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November 25, 1999

We spend 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. 

 

 

 

 

Very imposing ruins We are entertained by school children

We hike labouriously up the nearby granite kopjie (rocky hill) to find more stone walls, fortifications and traces of dwellings. 

If you stand still and close your eyes, you can 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 is a magnificent view out over the surrounding countryside.   Unfortunately, we also get a magnificent view of an African thunderstorm, coming across Lake Kyle and heading straight towards us.  We take shelter under some overhanging rocks, along with most of a school tour group, and get only slightly damp.  Thunderstorms, while impressive, don’t seem to last very long and the temporary coolness is a welcome break from the heat of the day.

Kopjie Steps up the kopjie
African thunderstorm Shona village

There is also a traditional Shona Village at Great Zimbabwe where we can look inside the rondavels and storage huts and we watch some traditional dancers who are putting on a performance under a tree.  It is even more interesting to see the response from the visiting (black) school children.  They are very excited by the music and the dancing and soon all are joining in.  It gets to be quite a noisy crowd.

 

Leaving Great Zimbabwe, we set out for our next destination, which is Bulawayo.  Unfortunately, we (sorry, I) take a wrong turn and we nearly get to see South Africa.  In due course, we realize our (sorry, my) mistake and get 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 go 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 is a good opportunity to see some of the wild animals up close.  We see a big, lazy, old male lion, who gets tired of us gawking at him so he sands up and pees on Susan!  We are standing in a passage-way, looking at some birds when a door from outside opens and a fellow asks us if we would stand over to one side.   He comes in and right behind him is a young black rhinoceros about the size of a Pontiac, following him like a puppy dog.  The man slowly leads the rhino through the passage and down the way to his enclosure.  Our eyes must be as big as saucers!  He doesn’t even have a leash! 

There are some vervet monkeys, which are entertaining to watch – especially when they are doing extremely rude things to each other (or to themselves).

Old lion resident at Chipingali Lazy hyena
Black Rhinoceros Pet black Rhino

 

November 27, 1999

From Bulawayo, we drive through miles of ranching country, which seems to be mostly what we would call bush.   The cattle graze under the trees.  The road is lined with  mopane bushes, msasa and acacia trees, which shade the road and make it a really pretty drive.  Not far from Lupane, we check into the Halfway Hotel.  This is 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 is 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 are doing 118 kph and are passed by a fully-loaded bus as if we are 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 get a chance to drive on one but we do drive on single lane, nine-foot wide blacktop, which is essentially a strip road with the center filled in.  We still have to swerve half off the road when meeting an oncoming vehicle, so it is pretty much the same.  Of course in the 1930’s, you might only meet one or two other cars in a day’s drive.

An old "strip road" on the left

 One of the highlights of our trip is the day we spend in Hwange National Park, looking for ANIMALS.  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 see:  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 noses Kudu
Impalas
Wildebeest Ostriche
Baboons foraging
  Vervet monkeys

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

 

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

 

We leave the park, sorry not to have seen any big cats, but we know they are elusive, and because it is the middle of the day, we figure they are all sleeping in the shade.  The best time to see cats is early morning and in the evening.   We are outside the park gates, heading for the main highway, when we see two safari trucks full of tourists sitting one on either side of the road.  I don’t think anything of it, just concentrate on manoeuvring between them, when all of a sudden, I ams gibbering and spluttering and trying to stop the car, all at the same time.  In the grass, on the side of the road, are 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 drive a mile up the road -- (it was not a mile, it was about 300 feet!!) to where we -- (that’s the royal “we”) -- figure  it is be safe to get out of the car (I don’t know why we think there wouldnít be lions there, too) and drive back to take pictures.  Then, on the other side of the road, there appears an enormous male lion with a couple of young ones.  He comes bounding over, gets the females up and moving away from us.  He doesn’t leave right away, himself, but just melts into the bush and stays there watching us until the rest of his family gets far away.  Speaking of adrenaline! 

 

Lions in the grass Standing guard

We don’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 drive on to the town of Hwange and stay at the elegant, old-world Baobab Hotel.  This hotel is perched high on a hill, overlooking the town and miles of countryside.  We sit out on the lawn, under a baobab tree, watching the sun set and admiring the view.  A white-jacketed waiter brings us cold Bohlinger beer, while we wait until it is time for dinner.   We wonder what the poor people are doing.  

The Baobab Hotel sits on top of this hill
The elegant Baobab Hotel Susan under a baobab tree

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