Matopos Park

17 Mar

I’ve no map or guidebook for Zimbabwe (way too expensive). I’m working with vague recollections of barstool conversations in Zambia and Bulawayo. What to do next, where to go… I remembered an elderly couple, who had been travelling Africa for decades, had said Matopos Park is their favourite spot of all. That’s plenty to go on.

I found the information bureau (IB) easily enough, but it was blocked off by military and police, who were surrounding the city hall, where Bob and Zimbabwe’s chiefs were getting together. I felt more conspicuous than usual as I wheeled my bags around the perimeter, looking for a way in. The side entrance to the IB was locked and blocked by a dozen armed military types lazing around in the shade. I thought I might as well try. I greeted and passed the guards, walked up to the side gate and reached through the bars blindly to find the the padlock hanging loose. Nobody seemed to care so I took out the padlock, opened the door and squeezed my bike through into the compound.

Still nobody seemed to care. I walked into the IB’s open door, where I found a couple of people sitting at their 1980’s computers and 1920’s cash tills. I asked for some information on Matopos Park.
“How did you get in here?”
“The side door was open. I saw the guards but they didn’t care.”
“Where are you from?”
“Near Dublin.” (sudden appearance of dodgy Irish lilt)
“Oh, I’ve got a sister/brother/ex-lover who works in Dublin.” (they would have worked in Cork had I lied about being from there instead, to be sure)
“Have you now. That’s nice. Nice place. I’m riding to Matopos Park today, you know.”
An old, posh-white Zimbabwean woman came out from behind her desk. “On that bicycle? You can’t ride there in one day!”
“Ok, why not?”
She told me it was too far, too bumpy, too hilly, there’s not enough water and finally, no toilet roll. She was being a retard. But she did give me a free $2 map* because she couldn’t change $10. And she gave me some information on the place, I was going to see Cecil Rhodes’ grave, at the ‘View of the World’.

I was off to Matopos. Food, 5 litres of water and some bog roll in tow. 55km down the road, the scenery hadn’t changed much. There was nothing on the road. No people, no fruit or veg, no bars, no water. That was a bit disconcerting for future riding.

Once inside the park ($15) the landscape changes. Thousands of balancing boulders like giant molars teeter high on smooth hill sized rocks, which are speckled with luminous green, blue and orange moss. Black trees and pale, light plains are wedged between.

There are cave paintings dotted around, according to my map. I went to see the ‘white rhino’ cave. There are still white rhino roaming somewhere in here, but not many. I left my bike behind a bush to follow a track. Cycling shoes aren’t great for climbing rocks. They give you a choice of climbing on your heels, on your toes, or on ice skates. I ran through high grass mindful of snakes and lost the path a couple of times on the rocky hillsides. A rock hyrax(? – oversized, probably man-eating gerbil) ran across my path as I climbed. After about 20 minutes I found the overhang with the best cave paintings I’ve ever seen. Little red men in a line doing the splits, chasing a white rhino and wildebeest. Very well illustrated, I thought. The picture here is one I found on the net of a less impressive cave in Matopos.

This link has a better pic of part of the paintings I saw:

Further into the Matopos is a sign pointing towards Rhodes’ grave**. Cecil had requested to be buried in a hole cut out of the rock high up on a lookout he liked to call the ‘View of the World. It’s another $10 to hike up there, but the vast panoramic view of the toothy landscape is worth it.

The lonely warden who lives there at the entrance told me that I wouldn’t be eating my packed lunch alone up on the rock – If I made kissing noises and tapped the floor, Jenny and Susan would come and join me, he said. Complete nutcase.

Once he’d finished making kissing noises and tapping his desk I headed up. And as soon as I sat down in the shade under a boulder and opened my lunchbox I knew what he meant. Around sixty skinks, big and small, came running towards me and my bags, pushing their luck but not actually climbing on anything. He didn’t describe Jenny and Susan so I can’t say that I lunched with them, but I chucked the last of my T-bone into the fray and they fought, spun and tumbled with it, some leaping from up high down onto the T-bone like basejumpers.

The posh old Zimbabwean woman from the IB was right about one thing. Water was an issue. I rode the last 30km on 500ml of water. Very thirsty business in the hot sun.

Peter Gostelow had been in contact, he was just up the road heading to Antelope Park, where he’d been offered a free, fully comp stay, and he’d invited me to join him there. I told a cyclist who had joined me on the road from Matopos Park and she was surprised when I told her I hadn’t heard about Antelope Park. Apparently it’s Africa’s premier lion sanctuary, and you can walk around with the bloody things. Next stop Antelope Park. Who needs a guidebook, anyway?

* The British-sounding places and roads in Zimbabwe are being given more traditional names (such as ‘Robert Mugabe Rd – the High St. in every big town) to eradicate such evidence of the British colonial rule. The map shows the park used to be called ‘Rhodes Matopos Park’, but ‘Rhodes’ has been ‘blacked out’ with a marker pen (an unfortunate term I used when I pointed this out to some guys).
**Some grave robbers had recently tried to rip it up.


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