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INFO and DIARY              2016   

        Map + Plan


           Photos   Diary1 + 2

I had an invitation to visit a project in South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and hopefully work on it, in the future. Realising how little I actually know about South African highland and tropical plants, I figured I might do a tour around the premises. Places like Victoria Falls and many of the national parks are on the short list of sights.

While studding the flora, I will try to sell some assistance to the parks I meet on along the road. I also hope to be able to collect material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping Oxygonum.  I will visit the wild and unspoiled nature scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour from South Africa through Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Republic of Zimbabwe is a rather large country in south-eastern Africa. between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. It borders South Africa to the south, Botswana to the west, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east. It covers 390,757 km², measuring roughly 750 times 900 kilometres, but it feels significantly bigger, driving its roads!
Most of the country is elevated in the central plateau (high veld) stretching from the southwest to the northwest at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,600 meters. The country's east is mountainous with Mount Nyangani as the highest point at 2,592 meters. About 20% of the country consists of the low veld under 900 meters. Victoria Falls, one of the world's biggest and most spectacular waterfalls, is located in the country's northwest as part of the Zambezi river.
Despite a population of more than 13 million citizens, here are quite some nature. 80% of the country's citizens are Christians. The followers of ethnic religions are around 11%. Around 1% are Muslims, mainly from Mozambique and Malawi, 0.1% are Hindus and 0.3% are Baha'is. Approximately 7% of citizens have no religious practice or are atheist.

MONEY: The currency is Zimbabwean Dollar (ZWD). 1 DKK=55 ZWD. 1 €=412 ZWD. Or at least it was. Apparently, everything is in American Dollar.

CLIMATE: The country has a tropical climate with a rainy season usually from late October to March - perfect hit (if I wanted it wet...). The climate is moderated by the altitude, and I expect temperatures from 20-26C but it could reach 34C. And quite some rain.... Here are three general biomes; the arid savanna; lowlands receiving up to 500 millimetres of rain annually, found in the north-west and south-eastern parts. The moist savanna on the high plateau, which can receive 1100 millimetres annually, found in the central highlands. Finally, the forest who get even more rain. Most have been chopped down, but some remain in the cool highlands of Chipinge-Chimanimania and in the Bvumba Mountains, both located in the fare east.

A diverse altitude, huge semi-un-disturbed areas and quite some national parks offers a wide range of animals and plants. Here are elephants, lions, civets, baboons, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, buffalos, pigs, antelopes, crocks , plenty of reptilians and 660 species of birds, just to name a few.
The plants in Zimbabwe I especially want to find, beside from the Oxygonum are the numerous caudiciforms and terrestrial orchids, found here. I will of cause try to explore each region.

From Mozambique, the journey continues in the beautiful eastern Zimbabwe.

10/1 After a surprisingly fast procedure in Mozambique, the entering at Forbes Border Control turn out to be painstakingly slow. I am bounced at the first counter: I need a visa. It turns out, I get that at counter two. They fill out some papers for US$30, and send me back. A whole more writing and work at the keyboard, and I'm in.
Then the car have to be procedure. I need a VTL/TFA/NOC or something-blanket, the officer at the counter tells me. He is real kind, and find a civilian outside the office. He give him my passport, and I guess I better follow him. We enter Zimbabwe and head for a container. Here he find a form, and we walk back. But we are not aloud the same way back. We have to walk along with the traffic heading into Mozambique, and my passport is examined. I don't have a dual-entry visa, and can't get in. Another officer is slightly more bright, and let me in.
Then we wait for a long time on "the man", who can fill out the document. Then back to counter four, more stamps and signatures, and I have the acquired GHK/FLS/FUC-document, and can try counter five once more. More typing and writing, and I have some new documents for the collection - and 45UD$ less. Apparently, I have bought some kind of insurance for the car, and the civilians want UD$50, and tell me to go to another container to pay UD$10 for road tax. Most of the problems seem to originates from the fact, they are not accustom to rental cars at this border crossing. Two hours and US$175 later, we carefully drive into Zimbabwe.

We start around 1000 meters height, and drive through huge, lush green hills with plenty of grass, bushes and trees. Barren rock  peaks out on the peaks, but else, it is either natural vegetation or rather huge, artificially watered fields with corn.
We still need water, and head for the nearby Mutare. It is a modern town like the ones found in South Africa, and despite it is Sunday, many shops are open. We start at an ATM, but my card is bounced. Have I spend more than 20.000 DKK within the last month? Could be. Gry get dollars, and we go shopping. I try to pay with my card, and it works. While walking around, looking for an internet cafe, we see a sign showing to the City Garden and Aloe Garden. It is a nice, well maintained park, with many foreign plants. Gry get close to a group of monkeys, and get some great photos.
We make a loop around town, and I got lucky at another ATM. Then we head towards Nyanga National Park. We drive slowly upwards, and end at 2000 meters height. It is significantly colder in the shadow, but the sun equals it. The mountain peaks are drastic, and offers some great motives. We make a single botanizing stop, and find quite some unfamiliar plants. Huge Euphorbia trees are iconic plants among more traditional trees.
As we reach 2000 meters, huge pine plantations dominate the horizon.
I don't have a specific address of the park, and first, we find a casino. The guard at the entrance leads us on towards a campsite, which I hope will be nearby.
We passes a huge collection of soapstone carvings, and have a look. Gry find a bowl, and I a living leaffrog. Further down the road, wee pass the entrance to the Nyanga National Park, and find the office.
We start paying for one day in the park and one night camping. For a first in a long time, we are told what to look for in the park, and we get a good map and folders of, what we can expect to see. The camping site is large with trees, green grass and old but well cleaned and maintained toilets. This is defiantly different from Mozambique. And here are signs at every intersection too. We have the campsite to our selves, but the staff pops by to fire up the waterheater - with firewood - or rather logs.

It is late afternoon, and we don't have time for the 762 meter Mtarazi Fall or the tallest mountain in Zimbabwe; Inyngani; 2593 meters. But a drive around a small part of the area is great. We see a Kudu, a Waterbok, a Duiker and some real old Cussonia sphaerocephala.
The low sun add to the fantastic motives of the surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. Proteas, and some lovely "Acacia-shaped" trees with bright red new leaves. The sun vanish behind mountains several times, and the difficult surface make us drive a bit fast back to camp. We reach it in last minute, and while Gry start on the dinner, I start on the computer.
To judge from our first day, Zimbabwe are so much more modern and well functional than Mozambique. And for now, even more green.
I don't get to finish, but at midnight, I need a rest - and a shower.

11/1 It was far from as cold during the night, as I have feared. We give our selves good time in the morning, enjoying the cosy camp, which we still have to our selves. Then we set off to the office, to pay for an additional night. We get directions to the 762 meter Mtarazi Fall. I had hoped for the road leading right through the park, but we are told; it is too bad to be driven. Considering it is a 45 kilometres drive, I find the sealed road more appealing after all.
When we turn into the park by another entrance, we see numerous tree ferns, and lovely green valleys. We do a few botanizing stops, and find flowering Vitaceaes, orchids and many other charming plants.
The last kilometre to the falls is a narrow trail, leading through bushes and herbs. We find more plants and some insects. Then a vertical wall reveals on the other side of the valley, and we start to hear the Mtarazi Fall. Despite the 762 metres are partly over some slow descents, the last 3-400 metres are almost vertical, and quite impressive.
So are the 180 degree view over a giant valley, which is partly developed. Next to the big fall is a narrow one, even higher in the vertical part. The sun is not where I want it, but it is still a great experience. We can stand on some big boulders and look straight down to the button of the valley. Some yellow orchids sit ten meters down, but with Gry's big camera, I get a good picture.

On our way back, we see some baboons, and find another vertical wall and huge valley. In Juliasdale, we try the postal office, which apparently have midday closed. A large group of people are selling fruits in plastic bags to the few passing cars, and when Gry show an interest, the car is filled in seconds.
Back at camp, we relax with fruit and tea for a hour, before setting out on a tour to the other end of the park. The first sign we meet say; Deadly Hazard, and that sounds interesting. It is just a bit rough, but lead through some awesome landscapes.
Some areas are barren rocks with few succulents. Others are almost swamps, and all have interesting plants. We see a big herd of Blue Wildebeests and a small group of Zebras. The old Cussonias and umbrella shaped trees with red new leaves in the foreground of remote mountains and fantastic cloud formations, make great motives.
On the way back, we make a stop at an ancient fort and some Pit Structures. The fort is a large group of boulders on a hill top, offering a great view to the surrounding valleys. The pit structures are five meter deep holes, five metres in diameter with vertical walls, made with boulders. It could be water cisterns, but it is a guess.
We cross a river, and the cascades over the very smooth rocks and the succulents next to it make me stop. Back at camp, I prepare the tent, and Gry prepare asome brilliant egg-noodles with three-kind-of-cheese and peanuts and peanut butter sauce. As we go for the "camp-kitchen" to do the dishwashers, I feel the heat from the woodenfired waterheater. I bring my chair, and despite it is 20C, I really enjoy the radiation heat from the coals. Fireflies mix with the stars on a  moonless sky. Leaffrogs in frogs-numbers, crickets, bats, the cracking form the fire and distant waterfalls make a nightly symphony, and I almost feel a bad conscience, heading to bed.

12/1 While we eat breakfast, two Waterboks are relaxing in the next booth at the camping site. We finish up, and set the GPS for La Rochelle Botanical Garden. Where we yesterday drown 42 kilometres to get to the tall waterfall within the park, it claims we only have 24 to go now.
It is among bald peaks and lush valleys. One stretch has some amazing acacia-shaped trees, which can grow to a considerable size. The few farmers we pass tend to live either in huge mansions or tiny rondawels. Their fields are either huge with artificial watering or tiny and weeded by hand. A few lakes is the result of dams, and despite being artificial, make the landscape beautiful.
The biggest "city" we drive through, is a supermarket, a gas station and the houses of the owners. There are no botanical garden where the GPS leads us. We study the guidebooks and maps, and find a waterfall on the same road, with GPS coordinates. It is just 24 kilometres further down the road - or not. Here are nothing at all! More study reveals we have to go 100 kilometres back, and that actually align with the map I draw, half a year ago.

This time, we drive right to La Rochelle, which is an impressive mansion. It is from the '50-ties, but has been neglected for some years. Now, it is being restored to its former glory, and beside from the main building, it has an orchid collection, a nursery, the botanical garden and a campsite.
We spend $24 for the entrance to the park and campsite WITH breakfast. We look around the main building, and settle for a sandwich and a salad on the terrace. The staff is absolutely perfect, and so is the food. Unfortunately, we can't eat dinner here, as the hotel if fully booked.
Then we go for a stroll through the garden. The former owners had 55 gardeners employed, and they have been able to create an impressive garden within the nineteen years, the couple lived here. It has since been neglected, and restoring it is still in progress, but it is still a joy for us to walk the paths. Here are staghorn-ferns in the trees, massive Yuccas, Aloes, flowering trees, ponds and quite some nametags on the big trees. We find a lot of familiar families and plants - just way bigger than we know them. Most are brought back by the owners of La Rochelle, which travelled the world.
When we return to the castle, I remember a single word the waiter said: "Cheesecake". We get two perfect lemon cheesecakes and a pot of tea for eight dollars in these fantastic surroundings! And they have internet too.
By some odd reason, Google have decided to close my account. To restore it, I either have to tell them exactly which day I created my account (way back in 2004!), and when I could access it last, five friends email addresses, which folders I have made and more like that. Or they can send a code for my phone - which is in Denmark. Or I can lock-on from my usual IP-address - in Denmark! In other words; I will not be able to read emails the next month and a half. Gry has exactly the same problem with Hotmail. It might be Zimbabwe have been the origin for spam-mails, but why make it this hard for normal costumers?

Dinner is on me, and it is simple; egg-noodles with ketchup or chutney. We return to the main house to try to access the rest of the world, but email is a no-go for us. While Gry hits the tent, I sit and work outside, to access the power. The night is chill, but full of the voices of huge frogs, leaffrogs, crickets and bats. One of the large frogs sounds like a machinegun. Some unidentified voices mix in. I can't tell if it is the monkeys, some birds or?

13/1 The morning offers a light drizzle, and I lay awake for quite some time, enjoying the birds sinning. We have breakfast included, and after I have gotten access to my mailbox, thanks to a friend in Denmark, we raid the well assorted buffet. Plenty of cereals, müesli, nuts, fresh fruits and much more.
When we are pretty stuffed, the waiter asks what kind of fried breakfast we want: Eggs, bacon, potatoes, sausages, toast and a few other options. We spend quite some time at that table. The other guests arrive from their early morning walk, and are a bit fascinated by our truck. It is a group of farmers. I don't think they look that way, and we get the explanation; they are tea plantation owners. Nice bunch, and when they head on, we pay the nursery and orchid collection a visit.
While the rest of the botanical garden is under reconstruction, this section is pristine. We do the entire collection, and the day is getting old. The upper-class life suits us, but we have so much more of Africa to see.

We fill the car in the nearby city, and find our way out in the countryside once again. We drive through some huge, green hills with barren granite boulders on the peaks. A short stretch have huge baobab trees, but else it is big bushes and small trees.
We make a small detour to the village of Cashel, which give name to the valley we are exploring today. A dusty road leads through two lines of small shops, but it is clean and most shops nicely painted. The difference between Mozambique and Zimbabwe are huge! In Mozambique, most people are carrying firewood or water. Here, a briefcase or suitcase are way more normal. Houses have paint on here, busses are efficient and smiles are significantly faster and wider.
A bit after noon, we find the gravelroad which should offer a fantastic scenic route towards the western end of Chimanimani National Park. And it does! Steep mountain sides are partly covered in trees and valley after valley open under us. We make numerous stops to try to capture the fantastic views.
Unfortunately the start of the trail is a maze of equal sized and used trails. We do many of them, and are lucky to find locals able to direct us.
Then the trail leaves the settled part, and lead close along the Mozambique border. We drive high over the valleys, but still under the high peaks. The further in we go, the more narrow and badly maintained the trail gets. The branches of the pinetrees are almost closing the road, and crossing rivers causes some quite difficult passings from time to time. In other parts, the trail is completely covered in grass with no signs of wheel tracks at all. But the fantastic surroundings make up for it. We find several interesting plants in this highland. We are in 1700-2000 meters height most of the time.
At one of the passes, epiphytic orchids are in every tree. Half past three, we see the first sign, telling us we have driven 22 kilometres from Cashel, and have 43 to go. Some scattered settlements start to be seen in the valleys below, and the road finally improve. The smiling people we pass like to have their photos taken, and we don't want to disappoint them.
Black clouds gather in front of us, and I fear we might be caught up here. The clay-rich surface will be a real challenge if wet. A sign show off to Chimanimani Gap, and we go for it. After a long time, the trail get suspiciously narrow, and then it almost vanish. It turns out "Gap" is something else. Back to the main road, we drive as fast as possible, and we reach the village of Chimanimani at dusk. We ask for a campsite, and strangely enough, we find the Frog & Fern, which I actually listed half a year ago. They have a single campsite, and we get it.
A blind dog, a black cat, two friendly women, a hut with electricity, toilet and hot shower for $20.
Gry prepare dinner in the hut while I desperately struggle to fix the holder for the big table in the car, before it destroy more of the essential parts of the car. Without tools and material, it is a bit up-hill. The cooking turns out way better. I work way too late, as the pictures of the day turned out good. We have only driven 180 kilometres in nine hours, both due to the quality of the road, but also due to the quality and amount of motives along it.

14/1 We leave the camp at eight to set out towards Chirinda Forest Reserve. A sign showing to a waterfall lure us into Chimanimani National Park once again, but the 3x$10 is a bit too steep for a waterfall at this stage of our journey. Back at trail, the road soon turn into a nice, sealed road.
We enjoy the lush, green hills and small rondawel farms. Then the fields get bigger, and corn, cane, avocado and peaches are the main crop for some kilometres.
The small town of Chipinge seems to offer a lot, and we go for a stroll. Strangely enough, the two ATMs only accept local cards, but it is not a problem - yet. I find a pair of flip-flops and while looking for spare parts for the car, I stumble upon a cheep tire-fixing-kit. Here are not much fresh fruit, and we must continue without.
The road is now a one lane sealed with wide shoulders. The few cars we meet are real polite - like all Zimbabweans. We make a stop at a bridge where numerous butterflies are sucking up minerals. We constantly see these white butterflies cross the road in large numbers, but this is the first time we see them sitting still.
At a police control post, we are stopped. The other ten or so, have let us by, but this guy ask into where we have been, and where we are going. Then he wants a present from Denmark. He get a wide smile.

After three hours of relaxed and enjoyable driving, we reach Chirinda. We pass the campsite sign, but it is only eleven, and we want to explore the tropical rainforest now. A sign show off to Big Tree, and as it is on the list, we start with it. A long and narrow road leads into the dense forest, and we end at a parking area.
A long walk on a narrow trail leads us further out in the forest. It is green to the floor, and one of the most common species are Dracaena fragrans. Crab-spiders, small, bright red millipedes and huge snails make up most of the animal sights. More impressive are the huge mahogany and Strychnos trees along with massive strangler figs and other massive trees.
The Big Tree is truly a huge mahogany. Sixteen meters at the ground and 66 metres tall. It is estimated to be 600-1000 years old. We sit at the foot of it for a long time, absorbing the presence and watching the insects and monkeys. I try desperately and rather fruitless to capture the big tree.
From here, a path leads through the Valley of Giants. Lianas and trees are huge, but here are still a lot of green in the bottom of the forest.
As we watch a big strangler fig, a Hornbill land in it. It has no hurry at all, and we get a lot of pictures. Gry's are significantly better than mine. A stretch of the trail is infested with huge and real fast ticks. We must be crossing a wildlife trail in this area.
A huge tree has fallen, and the hollow stem draws me. I make a few photos with zoom and flash, and later, they reveal some small bats. When we get back to the car, we sit in it for quite some time, and enjoy the many birds and passing monkeys.

Then we head on to the point I thought was the entrance to the park. It turns out to be a the plantation, and the workers are heading home under the huge trees. We drive back to the campsite sign, and find a road, leading right through the tropical rainforest. The campsite is just a small clearing with toilets, showers and a few braais. The real eager ranger sells us tickets for the camp, including the national park and a book with all the plant and animals names. We did see the numbers on many of the trees on the Big Tree trail, and now we get their names. As we get ready for a late afternoon walk, another car drives in. The ranger talks about "the January disease" (low season), but now he got more customers than anybody else we have stayed at.
The tiny road heading deeper into the rainforest passes many big and now named trees. Gry is eager to learn their names, and I do my best to follow - rather fruitless.
The other guests catch up, and as no real surprise, they are Danes too. We chat, then we head on. Here are huge strangler figs, mahogany and so many other hard-wood trees. Many birds can be heard, but the sighting causes problems. At a memorial plate from the former owner and naturalist; Charles Francis Massy Swynnerton, we sit down and reflect over the great life we are living. As no surprise, Swynnerton has described quite a lot of the plants and animals in the area, and more are named in his honour.
Back at camp, we enjoy a hot shower in the rondawel and start cooking. I write diary - twice. Somehow, the program freezes after the first half. Then, when I have written the second half, the computer turns off, and forget all. Somehow, I feel the first editions had way more details...

15/1 The area have so much to offer, and we decide to spend yet another day here. I catch up with slideshows of the Mozambique photos while Gry do her yoga. The air is full of the sound of birds. Especially the rude voice of the hornbills, which remains around the camp. A bit later, other birds and insects take over the watch.
The early morning offers a cool walk down to Swynnerton's old house, but this area is mainly plantations. The timber is cut to boards on site, minimising the transport. Despite the gum- and pine trees, we see some interesting plants and insects. Soon, the force of the sun can be felt, and we head back to camp. Gry study the local flora and fauna while I try to get the car to stay in one piece. The washing-board gravel roads have a way of loosening everything.
We spend the midday heat in an open rondawel, being watched by lizards on the half-wall. I catch up on the diaries and laundry, while Gry study on.

The afternoon is spend walking the long driveway to the entrance. The dense forest is filled with huge strangler figs, lianas and strange plants. We see insects, birds and monkeys. One of the strangler figs forms a tube with perfect grit walls, after its host have died and rotten away.
After several hours we return to camp, where we have company by some locals in a car with big
amplifiers and local African music. Not exactly what is on top of our wishing list! To add to the insult, they use the braai, sending over the most delicious smells of fried meat. I'm "looking forward" to a vegetarian noodles with little else. Cruel beyond any humanity!
We sit in the dark and chat for hours, watching the stars and fire-flies. Then a light drizzle start. We get to pack the car and retire to the tent, before the sky opens. Within minutes, we have massive rain and thunder right over our heads. We talk on, until I feel my but being wet. I have missed to close a zipper-window in the foot end, and we have around fifteen litres of water under the madras - and all in my side. I have to fall asleep with a cold and wet but, listening to the giggling of my co-driver and the continuing thunder. Not exactly an evening to remember, if you ask me - but hard to forget too.

The adventure continues in Part 2

                                                                       Map + Plan  Photos   Diary1 + 2