Thursday, May 31, 2012


After catching a bit of actual city life in Harare last weekend - African music and a few jam sessions, the works - and not nearly enough bananas on the plantation, I headed out of the city on a crammed minibus around 7:30 on Sunday morning.

Squished in the passenger seat with my guitar and two more passengers, overland it went through the tiny town of Rusape to the even more remote Juliasdale. Apple country! I tumbled out the minibus with all my bags more or less on top of about a dozen ladies trying to sell me bags of different varieties: "Green Apple! Two Dollar! Fuji! Two Dollar!" I fought my way out of apples being shoved into my face, marvelled for a moment at the lush, green, forest-covered hills surrounding the place and crossed the street  to the hotel where I was meeting my next host, Rob. (I had been worried about finding the right place, but in a town that consists of a hotel, a gas station and a tiny supermarket, the hotel is pretty easy to find.)

Beautiful country, flat top acacias 

As it turns out, Rob is running the Ben Gula project, aiming to restore a piece of land in Nyanga to its original flora (rather than the pines and gum trees that have taken over), and more importantly building a de-colonized community organized by tribal principles, rather than European structures. So far, it's just him and his best friend Kevin, both Zimbabwean war vets, living in a stunningly beautiful valley near the sacred Susurumba mountain and getting things rolling - Rob has long hair and a big beard and looks like he came straight from the 70s, Kev just returned three weeks ago after living in SA for 35 years.

Sunday I spent recovering from my journey, with some delicious food prepared by Kevin, a bit of walking on the marvellous rocks, and an explanation by Rob on how he became one of only two white chiefs in Zimbabwe.

Nyanga looks too much like Europe!

Rob on the trampoline
On Monday, I got taken on a tour of Nyanga district. They used to have a flourishing tourism business which is now mostly derelict; we stopped by the recently reopened Rhodes Hotel, Cecil Rhodes' former residence, and were served the worst tea and scones I've had in my life. But they did have a trampoline.
 And Nyanga city had dusty roads, delicious sadza ne nyama for just a dollar fifty, and no other white person in sight.

The next day Rob and I went to explore what he calls the "fort", an amazing assembly of ancient stone structures tucked away between the rocks in the mountains. The vegetation up there in the shade is the most jungle-like I've seen during all of my travels, and the ruins are mysterious and almost magical. Three rings of fortification, filled with circular foundations of something - gold mining basins? Houses? At this point, no one knows.

See the stone rings in the jungle?

Finally I went on a trip to Honde valley with Kevin. Across a mountain pass from Juliasdale the climate is completely different, warm, tropical. Mozambique starts on the other side of the valley, and the rocks are full of gold-carrying veins of quartz.
Crossing the Honde river, note the quartz in the rock
To the Kraal
This is prime banana growing land, and the bananas we bought at the side of the road were tiny and delicious! We came to deliver some wood to the family of a friend of Rob's - they live in a proper round hut up in the mountains, with a traditional kitchen hut next door and a giant turkey gobbling in the yard.

 We also visited the friend's son at his school out there, and  us two white people were the excitement of about 50 little black children - first they kept running off and giggling as soon as we moved, then they got very excited about my camera and all tried to cram into one picture with Kev.

Kevin + a bunch of school kids

While I stayed at Susurumba, in the shaded valley by the river, I really didn't want to leave - it feels like home! I even introduced the community to some of my fermentation projects - the local women will be making Sauerkraut from now on - and started some Susurumba sourdough. Alas, the two of them are heading to Victoria falls this weekend, change of plans, and I'm heading out towards Mozambique tomorrow. This is going to be interesting, my Portuguese will be put to the test for real now.

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