Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zimbabwe - the Forgotten Land

It's been another lively year so far for getting about - return visits to Liguria, Czech Republic & Lake District - but all of it blanches in comparison to a 10-day tour in spring of the forgotten land of Zimbabwe in southern Africa, which is starting to bang the tourism drum again after years in the doldrums.

The intro to my recent Rough Guides feature sums up the situation:
"It’s been a tragedy for the people of Zimbabwe that the country has garnered so much unfavourable publicity over the last 10 years, with headlines ranging from its controversial land redistribution programme to the ensuing collapsed economy. In the last few years, however, it's made a steady recovery following a new currency, a fairer power-sharing government, international airlines returning to its capital and the EU having long lifted its travel warnings, helping sow seeds of a tourist renaissance..."

Hwange National Park © Kris Griffiths 2014

As the article goes on to explain there are a plethora of reasons to visit the now much safer nation, from the remotest of wild safaris to the world's largest waterfall in Victoria Falls, where I foolhardily bungee-jumped 110m into its gorge (YouTube link).

Other highlights include ancient ruined cities like Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, after which the country was named, and cave paintings in Matobo more than 10,000 years old. Photo opportunities were never-ending.

There was a bleaker side to it all though. So many of the people here are still destitute, as journeys through townships in Harare and Bulawayo made clear. 

They're crying out for the tourist dollar, especially after years of absurd hyperinflation, and it's good to know your money goes into their hands, not to Mugabe's enduring regime. Unfortunately there were only so many mini bongos I could buy from the market stalls, so did my best to sample as many local brews at bars and hotels as I could outside meal times – all helps.

Hopefully Mugabe will be history sooner rather than later as it's certainly off-putting seeing his framed mug everywhere you look, not to mention his people on the streets while he commissions giant statues of himself with their money.

Bulawayo street dwellers © Kris Griffiths 2014

The good outweighs the bad though, and hope springs eternal.
Give Zim a chance.

(More city & safari photos at my Flickr gallery.
Full Rough Guides feature on reasons to visit Zimbabwe.)

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