We dropped Bob off at Hwange airport and travelled back to Mlibizi for a further night at the Rest Camp. The following day we had to pick up some supplies from the supermarket as we were to self cater for three days. Then we travelled the long road from Manjolo to Siabuwa. It was such a long way that Willy asked whether I wanted to drive. It was the first time I had driven on the sandy roads and I found it difficult at first. Not only was I not used to the skidding of the Land Rover on the soft sand, but we were heavily laden down with all our equipment. Judith and I had our suitcases, which were heavy but compact, but the amount of camping equipment Willy and Knowledge had was incredible. Whoever says that Africans know how to travel light had never seen Tsetse Control employees move around. There was the tents, the stools, the pots and pans, loads of food, sticks, poles, bags of clean and dirty washing (even though Willy always seemed to wear the same white shirt and blue suit). If I started to skid the weight in the back of the van acted as a pendulum. Most of the time it was OK as the road was wide enough to veer from side to side, but where rivers crossed our path the bridges were confined to single track and I was in danger of going through the metal crash barriers that guided you in. After the first fifteen minutes I began to get the hang of it and was able to drive on for most of the eighty or so miles to Siakobvu. I was quite tired as we approached the little town. Like Binga, this was more an administrative centre than a naturally formed settlement, but it was busy with people conducting their business or heading in or out of town. We went to the main administrative block and got our instructions for the house where Judith and I were to stay. We had to double back slightly then turn off on to a road which wound down a steep wooded hill towards to Ume River. Half way down set in an alcove against a rocky cliff was the most fabulous looking lodge. A one-storey building with a perfectly thatched roof that overhung a terrace that ran the full length of the house front. A small neat wall ran along the gravel roadside with one small break where steps led up to the front door. To one side was a tinned-roof lean to containing bathroom and kitchen and beyond a small concrete backyard with washing line and a few overgrown pots for plants. Hanging over the terrace was a screen of bauhinias, growing out of the thatch and draping down to the floor.
Not only did the house look fantastic, but its setting was equally good. Sheltered by massive trees with great buttressed trunks, a small opening in front of the house gave a marvellous prospect across the Ume Valley into the Matusadona National Park at the other side. From the shade of the trees, the valley looked bleached but you could make out the smoke rising from the various settlements down near the river and the more continuous forest on the far side.
The DC’s house had a warden who seemed to be cook, valet and guard all rolled into one. I am sure he would have done our laundry had we had need. He spoke little English but we got along quite well. His cooking skills were geared towards local foods, such as sadsa and more sadsa, so he was a little lost with the tinned goods we had brought, but he kept us sustained for the few days we were there. Knowledge and Willy were staying at the tsetse camp at the foot of the hill so they made their excuses and headed off.
We had two bedrooms and had to set up our own mosquito nets that we had borrowed from some colleagues in NRI. I had great fun setting up mine. There was a hook in the centre of my bedroom and I was able to hang the rectangular frame from it and drape the net around it. Judith’s room had no hook and she had to make a jury rig, tying the corners of the net to anything she could find – a nail on the wall, the curtain rail, the doorframe. The rooms were very basic with a dusty concrete floor scattered with insect faeces. The living room was Spartan save for a couple of wooden chairs and a table. There was no electricity and among our lack of preparedness we had no candles. A few wax stumps in holders were all we had, but Judith and I were very industrious making candles out of melting the wax around some string I had in my suitcase. Even so, we found ourselves retiring to bed about 8:30 as there was little else we could do. We didn’t even have any beer.
I always kept a bale of string in my suitcase on those early trips, along with two other items; a penknife and a toilet roll. Everything else could go out of the window, but as long as I had those essential items, I could live anywhere. The loo paper, beyond its obvious application (where my own supply was essential in some places), acted as writing material, blood stopper, dishcloth and hankie. The string was a washing line, something to keep your trousers up, good for tying, and of course a wick for a candle. The knife was for making all these things, as well as having a bottle opener as I never quite mastered the African trick of opening one beer bottle with the top of another.
We would have slept well that night except that we shared the cliff edge with a large family of baboons. We were very aware of their presence as soon as we arrived, some younger ones were playing in the garden while their parents sat attentively from the branches of bushes above. I spent much of my spare time watching their antics. It was unnerving when they were not around as you could not be sure where they would appear from. I’d see them all troop across the road, some sitting back on their haunches in the middle and watching our movements intently. They would rustle about in the trees, fight and chatter just a few feet from the house. We were obviously just visitors and they were the residents. I realised this was the case when they started throwing stones at my window at daybreak. There was no glass in the window, only wire netting, but it still made a frightening clatter that would start me into consciousness.