There’s more to it than just Robert Mugabe and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Zimbabwe is one of my favorite places in the world. And, no, it’s not because that’s where my furry—or not so furry—little four legged friend, Zimbo, comes from; although, it is where I first encountered the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It’s on top of my list because it’s one of the few places in the world where the disorganized and the wild meet so perfectly. There’s an eccentric simplicity to everything in Zimbabwe, where time seems to have stood still for decades. It’s a country that values the words “hello, how are you?” and offers an ostensibly endless foray of untapped adventures and unpredictability, that leaves you wanting more and wishing for a better future for its people and the country. More importantly, particularly for this group, the experience of Zimbabwe redefines what nature and wilderness mean to us.
I spent exactly a year living in Zimbabwe; Avondale to be exact – a suburb of Harare. During that time, I came to know almost every kilometer of the country–save for Gonarezhou National Park, which is considered to be the most remote and difficult park of the country to access. I traveled around in a 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero, Turbo Diesel. It was a simple 4×4 with few mods which included some all-terrain tires and a pair of below average fog lights. She wasn’t the best of the breed, but she got the job done when called upon.
What I remember most about Zimbabwe is its awesome natural beauty. Each major road leading out of the capital Harare offers such different and magnifcent scenery. To the northwest heading toward Lusaka, Zambia you run into Lake Kariba and Mana Pools National Park, both abundant in wild life, Baobab trees, and unparalleled sunsets. To the west lies the infamous Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park, which house some of the largest group sightings of elephants in Africa and is one of the few places in the world where you can still find the rare and endangered African Wild Dog. To the east, heading toward Mozambique, you find Mutare, Nyanga and the Bvumba – an area with breathtaking countryside and towering trees that only Africa is able to supply. Directly to the south is Masvingo, the home of the archeological site known as “The Great Zimbabwe”. Some historians claim The Great Zimbabwe was first influenced by the Portuguese and later built by native Zimbabweans. Finally, to the Southwest lies Bulawayo, a vibrant and beautiful town that prides itself in being unique to the capital, Harare. Bulawayo is also the burial site of Cecil Rhodes (famous explorer and founder of the former Rhodesia). Finally, in the capital you can find a mix of old and new, and where you might also encounter the occasional zebra or baboon crossing.
Zimbabwe’s national language is English and its national currency is the United States Dollar, which make it an ideal place for any American to visit. Although its people and culture are extremely welcoming, politically it faces major challenges. The current President, Robert G. Mugabe, has been in power for four generations. This has not only negatively impacted the political will and free expression of ordinary Zimbabweans, but the centralization of power has crippled infrastructure, the economy, and tourism. But as crazy as it sounds, that’s what makes it ideal for visiting. My advice is get in now before the rest of the world does.