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OK to Travel to Zim

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Just returned from Zim Thursday after a three-day trip. The situation there is definitely deteriorating, but travel there is safe (as long as you take sincere caution). I'm a white American, and I made it around the city and suburbs just fine and enjoyed interacting with and learning from a very friendly people doing their best to survive these hard times.

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    My wife and two teenage children and myself will be at Victoria Falls Zim. in July. We will be there three days staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel - traveling into and out of Botswana. My bottom line question is "is it safe"?

    Thanks

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    j747
    You and your family will be quite safe in Vic Falls this July. The most of an admonition I can give is be aware of your surroundings- just as you would in any city in the States or EU country. You will have a wonderful time. The vendors are quite aggressive in their sales- other than that- no worries. I am going to Vic Falls in June as a single female, and am not concerned. Harare and major cities are where problems are- Vic Falls is sheltered for the tourists.

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    I agree with Suzi that there is much less to worry about at the Vic Falls area. By sincere caution, I meant making local contacts, soliciting and following local advice, registering at the Embassy, not going out after dark and using common sense at all times.

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    “MAKE A PLAN” TO VISIT ZIMBABWE
    Notes on a trip taken by Sam Nicholls and Judi Evans – 20/4/07 to 1/5/07

    “Making a plan” is a Zimbabwean expression that describes dealing with the current problems that arise while living, and running a safari camp, in the reality of today’s Zimbabwe – sourcing fuel and spare parts to keep vehicles running, tracking down food and drink supplies for the essential camp provisions and forever trying to stay ahead of the galloping inflation by making the foreign exchange rates work in your favour to allow payment of a decent working wage to the local staff.

    Two of us, both ladies of middling years, decided to plan a trip to Zimbabwe that would provide an income to small owner/managed camps which would in turn keep local people employed within these camps and also possibly contribute to the well-being of the wonderful wildlife in the areas that we visited. Our final itinerary included 3 nights at Vundu Camp in Mana Pools owned and managed by Nick and Desiree Murray, 3 nights at Rhino Island Safari Camp owned and managed by Jenny Tetlow and her family, 3 nights at the new Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park owned by Beks and Sophia Ndlovu and ably managed by Humphrey and Constance Gumbo and a final 2 nights spent at Ilala Lodge at the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls.

    We trawled the internet for information, spoke to Craig at the Travel Africa stand at the Destinations Show and followed a rather elusive trail to our final rare find ; an informed tour operator with in depth knowledge of available camps and lodges in Zimbabwe. This meant that we could comply fully with the Foreign Office advice (low risk but travel with a registered tour operator so that there is someone to take care of you in case of any emergency) and travel with all contingencies catered for, leaving concerned husband and relatives with rather less worries.

    On our quest we were continually directed towards either Zambia or Botswana but we held our nerve and arrived at Ngoko Safaris who have the added attraction of an “on-the-ground” professional guide as a co-director. Benson Siyawareva is available as both an advisor and/or accompanying guide on any of the Ngoko Safari trips. We were able to explain our thoughts and wishes to Fiona Thompson, the co-director in the U.K., who turned them into the most spectacular success story and even managed to squeeze Benson into the equation !

    All Zimbabwean professional guides have been through the most highly regarded training and qualifying procedures, they are quite simply the best, and as such are highly sought-after on the safari circuits in other neighbouring countries so it comes as no surprise that many have defected during Zimbabwe’s fall from grace, but several still remain available within the country and can be tracked down if you look hard. We had the good fortune to spend time with no less than six members of this elite band during our stay; Benson Siyawareva for the duration, Nick and Desiree Murray at Vundu Camp, Foster Siyawareva (Benson’s oldest brother) while travelling within Hwange National Park, Humphrey at Somalisa Camp and James Varden of Natureways during a shared journey on our way to Victoria Falls.

    Benson was our guide throughout the trip and proved completely infallible, we had a mobile encyclopedia with us at all times during our canoeing, walking, boat excursions and game-drives – what more could you ask for ? Well, you get even more – a well educated, delightful companion with a great sense of humour who is totally dedicated to his work and clients, and a true passion to share his knowledge, what a package !! Nothing escaped his notice, from plant and tree species to finding a black widow spider and, of course, being able to spot animals however small or well disguised in dense bush and twilight at ridiculous distances, completely invisible to the untrained eye.
    Our trip began when we landed after an overnight British Airways flight to Harare. Following a half-hour queue whilst we obtained visas, we were whisked off by our pilot to our light aircraft for the transfer to Mana Pools. It became painfully obvious from the air how large tracts of previously productive farmland were now lying untended with just small examples of subsistence farming in areas around settlements of up to twenty dwellings. These strips of maize were the only sign of cultivated growth that were visible during our entire flight.

    Our time at Vundu Camp was spent walking, canoeing and game-driving with some wonderful sightings of lion, wild dogs and leopard as well as plentiful elephant, impala, waterbuck, zebra, baboons, crocodiles and hippos. The tented camp itself is nestled amongst a grove of beautiful riverine forest along the banks of the majestic Zambezi river, the open-air dining area is wonderfully atmospheric and many good stories were told either around the table or beside the camp-fire. It was also good to see that young Zimbabweans are still keen to remain employed in the country as two young people, Rick and Kirsty, were both in training with Nick and Des as prospective guides of the future. The camp was immaculately presented and ran without a hitch throughout, always a good sign as we were the first guests of the season.

    Mana Pools National Park is a place of great beauty with spectacular, dappled light as you drive or walk through splendid acacia woodland, past huge termite mounds or around natural water holes and pans with their proliferation of birdlife and larger mammalian or reptilian visitors. Identifying mahogany and sausage trees while watching a baby elephant dozing in the shade of his mother, the rest of the family browsing the surrounding area is a great way to enjoy a hot afternoon or trying your hand at the art of tiger-fishing from a canoe whilst paddling the Zambezi is a pretty good alternative – both were sampled and come highly recommended. We even witnessed the river being patrolled by the newly-repaired Parks Authority boat, so someone still cares about this wondrous environment.

    Our next destination was the Matusadona National Park and a few days spent at the outstanding Rhino Island Safari Camp on the mouth of the Ume river, reached by light aircraft from Mana Pools with great views of the Kariba Dam and flying to Kiplings airstrip, followed by an exhilarating 25 minute speedboat trip to the camp. If you arrive in this camp with any residual stress and strain, I guarantee it will be forgotten in a very short time – you are made wonderfully welcome by Jenny and all her staff, and then you are free to do anything you choose, we chose to track black rhino on foot and by vehicle in the mornings and play on Lake Kariba in the motorboat in the afternoons. A successful tiger-fishing exercise, a first for all of us but made possible by Funny Boy with his great knowledge of the lake, followed by large gin and tonics while watching and photographing the amazing sunset over the lake is always to be remembered, particularly when the elephant herds are grazing the shoreline and seem determined to help you take fabulous photos !!

    Our rhino tracking was very productive – we found lots of tracks…… rhino, hyena, hippo, snake, elephant, waterbuck, etc – we are now extremely proficient at tracking but not so good at finding rhino in particularly thick bush following good rains in this part of the country. The Zambezi Society vehicle was spotted on our travels which did at least mean that they were monitoring something. Finally, on our last night in camp following another mouth-watering meal prepared by Philamon and Stephen, and sitting around the inevitable camp-fire, we became a little concerned at the sound of the staff vehicle returning to camp at high speed at about 10.30 p.m. – a rhino around the staff quarters ! So much for tracking – all we had to do was issue an invitation to come calling. We leapt aboard the trusty Landrover and went to look, although the keenness of the staff caused us some worry as we were convinced they were going to drag this elusive animal out of the bush by it’s horn if necessary ! We even managed photographic evidence that this particular rhino was more than just a set of footprints….!
    The simplicity but outstanding comfort of Rhino Island Safari Camp is a tribute to all concerned – good luck to Jenny and all her staff – it may seem like an uphill struggle in today’s climate but the camp is simply wonderful and we will find a way to return soon. The camp, the setting, the lake, the bush, the elephants and the sunsets, the food – what a place ……and don’t forget the rhino and the tiger fish !

    Onwards by plane again to Somalisa Camp set in the south east of the huge Hwange National Park. On landing at the airfield we then drove to Kennedy 1, a waterhole supplied by pumped water from a borehole, and spent a delightful late lunch with a herd of 60+ elephants wading, frolicking, drinking and having a grand mud wallow as we munched our way through one of the many fine Somalisa culinary offerings. By the time we rolled into camp we had seen enough wildlife to fill up most peoples’ entire safari, suffice to say that Hwange is not lacking in the animal department. Giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, elephant and the delightfully handsome sable antelope seemed determined to line our route all the way to our luxurious destination. Benson along with the camp managers, Humphrey and Constance, had a major hand in helping to build this lovely creation in 2006 so had a very personal pride in showing it and the surrounding area off to two very receptive and privileged guests.

    We spent our time walking beside a herd of over 300 buffalo or sipping coffee with whichever animals chose to visit the waterholes in the area. Our cameras went into overtime when lionesses stalked us not long after leaving camp one morning in the Wilys Jeep that was our mode of transport around Hwange, then there was the lovely time spent with three young and very relaxed male lions on a ridge with just the bluest sky as the background of our photographs, need I go on ….. ?

    Elephants strolled through or around the camp many times every day on their way to the waterhole at the front of the camp, there is just one problem – they have also taken possession of the plunge pool that was supposed to be for the guests – well nobody told them ! The experience of being surrounded on three sides by 14 very thirsty ellies whilst sitting on a sun-lounger beside the pool is unbelievable – imagine 14 “hoovers” sucking up water, followed by a noise that closely resembles a toilet being flushed as they jet the water down their throats and you are somewhere close to the sound effects ! Much natural barricading of branches and rocks has been put in place to prevent the younger members falling in but it is still very much their pool, and I for one was very happy with the arrangement.

    Somalisa camp food deserves a special mention as their chef is worthy of the highest accolades, the quality and variety of every single meal was beyond belief – all the more amazing when you learn that it is all produced in a kitchen that only boasts a pizza oven ! Outstanding pastries, both sweet and savoury, cakes worthy of any specialist patisserie, fresh fruit and vegetables with real flavour and all produced with such regularity that you are in danger of waddling in a rather inelegant fashion by the end of each day.

    We journeyed by road to our final destination – Victoria Falls. We had both felt that we should see something of life on the ground rather than winging our way over the country casting a glance out of a plane window. The roads are in perfectly good condition and travelling distances by road is very comfortable, but the roads are deserted. We passed through small villages and past the town of Hwange but saw very little sign of real life. However, the overall impression is still of pride and care in the inhabited areas – it’s clean and tidy with minimal litter anywhere that you look, unusual in many African countries. You may feel that it is unnaturally quiet but there is no sense of threat of an imminent eruption, more of a feeling of waiting for the rains to bring forth new life and growth in a country waiting for a change for the better. Be sure that all Zimbabweans are ready to put in the effort to help restore the country’s deserved reputation of one of the top wildlife destinations in Africa. The animals, the Parks and the infrastructure is all still there, all waiting for this change.

    Of course the trip would have been incomplete without a visit to the might of the Victoria Falls, the Smoke that Thunders, and what a sight they are – the water level was at it’s highest for several years which meant that there was no white-water rafting but certainly no lack of other activities on offer. You do need to see their majesty from both the ground and the air – at their current level it is certainly not a dry experience when on foot. If you enjoy shopping there is plenty to tempt you on both sides of the Falls, bartering may not come easy to some but there is always a bargain to be had at the curio shops.

    Although we had the great good fortune of being the sole guests for 8 of our 9 nights in our assorted chosen safari camps, there was still evidence of many international tourists visiting the areas; we saw a high number of American tourists, as well as French, German and Asian visitors. The South Africans still self-drive around the country and enjoy all it has to offer, but there is a noticeable lack of British tourists; maybe because our press coverage is far greater than others as the former colonial power so involved in the Lancaster House agreement. Whatever the reason, please be assured that we never felt even remotely unsafe or looked down on as British citizens, the camps all thanked us for “going the extra mile” and all their local staff benefited directly from our visit – we felt that we had made the right decision and are only aware of our visa fees possibly going towards funding the current regime. Would we return – absolutely and tomorrow if possible, wonderful hospitality, great wildlife, comfort and luxury in camp, a lack of vehicles surrounding all the animals, and learning from the most wonderful guides in Africa; all add up to a fabulous time spent in Zimbabwe.

    The cost of our trip, excluding international flights was $5375 per person including all private plane and road transfers, and was fully inclusive at all the safari camps. Ilala Lodge at Victoria Falls was on a B & B basis. Benson’s guiding skills were also included throughout.

    Websites that we found invaluable and show some of our chosen options to best effect :

    www.ngoko.com

    www.africanbushcamps.com

    www.bushlifesafaris.com

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    Nice report. Thanks. I must admit that with all the negative news coming from Zimbabwe of the repression by the Mugabwe regime on any dissension, I have tended to place Zimbabwe low on the list of places to go in the near term in Africa. Not so much over safety, but just on principle.

    However, you definitely put a different, more personal perspective on things, especially the impact of the tourist dollars on employment of those who are just trying have employment. So I will reconsider.

    Jim

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    At present, the Australian Prime Minister (whose political position I usually abhor) is trying to dissuade the Australian Cricket Board from sending the national team for a series of games against Zimbabwe later this year. His argument is that while the tour of Zimbabwe would help local cricket and other things associated with the sport (including employment in tourism), it would also give comfort to the Mugabe regime. It would be a propaganda victory for Mugabe and help prolong his regime, when what is really required is something to speed up change from within the country (e.g. much, much more discontent). I suspect the same argument could be applied to patronage of Zimbabwean tourism in general.

    John

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    Devey~glad you liked Somalisa, it's my favorite camp and will probably return next year. i loved every minute in Hwange but only managed to get 1 elephant to drink out of the plunge pool at one time. It was so cool just sitting at the waterholes and all the animals come to you, no need to search for them. Hopefully things will improve in Zim after the elections in March, there's so much to see in that country. We had Benson's brother Foster as guide, but met Benson one day, he seemed just as nice, jolly and full of information as Foster. Wish I was going back this year, but heading to a different and new location.

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    John, from what i read and see in the news.......people within face lots of hardships should they show their discontent to the regime?

    But, cricket wise...the Aussies can send any of their state teams and crush Zim. Zim cricket has been in major turmoil for the past few years, when their cricketers have deceided that they immigrate to other countries to get away from the Zim regime. They had plenty of talent not so long ago.....the Flower brothers, Heath Streak, etc etc.,

    Hari

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    So - it's safe to go. But should you go?

    And the answer is NO.

    And don't go to SA either as without their complicity the situation in Zimbabwe could not continue.

    In fact I believe that might be the best way to force something to change.

    If SA felt its tourist industry was threatened then they might start to use some muscle (as the most powerful nation in the area) to get Mugabe out.

    And for once JH is right. The Aussies should not go to Zim. Shame none of the current team has the balls of Stuart MacGill who refused to go last time around.

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    Devey1...thanks for the wonderful and inspiring report about Zim. I have booked a trip with Ngoko to Zim and Botswana for next June so was especially excited to see Fiona/Benson/Ngoko mentioned in your post.

    Cheers,

    Fern

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    Our local paper says JH will announce today that the Australian Govt will ban the national cricket team from touring Zimbabwe. This is after Mugabe, through the Zimbabwean Embassy in Canberra, told the Australian Govt to keep its nose out of sport.

    John

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    I think the Aussies shouldn't go from a political/sporting stand point. It is the Mugabe regime that had the talented players running for cover and running away from Zim. This has left a mediocre school boy team to play for Zim. With today's 12 month cricket calender, i think major nations can rather have the rest than go to Zim.

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    I wholly endorse the Aussies decision to pull out of the cricket tour and don't doubt that Mugabe would have used them as a propaganda tool if they had gone ahead with their visit.
    I would however defend our moral decision to visit Zimbabwe - there is 80% unemployment because of the regime, people are suffering badly. Our booking of small, owner-managed camps kept at least 7 local people in work at each camp which meant they could support their families.
    In Hwange, following very poor rains, the water supply for the animals comes from pumped boreholes maintained largely by the camps. No visitors = no camps = no water = dying animals !
    Our visit is no great accolade for Mr. Mugabe, just a genuine desire to help local people and wildlife until the regime changes.

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    Travel to Zimbabwe it is safe wild full of game and cheap. Nobody suggests that you should not go to USA because the bossman encourages the killing of innocent civilians all around the world, just to get cheap oil!

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    sniktawk - nobody suggest you shouldn't to the the USA etc.

    What do you mean by "nobody" - people who post on this forum?

    I guess you are right and I should have posted before.

    So let me say that I wouldn't go to Zim now (though I have spent many months there in the past) and I won't go the the USA till the tone there changes.

    Personally I apply the same rules to the USA as I do to Burma - and did to South Africa and Chile.

    I wouldn't touch the damn place with a bargepole if you paid me to.

    Think on what is happening at Guantanamo Bay. At last there are reports coming out of the US itself admitting that torture has been used there, and maybe Dubya, and Cheney and all those evil people may find it difficult to travel to Europe.

    This is because Spain has decided (quite rightly) that they are in line to answer war crime charges.

    About time.

    They won't ever be punished, but if they stay off European soil and go down in history as war criminals that will be better than nothing.

    As for the OP - wonder how he knows the situation is deteriorating. Implies he/she has been there before.

    Have you, OP?

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