Archimedes famously said, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” But sometimes taking the long way, the more circuitous unknown route, is what feeds our soul and excites our imagination.
For us, this trip was a necessity; it was really a commute home. After two years of working on a documentary series in Mozambique, we needed to get our film car back to Nairobi. The straight line would have taken us directly north through Mozambique, crossing into Tanzania and then up to Kenya. We had done this route before, so this time we decided to take a detour through Zimbabwe and Zambia where we planned to explore several National Parks along the way.
Preparing for an overland journey of 2,500 miles through Africa can be daunting. The most critical element is the vehicle, and Bob made sure that our Land Rover Defender was in the best possible condition for the long safari. Our vehicle was our mode of transportation and our home. We had a roof-top tent, provisions, a refrigerator, kitchen box, stove, dual batteries, two spare tires, jerry cans of water, extra diesel, a wrench, shovel, high lift jack, vehicle spares, a first aid kit, satellite phone, maps and a GPS.
When on the road, we had a couple “rules” that we tried not to break: drive slowly and never drive after dark. In Africa, the “roads” (sometimes that word is a stretch) are full of hazards: cows, goats, dogs, bicycles, people carrying loads of everything imaginable, broken down vehicles, broken tarmac, overloaded trucks and buses speeding like there’s no tomorrow.
On the first day of our journey, we left Vilanculos, Mozambique at daybreak and headed west to an infrequently used border crossing called Sango. Our friends in Vilanculos suggested this 200-mile long sand track because they knew we preferred to take the road less traveled. And they were right. We passed one vehicle in two days and relied heavily on our four-wheel-drive. At the border post, we were greeted as if we were long lost friends. Everyone helped us and pleaded for us to stay longer in Mozambique.
We continued into Gonarezhou National Park, the name meaning “Place of Elephants” in the Shona language. There are an estimated 10,000 elephants living in this vast wilderness, which is protected by rangers funded by the Frankfurt Zoological Society. Due to the escalation of ivory poaching that is fueled primarily by demand in China, elephants are in serious trouble across Africa. The rangers here take their jobs very seriously. We had the park to ourselves, especially given the time of year when temperatures hover around 100˚F.
While in Gonarezhou, we decided to take an even longer route to Kenya and continue west toward the city of Bulawayo. About 20 miles south of Bulawayo is Matoba National Park, where we camped along the edge of a small lake. Matoba reminded us of the southwestern US, with its incredible geologic features, granite kopjes and San rock art paintings created over 2,000 years ago. It is also said to have a high concentration of leopard; however, we weren’t lucky enough to see one while there. The famous English imperialist, Cecil Rhodes’ grave is located at the top of a granite outcropping known as World’s View. A group of school children on a field trip joined us for the climb to the summit, excited to meet people from America!
Our next stop was Hwange National Park, which is the largest wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe. We’d always wanted to see this immense area that is known for its abundant wildlife, with over 100 different mammal species alone. Plus, there are great campsites for self-drivers that are located near watering holes or pans. We camped at Ngweshia, a lovely shaded respite close to a pan.
While Bob was putting the rooftop tent up, a young bull elephant peacefully grazed on a tree just yards away. That evening we were entertained by the sounds of elephants splashing, drinking, trumpeting and enjoying the refreshing water and cooler night temperatures. Camping in the bush is a wonderful experience, and sleeping outside in a tent gives one the opportunity to experience nature in an intimate way. We were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the night: the “cawing” of a bush baby, the squeaking of fruit bats, the lilting vocalization of a hyena, and the deep resonating roar of a lion. At the first appearance of light, the dawn chorus of birds is truly one of nature’s most magnificent spectacles.
With Victoria Falls in our sights, we headed northeast through Hwange, which took us to the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Upon arrival in Victoria Falls, we ducked out of the pulsing, commercial tourism center and escaped to the tranquility and solitude of Zambezi National Park. The park’s northern boundary is the great Zambezi River, Africa’s fourth longest. The park has several undeveloped bush campsites, so we pitched up at one that was situated on the banks of the great river. With a rainbow’s beautiful spectrum of light in the distance, and the lonely call of a fish eagle, we enjoyed our drinks and made plans for the next day.