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MUTARE, November 24, 1999

After leaving Nyanga, we took a side trip into the Honde Valley, and drove through another whole new world.  First we went up over a very high mountain pass.  As we came out of the trees at the top of the pass, we were looking out over a big valley filled with hundreds of villages. Then we drove down a steep, twisting narrow road into one of the Tribal Communal Lands areas.  In the TCL’s (similar to our Indian Reservations) the native people live in the traditional way, in small village groups, each ruled by a headman.  Each village also has a Nang’a, or witch doctor, who cares for the medical and spiritual needs of the people.   The earth was very red and obviously fertile, because there were literally thousands of people.  The view was awesome!  Goosebump awesome!  Mile after mile as far as the eye could see were people, rondavels and crops!  Every scrap of land seemed to be under cultivation, even on tiny terraces on steep hillsides, and, in this area, we saw a lot of bananas growing, in addition to the usual mealies.  Because the rainy season was just starting, everyone was in the fields getting ready for planting.  We saw people ploughing with yokes of oxen and lots of people working their plots by hand with badzas (grub-hoes).  Because the country has suffered from drought for several years, everybody was very happy that the rains seemed to be arriving this year.  One question that we kept asking each other is how can people who live in mud huts always wear clothes that are so spotlessly clean and tidy.  People typically wear white shirts or blouses and they are always immaculate.  We have yet to see a dirty person anywhere in the country. 

 

From the Honde Valley, we drove to the pretty little regional town of Mutare, at the very eastern end of the country.   We stayed at the Inn on the Vumba, a small, but exquisite hotel, surrounded by bush.  We saw our first Vervet monkeys and baboons here!  In our room was a small complimentary bottle of an excellent local Chenin Blanc, which we managed to dispose of before dinner.  At dinner, we had braised oxtail, new potatoes, broccoli and fresh eggplant, with a Muykuyu Merlot that was to die for!  We could be talked into staying here – does anyone want to buy a nice farm in Oxdrift?

 

The next morning, we drove around the Burma Valley.  This is a loop road about 80 km long that took us through some spectacular scenery.  The road into the valley was quite possibly the steepest grade we have ever negotiated.  It was certainly steeper than a 24% hill we once drove on Vancouver Island.  The road through the valley led past tobacco farms, banana plantations, orchards of oranges, guavas and some fruit we didn’t even recognize.  At one point the road was only a few meters from the Mozambique border.   A very beautiful drive taking us through some amazing countryside.  The forest closed in over the top of us in some places and I felt I was truly in the African jungle!  Light filtered down through the leaves and vines giving a soft, ethereal effect.  What a thrill!   At the end of the valley, the road climbed up through tea plantations, coffee estates and then forest, again.  The pavement ended, the road got narrower as it got higher and we wondered if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but eventually we got back on the pavement again.  From the top we could look out for miles over Mozambique.  What a beautiful view! 

 

 
Down into the Burma Valley Tobacco curing shed Banana plantation Banana tree  

We drove into Mutare, found a bank to change some money, filled up with petrol and pointed our Peugeot south towards the Lowveldt. 

  

MASVINGO, November 25, 1999

From Mutare, we headed south into the hot, dry area of the country, which is called the Lowveldt.  Almost immediately, the terrain changed to desert and we saw our first baobab trees.  The baobab, more than anything else, will always evoke Africa for us.   It looks as if it was planted upside down, with its roots in the air.  Most of them are at least 600 years old and the trunks can be 20 feet in diameter.  Instead of wood, they are made of a substance like corrugated cardboard.  They can survive at least ten years of drought without a single drop of rain.  Right now they have beautiful, white flowers, but later in the year they produce large fruits which look something like coconuts.  These nuts contain cream of tartar (that’s where it comes from!).  People love the baobab trees and look after them much like the saguerro cactus in Arizona.  It is illegal to damage one and if there is a baobab tree where you want to build a house, you have to build your house somewhere else.

 

The Lowveldt Baobab tree Susan and a baobab tree

The Lowveldt is very dry and very hot, but many, many people live there.   There seems to be nothing but dust and rock, but there are people everywhere and many villages.  Herds of goats, donkeys, sheep and the occasional cow graze on the side of the road.   One remains very alert while driving, because cars do not have the right-of-way!  Some areas are irrigated and the contrast is startling.  Suddenly, there are fields of corn standing 6 or 8 feet high.  Obviously, the soil is very fertile and only needs water to make it produce.  Apparently, deeper in the Lowveldt, towards the South African border, they are getting fantastic yields of sugar cane, bananas and other tropical crops where ever they manage to bring in water. 

Kyle View Resort Kyle View cottage

Our destination for the night was Kyle View Resort:  a rustic sort of a place, which looks out over the Lake Kyle reservoir.   It was very beautiful and quiet, but not exactly five-star quality.  Actually, it probably was a five-star place in its heyday, but is in need of some renovations.  The power had gone off when we arrived and they gave us candles to use in our room.  Later we had dinner on the patio (by candlelight).  The patio looks out over the dam (reservoir) and it was very beautiful in the moonlight!  Very romantic!   A local company was holding its staff Christmas Party on the same patio, complete with a braaivleis (Afrikaans for barbecue) and a great deal of beer.  The ambience was very dynamic!  We met a couple from South Africa, who were holidaying in the same area.  Steve had lived in Mutare as a child, so he was able to answer some of the many questions we had been saving up about the things we had seen over the past few days.  We had been feeling a bit like a visible minority at that point, so we enjoyed their company over dinner. 

 

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