The recent upheaval around Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has reminded me of my 1996 visit to that southern African nation, formerly Rhodesia.

When I was there, along with going on a walking safari in which I was caught between an errant elephant and vipers and other touristic adventures, I spoke with the late Ian Douglas Smith. For 14 years, he had been the prime minister of white-controlled Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe. He had both praise for — and warnings about — Mugabe, who at the time had been black-ruled Zimbabwe’s president for 16 years.

In the beginning, Smith said, Mugabe — who had fought determinedly for black rule of the country, “had welcomed the nation’s whites as friends and allies with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself.” But then in the 1980s, suspecting a white plot against him, he had taken over productive, white-owned farms.

Smith continued: “Now the economy is dead in the water and something has got to get it going before all these unemployed — and there are more than five-million of them — rise up and do something about it themselves. People can’t afford to feed their families.

“Life’s basics simply aren’t affordable here anymore, and Mugabe is like a majestic sailing ship, oblivious of what’s going on all around him.”

On the other hand, Smith admitted that in the beginning he had been impressed with Mugabe.

“I was impressed with his maturity and balance,” he said. “For one year, he behaved sensibly. One of his accomplishments was to increase the number of people being educated. But later it turned out he had the old-style nationalist view — the idea that the president is the chief, the boss who makes all the decisions, except that he doesn’t make decisions. He dithers.”

But the crisis in Zimbabwe has brought back other recollections, not necessarily more sanguine, but interesting.

I remember well the walking safari on which we tourists, strolling through grass in the jungle, were warned to watch out for vipers. Then moments later, when a rogue elephant came into sight in front of us, we were told if the wind changed and the elephant smelled us, we should back up into the grass. We all trembled at the prospect of being attacked by the vipers. Happily, the wind did not change and there was no viper attack.

I also remember visiting the mysterious complex of winding walls and passages, towers and stairs that go nowhere that is known as Great Zimbabwe, and is considered the Acropolis of black Africa. It is believed to have been begun in the 11th century and abandoned in the 15th and is the largest medieval structure in sub-Saharan Africa. Its Great Enclosure has an outer wall 775 feet around and more than 30 feet high and is second only to the pyramids in Egypt in size on the African continent. In its heyday, Great Zimbabwe was the center of a kingdom that extended into today’s Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.

And then I remember a close encounter (or I think I do) with a black mamba — Africa’s large (it can grow to be 14 feet long) and deadliest snake — when I was climbing among rocks one morning. I heard a slithering sound near my elbow but saw nothing. But back that afternoon at our safari camp, a trembling fellow traveler who had climbed in the same place later in the day, said she had actually seen that enormous, venomous snake there.

Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is (or was) renowned for its large number of elephants — more than 25,000 when I was there. The rogue elephant notwithstanding I hope that his (or her) descendants still exist, and will continue to thrive. But President Trump’s recent decision (he has wildlife hunters in his family) to allow memorabilia of dead elephants to be brought into the United States clearly will not help them.

I am of mixed emotions about the crisis in Zimbabwe. I am glad that a brighter future may lie ahead, sorry that a once-able leader has with increasing age become erratic, mercenary and dictatorial.

Meanwhile, I have enjoyed being reminded of my own adventures in Zimbabwe.