Country : Zimbabwe (Chimanimani to Gonarezhou)
Distance : 405 km
6am. Up, yawn, stretch, scratch unmentionables, strip, bath, dress, pack bags, drag bags to vehicles, pack vehicles, close vehicles … breakfast!
Kwatcha Man (standing in the room prior to carrying the bags down, rubbing the now not inconsiderable but very silver beard-like growth on his face), “I am happy to say that my dinner was good, bed comfortable and my first bath in 10 years was both pleasant and piping hot!”
I should probably point out that although he has not bathed in 10 years he has showered in that time. At least once. Maybe even two or three times …
I took some pictures of the hotel while we waited for breakfast. The grounds were well tended and the pool crystal clear – but flippen cold!
We sat down at breakfast – the only ones, as you can see. Our waitress arrived beaming and proceeded to take our orders. Before long we were tucking into bacon, eggs, fruit and coffee as the sun streamed through the windows. After breakfast it was time to settle up (our previous nights bar bill was an eye opener, less due to prices and more due to the volumes consumed…)
We hit the road and cleared the Chimanimani mountains and valleys by mid morning and headed off to see the Birchenough Bridge which spans the Save River with a single arch which rises to 90 m above the river, and is 329 m in length.
The Birchenough Bridge was designed by Mr. Ralph Freeman, consulting engineer to the Beit Trust, who also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Beit Bridge over the Limpopo River.
The bridge was the first long-span bridge to be constructed in the British Empire with modern high tensile steel. The components were manufactured in England and transported to site – which in those days was literally in the middle of nowhere. Foundations were started in April 1934 with the first official traffic crossing 20 months later in December 1935.
There is a great write-up on the construction of the bridge with some wonderful pictures of the erections progress here. Below are two of the pictures from this site (acknowledgements to blogger ‘Rhodesia Remembered’)
After snapping our photos, walking up and down and marvelling at the achievement we turned around and headed towards Chiredzi.
It was along the next stretch of road that I had my worst experience of the trip.
Travelling near Chisumbanje, an area of fairly high population due to the extensive commercial sugar cane operations close by, we came up behind an articulated 18 wheeler carrying cane to the mills in Chiredzi. Accelerating to overtake the truck (that was doing at least 110km/hr) I started to move towards the centre line to check for oncoming traffic when the truck passed a group of youngsters on the side of the road. Hidden from us, we did not see them until the truck passed them at which point one of boys darted out into the road to retrieve any cane that may fall off the truck.
The first time that Kwacha and I saw of the kid (probably 8-10 years old) was when he shot halfway across the lane before it dawned on him that we were right behind the truck. Time did one of those standing still moments : in slow motion he tried to check, spin and reverse in one movement, I tried to brake and tweak the steering further across without rolling, the trailer faithfully following me (I hoped…). The last thing we saw of him was the biggest pair of eyes in Africa, possibly matched by the size of ours, as we flashed past. No bump – thank the heavens. I did not even have time to hoot before we shot past. A quick check of the rearview mirror revealed the whitest little black boy in Zimbabwe being surrounded by his mates as he ran off to the side of the road again. Kwacha and I both released a burst of breathe that had been held in as the adrenaline hit and the hands started to shake.
It was a happy ending that was literally millimetres away from being a tragic one.
45 minutes later we pulled into Chiredzi to refuel and to catch up with an old schoolmate of mine, Derick, who lives in the area. He gave us some invaluable advice on where to stay at Gonarezhou and after a far too short catch-up chat we were back on the road.
We turned off the tar and back onto dirt for the stretch down to the park gates. Once at the park we took our newly imparted knowledge from Derick, checked the available camp sites before selecting one and paying for our next few days accommodation.
Sharpie organised wood and he and Barefoot proceeded to tie it onto the trailer. Something they would (no pun intended) have to do at least another 4 times before we reached camp as it kept rearranging itself and falling off (see pic below – this was at the start, it still looks all nice and neat).
The road to our campsite – Chilojo 2 – has been recently cleaned up but still requires a vehicle with decent clearance. Other roads in the park are basically 4×4 only although you could probably get through in the dry season if you had high clearance.
The animals in the park have been badly poached in the past and are therefore quite skittish. We would notice over the next few days that the impala, zebra, waterbuck, and even buffalo, would move from the river side of the road to the open bush side whenever a car drove by.
Eventually we found our campsite which consisted of a fire pit, a long drop and a lot of trees next to the river. This was real bush camping – no fences, no running water and even the water in the riverbed was 150m of sand bed away. We decided to drive down to the water as the sun was setting to have a quick wash. However, one look at the river in the twilight and we each had visions of hippos and crocs fighting over our delicate little bodies and decided it could wait until morning!
So, it was back to camp, fire up the fire and wash ourselves from the inside out with a good couple of sundowners…