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  • Goodbye Yellow Truck Road
    • 22/10/2017
Vic falls and farewells

Oh yeah nearly forgot. I'm not dead, and the trip isn't over. Well, the Oasis Overlanding part is. Weird to say goodbye to the yellow truck that has become home and the rag tag bunch of fellow employment dodgers who have become family; have been commenting recently how life on the road just feels normal, no longer a holiday.
The trip finishes on a high though, at Victoria Falls, as our overnight train pulled in right on schedule, three hours late. The falls are spectacular even in low water, with half of the span dry, but I didn't feel the same "wow" factor as when I first saw Niagara. Maybe just becoming blasé to world wonders.

The upsides of low water are plentiful - reduced spray and vapour clouds, so the falls actually visible, "devils pool", a natural infinity pool right at the edge of the falls safe to visit, (via a one day border crossing to Zambia - more passport stamps!) and the full 19 rapids available for white water rafting, ranging from 3-5. I fell out approx 5 times but still not drowned.

Vic falls the town is a 20th century bubble, where the restaurants have touch screen tills and everything works. The streets are however plagued with locals selling the usual tat, plus the amusing slash appalling billion dollar notes from the days of hyperinflation.
I've got a ten trillion, but doubt it'll help such with the retirement fund.

So with this chapter at an end, I should be reflecting and summing up right? Na, that sort of cool analysis would be an admittance that fun times are over.
I hate all those questions about "best bits" and highlights, so don't ask.

The continent is a fascinating blend of old and new, lifestyles barely changed for thousands of years alongside modern technology. When the rest of the world has its nuclear meltdown, Africa will carry on unaffected.
You can't help but be affected by seeing people living in such basic and poor conditions when compared with our developed nations, but have to remember they never had anything more.
One of our fellow passengers returned home to write a scathing commentary on the voyeuristic nature of this type of tourism, and questioning whether our presence even in a considerate and sympathetic capacity is an intrusion and interference.
To that I'd say hmmm. All tourism is voyeuristic. Pointing cameras into peoples faces and lives like theyre zoo animals just because they're different is not OK anywhere in the world - but seeing these things, different cultures, landscapes, customs, lifestyles is exactly why we travel - to broaden horizons and understanding of others, rather than feeling no connection to some place name you hear on the news once in a blue moon. And I'd much rather see things first hand rather than on tv, even if the experiences are sometimes somewhat staged.

Now I've arrived in South Africa its struck home even more how ignorant I am of African history. Should I blame the school curriculum for not discussing imperialism or apartheid at all, whilst focusing so much on Germany and Russia, or is that classed as "current affairs", and my own fault for not researching?

Wow, that was a big digression.
So yeah it was nice to see the animals doing their thing, the vast landscapes, the colourful culture.
It was fun to travel in a group, (most of the time!), and it was certainly nice to have no logistics to think about. On the downside, the pace of the trip was sometimes too quick, well, it would have been nice to linger and explore pretty much everywhere, but that was not the remit of the tour, and as an introductory overview it served its purpose well.
I don't want to pull out anecdotes and name names, so much happened that I've already forgotten half of it. And you had to be there.

Oh one last thing. At Vic falls airport security, my spork set off the security alarms, and despite my protests and invitations for the security personnel to assault me with it (to prove its harmlessness), it was deemed a potential weapon and not allowed in hand luggage.
But as I was despairing the prospect of losing my beloved cutlery, I was led through various corridors and coded doors to the baggage sorting section and allowed to repack it in my hold luggage! Unprecedentedly helpful! Hope for Zimbabwe yet?
  • All Rhodes lead to Vic Falls
    • 16/10/2017
Yesterday we stopped at the country's second city, Bulawayo, supposedly the home of the opposition movement.
Rather than become embroiled in agitiation, we are here for a day out in Matopos national park (bald heads, named after the dome shaped granite outcrops rising from the landscape) to track rhino and see ancient cave paintings.
Each group of rhino here have there own 24/7 guard, who follow and camp near the animals in two weeks shifts. The rhino also have their horns removed to deter poachers. The horns are just made of keratin like finger nails, and grow back to full length every four years. However, unlike most peoples fingernails, a vet needs two or three chainsaws to cut a horn, since the chainsaws overheat with the effort!

So we got within about 20 metres of a family group of three, who looked unperturbed, another surreal and humbling experience.

The cave paintings of the sana people are estimated to be 8000 - 10000 years old, and are crazily well preserved. Far from being crude they depict animals and events in detail using red and white dyes, made from a long lost of ingredients, including metal ore for colour, egg for adhesive, and gall bladder juice as an acidic agent which helps the paint to etch into the rock.

A quick stop at s scout camp, as it was in this area that Baden Powell received his training in bushcraft during a posting in the second Matabele war (an uprising against the colonial rule of Rhodes' Southern Africa Company).
Finally visited the grave of Cecil Rhodes, who requested to be buried on a hilltop here he had named "World's View".
Apt, as he was a bloke with some strong views on how the world should look and certainly left his mark on this part of it.

Now on the overnight train from Bulawayo to Vic Falls, last leg of the journey! The locomotive turned up to the beautiful but almost entirely deserted station three hours late and we constantly seem to be stopping in the middle of nowhere, but I think this is all factored in to the estimated journey time of 12-14 hours.

In the last day or so I have been thinking Zimbabwe is a little like Cuba - lost in time - the clocks stopped on the day of independence, and infrastructure has had no investment (or often maintenance) since. I'm surprised these trains are still run at all to be honest.
  • Walk with the animals, talk with the animals
    • 16/10/2017
Next stop Great Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is actually a compound noun meaning big stone house, and there several hundred sites in the country, but this one is the original and by far the largest and grandest. It is the largest pre colonional structure in Africa after the Egyptian pyramids. So what is it? A complex of three compounds of huge dry stone walls (some 6m wide, 15m high), built in the 13th and 14th century; one built on a hill, incorporating the natural granite rock, with commanding views of the area. This was the home, fortress, and court of the king. The valley complex being home to his 200 wives, and the Great Enclosure, the most impressive structure, reserved for the first wife.
Here gold was more abundant than iron, but the population eventually outgrew thTheyvailable resources and parties left to found settlements elsewhere.
The site has been the subject of much controversy, as colonialists and early archeologists denied that such a place could have been built by native Africans.
Recently it had been used as a propaganda tool in the opposite regard, to showcase the skill and achievements of the indigenous population - just don't compare it to European architecture of the same period!

Excavations here yielded eight bird shapes totems, each the symbol of a successive king. One of these now appears on the national flag.

Camping here required sentry duty at dinner time to ward off raiding monkeys and baboons, using water pistols and a chance to put the slingshots we bought in the Masai mara to good use!

Less driving, more action since we arrived in Zim. Next stop Antelope Park, a private game reserve specialising as a lion sanctuary and the worlds only breeding program aimed at wild release.
A lot of white farmers kept lions as pets, so after the liberation and land reclamation the centre have them a home, albeit in fairly small enclosures.
The live release program entails taking cubs from these lions and hand rearing them, taking them for walks in the bush so they can practice hunting. Once they reach adulthood, the best cubs are formed into a pride and given a large enclosed area or the park containing enough wild game to support them. Human contact is then stopped, and when these lions have cubs they are deemed wild enough to be released into the wild in national parks where the population has declined.
So many activities on offer, the biggest attraction being the opportunity to accompany the hand reared cubs on their daily walk. At 24 months they are quite big and the feeling of walking alongside them in the bush, as if they were a pet dog, is quite surreal, especially when they occasionally stalk and pounce on each other - like kittens but with the power to take your arm off - and then when they spot a wilder beast or giraffe they change modes - flattened to the ground, stealthily circling, and you remember what they are.
It was an incredible experience, but there is some cynicism amongst the group, because although the centre hasn't got space for any more, they continue to breed these hand reared cubs to keep the tourists entertained. Also they mainly want females for the release program, so the male cubs are doomed to be "retired" to small pens once they are too old for tourists to play with.
At night you can hear the ominous growls of hundreds of hungry lions, making it not too easy to get to sleep!
  • Chim Chim Charoo Mountains
    • 05/10/2017
Camping for two nights at "Heaven Lodge", nestled in the Eastern Highlands, the brilliantly named town of Chimanimani.
We are here to hike in the rocky mountains along the border with Mozambique, and the landscape is pretty unique, see photos rather than me try to describe it further. Ok, rocky granite outcrops, erratic, weathered boulders, razor edge peaks, separated by scrubland plateaus covered in termite mounds, and lush steep valleys where clear fresh (hopefully) water cascades into shimmering pools.
The area has, like much of the country, suffered an economic downturn since liberation, as farms and mines were seized from white ownership and subsequently run into the ground due to lack of expertise and capital. Most recently a Russian diamond mine has been taken over with accusations that they were reporting falsely low yields. We can hear the dynamite as the hillside is blasted away.
The area was evidently once quite well developed, evidenced by the miles of telephone wires hang limply and broken on rusted poles, and occasional corrugated iron industrial units. Commercially scaled farming, dairy herds and plantation fields, although on the margins people still live in straw huts and scratch a living, selling bowls of produce on the roadside.
Lots of logging operations in the hills.
Tourism has also seen a huge decline, as the image of animosity towards whites and the disintegration of infrastructure has kept people away, but apparently some green shoots of recovery are appearing.
Testament to what once was is the alps style mountain hut we visit in the national park, a wonderfully solid building in the mountains, once providing lodging and meals, now left abandoned to the cobwebs...
Discussing the political climate here is a bit of a taboo, but there is an open sentiment of waiting for Mugabe to die as a turning point for democratic reform.

The roads in the hills are narrow and dusty, with overhanging branches frequently brushing through the open sides of the truck, causing frantic ducking and warning shouts of "TREE"!
Elsewhere the roads are well tarmaced and there has even been a dual carriageway!
  • Zimbabwe Harare
    • 05/10/2017
A couple of long drive days through Mozambique, with a sadly cloudy bush camp in the middle.
The poverty in Mozambique even more evident, more clay and straw huts and less brick.
Passing into Zimbabwe the land starts throwing up bulbous rock formations and hills, and the roads are frequently lined with blooming purple Jacaranda trees.
The suburbs of Harare are a monument to the glory days of colonialism: wide tree lined avenues with massive mid 20th century detached houses with pools and tennis courts - although everything has an air of neglect about it other than the large barb wire topped security walls surrounding each property.
Our hostel is located a few blocks away from "old Bob's" mansion, and we are warned not to take our cameras out near any governmental looking buildings.
Walking around the city feels safe, and local taxi / minibuses are 50 cents for a ride anywhere, which is great in contrast to private taxi fares, food, etc, which are all at western prices.
They use US dollars, alongside local "bond" notes worth up to $5. All the $1 bills on circulation have been worn so much they are barely readable!
In the afternoon visited the Balancing Rocks, an area of interesting naturally occurring formations.
Unfortunately being a Monday, galleries and museums were closed, but it was interesting just walking around the city centre, where street vendors sell everything under the sun and school kids pass by in super cute uniforms with blazers and hats.


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