Archive for January, 2013

27 Jan 2013

My how time flies

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Back in Perth tomorrow. I write this with both joy at the thought of it – hot dry summer days, the beach and all that comes with being at home, familiarity – and with regret at leaving Africa – the smiling faces, our distant friends, magnificent National Parks we have barely glimpsed and all the wonderful and frightening animals that make kangaroos look positively dull.

But enough of that nostalgia.

And then it is on to Japan on Friday. The three Ss – sushi, sake and snow!

Final farewells with the Lloyds

21 Jan 2013

And then it went pear-shaped

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This was going to be one of those long rambling posts about our wonderful few days in Hwange – a national park the size of Belgium, but alas without the chocolate shops – but the contents of this post, along with the photos were lost.

The Isuzu fared well over the muddy tracks, slipping and sliding until it finally became stuck in thick mud. It could have been a long day, just us, much to the amusement of nearby lion and leopard I’m sure, watching on while we cautiously exited the vehicle and nervously dug around the wheels lining the tracks with branches and small rocks. We were lucky. A convoy or crazy Poles came to the rescue; four burly Poles and Paul pushing, a pushy Pole driving. Soon we were on the road again.

We left Hwange looking forward to Vic Falls – terra firma.

Along the way we bitched and moaned about the Zimbabwean Police; the countless roadblocks and their various successful attempts to extract (extort) cash out of us along the way.
Disobeying a police officer.
No radio licence.
Not displaying large safety triangles on dashboard. But no one else does, including police vehicles.Arguing is pointless and it is all done with a smile of course.

And then it went pear-shaped. We checked into the fancy Gorges Lodge. Our secluded remote chalet perched precariously right on the edge of a sheer 250 metre cliff. Directly below the Zambesi River rushed by and on the other side of the gorge, Zambia. Spectacular.

At three in the morning, fast asleep, Gill was startled by a noise and woke up. I heard her standing in the darkness talking.

“Excuse me, can I help you?” She is prone to saying the strangest things.

I thought she was talking to Paul, but no. Two tall dark men had entered our room through a small window in the hall and were ushering Gill back into bed, waving a knife.

“Lie in bed, do not look at us or we will stab you.” One of them commanded.

And for the next twenty minutes we lay face down while they went through all our stuff taking their pick.

There was a moment, a frightening moment; I almost dropped a thread. I saw them coming for me, and then there was a disturbance, a gleaming shiny new camera caught their attention. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.

When it was over, they left telling us no lights, no movement or they will be back to stab us. So for a while we waited in the darkness in silence – shocked.

With no watches, no phone (not to mention cameras, computers, jewellery, jeans, shoes, jackets – virtually everything gone), we had no idea of the time.

There was no point screaming or yelling – no one to hear. And they had hidden the car keys, so we had nothing to do but wait until daylight before raising the alarm.

And then a day of police and trackers. Paperwork in duplicate, hand written, no photocopiers … and nothing.

It is a side of Africa (South Africa mainly) we had heard so much about, but not one we particularly wanted to experience first-hand.

Still, we are fine and the Isuzu no longer groans under the weight of all our luggage!


PS: No more photos. Back in Perth next week. Yay

15 Jan 2013

Comes with a Wellington boot warning

1 Comment Zimbabwe


Gillian promised us Zimbabwe had the best climate in the world and I suppose if you are a fish, it does. We are holed up in the very colonial Bulawayo Club drinking tea and eating rusks after wading out through the rainy streets of Bulawayo, ankle deep, admiring the impressive Art Deco and 60s architecture. We would show you photos, but pictures of government buildings are frowned upon and a night in the local lockup is slightly less appealing than the Bulawayo Club.

There is a longstanding Zimbabwean joke:

Q: What did we do before candles?

A: Electricity.

We have become accustomed to the frequent power outages and carry matches wherever we go, but no toast in the mornings, how 3rd world!

The Land Rover has been swapped for an Isuzu Dual Cab and we are loaded up with all of the Lloyd's camping gear which so far remains dry and unused in the back, while we check into lodges and chalets along the way.




The Matopos is everything everyone described. Amazing balancing rock formations, softly shaped boulders, God's marbles (although rumour has it Bob has rescinded the title deeds). We took a long drive through deep rutted unmaintained tracks in search of cave paintings, adopted a couple of cheeky young boys who became our de facto guides, and ran bare-footed ahead of/behind/beside our vehicle to show us the way. Then we walked together up a slippery steep slope where they led us to a wide cave where we saw the most impressive array of ancient rock art I have ever seen.

We stayed at the marvellous Big Cave camp (Pictured below. A free Matopos pebble to the first person that spots it) which is entirely built on rock in a magnificent thatch a-frame with views to die for and had a couple of clear hours to take it all in before the rains set in and the rock mountain across the way became a waterfall and then disappeared from sight altogether. Ah well.

Along the way we have been doing our share of game spotting: lion, giraffe, rhino, buck, grasshoppers (just checking to see if you are still with us) and chameleon. I have decided when I come back in my next life I want to be a chameleon. We watched one crossing a dirt road camouflaged as limestone, then in that slow robotic like manner, cross into the greenery and leaf-matter and darken and change colour until it was suddenly invisible; very cool and a great party trick — find Al! I'd do anything to get out of this ol' brown suit. Those 180 degrees independent eye sockets are pretty cool too. Sure I'd miss my yogi svelte, but you can't have everything right!


09 Jan 2013

The graceful art of smiling

2 Comments Zimbabwe

There is a certain charm about Zimbabwe; I can't quite put a finger on it.

At first I thought it was the magnificent stands of Eucalyptus. The familiarity. They are taller, broader and appear healthier than their Australian counterparts. (Although I believe there is a program to eradicate them because they don't belong. A familiar theme if ever there was one. This at least I understand!). But no, I realise it is not the Eucalyptus that gives Zimbabwe its charm.




Then I thought it might have been the mountains. As we weaved our way into Nyanga, each turn opened up to more and more magnificent views. Soft rounded boulders, balancing rocks, many shades of green. We weave because that is the way you drive in Zimbabwe, navigating potholes like negotiating a slalom. In our trusty green Land Rover (courtesy of Peter and Margo) the country is open to us and the odd pothole we slip into does not phase us. We watch roadside workers fill deep unnavigable trenches with branches and rubble, knowing that after a few more heavy downpours the road will once again become unnavigable. But no, I realise it is not the mountains, which is no small claim in a land blessed with natural beauty, and definitely not the roads that give Zimbabwe its charm.

And then I thought it might have been the skies. We stayed in a large stone cottage that commanded those same magnificent mountain views, but it is the skies as much as the mountains that are part of the view. Expansive skies, that make me feel insignificant, like the smallest particle. Clouds rolling in, moving fast and thick, ever changing, ominous and black, then thunder and lightning and heavy rain — and with it all, power cuts. In fact in the six days we have been here, along with the routine rolling power cuts, the outages due to storms, trees down etc, there have only been two days where we have had continuous power. At nights we eat by candlelight which for a few days is romantic, but on a daily basis I can imagine it becoming extremely tedious. In Harare we sleep to the gentle hum of generators (and barking dogs). But no, I realise it is not the skies which give Zimbabwe its charm.




And then it clicks — the Zimbabwean charm. It is the Zimbabweans themselves. Marcus, our domestic help at the cottage, who smiles continuously and clasps his hands together as he greets us and then insists on washing our muddy Land Rover. The omnipresent hitchhikers — with children, babies slung across backs, tools, suitcases on heads — who smile and wave even though we pass them by. The roadside fruit and vegetable sellers who mob us when we stop, present us with all types of fruits and vegetables and when we say we only want tomatoes, there is a shuffle and a woman emerges from the throng, popping up magically at our car window with bags of juicy ripe tomatoes. We hand over a couple of US dollars — for that is the currency now —and say our goodbyes. For a moment I am stung by the mass of smiles; you would have thought we had bought all their produce. It is infectious. In fact everywhere we go we are greeted by smiles and pleasant encounters. Even the police at the frequent roadblocks we encounter go about their business with a smile, waving as on, or asking us where we have been, chatting about the weather.

Despite all its problems (and Zimbabwe has far too many to list), it is that smile, that willingness to communicate, that gives Zimbabwe a charm that many countries lack.



03 Jan 2013

Happy New Year

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South Africa is a land of colourful contrasts: magnificent tree-lined avenues with high-walled many-roomed mansions to shanty towns; a tin roof held down by bricks, a couple of windows, power if you are lucky. Smiley happy people, razor wire, armed response, guns. Gleaming, just-washed BMWs and Mercs, poor people on every street corner begging, holding open bags to collect rubbish from said vehicles in exchange for a few rand. We caught the shiny new high speed Guatrain to avoid the crazies on the roads over the Christmas period where the December road death toll reached a staggering 1207 people, only to be reprimanded by the security guard for chewing gum.


Christmas Day chaos


A dusty bottle of red ... Thanks Santa


We spent a few timeless days over Christmas staying with Jo, and H and Andrew, Joan and Francios (and Luke and Zoe). Safe in Jo's lovely garden cottage, we chatted and read, took tea in the garden, fumbled with keys, remotes, and security grills (It's a Jo'burg thing), walked Paddy, explored the funky gritty downtown streets of Johannesburg, dined at Ghandi's former house and visited the excellent, but emotionally overwhelming Apartheid Museum.

Whisked out of Jo'burg at light-speed with Alexa and Paul and entourage in tow. Magaliesburg for a night with Tom and Jeanette, a mass offloading of children and parents and excess luggage … and then it was just Paul and Alexa, Paul and Gill, Alice and I … bliss!




Nungabane Game Lodge in the middle of the Waterberg for a few nights of luxury. After Jo'burg with its pumped up security, edginess borne out of poverty, Nungabane is a breath of fresh air. We can leave our doors open and our windows unlocked. There is nothing out here to hurt us … just a few lions on the prowl, leopard stalking, rhino charging, elephant stampeding, scorpions, jackals, hyenas … ahhh the freedom, the serenity. We see in the New Year by declaring it must be New Year already somewhere in the world and kill the lights at 11pm.




Happy New Year all … all the best, Al.