ZIMBABWE’S (and my) REPORT CARD
I am not a qualified critic nor have I got any basis for claiming the intellectual high ground. But here’s how I experienced Zimbabwe.
- I arrived through Plumtree and left through Nyamapanda. Both were easy and fairly quick. Only paid $10 to enter because I had a Carnet du Passage for my vehicle, which was a bonus.
- I expected hassles and car searches, especially arriving, but pulled my car up to the customs guy, he asked a few questions, mostly about South Africa and let me on my way.
- I was accosted by a “helpful porter” at Nyampanda and I’m actually grateful I didn’t have the energy to turn his help down, because the border process on the Zim side didn’t make much sense and the Mozambican side was even more difficult and confusing. I gave him and his team a cash tip and some energy bars and they seemed happy.
- Ugh, not great. But not awful. The main roads between the main cities are all tar, but are in bad repair in many places.
- Quite a couple of toll booths on these roads. $2 each time. Apparently, the booths used to just be tables set up in the middle of the road, under a steel canopy.
- A HUGE plus was that I was not stopped at a single roadblock. I only passed a total of about four or five in my two weeks there, but not a single policeman stopped be. This is amazing and very different from a year ago, where friends in Harare were being stopped six to eight times on the way to work in one morning!
- English is spoken throughout, no problem.
- Shona is an easy enough language to get the basic words down and I found that saying hello, good-bye, please and thank you in Shona went a long way and brought great smiles.
- Not as bad as you’d think. Not all places had internet, but those that did, had very cheap daily rates to use it, if any rate at all. Speeds weren’t too bad either.
- I didn’t get a local SIM card, so no idea how well mobile data works.
Overall, Access gets a B-. If only the roads were in better condition, this might be close to an A.
- This was the biggest surprise for me. I’ve been to Vic Falls and have seen photos of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, but experiencing all that Zimbabwe has to offer really blew me away.
- Favourites: It’s actually impossible to create a hierarchy. All of the places I went to were very special in their own way. The Matopos (although the caves and rock art were a bit Eh), the Great Zim Ruins, Chimanimani Mountains, the Zambezi river and Bvumba. Also, the Khami Ruins, Lake Mutirikwi and the Botanical Gardens in Bvumba (although those you could probably skip)
- The cities aren’t much of a draw-card, but I enjoyed seeing the many facets of Harare.
- I liked that Zim not only has rates for locals and for international visitors, but also “regional” visitors, which is somewhere between those two entrance fee amounts.
State of the sites
- Life is still very manual in Zim. Manual receipt-writing, manual checks. Very little is automated.
- Every national anything has an office that is not at its entrance gate, which can cause a few detours as you’re turned away from the entrance to drive further down the road to pay, to return to the entrance… And somehow, paying and getting a receipt can be quite a palava.
- Mostly neat, not too much litter (although it did exist) and relatively good signage.
- It was very, very sad that often I was the only visitor at that place, that day.
Service and knowledge at the sites
- Zimbabweans are very friendly and guides at especially the Great Zim Ruins, were incredibly informed, informative and highly recommended.
- At a few places I felt a bit “nickel-and-dimed” because there are fees for everything (entrance to the park, car fee, person fee, entrance to the rock painting in the park, etc. etc.) but on several occasions, when I expressed that, the officials worked something out for me, and that helped my entitlement and pocket.
Overall, Attractions gets a solid A, if not an A+
Everything is in US dollars in Zim, and it is generally quite expensive. You can no longer draw USD from ATMs though – there you’ll get the Zim Bond Note, absolutely useless anywhere except in Zimbabwe. I found out (too late) that you could get a 48% premium on USD if you exchanged them for bond notes on the not-so-legal market. That would have made my money go a bit further.
- Fuel: $1.25 per litre of diesel was about standard.
- Camping: $10 per person per night was the general rate.
- Lodging: $40 per person for our lodges along the Zambezi.
- Food: Depends where you go, but the cities and higher-end lodges could be expensive. Paid $20 for a full English breakfast in the Bvumba, which was a bit steep. And $21 for a towel in Harare, which was quite laughable (especially because I lost in on my first night in Malawi).
Zimbabwe has some really great resorts and vacation spots. Unfortunately, they are generally a little under-maintained and also very, very underutilised. As a result, I couldn’t help get the feeling that I was being charged for the fact that nobody else was there. I think that if you are not local or “regional” it also becomes a lot more expensive to travel and stay in Zim.
Overall, Affordability gets a C+.
ABODES, ABLUTIONS AND APPETITES
- Seeing Zim from a rooftop tent was a very special experience. Some places, like The Farmhouse Lodge in the Matopos, were very basic but had everything you needed (even if you had to light a “donkey” geyser to have a hot-water shower.)
- Don’t assume hot water is always on offer. Also, there were a lot of problems with ZESA, Zim’s electricity provider, and many nights I didn’t have electricity where there should have been electricity.
- The camping inside National Parks leaves a lot to be desired. The ablution blocks are in a bad state of repair and many were quite dirty and even dangerous (broken glass inside showers, etc.)
- As mentioned above, it all feels like it just needs a fresh coat of paint and a few hundred more visitors.
- Given that—the lack of demand and therefore of funds to upgrade facilities—the state of lodges etc., wasn’t all that bad. Very livable, just don’t expect to find your highbrow, posh, slick city hotels anywhere.
- But what Zimbabwean establishments lack in contemporary finesse they more than make up for in old-fashioned manners and the desire to make sure you have everything you need.
Food, drink and merriment
- There are a few stand-out places, mostly in Harare and at the fancy hotels near main attractions. Places like Tony’s Coffee Shop, Leopard Rock Hotel, Fishmongers etc. etc. Expensive but dedicated to good quality.
- You’ll also find most of the South African chain brands in the cities: Food Lovers, Mugg & Bean, etc. (Not sure how I feel about that :))
Overall, I ate well, kept clean and always found a happy reception wherever I went, so I can overlook some of the downfalls and give this a solid B.
- I thought I managed to seek out the right places to visit, and actually find them without much more help than my Garmin, onboard Tom Tom and maps.me on my iPhone.
- I managed to stay within budget, generally 😉 and not waste too much time or cash on the unnecessary.
- Could have stopped at more small, rural villages and interacted more with Zimbabweans I didn’t know.
- Got some good photos but my drone filming needs some work…
- I would really have loved to take more time to do some creative writing. I generally kept up with my daily journaling but not with putting my other—yes meta—thoughts onto paper.
- Also, still in rush-rush-rush mode, so more mindfulness needed.
Overall, a B- for a good start to things.