Day 296: The Road To Ruin

Wed. 5th June 2013

The road to (the) ruin(s)As we’ve stayed in Zimbabwe, our itinerary has evolved as we have become more confident about our ability to get around within the country. Our experience on the bus convinced us that we could get between the major towns and cities. Having driven out to the Matopos yesterday, we are comfortable with the prospect of today’s 300km drive east where we will be spending a couple of nights so that we can see the ruins of Great Zimbabwe – which we’d never heard of before we arrived in the country.

All sorts of hazards on the roadAs we’d thought and hoped, the drive out was really unremarkable. The only drama was that we had put over 300km on the trip meter of our little Polo before the (digital) petrol gauge moved off full – we were just starting to wonder if the gauge was broken (and if so, how much petrol was really in the car). Otherwise the roads were almost empty and we saw as many buses as cars. There were a couple of toll stations where the charge was $1 and a few police checkpoints where, after winding down the window and giving a smiley “hello” to the policemen we were just waved through.

River running dryWe drove across a few bridges over rivers. Some were low on water and the others had totally dried up with just sandy river beds stretching up and downstream. Periodically there would be clusters of round huts reminding us that some people still live like this as well as passing a few roadside stores. Our (well, my)  biggest problem was the absence of anywhere to get a cup of coffee – and as Janet will testify that is a major issue for any true Hornsey.

Lodge built around a big rockWe didn’t do much better when it came to lunch. Although we drove through a couple of small towns and then the larger town of Masvingo, there was little in the way of cafes or restaurants other than the ubiquitous take-away trio of Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn and (Ice) Cream Inn. In the end, we went to a supermarket in Masvingo (as we needed some water anyway) and got a freshly made steak pie from the in-store bakery.

New building built in the old wayThe ruins we are heading for are about 25km outside of Masvingo and we are staying in the nearby ‘Lodge at the Ancient City’. Like so many hotels we have seen in Zimbabwe, this was built in the late 90s, presumably in the expectation of a tourist boom that is just not happening. And so here, like every hotel (other than The Hide in Hwange), is operating far below capacity. From a peep at the registration book then it looks as if there are only two other couples staying here tonight.

Our 'chalet' at the Lodge At The Ancient CityThe ‘Lodge’ is designed and built in a style that is ‘harmonious’ with the ruins and as we’ll learn tomorrow, the stonework and the motifs reflect those in the ruins. Our rooms are in a large, round stone ‘chalet’ with thatched roof and wooden beams set amongst and built around the large boulders that are dotted around the grounds. Indeed, one such boulder protrudes through the wall of our bathroom and forms a natural screen between the toilet and the rest of the bathroom. There’s plenty of space and even a balcony where we can sit out and look at the forest.

Lady Muck on the chalet balconyIn the large main lodge, we have a wander around contemplate the swimming pool (but quickly decide that it is too cold) and so retire to the bar (where there is WiFi!) Here we get talking to another couple, Glen and Rebecca. It turns out that though they live in America, she was born in Rhodesia (as was) and has come back for the 25th anniversary reunion of her medical school class. We start comparing notes of the idiosyncrasies that we have seen about the tourist trade in Zimbabwe (empty hotels, strange pricing policies where things are either expensive or cheap but not anywhere in between).

Swimming pool - quaint but coldAs is so often the case, the conversation, carries on over drinks and then dinner and they then start to describe their previous visit to Zimbabwe in 2009 at the peak of the hyper-inflation. Then the whole country was in ruins and there was nothing in the shops everything had to be bought either by barter or with US dollars. So, joining the dots together – late 90s was (expected) tourism boom, by 2009 a massive bust and now (hopefully) on the road to recovery. An interesting country.


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