Monday, November 4, 2013

Gonarezhou: Adventures of the Powerless in Swimuwini

When Kurt and I found out that national parks lodge reservations were one of the most affordable ways to travel Zim, Kurt had hurried down to the parks office to make reservations right away.  We had been told time and again that the parks can be booked for 6-9 months in advance, so Kurt went with the instructions that he should get anything he could for our October break still 3 months away.  We had heard talk of a five dollar deposit.  And so we figured Kurt would put a tiny deposit in, and then if we changed our minds down the road, we could always forfeit the deposit and do something else.  My husband, of course, changed that. Kurt came home and said in a surprised voice, “They wouldn’t let me pay a partial deposit.  So I booked us an entire week in Gonarezhou!” Which was so not what we had decided.  I knew nothing about it.  …And neither did anyone else.

Every local we spoke to about Gonarezhou for the three months leading up to our trip had one of two things to say:

1) “Whoa!  That’s the worst time of year to go! Nobody ever goes then!  You will die of the heat and mosquitos!” (much laughing) “Look out for malaria!” This is more ironic than imaginable when you consider that we drove into camp on the day the rainy season decided to start.  Temperatures that are over 100 degrees for most of the year suddenly plummeted into the sixties and birds unused to the temps were literally falling dead out of the air all around us. But more about that later…

2) “Seriously?  You’re going to Gonarezhou?! Never been there.  Nobody ever goes down there!” With just a week to go until our trip, we found out from the parks office that no one else was scheduled in the whole entire national park during the time of our reservations.  No one.

No one.

In the whole park.  You can imagine how thrilled I was with my husband.  And it became clear.  We not only became even more grateful that we had roped our friends, the Mullen family, into going with us, but that it was a necessity to travel alongside them.  With no phones or cell reception and no petrol station for hundreds of kilometers, we had a lot planning to do to stay together, pack heavily, and prepare properly to go into the remote wilderness safely.  Preparations were difficult.  We borrowed extra jerry cans to carry our fuel and searched everywhere for maps.  Unattainable, unfindable, uninformative maps!

When we left for Gonarezhou, we laughed about the fact that we started with week long reservations and whittled it down to three days.  When we arrived in the midst of the first rain and were then told by a park employee, "Oh. ZESA (electrical power) went out yesterday when the storm started. I guess we should report it sometime tomorrow," we knew immediately the trip had to be whittled again.  Our coolers of food, waiting expectantly to be promptly transferred into coldly awaiting fridges, had already been in the car for a solid day before our arrival.  They would not last our whole trip. In a humorous turn of events, we now laugh that we only spent two nights in Gonarezhou, with much of our time and energy going towards cooking and eating everything we brought to keep it from spoiling.  I'm sure not one of us returned to Harare without an extra five pounds!

The weather and power problems made for one of those experiences in which we could be either miserable, or have the time of our lives.  Our good company made this nothing but a fun and hilarious adventure. Here are some photos and info from our stay at accommodations in the Mabaulauta Region's Swimuwini Campsite:

 Each "lodge" at Swimuwini has an outdoor grill and a giant baobab tree of its very own.  Loved the baobabs of Gonarezhou.  Legend among local tribes has it the tree grows upside down and the roots grow out of the soil.

 Here Jonas stands in our outdoor kitchen.  Many a dead bird, pile of animal poo, and frog was found on the counter tops and sinks.... But no meals!  We took those at the Mullens' fancy-shmancy lodge, complete with indoor kitchen and apocalypse-worthy ant infestation.

After checking out our lodge, we ran over to the Mullen's.  A park employee admonished us and said that we should never again walk by ourselves when lions and other animals visit the camp so often.  We drove everywhere, even the hundred meters between our lodges.  Here I gently remind our tasty morsel about the importance of following directions and staying close.

Nothing says classy lodging experience like filling your plastic water bottle with wine by candlelight.

 Jonas especially loved throwing rocks over the drop-off cliff behind the Mullens' lodge.  It was a gorgeous view that probably looks entirely different just two weeks into the rainy season.

 Where we spent most of our time at the lodges... next to the campfire, eating, eating, eating...

Here a random man with a rifle asks for a lift.  We didn't say no.

Next up, The Landscapes of Gonarezhou...