It was Day 11: May 12, 2014
Our first night in Zimbabwe would be in a “tented camp” at Matopos National Park but before that we had to cross the border at Beitbridge into Zimbabwe. We were warned this would be a very difficult border crossing. The rally organizers had arranged for us to be met by the Zimbabwe Tourist Authorities on the Zimbabwe side and we were only to answer to them. The crossing was long and tense. No photos here, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is a big border crossing with lots of trucks jamming the parking lot, pedestrians, beggars and con-men offering help-like to watch over your car while you completed the paper work. It was hard to know which was more important, protecting whatever you had with you, which had to include passports and car papers, or to protect whatever you left in the car. All in all it meant long slow lines and constant vigilance. Much more difficult for the open cars than for us. Just one more time we were glad to have our innocuous little Beetle. We all got through except for our Australian friends who had been left behind with their broken Jag. They would cross on their own at 2:00 am , two days later.
Lesson learned. Don’t drive Zimbabwe on your own and never at night. Our friends had now a rental SUV-new and white. It stood out and they were tourists traveling which meant they had money. Zimbabwe has lots of people who look like officials that are not. I’m not sure if this entered into the picture at the border, but it did later. This border crossing is sort of in the middle of nowhere and someone slashed their tire and then followed them on the two lane road leading away from the border. We saw mule drawn carts and overloaded buses but in general not much traffic.
Fortunately J &G are experienced travelers and as soon as they were aware of the flat tire, Greg did not stop to change it but drove back to the police station, riding on the rim and ruining both the tire and the rim. The police said, “Oh, they didn’t shoot the tire, just slashed it?”
Later on the road, they approached one of the many traffic police checks. We all had this experience, but this was not a real police check and when Greg realized it, he ran the check and sped away. Not a good way to be introduced to a new country.
Zimbabwe is not South Africa. The police checks are everywhere and I did not talk to one racer who was not stopped least once. This included us. These stops are set up in the road, usually with barrels that you have to zig-zag through, stopping if they flag you over. We saw the check in the road ahead of us and made two mistakes. We were on our own at this point, none of our cars in sight. We were ready to change drivers. There was a good place to pull over just before the check point. This was our first mistake. Stopping before the check elicited undo attention from the police. As we changed places, I wanted to photograph images along the road. second mistake, don’t take photos in sight of the police even of houses or animals.
As we pulled back onto the road and into the check, one of the officers pulled me over and demanded our (international) driver’s licenses. Then another asked me to step out of the car. He wanted to see my camera (by the way, we were told not to declare a camera at the border-just more paper work.) He asked what I was photographing and then told me I didn’t have permission. He said I would have to go to court. I said, okay, give me a court date. This didn’t satisfy him. I think this was the point that I was suppsed to ask what “fine” can I pay (on the spot) to avoid going to court, but I didn’t ask. Finally he took my camera and walked away. I followed him and we finally agreed, after much discussion that I would delete the photos. This had taken up so much time that by now several of our rally cars were at the check point and I think when he realized we were part of a group, he was glad to send me on my way. An interesting point is that most of these traffic police do not have radios or cars so I really don’t know what they can do if you refuse and simply drive on. I didn’t try it, but others said they did. In the end, it didn’t cost us anything but time. Most ralliest paid between $20 and $40 US (depending on how many officers it needed to be divided among) and didn’t receive a receipt. Go figure.
We ended the day at our “luxury tent” site. I think this was a bit of British humor, but get this. We had dinner under a candle-lit tent with white linen table cloths, silver cutlery, china and a good selection of wine which was appreciated since we had such a long, slow day that we had skipped lunch.We even had a turn-down service that included very fine chocolates on our pillows and one more surprise. Ed climbed into bed first to discover something warm and fussy at the foot. His first thought was what had climbed in while we were at dinner? He knew it wasn’t me. Our hosts had placed hot water bottles at our feet. This almost made up for getting up in the middle of a very cold night and making my way -by unzipping our tent-to our “en suite” toilet. It did have tenting around it, but the roof was stars. I didn’t want to even think what might be sharing my space.
P.S. Neither of us used the shower in the morning. Our next stop would be the Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904, in Edwardian style, with its old world charm. That seemed well worth driving without a cold shower.
Janet, Ed and Stewball