We were up early this morning for the thirty minute drive to the Zimbabwe border in order to beat out any other larger trucks and buses at this unpredictable crossing. Luckily there was very little congestion and we were the only large vehicle in line on this Sunday morning. We were further aided by immigration officials in a good mood who only gave the truck a quick cursory search before clearing it to cross. The only formality was walking into the building to purchase our visas and get out passports stamped. As a U.S. citizen, my visa was $30 US (Payable only in international currency. Even the government doesn't want Zim dollars!) which was about the going charge unless you were British, then it was $55 (Britain has led the charge in getting sanctions placed upon Zimbabwe so British tourists get charged a premium). Our guide Tonia told us to expect it to take between an hour and a half and two hours to make the crossing but we were able to get everything done in just an hour, the quickest she had ever seen. This was good because we still had a good amount of ground to cover to make it to our next stop, the Great Zimbabwe ruins near the southern city of Masivingo (pronounced mah-shin-go).
Only a few miles beyond the border, the affects of Operation Murambatsvina were visible. Every couple of miles you could see on both sides of the two lane road the charred remains of one of the unofficial curio stands. On the ride up to Masivingo we must have passed close to one hundred such stands. Sometimes you could even make out the remains of a wooden giraffe neck and head or part of a wooden hippo that had survived the flames. This part of Zimbabwe was very sparsely populated and the people you did come across didn't seem to be up to much. With no more stalls selling wood and stone carvings, there didn't seem much to do. The infrastrusture was also noticeably more worn than South Africa. Any building you did see was a basic one-story concrete block with any sign being painted on and faded. Many were abandoned stores that no longer had anything to sell.
After a coulpe of hours we stopped at a Shell station to buy some ice. Unfortunately for us, even this was in high demand and they were already sold out. The store did have some basic snacks and drinks but it would never be confused with one of the large well-stocked service stations we had left behind only hours ago in South Africa. While we were parked there three men who seemed to be just sitting around jumped up and ran into some nearby bushes and came back brandishing various wood carvings and simple handmade jewelry, obviously rescued before their souvenir stalls were set on fire. Needless to say, they were desperate to make a sale. The funny thing is, they weren't simply interested in money. Because of various international sanctions Zimbabwe is short of many simlpe things we take for granted. These guys were willing to trade their wares for things such as batteries, toothpaste, t-shirts (one of them was wearing an Oakland Raiders t-shirt), shoes or anything else of use. This would be a recurring theme during our eleven days in Zimbabwe.
We arrived at our campsite in the shadows of the Great Zimbabwe ruins in time for lunch and headed over for our guided tour shortly after eating. Great Zimbabwe was the oldest ancient city in sub-Saharan Africa. All of the walls and buildings are made entirely from large rectangular stones stacked on top of each other. The main settlement where the king lived is built into a large hill measuring over 1,000 feet. The surrounding valley was where the villages were built. Climbing up to the king's quarters was good exercise. Once we arrived near the remains of the compound wide stone staircases gave way to extremely narrow paths of crumbling rock. Some passes were so tight that I had to turn my shoulders to fit through. On our way up we stopped for some amazing views and photos of the surrounding area. One of the highlights was when our guide pointed out a cave that one could yell into and be heard by the villagers below. Whenever the king wanted to make an announcement or summon someone (possibly one of his more than 200 wives!) anyone within a full kilometer would know about it. Overall, we spent about three hours hiking up and around the area and a few of us were even able to make it up a steep rock face to the very tippy top of the ruins for a good photo op and some fantastic views.
That night sitting around the camp fire after dinner I introduced everyone to an American classic, s'mores. Surprisingly, no one there had ever heard of them. Since there were no graham crackers in the stores we had to use some tea biscuits as a replacement but they were a huge hit nevertheless. This was not the last time we would have them. Something tells me that s'mores are going to be a big hit in Australia very soon. If you know of any publicly traded company that distributes marshmallows or chocolate Down Under, I would advise a "strong buy" on their stock.