A Travellerspoint blog

Ruins and Ruined

Zimbabwe

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View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins, Masvingo

Intriguing 13-15th Century ruins that gave Zimbabwe it’s name - Shona word ‘Zimba woye‘, meaning ‘esteemed houses’. Built on huge boulders high on a hill our enthusiastic guide told us how the king would have had maybe 200 wives! It was the capital of the great African Bantu civilisation supporting a population of 20,000 and deemed to be the greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Eastern Highlands (Masvingo to Mutare)

Being the end of the rainy season the rural landscape of the Eastern Highlands is lush. Picturesque rocky hills rise out of green fertile valleys and the road is surprisingly good during the 3 hour drive through this narrow strip of mountain country where we maybe see only a half dozen other vehicles. Small family settlements consist of 1 or 2 circular thatched huts nestled among abundant trees, each hut no bigger than an average 12 seater dining table. The ochre earth immediately around the houses is immaculately swept and surrounded by stick fences presumably put up to keep out the few remaining livestock.

Abundant maize crops provide the staple Zim diet of Sadza and are occasionally punctuated with plots of sunflowers standing like sentries all facing towards the sun. The sparse population, recently severely hit by the cholera epidemic, quietly goes about their subsistence existence. Women adorned with colourful headscarves, balance containers on their heads and babies securely strapped to their backs, wash clothes by hand in the streams. This mountain country makes up Manicaland doesn’t disappoint. The natural landscape is beautiful and the police roadblocks are plentiful, but the wildlife is non-existent and the life here must be very very hard.

Posted by hilarywh 08:12 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rhino's and Villagers

Zimbabwe

sunny 22 °C
View South Africa (Game Capture & Relocation Programme) - 12 Apr to 13 May 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Matobo Hills NP

Besides being one of the most picturesque NP’s I’ve visited, it is home to the largest population of Black (26) and White Rhino (74) anywhere in the world. Boasting a superb array of birdlife and a large population of leopard the Matobo Hills protect one of the best collections of San cave paintings (many over 20,000 years old).

Ian, our guide for the day, captivated us all with his knowledge, experience and stories of Rhino encounters. I’ve never seen a group so interested in the difference between Black and White Rhino dung. It must be the way you tell it!

There is one rule normally drummed into every tourist visiting a NP - don’t get out of the vehicle. Once Ian found a Rhino trail, the engine was off and we were out. In quiet hot pursuit on foot we were weaving our way through the tall African spear grass and within minutes we were face to bum, then face to face with 2 large white Rhino! Just 10 feet away staring straight at us (apparently unseeingly) through the not very thick grass. I quickly looked round to locate my emergency climbing tree and finding none crept a bit closer to Ian. Wow.

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The park has an anti-poaching shoot to kill policy and it’s hard to imagine how just 76 men armed with an AK47 each can patrol the whole park to protect these few Rhino but they kill an average of 20 poachers a month! Having walked right up to a Rhino undetected it isn’t hard to image how easily they can be killed. A Rhino horn can grow over 1.5 metres and will sell for half a million US$. Although a poacher will only see a mere fraction of this (maybe US$ 1000) it is easy to understand why they risk their lives to kill just one Rhino with the average wage in Zim being $1 a month (if you are lucky enough to have a job!).

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We visited a local Ndebele village where the chief was adorned in a leopard skin from an animal that attacked him in his youth. He also wore porcupine needles around his neck and proudly showed us old grain bins hidden in the rocks where is ancestors used to store their provisions. He explained that he had 10 children, 4 of which had died of AIDS after visiting the big city and all the children in the village were his grandchildren most now unfortunately orphaned. The thatched huts had lovely rust coloured walls and were spotless inside. Goats and chickens wandered freely and the large maize crop evidence of their self sustainability. The children were beautiful, fascinated by their reflection in our sunglasses and the pictures of them on our camera screens. It’s been many years since they were visited by foreigners and we couldn’t have been made more welcome.

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San Cave Paintings

Some of the oldest San cave paintings in Africa are found in Matobo Hills NP.

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Posted by hilarywh 08:10 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hwange NP

Zimbabwe

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View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Hwange NP

150km south of Vic Falls is beautiful Hwange National Park, 14650 square kilometres and once well known for it’s abundant wildlife and large numbers of Elephants. It has been rated in the top 4 with Kenya’s Masai Mara, South Africa’s Kruger and Botswana’s Chobe. Our expectations were relatively low as animals are more scarce during the wet season, preferring to spread out instead of hang around the pump fed watering holes. Maybe we were unlucky but it seems the wildlife is as scarce as the tourists, with what we did see disappearing quickly into the thick vegetation. Usually un-phased by a passing vehicle, the Elephants became agitated at our approach and often mock charges us with a lot of noise from the younger bulls. Staying at Ivory Lodge where a floodlit water hold could be viewed from our camp we saw just 2 Kudu during the day and a party of Dung Beetles at night.

Posted by hilarywh 08:09 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rich and Poor

Zimbabwe

sunny 23 °C
View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 & South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe (Johannesburg - Vic Falls) - 15 Feb to 2 Mar 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Victoria Falls Town

Until 2002, Zim was the preferred base for visiting the Falls and Vic Falls town itself is small and easily walkable. Where the streets used to be lined with hotels, bars and restaurants, today it’s like a ghost town.

Walking through the town’s vast craft market felt like an exercise in empathy where the locals can hardly make a meagre living selling their beautiful high quality wood and stone carvings. Lindsay and I spent 3 hours wandering the stalls, chatting with the sellers and promising that we’d visit everyone in turn before deciding where to spend our US$. Their over enthusiasm of trying to sell anything for a mere few dollars, or swap it for a t-shirt, shoes or a baseball cap can seem desperate, even tiring at times, but never intimidating.

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Victoria Falls Hotel

We spent a day in our cleanest clothes feigning wealth and sophistication at the famous dignified establishment known as the Victoria Falls Hotel. The pool waiter saw through us immediately so we came clean about not being residents, bought lunch and tipped him heavily so he allowed us to stay. It’s close proximity to the Falls means the mist risees up over the beautiful manicured gardens where a family of Warthogs were grazing the grass on their knees. The hotel corridors are lined with photographs of colonial history, it’s fascinating legacy giving it the edge over any hotel in Livingstone.

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I ended my 2 weeks with Lindsay at Shoestrings Backpackers, a brightly painted hostel behind high walls and guarded by 2 Great Danes and a Pig. It was laid back, central and a popular watering hole for both locals and travellers. At Tokkie Lodge I met the overland truck group for my next trip and lay blissfully asleep in my tent one night as another 2 tents were quietly slashed. Noone was hurt and only a few toiletries were taken as all our possessions are kept safely locked on the truck at night. It was the only incident I experienced in Zim but a stark reminder of how desperate people are.

Posted by hilarywh 08:06 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A Big Tree and a lot of Water

Zimbabwe

sunny 22 °C
View South Africa (Game Capture & Relocation Programme) - 12 Apr to 13 May 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Big Tree

Due to stories of muggings we took a short taxi ride from Vic Falls town to the Big Tree, which is, er well, a big tree! An impressive Baobab with a 20 metre circumference making me look insignificant standing beside it’s great bulk. Over zealous hawkers with relentless, repetitive patter appeared from nowhere when we arrived, now known by us as the ‘Velcro Effect’. Where are the specially appointed tourist police when you need them?.

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Victoria Falls

From the safety of the riverbank we watch the dark glossy surface of the mighty Zambezi River accelerate towards the horizon, sucking the water over the top at 300-100,000 cubic metres per second (depending on time of year). At over 100 metres high (twice the height of Niagara) the roar of water crashing on water is deafening and the narrow gorge of VF is partially obscured by the dense wall of spray.

From Zambia:
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From Zimbabwe:

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In the 90’s, half a million people a year visited the tiny rainforest on the south banks to gaze at the spectacle of Mosi-au-Tunya, the Makololo name meaning ‘the Smoke that Thunders’. When confidence in Zim was shattered most tourists abandoned the town of Vic Falls for the less developed Livingstone just over the border in Zambia allowing us to have the National Park completely to ourselves. Local legend has it that a good soaking in the spray bestows physical and spiritual purification - particularly if naked! Lindsay and I weren’t prepared to go quite that far but we did have the luxury of visiting the amazing Falls from both sides, fully clothed and therefore getting soaked twice by fresh gusts of pure Zambezi spray.

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Batoka Gorge
This massive Gorge separates Zambia from Zimbabwe. The views of the falls from the bridge are amazing and the view of the bridge from the falls are pretty impressive too.

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Posted by hilarywh 08:05 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Flight over the Falls

Livingstone, Zambia

21 °C
View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 & South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe (Johannesburg - Vic Falls) - 15 Feb to 2 Mar 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Ultralight Flight

Zim still offers it’s fair share of activities to challenge most adrenalin junkies. You can bungee jump into oblivion, canoe the upper Zambezi, white water raft and jet boat the lower Zambezi, whizz across Batoka Gorge on a zip wire like Superman, enjoy a gut -churning g-force induced 3 second gorge swing …to name but a few.

Unusually for me, I opted for the more sedate Ultralite Flight soaring over the Falls, the Rapids, Batoka Gorge and the Zambezi NP with nothing between me and the rushing wind! An excellent 360 degree, multi-sensory encounter!

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Posted by hilarywh 08:02 Archived in Zambia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Another Lion Walk!

Livingstone, Zambia

sunny 21 °C
View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 & South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe (Johannesburg - Vic Falls) - 15 Feb to 2 Mar 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Lion Walk

Owned by African Encounter (same project as the one in Gweru), there are 10 walking lions at Mosi-au-Tunya NP so using my contacts from Antelope Park I secured a day with the lions in Zambia. It’s a very different set-up walking in a National Park instead of a private Game Park and our walk with 3 nine month old cubs was cut short when the trackers ahead of us came across a very agitated, snare injured male Buffalo on the rampage. A hasty retreat back to the lodge meant we spent a terrible 3 hours walking, sitting, feeding and playing with 2 four month old cubs instead! Pure heaven.

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Posted by hilarywh 08:00 Archived in Zambia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Background

Zimbabwe

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View Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho & South Africa (Vic Falls - Cape Town) - 2 Mar to 12 Apr 09 & South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe (Johannesburg - Vic Falls) - 15 Feb to 2 Mar 09 on hilarywh's travel map.

Before Departure

When I mentioned to friends and family at home that I planning a lengthy visit to visit Africa, and Zimbabwe would be my first stop, it was met with reactions of surprise, outright shock and frequently the question ‘why?’.

Strict media controls mean news rarely filters out of Zimbabwe and what little we do hear is bleak. After months trawling the internet for recent reports from people who had lived, travelled, worked or merely visited Zim, and after re-reading the FCO website more times than I care to remember, I was convinced that as long as I stuck to the tourist trail and made pre arranged travel arrangements with reputable companies then I was unlikely to be at risk.

Many times I questioned my own reasons for wanting to visit a country who’s politics and human rights policies were questionable (a consideration that could be applied to many countries around the world), where good health and basic sanitation facilities are only for the wealthy or friends of the government, where fresh locally grown food is only stocked in tourist hotels and where fuel supplies are unpredictable. But the draw of this mysterious country and the location of the worlds only lion breeding and rehabilitation project was enough. So I finally made up my mind to go and see for myself, to spend my money in locally owned businesses and to find out about Zim from the real people.

In Zimbabwe

My preconceptions, along with recent unfavourable media coverage, probably made me less relaxed in arrival than I would be if visiting anywhere else. But during 6 weeks volunteering and travelling around the country I always felt sale and was constantly rewarded by the friendliness of the people. Within days of arrival I could very quickly see why Zimbabwe is widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful countries in Africa with abundant natural attractions and a welcoming population. A decade ago it was the 4th most visited country on the continent, today just a trickle of travellers are received.

On the flip side, women die younger in Zim than anywhere else in the world and due to the onslaught of AIDS the average life expectancy is below 40 years. As a result, 1 in 3 children are orphaned and yet despite the economic crisis, 90% of orphans are still cared for by extended families. This tells a lot about the generosity and kindness of the people.

Unemployment is over 90%, inflation has gone through the roof with the currency being devalued by 15 zero’s in the last 6 months. In 1980 US$1 was worth ZW$ 1.50, in 2006 US$ 1 was worth ZW$ 400,000. The biggest bank note printed just before I arrived was 100 trillion and people regularly talk in quadrillions and quintillions, terms I had never even heard of. Employees are paid a pittance in ZW$, but the banks wont let them withdraw it and, even if they did, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on as the majority of shops will only accept Forex (foreign exchange). People I worked with tell me how almost everyone is a multimillionaire, but in reality, a trillion wont even buy a loaf of bread. Despite endless conversations about the state of the nation I still don’t know how the people get by.

At Antelope Park (Lion Beeding Project in Gweru), 3 overland trucks would pull in each week providing vital income to the project and local population, now there may only be one truck in 2 months. In Victoria Falls town (home of the world famous waterfall of the same name), there would be a dozen overland trucks at one campsite, a dozen rafts a day on the Zambezi River, a string of daily bookings for the multitude of adrenalin activities, now you might bump into one or two tourists around town and most tour operators and hotels have gone out of business.

Zimbabwe does however have a good infrastructure, fantastic climate, rich soil and a leading education system which should provide for a comfortable lifestyle for all. Instead, people eek out an existence trying to survive below the poverty line and the rest escape to neighbouring countries in search of a better life. People I talked to remain hopeful that things will get better - mainly because it’s difficult to imagine it getting any worse.

The Attractions

The attractions are diverse making it a country worth of a decent length of stay not just a hop across to Victoria Falls from Livingstone in Zambia.

Summary

In summary, Zimbabwe is not a cheap destination but the country is politically intriguing and rewarding with it’s ancient ruins, magnificent wilderness, friendly people and choice of adrenalin activities. There is something for everyone and I’d go back tomorrow.

Posted by hilarywh 07:56 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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