Saturday, 23 July 2016

Zimbabwe - Summer 2016

That will be a fine of $20
Friday, 22 July

Between driving from our Hostel in Zambia and arriving at Hwange National Park we have been fined a ridiculous number of times.  Ok so the first fine for $900 was Bushlores fault for filling the papers in wrong but they footed that bill.  The boarder into Zimbabwe is just strange, unfriendly and i'm pretty sure a bit of a con.  We had to pay some random "agent fee" that was signed off by a guy on the street (literally a man on the side of the road that we dismissed and later recalled).  We had to pay the random man and the boarder control people and then saw them split some money around the back.  It's all a bit iffy.  

We knew this about Zimbabwe but didn't think it would be so smack-in-your-face obvious.  Finally into Zimbabwe we got stung so many times!  Our first fine was for entering a big car park through the entrance... Kind of our fault but surely not illegal?!  $20 per car within 20 minutes of arriving.  We were planning to sit and have a nice meal but after dealing with arsey Zimbabwe policemen we just wanted to get into the National Park.   I did manage to buy the National Dish of Sadza from the supermarket though so not all misery!  It looked disappointingly familiar - cornmeal made into a thick, stiff porridge this time served with stewed beef.

The national park was only a few hours away but in that time, between the two jeeps, we paid $20 at every police check on the way.  The light on our registration plate wasn't working; the pressure in our fire extinguisher was too low; the brake light has a crack in it.  The police knew and we knew that $20 was never worth arguing over and so we just paid it every time; the policeman here haven't been paid since January!  I just saw it as an expensive toll where the proceeds go to "charity".  Never have we been happier to enter a National Park!  

Hwange is known for having pumped waterholes all year round and so when dry season comes there is only one place you need to be to see everything!  I find it fascinating how you can use one animal's behavior to find others.  A nervous Puku usually means there is something around that might eat it; circling vultures in the sky can be seen for miles and means that there's a fresh kill below.  We used the spiralling tower of vultures to find our best kill siting of the trip.  A pride of around 7 lions, with cubs(!), eating a small elephant.  We sat there on our own watching a lion trying to gnaw the tip of the trunk off and chew it like a deflated rubber dingy whilst another fended off vultures.  This was truly a once in a life time experience.

How many legs?!
Just two minutes up from the lions was Masuma Dam campsite with a beautiful hideout overlooking a water hole crowded with playful elephants.  This campsite only allows one camp group at a time and James tried to book us in months ago to no avail.  We were allowed to hang out there though and so switched between the hideout and the elephant remains for a few hours before the campsite guard (our new best friend Edward!) told us that he didn't think the people who booked the site are coming.  We just had to wait until the National Park gates closed, radio the men at the gate to confirm that they never arrived to the park and the campsite was ours!  In the past few weeks we have stayed at some stunning locations but Masuma Dam was my all time favorite.  The Zimbabwe cops seemed a million miles away and Edward was so smiley and warm (with his AK47 in hand) Zimbabwe was well and truly back in my good books.  We watched entire herd of elephants come and go, our full bellied lions quench their meat sweats and every other animal we have seen throughout our trip pay a visit to our waterhole.  Whilst the lions were drinking the elephant carcus was drowning in a sea of vultures.  The night was filled with roars, snorts and trumpets (not just from my girlfriend sleeping next to me!) and we woke up early to sit in the hideout for a stunning sunrise.
We left Zimbabwe without leaving Hwange Park which suited us just fine.  We made sure to stop by our lion pride before leaving and found the bones picked clean and two determined lions still chewing on the hide.  Zimbabwe didn't disappoint - I expected beautiful scenery and got beautiful scenery, I expected to be bent over by police and certainly got that too. 

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