The late-night crossing into Zimbabwe
After our last blog of yesterday, a group of our partners from Esteq were waiting for us at our first refuelling point of the journey in Johannesburg. They had a treat waiting for us to grab - a MacDonald's meal for the three of us!
With the Touareg and team all refuelled, we got back on the road for another 4 hours. At 3am, we crossed into Zimbabwe, and what an instant difference to South Africa. It feels like with just one border crossing, we have entered the 'real' Africa.
The border itself was an eye-opener for me. Even at 3am, it was full of hundreds of people standing in long queues for a succession of officials each of whom needed to fill in a form, or stamp a document, or issue a pass, generally taking a few dollars each time in exchange. All in all, it was almost 2 hours to make the crossing. Rainer and Marius tell me that this is one of the well-organised border points in Africa...
Finally getting on our way, the difference in road conditions from South Africa is startling. After being able to spend hours maintaining a comfortable 120kph as we did yesterday, the Zimbabwean roads are narrow with vicious potholes and patchwork road repairs to test the Touareg's suspension to the limits. Add to that the many donkeys, cows and goats grazing right on the edge of the road and regularly wandering out in front of the traffic, plus police check-points every 30km, and overall it's a difficult set of road conditions. This means that our average speed has probably halved since crossing the border.
With rain from the border crossing through to sunrise this morning (very unusual here in Zimbabwe), it is now drying out and warming up as we approach the end of the first 24 hours of our adventure. It's amazing for me to start witnessing the real Africa for the first time. All along the road are dotted small round thatched huts and rough block buildings that can only be the size of one room. Locals all seem to be carrying big bags on their heads or in wheelbarrows along the sides of the road. Overloaded, ancient trucks and buses fill the roads.
We have just stopped briefly in the small town of Mazarire. With hundreds of smiling, curious faces all around the Touareg, loud music from the shops, and fruit and veg stalls laid out on the pavement, this definitely feels like we're entering the warm and colourful heart of Africa.
We expect to hit the Zambian border at around 17:00 this afternoon, and will update you again on our progress later.