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FINDING & ACQUIRING OUR WILDERNESS
We spent most of 1994 travelling around Zambia looking for a beautiful place suitable for conservation and tourism. Thanks to Jeremy Pope we decided that the Mutinondo/Musamfushi catchment area west of the Luangwa Valley was perfect. Our first step in applying for some of this beautiful uninhabited trust land was to give a proposal to the Chief of the area, Chief Mpumba, for his consideration. After receiving the Chief's consent, the Mpika District Council then checked our land application whilst we spent six weeks walking and camping in the area investigating possible lodge sites with a local guide Paul Saili. Due to his dedication to poaching in this area he had excellent knowledge of the area and taught us some of the Bisa trees names and showed us evidence of the seemingly invisible wildlife. It was a magic month with only two decisions to make each day- where to walk and what to eat! The District Council assured us that the Ministry of Lands would issue our title deeds and when our Investment Certificate was granted, encouraged us to start developing. This we did since we weren't waiting for title to secure a loan and believed the encouragement from the Chief and Council who insisted that building would convince the Ministry that we were serious.
Our building has been a long learning process, the first one we built is no longer standing; the staff houses were an improvement followed by the stables, farm shop and store before we embarked on the camp buildings and lodge. We have tried to maximise the views from the lodge buildings and minimise the view of the camp from the surrounding areas. The chalets have been called after the different woods used for the furniture and fittings.
The quality of craftsmen in the Mpumba area was a very big bonus for us. All the furniture, windows, roofs, almost everything wooden has been made by our carpenter Dickson Chilufya and his son Peter (apprentice), both from Salamo. Salamo builders Joseph Chisanga and Harry Kaluba built most of the buildings. We employed their two sons to work with their fathers and learn their skills. Their first building is the bigger kitchen and warmer dining room.
To ensure that Chief Mpumba's people benefit from our investment, our operations use as much labour and local materials as possible. Our buildings are built of locally made bricks and thatch and stone is quarried by hand for the floors. We have found that having bricks made, thatching grass cut and tracks made on a task or contract basis is much more satisfactory for all involved.
THE ACCESS ROAD
At first we accessed the area by using the road put in by Anglo American in 1954 south of us called the Mafoni Road (because the surveyor wore a hearing aid/earphone). It is on the other side of the Musamfushi River from our camp and therefore inconvenient for transporting building materials and getting into camp (usually stumbling up the hill in the dark). We looked for an alternative. The Chief agreed to our proposal for a new road from the Great North Road. After getting permission from TAZARA to build an embankment over the railway line we constructed a 25km new road. This (a single track then) was done by hand, axe and hoe in 3 months by 30 workers and was completed on 23rd October 1996. In 2002 we employed two groups of villagers on contract to widen the road. Most of the trees felled to build the roads were used for burning bricks and firewood.
The Chief also agreed that we could clear and develop a small area closer to the villages to do mixed farming to supply the lodge and promote new farming methods in the area. This we did but problems with the Chief changing his mind has put it in a halfway dilemma with too much invested to abandon it but still needing much more investment to make it worth our while. We have often regretted both of these developments because they have since been extensively abused by Tazara Corridor Services employees, consultants and their Zimbabwean and local friends and clients.
In 1997 we sent Clement Bwale, one of our workers, to Lusaka to train as a groom at Trotover Stables where we were getting our four horses. It took us a year to find someone willing to truck them up and of all the days for this to happen... they arrived the day of the attempted coup (28th October 1997) having driven past State House in the thick of things. Not much traffic on the road! Clement has since trained several helpers in riding grooming and filing hooves. We decided that fences cause most injuries to horses and awful vegetation degradation and since we had no neighbours for 20 km -who needs fences. They've settled well into being free range although our escape artist Zambuka walked 11km down the road towards the escarpment surely looking for the gate to break out of! We built substantial stables to reduce the risk of horse sickness and lion attacks. Before we built the chalets Quentin complained that the horses had a mansion while he was stuck in a tent in what he called "the pit"- our temporary camp site!
LIFE IN AND OUT OF "THE PIT"
Our first five years at Mutinondo were spent in a tent. In January 2000 our tent collapsed and we moved into a chalet. The bricks were made for our house in mid 2002 but we decided that a larger kitchen and a warm dining room was more important. With all the hammering and encroachment of the reception, Lari's jewellery workshop and shop seem to be the next priority. An early visitor suggested that we lived in each chalet to see what was needed to make them comfortable and this is indeed what we will be doing for the next....? When the lodge is full we then check the camp site out.. When we're asked how we live without a house we realise that we have spread ourselves out so much (our hill is our home) and could never decide on a design let alone a site....
Despite our total failure to maintain a vegetable garden for any use other than having the privilege of feeding kalulus (scrub hares), duiker and sitatunga our other low maintenance garden gives us great pleasure. As many orchids as possible were rescued from trees felled for the roads and hung around the lodge site. Thanks to Mike Bingham's abundant knowledge (and patience with our layman style), Kew Gardens' Paul Smith and Gerald Pope (who sent us the ever useful Bemba/scientific names list from UK) we have photographed and had identified over 300 different plants and trees. Other experts in their various fields have also visited Mutinondo Wilderness and so far a mystery doubled coloured sunbird, a new variety of butterfly and possibly unknown boletes have been found but more work has to be done to publish them. We must just make more time to enjoy it all and learn more about what surrounds us. Having guests in camp is a wonderful reason to appreciate our own area and a great excuse too. Please feel free to disturb us and get us out of the office - all for the good of business of course! We hope that you enjoy you stay!
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