We packed the Landrover (Series 2 Short-Wheel Base with canvas top- a real bone-shaker) with our wedding gifts and said goodbye to my parents, and began the long journey from Johannesburg to Rhodesia and the bush, and the new area to which Peter had been transferred, the South Eastern Lowveld.
After several hours of driving we reached the South Africa/Rhodesia border post and went through the usual immigration and customs procedures with no problems, my new passport, of course, now in my married name.
We travelled through no-man’s land between the borders until we came to and passed the heartwarming signpost “Welcome to Rhodesia” , and it was here that the bush began. The landrover was not the most comfortable of vehicles and with our backs feeling battered, at last, after three or four hours, we stopped at The Lion and Elephant motel, on the banks of the Lundi River. A really rustic place but welcoming and cool inside. After some refreshments we went on our way, always on the lookout for game.
At last we turned off the tar road and onto a narrow, winding dirt track, and this went on for miles with the branches of the mopane trees scraping against the windows and the mopane flies getting into the cab and into our eyes, and the heat becoming oppressive. Suddenly, from around a bend another vehicle appeared and we pulled to the side and stopped, as did the other driver. He told us that the river over which we were to have crossed was in flood and that we would have to turn back and take an alternative route. This was quite dismaying as we were both already very hot and tired, but we had no choice, and so we retraced our tracks for a few miles and took another turning. By this time I had a really bad headache and was longing for the journey to end, but then, only five miles from our destination, we had a puncture and so as Peter battled with changing the tyre in the heat and the mopane flies and the hot sand burning his knees, I sat back with a throbbing head.
Now dusty and hot, we went on our way again and after a few more miles turned left onto an even narrower track where there suddenly appeared in front of us what I would describe as a pondokkie (a not-very up-market, small, basic house). It lay under the canopies and shade of some enormous and beautiful Acacia nigrescens and Kigelia africana trees. Standing at the door to greet us was Peter’s cook, Albert, who I must say was not all that welcoming and who, with a long face, began to offload our luggage. It occured to me later that Albert’s disgruntlement was probably caused by his fear that, with there now being a woman in the house there would no doubt be demands for much higher standards and attention to detail. (He was right!).
I walked into the first room: this contained a small dining-room table and four chairs, and I could not believe my eyes as I noticed the walls were black with soot, (I learned this had been caused in past years by smoke from the wood-burning Dover stove billowing throughout the rooms ). The bedroom contained a double bed and a wardrobe. The kitchen contained a Dover Stove and nothing else, no cupboards or table. The pantry contained a few tins of corned beef and tins of baked beans, all on the floor, no shelves. The bathroom contained a bath, no water laid on. The loo was a long-drop in a thatched hut a few yards from the back door. At the end of the short passageway there was a door which led to a gauzed-in verandah.
There were no curtains at any of the tiny windows.
Albert made us some tea, and as it grew dusk he lit the Tilley lamps (lamps fuelled by paraffin, and which were pumped up to produce pressure and a loudly hissing glow). We unpacked and called to Albert to bring the hot water for our bath. He produced a bucketfull of water that he had heated over an open fire outside the back door, and this he poured into the bath giving us about an inch of water which Peter and I shared – with me bathing first, of course!
I needed to go to the loo, and taking a torch, off I padded into the garden and entered the little thatched room, keeping a lookout for spiders, and snakes, and carefully avoiding looking down into the abyss of the actual long-drop, which I believed would not be a pretty sight. But now, suddenly, I heard rustling and grunting very close outside, and the chomping of grass so dare not leave, or even shout out in case the sound enraged whatever creature was there and it would rush at the kia (small house) and trample me with it.
Yes, it was a hippo having a feast. I was in there for what seemed to be ages while the hippo just took his time, and at last I heard Peter calling me as he held the Tilley lamp high from the kitchen door. I then had the courage to shout out that I was stuck inside with a hippo outside. He banged loudly on the bucket and shouted and thankfully the the hippo lumbered off and we heard him plunging into the river nearby and making off.
It had been a long, eventful and tiring day but we went off to bed happy; and I enthralled with my new life.