This working vacation in Zimbabwe was the ideal “proof of correctness” for our commitment to the not again travel philosophy described in the post Two Schools of Traveling Thought. The country has superb game parks that provide close-up views of all the big mammals from the luxury and safety of a jeep, just like our safaris in Kenya seven years earlier. However, Zimbabwe also offers adventures totally distinct from those of Kenya and Tanzania only a few hundred miles to the north.
For example, midway through our stay we drove to Great Zimbabwe National Monument, a two hundred-square-mile area of massive stone ruins constructed between the eleventh and fourteenth century, most likely as a royal city by members of the Shona tribe. During the rule of apartheid, Rhodesian schools were not allowed to teach that these magnificent buildings were designed and built by African tribesmen 500 years before the onset of European colonial domination. That knowledge would have contradicted their racist teachings about the cultural and intellectual inferiority of blacks. Paul Sinclair, a senior archeologist at Great Zimbabwe during the time of apartheid, stated:
Censorship of guidebooks, museum displays, school textbooks, radio programs, newspapers and films was a daily occurrence. Once a member of the Museum Board of Trustees threatened me with losing my job if I said publicly that blacks had built Great Zimbabwe. . . . It was the first time since Germany in the thirties that archaeology has been so directly censored.
Today, the park and its structures, the second largest stone buildings in Africa after the Great Pyramids of Giza, are a source of great pride to Zimbabweans and upon independence in 1980 the country, originally named after Cecil Rhodes, an English businessman, was renamed in honor of this historical site. The national flag (see photo) contains an image of the bird carvings found on the walls and towers of Great Zimbabwe. It is an archeological treasure and one of the few extant examples of ancient African tribal culture on the continent.
Ruth and I traveled to the Eastern Highlands on the border with Mozambique to hike in its high mountains and enjoy its copious displays of wildflowers and bird life. Of course we made it to the biggest and most famous tourist attraction in all of Zimbabwe and, indeed, in all of Africa—Victoria Falls. At 360 feet in height and more than a mile in width, it is one of the largest waterfalls on the planet and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In addition to spectacular views from the unfenced rim of the chasm—feel free to sit and dangle your feet over the edge—there are also heart stopping, Class 5 (expert level, extremely dangerous) whitewater rapids on the Zambezi River to keep you fully entertained and sopping wet.
So even if you have been lucky enough to find that “one perfect Eden,” I invite you to cast your travel net even wider when planning the next working vacation–just as we chose to experience a new African country and culture rather than return to Kenya. While it is certainly safe, comforting, and enjoyable going back to the same place year after year, witnessing new sights, experiencing new cultures, and meeting new people can be an even more invigorating and stimulating experience. So, open up that atlas and start searching!
. Julie Frederikse, “Before the war,” in None But Ourselves, Biddy Partridge, photographer (Harare: Oral Traditions Association of Zimbabwe with Anvil Press: 1990) , 10–11.