Alan & Kathy's Trip To Africa
September / October 1997
Part 3 of 6 - Zimbabwe

Week 1 (continued)
Saturday 20 September 1997

Finally the big emotional moment came, as we arrived in Harare and stepped out onto African soil - Kathy's first time, and Alan's first in nearly 30 years, since the former South African regime refused him permission to live in that country in 1967. Harare is a small airport by world standards, so you have to walk from the 747 to the terminal, which is unchanged since the 1960's and getting a bit run down.

When our luggage finally arrived, we discovered that the "free" trolley came attached to a porter, who expected to be paid. Kathy discreetly took some money from her purse, carefully watched by at least two men with nothing else to do (criminals? police?). We approached immigration control, who were not happy that we didn't know the address of the Coxall family, with whom we would be staying; we knew only their e-mail address, and that they had promised to meet us. After clearing that hurdle, we never did see a customs officer; our porter simply led us through the door marked "nothing to declare" (how did he know?).

Once outside, we were met by Brenda Coxall and a representative of EuropeCar. After signing papers for the car and learning the mysteries of its anti-theft system, we followed Brenda's car to her home in the suburbs. After we had another short nap, Brenda and daughter Natasha walked us to a nearby bird sanctuary where we saw an island in the middle of a lake, with every tree on the island covered in white cranes, all squawking noisily. Kathy's first impression of Harare was the scent of the tropical flowers and the trees, which reminded her of her home in Paraguay, and the sounds of the frogs and the crickets at dusk.

Back at the house, Charles Coxall and son Nathaniel returned from a church men's retreat, just as Brenda and Natasha put a fine dinner on the table. Over dinner we chatted about places and people we both knew (Charles, like Alan, had lived in Luanshya, Zambia in the 1960's). After dinner, we used Charles' e-mail account to contact our sons at home, then we went to bed.

Sunday 21 September 1997

At 8:00 AM Sunday we attended "Hear The Word Ministries" with the Coxalls. It was good to see the congregation well-mixed racially. The service that day had a strong North American flavour: one of the elders came onstage in a poncho and a sombrero, and strumming a guitar, to promote a fundraising Mexican dinner; five women sang a great Southern gospel song; and the sermon, on God overcoming marriage problems, was by a visiting American couple who had been in Zimbabwe only three days.

After church we were introduced to "Metro", a local shopping centre something like the North American Costco. There Alan found things that he hadn't seen in 30 years, such as Mazoe Orange Squash, and Kathy found guavas, her favorite tropical fruit. Alan saw many other brand names unknown in Canada, but remembered from his youth: Royal desserts, Moyer's essences, Tanganda and Pitco tea, Sparletta soft drinks, Fatti & Moni's pasta, All Gold ketchup, Arnold's cookies, and so on. Somehow Alan felt better knowing they were still in business!

970921a.jpg Harare was beautiful, because we had arrived during the few weeks of each year when the jacaranda trees bloom; their beautiful purple-blue flowers form a canopy overhead and carpet the streets and sidewalks beneath them. Not to be outdone, the bougainvillea lit up the hedges with its crimson blossoms.

After lunch with the Coxalls, we drove east to a private game park they recommended, called Imire. We correctly took the Mutari road and turned right just before Marandera, but two kilometres later we missed a signpost. About the time we should have arrived at Imire, we reached a junction, where the local people said, "Take the left fork". Soon we saw a signpost to Imire; that road began as corrugated ruts, then became a rock pile, and we slowed to a crawl to avoid damaging the rental car. Finally, after fording a small stream, we reached a one-lane tarred road. Seeing no more signposts, we asked some schoolgirls at a bus stop, who said, "Go one kilometre this way and then turn right." That proved to be Imire's driveway.

As we entered, two Land Rovers full of guests passed us, leaving for the Sundowner game watch. As we pulled up to the guest house, the owner came out to meet us and said, "Oh, shame. You've missed the people. Just drop your bags in your room and I'll take you to them." As her truck forded a stream on her way to catch up with the Land Rovers, we realized we were driving over the same road we'd just come in on, and she said, "Oh, yes, I know the way you came; you drove about 60 km too far that way." The next day, when we returned via the correct route, that road was, in fact, much better and much shorter.

970921b.jpg We caught up with the other guests at the rhino corral. The rhinos like to rub their horns against the wooden bars, and have worn out one section which had to be replaced with metal. The rhinos came to Imire as orphans, after poachers killed their mothers for their horns, and though they are now full-grown, they still relate to humans because Imire continues to bottle-feed them daily. Guests tip a four-litre jug of skim milk, with a rubber hose nozzle, straight into the rhino's mouth, delighting both rhino and guest. So Kathy bottle-fed a two-ton rhino!

Then we joined the other guests on the Land Rovers and went to the lake. Mounting an observation platform, we watched the hippos playing in the water. As the sun went down, the guests sipped champagne while a game guard threw food pellets on the beach, immediately attracting the hippos to wade ashore. They were met by sable antelopes, impalas and other smaller animals who came done the hill to eat and drink.

When it was dark, we were driven back to the lodge, where we unpacked in our spacious, comfortable thatched rondavel ("round house"). It had mosquito nets over our beds, traditional chairs made of two pieces of carved flat wood which slide apart for carrying, and a book of tourist information bound in hand-printed art, on paper hand-made from the thoroughly washed dung of Imire's own elephants (this paper is currently the rage among artists worldwide). Kathy found a large insect with a long pointy nose perched on our lampshade; she identified it as the kind of bloodsucker she had seen in Paraguay, and wouldn't go near until Alan killed it.

Dinner was by candlelight on the verandah of the main lodge, where we shared our table with an Australian family. We enjoyed a creamed spinach appetizer, followed by a beautiful filet steak with wonderfully fresh vegetables, and delicious chocolate mousse. Then we went inside the lodge for cheese and crackers, tea and coffee, and liqueurs for those who wanted them, served beside a cozy log fire.

At dinner the owner asked us whether we wanted to watch birds or ride elephants the next morning. We chose the elephants. Kathy was a little reluctant, but we knew this might be our only opportunity to ever do this. The owner obviously loves people, and not only takes great care of her guests, but also has excellent rapport with all her staff.

970922a.jpg After coffee time we retired to our rondavel and let down the mosquito nets. As we let Kathy's down, a tiny lizard fell on her bed and had to be chased away. Each room had a mosquito coil, so we lit ours, but within five minutes we had trouble breathing, so we extinguished it and relied on our nets and our mosquito repellent (and if those failed, on the doxycycline). Kathy expected to see a snake next, but that didn't happen.

Monday 22 September 1997

970921c.jpg An early morning knock at the door brought coffee and cookies to start our day. After our snack, we were taken to the elephants. Imire has trained four elephants, all brought there as poacher orphans, for riding. Kathy had hurt her shin getting into the Land Rover and had difficulty climbing, so they gave her the smallest elephant, thinking it would be easier to mount. These elephants don't have saddles, just blankets thrown over their backs for you to sit on. We each sat behind an experienced guide already known to the elephant, and once Kathy was seated, the guide said "Hang on to me." Holding our video camera in one hand, Kathy put her other arm around the guide and hung on tightly. It's good that she did, because when an elephant stands up, one end stands up before the other, and you get tossed around!

With everyone mounted, our elephants headed down the trail. We soon learned that Kathy's elephant was the smallest because she was also the youngest and the least trained; she kept wandering off the trail to break branches off trees and strip them of tasty leaves, oblivious to what the trees might do to her passengers, and her guide had to keep steering her back to the path. Kathy continued to cling tightly to the guide, and at one point he said, "Ma'am, are you afraid?" She asked, "Why, am I breaking your ribs?" and he answered, "Yes!" So we rode the elephants along the trail for about half an hour. They are huge creatures, but very gentle in their way -- though you wouldn't want one to stand on you, even gently!

After our ride, we returned to the main lodge for a full English breakfast served in the garden. Then it was time to return to the Land Rover for the daily game drive. These Land Rovers have three tiers of seats, so even the back row can see well. Our guide, whose name was Never, drove the Land Rover while a game spotter sat on the spare tire on the hood of the Land Rover and pointed the moment he saw game. Then Never would stop and give us a short but expert talk about the animals, while we took pictures. Never was a fun-loving, teasing fellow who said his name came from what his mother said after giving birth to him: "Never again!"

During our drive we passed several interesting formations of huge boulders balanced on top of one another. These formations are common in northern Zimbabwe; there were several within the boundaries of Imire, which, at 45 square kilometres, is 40% the size of Vancouver, Canada. Geologists say up to 10 metres of soil has washed away, leaving the boulders behind. But Never said with a straight face that he had been very busy piling up those rocks, and Kathy almost fell for it. A little while later as we went past another rock formation, Kathy said, "Oh, look, Never! You've been very busy!" and he replied, "No, I hired a contractor for that one, and they brought in cranes. The big one over there is my masterpiece."

Another of Never's jokes was pointing to some barn-like buildings, two stories high, and telling us they were barns for the giraffes, and that the coal piled in bins outside them was in case the giraffes got cold. Actually, they were old tobacco drying barns, as the owner's family were tobacco farmers.

970922b.jpg During our drive we saw zebras, buffaloes, rhinos, crocodiles, kudus, impalas, nyalas, and more elephants roaming the property freely. We also saw a pair of lions inside a large fenced area with their own hill. Kathy was grateful for the fence when the male charged at her!

Halfway through the game drive, we were driven to the top of a kopje (hill) for lunch and were served a wide variety of hot and cold foods. During lunch, an elephant joined us and we were permitted to feed it by placing food pellets on the upturned end of its trunk, which it then deftly placed in its mouth without spilling anything.

970922c.jpg One highlight of Imire was seeing Nzou. She was the first orphan elephant brought to Imire 20 years ago, and through inexperience, they put her with a herd of buffalo. She bonded with the buffaloes, and since elephant tribes are led by a female, she grew up to lead the buffalo herd. The buffaloes have accepted this because she's the largest and most powerful member of their herd. Now and then a male buffalo tries to challenge her leadership, but as Never put it, "a swish of the trunk and a bit of tap-dancing, and it's all over." So far she has killed fourteen male buffaloes. On the other hand, she saved the life of a guard who was attacked by the buffaloes. Scientists from all over the world have come to study her identity crisis, and among other things have learned that her cycle is now the same length as a female buffalo. Watching her lead the herd is extraordinary; every time she changes direction, all the buffaloes follow her.

970922d.jpg Driving all over the plain with a game spotter sitting on the hood of our Land Rover reminded us of one of our favourite movies, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and to complete the similarity, our Land Rover broke down! Never pumped and pumped the accelerator, but nothing happened because the cable had snapped. Fortunately we were only 500 metres from the end of our drive, so we walked to the owner's home, where we had afternoon tea (which actually meant soft drinks and cake) and our wonderful 24 hours at Imire were over.

After tea we drove back to Harare (along the correct road this time) and went straight to EuropeCar, who had promised to exchange our small Hyundai for a tougher Toyota Venture before we left for Zambia. On Saturday they had offered to make the switch Monday night and told us they were open 24 hours, but when we arrived on Monday they said, "We only have emergency service at night; we don't exchange cars - come back tomorrow morning."

So we set out for the Coxalls; but, being unfamiliar with the scale of our Harare map, we thought we had gone too far and turned back, when we actually hadn't gone far enough. So, after visiting downtown Harare twice in once night, we finally reached the Coxalls, who were a little concerned about us being so late. After another good dinner with the Coxalls, they took us to visit Charles' parents, where we talked about the old days in Luanshya where his mother trained nurses and his father raced speedboats. we also watched our video of Imire on their TV.

Week 2
Tuesday 23 September 1997

Early in the morning Alan went into Harare to exchange cars at EuropeCar. It took a while to complete the paperwork, some of which was in Latin which nobody at Europcar understood, but Alan had to sign it anyway. On his way back to the Coxalls, just before reaching their turnoff from the Mutare road, Alan saw a sign with the "ae" logo of African Enterprise and quickly turned off to investigate. He had stumbled on the Zimbabwe headquarters of African Enterprise, located on the property of a local church.

Alan drove in and introduced himself to the staff present, about ten people sharing about five offices. Over tea and cookies they explained they were just about to start a city-wide mission to Masvingo (which we subsequently heard went well). Alan explained how he became a Christian in 1965 through one of African Enterprise's first activities, a university mission. He then told them something of Kathy's background, who the Mennonites are, how they were persecuted by both Stalin and Hitler, and what had happened to Kathy's family. When they heard that the refugee Mennonites arrived in Paraguay with very little, and built themselves huts just like those in an African village, they could relate to that.

One of the evangelists, Dick Marisa (whose name means "Shepherd" in Shona), heard that Alan worked with computers, and asked Alan to install some software for him. Alan first called the Coxalls to let Kathy know he would be late; she was already concerned that he might have had an accident. While Alan installed the software, Dick took notes of their conversation, explaining that he is also a freelance journalist, and might use Alan in a story someday.

Alan returned to the Coxalls place and we loaded our bags, plus numerous bottles of drinking water they had boiled for us, into the Venture. After saying goodbye to the Coxalls we took the main road from Harare to Chirundu, passing through towns Alan remembered from his youth - Banket, Chinhoyi, Karoi. When we reached the Kariba turnoff at Makuti, Alan told Kathy how he had waited outside the motel there for hours, while hitch-hiking from Durban to Luanshya in 1965. A man from Harare left the motel bar and got into a new Volvo, and Alan thought he might finally get a ride; but after studying Alan, the man sped off to the north. Three hours later Alan did get a ride, and just across the Zambian border he found the same Volvo, wrecked, with the driver dead.

Back in 1997, we left the Chirundu road at Makuti and headed for Kariba. Along the way we saw baboons, buffalo herds, even a small herd of elephants. It was dark when we reached Kariba's city centre, and we asked a group of women where to find the Kariba Heights hotel. It was only a block away, and had been renamed the Most High hotel. This hotel came recommended by a friend of the Coxalls, although a travel agency told them, "You wouldn't want to stay there, they have a lot of funny rules." As we checked in, we were told the "funny rules": (1) no tobacco, (2) no alcohol, and (3) unmarried couples get separate rooms.

970923a.jpg We really enjoyed the Most High hotel. The rooms are on the top floor, with excellent views of Lake Kariba. They are comfortable, air-conditioned, attractively decorated with local handicrafts, and - not to be taken for granted in Africa! - all the plumbing and wiring works. The floor below has a lounge, a balcony with lake views, and a spacious dining room. We dined by candlelight and enjoyed a wonderful atmosphere, an excellent menu, and friendly service - not to mention affordable prices.

We learned that the Most High hotel is owned and operated by Christians. The room rates, which seemed modest to us, are even lower for missionaries, as the owners want the hotel to be a place of rest and recreation for hard-working missionaries who need a break. While we were there, a volunteer team from a church in the USA was tackling some maintenance work, which could explain how they keep the prices low.

That night, despite the heat of the Zambezi valley outside, we slept well in our cool room.

Wednesday 24 September 1997

At breakfast we met John and Belinda Janman, Australian missionaries working in Chingola, Zambia. Their young son was feeling the heat, which peaked at 42 C that day. They advised us to remove our sunglasses and smile when approaching police roadblocks in Zambia, so the police could establish eye contact. We told them some jokes we'd heard in Zimbabwe: a tourist in Zambia was arrested for drunk driving because he was driving in a straight line; a sober driver would weave around the many big potholes. And if you are driving at night in Zambia and your headlights reflect off eyes at road level, this may be a giraffe that fell into a pothole!

After breakfast, Alan visited a street vendor selling stone and wood sculptures, and Kathy went to the women selling crochet work. While buying a small stone elephant, Alan asked, "Why are you the only man, but there are twenty women? Are they all your wives?" "No," said the man, "they are all my mother!" Alan turned and saw Kathy being jostled by a swarm of women all selling the same goods, shouting "You saw me first!" or "I showed you the hotel last night!" and pressing things into her hands, saying, "Look at this, it's perfect!" By the time Kathy evaded that throng we owned a tablecloth, twelve placemats, and twelve coasters.

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