The Holiday from Hell

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

logo MITHA few weeks ago a group of enthusiastic bridge players decided to enter the annual Manicaland Bridge Contest held at Nyanga in the Zimbabwean Eastern Highlands.


To get there it was decided to hire a bus for, as someone pointed out, you cannot fly there unless you have your own helicopter, and the roads being what they are we might as well travel together rather than in separate cars.


The bus proved to be a trifle problematic, the air con did not work and for some of us large cripples there was no room to sit down. The former was sorted by having opened windows, the latter by removing a row of seats. Away we went but the excitement was so much that the ladies had to have a pee break in Kafue. At Chirundu there was a problem with the bus and driver’s papers and we were held up in the bus for a couple of hours where, open windows or not, we roasted. There is a new “One Stop System at the border. Going south you cross over the Zambezi on a new bridge and enter a building in which both Zambian and Zimbabwean officials are housed. It all looks very efficient until one sees, on both sides of the border, serried ranks of trucks, awaiting clearance. Eventually  we managed to carry on with lots of road blocks and immigration checks, only to arrive in Harare after dark with but the faintest idea as to how to get to our lodgings. These turned out to be in Borrowdale at a posh guest house, all very nice, but, be warned, all very expensive. The following day saw us intrepid travelers  reach our destination, the Rhodes Nyanga Hotel, best kindly described as rustic, but at least the sheets were clean, the water hot and the beer cold.


The following morning saw 30 pairs of bridge players get started on the competition, at the end of the morning one pair from Zambia was ahead. To my shame we were in 23rd position. The afternoon session saw us improve our position by but one place and it was a relief to retire to the bar, to provide my long suffering  partner with a glass of wine, myself a beer and sit by the log fire. October it might be but in them there hills it was cold. It was during dinner that it was noticed that a large group of bold eyed ladies from Harare, freed from husbands, children and other earthly cares for the bridge weekend were hell bent on a party. I was accosted by one lass, clutching a bottle of tequila in one hand, salt and a slice of lemon in the other, who insisted on me having a shot, “Mexican Style”. The evening took on an interesting slant, one that I was very wisely removed from by the Madam before any further damage to my faculties could occur.


Breakfast in the morning was a very quiet affair and saw many players a trifle worse for wear. My sobriety did not help my play one jot and our position relapsed back to 23rd. We concluded the competition by lunch time so that the afternoon could be spent at the Troutbeck Hotel where some of us played golf and others took a long walk round the lake ready for a celebration dinner. How the hotel keeps going, heaven only knows, it is beautiful but expensive and empty!


The following day saw us retreat, back to Harare, to witness the obscene wealth displayed at Sam Levy’s village, a shopping mall where only the really affluent can shop, in direct contrast to the poverty and wrecked agricultural economy in the rural areas. In times gone past the rural occupants of Rhodesia were always much better dressed than our own people. No longer is this the case and it is yet another indicator of how the economy has been wrecked. The next day we continued homewards, our journey enlivened by Toll Gates and road blocks, all looking for an excuse to be authoritive.  Through Karoi we went and stopped on its outskirts at the Twin Rivers motel for yet another pee and stretch your legs break and that is when the memories of the holiday experienced 40 years ago came flooding back.


It had all started so well;  I had booked rooms with the Meikles group of hotels in Fort Victoria, Umtali, Salisbury and on Lake Kariba for a grand tour round Rhodesia just after Christmas. My Austin Westminster was in perfect condition and there was plenty of room to take the Madam and the three girls, the youngest of which was but 6 months old.  Funds awaited me at Barclays Bank in Salisbury. We were to escort the wife and children of a friend on the way down. We left Kalulushi at “Sparrowfart” and before we really knew it had arrived at the Makuti motel in time for a late breakfast and a long swim whilst it was being prepared. This took a bit of time but was well worth waiting for. A large elliptical plate was covered with eggs, bacon, steak, mushrooms etc and it was just the job for a hungry long distance traveler. This used to be the preferred stop for all Copperbelt Miners on their way down to Durban for their Christmas holidays. After leaving the Copperbelt at midnight a stop was made here for breakfast before roaring down the road through and out of Rhodesia to get to the night stop at the Lala Panzi motel down toward Pietersburg.  The dawn would then see them push on down to the sundry delights of the Rydallmount Hotel on the Durban beachfront. We were not so adventurous and when all were fed, watered and done with the pool we drove down to stay at the SinoiaCaves motel for the night.


The following day we went on down through Salisbury, a minor aggravation occurred at the bank but the holiday spirit prevailed and we reached FortVictoria without incident. The hotel there was really nice, they were forever feeding us and it was a pleasure to sit on the stoop to watch the world pass by whilst having a cold sundowner beer or two. Cold beer was the order of the day because it was very hot. The rains were late and we had been asked by the farmers manning the road blocks on the way down whether we had seen any. Alas, we had not.


The following day we went out to the Kyle Dam and to see the White Rhinos there. Our enjoyment began to be affected then by two things, the baby got sick and I got toothache. Over the New Year period there was no dentist available which did not really matter because all our time was taken up by dunking the baby in basins of cold water trying to get her temperature down. The crisis was over in the New Year and we set off for Umtali with a cheerful baby but the driver still with his throbbing tooth. A word of warning here, there is one thing worse than toothache and that is a hangover with toothache. As we drove along the Madam noticed something, the baby had come out in a wonderful rash. A doctor was the first port of call; he confirmed that the morsel had got German Measles and should be quarantined.  A plea made and it was agreed that we should remove ourselves to somewhere on the way home where there was no risk of the baby coming into contact with pregnant ladies! The next port of call was to a dentist. Luckily a sadist was found and the tooth pulled, leaving a big gap in the front upper jaw. It turned out to be handy as you could jam a cigarette there when you needed both hands for other tasks.


The Meikles group of hotels was very understanding, we stayed the night in isolation, the next in isolation at the old Meikles Hotel where our meals were served in the rooms. We were then dispatched, like plague carriers on our way to Karoi where we were allowed to stay at the Twin Rivers Motel. We got there, unpacked, the kids were in for a swim and I, the pain from the tooth gone at last, could relax by the pool. Stupid me, I fell asleep and got the most horrendous case of sunburn! As such I was not in a good mood when the Madam came to tell me that the bedroom was flooded because the toilet had been jammed up by disposable nappies.


It was a couple of days later when all the hassle had died down and we were actually starting to enjoy the holiday that a police motorcyclist drove up to the Motel. He informed me that Ian Smith had just shut the border. No one was allowed in but they were still allowing people to leave. His advice was to go as soon as possible because, for sure, Zambia will shut its border in retaliation. I took his advice, packed Madam and kids into the car and headed out, crossing the border without trouble. The next day Zambia did indeed shut the border and a lot of people were trapped for a considerable time before a Red Cross amnesty was arranged to repatriate them. It was to be another 5 years or so before the border was reopened.


Kalulushi had changed upon our return. The rains had come and the whole town had gone lush and green and the temperature had dropped a lot. I was so glad to get home and put the whole holiday experience behind me. What a mess, but it could have been so much worse. If the quack in Umtali had insisted on the baby staying in quarantine in Umtali we would have been caught up in the border closure fracas. Upon mature reflection it was not a good idea to take a touring holiday with small kids, especially when it was so hot. Rooms and motor cars did not have air conditioning in those days. I suppose you have to do it to learn by your mistakes, sometimes it is necessary but I always feel sorry for parents travelling by air (or anywhere else for that matter)with small children.


Now, 40 years on, I spent a few moments, checking the rooms at the back of the Motel. The pool was gone, all was very dusty and shabby, time has not been kind to the motel and the bar, which had been very pleasant, now had a pool table stuck in the middle of it. No one had any knowledge of Rufus, the previous owner in a long gone age. The bus bore us away from the motel but I spent much of the remainder of the journey home reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in the time that we have been in Zambia. This helped me to retain my patience when, after a long drive from Harare we arrived, just in time to partake in the evening traffic jam at the South End roundabout , the negotiation of which added the best part of another hour to get to where we had parked our own cars in Kabulonga.

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