7 Wonders of Victoria Falls: #5 A Cultural Experience

Zimbabwe’s hospitality & culture are legendary and sadly something many visitors miss experiencing. Adventure activities and wildlife watching are complimented greatly by meeting the country’s people and experiencing their culture.

There are opportunities to give back to those less fortunate in Zimbabwe.  A humbling and eye-opening experience that gives you the opportunity to make a real difference while also encouraging a feeling of appreciation in those of us who have the time and money available to go on holiday. Whether you  pay for an experience such as a village visit, choose to make a donation to a charity or simply spend time in one of Zimbabwe’s craft or food markets ensure you are also taking the time to stop and talk to  Zimbabweans and find out about their lives, you won’t regret it.

  • Cultural tourism in Zimbabwe is generally a very inexpensive option with costs often simply covering the expenses
  • The proceeds from Cultural Tourism have a direct positive effect on the communities visited.
  • These activities are fantastic learning experiences for both young and old making them a great option for families.  During any of these, your children will likely get to meet and interact with local children while learning about their culture.

Some options on offer in Victoria Falls include:

A rural village tour: You get to visit rural homes, watch fields being tended and possibly get the chance to help in some of the day-to-day chores. Guests are able to gain an insight into Zimbabwean rural life and to see how vastly different it is from life in town- most rural Zimbabweans still practise subsistence farming, few have access to electricity or running water and life is at a far slower pace.

A township tour: The majority of people in Victoria Falls live in the Chinotimba township, which has a population of approximately 60 000 people. During this tour, guests will have an opportunity to observe township-life – from the oldest houses to the taverns, the local market and churches. During a visit to the Chinotimba Primary School clients are introduced to the school headmaster – he or someone assigned, will take the guests on a tour of the school.

A home hosted meal: The concept is a simple one; your host cooks and shares a traditional meal with you, at his or her place… I did this and you can read about my experience on a home hosted dinner here. It was a delightful evening and an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting Zimbabwe. The experience is so genuine. You have an interaction that is deceptively simple, yet somehow meaningful; the sharing of a meal.

The Pay it forward Experience’ This is an experience where guests can really give back to the community, and enjoy a fun, challenging exploration of the markets and town of Victoria Falls. You choose an organization you would like to support from a list and are then given a “wish list” from the chosen charity. You then go on a mission to source the items before delivering them to your chosen charity and meeting the people benefitting from your donation.

* On these experiences guests are welcome to bring along second-hand clothing and footwear, stationery such as exercise books, crayons, pens, pencils, rulers, sharpeners, erasers etc as a donation should they wish to. These items can be invaluable in rural or disadvantaged schools and communities.

See our previous blog posts on the 7 Wonders of Victoria Falls #1 Seeing the Falls#2 White Water Rafting , #3 A High wire Experience & #4 meet Sylvester the Ambassador Cheetah

Zimbabwean Home Hosted Dinner

Victoria Falls Home Hosted Dinner

As someone with a passion for culture, travel and food I love the idea of a home hosted dinner. The concept is a simple one; your host cooks and shares a traditional meal with you, at his or her place.

In Victoria Falls this means that you are welcomed into a typical Zimbabwean house in ‘Chinotimba’. Chinotimba is a high-density suburb of Victoria Falls and away from the general main town and fancy hotels. It is where most of the population of Victoria Falls lives and is also known as Chinotimba Township.

I had the chance to attend a home hosted dinner recently (You can also go for lunch). The cost of the meal includes your return transfers and I was picked up first. We collected the other guests from the beautiful and manicured Victoria Falls Hotel. The other attendees were two American couples. As we moved in the bus away from elegant lawns and colonial architecture into Chinotimba the sounds and smells coming through the windows which we had opened became more intense. It was as if we were watching Mother Africa peel off layers of adornments to reveal her heart.

In Chinotimba the streets are uneven and crowded; crowded with women dressed in colourful ‘chitenge’ fabric wrappers and firewood precariously balanced upon their heads; crowded with children playing and laughing; crowded with old men chatting in the street. Whereas at night the streets in the centre of town were quiet Chinotimba was full of life. There was a sense of palpable excitement in the bus.

We pulled up at a small European style house in close proximity to its neighbours. Our host Tshipo made her way down the front steps. She was dressed in a traditional ‘wrapper’ made from local fabric around her waist and had another as a head-dress. She welcomed us warmly, clasping our hands in both of hers as she greeted us. Her yard was swept clean and rather than an ornamental garden it housed rows of vegetables (Tshipo proudly told us that this is typical here where most households grow and use vegetables). Children of varying ages shyly peeked at us and darted forward to touch a hand or ask questions. After we had all been introduced our host showed us into her living room.

From early on the interaction was very human; everyone wanted to know about each other ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Are these all your kids?’ Once we got to know each other we were seated. Tshipo had prepared the meal prior to our arrival and there were multiple covered dishes. Tshipo opened them one by one and explained the different dishes as she served them.

There was sadza (polenta or maize meal) the staple of all of Southern Africa, kale with a peanut (similar to satay) sauce, kale sautéed with onion and tomato, Kapenta (small, dried and salted fish), beef stew, chicken stew and a side of Mopane Worms (dried caterpillars) for those who were adventurous. The table burst into laughter when a guest enquired about the tiny kapenta fish ‘How do you find a hook small enough to catch them?!’ and Tshipo responded ‘We use a net’.

As we ate we talked loudly and excitedly, the guests and host shared images of their grandchildren… We learned that everyone had far more things in common than different. And after dinner, the children who had eaten in the kitchen with their grandmother crowded around to meet us. An American lady started singing songs her children had liked to one of the little girls and the next thing we knew we had a sing-a-long. The little children were really excited to sing for us so we got to hear a few Ndebele songs before Tshipo sternly reminded them of bedtime on a school night and ushered them off.

After a cup of tea or coffee with our host it was time to return to our hotels and we said a warm farewell to Tshipo. It was a delightful evening and an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting Zimbabwe. The experience is so genuine. You have an interaction that is deceptively simple, yet somehow meaningful; the sharing of a meal. If you’re lucky you’ll make a friend as we all did exchanging email addresses and swapping photos.

Details

  • Home Hosted Dinners and Lunches are offered by Wild Horizons

  • A great experience for children or teens who will enjoy meeting other children and learn about other cultures.

  • Expect an authentic home cooked meal- there will be options you are familiar with that are commonly eaten in Zimbabwe such as beef stew as well as some local dishes that may be new to you. You do not have to try these if you are wary but it is great fun if you do.

Text and Images by Sarah Kerr

The Wild Horizons Village Tour- A photo diary

Last week I had the opportunity to go on a Wild Horizons’ Village Tour. The experience is known as ‘Meet the People’ and for good reason! The experience is entirely driven by the local headman and his people who are proud to share their homes and culture with visitors.

 After a short drive- perhaps 15 to 20 minutes we had left the town of Victoria Falls and were in a small rural village on its outskirts. Surrounded by bush-land the village boasts incredible views and natural beauty and the people here live by farming organically and producing most of what they need to survive. We were met and shown around by the incredibly charismatic village headman who gave us a presentation on the way of life, culture and history of his people. Resilience, creativity and skilled workmanship were found everywhere from art work and crafts that used recycled goods to the beautifully decorated and appointed huts and grain silos. These photos will give you a glimpse into the experience but it’s really something you need to do and ‘feel’.

This Tour takes approximately 2 and a half hours and is available in the morning or evening- it includes transfers to and from your accommodation. It is a great experience for children.

Meet our People: spotlight on Abraham

I first met Abraham Mhlanga, affectionately known as ‘AB’ to those close to him when he guided me at Imbabala Zambezi Lodge. From the moment we left the lodge with him he bought to life the wilderness around us. Although he first appears quiet Abraham is a small package that keeps surprising. Most apparent is his very keen eye. As he steered a pontoon boat along the glassy Zambezi river he would call out creatures on the side far before any of the rest of us could see them, and then steer us closer for a look.

And whilst on game-drives Abraham ensured we were always interested even if we weren’t seeing big game. An excellent tracker Abraham showed me how you could tell an elephants speed through the distance between it’s front and back spoor, (this distance grows closer as an elephant picks up speed and the back foot may even overlap the front track if it’s running) and led us on a fascinating follow of a group of lions. Although we never saw the lions the thrill of the chase had us all as excited as if we had.

I asked Abraham a few questions about his life and career as a guide. He was born in 1971,  in Hwange town outside the largest National Park in Zimbabwe. His love of nature and great tracking skills were first born here.

 …spent most of my life in this beautiful area with amazing ecotone on the edge of the seasonal Matetsi River. While herding cattle we fished, swam, and camped out- although sometimes we could do a lot of tracking of our lost cattle!

After many years of hard work studying and gaining experience Abraham had passed his Learner Guides License; Spent years doing voluntary work in wildlife conservation with several companies; ran mobile safaris for 5 years; learnt to cook at Bulawayo Polytechnic college and worked as an assistant mechanic. I think it’s fair to say that Abraham is now a very handy man in the bush!

In 2006 he started full time guiding at Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge and hasn’t looked back since. It is a sign of his commitment to his passion that when I ask him if he has had any funny questions from guests he replies seriously ‘There are no silly questions to a guide.’

 I always enjoy showing and teaching people about nature…To young people considering guiding as a career… this is a very rewarding career, you need passion about wildlife and the environment in general. Be prepared to work in the bush for a long stretch of time and in all weather conditions. To guests it is best to come with open minds and be appreciative of all the Flora and Fauna of Africa.

Have you been guided by Abraham? You can leave your experiences in the comments. To be guided by Abraham Mhlanga make a booking at Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge or contact lodges@wildhorizons.co.zw

Wilderness Safaris Team Build @ The Lookout

On Friday 15th August, Wilderness Safaris staff members attended a team building session at The Wild Horizons  Lookout. The afternoon proved to be high entertaining, whilst at the same time further enhancing the bond of this dynamic team.

The first challenge required an elected team member to embark on a Zip Line across the gorge, with his task being to “bomb” an inflatable canoe on the river below with a water filled balloon. This was highly entertaining as in most cases, the inaccuracies were something to behold! Those brave enough then had the opportunity to earn their team an extra 5 bonus points if they endured a 70m free fall on the Gorge Swing (only 3 brave souls!). 

The next activity that followed entailed team members hoisting a harnessed teammate up a tree using ropes and pulleys, in order for them to find and retrieve a hidden toy Guinea Fowl. 

After the Guinea Fowl retrieval, the three teams then moved to the new Lookout car park, for a game of “sausage soccer”. This entailed each team lining up in a relay fashion, and then using a sausage tree fruit, tied around their waist, to hit a soccer ball across the playing field to their next waiting teammate. No touching of the sausage fruit was allowed, and many, many laughs were had!

After the sausage soccer, came the tent-erecting race – whereby each team had to work together to quickly and efficiently set up a safari tent, complete with a bed and bedding on the interior. After a suspicious amount of skulduggerous pole-snatching and rope-pinching, the ‘orange’ team emerged victorious in this round! (Their attention to detail clinched it for them in the end, as their bed was made complete with hospital corners, and a flower on the pillow!). 

After the tents, the teams then found respite in the shade of the Lookout platform, and undertook a fun quiz which covered all essential aspects of Zimbabwean life, including the colours of the Zimbabwean Flag, and of course some essential wildlife facts! 

Finally, a Zimbabwean culinary tasting competition saw the end of the day’s activities – team members had to consume an array of traditional Zimbabwean delicacies such as Mopani worms, dried vegetables, a whole chilli, and of course, a coca-cola! 

Once the results were tallied, and the quiz sheets had been marked, it was seen that 2 teams, the orange and the green, needed to compete in a tiebreaker. This came in the form of performing a verse of the Zimbabwean National Anthem – some bringing music to the ears of those who listened, and others, well – they got ½ points for smiling ‘n miming!

All had a wonderful afternoon, and the Wilderness team is now undoubtedly stronger than ever before, for having been through a Wild Horizons team build!

You can find out more about Wild Horizons’ team building packages by emailing clive@wildhorizons.co.zw

15 Useful Websites for Travel Agents that sell to Zimbabwe

(click image to go to site, site opens in new tab)

1) Zimbabwetourism.net

http://www.zimbabwetourism.net/


The Zimbabwe Tourism website is a great overall resource when it comes to the delivery of useful information on Zimbabwe Tourism. It has a nicely laid out interface, some great photos, and it also has a very handy “Research” section that provides all kind of statistics pertaining to Zimbabwe Tourism in general, as well as a link to the Zimbabwe Tourism Act.

2) Zimparks.org

http://zimparks.org/


The Zim Parks website, whilst a little archaic in terms of design, does provide some useful information when it comes to Zimbabwe’s National Parks themselves. Their Google Map with overlays of all the National Parks on the “Maps & Weather Data” tab could come in handy for overseas agents who aren’t familiar with the geography of the country, as well as their “Useful tips before you travel” tab.

3) Wild Horizons Agent’s Manual

http://www.wildhorizons.co.za/agents-manual/


The Wild Horizons Agent’s Manual is a one-stop-shop for all agents who sell Wild Horizon’s activities and accommodation. It contains useful information not only for activities in Zimbabwe but also Botswana and Zambia, as well as relevant Visa information for Zimbabwe and Zambia.

4) Wikitravel Zimbabwe

Wikitravel Zimbabwe


Wikitravel.org’s section on Zimbabwe contains a nice overview of useful information, such as visa requirements, health requirements, climate overview – but of particular note is the bottom section on culture, under the heading of “Respect” – which describes some of the local customs when it comes to interacting with local Zimbabweans.

5) Automobile Association

http://www.aa.co.za/travel/into-africa/cross-border-information/zimbabwe.html


The AA’s section on crossing the border into Zimbabwe offers some useful information on health and documentation requirements for self-driving South Africans, As well as some useful phone numbers.

6) My Destination Zimbabwe

http://www.mydestination.com/zimbabwe#


My Destination offers an interactive and engaging experience on all things Zim related – of note is the upbeat Youtube video introducing Zimbabwe as a destination, which is great for sending out to potential clients who are still assessing their options. They also have a very useful “what’s on” section which agents can use to propose times to visit.

 

7) Victoria Falls Guide

http://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/


The Victoria Falls Guide is a locally run website in Victoria Falls and is a leading provider of advice, tips, and general information when it comes to anything regarding travel in Victoria Falls. Of note is the “maps” section, where tourist’s and agents can get their hands on a comprehensive tourist map of Victoria Falls town. They also have a great FAQ’s section and contributions from readers on past stories and experiences.

8) Tel One Directory

http://www.telone.co.zw/listings


The Tel One Directory is probably the closest thing to a functioning online phone & business directory that Zimbabwe has to offer and often comes in handy when trying to track down a contact number for a particular person or business in Zimbabwe.

9) TechZim

http://www.techzim.co.zw/


TechZim is a leading technology blog that focuses on the reality of technology and IT in the country – it’s challenges and achievements. Very useful for tourists and visitors who need to stay connected on the ground but are worried about the availability of accurate and up-to-date information when it comes to staying connected online and on the ground.

10) Zambezi Traveller

http://www.zambezitraveller.com/


Zambezi Traveller is a great online resource for news and articles regarding wildlife and conservation, tourism news and information, and covers not only Zimbabwe but all major centers along the Zambezi River including Chobe, Okavango, Kafue, Victoria Falls, Hwange, Harare, Kariba and the Middle Zambezi, Lusaka, Luangwa, Livingstone, Cabora Bassa & Tete. They release a free of charge printed newspaper 4 times a year which is distributed to all centers along the Zambezi, as well as subscribers around the world. This platform offers lucrative advertising opportunities.

11) Seat 61 – A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in Zimbabwe

http://www.seat61.com/Zimbabwe.htm#.U7upBKhK5Hg


This section of the Seat 61 website offers valuable information for anyone seeking information on how to travel by train in Zimbabwe. Just bear in mind that times may differ from published timetables, and best practice is always to go to the train station yourself beforehand to confirm what services are running and their costs.

12) Zimbabwetravel.info

http://www.zimbabwetravel.info/en/travelling-in-zimbabwe/getting-around-in-zimbabwe.html#


Zimbabwetravel.info is another source rich in information on the National Parks, as well as the main cities. They also have a section on how to travel by train or bus around Zimbabwe.

13) Wild Zambezi

http://www.wildzambezi.com/travel-advice-detail.cfm?News=40


This section of the Wild Zambezi website is also jam packed with useful information on getting around in Zimbabwe, as well as the usual high-quality wealth of information on tours and safari’s that one has come to expect from Wild Zambezi. Of note are articles such as the 4×4 code of conduct, their Tour Operators’ Code of Ethics, and the Electricty, Phones & Internet, Time, Public Holidays and Dress section. A very valuable resource indeed!

 

14) Trip Advisor Zimbabwe

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g293759-Zimbabwe-Vacations.html


Trip Advisor is the world’s leading online reputation website when it comes to choosing accomodation, restaurants, and activities in just about every country in the world. It makes for reliable reading as you can see past guests’ comments, reviews and recommendations and is an essential tool for finding, and deciding upon the plethora of options when it comes to travelling, as well as selling travel, in Zimbabwe.

15) Zimbo Jam’s Events Calendar

http://www.zimbojam.com/info-zone/events/events-calendar


Zimbo Jam is one of Zimbabwe’s most popular arts, culture and lifestyle blogs and seem to constantly have their finger on the pulse when it comes to anything regarding music, festivals, carnivals or any other culturally significant event happening in the country. Of note are their comprehensive articles on HIFA – Harare International Festival of the Arts – Africa’s largest international arts festival.