Boarded the Greyhound to Bulawayo at 20h30 last night, arriving in Bulawayo just after 10am this morning. The bus trip has been largely uneventful, except for watching the occasionally entertaining antics of Eric and Lucky, the bus drivers.
We reached the Zimbabwean border at around 5am and were in for a wait of anywhere between two and six hours to get through, as the Zimbabwe/South Africa border is the busiest in the country. Not simply for refugees fleeing Zimbabwe, but for trucks bringing goods and buses with families bringing remittances trying to get back over to Zimbabwe.
Checking through the South African border took all of perhaps 30minutes. It’s the largest border post I think I have ever seen, with extra tents to process immigration queries outside the main offices and a fast moving process of pushing vehicles and people out to Zimbabwe, staffed by tired and slightly tetchy customs officials. On the Zimbabwean side, the border looked like what I imagine checkpoint charlie from the old Eastern Europe must have. Queues and queues of people sleeping out in the road leading up to the border, and two dozen trucks and buses waiting in a long line under orange sodium lamps from watchtowers above the proceedings. A good deal more razor wire and gravel than I recalled on the South African end completed the picture, putting everyone on their best behaviour.
Lucky and Eric stopped being drivers and morphed into some sort of professional fixers – somehow managing to swap half a Chicken Licken meal for the assistance of an official
Immigration was not much of a problem, save that the surly official has given me a visa valid 18 November, to ensure I pass through quickly on to Lusaka. It’s a pity, as I would have liked to perhaps see a bit more, but he seemed aggreived that I didn’t know where I was staying or what I was doing specifically in the time that I was in the country, so perhaps this is my punishment for indecision.
Back to the bus then for the hours long wait to come. Until Lucky and Eric stopped being drivers and morphed into some sort of professional fixers – somehow managing to swap half a Chicken Licken meal for the assistance of an official in (and I still cannot quite explain how this happened) inserting our bus at the head of the 500m-or-so long queue. Then a thorough bag check, customs declarations, one more check to see that we all have stamped passports – and we were through. The whole process took about an hour.
Zimbabwe is beautiful. Flat land with Dr Seuss-esque hills dotting the distance, the drive to Limpopo was almost like driving through a see of lime green tree/bushes with occasional huts alongside. And police road blocks – at least a dozen of them. Each a makeshift affair with two 8ft traffic cones, two policemen, a sign saying “Police ahead” and occasionally one asking for a toll fee. Like identical little roadblock-in-a-box kits deployed every 60km or so on the road to Bulawayo. Not once was out bus actually stopped – Lucky and Eric double-teaming each set of police officers with salutes, shared jokes and occasionally a cold Coke.
I am now in Bulawayo, at the Selbourne Hotel until Tuesday, when I catch the 8pm train to Vic Falls, arriving at 1am Wednesday morning. Yes, the Selbourne is a hotel, though I am sharing my suite with Ralph the cockroach, with whom I have a territorial agreement. He lives in the bathroom and I love in the bedroom. So far we are each behaving ourselves and detente is preserved.
A cursory run around Bulawayo suggests it is really beautiful, with flame trees and lamp posts from the 1950′s. You can see the economic effects of the last few years though, in that there is nary a Zim dollar to be found (everything is priced in Rand and USD), non-grocery shops seem not to have enough wares for their display cases, and occasional “No Fuel” signs outside petrol stations.
Tomorrow will be for doing more exploring of the museums and any other sights in the city (today was a Sunday and most things were closed), as well as building up the nerve to ignore security-police-paranoia and actually take my camera out long enough to get some snaps of scenes from the city here for you.