Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
Zimbabwe Sojourn, Part II
We had traveled to Zimbabwe for the World Tourism Expo called Sanganai/Hlanganani, that for the first time this year was to be held in Zim’s (the nickname for Zimbabwe) second city Bulawayo. Bulawayo - known as the seat of culture and home to Kings and Queens - and its environs, have a wealth of sightseeing opportunities and once the networking at the expo was concluded we were encouraged to act like tourists and explore. To read Part I of our trip, please click here
Top on the list was Matobo Hills World Heritage Site and home to the largest wild population of African white and black rhinos in the world. Matobo is also home to some of the oldest rock formations and rock paintings ever found. The boulders and the strange shapes they form are 300 million years old while the paintings could be anywhere from 9,000 to 200,000 years old, since stone dating is far from precise. The strange shapes and balancing boulders are the result of erosion of the softer sandstone leaving the heavier granite to precariously balance one on top of the other. We had fun naming the faces and figures we found in the weathering stones as well as being awed by the huge boulders that defy gravity.
On arrival at Matobo, our guide Parks Ranger Tracy May, scrambled up one of the high rocky outcrops and invited us to join her to look for rhinos. Once on the top, she was able to spy a white rhino and her calf. The color distinction is moot; the main difference is in face shape and temperament. The so-called white rhino - which is really gray - has square-shaped lips, a relatively-speaking mild temperament, and grazes on ground grasses; while the black rhino is a much darker shade of gray, eats from trees and bushes with its tapered mouth, and exhibits a very aggressive personality.
Clambering down the hill - with a little help from my friends - we went in search of the family… on foot. Tracy split up our group into smaller units and cautioned us to walk single file; not to talk; and certainly not to squeal if we saw an animal. She explained how to approach and what to do should we feel threatened. I was so excited I could hardly breathe let alone talk as we carefully closed in on the pair. Bending down close to the ground to lessen alerting the Mom, we crept within 10 feet but the tall grass that was camouflaging us was doing the same for them. Feeling frustrated to be so close but so far away from getting a really good look and capturing the animals on film (sic) a few of us tried to grab a picture in a clearing much closer to the pair… to Tracy’s alarm! Fortunately we all survived, including Mom and her 2 year old calf that from a distance resembled a moving boulder. Although this is not my best photo effort by far, the experience in capturing it was a thrill.
Tracy turned us over to Ian Harmer of African Wanderer www.african-wanderer.com an expert on the history of Zim, to show us some caves that had paintings left by early Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Marcus, one of his knowledgeable guides, explained to me how the people at that time came into the world naked and left the same way; they owned nothing and lived in total harmony with the land. A family group would find shelter in one of the natural massive caves and take only what they needed from the bounty surrounding them. While they sojourned there, they would paint pictographs of the animals and eatables they found in the area, so the next group to inhabit the cave would have a heads-up on what to expect. There is some controversy as to what substance was used to color their drawings. Some experts believe pigments were derived from plants, berries, or minerals in the rocks. Others believe that when an animal was killed every part was used, including the blood, which could have been the source of the dye. Any of the above stains could have been mixed with the dead animal’s acidic gall to etch the images into the rock which probably accounts for them lasting so many thousands of years. A strange fish carving in this land-locked country is a mystery even to Ian.
June 21st, just before sundown we climbed Malindidzimu – The Dwelling Place of the Benevolent Spirits– to celebrate the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice. This hill is sacred to the Ndebele peoples as the home of “Mwari” the God of Creation and resting place of “the ancestors” including Cecil Rhodes. Once at the top with the setting sun to the west and the rising full moon to the east it truly was a magical spot filled with divine presence.
When as a teenager Cecil John Rhodes left Great Britain to join his brother in South Africa for his health little did he, or the world know, what a huge part he would play in the exploitation and colonization of southern Africa. His poor health did not interfere with his ambitions and he eventually became exceedingly wealthy from the diamonds and gold his British South Africa Company extracted from the land. In a sad tale of 19th century British arrogance and imperial take over, Rhodes and his cohorts raped the land and were responsible for instigating a major war that resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Ndebele tribes’ people. In a quirk of history he ended up being hailed as the great ‘Umlamulanmkunzi’, the peacemaker. His burial monument at the top of Matobo Hill required a special dispensation to allow him to be interred on this sacred mountain; he was even given a ceremonial salute normally reserved for only Kings and Queen Elizabeth.
Matobo is also home to a large population of leopards. Unfortunately due to their nocturnal nature, we saw none. As Marcus walked me down the hill in the fading light I asked if there was a chance we would spy one of the big cats… he grinned and said we won’t see them but for sure there were at least 5 or 6 watching us at that very moment… yikes!
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