The long awaited return to Zimbabwe – the story told by the Travel Africa team

(Posted 24th March 2022)

Hello from the other side

We needn’t have worried. And nor should you.

We’re not long back from a nearly three-week holiday to Zimbabwe — a long-anticipated ‘reunion tour’ to see family for the first time since 2018. It was our first trip anywhere since the pandemic and, even though we’re experienced travellers heading to very familiar territory, we were surprised how anxious we were in the build-up. This was compounded by our daughters bringing some friends and the fact that some in our party were not vaccinated.

Did we have the right paperwork? Would our PCR tests be negative? Did we need our results on an App as well as paper? Was there something we were missing? There was some ambiguity on the laws, particularly regarding unvaccinated travellers, and speculation of pending changes didn’t help, despite a loosening of regulations in the UK. Flying from London, via Zurich and Johannesburg, how often would we have to unpack our precious folder of documents along the way? How would the unvaccinated be welcomed?

With an everchanging rulebook, the significance of the occasion and one’s natural anxiety about embarking on a long trip with others in your care, we set off with our best confident faces on, telling ourselves this was normal, that everyone travelling at this time felt the same way.

How silly we felt as we breezed through immigration at Victoria Falls, barely breaking stride in the 15 minutes between plane and the terminal parking lot. The first time we had to show our Covid-results was on arrival, where they were met with an approving smile and we were sent on to the next desk, visa money at the ready. Very efficient, very friendly, remarkably easy. We could have hugged them all.

The return journey was perhaps more laborious, as at the time the British authorities required a Passenger Locator Form, which we had to present at every break along the route. Since our return this has been done away with, making it even smoother.The lesson: travel in a Covid world is a lot less complicated than you might anticipate. And this will only get easier as travel restrictions continue to loosen. While our experience was just with Zimbabwe, I am told it is similarly so with most other African countries.

That is not to be blasé about it: you are likely to still need to get a PCR test pre-travel (if required) and that is a schlep. You may be required to fill in an additional form, but the travel industry and authorities are well-practiced now. You’ll no doubt need to wear a facemask a lot more than you might be comfortable with, but aren’t we all used to that anyway? With a few adaptations, travel to Africa in the new world feels not too dissimilar to pre-pandemic, and there’s certainly no need to worry about it as much as you might think.

With travel now not taken as much for granted, the sense of excitement for the adventure ahead feels stronger than before. The welcome on the ground feels all the more embracing, the sun more soothing, the sand underfoot more liberating, the wildlife more precious, the space more luxurious, the people more, well… the people of Africa are just so wonderfully kind, respectful, friendly, peaceful. We were struck by how quickly we felt our shoulders lighten and the tension we carry through life fade.

On our way from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park, our driver Cloud told us “Covid is part of the family”. People there have accepted it as part of their lives, and they carry on. Masks are worn, fist pumps are the default greeting, hands are sanitised at every shop door — these adjustments all feel normal. But Cloud’s comment reminded us too of the African spirit of ubuntu, of the strength of our communal bonds, the kindness in humanity, the importance of caring for each other.

We had an amazing time. Notwithstanding the joy of reconnecting with loved ones, we got soaked in the spray of the Victoria Falls, we saw lions, elephants, wild cats and so much more in Hwange, we climbed hills and walked with rhino in Matobo Hills… but it was the friendliness of the people that stood out beyond all. No matter the circumstance, everyone was so welcoming, so respectful, kind, helpful, peaceful. Everything was slower, less frantic, quieter, and within that space there was room to linger, to share a moment, to chat, to appreciate the company of those who momentarily shared our journey.I think of the ticketing clerks at the various park entry gates; Liberty Dhliwayo and his team of chefs at Linkwasha Camp (above) who welcomed us into their kitchen; sharing a sundowner on a grassy knoll with our guide Tendai Ketayi; Mr Ncube, the attendant at World’s View in Matopos; smiling Bernadette who served us at Hillside Dams in Bulawayo; Polite who readied our camp in Matopos; Captain Able and waiter Zandile from Palm River who gave us a memorable sunset cruise on the Zambezi, Lovemore Machipisa of Africa Travel Tours who organised our transfers; Vernon the zip-repair vendor eking a living on the streetside, and so many others who contributed so much to a memorable trip, whether they knew it or not.

Our ‘reunion tour’ set out to bring us back together with our family, but it was so much more. It reconnected us with the heart of a continent that is deep within us and which has been neglected in recent years. It was food for the soul. That’s what travel does; that’s what Africa gives you. You might go to see lions, but it’s the spirit of the place that captures your heart. That’s got to be worth a few extra pieces of paper along the way.

Hamba kuhle. Go well.

Craig and Sherry
 
P.S. This is a longwinded way of letting you know the next issue of Travel Africa will be out later than normal. We are catching up on work as quickly as possible, but bear with us while we finish the mag off. It will be published during April. We’ll keep you posted, but thank you for your understanding and patience.
 
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