The national park near Nyanga is said to have been Cecil Rhodes favourite spot and by all accounts has fabulous hikes through lush green mountains with waterfalls, breath taking views and great trout fishing. We knew that these hikes would be out of bounds for us with a dog but we hoped that as the park is not home to many animals and has no predators, the rangers may turn a blind eye and allow us to stay for one night in their campsite with Bow Wow. However, they were not to be charmed and once again we found ourselves in the stressful situation of having to find alternative accommodation with less than an hour of daylight left. Blaming himself, Bow Wow felt horrendously bad about the whole thing and increasingly worse when we were turned away from a motel in the town of Nyanga which was fully booked and did not allow camping in their grounds. On hearing us discussing our last hope, which was to ask if we might stay at the local police station, the snooty receptionist reluctantly suggested that we try a place just out of town called Angler’s Rest but she definitely did not recommend it.
With a certain amount of trepidation we made for Angler's Rest which is perched on top of a hill in the heart of a small farming community. A really friendly drunk man wearing a floppy hat and clutching an unlabelled bottle of beer directed us through the maze of small brick houses (each with it's own impressive vegetable plot) to the slightly shabby motel.
There was no problem with Bow Wow here nor camping and so we put up our tent and gazed out across the valley to the dreamy blue mountains beyond.
When the clanking cows were brought home from better grazing ground, Bow Wow quickly made friends with the herds boys' dogs and played with them well after dark. We got an inkling of how it feels to be the worried parents of a rebellious teenager but thankfully, he didn't stray too far and every now and then we heard the the reassuring tinkle of the name tags on his collar.
Every morning people with umbrellas or pickaxes tossed over their shoulders traipsed past the barbed motel fence (it was there to keep the horribly thin cattle from eating the motel’s juicy grass). More than once the spectacle of Bow Wow flicking his ball in the air and dribbling drew an audience. “Serious! It knows soccer skills, it is very rare and funny!” the locals laughed who, being used to working dogs, appeared to have never seen anything quite like it.
We bought this strange vegetable called okra at a market in Rusape. The green pods which looked a bit like chilli peppers oozed a sticky goo when I chopped them up and the slices made these fabulous stars. I put them in a stew and they were delicious.
We met this group of kaleidoscopically patterned women on their way to collect donations from an AIDS charity. The little girl was called Prudence.
Julius, who is also HIV positive, explained that he receives $26 every 2 months from the same charity. His wife died of AIDS leaving him to care for their two young daughters. Out of the $26, he receives $4 per child. They all live with his sisters and their respective families in two small rooms and survive by growing all of their own fruit and vegetables. The government has given Julius acres of land and so he could grow much more and start a business but he has no money for fertiliser or seeds and so the land lies redundant.
Across Julius's fence we met a boy wearing a green Scotland top!
Julius kindly gave us a tour of his neighbourhood, introducing us to his friends and pointing out the various vegetables grown in the area. Maize and potatoes appeared to be most abundant but apples, lemongrass ("For flu."), nettles, okra (the green star slices mentioned above), mint and garlic ("Good like medicine.") were also plentiful.
In our quest to find products for Vagabond Van, Julius said that he would take us to meet some craftspeople in town.
We made very slow progress as we kept stopping to speak to Julius's curious friends.
So slow, that this tiny old lady over took us a few times.
Number three on the way.
Pre school posers.
It was full speed out of school for these knock kneed kids, stopping briefly to have their picture taken.
"How are you?" Prince asked. He is only two and a half years old and has already started school and can speak some english. His parents described him as a genius and gave us fruit called machange (not sure of the spelling) which they had gathered from a forest. We bit the tops off and sucked out the sweet flesh which tasted like creamy passion fruit.
We stopped at the Corner Cafe for sadza and relish with Julius, who unbelievably managed to pack away two enormous helpings of the cement like substance. Afterwards he thanked us, clapping his hands and saying “Mazvita hanyu.”. On our way to meet Nyanga’s local artists, the heavens opened (as they do every afternoon at this time of year) and we got seriously soggy. The crafts were all soap stone sculptures which, although masterfully carved, were no good for Vagabond Van.