Great Zimbabwe (Photo Diary)
During our three hour long delay, I took pictures of the chaotic Zimbabwe border crossing but was caught and asked to delete them from my camera. It was a total shambles; Bow Wow’s forms were filled out in a rotting make shift caravan with a missing floor, great chasms in parts of the pavement waited to swallow humans whole and disorderly queues seemed unformed in all directions.
Once through, we were warned by a local to not stop for anything or anyone until we reached Great Zimbabwe. On registering our concerned expressions he added “Don’t worry, it’s not like South Africa; they probably won’t kill you but they will rob you.” Off at last, we chased the setting sun past mountainous boulders muffled in lush vegetation and colourful clusters of roadside pedlars touting pyramids of golden mangoes and baking mielies in their leaves over smouldering embers.
The border crossing had taken so long that we were forced to drive along crumbling roads in the dark during livestock rush hour.
At Great Zimbabwe we were greeted like royalty, their only guests for the following two nights and for who knows how long. Instead of setting up camp in the dark, we slept in a little rondavel on the first night.
The guest book contained fewer than forty messages since 2000.
This cheeky scorpion snuck between our sheets and stung Lachlan twice. Amazingly the scorpion survived. "It was a sharp pang, almost like an electric shock." he later told the shuddering Great Zimbabwe guides, his leathery Australian skin unmarked.
A chatty carpenter is carving out the stories of his ancestors and Great Zimbabwe on a red gum tree that has fallen by the ruins. This branch has become an arm that points to what were the king's quarters on top of the hill.
Apparently, Bow Wow was the first dog ever to take the tour. Here he is with our guide, Kenneth, at the entrance of Blood Shed Passage where enemies attempting to infiltrate the king's dwelling would have found themselves wiped out in a shower of thrown stones and boulders.
The Great Zimbabwe ruins are by far the most impressive ancient stone built structures in sub-saharan Africa. This medieval city was constructed by native Shona people (this is the official line but there is also a highly controversial belief that Arab traders may have built the walls as slave pens) using merely granite bricks (no mortar) and portrays a sophisticated understanding of engineering. We asked our Shona guide why his ancestors differed from other African dynasties who left no such antiquities. He replied that his people have always been "more interested in unity than fighting" and so had greater energy and resources reserved for building. This peaceful disposition is perhaps the very reason that Zimbabweans have endured their current political situation for so long.
Kenneth told us that the last (and only documented) king to have ruled here had over 200 wives. Behind us, in the distance, are the queens' grand quarters.
From his lofty dwelling on the hill top and while munching on muchemedza mambuia (a local herb that helped him to service his many wives), the distrustful king is said to have watched over his queens in the valley. The belief that eight Shona kings ruled over Great Zimbabwe in its 300 year life span (between 1200 and 1500AD) is based on the fact that eight soap stone birds were found in the king's quarters, supposedly representing each monarch. (Because of the Zimbabwean pronunciation, we went through the entire tour expecting to see eight 'beds'.) The carved birds are kept in a darkened room and unfortunately we were not permitted to photograph them.
The word Zimbabwe means 'big house of stones'. The granite bricks that form the high walls were made by heating rock with fire and then pouring cold water over the top, the sudden change in temperature causing the stone to crack.
Great Zimbabwe was on the Arab trade route and ancient trinkets from far flung lands like India, China and Persia have all been found in the ruins. The Swahili gold trade made Great Zimbabwe a powerful capital but its growing population put an increasing strain on surrounding natural resources and eventually its inhabitants were forced to move on to more productive lands.
Succulent aloes stand like soldiers guarding the city that was left behind, a victim of its own success.
The 70 metre long Parallel Passage provided much appreciated ancient air conditioning after our run.
Resourcful Bow Wow found an even better way to cool down.