Monday, October 17, 2011

Zimbabwe, Part 2

We left Victoria Falls for the city of Bulawayo after we packed up and exchanged email addresses with Sue. The ride to Bulawayo was hot and dry. We stopped part way there in the city of Hwanke for fuel, and the first two stations were out. Colin rode on to try a third station at the far edge of town and I went to the store to get lunch. We continued on toward Bulawayo, stopping again, this time for some cold drinks at a dusty wide spot in the road with a couple of buildings. We asked the men sitting along the roadside (as many people do here) if there were “coldrinks” and they pointed us to a small storefront with three small boys seated on the porch. They stared at us like we were from outer space when we pulled in front of their shop, dismounted the bikes, and walked in to buy our Cokes. We sat on the front stoop and drank our drinks under the intense stare of those six big eyes before we waved goodbye and rode away. 
We got to Bulawayo late in the afternoon, with our fuel lights blinking, and found our way to a guesthouse after asking for directions at the gas station. They were supposed to have camping, but no. The unfriendly woman at reception said no. And the room rate was twice what the guidebook said it should be. But it was late, it was dark, there are very few street signs, and we had no other options, so we stayed. They had a kitchen, so I asked where the grocery store was and about cooking dinner. The woman said it costs extra to use the kitchen, and the price depends on what you cook. The grocery store was in the city, it was not safe to walk there (and we don't ride after dark), and I really didn't feel like paying extra for the privilege of cooking our own dinner, so we went to the Athletic Club pub and restaurant next door to eat. The food was good, the beers were cold, and we were tired, so we walked back to the guesthouse and went to sleep.

The next morning we got up and got on the road with the intention of seeing Matobo National Park, aka Matopos. It is a game park, recreational park, Unesco World Heritage site, and the burial place of Cecil Rhodes (to whom Colin's father is related). It's also one of the last places to see white rhinos in the wild, and we wanted to see it all. We rode the 20-some miles to the park and up the road to the entrance. We walked up to the man at the window, who was studiously ignoring us and texting away on his phone, and asked how much the fee was. He looked up at us and said no motorbikes were allowed in the park. We asked why and he just replied, “animals.” I said please, I promised that we would not get eaten and offered to accept all responsibility on the off chance that we did, but he ignored me and returned to his phone. So we rode back to our crappy guesthouse in the crappy, ugly, decomposing city of Bulawayo.

To make the best of our new day off, we spent the afternoon writing ride reports and blog posts and went in search of an internet cafe, since the internet was not working at the guesthouse (since yesterday morning, the owner told me, but he assured me he was calling his service provider as soon as they opened. Neither Colin nor I held our breath). After we put up our posts, we walked back to the guesthouse, stopping to pick up dinner at Mr Chips on the way. We bought greasy chips with vinegar, Russians, which are basically kielbasa, some apples, and a rock bun that lived up to its name. We returned to the guesthouse, greasy bag in hand, only to find that the power was out. A new, also not nice, woman at reception told us it should be back on around 9:00 (am or pm, she didn't say). We ate our grease bomb dinner, sitting on our bed, by the light of the candle she gave us for the room. After we finished eating, Colin went outside to look over the bikes, and who did he find? Sue! She took the overnight train to Bulawayo and got in that morning and was staying to check out some of her old haunts. So we chatted with her for a while, and then we went to bed.

The next morning, we got up, had coffee and peanut butter on crackers for breakfast and tried, once again, to get an early start, this time to Harare. Our efforts, however, were defeated by another flat rear tire on my bike. We removed the tire from the wheel and found a new hole in the tube, so we replaced the old tube and put everything back together, rushed through the shower (I had to go outside to turn off the sprinklers when Colin was in the shower because they sucked all the water from the bathroom), and then got on the road.

The ride to Harare was another dry, dusty one, with limited fuel availability along the way. We got to the outskirts of the city late in the afternoon, and the scenery changed to farmland. I was really surprised by the amount of agriculture just outside the city. And everything was so green by comparison to the western part of the country. We rode into Harare during rush hour, fighting our way through the minibus taxis the whole way. Once we got to the city center and started looking for street signs, we found, as in Bulawayo, none. Fortunately we were stopped at a light next to a police vehicle, and Colin asked them for directions to the area where the guesthouse was. They pointed us in the right direction, and we eventually found the place thanks to the GPS unit we almost didn't bring on the trip. Neither of us felt particularly hopeful about the guesthouse because of our previous experience, but we were pleasantly surprised. They not only had rooms, but they were very nice rooms. And the rate was very reasonable. There was a clean pool in the yard, a small restaurant, and the employees were welcoming and friendly. And they had wifi! After eating a tasty dinner in their restaurant and catching up with family via Skype, we decided that it might be nice to stay for a day in Harare. 

Washboard arms!
The next morning, I took use of the laundry sink (with washboard!) that I found out back and scrubbed the stink out of our nasty clothes. We spent some time working on ride reports again before lunch, and I rode to the grocery store to find lunch. In an attempt to keep the grease we've eaten since our arrival in Africa from completely obstructing our blood vessels, I got yogurt, muesli, a whole pile of fresh fruit, and 100% fruit juice. Oh boy, was it all delicious! 

We decided to ride out to a place called Bally Vaughn, which is a refuge for abandoned or injured animals, after lunch. There they have lions, a leopard, zebras, a bunch of baboons, vervet monkeys, a hyaena named Kylie who has morphed into a fur-covered, assumedly diabetic, barrel, assorted small animals, and birds which they've taken in for a variety of reasons. We wandered the grounds, looked at the animals snoozing happily in their enclosures, and waited for 4:00 to arrive: that is large carnivore feeding time. While we waited, we sat at the cafe, drinking sodas, when a group of young people sat down at the tables around us. About five of the girls joined us at our table and struck up a conversation. They wanted to know where we were from, and they all want to visit America, in particular, Hollywood. As it turns out, the group are students from a local and rural high school. When it was feeding time, everyone stood up and walked toward the lions. We spoke with the class's teacher, who said this was a field trip in honor of their excellent performance in a national drama competition. He was really excited for them to have an opportunity to speak with Americans. I think we had as much fun talking with the students as they had with us. I asked if I could take a picture of them, and they crowded in together for a group portrait. Then, they each wanted their photo taken individually, which I did. It was fun to see them pose and examine the resulting pictures. One of the girls, named Kathy, gave me her email address, and I will be sending her their portraits.  We also had the opportunity to speak with the woman in charge of Bally Vaughn and learn about the animals they care for there.  It was an interesting experience all around and was great to find a place where the unwanted and uncared for animals can have a permanent, good home.  
Esther, Kathy, Lucia, Redemptia, and Melissa
We left Bally Vaughn at around 5:00 pm and returned to our guesthouse for the evening.  When I walked past the TV lounge to go to our room, I saw, sitting on the couch... Sue!  She was tired of the crappy guesthouse and Bulawayo in general and took the bus to Harare for a few days before her plane to Johannesburg.  So we chatted some more over dinner, and then, in walked a German couple, named Stephan and Nicole, whom we had spoken with at the Botswana-Zimbabwe border!  What a reunion.  We spent the rest of the evening comparing travel notes, various itinerary options and border crossing stories with Sue, Stephan, and Nicole before we went to bed. 

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