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South of capricorn title
FOUR THOUSAND MILES NORTH AND SOUTH OF Capricorn, in fact only 3,724 but through four countries, in and out of the tropics, five times below 2,000 feet and twice above 6,000. This made up our Easter holiday trip of twenty-seven days. The car was a 1954 30h.p. Chevrolet saloon just turning 90,000 miles and the van a Gypsey III 4/5 berth, made in South Africa, a sturdy 1,920lb unladen with solid axle beam and strengthened (by European standards) suspension. It is l7ft. 3m. overall, with the body l4ft. x 6ft. 6in. All windows and skylights were fitted with fly screens and the Venetian blinds on the windows helped keep her cool, as did the polished aluminium exterior (the almost universal treatment in Africa).
The Gypsey , South African-built version of the Thomson Glenalmond , was well built and also dust-proof, another essential feature.
With a centre-kitchen, and double dinette at the front end and twin single beds at the rear, she was just right for the two of us and our small boys aged three and a half and two. An internal closet would have been impracticable for towing,


and we decided to do without a refrigerator, as the gas supply (bottled) would be turned off on the run.
An ice-chest, a shovel, folding stools and table (virtually all daylight meals were taken out of doors), fly spray, spare wheel and jack for the caravan were well-used extras. The collapsible awning which we were too lazy to take we regretted only once, during the three-day stop at the Victoria Falls. At £10 10s. a week plus £1 3s. for a 2Olb. gas cylinder the van did us well. Where did we park? With small children and a desire for a good wash for ourselves every night we decided against stopping Out in the "bundu". Remember, too, that bathing or washing in all but fast-flowing mountain streams is unwise, lakes and rivers in this part of Africa are bilharzia-riclden. In some areas, farms are plentiful but only rarely are the farmhouses near the main roads. Though in most cases we were sure we would have been welcome, we generally baulked at either unhitching the van or driving with it up a rough twisty farm track for a mile or two with the chance of a "no" at the end.
What other choice was there ? In some cases, grounds of friends' houses, gardens are more spacious in Africa. Easter, for instance, found us close in to the centre of Salisbury, a city with over 250,000 people. Helpful hotels or motels where we hired a pitch and the use of bathroom and lavatory for 10s. or so a night were another answer. Only once did we come across a distinctly hostile motel to whom we were "unfair competition." Best of all, however, were the official (municipal or government) sites, Zimbabwe, Umtali , Victoria Falls, Matopo Hills (Bulawayo) in particular.
There are rough grass surfaces, reasonably short and level with trees left here and there, and, in the case of the Matopos, round the edge of the Maleme Dam lake. Baths and showers with running hot and cold water and flush lavatories in central blocks; water taps at several points and plenty of firewood for use on the rough hearths out in the open, all for 2s. or so per adult per night. Not one of them was crowded, partly perhaps because we were a little early, the six-month long rainy season was only just ending. The occasional showers kept us cool, however, and kept the dust down, though once or twice we had some difficult patches of "dirt" road, by "dirt" I mean the many kinds of earth or gravel surface.

south of Capricorn

The National roads in South Africa (say, from Johannesburg to Beit Bridge at the border) are broad, 20ft. of tar with wide, useful "dirt" shoulders. The Rhodesian main roads are getting that way but much has yet to be done. On these, speeds of 50 m.p.h. are safe, easy and necessary, if one is to cover the distances. Good broad "dirt" roads like that from Lusaka in Livingstone (half of it also tarred) gave the same reliable service.
Between Beit Bridge and Fort Victoria we had the worst of all, the good old Rhodesian strips-twin tarred strips 2ft. wide designed for the two wheel tracks. The van wheels were a little wider apart so the driver had to concentrate hard to keep the inside edge of the right-hand strip between his or her legs, an old and gratefully used tip.
The early contractors are, no doubt libellously , reputed to have taken advantage of payment per mile completed, hence the winding and twisting nature of their roads.
Narrow 9ft. tar strips or "dirt" made up the rest, with the inevitable deviations across the open "bundu", where road works were in progress. Generally, however, there were reasonable surfaces and reasonable standards of maintenance, though we were glad to have had plenty of practice without the van before venturing forth.

Distances were considerable, at least by English standards. We had set out, however, for a holiday not an endurance test and the most we ever did in one day (the first, in fact) was 275 miles and that at an average speed of more than 35 mph. We "posted" from point to point on fifteen out of the twenty-seven days. Reasonable comfort we also sought with a cooked midday meal bought at a hotel or motel or "sponged" off friends. Motels were quite plentiful, so were petrol filling stations. The cost of ordinary grade petrol varied from 3s. 4d. to 4s. 4d. a gallon (3s. 9d. on the average), premium grade being 6d. a gallon extra. Consumption was without doubt adversely affected by the variation in height, but the car was tuned for a height of 4,000ft. which was probably suitable.
We saw old friends and places, the latter particularly grown almost out of recognition in only half a dozen years or so.
In the Matopo Hills
Salisbury, Bulawayo, Umtali, Lusaka were all well developed, while Fort Victoria Livingstone, and the smaller centres were not very much more than tidied up with pavements and gutters, street lighting, new paint and shop fronts. Pretty places, they were, all of them, full of trees and wide streets with the many colours of the buildings heightened by the flame tree, bougain­villea, frangipani and poinsettia blossoms, set off by the bright clear sun and freshened by the last of the rain. At that time of year the country looked green even if not fertile. Generally speaking this part of Africa is made up of harsh, stony plains sprinkled with stunted acacia and thorn trees struggling for survival with everywhere the tall, coarse elephant grass. In the south-eastern corner of Southern Rhodesia, among the Drakensberg range in the Eastern Transvaal, and on the northern border of Swaziland are magnificent mountain ranges, even if only rising to 8,000 feet or so above sea level. Cutting though the plateau are the deeply eroded river valleys such as the Zambesi, Limpopo and the Sabie with their thick "tropical" vegetation. North of the 'Zambesi the vegetation is larger and more primeval and the country seemingly even more thinly populated. There are wide expanses that carry one's view literally hundreds of miles away.
The mute though living tranquillity of the Zimbabwe ruins ; the bright clear air and fertility of Melsetter up among the Chimanimani mountains; the prettiness of Umtali in its saucer of dark green hills; the awe-inspiring strength of the Kariba Dam and the sheer size of the 200 mile long man­made lake (it would stretch from London to Exeter when full); the ever changing beauty and the power of the mile-wide Zambesi roaring down 300 feet to foam through its 50 miles of gorges no more than 150 yards wide;

the scene of desolation of eroded rocks sticking up grotesquely among the green vegetation which one sees from the thought-provoking World's View site of Cecil Rhodes's grave in the Matopos, and the peace of the series of dammed lakes among the hills below; the glorious size of the scenery in the Drakensberg and, last of all, the colourful life of the Swazis culminating in the market in Mbabane, with its exotic fruits and veget­ables, brilliant splashes of the clothes and the grass mats, wooden bowls and implements, bright heads and handicrafts in the background, these were the highlights that come back most quickly to mind.

Down to Sable river
Of racial or political tension we felt little ; of violence or even unfriendly threats we saw none. For variety of country and scenery this area must be one of the best for the tourist, facilities are rapidly improving and the climate is excellent. There is plenty of room for more.
Reproduced from an article in ' The caravan' April 1962

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