|Being Mr. Malou (standard:travel stories, 4199 words)|
|Author: Robin Wyers||Added: Feb 25 2012||Views/Reads: 1316/4212||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|A travel story describing the chaotic but beautiful country known as Zimbabwe. The story is based on a trip across the border from Johannesburg to Bulawayo and several days spent in what is Zimbabwe's second city.|
Crossing the border at Beitbridge takes you into a different country. It may as well take you into a different world. Having spent the previous days in the miserable sprawl of Johannesburg, I had looked on with open-mouth as Zimbabweans compared life in South Africa with that in Europe. Travelling north towards Zimbabwe and viewing the true desolation of the townships before and after Pretoria from the road and the apparent poverty on the streets of Pulokwane; it is difficult as a European to imagine South Africa as some sort of promised land. But for the millions of Zimbabweans who have legally or [more often] illegally crossed the border, the opportunities that beckon there form precisely that. After the relative ease of clearing the South African border, you take your jam-packed 4x4 over the Limpopo river; as you prepare yourself mentally for getting past the Zimbabwean authorities. The Limpopo is something of a marine graveyard to Zimbabweans who failed to make it across the other way round, with hopeless swimmers having faced their doom through the awaiting crocodiles, during the desperate first decade of the 21st century. Before experiencing Zimbabwe, you must negotiate yourself in. The customs process involves a bit of hope and anticipation and a fair share of palm greasing. Avoiding having your vehicle of belongings being completely searched through and rearranged has to be your top priority. You have after all filled it with seemingly plain items that are not available at a reasonable price across the border. Having to repack and restack everything would be a major inconvenience. Having to pay potentially extortionate customs fines for undeclared goods would be a disaster. By any standards, what's required could not even be considered a bribe. It is merely a process of providing an officer with the means to get a soft drink, so he can get through the long evening shift. Ten or twenty rand is usually enough to cover it, but ensure that you wait for their signal first rather than putting yourself in real hot water through making a friendly suggestion! When you see countless other vans and buggies packed to the rafters with every possible device or appliance that is apparently unavailable in Zimbabwe, you know that hundreds (maybe even thousands) are going to have a very long and dull night, involving having to listen to chancers looking to “help” them out. Despite having been stuck at the border for almost four hours, you understand that it could have been worse. You learn that last night the border was closed off altogether as there had been a power failure. Had we traveled the previous day [as had been the original plan], we would have experienced a truly miserable night there and would have made little more progress than we had managed today. With customs cleared and the country entered, puzzlement dominates. It was pitch-dark when we arrived and to anybody without the right experience, you could only stop your car and rotate your head...perplexed. Without a single signpost upon entering the country – do you go left or right to Bulawayo, Harare or Mutare? Eventually a signpost does appear after a few kilometers, but without any streetlights, it's difficult for anybody [except, apparently a Zimbabwean national] to see it. People here use their instinct as much as their eyesight when driving through the Zimbabwean bush. With only the moon and starlight as your guides for over 200 kilometers of road between Beitbridge and Gwanda, anticipation is the name of the game as drivers keep their eyes out for lost cattle, bored baboons and drunken buffoons trapsing along the side of the bushroads to no apparent destination and from no apparent origin. The only sign of lights are comically erected tollgates for entering the world's most surprising tollroads. Ten rand (approximately EUR1), will provide you with the privilege of driving on a stretch of road that would qualify as a C road in most European countries and not even as a national road in the Republic of Ireland. But in southern Zimbabwe, these secluded yet pot-hole ridden roads are the best that Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government has to offer. Indeed the tollroad itself was merely coated with dust rather than tarmac until just several years ago, so it is certainly worth forking out the few rand for now. Despite the pitch-dark, you will find little deserted camp fires dotting the side of the motorway; lit up before being left behind, as Click here to read the rest of this story (319 more lines)
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