Each country is different. Each has it goods and its bads. Here are a few snippets of these overlanders’ experiences.
Sun baked, waiting for the summer rain. A few trees have braved leafing out, the rest of the landscape remains multiple shades of winter brown. It’s the beginning of November 2016.
The locals say, “it’s hot, very hot.” People speak good English and are very friendly, even the bureaucrats. A worker at the border post calls Zimbabwe, “The safe haven of Africa, with no guns.” The heavy security gates and razor wire fences so prevalent in South Africa are absent.
We enter Zimbabwe from Botswana via the Plum Tree border post. The crossing takes us an hour! No, it’s not because there are tons of people, we fortunately arrive before a large bus load. We have our passports, US dollars, ‘carnet de passage’ (Landy’s ‘passport’) and pens all ready. Don’t forget the pens!
First hurdle is finding the form. Of course there are none in the obvious box. Upon asking, a worker takes two out from behind the counter. Checking our passports, getting our visa’s stamped all goes quite nicely. The fella in charge of vehicles has a bit of trouble with the carnet. Then we’re sent off to the cashier, a nice looking friendly woman who chit chats with us for about 15 minutes waiting for her computer to reboot and getting logged in.
Off to another station to get clearance for the vehicle. “No, we don’t have anything to declare.” We get his stamp and drive to the next booth. $10 for road usage. Having done this before Russ waits for the tiny little, smaller than business card size, certificate. Russ has to ask for it, guess the worker wanted to pocket the cash? We think we’re done and drive up to the exit.
“Sorry, you have a problem!” The man says, with a smile. Now what! We must return to the large hanger like building and get a stamp. “There was a barrel blocking the entrance!” “Just park next to it,” he says matter-of-factly. We back up, talk to uniformed guy who sends us to an uninformed man sitting all by himself, next to a small table, in this hanger like building. After producing this and then that we get our finally stamp. The exit guard takes his slip of paper with all the stamps. $85 lighter and with all the right stamps we’re on our way…. Hello Zimbabwe!
With our packet of certified documents we’re ready for the inevitable road blocks. Road blocks are frequent, every 50k or so. They can ask for anything, from checking your fire extinguisher to turning signals. Most simply wave us on. When they don’t Russ who has difficulty understanding them, says, “Sorry I don’t hear very well” Usually this gets us moving along faster.
There are no freeways in Zimbabwe. Even the main high way between Harare and Bulawayo is only two lane, and toll to boot. One toll booth had no change for $5, so we paid in a combination of US and South African currency.
The country, although struggling economically is very expensive. Currently They’re using the US dollar, moving to a bond system we’re told. At the grocery we don’t buy cheese, or stock up much as prices are inflated. Also, there is a cash crisis.
No money at ATM on foreign debit cards. Locals can get $80 to $100 per day, so the lines are long and with no guarantee there’ll be anything left when it’s your turn. Credit cards are not necessarily welcome either. So watching our spending is critical.
Roads in Bulawayo are well laid out, but old and plagued with potholes. Downtown is clean, not over run with people or street vendors. You can see how beautiful the city once was as there are remnants of bougainvillea, lawns and parks throughout.
Traffic is light everywhere, probably because of the high cost of fuel – $1.15 a liter. Cars are old, new car dealerships are empty. Abandoned care relics adorn the high ways. Buses seem to be the people movers. Goats, cows and donkeys meander along the roadside in search of food. There are few fences.
Places to camp are available and adequate. However, overnight prices are generally higher than our $15 budget allowance. Power outages are frequent. Internet access sporadic and often slow.
The Chinese appear to have a presence, trading for resources. In case anybody questions this, President Mugabe’s mansion sports oriental architecture.
Wildlife overall are getting scarce we’re told. In the park made famous by the tragic killing of Cecil the lion, Hwange National Park, elephants however are abundant. Wildlife conservationists counter the decline of endangered and threatened species.
The ones we meet are quite amazing. Baye with Free to be Wild (a relatively new rescue rehabilitation center in Bulawayo.) Lisa and Ellen with the Tikki Hywood Trust (world experts on the highly endangered pangolin.) The folks at Painted Dog Conservation (outside of Hwange.) There are sure to be many others we’ve simply not had the privilege to meet yet.
Poaching is rampant, but then with unemployment sky high… Go figure!
When all is said and done, we really like Zimbabwe. The wildlife, the people, the climate, and the environment are great. What limits our stay is the cost of living… Simply too expensive for our Overlanding budget, so its’ off to Malawi via Mozambique.