Deserted best describes the region stretching between Beitbridge and Bulawayo: no traffic on an excellent road, none of the typical caravans of people walking and carrying heavy loads, no herds of animals. We passed one non-descript sad looking town but apart from that it was flat, parched countryside dotted with small trees and bushes that were about to lose their last dry leaves.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, is a friendly, sleepy town with wide streets and very little traffic, none of the bustle and hustle, noise and chaos of other large towns in Africa. Nevertheless, it offers all the amenities that other centers of population in the world do.
Needing supplies for the week we were about to spend in Matobo and Hwange National Park, we checked out one of the American style supermarkets. We found everything in the shelves that we could dream of, but the price tags differed little from European ones. Unsurprisingly, the army of employees stuffing shelves outnumbered the few customers.
In Bulawayo we also had our first meal in the country, a cheeseburger. Not that we like this kind of food, but this all-in-one Chicken Inn / Pizza Inn / Cream Inn restaurant chain dominates Zimbabwe’s cities. A copycat of McDonalds and Pizza Hut, it added cakes and ice creams to its menu. Prices are exorbitant: a family meal sells for 9 USD, a regular cheeseburger for 3.5 USD…
To find good, reasonable accommodation proved difficult in this city. A first attempt in a shady suburban street was aborted, when the owner wanted 100 USD for a dark, cold room. Why she did not offer us any of the cute little bungalows in the flowery garden, we do not know. It almost seemed she could not be bothered. The only backpacker hostel did not hear us ringing the bell, so we ended up in the grotty Grey’s Hotel for a mere 50 USD. The impressive Natural History Museum was worth the walk and introduced us to the country’s flora and fauna as well as its history.
In Bulawayo we also met up with Mabon, our travel companion for the next seven days. The ThornTree Forum of the Lonely Planet has proved again quite helpful finding fellow travellers to share the expenses for the car. Mabon stayed with us all the way to Victoria Falls. There, Jason, an American teacher, joined in. Jason and Heidi travelled together to Mozambique after Gilles returned home.