Thursday, 3 July 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Bulawayo'

First light: 0632 hrs
Time start: 0710 hrs
Time finish: 0802 hrs
Weather: 8C
Humidity: 36%
Altitude: 4,300ft
Circumstances: Tuesday morning, business day, downtown Bulawayo

Difficult to swap one of the seven wonders of the world for an industrial city in the hinterland of Zimbabwe. But, here we are in Matabeleland.

Yesterday drove southeast 4 and a half hours to Bulawayo. 435 kms. Second largest city in Zimbabwe. Population 650,000. Unsure what to expect...

'Lifeline' books us into the Bulawayo Club. Founded in 1895. Hidden gem on corner 4th Street & 8th Avenue. Old fashioned colonial elegant building steeped in history. Built in 1935, like staying in a museum. Throwback to another era, another time. The club has been lovingly maintained, great credit to the excellent management and staff.

Get straight into it this morning. Chilly. Let's go. 'Lifeline' needs no introduction. First guest runner to appear twice, now for the hat-trick. Out the front door, first run with little to no research. Which way? If in doubt always head east towards the rising sun. Something will turn-up. Altitude around 4,300 ft. Can feel a good run coming on.

Straight over the robots at the crossroads. Prominent statue of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s to my left. Died in 1999, accorded national hero status.

Might be early, but lots of activity. Street corners seem gathering places. Piles of newspapers on the ground with stones weighted on top. People glancing at the headlines. Glance down myself to see what's happening. People are wrapped against the chill. Some smoking and standing in small groups. These are people without jobs. Many of them. Others hurry about their business. Shops here open early, most by 0800 hrs.

Downtown Bulawayo seems shabby but functional. Well laid out but deteriorating. 'Lifeline' is moving awkwardly following his exertions in the half marathon 48 hours previously. City Hall ahead. Building looks good with neat lawns. Traders setting up using the freshly painted blue railings to display local art, usual African bric a brac, and an impressive array of fresh flowers.

Turn, still heading east, onto L.Takawira Ave. A straight road signposted Cairo 3,500 miles. On the other side of the roof another sign indicates Capetown 1,150 miles.

Run down the right side of L.Takawira. Traffic is light coming into town. Impressive park both sides of the road. Take a look at right half first. British and colonial in appearance reflecting the period when this green space was established. Bandstands, working fountains, memorials, and statues - some dating back to the Matabele Wars. Whilst the park may not be what it once was, I see park keepers at work. It's not being left to just rot. Crossover to the left side. More symbols of the past. Lakes, stream, a small gauge railway line, probably used to give youngsters rides. Many of the water features and streams are sadly overgrown. Imagine Bulawayo has higher priorities these days with public funds.

The park remains an area of tranquility, good to see young students sat in the old bandstand reading and studying. We see the National History Museum at the junction of Park Road. Opposite is the NGO, World Vision. Park Road is the best part of the city I've seen in the short time in town.

A little more on Bulawayo perhaps. Sits on a plain that marks the High-veld of Zimbabwe and close to the watershed between the Zambezi and Limpopo drainage basins. Twinned with Aberdeen, Scotland. I hear from home that my Scottish 'brothers' are enjoying England's rather quick World Cup exit. This has coincided with an uptick in their performances since wee Gordon Strachan took over. He said after they beat Iceland earlier this year, he was looking to arrange further games against... Walmart and Marks & Spencer.

Head north back towards the city noting the cricket academy. We circle the outfield also noting the Walnut Cafe for coffee later.

A broad smile as we run past the National Theatre. A big poster advertising, 'The Wizard of Oz', opening 30th July for 4 nights. Seems a little bizarre, but why not. I wish the production well. In fact, 'Lifeline' is doing a pretty good impression of 'Tin Man' this morning with his laboured running style, rounded off by his checked bermudas.

Right. Time to push on back to the Bulawayo Club and brekkie. Cross over R.Mugabe Way. Every town has at least one such road. Want to rename it, 'His Way or The Highway'. After this thought, which of course is a joke, it's past the Selbourne Hotel.

Heading west now, run past the Econet offices, one of the more impressive modern makeovers. Econet Wireless, a global business, was founded by its Chairman Strive Masiyiwa. Cell net coverage in Zimbabwe is excellent. My humble dealings with this company in Harare have been first rate. Mr. Masiywa is well known on the world business stage and demonstrates what can be achieved by Africa entrepreneurs. A Zimbabwean success story by any measure.

Arrive back to the Club. 52 minutes. One of the most enjoyable runs I've done. Enjoyed this one. Feel on a high. Later, after coffee at the Walnut and a discussion with locals, we realise can't head south to Rhodes grave, which was an original intent. Not enough time. Will take 3 hours there and back. Then due to roadworks another 7 hours to Harare. Too much night driving. Maybe after next years Vic Falls Half Marathon.

Rhodes is buried in the Matobo Hills. He died 1902, his body brought to Bulawayo by train. He and other early white pioneers like Leander Starr Jameson are buried at a site named World's View.

Well, that's all for this post. This amazing road trip concludes with a short visit to JoBurg. One more post to come... see you in South Africa...

Footnote: Following 7 hours back to Harare, last 2 hrs in the dark again, we come across the President's motorcade. Lots of vehicles (about 15), flashing lights, high speed maneuvers, and sirens. Local wags apparently refer to it as 'Bob And The Wailers'..., or so I'm told...

Breakfast in the club...