” Round the corner there may wait, A new road or a secret gate.”
On the road again
I was sad to leave Bulawayo but after almost a month of inactivity I was pleased to once again have itchy feet and the need to be on the road. The first couple of days I took it nice and slow, only cycling 50-80km a day until I got my legs warmed up again. From time to time seeing the old Bulawayo-Mutare road.
Money for da eggs
I found it strange that my host didn’t have a car or driving license, intelligent, good income and paying a fortune for taxi’s into town it just didn’t make sense. When I asked her she said she’d refused to pay for the eggs.
It turns out that the corruption here is not just reserved for the government and police but in fact all walks of life and an attitude of “if you can’t beat them join them” is prevalent. Whilst taking her driving test my host was asked to provide money for da eggs. What? “My wife has asked me to pick up da eggs on the way home, leave some money in the glove box”. At which point she said fuck off, the second test started with a similar attitude and her refusal to pay ended up in repeated hill starts until she finally stalled the car and therefore failed the test. Had she been prepare to pay the first low level bribe of $10-20 that would not be the end, the actual application process also involves a hidden $100 bill if you want it to go through. Few industries, construction sites or project here are not ruled by back handers, corruption and the insistence that a “friend” or “cousins” company will be best to do the work.
My four easy days brought me to the Great Zimbabwe ruins, wild camping along the way proved a little chilly as winter is finally here, my Cumulus sleeping bag may claim to have a comfort temperature of 0c but I’m a softy and usually freezing by about 8c, a second hand itchy blanket I picked up helped a little but was far from ideal. To make matters worse during the first night at the ruin’s campsite my exped mat finally died properly, another baffle delaminated rolling me out of bed and leaving my mat with one huge lump over the full length and the width of 3 air pockets, game over. It is now barely useable when I pump it up to a very uncomfortable 2cm where I balance on the huge 25cm wide airpocket.
The Great Zimbabwe ruins
While chilling out in my hammock a tv crew turned up and I did the most pointless interview ever. “What did you think of the Ruins” “don’t know haven’t been yet” then they continued filming hinting that I should continue talking……
The ruins are what you’d expect from an engineering marvel of its time, it is indeed a beautiful pile of old stones. I hung around on the small mountain until just before sunset which gave a great view of the main camp/building/settlement. I always love to come to these places to satisfy the amateur military historian in me, but I’m always done within minutes once I’ve seen what I want to see and certainly don’t think it’s worth the $15 entry.
Uncle bob, his wife and 3 kids are sitting around the dinner table debating whether to have chicken or beef for dinner the following evening, the general consensus being chicken which uncle Bob doesn’t want. Unable to decide they have a secret ballet, the result being beef 5, chicken 4. His wife says “damn you Bob why do you bring your work home”.
I’ve been in Zimbabwe for almost 2 months and have therefore had the time and pleasure to mix with locals behind closed doors and hear the other stories, this joke sums up the point of views of many educated middle class I spoke with.
In the dark days of the countries descent, where food became more scarce and the Zimbabwe dollar devaluated by the day. Pay day meant spend all your money day because the next day it would be worth a lot less, bartering, food co-operatives and black market where ripe during this time. The Zimbabwe dollar was printed in steadily higher denominations and checks where written with a couple of zero’s to the power of…..The largest denomination note that I know of was the 100 trillion dollar note. That’s a 1 with 14 zero’s behind it (I think) eventually enough was enough and the country changed to the US Dollar which at the time would get you 3 trillion Zimbabwe dollars ( per $1 US).
I’ve asked a couple of people why they have tolerated this and how Bob managed to get through the “democratic elections”of 2008. It would appear that thanks to spies, a “big brother is watching” feeling, fear squads smashing things and people up and rumours of past atrocities kept most folks in check. Failing that a little election rigging also goes a long way. One person I spoke to said she had trembling knees and tears in her eyes from fear as she voted for the opposition, but her and friends where of the opinion that enough was enough and damn the consequences……Brave folks. But despite all this Bob is still pulling the strings and eating beef for dinner.
Unless you’re a white farmer or land owner things have generally improved in recent years, the shelves in the shops are full of food, salaries are paid in dollars and allegedly there’s a minimum wage ($80 per month). The people seem happy and there’s a good infrastructure, good quality tar roads that are fairly quiet thanks to fuel shortages (ideal for cyclists).
For those interested in reading more about Zimbabwe and its recent history apparently the books by Peter Godwin are well worth reading. More books for my to do list…..
The hills are calling
After a couple of rest days (including a little jog, my 6th this year, bring on the marathon…#cough) I started out towards Mutare. I was feeling unusually strong so the month off had done its work. Three days later despite wind and some nice climbs I’d cycled the 320 or so kilometers. Though the climbs around the Lake Kyle and later the last day towards Mutare where tough it was great to finally do some climbing again, I haven’t done any long climbs since Lesotho. Around Lake Kyle there was also 15km of dirt road much to the enjoyment of Mr Hyde, it was great to feel the beast finally come to life again after months of tar roads, I think he’s going to love being in central Africa again soon.
On the way I stopped at a hot spring resort to camp for the night, not so wonderful as it sounds, I camped behind the noisy bar because all the accommodation was full with workers who are building a new Chinese damn nearby(even here the Chinese are getting contracts). That said the warm swimming pool was wonderful after cycling 130km. After my swim and a couple of beers I stumbled around town in the dark (power cut as usual) to find somewhere to eat, luckily the chip shop was still open. I love small town Africa, “you’ll have to wait 10 minutes”, and yet the chips where cold….. But after 130km cold chips are better than cooking for yourself any day. And as one of my twitter followers pointed out, I’m very lucky, you just can’t get cold chips at home.
Apparently its now mid term holidays in South Africa so several convoys of South Africans have past me. Its quite ironic how much the Dutch and the Afrikaners still have in common almost 200 years on. Both still going on holiday with caravan or trailer with all the comforts of home and own food for the duration, not wanting to try out local cuisine. Luckily they just scream past and don’t stop at the small villages along the way, so I can still get my Sadza and meat for $1 instead of paying tourist prices. As a small piece of irony one car came to a grinding halt in front of me in order to offer a fellow cyclist a drink, it turned out to be my Warmshowers hosts from 7 months ago in Stellenbosch, small world, and in the excitement they forgot to give me the promised coke, haha.
Its seems that unlike the rest of Africa rural Zimbabwe still hasn’t discovered the wonders of the bicycle as a work horse, instead using the wheelbarrow to transport water, wood, food and grandma. It looks a lot like hard work, especially up and down the hills.
My time in Mutare has been a little weird but in a nice way. Couple of days in the backpackers, a night out on the town resulting in an invite to help someone pull a borehole pump out in exchange for a couple of nights accommodation in a mansion in the Bvumba valley. Also a long story but fun , though the colonial life is not for me, I’m not a fan of bumping into the maid a couple of times an hour, and certainly don’t like being called sir. Because of the maid everyone becomes inherently lazy, leaving all there crap lying around for someone else to clean up. That said I’m sure the maid is pleased to be getting paid $200 a month instead of minimum wage, she also has a house to live in for free. Hot coffee with egg sandwiches waiting for you when you get out of bed is quite nice though.
Due to the not too complicated but rather expensive process of getting a Mozambique visa, I’ve decided to spend a couple weeks in Mozambique instead of the planned 3 day sprint through the Tete corridor to Malawi. It turned out that the 3 day transit visa is just as expensive as the 1 month tourist visa. Had I got either visa at the embassy in Harare it may have cost half as much (or so I’m told) but here it cost $110 (at the Mozambique embassy in Mutare) at the border it would of cost $80 but the risk is then, if they refuse me for whatever reason I’d be stuck in no mans land and have to pay $55 to get back into Zimbabwe. In short the whole situation is ridiculous, expensive and without the aid of Vaseline. I suspect the Mozambique visa is one of the most expensive out there (for the British) especially the transit visa, $110 for 3 days….?
So, a little detour through a country where I don’t speak the language (Portuguese) then on to Malawi. I’m happy to spend more time there though, few deep conversations probably but at least I can get a better impression of the country I’ve heard so much about and finally escape the South African breweries empire and try some new and tastier beers.