Zimbabwe Journal

May 24th,

We arrived in Zimbabwe around noon today, via an overnight bus from Pretoria, South Africa. The bus ride was uneventful and we arrived at the Zimbabwe (Zim) border at about 6am. It took about 1-1/2 hours to go through customs on the SA side and immigration and customs on the Zim side. The economy in Zim is so bad that all luggage is searched coming into the country in order to make sure all taxable items are found.

One of our stops at the border was to obtain our visas for Zimbabwe. The border official was in the process of giving us single entry visas when we requested that he provide us with a multiple entry visa. This would give us the option of returning to Zimbabwe should we change our plans. At first he refused, but after a few minutes of cajoling, plus the gift of one of our pens, we were the proud recipients of multiple entry visas.

Along the drive from the border to our next base at Masvingo, we passed an area rich in Baobab trees. These are fascinating trees that look as if they were ripped from the ground and then replanted with their roots in the air. These trees only grow in limited areas in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar.

In the afternoon after arriving in Masvingo, we hiked from our hostel, Clovelly Lodge, up a granite hill to check out the view. While we were hiking we saw Vervet monkeys, huge aloe plants and found sherds of old pottery. We donít know exactly how old, but they had moss growing on them so they could be quite old. We are only about 30 km from Great Zimbabwe so we know the area has been inhabited since at least the 11th century. Our guess was that the pottery was at least 500 years old.

May 25th

Today we visited Great Zimbabwe, the greatest archaeological site in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of the political situation these days in Zimbabwe, there arenít a lot of travelers, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We hired a guide named Ben to show us around and we spent about 6 hours touring the ruins.

The first people to begin building at Great Zimbabwe arrived in the 11th century. The first buildings were begun in the 13th century and included the Hill Complex where the king resided. Over the next 100 years other structures were built and included dwellings referred to as the Valley Enclosures and the Great Enclosure. Check out the photos on our Panorama Photos Page.  

While not a lot is known about the reasons why Great Zimbabwe was built, archaeologists have discovered that it was built by the Shona people and that it was a great center for trade. Artifacts have been found from such varied places as China, the Middle East and India. In addition, evidence of gold smelting and the existence of large herds of cattle have been found. This indicates there was great wealth.

The towering walls at Great Zimbabwe rise 11m (35ft) from the ground and are 6m wide (20ft) at the bottom. They get narrower as they rise. In the Great Enclosure, there is a 10m high conical tower the use of which has been variously described as a granary, a religious monument and as a manhood symbol. The tower is completely filled with stones.

Decorations such as chevron symbols and herringbone designs adorn the exterior walls of the Great Enclosure and these walls are considered the most architecturally advanced of the structures.  

The museum on the grounds houses the famous Zimbabwe birds, which have become the national symbol. The birds adorn the Zimbabwean flag and can be found on all the Zimbabwean money. The eight different styles of birds carved from sandstone were found on platforms in the Hill Complex and were stolen from Great Zimbabwe in the late 1890ís. They were returned about 90 years later and are the highlight of the museum.

We were treated to a traditional Shona dance by a group of musicians and dancers.  The musicians were singing and playing the Nyunga nyunga and Hoshos while two women danced.  Excellent!  Read about the traditional Zimbabwean instruments and see the video of the dancers.

May 26th

Today we did a horseback-riding safari through Shagashe Game Park. We rode for an hour there, an hour through the park and an hour back. Boy, are we sore! But we did get to see zebra up close, kudu and tsessebe from a little distance and two giraffe from a greater distance. We tried to get closer to the giraffe but the horses didnít want to cross a river that stood between us. So we turned around and on our way out of the park we found two groups of kudo, one a beautiful male with a huge set of spiraling horns.


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