Happy 32nd birthday beautiful Zimbabwe! April 18th has always been the most special and celebrated of days in Zimbabwe, and for good reason too – a day to remember and honour those who fought and sacrificed so much for the independence of Zimbabwe (which is something which is easily said, but is something that I still struggle to grasp the gravity of) – and a day to just celebrate Zimbabwe and being Zimbabwean. A friend of mine summed up today so well – “I love you Zimbabwe, today I celebrate you, the land that taught me to work hard, the meaning of family, that I am worth something regardless of my colour and what others say I am…” Zimbabwe has undeniably made us all the people that we are today, an identity that we should rightfully be proud of.
Having been lucky enough to have visited some of Zimbabwe’s most untouched places recently, today I also celebrate the sheer beauty of this nation. There are few things in this world that make me as happy or at peace as being in the bush, so the last few weeks have been really awesome.
Easter weekend was spent at a friend’s hunting camp in Chirisa, which is a couple of hours drive beyond Gokwe (which is itself in the middle of nowhere). It was amazing to see what he has created within such an untouched, remote location. The days were spent relaxing in great company, eating copious amounts of delicious food, checking out the wildlife ambling past and having sundowners whilst trying to absorb the beauty of the most amazing landscapes.
I then went on to do a 4 day, 3 night canoeing safari down the Zambezi River with my sister. We’d driven up to Kariba the day before and spent the night at a lodge on the banks of Lake Kariba – it was pretty basic, but very comfortable. They had a big pool and plenty of cold beers, which was all that is really needed in Kariba. And they did a great fish and chips dinner… which was literally a fish and chips… as in whole and unfilleted. Too awesome.
We were collected by the safari company the next morning, met up with our fellow travelers (a New Zealander family and a quirky, elderly British artist) and, after signing an indemnity form indemnifying the canoeing company against any death or serious injury that may take place whilst on our trip, we were off.
The New Zealanders had never been to Africa before and had come over for the wedding of their cousin to “an Afrikaans” in Cape Town before deciding to do this canoe safari, which had been recommended to them by Zimbabwean friends who now live in New Zealand. They were the outdoorsy type luckily, having spent many summers “tramping” around New Zealand… which must be pretty amazing if the scenery in The Lord of the Rings is anything to go by.
The British lady artist was doing the Zimbabwe leg of a tour of many African countries, creating unique art pieces in each country she visited: she’d canoed the Congo River, drawing a Constantina-style visual journal as she went, moulded pots in Mali, sculpted in Mozambique and sewn a quilt with various pieces of material she collected whilst travelling through Ghana. Zimbabwe was the country she was most hesitant about visiting, due mostly to it being the country she felt the most connection to – she was born here 50 years ago and this was her first visit back since she left the country at the age of 17. It was great to chat to her about her impressions of Zimbabwe compared to what she remembered of the country all those years ago. She’d attended Queen Elizabeth High School in then-Salisbury and had visited it shortly after arriving in Harare. She was astounded by how little the school had changed over the decades and how well-mannered its students are, and was humbled by the warm welcome she received from the school’s teachers and students. She was so proud of what Zimbabwe is today, which deeply touched me.
After a rather long and bumpy ride, we reached Chirundu and loaded up the canoes with our luggage, tents, sleeping bags, equipment and food for the trip. Then the canoeing started. Within about half an hour I was thoroughly over paddling through the choppy afternoon waters and, with no way of turning back, I began to dread the remaining 3 days of the trip. But as our guides started telling us about every tree, bird, butterfly and animal that we passed (full Latin names included… so impressive!), the wind died down and slowly I forgot that I was paddling and eventually it became second nature.
Over the 4 days we canoed a 70km stretch of the Zambezi from Chirundu to Mana Pools, setting up camp on islands for the nights (sleeping on islands being somewhat safer than sleeping on the main land – mainly because its harder for lions to get to you… no jokes). Waking up to this every morning was amazing:
I came far closer to many animals than I’ve ever been in my life, which was incredibly special but also pretty scary sometimes.
Beyond a doubt, it was the hippos that frightened me the most – avoiding them whilst caught in fast-flowing currents carrying you straight towards them literally made my heart skip a beat more than once. Some of the areas are so densely populated with hippos that they’ve been named Hippo City, Adrenaline Channel, etc. Those places were terrifying. Although there wasn’t a moment that I actually thought I was going to die, there were many moments when I was intensely afraid.
Just for the record – no one got hurt on the trip, we all just acquired a huge amount of respect for wild animals! If you ever have a chance to canoe the Zambezi, I highly recommend it (but, like the canoeing company, I cannot be held liable for any death and/or serious injury that may take place!) It is a spectacular way to explore Zimbabwe.
Once again, mokorokoto Zimbabwe! I hope and pray for a little more giraffing and a little less crocodiling in Zimbabwe in the coming years – onwards and upwards!