[In 1991, I visited Africa for the first time; taking a business trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Zimbabwe was a relaxed friendly country where everyone made me feel welcome and I loved every minute of my stay. South Africa was still in the throes of Apartheid and I felt uncomfortable throughout the whole visit. How things have changed in both countries since then. Later that year, I returned to Zimbabwe with my husband for our first major overseas holiday. Today I found the journal I wrote during that trip and I thought I would share some of those notes over the next few travel pieces.]
We arrive about midday after twenty one and a half hours travel via Frankfurt and Nairobi. Despite customs and immigration formalities, we clear the airport quicker than I usually get out of Heathrow. We take a taxi to the hotel, eat a late lunch and then crash out in our 23rd floor room. Australia beats England in the rugby final, but we sleep right through it anyway. I wake to find Michael taking pictures of jacaranda trees – the holiday has begun
We walk into the centre of Harare and visit the park, a model of Victoria Falls, a sculpture gardens, the town hall and the cathedral, before taking a taxi to the market mentionned in the guide book. We realise at the last minute this is not a tourist attraction, but the local food market in one of the townships. We get a few funny comments, but mostly grins and friendly greetings, before being hassled for everything from 20 cents to $25.
We change our Travellers’ Cheques into a carrier bag of local currency and pay for our air trip: we will be visiting Lake Kariba; Hwange Game Park; Victoria Falls; and Bulawayo over the next ten days. Then we borrow a car from a friend and head for the wild – or at least the Harare lion park. The big cats seem more moth-eaten than majestic and we hope they’ll look better in the game park, but we have a great time spotting some twenty different kinds of animals and birds; we use up two full rolls of film in the process and make a note to buy more before heading off ‘up country’. Our best sight is a lone kudo buck which seems to be herding several bison. A lion cub in a cage looks far more cuddly than he probably is. Otters perform synchronised swimming for us – and the only feline outside of the cages, when approached with caution, turns out to be a tabby cat!
We head off for Chinhoyi Caves, about 140 km from Harare, taking the Bulawayo Road, as it is the only way out of the city that we know. We turn on to the A1, or so we think, but end up driving across country on surprisingly good roads. We pick up a family of hitchhikers that we see sitting under a huge umbrella at the side of the road; our brief risk assessment concludes that a hijacker would not take his wife, baby and lots of luggage to work with him! The couple tell us their destination is the village of the wife’s mother and it is en route for the caves, but this may be a slight exaggeration. We drive for miles through cattle country: beautiful, healthy beasts belonging to Mr A J Smith from London. Our passengers are disappointed when we say we don’t know him; we explain there are lots of people, indeed lots of Smiths in London. When we arrive at the village, the husband attempts to stay in the car, saying our destination sounds more fun than his – but we send him on his way.
Retracing our steps we finally find the A1. Passing many villages of mud huts and African cattle, definitely not as sleek as those belonging to Mr Smith, our photography is hampered by a sense of guilt and intrusion. When we reach the caves, they are large, deep, very steep and slightly smelly! We can find no signs of the promised cave art; we don’t think graffiti counts. We get back to the hotel in a much shorter time, driving the A1 all the way. We now know two roads out of Harare!
[Next month: Lake Kariba, sunset cruise and crocodiles]
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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