Country : Zimbabwe (Nyanga to Chimanimani)
Distance : 283km
After the previous days marathon journey we planned to rise at a leisurely hour, have breakfast, watch the Super 15 Rugby Final (with us being Sharks supporters, and all) before taking a relatively short drive to Chimanimani.
As ideas went – two out of three ain’t bad.
A close look at the early morning photos of frost covered ground will show that the decision to stay in the hotel rather than camp was obviously the correct one! And yes, we are a bunch of tropical coast woeses. Temps below 10C are only just bearable. That night it dropped below 0C and we endured it in our warm bedrooms with heaters going full blast.
Idea number 2 – breakfast, was also a great one as we tucked into a buffet breakfast of note, returning for refills until the chairs started to groan under our bulging bellies.
Idea number 3 – the rugby. Well, we are not going to talk about that. In the end it provided time enough for us to enjoy a few Bloody Marys in front of the pub fire while the outside temperature climbed to a reasonable level. ‘Nuff said, well done Chiefs.
As soon as the rugby finished, we bade goodbye to the hotel staff and eased back out onto the road. The first stretch into Mutare was visually entertaining as we wound our way out of the Nyanga mountains and into the lower region surrounding the city.
Dropping into Mutare we had a good view of the city nestled in amongst the surrounding hills. We made our way into the city centre where we found a store that provided replenishment for our dwindling foodstuffs – beer, alcohol and mixers seemed remarkably well stocked at this point.
The short stop dragged on interminably as Sharpie and Kwacha Man disappeared into the shop, re-appeared for money, then disappeared again. Hours later they finally heaved to alongside the cars laden with supplies and some long garbled story about queues, credit cards, different queues, cash, and blah blah blah.
On our way out of town we stopped to refuel. As we were about to leave the petrol station, Sharpie suddenly decided that survival in the bush for the next 5 days without copious amounts of ice was a complete deal breaker and he headed off back into town in what was an (ultimately) fruitless search for ice. Meanwhile, Barefoot and I continued at a slow pace out of town where we found a large goods store which, on inquiry from Barefoot, produced as much ice as we required. A short phone call to Sharpie, some choice words, and we loaded up with ice while he raced (in the same way that a pregnant woman with sore feet and a bad back races) out of town to join us.
The traffic faded rapidly once out of the urban areas and before long we were enjoying a beautiful afternoon drive through the Eastern Highlands towards Chimanimani where we planned to stay for the night.
The quite afternoon drive grew more and more winding as we closed in on Chimanimani until we reached the top of the valley above Melsetter. A short stop to enjoy the view, relieve bladders and take a few pictures before we eased down into the valley.
On arrival in Chimanimani we discovered that the guest house(s) that we had earmarked to be graced with our presence were all full for the night. Scrambling around town and referencing our guide book we dropped in to the Chimanimani Hotel to see if it had withstood the tests of time…
It is an honest 1 star hotel. I do not know what it was like 30 years ago but there are some signs that time has not been kind. That said, the rooms were clean, the staff eager and ready to serve and the Head of the Kitchen determined to provide us with dinner. After a short conference we agreed to stay, offloaded our bags into the rooms and headed down to the bar.
Kwacha Man’s comment at this point (on resigning himself to his nights accommodation) : “This is definitely my low point for the trip – there is no shower and I have not used a bath in 10 years, the water is cold, ok, luke warm, I’m scared to get into my bed and I have no idea what will be presented to me for dinner!”
[More on this in the next days post].
In the interim, Sharpie had metamorphosed into Basil Fawlty. Some poor local individual wandered into the hotel looking for the manager (who was upstairs showing us the rooms while Sharpie waited downstairs). Sharpie, in his “Best of British” Basil Fawlty accent proceeded to entertain the gentleman with promises of the manager returning shortly, goose stepping around to offer a chair for seating and just generally self lobotomizing in order to suit his new persona. The manager returned shortly, Sharpie greeting him like a long lost brother, passing his friend on to him before disappearing into the pub. I am sure that a somewhat bemused local is still wandering around town looking for “that bloody mad Englishman”.
The evening started off slowly (with us being the only people in the hotel) as we settled into the pub. After a few rounds we called for the menu and (with slight trepidation) ordered our meals after checking with Head of Kitchen which local variations of chicken were best (I had a steak, not bad). Half an hour later food arrived and, with nods and grunts of approval, the Motley Crew tucked in with all the finesse of a bunch of pirates. Ok, we might have been a ‘touch’ hungry, but the grub was good.
15 minutes later empty plates were pushed back, the Head of Kitchen almost split himself apart smiling when we complimented him and we ordered our last rounds before retiring for the night, a good, relaxed day behind us.