Today we headed out again to the great monument as we had only seen one of three areas of the entire complex. We explored the valley complex with was mostly in rubble walls, here is believed that the kings lower family lived. At the back of the property was a traditional village set up for the subjects and villagers. Looks like you can book a place to stay overnight here, but the thing is, we haven’t seen any tourists at all while we’ve been here. So when we bought some of their usual soapstone carvings of animals, they were really thrilled.
The highlight came when we visited the great enclosure. A circular structure of enormous dimensions, most impressive because of it‘s thick walls made entirely of granite stones without the use of any mortar. A great eleven meter high outer wall encloses an oval shaped space. The wall is six meters thick at the base and four meters on top and very impressive. The stones are meticulously arranged in symmetrical fashion thousands of years ago. It has four relatively small entries which could easily be defended. There are inner circles, where it was believed the king resided in peace times and where business was conducted. Artefacts from as far as China and Western Africa were found there, indicating that this place must have been on a key trading route at one point in time.
Nearly claustrophobic is the narrow pasage between the outer wall and an inner wall, barely letting a person through in single file. Most impressive also was the conical tower at the end of the passage.
A solid circular structure made entirely of granite bricks, several meters diameter on the base and tapering to two meters at the top. It was originally believed to house the crown jewels and people tried to find ways to get inside, even digging a tunnel underneath it. To no avail, the tower is solid, no hollow space at all. Luckily it was never completely disassembled and could be restored.
It‘s exact purpose is still the subject of speculation today. Was it for religious purposes? Was it a circumcision center? Was it just a symbol of power? Nobody really knows as no written account of it could be found anywhere.
After having spent a leasurely morning wandering the premises, we made tracks as the drive to Bulawayo was to take 4 hrs and we definitively did not want to arrive in the dark.
Driving back was uneventful from a scenic perspective. A lot of bushland used for grazing cattle and goats. Many little villages on the road side and frequent police stops. Those were always a bit of a gamble. Some would just wave you through, others were stopping us, asking for a valid drivers license (No one requested Chris’ international driving license that he had obtained specifically for this trip). We had also the case that we were asked to show spare tyre and fire extinguisher or if we had some water. We were expecting one of those controls to ask for money, but albeit some of the officers drew out the conversation clearly looking for some signs from us if we were willing to hand over something, only one of the asked outright if we had brought something for him from Germany. We denied and he let us go. We were told, that special during Christmas time, drivers coming from South Africa where asked what their Christmas gift was. What seemed to be working better for us, is if we identified ourselves as tourists straight away, raving about Zimbabwe and how nice the people here were. None of the officers seemed to want to tarnish the rosy reputation that we pretended to have from their country and people.
We made it to Bulawayo around three PM and checked into the very traditional Bulawayo Club Hotel. This is an old Gentlemen‘s club, so typical for the British colonial empire or the London Clubs, behind a massive security gate in the bustling center of teh town.
For members only. Here the affluent white male population were having their ‚serious conversations‘, drinks, games and simply hang out together undisturbed by their wives or colored peole. Nowadays a very snobbish attitude and considered outright racist, at that time, all bigger cities had such clubs during colonial rule.
The president‘s room had all the exhibits of former South African Rugby teams, old hunting trophies, countless pictures of queen Elizabeth and all the floor were waxed to the max with bean wax, just like in olden times. The second floor housed 15 guest rooms and lounges, originally for overnight guests by invitation only. The first floor housed the library, further salons and the presidents rooms. It felt like a living museum – specially the century old lift by Waygood & Otis.
Heading out directly after check in across town by foot, we soon discovered that this is not done by white people usually or people who had some money. We did not care and felt safe walking around town even though people stared at us. Bulawayo is the second largest town after Harare in Zimbabwe.
It is a bustling hub of commerce, street vendors everywhere and many old colonial buildings still there albeit somewhat run down now. But here’s another interesting detail: When Chris parked the car, a woman approached him with an electronic device and informed him that his car still had an unpaid parking ticket from two(!) years ago, amounting to over $2. While he was momentarily surprised, he quickly pointed out that it was a rental car and he couldn’t have been responsible for the ticket.
We walked to the natural history museum as it is supposed to be one of the best in southern Africa. It proved to be true. Manz displays with stuffed animals in glass windows were displayed in life size. They also host the second largest ever stuffed elephant in the museum, weighing originally 5.5 tons and being 4.5 meters high on his withers. His tusks alone weighed 45 kg each.
We wandered through displays of stuffed animals, countless stuffed birds, live snakes, minerals and the hall of kings. Zim history in speed mode, but well worth visiting if you are in town. Ambling back to the Bulawayo Club through dilapidated parks that certainly have seen better days, made us realize how vibrant and rich the country once was and that since then, corruption has caused so much damage to the country. It‘s sad to see but unfortunately very wide spread in all of Africa. It‘s the norm rather than an exception.
Back at the hotel, we decided to enjoy a light dinner there in the colonial atmosphere and were not disappointed. The benefit of having a hotel in a central location was great for us to walk the streets on foot. The disadvantage showed at night, when two trees with a thousand starlings emitted a huge sound cloud intermingled with constant shouts from Zimbabweans shouting for customers to fill their mini busses. This did not make for a quiet night but it was to be expected.