This morning was a slightly delayed start as some of the new members wrestled with their tents.
We hit the road and headed south, sadly we didn’t get to cross the famous Victoria Falls bridge and get hit with the spray of the falls. We noticed that as we headed southeast towards Bulawayo, the landscape remained quite scrubby and arid, and the earth was turning a deeper orange. In the middle of the bush we also passed some very large factories with large smoke stacks and flare towers. Mambo explained that this corner of Zimbabwe had several coal mines and processing plants that employ much of the local community. We soon saw the evidence of the plant as the road leading to it was black with coal dust, and our next free toilet stops also left us with sooty shoes.
Our lunch stop today was potentially the worst of the entire trip. We had finally entered the realm of the annoying bush fly. We stopped in a shallow lay-by and almost immediately after stepping out of the truck were surrounded by tiny flies that seemed adament to get to our ears, eyes and noses. Swatting them away achieved nothing as they would return instantly.
The only techniques that seemed to work was to either face into a strong breeze if you were lucky enough to encounter one, or pass by someone else and hope that they would take a stronger interest in them. We ended up getting our scarves, hats and sunglasses and covering our faces like balaclava to keep them away. The only saving grace was that they didn’t seem interested in our food at all, only the moisture on our faces. It also didn’t help that there was a lot of faeces around, both animal and human, a decent amount more that our other rest stops.
Once we arrived in Bulawayo we were given our options for activities in town. We only had about two hours to explore before we had to be on the way to camp, so we had to choose wisely. We opted to head to the natural history museum, whilst others went to check out either a local art gallery or railroad museum. It was strange to be back in a large city, we hadn’t been in anything this size since Swakopmund, but in contrast to the rather empty streets and closed stores, Bulawayo was your typical bustling African city, with masses of people and hawkers lining and walking the streets, barely any traffic control, dust and plastic bags blowing in the wind, and the incredible heat!
The area around Bulawayo was originally occupied by a tribe called the Ndebele, who had a large and prosperous kingdom. In the late 19th century prospectors from the colonial powers had heard tales of this prosperity and set out to find the source of it. A Boer called Gobbler originally signed a concession with the Ndebele, but Cecil Rhodes with his grand dreams came to the area and offered a better deal. Bulawayo was the seat of the Ndebele kingdom and was where the residence of the king was located. Rhodes’s British South Africa Company believed it was in the best spot for prospecting into the Matobo Hills, where the gold and minerals were thought to be located, and ousted the Ndebele from the area. This began a set of wars between the Ndebele and the BSAC, which the British we’re unable to win, as the Ndebele probed to be excellent guerilla fighters, retreating to the rocks and hills of the Matobo area they knew so well. Rhodes, unable to beat the Ndebele, rode himself into the hills to broker an armistice between the parties, which ended the war, unfortunately with the Ndebele definitely coming out worse off. Their powerful king had died, and they had lost lost almost all of their land to the British. In a cruel twist of irony, the Matobo hills proved to be absent of any valuable minerals, and Rhodes resorted to bringing in farming settlers and industrialists to make something of the settlement. Rhodes brought his railroad through Bulawayo which accelerated it’s development, and as of today Bulawayo remains one of the most industrial and developed areas in Zimbabwe.
We spent the first part of our free time just wandering, a local market street was nearby so we took a look and picked up a wooden spoon to replace the rubber chicken award which was finally won by one of the team who had left us at Vic Falls. We then looked in a few stores and topped up on snacks at a supermarket before heading in the direction of the museum. On the way there was a very good craft shop so we picked up a few souvenirs before continuing, however we had wasted too much time, and by the time we had walked to ten minutes to the museum it was 20 minutes before their closing time, and they said they wouldn’t let anyone else in. Slightly dejected, we started making our way back to the truck, making a few stops on the way. We saw a group of hip hop dancers practicing in the dilapidated Centennial Park we were passing, and thought about approaching them before chickening out. Across the road the park contained a fountain which looked very similar to the one at Mission Bay, however it’s lack of function and green stagnant water suggested it hadn’t been on for a long time.
Parts of the park smelt like urine, which was sad as it was clearly a beautiful place at one point, with various furniture and architecture around. Finally we passed the Bulawayo theatre, which had it’s doors open, so we decided to take a look inside. Inside felt like a 50’s museum, with the old box office, and show start, stop and interval clicks on the wall. A man appeared and asked if we wanted to come into the tea rooms for a tea or coffee, we told him we were just checking out the place.
We hurried back to the bus, only stopping to pick up some airtime for our SIM cards. The street vendor insisted the official shop was closed, but had to run into it to get us the top up cards? There was no commission, things just work differently in Africa! We then headed to our camp for the night, Bruce’s Paradise. This was located in a very upmarket suburb of Bulawayo, where the houses are very large and the grounds even larger. This estate was so large it could handle three overland trucks at once, our team set up tents on the lawn around the swimming pool and pool houses. I spent some time that evening speaking with our host, he was caretaking the house while the white family that owned it spent half the year overseas.
We talked a while about Mugabe and the economic crisis and he explained about how the banks are getting rich off of the currency shortage, taking part in the black market sale of cash by street vendors, charging premiums to withdraw cash from bank accounts. We talked about the upcoming elections and hopes things might change for the better.
We also briefly met our local guide for tomorrow’s trip into the Matobo National Park, Ian, a white Zimbabwean who was huge in the area of Rhino protection. Mambo had cryptically warned us that we would have an interesting time with Ian, and his absence at the introduction spoke to that. The discussion turned to Rhodes, who Ian clearly idolised, and the conservation of animals, of which his views were very different to Jenna’s. We were spending the entire day with him tomorrow, so went to bed looking forward to an interesting day!