18 August 1999

19. - 18 AUG: Flight back to Brussels and end of trip to Zimbabwe

Morning at leisure and transfer to the airport where out faithful KLM Boeing 747 is reassuringly waiting on the tarmac.

It is the end of another trip to Africa and again I am left with the desire to return. A trite, banal remark, but so true. More than that, I have an ardent desire to see a better Zimbabwe, one in which blacks don't have to regret having won their freedom because the previous racist regime ran things better. Zimbabwe is a rich country but its people are poor. Especially blacks. This need not be the case and hopefully won't.

17 August 1999

18. - 17 AUG: Harare

mostly dedicated to Shona art. Museum and shopping

to be expanded

16 August 1999

17. - 16 AUG: Flight to Harare

Relaxing morning at our cliff-edge hotel before we have to start to get ready to return to Harare for a couple of days of shopping and visits, it's the end of this trip.

Uneventful flight, only a long annoying delay at the Vic Falls airport.

After check-in at our new hotel I asked for a recommendation for dinner. The hotel's driver takes us to a local restaurant and during the trip I asked him what he thought of the situation in his country. He is a very very black Shona. He is quite upset. Very upset in fact.

He says it was better during the Rhodesia times, when whites ruled the country.

I am flabbergasted, how can he possibly say that? I ask him whether he misses being discriminated against in business and education, not being able to patronize some restaurants and shops, and of course not being able to vote. He says, calmly, that yes now they can vote but there is only one party to vote for, really. More importantly, in Rhodesia they had no status but had jobs and were paid real money that could buy real goods and services. Now they are "free" of discrimination by the whites, but jobs are scarce and money is worthless. It was better before.

I was shell shocked during the whole dinner.

15 August 1999

16. - 15 AUG: Victoria Falls - rafting - ULM

Full day of activities in and around Victoria Falls.

In the morning I go for a white water rafting tour down the Zambezi. You can do this for half a day, a full day, or several days. All things considered half a day is a good appetizer, I'd like to do more. But our program is already quite full, so there you go. Some of the rapids are quite easy, after one or two it almost begins to feel boring. But then we get a really steep one, and then a really terrifying one that make it all worthwhile! All the staff are local blacks, except one person who is white. I talk to to him and he is Italian! He says he's been living here a long time, and feels African. When he speaks English he does have a heavy African lilting accent! And especially striking, he has picked up that special African laughter!

In the afternoon I book an ultralight flight over Vic Falls. I miss flying my glider, and I have never really flown a motor plane of any sort. Paul is a young Zimbabwean pilot who makes some money taking tourists around. I meet him at the small Vic Fall airport and off we go. He even wants to let me fly it but I am not so sure this is the best place to try so I regretfully decline. Paul is white, so I asked him about black pilots and he says there are not so many, with a tone in his voice which means there is none really. No money, no education...

We fly over the falls, much lower than we did the other day with the helicopter. Can hear the noise of the water crashing down, the people walking by the walkway. We also fly over my cliffside hotel, I can see people sunbathing by the pool, and my room just a couple of meters from the cliff, facing south over the mighty Zambezi.

We then fly over Zambia, at the other end of the bridge that spans the two countries. We are quite low over a village and I can easily make out the huts, the people and the cattle. My pilot tells me he should not really fly so low, it is not allowed because it might scare the animals and disturb the people. But he does anyway because the tourists like it and the locals have ho telephone to call the authorities anyway. I am rather stunned and a bit irritated to be part of this but say nothing.

As we proceed to fly back to the airport, just before sunset, an airliner, a Boeing 737, is on its final approach to land. Of course we give it right of way! But we are on the ground right behind it, and I can't avoid being rather amused at how here a small ultralight can land or take off right next to a big commercial jet!

14 August 1999

15. - 14 AUG: Flight back to Victoria Falls

We get up fairly early and have a good breakfast. After saying goodbye to our hosts we head back to the airstrip with our pilot. The blond lady checks her plane all over, then puts our bags in the hold and invites us to embark.

Pleasant flight back to Victoria. We fly at low altitude, less than a thousand meters, so we can actually enjoy a detailed view of the savannah below us and not a few wild animals.

We reach Victoria Falls, and after taking leave from our pilot we are picked up by the driver sent by our hotel.

He is a really nice person, speaks to us about the situation in the country and complains he does not make enough money to take care of his family, especially now that his daughter is ill with heart disease and needs expensive treatment by a cardiologist. One visit costs 2000 zim, some 50 USD, a small fortune.

Back at the hotel we relax by the pool and make plans for the following days. After the helicopter flight, I'd like to take a flight over the falls in an ultralight and perhaps also over the surrounding savannah. They tell us it should be possible, though not cheap.

13 August 1999

14. - 13 AUG: flight from Victoria Falls to Chizarira

In the morning we transfer to the Vic Falls airport to board a private plane to Chizarira. We are welcomed by a serious looking blonde lady in her late twenties who is our pilot.

Our plane is a single engine Cessna, and the flight to our destination is the most interesting part of this day. Once we get there, it's a bit of a disappointment. During a long and bumpy drive to the lodge, ohe local guide tells us it's the dry season (we know, that's why we chose it) and therefore it will be hard to see many animals as here they do not set up artificial water holes like in the main parks. Makes sense, perhaps, but I wish we'd been told before.

Accommodation is fairly basic, there are no tourists (wonder why?) and our hosts are not especially welcoming. I feel like I am being treated like a stupid city person whose only reason to exist is to pay exorbitant fees to white owners of so-called luxury lodges. Food is alright, no more.

I decide to cut this short and arrange to fly back to Vic Falls the next day. There are tons more things to do and see there, no point staying here.

12 August 1999

13. - 12 AUG: Victoria Falls Helicopter tour

The highlight of the day is a fantastic helicopter tour over the falls. To board the craft we have to walk over the bridge that spans across the falls between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Passport control, customs etc. but it's pretty straightforward as we have nothing except some cash and our cameras.

I am struck by some billboards in the customs house that advertise skin whitening creams! Apparently it's big business here, even though (as some other posters warn) they can be quite harmful to the skin! Just think of all the troubles whites go through to become darker, here they spend precious money to become paler.

The tour is great. The pilots swooshed back and forth between the Zim and the Zambian side of the falls. I asked him to fly lower, to get a closer look at the water but there are safety rules and he can only go down so much, and in any case it was not allowed to be lower than the top of the falls. Not cheap but highly recommended.

11 August 1999

12. - 11 AUG: Hwange to Victoria Falls

Easy drive from this great park to the most iconic site of Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls, obviously named after the Empress of the UK in the XIX century.

I did some research on accommodation. The Vic Falls Hotel is a city monument and must be visited, but it is not
for those who suffer noise pollution: ultralights, microlights,
helicopters, and various types of airplanes circle right above it (to get
the best view of the Falls) from dawn to dusk come what may...

At the Elephant's Walk shopping center we found the best shop for
authentic African antiques in the country; of course, it is not cheap, but
you get 10% off if you spend more than Z$20,000. They will also provide
documentation on the items they sell.

The Vic Falls Safari lodge is pleasant and well organized; breakfasts are
great on the terrace overlooking the waterhole and the park, the pool is
small but very nice. The Boma restaurant opposite is a bit too touristy,
but the dancers are actually good (not so the story tellers which come
around with pathetic "African" legends to get tips). Food is excellent and
worth the money (count on some 15 USDpp).

This is what I eventually booked.

The Gorges Lodge , some 30min out of town was our real surprise: it is a
series of cottages built literally on the cliff edge of the Zambesi
gorges, around rapid number 19. The view is breathtaking and the service,
including the food, among the best we have had in the country. At USD
225pppd all inclusive it is not cheap, but worth it. The only bummer is
the dirt road to get there, there is no way to avoid your daily share of
dust eating to get in and out of the lodge.

10 August 1999

11. - 10 AUG: Hwange national park game drives

Just about every accommodation we heard of in and around Hwange is
overpriced in relation to what it offers: in our experience and in that of
everyone else we met accommodation here is much more expensive than
anywhere else in the country, it seems, as if they assumed that anyone
going to Zim must go to Hwange, which perhaps is even true but won't be
for long at this rate. We stayed at the Chimwara tented camp which at
USD225 per person per day all inclusive, was definitely not worth it. The
"luxury camp" was rather pretentious and details left a lot to be desired,
which at this price is not acceptable; their flood lit water hole was
always avoided by the game while we were there, perhaps because the
property borders on hunting grounds; to get to Hwange you must drive
through a hellish 45 min of (very) bumpy dirt road; food was barely OK.
The only saving grace was our being taken to Hwange by Nick Greaves, a
photographer and long time expert of the park who was magnificent at
gracefully chasing elephants in the park's labyrinths and get just close
enough for the best photo ops possible while avoiding dangerous
situations. They say this is a true wilderness experience, but I do not
understand why one should pay as much as a 5 star hotel in Paris for

07 August 1999

8. - 7 AUG: Big Cave Camp game drives

Big Cave Camp game drives

The Big Cave Camp wilderness area was purchased by Cyril Waddy in 1947 and has been in the family ever since. The Waddys are from pioneering stock and have lived in the country for four generations. Avid bush lovers, the entire family spend a large part of their time exploring, hiking and learning about the many species of trees, flora and fauna that abound in the Matobo Hills.

Big Cave Camp was started by Mike and Yvonne Waddy as a recreational facility for the family in 1980 and was subsequently developed as a tourist facility by David Waddy. Dave can recall how they first lived in a two man tent, with no electricity or generator. Everything was either paraffin or gas operated. Today they are still very much involved in promoting tourism to Zimbabwe, after what has been a tough few years.

The lodge was expanded to accommodate 16 guests, the property restored to pristine condition and a wildlife sanctuary was created for the natural species of game that occur in the Matobo Hills.

The Waddy family continues to live and prosper in this beautiful area. We

06 August 1999

7. - 6 AUG: Masvingo to Bulawayo

Depart for Bulawayo and the Matopos - approximately 3.5 hours drive.
Big Cave Camp -

04 August 1999

5. - 4 AUG: Harare to Masvingo (Great Zimbabwe)

Hertz Rent-a-car delivers our car at Imba Matombo at 08h30. We load all our stuff, get easy directions from the driver and head South for an easy drive to Masvingo. This is a 3 hour drive on an almost entirely straight road.

The condition of the tarmac is good, and after a short while I get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.

We check in at the Lodge of The Ancient City again on a Half Board basis. Again a luxury hotel with thatched roofs that blends in perfectly with the local environment.

Rest of the day at leisure, we take a short walk and spend a pleasant evening at the lodge, comforted by a great meal of game and South African wines.

03 August 1999

4. - 3 AUG: Harare shopping

Zimbabwe is dismantling the one hundred years old railway track solid teak
sleepers and replacing them with concrete. The sleepers are cut up and
made into furniture; you can find it at several shops in Harare (we found
the ones at Sam Levy's village and at Ballantyne Park the best, they will
also make items to order) but avoid Savanna Woods in Vic Falls as it is
considerably more expensive.

02 August 1999

3. - 2 AUG: Harare

Full day in Harare, dedicated mostly to exploring the work of Shona sculpture artists.

We went to Zim especially for Shona sculptures and thoroughly searched the place. Matombo Gallery on L.Takawira Avenue is the best place for quality sculptures, but expensive, and manager Roy Cook, who will gladly devote you his time to explain about Shona sculptures, does not like bargaining, so be prepared to pay for what you get... and more! Be sure to visit also their sculpture garden on the airport road, it holds some masterpieces by "first generation" artists which are not found elsewhere.

The National Gallery is the only other serious alternative, but the selection is poorer. Matombo (which means ROCK in shona) also has a good shop in Vic Falls. They will also arrange shipping at a reasonable rate. Tengenenge sculpture village has gone down in quality and is just a messy mountain of second quality stuff, though occasionally good artists emerge from the lot. Average pieces can be found at many other shops, so if you are not fussy about a specific artist or school do look around. Street markets are mostly for cheap souvenirs, not art.

01 August 1999

2. - 1 AUG: Harare

The huge 747 lands and park in the small Harare airport. No buses and no jet bridge "finger", we just descend the staircase and walk to the terminal A deep blue sky and a cool breeze welcome us to Africa.

After an uneventful passport control we get our bags and are met by the rep of Run Wild, the local tour operator we are using for this trip. He proceeds to transfer us Imba Matombo, a great little hotel in the Relais and Chateaux chain. It is a luxurious yet cozy property, white washed houses with thatched roofs. I booked a standard room on a half board basis.

Rest of the day by the pool, recuperating and reading up to prepare for our tour of Zimbabwe.

Imba Matombo remains the non plus ultra in terms of accommodation; they asked us USD140 pppd on a dbb basis, but we got it down to 120 through Runwild; it is worth it! During our stay, an Australian visiting chef delighted us with world class cuisine which took into account local foods and ingredients. You can also just go for dinner. Their "afternoon tea", with cake and cookies served by the poolside or in your room/verandah, and included in the daily price, is irresistible. Only catch: do not use their shuttle bus to town: at USD10 pp/per hour (min 3 hours) it is a veritable rip off.

Imba Matombo