Day 37 to 40: Makuti my base for a few days. A taste of the Colonial past!

"Into Africa" More than a Motorcycle Adventure
Howard Fairbank
Sun 26 May 2013 04:25

16:18.6S 29:14.5E


Day 37, and I enjoyed an early morning run, up the steep hill for a wonderful early morning view of Lake before packing up to leave for Makuti.  Had breakfast at the ‘Harbour Cafe’ nearby, and was entertained by a group of woman who clearly meet there weekly and download all the problems, each with a view to feeling better that the others have worse problems. One of them had emigrated to Australia, and was on a visit back and it was clear she had moved on and was enjoying her privileged place now not having to apply emotional energy to the discussions of Zimbabwe’s woes, and the upcoming election and how things will turn out. What was refreshing was the brutal honesty of each woman and the obvious camaraderie they had to deal with the challenges.  These Zimbabweans are quite extraordinary people, and one gets the distinct feeling that just surviving day to day is the adventure they are engaging in, and one helluva adventure it is!


The ride to Makuti was very pleasant, winding roads, miomba bush that eventually becomes a game reserve, so I ended slowing right down keeping my eyes peeled for game. Just saw too lots of elephants 100 metres off the road.


Because the ferry schedule, I was a few days early for my scheduled meeting with James Varden and the group I was going to be walking down the Zambezi Escarpment following the Ruckomechi River via Chitake to  the Zambezi, and Mana Pools.


I ended up making the iconic, colonial era, Makuti Lodge my base for three days, which could have felt like I was wasting time, just waiting, but as usual I made the most of it exploring the area, and getting to know the lodge staff and their stories about life, Zimbabwe, and their Mashona culture.  What struck me most was there strong sense of pride and identity with their culture and also their un-wavering belief that they had the recipe for life and as long as they stuck to it, they will end up OK. My normal philosophically challenging approach did not go down well, as for these people there are no unanswered question, and so no need to debate what could be!  Quite a good place to be if you can just sign up and capitulate to a formula that has been passed down by the generations. This was also a good time for resting and reflecting on where I was and how the trip was going overall.


One night I did meet a late thirties, ex South African, guy there in the pub, and he was a professional hunter with a licence in Zambia, but had just had it revoked, as the government had revoked all licenses, after funding evidence of corruption and had now launched a full enquiry. This guy was distraught as his whole international client business was now on hold, so he was helping out with a contract building a game lodge in the area. He was disillusioned with Zambia and said he planned to head off to Tanzania where he heard things were better run and free of corruption. 


I did do a very pleasant day ride North, down the escarpment to Chirundu on the Zambezi and the main truck border crossing route to get to Zambia.  Going down the pass was great, spectacular views of the Zambezi Valley, and then once in the valley, Baobab lined road that passed the road to Chitake, and then on past the Park Board office. There I met a guy who was an ex-game ranger, now wildlife expedition photographer and journalist. We immediately bonded and then chatted about solo expeditions as he was also passionate about this. He had recently done a semi solo 7 day hike down the Zambezi, having a friend join him a few days, but otherwise all alone, no weapon and sleeping with the big % all around him each night. Now that stirred something up inside me, and I spent a few days after that thinking through the adventure dynamics of walking down the Zambezi alone with lions and no guns…… That would be ‘quite’ a challenge for me!


Chirundu:  Prostitutes, Border Traffic Chaos, and stories of Lions…..


What a dump…!  I had an interesting day visit though…. As long as one at a ‘dump’ by choice, and doesn’t go back for seconds, they can be very interesting for explorers!


The line of trucks bumper to bumper waiting to get customs / immigration clearance into Zambia, was horrendous.  Well truckies and long waits provide a natural market for prostitutes, and here there were many to be found. While having lunch I was approached by two, who disguised themselves as two travellers keen just to chat….. I immediately cut the story, told them I knew what they did, and I wasn’t interested but if they wanted a chat that would be OK!


Lots of stories, but eventually it was quite sad when in answer to the question of what the single thing they would like to make them happy today, they both answered: “To be married!”


I heard stories of a pride of lions ‘taking over’ the town recently. They moved in scavenging, took over the forecourt of the service station and everyone retreated to the safety of their houses. I was amazed to sense how fearful of wild animals the local population is? African one would have thought knew how to coexist better than most, but I fear these people I spoke to are second or third generation town slickers, and have lost the touch, or never had the genes of their long way back forefathers!





Late on Sunday (Day 40) the members of my hiking expedition started rolling in 4 X 4 by 4 X4, and my date with destiny had arrived.  I’d never met any of them, and also had no what age and sort of people they would be. To make matters worse, James Varden, with whom I had established a great relationship with over the phones and email, and who had invited me, suddenly withdrew for the expedition two days earlier. He had been called to a court hearing to resolve a property conflict with the Hwange Park people, and it was clear he had no option but to attend court but was clearly devastated by not being able to start this expedition which he had planned for months in advance. I was rocked by this, because I was trusting James to help ease me into the social dynamic of the group, as I did wonder if anyone even knew roughly who I was, and whether I was even welcome…..?   It was quite an unlikely group from mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, to in-laws and just friends! A huge age range, but after a short period of time I could see a strongly bonded group of people, and also a few people with a huge amount of bush expertise, and probably the best you get in Zimbabwe, or maybe even Africa. I was humbled to have been invited, and I really felt like I needed to thank James more than I had for taking this risk.  There must have been 20 people all together, some were just partners not come along on the hike, others were part of an amazing support team that would provide a resupply at Chitake Camp. I could see this was an organised operation.  Soon we were having drinks around one big table and my baptism of fire into this group had begun. It was clear they had all been briefed about this ‘global explorer’ and that had both positives and negatives, and then adding the fact that I was on a open ended solo motorcycle adventure, with no partner, I could see reference points were being reviewed. I took the liberty of helping them move faster to knowing who I really am by dropping a few of my more controversial philosophies on the table…. This did bring about moments of silence and clear disbelief, but all in all I think it was a good way to quickly break the ice, and minimize a long journey to quell wrong assumptions….


The rest of the evening was used for handing out food rations, and I was given my 80l backpack that was kindly lent to me by Jonathan Francis. By the time I headed to bed I was feeling like I was at least part of a group, and things would definitely be OK! 


What’s up ahead……?


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A monitor lizard from Chirundu