Lake Kariba and Mana Pools
We left Victoria Falls after a really great stay and chartered a course across the country. We had to make it to Kariba town, on the Eastern side of the 220km long lake. Our next escapade was house boating on Lake Kariba, getting there was going to pose an adventure in itself however.
The journey is 800km’s and you have to drive unmaintained dirt roads where 60 km/hour feels like your teeth are going to rattle out or the bottom of the car is going to fall off any minute. The route was strongly discouraged by lukewarm explorers, but those of us with grit and determination weren’t disheartened. We did our research; decided waiting 2 weeks for a ferry (that costs the same as a months mortgage on a house) wasn’t worth it, and hit the road.
To start off the excitement, we had to play hide and seek to find petrol for our car. We did lots of seeking, and finally came right 200km’s south of Victoria Falls, where a small roadside village had rations of petrol. The locals weren’t thrilled that our tank takes 170 litres, but we didn’t have an option but to fill the tank – we had to get across the country and had no idea where next we’d find fuel.
Sunil, our fellow intrepid explorer, decided to join us for this leg of our journey, and we agreed to meet in Kariba town. For various reasons he ended up having to drive through Zambia to get there, but this turned out to be a blessing because he needed diesel and there was no diesel anywhere in Zim! So he went rogue as he crossed the border and lost cell reception, with our arrangement that we’d see him in the harbour by 12pm, 2 days later. No cell connection really felt like we were rolling old school style. It was so much more exhilarating!
The drive from Vic Falls to Kariba took us 15 hours. It was punctuated mid way by a stop over at the only town along the lake, and a thankfully brief visit to a mechanic. We discovered, whilst in the arse end of nowhere, that our tow bar had sheered clean off on two edges, and was waving around rather gaily with van attached, bouncing along as we drove. It was a rather horrifying discovery. The mechanic we found fortunately had a knack with a welding rod, and had us ready to go by midday. This was just the beginning though.
The set back meant we were still on the road as night was falling. We had just enough light to sneak through the bushes, past a very large truck that had skidded to a permanent halt across the entire dirt road. This also happened to be just where 2 ladies had broken down. After agreeing to give them a lift, and with darkness creeping in around us, we shuffled things around in the car to make room for them. At this precise moment 2 more things happened:
- Our hand-break no longer held the vehicle, and
- All the dust had jammed the lock in the boot, and we couldn’t close it!
All the breaking, stopping, fixing, lifting, set us back rather a while, and we finally reached Kariba town at 11pm, with only fumes left in the tank. What a day!
At 7am the following morning we were queued up at the petrol station, draining the last drops from the station tanks into our car, as the rest of the Kariba taxis watched with a mixture of kindness, annoyance, and sorrow that their country couldn’t provide better. Petrol stations have become one of the best places to get information about a country from its people. We have had long chats with locals around the pumps, much to the children’s annoyance. It is refreshing in that there is complete honesty, rather than the upbeat ‘tourist’ version you get from anyone trying to schmooze visitors to the country. The feeling here was that the new Zimbabwean president hasn’t done much to right the many wrongs in the country. The biggest change has come in the lifting of road-blocks, making travelling the roads far less stressful and devoid of officers looking for bribes. But petrol and diesel are hard to come by, and we saw queues round the blocks at filling stations. Bread is in equally high demand, and people queue up in the grocery stores to get their share, often buying more than they need and selling it off at a premium. Everyone just trying to make a buck wherever they can. Despite the disastrous state of affairs, the people in the country remain friendly and warm, often going out of their way to help you. I felt no safety risk at all.
As planned, Sunil, our trusty sidekick. arrived in Kariba at midday, and the 5 of us, together with our skipper and chef, were able to set sail. The boat we were on was so much swankier than any of us had expected; it felt like sheer luxury! The addition of a chef, who comes with the boat, was the cherry on the top, and it really felt like I was on holiday for 3 days. It was an absolute treat. We sailed across Kariba and made anchor on the first night at the National Park on the opposite shore, getting the best of both worlds; game spotting whilst on the water. We were able to fish in the evenings and mornings, and spend the days lazing on the boat or exploring the shoreline when we made camp. We weren’t incredibly talented fishermen and only managed a few bream, but man were they delicious!
The time passed too quickly and before we knew it we were heading back to the mainland. Luckily we had Mana Pools waiting for us. It is a place I had been told by many is the ‘quintessential’ African bush. They couldn’t have been more accurate. This is the driest season, right before the rains start, so much of the ground was hard baked mud and scrubby bush land; but towering above it all was a canopy of the tallest, brightest green trees. It was bush like I’d never seen it before. In the wet season it must be one of the most strikingly beautiful places on our planet. It borders on the Zambezi river which flows all year round, and the campsites are dotted along its banks. The ellies wander through your campsite on their way to or from the river, and wade along the sandbanks in the middle of the water. The hippos are a noisy bunch and spend their days wallowing in the water, peeking out at you from just above the surface; only the babies cheeky enough to wander around the banks in the middle of the day.
We had our first sighting of wild dog while we were there and it was perfect. The pack ran up and down playing like puppies, jumping on each other and chasing one another around. They are beautiful animals and it is sad that they are on the endangered list because we have taken so much of their land for housing and farming. Apparently they cover about 25km a day so they need room to move, which they simply don’t have anymore. It was a special experience seeing them interact, and it was all we could do to stop the kids hopping out to go and join them. Mana Pools is quite unique in that you are allowed out your vehicles, so there were people running after the dogs taking photo’s as they moved. I didn’t like this so much. It felt wrong seeing so many people running after the dogs with lenses as long as a rifle. Hopefully their photos will go a long way in educating people and helping in some way, making their ‘interference’ in the wild more acceptable.
It is an absolutely phenomenal place to visit, and I have definitely left a piece of my heart behind in Zimbabwe. With incredible wildlife, extraordinary natural wonders and the warmest people, we can only hope the government sorts itself out so more people can experience the magic of this country.
Life in the bush: Collecting water from the river, attempting banana bread, laundry, driving, school, fires, eating, drinking, playing, living…
Animal magic from Mana Pools: