Shiwa Ng’andu and Some RnR at Kapishya Hot Springs

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I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’ from a large barrel of water situated near the dining area. It was pretty chilly by that hour of the night but the way I saw it the cold was temporary but the relief from the layers of grime and sweat, especially around the groin and armpits, would be immeasurable. I know there might be a few hardened travellers out there having a chuckle but honestly it made all the difference when I slipped back into my sleeping bag.

I did get a half-decent night’s sleep at Bayama’s Lodge but not without getting up sometime after midnight for a clandestine ‘bucket bath’

Well, speaking truthfully it hadn’t been as straight forward as that. Needing to warm up a bit after washing I trod softly towards where the night-watchman was quietly snoring next to a brazier of glowing embers. I obviously hadn’t trodden softly enough because he awoke with a start. However, he seemed glad of the company and we talked for quite some time about various things. He was a humble man with one good eye and the other misty and obviously blind.

He told me that he used to be good friends with an Anglican clergyman before the man had emigrated back to Britain. His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime. He regretted having no other means of supporting himself or his wife because it was not a sociable job and he had to sleep most of the daylight hours. He said prospects were better for his children. I remember brewing a cup of instant coffee in a small pot on the embers and little while later saying goodnight.

His mind stretched back to pre-independence days (before 1964), and I thought of all the changes he had seen in Zambia during his lifetime.

The following morning the night-watchman was gone and after packing my tent I headed back to the main road. Andreas had advised an early start the evening before. I strolled past the service station where the vendors were already establishing themselves – women with buckets of fried chicken, packets of boiled cassava root, dried fish, packet biscuits, soft drinks and so forth. More than one taxi driver tried to tempt me into a ride but I wasn’t budgeting for those sort of prices.

IMG_20150604_090135474Close to the place where my two companions of the day before had deposited me I found a crowd of onlookers surrounding a large haulage vehicle on its side. Was anyone injured I asked someone passing by.

He smiled and explained that everyone was fine and that it actually happened quite often. It was not apparent how considering the flatness of the road and the surrounds. Perhaps he had swerved to avoid something or someone and his load shifted position and flipped the cab? A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.

A policeman appeared and shooed people away from the front of the vehicle and proceeded to place a few leafy branches as a kind of perimeter marker.

I continued past the upturned truck and crossed to the other side of the road. There was a row of shops here housing a number of enterprises: a hair salon, a grocers and general store amongst them. I bought a few fresh provisions and then scouted around for a lift. I was told that this was the best spot for lifts heading north on the Tanzam Highway. I needed to get some 80 km up the road to a T-junction and the road to Shiwa Ng’andu.

I approached the driver of a silver saloon and inquired about a lift. It wouldn’t be a problem. He named his price, 20 ZKM, which seemed quite reasonable and far cheaper than the taxi option. First up, however, he needed to go into town to get some fresh meat supplies. He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions. He told me that it was still cheaper to drive all that distance to buy these commodities in Mpika rather than Chinsali where the traders put on a hefty mark-up. Possibly he was intending to resell some of these goods himself.

He had come all the way from Chinsali, some 300 km by road, for provisions

So a short while later we drove the short distance into town to the butchery he had in mind. It was still not yet open but as we waited the number of prospective customers grew in number so that when the doors did swing open for service there was a surge of bodies into the shop. Fortunately we were at the front. I hung back as my driver friend stocked up on a variety of beef cuts and other bits and pieces. I was paying more attention to the other clientele, the businessmen and housewives all vying for the attention of the shopkeepers.

IMG_20150604_093911555On the walk across to the vehicle I noticed a vendor selling a variety of DVDs. The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’ I couldn’t read many of the titles because of the way they were filed on the display stand but I could see that ‘Nigeria vs Ghana’ also featured on several of them. On the bottom row were a selection of Asian (Chinese?) films with titles like ‘Destined Heart’ and various combinations of the words ‘eternity’, ‘life’ and ‘love.’

The selection of titles ranged from popular Hollywood action flicks to Nigeria’s Nollywood toting films like ‘Adolphus the Village Hunter’ and ‘Who is the King?’

We made our way back to the main road and before long there were two other people in the backseat as we progressed north. The driver had a sense of urgency that was lacking the day before, not that I’d minded, but now the kilometres dropped away and it wasn’t long before we were at the turnoff. My luck held out as a few minutes later a rickety old land cruiser pulled up near to where I’d decamped beneath the main road sign. The driver leaned out his near side window and asked me if I was after a lift.

It was only 12 km to my destination but the driver was going all the way through to the Kasama Rd. I would need to follow that route but first I wanted to see two particular places on the way. I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet. Therefore, a short while later, after offering the driver 10 or 15 ZKM, he deposited me at the entrance to the famous Shiwa Ng’andu estate. I say famous because in recent years it had seen a revival in its fortunes.

I was told lifts were erratic but my faith in fate and good fortune had not failed me yet.

The estate dated back to when an Englishman, Sir Stewart Gore Brown, had established a presence in the area and built a virtual self-administered enclave miles from the nearest railway and European settlement. He’d been involved with the Anglo-Belgian Boundary commission which had established the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo in the early part of the century. He had scoured the land between Ndola and Lake Tanganyika for somewhere suitable and had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.

(Sir Stewart Gore-Browne) had settled on this land near Lake Ishiba Ng’andu which in the Bemba language means lake of the royal crocodile.

It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge. It wasn’t difficult to understand why Gore-Brown had chosen this spot to settle. I had read an acclaimed book on the history of Shiwa Ng’andu and the eccentric aristocratic who lorded over it by the author Christina Lamb (The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream, HarperCollins, 2005). In truth I had no intention of visiting the place when I set off from Lusaka but when Mike du Plessis in Mpika had reminded me that it was well worth a visit I recalled the book and quickly factored it into my plans.

It was pleasant countryside – open woodland with clumps of water-loving trees and palms near the water’s edge.

IMG_20150604_120457169_HDRWell I won’t say too much more about Sir Stuart except to say that his dream of building a European style manor estate in the heart of the African bush was bold, ambitious and grandiose. Was it foolhardy, a little too egotistic? No doubt his legacy will divide opinion. It was certainly strange to see slate-roofed, red-brick houses with whitewashed fronts built purposefully for the local labour and staff, African kids playing nearby and chickens pecking around the bare-swept courtyards. According to Wikipedia: The estate had its own schools, hospitals, playing fields, shops, and post office. Workers lived in brick-built cottages and the estate was ruled as a benevolent autocracy [Link to article]

It seems the impression that Gore-Brown left with black Zambians was predominantly positive. It is said he embraced a racially inclusive political mindset. In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land. My companions on the road the day before had remarked that there was no reason to grant the area of Shiwa Ng’andu its own territorial status, something almost akin to a province, except as a nod to the importance of the estate. They thought it was a bit ridiculous.

In any event he was granted a state funeral – the only white man to have ever had the honour – and his descendants have maintained ownership of the farm and adjacent tracts of land.

Back to the present I found myself wandering between various outbuildings looking for a reception or farm office which I did find half a kilometre further up the road. I’d noticed a sign near the approach to Manor House which said something about Shiwa House visiting hours being between 9 and 11 am and by appointment only. It had already gone 11 so I was obviously out of luck. A visit was also levied at US $40 which was not in my budget.

IMG_20150604_145923944_HDRBack at the farm office a busy black lady was tabling expenses with a pile of bills and invoices on the table in front of her. She helpfully dialled the mobile number of Mr Charles Harvey who presided over the farm. Apparently he was busy but she told me to keep an eye out for him. I went outside and looked around again. I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side. This included an old steam tractor and what appeared to be several steel boilers.

I noted that various farm implements and old machines lay idly on the edge of the gravel road and beneath some Jacaranda trees to one side.

I recall going over to a farm trailer, sitting down and taking off my shoes to give my blisters some relief. I noticed an elderly white couple nearby, examine a pig pen and then go across to a yard with several large farm vehicles. If they saw me they ignored me. Various black people, staff and labourers presumable, walked in either direction, but only the children seemed to take any particular interest in me.

Eventually a middle-aged white man appeared from somewhere. I approached him as unassumingly as possible and introduced myself and asked if he was Mr Harvey. He was. He asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead. I was a little taken aback but he reassured me that it was fine. Without any further banter he excused himself and I was left to my own devices once more.

(He) asked whether I wanted to take a look at Shiwa House. I replied that I did if it was all the same to him. He told me to go right ahead.

I walked back towards the manor, stopping to admire the stately gatehouse from the roadside. It was dominated by a square-sided, brick clock-tower perhaps 10 to 12 metres high. The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years. Like the other brick structures on the estate it had a steeply inclined slate-tiled roof at two levels. To the right of the clock-tower the adjoining building was whitewashed which contrasted with the olive-green window-frames. The window panes were knocked out of the end windows. It looked a bit forlorn.

The clock showed the wrong time and probably hadn’t functioned for years.

IMG_20150604_144417110_HDROn closer inspection I discovered that the rooms were largely empty, bar a few low benches, the white paint peeling from the ceilings and walls. Definitely not in use I concluded. A sign above one of the doors declared that it had once been the Estate Office. There was also a neatly painted list of game under the title ‘Shiwa Game Animals.’ There were twenty-one species listed, mostly antelope.

I was unfamiliar with a few of the names like Sitantunga, Oribi and Puku. I had read somewhere that Mr Harvey had stocked the estate with some game and taken anti-poaching measures. Moments later, walking out from beneath the gatehouse I heard something bark to my right and looking up saw a small buck dashing through the undergrowth, a fluffy white tail poking up from its rump.

I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House. I had come this far earlier from the other direction and decided against proceeding without permission. This time around it was granted. For the most part the approach to Shiwa House is obscured by the flanking trees but it was suddenly there, not a 100 metres ahead. The garden lawn was lush and green. I could see and here sprinklers at work a short way off.

I continued down a pedestrian avenue until I reached another gate with a crude hand-painted sign which informed me that this was the entrance to Shiwa Manor House.

The garden itself contained an abundance of exotic plants from red-flowering Poinsettias to spiny sisal, Jacaranda and Cyprus. This was not exactly surprising. Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire. It occurred to me growing up in Harare that many Europeans, probably most, had never sought to take the many faces of the African landscape at face value.

There was such a staggering abundance of native flora that it was hard to understand why a Cyprus or Jacaranda was somehow preferable to a spreading Albizia or Brachystegia. No doubt it had something to do with the psyche of the settler and the desire to manipulate the landscape into something different, discernible from the communal or tribal lands which inevitably surrounded them, and perhaps remind them of home.

Wherever European colonists have settled in Africa they’ve brought with them exotic plants, many collected from far-flung corners of the former empire.

Recalling the Shiwa Estate I also remember avenues of bland cedrella trees, and woodlots of exotic gums and conifers. If the coniferous plantation I had seen the day before was the initiative of a local Zambian one could hardly blame him because the precedent was set by the Europeans.

I suppose I’m being a bit of an idealist. After all there are many innocuous garden plants that have travelled far and wide, the world over, without causing any harm. And where we would we be without the humble potato, tomato, citrus and maize plants that today are incorporated into the diets of many Africans? They were all imports to the African continent and elsewhere. It is a case of aesthetics to some degree, especially when it comes to landscaping. The one angle not I have not mentioned is that of ecology. Not all imports are beneficial to the habitat into which they’ve been introduced.

Anyway, I’ll leave it at that and get back to the present – my first impressions of Shiwa House. The entrance was flanked by two metal sculptures, one of a rhino and the other an elephant. This sort of design, welded iron plates and bars creating a composition, had become very popular in Southern Africa over the last decade or two. The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.

The lion was brilliantly portrayed with jaws open, displaying a row of rusty fangs. The rhino was stout and the various welded plates combined to convey a sense of proportion and strength.

IMG_20150604_124256032_HDRThe house itself was very stately as I recalled from pictures I had seen in the book by Christina Lamb. It wasn’t as imposing as some of the English manors I’d seen such as the Luton Hoo Manor house, now a hotel, on an estate in Hertfordshire, where I had worked as a waiter for a year and a half. All he same it was impressive in size and design. The pictures speak for themselves. From an upper balcony a dog yapped furiously and unrelentingly. I tried to call to it and saw that it was only a small terrier.

From another direction a larger, tawny, short-haired dog galloped towards me. My heart missed a beat but I stood my ground. It too barked at me but by the way it backed off I knew I had the upper hand. I walked towards it with a soothing voice (or what I hoped was suitably soothing) and it grudgingly settled down. A smaller terrier appeared and was quite friendly from the outset.

IMG_20150604_124715179The dogs followed me as I made a cursory inspection of the property. The front door appeared locked but a side-door was ajar and when I opened it I realised that I was in the family chapel. There was a wooden tablet mounted on the opposite wall, topped by a coat of arms, presumably that of Gore-Browne, and inscribed in gold letters the various ancestors of Sir Stuart. At the top of the list, written in capitals, was – Sir Thomas Gore Browne, KCMG, … Regts Governor of St Helena, New Zealand, Tasmania, & Bermuda B. 1807, D. 1887.

Beneath his name was that of his wife Harriet, a reference to her parentage, and beneath their names those of their five children. The last of these, Ethel, was apparently married to Hugh Fortescue Locke King, Grandson of Peter, 7th Lord King, B. 1848, D. 1926. He Founded Shiwa. This was a bit confusing. I thought Gore-Brown had founded Shiwa? I remember reading that Sir Stewart Gore Browne had been very attached to Dame Ethel Locke King, Sir Hugh’s wife.

The chapel had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior. The seating was not fixed in place – several wooden benches and chairs facing the altar. Stood in each of two alcoves on either side of the rear end of the chapel was a stylised wooden angel. The interesting thing about them was that their features were African not European.

The chapel was had a simple brick altar, the cement floor polished red and the walls inset with narrow, arched windows on two levels, letting ample light into the interior.

I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper. I noticed another two miniature statues of the beast prominently displayed on either side of the front door which was inscribed with the date 1932 and the letters L and S on either side of the date, which I assume stood for Lorna and Stewart. Lorna had been his wife and 22 years his junior. I don’t think it had been a happy marriage and they eventually separated.

I had read somewhere that Sir Stewart Gore-Browne had earned the nickname chipembere or rhinoceros because of his fierce temper.

The front door appeared locked and no-one answered my knock. I thought about entering the house through another door which stood slightly ajar but thought better of it. Mr Harvey hadn’t said that the house was off-limits I felt uneasy venturing into another person’s house without their express consent. It would have been a different matter if it was just an abandoned relic but Harvey and his wife lived there.

I explored the garden a bit further and came across a large flame tree or Spathodea, a native of East-Central Africa. Can you recall Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika? This particular specimen was very big, it’s trunk fissured and covered in parts with earthen termite passageways. About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.

About 8 or 9 feet up was a copper plate tarnished blue with oxidation, commemorating Coronation Day, 2ND June 1953. That was over 60 years ago which explained why it was so high up on the trunk.

Thereafter I decided it was an opportune time to take a walk, in the midday heat, down to Lake Ishiba Ng’andu after which Gore-Browne had named the estate. The crocodiles were still present or so I was told, so I wouldn’t be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time. It was a moderate walk down to the lake, hampered slightly by the heat and my sore feet. I took in the horses and young calves grazing off to one side before crossing the road, skirting the airstrip and heading though the adjacent woodlot of exotic conifers. I saw a male bushbuck on the way down.

The crocodiles were still present I was told so I would not be taking a dip, as attractive as that seemed at the time.

After a while the conifers gave way to natural woodland and a short while later I emerged on the shore of the lake which was still some way off. There was a flock of sheep grazing near the water and a shepherd boy waved from where he was sitting on an anthill. On the shoreline itself was a viewing platform. I ambled over and slowly ascended the rickety old frame. I had to be careful because some of the decking was missing but it afforded an excellent view over the lake.

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I took out my compact binoculars and examined the shoreline on either side. If there were any crocodiles they were hidden from view. There was only one boat I could see out on the water, two fishermen paddling it slowly towards the shore. A short distance from me was a large clump of papyrus reeds and I got the impression that it was more of a shallow depression than a lake. I looked determinedly for any sign of birds or other life around the lake but could only make out the occasional heron. It was probably because of the heat that it was so quiet at this time of day.

On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a handsome dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face. It was browsing through the short undergrowth on the edge of the coniferous woodland. He saw me simultaneously and with his long legs he dashed deeper into the woodland and was very quickly out of sight. I later looked at images of antelope on the internet which confirmed my suspicions – it was a male sitatunga, an amphibious antelope fairly widespread throughout central Africa. This was near the southern extent of its natural range.

On the walk back I saw another buck, a larger one with a dark brown coat and distinctive white markings on the legs, torso and face.

Back on the estate I confirmed with the lady in the state office the direction to Kapishya Hotsprings. Initially I was determined to walk there but it was 20 odd kilometres away and my feet were not in great shape as I have repeated several times. Sorry! I had a number for the hotel at the hot springs which I called. The man who answered it told me that transfers from Shiwa cost US $20. To be honest that wasn’t exorbitant, but being a determined budget traveller I still sought ways to minimise my expenses. He would make arrangements and confirm back with me. Meantime I decided to set off towards Kapishya.

Besides a truck crammed with chattering farm workers, some of whom waved and shouted greetings in my direction, not a single other vehicle appeared in either direction. I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction. The driver pulled up opposite me. He was a large European guy with a tanned face.

I calculated I’d walked about 5 kms before a beige land cruiser came roaring down the gravel road from the other direction.

“Are you the guy from Shiwa who wanted a transfer?” he asked. I replied that it was most likely me. He stared at me a few moments longer and then told me to sling my bag in the back and hop in.

“It’s $20, you know that don’t you?” he stated without any small talk.

“Considering that I didn’t know if you were coming and that I’ve already walked 5 km I think you should give me a discount,” I replied more boldly than I probably should have.

He stared at me another few seconds and then shrugged.

“Ok, we can make it $15 then.”

We drove a minute or two in silence and then he introduced himself as Tony. His accent was definitely antipodean but I was bad at placing accents from Down Under. He must’ve read my mind.

“I’m a Kiwi. I’ve live in Mozambique these days.” I felt the tension of the last few minuets lift. I can’t remember where he said he now stayed exactly but the Mozambique coastline is renowned for sunshine, sandy beaches and good food. He explained that the owners of the resort, Mark and Mel, had flown out to the UK to visit a sick relative at short notice. He had answered the SOS they sent out and had driven northwards via the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and then southwards to Kapishya through northern Zambia. It had been one hell of a journey he old me. “Never again.”

Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted. They were used throughout the safari business because of their reliability, durability and power. Only the good ol’ British land rover had a similar reputation for operating in the less accessible parts of the continent.

Still, if you were going to do a trip over treacherous and potholed roads land cruiser was just the vehicle you wanted.

After a couple of kilometres Tony turned to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of a diversion to look for some hartebeest he thought were in the vicinity. I didn’t mind in the least. We diverted off the road at a tangent along rough track through the open woodland that flanked the hills here. We soon came to a game fence and followed it still going westwards. He told me to keep an eye out for wildlife. Despite having the task of driving he was the one to spot a kudu antelope hidden in a thicket of trees on my side of the vehicle. I remarked on his sharp vision and he replied that he had spent many years in the bush. He enjoyed hunting.

The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females. They didn’t seem unduly disturbed. Tony explained that Mark ran anti-poaching patrols and as a result the wildlife here was well protected.

The real catch was a group of at least five of the hartebeest that we had been looking for. There was a cow and calf and several other adults, probably also females.

He reached under his seat and brought out a pair of powerful binoculars with nice big apertures to let in plenty of light. I only had my much smaller 10×25 birding binoculars. He handed his to me and, looking through them, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two. The image of the buck through his pair was slightly brighter but the magnification was not much different. I was suddenly very pleased with my pair which I had brought online at a discount. It occurred to me that I was becoming a bit of a guru in the budget and bargain travel department!

IMG_20150606_103352968We left the antelope in the serenity of the bush and got back onto the main road. We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite. Tony deposited me near the entrance, telling me where I could find him and said we could sort things out later. I was the only one there so I had my pick of the place. I chose a level spot half-way to the river to pitch my little tent where the grass was a bit thicker. I was travelling without a sleeping mat after all.

We gathered pace and before long crossed the river that flows past Kapishya resort, village huts dotted on either side, and a few minutes later pulled up at the campsite.

That evening I went down to the river. It was flowing strongly but it didn’t look very deep. I could see rocks here and there and the presence of others indicated where the water frequently rippled and flowed over irregular objects beneath. I’d been warned not to swim. Mark had apparently shot a very large crocodile a short way upstream quite recently. I didn’t agree with shooting the animals even if they could predate on humans. This was their habitat after all.

IMG_20150604_171859151_HDRThe river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface. It was beautiful and peaceful. Hard to reconcile with ferocious, potential man-eating reptiles. That’s Africa in a nutshell: described with words like beauty, serenity and majesty in one breath and their antonyms ugly, chaotic and brutal in the next. Granted that these perceptions are coloured largely by man’s activities. It is enough to say that the natural world can seem very cruel and unfair at times but uplifting and untainted at times like this.

The river banks were flanked by short, spreading palms with large, broad fronds reaching out over the surface

From there I took a walk up through the rich, green, riverine vegetation to the hot springs proper. I found Tony already immersed in the shallows. The pool was 20 or 30 meters across and crystal clear. For the most part it was underlain by fine, white sand but there were also a few large, smooth rocks as well, surrounded on the one side by vegetation and on the other enclosed by a straw fence of sorts. The edge was lined by rocks and stones and it appeared that there was a weir constructed to create the shallow pool.

Tony was soaping himself at the point where water spilled over the edge of the barrier into a stream that flowed down to the river below the campsite. The owner’s black labrador was lying nearby. He followed Tony everywhere. The big man invited me in and we chatted for a while whilst the evening closed in on us. The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.

The waters were deliciously warm, a little below blood temperature I’d guess.

After ten minutes or so I had to expose my torso and sit on one of the rocks. It was just too hot for me. Tony didn’t seem to be suffering the same effects. I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy. It was if there was some sort of device beneath pumping air through in bursts. This was the source of the geothermal heat which created the hot springs in the first place.

I noticed how, near my feet, the sand seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy.

That evening I busied myself cooking a simple dish on my portable gas and meth stoves. I also washed some underwear and socks in one of the campsite basins and hung the items to dry from the guy ropes to the tent. I was hungry and also tired. It wasn’t long before I bedded down for the night.

The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat (formerly known as Heuglin’s robin), without doubt one of the most distinctive and melodic bird song of my childhood growing up in Harare. My cousin Dominic expressed a loathing for the avian alarm clock which would wake him up consistently at the crack of dawn he complained. Here at Kapishya I revelled in the symphony of bird call. The riverine thicket between the campsite and the hot springs was alive with their song.

The following day, a Friday, I woke early to a familiar sound – the melodious duet of the white-browed robin chat

I grabbed my binoculars and camera phone and strolled down to the water’s edge. The view was subtly different to that of the day before: a pall of pale mist now hung over the river. Not the billowing mists of the Kundalila Falls but rather delicate, white, diaphanous wisps and puffs moving gently upwards from the surface waters.

I made my way along the river’s edge towards the hot springs on one of several footpaths through the density of shrubs and trees, carefully trying not to disturb the birds in an attempt to identify some of them. It was difficult as they flicked and flitted through the undergrowth. Without a doubt there were warblers and flycatchers amongst them.

As I got closer to the resort proper I heard a bark from somewhere up in one of the cluster of Eucalyptus trees planted here. My first guess was that it was a monkey of some sort but was amazed to see that it as actually a bird, and a pretty fast-moving one at that. A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco. It looked as though there were several of them bounding around through the trees. I had to be patient though and it took a while before I got a good enough view for a positive ID.

A flash of colour and a glimpse was enough to know that it was a turaco.

Its most distinctive feature was a corn-yellow facial ‘mask’ and thick beak beneath a bright red crest. This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa, a book I had inherited from an uncle of mine and which I adored as a child. The only difference was that in that book the bird was known as Lady Ross’s turaco. Sometime during the intervening years she had lost her title. Ah well, no less exotic nor distinctive for it.

This was Ross’s turaco, an illustration of which I had memorised from a volume of Birds of West and Central Africa…

IMG_20150605_063809858_HDRI wandered past several comfortable-looking chalets, an outdoor area with a swimming pool and deck chairs before emerging near the river a bit further upstream. It was a bit wider here as it snaked in a broad bend past Kapishya. The mist hung over the water as it did by the campsite, attractively highlighted in parts by the sun as it emerged over the landscape.

I went back for some breakfast and noticed that another couple of campers had arrived in a truck. They had a mobile solar panel on the roof – it looked as though they were in for some serious overland travel. I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly between enjoying some sunshine by the swimming pool, taking a few lengthy soaks in the hot springs and watching the birds. Despite the arrival of new campers there was only one other family staying at the resort.

I don’t remember exactly how I spent much of the day except that it went far too quickly…

I took the opportunity to rearrange my backpack and came to the conclusion that I was carrying too many garments, therefore I decided to get rid of two pairs of shorts and several shirts, most of which were cheap items I’d picked up in Turkey earlier in the year. I’d become acquainted with the barman, a young Zimbabwean guy, and gave him the first pick of the ‘rejects.’

I was asking for a token amount -10 or 15 ZMK (about $2). Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further. It didn’t take long before I had one of the cooks and several other members of the establishment scuttling over to get in on the flash sale. He upshot was that I had enough for a couple of beers later on. It transpired that later on would involve more than just a few beers.

Being a typical Zimbabwean he insisted on bargaining me down further.

After taking a walk up the gravel road to one of the roadside stores to resupply on eggs, tomatoes and a few other necessities (some of which I purchased with one of the pairs of shorts) I went on an extended stroll before dusk. As I crossed behind the resort I encountered a herdsman driving several dozen head of cattle back to a kraal behind the resort buildings. It seemed Mark was doing a spot of farming like his brother Charles at the Shiwa N’gandu Estate.

That evening, as I hinted, I made my way over to the reception bar for a quiet beer. The European family were there, finishing their evening meal. I nodded a greeting to the parents. They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same after a couple of refreshing beers when Tony strolled in. He had been in Mpika on some shopping chores which explained his earlier absence. He sat down nearby and offered me a drink from a bottle he plonked on the counter.

They moved off back to their chalet a little while later. I was thinking about doing the same when Tony strolled in.

“Tanzanian import,” he elaborated. “I noticed them all drinking it up there so I got curious. It’s not too bad actually. A bit like gin I suppose.” He gestured for the young barman to bring us some glasses with ice. I scrutinised the label a bit closer. It had a graphic of a pair of black arms flexed above a head in profile and vested torso – some sort of muscle man apparently – beneath two inscriptions, THE PRODUCT OF TANZANIA and THE SPIRIT OF THE NATION.

CWnKO1hWcAACLTbAcross the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi. There was a graphic of some forked flames depicted at the bottom of the label above the words PORTABLE SPIRIT. Didn’t they mean potable? Still, nice to know I had an alternative source of fuel for my portable meth burner. Perhaps the most important information was the bit about it being 35% Alc. Vol.

Across the centre of the label in large, bold type was the name of the liquor, Konyagi.

I have little doubt the evening had a predefined trajectory from the moment those first measures of the clear spirit were decanted. I’ve discovered a few similar accounts online of other people’s experiences with the beverage on their travels. One of these comes from a student on the blog Quench, Cardiff’s monthly student magazine. She writes:

Konyagi: It’s not vodka, it’s not gin, it’s not water and it’s barely legal outside of East Africa. As soon as that distinctive taste hits your lips, all aboard! You’re in for the long run; the Konyagi train has just departed … One minute you’re casually basking in the dry heat, having an ever so pleasant conversation with an intriguing comrade to be. Then the Konyagi takes hold … Dance moves follow, chairs are soon dispersed across the Savannah as every muscle in your body delights in this new liquid companionship. MI5 has their own unique style of truth serum, and this folks, is the key to the majority of East Africa’s police interrogations.

Link to article

I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing. It deconstructs and dissolves social inhibitions and, as the young blogger suggested, injected a serum of honesty into our discourse. I felt a tremendous feeling of bonhomie with the grizzled New Zealander who was far from the man he appeared at first glance.

I have to admit that alcohol, in moderation, is a splendid thing.

Amongst the facts I gleaned were that he had once been married once to a Japanese lady, with whom he had two girls; that he had made ‘a fortune’ from running several successful restaurants back home; that his one daughter was a budding ballerina working as an understudy at a prestigious dance school in New York; that he was in love with Africa; and that he fancied getting remarried and settling down on the coast, somewhere in Mozambique.

By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed. I on the other hand staggered in the opposite direction and straight into the hot springs where I wallowed blissfully in the semi-darkness stripped down to my underwear for an hour or so. The leaves rustled gently in the branches above, stars twinkled through the gaps in-between and all was well with the universe… until the following morning that is.

By the time the bottle had been equitably distributed between the two of us my head was buzzing. Tony said a hearty goodnight and staggered off to bed.

My parched palette and tongue were the first reminder of the previous night’s antics but after a bowl of porridge and a final dip in the hot spring I perked up considerably. Despite whatever hit my body had taken the previous evening upon absorbing ‘The Spirit of the Nation’, on the balance of things I felt pretty well rested. I took my time packing up and it was only just after 11.00 that I settled my bill and said cheers to the bargaining barman – there was no sign of the Kiwi – that I was finally on my way again.

I suspected I was in for a bit of a hike. A signboard on the approach to Kapishya informed me that it was the length of a standard marathon to the Kasama Rd, 42 km. With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.

With a spring in my step and all the goodwill in the world I set off.

From the Splendid Kundalila Falls and on to Mpika

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It was now early June, well into the sub-tropical ‘winter’ at that latitude. In reality this translated to cool nights and mild days in the range 20 -22 degrees C, with few clouds in the broad blue sky. In other words, almost perfect weather for backpacking!

I hadn’t been at the roadside at Mkushi long before a local man approached me with the offer of assistance. I told him that I was wanting a lift heading northwards toward Serenje, about 100 km away to the NE. He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats, my backpack placed up front with some other passenger luggage. The only inconvenience was having to occasionally disembark when someone further away from the sliding door wanted to get out. I can’t remember what I paid exactly but it wasn’t more than 20 ZMK.

He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats

Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me. The lady in question, who I struggled to turn and talk with face to face, introduced herself as Megan. She politely enquired if I was an NGO worker or a tourist. She in turn informed me that she was in the Peace Corps. I had heard of these guys, even met a few of them back in Zimbabwe years prior (they were no longer welcome by the present regime), but was unclear as to what it was they did exactly. I would meet quite a few more later on and get a clearer picture.

Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me.

Conversation was difficult in the circumstances so we didn’t get a chance to exchange much information beyond the fact that she was working in a nearby village on a social project focusing on women and that she loved it. She had the option of staying a further year and she told me she would take it. She was off to Serenje to get some provisions I seem to recall and before we knew it we were there. Megan hopped off without so much as a backward glance and was soon lost in the throng of bystanders, hawkers and roadside merchants.

Someone advised me to remain on board a while longer as we diverted off the highway towards the main trading area. I hopped off and once again, a helpful local person introduced me to a long-haulage driver and his companion. Yes, they would be prepared to take me further up the Great North Road to where I next needed to disembark.

The driver was a Tanzanian man of few words but that was okay with me considering that the road was only a dual lane highway and that it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. I would rather his concentration be on the road ahead than with me. I also got the impression that he had limited English. Someone previously told me that many Tanzanians are only conversant with foreigners in Swahili, a tongue spoken fairly extensively in east-central Africa.

…it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania

IMG_20150602_113342786His companion was a young and rather earnest Zambian who spoke basic but perfectly understandable English. He was the one who told me about their valuable cargo and the long hours involved in hauling it to the distant port. He expressed an interest in keeping in touch, as many Zambians I met would, and I imagine that I gave him either my local number or an email address.

It wasn’t long before the driver pulled up by the small roadside town of Kanona and told me that the locals here could point me in the direction of the waterfalls I wanted to see. I thanked them with a small contribution and wandered over to a nearby store.

By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings. A young shop-keeper pointed up the road and informed me that it was the next turnoff that I wanted. Fortunately it was within sight of the town and 15 minutes later I was at the junction, reassured by a metal signpost reading ‘Kundalila Falls’ with an arrow pointing down a dusty dirt road headed southwards.

By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings.

The only other distinguishing feature of the junction was a house, evidently a new build, a hundred yards or so away on the right side of the road leading to the falls. It had a broad veranda fronted by stylised, red iron railings and supported by four fluted, unpainted concrete columns in the doric style. In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA. On either side was a crude concentric pattern also in relief and the cement behind the letters was roughly stippled. The two sides of the roof inclined at a very shallow angle from the apex and appeared to be of some corrugated material.

In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA.

“Hello!” someone greeted me heartily from the verandah. He waved me over and introduced himself as the owner and architect of the said building. He was an army man from what I could gather and he had some idea that the place could become a guesthouse for wayfarers like myself. It occurred to me then and later that being someone of rank in the Zambian Army obviously brought with it some advantages. I had already met a well-respected, rugby-coaching officer in Lusaka and I would meet a few other military men involved in other ventures before my trip was done.

We chatted for some minutes while I sipped at the water-bottle he kindly allowed me to refill from his well. I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon. He looked a bit incredulous. “It is very far, do you know?” Obviously I didn’t. Yes I could walk but he was very doubtful whether I could get back that evening; besides which he told me that I would be able to camp out there. It would no be a problem.

I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon.

At that moment a beige land-cruiser honked its horn from the side of the dirt road leading past the house. The owner and the driver exchanged greetings and then had a brief conversation. “It is your lucky day” said the house-owner. “If you want a lift he can drop you off near the place you want to go”.

Without need of a second invitation I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns. The driver waved me to a seat at the back amongst an assortment of boxes and supplies. There were two or three other people besides the driver and I realised how fortunate I was because there really wasn’t any further room available.

… I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns.

We set off down the road, crossed the main railway line, and continued for some minutes until we came to the first of several villages en route. As we passed each the driver slowed the vehicle, took the loud-speaker microphone in his free hand, and bellowed something in the local language. I didn’t really stick around long enough in any one place to get a feel for the local dialects except to say that there are a number of them.

An intelligent young receptionist at the Wanderers Lodge in Lusaka had given me a fairly detailed overview of the ethnic makeup of the country and the linguistic regions. She was from Serenje and ethnically a Lala. I wish I could recall everything she told me but I can’t. Most Europeans I spoke to simply boiled the local languages down to Nyanja and Bemba but there were evidently many other groups such as the Lozi and the Lunda with their own dialects – more than 70 according to Wikipedia.

Anyway, on this occasion the proclamation of the ministry official via the amplified speakers was to inform the local people that there would soon be some sort of clinic held in the area to coincide with a global event – the Day of the Child? I imagine that UNICEF or the WHO were involved somewhere behind the scenes. It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears. What they made of the announcements I couldn’t fathom.

It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears.

There is a tendency for so-called educated Westerners to poke fun at Africa and other parts of the developing world for being ‘trapped’ by superstition and religion and not embracing modern developments. It is a fact that the line between undeveloped and developed is not a linear one and the criteria for becoming developed are not always clear. From what I saw in Zambia there were indications that they are making progress in the path of modernizing whatever values, positive or negative, you might attach to that process.

When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries that have crossed its well-watered lands, from the time of David Livingstone to more recently, than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled. If you followed my progress from Livingstone to Lusaka you would have seen the picture of the monolithic cathedral erected by the British in the 1950s, reference to a proselytising pastor and a photograph of a mosque.

When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries … than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled.

Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity. I have written about this previously in the context of Zimbabwe and in an earlier post about the white farmers of Mkushi.

Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity.

IMG_20150603_111206609On this occasion I noticed the relative modesty of these villages, the unassuming general stores or grocers, surrounded by assortment of traditional grass-roofed huts and occasional brick structures. Life was a lot slower here than in the cities, the people closer to the land of their forebears. It did not surprise me either to see evidence of religious affiliation although I did not expect to see quite so many signs proclaiming the presence of a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in this village or that. There were many between there and my journey to the northern extremity of the country.

The ministry official deposited me at a junction in the road after some 20 minutes or so with the instruction to continue on for a short distance after which I would see the entrance to the waterfalls. And so it proved. It seemed as though there was no one there on arrival at the carpark/campsite but whilst I delved in my pack a man approached on an old steel-framed bicycle, coming to sudden halt a few yards from me. He greeted me, introduced himself as the warden, and invited me to his office.

It was hard to tell precisely but I guessed that he was in his 50s or 60s. He had calculating eyes but a somewhat inscrutable expression. He peered at me for some moments before rustling around beneath his desk for a ticket book. I was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite. I was not carrying much in the way of cash but I had changed enough previously to pay for the visitation fee but not the campsite. I sought to negotiate and he fixed me with another of his inscrutable stares.

was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite.

I cast an eye over the ticket book and saw that he had, on average, only several foreign visitors a week. I decided to play another card, the tourist who is happy to make an alternative plan. I announced that I would find somewhere else to sleep. It wasn’t a problem. My stated intention caused a deep furrow to appear on his brow. “How much do you have?” he responded in turn.

“Only $10” I repied.

“Let us make it $15” he said with a level gaze and then broke into a broad grin, “because you and me we are friends.” I reluctantly agreed to the revised price. It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.

It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.

There wasn’t much in the way of facilities. One toilet was blocked and smelly but the other seemed functional. There was no hot water nor showers which didn’t bother me particularly. At least there was an abundant supply of fresh water from the river nearby. General waste was disposed of in a pit dug for the purpose. He lamented the village children who would come and dig around inside it. We hoisted a few cans and bits of paper strewn around the edges back into the cavity.

Of course what I really wanted to do was get on and see the falls whilst it was still light. It was still early afternoon and I had several hours of light remaining. I realised that taking my backpack along would be an unnecessary burden since I was to return later and so I asked the warden if I could leave it somewhere safe. He agreed to letting me leave it in his office. In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.

In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.

He escorted me along a path that skirted the summit of the waterfall a few dozen yards hence. He pointed out a barrier of green, painted metal and told me that under no circumstances was I to go further than that point. I could hear the waterfall thundering just out of view.

“There was a very terrible accident” the warden informed me. “There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down,” he said with another gesture. “She died.”

“There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down”…

With that tragic story in mind we parted ways. He had some business to attend to. I assured him I would be back by 4 o’clock or so. It seemed he wanted to see me before he disappeared for the day. Of course I had to take a closer peak at the spot where the Danish girl had allegedly fallen from.

IMG_20150602_133143994_HDRA short way from the barriers the layers of steeply inclined rock fell away into the void beyond but the head of he falls could be seen a short way off. For a while the falls were hidden from view as I descended further, but after 5 or 10 minutes they appeared again between the trees and a short while later I was at the base.

It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left. It continued to flow down in a series of cascades and rapids. I have recorded a video clip on my phone which speaks for itself. Best of all I had the place to myself. There was no-one else there. The vegetation was lush and green, some of the riverine trees towering straight up many metres up to where the gorge widened and their crowns unimpeded.

It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left.

I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river. A nervous energy coursed through my veins as I scampered over the rocks, following the river downstream, ducking under old branches and dead trunks. At one point I had to climb over some slippery surfaces and it wasn’t till I looked up again that I realised that the waterfall was out of sight. Here the water ebbed into quieter pools, their depths hidden in the shadows, and the atmosphere was more sombre.

I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river.

I clambered down yet further until something caught my eye – an old bag, much the shape and size of my daypack. It had obviously been there a while. It was old and rotted. I couldn’t find anything alluding to its former owner whoever he or she may have been, except a brand label which read Bjorn Borg, which sounded Scandinavian to me. Images of distant fjords came to mind and a country name – Denmark.

As morbid as this may seem there is no means of connecting this article with the deceased tourist. And even if it could be what would it achieve? It did give me pause for thought though and I wondered for a few solemn moments who this young girl had been, her life snatched away from her so cruelly in the prime of her life. It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly. I was prepared to take risks but I wasn’t a thrill seeker.

It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly.

A little while later I had reason to reflect on this as I scrambled up a rock face to get a better view of the pool beneath the waterfall. It was a sparsely-vegetated side of the gorge and if I slipped down I could sprain an ankle or worse. I reconsidered my predicament, weighing up the secret thrill of swimming in the pool versus the inherent risk of getting there and decided not to on this occasion.

Besides, there was so much to absorb and enjoy that I had no need to take undue risk. A flock of hornbills alighted in some trees nearby and made quite a cacophony. Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze. Growing amongst the rocks on the edges of the ravine were various wild flowers, Gladiolii and others I knew but couldn’t put a name to.

Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze.

By the time I clambered out the gorge back to where I had parted company from the warden a few hours before it was a little after 4 pm. Suddenly he appeared along the path looking furious. “Where were you?” he bellowed at me. “I have been waiting!”

I apologised and asked him what the urgency was. It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated. With a little more placating he led me back to the campsite by which time he was back in good spirits going on about our enduring friendship and such nonsense.

It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated.

I waved him goodnight (and muttered good riddance) before finding a spot beneath a large spreading tree to pitch my tent. The evening was drawing in so I decided to head back to the river, a bar of soap and towel in hand. The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.

The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.

IMG_20150602_165419453_HDRPart of the charm was no doubt the character of the rock – sheets of it highly folded, vertically inclined and poking out sporadically, the river waters dividing and recombining in turn. Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure. Red-blossomed aloes sprung from rocky alcoves on either side, alongside spiny Euphorbia plants and clumps of wispy grass. Many of the trees were draped in long wisps of green, spidery lichen, colloquially referred to as ‘old man’s beard.’

Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure.

IMG_20150602_171146895_HDRThe river either emanated from or flowed through a large wetland area a few hundred meters above the falls. A large clump of palm trees hugged the edge of the wetland a short distance away from where I was bathing. These wetlands are a fairly common feature of the Zambian landscape and on several occasions a most welcome source of fresh water. I am not so familiar with them in the context of the Zimbabwean landscape which is dominated by granite.

That night I cooked a pot of pasta and sauce on a fire made beneath a small, circular thatched structure, using a handful of the roofing straw as kindling, as per the instruction of the honourable warden. I had queried his method but he assured me that he didn’t mind re-thatching it periodically. A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world. A few sounds reached me on the night air from a neighbouring village, besides which I was completely alone (bot not lonely).

A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world.

The packed the following morning and was ready to move out before the warden had even arrived. I ambled out the gates to the campsite and started heading back up the road. This time around there was no assurance of a lift. By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road. I had a one full dedicated water-bottle and several other smaller plastic bottles with either soft drink or water in them as well.

After a hundred yards or so the sprightly warden appeared on his bicycle. He seemed equally as incredulous as the army man the day before that I would dare attempt to walk unaided back to the main road. “Let me take you on my bicycle. We can negotiate a price,” he urged me. Besides the fact that the bike would struggle to accommodate my person let alone my fully-laden pack I liked the idea of the challenge. I declined his kind offer.

By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road.

He walked with me for several hundred meters, past a group of excited, chattering children and a large vehicle that appeared to be loading up on soil (or perhaps off-loading, I couldn’t tell). As was his nature he stopped abruptly and told me that he would go no further, shook my hand, and left me to continue alone.

At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity. My shirt was completely drenched in perspiration along the part covered by the straps and including my entire back. I rested every so often but tried to keep it to a minimum and focused my eyes on the road ahead. Not one vehicle passed in either direction.

At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity.

Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages, both boys and girls. The boys all wore pale blue open-collared shirts with black trousers and shoes. A few of them were throwing a soft miniature rugby ball between them. I gestured to one of them to throw it to me. He obliged and very soon I was the subject of a new game.

Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages

IMG_20150603_120655873I tried to be as cool and unpredictable as possible pretending to throw it one way but tossing it the other. They loved it, scrambling this way wanting to be the first to gather and return the ball to me. The girls were less sure of my antics, smiling shyly and dodging the ball if it came their way.

Eventually they peeled off to the left side of the road and I was walking alone again. Not long after I saw a truck cross the open space between the trees in the far distance and I knew I was almost at my destination. By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped. I flopped down next to a tree for a few minutes, drank the last of my water and munched on some biscuits.

By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped.

I also took off my Salomon walking shoes and let my feet breath for a few minutes, observing the white puckered skin on the balls of my feet where blisters had formed and ruptured. Taking a bare-foot run on the farm in Mkushi hadn’t helped matters. I would have to keep an eye on these particular parts of my anatomy, especially considering how crucial they were to my continued expeditionary success.

Back at the roadside town of Kanona I found a welcome store from which I bought a cold-drink and some further snacks. It was already past midday and the next challenge was to hitch a ride up the main highway, the T2 or Great North Road, to the town of Mpika. I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment between Kundalila and Mpika but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices, although hardly exorbitant, were beyond my modest budget. Another reason to go back in the future!

I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment … but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices … beyond my modest budget. 

I recall having to stand by the roadside for quite some time before I had any joy getting out of Kanona. Most of the traffic on that stretch of the highway had no reason to stop at the little settlement and I soon gave up on standing to close to the roadside as a series of massive lorries roared past, dust and diesel fumes in their wake. Several of these were driven by Chinese men. Apparently Chinese firms had some big construction contracts in the north of the country.

Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun. Eventually, as seemed the tradition, a local man took pity on me and somehow flagged a passing car with two young gents inside. They seemed quite amenable to having a passenger.  As it happened they were heading to Mpika as well. As the crow flew it was about 160 km up the road.

Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun.

The driver and his companion were comfortably conversant in English. They had both been living in Lusaka but were heading north to investigate a business opportunity, something to do with a farm, north of Mpika.

The guy in the passenger seat I was surprised to learn was a computer scientist who had been working for one or other of the banks as an IT contractor. He was pleased to hear that I had been living in the UK and informed me that it was his dream to get work there one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’ How serious he was about this dream I can’t say for sure. I asked him if he was on LinkedIn and he said he wasn’t. I suggested that if he wanted to get in contact with the right sort of companies that he sign up. It hasn’t landed me any jobs but I’m informed that it has done so for many others.

(he) informed me that it was his dream to get work there (the UK) one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’

We talked about various things on our way north, the driver proceeding at a modest speed. I was informed that the tyres were not in great shape and were struggling to keep pressure whatever that meant. It sounded a bit ominous and it didn’t help to see one or two car wrecks by the roadside, one of them very recent and attended by a small crowd of onlookers.

It is quite normal to stop in such instances in Africa which we did. Apparently the accident had happened the day before. The truck, a land cruiser by the looks of it, was in the process of being righted and was due to be towed off that afternoon.

We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership. The previous president, Mr Sata, who’d passed only some seven months prior and apparently well liked, was succeeeded by an unknown entity, Mr Edgar Lungu. One of my companions derided him as a pliable man who had a penchant for the bottle. They both laughed heartily at this statement.

We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership.

They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman but added, with a touch of pride, that we were in fact entering the home area of the late, great leader. I have double checked this fact and confirm that Michael Chilufya Sata was born and raised in Mpika, Northern Province, Zambia.

They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman

There was a large hill on the approach to the town which he had somehow laid claim to. I can’t remember it’s precise significance. What I do remember off to the left (north-west) of the road was the natural woodland suddenly opening up to reveal acre upon acre of reforested land. The trees of choice were conifers, to my mind completely inappropriate for that area. I wondered whose amazing idea that had been. Was there a public consultation, a well-scrutinised EIA? I have no idea but I imagined it as a so-called ‘green desert’ in years to come. The local flora and fauna would not thrive in such a place.

IMG_20150603_172615846We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me. A quick perusal of the place left me unconvinced. I was lucky enough to have a bit of data on my phone and was able to do a quick accommodation search on the internet.

We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me.

There was one prospective place on the edge of town in the direction from which we had come and another, Bayamas, which looked promising but which was a little dear for my budget. I talked briefly over the phone to the owner, a European national of some sort, before deciding I would camp at the first place mentioned. I messaged Mr Bayama out of politeness. He messaged back asking me to reconsider. I hadn’t said I wanted to camp and campers could stay for free!

By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful. I was getting some quizzical looks from some of the locals as I went in search of a cash machine, of which I was assured there were several. As luck would have it the first was inside a bank which was closed, the second was out of cash and no-one seemed to know where the third was. I found it eventually, having limped up and down that main stretch of road several times by now.

By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful.

Meanwhile my companions were struggling to remove one  of the wheels from the car which was bald and chronically low on pressure. It was a miracle we had even got into Mpika considering the condition of those tyres. They had promised to look after my pack and I had promised to return with the petrol money we had agreed upon earlier.

I left them in a state of repair and walked back up the road to the main junction, near to where I would allegedly find Bayamas. It wasn’t quite as easy as that and I initially started walking in the wrong direction. What to do in such circumstances? Ask the locals, obviously.

I flagged a couple of youths who were ambling by at that moment and asked the question of them. With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there. I thanked them for sparing the time and told them I would be fine. Nevertheless they insisted on following me inside.

With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there.

IMG_20150604_083918830I found a similarly young male employee who explained that Mr Bayama wasn’t available at that moment but would I like to follow him to the campsite? I tried to ignore the restless trio of youths still waiting by the door to the dining complex as I followed the steward to a grassy patch of land beyond the back of the guesthouses. They were not deterred.

As I scouted out the land I saw the most vocal of them saying something to the young employee. He in turn turned to me with a nervous smile and informed me that they wished to be ‘rewarded’ for their helpfulness in showing me to the guesthouse. Well I couldn’t keep my anger bottled any longer. I looked him straight in the eye and told him what I thought.

“I come to your country as a stranger and this is how you treat me. If you came to mine I would be happy to show you where you wanted to go and wouldn’t expect to be paid for it either!”

The youth looked at me long and hard, his eyes narrowing and I thought, oh no, this is not going to end well for me, is it? Fortunately the old night watchman had appeared. Perhaps that tilted the balance of things back in my favour. Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.

Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.

“Don’t worry my man, I don’t want anything from you,” and with the same confident swagger, grinning all the while, they departed the premises. I was still concerned that they might come back so I asked the night watchman to keep an eye out for them. He assured me he would.

This was the same night watchman I mentioned in an earlier post: the one who spoke solemnly about the state of the country’s forests and the dysfunctional ministry who was supposed take custody of this natural resource and to responsibly manage it. But that conversation would happen much later in the evening.

I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest. It was at that moment that the esteemed owner of the establishment, a large German gentleman introduced to me as Andreas, hove into view. He had an rounded, bald head, an unremarkable but hospitable face and a large frame. He stood a few inches taller than me and more than a few pounds to the good. He waved me over to the bar and promised to come chat once he had attended to some other business. I obliged and with some eagerness ordered a nice cold Mosi beer from the barman.

I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest.

It went down very easily, perhaps too easily. I was simultaneously aware of how tired and sore my body was after my exploits earlier in the day. I was probably quite dehydrated and beer was probably not the ideal liquid to imbibe at that time. A few other patrons of the establishment wandered in – mostly black, but not exclusively so.

A white South African gent introduced himself from across the counter. I was surprised to learn that he had been just about everywhere else in south-central-east Africa except for Zimbabwe. He bought me a beer and then wandered off. He was a regular patron I learnt from Andreas. His forays to the bar were good business for him. In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.

In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.

Andreas returned a little while later and sat down next to me. He politely inquired as to my business and I explained that I was a free-spirited backpacker. What was he doing here I asked him in turn. He drew a breath and told me that he had come out some good 15 or 20 years earlier with the German development aid agency, DED. He was a carpenter by trade and he had been involved training up apprentices in the local community alongside other tradesman contracted for the same purpose. That sounds useful I remarked.

“Maybe for a short period of time,” he replied somewhat surprisingly. “I mean what’s the point turning out dozens of carpenters and other artisans when the local community only requires a finite number of them.” I nodded in agreement but not really sure either way.

“Anyway, after some time with the DED I decided that we achieved out purpose and were no longer of any real benefit. We had ceased to be useful. Meantime I had really come to like Zambia: the people, the climate, the lifestyle. Sure it’s not Europe but that’s what I like about it,” he continued passionately.

“To start a business in Europe requires all sorts of bureaucracy. Here in Africa you can just get on and do it. Everything you see here I have built,” he continued, gesturing across the wide interior. And if I want to add something on tomorrow I know the people to talk to and I can start as soon as I want to.”

“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here,” looking across to where several of them were chatting at the other end of the bar, “they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic. They grew up without fathers, perhaps only grandfathers. They were told that they were a generation without opportunity but in reality they have all the opportunity now because there was so little economic activity before they became adults. They are the future and this is where I want to be.”

“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here … they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic …”

I couldn’t find any point of his to contend. In fact I was quite taken by his optimism. Why had he called the place Bayamas I enquired of him. He smiled and explained that it translated loosely as ‘uncle’s place.’ He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu. I laughed at this obtuse but somewhat understandable logic.

He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu.

Eventually my food appeared. One of the waiters started setting a nearby table but Andreas gestured for him to bring the cutlery and dining mat to the bar. I could sit and eat and chat to him simultaneously. I didn’t mind. On a nearby television an episode of the popular BBC car show, Top Gear, was playing. He followed my gaze and smiled knowingly.

“One of my favourite shows,” he elaborated. “I love this black humour of you English.” I wondered if that was how the outside world viewed the British – a nation of dark sarcasm. How amusing, especially coming from a German, a nation whose reputation for clarity and precision did not suggest a predisposition to this so-called ‘black humour.’

Around that time the affable German’s wife sidled up to the bar, a smiling Zambian woman in her 40s I would hazard to guess, much the same age as Andreas. They looked like a couple at ease in each other’s company. She talked with him briefly in a low confidential voice and then moved off. He turned to me and informed me that he must be off and that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. I thanked him but wanted nothing more than to ‘hit the sack.’ And that’s exactly what I did a short while later.

The Thundering Falls and a Layover in Livingstone

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I once again chose the Intercape coach for my onward journey. It seemed well run and punctual. Next to me was a young black man who introduced himself as Andrew. He was a Shona from Masvingo who had gone to school in Harare and later the University there, around the same time as me. I recall him saying he’d studied tourism and/or environmental management. Later he had completed an MBA. He was well qualified anyway.

He was ewn route to Ganda Lodge at Hwange Game Park, run by the Forestry Commission, and which he managed. We had an interesting conversation for the next hour or two. From him I learnt exactly how corrupt the system had become in Zim when he told me about his business operations in Bulawayo.

Next to me was a young black man who introduced himself as Andrew. He was a Shona from Masvingo who had gone to school in Harare and later the University there.

He ran three commuter minibus taxis. From his daily takings he had to deduct the cost of employing the drivers, fuel and maintenance as well as another unbugeted cost – that of doing business. What this amounted to was paying 5 or 10 USD every time his minibuses were stopped by the police at one or other of the many checkpoints around town. This was not negotiable.

From his daily takings he had to deduct the cost of employing the drivers, fuel and maintenance as well as another unbugeted cost … paying 5 or 10 USD every time his minibuses were stopped by the police.

Apparently, one of them was on record as saying that ‘someone had to help pay their wages’ i.e. someone other than the state. As a result he was struggling to profit and had decided instead to sell one of the minibuses, park another and use the third to transport fish from the town of Binga (on the upper end of Lake Kariba) to Bulawayo.

Funnily enough Lily, who I had lodged with a few days before, told me that she had previously been in the fish-selling business as well, except that she’d sourced her fish from a dam somewhere towards Beit Bridge. She’d also considered purchasing from Binga initially but found it more profitable to deal with the fishing cooperative operating at the dam. Andrew on the other hand dealt exclusively with the Zambian fishermen who came across to Zimbabwe to sell their catch. “I can buy from them for 50c whereas I have to pay a Zimbabwean $1.50 per fish.” As a result he could get his fish to the supermarkets in Bulawayo at a very competitive price.

Andrew on the other hand dealt exclusively with the Zambian fishermen who came across to Zimbabwe to sell their catch.

The other reason his taxi business had apparently failed was that the city council also wanted a cut of the action. All taxi operators were obliged to register which he had no problem with but they were also being coerced into joining what sounded like a co-operative run by these same councillors. The profits had to be remitted to them before a dividend was paid out to the members.

He and some other drivers had taken them to court and had the judge had ruled in their favour. In retribution the traffic wardens had come down on hard on him and the others. He suddenly found himself with a slew of fines for petty misdemeanours and offences that he was adamant had been falsely concocted. “The first thing people will ask you when trying to do business in Zim these days is ‘what’s in it for me?'” Andrew explained. Such is the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe these days.

“The first thing people will ask you when trying to do business in Zim these days is ‘what’s in it for me?'” Andrew explained. Such is the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe these days.

I asked him about his family. Surprisingly it turned out that he had a white partner with whom he had fathered a child. Mixed marriages were not unheard of in Zimbabwe but with all the racial propaganda coming from the politicians over the last decade and ingrained prejudices it could not have been easy for them. When I remarked on this issue he laughed. He explained that his parents had been a bit ‘disappointed’ that things had not been conducted in the traditional manner but that it had been harder for her. Did they intend to marry? It would be nice he replied, but seemed undecided.

On our approach to Hwange we turned off the main road to Vic Falls and drove a few kilometres towards the game park entrance, our first drop-off point. We hadn’t gone far before we saw 6 or 7 giraffe including a baby (only about 6 feet tall rather than 15!). This was followed by a large herd of buffalo on either side of the road. Andrew became quite excited explaining that he had a large group of guests coming the following day. We passed the turn-off to his lodge. He would get off at the drop off and come back this way with his driver. It would be unwise to walk anywhere in this area after dark. He assured me that where one saw buffalo lion would be in close attendance.

It would be unwise to walk anywhere in this area after dark. He assured me that where one saw buffalo lion would be in close attendance.

After dropping Andrew and a few others we continued on to Hwange colliery and hence to the Falls themselves. After disembarking at the Kingdom Hotel I walked the half-a-kilometer or so to Shoestring’s Backpackers. The way there was poorly lit but I was helped by a friendly taxi driver who pointed the way. In the distance I could hear the roar of the water cascading over the edge of the Falls. I had stayed here once before. As the name suggests it does not cater to those with expensive tastes. If anything it was even more basic than when I had last been there. The music was blaring at a quite ridiculous level as I made my way round the back to pitch my little tent for the first time. Thereafter I took a little walk to find some ‘graze’.

The USD prices at the nearby restaurants were more than the price of my accommodation so I scouted around for a cheaper option.

The USD prices at the nearby restaurants were more than the price of my accommodation so I scouted around for a cheaper option. My answer came in a young black man who wanted to know if I would buy some old Zimbabwean bearer cheques from him – the ones which reflected the ridiculous level of hyperinflation 6 or 7 years before: denominated in millions, billions and trillions. I explained that I had lived through all that nonsence and had the notes already, but did he want to show me somewhere cheap to eat in the township and if so I would buy him a meal? He readily took me up on the offer and we proceeded towards Chinotimba, the local township, on foot.

The first stop was a beerhall which he optimistically hoped would also have food. It didn’t. He explained that it would be easier to get a lift further in to where he could guarantee a meal. We found ourselves a taxi headed that way. There was already one customer in the passenger seat. He argued loudly with the young driver regarding the fare but was eventually deposited at the roadside. I think it cost us a dollar a head to where we were going.

The chef was dressed in an apron and whites which was reassuring and we could chose from a selection of chicken, beef or fish.

The restaurant my new found friend took me to was round the side of a small shopping centre. The chef was dressed in an apron and whites which was reassuring and we could chose from a selection of chicken, beef or fish. I avoided the beef after the Bulawayo experience and went with the chicken. It goes without saying that it was accompanied by sadza and relish. It was a good meal and a bargain at US$ 1.50 a head. I asked my companion his ambitions.

“To get a passport”, he replied, “but I am still saving for it.” It would cost him US$ 60 and a wait of a few weeks. Once he had it he could go across to Botswana or South Africa with the millions of other Zimbabweans trying to make their livings there.

The taxi ride to the backpackers was without my friend who lived in Chinotimba. The driver looked all of 15 years old and he drove with scant regard for the highway code, taking corners at high speed and cutting across into the other lane to dodge potholes. Two of the other passengers were deposited at some nearby shops and for the princely sum of US$2 I was dropped back at Shoestrings, relieved to still be alive.

for the princely sum of US$2 I was dropped back at Shoestrings, relieved to still be alive.

The music was still blaring whilst I took a shower and went to type up the day’s activities. Before I could get going an old chap who had been watching me erect my tent came across and gestured that the music was too loud and that he couldn’t sleep. I nodded sympathetically but he was obviously keen to chat instead.

He introduced himself as Antonio, an Italian who had been living in France for the better part of his life with his French wife. He had a shock of white hair, bushy white eyebrows and merry greyish-blue eyes. He reminded me a little of my late grandfather. Like my grandpa Raph he was also a bit hard of hearing, even when the music did eventually cease. Nevertheless he was an enthusiastic conversationalist.

From what I gathered he was an ardent traveler. He seemed to have made it his life’s mission to travel to as many countries as he could before he died. I have no idea why he traveled without his wife but I didn’t really get the opportunity to ask him. He refered to me as a ‘young man’ which I always appreciate. Eventually I announced that I must sleep (no lie) and I hunkered down for a reasonable doss, albeit a little colder than anticipated.

He seemed to have made it his life’s mission to travel to as many countries as he could before he died.

The next day I packed up, had breakfast, said cheers to Antonio and was on my way by mid-morning. I disappointed numerous taxi drivers by refusing their offers of a ‘cheap’ ride to the Victoria Falls. “Only $10 my friend!” they would call out. I politely declined and casually walked the 20 minutes or so to the Zimbabwe side of the Falls.

At this stage of the game my efforts in Bulawayo bore dividends. By acquiring a plastic ID disc to replace the aluminium one that I had surrendered back in 2002 (dual citizenship law) I saved myself US$23! If you were a tourist coming from Zambia you had to pay for the privilege of crossing into Zimbabwe for the day (US$30) as well as a further US$30 to view the Falls. Locals paid only US$7.

May is when the river is at its peak flow and the Vic Falls were thundering. Copious amounts of water were passing over the edge and the power of it as it impacted the swirling waters of the gorge 70 or 80 metres below was awe-inspiring. As a result a huge plume of spray wafted upwards and outwards, buffeted by the wind, such that a gust would suddenly bring a hail of droplets towards the viewing points, drenching the unwary onlooker. Rain coats were well advised. I had been there on several occasions but each consecutive occasion is no less impressive.

May is when the river is at its peak flow and the Vic Falls were thundering.

It’s no surprise that the place is reknowned for honeymooners, weddings and romantic getaways. I spotted a number of couples taking in the spectacle together. Not I, solo, unencumbered traveler that I was. I walked the path in both directions on the Zimbawean side (incidentally about two thirds of the entire length) before officially departing the country and walking across the bridge to Zambia.

Half way across I was accosted by the inevitable copper-bracelet salesman. I had collected half-a-dozen or so from previous visits but my persistent friend, Antonio ‘Tomato’, badgered me for an age before relenting. My resolve would not prove so resilient on the Zambian side where I capitulated to another seller later in the day and bought a further two of a design I didn’t have.

I parted with US$50 for the obligatory visa, grateful that it didn’t include the $5 ‘on top’ as per the Beit Bridge fee. From there I took a taxi across to Livingstone and Jollyboys backpackers. It was chalk and cheese when compared to Shoestrings on the Vic Falls side: spacious, quiet, tidy and well maintained. The evening passed without incident. I was a little bit antisocial but I took the time to catch up on emails and suchlike. When I looked up I noticed just about everyone else doing the same either via laptop or smartphone. The digital, online age that so divides opinion. No comment!

The following day after a quick breakfast I headed across to the bus terminus by the old South-Western Hotel. I had booked a ticket to Lusaka with one of the intercity bus companies the day before. It went by the name Shalom (peace). Well if ever there was a misnomer it was here. The journey begun with an hour or so of an evangelical preacher (recorded for your listening pleasure) who implored our repentance and salvation.

To my relief the young chap in front of me volunteered to bare witness to Jesus and repent. He was asked to repeat his ‘confession’ after our preacher, word for word. At least it drew the heat from the rest of us. Thereafter we had an eclectic mix of RnB, soul and the occasional rock number blared from the speakers above each of our seats. Sleep was well nigh impossible but at least the landscape was new to me.

Link to Soundcloud: Evangalist on coach to Livingstone

I knew I was in Africa when I saw the cluttered roadside market stalls en route and at each stop along our way, selling fruit and vegetables mainly but also dried fish and other snacks. I watched in horrified fascination as a young kid goat was placed alongside the other luggage next to the bus, both its front and back legs bound with twine. It bleated occasionally but to no avail. The luggage hatch then went up, obscuring my view. When it was closed the kid was gone as was the luggage. I can’t be sure but it seems likely that it went into the storage compartment with the rest of the bags!

Before we had even parked touts were calling out to me. “Muzungu, Muzungu!” they shouted to try and draw my attention.

Several hours later we arrived at Lusaka intercity bus terminus. Before we had even parked touts were calling out to me. “Muzungu, Muzungu!” they shouted to try and draw my attention. ‘Muzungu’ means white man as does murungu in Zimbabwe and mulungu in South Africa. There may be other variants of the word I have not yet encountered.

I declined most of the offers and settled on a quieter man, a taxi driver, who assured me he could get me to my hostel for 35 kwacha (about US$5). It was a bit more than I was hoping to pay but it was dusk and I didn’t want to be searching in vain after dark for my accommodation. It turned out to be a short hop across to a place not much more than a kilometre away. Thus I arrived for the first of 6 nights in Lusaka.

Onwards to Bulawayo

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From Beit Bridge my coach proceeded without further hindrance to Bulawayo, a city I do not know particularly well but a convenient way point en route to the Vic Falls. We arrived at about 1330 hours, 5.5 hrs behind schedule. Remarkably, Mrs Rajah was waiting for me at the Intercape city office where we were deposited. Being the only European on the bus would not have made it difficult to pick me out.

She introduced herself as Lily and immediately apologised that she would’t be able to give me a lift to her house where I would be staying because her car was off the road.

She introduced herself as Lily and immediately apologised that she would’t be able to give me a lift to her house where I would be staying because her car was off the road. ‘A little Morris Minor’ she said with a smile, purchased from an elderly doctor. Not a problem I replied, but was there somewhere I could grab a bite? I was famished.

With Lily and her companion, Mafios, a local man called who shared a corner of her shop, we walked a few hundred yards to where a nondescript side-alley mechanics workshop stood. Sensing my confusion Lily explained that it doubled as a ‘cheap’ restaurant. Attached to the mechanic’s workshop was an office-cum-kitchenette where the smell of fried meat and stew wafted outward. Evidently that’s all that was on the menu, with the addition of a good dollop of sadza, the staple starch of Southern Africa, made from cooked mealie-meal flour and water.

Attached to the mechanic’s workshop was an office-cum-kitchenette where the smell of fried meat and stew wafted outward.

It transpired that the deep-fried ‘steaks’ were incredibly tough. One was induced to swallow chunks of meat rather than cramping one’s jaw muscles through tedious mastication of the rubber-tyre-like cuts of meat. In the end Lily gave up with a sigh and asked for a doggy-bag. She had a pair of hungry hounds waiting at the house apparently.

One was induced to swallow chunks of meat rather than cramping one’s jaw muscles through tedious mastication of the rubber-tyre-like cuts of meat.

From there it was back to her shop, a tidy little business tucked away in the courtyard annex to a much larger building which housed an Air Zimbabwe office advertising travel posters decades old. Lily was selling an assortment of items: ethnically patterned shirts and dresses she had sewn herself; balls of wool from a defunct textile outfit; trinkets and other miscellaneous bits and pieces. Mafios had been trained at Swiss Jewelers, also defunct, and now worked for himself. He had a modest collection of jewelry.

I asked him to size me for a ring and after several misfits, one worryingly tight on the ring finger, we succeeded. The silver band would cost me US $70, a gold ring a fair bit more. I declined the offer but assured him that he was first in line for when I proposed to the ‘lucky’ lady. Never mind that I don’t have any intention of marrying anyone anytime soon. Business was slow but whilst there he did get one customer who expressed some interest in something or other.

Lily was selling an assortment of items: ethnically patterned shirts and dresses she had sewn herself; balls of wool from a defunct textile outfit; trinkets and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

Before closing the shop around 4 pm Lily’s mechanic appeared, a sprightly looking geriatric coloured man (the term ‘coloured’ is not considered racist in Zimbabwe and denotes someone of mixed African-European ethnicity). He went on to explain at some length the considerable wear-and-tear on various bearings, couplings and seals and how very lucky she was that the gear-box hadn’t seized, considering that the oil was everywhere beneath the chassis other than the gearbox itself! Yes, he could fix it he assured her even though the parts were like hen’s teeth.

After he left she looked across to where I was sitting with her eyebrows raised. Could she trust him she asked? He sounded sincere to me. Lily told me that he had approached her some time before admiring the old Morris and confiding that although he was retired he still enjoyed tinkering with the old engines as a past-time.

The long and the short of it was that we had to find another means of getting back to her place in Hillside, a few kilometres away. We walked a few blocks down a road named after our esteemed president, Mr Robert Mugabe, where we engaged the services of what Lily called a ‘private’. As the name suggests it was a private individual using his car as an unlicensed taxi, something which seemed to be commonplace around town.

We engaged the services of what Lily called a ‘private’… (an) individual using his car as an unlicensed taxi, something which seemed to be commonplace around town.

Lily’s house was an unassuming little place in suburban Bulawayo. She lived there with 3 of her 5 children and four grandchildren. She was herself of mixed-race (coloured) ethnicity. I asked about her name and she explained that her husband had been an Indian man from whom she was divorced. He now lived in Canada. Her son Eugene was the last born and still at Christian Brother’s College, a Catholic high school there in town.

She was proud to have sent all her kids to private schools although it was obvious that she didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. The house had been built by a Scotsman in the 1950s and was of a fairly characteristic suburban Rhodesian design. It was a double-storey affair. The two daughters lived upstairs. Neither of them had married successfully but the children seemed happy enough.

She was proud to have sent all her kids to private schools although it was obvious that she didn’t have much in the way of disposable income.

Lily herself was a thoughtful and philosophical lady who bore the marks of a hard life without acrimony. She seemed to have a steady faith rooted in the Catholic Church and we talked at some length on the state of the country, the tragedies that had befallen it and the eternal optimism that one has to entertain in order to survive in a country such as this.

I had seen it in other women in Zimbabwe whose partners had left them one reason or another to fend for themselves – a slight melancholy that attends the passing of happier times but nonetheless an acceptance of the situation which, in contrast, men seldom seem able to attain.

With her daughter Margaret I attended Mass on the Sunday morning. It was a typically joyful affair as they were celebrating both a large number of baptisms and the Feast of the Ascension – what Catholics would refer to as a High Mass. I was obliged to attend Mass almost every Sunday as a teen with my brothers and parents in Harare. It had been a mixed congregation where local Shona-language songs were sung loudly to the beating of drums and the clapping of hands.

I attended Mass on the Sunday morning … they were celebrating both a large number of baptisms and the Feast of the Ascension – what Catholics would refer to as a High Mass.

Looking around on this occasion I noticed only one other European in the congregation but the format and proceedings were as familiar to me as the reaquaintance of an old friend. The incense especially brought back memories of past Masses where my brothers and I had served at the altar of our local parish. Three swishes of the incense-bearing chasuble and then a bow, repeated to each section of the congregation. It all came back to me as I watched the young acolite follow the same protocol. The church was packed to the gills and no-one departed until the service finally concluded some 3 hours later.

The following day I made contact with Pete and Claire Einhorn, in-laws of my newly wed brother, Ivan. Well to be precise, Pete was the brother of his wife’s father. I had met him and his wife at the wedding in Cape Town and they had extended an invitation for me to stay with them if I was to pass through the town. Now I was taking them up on the offer.

When Pete picked me up from Lily’s he told me I was a fool for not making contact on arrival. I told him that I didn’t have a contact number but in truth I didn’t want to just assume I could stay, especially since I had only just met them. To their credit the offer was sincere. Pete cast a skeptical eye across Lily’s backyard. “Was it OK there?” he asked. “Was it clean?” I assured him it was. Reading between the lines I could see that he disapproved. Fraternising with persons of a lower social standing was obviously not what Pete though of as ‘good form’ but I think it’s a hang-up many of his generation suffer from.

There’s not too much more to say about my stay in the town other than that I walked a considerable distance around town and suburban Bulawayo.  The town is known for its wide, spacious avenues, built in the days when a span of oxen might need to manoeuvre and do an about turn. It has a good mixture of architectural styles but very little that seems to have been built in the last two or three decades since independence.

The town is known for its wide, spacious avenues, built in the days when a span of oxen might need to manoeuvre and do an about turn.

Many people still seemed to view Harare as suspiciously large and foreboding. The ruling party is based there and for 7 years after the Lancaster House agreement which paved the way to majority rule, Ndebele separatists entertained aspirations for a separate state in which Bulawayo would be the capital.

Instead, Harare bares that mantle and it was the view of several people I fell into conversation with that it was still the intention of the politicians there to starve the city of business and growth. “It’s a dying city” I heard it said on more than one occasion. It’s hard to say whether or not this is the case. It is far quieter than the capital that’s for sure but the streets were still busy with pavement traders and pedestrians, the supermarkets seemingly busy and most of the shops stocked with goods of sorts.

It is far quieter than the capital … but the streets were still busy with pavement traders and pedestrians, the supermarkets seemingly busy and most of the shops stocked with goods of sorts.

I was most impressed with the national gallery, a beautiful double-story building which probably dated back to the 1920s if not earlier. In fact the building itself was the art piece rather than the works on display which were mostly disappointing. The one gallery dedicated to the abstract contributions of the late Mr Marshall Baron, prior resident of the city, was worthwhile but the other galleries on the upper floor hosted childish works which I didn’t think deserved so much space. Only the lower gallery had anything that I would call engaging to the casual observer.

There were quite a few old colonial buildings dotted around the place with their characteristic balconies and wrought-iron railings beneath stylized gables. There were more modern constructions like the City Council offices built some time in the mid-70s according to the commemorative inscription near the entrance. That was the most recent I could determine. Across town near the quaint buildings constituting the railway station was a sizable coal-fired power station.

While I watched, groups of young African men laboured in the autumnal sunshine, shoveling anthracite coal from the backs of lorries into great mounds. The Hwange coalfields to the northwest were renowned for the excellent quality of the coal mined there. The building itself looked not unlike a number of old decommissioned brick power stations I had seen in the UK. Battersea springs to mind. A line of palm trees partitioned the road running adjacent to it, a bit incongruous next to the energy plant. A number of concrete cooling towers finished off the picture.

While I watched, groups of young African men laboured in the autumnal sunshine, shoveling anthracite coal from the backs of lorries into great mounds.

I found it interesting to see the pavement vendors selling wares very similar in nature to those I had seen in Turkey: multiple varieties of phone and tablet covers and cases; any number of cables and chargers and other accessories; pirated DVDs etc. I can only imagine that one can extrapolate across the intervening gap and find the same things being sold continent-wide. It was common knowledge that China was now the continent’s main trading partner when it came to material goods. Most of the department stores and smaller general dealers were crammed with Chinese products.

Most of the department stores and smaller general dealers were crammed with Chinese products.

As for the ubiquitous fruit and vegetable vendors it was interesting to see the prevalence of imported South African apples on display besides the neat little pyramids of tomatoes and piles of onions. Two brands of cigarette, Everest Menthol and Madison Red, still seemed to be the most popular. They had been on the shelves for as long as I could remember. On the way back across town on my penultimate day I passed the old city gardens, still maintained reasonably well it seemed, though Pete said they were a shadow of what they once were.

Pete is a partner in a distribution business, dealing with the south of the country. He used to work in the hospitality and tourism business which he confessed he missed. I noted this disposition in his general  demeanour and insistence that I wanted for nothing during my stay. Claire was a dynamic lady too. Together, she and Pete had opened up a coffee shop and restaurant some years before. It goes by the name of Deja Vu and is situated right across from their house in the suburbs.

Claire was a dynamic lady too. Together, she and Pete had opened up a coffee shop and restaurant some years before.

Pete boasted that it was probably the most popular place around town during weekdays and I wouldn’t second guess him. It’s all run out of a domestic-sized kitchen but the food was excellent. At lunchtime the place was packed out. Claire was obvious the ‘big boss’ but had another lady, Lydia, to help run the place and a couple of young white waitresses – all very friendly.

When she wasn’t at the restaurant Claire was down at her stables where she kept a motley collection of animals, recovered from abusive owners.

When she wasn’t at the restaurant Claire was down at her stables where she kept a motley collection of animals, recovered from abusive owners. She and Pete also had an assortment of hounds back at the house, all strays and rescues. They all adored Claire and at the sound of her engine as she drove the gate they’d all go berserk.

It seemed as though many had been brought back from the  brink of death and their allegiance and loyalty were absolute. If I got too near Claire the one female would raise its hackles and growl menacingly. She would walk them out on the golf course which flanked her stables in the evening. During the day she was also very active in clearing the scrub and weeds between the fairways. All in all a very busy lady!

I felt the duration of my stay was just about right. Without any other business to attend to other than getting my foreign ID card issued (which would allow me to pay local rates when I got to the Falls) I didn’t have anyone else to catch up with. An old teacher I had wanted to see had disappointingly gone to South Africa and the few other people I might have known were mostly acquaintances. Even there in Bulawayo I bumped into one or two of them and chatted with others who knew one member or other of my family. In that sense Zimbabwe will always be the country in which my roots are anchored, even if the connection is tenuous now.

In that sense Zimbabwe will always be the country in which my roots are anchored, even if the connection is tenuous now.

Beit Bridge: Nothing Ever Changes…

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Waiting to purchase my ticket behind the four wise men...

Waiting to purchase my ticket behind the four wise men, actually members of the popular apostolic or Zionist Christian sect. They put much emphasis on Old Testament Biblical scriptures.

The question still begs asking: why would anyone in their right mind actually want to take a coach or bus through Beit Bridge? I asked myself that question several times during the interminable wait.

We’d made reasonable time, departing Park Station, Jo’burg at 1800 hrs, arriving at BB border post around 0200. My coach ticket reassuringly stated that we would arrive in Bulawayo at 0800 later that morning, only 6 hours away…plenty of time I imagined. In fact what would I do if we arrived early I worried? Would there be somewhere inconspicuous to sit and wait whilst I waited for my lift?

We negotiated the South African side without too much trouble, although we had to pass through an immigration counter housed in a temporary structure outside of the main offices. This had been the case for many years although it didn’t make us seem any less like second-class citizens. Standing in a snaking line outside this porta-office the black Zimbabwean man in front of me remarked “they treat us like children…but without us they would have no labour.”

He was referring to the widely acknowledged state of affairs whereby countless Zimbabweans were employed in almost every sector of the South African economy, most visibly in the restaurants, pubs and gardens of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and surrounds.

Nonetheless, we were through the SA side before too long and not more than 20 minutes later were trudging into the customs and immigration offices on the Zimbabwean side of BB. The bridge itself spans the Limpopo River, invisible in the dark at that time of the night. It had been a good four years or so since I had last negotiated ‘the Bridge’. Despite a small saving over air travel of about R600 I was curious to see what life was like for the citizens of my home nation as they negotiated the notoriously cumbersome border control point.

At immigration I was obliged to buy a visa (single-entry) for 55 USD since I now traveled on a British Passport. The official I dealt with treated me with ill-concealed disdain. I have no idea why considering I could be a first time visitor come to spend some much sought-after hard currency. I stood around for about 20 minutes whilst another official, a younger lady, disappeared with my 70 USD, presumably looking for change. From there it was over to the customs and excise side.

No matter how many times I’ve negotiated that border post I still find myself uncertain as to whether or not I should declare one or other of my electronic devices or other valuables. I asked one of the drivers who advised me not to declare the valuables but only the goods. Well that was helpful. I assumed that by ‘goods’ he meant those items intended for resale. I decided against a declaration since all I had of value was my mobile phone and the tablet I’m compiling this on.

After I emerged from immigration I was surprised and pleased to see that the Intercape bus was backing up against the customs control point where we would presumably be searched, a formality everyone went through. I stood around whilst the driver struggled to align the bus. Eventually a compromise was reached – not straight but with enough of a gap for other traffic to pass by if necessary. And when I refer to ‘other traffic’ I allude to the several hundred metres of buses and trucks backed up behind the control point.

The penny only dropped after I tried to board the bus to recover my hand luggage, only to discover a collection of passengers who looked completely unfamiliar, not to mention annoyed that I was trying to board the bus as they were attempting to disembark! In an inspired moment I thought to ask a passenger the destination of the bus to which he answered, Harare.

Trudging back a good hundred yards or so to the correct Intercape bus, which bore an uncannily similar number plate tothe Harare-bound one, it dawned on me that it would be a long evening. Almost all the other passengers were back on board and getting some more sleep. It wasn’t even 3 a.m. I put my earphones in and listened to an hour or more of music until fitful sleep overtook me.

We edged forward bit by bit and by the time dawn broke we were close. A short while later we disembarked, told to take our luggage from the trailer and to form a semi-orderly queue on the grimy tarmac which was embedded with myriad bottle tops and other miscellaneous organic and inorganic items.

An illustration of one of the delights that awaits the hapless traveller at the border post: queueing outside the bus at dawn with all ones belongings on display.

An illustration of one of the delights that awaits the hapless traveller at the border post: queueing outside the bus at dawn with all ones belongings on display.

For a while I stood there in the cool of the early morning until it occurred to me that I was the only one wearing only a T-shirt. I dug into my cabin bag and extracted a wind-cheater and then strolled to the back of the queue, trying my best to remain surreptitious. My photo of the moment speaks for itself – a desultory queue of passengers standing beside their bags, resigned to wait for however long it might take.

An hour elapsed and still no sign of our officials. After perhaps another 45 minutes two customs officials, a man and a woman, sauntered down the line of bags, poking one or two at random but looking largely disinterested. They were done in two minutes. After the protracted wait that’s all the time it took.

A typical trailer laden high with goods for resale in the Zimbabwe.

A typical trailer laden high with goods for resale in the Zimbabwe. I took this photo once we had crossed into Zimbabwe.

Alas, we weren’t permitted to get back on the bus until it had been searched. We were instructed to wait further ahead on the other side of the control point. Probably another two hours elapsed at this juncture, the sun steadily arcing upwards in tandem with the temperature.

I chatted to my neighbour on the bus, a young Ndebele lad working as a security guard in a mall near Johannesburg airport. It didn’t sound like a great job: periodic armed robberies punctuating the general monotony of the job. However, with his wages he’d managed to buy a car of which he seemed proud, though he didn’t yet have a license. “Have the police caught you yet?” I asked him, to which he replied that they had but a R50 back-hander had been enough to quash any charges.

After a while I got my phone out to take another picture of the listless passengers sitting on the perimeter kerbs. A few people standing nearby observed me intently and one man about ten yards from me sauntered across.

“What are you doing my friend? You cannot take pictures here. This is a sensitive area.”

He flicked some sort of security ID from his pocket which suggested that he was a plain clothes CIO agent, one of the countless members of the government security apparatus playing the role of Big Brother.

“I’m just a tourist,” I insisted.

“But can you tell me what you are doing? Are you Al Quaeda?”

At this I just smiled amiably and he chuckled in turn before turning serious.

“No pictures!” he reiterated once more before sauntering back to his mates. Phew, that was a bit close for comfort. At least he didn’t ask me to erase the photograph. They’d been known to destroy whole spools of film if they deemed the photographer had committed some violation or other. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise once I reached Bulawayo where I would discover that the independent press enjoyed more freedom of speech than I could remember for many years.

Passengers bask in the sun waiting for their transport to clear customs and immigration.

Passengers bask in the sun waiting for their transport to clear customs and immigration.

Eventually, around 10 am, 8 hours after our arrival at the border post, we were finally authorised to proceed. Our last inspection officer had stood by the side of the bus with his arms crossed facing away from us for the better part of those last couple of hours by which I deduced that we had not paid the relevant facilitation ‘fee’ but more on that in my next chapter.

To conclude, I am sure there are other border posts out there to rival or indeed surpass Beit Bridge in terms of tedium, bureaucracy and inefficiency but I certainly hope to avoid experiencing them in my lifetime! Beit Bridge is quite enough.

The Many Faces of South Africa

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Quite a lot’s been said about South Africa and the state of crime, poverty and inequality over the years. I don’t intend to make a critique of this issue in this blog post since there are many wonderful things to celebrate and highlight in South Africa but it would be unfair of me not to at touch on the current state of affairs before I go on with my little tour.

A selection of popular Afircan dishes including a popular lumpy Zimbabwean millet beer, Chibuku.

A selection of popular African dishes including a popular lumpy Zimbabwean millet beer, Chibuku. Cape Town CBD.

Certainly the Rand has weakened considerably over the last decade against the dollar and sterling. When I arrived a month ago the mid-market rate was about 17.5 to the pound. Today it’s 18.5.

That obviously works in my favour as a sterling account holder. So when a beer at a local bar costs me R25 I score; when a meal costs R40, I score; when an Uber taxi costs as little as R25, I score. It’s also revealing that most of the Zimbabwean contingent I talked to at my brother’s wedding repeatedly remarked on how ‘cheap’ everything was.

The problem for working class South Africa is touched upon in an article I found on the site News24 from August last year (referenced at end of post) and is presumably still reasonably accurate. It alleges that South Africa is …

“… a country without an adequate social security net and where at least half of the national workforce earns less than R3 100 a month. Perhaps as many as a third of men and women in work earn less than R2 000 a month.

Yet most trade unions and human rights groups estimate that a bare living wage in 2014 would be between R4 000 and R5 000 a month.”

Even considering the relative affordability of food and services for me I find it hard to imagine surviving on less than 150 quid, and perhaps even as little as 100 for many. Considering that RSA is one of the continent’s more affluent nations it’s saying a lot. It is worth scrolling down to the comments section where some other facts and figures give further food for thought.

#Utopian Indignant, claims:

Actually not. Just like government, Terry Bell uses the incorrect exchange conversion rate to compare wages with overseas. The correct rate is the Purchase Parity Conversion Rate – youa re using the speculative moneymarket rate, which is only for buying and selling money on international markets. Terry and government arrive at incorrect costs calculations on contracts and wage negotiations because of this technical error. Using the correct rate, our pay compares reasonably per skill level with overseas, but our Public Sector is significantly overpaid.

Another quotes official stats to support his claim that the black population has grown by 47% in the last 20 years whilst the white population has only seen a net increase of less than 5%.

Whatever the situation, I’ve seen a fair deal of poverty on my trip out here. It’s hard to say whether or not there are more beggars and homeless individuals than previously. Although the sight of destitute whites still shocks some I think it’s important to look beyond colour and rather at communities.

I’m aware that sectors of the scattered Afrikaans communities look out for their aged members who have fallen through the safety net. Black African communities tend to have stronger familial relationships than their European counterparts. Are they strong enough to weather the hard times notwithstanding the question of the foreign workforce and the forces of xenophobia which seem to simmer in the background?

I don’t have the answers, but like my friend Carol I agree that anyone who chooses to bury their head in the sand and ignore these issues does it to their potential detriment. Where is the charity of society when all I hear are cynical assertions that vagrants and beggars have probably ‘brought it upon themselves’, ‘are most likely criminals’ or that they make ‘obscene amounts of money begging at traffic lights.’

I don’t believe it frankly. Most of the people I’ve given a few Rand coins to or, on occasion, bought a loaf of bread or packet of crisps for, have been pretty desperate people. If this isn’t manifest in their appearance or demeanour it’s in their eyes. I’ve no doubt some of them will spend this money on alcohol or some other substance but at least a quarter of people who’ve approached me have asked for food and been grateful for it.

He plays a badly tuned red guitar but his voice was true and heartfelt.

He plays a badly tuned red guitar but his voice was true and heartfelt. Near Parliament Gardens, Cape Town.

It doesn’t cost me anything substantial because of the nature of the exchange rate. The scriptural homily about giving in proportion to one’s means actually leaves me slightly uncomfortable in times like these. Am I giving generously enough?

At times it seems better to give nothing rather than give inadequately but one has to put one’s pride aside in such situations. There will always be beggars who will push their luck. I do try make a point of giving more generously to those who seek to help themselves. I have a soft spot for buskers and street artists.

There is much to admire in those who go out on the streets in all-weather with an old guitar, hand-drum or accordion to earn their living. Perhaps all that they have is their voice. Some of the sweetest, most heartfelt songs I’ve been privy to were played or sung from a street corner or pavement.

Busking can be a lonely and frustrating business at times. This young man's trumpet was in a poor state of repair. My heart went out to him.

Busking can be a lonely and frustrating business at times. This young man’s trumpet was in a poor state of repair. Cape Town.

I chanced upon a young man in the middle of Cape Town on the edge of a market square, dressed in a glittering red and gold costume as if he had stepped out of a carnival procession that had moved off without him.

I stood back and watched as he tried with growing frustration to get his trumpet in tune. It was nothing more than a collection of parts held together by an assortment of folded, paper wedges, cigarette filter ends and goodness knows what. It looked as though most of the keys had been brazed onto the body at one point or another; many of the joins were broken. It was pretty hopeless.

I went across out of curiosity and he explained how he had been given the instrument a few years before. It really needed professional attention but of course he couldn’t afford it. I gave him R20 and took his name and phone number with the intention of making some enquiries on his behalf. I’m ashamed to say that I lost the slip with his details on it. I really should have done better.

Immortalising the nameless black citizen who emerges every day from township to work the city streets as traders, taxi-drivers and labourers.

immortalizing the nameless black citizen who emerges every day from the township to work the city streets as a traders, taxi-driver or labourer.

I’ve walked many of these city streets as a curious spectator, both of people and architecture. After spending many years ensconced in my own little world I’ve done my best to travel and make amends.

We live on a populated planet after all and cities are where we congregate and create things of beauty as well as the mundane and functional. Ever since visiting Algiers, indeed Algeria, I’ve had a particular interest in the legacy of European urban architecture in African towns and cities.

Urban Cape Town has some great architecture against the ever-present backdrop of ‘the mountain’. I caught a commuter taxi from my backpacker residence in Observatory (Obs) to town one morning and was surprised to see a number of Europeans commuting for work or studies.

Working and middle-class individuals, black and white, use the Metro Rail service every day to commute from the suburbs to the city, Cape Town.

Working and middle-class individuals, black and white, use the Metro Rail service every day to commute from the suburbs to the city, Cape Town.

The city is probably more cosmopolitan than even Jozi (Jo’burg) far to the north. When I moved further out to Muizenburg I discovered that the Metro trains, the main urban rail provider, moved people of all hues to and from the city. Both means of transport were wonderfully cheap – between R6 and R12 per trip depending on the distance.

What concerned me on the Metro commute wasn’t so much the graffiti which adorned the carriages both within and without as the number of black and white advertisements pasted on the inside of the compartments. Many advertised ‘affordable’ abortions alongside a mobile number but no information as to the provider of the service.

Others were less controversial and even a little amusing: penis enlarging and hip-widening creams and treatments, dubious ‘doctors’ who could revive fortunes, eleviate debts and cast love charms. It reminded me that superstitions lurked barely beneath the surface of this erstwhile modern city. It was the same elsewhere in Durban, Jozi and Pretoria.

It’s tempting to call it African superstition but I can’t be sure who the practitioners and clients of these myriad treatments and charms really are. South Africa does, after all, play host to dozens of foreign nationals from all corners of the continent. The fraudsters and confidence tricksters aside it was the advertisement of illegal abortions which saddened me most. How could these people advertise their services with impunity?

Women in townships are all too often the subject of abuse. Those who worked at the hostel and who I spoke to either avoided the township altogether or told me it was unsafe to move around after dark. I took a township tour with Henry, a deadlocked, affable Malawian who had lived in that particular one, Masi, for several years. It wasn’t the first time I had been in a township but they are never dull places. Unfortunately those photos are still on an SD card so they are not included here.

A few days earlier I decided to take a tour of Robben Island with one of my fellow hostel travelers, a young Norwegian man called Pal (the a having a little circular character above it, not available on my mini-keyboard). Never mind that it is a highly subscribed tour which departs several times a day from Cape Town harbour, it was still worthwhile.

I went on a tour to Robben Island with a friend from my hostel. We were fortunate enough to have a former inmate explain to us exactly what they had to endure in the apartheid-era prison. Amazingly enough he bore no grudges drawing his inspiration from fellow inmate Nelson Mandela in his policy of reconciliation.

I went on a tour to Robben Island with a friend from my hostel. We were fortunate enough to have a former inmate explain to us exactly what they had to endure in the apartheid-era prison. Amazingly enough he bore no grudges drawing his inspiration from fellow inmate Nelson Mandela in his policy of reconciliation.

On the trip out we were lucky enough to see a Southern Right Whale surface a hundred yards astern of the small vessel we were on. I thought it a large seal until it surfaced properly with barnacles encrusting the exposed part of its head. As we arrived at Robben Island harbour a streak of white beneath the surface betrayed the path of a penguin, the one and only one I remember seeing on that trip.

After disembarking we hopped on one of several buses taking tourists around the small island. We weren’t allowed to disembark until we got to the old prison buildings, where we were given a tour by a former inmate, Ntabo Mbatha. He was a humble man who had made the island, his former prison, his home. He looked not unlike the current president, Jacob Zuma. His voice was rich and sonorous, a confident orator.

What amazed me, as it evidently did an English travel blogger for the Daily Mail several years before (see reference below) was his lack of acrimony. Like Mandela before him he embraced the idea of reconciliation. He really was to be admired. I have uploaded half of the footage I took of his presentation below:

Back at the V&A Waterfront the crowds had swelled. The V&A is a real hive of activity – tourist central. A guide from a city walking tour alleged that the shopping mall and restaurants were the second-most visited ‘attraction’ on the continent ahead of Table Mountain which made him sad. I guess it has to be taken in context.

The Waterfont area has a bit of everything – musicians, good food, boat trips, museums, art galleries and pubs. One just hopes the wealth filters into the local economy. I’m told rents are exorbitant and heard from a reliable source that only 3 in 10 restaurants survive their first year in the city.

I enjoyed my time in Cape Town. I certainly met a broad spectrum of people both local and foreign; white, black and mixed-race; gay and straight. I’ve come way with some priceless anecdotes and good memories. My journeys to the other metropolitan areas mentioned have been shorter affairs but worth mentioning too.

For the first time in my life I visited central Durban where I perused the natural history museum (excellently curated) and the city Art Gallery above (not quite as good but also worth a visit). Nearby stands the City Hall, an impressive neoclassical structure with a variety of statues and impressive memorial to the Great War in close attendance.

The memorials appeared well maintained but, like all South Africa towns, the informal sector flourished on the margins. A few white vagrants were sleeping rough near one of the statues, a former governor of Natal, while young people perched at the bases chatting amicably to one another.

I walked to the Victoria Embankment which flanks the harbour. The wharfs here harboured an amassed wealth of yachts and catamarans under the auspices of the Royal Natal Yacht Club. I continued on to the end of the harbour pier beyond the boats and restaurant-cafe (closed till further notice). Right at the end was a chunky fisherman of a mixed-race ethnicity. A little further back were a group of Indian fishermen with deck chairs and a cooler box.

I asked the former how the fishing was. He shrugged and cast a critical eye across to his Indian compatriots. “If it wasn’t for them taking out every single fish they hook there might be some decent fish. Man, you have to throw back the undersized fish and let them grow. They take everything just to make bloody fish cakes and sh*t.”

The view across Durban harbour from a pier with the city skyline as a backdrop.

The view across Durban harbour from a pier with the city skyline as a backdrop.

The real problem it seemed lay in the fact that fishing permits were not being actively enforced as neither were bait catchers. As with Cape Town the most sort-after bait were the sand prawns caught during low tide when they could be sucked out of their holes with simple hand pumps. My new acquaintance was adamant that they too were being over-harvested.

From there I walked back across town and hence to the Point area. My curiosity saw me enter one of the new ‘China Malls’ which I had previously seen on the outskirts of Pretoria. I am anecdotally informed that Chinese business has been flourishing in South Africa in recent years.

To be fair most of the shops therein were not Chinese but on the second from last floor above there was a large department store, the China star, selling all and sundry. However, the very top floor of the building spoke of different era. A derelict Art Deco styled room recalled a time when white Durbanites probably came here to socialise and be entertained. I would love to know more about the history of the place.

From Durban I headed back up to the Highveld – Jozi and Pretoria. Based in the former I took the new intra/inter-city Gautrain to the latter last week. It is a modern fast-rail service, essentially a modern mass-transit system significantly faster than the Metro Rail. It runs between Jozi and Pretoria at regular intervals, more frequently during rush hour, and provides a useful alternative to the busy, congested inter-city freeway (motorway).

I have long been fascinated by the Afrikaans language and it’s people. I did a year in Pretoria to round off my bachelors degree in 2003. It was a difficult time for me personally but I long regretted not pushing up against whatever social and self-perceived barriers might have presented themselves at the time and tried to see more of the city.

I guess it’s a case of ‘better late than never’. Please take a look at the accompanying gallery and attendant captions to get an idea of the rich history of the former capital of the Transvaal Republic, the Union of South Africa, the apartheid-era Republic of South Africa and indeed the present capital of the nation.

Referenced articles:

http://www.fin24.com/Economy/Labour/InsideLabour/Inside-Labour-Decent-wage-decent-policies-20140829

http://travelblog.dailymail.co.uk/2010/06/the-people-of-south-africa-could-teach-the-england-players-a-thing-or-two-about-humility.html