I really enjoyed my time in South Africa and could easily have stayed another week. However, the plan had always been to spend a week in Zimbabwe – in order to ‘dip my toe’ into a country that I have heard so much about over the years.
Fortunately, I had carried out enough prior research to realise that things would not be easy in Zimbabwe, especially with regards to money. At the time of writing there are NO functioning ATM’s in Zimbabwe. This means that you need to take enough cash with you to finance the entire duration of your stay. This presents a number of challenges. 1. You are entering the country with a potentially serious amount of cash on your person. 2. You are entering a country where there is serious unemployment and serious poverty. Not to put too fine a point on it, you are a sitting duck!
The next challenge is what cash to carry. Presently, the following currencies are all accepted: South African Rand, UK Pound, Botswanan Pula, and most importantly the US Dollar. The dollar is king. To complicate matters still further, shops and supermarkets do NOT accept any of the above, they only accept the local currency, which is the Zimbabwe Bond, and this is not easy to get hold of as a foreigner. Confused?
Further challenges exist. Petrol is extremely hard to get hold of, queues to buy the stuff, lasting 8-hours or more, are a common sight. Electricity outages and water stoppages are also the norm.
It probably sounds like a pretty horrendous place to visit. However, once you get into the swing of things it all starts to fall into place. I have found the majority of the people of Zimbabwe to be polite, extremely helpful and very friendly. It’s a very interesting country to be in. I’m really glad I made the effort to come.
In 1980 the people of Rhodesia decided that they were not happy with their lot and voted for change. In the space of 10-years things went from bad to worse. After a further 10-years, just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. At this point the majority of the country were saying, “can’t we go back to the way things were before 1980?”
Wide tree-lined avenues, parks and charming colonial architecture make Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, an attractive one. It has a lovely historic feel to it, and a great place to spend a couple of nights, especially given it’s a gateway to Matobo National Park, and an ideal staging point for Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.
The city was colonised by Cecil Rhodes in 1894. The grand colonial architecture that stands today soon followed. Bulawayo’s claim to fame is that it had electric lighting (switched on in 1897) before London did!
Bulawayo Natural History Museum.
Zimbabwe’s largest and best museum makes for an essential visit. Set over three floors, it offers a great overview of the country’s natural, anthropological and geological history. Its highlight is its taxidermy display, which includes a monster elephant, shot 160km south from here. There’s also an impressive collection of gemstones, showcasing the country’s astounding wealth of natural resources. At its centre is a collection of live snakes, including black mambas and cobras.
Bulawayo Railway Museum.
Whether you’re a train enthusiast or not, Bulwayo’s Railway Museum will not disappoint. Its passionate curator, Gordon Murray, will take you on a tour of the place, where you’ll get a fascinating insight into the colonial history of the country through Bulawayo’s extensive railway network.
Next stage: Victoria Falls.