Most amazingly, the train in Zim runs quite well. It's more or less intact(overlooking the no water in toilet and no lights in our compartment). Still, the train stations look maintained etc and the interior of the coaches was in reasonably goo shape for 50+ years old. Compared to Tanzania(the only other RR running that we've seen), it is definitely a step up especially considering Tanz RR should be head & shoulders above Zims but contrarily is sadly lacking.
In the morning we find out the train is running late - the stop was to deliver a baby on board!(both are doing fine). Now we pull in to Bulawayo at 10 am and the van which was to meet us is nowhere in sight. After some discussion we head to the main drag(we have wasted time looking for the van so all the taxis who could have taken us to Packer's Paradise Lodge where we've got reservations have left. About ready to begin our hike to the ON (no taxis passing by) a small open bed pick up filled w/ people stops and offers us a ride. We piled in and arrive no worse for wear but a bit tired and hungry. On the counter is the sign they made w/ our names on it - apparently they only waited til just 10, we pulled up in train only minutes later. Our fare to the ON was $6 US, and they would have charged us $10! All works for the best!
Bulawayo is a city of 2 million, wide, clean streets...as we drive to bus stations it looks eerily like a ghost town. Large industrial area is completely shut down due to lack of power & raw materials. The huge power plant was shut down last year because the coal used to generate the electricity is being exported for exchg $$ to import more critical goods(food, weapons, ??). Mfg. of blankets, iron works, tile, cement, lumber, fabrics & textiles of all kinds have been idle since last year. The facilities look to be in good shape all locked up and ready to begin again in better times. The people who worked in them having no income, many on the streets selling whatever they can. In Vic Falls they asked us to trade our shoes/sandals, shirts, sunglasses, cap, anything for their wooden carvings/artwork. Inventories of goods in public stores are minimal, I saw long lines of people waiting to get meat at the butcher shops.
We had hoped to go on a full day safari trip to see Matopos Park & cave art but now decide on just 1/2 day after we have some lunch. Matopos is the Shona word for "shaved head" the reference to the huge granite rock mound formations that dominate the skyline from John Rhoade's 22 room "farmhouse" Previous name of country 'Rhodesia', the white settler who first came here!
Heading to the park I notice many what were formally very nice suburban homes are getting little care or maintenance, or are closed up/abandoned? We pass John Rhoades farm which was donated to govt and is now a boys school(house) and agricultural school & research farm(according to Innocent, our guide). I also notice the land on both sides has been recently or previously burned - trees all dead - for 5-10 km out of town. No one else is travelling ont the road - Innocent says it has been 2 mos since he has led/guided a trip to the park. He has been guiding for 12 yrs and has a family of 5 kids, 2-22 yrs old, the oldest just graduated form university.
Chris & Chedric at the front desk were very helpful in getting us oriented, ckg prices for onward transport (Mari to Francistown, Bon & I to Masvingo & The Great Zimbabwe), and $$ exchg. All transport & food must be paid in Zim $$, lodging and park fees in US dollars! On our trip to the park Innocent tells us that Zimba = house & ebure = stone, thus Zimbabwe = houses of stone(The Great Zimbabwe is just this!). We only visit 2 cave sites, the 2nd Pomongwe(pumpkin) was visited by Queen Victoria who was so impressed by the 5-6000 yr old drawings supposedly done by ancient bushmen, she commanded them to be "preserved" using linseed oil. The application of this to the ancient drawings has permanently damaged most of them almost to the point of total destruction! Smart Queen - who gave her a degree in science & ethnographic preservation!? Another small example of the West making decisions in 3rd world countries which has only led to disaster.
The pigments used to make the drawings include the sap from the Pencil Tree (Euphorbia tirucalli) which helped to preserve them so long 'til the Queen arrived.A July 2011 View of Zimbabwe