For me, Zimbabwe is a place of firsts. First sighting of one of the world’s Natural Wonders. First experience of worms and sadza as a national delicacy. First time I wore a poncho.
Most importantly, it was the first time that all my prior assumptions of a place had been proven wrong. In the mid-80s, civil war broke out in the country, turning colonial Rhodesia into modern Zimbabwe. Ironically, leading the nation against British colonists at the time, the ‘freedom’ fighter of the time, Robert Mugabe, has now proven himself as one of the most ruthless tyrants in political history. It is his corrupt ruling that has caused economic chaos and released inconceivable human tragedy upon the people of Zimbabwe.
Yet there is an indisputably vibrant and indescribably beautiful country that lies behind the grim data and Zimbabweans still hold proudly onto their reputed sense of humour and resolve. What really struck me about this trip in particular was the palpable openness and kindness of Zimbabweans themselves. I, for one, can vouch for this tangible atmosphere of geniality and kindness. As the tourism industry shakily struggles to its feet after years of economic instability and political unrest, this is prime time to visit. With cheap rates at hotels, tourists are treated like kings as their very presence signifies the emergent re-growth of the economy. The disconcerting Mugabe regime itself will in fact not hassle you, as you bear hard currency and commerce – two essential items for the future stability of Zimbabwe.
Having checked out what was on offer through My Destination Zimbabwe, I whole-heartedly threw myself into the part of the ‘yes-I’ll-do-that’ tourist; a role which is not hard to play when you have the world renowned Victoria Falls, the ancient site of Great Zimbabwe and a plethora of Zimbabwe safaris to choose from.
By far the highlight of the trip was travelling north-west to the Victoria Falls National Park, one of Zimbabwe’s eight main parks and game reserves. Known locally as Mosi-ao-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), the Victoria Falls consists of an astonishing 400 foot drop across a 1 mile wide face. The falls are definitely most impressive during the rainy season (November-March) where an astonishing 550,000 litres of water tumble off the edge each minute. Surrounded by spectacular greenery, made possible by the water spray of the falls, tourists can stand in the wake of the crashing waters. One word of advice, bring a poncho! Although perhaps not the most fashionable item available, they are vital if you don’t particularly fancy being soaked to the skin by the monsoon-like mist from the Falls!
In addition to gawping at the awesome natural beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site (and having a free shower), I seriously got my money’s worth out of the Zambezi with some top quality white water rafting in the shadow of the magnificent falls. Starting at the churning bottom of Victoria Falls, visitors get the chance to tackle 23 foamy rapids in a 22km stretch.
Despite being a white-water rafting virgin, on arrival I loudly proclaimed that I was totally up for really going for it and yes if there was a place going I’d love to be on a raft with all the seasoned white-water loving veterans. Grade 5 rapids? How hard can it be?
How I wish I’d shut my trap. This is serious white-water rafting; definitely not recommended for those any less than three and a half limbs, those with a mortal fear of either rafts or water, and wimps. Unfortunately, I fall firmly into the latter category and from the word go I was clinging on for dear life whilst reciting every prayer I had ever been taught.
Seated in a six or eight person raft (“But it’s a blow-up boat! What if it pops?!?”), the basic idea is paddle-paddle-meet-rapid-paddle-paddle-PADDLE before you flip, hold your nose and hope for the best. Despite encountering rapids such as the Overland Truck Eater and the ghastly Oblivion, you are always in safe hands and as your life-jacket pops you up from the frothy depths of the Zambezi, you’ll no doubt find yourself itching to do it again.
A place of firsts? Having spent almost a month in this fascinating country, with its incomparable natural beauty and darkened political history co-existing in bizarre evidence, this is one first that I’ll definitely repeat.
Author Bio: Florence Brennan
Hailing from the emerald isle, Florence Brennan hopped across the Irish Sea to complete a degree in French and Comparative Literature at Glasgow University. Now working as an English teacher in Canada, she makes the most of her generous holidays to soothe her itchy feet and explore her Pacific neighbours. Never far from her Celtic roots, Flo is passionate about folk music, foreign gastronomy and all things rugby.