Zimbabwe

Much as we’d like to hype up our visit to this “dangerous” (or whatever else people think of when they hear Zimbabwe) country, we have to admit we had a very safe, orderly and - above all - friendly visit. A beautiful land with plenty of sights to see and not at all what we expected, we got to experience the true essence of extended travel thanks to many informative and meaningful conversations with ZImbabweans themselves.

Quick Summary

Time in Zimbabwe: August 24 - September 14, 2010

Route: entering in Victoria Falls Town, then up to the Tonga village Malala (near Binga), followed by a week in Bulawayo & Matopos National Park before stopping at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins en route to Mutare 

Food: didn’t have the opportunity to eat out much and the restaurants/local diet are generally nothing to write home about; luckily, we enjoyed many excellent home-cooked meals; despite Zimbabwe’s reputation as fertile agricultural land, most produce and other foods are sadly expensive South African imports these days; tasty exceptions were locally-produced bacon (Colcom brand) and the cheeses and yogurts of the Kefalos brand

People: we met so many colorful characters that it would be impossible and unfair to draw general impressions about Zimbabweans as a whole; but they are better educated and more interested in striking up conversations with us compared with other Southern Africans (not coincidentally, the races seem to mix better here too)

Roads: old and unmaintained but since they were solidly built in the first place still in pretty good shape and mostly tarred; faced many police roadblocks but we didn’t experience the hassles that other travelers complained about; in the process of building toll booths (cheap!) that will hopefully fund better maintenance; gasoline generally available, but fill up when you can to be on the safe side

Distance covered: 1800km (1125 miles) in TianMa

Highlights: forging many new friendships and resulting informative conversations, home-cooking, Victoria Falls lunar rainbow, seeing 3 black rhinos on the road, Matopos caves and cave art, gorgeous sunset at the World’s Window, Great Zimbabwe ruins, impromptu dance party with the kids of Malala, living the highlife in Mutare.

Low-lights: ongoing political and economic “issues”, only parking ticket and roadkill (small bird) of our entire trip, disingenuous “empowering” of local people, coming face to face with the aid dependency and handout culture of Africa’s poor, Zimbabwe national television (unbelievably bad) and electricity supply (possibly worse)

Impression: we enjoyed our 3 weeks in Zim tremendously but are not sure if other travelers can easily replicate our experience because for us Zim turned out not to be about the sites (though they are very nice) but about our encounters with many diverse and unique people who call the country home; unfortunately, much as we liked almost everyone we met they don’t always feel the same way about each other and abysmal governance and corruption over the past decade means that there are very real economic, political, tribal and racial tensions that can burst; encouraging is that most people are proud of their country and at least the black majority seem to believe that the worst is behind them, are weary of more violence and hopeful for a bright future ahead