The climb up the granite whale back rock had not been too difficult and as we emerged at the top there were boulders settled almost in a ring on the summit. They looked like someone had just put them down to form a circle. There in the middle lay the final resting place of Cecil John Rhodes.
It’s difficult to go anywhere in Zimbabwe without finding references to Rhodes. He certainly played a major hand in shaping the country around the turn of the 20th century. I had visited his graveside 23 years ago and was glad he was still there. With all the recent political troubles in Zimbabwe there had been calls for him to be removed.
The view from the top of the surrounding Matobo Hills was magnificent. “World’s View” it is called and while some may think this is why Rhodes asked to be buried there that’s not the whole story. The area around it is a sacred place for the Ndebele people and one of their kings was buried nearby and so it is believed as he was buried there his spirits would own the land. By being buried here Rhodes may also have been making a statement that his spirit would remain in the area and he now owned the land.
Whatever the truth, it is a wonderful place to visit.
After leaving the Eastern Highlands we have been taking a bit of a crash course in Zimbabwean history. Our first stop was by the side of Lake Mutirikwe at a pleasant campsite. Not that we could see the lake on the first day as the mist and drizzle stayed around all day.
The real reason we were here though was to visit the Great Zimbabwe ruins. This was built between the 12th and 15th centuries and was the largest stone structure ever built south of the Sahara. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s history up until recently has been the subject of often bitter debate. It’s now clearly established that the African inhabitants built up this and other smaller cities and that a succession of kings ruled large areas of Southern Africa from it. Early Europeans who came to colonise Africa could not believe Africans were capable of building such structures and attributed the ruins to the Phoenicians. Unfortunately despite compelling evidence to the contrary such beliefs continued well into the 20th century.
The ruins are very impressive and when we were there we were virtually the only tourists. First there is a climb up to the Hill Complex which is where the King and Queens probably lived and from where you get great views of the most visually impressive structure the Great Enclosure.
After walking down and walking through some more ruins in the Valley Complex you come to the Great Enclosure. The massive walls are magnificent and are built without the use of any concrete. They are really thick at the base and narrow as they go higher. The parallel wall on the inside was particularly impressive.
From Great Zimbabwe we headed to Bulawayo. We had met some people at a hide in Hwange National Park and spent a couple of very pleasant afternoons chatting and drinking with them. They had invited us to come and visit them when we were in Bulawayo and very kindly asked us to stay. Taking the truck up their driveway we were a bit worried as we seemed to be giving their lovely trees a bit of an extra pruning. Neil and Fiona had two twin daughters, Rachel and Serena who were the same age as Alisha and our girls were very excited to meet them. They had a wonderful time playing with them and were not interested in any sightseeing. They just wanted to know when the girls were coming back from school to ensure we would be there in time for them. Fortunately Rachel and Serena finished school around 1pm so there was lots of time for the four of them to play together.
Neil and Fiona could not have been more hospitable. They insisted we sleep in a guest cottage and not in the truck and fed and watered us well. It was lovely talking to them about life in Zimbabwe, the challenges but also the beauty of the country and its people. They introduced us to their interesting friends and showed us around the sights and history of Bulawayo. We can not say thank you enough for the wonderful time we had with them and hope we will meet again in future.
One of the friends we visited, Martin had an amazing collection of vintage cars from a Model T to Minis. But the one that interested us most was a Dodge that had been converted into a “motor home” around 1930. A definite forerunner for our truck. Overlanding in the 1930s would have been very different.
While we were there we visited the Bulawayo Natural History museum. This was more than just a museum with stuffed animals but also had the geology of the country as well as its historical development. It was very interesting. Neil then took us on a tour of the colonial sights of Bulawayo including the famous Bulawayo Club.
On our final day Neil very generously lent us his car to avoid having to get the truck out to visit Matobo National Park. This was really helpful as some of the roads in the park were narrow and the truck would have struggled to get through. The park is full of dramatic rock landscapes and is of outstanding natural beauty. There are two main kinds of rock formations. The most dramatic are the balancing rocks where huge piles of granite are piled on top and beside each other and weathered into all sorts of unusual shapes. The other is the massive “whaleback” (because of their shape) granite hills that rise up from the surrounding woodland. We had a lovely day driving around admiring the landscape.
After a final night of hospitality it was time for us to leave. Neil and Fiona were heading to South Africa to visit their eldest daughter who was in school there and we were heading to Botswana. It had been a lovely end to our time in Zimbabwe and not even the 7 roadblocks on the 100km drive to the border could spoil it. We also had to laugh at one of the adverts that was everywhere to be seen in Bulawayo!