T.I.A...This is Africa(!)

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So- after leaving Antelope park we headed across Zimbabwe in our big yellow truck to Bulawayo! On the way we stopped to visit Great Zimbabwe Ruins - the ruins of a city inhabited be the lost civilization of the Shona.

The city existed around the 11th century and it was amazing how intact it still was. We first went up to visit the Hill Ruins where the King used to live- it was a scorching hot day and we climbed for about half an hour up ancient steep narrow stairs to reach the top. From the top the view over the valley was amazing and as we explored the ruins our guide brought them to life explaining what each room was used for. At one point out guide led us into a low natural cave in the rock amongst which the ruins were built. Apparently this was where the king used to recline and be entertained (it was fantastically cool even in the heat of the day!) then our guide showed us what made this cave so special! He called out towards the entrance of the cave and we could hear the call reverberating around the entire valley. He explained the the king used to call over to the cluster of buildings down in the valley where his 200 wives resided when he wanted one of them to come and join him! After descending the hill we walked around the rest of the ruins and then visited the museum where various artifacts found there were displayed, including the original stone bird statue which now features on the flag of Zimbabwe.

After a quick lunch we then headed onwards to the city of Bulawayo. We stayed in a large house which opens up its grounds for overland trucks to camp there. However, we noticed upon arrival that an ATC (African Transport Company) truck had already set up camp. It was the same truck which had been parked next to us at antelope park, the inhabitants of which had 3 consecutive very noisy drunken parties next to us! Its inevitable on an overland tour like ours that you meet the same trucks a few time (in fact one Af Trails truck had been shadowing us every few days most of the way from Tanzania) so you get to know people- and these guys were our rowdy arch enemies! Needless to say every single person on our truck upgraded to dorms that night (Mark and I got a nice double) to avoid camping near them.

This upgrading also had another bonus- a T.V in the lounge!!!! It was the first television we'd watched (besides the dodgy films on the ferry to Zanzibar) since Nairobi and we were all very excited! As it turned out there was no reception- so we ended up rifling through a limited VHS collection and spent the evening watching faded/ wobbly screenings of Charlie's Angles and Armageddon.

The next day Mark and I decided to go into Bulawayo town and look around. As a few of you reading this blog will know, I was actually born in Bulawayo and my family lived there for a long time but as I left so young I was just as much of a tourist as anyone else. The lady who owned the place we were staying was really nice and gave us a big detailed street map of the town and suburbs and pointed out a few places we should visit. The first thing we did when we got into town was go to the bank to try and get some smaller notes as we were somewhat dubious about spending $50 and $100 notes. Zimbabwe only uses US$ now as the Zimbabwe dollar is completely devalued- although clever hawkers on the street now sell them as tourist trinkets and after buying some Mark is now always happy to tell anyone who will listen he's a 100 trillionaire! 
I mention this errand only because it provided our first insight into the former grandeur of Bulawayo. The city itself was a lot cleaner/ more western than places like Nairobi but it felt very dated and a lot emptier than you would imagine it should be for its size. The streets fell a bit 1970's and quite abandoned- and when we walked into the bank the former decadence of the city was very apparent! It might have been more of a shock as we had seen nothing but very third world establishments for months by this point but the huge marble and space inside came as quite a shock!

However, we were soon reminded that we weren't quite in the western world yet when we then tried to post some souvenirs home. An ordeal which lasted most of the afternoon being pasted from pillar to post at the post office. At one stage we asked a guy behind one of the many counters we were sent to, whether they sold any boxes to put our souvenirs inside. After a blank stare he just turned around and walked into the back. Not sure if he's heard/ understood we stood waiting for about 15 mintues untill he returned with a small matchbox sized thing. We showed him the carrier bag of things we needed to send for some sort of size comparison, only for him to turn around again wordlessly and dissapear again. The whole afternoon felt like a particularly fraught episode of Faulty Towers, eventually ending with an uncanny Basil impersination from Mark exclaiming, "RIGHT.. that's it!, we're LEAVING!" Signally the end of our postage atempts and we began the walk home.


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