Our morning routine: Ventilation screens open so the tent can air out, put on our clothes, slowly descend our ladder backwards and find a tree. Our stove is in the crate with kitchen supplies, light it, get the percolator, rinse it, fill it with water and scoops of grinded beans. Put the Helinox sunset chairs in the sun, while we quickly make breakfast before the coffee is ready.
A young national park ranger has come to visit us this morning. We are the only guests on the campground and he asks us if we are having a good time. He tells us that he goes out on foot patrol quite regularly and if we’d like to we can join him. Helga rolls up her pants as an answer to his question and her leg full of bandaids becomes visible. He looks a bit disappointed. “I’d love to join you,” I say hastily. An hour later and I’m walking behind the ranger with a backpack filled with water and lunch. He is wearing a military canvas coverall and high shoes.
On the way he tells me that the National Parks here get their uniforms from Australia, as a thank you for the work they do against the poaching of the rhinos. He walks in big steps in front of me on the uneven terrain where I can barely see the path. I ask him where he wants to go and he answers that there is a cave with rock paintings about 6 km away. He would like to show it to me. I prepare mentally for the distance and terrain and follow in his footsteps.
During the walk he talks about his life in Zimbabwe. He is 29 years old and has a wife and child. Both of them live with him in the park. When he wants to do his shopping it takes him a whole day. He knows people with a car about 10 km from the campsite and he pays them for a ride to the main road, about 30 km away. From there he waits for a ride to Bulawayo, which is about 50 km away. First, he goes to the bank to get money. Sometimes the lines are so long that it takes most of the day to get money. Even though he has more money in the banks, they will only let him get 100 USD per day. He gets his groceries and hitchhikes back to the park.
He has worked for the park for 10 years now. He earns 350 USD a month, but hasn’t been paid for the past 2 months because the Zimbabwean government has a financial crisis. The police, government personnel, the military and park rangers are suffering from this.
Eventually, we get to the cave. My first impression is that it looks like a tunnel where different graffiti artists have been covering each others work over and over again. But here, they have used only earth tones. When you look closely, you can guess the stories that they try to tell you through them: of hunts, wars and beheaded women. The drawings are said to be between 4000 and 6000 years old and were made to tell stories and share information.
That night we camp just outside the park so we don’t have to pay the high park fees again for another night of staying.