Stones

 Bulawayo and Masvingo, Zimbabwe

There are two things that Zimbabwe is generally known for, at least in the past 15 years: Robert Mugabe and hyperinflation.

It’s a little unfair. Well, yes, Mugabe is 92 and has been clinging onto power in such a way that it’s caused political instability, and by late 2008, transactions were conducted in quadrillions of Zimbabwean dollars (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000) with prices of everything doubling per day and zeros added by the week, but we can put that aside for now. (Not to say I didn’t help myself to a $10,000,000,000 bill!)

What should Zimbabwe be known for? These people are the most smiley I’ve ever seen. It goes beyond pleasantries and politeness — I’m never met with just a gentle smile, but a teeth-bearing beam, and conversations extend and extend as neither party wants to stop talking. They’re super warm and super friendly, and they really, really laugh a lot. People on the street randomly ask me how I’m enjoying Zimbabwe. Some go well out of their way to help me along with directions. They really love their country and any visitors they get — and that number is thankfully beginning to increase again, outside of just Victoria Falls.
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Thunder

 Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

One of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World and deservedly so, Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and can be visited from both sides.

Coming in from the Zambian city of Livingstone, 10 km away and named after the British missionary-doctor-explorer who was the first European to discover the falls, you can hear the telltale thunder as you approach — no wonder it’s called Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) in the local Tonga language. (For reference, Zambia’s largest indigenous language is Bemba, and Zimbabwe’s are Ndebele and Shona. Formerly the British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia respectively, they both have English as their official language.) It’s the end of the wet season now, which means the falls are at their fullest. Though I chose not to visit the Zambian side of the falls, I did visit some hotels lining the Zambezi River (which gives Zambia its name) just before the falls. On the Zimbabwean side, there’s a colonial-era hotel that has views of the border bridge.
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