#2 - The Great Zimbabwe
Jody Finver - 11 July 01
(Harare, ZIMBABWE) There’s so much that I wanted to write
about but right now I am stunned by the scenery before me. I
am in the back seat of the Rover and from the time I started
typing this, the mountain-filled sky transformed from a sherbet
rainbow of dark yellows and tangerine to merlot, burnt orange
and indigo. The road has turned, so Zimbabwe’s box of Crayolas
is to my left, blending clockwise, growing darker into the violet
that is ahead of me. To the right, midnight blue and then blackness.
In a few minutes the sky will be dark, illuminated by the
constellations, the white brightness of this ThinkPad, our low
beam headlights (brights don’t work) and the red light that
is permanently on in the dash (is it the oil? the fuel? Commissioner
Gordon trying to reach Batman?….who the heck knows.)
We’ve been driving all day, nothing unusual about that. Tonight,
Rob, Jeff, Devy and I are headed to the Great Zimbabwe ruins
(Sally is in Jo’burg with her boyfriend.) The Great Zim….It’s
perhaps the greatest archaeological find of the sub Saharan
continent. Yeah I know.. YAWN. Seriously though, it’s a relatively
small area of mostly stone enclosures, yet, 10,000 to 20,000
people lived here in medieval times. The city flourished from
the 11th to the 15th century. And here I was on my way to it….waaaaaay
after the park closed. Devy thought it might be too late when
we got there and suggested we head straight to Harare. Jeff’s
reply was classic.... "No, we’re going to the Great Zim. We’ll
break in. I’ll show you the site under starlight and then we’ll
sneak back out and head to Harare."
Breaking into a National Monument, a World Heritage site,
on our first day back in Zimbabwe. Sweeeet.
If the country weren’t under such strains from a failing economy
and corrupt government I am sure more people would have been
there and our attempts at mischief would be thwarted. But the
country is like a ghost town, so we figured odds were in our
favor that the place wouldn’t be so tightly guarded.
We pulled into the Lodge, parked and as a night watchman approached,
Jeff broke out in his over- enunciated ‘let me speak like you
my friend’ dialect. It works like a charm with the locals, gets
us through borders, past checkpoints unscathed, and out of hefty
tickets, but the guy sounds like Babu on Seinfeld. This time
around, he told her we were waiting for friends in Rondavel
3..(a Rondavel is a hut and we’d be back in an hour. The Jedi
mind melt worked again.
We grabbed flashlights
and water and headed out casually into the darkness. Jeff sauntered
up to main entrance, a chained gate. Our fearless leader gave
it a tug and began to climb. There he was hoisting his body
over this gate, looking cool, straddling the top when with perfect
comedic timing, the chain opened up and the gate swung open
with him still holding on. Devy, Rob and are were trying our
hardest not to laugh too loud as Jeff climbed down and we walked
into the site.
Jeff whispered out the commands as we walked.
"Lights out. Stealth mode. Radio silence. " I’d say to start
humming the theme to Mission Impossible, but it was more like
a scene out of Three Stooges. Rob with a headlamp on ready to
go to work in the Kimberly mines. Jeff meandering along, water
bottle held behind his back with both hands, as if this was
the MET on a rainy day and he were in the impressionist wing.
Devy worrying about snakes as she shwwwsh, shwsssssh, shwsssshed
along in her track pants and me waiting for my eyes to adjust
to the darkness knowing full well they never would and that
I would continue to stumble not knowing if I saw rocks or holes
or small animals in front of me.
Past the lights of the guard posts and
museum, Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty tippy-toed to the Great
Enclosure where the Queen lived. We walked along in the cool
of the night, but once inside the enclosure the temperature
increased. Heat from the midday sun was stored in the massive
elliptical wall, and radiated back out during the night - a
medieval heat pump. The mortarless walls stand 11 meters high
and are 5 meters thick. 5 meters! It’s nearly 100 meters across,
255 meters in circumference. Wandering through its passageways,
over stone steps listening to Jeff describe what we would be
seeing if there were any light was amazing. And then outside
the enclosure he said, "OK, now we have to head over there (and
he pointed off to a hill far away). If we can get past any guards,
sneak behind the curio shop and then make our way up the hill
we can see the king’s quarters and a view of the whole place.
1 kilometre. In pitch darkness." The Hill Complex. Piece o’
Once known as the Acropolis, it’s steps
began, wide and long, then what the $%#%^? They shrank midway
to steps that were four inches long and unstable. We hit a flat
landing and the next ascent was through narrow stairwells where
you had to squeeze through single file. If anyone tried to attack
the Hill Complex they had to march up one at a time.
Through these passageways we shined our
flashlights through our shirts to keep the light dim. Just enough
to see the stone steps and know we were going. We came to a
flat place that seemed to be the top. Rob looked up at a bunch
of boulders next to us and said, " We aren’t at the top. That’s
the top." Didn’t think twice about it. Plotting a way up in
the darkness, we climbed the boulders. It was a thirty foot
drop to one side, rocks below. The top of the boulder we were
standing on crept up against the bottom of the one we needed
to climb. It was about 20 feet high, round and relatively smooth
with no hand holds. In between them was a slice of granite,
sticking up. A wedge between a crevice and a perfect foot hold.
A hoist, a shimmy, a bit of crawling and there we were. I stood
on the highest point near the edge, stared off into darkness
so far below and imagined this place teeming with tourists during
the day. At that very moment, it was all ours. We sat on this
boulder, the size of my apartment in San Fran cisco, stared
off, each of us absorbing the moment. We talked. We laughed.
We said nothing. The four of us looking down on this ancient
city, no one knowing that we were even there. The silence of
night. Shooting stars. You could hear your blood pumping it
was such a high. And yet it was so peaceful.
We waited as long as we could for the moon
to come out but it was already 9:30pm and we needed to get on
the road to head to Harare.. Down the rocks.. past the lit museum…here
a guard…. there a guard… crunching the twigs and dried leaves
below our feet. Snap, crackle.. shhhhhhh!. Pop… shhhhhh!.. swssssh
swssshh...D’oh. Giggle. Swssssh… Swssshhhh….
the time we got to the truck the moon came out..The watchman,
who thought we were waiting for friends, now had a companion
with her. Jeff told them we found our friends and they are not
staying there so we were leaving. A tip to both of them for
‘good luck’ -- nudge, nudge, wink, wink, -- and we were off
grinning from ear to ear. The restaurant which was closing stayed
open for us and after we finished eating we got back in the
truck and drove to Harare.
Much to my own doubts that I pragmatically
verbalized every few minutes in a 40 minute search….we amazingly
found a backpackers to stay at near the airport.. Down a long,dirt
road. Out in the middle of nowhere. Empty. Quiet. Cheap. So
we checked in.. at 3:15 in the morning.
Devy and Rob are on a flight to Nairobi.
So now it’s just Jeff and me and we are driving to Vic Falls.
Like many of the drives thus far, it is much longer than we
thought. You quickly get used to driving long hours, searching
for accommodation long after people have gone to bed, making
a crazed dashed through border crossings as they close. As I
conclude this entry, I wonder what lies ahead that could possibly
top the last 24 hours. Then I remember….. I’m driving the truck
today. That’s a start I suppose.