When people think about Zimbabwe they often think about the failing economy, political violence, forced acquisition of white farms and Robert Mugabe. South Africans will go all dreamy eyed as they recall childhoods spent in Zimbabwe on holiday, describing its beauty and incredible infrastructure. While I won’t pretend to have nuanced and detailed information on the ins and outs of the particular issues Zimbabwe faces, what however seems clear, is that under Robert Mugabe’s leadership there has sadly been a decline in living standards, GDP, and an increase in political violence.
When we entered Zimbabwe their economy was barely functioning; it was very difficult to get Zimbabwean Bonds and US dollars had stopped being officially accepted. The value of the Bond appeared to drop daily. We could pay with credit card at the supermarket (when the machine was working) but this stopped us from spending our money at the more local shops, which was a shame. There were also huge (day long) queues for fuel and frequent 8 hour power cuts. And we were probably quite sheltered from the real harsh reality as we were only in Victoria Falls, probably the most touristy part of Zimbabwe.
However, even though the economy is in tatters, and people are hurting, the Zimbabweans we met were incredibly kind and warm hearted. It is definitely a country I would love to spend more time in in the future and one that many of our fellow cycle travellers speak of highly as well.
Our time in Zimbabwe didn’t exactly turn out how we had planned. After settling into the hostel, we decided to see the falls the following day at sunrise, which had been recommended by a local. So there was nothing left to do but go to the first microbrewery we’d found on the continent. It was so exciting to delve into some deliciously hoppy beers. Finally.
As planned, we got up before dawn and pedalled the 5kms to the falls. We were the first ones there and the guards kindly let us in a few minutes before it officially opened.
What can I say, Mosi-o-Tunya is an incredible feat of nature. Even in this drought ravaged year, it was impressive. You hear them well before you see them. The roar is incredible. As is the fine mist that creates a micro climate, and depending on which way the wind is blowing, can soak you. Being there are sunrise was magical, and while we weren’t quite alone, there were not too many people about. We had packed a picnic and enjoyed breakfast with a rather incredible view.
Afterwards we rode back to the hostel along the river and sighted a huge elephant. Just another day on this incredible continent.
Back at the hostel we had a the good fortune to run into a guy called Richard. Richie had just arrived in Vic Falls after a long trek from Mozambique after attending Mozamboogy, an electronic festival held on the beach. He said he was travelling around Africa volunteering and going to festivals after having completed a semester at the university of Stellenbosch. This all immediately peeked my interest. We all began chatting. Turns out Richie was heading to a music festival in Botswana next.
A few hours later I had secured Astrid and I a spot volunteering at said festival. Sometimes you simply meet the right people at the right time and need to just run with it. We were going to a FESTIVAL!!! I decided to let Israa know, the girl we’d met on the ferry coming into Sudan and had last run into in Ethiopia. We’d been in on and off contact for the last few months. Not much later Israa also had a spot volunteering. Whoo hooo! I have definitely missed partying, and Botswana was not the place I had envisioned doing it, making it all the more exciting. Richie also already knew a bunch of people going who he’d met while couch surfing in Namibia.
Astrid and I were soon to learn that Richie is an epicentre of social connections, fun and loveliness. By the time we all made it to the festival a few weeks later, he was responsible for about 15 people having decided to come along.
But I digress. So we were now in Zim with a whole new and marvellous plan. It also meant we had more time ( and less, later on). So we decided to stay one more night.
And this is kind of how it went for the next 5 days. There was always a reason to stay. Firstly, Richie introduced us to his friend Selma who he had partied with in Mozambique. Selma was super cool and had been hitch hiking all over southern Africa. As she had already been to Vic Falls, she knew her way around. So one day we took a hike right down to the river to drink a beer and enjoy the beauty. Another day we went shopping at the local flea market for festival outfits. And then there was the fact of the pool, long lazy afternoons and fabulous company.
In the evenings we’d often cook together and drink whiskey, which was absurdly cheap. One evening I had a crazy night out at the local bar with Selma and rode home by moonlight at 2am, looking for elephants hiding in the shadows. Another night we made Mexican. Oh and there was the matter of Ann Jangle.
Ann is a South African musician who was traveling north to play at the Kilifi New Year’s festival in Kenya. She’d met up with Craig, Clo and Tristan in Botswana and they’d told us we must meet Ann. Our plan had been to meet her in Bots, but the longer we stayed in Zim, the more complicated our meeting up location became. So in the end we figured why not stay and wait for Ann. So we did.
Ann is amazing. Such a vivacious and fun human, we immediately connected and had another reason to stay. It felt like we had met a kindred spirit; another adventurous cycling woman full of stories and laughter, in a world that is often dominated by men. So we spent a few more days, just hanging out, laughing, exploring and enjoying each others company. It had been a while since Astrid and I had been around people our own age and it was so nice to have these more social days.
Eventually, we did however have to leave. While it was sad, we knew we would at least be seeing Richie again in a few weeks. And there was no way that our path wouldn’t cross with Ann’s again one day.
So we left and cycled the last 70km to the border with Botswana, seeing elephants and giraffes on the way. As you do.
What an incredible unexpected joy Zimbabwe had turned out to be.