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BULAWAYO, November 25, 1999

We spent the morning touring the Great Zimbabwe Historical Site, just a few miles from the Kyle View Resort.  Here are the ruins of a great stone city and fortress, supposedly built by the ancestors of the Shona people around 1200 AD.  At its peak, it comprised a city of 20,000 people and a vibrant economy based largely on cattle and trade.   The surviving buildings are elaborate and there are remnants of sophisticated stone carving.  The new name for the country was taken from this site. 

We hiked labouriously up the nearby granite kopjie (rocky hill) to find more stone walls, fortifications and traces of dwellings.  If you stood still and closed your eyes, you could hear echoes down through the centuries:  the chatter of the picanins (children) and the slap of bare feet running up and down the stone stairways, under the hot African sunshine.  From the top of the kopjie, there was a magnificent view out over the surrounding countryside.   Unfortunately, we also got a magnificent view of an African thunderstorm, coming across Lake Kyle and heading straight towards us.  We took shelter under some overhanging rocks, along with most of a school tour group, and got only slightly damp.  Thunderstorms, while impressive, don’t seem to last very long and the temporary coolness was a welcome break from the heat of the day.

Kopjie Steps up the kopjie African thunderstorm Shona village

There was also a traditional Shona Village at Great Zimbabwe where we could look inside the rondavels and storage huts and we watched some traditional dancers who were putting on a performance under a tree.  It was even more interesting to see the response from the visiting (black) school children.  They were very excited by the music and the dancing and soon all were taking part.  It got to be quite a noisy crowd.

 

Leaving Great Zimbabwe, we set out for our next destination, which was Bulawayo.  Unfortunately, we (sorry, I) took a wrong turn and we nearly got to see South Africa.  In due course, we realized our (sorry, my) mistake and got turned around.  Bulawayo is the second largest city and lies in the southwest part of the country.  It is a centre of ranching and mining and has quite a bit of heavy and light industry.  It is also an important junction on the Cape To Cairo Railway, as here the line branches off to Harare, Mutare and then through Mozambique to the port of Beira, on the Indian Ocean.  Bulawayo is like a prairie town with great wide streets, supposedly wide enough “to turn a full span of oxen around”.

 

We went to visit the Chipangali Wildlife Sanctuary.  This is not a game farm or a zoo, but rather a place where injured or orphaned animals and birds are brought.  Some are rehabilitated and released into the wild, but others find a permanent home.   It was a good opportunity to see some of the wild animals up close.  We saw a big, lazy, old male lion, who got tired of us gawking at him so he stood up and peed on Susan!  We were standing in a passage-way, looking at some birds when a door from outside opened and a fellow asked us if we would stand over to one side.   He came in and right behind him was a black rhinoceros about the size of a Pontiac, following him like a puppy dog.  The man slowly led the rhino through the passage and down the way to his enclosure.  Our eyes must have been as big as saucers!  He didn’t even have a leash!  There were some vervet monkeys, which were entertaining to watch – especially when they were doing extremely rude things to each other (or to themselves).

 

Old lion Black rhinoceros Hyena Pet rhinoceros

 HWANGE, November 27, 1999

From Bulawayo, we drove through miles of ranching country, which seems to be mostly what we would call bush.   The cattle graze under the trees.  The road was lined with big mopane, msasa and acacia trees, which shaded the road and made it a really pretty drive.  Not far from Lupane, we checked into the Halfway Hotel.  This was an interesting place; a real remnant of the old colonial days.   There are Halfway Houses on the main roads between the larger centres and this one was halfway between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.  Presumably, in the old days, it was a two-day journey and white people needed a civilized place to stop for the night.  The typical Halfway House is enclosed in a compound, has a restaurant, a bar, a tree-shaded patio and small overnight rooms with mosquito netting over the beds.  The buildings have thatched roofs, whitewashed walls, and shady verandas.  Nowadays, the Halfway Houses are convenient lunch stops between cities. 

 

The roads are all two-lane blacktop, in good repair (better than most of ours) and everyone drives like a madman.  The speed limit is 120 kph but if you drive that slowly other drivers take offence and flash their lights and ‘hoot’ at you.  We were doing 118 kph and were passed by a fully-loaded bus as if we were standing still!     A fully-loaded bus means that the roof rack is full too: bicycles, rolls of barbed wire, bundles of thatch, mattresses and furniture, bags of mealies, crates of chickens and everything in between!  This would be considered an insecure load (not to mention overheight) in Canada.   

 

A most interesting thing is to see sections of the “old” road, still winding along beside the present-day one.  It consists of two strips of blacktop, just wide enough for the wheels, with a space in between.  If two oncoming vehicles meet, each swerves to the side, with the left wheels in the dirt and the right wheels on one of the strips.  These roads were built in the 1930’s and you can just visualize a Model A touring car bowling along.   The strip roads were in use up until the late sixties when the present roads replaced them.  We never got a chance to drive on one but we did drive on single lane, nine-foot wide blacktop, which is essentially a strip road with the center filled in.  We still had to swerve half off the road when meeting an oncoming vehicle, so it was pretty much the same.  Of course in the 1930’s, you might only have met one or two other cars in a day’s drive.

 

One of the highlights of our trip was the day we spent in Hwange National Park, looking for Animals (the capital A is not a typo).  The roads through the park are well marked and there are game-viewing platforms where you can sit and look out over a pan (waterhole).  These pans would normally be dry at this time of year, but water is pumped from boreholes to keep them full.  The game tends to congregate around the pans that are full.  We saw:  impalas, kudus, wildebeestes, zebras (in the distance), hippos (at least their ears, eyes and nostrils), crocodiles pretending to be logs, a troupe of 30 baboons, vervet monkeys, an ostrich, a black-backed jackal and lots and lots of elephant dung, but no elephants. 

Hippo eyes and ears Impala Kudu Wildebeest
Troop of Baboons foraging Ostrich Vervet monkeys

We started back towards the main gate along a smaller dirt track, thinking we weren’t going to see any of the big animals, when suddenly there was an elephant about the size of our barn, crossing the road in front of us.  I nearly wet myself!  We stopped to watch and then there was another one, and another one!  The one we saw first was the little one!  We sat for 20 minutes, watching them feeding only 20 meters away, until they finally strolled off through the bush, ripping leaves off trees and stuffing them in their mouths as they went. 

Once our adrenaline subsided, we drove on, saying that the only thing to top that would be to see a giraffe.   In less than five minutes, there were two giraffes standing by the side of the road, munching on the tops of some trees!  They condescended to let us watch them eat for a few minutes and then they ambled slowly away into the bush. 

We left the park, sorry not to have seen any big cats, but we knew they are elusive, and because it was the middle of the day, we figured they were all sleeping in the shade.  The best time to see cats is early morning and in the evening.   We were outside the park gates, heading for the main highway, when we saw two safari trucks full of tourists sitting one on either side of the road.  I didn’t think anything of it, just concentrated on manoeuvring between them, when all of a sudden, I was gibbering and spluttering and trying to stop the car, all at the same time.  In the grass, on the side of the road, were three female lions!  When we left the park, we had put our cameras in the trunk, thinking that all the excitement was over for the day.  We drove a mile up the road (it was not a mile, it was about 300 feet!!) to where we (that’s the royal “we”) figured  it would be safe to get out of the car (I don’t know why we thought there wouldn’t be lions there, too) and drove back to take pictures.  Then, on the other side of the road, there appeared an enormous male lion with a couple of young ones.  He came bounding over, got the females up and moving away from us.  He didn’t leave right away, himself, but just melted into the bush and stayed there watching us until the rest of his family got far away.  Speaking of adrenaline! 

 

Lions in the grass Standing guard Mamma lion Pappa lion

We didn’t see a leopard or a cheetah because they are very shy, but we did extremely well seeing as many Animals as we did in the relatively short time we spent in the park.  It would have been nice to see some buffalo, though.

 

From the park, we drove on to the town of Hwange and stayed at the elegant, old-world Baobab Hotel.  This hotel is perched high on a hill, overlooking the town and miles of countryside.  We sat out on the lawn, under a baobab tree, watching the sun set and admiring the view.  A white-jacketed waiter brought us cold Bohlinger beer, while we waited until it was time for dinner.   We wondered what the poor people were doing.  

The Baobab Hotel sits
on top of this hill
The elegant Baobab Hotel View from the patio

 

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