Zimbabwe – high falls and high cultures

En-route to Victoria falls from Kasane in Botswana , we made a little detour to the small port of Kazungula. For an old map freak like myself it felt like a must. Kazungula does not look much for the world, but because it is located at the confluence of rivers Chobe and Zambezi, it forms a unique four-way border cross between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In addition, Angola is not too many miles away, so in one busy day in this area one could theoretically collect an impressive amount of passport stamps.

Kazungula: standing in Botswana, Zambia on opposite side of river. Namibia to the left, and Zimbabwe to the right

From there it is only an hour’s drive to Victoria Falls. Karin and I were there in 2001, and it was fantastic to return with the children to this one of the world’s natural wonders. Even though it was now winter and dry season, paradoxically, the falls are probably at their most majestic now, which is due to the amount of rainfall in Angola far upstream in Zambezi. At the Zimbabwean side of the falls there are sixteen different lookout points. We came to the thirteenth, then had to give up. There it was like walking in a deluge, because of all the spray. Those who had planned better brought raincoats or umbrellas, which we had missed. Then we went out on the bridge over the gorge where Zambezi continues on after the falls. The bridge constitutes the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and there you find one of the world’s highest bungy jumps. I didn’t even manage to go to the railing and look down into the abyss without feeling dizzy, so my full respect to all those that do the jump there.

Mosi-oa-Tunya – The smoke that thunders
Can you spot the bungy jumper?

Victoria Falls as a town is really quite horrible – an overpriced commercial hell with street vendors constantly after you. The hotel we had booked here was the most expensive during our entire journey, and a huge letdown… three star quality to five star rates. In fact, after taking in the falls you really want to leave town as quickly as possible. But no visit there is complete without high tea at the classic colonial style Victoria Falls Hotel. There you get a pot of tea and a three-level tray with scones and pastries and jam. Then you can just lie back in the chair, watch the mist from the falls a few miles away, and feel like a British colonial lord a century ago. When we eventually were going to leave town for our next destination, Bulawayo, typically enough there wasn’t any petrol available in town. Several filling stations had ran out. Finally we found a backyard pump where we lined up, and luckily we got the last drops before it finished up there too.

Scones and small pastries at classy Victoria Falls Hotel

In Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, we stayed at the small family owned Banff Lodge, a superb hotel on the outskirts of town, serving amazing food in the restaurant. It was the cheapest accommodation during the trip, go figure, and such a contrast to the disappointment in Victoria Falls. However, here we stayed only one night before continuing to Masvingo further east, closer to the Mozambique border.

Stone structure in Great Zimbabwe, featured on old bank notes from the hyper-inflation days
The kids merrily ascending the ruins



Asia has Angkor Wat, South America has Machu Picchu, North Africa has the pyramids, and southern Africa has Great Zimbabwe… all remains of ancient high cultures. Great Zimbabwe, located close to Masvingo, was founded during the 13th century by ancestors of the Shona people, that are still in majority in the country today. We took a walking tour with our own guide, and learned that Great Zimbabwe was the king’s palace. The major part of the ruins are high up on a cliff, with nice views of the surroundings. The area was inhabited until the 18th century when it was abandoned for unknown reasons. The last king apparently had over 200 wives. Artifacts found at excavations here have become important symbols for modern day Zimbabwe, after the independence. For example, the eagle depicted on the country’s flag was found here. And a high stone structure inside the Great Enclosure, the walled area where the queen lived, was featured on all bank notes from back when there was hyper-inflation in the country. Bank notes with totally absurd denominations such as 50 billion zim dollars, 100 trillion zim dollars, etc. Totally worthless today. We hiked around there for a couple of hours and even the kids thought it was interesting.

The Great Enclosure, seen from upside the rock with the king’s palace

After Masvingo we made a real killer drive back into Mozambique, to the city of Chokwé where we were going to stay the last night. In total we drove close to 700 km’s that day, which took 11 hours. A large part were on dirt roads, of which a 65 km stretch through the Gonarezhou National Park was probably the worst I have ever experienced. We couldn’t drive more than 20-30 km/h and yet the car bounced all over the place due to the washboard of a road. Amazing that the car didn’t fall apart.

Three amigos, reluctantly photographed.  One uniformed officer and two civilians

In the middle of nowhere we met a couple of buses on the  way to Harare. Have no idea where they came from. From one of them, three policemen stepped out and asked if we could give them a lift to Sango, the border post on the Zimbabwean side. Well, this was difficult to say no to, so we had to rearrange our packing, put a couple of suitcases on the roof rack, fold out the extra seats at the back of the car, and then try to squeeze back in, placing some bags in our laps. The man sitting behind me had a rifle, so I had to double check that it was really secured. I didn’t accidentally want to be shot in the back when the car bounced like crazy on this joke of a road. But it went well in the end, and they got off at the border. After this night in Chokwé it was an easy three hour drive down to Maputo. We arrived just in time for lunch so went straight to Clube Maritimo, where we could relax and reminisce about this 4350 km journey.