July 14th 2013: Francistown, Botswana – Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 14th 2013: 190km (120 miles)
Driven distance total: 69’870km (43’420 miles)
And now let’s go to Zimbabwe. We heard from South African tourists that it may cost 100$ and more to bring in your own car into Zimbabwe. Luckily this wasn’t the case and we simply had to pay 30$ for our visa (eventually because we have the carnet de passage). We didn’t have to mention how long we plan to stay, on the visa it simply said “on exit” at “expiration date” :-). A man, who already saw us in Francistown, started to talk to us. All the men from this group were wearing uniforms and looked more like boy scouts and the women had some white dresses. We were quite curious and asked what it is about with the uniforms. He explained to us that they are members of the Jehovah witnesses :-).
The entire process at the crappy border went without problems. There was also no real dress code by the border guys. For the check of our vehicle was a guy in T-shirt and gym pants arriving and not one of the uniformed persons :-).
Shortly after the border was the first police check point. The most important question was if we had a fire extinguisher with us:-)!
Zimbabwe seems to be very friendly! The people are waiving their hand with a smile and we feel to be welcome here. We spent the night just before the gates to the Matobo National Park.
July 15th – 17th 2013: Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 15th – 17th 2013: 240km (150 miles)
Driven distance total: 70’110km (43’560 miles)
The Matobo National Park contains of two different parts, the Recreational Park and the Game Park. Shortly after the main gate to the Recreational Park we got surprised by a group of 5 white rhinos! Wow, what a beginning of the visit! The park is mainly famous for it’s massive granite block landscapes. It has many balancing rocks, several ancient rock art paintings and is viewed also as Zimbabwe’s spiritual home. First we drove along crappy tracks to 2 secluded dams. We passed several grassing cows and many stapled hay bundles, which are most probably used to cover the roofs of the huts. The rocky landscape was fantastic - many smooth rocky hills who looked like turtle shells or smaller rocks who looked like one has been put on top of another. We also went souvenir shopping and checked out the 20’000 year old rock paintings. The night we spent at the Maleme dam with beautiful surroundings. The next day we crawled up a hill to get a spectacular 360° panoramic view. To exercise a little bit :-) we walked along the beautiful landscape for 2 hours in the afternoon. Now for the last day, we went to the game park, where there are supposedly many rhinos. Unfortunately we didn’t see one L. But of course we still enjoyed a lot the hippos, warthogs and antelopes. Towards the evening we went to the city of Bulawayo.
July 18th 2013: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 18th 2013: 20km (10 miles)
Driven distance total: 70’130km (43’580 miles)
In the beginning we only planned a short stop in the bigger city of Bulawayo. At the end we stayed two nights and used the time to do some souvenir shopping and to get to know the city a bit. The absolute highlight in the city was the Haefeli’s Swiss bakery, where we bought 3 special Swiss bread :-)!! Believe it or not, it actually tasted almost as good as back home! We also had to do grocery shopping and finally went to three supermarkets until we had everything. You have to very careful with the expiration date, since it happens quite often, that some food had past it by several days!
Somewhat strange was also the thermal power station with its 6 cooling towers in the middle of the city, something else!
Here some words to the currency in Zimbabwe. The inflation went into the infinite and soon was a 20 billion (20'000'000'000) Zimbabwean Dollar bill worth nothing! Since a couple of years they use the US$ and the South African Rand as currency. Everything is labeled in US$ and we were also able to withdraw US$ from the ATM’s. The South African Rand is mainly used for coins, since there are no US cent coins around! The Dollar bills look really crappy since there is not much “fresh” money entering the country. At some of the bills it is almost difficult to see what it’s worth:-).
July 19th 2013: Bulawayo – Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 19th 2013: 360km (220 miles)
Driven distance total: 70’490km (43’800 miles)
We took the low frequented back roads towards the Hwange National Park, since we didn’t really liked the idea of driving the entire distance on a straight boring main road. It was interesting how the people live in the small villages. Just after lunch we’ve seen in several villages how the school kids in their uniforms were walking or sitting in a bus to get back home. In a smaller town we dared to go into the local bar to drink something :-). There was a tiny grocery shop in there, loud music and a soccer game was going on in the TV and some beer drinking men added some more noise to it. Of course the locals were quite curious what 2 white persons were doing in the bar, so we quickly had some chats with some men. For the final 20km of the back roads we took a young hitchhiker with us that almost jumped in the car to get picked up. We are of course always very careful with hitchhikers, but on some of the back roads are the people very thankful, because there is almost no traffic and they’d have to walk for hours otherwise. A police checkpoint stopped us when we were back on the main road. There were 2 officers in uniforms and 2 with suite and tie. And of course the two with suite and tie came to us:-). They asked for the driver’s license and the carnet de passage and also wanted to look in the back of the car. Our passenger in the back of the car was greeted friendly and they chatted a bit, and we could continue. Since there are presidential elections on July 31st, we could see everywhere political gatherings where people were moving back and forth in trucks or busses.
Finally we slept at in a lodge just in front of the National Park.
July 20th – 25th 2013: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 20th – 25th 2013: 730km (450 miles)
Driven distance total: 71’220km (44’250 miles)
In the Hwange National Park the entrance fee first positively surprised us. It was for both of us 55$ for all 5 days! A specialty of the park is, that you can camp directly at the waterholes and watch the hippos and antelopes while you take your breakfast. The best camping spots were of course booked out. Since those places are usually more than big enough and sometimes only being occupied by 4 persons, we asked really kind and friendly if there would be a chance for us to stay as well:-). In the beginning the people were quite skeptical but let us luckily camp there.
The Hwange NP is famous for the biggest amount of elephants all over Africa! 30'000 of those big mammals are walking around and stop occasionally the little traffic in the park :-). Unfortunately we haven’t seen much during the drives (besides elephants :-) ) but at the waterholes it was the opposite and really interesting. Around lunch were the first herds of elephants arriving. At one of the camps we witnessed something unexplainable to us. About 100 elephants were drinking at the same time at the waterhole. All of a sudden one of them made a lot of sound and all 100 elephants were running simultaneously within 2 minutes back into the forest where we could see some of them waiting in the bushes. It was strange on one hand since elephants aren’t afraid from big cats and on the other hand the antelopes and zebras continued drinking at the waterhole. About 30 minutes later they returned to the waterhole.
Sometimes we have seen elephants, a dozen hippos, several crocodiles, zebras, antelopes, water buffalos and so on at the same time. What was exciting was the behavior of the animals over a longer period of time. We enjoyed watching the hippos how they walked with a very young one directly in front of a crocodile or how herds of elephants took a bath or were drinking.
An experience was also the noises of the elephants during the night. We heard clearly the substantial grunting of the hippos or the trumpeting of the elephants in the night, since we slept very close to the waterholes. From time to time they performed real concerts, which pulled us out of the sleep :-).
On of the nights we spent at a huge dam, were we couldn’t see the animals from close but we were able to see the quantity of them. We could see all around the dam numerous herds of elephants or a small island full of crocs.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to spot many raptors. Simply one lioness came to the waterhole to kill their thirst. All together was the park not a sensation but we liked it anyways a lot and it was impressive!
July 26th – 28th 2013: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 26th – 28th 2013: 0km (0 miles)
Driven distance total: 71’220km (44’250 miles)
We didn’t do too much the first two days… Finally at the third day we visited the mighty Victoria Falls, a special natural wonder of the world! After a short walk we reached the falls where we had to pay 30 US$ entry fee per person. From this point we made a walking tour along all the viewing spots at the falls. The walk leads through a tiny “rainforest” with palm trees and other plants. The rainforest exists due to the permanent mist of the falls (30meter (100 feet) annual, in the village 0.7m (2 feet)). You come frequently to different platforms where you can see the spectacular falls. The falls are tumbling down into a 1688m (5538 feet) wide gorge from a hight of up to 108 meters (354 feet) and are therefor the largest, in one stream, falling waterfall in the world. But this is not the relevant part :-). The unique thing about those falls is, that they seem to disappear in the gorge!
July 29th 2013: Victoria Falls – Gweru, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 29th 2013: 620km (390 miles)
Driven distance total: 71’840km (44’640 miles)
We checked out in which countries there are Ethiopian embassies, since we will be travelling through it sooner or later. We want to try the possibilities that exist, since we heard that it is really difficult to obtain for a visa outside of your home country. We figured out that there are only embassies in Uganda, Kenya and here in Zimbabwe. Even though we found out, that there were people who didn’t received a visa, we started our journey to the capital anyways. Along the way we drove once again through the city of Bulawayo where we stayed 10 days ago and bought again some breads from the Swiss bakery :-). Immediately after we continued the trip towards Harare. There were many police check points since the presidential elections aren’t far away. At one of the check points the officer said that we have to pay 20$ fine because the car is too dirty. After we put a smile on our faces and argued a bit we could go without a fine :-). A bit further down the road we got stopped again. This stop ended up a bit more annoying then the previous one. After quite some searching the cop found a break light that didn’t work. He said “20$ fine”. Of course we said NO, but the guy kept our license in his pocket. We would have had copies with us but so far we never encountered any problems. Finally we wanted to see the book with all the fines – and well, the fine wasn’t 20$, it was 10 for a broken break light. In addition we gave them 10$ finally after we received a proper receipt and the license back.
After a record drive 620km (390 miles) we definitely had enough and stayed at a nice campground.
July 30th 2013: Gweru – Harare, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 30th 2013: 310km (190 miles)
Driven distance total: 72’150km (44’830 miles)
Also the second part of our long journey to Harare went well. The traffic in the big city was very relaxed and we arrived quickly at the destination. First we paid a visit to the Ethiopian embassy. The building looked quite desolate, so we first went to the Swiss embassy across the street to ask if it is even open. After some shaking of the gate the Ethiopians let us in. As expected, was the first answer of the secretary “NO, we only issue visas for Zimbabwean citizens”L! After some explanations and some wining she finally agreed that we could bring a letter as well as a recommendation letter from the Swiss embassy for the consular. This sounded like a small success! We got the recommendation letter from the Swiss embassy without any problems and for free. We were surprised how quickly, not complicated and helpful the staff of the Swiss embassy was; we are not used to this anymore :-). We put up our camp at a backpacker lodge, where we unfortunately had to stay on the parking areaL.
July 31st – August 2nd 2013: Harare, Zimbabwe
Driven distance on July 31st – August 2nd 2013: 0km (0 miles)
Driven distance total: 72’150km (44’830 miles)
On July 31st everything from shopping malls to smaller shops were closed. There were presidential elections going on and this was of course a major topic in the capitol. On August 1st we went back to the Ethiopian embassy to pass by our nice letter and the recommendation letter from our embassy. The secretary took it and we already hoped for the best. The next day we went again and received the clear answer NO! We never got a real reason for this answer. Everything we got was the address from the Ethiopian embassy in SwitzerlandL. We spent more than half an hour with the secretary and tried to get an appointment with the consul. We tried as well to push her that she brings our letters back one more time. At the end she told us „you don’t know these people!“. She explained us clearly that she risks her job when she goes again to ask, since they say that she wouldn’t do her job correctly! We believed her and walked frustrated away.
August 3rd 2013: Harare, Zimbabwe – Siavonga, Zambia
Driven distance on August 3rd 2013: 380km (240 miles)
Driven distance total: 72’530km (45’070 miles)
We were glad to drive towards Zambia after the boring days in Harare. It is crazy, but in Harare aren’t many things to see. We actually do miss here in Africa the diversity of the Asian cities! The trip afterwards was then quite enjoyable. The road led us through hilly, forested areas, up and down along windy roads towards the Zambian border. We were a bit confused when we repeatedly saw the signs „Nice worms for sale“ along the road :-). First we thought that they are some kind of snack, since there are people that fry and eat caterpillars. We stopped at one of stalls and immediately came a guy with some boxes. First we could see only soil, but after he put his hand in it we figured out that they were full of worms that they use for fishing!
Since we were still looking for some kind of snack, we stopped along the road and bought some grilled corn from the ladies. As often we grabbed the chance and took some pictures from the people selling. Usually the people really do like it to be on photos. A bit difficult is, that the people look quite serious when taking the picture, then afterwards, when you show them the pictures, they put up their nicest smile! We turned off of the main road towards lake Kariba. The beautiful detour to the lake brought us to the very quiet border crossing. No queues and no hassles. The road led us directly over the dam where the Zambezi River gets blocked. The formalities took place very quickly and relaxed. The lady at the counter stopped her work on our passports occasionally to watch an exciting soccer game on TV :-). We also had to pay some carbon tax, insurance, council fee and so on… All together we had to pay 180 US$ – a rather expensive part. We stayed just after the border at a beautiful campsite directly at the lake. Finally we could enjoy our dinner without bonnet and jacket, since we dropped to an altitude of only 400m (1300 feet) :-).