Day 16 of the African Adventure started from Tete at 6 am, crossing the large arched bridge and deviating onto the EN103 to Changara. The ongoing potholes were soon interspersed with plenty of goats and cows wandering into the road, requiring everyone to once again remain alert and vigilant.
We then joined the N6 towards Machipanda and on to Manica where the vehicles were refuelled. In the small town we spotted a sign of a sports and recreation facility sponsored by the University of Johannesburg, and it didn’t take long for someone to come out and chat to the South African crews.
Schalk van Heerden, a representative from the varsity, had just driven up from Jhb for the official launch of an impressive new soccer facility that was built in the town as part of FIFA’s 2010 Soccer World Cup legacy programme for Southern Africa. The aim is to use soccer to develop the community, and this Football for Hope project at Manica Football Club (manicafc.com) is also apparently supported by Arsenal Footclub Club, which sends volunteers to the club annually to develop it further.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to view the facility, but were more than happy to support the club with the donation of a couple of General Tyre soccer balls, which were gratefully received by Schalk.
After this brief interlude, we travelled through the nearby Manica border post and departed Mozambique without hassle. The adjacent Forbes border post into Zimbabwe was certainly one of the biggest surprises of the trip. What are often dirty, noisy, hot and less than pleasant experiences was neat, paved, clean, air-conditioned and sophisticated with computers and even TV screens in abundance – and immaculate toilets.
Passports were stamped and we looked set, only to have hassles getting the vehicles through – as happened last year when we visited Zimbabwe. Authorisation was obtained from the manufacturers for the nominated organisers from Continental Tyre SA and Adventure Junkies to take the 7 sponsored vehicles out of the country but various different people would be driving the 4x4s.
Only in Zimbabwe the sticky red tape allows just one person to be nominated per vehicle, so we spent the next hour-and-a-half sorting this mess out. This was eventually achieved by means of producing handwritten notes to re-authorise the vehicles to other people, only for these letters to be stamped by the border official and tossed to the side.
Eventually we left the border at 14:25, just as the clouds opened and we had our first rains of the 2013 adventure. Very few of the group had spent much, if any time, in Zimbabwe, and no-one knew what to expect of the road conditions and travel times – especially after Mozambique’s disastrous roads. The original route scouted during the recce had travelled south through Mozambique but the poor driving conditions meant we had to revise the plans and incorporate more of Zim, so this was essentially unchartered territory.
But we were very pleasantly surprised, with virtually no potholes and decent roads that allowed the speed limit to be maintained with ease. The group was also greeted by expansive baobab forests featuring an astonishing number of the ancient giants and, unusually, many fairly young ones. Despite few breaks in the rain and cloud cover, what we could see of the terrain was very engaging, with large boulder-strewn mountains either side of the winding roads.
The overnight stop had been nominated as a caravan park on the outskirts of Mutare, but this was closed so we set off for the Hot Springs Resort in the small village of Chikari. This site was booked out due to a government conference in the area, and was less than sanitary. Masvingo was the next town up, and once again no suitable lodgings could be found. It’s almost as though Zimbabwe doesn’t actually want any visitors.
So over some eagerly devoured pizza from the Pizza Inn franchise, it was decided to head straight for the border, some 290 km away. We left Masvingo at 8:30 pm and rolled into Beit Bridge four hours later after dropping the convoy’s speed to around 80 km/h in order to safely cover the required distance, and to deal with the wayward traffic encountered along the way.
The massive border crossing was still a hive of activity well after midnight, particularly with hordes of people crossing by foot, and packed like sardines into buses. Fortunately we completed the paperwork by 2 am, and breathed a sigh of relief as we finally touched South African soil once again.
The Forever Resort in Tshipise came into view just before 3 am, and there was no time wasted unpacking the tents and getting some much-needed and welcome sleep.