Three trolleys; fuller than any trolley really had any right to be, divided between the three available checkout counters at the Menlyn Super Spar. Leaving the poor, unfortunate customers lined up behind us cursing their bad luck. We felt ready.
LiC’s most audacious project to date was about to get underway. 4 weeks, 4 countries and plenty of excitement sure to be in store.
Time to meet the team:
Zander and Zandre, similar in considerably more ways than just their names. The pair comes on-loan from VetBooks for Africa. Both having just completed 3rd year Veterinary themselves, they made their introductions by promptly sorting the contents of the 3 trolley’s worth of supplies into boxes (by category, description and usage timeline) and then packing everything into the vehicles we would come to know so well over the next month. Mazda’s generously sponsored BT-50 and a mechanically identical Ford Ranger we hoped would provide ample in terms of the necessary torque and horsepower needed to navigate some of Africa’s wildest terrain.
Eugene and Marileen (henceforth known as Lienkie) – the LiC Western Cape contingent. Who, after driving the 18 hours to be in attendance of their first LiC AGM, at the generous hostage of Mongena Game lodge just outside Pretoria, would be saddling up the very next day for the 14 hour leg to Harare. Lienkie would be our inside man – the local Zimbo, providing some crucial insight into the workings of this sometimes unfathomable country. Eugene, for his part, would be honing his new position as LiC MD, and was keen as a bean to see Zim for the first time and leave in his wake a trail of conservationally enlightened youths.
Dean and Sibongiseni – the Pretoria LiC contingent. Dean, the founder and CEO, the brains, energy and unnatural organisation which is really the backbone of a long and complicated trip such as this one. LiC his brainchild and changing the world the destination. Sibo, a compatriot of Kollege Residence at Tuks, a master of both human interaction and napping. These 2 would be our doorway into the local language, both with some proficiency in Zulu, and would also provide some formal rigidity both having been involved in LiC for some time.
Megan and Andrew, from the FLIC team. There to provide driving expertise, extra hands when needed, optimal music selection and occasional banter.
The trip began promptly with a 3:30 AM wake-up call and after the team briefing around a few bananas and a cup of coffee, we sluggishly loaded up the last of our stuff and got underway. It would be a long day in the car and driver rotation was going to be key.
The morning drive was punctuated with a magnificent sunrise, lovely scenery, but most of all, the procession of colossal Boabab trees that flanked the road around the town of Musina. The ancient trees themselves portals into a time long past – of a wilder, truer Africa. One without the roads or the fences, the borders or cities, an Africa that was of the truest expression of nature at its most competitive – and we couldn’t wait for a taste.
Reassured with our full petrol tanks, we navigated the taxis and their precariously laden trailers as we entered the SA side of the Beitbridge border post. There we were greeted by Shephard, a representative from the Zimbabwean Tourism Authority, who would act as our escort through the unique requirements of Zimbabwean side of the border. After much deliberation with the vehicle license and tax processing officer, who despite all logic could not be convinced of the impact of tourism on the Zimbabwean economy, we finally made it through in just over an hour. Which, by all accounts, we knew could have been much worse.
We were officially beyond our first border. The dry, sandy Mopani bush that dominated the initial hours eventually gave way to veins of green and scenic bush-ridden koppies, fuelled by the life-giving waters of the Runde River. The two vehicles ate up the Kilometres on the wobbly old road that connected Harare to Zimbabwe’s remote south.
The farther we got the more the evidence of humanity we discovered, villages and towns came thicker and faster and just after the final slivers of the setting sun had disappeared below the horizon, we arrived in the capital. The introduction, however, was nothing short of utter chaos. The whole of Zimbabwe, it seemed, had arrived all at once and was moving 4-abreast as they attempted to squeeze themselves (and by extension, us) into a 2-laned roundabout. It is difficult to understate, at this point, the (for us) then underappreciated utility of the painted traffic line and functional traffic light.
Many thanks to the gracious hospitality of Anesh Campbell, who hosted the 8 of us in his home in Harare for the 2 nights we were there, and for the hugely appreciated provision of cold beverages and dinner to a very tired and eternally grateful bunch.
The next day began with our first Zim shopping experience, which was in itself a fair challenge with the added complexity of the Zimbabwean currency situation. Just after 2pm, the team visited the Emerald Hill Children’s home in Harare and delivered the first lesson set for the trip. We took a group of 26 children, mostly girls, aged between 8 and 14. The kids showed high levels of general knowledge in terms conservation and the bush which impressed everyone. The standout moments from the lesson included the discovery of a chameleon during the interactive food-web part of the lesson, as well as the idea of a meerkat ‘sentinel’ which captivated their young minds.
The children’s home was an impressive setup, hosting roughly 70 children on site. The kids themselves were either orphaned or from abusive or negligent households. Their stories captured our hearts and the hard work of the staff that kept everything functioning at such a high level captured our respect. The Vetbooks team immediately began cycling through potential ideas of bringing clothing and other supplies, to include in their Vetbooks trip which would be scheduled to pass through Zimbabwe the following December. Emerald Hill relies fully on donations, for those interested in learning more you can visit their website and enquire about making a contribution – any help is welcome.
Following a complete vehicle re-pack the next morning, we realised we could probably have challenged even the most adept Tetris players, such was our proficiency at fitting things into places. We departed Harare with 2 very full cars en route to the Kanyemba border into Mozambique. Through the car windows, we soon noticed the return of the Baobabs to the scenery and we were relishing the diversity of biomes we were having the opportunity to experience. Rural villages splattered across the countryside, built with home-baked bricks and rustic grass roofing gave us a sense of authentic Africa as we bumbled along the dirt roads through some of the more remote communities of the country.
At the border, we were met by Alex and his team who assisted us in getting our throngs of luggage and supplies out of the tightly packed vehicles and onto the two boats that would be our transport across the border and to our accommodations for the next week.
As we looked around, we found ourselves in the most unique of settings. Bordered on all sides by small mountain ranges and thick green bushveld, although belonging all to different nations. We now sat at the confluence of the great Zambezi and Luangwa rivers. Their legendary waters engulfing each-other in a tremendous symphony of African heritage, themselves the distinction between the corners of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Capitulating in this most pristine piece of Africa we now found ourselves in.
In instinctive awe, we let ourselves be navigated down-stream between the wide banks and high sand bars. We passed small villages looking over us from their position up on the sloping hills. As for the villagers themselves, we passed some in considerable numbers, braving the crocodile and hippo riddled waters. We learned that last year 27 people were reported to have lost their lives to crocodiles on this stretch of river.
We also noted as we passed, fishing net after fishing net, encompassing vast widths of the wide river, unsettlingly close to stretching bank-to-bank. We knew that not very much life would be able to survive the threshold and make it beyond, further downstream. Alex explained that this segment of the river, once teaming with life, was no longer able to support the tiger fishing tourism that once boomed.
Once at Chawalo camp, after settling into our rooms, we moved immediately to escape from the unrelenting heat of the African sun in the welcome recluse of the swimming pool, lipped invitingly on the edge of the lodge deck area, overlooking the river. There we reflected on the trip thus far, and in the cool refreshing water, the rest of the day disappeared in an instant.
The next day was a matter of preparation. We met the Chawalo team and prepped everyone involved for the series of lessons which would ensue over the next week or so. The team enjoyed a slower day in the comfort provided underneath the thatched lapa, as we worked through the material, streamlining and adding content relevant to the situational context of the area.
That afternoon we met with the District Commissioner of Zumbo, Deputy Director of Education for Zumbo and the Principal of Zumbo Secondary School, who seemed delighted to have assistance with the increasing issues relating to overfishing, poaching and burning in the area. We were encouraged to be welcomed and to have the support of the local authority structures.
The day ended in the same way, we suspect, that all the days will end – in the pool. As the sun began to sag lower in its arc, we cast our collective gaze over the bustling Zambezi waters and into the distance. The clouded sky superimposed itself over a horizon deeply textured in varying shades of faintly-blue mountain, providing the perfect contrast as the sun began to paint its departure, etching tendrils of deep crimson in its wake. Spirits were high, motivation was higher.