This entry is from Ken’s blog, “Tokyo Life”
When tourists visit Zimbabwe, they mainly come to visit Victoria Falls, considered the largest waterfall in the world. However, because Zimbabwe has had a bad reputation (notably with the hyperinflation that persisted through February 2009), tourists tend to fly directly to Victoria Falls from South Africa and return immediately.
However, Zimbabwe has 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites including Victoria Falls and I was able to visit another of the heritage sites the other day, the Mana Pools National Park. The park is located in a wildlife conservation area near the Zambezi river, which is located along the border of Zambia. Compared to the Serengeti reserve it has a less dense wildlife, but there are still plenty of elephants and hippos and buffalo to see. Of course the scenery is beautiful as well, alongside the bountiful landscape of the Zambezi river.
Approximately 6 to 7 hours from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and most likely the same distance from Victoria Falls, the Mana pools can only be accessed by 4WD cars during the dry seasons, and not at all during the rainy seasons from November to March. So, it is not an easy location to visit, but much more rewarding when you can make the trip.
The place where I stayed was a lodge located in a forest a little ways away from the Zambezi River. Using directions that simply stated “Go north for this many km, then head west for this many km…”, an animal trail widened just enough for a car to pass through, and my trusty GPS, I was a little uncertain every step of the way. Heading along the path with no cars behind me or ahead of me, and using skills only really needed by off-road enthusiasts, I was finally greeted by the hotel lodge reception that can be seen in the first picture in this entry.
The word “Mana” means “4” in the local language, and derives from the dry season, during which all but 4 of the pools will dry up. The lodge that I stayed at used a pump to water a small pool that would otherwise dry up, and placed their tents alongside the shore. I say tent, but these were large structures placed on a wooden deck, capable of holding a clean king sized bed safari-themed decorations. The separated outhouse had plumbing, the shower always had hot water, and the decorations were tastefully done in a local style. I couldn’t help but wonder how they had gotten such a place set up in such a remote area.
And of course, because the pumps were re-filling the pond, animals would come to drink. In the reception and dining areas visitors are able to recline on sofas and sip on chilled South African wine while watching the wild animals. Elephants, monkeys, and deer-like animals would visit during lunch, and at nighttime leopards, lions, badgers, and buffalo would come out to drink.
The maximum number that the lodge could accommodate was 12 people. The owners mentioned that we were the first Japanese visitors to the hotel. (The owners were white Zimbabweans, and former farmers. Their land had been seized during the land redistribution that took place under Mugabe, and they had opened this lodge as a result.)
I don’t actually have much experience traveling in Japan, but it seems to me that there are very few places that promote a local flavor. Tourist hotels, Ryokan, and hostels all seem to have the same feel and are boring. The food will also be something like maguro sashimi, which doesn’t have ties to a specific area. Even if its a bit out of the way, I would like to see somewhere that does not try for luxury, will promote local flavors, be very hospitable, be accessible to foreigners, and be relatively cheap…maybe $200 to $300 for two meals and a night. It would be great if that sort of retreat or resort culture would take hold in Japan.
Of course, there are locations like this already in Japan. It just takes a little longer to find. I remember when I traveled Kyoto alone, I could only find boring hotels so I decided to stay at a temple. It was a much enjoyable experience that what I would have had at a hotel, and so I would like the “professionals” of the hotel business to step it up a little.
The lodge near the Mana Pools was a beautiful little hideout and so I am going to keep it to myself for now. If you really want to take a visit, please find it online!