A blast from the colonial past
Locals were jumping on and off buses and coaches, street sellers trying to catch your eye. It was manic, all the time we were trying to get to our hotel.
However, what was undoubtedly hindering the whole situation was that the road the Bulawayo Club (our hotel) was on, was having new tarmac laid and was closed.
We’re staying for a couple of days in Bulawayo, one of which we’ll be heading out to Matobo National Park and the other we’re spending around town and visiting a couple of the local museums.
So, what was in store for us on the streets of Bulawayo on a Saturday morning. We head up to the Bulawayo Railway Museum, a place that has so often popped up when we have mentioned to people where we were heading.
Zimbabwe certainly isn’t a wealthy country, so the mixture of shops and people’s needs was eye-opening to see and quite humbling.
We did stick out like the preverbal sore thumb; however, no one bothered us, we just received smiles and an occasional hello.
Commuter buses are a big thing in the towns and cities in Zimbabwe, and they’re not like the comfortable buses we get at home. The transport for commuters here is ‘people carriers’ (MPV’s), with no rules.
Is Zimbabwe for you?
A step back in time
The ticket office was literally an old railway ticket office, and it was like an Aladdin’s cave inside, paper and books piled high, steam train memorabilia and chaos that could only be referred to as ‘organised’.
We had a quick chat with the guy running the place, he was so keen to share his knowledge and love of the museum and the beloved engines within it.
If the urge took you, you were even able to climb up upon the engines, many of which originated from the UK and were imported during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
There was a historical timeline to follow of the railways and the development over the years, of how Zimbabwe evolved with these significant changes.
We headed back through town, and it was getting hot now, so we stopped back at our hotel for a freshen up, next it was the opposite way through Bulawayo to the Natural History Museum.
Obviously, we could have driven to the museum, as this does appear to be what everyone does, but we wanted to check out some of the Colonial architecture along the way.
Nowadays some may have slightly modern shopfronts at the base of the building, but just a slight glance up and the traces are still there to be seen.
I can only imagine how this would have looked during the early 1900s, horse and carriages being drawn through the middle of the vast wide roads.
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Catching up on the history
We arrived at the Natural History Museum, crossing the roads at times was a bit of a challenge, dodging the commuter buses and the cars that couldn’t quite tell the difference from a red and green traffic light. But it’s all part of the fun.
As we’re not Zimbabwean nationals the charge for the museum was US$10 each, and unfortunately, no photography was allowed.
The museum was informative, not only did it concentrate on the animal species and geology within Zimbabwe, but it also had an interesting exhibition on the tribal elders of the country. Another educational section was on Cecil Rhodes and how he played such an integral part in the development of Zimbabwe, specifically around mining and the railways.
We strolled back through the town, and it was still bustling, horns honking as wedding parties passed through the streets and families just going about their everyday business.
A helpful guide
If you're considering an adventure around Zimbabwe, then your in for a holiday of a lifetime. I always find it incredibly useful to plan our trips with the help of a guide book.
Take a look at this informative Bradt guide, it will give you great tips and advice.
A peaceful Sunday
Where we stayed
There’s a charming roofless atrium in the centre of the hotel, which you feel like you’re automatically drawn too, as it’s such a contrast from the traditional styling within the reception.
The staff at the Bulawayo Club are really friendly and helpful, although the bedrooms lacked the elegance and decadence of something special from the past.
Getting to Bulawayo
Of course, you can fly, but where is the fun in that?
From Harare the drive is around 6 hours (270 miles/433km), there are 5 tolls along the way to Bulawayo, at a charge of two Zimbabwe Bond each (around 50p in 2019). Also a few police roadblocks, which tend to be stopping the laden down commuter buses.
It may seem to be a long journey, but you see so much of the countryside and locals along the way, and you get to experience a bit of what Zimbabwean life is about.
We passed through two larger towns en-route, Kwekwe and Gweru and after the peaceful journey leading up to these, mayhem seemed to ensue, although to the locals this was normal.
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