Accomodation : Bomani Tented lodges, Hwange National Park
Transfer : Wild Horizons
Isn’t it a shame that the world has gotten to the point where people who endeavour to help you out are treated suspiciously. So it was for us when the porters at Johannesburg airport asked for our passports so they could help us check in for our flight to Vic falls. Instantly we thought what do you want them for?
After trusting them to help us (all within eyesight of ‘hawkeye’ Phil)we dropped our bags off and headed through security. Once through, the airport is actually quite nice, with a number of shops to wander through. One however does need to be careful not to get to the gate too early, as we found, no toilets beyond another clearance point and very limited seating which was only in the walkway of the terminal.
The flight was an uneventful hour and twenty minutes flying South African air. This was shorter than the time it took us to get through passport control. Yep shorter!
In Zimbabwe one needs to get a visa. This can only be done at the border for reasons we found out later. To actually get to passport control, you are herded down a ramp, where you are given documentation to complete. This is on the way down the walkway and you have to fill it in enroute. At the bottom of the ramp, security checks off your details and then assigns you a lane from 1 – 8.. You then stand and wait in the line for over an hour whilst one by one you are issued with a visa. This process tends to take five minutes per person. The cost for this pleasure is 30 US for Zimbabwe or 50 US for Zimbabwe / Zambia and the money must be paid in cash. The whole process was one of endurance that some, particularly the Americans in the line found difficult to do.
When we finally got though we discovered that there were two people holding ‘Elliot’ signs…who would have thought!. Whilst I found the appropriate guide, Philip went and sourced an ATM. Informing the guide that he would be back soon, the guide Kenyisa, stated that there was no point as there was no money in the ATM. Huh…yep no money in the ATM or actually any ATM in Zimbabwe. It would appear that Zimbabwe is in such a poor state that it does not have its own currency and is reliant upon people to put money into the bank in order for others to take it out (hence the desire for US cash payments of Visas). United States money is the currency everyone works in here and cash is king. Therefore unless you’ve brought it in then you can’t get it out (Visa is your only other choice).
Haven’t ever been in a country where they didn’t possess their own currency the warning bells were starting to ring in regards to the life of the people here. This was compounded when our driver starting telling us about the political situation and then made us promise that it was a secret and that we wouldn’t inform or discuss what he had said with others in the country. Not surprisingly though people were discussing Zimbabwean and South African politics at the dinner table that night as it seems there may be some similarities!
For two and a half hours we drove along fairly decent roads. Initially the landscape consisted of pale fine Kalahari sand, spatterings of green struggling to push through the sand and acacia trees with their thin black trunks and Pom Pom foliage. For miles and miles, nestled in amongst this image were small African villages; the kind you imagine if painting an African scene. We were informed by the driver that these were cheap; the land was free and all you needed to do was collect the timber, clay and thatching to build yourself a small, round compact house. The thatching lasts for around three years but apparently the rest is permanent, creating a sustainable abode that is allegedly cooler than using tin. It made Soweto look like a veritable enclave of richness compared to what these people exist in.
When asked about education we were informed that education is compulsory…but no one checks. Education is apparently too expensive for many families with primary school averaging around $300 US per term plus books and uniform and secondary schooling around $1000 US per term. Organisations such as Save the Children endeavour to assist as do other organisations in terms of medical assistance. It’s such a dilemma. Without ‘fat cats’ like us coming into the country there would be no money and very little employment. However, here we are putting our wealth in the face of families with very little. I’m not sure what the answer is?
From the halfway house, we met Harris, one of the guides from Bomani. We departed the Honda and stepped up onto the jeep…now you’re talking. From here we headed into the bush, the wheels churning through the sand and Harris ever on the lookout for what he might see during the 45 minute transfer / safari. It turned out to be more like a safari with us stopping for a while in the midst of a herd of around 50 elephants, some on both sides of the track and therefore crossing right in front of our vehicle. The rains from a couple of days had pushed them into more lush areas further as away from the camp but seeing them appear and heading the crush of the vegetation under their feet, brought the camera out from the bag and produced a ‘snapping Phil’ (common to Africa
After staying with them for a little while, we continued the drive in only to encounter a Black Mamba on the path. He shot into the bush and then almost as if he was a ballet dancer, he rose upright and proceeded to look around. It was quite a sight and enough for Harris to give us a quick look before accelerating past, what can be a hugely dangerous creature.
It was around 5:30 pm and we were close to camp when Harris got a call on the Walkie talkie to say that there was a pack of wild dogs not far away. Harris indicated that we’d pretend that we were still coming and sneak a quick look. There were fifteen dogs in the pack and they had spotted some impala which they decided to encircle and then make a run for. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on who’s side you’re on, the impala managed to get away leaving the tiring dogs to relax to the nearest ‘pan’ or waterhole and take a rest.
For us it was time to get to camp and meet our hosts. The camp is situated around its own waterhole. It is absolutely in the middle of no-where not far from the Botswana border. There is a main open meeting area where lunch is served and where you can while away the day. Either side of this area are a couple of thatched cabins and tents, some on stilts and some perched on land. We were offered the choice of two; the closest cabin to the waterhole, with a large thatched roof or one of the tents further back. When we chose the cabin given we were also told it was cooler, everyone smiled and agreed. Later we were told by Harris that we had the royal suite so I guess we made a good choice. Others also late told us its where the sheik comes to stay (no sure which one). Anyway it was a lovely room complete with sitting area, bed and bathroom. Bigger than what the tents looked and more substantial in structure. We weren’t disappointed.
Dinner tonight was under the stars. A beautifully set table lit up by candles next to a log fire pit where drinks were served. Soup, pork stir fry and melva pudding (a favourite). They do incredibly well given that the food deliveries only come every couple of weeks and once a month for the non perishables. Any new bookings after that, they just have to make do.
So after a full day it was time to ‘hit the sack’. Philip’s CPAP machine meaning that they kindly left the generator on for the electricity and the buy product of this being that we could also run the ceiling fans. Ahhh!