After I had been lecturing for three weeks at the University of Zimbabwe, Joan came out to meet me and we had a three week holiday in Zimbabwe. This time we planned to include the full canoe trip from Kariba down to the Mozambique border. This would include a repeat of the initial stages which we had done before.
Visiting Zimbabwe again was really good. We have found the place irresistible. Although, having said that, we will be resisting it in future now that visitors from abroad have to pay on parity between the US and Zim dollars. It forced us to simplify our holiday to hold the cost down. Even with the "cheap" holiday we paid about double what it cost us for a great holiday in Thailand and somewhat more than a real five-star holiday in Peru.
The most dramatic bits of my holiday came on a visit to Vic Falls that I made on a long weekend before Joan arrived. They also took place against a background of paying at real rates rather than rip-off rates! I stayed on the camp-site, but ate at Vic Falls hotel and I did the white-water rafting again on one of the days.
On the other day out I went with some Dutch people, a guide and tracker to do some game walks in the bush. On one of these we had carefully approached a water hole from downwind only to find it deserted. We then had a detailed look around it and found some interesting lion tracks half-way up a small rise behind the water hole.
We were well into the fine details of differences between the feet of individual lions etc. when there was a slightly irritated sort of growl and we realised we were standing a few feet from three lions at the top of the bank. There ensued a lot of shouting and walking backwards, but I feel we got our money's worth of game viewing.
Later, after lunch and some more walks we had one 25 minute walk over a very rocky path and across a small river on stepping stones into a narrow gully with earth banks. There we met a sizeable elephant at short range and decided to climb one of the banks of the gully. The eldest and largest of the Dutchmen then fell quietly over sideways and broke his leg! Luckily the elephant was very good about it and ambled away, leaving us with more than 2 metres of heavy Dutchman with one intact leg. I was convinced that we would have to bivouac there for the night and waiting for a fully-equipped rescue party the next day. However the tracker and I volunteered to go and fetch the Land Cruiser. We then flattened enough small trees with it to halve the distance to the victim. (I could not help noticing how the tracker looked less confident as the two of us walked a mile or more back to the Land Cruiser without a rifle!)
We carried a bench seat from the Land Cruiser back to our victim. We then got him between three of us, sitting up on the car seat with his arms around the two necks either side, carrying him supported by a transverse chunk of tree-trunk under the end of the seat. In this way we got him to the Land Cruiser in about eight exhausting lifts, including one across the stepping stones. He was a really terrific guy with a positive attitude and seemed to be getting something out of the adventure himself. However it must have been very painful and certainly it was the end of his holiday.
For Joan and I the holiday, after the work at U.Z. was over, consisted of a tour round Bumi Hills, Sanyati and Fothergill then a full-distance canoe trip from Kariba to Kanyemba. Before going to Zimbabwe we had agonised that the latter would be too long and lacking in variety. In the event we enjoyed it so much that we were really sorry to finish and felt we could have carried on downstream to Sumatra or thereabouts. Compared with the overeating and lack of activity in our earlier visits, it was just what we wanted.
Bumi Hills was a first-time visit for us. You fly to the place from Kariba in a light aircraft. I missed a great photo there, since I had packed the cameras for the flight. We were at the start of the runway, just about to roll, when a large troupe of baboons came swarming out over the runway. The photo I missed would have been of a cross-looking pilot in the foreground, with a runway and swarms of baboons in the background.
At Bumi the hotel is at the top of a hill and the rooms are all in separated blocks along the brow of the hill. Each has a verandah where you can sit looking out over Lake Kariba and down on to the wide foreshore where lots of game is grazing. Directly below the rooms was a wide swathe of trees and underbrush leading down to the plains below. We had a pair of bushbuck living directly under our verandah and we could often see them at all hours, grazing of the undergrowth.
There were Landrover drives available. One saw animals very close since they were used to the Landrovers, but it did make it feel more like a zoo. Better were the early morning walks. On one we carefully stalked an elephant to get close to it, only to find we were stalking a female with a calf! We sneaked away again as quietly as we could. There were also some night drives, which we do not approve of. However we did see some animals that we had not seen otherwise: civets, mongooses and some very tiny antelope.
The restaurant was open-air and had some interesting problems with monkeys and baboons. The waiters were very smartly turned out, but each was carrying a catapult in his pocket. Meals tended to be fairly lively.
The best part of Bumi for us was a tree platform where they would take you and leave you for as long as you liked. You sat quietly under a sun canopy drinking cold beer from an insulated bag.
Below the animals drifted by and often drank at a small pool nearby. The atmosphere was lovely and one could see the animals acting quite naturally. There was no disturbance and the viewing was not to a timetable.
When we went on to Sanyati it was rather a surprise for us. We had not known when we booked it that it caters for a maximum of 8 people and is considered about the best Zimbabwe can offer. The accommodation is delightful. Beautiful little huts, each standing isolated on a steep hillside rising straight out of Lake Kariba. We had armchairs on our verandah. There was a hammock and deckchairs on a ledge nearby. We had private hot showers fed from a wood-fired 50 gallon oil drum.
A very well stocked bar was a short walk up a path. Everyone meet there before trips and before meals. All drinks were free and they never stopped refilling your glass. At dinner times we all trooped up to another level where in the warm evening air there was a table waiting glittering in the dark with its cutlery, glasses, folded serviettes and arrays of candles. The food was absolutely superb, so were the wines, the brandy, the port etc. The people running it were very good at making you feel at ease and conversation ran all evening. All that was then needed was a little care as you picked your way down your own little path back to your hut and a cozy bed.
The trips out were very pleasant, but all by boat. That meant one went for the whole stay without getting any exercise. This is pleasant as long as it does not go on too long. Before leaving we filled in our names on the visitor's book and found that the Duke of Edinburgh had been a recent visitor. Other people had put their details on one line, but he had written Philip over about 7-8 lines. A little further along the book someone else had decided that it was a good idea and had written Clive in writing a few lines taller.
Fothergill had always been our favourite place, ever since we were first introduced to it. It was sad to see it in reduced circumstances, now that Janet is no longer running it. The accommodation and food are both poorer and there is a much more restricted programme of tours. However the animals performed well on cue and it is still possible to go on walks in the bush, even if no longer for all-day walks.
After Fothergill came our canoe epic. That consisted of a journey of about 250 km from Kariba down nearly to the Mozambique border. Nine days out in the open day and night, sleeping under the stars on the river bank. Joan and I were the only ones doing the whole trip. There were two places where we had a rendezvous with a lorry to pick up more provisions and to have some people leave and others join us. On the canoe trips it is possible to have some days with strong head-winds and choppy waves on the river. However we were lucky and only had one day that came near that description.
On each day we were up at dawn and, after a cup of tea, we did an hour or two of paddling before stopping to set up our giant frying pan and cook a massive breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, onions and tomato. We then paddled all morning until it was time for a midday siesta, keeping out of the hot sun under a tree, on the river bank. Then the late afternoon was for paddling on to our next stopping place. There we would set up our beds and mosquito nets on the river bank and cook dinner. For most of the trip the company over dinner was very good.
Finally we would go off to sleep lying on our beds looking up at a sky full of stars above us.
We did see quite a few animals and birds. Waterbuck, Baboons and Impala were plentiful on the banks. Elephant and buffalo were often around. Lots of birds of all sorts were to be seen and the colonies of Carmine Bee-eaters in the river banks were really spectacular. Hippos we saw in abundance and we had to be careful as we picked a way through their territories. The water was full of crocs, but these tended to slip away into the water as you approached.
There was one truly memorable event just after we had set off from Mana Pools to do the Mana-Kanyemba section of the canoe trip. One of the canoes in our party was attacked and bitten by a hippo. He put two set of tusk holes just where they let in an awful lot of water, but he didn't munch right through it. I had the task of repairing it with a fibreglass repair kit and spent a rather sticky half hour on a small sand bar in the middle of the Zambesi, closely watched by a large hippo with bits of blue fibreglass in its teeth! The resulting repair lasted fine to Kanyemba and gave some interesting effects in sunlight when the sun shone through the thin patches and beamed down into the water.
There were lots of nice touches on that canoe trip. I remember one night when it was my turn to wash up. I went down to the river and inspected the water carefully with my torch, looking for crocs before filling the wash bucket. I filled that bucket four times before getting on with the washing up; the first three buckets were full of fish.
That particular camp-site was on a delightful small island with lots of trees and we tied our mosquito nets to the tree branches. We had got ourselves nicely installed when we realised we were sharing the island with three large elephants. They had come to collect Acacia seed. Unfortunately, one pair of our party had tied their mosquito nets to an Acacia tree and so they got an opportunity for some rather short-range game viewing (about 2 metres). The elephants left soon afterwards and swam to the mainland, but the two who had been planning to sleep under those two mosquito nets still insisted on moving to a different tree; I can't think why.
The lower part of the river is less spectacular than the Kariba Gorge. However the atmosphere of isolation is terrific and there are some delightful campsites.
Since we got back to the UK we had a visit from an American friend on his way home from UZ. He told us that there was a very nasty incident on the lower river about a week after our trip. Someone was taken by a lion from a canoe stopping place between Chirundu and Mana, where we had camped.
Our own trip was happier and we had a nice final day. After nine days of
unwashed but enjoyable living, we got up before daybreak for a 300km+ drive in
the back of a lorry to Kariba airport. From there we flew to Harare to check in
at the Meikles Five Star Hotel. There we strode past the magnificently-dressed
doorman who held the door open for us with a flourish. Each of us had a shower
followed by a bath and then we went down to the lounge in clean clothes and
drank cold beer before going in to a dinner complete with a bottle of wine. It
We had worried that 9 days on the river was too much. No problem! We settled to a rythym of relaxing and paddling gently downstream each day. The surroundings were beautiful. Each night we ate well and slept well - dropping off to sleep with a dark sky full of stars. Heaven!
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