Eight days in Zimbabwe

Originally posted: 10 Nov, 2017

After South Luangwa National Park we just had transit days to get to Zimbabwe.

The first day driving was only about 6 hours, so we got into our camp at Petauke just before 2pm. At our campsite there were goats with their kids, and so many different birds, apparently the owner likes birds!

Nothing to do in Petauke so we spent the afternoon relaxing at the bar, had an early dinner then in bed!

The following morning we had an early start at 5:30am.  We arrived in Lusaka around 11am, interesting driving through the city as it is the most built up city we have seen on the whole trip. Victor told us that when the Zimbabwe economy crashed, Zambia boomed. Largely due to the fact that the wealthy Zimbabweans moved across the border. Lots of international companies around and heaps of new shopping malls and houses, I even saw a Jaguar car dealership (must tell dad).

We got into the campsite, and there were giraffe at the entrance! Then after putting up tents we had zebra walk through the camp! Turns out the camp is owned by a man who used to own a zoo, however as Lusaka grows he has had to sell off his land and most of his animals, he only has a few animals left.  I asked why there is a zoo in Zambia when there are wild animals everywhere and Victor said not everyone can afford to go to national parks, the zoo entry is a lot cheaper!

Zebra walking through camp

After lunch we hopped back in the truck to go into town for groceries. There were so many familiar brands in the supermarket, but no hummus (the great search for hummus continues)! We wandered around the rest of the mall to kill time before we headed back to the camp.

When we got back there were about 5 other overland trucks there, heaps of other travellers around.  It’s almost intimidating seeing all the tourists having been away from them for so long! I loved watching all the drivers, cooks and guides catching up, they are like little kids running around chatting to each other! I guess part of being on the road for months at a time is that you don’t know when you will see your friends next!  I spoke to one of the other guides, apparently they had seen another truck that had hit a ute. Truck overturned, 1 dead and majority of people in truck had serious injuries. Apparently only the driver was wearing a seat belt at the time, scary!

Headed to the bar after dinner with Kate and got chatting with a few locals.  First guy we spoke to asked straight away: Do you have a husband? Subtle! He asked Kate if she went to church and when Kate said no I don’t believe in God, he looked gobsmacked! He didn’t know how to respond, he just stared at her. He asked me the same question and I got a similar response when I said no.  The next 10 minutes was him telling us why we should believe in God, he wasn’t getting anywhere with the conversation so I changed the subject.

His friend came over and joined us and they started asking us if we liked Africa, yes we do. The response of course was; well then you should come back and settle here with a nice husband.

No thank you.

He then told us that in Africa that if he asked us to be his wife we wouldn’t have a choice and we would have to accept and in his hometown girls are taken away when they reach womanhood to be taught how to be a good wife. Which is essentially cooking, cleaning, home duties and how to keep your husband happy. If the girls don’t submit then they are beaten by the women who are training them.  Lovely.

The two of them started telling us about how they were cousins even though they are from different towns because one of them grew up in the north and the other in the east of Zambia. They don’t like people from the south or west. They also told us that apparently in the north they eat bush rats (definitely know it’s true because earlier that day we saw them for sale on skewers) and in the east they eat monkeys (don’t know if it’s true but wouldn’t be surprised!).  Apparently, the tail of a bush rat tastes like popcorn and is the best bit… ew.

The first guy asked us where we were staying, when we said we were camping he asked if he could share our tent with us that night. No thanks. I was done with the conversation so I went and sat on the couch to watch some local music videos, which was amazing.

A song came on I really liked so I asked the bartender the name of it, got started chatting with him about Zambia which was super interesting.  He said the current president is a bit like a dictator and he doesn’t like him. He has been in power 3 years and has only just started doing good things for the country.  Copper is their biggest export, but unfortunately it is being mined by foreign companies so the country isn’t reaping any real benefits from it.  He said that they also sell a lot of cotton to China and India which is then made into clothes for big international brands. He said Zambia had the potential to earn a lot but they are constantly being taken advantage of by foreign countries.

He then told me that the night before he got pulled over by a cop for drink driving and he had to bribe 45USD (a lot in Zambia) because if he got a fine he would lose his job straight away and would not be able to be employed again because of his reputation. He said it was his first time bribing a cop and it was super easy.  I was pretty tired so I finished up my drink and went to bed.

Up at revolting 4:30 the next day, bit of a slow morning though, we didn’t leave until 6am.

We got to the border at 8:30, very quiet border! No one selling anything and no cars lined up, just a huge building we had to walk into. It was a one stop border so we stamped out of Zambia then walked across the hall to fill in visa forms, handed over $30USD then waited. While waiting I was looking around the room at all the signs about anti-corruption.  Kind of funny one of them said the steps to take if you want to report corruption, the fourth step was if you didn’t hear back from management to post it on their Facebook or Twitter account, make it public!  Visas and passports got handed back and we headed off just after 10.

Shortly after the border Victor asked us to gather around, he had been very quiet all morning so I was a bit worried. Turns out the night before his boss had called him to tell him that our cooks mother had passed away and last night he had told our cook, Emmanuel.  Emmanuel would be flying back to Nairobi once we got to Harare and at this stage we didn’t know if we would have a replacement cook until Victoria Falls (5 days time), Victor was waiting for an update.  Really sad news, Emmanuel had been the sweetest friendliest guy the whole way and it was terrible to hear.

As we drove into the city centre of Harare we could see the influence from the previous English settlements. Big Victorian houses, wide streets, front gardens, very different to everywhere else we have been.  We had an hour free time in the city before heading to our campsite, honestly I wish we skipped it.

Harare was the first place we had been where I felt uneasy walking around – bit of a seedy city.

We decided to go in a group, walked a block around to get to the supermarket, lots of stares and not friendly. We had a number of people yelling things at us and very persistent beggars following us and demanding food and money.  When we finished up at the supermarket a man outside selling onions was half yelling at us saying that it is safe here, we don’t need to worry he doesn’t have a gun like how in South Africa everyone has guns so he won’t shoot us. Oh ok then I feel much better! Couldn’t get back on the truck fast enough!

We drove out of the city for camp that night, when we got there we found out that Cosmos (my cook from the first leg) would be joining us for the rest of the leg. He was flying in that night to take over from Emmanuel.

We had our last meal with Emmanuel and then we all went inside to have a drink with him. I ended up falling asleep on the couch (standard), shuffled off to the tent and went to bed!

Woke up after a restless night, so damn cold! The days are getting hotter, but the nights are getting colder! We were greeted by Cosmos at breakfast, we said goodbye to Emmanuel which was real sad and then we headed off.

We had a short drive that morning to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.

Saw lots of dairy farms on the drive!

Arrived at 1pm and had lunch before starting our guided tour.  We started the tour by walking up the ancient path to the top of the hill that has the Kings residence, at times it was very steep and narrow.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

At the top we explored the Kings residence and a monastery dating back to approximately 1400BC.  Only the King and priests lived up the top, everyone else lived down the bottom including his 200 wives… yes 200 wives.

 From the courtyard he could look down over the village and his wives, the acoustics were as such that he could yell from here and they could hear him down the bottom.

We walked back down to the bottom this time taking the modern path.  Stopped in the museum, there were lots of artefacts collected from the ruins, and a lot of carved wooden totems.  There was also a big collection of items that had been traded with other cultures from around the world which I found most interesting. They had found things from China, Iran, Italy, Persia, Indian, amazing that they had made peaceful contact with so many other civilisations all those years ago!

From there we went to a cultural village to see how the wives would have lived.  The number 1 wife lived in the big “enclosure” (as they called it) and the others lived in this village. Wife number 5 was the favourite wife apparently, didn’t quite catch the reason why she was favourite or how they know that.  Our guide said part of the reason the King had so many wives was so he could have a lot of children (he had approximately 1200 children) and these kids he would marry off to people in other tribes. By doing this he maintained good relations with everyone and he was not at risk of being attacked by other tribes… hate to say it but I guess it’s kind of smart!

After a traditional dance we went to visit the big enclosure of wife number 1.

It was huge! 11m high and the wall was 4m wide in some spots. Inside there was a 10m high cone shaped tower, which is a completely unique structure that was built during that period. Our guide told us that wife number 1 had all the power, if the King asked for wife 57 to be sent to him she could send wife 94 and he wouldn’t complain.  She had the final say in all matters involving the other wives and children.

After the tour we drove another 20 minutes to our campsite perched up on a hill. Beautiful! Really nice gardens, after putting up the tent we went for a walk around the gardens, went to a lookout over the lake.

I decided it would be a great idea to get a photo of me jumping off a big rock. It was not a good idea. I cut my hand open in a couple of places, and boy oh boy did it sting!

Cut my hand open for this gem of a photo!

Had a nice hot shower and then we all sat around a campfire with a drink. Another delicious dinner then off to bed for another earlier start.

The following day we got up at 6am and headed off, uneventful drive arriving at camp at 1pm.  We were greeted by the owners two dogs, super friendly!  Had lunch and then most of us hopped back into the truck to go explore the city Bulawayo.

We got dropped at city hall and were given 2.5 hours to explore, we walked into the tourist information and an elderly woman jumped up from the desk and said: “Ooh! Tourists!”

Guess they don’t get many tourists!

We got a map then headed up the street, stopped at a street market selling handicrafts. I was very restrained and didn’t buy anything! We continued up the street, checked out a few shops along the way. Went to an art gallery but we decided it wasn’t worth the entrance fee. Wandered a bit more around town, I bought a newspaper to get all the local gossip!

Big drama in Zimbabwe at the moment!  The first lady on a recent trip to South Africa assaulted a model who was hanging out with her sons. She is back in Zimbabwe and South Africa is demanding she go to South Africa to face charges but the President is refusing, so bit of tension between the two countries! DRAMA!

We ended up spending our remaining hour at a bar, the town was quite nice but really not a whole lot to do! We got back to the campsite and had dinner. A cat showed up halfway through dinner and once I cleared my plate he decided my lap was the place to be – no complaints from me!  One of the dogs showed up though and spooked it so I went off to bed!

The following day we had a full day tour, we went to a national park with the most unusual landscapes, massive rocks all around, piled up on each other.

We stopped for lunch by a lake, had yummy salad, bread and meat.  Just as I finished making my sandwich I heard a rustling next to me looked over and a damn baboon was coming at me!  I jumped out of the way at the last second it knocked my plate to the ground and grabbed the bread rolls.  My heart was racing! If there is one animal I’m scared of here it’s baboons, vicious buggers!  I looked down at my sandwich in the dirt, no bread left I just had salad and meat!

After lunch we drove further up the road and hopped out to walk up to a cave, went through the bush and clambered over rocks to get up to a giant rock that overlooked the park, beautiful!

Walked a bit further to get to the cave, there we got to see 36,000 year old San Bushmen painting! Incredible! Apparently in the park there are thousands of cave paintings dating from 200 years old to over 150,000 years old!  He said the newer paintings had clear drawings of English and Dutch (you could tell by the clothing that had been drawn) and in some caves there were paintings that images of the typical alien (big head, small body etc).

36,000 year old paintings!

He pointed out different animals and scenes of people preparing for the hunt, hunting, cooking etc.

He then gave us a bit of information about the Bushmen.  Physically they have dark skin, high cheekbones, tight curly hair which is fast growing and they never grow taller than 150cm.  They are also the only people in the world where the man always has a semi-erect penis and women have some sort of flap over their vagina.  Anthropologists believe it’s for hygiene reasons living in the bush without clothing. Their body shape is unique to them, they are incredibly strong and lean but have a large bum that stores fat, he said when you see a Bushman who has not eaten in a while their bum sits flat with loose skin drooping down but as soon as they eat the fat goes directly there.  Their bodies over time became this way as it was always a long period in between meals.  In one sitting a Bushman could eat up to 25kg of meat!  The Bushmen do not waste anything, so when they killed an animal the family would sit there eating non-stop until every part of the animal had been eaten, occasionally breaking for naps.  They use arrows to hunt, the arrow is not used to kill but to inject a poison, some poisons would take up to 48 hours to take effect.  They cooked all their meat to draw out the poison so it was safe for them to eat.

They were monogamous, only had 1 wife and no more than 2 children.  They believed more than 2 children would have an impact on the environment.  Part of the way they controlled this was they knew of a plant that caused abortions and another plant that could suppress menstruation for up to 13 months.

They live in small groups of 6-8 people as this caused less disruption to the environment, and they were nomadic for the same reason.  There is no status, everyone is equal, man, woman, elderly, children.  They only bathed twice in their life, when they are born and when they die, water was for sustenance not hygiene.

We headed back down the mountain and hopped back in the jeep to head to the local chiefs house.  On arrival we had to wait outside to be invited in by the chief, Onponde.  Once we had the invitation we walked in the fence area, lots of small huts and so many chickens!

We went into his hut and he was there waiting for us in his finest, porcupine spike necklace, leopard skin, other big cat skins, mongoose arm and leg bands. He had a spear and shield made from a hard leaf or something.  Next half hour we sat down with him while he told us a bunch of stories, his face was so animated the whole time.  He would tell us a story and our guide would translate for us, as he translated he would watch our faces for our reactions and get super happy when we laughed!

One of the stories was about how he got the leopard skin he was wearing.  When he was 23 years old his cows were being killed so he set a trap, went out one day and there was a leopard with his paw caught in it.  He went over to kill it but ended up in a wrestling match with the leopard, his dog was nearby barking going crazy.  A white man driving by heard the noise and came to investigate and saw what happened, he pulled out his gun and shot the leopard saving Onponde’s life.  He put him in the back of his ute and tried to get the dog to come as well, the dog had never seen a white person so it freaked out and ran away.  The man took Onponde to the hospital and left him there with the dead leopard, he still does not know who saved him.  He showed us all his leopard scars, big gashes on his arms and legs and a massive one on his back about 30cm long!

Chief Onponde

After story time we went out to the garden where he showed us his prized possession, a leopard skin given to him by another chief with a matching mongoose hat.  A bunch of villagers had appeared and set up their handicrafts for us to buy, I spotted a stack of old Zimbabwe money from when the currency was super inflated. I couldn’t resist buying a few (25 billion, 1 million, 50 thousand, 10 thousand, 100 thousand).  The afternoon finished with a dance performance, they were looking for volunteers… I moved further away.

The sun had gone down so we hopped in the jeep to head back to camp, we had been warned about the cold ride back so we had brought extra clothing.  I had 3 layers up top and a beanie and gloves, and oh my it was freezing! As we went through valleys we would have a slight relief with a warm patch, but it would go straight back to freezing! I was keen to get back to camp and have a hot shower!

Got back to camp and paid the 95USD for the day trip (our most expensive extra activity, but worth it!).  I had my hot shower then sat down with the cat on my lap waiting for dinner.  While I was waiting Victor came over and was asking everyone how much they had paid, because the guide was short. Turns out someone in our group had thought 95USD was too much and decided to only pay 50USD… yeah that’s not how it works.

Dinner was delicious that night!  Had coconut lentil curry, chapatti, grilled lamb chops and polenta. Yum!

After dinner I was sitting with the cat on my lap again, the owner of the campsite came up to settle everyone’s drinks bill. I asked him what the name of his cat was, he said it wasn’t his cat it was a stray that appeared a few months earlier and just never left.  Oh… well hopefully he’s clean!

Up early for our drive to Vic Falls, said goodbye to my lap warmer and we left at 7am.  The first 3 hours of driving we were pulled over 7 times by police! They are just random checks, but tourists are targeted because they try to get any bit of money they can! Every time they would check the headlights, indicators, brakes, make sure everyone is wearing seat belts. I think across the whole morning we were pulled over at least a dozen times.

We arrived into Vic Falls just before lunch, set up camp, had a bite to eat then we got dropped at Victoria Falls.

Vic Falls Entrance!

Victoria Falls is one of the natural seven wonders of the world, 108 metres tall, 1737 metres wide and borders both Zimbabwe and Zambia.

We walked along the path to the furthest part to start the walk.  We spent the next hour and a half walking all along the falls stopping at the different lookouts. Incredible the amount of water going over the edge and we were there in dry season! We were getting light sprays of water every now and then, apparently in wet season you are drenched walking along the paths and you can see the spray of water from miles away!

Lucky to see a rainbow over the falls!

Casually sitting over the falls, but really super nervous because it was about a 80m+ sheer drop to the bottom!

We finished up at the falls and walked towards the Lookout Café, the whole town is in a national park so we were on the lookout for animals on the way. The café was amazing!

Views from the cafe!

Views overlooking the falls and I had the most delicious chocolate milkshake ever, I was super happy! We were about to leave when the waiter came running in and said there were elephants in the carpark, we all rushed out with our cameras to look.

Four male elephants just strolling by, I was keeping my distance because you know elephants can trample you and stuff. But there were a few people that I think forgot that it was a wild animal and were getting up real close! It was only when one of the waiters told them to back off because one of the elephants was getting agitated that they reluctantly left them alone.  We paid our bill and headed back to the campsite, had to walk very close to the elephants to get past them.  You suddenly feel a lot more vulnerable when you are standing near an elephant and not in a jeep, I know I wouldn’t be able to outrun an elephant!

Had to walk up this path when we left!

We had our final dinner that night at the restaurant at the campsite, super delicious food! There was a dance performance as well which I got sick of after about 5 minutes.  After dinner a couple of us went out in search of a bar, nothing! It was a Thursday night and everything was dead quiet. Walked back to the campsite, Kate had upgraded for her last night on tour so I went to bed by myself in the tent!

Had the first sleep in for a while (7:30 wow). A couple of us went to a café up the road for breakfast, wanted a change from the breakfast we had been eating for the past 5+ weeks! Afterwards we strolled down the main street to do some souvenir shopping, I left the girls behind to go chill out at the campsite. Got back and Victor asked me to sweep out my tent because my new tentmate was arriving that day. Damn it. Cleaned up the tent then said goodbye to a few people from my group that were leaving. A couple of us decided to go back to the café from the day before, along the way we saw bushbuck, baboons and warthogs!

Had another delicious chocolate milkshake and shared a plate of chips! After lunch we went to one of the markets, I had been on the lookout for a giraffe wooden carving and I finally found one I liked! The price started at 90USD and I got it down to 50USD hooray! While the man was wrapping it up for me he started to chat, conversation went a bit like this…

Seller: I’m Paul, what is your name?

Me: Shannon

Paul: Where you from?

Me: Australia

Paul: Is he your father (pointing at John my travel mate)

Me: No, he is a friend

Paul: *smiling* I am not married

Me: OK

Paul: I am single

Me: OK

*Paul staring intensely*

Paul: Say something

*Me standing there like I know where this conversation is going hurry the hell up and give me my damn giraffe*

Me: Nice to meet you! *grabs giraffe and runs away*


We left the market behind and went to the campsite to meet our new group members for the last leg of the trip. Continuing on for the next 3 weeks there would be 9 of us, 5 Aussies, 2 English and 2 Americans. My new tentmate was Stephanie from San Francisco. After the meeting I was super unsociable and raced to the bar to use the WiFi so I could finally watch the rest of Game of Thrones, was devastated when the WiFi wasn’t working.

Went to dinner that night with a mix of people from the old and new group.  There was a guy playing saxophone at dinner who was getting super into it, going up to tables and getting in their face. I could’ve slapped him I couldn’t hear anything over his stupid saxophone. Am I becoming a grumpy old woman? MAYBE! But stop with the damn sax! Went straight to bed after dinner!

Woke up and had breakfast, last one cooked by Cosmos, he did not have the documentation to come with us to South Africa so we would be joined by a new cook later that day.  Said goodbye to him then went and met up with a couple of people to explore another market, finally bought the ten trillion dollar note I had been on the lookout for. I ended up paying $7.50 for it but that was the best price I had been able to get so far, most were asking $30USD, crazy!

Ten trillion dollar note looks like this

Bought a couple of other things then went back to my favourite café for lunch! Chocolate milkshake of course and I stupidly ordered a cheese and meat platter that was definitely for 2 people, but you know… challenge accepted!

There were warthogs grazing on the grass for our lunch company that day! Headed back along the main street stopping by the supermarket along the way, sunscreen was $30USD, I guess I can get burnt for a few more days… Got back to the campsite and the WiFi was working! Sat down and watched Game of Thrones finally!

For the last night in Zimbabwe I went to dinner with a few people from the new group, had a delicious trio of sliders (impala, crocodile and beef).  Was good getting to know the newbies.  We went to bed reasonably early, big day tomorrow!

Vic Falls was the longest I had stayed in one place since arriving in Africa and I was keen to get started on the next leg! Botswana here I come!

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Hey, I'm Shannon!
I've been travelling since I was 6 years old and have been lucky enough to visit 70 countries! From overlanding through Africa and road-tripping in Samoa to Salsa-ing in Cuba and visiting wineries in India. I love new adventures and can't wait to share them with you in this blog!
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