ZIMBABWE

Traveling, Bouldering, Safari in Southern Africa

June, 2013

This Is The Final Battle for Total Control

We had already been cruising on the impeccable roads near Cape Town for two hours when we heard the news about the general elections in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe had done it again. He claimed victory in his seventh consecutive term as President of Zimbabwe and his ruling ZANU-PF party maintained the majority in parliament. We were stunned. They said the elections were free and peaceful – but fair? It was then that we realized that people begging for food and water, but also the magnificent landscapes in the Matobo Hills, the bawling hippos on the Zambezi riverbanks, and the sound of the holy drums of Domo Kurira, were all but memories of the past.

We were seven, all of us climbers and all of us travellers with more of less experience in African travels. Reini and Tanja Fichtinger had already visited countries like Uganda, Kenia or Tanzania while Much Mayr had driven his SUV through the Moroccan and Malian Sahara. But we all knew very well that we wanted to be out of the country before the general elections were supposed to be held. The turmoil and violence during the 2008 elections were still in our minds and so the precaution was not ill founded but this time, luckily, not necessary.

The Last of His Kind

The highways in South Africa reminded us more of the Deutsche Autobahn and the well-stocked supermarkets were overwhelming, especially after a period of deprivation. In 1994, South Africa cast off almost five decades of Apartheid and seems to progress steadily ever since. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, was released into independence earlier, in 1980, but still lacks far behind. More than 30 years of Robert Mugabe, the last despot of his kind, a hyperinflation, droughts and political unrests have left their mark on a country that used to be known as breadbasket of the region. Buying food in Zimbabwe was tricky at times. Once we could not find milk in a supermarket, the next missed cheese and another had no meat. We were still very privileged compared to the rural population who lives on corn mostly, but we definitely looked forward to barbecues in the Rocklands.

The National Parks

After we had landed in Harare we decided to see the country first, and then focus on climbing. Our first trip took us north of Karoi to the postcard like settings of the Mana Pools National Park. While the neighboring tourists from South Africa had erected an electric fence to guard off wild animals such as lions and hyenas we lay awake on our roof tops only sheltered by a tent membrane listening reverently to the close sounds of hippos. The next days we did some game watching and more or less successful fishing. In another park, the Matusadona Game Park, we were relieved, first of all, to have survived the drive. The road lacked most of descriptions that would account for a road in our sense. In the park we met a guy working there for free. His payment was due for the last three years but he was still willing to do his duties and hoped for a better time to come. After a little chat, he invited us to a canoe tour on the river. We were relieved, after so many passive hours in the car, to do some paddling. However, when we saw the rickety vessel and the shabby paddles we had our moments of doubt. But then, nobody of us knew, that we soon would be zigzagging herds of hippos, sometimes only meters away. Two armed but noticeable nervous guides did not offer the hoped relief.

Driving on dirt roads for days had its toll. We lost one crucial nut bolt of the braking system, which left us stranded for half a day. Passing cars would stop regularly to offer help. One guy even volunteered to unscrew one of his car’s nuts to help us, but the thing just wouldn’t fit. Some guys from a neighboring hamlet invited us for refreshments. Privileged to possess a solar cell, the residents listened to pop music and were able to offer cold drinks. To our surprise the houses were beautifully decorated and neat and tidy inside. One of the village elders, a woman of supposedly 104 years of age, invited us for a dance. In a country with one of the lowest life expectancies world wide, 44 for men 43 for women, this seemed like a curiosity neither of us wanted to miss.

Matobo Hills

We first touched rock in the Matobo Hills National Park, a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, roughly 40 kilometers south of Bulawayo . The area is well known for its continuous valleys and smooth hills, cluttered with boulders and rocky slopes. However, no paradise without its serpent. Unfortunately the area is notorious for the highest density of black mambas – deadly venomous, fast and aggressive. Guided by our fear of an undesirable encounter we avoided climbing in the thicket or walking far off the trails. While some natives hold the burial of greedy colonialist Cecil Rhodes accountable for the lack of rain in the region we were more bothered with high temperatures. We could only climb until noon before we had to retire somewhere in the shade. While the temperature dropped below zero at nights the sun was quite powerful during the short days. Mostly black rock and rough features made climbing expendable at times. But sometimes we were lucky and on top of one of the hills we climbed a couple of excellent lines. Bouldering in the Matobos was fun and there is an endless amount of rocks to be climbed, but the best spot was yet to come.

Harare

Harare, the former Salisbury and then capital of Nyasaland, North- and South Rhodesia, felt like an oasis of Western capitalism, especially in contrast to the rural parts of the country. We had dinner in nice restaurants, went to local markets and were eventually able to withdraw money with our credit cards. Our dispensable amount of oily dollar notes (U.S. Dollars since the hyperinflation) had almost come to an end since the few available cash machines in the country would constantly decline our cards. We still slept in our roof top tents, but this time we were glad to be parked behind the protecting walls of a backpacker. Our attempt next day to explore the city by bike collectively, failed. There were not enough intact bikes available and we couldn’t organize simple tools to get them rolling again. Anyways, we were psyched to climb!

Domboshava and Murehwa

Northeast of Harare, near Domboshava, we found a real climber’s paradise. Good quality of rock, egg shaped boulders, many of them next to the road. And above all, cold conditions due to the high elevation of about 1500m. On a mountain called Ngoma Kurira (The Sound of The Drums) we also found some bolted routes but we stuck to bouldering. Another time we followed descriptions of cave paintings near Murehwa but we did not find a lot, maybe due to lack of time. But for sure there is more to develop.

After three weeks in the country we had seen a lot, climbed abundantly, made wonderful acquaintances but we also longed for more. Another trip would be necessary to fully enjoy Zimbabwe’s potential for climbing, its people and countryside.

Have a look at: reinhardfichtinger.com and woodslave.com!

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