August 24, 2010 GMT
Zimbabwe



Phew........ where do I start??
It's been a roller coaster journey, nothing to do with going up and down hills, and here I am in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.



From Chicamba Lake, I had an idea that it would be too far to reach the Great Zimbabwe Monument in one day, with a border crossing to take in as well. But Mutare, just inside Zimbabwe, would be too early to stop, only about forty miles, and then there was nothing else shown on my map until Masvingo, bringing the mileage to two hundred and forty. Quite a long way on my little bike after a border crossing. So I didn't know how things would work out.
Especially after the insurance man on the Zimbabwe side of the border was nowhere to be seen when I was ready to pay him some money. (USD6 for road access and carbon tax - motorcycle rate).


Eventually he appeared, to face quite a queue, and I was away at last onto the Zimbabwean roads, but later than I had hoped.


Without a doubt there are changes as you cross into each new African country, but changes so subtle they can't be described (by me anyway), you have to experience them. So it was with Zimbabwe.
There are the obvious things, the money is US dollars - it seems strange now travelling around with a pocketful of portraits of US presidents. And police checks are more frequent than in any country so far. Of the ten between the border and here, I was stopped at only one, for the usual chat about where from and where to. But these things become a habit so I found myself stopping at two or three more of them anyway - for the usual chat about where from and where to.........


The vegetation and nature of the farming changes. Here in Zimbabwe it's warm again after the cold of southern Malawi and Mozambique, although the elevation is slightly higher.
And the range of plants and trees along the roadsides is amazing now. I don't know the names of them but there seems to be so many more different species, particularly of trees. Every possible shape and colour.
Cattle farming is much more in evidence. Completely unfenced, cattle wandering the roads at will.
And the little roadside villages of circular mud-brick huts with thatch roofs continue from Mozambique, with people waving cheerfully.


Two hundred-odd miles of empty countryside (except the tiny villages) lay between Mutare and Masvingo with good empty tarmac.
The people in the villages looked well-dressed and well fed, as most of our journey so far. But there was no transport. Particularly noticeable was the lack of bicycles - but the road being fairly flat and in excellent condition for cycling. Maybe a dozen maximum seen in the two hundred miles. Also, a complete lack of advertising for mobile phones, and no masts outside one or two of the largest villages. So there certainly seems to be less prosperity here than in previous countries.
The shapes and colours of the amazingly wide range of flora was the most visible change from Mozambique and Malawi. It's not difficult to see the attractions of this land that made the British, rightly or wrongly, determined to get their hands on it a couple of hundred years ago. Truly a Garden of Eden.


A man-made landmark at about halfway is the Birchenough Bridge stretching across the Save River. A massive high lattice-steel arch supporting two narrow lanes of tarmac below.
Followed by nothing, for about fifty miles. No other traffic, no villages, no people, no cultivation, no animals, no turnings, just the continuing lush and verdant vegetation. And a continuous and substantial double fence along the left of the road. There's nothing marked on my map, so a mystery. But I have learnt over the years that land ownership by foreign entities is controversial here.
It was a bit eerie that stretch, a huge land so lush but with no other human presence. Not since the Sahara, I think, has there been such a long stretch of African road competely devoid of human life or habitation.


Afterwards the little villages returned for another fifty miles. And with less than an hour of daylight left, came Masvingo, rather suddenly (like the dusk). The epitomy of a British colonial town, even two railway crossings (like being back in Whyteleafe) and a station.


That road was interesting for another couple of odd reasons.
There were regular little picnic places, concrete table and seats, except for the fenced-off stretch. Like being back in Europe. I stopped at one for a break, a little way after the end of the long mysterious fence, and remembered I'm supposed to take photos now and again.


zimbabwe1.jpg


There's hardly any litter to be seen here. Each of these picnic places had an unvandalised bin, and in Masvingo I even saw, a couple of times, passers-by pick up an empty crisp packet or somesuch similar and drop it in one of the many bins.


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zimbabwe3.jpg
An attempt to capture some of the late winter colours here.


While taking these photos I became aware of lots of cracking and snapping noises, going on constantly. I assumed people had noticed I'd stopped and were approaching. But no, there was no one around, nor any animals. It took a bit of observation but eventually I saw the source of the sounds. The trees here grow a strange object on their branches. When one is ready to fall off, there's a loud cracking noise, followed by another when it hits the ground. So more photos, for what they're worth.


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The noisy tree fruit, or whatever it is. I'll try to find out but haven't yet. It's made of something like brittle wood. Maybe it's a seed pod.


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And some vague pictures of them up in the trees. The ones above before they curl up.


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And for the other feature of this road, readers of a certain age and from a certain profession may sometimes wonder, "Do long-distance open-wire telephone lines still exist anywhere in the world?"


Well, they probably do in many places, and this is one of them. All along the two hundred and forty miles from the border to Masvingo. (And all the way onwards to Great Zimbabwe). And in excellent well-looked-after condition. All the wires properly tensioned, all insulators intact and vertical. Amazing! (Well, for some of us)


zimbabwe8.jpg



zimbabwe9.jpg
Ten pairs on this route, but as many as forty pairs on other stretches. (The high-traffic areas!)



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In the other direction were the mountains above Masvingo, and........


zimbabwe11.jpg
"..... glistening in the late afternoon sun, like lengths of finely woven gossamer silk"
(Depending how your screen resolves the pattern in the wires!)



After more than two hundred miles of this, I started to wonder, "Will I find internet in Zimbabwe?"
Well, there is, one single place in Masvingo so far. I'm intrigued to know if these telephone lines are still actually in use. If not, then they must have been very well erected to still be in such good apparent condition.



If that isn't boring enough, there's more. - (WHAT will he be taking photos of next??)
Shortly after leaving Chimoio in Mozambique a new noise from the bike suddenly commenced. Always a worry.
Specially as it was a rattlely sort of noise like something metallic about to fall off, remembering the recent loss of various bolts. A quick examination, and precision kicking of various parts, revealed nothing. Everything was safe and secure. But something was causing it!
I did a few laps of the bike, looking it up and down. Then that thing sprung to mind, well hidden and invisible unless you get up close and know where to look.
The chain roller...........
Yes, the rubber roller had departed. Leaving only the journal bearing for the chain to hit against, and I knew already that that was close to collapse.
Satisfied that it was the cause I continued. But it's one of those nagging noises, intermittent depending on the roughness of the road and position of the throttle, and worrying even when you're fairly certain of what it is.


After the Zimbabwe border, some way along the road to Masvingo, the noise appeared to reduce. I couldn't really explain that in my mind but had an idea. So when I stopped at the picnic place I remembered to check, and found that the poor old bearing had indeed also departed, leaving only the bolt, which is further away from the chain, so contacts it less.
I removed the whole lot In Masvingo and now all the noise has gone. Hope it'll be OK. I've read of other owners removing it all together and not reporting problems. But just in case, in a shop way back in Kigoma (Tanzania) I think it was, I found stacks of car and lorry suspension-bushes of all sizes. I bought two that may fit on the bolt, without the bearing, perhaps continuing to offer the chain some guidance. They're made of quite hard plastic so may be OK without the bearing for a while.
This is Africa, so we'll see, if I decide to fit them.




Finally, the roller-coaster bit is trying to fit things in (like keeping this site up to date) with the electricity supply. There are major improvements being done (I'm told) at the power stations in this part of the country, so electricity is only on, roughly, during the hours of darkness. Since I've been here there's been none between about 7am and 9 or 10pm. Hope things get better!




Posted by Ken Thomas at August 24, 2010 10:40 AM GMT
 


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