In Canada I was asked how Niagara Falls compared to Victoria Falls. I said bluntly that whilst the Zimbabweans had made a bit of a mess of the town the area around the falls was still protected and in a natural setting. Somehow the North Americans had turned the falls into a Disney meets nature theme park and built something ugly on almost every square inch of land around the falls.
And that is the great thing about Victoria Falls. Surrounded by rainforest created from the mist that the falls generates, you can imagine that what you are seeing now is pretty similar to what David Livingstone saw when he stumbled across it in the mid 1800’s. As I explained previously last time we had been here the water level had been a lot lower. Now the falls were torrential and mist was everywhere, not enough to spoil the view as on the Zambian side but enough to get us wet again. Probably the most dramatic view is to be had from Cataract View. This requires a climb down a steep stairway into the gorge and it’s from here that we found the classic view found in all good coffee table books. There are many other view points along the path that parallels the falls. The closer ones were a waste of time but the ones further away enabled us to get a sense of scale and that’s when you realise how awesome this place is. Its as if there are billions of tiny droplets of water dropping 100 metres into the gorge, each one independent of each other and then coming together as one seething mass of water on impact at the bottom. We stood and watched this incredible creation of nature for sometime before leaving and finding somewhere to toss some fluid down into our abyss and watch the world cup cricket.
We were a bit disappointed with our coupe on the train. We’re not sure whether it was the luck of the draw or the fact that we booked second class but we didn’t get the wood paneling, red velour upholstery and brass of a bygone era. Instead we got metal paneling and grey dull upholstery. Most trains in Zimbabwe run overnight on long journeys and run very slowly! It took ten hours to travel a distance of 439 kilometres or twice as long as it would have done by car. But we had, so we thought at the time, some good reasons to travel by train; it would save on accommodation, it was cheaper to hire a car in Bulawayo than Vic Falls and I liked trains. Whilst I’m not in the train spotter league, I find it quite comforting to sit or lie down listening to the rhythmic ‘clatter de clatter’. I was to be disappointed, just as we would nod off to the gentle swaying of the carriage the train would stop at some imaginary station in the middle of nowhere and then spent the next thirty minutes shunting. Add that to the fact that the doom and gloomers had been at us in Vic Falls, warning us to keep our windows locked to guard against straying arms that appear at stations and whip away your possessions and never to leave your coupe unattended, and you can see why we got very little sleep. To add insult to injury we discovered that hire cars cost the same in Bulawayo as they do in Vic Falls after all!
Louise from Burkes Paradise Backpackers met us at the station at around 7 am and whisked us away to a reasonable size house on a reasonable size property away from the centre of town. Louise and her husband Colin were caretaker managers whilst the owner Alan Burke was away and whilst they were pretty helpful they were obviously new to the game. As with white South Africans white Zimbabweans were fearful for their future under the current regime. Certainly they had good reason, Zimbabwe’s economy was in tatters, inflation was out of control and there was no money to pay the souring national debt or anything else for that matter. Of course since we left the country it’s gone from very bad to chaotic with the well publicised grabs of white owned farms that have resulted in crop failures of massive proportions and therefore very little left to export. The Z$ is worth nothing outside of Zimbabwe, so those who choose to get out, leave with very little unless they were smart enough to have some investments overseas. To a lot of whites still there, Zimbabwe is their home and has been for a least a couple of generations so leaving the country is the last resort.
Not that they’ve been there all that long. The remarkable Cecil Rhodes managed to obtain mining rights from the Ndebele tribe for his British South Africa Company as late as 1888. From then on the area that is now Zambia and Zimbabwe was settled by whites and the long running conflict between black and white that still continues today was born. Eventually after ten years of fighting between the Shona and Ndebele on one side and white settlers on the other, Southern Rhodesia started to push for self-government, which was eventually achieved in 1923. Thirty years later, along with Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) and Nyasaland (present-day Malawi), it became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This federation lasted a mere ten years, when the other two countries obtained independence as Zambia and Malawi. Rhodesia, as it was now called, started negotiations on their independence. But with no plan to involve black Africans, the Poms rejected this proposal. Eventually the white government led by Ian Smith got pissed off by this and declared independence anyway. It wasn’t until 1980 after a lot of bloodshed, two different governments and Britain regaining control, that free elections were held. Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won the election easily and the rest as they say is history!
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