Bringing you a little more of Zim sunshine with Day 6 of Editor’s travels around Zimbabwe…
Believe it or not, it took me only five days in Zimbabwe before she got christened with a Zimbabwean name! So along with Sade and Taiwo, FAB people, I now am the proud owner of a new African name (this time from Zimbabwe though!) and thanks to a car full of Masvingo guys, I am now Chipo, but more on this later…
Those who know me know I am a bit of an insomniac (Please be kind and just call me a night owl instead!) and yet for the first time in years it was at the Lodge at the Ancient City in Masvingo I woke up to a dawn chorus of crickets without the need of my mobile phone alarm and that persistent little so and so called the snooze function. Although trying to leave the comfort of my double bed in the grandeur of our lodge whose décor echoed the themes and structure of Great Zimbabwe itself was a whole different matter, but get up one had to as it was yet another early start at 6am to head to the Great Zimbabwe ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and see the majestic ancient city which gave the country its name back in 1980.
After a hearty English breakfast – one of those things in Zimbabwe sure to make you feel at home – it was once again time to shower, pack and hit the road. As we left homeboy Henry to hang out with family in nearby Masvingo which we’d passed through in darkness the night before but were too tired to crack an eyelid open and have a look, the rest of us made our way to the Ancient City of Kings ten minutes drive again down country lanes bathed in the early morning amber light.
It was here at the foot of the hill of Great Zimbabwe, the twelfth- to fifteenth-century stone-built capital of the Rozwi Shona dynasty, we finally found out – from our stand up comedian of a tour guide – what the word ‘Zimbabwe” means: The Big House of Stone. And finally I got to see a site I had been longing to see for the good part of 2011 – at least since meeting our hostess with the mostest Felicia back in April and being particularly enchanted by the images of the narrow stone pathways and labyrinths of this ancient city of kings.
Like much of Zimbabwe, the ruins of the ancient city that is Great Zimbabwe has also proved a bone of contention between native Zimbabweans and the white supremacist government of former Rhodesia which had gone as far as claiming the city was built by Phoenicians so as to avoid giving the indigenous people of Zimbabwe any credit over the construction of such a majestic monument.
At the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex we get to view the huge boulder in a shape similar to that of the Zimbabwe Bird on the national flag. Our patriotic guide also tells us of the symbolism of the Zimbabwean flag, with Zimbabwe bird at its heart symbolizing strength, freedom and the spiritual ties to ancestors.
Following our visit to the ancient city, we headed to Masvingo – the first and oldest colonial settlement, then named Fort Victoria, established in 1890 by Cecil Rhodes’s Pioneer column, the first wave of British and Afrikaan settlers, en route to their final destionation Harare (then called Salisbury). En route we also dropped by the Great Zimbabwe Lodge where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her visit to Zimbabwe in 1991.
In downtown Masvingo we picked up Henry and also get to meet his lovely nephews and niece. And it was here in Masvingo after a car passed by with a bunch of raucous young men hollering “Chipo, Chipo!” after me and I briskly walked back to our bus to enquire exactly what insult I had been bestowed with I found out that I had been given a name which meant “gifted, talented.” Just when I rejoiced in mere strangers recognising how talented and FAB I naturally am, our designated photographer and gutter dweller David had to put the boot in with a loaded question: “Exactly what gifts were they referring to?” Well, whatever it may be, clearly I am somehow “gifted” by Zimbabwean standards as deemed appropriate by the men of Masvingo and heck, so you know, I am keeping the name!
By midday, leaving Zimabwe’s oldest city Masvingo behind, we headed out to the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo – Land of the Kings, also as we found out en route, our very own Queen Tani’s hometown where she spent the formative years of her life being told to “study hard and stay away from boys” which she promptly repeated to her niece she got to see in town the following day.
Twinned with Aberdeen in Scotland, Bulawayo was once the hub of the province of Matebeleland and the headquarters of the Ndebele kings, Mzilikazi and his son Lobengula. It was also Lobengula who named the city ‘where he (the prince) is being killed’ due to the civil war fought by a group of Ndebeles not aligned to him were fighting him as they felt he was not the heir to the throne. The name Bulawayo was imported from Nguniland which was once occupied by the Khumalo people (Yup, does Mietani Khumalo – aka our very own Queen Tani – ring a bell now?)
By 1893, the region’s immense natural wealth turned Bulawayo into a boom town at the axis of a well-structured road and rail networks to the north, south, east and west. With its wide jacaranda lined streets, open spaces and a hybrid of colonial and modern buildings, the city still lives up to its nickname, City of Skies (as ZTA Bulawayo office director the ever elegant Val Bell would tell us on our fly-by visit a few days later) providing light, space and airy cityscapes. Bulawayo has the power to make one dream they can abandon where they came from and start a new life here – as long as there is the purple shade of jacaranda trees and the promise of infinite light blue skies overhead. Once they may have tried to hunt down and kill a prince here, but murderous is the last thing it looks on a serene late afternoon as we zoomed past the streets only to stop by Holiday Inn to drop off Germany-based tour operator Ralph who was returning to Harare the next morning to catch his flight to Johannesburg. During our whistle-stop at Holiday Inn we also got to meet the lovely Lizzy from the ZTA Bulawayo office who had pretty much all the gents on the bus spellbound with her flawless beauty and dazzling smile.
Leaving Ralph and Lizzy back at Holiday Inn, we headed off to our next stop and residence for the following two nights: Matopos Lodge – another montain resort off the beaten track – in fact so far off you’d be lucky to get half a bar of reception on your mobile phone before that also eventually gave up on you in under seconds leaving you cut off from all civilisation. While we were all fascinated by the inventive architecture of our lodges imitating and echoing the structure of the traditional rural huts and admittedly too exhausted from the day’s travels to attempt contact with the outer world, we were once again well and truly at one with nature and nature only, as the rainbow lizards greetings us on our lodge steps would vouchsafe.
After a buffet dinner of what we were led to believe by now were staple Zimbabwean dishes – butternut soup, steak served with rice and vegetables followed by dessert – we hit the bar to still get some work in with what we had. Connection or no connection, there were still photos to edit, notes to make, blogs to write with whatever energy we could muster in between early wake up calls and late evening hotel check-ins. Once the bar was shut and good nights were bid, I made my way to the lodge I shared with Ieva, sat outside in the company of rainbow lizards and a copy of Beneath a Zimbabwe Sun by Beverley Whyte.
There in the early hours of the morning, at one with nature, with nothing but the pitter patter of nocturnal creatures around me, I could not help but think this was indeed the kind of blissful existence us humans were made for, were once at perfect peace with, at times should strive to strip back down to much like the Bushmen of Africa. With that I put my pen and my book away and made my way inside to bed, for the next day we’d be on the trail of the Bushmen.
Featured image by Pascal Baetens
Video by Doug Bardwell