Zimbabwe Was No Match For This Alfa Romeo Sprint GT
Photography by Jethro Bronner
Having proven, in my mind at least, that my car was ready for the long journey from Dargle, South Africa, to Ireland, I said my goodbyes on a Saturday morning outside my local coffee shop. Friends, family, and much of my small town turned out to wish me a good journey. The car park was full of Alfa Romeos that had driven by to show support.
After a last cup of coffee and a difficult goodbye, I set my sights on Johannesburg, the economic heart of Africa, and my first port of call. A convoy of Alfa Romeos accompanied me to Nottingham Road before peeling off and heading south, as I continued on north alone. A bitter winter wind battered me the whole way, adding to a growing feeling of, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
Johannesburg is a huge place. You can drive around for hours and hours and still be in the city. The traffic, to a small town boy like me, was intimidating. It was all mad taxis, Ferraris, and huge Mercedes-Benz SUVs. The highways are eight lanes wide and seem impenetrable. I stayed on with friends in a leafy suburb, and was welcomed by a fellow petrolhead Paul and his mad, whale tale-equipped Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
The next day, I met some guys from the Alfa Owner South Africa Forum, and we had lunch whilst spotting Ferraris in the traffic. First class car nerds, all of them. It was great, but I had a growing sense of unease about what lay ahead of me. A day’s drive north of Johannesburg would bring me to Beitbridge, the bridge over the Limpopo River, and the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
It’s the busiest land border in Africa and an overlander’s right of passage. The car had made the 600 mile journey here without complaint, but over the border, I was unable to call on anyone for help. Worse, the border post was a mess, thousands of people were being processed by overwhelmed and disinterested officials. I parked the Alfa among the long haul buses and trucks, and prayed it would be unharmed when I returned three hours later…and thank goodness it was.
There’s not very much between Beitbridge and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The dry bush of Limpopo eventually gives way to a more dense forest, with scatterings of Baobab trees and granite hills. The Alfa purred along happily, light and nimble as I manoeuvred around potholes and bumps on the old tar road. In Bulawayo, I camped on the grounds of an old colonial home. I enjoyed the green forested suburbs with their winding roads. I liked the small town charm of the place, the friendliness of the locals. I didn’t meet anyone there who wasn’t a joy to be around. I passed the time in Bulawayo walking in the nearby national park and looking for good coffee.
After a few days, I headed north again, through a great expanse of forests—just like a green sea—to Victoria Falls. The car seemed happy. I remember training myself to hold the steering wheel lightly, and feeling the Alfa glide around the corners. So far, this “overlanding” thing seemed very easy. My sense of unease had vanished. I pulled into Victoria Falls after an easy afternoon’s drive of 300 miles.
Victoria Falls is a charming, but sleepy, small town. I made a local backpackers’ hostel my home, where I met plenty of other travellers. I had never seen Victoria Falls in person before. It’s more than a mile wide and more than 100 meters high. It’s immense and awesome. I had enjoyed Zimbabwe and believed better things awaited me heading north. The car seemed to cope with the mileage without a problem.
So I said my goodbyes to Zimbabwe which I had so enjoyed, and crossed the bridge over the Zambezi River into Zambia, but it wasn’t all I had been led to believe it was…