Cathy Buckle: A Zimbabwean adventure of courage, determination and wildlife encounters

In another heartfelt letter, Cathy Buckle takes readers on a captivating journey through the challenges and triumphs of life in Zimbabwe. Against a backdrop of economic turmoil and a crashing currency, she shares her recent adventure in Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, highlighting the perseverance required to overcome the treacherous Fishans River Crossing. Buckle celebrates the resilience of the Zimbabwean people and the preservation of the country’s magnificent wilderness amidst decades of hardship and corruption. Through stories of encounters with vultures, anti-poaching efforts, and majestic elephants, she shares her sense of awe, pride, and hope for Zimbabwe’s future.


Under the Sausage Tree

By Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

For over two decades I have been telling you the story of our lives in a country stuck in a multi-faceted stranglehold.  Zimbabwe is in a new stage of rapid economic meltdown and the currency is crashing again but my letter today is coming from a different angle and for anyone who has ever lived here or visited our beautiful Zimbabwe I hope this one will be good for your soul.

I am an adventurer at heart and would like you to come with me today for a sneak-peek into my latest adventure in Zimbabwe. I started composing this letter while sitting on a tree root under a Sausage Tree in Gonarezhou National Park but I had to calm down a lot before I could start writing because my hands were shaking, adrenalin was pumping and I desperately needed to go behind a bush. Adrenalin’s a funny thing isn’t it; they say it stimulates either fight or flight. For me it almost always stimulates fight and I had just driven my 20-year-old vehicle, which doesn’t have 4-wheel drive, across the Fishans River Crossing. “It’s Easy Peasy Cathy” they had told me at the office but words are one thing and tyres in deep sand are another. Fishans is a crossing point over the mighty Runde River. There’s no bridge or concrete track, it’s probably about three quarters of a kilometre across the river bed with a rocky section through flowing water and then a long stretch of thick deep sand to get to the other side.

Read more: Giant of a Man: A tale of love, loss, and wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe – Cathy Buckle

Five years ago I had mastered the Fishans crossing after a few encounters of being stuck in the sand but conditions had changed this time, the water was faster and the sand thicker and looser. When I arrived I had let the tyres down, got my speed and gears right, but it was pointless and I got stuck in the thick sand three times on the crossing and my girlfriends and I had to dig us out. I know these sand rivers are the rites of passage here but I knew I had to crack Fishans today so I could conquer the fear that was niggling away at me. So, with determination and purpose I faced Fishans again, loving her and hating her at the same time; would she let me pass today or was it going to be hands and knees, sand in my hair and shovels again? With trepidation and determination I dropped down the embankment into the Fishans river bed. Slow and steady, but not too slow, we got further and further across the sand. I kept the momentum up, didn’t dare relax my guard and then I dropped into the steep little dip that led into the water. This part was much worse, you can’t see the bottom, tyres are slipping and rocks moving under the wheels, the sudden nerve-racking tug of current pulling at your back wheels, and, at last, up and out. A few minutes had felt like an hour and I pulled over and got out, hands shaking, laughing, slowly letting the adrenalin dissipate and my heart slow down again. 

Going back again without getting stuck restored my dignity but I know to never take this river for granted. Later I sat under the Sausage Tree watching three very well kitted out 4×4 vehicles with South African number plates crossing Fishans and I felt so proud of Zimbabwe. Against all odds we manage again and again to face our fear and to overcome with little or nothing to prop us up. I felt so proud of Gonarezhou and how they have managed to maintain, preserve and protect this magnificent wilderness through decades of economic turmoil and widespread corruption which has left our country on its knees.

Read more: Walking the streets of Zimbabwe in Cathy Buckle’s shoes

That evening back at our campsite, my green tent flapping in the wind we sat around the campfire. Water for the next day was boiling in a Kelly Kettle, homemade bread was baking in a cast iron pot in the fire and sweet potatoes for supper were wrapped in tin foil and nestled in the embers. We would have them with thin slices of chorizo and a hot tomato and chilli relish and while we waited we talked about courage and determination and how these two qualities define so many ordinary people in Zimbabwe and how they have empowered us to survive so many years of collapse and mismanagement here. We haven’t had money or luxuries, we’ve just learned to go without, to work harder and to help each other along the way.

After supper with the night sky ablaze, the Milky Way lighting the darkness and a waning crescent of the moon slipping into the horizon, we listened for the whooping of hyenas and the grunting of lions and we talked about the amazing encounter we had had the day before. Sitting in a dead tree in the golden grass there must have been close to forty vultures. We watched and watched, binoculars scanning everywhere for what we were sure must be a kill when suddenly a man appeared at the window. “Good morning. We are doing anti-poaching here and saw the vultures and have come to investigate,” he said. Into the dense undergrowth the anti-poaching unit set off looking for what had caused vultures to gather here, was it lions on a kill, a poacher’s snare line maybe or the dreaded rhino or elephant carcass. Whatever it was, watching these men heading into the unknown was looking courage right in the face.

Read more: Stepping into ancient history amidst modern challenges – Cathy Buckle

When I was finishing this letter on the last day of our brief adventure, we were again sitting under a big shady tree in another area of Gonarezhou. I was sitting on the open tail gate typing, a beautiful cool breeze blew through the wilderness. Someone else was looking at photographs and another was drinking coffee and suddenly said: “Ooh look who’s just popped in,” and there, about fifteen metres away was a huge bull elephant. It walked towards us, this was obviously its rubbing tree, we could see the mud high up on the bark. We left quickly but the memory of that moment will linger on in our hearts as we face the undoubtedly hard times that still lie ahead for our country.

Thank you for coming on this short adventure in Zimbabwe with me today. Many of you have been on this journey with me for 23 years and I couldn’t have done it without you and your encouragement to me to keep going. I am humbled to know that people in nearly 70 countries around the world love and care about Zimbabwe and are on my mailing list to receive these Letters.

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy


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Copyright © Cathy Buckle  https://cathybuckle.co.zw/

All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle and Lulu with the hardback version of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021 and 2022 collections) on high gloss paper available exclusively on LULU. Visit my website for full detailswww.cathybuckle.co.zw or click here: www.lulu.com/spotlight/cathybuckle2018 or here www.amazon.com/author/catherinebuckle