Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong

No, I'm not talking about the rest of the Silent Predator tour - that was fantastic. We had a wonderful time in Cape Town and even got upgraded to the luxurious Table Bay hotel (the Raddisson, where we were supposed to stay, is also a lovely hotel, but it was undergoing rennovations that weren't completed by the time we arrived).

I've had some great feedback and no death threats from the lovely people who went on the tour, and the indefatigable Mr W from the Africa Safari Co is already hinting that we could be safari-ing again in 2010, so start saving.

As to the title of this post, things went a little less like clockwork after the tour, when Mrs Blog and I flew to Zimbabwe.

For a start, our friends who look after our trusty (if aged) Land Rover, Tonka, were finally kicked off their farm. They'd survived a couple of rounds of potential evictions in the past, and had thought they were relatively secure under a deal they'd done with a local seed company. Much of what they were growing at the time of their rushed removal was seed maize - ie a crop that would have supplied seed for the so-called "new" farmers who had taken over formerly white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

In reality, the vast majority of farms seized under Comrade President's land grab are overgrown and ruined. Little wonder, then, that the seed company stood by and let a johnny-come-lately would-be war veteran seize our friend's farm.

I say "would be" because it's rare to meet a genuine veteran of Zimbabwé's liberation war who actually received a farm and contined to work it. Many farms have gone to relatives and cronies of Cde President (not a few to his wife), and party hacks.

The power sharing deal between ZANU-PF and the MDC is not working. There seems to be more of a power vacuum in Zimbabwe, as evidenced by this latest land grab. Although our friends have a legal right to be on their farm, the local police refused to intervene, even after the invader in question threatened farm workers' lives if they tried to support their employers.

Ai yi yi yi yi. Or eish, as we say here in South Africa (where I'm writing this from).

Anyway, it is no small measure of our friends' big-heartedness that they managed to clutch start old Tonka and evacutate him from the farm shed as well. There was no time, however, for them to get Tonka's list of ailments (hangovers from our last trip) seen to, and we were unable to get him back to tip-top health in time for Mrs Blog and I to attend the Hwange Game Census (an annual event we take part in, in Zimbabwe's biggest national park).

So, Mrs B and I made the decision to leave Tonka in Land Rover hospital in the capital, Harare, and bus it to Bulawayo, in western Zimbabwe.

When I think of buses in Africa I usually think of livestock riding on the roof and grim faced people inside the coach crossing themselves. Not so the Citylink Shuttle from the Rainbow Hotel in Harare (the hotel formerly known as the Sheraton). No sirree Robert... this bus had a hostie, and complimentary chicken burger and coke included in the price. (oops, I don't mean the hostie was included...)

We even had a TV. For most of the trip the TV played Dolly Parton songs, although the last half hour of the journey to Bulawayo featured a DVD of Michael Jackson live in Budapest. I don't know what was funnier - the late Mr Wacko grabbing at his chrome codpiece (this had the party of be-suited African bureaucrats in the bus rolling in the aisles), or the catatonic fans.

In Bulawayo we were able to hitch a ride with an occaisonal commentator on this blog, The Black Mustarfa. He and his lady travelling companion were in a rented South African 4x4 and also headed to the game count in Hwange.

Just when we thought something might have been coming right on the Zimbabwean leg of our journey it started to rain.

The idea with the game census is that the count is held over the night of the last full moon of the dry season. In theory, there is little natural water left in the national park, just before the rains come, and animals will congreate around the remaining water holes and be easy to see (by the light of the moon) and count.

The 2008-09 rainy season, however, was a doozy and there was water everywhere. That meant that rather than congregating, animals would be spread out all over the place. To make matters worse (for us counters, not for the animals), it rained steadily from the time the count kicked off, at midday, and the precipitation increased to a full-blown thunderstorm by about nine that evening. Clouds covered the full moon.

As a result, Mrs Blog and I, along with our first-time counting friends from South Africa, counted absolutely zero animals.

On the bright side, we did see a nice herd of about 500 buffalo the day before the count, and some elephants, giraffe and a nice pair of mating lions on the day after. So, there are still some animals left in Zimbabwe.

We hitched a lift back to Bulawayo with some other counters, and passed deserted, overgrown farm after deserted overgrown farm.

But the land was greening-up and new shoots were appearing almost before our eyes. Even if we hadn't seen many of them, and even though there is poaching on a serious scale in Zimbabwe, I knew that the animals were out there, somewhere.

Everyone on the count offered to help Mrs Blog and me, and I promised them all that Tonka would return, as soon as he was fixed.

The national parks staff were glad to see us again, and had done a good job keeping Robins Camp (where we were based) as spic and span as they could on a next-to-zero budget.

My friend the farmer, back in Harare, was putting on a brave face after losing his home and his livelihood. We went out to Lake Chivero, near the capital, and watched him immerse himself in his favourite sport - sailing.

All is not right in Zimbabwe - far from it - and just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but as Mrs Blog and I boarded a plane for South Africa I realised I couldn't wait to get back next year.


John said...

Dry your eyes maaate! It is Africa.

Joey said...

Tony glad to hear you & mrs Blog is safe and back in RSA. Sadly this is what happen in ZIM. We here in RSA can only pray for our friends in ZIM & hope they will get out alive there. Still looking for your book "IVORY" here but nothing in the bookstores.

Reinier said...

Sad about ZIM but great to see the P team is still on the road. H is madly reading The Wilderness Family by Kobie Kruger and has definitley got the BUG

Timepilot said...

Eish is right Tony. Every time I read about what a sad state that once beautiful country is in it breaks my heart.

Glad to hear you're back on the road though - heading back to KNP?

tonypark said...

Oh, did I mention my six-month-old laptop died as well?

Eish indeed.

Back in more regular contact from now on.

Hi Reinier and H. Good to see you on the blog. Saw some black rhino near Tinga the other day, and a lovely leopard drinking from a waterhole right by the side of the road. We were the only car there.

Joey... I've been pretty disappointed by the lack of availability of m y books here in SA this year, but I was told by Exclusive Books the other day that IVORY should be out any day now.

Timepilot, Kruger is fantastic as always.

Joey said...

Hi Tony thanks, will visit exclusive books more often now....will let you know when I found "IVORY" or else I must import "IVORY"

Trin said...

Hi Tony,

What a terribly bleak picture you paint of Zimbabwe. It was a toss up between there and good old Oz for my family and luckily mum said no way and we came here instead. It is so sad when you hear of a country and, more importantly, the human beings that LIVE there, in such turmoil.

On a brighter note, glad the safari went well - wish I was there but maybe next year or the year after. I am still teasing myself and have not bought either book, even though itching to do so - will buy as Christmas presents for myself and read over the festive season when I can give solid blocks of time to them.

Hope your hassles all resolve themselves quickly, although I'm sure you will come up against brick walls here and there.

Look forward to some pics when you have the time and resources.

Les said...

Hi Tony
Welcome back to the blog and SA.

I recently sent you some pics of a croc and a leopard having an argument,with all the problems you have been having I wonder if you have received them.
We have ordered Ivory from Kalahari.net should have it soon.

Nice to see some of the old LOF back again (hiya Trin )

ali g said...

Perhaps could send Harry Connick Jnr over to Zimbabwe to sort things out and get the farmers to stop complaining about being thrown off their land.
Just as well he wasn't on the bus...the 'be-suited African beaurocrtas would have got a 'no' marks card held up by him for daring to laugh at Wacko's clutching his wassaname.

Apart from that...

'Welcome back Kotter'...

dozycow said...

Hi Tony,

It's good to here that your safari was a success !!

It is sad though to hear about the situation in Zimbabwe - very tragic for both the peoples & the wildlife.

Have a fun time in SA & we'll all be looking forward to more blogs & lots of pics..

Flea said...

Sorry to hear about your friend's farm loss! What can we say, SA will join them soon? If all the rumours I hear are correct!