With the end of a chaotic three-month work cycle in the bush within reach, the excitement of our first Africa journey began to set in. But we still had no specific destination or plan in mind. However, having spent three months out in the bush it quickly became clear that what we needed was a beach vacation with plenty of sun, as few people as possible and all the seafood we could eat.
With this in mind there was only one choice really – Mozambique. Neither of us had ever been there; it was their quiet season so we’d miss the crowd’s; and I’d heard that if you enjoy seafood, like my wife does, then there is no better place. Next we needed to plot a basic route and decide where exactly in Mozambique we would go. We had decided right from the beginning that we would’t pre-book any accommodation but rather follow our noses as we went. Mozambique is however, a rather large country and while we had plenty of time for our trip we still needed a rough plan.
Bronwyn, my eager wife, was keen to travel from Maun in Botswana, through Zimbabwe and on to Mozambique. But I was against the idea. We knew very little about Zimbabwe and the current situation. I had travelled to Victoria Falls and Mana Pools with work but that was all pre-planned and organised. I love Zimbabwe and have had incredible experiences there. Despite this, I was still nervous. Maybe it was because we would be on our own and I lacked confidence. I began asking the exact questions I’d heard over and over from others. Could we get food? What about petrol? Would we be safe? Then there was the thought of dealing with difficult border posts and corrupt police officials. This was our first real overland trip out of South Africa and I was concerned our lack of experience could find us in trouble.
I spent some time on the web browsing the forums to see who had recently been through Zim. There seemed to be a lot of discussions about paper work to get your vehicle through the border. People were talking about a police clearance certificate that is needed to get through. This certificate had to be acquired at the police station in South Africa. We were sitting up in Botswana so this was not an option. But then it seemed that while it states in the documentation that you need this certificate, many people had travelled through the country without it. The last thing I wanted was to arrive at the border and have my little Jimny impounded because we didn’t have the right paper work.
Then, a couple days before our departure we were visited in camp by Greg Hughes. A charismatic guide with many years of guiding and travel experience under his belt. While picking up tips from him on what to do in Mozambique, I briefly mentioned the Zimbabwe option but said I had brushed it off. “No way, you got to go through Zim” was his first response. “Go through Plumbtree and spend some time in the Matopos. It’s beautiful, and you can also check out Cecil John Rhodes’ grave.” I had listened to a talk he did two nights back on Rhodes so my interest began to grow. “From there you just head across to Mutare and into Mozambique”. The discussion went on as we chatted about Gorongoza National Park, Vilanculos and the Bazaruto Islands. It was all very exciting and I was almost sold.
Then he asked, “What car you got?”
“A Suzuki Jimny” I replied.
“You mean one of those small little 4×4’s?”
“You’ll have no problems then.”
I asked him about police clearance certificates but he said all we needed to do was fill out the TIF form at the border and pay the entry fees. That was enough for me, we were going through Zimbabwe. Having thought about it, I probably should have listened to my wife in the first place. A mental note for next time.
Day 1 – Maun to Francistown
Back in Maun we uncovered our Jimny who had been waiting patiently for the past three months and re-packed the back to add our clothes and camera gear. I could feel that she was as eager to hit the road as we were. Before we could leave though, we needed a fire extinguisher, a second red triangle and two reflective vests (One for each member in the vehicle). All essential requirements to avoid fines in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
With the essential items purchased and enough food and wine for the night, we hit the road. Our first stop – Francistown. We had left Maun rather late to make the border before it closed. Even if we did, we made a pact never to travel in the dark, its just not safe. So we plugged Francistown into the GPS, turned up the music, and sang out on the top of our voices as we headed off into the distance. The excitement of the adventure set in. Our first Africa road trip had begun.
Francistown came quicker than I imagined. As we chatted about anything and everything the km’s just ticked over. As we headed into Francistown we turned to the trusty Botswana guide book to find a place to spend the night. After a couple phone calls we settled on Woodlands Overnight Stop.
Woodlands offers a variety of accommodation options but it is essentially geared for budget overnight stops, just what we wanted. Their chalets seemed comfortable but we opted to camp. We were dying to break out the camping gear, light a fire and just sit under the stars. Woodlands is a few kilos down a dirt track just off the main road. With bushveld vegetation all around and a small river flowing through, it has a wilderness camping feel to it, even though its only a couple kilometers outside of town. There is no noisy traffic buzzing past or bright city lights to contend with. The campsites are grassed so the camping is somewhat luxurious. Most importantly they had neat, clean ablutions. Just about every forum that talks about campsites always makes mention of the ablutions. Woodlands scored an impressive 10 out of 10 in this department.
With the clear chill in the air we could feel that winter was approaching. While huddled around the fire wrapped up with beanies and jackets, we fantasised about the balmy beach weather that awaited us on the coast. But first, we will conquer Zimbabwe.
We retired to the tent early, eager to have a good start. According to the GPS Matopos was only 242Km away. An early start would give us time to stop off in Bulawayo to buy some supplies and get down to Matopos so we could find our accommodation. I had read about a place called the Big Cave, thats where we will start.