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Top Ten Travel Hacks for 2020

There are few travellers that haven’t been impacted by the current climate crisis. Many want to have a positive journey while simultaneously having as little an impact on the environment as possible. If you are thinking about making more sustainable choices when it comes to their travel, here are a few tips to help. Also included are a few general recommendations about cultural ‘niceties’ to keep in mind.

 Chefhoauen in Morocco’s Rif Mountains

How to Travel Responsibly

There are so many interesting discoveries to be made when we travel. There is much to learn about the environment, nature, culture and other people. But it is also more important than ever to be sensitive to what is happening around you.

Did you know that cairns in Iceland have been there for centuries, built so that travellers didn’t get lost?

Here is a list of travel hacks for 2020 to make sustainable and responsible travel an easier choice.

1. Carbon offset your flights.

The harm created by carbon emissions when flying is significant so try to make sensible choices where you can. There isn’t a lot in the pipeline yet to alter the damage of jet engine fuels so offsetting flights is one of the few options to choose. There are plenty of carbon emission offset schemes worth looking at. Many airlines will have a click through that includes making a contribution to programmes meant to help with the environment.

2. Be attuned to nature

We all want to visit places that are natural, pristine and beautiful. But we need to ensure that we don’t impact these vulnerable places. For instance, in the Arctic’s Svalbard Archipelago, historic man-made items are not allowed to be moved or touched. This includes, for instance, the skeletal remains of Beluga whale hunting that took place in the 19th century. Generally speaking, off road driving can permanently damage areas that might look hardy but are actually vulnerable. Always stay on marked roads and, when hiking, on designated trails. Use common sense to help make decisions about the environment around you.

3. Choose sustainable products to take with you

There are a great many options and products out there to keep your travel kit as sustainable as possible. I switched to using reusable cotton swabs when discovering that there are literally billions of swabs being chucked into landfill. Other choices are solid toiletries to limit soaps and chemicals getting into water. Eco-friendly travel towels also reduce the amount of chemicals going into waste water. Antibacterial and odourless clothing is another option. Shop for those here

4. Filter your water

It makes sense to take a water bottle with filtration so you can safely use the local water and not promote the sale of single use plastic bottles. There are dozens of options available at outdoor travel stockists and on-line.

5. Use a sun creme that doesn’t harm the environment

There are ingredients in many sun screen products that are now known to harm delicate marine environments, particularly coral reefs. Choose sun screen without oxybenzone which is known to be toxic. Choose, instead, products with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Be sure to check the ingredient list to ensure your reef friendly choice does not contain oxybenzone.

6. Don’t remove or collect pine cones, sea shells or other momentos from natural places

We have heard for years that we mustn’t take anything from nature other than photographs. Now is the time to heed this advice. If you take one item, you may think it isn’t having an impact. The problem is that if every visitor takes this same view, a natural place may end up being stripped of important and irreplaceable assets.

7. Try the local food and drink

It probably goes without saying that it is important to engage in the culture you are visiting. As long as the environment is clean and sanitary, trying new foods and local beverages is a fantastic way to learn about a new place. Just remember there are important cultural factors to keep in mind such as eating with your right hand when in India, Africa and Middle Eastern countries. For instance in Ethiopia, inhabitants eat with their hands using injera (a type of sour bread). Diners scoop up the food with a torn off piece of bread. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before and after eating.

The Ethiopian Honey Drink - Tej

Tej – Ethiopian Honey Liquour

8. Taking local’s photographs

In rural Cambodia, many of the inhabitants are very shy and have an aversion to having their picture taken. It is important to politely ask whenever taking someone’s picture and to be sensitive to individual’s proclivities. If you have taken a candid shot, be sure to show your subjects the finished product.

 Celebrating Timket in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

9. Pick up after yourself

Particularly when camping in the wild it is incredibly important to carry out all and any trash, put out fires and leave everything as you found it. This is also true when spending a day on the beach, having a walk in town or after having a picnic. Again, use common sense.

10. Be friendly but alert

Everyone knows that it is important to keep cash and phones stashed away when travelling. Perhaps another way not be targeted is to be alert but also relaxed. Fit in as much as possible and be attuned to your environment. Attire wise, fit in as much as reasonable with the locals. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry expensive designer hand bags. Generally, try not to be a beacon that screams ‘I’m a tourist!’

 

A Gambian tale

 

Villagers having lunch
Villagers having lunch

 

I never expected the up country part of Gambia to be so completely different from the coast.  Roughing it does not begin to describe how differently people live in rural Gambia.

Sand everywhere and virtually nothing has lawn, concrete or covering.  Not a drop of water to clean off the dust and no electricity most of the time.

Eating virtually in the dark in Aghi’s restaurant in Barra near the Ferry Terminal of the North Bank was quite an experience.

But it was at Tendaba Lodge that everything unravelled.  We arrived late, as usual, after a day where we covered almost 300kms to get to the places I wanted to see.  I was supposed to have a room with A/C.  Of course, the message had not gotten through somehow.  I then made a fuss about having a proper mattress as the first room they were going to put me in had a decent one but the shower wasn’t working.  They simply brought it over to the new room I was staying in.

"What? Me, move? I am the King of the Road!"
“What? Me, move? I am the King of the Road!”

 

I was so pleased to have got a decent night’s sleep and was getting ready for breakfast when there was a knock on the door.  It was Ebrimya, my travelling companion. “Moodou is sick.  He has been vomiting since 4:00 this morning.  We must go on the birding tour quickly and then get him to the hospital.”  I was very concerned because Moodou seemed like the sort that was indestructible.  But then I saw him lurching around and realised he was in a bad way.  It then seemed that someone at the lodge was going to take him to the local clinic.  But, somehow, that never transpired.  When we returned from the early morning birding trip, things were getting worse.

I had no idea that I was going to be the designated driver, the ambulance driver as it were.  But Ebrimya didn’t know how to drive so I had to step up to the task.

Village children in The Gambia
Village children in The Gambia

 

Of course, first though in my mind was “…is it the dreaded Ebola?”  I had said to everyone when I was going to West Africa that there was nothing to worry about. But there was no time to think negative thoughts for more than a few seconds. Within a few minutes of leaving the compound, we had to pull over to let our sick friend ‘use the toilet’.  Of course, there really weren’t any toilets in these rural villages (nor running water or electricity) so I knew we were in for a long journey. And it would be a two hour drive to get to the hospital. How I managed to navigate at top speed, going off road, then, when getting on the highway, avoiding cows, goats, people, bikes…and dealing with police, immigration and police road blocks (one military guy was furious with me because I mis-read his hand signal and went forward when he wanted me to stop. He then decided to search my luggage even when we told him that there was a sick person in our vehicle). But with steadfast determination – energised by the fear that someone could die on my watch – we managed to get Modou to the hospital before his symptoms became any worse.

Not only did Modou recover, he said the only thing wrong with him was that he drank and smoked to much.  I didn’t believe that for a minute.

I will never forget that 2 hour drive from the back country to Banjul.

The Lake District: Is intensive farming and over-tourism harming this unique National Park?

 

Copyright - Audubon Society
Copyright – Audubon Society

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently, the last golden eagles living in the Lake District are gone.  The surviving male lived in Riggindale near Haweswater in the Lake District is thought to have died two years ago.  Though golden eagles are being re-introduced in Southern Scotland, there is no guarantee that they will be seen in Cumbria again.

Unfortunately, reliable sources (academics) report that golden eagles are persecuted in the North of England where laws protecting these animals are not as stringent as in Scotland. At least the birds being released in Scotland have been tagged so that if they ‘disappear’ they will be able to be tracked.

 

Copyright - British Birds of Prey Centre
Copyright – British Birds of Prey Centre

 

But golden eagles are predators and a new-born lamb can be easy pickings for them and provides a protein packed meal for their own young.  Interview farmers that have lost a few lambs to eagles and you will see how complicated it is to re-introduce predators into this now quite managed landscape.

 

Lake District. Photo taken from the bus.
Lake District. Photo taken from the bus.

 

And speaking of a managed landscape, another hugely important environmental issue for the Lake District is tourist numbers.  Visitors are on the increase and now descend on this destination all year round.  Tourism is worth upwards of £2 billion a year to the economy.  So, though you might not hear too many hoteliers, restauranteurs, shop-keepers or business owners complaining, there is no getting around the impact on any environment that huge amounts of visitation has.

It is possibly a blessing that famous citizen William Wordsworth was instrumental in stopping train lines being built throughout Cumbria in the 19thcentury.   But this means that most people drive into the area which could, ultimately, be detrimental.  It is common knowledge that those who live in the UK now avoid visiting during the summer.  This is because the sheer number of people impinges negatively on their experience.  Hopefully, the number of roads built will be limited by the ruggedness of the landscape. This will then, hopefully, limit the number of vehicles that clutter lay-bys and villages and also mean less pollution.

 

Hardknott Pass, Lake District. Credit: roadstodrive.com
Hardknott Pass, Lake District. Credit: roadstodrive.com

 

My first visit to the Lake District revealed that the beauty of this area is unrivalled.  The lakes themselves are peaceful yet stirring vistas to view while the treeless, bleak mountain peaks are equally inspiring.  Attractions such as the Wildlife Park (one is near Bassenthwaite and another is in Milnthorpe) are a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to nature and animals.  We went walking with alpacas which was an unrivalled way to get to know the breed.

Alpacas at the Wildlife Park, Brassenthwaite
Alpacas at the Wildlife Park, Brassenthwaite. Credit: Robert Watson

 

I do wonder if livestock farming may someday be brought down a notch or two.  Intensive farming impacts the Lake District’s natural environment…its fells, its wild animals, its vistas.  This, then, will eventually impact on tourism and tourist numbers.  It is the historic villages, the friendliness of many local people and the landscape that bring visitors to the Lake District in their droves.  They are here to enjoy nature and unspoiled beauty.  A reduction in numbers (both livestock and tourists) may not be such a bad outcome for everyone involved.

 

 

Transportation:

Visitors can leave cars behind and visit the whole of Cumbria by public transport:  https://www.stagecoachbus.com/plan-a-journey

Accommodation:

Elder Grove B&B in Ambleside is an historic B&B. Visit: www.eldergrove.co.uk

 

 

Ethiopia ‘Rocks’ and other stories

Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia
Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have landed in Ethiopia to cover their Timkat Celebrations/Festival but am finding so many remarkable things about this country – its landscape, its culture, and its history.

 

small herders

 

The local people (pictured above) are herders in the Ethiopian Highland’s Simien Mountains. They are among the people you meet here. They are remarkably friendly, studious and motivated.  I met a very young lad in Axum, Mario, that was hanging around our hotel. I knew his family was a friend of our tour guide. I inquired as to whether he had been to school that day and what he had studied. “Geography, mam”, he answered politely. I gave him a quiz on the capitals of Europe and he knew them all except Dublin! I gave him a bottle of water as a ‘gold star’ and then he politely asked if I would like to see his family’s souvenir shop. I didn’t have time but would have liked to.

Sadly, in more remote communities, the children only see you as a source of cash.  “Money, money, money!” they cry.   Even the youngest ones.  The parents do not protest possibly because of desperation. Rural areas are the last to get help in a country with 110 million people.

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But often the giving and open nature of people is astonishing. When my watch didn’t make it through one of the airport security airports, our tour guide offered to give me his.  Of course, I didn’t accept but the sheer generosity of the gesture was not lost on me.

Coffee served in a village coffee shop
Coffee served in a village coffee shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coffee ceremony is a perfect example of sharing and generosity. It isn’t just about having a cup of coffee, but the lighting of incense, making popcorn, the conversation and savouring the taste of the freshly ground and roasted coffee.

Sublime.

For more information on travelling to Ethiopia visit Far and Wild and Ethiopian Airlines

What you need to know about Vegas

If you are taking the family to Las Vegas this winter, here are a few things you need to know.

 

Once a tiny spec on the Old Spanish Trail, it became a railway stop when irrigation started up at the beginning of the 20thcentury.  Las Vegas (Spanish for ‘the meadows’) was initially all about moving goods between the East Coast and out to the West.  In this role, the town prospered until nearly 1920 but fell on hard times even before the stock market crash of 1929.  The Hoover Dam project, which began in 1931, started a veritable flood of mainly male workers to Vegas who took up the ensuing jobs.  It wasn’t long before theatres and casinos appeared to provide the large-scale entertainment required for this audience.  Incidentally, this is the same year that the state legislature of Nevada legalised gambling.  It wasn’t long before Chicago Gangsters saw an opportunity to make a profit and moved into town.

Fremont Street Las Vegas 1906
Fremont Street Las Vegas 1906

 

But gone are the days when the mob, including the famous Bugsy Siegel, ruled the hotels and casinos of Las Vegas. The FBI and local law enforcement, among others, put an end to the rule of mobsters in the 1980s and, now, Las Vegas is more family oriented than you might have ever imagined.

 

The north end anchor of Boulevard Mall since the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Nevada State Museum
The north end anchor of Boulevard Mall since the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Nevada State Museum

 

Speaking of the mob, the National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement on 300 Stewart Avenue, is a great place to find out about the actual events of mob history through interactive exhibits and artefacts.  Truly worth a visit.  More mature children find it fascinating, too.

 

The Famous Las Vegas Sign courtesy of Pixabay
The Famous Las Vegas Sign courtesy of Pixabay

 

Before I go further, I should explain that for those who grew up in Orange County in days of yore, including myself, Vegas was as normal a place to go for a family break as Centre Parcs here in England.  It was nearby, it was inexpensive, the weather was great and you could take advantage of the fantastic swimming pools all year round.

 

Pools in Las Vegas are fun and a great way to cool down
Pools in Las Vegas are fun and a great way to cool down

 

I stayed recently at the Excalibur Hotel and the children in our party absolutely loved it.  The theme, as you might have guessed, is Knights of the Round Table with Maid Marion type damsels in attendance. The Tournament of Kings Dinner Show is great entertainment for the under 12s with jousting, invading armies, fireworks and much more to entertain them during the meal.  While the medieval fantasy engages the kids indoors, the enormous pool outdoors offers enjoyment for hours.  Yes, even in January, day time temperatures can reach 17C though, be warned, in the desert it can be quite chilly at night. *

 

Adventuredome Circus Circus
Adventuredome Circus Circus

 

There are some truly incredible attractions for families these days.  The Shark Reef Aquarium allows children to walk through a glass tunnel and get up close with sharks, giant sting rays (Southern Rays), green sea turtles, piranhas and golden crocodiles. There are more than 2,000 unusual aquatic animals housed in the aquarium.  There is even a petting tank with pre-historic looking horseshoe crabs and baby stingrays for the kids.  Another fishy attraction is the Atlantis Aquarium at Caesar’s Palace at the Great Roman Hall.  This 50,000-gallon aquarium is intriguing for the young as it is full to the brim with exotic and colourful species of tropical fish. Children can watch also watch daily dives from 1:15 pm to 5:15 pm.

The most likely favourite for kids will be the Adventuredome at Circus Circus. America’s largest indoor theme park has a mind-boggling variety of rides and a massive arcade to keep children happy for many hours.  Also, in Circus Circus, are the Midway Acts – circus jugglers, contortionists, balancing acts and more – are all free and take place every half hour until midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

 

The roller coaster at New York New York
The roller coaster at New York New York

 

I personally love roller coasters and the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York Hotel and Casino is really a blast.  After raising the adrenaline all around, it is great to race in the latest, sophisticated go-carts at the Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix.  1401 N. Rainbow Boulevard.

 

Neon sign at the Boneyard
Neon sign at the Boneyard

The Boneyard, aka the Neon Museum, is something that the whole family will enjoy.  The art of Las Vegas, and much of its history, is expressed through Neon signs and there are over 2 acres of the old and discarded signs here to enjoy.

 

 

For more info on Las Vegas click here.

Check holiday website www.weather2travel.com to get up to date information on temperatures and weather for your favourite travel destinations.

Coyotas and the Doña María Bakery

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In old town Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico is a bakery tucked down a rather small side street in a building named Colonia Villa de Seris.  The descendants of Doña Maria Ochoa de Moreno own and run this rather old bakery that their grandmother opened in 1954.

 

Old Town Hermosillo with Cathedral in the foreground
Old Town Hermosillo with Cathedral in the foreground

 

Many types of baked goods are produced here but most who come to make a purchase are only interested in one. Known as Coyotas, this pastry was originally created by local tribe, the Comcáac Seri.  Many decades ago it was adapted by Doña Maria and is still being produced today.

Coyotas ready to be baked
Coyotas ready to be baked

 

Popular all over Mexico, Coyotas are sweet pastries made from two tortillas (flour, water, salt and oil) with a filling of brown sugar – a flavour known as piloncillo. Now a days, Doña Maria’s Coyotas are filled with dulce de leche and a sprinkling of granulated peanuts but there are a variety of other types of this delicate pastry including: apple, guava, chocolate, quince, strawberry, pineapple and fig.

 

Where the magic happens!
Where the magic happens!

 

Each Coyota is made by hand and baked at a high temperature in what appears to be a quite ancient oven.  Watching the process is intriguing as two women churn out the ‘tortillas’ with immense speed.  First a ball of dough is squished and moulded into a tortilla and then stuffed with filling.  The Coyotas are then baked at a very high temperature to create the flaky pastry.

 

Coyotas at the Dona Maria Bakery
Coyotas on display

The bakery is still a family business with Mr. Renato Ramírez Grijalva in charge of the day to day running of the business; Renato is married to the granddaughter of Doña Maria, the founder. The owner is Ana Catalina Moreno Ochoa, the daughter of Doña María.

 

Doña Maria Bakery,
Sufragio No. 37, Colonia Villa de Seris, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico

Tel: +52 (662) 307 0340

For more information on Hermosillo and Sonora click on the link or click Vive Hermosillo.

Haunted Durango

Apache Spirit Dancers / historic photograph
Apache Spirit Dancers / historic photograph

The Wild West, with its shootouts and Indian raids, avalanches, disease and lynchings, has enough gruesome and chilling tales to fill volume upon volume of scary books and to create dozens of ‘B’ rated horror films.

 

Founded in 1880, Durango, Colorado served the newly built Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and, as in any small, burgeoning hamlet in the West, there were many rather roguish types who chose to make this mining town their home.

For this reason, there is a whole compendium of gory tales from Durango that makes it a fascinating place to visit, particularly for Halloween.  From legendary gun battles between the Stockton Gang and Simmons Gang to spontaneous court hearings and unsanctioned lynchings, Durango would have been a lawless place.  Add to this a devastating fire in 1889 plus the Spanish Flu epidemic in the early part of the twentieth century and you have the background for a significant amount of hauntings.

A haunted graveyard
A haunted graveyard

 

It is important to note that the land around Durango was exploited for its many resources. Mining companies sprung up to extract silver, gold, coal, iron, gypsum and marble from the surrounding land. Many became overnight millionaires, but most young men ended up toiling in the mines.

The La Plata Mountains
The La Plata Mountains

 

In the La Plata mountains, outside the town, mining was a dangerous business as one might well imagine.  Not only were the mines themselves prone to cave-ins and dynamite blasts that went wrong but, the terrain was equally dangerous. Avalanches during the winter were frequent due to the configuration of the mountains.  Mining camps were clustered at the bottom of a river valley and, the further up into the hills you climbed, the steeper the gradient became.  It was particularly bad when the snow became impacted.  It was then that avalanches were common, killing more people than all the shootouts and epidemics combined.

 

No trespassing - La Plata Mountains
No trespassing – La Plata Mountains

 

Haunted Stater Hotel, Durango  Credit Scott DW Smith
Haunted Stater Hotel, Durango Credit Scott DW Smith

 

There are also places in and around the town that are known for paranormal activity and sightings. Harking back to Victorian times, the 19th century Stater Hotel, built directly on the original railroad line, is famous for this. From the adjacent alley, the ghostly figure of a man in a white shirt standing on the tracks has been seen. There is also an apparition of a railway engineer in period clothing  seen near the hotel as well as a barmaid and young girl walking through the hotel lobby.

Animas Cemetery
Animas Cemetery

Another spooky place to visit is the cemetery of Animas City. Established in 1876, the town has now been absorbed into Durango.  Interred here are the residents of the early settlement with the first burials reported to be in 1877.  Many long-term La Plata County residents have ancestors laid to rest here plus there are also Civil War veterans, infamous local outlaws, and even young children.

The one-hour 15-minute tour begins at 6 pm ($15 pp).  There is also a special two hour Halloween cemetery tour offered on the 27th and 31st October: www.ghostwalkdurango.com

For more information on Durango visit: www.durango.org
For further on Colorado visit: www.colorado.com

Riga’s Motor Museum

Though there are other museums that have opened in Riga this year, it was the newly refurbished Rīgas Motormuzejs, about 20 minutes outside of town, that I made time to visit.

 

Historic Vehicle at Riga Motor Museum
Alfa Romeo at Riga Motor Museum

 

Housed in a new and modern three-story building, it has interactive exhibits, historical information and, of course, an enormous collection of vintage vehicles.  The exhibits collude together to capture the mood and culture of the 20thcentury.  More than that, it is a mini history of human kind’s technology under one roof.  And, with Latvia being a former Soviet country, it is uniquely placed to give an up-close perspective on Soviet life and the conflict and confluence between eastern and western societies.

 

Riga Motor Museum

The beginning of the tour features videos and displays about the invention of the wheel, progressing on to the first prototype vehicle produced by Karl Benz in 1886.  There are model T cars and an Overland sedan from the U.S.A. as well as Krastin cars, built in Latvia, from the beginning of the century.

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G.M. Cars were built in Latvia

 

The most critical piece of the collection on show is the 1930s mountain racing Auto Union V16.  Apparently, it symbolises the “Silver Arrow” era in the history of global automotive industry. In fact, this important vehicle was the impetus for creating the museum.

1930s mountain racing Auto Union V1
1930s mountain racing Auto Union V1

 

The Kremlin Collection, vintage Soviet cars which were collected by enthusiasts in Riga before the fall of the USSR, is truly the highlight of the museum.  These unique and, at the time, incredibly expensive vehicles were the preserve of Soviet officials only.  The proletariat could be on waiting lists for years to acquire even a modest vehicle.

 

Cars for the proletariat
Cars for the proletariat

 

The 1966 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, mangled in an accident when Leonid Brezhnev was driving, has been acquired and is on display with a reconstruction of the accident to boot.

Breshnev's Silver Shadow Rolls Royce
Breshnev’s Silver Shadow Rolls Royce

 

There is a very popular interactive exhibit in the Kremlin section. Here a projector is used to transport the participant (waving required) into a Stalinesque parade travelling through the streets of Moscow in an open top sedan.

Yasmen Kaner-White accepts the crowds adulation!
Yasemen Kaner-White accepts the crowds adulation!

By the 1930’s, there were 90 makes of automobile on the streets of Riga.  However, they were few vehicles and these were very expensive.  The President of Latvia then decided to get into bed with the U.S. car manufacturers and this all changed.  In 1936, a license to build Ford vehicles was acquired and the Vairogs factory born. The first Ford Vairogs vehicle was finished in 1937, a truck with a V8 engine and 85 horsepower.

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The Krastin Automobile Company in the U.S. founded by a Latvian.

 

When Latvia lost her independence in 1940, the factory was nationalised, and production stopped. Up to that point, however, they had produced 300 cars and 1000 trucks.

An original fire engine
An original fire engine

There are other utility vehicles in the part of the museum including two fully refurbished fire engines, a raft of bicycles, vans and buses.

 

Open every day of the year from 10:00 to 18:00.
Eizenšteina iela 6, Riga, LV – 1079
info@motormuzejs.lv

Zimbabwe: A Journey of Revelation

On approach by plane to the Kigali Airport in Rwanda, I see the familiar red soil, green trees and clear skies of Africa and my fatigue quickly disappears.  There is a magic to this land that can be hard to describe but tugs at my heart strings every time I visit.

 

Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe

Our group is on a connecting flight and so it is on to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport to begin our adventure.

 

This is my first trip to Zimbabwe.  Due to the sanctions and hostilities directed at the former President, Robert Mugabe, I had wondered whether this was a place I would ever get to visit.  But now that Mr. Mugabe has been ‘escorted’ out of his post and a new President has stepped in, things are rapidly changing.  Mr. Mnangagwa, known as the crocodile, does not have the best reputation and there are still democratic elections to be held, but the feeling of optimism among the general populace is palpable…electric even, and it gives me a real sense of the hopefulness for the future of this country.

Mr. Kaseke, CEO of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, puts it most succinctly when he says his country’s USP is its warm and welcoming people. 

Pool at Elephant Eye Lodge

Pool at Elephant Eye Lodge

In Harare, I notice currency from the old regime being sold. I learn later there are denominations of a million and even billion Zimbabwean dollars on a single bill. I need to learn more about what previously happened with the economy. But, what I mainly notice, are the beautiful veg for sale on every street corner, and, of course, the friendly outgoing people.

Beautiful Fruit for sale in Harare
Beautiful Fruit for sale in Harare

But soon we leave Harare and are out exploring the countryside and nature.

Giraffes in Hwange National Park
Giraffes in Hwange National Park

 

And speaking of nature, it seems that at the end of the rainy season one can still expect changeable weather.  Much like the mid-west of the U.S., land-locked Zimbabwe can experience tropical storms during its shoulder seasons which may mean lightning strikes.  Quite exciting.

World View
World View

 

After an overnight stop in Bulawayo, where one of my cousins was born, we head for the Matopo Hills and the Matopo National Park.  It is when entering vast tracts of the African veld, full of kopje (granite exposed hill tops), that one starts getting a feel for the Zimbabwe of old. Here, there are ancient rock paintings of the San peoples who would have been migrating possibly to the coast.  In days gone by, there were no roads crossing this land, only foot paths.

There are also black and white rhino in the park.  Being taken on safari with Norman and his side-kick, also named Norman blackrhinosafaris.com, to trek rhino on foot is a, frankly, gratifying experience as we are able to get so close to these rare and beautiful animals.

White Rhino in the Matopo Hills National Park
White Rhino in the Matopo Hills National Park

 

This area is also famous for a hilly granite outcrop known as World’s View.  Rather bizarrely and controversially, this is where Cecil Rhodes was buried after his death at the age of 48.  He had spent a great deal of his life in South Africa but wanted to be interred in the hills of Matabeleland.

 

San People Rock Art
San People Rock Art

But now another animal adventure awaits us deep in the middle of the country: the Hwange National Park. The park covers 14,651 km²and with 40,000 elephants, lion and giraffe and herd animals all roaming about, this is a truly exciting place for a game drive. If viewing is difficult due to overgrown vegetation, then theNyamandhlovu Pan with its elevated viewing platform solves this problem.  We saw crocodiles, Zebra, Waterbuck, Wildebeest and more all converging in and around the water hole.

 

The Nyamandhlovu Pan
The Nyamandhlovu Pan

 

Being able to stay at the Elephant Eye Safari Lodge and have a glamping type experience is awesome. Here, the swimming pool has no chemicals as elephants come and drink nearly every night.  Also, at night, a lit section on the grassy plain with its own tiny waterhole, is a feast for the eyes as we watch impala at play.

 

Our guide, Lovemore, in Great Zimbabwe
Our guide, Lovemore, in Great Zimbabwe

Another place we visit which is of great importance is Great Zimbabwe.  The medieval hill complex feels more like a pre-historic site. Climbing up the ancient stairs surrounded by stone masonry is a bit reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s Sigiriya.  The structure of the complex is built into the granite and the views from the top are well worth the effort getting up there.

 

Great Zimbabwe Rocks
Great Zimbabwe Rocks

 

A stay at the nearby Ancient City’s Lodge (which is built from stone in the style of Great Zimbabwe) will mean you have easy access to Great Zimbabwe, a short drive away.

The Victoria Falls from a helicopter
The Victoria Falls from a helicopter

But it is the Victoria Falls which go the farthest to capture the magic of this country.  5,633 ft. wide and 343 ft. tall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this is the planet’s greatest mass of falling water.  The first European to see the falls was missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid 19thcentury.  He wrote that, “scenes so lovely that it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

 

The magnificent Victoria Falls
The magnificent Victoria Falls

 

The Zimbabwean side is packed with viewpoints including one above the Devil’s Cataract and four facing Main Falls, where at peak season more than 27 million cubic feet of water fall per minute. Walk the trail along the Rain Forest Walk and you will surely be drenched before the end of it.

Flights on Rwandair from London Gatwick cost from GBP 390 in economy (low season) Premium Economy from GBP 900 and Business class from GBP 1300.