October 30, 2007 GMT
Malawi, 30 October 2007

I've made the journey back up to Lilongwe in 7 days of riding with one day relaxing in the middle at Great Zimbabwe.

As the Bullet is still running in I've been riding slow to bed it all down nicely. The road up to the Zimbabwe border is long at the best of times, at running in speeds it was veeeerrrrryyy long. Had a great overnight stop at Polokwane Municipal Game Reserve though. I had never known that such things existed and finding it was just by chance. What a great idea, a council run game park with free entry. I pitched the tent up the evening I arrived and then the next morning was free to enter. In both senses - it is free of charge and the only game park I have ever come across that just allows you to wander around at will. The warden had said there were White Rhinos in the park. I thought that they would be pretty elusive but as I got a kilometer or so into the park I started encountering giant mounds of rhino poo. Even encountering a kudu (like a big cow / deer cross for those at home!) standing in front of you whilst you are alone on foot is pretty exciting but a rhino is something else. Gets the heart racing a bit and the immediate reaction is to start looking for escape routes!

dirt road in Zimbabwe

Just before the border with Zimbabwe the bike started to leak oil a fair bit so the morning before crossing the border there was a quick head gasket change. The border was smooth but with numerous taxes. Is Mad Dog Mugabe really bothered enough by environmental destruction to impose a carbon tax on passing vehicles or is it just another ruse to squeeze some more hard currrency out of visitors....

The first part of the ride was steamy hot, through flat bush on great roads with virtually no traffic, but we soon started to get into the hills. British colonialists of times past were keen to compare anywhere with hills to Scotland. But here they were fairly spot on though perhaps giving local villages names like Glen Garry and Glenlivet was taking things a bit far.

Getting to Great Zimbabwe I was the only visitor at this world heritage site. It is the largest pre-colonial structure in sub-sahran Africa. Again the Highlands comparison comes in because the builders were expert dry stone wall makers. The site is massive and the most famous building is a huge circular compound nearly 200m in diameter with walls some 3m thick and 10m high.

great zimbabwe.JPG

Getting up the next morning the whole place was covered in cloud and drizzle everywhere. Another Scottish likeness. Here's the view from the tent in the morning:

view from tent at Great Zimbabwe

Despite dire warnings from some South Africans everyone I encountered in Zimbabwe was hugely friendly, from the folks roadside waving to the chief of security at Great Zimabwe who insisted on giving me a free tour of the site when I said I didn't really have the cash to pay twenty dollars for a guide.

Great Zimabwe was amazing though I'm ashamed to say that I was equally fascinated by this unbelievably huge snail. As big as my hand!

monster snail.JPG

Leaving Great Zimbabwe we set off into the incessant drizzle towards the Eastern Highlands and Bvumba valley for the promise of heavier rain still. It didn't disappoint. I had to get petrol on the way and with some sweet talking at a garage they reluctantly revealed that they had some around the back. It was expensive, I got conned on the exchange rate and when I filled the bike with it and started up there was the unmistakable smell of parafin in the air. Still, when the bike warmed up it ran OK on it.

On the subject of shortages it seems that most things are available black market but there's little in shops and as always in situations like these it's the poor folk who are really hurt by it all. Thousands are going to Soth Africa, mostly illegally, to look for work. Mugabe is messing things up yet further. The South African government refuses to criticise him. And then they deport all the poor job seekers back to further misery. Congratulations in order all round then there guys.

I've got to keep on about the rain as folks at home keep saying how jealous they are of the hot weather I must be enjoying. Here's coming in to the Bvumba region.


I arrived at the end of the day only to find out that the cheap lodge I had in mind had just burnt down. So I was reduced to crawling through the fog in the dark looking for anywhere. I found a nice lodge. In fact as I walked in I was sure I didn't quite belong there. Five Star style service in a beautiful stone cottage guest house. The rate was about fifteen dollars a night with dinner and breakfast. Despite shortages I had a delicious olive and feta slad for starters that night with a t-bone steak for main and and decent fry-up in the morning. All the time I coulnd't believe it was so cheap. In the end it wasn't. It turns out that if you tick the non-resident box on the arrival registration form then you are levied with a rate that bears no resemblance to the local one. All the same even at 65 dollars for full board it was still pretty good value. Here's a tip for anyone else planning to visit Zimbabwe - just tick the residents' box and bring along plenty of Zim Dollars. They never check!

bvumba by night

Having been stung so heavily on accommodation and petrol the only thing was to get out to Mozambique and hot foot it up to Lilongwe. It was only three days but who would have thought that Zimbabwe would provide one of the higlights of the trip so far. Amazing scenery, great roads, really friendly locals and seemingly the only foreign tourist there.

Posted by Richard Miller at October 30, 2007 09:54 AM GMT

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