This is the third part of a guest post by Deborah Casalin who visited Zimbabwe for the first time in January. In case you missed it, you can start from the first post here.
A long-awaited Zimbabwe adventure: Part 3 – Harare
Our lovely hostess was still going to be at work when we landed in Harare, so she’d arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up. With the relentless touts at Johannesburg airport in mind, I’d asked if he could bring a sign with our names on it. As we stood utterly alone outside domestic arrivals and watched our driver awkwardly approach us with the sign, we realized we were now possibly the most ridiculous tourists in Harare. Fortunately, that was no obstacle to loving every minute!
Jacarandas and verandas
Another sign we weren’t in Johannesburg: our driver laughed and explicitly said so, as he saw me trying to lock the car doors. But the resemblance was unmistakable, as we passed through the city centre with its sprinkling of early twentieth-century architecture, and then headed north into a gorgeous tunnel of jacaranda trees dotted with hand-painted adverts attached to their trunks.
A drive through town. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
The sense of familiarity didn’t diminish as we were deposited at Avondale Shopping Centre and installed ourselves on the veranda of Café Nush, with some iced coffees and great ice-cream.
Then, as the workday ended, our amazing Harare reunion began! Catching up over pizza and wine in the fairy-lit garden of Da Eros Trattoria, I thought there were probably few better ways to do this.
The tough go shopping (and get lunch)
The weekend dawned with a race for the shower. Apparently water cuts three days a week are the norm where we were staying, but an extra cut meant that the back-up tanks were running dry. The thought of so many others without alternatives really put our zero-dishwashing Plan B – heading out to lunch and braaiing (barbequing) for dinner – into perspective.
Our first stop was the UpMarket, a buzzing Saturday community of pop-up stalls in the garden of an old house in the suburb of Avondale. With fresh veggies and home-made breakfast rusks in the bag, we treated ourselves to some tasty smoothies while browsing through the crafts and books. If not for our luggage limit, we would have left with more than just a few whimsical hand-made fridge magnets!
Our next port of call was the 40 Cork Road garden café, where we thoroughly enjoyed a lunch of pumpkin quiche and home-made lemonade under the cooling shelter of the trees. It was perhaps even too satisfying, as with heavy hearts we had to decline the milk-tart afterwards.
While it was tempting just to laze there, it was soon time to get on the road, swapping shady lawns for gaping potholes and erratic robots (traffic lights). On that note, we were glad to be driving with a local – if you’re not much of a cowboy behind the wheel, you might want to look into your options for doing the same.
Harare safari at Mukuvisi Woodlands
There is literally a sign at the entrance of Mukuvisi Woodlands inviting you to take a Harare safari, so I can’t even take credit for this amazing title. Anyhow, after all those suburban gardens, we were ready to get back to nature.
Fishing practice at Mukuvisi Woodlands. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
Just on the outskirts of Harare, Mukuvisi feels much further removed from the city. Though this lovely nature reserve is popular for weekend walks and picnics, the late afternoon atmosphere was still and peaceful. Beyond the aviaries and crocodile enclosure, a path led us to a hide from which we watched zebras, impalas, giraffes and wildebeest (gnu). We then continued down a wooded trail to a wetland area, where an impressive variety of birds had come to roost.
Three musketeers at Mukuvisi. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
The lone ranger. Photo courtesy of Tom Nijs.
There was a lot more to explore, but as tends to happen on southern African holidays, the sinking sun prompted us to consider our options. The braai was awaiting us, and we’d have to get it going if we wanted to eat before midnight!
Domboshawa rocks (and so does Sam Levy’s)
The next day saw us heading down the straight stretch of road out of Harare to the Domboshawa Hills. As we got closer, the vivid greenery ebbed away to reveal a stunning Mars-scape of rusty granite. There was a gentler route to the top, but being suckers for rock-paintings, we followed the arrows on the longer, steeper way round.
Life on Mars. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
Like at some similar sites in South Africa, the Domboshawa paintings are in the open in their original state. While we always feel fortunate to get such an intimate look at these ancient masterpieces, the drawback is that they are quite exposed. It was disheartening to see that vandals had been at work here, at an otherwise very well-kept site.
Don’t look down, they said. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
The long way up. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
After the paintings, we pushed through up the last dizzying slope, every now and then turning to admire the landscape behind us. At the top, when we’d finished taking turns sitting under the slightly intimidating balancing rocks, we spent time just trying to take in the vast 360-degree panorama below. It was really the kind of view that leaves you not knowing where to look.
Just hanging. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
A rock with a view. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
On our way back to town, we stopped at a well-known local village for a bite – Sam Levy’s Village, that is. I’ve seen some faintly kitsch outdoor malls in my day, but the gigantic My Little Pony statues instantly shot this place into my all-time favourites list. I can only congratulate Sam Levy’s décor team for making this worth mentioning after the epic natural beauty of Domboshawa.
Notes to self
Then, somehow, it was Monday morning again – time to shuffle reluctantly into the taxi back to the airport. Of course, we bookended our Harare visit with another awkward tourist moment, as we sheepishly had to respond to our driver that no, we actually hadn’t tried any sadza. At all.
Our first taste of Zimbabwe gave us so much more than we expected in such a short time – jaw-dropping natural wonders, incredible hospitality, and treasured memories. But I’ll surely add sadza to the long list of things that are still in store for us on our next visit!
If you’ve been thinking of visiting Zimbabwe, why not make up a list like this for yourself, and explore what it will take to turn your ideas into plans? It’s probably easier than you think! And if you haven’t yet thought about visiting, why not start?
If you would like to write a guest post about your visit to Zimbabwe, please contact us – we would love to hear from you!