Of the road less travelled on an Easter weekend
Our party of five was set to leave Harare for the Eastern Highlands town of Nyanga at eight in the morning on the Catholic calendar day of Holy Saturday for a silver wedding anniversary. We wanted to make it for the church ceremony before the reception.
As with all best-laid plans, it did not go as expected. Angel, my host in Harare, whose phone was doubling up as our bank because cash is still a problem in Zimbabwe, woke up to a crashed phone. We needed EcoCash so the first order of business became to buy another phone to transfer the SIM card to. We left four hours later. In retrospect, this delay marked what became a comedy of errors. But as we got in the car in good spirits, singing along to 1990s R&B music, we didn’t know that yet.
The journey to Nyanga took us a little over four hours with stops for drinks and food. There were also many stops for first-time visitor Niq to capture the landscape with his camera.
When we were almost at our destination, we stopped a four-wheel drive to ask its driver how we could get to the church. “I’m the pastor who was officiating that ceremony. It’s now over. We are now on our way to the reception. Follow me.”
We were all relieved to have missed the church service although we pretended to be sad when talking to the pastor. And like the disciples when Jesus the Nazarene was still a popular guy and not yet one to betray or deny, we followed him. Except we were following a four-wheel drive. And our sedan was no match for it in spite of driver Felix’s attempts to make it so. When we got to the fork in the road, we were now confused. Did the pastor turn left or right? Everyone in the car had politics that are left of centre but we foolishly turned right. And right, on this road as in politics, turned out to be wrong.
Bella, whose phone was the only one working in this mountainous region, attempted to call the sister of the bride without luck. She finally sent a message. “Angel’s phone is off. Where is the venue?” The reply came almost immediately. We were to go to a hall in the national park. Except that we didn’t know how to get there. So Angel stopped the next car she saw and asked for directions.
The guy was from Harare but a frequent visitor to Nyanga so he knew more than we did. Despite his big car (another four-wheel drive), he drove slowly enough for us to follow him and then directed us. Despite his questionable music taste — he was playing country music — we all decided we liked him for leading us to the Canaan that was the gate of the national park.
Once we were inside the national park and our country music-loving guide continued on his journey, we got lost twice. Mount Nyangani is the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. Many people near it will tell you about the famous story of the twins who disappeared while hiking up the mountain. Helicopters and hikers were sent to search for them. Traditionalists state that this was a mistake. That before sending helicopters, the parents of the twins should have talked to the spirit that guards the mountain and they would have been able to be led to their sons.
The twins were never found. Some say they may have been eaten by lions. Others say they could have fallen and died. And yet one faithful of the Apostolic sect swears she saw them a few years ago and they had grown fur so that nature could save them from the cold mountain temperature. The story of the twins is told as a cautionary tale to those who visit to respect the mountain and the area around it.
As we got lost again in the national park, I wondered whether one of us had been profane and we were now doomed never to leave the area. But luckily we eventually found the party and quickly changed into our party clothes.
We went in to a warm reception. What had taken us so long, everyone wanted to know? It was too long a story and we wanted to eat first.
And so there was eating and dancing peppered with speeches on how exemplary this couple was to everyone.
After all the partying, our hosts informed us they had a place for us. “If we don’t like it,” Bella whispered, “we always have the option of Eddie’s place. He’s expecting us.” Eddie is Bella’s brother-in-law. We never got to know whether the lodge was something we would like or not. We failed to remind the driver of yet another four-wheel drive who was leading us to the lodge that we were driving a smaller car that needed patience. We lost them — or they lost us.
This time, there was no one to call. Our phones were dead. As was the power bank. So now our only option was Eddie’s house. Except, as Niq would jokingly state later, Eddie’s house had moved. No matter how much she tried to recall, Bella did not know how to get us there. With nowhere left to go, we drove up to Troutbeck Inn, the hotel famous for its fire that has never gone out since it was first lit. Except, predictably this being Easter weekend, there was no room at the Troutbeck Inn.
But we had danced and were well fed. And now we were tired. No one wanted to drive down the hill. Besides, where would we go? We had no idea where Eddie’s house was.
And so as dawn broke and Christians celebrated the rising of Jesus on Easter Sunday, we all nodded off in the car in the parking lot of the inn.
Hours later, in the light of day, we would go down the mountain and Bella would remember how to get to Eddie’s home. We would go and lie down for some hours before freshening up and returning to Harare.
As full of errors as it was, no writer could have scripted a more memorable Easter holiday for me. And I can now state to all and sundry that I have slept at the Troutbeck Inn. The “where exactly” is semantics, mos.
Zukiswa Wanner is a Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies fellow