Darlington was going to drop us of at Mbare bus station. For some reason, some days before, he had, temporarily, changed his battered Renault 4 for a newer but less sturdy Daewoo. It meant that we had to wait a while before leaving, Darlington first having to fix the cooling system of the car.
If you’ve ever been to an African bus station, you know about the chaos. Mbare was no exception. It took a while before we found the ‘platform’ to Masvingo where three big buses were waiting to fill up. After some deliberation, we selected the least dirty one.
I was expecting to have to wait hours for the bus to fill up but to my surprise, ours was the first to leave, before it was even half full. A pleasant surprise, considering how packed a bus these people are still comfortable with.
Our first stop was going to be Masvingo, close to Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe are the largest ruins in Africa south of the Egyptian pyramids. Masvingo, however, is uninspiring. We stayed at the Backpackers rest, a hostel run by Zimbabweans in ‘downtown’ Masvingo. Mildly clean but cheap and a mini English breakfast was included in the price. When, in our room, we opened the curtains, we stared right into the next room, a dorm for girls who all wanted to use the bathroom at the same time, before going to bed later in the evening, running around and screaming like a bunch of headless chickens.
Basically your only other option in town is the Chevron hotel, no doubt built in the 70s with too much dark wood, a sterile environment and way too expensive, but with an affordable bar and a reasonable restaurant where some arcane leftover sign still forbids shorts and slippers after 7pm. It’s where we waited the next evening, after visiting Great Zimbabwe, before heading out to Shell City, some six kilometers out of town, from where our bus to Johannesburg would depart, just before 12 at night.
We made it our first priority to arrange our departure, obtaining bus tickets for the next leg of our journey. Walking on the street, a young schoolgirl asked if we were, perhaps, willing to sponsor her. She was carrying a tattered piece of paper with a small list of people who had given her some money to get through school or by stationary: 50 dollars, 100 dollars, another 50 dollars. One euro, then, was worth some 6500 Zim dollars. I gave the girl 500 dollars, some 8 cents, and she thanked me by making a little bow and clapping in her hands.
Earlier, the girl posing as receptionist at the Backpackers rest, told us we could get tickets at ‘the Pink Pigeon’, something of a chicken restaurant, very close to the hostel. Inside, we asked a waiter about this and were directed to a table, occupied by what looked like four huge thugs eating rice and chicken. They turned out to be bus drivers and we could leave immediately for Johannesburg if we wanted to.
Still wanting to visit Great Zimbabwe, we thanked them and decided to go for the slightly more organized option of getting our ticket at the towns (only) travel agent.