Zimbabweans are still going through what they call “The Lost Years”. The collapsed economy under Mugabe remains dire; at one stage inflation was 230 billion %, and unemployment is terrifying at around 90%. The farms, wrested from their white owners are not nearly as productive, and the unspoken atrocities and disappearances may never be accounted for. Naturally, our hearts went out to the hapless locals who are trying to maintain their dignity through these terrible times. “Tell people to come” was their refrain.
Things might just be looking up a bit on one front as tourists are starting to visit Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe’s legendary game reserves. We enjoyed nine memorable days amid spectacular wildlife in varied terrains and felt completely safe.
People we met chatted proudly of their country’s excellent climate, mighty rivers and rich soil. Zimbabwe was once the granary of Africa. Its denizens have shown sporting prowess, there are top notch schools and there is nothing quite like the warm Zimbabwean welcome, accompanied by old-world hospitality. There is more than a glimmer of hope that with the passing of the ageing dictator, reform will come and international sanctions will be lifted. No matter how pear-shaped things get, the Zimbabwean mind set is to “make a plan” and move on.
Whilst planning the trip, Zimbabwe’s famous wildlife parks, Hwange, Matusadona, Gonarezhou and others competed for attention, and we selected Malilangwe Game Reserve in the south and Mana Pools in the north.
Paul Tudor Jones, an American hedge fund manager has made a name for himself in Tanzania and Zimbabwe as a successful conservationist, and we headed first to Malilangwe, a beautiful 400 sq km sanctuary in the south east, protected by and replenished by him. Rock Hyraxes and Klipspringers bounded out of the way as we walked over and settled into the beautiful stone and thatch lodge set amid enormous boulders, overlooking a vast swathe of the forest and the lake where an elephant and her calf frolicked in the water.
The next morning Anthony (Ant) Kaschula, our guide led us to a female leopard in a Mopane forest. She kept calling her skittish cub, who preferred to obey his own instincts and stay hidden in the brush. Looking for vantage points, she climbed half broken trees, presenting amazing photographic opportunities. Hearing her rasping call over and over again was a thrill, and a fitting one, as Malilangwe means, “Call of the Leopard”. The bounder finally revealed himself, and they both glided into the thicket. As we had coffee and oat porridge under an enormous baobab tree, a herd of three hundred buffalo thundered past, with the red dust aglow in the sun.
Wildlife filmmaker, Kim Walhuter, is currently based in Malilangwe and having spent days on end with a cheetah mother and her cubs, he has habituated them to his presence. We joined Kim in the mornings and evenings, watched the cubs’ antics and enjoyed them coming right up to us. Unlike most African game parks, here, we could drive in the jeep or walk with Ant, our armed guide, tracking lion and rhino on foot.
After Malilangwe, we headed to Mana Pools in Northern Zimbabwe, but that’s another tale. As we said goodbye, Ant had a little keepsake for us, an old Zimbabwean currency note with the face value of a Hundred Trillion Zimbabwe Dollars. In true form, he found the positive aspect of hyperinflation, and said, “Our maths became quite good, calculating currency value all the time.”
Zimbabwe at a glance
Population: 12.2 million, 76% Shona, 18% Ndebele, with about 45,000 Europeans
Currency: US dollar
Religion: Christian with traditional beliefs
How to get to Malilangwe game reserve: Fly to Johannesburg, then take a 75-minute flight to Buffalo Range airport in Zimbabwe, where a jeep from Pamushana Lodge will be waiting for you.
Best time to go: May to October, in the dry season. August is ideal.
email@example.comPamushana Lodge (Honeymoon villa No 1 has the best views of the dam and hills) Meals and Safari included in the room rate.
Expert Guide: Ant Kaschula (+ 263 773 819835 www.privateguidedsafaris.com) guided us in Malilangwe and Mana Pools. He runs his own guiding company with a tented camp near the spectacular Chilojo cliffs in nearby Gonarezhou National Park.
Or request Pamushana Lodge’s driver and guide- Fortune Masuka, firstname.lastname@example.org Other expert Zimbabwe-based guides: Garth Thompson & John Stevens.