Well, we have had Music Monday for a while. Now it is time to start Travel Thursday. Each week I will endeavour to post something travel related on the blog, maybe something to do with my work, maybe a recommendation from my travels or maybe some reminiscences.
Hadn’t prepared anything for this week, as I couldn’t remember whether it was “Travel Tuesday” or “Travel Thursday”! But rather than miss out altogether, I will dip into some pre-written material, namely my journal from my backpacking trip to Zimbabwe during my student days back iun the summer of 1995. This entry is all about the day I was leaving Lake Kariba to travel up to Hwange National Park………..
I get up quite early but laze around before packing my things, as my bus to the airport is not until 11.10. When I’m all packed up, I go off to have a leisurely shower and drink before setting off. That was the plan anyway.
When I get to the shop to buy my drink, I hear a woman asking the campsite warden if she knows where a Mr Braisby can be found. I identify myself and she tells me she is from UTC, the company I booked my transfers through, and that my bus is waiting. I show her my ticket with 11.10 printed clearly on it, but she informs me that it’s a mistake and she’s leaving now and can’t wait as other people are on the bus as well. The time by the way is 10.25. So I say “Give me two minutes” and sprint off. I’m wearing just a pair of shorts and some sandals, as I’ve just been for a shower, so I stuff my remaining things in the top of my rucksack, pull on some more clothes, say a quick thanks and goodbye to everybody and run back to the bus.
I thought that my UTC transfers had been organized a little too efficiently to be true. The other passengers get off at various hotels along the shores of the lake, then we stop at Cutty Sark Hotel, where the driver tells me that we have to wait for the “11.10 – it’s a mistake” woman, who for some reason got off at one of the other hotels, to catch us up in her car. Bemused, still a little flustered, and rather fed up at not getting to say a proper goodbye to the friends I had made on the campsite in Kariba, I go to the bar. When I get back to the bus, she has turned up and we can carry on to the airport.
When I arrived, I noticed how small the Kariba airport was, but even that has not prepared me for today’s farcical events. I stand and wait for absolutely ages in front of the check-in desk before someone comes to serve me. Then I have to go on to the security check.
They don’t have an X-ray machine at Kariba airport, so the security check involves being locked in a wooden box with a uniformed chap carrying a machine gun and questioned about your luggage. Once again, I am trying to take through a bottle of meths (fuel for my camping stove, not refreshment for the journey). At Harare I nearly got away with it until they were suspicious of the stove itself – OK I do admit that it looked a little bit like a landmine on the X-ray picture – and asked me about its fuel. Anyway, this bloke asks me if I have anything flammable with me. In my very limited experience, it’s better to tell the truth as much as possible when someone has an automatic weapon, so I tell him “Just a bottle of meths – fuel for my camping stove”. This is a bad mistake. “Did you not read the notice?”. I feel my best chance is to play ignorant. “Which notice?”, I ask innocently. So he opens the door and frog-marches me out in front of all these curious travellers in the check-in area to point out to me the huge and prominently-displayed sign about prohibited goods. Oh, THAT notice! I try to worm my way out of it by saying I thought it only meant pressurized fuels, but he’s clearly not impressed. His next question completely throws me, though. “So what are you going to do?”. Surely he’s not expecting me to say, “Well, I thought I’d sod the rules and take it with me”, is he? So I give the obvious reply that I’ll have to leave it behind. This involves filling in some battered book with no cover and dog-eared pages. There are only about six entries for the whole of 1995, all for guns, big knives, bullets etc. The words ‘Bottle of Methylated Spirit’ look somehow out of place. Once I’ve signed and given him the bottle, he lets me out of the box. For some reason, I feel guilty as hell for my attempt to disregard the law and carry dangerous contraband onto a 40-minute prop plane flight.
I emerge into the departure area. Lounge would be a bit too strong a word. Amazingly, there’s a kiosk where I manage to get a drink. A short while later Andy, who I met in Harare, arrives. He’s heading up to Hwange on the same flight. The flight is pretty good, no food although thankfully a cold drink is forthcoming. Hwange airport is about the same as Kariba, but without a counter for baggage collection. They just drive the trolley over from the plane and you help yourself. Thankfully, my rucksack is not good enough for anyone else to want to walk off with, so I reclaim it myself and go to find my transfer.
I wander over to the UTC desk and present my ticket, and also book a game drive for later in the afternoon. Andy discovers that the price of a UTC transfer (unless you book in advance as I did) is extortionate, but as they have a monopoly he has to pay it. The Main Camp in Hwange National Park is not at all how I expected it to be, much more spread out and developed. I guess I was kind of expecting a couple of huts in the middle of the wilderness! I check in with no problem, but the place is full and Andy can’t get in (this is the man who was taking the mickey out of me in Harare for planning too much of my trip in advance!). They don’t hire tents, and the bloke in the office is so unhelpful it’s not true. He basically tells him that he can go on a waiting list as long as your arm, and if he doesn’t get in he’ll have to try the Safari Lodge, which is a four-star place nearby and completely out of his backpacking budget. It seems unbelievable that the National Parks can have a system which allows people to turn up at a safari camp with no guaranteed accommodation. Anyway, never one to see someone in trouble, I kindly offer Andy a place in my (nominally two person) tent, and he gratefully accepts. We set the tent up with no problem but the big problem we do encounter is where to keep our stuff at night – my tent is big enough for two people but not their luggage as well. This is solved by asking the South African family next door for help, and they let us leave our packs in the boot of their car. Thanking them for their generosity, and hoping they don’t drive off with all our possessions while we are asleep, we quickly adjourn to the bar, discovering on the way that the camp has very good facilities, including a shop which sells most foods, not just the “basic supplies” promised by the Rough Guide, as well as meths, of which I buy yet another bottle. This is starting to become a rather worrying habit.