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Great Zimbabwe

Posted by on November 7, 2011

I had big plans for Saturday: I called a representative from the Zimbabwe Mountain Club and got the details about the hike they were doing in the afternoon. I was excited to get out of the city, even just for the day and thought I’d invite Jake along since he mentioned that he likes hiking (he grew up in Alaska and now lives in Colorado; can you guess 3 things he likes to do? You’re probably right).

Jake told me that he and two other doctors were going to Great Zimbabwe that weekend and were leaving in an hour. They had one space left in the car and would I like to join them? They’d come back on Sunday evening after checking out the area. Well, you didn’t have to ask me twice! I really wanted to see Great Zimbabwe and having something to do the whole weekend was even better than afternoon plans.

I quickly packed some things for the weekend and left a note for Mr. Morales who was sleeping on the couch. Jake picked me up and introduced me to two doctors from Colorado who are here visiting Zimbabwe and giving guest lectures to the medical students. Brian is a cardiologist and has been here for a few weeks and Dave is a semi-retired infectious disease doc who arrived a few days ago and will be here for several more weeks. Great Zimbabwe is about 3.5 hours southwest of Harare so we had a lot of time in the car to get to know one another. Dave asked me a bunch of questions about my project and about people on the Bay Area. It turns out that Dave grew up across the street from one of my professors at Berkeley and they remain good friends. I heard a few interesting tidbits and wanted to ask for some juicier stories but then thought better of it.

We arrived around 3 pm and had a quick sandwich before hiring a guide and staring the tour.

Great Zimbabwe is a World Heritage Site that marks the location of a great civilization that thrived in Southern Africa from 1200-1700 AD. This culture built huge stone works out of the granite in the area that survive to this day. In fact the name “Zimbabwe” means “big” (zi) “stone” (mba) “house” (bwe) and that is exactly what it is.

Situated on top of a hill is the aptly named “hill complex”. There’s a very narrow hand-build stone staircase that winds between boulders and hand-built stone walls to the top of the highest hill in the area. This is where the king lived and commanded his people. There are 6-9 foot high stone walls for protection and lower ones to demarcate various rooms. We ran up a steep rock to the highest point where the king would look out over his kingdom. The walls and buildings are really impressive considering the time period in which they were made and that no cement was used. To make the stones, the subjects (or slaves) would light fires on top of the granite boulders then once they got very hot, they would quench the fires with water, quickly cooling the hot rock, causing it to crack into perfect blocks. They would then carry the blocks across the plain and up the hill to build the complexes. The building process took several centuries.

From the hill complex, we descended and went to a small museum that describes the place in more detail and also features 6 soapstone carvings of birds that were found on site when the buildings were rediscovered in the mid-1800s. One of the carvings is the model for the bird that is on the Zimbabwean flag now.

After the museum we headed to the Great Enclosure, which is also aptly named. It is a huge structure, which 30 foot high walls that are 8 feet thick. Narrow passage ways lead to the interior where there were rooms and cooking areas. This is where the king’s wives lived (he had up to 200). The architecture was truly spectacular and very impressive. My words cannot possibly do it justice so I hope you look at the pictures (that I will post later).

There were many other smaller building between the hill complex and the great enclosure but they deteriorated over time and now there are just piles of rock left and are not very interesting. But during the peak of the civilization it must have been very impressive. The king traded with India, China, and the Middle East, based on the artifacts recovered there.

The park closes at 6 pm and we were the last to leave around 6:30.

The guys had called ahead to make some reservations but when we got to the place there was no electricity and things were a bit dingy so we drove down the road and stayed at this beautiful hotel situated on a hill overlooking Lake Kyle. We rented a cottage for $35 per person and I got my own room since I was the only girl.

We had a very fancy four course dinner with a mushroom appetizer, vegetable soup, grilled Bream (a local fish that is similar to bass) and chocolate cake with homemade chocolate sauce. It was the second best meal I’ve had here (after the fancy dinner at Victoria 22).

The evening was perfect and we sat out on the veranda and talked for a few hours until we finally headed to bed.

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