Folks, Happy new year! This is my first article in almost two months and for now, am pacified after some phenomenal 32 days of adventure and the subsequent two weeks of university exams. It’s been so insane… Remember how upbeat I was about travelling to Zimbabwe? Well, not only did I visit this mighty nation, but added Zambia, Malawi, and Botswana to the itinerary as well! On average, I spent eight days in each country hopping up and down traversing their immeasurable natural beauty and experiencing socio-cultural life. But first, let’s read about what transpired during my vacation in Zimbabwe…
From Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I took an early morning flight (video on YouTube) from Nairobi via Lusaka, Zambia and aboard Kenya Airways (KQ706) which is the cost-friendly carrier on this route. We landed in Harare a few minutes past midday amidst the scorching heat from the sun, and some limping but arrived in the capital city an hour later. I had never seen such wide roads in an urban setting and from my observation, the city has more green spaces than any I have ever been into. Modern navigation technologies such as Google Maps made it easier for me to move around on my own, most of the time. All urban roads are tarmacked and well-marked with clear signs indicating road mileages to popular destinations.
From the airport, I located a well-marked airport taxi to the city which is 15kms away for only $20. Note that Zimbabwe uses two currencies for monetary exchanges and transactions, the US Dollars and the Zimbabwean bond notes which are of the same rate as the US Dollars. The cost of living is really high as most stuff are imported from neighbouring South Africa, but with my cost-saving skills, I got along well easily. Through Airbnb, I stayed at a quiet and serene homey studio unit in Greystone Park hosted by a pretty and caring lady called Rati. I chose her place b’se it is ideal for a solo traveller like myself, and what’s more, it’s equipped with special amenities like a hot shower, free Wi-Fi, a comfy bed, and the beautifully manicured flower garden.
Harare’s city setting
My curiosity was in high gear to explore this incredible city that I had always thought about for ages. I spent more time in Harare than in any other part of Zimbabwe, running up and down among the stunning botanical gardens, the amazing skyscrapers, broad streets, and the bustling city markets. Harare is convenient, safe, clean, and well-organized, and is divided into the upscale and some impoverished areas but still, this lively metropolis has a substantial number of elegant tall buildings offering the city a marvellous skyline given the prolonged economic slump in the past decade. I was amazed not to find litter thrown around the pavements – a sight typical to most African cities, no pickpockets, street kids or homeless people, and street vendors are confined only in the downtown part of the city. Despite having a lot of commuters, no one pushes or bumps into others, people here are patient and reserved.
Traveling around Harare wasn’t difficult, having my tour guide beside me most of the times meant that I wasn’t any different from the ordinary Zimbabwean and only the language barrier would betray me as a crazy foreigner here for adventuresome fun. In some tourist places where showing an ID wasn’t needed, I paid local rates. Around the city, I preferred to move in the modest Kombi’s which are 14-seater public minibuses that can reach every part of the city and this experience gave me firsthand observation of how local life goes by.
Some amazing places I toured include Mbare Musika, its market and the adjoining suburbs like the ghettos, the bus stations where you can quickly pick a ride to every part of the country, and some residential areas where I observed firsthand the everyday Zimbabwean life. Other places included the Harare Agricultural Showgrounds from where I savoured the traditional dish of Sadza with the accompanying relishes. This was my favourite meal throughout my stay in Zimbabwe.
Within the city centre, it was easier for me to navigate around with my mastery of the location of famous landmarks such as Eastgate Mall, New Reserve Bank tower, Charter House, Karigamombe Centre, Old Mutual Centre, Joina City, Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints, and the new ZB Life Tower. From those landmarks, I found my way to several other places within the CBD, and in some situations, the city dwellers’ directions too were very considerate. I observed the rich folks frequenting modern shopping centres like Westgate, Eastgate, Avondale flea market, Sam Levy, and Borrowdale where upscale marts like Bon Marche, FoodWorld, Pick ‘n’ Pay, OK, Choppies, Shoprite, and Spar are mostly found.
Beyond the city’s limits, I ventured into Epworth which is a settlement in the south-eastern part of Harare and this is where the famous balancing rocks depicted on the country’s bond notes can be found. I also visited the National Gallery of Zimbabwe where I found various art sculptures and handicrafts made by art students. I was also at the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences, Belgravia Theatre, and also attended the Sunday mass at the Christchurch Borrowdale.
I remember my host Rati recommending me some interesting places to visit in Harare and this is what she told me:
“It might be interesting for you to spend a few hours checking out life ‘North of Samora’ as it’s apparently known by some. The argument being that Harare is split in half by the road called Samora Machel Avenue (A5), those who live North of it are the ‘well to do’ folks and those who live South of the road are the ‘less well-off’ folks. I thought it would be interesting for you to see the contrast between the life of a local North of Samora and the life of a local South of Samora. What do you reckon?”
I graciously agreed and in the end, her advice was indeed remarkable as I navigated the most interesting points of Harare.
I always discerned that to enjoy your adventure in a foreign land, the secret lies in mixing into the local life and live like them. This wasn’t difficult as most people were willing to teach me Shona which is the dominant indigenous language and I had learnt a few phrases which I gladly tried along. While my favourite dish was Sadza, my favourite drink was Pfuko-Udiwo, a Maheu drink made from maize meal, sorghum, and milk solids. It’s the most popular traditional drink in Zimbabwe, and I found it to be sweet, nutritious and highly satisfying. Given the scorching sun under which I moved around on Harare’s busy streets, this drink was my redeemer whenever I felt weary.
Local music was always being blasted in every corner of the city, and I must say that Zimbabweans truly love their own music and indeed celebrate it with rigorous dances, even on events like weddings, and public rallies. My favourite local song as was with many Zimbabweans at the time was Kutonga Kwaro by Jah Prayzah. Given that Robert Mugabe’s almost 40 years reign had been brought to a dramatic end just one month back, the song was hugely popular.
To better understand the real life of ordinary Zimbabweans, I chose to stroll within the city’s vicinity from where I caught a glimpse of local life from a vantage point. I encountered most people cooling off within the city’s green squares including the famous Africa Unity square along Jason Moyo Avenue and the Harare Botanical Gardens which is 10 minutes drive away from the city centre.
Unlike most capitals I have visited, I felt at ease to take as many photographs as I could in Harare. People were jovial and still in a celebratory mood after the end of Robert Mugabe’s reign, and didn’t care much about photographing them, so I could easily approach them and we easily got along. After six days of experiencing Harare, it was time to head northwards to Lusaka in Zambia.
Following a two-week stint in Zambia and Malawi, I re-entered Zimbabwe for just two hours at the Victoria falls bridge to view the falls from the Zimbabwean side, having done so from the Zambian side. Another week was spent in Botswana, from where I returned to Zimbabwe at the Ramokgwebana/Plumtree border in the southwest of the country. I had boarded a transborder bus called Seabello from Gaborone to Bulawayo which is the second biggest city in Zimbabwe.
I arrived in Bulawayo after a ten-hour bus ride covering 630kms from Gaborone passing through Mahalapye, Palapye, and Francistown on the Botswana side. Bulawayo is a thriving city with wide streets lined up on the sides with colourful trees forming beautifully flowered canopies. The main mode of transport around is the four-seater taxis and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to move around a lot as I was rushing to reach Harare in time for my outbound flight to Nairobi.
From the few observations I had, a lot of businesses are thriving and the city’s closeness to the South African border could be the reason for the large number of supermarket chains, and the booming transport sector that involves a lot of minibuses and modern luxurious buses plying the Bulawayo – Johannesburg route which is 860kms long.
Bulawayo is 430kms south-west of Zimbabwe and the bus ride with Eagleliner took approximately 7 hours. Passing through the central Zimbabwean towns of Gweru, Kadoma, and Kwekwe while following the 19th-century railway line, and driving across maize fields, and gold mines, the journey was indeed a pleasant one. Sitting near the window gave me an uninterrupted view of the lush green countryside which is characterized by shrubs across the low-lying central plateau fields.
Though I spent less than 24 hours in Bulawayo, I promised myself that next time I am here, I will have at least a full week to enjoy the beautiful sights in Matobo National Park, and have a lot more to observe within this friendly city. Nevertheless, I am proud of having travelled extensively in Zimbabwe the country of my dreams, I travelled the whole breadth of Zimbabwe that is, from Harare to Chirundu, and from Plumtree to Bulawayo, and then from Bulawayo to Harare. I look forward to another holiday vacation when I will have more time to reach every part of the mighty land of Zimbabwe.
God Bless Zimbabwe…