Some of the Southern Africa open and deserted roads
Hello, I'm fabulous, pleased to meet you. Not your usual greeting, but in Zimbabwe where children are often named after their parent's aspirations for them, so names like Fabulous, Blessing, and Wonderful are not uncommon.
And that's where we met Fabulous, in Zimbabwe when we parked up at the N1 Hotel by Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side (they are accessible from Zambia as well).
The Salt Pans. Open and vast.
Fabulous was the Ablution block cleaner or toilet cleaner if you prefer and although that role may have fallen below his parent's aspirations for Fabulous, the Ablution blocks were always fabulously clean.
But that was a hook to get you to read on. Did it work? It's all true but before Zimbabwe, I want to tell you about Botswana.
Botswana is a country the size of France with a human population of 2.5 million and an elephant population of around 130,000.
Elephant Sands. Probably my favourite place.
A country that still supports capital punishment and hangs an average of one person per year.
An English-speaking country (as is Zimbabwe) that also favours driving on the left but this is Africa and so it's optional really.
Botswana was for us, a bit like Marmite, or should I say, how Marmite should be. Thinly spread.
We could drive for a day or two and see nothing or nobody but when you hit the major sights and Oh ’boy!
The first major site we encountered was the Salt Pans with miles and miles of open space and no vegetation, just dry salt pans for miles. We spent the evening alone under the stars as far away from human civilisation as almost possible. Just beautiful.
Next up was the Lodge at Elephant sands.
Someone had the foresight to build a tasteful lodge and camping area next to an Elephant watering hole.
The bar/restaurant was so close to the watering hole, you could sit with a G&T, keep warm by the campfire and almost touch these majestic creatures whilst they played, showed their authority to each other, gurgled the water, farted (a lot) and then moved on. They were queuing up to come and drink. Even writing this brings a lump to my throat. It was a sight I will hold dear forever. There were dozens of them all vying for space and supremacy. The young males play fighting as the old bulls looked on.
The owner did also share with me that while building the accommodation chalets for the lodge, he had lost around 17 toilets as the elephants would come into the camp, pull the thatch off the roofs and tear down the walls and then smash the toilets to get to the water! Thankfully, that’s all stopped now as I imagined being sat in a certain place looking up at an elephant!
During our jaw-dropping visit, I did hear one younger female guest who ventured to the watering hole say, the Elephants weren’t as big as she thought they would be and they were nothing like the ones she had seen in The Jungle Book movie and then, she excused herself as the WiFi was better nearer the bar some 50 meters back from the Elephants. Such a sad reflection on how some humans perceive the world I guess?
An Elephant washing the grass before eating it on the River cruise.
An Elephant crossing a river. Majestic!
When we embarked on a River Safari we were mesmerised, on one river bank, we saw Kudu, Giraffes, Crocodiles, Baboons, Zebra and of course the beloved elephants. In all my years, I have seen these creatures, sure. But never all in one place.
We even heard a Lion roar and I reckon we saw a couple disappear into the undergrowth.
Anyway, on to Zimbabwe and Fabulous.
The reason for us being in that area is Victoria Falls. One of the seven natural wonders of the world.
I won't dwell, but, words like Awesome, incredible, and epic come to mind. Simply, you have to see them understand.
Victoria Falls are just over the border from Botswana (and Zambia) and the town built around the falls has no real soul but is a convenient location to get to see the falls and so we soon moved on and headed south leaving Fabulous to his….. well, fabulous ablution block.
And so Zimbabwe. The country welcomed us like a warm bath. The people couldn’t have been nicer.
The weather was good, the food was average. And we soon settled in.
Part of the tour of Zimbabwe took us to the Kalahari desert to see the San People. A native group that had been displaced some years earlier as the Government had found various minerals on their land and so re-housed the San people so they could access the valuable treasures that lay beneath the earth's surface.
The San dressed for the tourists.
The San people in their now "for tourists only" Traditional dress.
The San people went from hunter-gatherers to living in basic housing, and a more civilised way of life but a few had kept their tradition’s alive and would dance for tour groups and take people into the wilds to show how to make fire, how to dig and forage for traditional medicine. Anything to keep the tradition alive.
We found a lodge specialising in showcasing the San’s skills and we latched onto a tour group who had kindly paid the San people to dance. It all appeared a bit too staged for us so we went back to our truck and made a campfire and broke out the beer.
When they finished the San finished their dance, attracted by our campfire they, came over to see us and asked for Beer.
Drinking our beer and eating my dinner!
We obliged and also fed them with a hot curry we had prepared and arranged to go on a bush tour the next day and we saw how to make fire, forage for medicine including a particular route from a bush that is good for fertility and we have that one stored away…..
Zimbabwe will though, I’m sure be remembered for President Mugabe and his actions around the turn of the century and removing white farmers from their land and giving them to the black locals and the catastrophic failure that has caused, the total collapse of the economy thereafter.
We witnessed some of the aftermaths in Harare, the capital after an invite from a friend of a friend who invited us to stay on their land surrounding their home.
Apart from being amazing hosts, they told of the heartache they had gone through back then having had their farm taken from them. They classed themselves as lucky as they had a little notice to plan where are others had been thrown off their land with minutes to pack a few valuables only.
The worst affected was anyone married less than 6 years and evicted immediately.
Many had taken out bank loans to expand their farms and still owed the banks even though they had nothing and were paying the banks to this day.
Some farmers had seen it coming and sent their sons to Zambia which was offering land for free at the time as they understood the economic benefit of having experienced farmers growing crops. They are thriving whilst Zimbabwe slowly implodes.
Finally, a few words on poaching that is rife throughout southern Africa and an alternative view that a gamekeeper put forward to me whom we met in Harare.
In some areas, the licensed hunting of older games is allowed as this keeps the breeding stock young, raises finance to fight poachers and the meat harvested is given to the local villagers who are then encouraged to shop the poachers in exchange for free meat.
It's not for me to judge?
A few facts about poaching in Africa
(The recognised currency in Zimbabwe is the US dollar after the collapse of their currency).
The value of a poached Pangolin is around $6000.00
An Elephant tusk is worth around $2500.00
The prizes are big and if you have nothing and you need to feed your family?
Thank you for reading this, if you got this far, well done!
The colourful street markets that are all over Africa.
Avocados - 50p a punnet.
A visit to an Elephant orphanage was very emotional.
They also had Giraffe and a Pangolin that had been rescued. And as the sun set, they gave us finger food and Champagne.
The keeper spends 11 hours a day taking the Pangolin to Ant hills to feed. He is the only person allowed to handle this delightful creature.
Some kids on their way to school taking an interest in the truck.
Ice Cream anyone?
Bulawayo street views, Zimbabwe.