The day after Christmas (which, true to my Irish roots, I refuse to call Boxing Day – it’s St Stephen’s Day, that is all) Robbie and I set off on our road trip to the Eastern Highlands. We were headed for Nyanga, just over three hours from Harare, going east towards Mozambique. We were equipped with banana bread, mince pies, Christmas cake, wine, beer, baked beans, coffee, eggs, lots of water and a few other bits and pieces.
Zimbabweans were generally apologetic about the state of the roads. Now, they’re not great – mostly single lane – and yes, there are many potholes. But I think it would be a bit cheeky for an Irish person to be over critical – would have to be filed under ‘Black, Pot calling Kettle’ – so I will say that they were perfectly adequate. Perhaps we could have done without the multiple police road blocks (though to be fair the police were perfectly polite) and the tolls (1$ a pop – incidentally, you’ve never seen such grubby dollar bills in your life).
Anyway, I was too fascinated with the landscape we passed to pay much attention to the roads. Talk about wide open spaces … you just don’t see stretches like this in Europe.
It was interesting to see traces of what looks like another world – Zimbabwe’s colonial past. There were few built up areas, apart from one or two dusty towns and a couple of roadside watering holes.
We stopped for lunch at Nyangombi Falls, where I saw my first flame tree.
Didn’t stay long though, because Robbie was disgusted there were so many people – actually only about 20, but he’s used to it being deserted. We picnicked like it was 1959: Robbie’s Great Auntie Jean had given us a picnic basket and thermos of tea for the road.
Then on to Nyanga and the house where we were staying. Nearest hamlet, a place called Troutbeck. The landscape was very Swallows and Amazons, in a surreally African way. We were in a cottage called Mpunguzungu (say that 10 times fast), overlooking a beautiful waterfall.
The first night we were in Nyanga, we went for dinner with some friends of Robbie’s, the Calders. To get there we drove along a very bumpy track, me balancing a place of melba toast and pate on my knee. I managed to hang on to all but one tiny piece of toast and subsequently decided it should be a new Olympic Sport – one in which I would excel. The Calders were lovely (incidentally, my only New Year’s Resolution is to find a good alternative to ‘lovely’ – please help) and we had a great time. We went to bed by candlelight because Mpunguzungu has no electricity. (We had a dishwasher though - his name was George. This is what I call the Zimbabwean paradox.)
The next morning, we had breakfast outside: coffee made in AJ’s thermos, toast with honeycomb, fried eggs. We were joined by some cows with bells – this made it a strangely Alpine interlude.
After breakfast the rain started. It rained and rained. Robbie went back to bed, but I wrapped myself in a big blanket and sat by the window to see. I found a 1980s edition of the Concise Encyclopaedia of Zimbabwe and entertained myself with it, while watching the waterfall turn chocolate brown – just like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.