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krisek Masvingo - A travel report by Krys
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Masvingo,  Zimbabwe - flag Zimbabwe
11289 readers

krisek's travel reports

Great Zimbabwe, a rare ancient/medieval monument

  12 votes
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This is the place, from which the country took its name. It is situated among great scenery and is a great and intriguing collection of circular stone structures. It is a relatively remote place, which adds to its mystery and magic.

Great Zimbabwe - general view
Great Zimbabwe - general view
When I arrived to Masvingo on a local bus from Harare, I went to the tourist information office to enquire how I could get to the Great Zimbabwe. The personnel was leaving for lunch, so I started speculating about hiring a taxi. As soon as I mentioned that to one of them, they decided that they were not so hungry and were prepared to negotiate a price, so one of them would take me there. I reluctantly agreed to a rather expensive ride, but I understood that the driver had to get petrol from the black market. The best place to get petrol was to go to a gas station from behind or ask someone at the several day-long queue right in front of the station. This was their living. As the black market price could be ten times higher than the official one, as soon as they got to the pump and took their 20 litres allowance, they made sure they sold it with a nice profit. And it could be as much as three weeks salary of an office clerk. That was a pretty nice profit.

I might have overpaid for the ride and the guy wanted to trick me, however I had little other options at hand and definitely no time. I could have hitched but petrol shortages resulted in much less traffic everywhere. Well, I didn’t plan to ever come back to Zimbabwe, so I cared a little less. The most important fact for me was that I was making progress, and accepted that travelling in Zimbabwe was going to be a challenge.

The Great Zimbabwe National Monument was the very reason why I made an effort to come to Masvingo. It is an historical place from which the entire country took name, after it became independent of Britain and shook off its colonial name of Rhodesia. It was a fascinating place with carefully erected stone structures linked to local royalty from 13th century. This is what I found in a generally available literature. However, the guide at the site claimed that the place was a few thousand years old! I wasn’t sure if he just wanted to exaggerate and impress me or simply knew so little about it.

Favourite spots:
Great Zimbabwe - Great Enclosure
Great Zimbabwe - Great Enclosure
At the Great Enclosure, a royal compound surrounded by an 11 meter high 5 meter thick stone wall, there was a 10 meter-high Conical Tower located in a supposedly boys initiation room. This tower was one of the symbols of Zimbabwe, and a symbol (or a feature) of one of the local political parties. I was told that the boys, as they reached puberty, they were prepared for an adult life, which involved circumcision. At that age?! It was rather late, I thought. I decided to tease the guide and quickly commented that it sounded strange to me because they were not Jewish. My guide riposted that it was also their tradition. I asked him if he was circumcised and he said he wasn’t. Now, that was odd, so there were exceptions from the tradition? I then started joking with him that the tower could have also represented a penis. And I quickly realised that he was not used to cheeky travellers like me. I decided to push it a little harder with him then.

What's really great:
Great Zimbabwe - Great Enclosure
Great Zimbabwe - Great Enclosure
As I rushed to the girls initiation area and was shown a raised 'teacher' stage who would explain 'things' and was told about phallic sculptures found there, I could not resist suggesting what those artificial penises could have been used as part of girls initiation process. I specifically left certain things unsaid to stimulate imagination of my guide, who nearly pissed himself giggling and trying not to show it too much. He didn’t seem to know much about this national monument, so I didn’t take him too seriously. I guess it was a good for him. It was a job and in Zimbabwe it must have been treasured.

I think I liked the Great Zimbabwe. It is a significant site of Africa, representing probably an example of a sophisticated social structure of people who’d built it. Apart from the Mediterranean Africa, west Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia, there are very few places of comparable architectural complexity on the continent, dating from the same period.

Back in Masvingo, I made preparations to get to Bulawayo by bus. And I thought I should give the town a second chance to make a first impression on me. Earlier that day, it didn’t impress me much. However, the town could be pleasant from a closer look. The avenues in the centre were wide, some were planted with tall palm trees and colourful bougainvilleas, and there were a few interesting, colonial buildings, which made Masvingo look actually like a town. Sadly, there were no good restaurants but the number of banks (all with modern ATMs accepting domestic cards only) was much larger than sufficient.

After about an hour of wandering, Masvingo grew on me. Significantly! It was a calm place with slow pace. Really slow, actually. A lack of remarkable sights, shifted my focus to the way the town was organised and what people were doing. Many just chilled in the few bars sipping beers, coffees and teas. I also started appreciating the few grand colonial buildings.

Masvingo - Firelilly Lodge
Masvingo - Firelilly Lodge
Yet, there were few hotels! The backpackers place of my choice was fully booked, which I found surprising, because it looked rather large and I could not imagine anyone coming to Masvingo and staying for many nights. The town looked totally tourist-free to me. I was the only tourist in town (and so was I in the Great Zimbabwe). So, I wandered around the town a little and checked to The Firelilly Lodge for 700,000 Zimbabwean dollars (ZWD). Initially, they wanted to charge me USD 30 instead! That would be three times more the official price quoted in ZWD (it was ZWD 70,000 to one US dollar). Payment in foreign currency was required of foreigners unless they could present a money exchange receipt from a bank. Luckily I had one and escaped paying three times more than I should! I was proud of myself that I remained calm during that entire process of agreeing which price i should be paying.

Although I wasn’t looking hard, I couldn’t find any obvious places to go out at night. Well, I wasn’t desperate I have to add. My plan was to get up well before sunrise to catch a bus to Bulawayo, so staying up late at night wasn’t going to be the best of ideas. However, it was my second night in Zimbabwe and I was gagging to meet some locals and sociallise. Find out some more about their lives under the rule of Robert Mugabe’s second wife. The whole world knew about Zimbabwe’s terrible economic tragedy and the aftermath of a string of the state’s mad decisions. I had to wait until I was on the train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls to find out about this.

Great Zimbabwe - general view
Great Zimbabwe - general view
In Masvingo, there was a grand train station. Its cafe, which had just a couple of tables on the pavement was one of the places, where I found a larger congregation of locals hanging out. The cafe did not have a wide range of items on its price list, but coffee, tea, beer and remarkably a choice of spirits was enough to attract customers, exclusively male customers. The guys appeared good humoured, chatting, smoking cigarettes, killing time. I failed to see another place like this in the town.

Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
Masvingo looked like a culinary desert to me. I hadn’t eaten since I left a plane in Harare the previous day, so I was becoming anxious of finding something to filled up my stomach before I went on. It was hard. I eventually found a booth selling simple foods, including fried chicken. I created a bit of sensation in the kitchen when I stepped in and ordered a meal there. I couldn’t tell if I received a special treatment or not, but my dish was just about edible and made my stomach a little happier. My alternative was to get something from a local shop and satisfy myself with dry food.

Other recommendations:
Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe
I was faced with a challenge to find the right spot on Masvingo streets to catch the correct bus. People kept giving me contradictory directions. I was getting increasingly confused with every half an hour passing the time at which the bus was supposed to leave. The dawn broke out revealing that there were many people hunting buses in all sorts of directions. Many buses came and I was under an impression that they were all going in the wrong direction. I later realised that they were all going to the same place - hyper-guarded petrol station. It was misleading! I left 2 hours behind the alleged schedule. The bus looked completely packed, but there were surprisingly many seats available. I climbed on it. I was disturbed by the fact that people didn’t give a toss, that I was trying to move along the bus to the available seats at the back. Everyone was sitting still, making sure it was impossibly difficult for me to move with all my luggage in both hands. I had to ‘elbow’ my way through!

Published on Sunday February 17th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 02:55 PM rating by alfonsovasco

ok, finishing to rate all your reports with excellent note, all 5b opoints without weaception!

Mon, Feb 18 2008 - 02:31 PM rating by davidx

I fine report yet again. It brings back great memories and I am putting one up as a log entry that might amuse you.

Sun, Feb 17 2008 - 05:58 PM rating by rangutan

No frills attached, an honest report!

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