Going Places: Tales from the road: Postcards from Africa

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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By Todd Krieger

July 28: Harare, Zimbabwe

Out of Vic Falls and on to real adventure in the eastern region of the country.

Our rental car of choice in Harare: four-door Nissan Sunny. Blue. Tape deck. AC. Eccentric steering column.

The war photographer in Monique flags my attention that the hotel clerk is jotting down our tags. Me, I'm completely oblivious to the draconian ways of One Party Government. I was, after all, foolish enough to fill the OCCUPATION line on my debarkation card with the rather ill-chosen profession of "writer," resulting in a shortened length-of-visit stamp on my entry visa and quizzical looks from the immigration officer.

Heading for the eastern highlands, we overcome the oddity of right-hand drive and discover these few facts about motoring in this great land.

1. The roads are fantastic, sublime, a dream, a joy, marvelous, stupendous, better than their U.S. counterparts.

2. The vast majority of cars in Zimbabwe sport a remarkable mercurochrome blue paint job.

3. When people make a motion to flag you down (think a human-bird with one arm flapping in the breeze), it means they're hitching.

4. Buses and semis tend to drive on your side of the road--and no, they won't be moving over before you come upon them.

Outside of the town of Marondera we stop off at the highly debated bushman rock painting known as Diana's Vow. Drawn in natural pigments on a rockface, it depicts either a fertility ceremony or a jubilant harvesting party. There is enough artwork evident to form an opinion, but not enough for a conclusion, and after reading both Monique's Rough Guide, and my Lonely Planet, we decide nobody really knows anything.

Our southeastern trajectory into Zimbabwe's mountains is a crazy gorgeous trek through the most magnificent of rock formations. Giant slabs of stone are piled one atop another and you can't help but think of some playful giant monkeying around with his rock blocks late one afternoon and never bothering to clean up. As the sun sets we dip into the pine-forested woodlands (can you say plantations of North American fir in eastern Africa?) outside a small burg with the homey name of Juliasdale.

Approaching the Pine Tree Inn, it becomes abundantly clear that logging is more than a minor industry in Zimbabwe. The perfectly aligned rows of pines are the first tipoff and a late-night burning campaign drives home the extent to which this area is being asked to respond to man's demands. The volatile mix of natural resources and who decides their future makes for a controversial undertaking, one that inevitably puts conservationists and businessmen at loggerheads fighting over whose land it is anyway.

But that's for another day. Enjoying the thoroughly proper company of our colonial-minded innkeepers ("What time would you like your tea, sir?"), we put in for one freezing night's sleep. It is, sunburned appearances to the contrary, winter.

NEXT: A journey into communal lands and visiting with elders

Postcards from Africa
Familiar trees, and a familiar debate

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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