Whilst at Vic Falls a guy came around to my tent and asked if I wanted a personalised t-shirt printed. You know the kind of thing - “Vic Falls to Cape Town 2011” with a map of the route. I thought it might be cool to have a domwayround shirt so we designed one and agreed on a price - $20. He promised to have it done by 7 a.m. the next day as we were leaving. Being a trusting fellow I paid him. As he left Daryll said I shouldn't have paid him until I had the shirt. I said I had faith.
Daryll was right!
He didn't turn up at 7. When I phoned him he said he would be 30 minutes. We were supposed to leave at 8 a.m. and the others were waiting at the petrol station. To make a long story short they left without me and I spent a fruitless hour trying to locate my shirt. To no avail. I left Vic Falls $20 light and shirtless.
This is the main road from Vic.Falls to Bulawayo. Very little traffic at all.
Riding down the road, trying to catch up with the others, I started to wonder whether I had, in fact, been trying too hard to NOT be racist. If the guy selling the t shirts had been white I probably wouldn't have paid him until he delivered the goods.(Especially if he was from Liverpool and called Baz.) But because he was black I was trying to show I wasn't racist and that I trusted him. Or was I over analysing things (easy to do when your head is stuck in a motorbike helmet all day) and really it had nothing to do with racism, overtly or covertly and it had a lot to do with me being an idiot.
All this was going on in my head when.....
The following is an extract from my soon to be published book.
As I powered around the corner, knee almost to the ground, I saw the policeman running out into the road waving a flag. I saw a glimpse of a rifle in his hand as I slammed on the brakes.
“Morning sir” he said with a huge smile on his face.
“ Morning” I replied, spitting flies from my mouth.
“This is a restricted 80 km per hour section. You were doing 120.” He waved a speed gun at me. “That will be a $150 fine or a week in prison. Your choice.”
“ Really, but I don't think I was going that fast. Are you sure the machine is working?”
“ Money or prison.”.....
Or you could read the truth! (I lied about the book by the way)
I'd slowed down to cross a railway line (checking both ways just in case) and turned a gentle corner to my left when I saw a man running out into the road waving a red flag. I gently applied the brakes as my brain kicked into gear, realising that this was a policeman and my eyes caught up with my brain and saw a policeman with a speed gun in his hand.
“Morning sir. This is a restricted 80 km per hour zone and you were doing 89.”
“ Morning. Really, was I going that fast. I didn't realise.”
“ Yes sir, this is a built up area. You were speeding. That is a $10 dollar fine.”
“ But officer. I've had a really bad day. Just this morning I was robbed of $20 in Vic. Falls.”
I explained what had happened to me and he took pity on me and only fined me $5. I am now the proud owner of a Zimbabwe speeding fine which says at the top that Mr. Dominic Giles has been arrested by the Zimbabwe police.
When I caught the others up they fell about laughing.
“They fell about laughing.” You can just see Tom’s feet as he’s falling off his bike.
Having pulled themselves together we all set off for Bulawayo, Pat at the front, me second so I wouldn't get caught my the police again. An hour later riding down a long straight section of road with Pat about 50 meters in front of me I see two men running out from under the shade of a tree. One of then was waving a red flag at me!
“ Sir, this is an 80 zone and you were doing 86.”
“ But officer. I was going at the same speed as my friend in front. You didn't stop him?”
“ He was going too fast. It would have been dangerous.”
“ How fast was he going?”
I just started laughing and unbelievable so did the policeman. He told me to slow down and said I could go. I'm not sure I could have taken being arrested by the police twice in one day.
In all honestly I really think the fact that I had a flip top helmet and he could see my face helped. It was so ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh and he saw the funny side too. With a full face helmet and dark sunglasses bikers can look intimidating. Thinking of biking the world? Get a flip-top.
Two years ago Zimbabwe was suffering from super hyper inflation. They had to scrap the Zim dollar and adopt the US one. Before leaving Vic Falls, I bought a 20 Billion dollar Zimbabwe note.
Tracy – how much do you love me now?
Editors note: The sad fact is that when someone offered me one of these notes my teachers head said, (yes, I know after nearly a year you’d have thought I’d have lost it wouldn’t you) “Oh that would be good. I could use it to demonstrate the hyper inflation Weimar Germany suffered in the 1920s which was an, albeit minor, cause in the rise to power of Hitler.” Hitler – never far away from a History teachers thoughts.
Bulawayo. Worst camp ground so far in Africa I think. Only $5 but no hot water, lights or paper in the toilets. And I got into a conversation with a nutter. He was originally from Zim. but had lived in the UK. He told me the problem with England was that it was being taken over by Indians. They are controlling our brains and sucking the life force out of us. Most English people know this and don't look them in the eye. I believe the gentleman in question may have been of Pakistani origin. He gave me a booklet to read. “The truth about Jesus.”
That night I read it. I didn’t know that according to this booklet Muslims believe that Jesus wasn’t in fact crucified, (an unknown person replaced him!) and he was raised to heaven by God instead.
The following day I was on my own again. A drunken argument over the royal wedding got out of hand and the Canadians had left in the night.
No not really. They were heading straight for Harare to try to sort out visas for Ethiopia (Tom as well) and I wanted to visit...
Great Zimbabwe. Ever heard of it? I thought not. It's one of those places in the world that is little known but hugely important. Great Zimbabwe is simply the greatest medieval city in sub-Sahara Africa. It's important because it provide evidence that ancient Africa reached a level of civilisation not suspected by early scholars.
It’s divided into two sections. The Hill complex, which as the name suggests is on a hill and is a kind of fort where the King lived. And the great enclosure which is below, where the Kings many wives (and presumably everyone) lived.
Great Enclosure. Photo taken from Hill complex
Hill complex. Photo taken from Great enclosure
Great Zimbabwe was a religious and political capital for over three hundred years (12th to 15th centuries) and possibly housed over 20,000 people. Beyond that, though, little is known. My guide, Kenneth, told me what he could but much is guess work and we spent longer talking about the English Premier League and how much people get paid in the UK.
The Hill complex was, probably, where the King lived and was certainly an excellent natural fort.
The great enclosure was where the Kings wives lived. With 11 metre high walls, 5 meters thick. 100 metes wide, 250 in circumference it’s the largest ancient structure in sub-Sahara Africa. (Kenneth told me that it was the third largest in the world, after the Pyramids and Great Wall of China. Then again I told him Spurs were going to win the League next year.
Kenneth hears the news that Spurs are going to win the EPL.
Inside the enclosure a second high wall funnels people into singe file
Medieval African brick work
255 metre circumference
The 10 meter high conical tower, a solid structure in the great enclosure. It used to be on the Zimbabwe money (when they had some) and has, i think, been adopted as they symbol for Mugabe’s ZANU PK party. Some say it’s a watch tower, others a celestial observatory or that it has phallic significance. I asked Kenneth what he thought but he was still busy digesting the news that Spurs were the greatest football team ever.
10 meter conical tower. No one knows why it’s there. This is a better picture
But this on gives it scale.
Zimbabwe by the way means “Great Stone Houses” and was adopted as the nations name when independence was achieved in 1979.
My accommodation for the night. A $15 Rondavel. First time in over two weeks I haven’t camped.
I really enjoyed my trip to Great Zimbabwe. Not perhaps as visually amazing as Machu Pichu or the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China. But in it’s own way just as important, certainly interesting and fairly unique. And I had the whole place to myself. Not a single other tourist all day.
So, I have a question. What do you think when you hear the words Zimbabwe or Harare? Just stop for a minute to think about what you associate with these words. Where do you get that image from? The news? When’s the last time you heard about Zimbabwe on the news? Have you ever heard a good report coming from Harare? It’s quite amazing really what a strong influence news has on us. Even if it’s just a two minute piece about Mugabe and some other bloke I’ve forgotten about from over a year ago. And THAT image is fixed in your head.
I’m guessing these images weren’t in your head when you thought of Harare. But this IS Harare
Harare. This was the first capital city I'd have to ride into in Africa and I didn't have a GPS. How would I cope? Quite easily as it happens. I found my way to the centre and then asked directions to get near to the place the others were staying. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in Harare. I wasn't exactly expecting a war zone but it was more developed and modern than I had thought it would be. I rode down one of the main streets. High rise buildings on both sides and evidence that there was some money around. Land Rover, Honda, BMW all had showrooms on the main drag.
It just seems like a regular city getting on with the mundane day to day stuff all cities do. The influential US Foreign Policy Magazine rates Zimbabwe as the second most failed state in the world (after Somalia). There is no doubt that Zimbabwe’s government has failed it’s people for some time. The country has been through some terrible times, and I am not trying to underplay the suffering of the people. Many people are living below the poverty line and life it tough. HOWEVER I’m surprised at how normal things seem. People are getting on with their day to day lives in spite of, not because of, their government. No doubt, with good governance, this place could be so much more but it seems to be coping much better than I had expected. To me that says so much about the relationship between government and people. Good people can survive without government. Government cannot survive without good people.
So, how do I sum up my time in Zimbabwe? Well, considering all you hear about the place in the UK is riots, inflation, riots, elections, riots and riots it's remarkably peaceful. The people are very friendly, (perhaps the friendliest so far?) but it is also certainly the poorest country so far. The supermarkets have food but some shelves are empty. Most of the food is stock cooking foods like millet or rice and there aren't many vegetables. Petrol stations don't have shops of any kind and sometimes they don't even have petrol. Once I've had to fill up with leaded as there was no unleaded, the first time I've had to do that anywhere on this whole trip. The money (US dollars) is the dirtiest I've ever seen and people very rarely have change. This resulted in an almost comical scene one morning when I went to pay the $5 I owed for camping. They'd told me it was $5 but in the morning it had gone up to $8. I said I had a $20 but they didn't have change so I put the five grubby one dollar bills I had on the counter and told them that if they didn't have change they would only get $5. They looked at me, I looked at them, I left. There are no US coins in the country. When you buy something if it isn’t exactly a dollar you either get the change in rand (which at 7 rand to the dollar is guesswork) or a voucher to use later in the same store or a sweet.
Cleanish money – dirty money –voucher
It will be no surprise to anyone who has travelled a lot (but it's always a surprise to those who haven't) that the people in Zim. are really friendly. People who are poor and especially people who have just come through war or troubled times are the most generous, friendly people on the planet. When I went to a supermarket on my own the other day (on the bike) several people came to look at the bike and chat and they were all super friendly and very polite. Two even thanked me for talking to them. When the woman on the till asked where I was from she said “Oh, England. I've always wanted to go there. Will you take me?!” She had a huge smile on her face. Tesco's check out just ask me if I've got a loyalty card (so they can snoop on what I buy), want to apply for a re-mortgage or realise that I could get three for two on the toilet bleach. You don't need 50 different types of breakfast cereal to be happy! (Sorry, but whenever I come home it always amazes me how much stuff is on sale in supermarkets. How you can always buy everything all year round and how unhappy everyone looks buying it all. That’s why I like this part of the world, and Latin America, you can still buy everything you need but with seasonal variations and without oversaturation.)
Not bad for $7 a night in a capital city
We were staying at “Small World Hostel and Lodge” It’s basically a converted house in the rich part of town, within walking distance of many of the embassies which was idea as the Canadians needed to get Ethiopian visas. And luckily we weren't too close to the US Embassy. I don't think I want to be near any US Embassies in East Africa at the moment.
Whist at Small World I met two Aussies on Quad bikes (ATV’s to north Americans). They set off from Europe 8 months ago and just 30 kms outside of Harare broke the world record from longest journey on an ATV. 31,000 km. They are continuing to South Africa and then home to Australia.
Tragically they started out as three but one was killed in a traffic accident just a few weeks ago in Malawi.
Saturday, Daryll, Angela, Tom and I went to an animal sanctuary just outside Harare. They take in injured, orphaned and unwanted animals, but they wouldn’t take Daryll, something to do with him eating too much. (I just put that in to see if he reads my blog) They had everything from pigs and chickens to lions and leopards. Just as we were leaving there was a little commotion as one of the baboons had escaped. At least it wasn’t that crocodile.
When we got back I decided it was time for me to actually become a man and do an oil change. (Yes, I have to admit that I have actually never done a real life oil change).
Ably overseen by Pat (with Tom, Daryll, Angela and Chris giggling in the background,) I got down and dirty with Heidi and managed to change the oil without to many dramas. Easy when you know how.
Shouldn’t BMW supply a red carpet for this sort of thing?
Is that a spanner or a ratchet?
4 litres of oil, I just hope the container is big enough.
Righty tighty - lefty loosy
There. Mission accomplished. I’m a real man now.
Tom, Pat, Chris, Daryll and Angie (I really must come up with a shorter way of saying that) got there Ethiopian visas on Friday but need to go to the Egyptian Embassy on Monday so we are all spending a quiet weekend in Harare. I’m catching up on the news as we have BBC and SKY here and I haven’t seen any news for a couple of weeks. Seems like the world has gone mad in my absence. Watched the first half of Man U v Chelsea, then we had a power cut. AAARGGHHHH
It’s also been a bit of an exercise finding wi-fi so I can publish this post. If it works it will be a minor miracle.
I must apologise for all the preaching and sanctimonious rubbish this week. I think 9 months on the road is started to tell! Don’t worry I’ll be back home soon, signing up to Sky sports and buying the latest i-pad.