tight, bumpy and hilly: signs along the route urge you to engage low gear now. I push on until 5 o’clock and arrive in Binga where I have a number of lodges to choose from. I turn left at the junction which takes me onto Chingwa Rest Camp. For $25 I am offered a self-catering lodge. The place is comfortable but 2 rooms is more than the requirement. Camping is $10, which I select. Peter and Edmore follow me down to the site and start the fire in the boiler, and in a 44 gallon drum cut in half. There is more than enough firewood for a bonfire – but I have to watch out for an aggressive hippo. The day before he chased ‘security’ up a boiler for 2 hours. Nat Parks came to the rescue and promptly shot the hippo. Unfortunately, they only wounded it and now it is really angry. As it turns dark Aitko, a 64 year old chap, arrives at the camp site and introduces himself as ‘security’. He deftly shifts his pick-axe handle and assures me he will be patrolling and looking out for the hippo. My thoughts lean towards using the bed in the vehicle: the tent remains folded on the roof-rack.

Next morning, some maintenance. Fluid checks, repair spotlights and map consultation. I leave after eight and drive north- roads deteriorating the further north I press. By 12 o’clock I have covered 180 km and realise the remaining 130km to Tashinga campsite in Matusadona will take even longer. I am now crawling over rocks and tiny tracks. Some parts level off and become sandy and on these I can get up to 30 kmh. After a fashion, I turn around. I was meant to have two days around a camp fire watching game in the Park but is seems I a may arrive just before dark and have to leave early the next day in order to get to Kariba. Two hours later, some 120km south of Kariba, I hear a grating noise from under the vehicle. I stop and poke around but can’t seem to find the source. As I jump in and try to drive off a bit, the ‘gara gara gara’ turns a thump. The engines cuts out and the is a ‘beep’ from the console. The words ‘Gearbox Fault’ appears on the dashboard. Oh bugger. Is it time to deploy the satellite phone?

 

 

 

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Post Hwange……………………………………………

We arrive at Vic Falls, where Terry hops out at the Spar: she is in need of a nail brush! We find some cheap lodging and set off to the Falls for some snaps and a light shower. We laze about here for a few hours before heading back and later that evening we tour Vic Falls highlights, ending up at Vic Falls Hotel with a view of the bridge over the border. This place is a must for ‘high tea’ but Terry and I decide on a couple of bottles of sparkling wine to chase the sun down. Mama Africa’s proves good for supper. There Marimba bands, and other ‘Ladysmith Black Mambazo’ style groups are quite good. Food is pleasant enough, not too expensive and plenty enough S African wine. But we don’t hammer it as we are due to go riding in the game park the next morning.

We are picked up by Joseph in a battered old Toyota and taken 200m down the road, where we sit in a rondavel and drink crap coffee. Alison, although she doesn’t introduce herself as such, rides up to us on her steed. She is an old bat, skinny as a rake with a face that looks like a railway map. She enquires as to our horse-riding abilities while her horse skitters round in circles. Her tone is curt, rude almost and I realise that here is a person that prefers horses to people. Thankfully, she is not be be our guide and we end up with tow delightful guys: Hglopane and Viasino. We wake a sleeping elephant, stop and watch a sleeping warthog and get almost next to kudu, impala and eland as they feed. The waterbuck are a little more shy. Baboons barely register our presence, and Hglopane explains how animals don’t see us humans but only see the the horse: apparently the horses smell overrides ours. Therefore, we can get close. We also get all the scientific names from our knowledgeable guides, but Terry surprises both herself and the guides with her knowledge of birds: her parents are proper birdwatchers and she was subjected to it as she was brought up. She and I resolve to buy a Robertson’s Book of Birds!

Later we cross over into Zambia. The border is tiring, although the customs and immigration officials are fine: patience and a sense of humour get you much further than arrogance. We are through soon enough and set off to find the Faulty Towers lodge. It becomes apparent, once more that the Lonely Planet guide is more the Liars Planet guide. This place shut down ages ago and we and up at the Jollyboys Backpackers, which is great. There is a sunken lounge with cushions, a neat pool with deck-chairs, a bar, kitchen and internet. In town we find an ‘Ocean Basket’ Restaurant and Terry goes ballistic: she hasn’t been to one in years. This one lives up to it’s reputation of being the second best in africa and we lunch on cheap, but pleasant, Portuguese wine with Kingklip, mussels, calamari and fantastic sauce. We leave many hours later completely satiated. None of our cards work and get the wallet. I don’t have a a quarter of a million Kwacha, but I check the rates against Rand, Pulla, Sterling and US$. In the end I part with $ 60, which I think is reasonable.

The Royal Livingstone, on the Zambian side, sits alongside the Zambezi River. A reminder of a colonial past, complete with paintings and book cases, it brims with Imperialism. The lawn runs onto a wooden decking where all and sundry gather to watch the sun set across the river. I decide to be British and go for Gin and Tonic, while Terry opts for Kira Royal. Not just a few hundred metres away, the Zambezi disappears on the edge. The rising mists are called ‘Mosi oa Tuna’ – the ‘mist that thunders’.

Not up too early the next morning, I am treating Terry to a microlight flight. It isn’t cheap @ $240 each for half an hour, but I want Terry to see what it is I love about flying. And the location just doesn’t get any better for her introduction to flying in an open cockpit. Heiko is my pilot and after a brief chat during start-up and taxi. He hands over control shortly after take off. We chat amiably throughout the flight, pointing out game, and discussing the characteristics of different engine types, wings and aircraft. I find the french DTA wing a little heavy, and Heiko agrees: it is – but in africa that’s good because it copes better with the thermals. Terry has a young Zambian pilot. Too soon, we are on the ground again. As predicted, Terry loved it.

The cross over back into Zim is not as bad as expected and soon we find ourselves at the front gate to the Zimbabwean Elephant Game Park, for it is here that we are due to spend two nights at Elephant Camp. A Five star lodge with nine tented chalets, each positioned so they are secluded, complete with 4 poster bed, marble bath with a view over the water hole, a private splash pool and outdoor shower. Jonathan, Moses and Kim wait on us hand an foot, providing us with whatever we need. The food is delicious, as well as healthy! Terry and I spend 48 hours here, eating, drinking and chilling, even taking on a full body massage on out own veranda. The girls brought everything with and for two hours we are treated to an ex-foliating scrub and massage.

On the 23rd, Jonathan informs us that Air Zimbabwe doesn’t fly from Vic Falls, which is odd as Terry has booked and paid for the flight. This sets off a chain reaction of events that results in T and I driving into Vic Falls, and after a brief discussion with the agents, it becomes apparent that Terry is going to have to fly on another airline: re routing via Harare means Terry will miss her Dubai connection. We hak it out the 20 km to the airport, and find the SAA Ticket desk. The airport is already full of people queuing to board a BA flight, also bound for Johannesburg, and it dawns on me that the SAA flight may also be full. But I don’t pass that thought onto Terry. She buys one of the six remaining tickets and the salesman turns out to be a very good chap. He took Terry’s bags, checked her in and we were able to sit together until time for her to board. 

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Botswana Part Two…………………

At ‘Back to the Bridge’ lodge, the locals have begun their drinking marathon. Terry, from Gweta is there with Gerald, his mate. This is his drinking hole when in Maun, it seems. He is inquisitive about the elephants on the salt pans, but seems dismissive. I wouldn’t know it just then, but he actually didn’t believe me. We carry on drinking through the evening and eventually the loud banter drowns out the generator: still no power!

I wait patiently for my fiancée, Terry, who is due to arrive in Maun – 16th July. Flight delayed by and hour and I stroll over to the Restaurant called ‘Bon Arivee’, where I enjoy a couple of Windhoeks and a chicken pie. Terry arrives, but unfortunately not with all her luggage. Apparently it will be on the next flight, due in 2 hours, so we drive back to the ‘Bridge’ and while away the time over a few Savannah beside the river. Later, we retrieve her baggage, now minus the perfume – those scumbags in Joburg have struck again. But actually, we realise she got off lightly and head off for Gweta, some 210 km east. Terry is driving and I find it odd to be a passenger. The Range Rover is a little different to her Ford, but she does a good job as we have to push it a little to make the lodge before dark. Terry is delighted by sightings of zebra, kudu and elephant crossing the road along the way. And we get caught out by the ‘foot ‘n mouth’ check point, which I had forgotten about! I am duly relieved of my worse, burgers and rib-eye. R70 down the drain, or rather down some officials neck.

The guys at Gweta have prepared a warm welcome for us, and having met many of the guests at the ‘Bridge’ they are all aware I have been excited about picking Terry up from the airport. We convene at the bar and Terry, is introduced to Terry. The conversation about the elles surfaces and that’s when the lodge owner (Terry) reveals that he actually doesn’t believe my story and when I then produced photographic evidence, he is astounded: he has never heard of elephants on the pan, let alone 11 bulls together. I transfer the photos onto his laptop and he tells me he is going to have one of them blown up and mounted in the dining room. Maybe one day I’ll go back and brag to other diners that I took that shot.

Terry and I head off the next day, with some 400 km to do and a border to cross. Terry jumps in the back and kips for a while and wakes just before we arrive at Patamatenga. No fuel. No meat. In fact bugger all – so we drive to the border post. So far I have only had to pay border crossing fees at Namibia and Botswana, but here in Zimbabwe, I am fleeced for ‘Carbon Tax, “pot-hole tax”, Border Crossing Tax, and for a single entry Visa. They have no double entry Visas, and this will be expensive later when I re-enter Zim after 24 hours in Zambia.

We haven’t even reached the park yet and Terry, now a passenger, spots giraffe and other game. We arrive at Robins Camp and check in with ‘Peter’, the Zim Parks Warden, who takes US$ for our Park Fees and gives us directions to Deteema Dam, where we have reserved the ‘hide’. It will just be Terry and I camping there. And the wildlife. We set up camp, start a fire and watch sunset and elephants cavort on the dam’s edge. Because we had lost our meat at a checkpoint, and couldn’t buy any at the border, we resort to chicken thai green curry and rice. As good as my culinary skills are, Terry was hoping for a proper braai, complete with lamb chops.

Terry wakes me at about 3 am, looking a little concerned. She reports that there is something outside. The tent window is flapping a little and sure enough we can hear footsteps. I reassure Terry, as I think it is a jackal, or perhaps a hyena and soon enough it disappears. Not long after we hear that distinctive ‘whooo uup’ cry of a lone hyena: we had washed up after supper and put everything away in the vehicle so there was nothing to scavenge. I will admit it gets the heart rate going a little and being able to snuggle together inside the canvas tent is comforting.

T and I pack up after breakfast – egg ‘n bacon rolls – and move off to Maseema dam, where again, it will be just the two of us. This waterhole is bigger and better and the elephants are up close. There are also hippo, and a lone croc. I put up the hammock and we spend a lazy day looking at game coming to drink, whilst enjoying our ‘dry-but you can drink them, savannas. We thumb lazily through Esquire and Vanity Fair magazines, occasionally looking up to see what all the trumpeting is about! By evening it seems as if all of Hwange’s elles have arrived. There are big ones, and teeny weeny ones, who are shepherded by the matriarchs. There antics are funny / cute and there is much shenanigans between herds, and the resident hippos. Other game attempts, where possible to get in for a drink but are chased away by elephant. The kudu, waterbuck and zebra decide a secondary waterhole a hundred meters away is a better option. As darkness falls, Jurassic Park continues into the night and I cook another meal for Terry to screams, bellows and trumpeting from elles and laughter of the hippos.

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