Our adventure continued across the Northern parts of Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls has always been a favorite stop over for us from a few past visits to this adrenaline-fueled town. The main activity we were keen to do was the white water rafting trip down the mighty Zambezi! Unfortunately, the water levels were still regarded as high so the trips were only starting from rapid number 11, rather than from rapid number 1, which is pretty much at the base of the Falls themselves. We would be missing out on some of the biggest rapids this incredible stretch of water has to offer, but nevertheless, there were still 14 rapids to tackle, some of which are rated as Grade 5 rapids, some of the biggest in the world.
After an introduction and safety briefing at the incredibly beautiful Lookout Café, a restaurant built on stilts overlooking a bend in the river, we met our guide, Colgate, and hopped into a shuttle to the starting point. Carrying our life jackets and paddles, we started the steep 100m plus decent down into the Batoka gorge – one of the greatest river corridors you can ever witness!
The immense quantity of water from the Falls funnels its way down the basalt rock walls of the gorge, forming some mammoth rapids with name such as The Washing Machine, Terminator 1 and 2, Oblivion, The Gnashing Jaws of Death and the locals rafting guides favorite, Creamy White Buttocks, so called after all the views they get from tourists flashing their rear ends when thrown overboard by the walls of white water!
Unfortunately, the rapids were not as intense as we had witnessed on previous visits, but we enjoyed an incredibly fun filled few hours on the water.
We also enjoyed a round of golf at Elephant Hills, where you share the fairways (and bushes!) with Warthog, Waterbuck, Impala, Bushbuck, Baboons, and Monkeys.
Heading a bit south after our stop in the Falls, we arrived at Robins Camp in Hwange National Park. Our first couple drives proved fruitful, with Lion sightings on each of them. However, the lions and the rest of the game, in general, seemed to be very skittish and headed for the cover of thicker bush as soon as we came across them. More on our theories for the reason for this a bit later…
After our second morning drive Stu – our Head Mechanic – noticed that the front left side of Winchester (our Landcruiser) was sitting very low. Probably something to do with the shock absorber we thought. After chatting with the office staff member at Robins, he suggested we get the local mechanic to take a look at it. Driving up to the workshop, we spotted a man gently strolling up towards us. It was a Sunday, and the man was in no rush. Introducing himself as Costa, he got his sheet of old cardboard and slid under the car and started to grunt and groan immediately. Something must be seriously wrong we surmised.
‘What’s up Costa?’
‘You have snapped your front control arm’, replied Costa.
Stu and I both slid under to take a look ourselves and could easily see the damage that had been done. We suspect the problem arose when I hit a series of massive bumps while plowing through the thick sand of the notorious Khaudum National Park a few weeks back in Namibia. The cracks that resulted from those bumps had grown and grown and finally given way.
Costa told us he will be able to fix it and get us back on the road no problem. We didn’t have many other options, as it would have been seriously risky to drive back to Vic Falls with the condition of the vehicle. Before he got to work, Stu and I tried to negotiate a price with Costa, trying to ensure we didn’t get ripped off. Costa wouldn’t offer us a number, and rather just replied, ‘Have you never done something for someone just to help them?’ What a great human!
Turns out Costa used to run a workshop in Harare for a good number of years before his rented premises was taken over by the Government. Finding a new job with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife, he was sent out to Robins Camp where he had about five vehicles to fix up. But once he was done with those, he had nothing left to do and he sits around doing nothing most days. So he was just keen to do something for a change and use his skills again.
Getting out his toolbox and hammer, we got to work. Using the hammer, we managed to wedge the broken piece back around the bolt before Costa welded the gap together. A generous tip and an ice cold Coke as payment, we were both very happy with the outcome.
But it was not to be, about 10km down the road, we heard that terrible sound of breaking metal. The welding had not held and we back to square one. After a series of phone calls to South Africa and some friends in Vic Falls, we managed to get a second-hand control arm in the Falls. Getting a lift to town with the park rangers, paying our way with 60l of fuel for their car, we had our new part!
The ride into town was an adventure in itself! The ranger at the wheel flew along the bumpy road to the Falls, doing a drive that took us two hours in half the time. Some of the highlights were seeing Lions crossing the main tar road close to Vic Falls town, almost driving into two Serval cubs, a pair or Porcupines, countless March Owls, and a wheel change pretty much in the dark while the car was still moving, all while having four passengers and a 200l drum of fuel on the back of the bakkie.
Next morning we got to work with Costa to get our new part installed. All went smoothly getting it back in thankfully. The adventure continues!!!!
By now, we had spent 5 nights at Robin and are pretty much part of the scenery around camp. Costa is our new mate, he gives us the staff Wi-Fi password, sends us Whatsapps and tell us stories about some of the people and the goings on around camp. He told us he has not been paid by Zim Parks for four months now, and a few other interesting stories about Zimbabwe and the locals struggle to find work, makes ends meet and provide a future for their children.
I had noticed about 5 Buffalo skins being salted and dried while we were out back by the workshop getting Winchester fixed the one day, as well as a few Buffalo skulls. This led us to believe that a combination of poaching, the rangers shooting game to feed themselves as a result of not being paid, and the nearby hunting concessions were the reasons for the game being nervous and running away from vehicles. Stu and I didn’t take one photo of wildlife in our stay in Hwange National Park. A very sad and scary state of affairs.
Finally leaving Hwange behind us, we headed to Binga – a small town on Lake Kariba. We stayed at in incredible spot called Masumu Lodge, with lovely camping grounds, six chalets, and an absolutely amazing bar overlooking the Lake. And we had the place all to ourselves! With Zimbabwe’s poor economy, difficulty to get cash from ATM’s and banks, and general state of affairs, tourism in the area has taken a serious knock. We must have seen about 10 houseboats sitting idle, either damaged or just tourists not wanting to go on them anymore.
We were fortunate enough to time our stop there on a Saturday and managed to watch the mighty Lions narrowly beat the Sharks in the Super Rugby quarterfinal! It was a nerve-racking game, but looking out the window beside the TV onto the Lake was a great way to sooth the tension.
Next stop – the world-renowned Mana Pool National Park. A place we have both heard so much about and long wanted to visit.
See you soon…