My family and i have just returned from a 3 week visit to family in Zimbabwe. I was relieved to find a book which had only been published a few months ago and found it to be a Godsend. It is an incredibly practical and balanced book - written with passion but also with a sense of balance. The layout is excellent and the information accurate but more than this, Paul Murray is an excellent writer and he gives the most wonderful and often amusing anecdotal insights. The country is breathtaking and the people were all, without exception, warm and accommadating. Many of the folk we met in our travels could easily give lessons in 'generous hospitality' to their European counterparts. I know it's a cliche to write 'this book is an essential travel companion' but this book is an essential travel companion. We felt self and secure throughout our journey but were based in Bulawayo in the south of the country. The most inconvenient thing we suffered were the power cuts! There was plenty of food in the shops, the ATM's were working (!) and the Wildlife was outstanding. The overwhelming message from the people we met - regardless of skin colour - was 'Please don't forget us.' At a time of political shannigans in this most beautiful country, the very least we can do is not to forget this beleagured nation. We loved Zimbabwe and will be returning and this book will be the very first thing i put in my suitcase.
I pre-ordered this book, the first guide to Zimbabwe to have come out in recent years, because I was keen to read the author's impressions of a country I already know and love, but have not visited in 15 years. I think the book will appeal to two sorts of reader:people like me, who are hankering to revisit one of Africa's most beautiful countries, but unsure if the time is right, and 'serious' travelers, keen to get off the tourist track. In his introduction, entitled 'Should you go to Zimbabwe', the author makes a good case for both types of visitor to start planning a trip. Although today's Zimbabwe is, in many ways, very different to the comfortable and luxurious destination tourists enjoyed in the late eighties and early nineties, it is clearly still a very special place and the demise of the Zim dollar has brought some sort of stability to a troubled nation. The book goes into considerable detail over the practicalities of how to organise a visit, where to go and what to look out for. There are clear warnings about potential hazards and entreaties to check information before turning up anywhere, as businesses close down and reopen without warning. The message seems to be not to book anything too far ahead and to have a flexible itinerary and a relaxed approach. Although the author is relentlessly positive about the country, his view is not rose-tinted and I enjoyed his frank and, at times, sarcastic accounts of places best avoided. As a result of reading this, I am now planning to visit in 2011. By then, as the book acknowledges, some parts of the guide will be out of date, but it makes a very good starting point.
As a somewhat unadventurous independent traveller, I've been keeping my eyes open for a Zimbabwe guide book which would give me the confidence to visit a country which friends have told me is absolutely delightful and which now appears to be emerging from a decade or two of political, economic and social turmoil. Paul Murray's book has done that. He emphasises very early on that the country is very safe for foreign visitors but makes it clear that it's not really a package destination. The book contains a lot of practical information about vehicle preparation and how to deal with border crossings and that type of thing as well as the more usual guidebook information on cities and cultural areas. There are descriptions of some tremendous sounding sites (such as Great Zimbawe) which are hardly mentioned in other books I've read. Murray clearly knows the country and the people intimately and his love for the place is obvious. His enthusiasm certainly shows. The book gives a lot of detailed information about the culture, people and history and doesn't mince words on the political situation, though always in the context of how this might (or in most cases won't) affect the visitor. There are substantial notes on accommodation and eating places, although he makes it clear that these are areas which are subject to rapid change as the country sorts itself out. The guide has inspired me to organise a trip there as soon as possible. Recommended.
This guide has been very helpful. My only (slight) complaint is that I feel it is aimed at luxury tourists/tourists who are prepared to spend a lot of money on a 4x4 adventure bush trip. As a Zimbabwean from the diaspora trying to plan a trip back home with a young family on a modest budget, this was helpful, but not always relevant. However I do love the way the author is encouraging tourists to return to Zim, giving a very different side of the story than the media generally do.
This is a great book written with knowledge and love. Paul has extensive knowledge of the country and offers useful advice without scare mongering but issues warnings when needed. Paul has a lovely writing style which makes this book a pleasure to read but most of all is useful to all types of travelers. I can't wait to visit Zimbabwe after reading this.