Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Bulawayo and Ancient Bushman Cave Paintings. (March 2-4)

Current Location: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Highlights: Ancient Bushman cave paintings at the Matobos National Park
Upcoming: The Great Zimbabwe Ruins and a focus on the artists who make soapstone sculptures.
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 20 10 72 LONG: E 28 33 52

As I write this I am practically buzzing with excitement, unfortunately I can't tell you why I am so excited as it will be the topic of the next diary entry so you will have to wait until then. OK with that said, this diary entry should also be packed with fun stuff and mixed emotions.

We arrived in Bulawayo and headed for the municipal campsite, a bargain at Z$100 each (=US$2.60) as its very clean and has hot showers. Our original plan was to spend just one night in Bulawayo, do laundry, then spend a few days in the Matobos Park before heading off to the Great Zim Ruins, and then onto Harare to get VISAs. However it didn't quite work out like this. After our one night we went into town to get laundry done. The weather had been so wet for the past month that we couldn't wash cloths as we couldn't dry them and we both had only "recycled" cloths (=smelly dirty cloths) left.
We found a laundry place that would wash, dry, and fold the cloths for the bargain price of Z$80 a load (=US$2). So while we were waiting we found a nice coffee shop and treated ourselves to a cappuchino and cake! It was so nice to go back and pick up clean cloths that smelt good, what a treat!

We headed off to Matobos Park the next morning. We found that most of the park was closed because of flooding and that entry fee was US$20 each with additional US$5 each for camping, plus US$2 each to see any of the historical sites in the park. This was too much and more than our dwindling budget could handle. We had already skipped Hwange Park because the entrance fees were beyond our means and now it looked like we were going to have to skip another major highlight because of the cost. We had a little talk and found that we could get a special day passes into the park for US$10 each so decided to head back into Bulawayo for the night and to return very early the next day. The major attractions in the park include several
caves with very well preserved ancient bushman paintings (up to 60 000 years old), balancing rock formations, Cecil John Rhodes grave at the "View of the World" site and Africa's highest density of black eagles and leopards.

We returned to Bulawayo and spent the afternoon in the craft market where I bought some more soapstone sculptures. I have great fun negotiating the price of these pieces with the locals I must say. In the middle of one such negotiation, Aaron returned from a bakery with a HUGE sausage in a roll. I then decided that I was hungry and wanted one of these sausages. Aaron's eyes were actually larger than his belly so he gave me the tail end of his second sausage roll. At the doorway to the bakery a little kid (one of the many street kids) asked for some food. My immediate reaction was to give this poor little guy the rest of the roll I had. But then I thought no, I
had already debated this issue of begging and how to handle requests for handouts. My decision was to not support begging. But how could I say no to this poor little street urchin? I bought my roll and left the shop walking past the little kid. I couldn't stop thinking about this poor little kid and how my rational decision not to give handouts was wrong. So I went back to the kid and told him that if he would wash the lights (headlights etc) on the Landy, I would give him my empty coke bottle (to get the deposit) and I would give him some money too. His eyes lit up and we walked over the Landy, as we did, he told me to be careful of some kids who were hanging
around the Landy as they had been sniffing glue. Sure enough, when they approached me, I could smell strong glue fumes. I won't go into this now, as I want to write a somewhat shocking piece on glue sniffing here. I gave him the bottle and he said he needed to get some water (in the fountain over the road), so I left him to it. I returned about 15 mins later only to see the poor little urchin trying to clean the whole car with his hand and water form the coke bottle which he would have to refill every few minutes by crossing a busy road. I told him that he didn't have to wash the whole car
just the lights (which he had done already), but I asked him to look after the car while we were at the craft market which he gladly agreed to do.

When we finally returned I paid him and he walked away down the street in bare feet and ragged cloths with a huge smile on his face. I have thought him many times since and wonder what he is up too.

We stayed that night in the municipal campground and headed off to Matobos Park the next day, paid the entrance fees and went in. We visited Cecil John Rhodes grave at the View of the World which is a site where you have a quite spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding park. We then drove to the bottom of the park to try and navigate the dirt roads, that were technically closed because of flooding, so we could get to one of the best preserved caves with Bushman art. The roads were indeed impassable (see pics below) so we hiked the 10 mile round trip journey to the caves (see pics below of the art). This one cave amazed me. It had provided shelter to people for tens of thousands of years and some of the those people, the
San or Bushmen, had decorated the walls with paintings. This was probably before the time of stone age man, and before the time of any civilization.

I just stood there and tried to picture and imagine what this cave had experienced in he thousands of years it had stood. To give you an idea of the human activity the cave had seen, early archaeologists had excavated almost 2 meters of ash from what must have been 1000s and 1000s of fires from the cave floor. We left the park with a different perspective. I am not sure in what way different, just different.

We spent another night at the camp site and headed off the next day to The Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo. These ruins are the largest remnants of a huge ancient civilization that covered most of southern Africa. Like many ancient ruins, their origin and the people who built it remain largely and enigma.

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