“Scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” (David Livingstone)

A tailwind aided me north from Bulawayo. It was only really noticeable as I was averaging over 20km per hour when my average speed would normally be closer to 15. Unless one has a jaw-dropping landscape to pedal through, a tailwind is perhaps the second best thing a cyclist can hope for on tour. Headwinds in monotonous landscapes are cruel mind-numbing experiences.

 The landscape north of Bulawayo is neither jaw-dropping nor totally monotonous, but certainly swings towards the latter. February and March are supposedly wet months  in Zimbabwe, but when I compare a rainy season here to one in Malawi, or more memorably Sierra Leone and Liberia, it feels more like a drought. That said, the landscape is noticeably green.

 The traffic was fortunately lighter, but the road no wider than it had been on the Harare-Bulawayo road. Locals (both blacks and whites) had made remarks to it being fairly remote, which it certainly is. Having missed a few opportunities to fill up with water closer to Bulawayo, I ended up cycling 150km before pulling off the road in a place called Ken Muir. Villages don’t line major roads in Zimbabwe like they do in most of Africa. Ken Muir is also known as St Lukes, named after the Catholic Mission here, which is where I peacefully spent the night on the floor of a hospital waiting room.

 The German Doctor, who has been here eleven years, seemed somewhat shocked when he found me the next morning and discovered I hadn’t been accommodated in one of the spare rooms. “These people don’t communicate. I told them there is a spare room for you”. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d arrived in the dark during a heavy downpour and when one of the nurses on duty had shown me a dry, safe waiting room that I could pitch me tent in, I was more than happy.

 In the good old days the only place apparently worth stopping at between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls was a placed called Gwayi River Hotel. Like a lot of things from those times, that hotel is no more. I pulled off the road in an attempt to find it some 100km beyond Ken Muir, but other than a few crumbling outhouses, the area where people directed men to was covered in bush.

 What I did find in the end were several recently built chalets, an enormously fat black Zimbabwean and the stench of a rotting animal.

 “These rooms are for my clients”, he said surveying me suspiciously.

 “What kinds of clients come here” I asked. The truth is I already knew the answer. I spent the night before listening to the Council Administrator for Gwayi River telling me stories about elephants coming into the village and a boy who was lucky to have survived a recent crocodile attack. This was hunting territory.

 “Americans and Spaniards are popular, sometimes French. We don’t get British hunters.”

“What’s that smell?” I asked, noticing a nearby washing lined draped with thin strips of meat.

“My boys shot an elephant a few days ago just out the back. There are plenty around here so just be careful on the bike”.

 Before pedalling away from that foul smell I found out that it cost $10,000 to shoot an elephant and $2500 for a buffalo. As for Lions, he didn’t have a licence for that – $20,000+ perhaps?

 I was by now on the fringes of Hwange National Park, where I’d agreed to meet up with my Bulawayo hosts – Paul and Julie. Paul is a long term teacher in one of Bulawayo’s private schools, the kind which moulds itself on the British public school system, and Julie the owner of a woman’s clothing factory. She’s also the President of the Rotary Club, which was my initial link with them, having organised to give a talk there.

Seeing wildlife at this time of year isn’t easy through the dense bush, but with half a dozen eyes peeled (family and friends joined them at Hwange) we were able to see a fair amount (Elephants, Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Kudu, Bat-eared fox, Jackel, Warthog, Baboons, Monkeys, Hippo, Crocodile, Civet cat, Ostrich, Wildebeest and countless beautiful birds that my hosts knew far more about than me). As for those Lions, well hearing them roar from my tent at night in the ‘relative’ safety of the main camp was reward enough.

 

I waved off my Bulawayo friends a few days later for the final 200km or so to Victoria Falls. Roadside activity, as remarked upon, continued to be distinctly lacking  (at least when compared to cycling through many other Africa countries), but I did pass the occasional huddle of local women selling watermelons, the smallest of which I could just about bungee onto my front rack.

 

Victoria Falls perhaps needs no grand introduction. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the World, as Africa’s fourth largest River plunges over 100m to create a smoke that really does thunder. I came here 11 years ago and threw myself down the rapids with a white-water rafting trip. This time I was content to just view the falls, but when a member of the audience at a Rotary Club talk I gave here asked if I’d like a complimentary helicopter ride over them, I was hardly going to say no.