Once a relatively prosperous African nation, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have faded rapidly in the last two decades thanks to government corruption and mismanagement. And when I say “faded rapidly”, I really mean “turned into a complete shit show”. President Robert Mugabe deserves most of the blame. He kicked out the white farmers, but nobody else knew how to farm. Then he kicked out the Chinese store owners, but nobody else knew how to run a business. So then there was no food and no stores and then hyperinflation made international headlines. In 2009, Zimbabwe was forced to scrap their currency because they couldn’t fit all of the zeros on the notes. They now use the US dollar and the South African rand. Fast forward six years to my visit and every kid on the street was trying to sell me a trillion Zimbabwean dollar note as a souvenir for US$50. I think toilet paper is worth more, so no.
I only had one day in Zimbabwe, so I can hardly claim to have seen anything of the real Zimbabwe and the effects of the recent past woes. I visited the town of Victoria Falls which is home to… Victoria Falls. Obviously. According to my Lonely Planet guide, infrastructure across the country is still fairly intact from Zimbabwe’s successful past, and Victoria Falls was no exception. Built specifically as a tourist town, I had no complaints about the infrastructure or services available for tourists. I even had brunch and a decent coffee at a nice cafe the morning that I was there, which definitely gives Zimbabwe a few points in my little black book.
It’s US$5 for a taxi anywhere – no matter how far it seems. I don’t think there were any actual taxis – just dudes in cars hollering at tourists to see if they need a lift. I’m still alive and I wasn’t robbed so I guess it’s legitimate. The “taxis” came in especially handy after dusk as the town’s streets became unsafe for pedestrians, not because of crime, but because of elephants. After sundown, elephants and buffalo wander into town night after night only to find that the supermarket and shops have all closed and they’ll have to go food shopping elsewhere. They never learn.
A few highlights of my day:
Wildlife: Sadly, it wasn’t the elephants nor the buffalo that were my first wildlife sighting in Africa. As I wandered over to the tourist market in the morning, I stumbled upon a trio of warthogs roaming around the souvenirs. I was hoping for a grander animal to be my first, but sometimes dreams don’t come true. I bought a little warthog souvenir to commemorate the occasion.
Food: I had my first real African food in Zimbabwe at the recommended (yet overpriced) Mama Africa Eating House. The dish was called huku nedovi and consisted of chicken with peanut butter sauce. Yes, please! It’s a traditional dish of the Shona people which make up 70% of the population of the country.
Victoria Falls: Saving the best for last, Victoria Falls was the star of my visit to Zimbabwe (and pretty much the only reason I put Zimbabwe on the itinerary). Its indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders” in the local language. The “smoke” is the mist that the waterfall creates, which was so thick at times that it obscured the view of the falls (and it wasn’t even the time of year with the heaviest flow… of water.) While it isn’t the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is generally considered the largest based on its height, width, and volume of water that flows over it in an uninterrupted sheet. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of this. The waterfall straddles the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, and I’ll have more about the Zambian side in the next post. The first European to lay eyes on the mammoth waterfall was David Livingstone, which we all know from the famous line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” You can Google/Wikipedia him if you want to know more.
The walkways around the Zimbabwean side of the waterfall were well-maintained and came with some additional wildlife spotting: a baboon and a bushbuck (a type of antelope). Given the immense size of the waterfall, it took me about 90 minutes to tour the site, visiting the various viewpoints along the path. Let me repeat that: it took me 90 minutes to view a waterfall. That’s pretty insane.
After my visit, it was time to walk across the border to Zambia. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Zimbabwe, follow this link: