As I travel and meet people from around the world, I’m often asked about my country of birth, Zimbabwe. Usually, all they know is Zimbabwe was ruled by a dictator for many years. The now departed Robert Gabriel Mugabe who ruled over Zimbabwe for 37 years. Some are aware of the astronomical inflation of 2007 - 2008. Pitiful stares are not unusual. Sometimes I excitedly respond, “hey you know what, that bizarre situation made me a billionaire at age 25!’’. And then I diffuse the awkwardness with positive stories about the amazing weather, beautiful terrain, spacious yards, and the spirit of Africa.
I’ve recently been to Zimbabwe, and I’m excited to give you a sneak peek into the holiday that was. Hopefully you get some good insights on a country riddled with troubles, yet retains rich beauty, amazing hospitality, and unbelievable resilience.
Zimbabwe has the best weather in the world. Nine whole months of warm temperatures, and just three of winter! Now tell me that isn’t marvelous! As for the winter: warm to hot days and cool evenings which only get cold towards bedtime, letting us enjoy days in the sun, and nights around a fire. The people of my country are kind-hearted (at least the majority) and ever so bubbly (even when it hurts). We're made of strong stuff. Nobody gets it, not even ourselves.
The capital of Zimbabwe; my hometown. There is a lot to this city, but when I'm there, it's for quality time with family and friends. I'm there for the updates, catch-ups, laughs, tears, hugs and cuddles. I'm there to reflect on memories, and to create new ones. I'm there to reconnect with my roots and be reminded of the journey I'm on, where it all started, and how amazing it's been. To hopefully encourage a soul and be encouraged too. I'm also there to have church the African way because that's something I can never get anywhere else. You've got to see it for yourself to believe it but I'll tell you this, church is special. As my friend Chii puts it, church in Zim is a big warm hug. At least the ones her and I grew up in.
It's easy to make a quick escape from the city to one of many recreational locations surrounding Harare. Bushman rock for example, which is just about a 30 minute drive towards Marondera. An afternoon picnic in a peaceful garden, walk through the vineyards and canoeing can all be done in time to drive back to the city before dark. All that without breaking bank either.
Oh the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe! Coldest region of the country with its thick green forests; the roads a refreshing drive with steep inclines and sharp curves. Home of Mount Nyangani, the highest in Zimbabwe. Said to be enchanted; a few people have disappeared while on a hike. According to Nyanga National Park officials, these people would have failed to observe the marked trails. Booking a professional guide is highly recommended, and instructions are not to be taken for granted. We unfortunately had to cancel plans to climb up Mount Nyangani due to thick smoke from a fire set by poachers. Our guide Promise had assured us the paths were clear despite the smoke, but as people with asthma, it would have been too risky for us to proceed.
The Mtarazi Falls Skyline was an absolute highlight. I'm a sucker for adrenaline pumping fun, AND the Mtarazi Falls Zipline is the highest in the world. No doubt I was thrilled at the idea of going it. I hesitated a little when it was time to sit on the edge and let it take me away but OMG those 35 seconds of cruising 400 meters across, marveling at views of the falls below, feeling embraced by the surrounding mountains; amazing! It was all worth the tough and long off-road drive from the Nyanga - Mutare highway (an adventure in itself). We did the skywalk too. Two bridges suspended over the Mutarazi Falls gorge. Thank goodness for the safety harness because the sides of those bridges have such wide openings it would otherwise be so easy to fall through them. If you're an adrenaline junkie, these activities are a must do; in Nyanga, at the highest zipline in the world, over the second highest waterfall in Africa. Tripworthy!
Masvingo - Great Zimbabwe, Lake Mutirikwi and Glenlivet Forest
We traveled to Masvingo to visit my dear grandmother, mbuya Hove. In true karanga fashion, she had a meal waiting for us and though we'd been fed another big delicious lunch by my aunt about two hours prior, we obliged my granny. Seeing her was precious, and having her and my SO meet was special. Those family moments make every trip home worth overlooking whatever struggles Zimbabwe might be going through.
While in Masvingo province, we made a point of visiting Lake Mutirikwi and Great Zimbabwe. For special effect, we drove through Glenlivet forest. The winding road circles Lake Mutirikwi, making for a most scenic trip leading to the former Kingdom; now a preserved historical site which tells a story of ancient Zimbabwe. I recommend a very early start of the day for this itinerary. We were short of time as we'd packed the day with deadlines and did Great Zimbabwe hurriedly as a result. Next time, we'll do it differently
Gweru - Antelope Park
Have you ever woken up to the sound of roaring lions? Ever wished you could? It's something of an experience. Gets your heart pounding in a fright, then your adrenaline jumps and it feels exciting. I've fallen asleep to it one time, and woken up to it another. It's such a thrill I would have it happen it again! First time was grown lions, 2016 in Hwange National Park; in the dark of night I woke up, went outside and stood along the fence watching them. Do note that there was a guide present. The recent was last June in Antelope Park; cubs that sounded so intense I wouldn't have guessed they were babies. Going on Antelope Park's Lion Enclosure tour gave us an opportunity to observe and learn about the cat's behaviour. I am definitely more knowledgeable about lions now than I was before that tour. As for the meals, I forget how many servings of oxtail I had! I doubled up on the dessert too. What can I say, I'm a sucker for Zimbabwean cuisine! I always boast about the quality of meat produced in Zimbabwe, it's simply the best! Ask the queen of England.
Bulawayo - Matobo Hills & Khami Ruins
A visit to my brother and cousin in Bulawayo is always the cherry on top for my trips to Zimbabwe. And that visit is never complete unless it includes a drive to Matobo National Park, one of Zimbabwe's world heritage sites. We get to enjoy a road trip together, a bit of sulking at how ridiculous the entrance fees are (yet it's so lovable we keep coming back), a walk up the hill, crazy photo moments, and silly but meaningful conversations as we sit atop the hill and watch the sun go down. There is a lot more to do and see in the national park, but because we also always have lunch at our *preferred braai spot, we only always make it to the park just before sunset. This time though, we were lucky enough to spot a buck as we drove out. It sprung up on us in the dark and we were startled. Momentary panic followed. As I stepped on the breaks, it was making a quick u-turn to sprint out of the road, back into the bush. Who doesn't love a wildlife sighting? Especially an unexpected one! Heart racing, I drove the rest of the way at an ever so slow speed.
*Zimbabwe has establishments where there's a butchery next to a restaurant. From the selection of meats in the butchery, you buy your choice, take it to the restaurant and they will braii (what you might call bbq) it for you and serve it with sadza, chakalaka, a side of green vegetables and fried sugar beans in a delicious thick sauce. This is something you have to experience if you go to Zimbabwe. You'll find this in most southern african nations. Each country has a local name for it. For example gochi gochi in Zimbabwe, shisa nyama in South Africa, nyama choma in East Africa's Kenya.
On the morning of this same day, we had gone to Khami Ruins, which is on the opposite side of Bulawayo. Yes, it is possible to do so much in one day; for the love of travel, adventure, and creating memories. It was our first time here; my dear brother and cousin grew up in Bulawayo so shame on them. My excuse is I grew up in Harare. But again, Zimbabwe is a big country with so much to see. It wouldn't be possible to have seen it all already, or ever. Khami ruins is a modest ancient city which is now uninhabited, rich with history on the Matebele people. There I got a deeper understanding of what began the unfortunate divide between the Shona and Ndebele peoples of my country.
Everybody knows about this one (me displaying ignorance). If you didn't, now you will. It's also known as The Smoke that Thunders, or Mosi Oa Tunya. The Victoria Falls are the largest single falls on earth, listed as one of the seven wonders of the world. There's so much to do and see in Zimbabwe's most famous little tourist town. I made my first jump here in 2016, on the bridge which separates Zimbabwe from Zambia. Chen my very good friend, escorted me to do the bungee. She watched in awe as I signed an indemnity form acknowledging that what I was about to do could be fatal. And then continuously telling me I was crazy, she watched me jump and take a great fall into the Zambezi. Well I was tied to a rope so no, I did not fall INTO the water. Chen also held my hand later that day as I limped to our flight back home (thanks Chen, love you to bits darling). I sustained a slight injury. Slight enough to keep me on crutches for a few months. And yet, no regrets. I still answer with a yes when crazy adventures call my name.
This time though, the crazy did not call loud enough. On our itinerary was a 25 minute helicopter ride over the falls and national park, sunset cruise on the Zambezi river, a safari day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana, a tour of the falls from both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides, traditional dinner at the BOMA, a visit to the big baobab tree, and whitewater rafting which was eventually cancelled and replaced by a night safari and bush dinner in the Stanley and Livingstone private game reserve. We also had a bit of time to shop for souvenirs, and stuff our faces with yummy meals of course.
Whether you're a Zimbabwean living abroad, or a foreigner thinking on your next vacation, uncertain as current conditions may be, Zimbabwe is still worth a visit. For me, what made those three weeks of continuous travel across Zimbabwe worth every minute? Showing my foreign SO the place which made me who I am - my birthplace, the beauty, the love, time spent with family and friends, being in my element, having one gochi gochi after another. The food, the food, the food. Yes, weight was gained and now that we're back home, it's time to fight it off. Good luck to us!