Wanting to catch the earlies buses and the shortcut gate won't open til 6, we head out in the dark, watching the sunrise as we hike the long route to minibus almost 5 km away. It takes us an hour and half to get there and then no transport passes that isn't packed for over an hour when a small pickup stops and we pile into the small spaces the fellow passengers make in the back. We were told the last bus would leave for Mutare at 8 so we were a bit anxious getting to Masvingo at 8 but no bus! The one parked where everyone said the bus would be had a 8x11 sheet of paper w/ a different destination inked onto it...this covered the regular sign "Mutare". After an hour only 2 passengers had gotten on so I guess the driver gave up and changed his destination back to Mutare. Within half and hour it was full(meaning 10-12 over capacity) & we were off at 9:45.
We travel over a flat savanah of trees up to 40' tall even baobob & bushes(acacia) quite dense. Thruout the area are hills/mounds, even precipitous mtns of granite boulders & rock outcroppings...very incongruous landscape, fascinating for its unaccountable appearance. The land is drying out, winter is coming & deciduous trees are dropping leaves yet some are still strangely brite green. Rural housing is mostly the 10' round, mud brick stucco covered huts w/ conical thatched roofs in groups of 2-5(family). As we get closer to the Limpopo River we passed a huge fallow farmstead - totally brown fields of weeds/grasses. The large wht farmhouse in the distance looked to be unoccupied - by the looks of the surrounding land I'd say it's been abandoned. Once across the Limpopo the countryside is once again short acacia type trees, much less bush but many more, vbery big/old baobob - rivaling the largest we've seen, 10-15' in diameter! Also, an irrigation canal system is providing water to plots of gardens up to 5 km away from the river but beyond the canals & plots are dry/brown & barron.
We stopped at a spot near Chimanimani Mtns where there were large crowds of mostly young men. A fellow on the bus said that a couple weeks back someone had found diamonds somewhere in the mtns just lying on the ground...an old western style goldrush! Our bus which had previously been packed was suddenly half full. The police had tried to keep people out but just gave up.
At a police ck point an army guy w/ semi automatic got on and the chatter in the bus ceased - only a baby crying. After just 10 or so km he got off and suddenly all smiles and chatter again. The tension is sometimes palpable.
At one point the 22 passenger bus reached 40 + at least 5 children - people were literally packed and sitting on each other, leaning over each other...but no complaining or grumbling. Arriving in Mutare we found very surprisingly a vibrant/busy city with no accomodations avail in several of LP recom places! We asked our taxi driver(who we arranged to pick us up for crossing the border next morning) if he knew of someplace to stay. Yes! He took us to what looked like a home - was actually an unregistered ON accomodation run by Wilson & Josephine Mhasho at 40A Jamison St.; ph(263) 020-68392 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very nice folks, clean and reasonable accom. They said a dbl was 1.2 billion - $12 US according to the exchg we'd been given before. I asked what it would be in US since we were low on Zim $$ and didn't wish to change more US - $6 US she said but she only had the one room left - I took it of course. Later talking w/ a gal who road the taxi to the border w/ us we learned that she regularly make the weekend trip from Harare across the border to buy rice & cooking oil to resell...she works weekdays in a realestate office. This is what a lot of Zim folks do on weekends thus the busy city and no accom.
After ckg in we headed downtown for Jax Steak House where we didn't have enuf Zim $$ for dinner! Luckily, the owner provided someone who changed US to Zim $$ - the prevailing rate now twice what we had been given. Did we get shortchanged before? Had inflation picked up so quickly in just 2 days? As it turned out the govt decided to float their currency and it deflated 50% overnite! We ended up w/ dinner & Bon had a billion + dollars left which she opted to give the ON folks since obviously they were being honest with us but shortchanged themselves in the process. Still $6 US each is the best ON we've had in weeks.A July 2011 View of Zimbabwe