LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall 2016 | I may well be revealing a mildly off-putting personality quirk in telling you this, but I have running mental lists of the best things I have done, seen, eaten, read, etc. From pizza to public restrooms, I can give a running order of my top experiences of the category in question. I share this (perhaps character-betraying) trivia because before I had even set foot in Zimbabwe, I had crowned a new winner in the Best Short Plane Journey category. I have never seen a sky so empty of clouds, and an under-wing expanse so sprawling as the view I had from my window on the hour-long flight from Johannesburg to Harare. Touching down, I felt the thoughts that had so worried me the night before simply evaporate in the dry heat. Knowing that I was one small point in such a vast vista brought with it a sense of tranquility.
About fifteen hours prior, I lay awake, having had an intense phone call with my partner about this adventure. As someone in a same-sex relationship, my traveling to Zimbabwe posed personal, moral and political problems that desired reconciliation. Same-sex activity is outlawed in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe regularly launches verbose attacks towards the LGBT community. By traveling here, I would be tacitly contributing to a country where the law does not respect a part of who I am; and where many like me, live lives of misery and danger. Could I justify traveling to such a place? An inquisitive mind (and a non-refundable airfare) allowed me to proceed on this once-in-a-lifetime journey with my brother.
The capital city of Zimbabwe is essentially divided into areas of wealth. In the poorest parts, water and electricity are scarcely available. In the wealthier areas, their availability remains temperamental. Generators will plug any gaps in museums or hotels, however. Situated close to the Presidential Residence, an executive suite for two at the Bronte Hotel will cost $275, per night. The relatively simple rooms have all the basic amenities you would expect. It is a wonderful base from which to see Harare. We spent an afternoon in the botanical gardens established by colonial settlers, which has a fascinating mix of exotic plants from around the world.
Helpfully, my brother and I were touring Zimbabwe with a native Zimbabwean friend. In the evening, we took a taxi to his favorite bar in town, Pariah State. I immediately added the local Zambezi Lager to my mental list of best beers. The crowd at this bar was a mix of locals and foreign diplomatic attachés. The social side of Harare seemed very tight-knit, but lively. The people were interested in our stories, and less afraid to talk about politics than I had imagined. Everyone is aware of the huge issues facing Zimbabwe, and much of the friction seems to come from differing opinions on what is best for the country.
Hwange National Park
As the winter was about to surrender to spring, the ground had been starved of water for many months. The land was a vivid mix of bronze, orange, brown and crimson leaves. It is thoroughly hypnotizing in its beauty. Arriving at Hwange, we were confronted with a large diversity of accommodation options. A terrific-value accommodation was available on the outskirts of the park for around $60, per person – this was considered five-star.
However, as my brother and I are former scouts, we opted for a much more rustic option available deep inside the main camp. For $46, we hired a cabin with two comfortable beds and adequate mosquito protection. There is a good restaurant at the camp, but excitingly, each cabin has an open fire with endless possibilities for these former scouts. Crucially, this also left room in our budget for copious amounts of Zambezi Lager. [www.zimparks.org]
Seeing a herd of elephants in the wild for the first time was an experience I shall not soon forget. Indeed, coming back to the hut, eating homemade stew around the fire and hearing the rustle of animals close by was hugely thrilling. It felt like a more natural experience than being waited on hand and foot in one of the more luxurious places. If walking to an outhouse for your morning shower is not your thing, however, you can upgrade significantly for a little extra cost.
The experience of approaching Victoria Falls is a remarkable thing. For about half a mile around the Falls, the spray hydrates the ground, creating a jungle oasis in an otherwise parched land. As you get closer, the crashing of the water crescendos far beyond how loud one might expect it to get. Three things happened as I stepped through the gap in the trees to see Victoria Falls in front off me: my jaw hit the ground; I added what I saw to the top of my mental list of Spectacular Views; and I dropped my ice cream.
Back in the town, the Victoria Falls Hotel is one of the popular options by Pure Africa Experiences and maintains a stately colonial feel. A night spent sleeping beneath portraits of the British Royal Family will cost around a $250, per night. Here we had a delectable and reasonably priced afternoon tea. Several smaller hotels and backpacking options were also available. However, we stayed at Victoria Falls Rest Camp & Lodges, which had a range of tents, backpacking rooms and private cabins equipped with toilets and cooking facilities. Sitting in the open-air restaurant was very pleasant — I recommend the crocodile salad (yes, crocodile is available at many of the dining establishments, and is much better than one might expect). Prices range from $20-$70, per person, per night.
A Personal Reflection
Wandering beside Victoria Falls lent time for reflection. From a distance, it can be difficult to see the beauty in a place that has homophobic, racist or sexist laws. However, as with most places, going beyond “the political” to see and appreciate a country, and its people, will show its true nature. Zimbabwe is truly a beautiful land with much to offer the world — and has risen to the top of the mental lists for this inquisitive traveler. I would love to go back in the first weeks of spring to see the color of the landscape jump to the other side of the spectrum. In a perfect world, I would leave tomorrow to go back on Safari in Hwange.
If I had simply chosen to not visit Zimbabwe in protest of its anti-LGBT laws, the world would not have noticed, and I would still be bitter. Having gone, I saw the stunning landscapes, met many kindhearted people, and I now consider myself greatly enriched from the experience. In reality, there will be aspects or laws in most countries that I disagree with in some way. However, I realize now that we should all travel to celebrate what is good, and what is beautiful in a country. In Zimbabwe, there is a bountiful supply of both.
Learn more about Zimbabwe: www.zimbabwetourism.net