World Travel Market 2011 couldn’t have come at a better time as I still hearken back to the 12 wonderful days in the world of wonders that is Zimbabwe; I must have dropped by the Zimbabwe stand at least once over the course of the last three days at Excel London, not only catching up with our dearest Felicia and Stanley Banda from the ZTA Harare Office but also seeing a few Zim friends, namely Richard, David and Mikela. I guess you can take a girl out of Zimbabwe, but you can’t take Zimbabwe out of the girl! Day 9 in the
Big Brother House on the road trip, and we are leaving behind the little piece of heaven that is Hwange and head out to our penultimate stop Victoria Fall.
We wake up to a cloudy start in Hwange on Day 6 and the early morning breeze with its chilly bite and the super soft comfy beds we only got to spend a few hours on make it almost impossible to muster the will to get up, get dressed and go for our early morning game drive scheduled for 5.15 – yes, 5.15! At 5.15 sharp – I know it is Peter, our guide for the morning arrives (Hard to imagine anything in Zimbabwe being sharp on time but Peter is in a league of his own). Armed with the will to go on, cameras to shoot with and of course blankets to cover up in on this breezy Hwange morning, we are ready to roll.
It is almost as if Mother Nature overheard Felicia’s comment from the day before about the start of the rainy season as the skies are threatening to open up any minute. In the meantime, she keeps us entertained with a light show and the distant roll of thunder. Sunrise, lightening and the long dusty road through the bushes and the trees ahead of us heighten the senses and within minutes we are wide awake. Just in time too as there are elephants, zebras, buffalos and even lions to behold in what is Zimbabwe’s biggest national park which boasts a size equal to that of Belgium (Did you know this, Pascal?) And elephants, zebras, buffalos and lions are exactly what we see as we meander our way down the narrow lanes of the country park.
In close proximity to lounging lions and crouching elephants on a peaceful Hwange morning, it is so easy to think “four legs good, two legs bad” indeed as all creatures big and small go about their morning rituals. This land of wilderness which lays before one as far as the eye can see kindles some frenetic desire to come back, to come back soon one day and become a part of it all. But till I manage to come back, there miles to go. All too aware of this too, Peter heads in the direction of the lodge but not before a short stop at Hwange Park lodges and Hwange Safari Park.
On our return to Ivory Lodge, we are delighted to find hot drinks and full English to satiate our hunger before it is time to dash back to the rooms, pack up and hit the road again – but not without some last minute happy-snapping of the Ivory Lodge grounds.
The two-hour sojourn is really child’s play compared to the eight-hour long haul of the day before, and most of it is spent watching the landscape change from endless plains of dry shrubbery to emerald forests once again, like the ones we have not seen since Nyanga.
En route Victoria Falls, we also stop by Nechibili High School where we present the students with gifts to show ZTA’s gratitude for them hosting last year’s press group from the UK.
We reach the very gem of Zimbabwe’s tourism destinations and the host city of 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly co-hosted by Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia by mid afternoon. A quick run through the activities we opted to take part in and we hit the town to have a look around. While many have shopping on their minds – Ieva is after her lunch, Doug after a scarf for his wife and Marc is on the hunt for some jewellery for his – all we seem to purchase for a grand total of $2 is now defunct Zimbabwean dollars. Thanks to Pascal who decides to splash out and treat everyone to a selection of the currency, I suddenly find myself a billionaire. $30 billion… Beat that! Let’s just say, if the currency ever comes back, FAB will be competing with the likes of Vogue, Cindy Hudson will become editor-in-chief and yours truly will be out on the road as a perpetual nomad… or somewhere in Zimbabwe working with lions (but more to come on that later!).
Then we’re off to Livingstone Park. At the gates we get to voyeuristically observe an intimate grooming ritual between two primates – the male is prostrate on the grass while the female is fast at work grooming his fur. For a minute I ponder as to whether the male is dead but then realise that though he is not, he is somewhere in seventh heaven, lounging in pleasure. Obviously a little disturbed by his audience clicking away, he suddenly gets all shy and rolls over and it is the female’s turn to be groomed. And guess what? He spends about two seconds making a show of grooming her fur before he lies on his back and makes himself more comfortable again for her to return the favour. Men, hey?
Victoria Falls (indiginously named Mosi-oa-Tunya which means Smoke that Thunders)was first recorded for the European annals by the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone who named it after Queen Victoria. The largest waterfall in the world and a World Heritage site, at 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and 108 metres (354 ft) high, Victoria Falls has the power and grandeur to make you believe in the creative force of a higher being whatever you conceive Him to be. Walking down the meandering lanes of a lush forest, down the edge of the gorge, taking in the ferocity, the thunder, the beauty of the water falling at full steam ahead, with sunset in the background and intermittent lightning, your senses come alive with unprecedented zest for life and all this world has to offer. With each breath, each water drop on your skin and each moment that takes your breath away and leaves you lost for words but just the one interjection, “Wow!” you can’t help but repeat over and over again, this is the place to be alive.
At the end of the two hours as I make my way to our bus, I am in a daze. Zimbabwe has truly captured my heart with her pièce de ré·sis·tance and I am already plotting my return to the land of the “smoke that thunders.”
It is once again at Victoria Falls we are separated from the Italian group as we leave them at their hotel downtown and make our way to the Gorges Lodge 30 minutes out of town. Yet another hotel up the hills and with no internet connection to satiate the by now byte-starved journalists, but spectacular views of the gorge – not that we see much as by the time we check in, it is pitch black, so much so that we’re having difficulty to see two steps ahead to our accommodation, let alone the gorges.
While Gorges could have otherwise been gorgeous, the evening takes a turn for the dramatic when Marc is less then thrilled with the basic health and safety measures while Henry gets a bit of a “my best friend is black” attitude from the manager, Debbie, who admittedly agrees to eventually join us for dinner to address some of our concerns. By the time Team Zim is through with her, Debbie has taken on our feedback and promises to rectify some of the issues. In the meantime, the female chef who comes out to greet us upon Marc’s request and compliments on the meal gets an applause while gets a hug from his new best friend. All is almost well in the world.
Looking forward to a day in Vic Falls packed with activities and finally exhausted by a week’s worth of road trip-ping, we all head to our rooms in the dark “at our own risk” (as the sign which gets removed the next morning cautioned us on arrival). Tomorrow is another day and perhaps, just perhaps, if we wake up before sunrise, we may catch a glimpse of the gorges in all its sunlit glory.