Mutinondo Newsletter 2010

Posted on Tue December 28, 2010 in Newsletter.

If last year was a rich and rough tapestry this year was a fairly cheerful short silky scarf.

We launched into the new year with our new accessories: 3 dogs, security guards, 2 pump-action shotguns, radios and a different routine. Usually we just have to remember our reading glasses before going to bed, now we are far better loaded but we love sharing our bed with Stella who together with Jack and Karla give us plenty to smile about (beware – all we do is talk to or about the dogs!) There have been a few sessions of target practice and our rather wild looking ex poacher was very imaginative and agile in his practice actions. To further add to our sense of security Jeremy Pope and Conservation Foundation built a ZAWA and Police camp at the end of our drive. Thank you very much to Jeremy and CF for this very generous and effective contribution to the security and conservation of this area. ZAWA scouts are installed but no sign of any Policemen as yet. Dont hold your breath....

When we applied to adopt the dogs from LAWS we were questioned about leopard and we assured the ladies that we would keep the dogs safe from attack. We were sitting with our clients having dinner and a shot went off! Oh dear we thought – here we go again! But... it was only a leopard in the tree next to the reception checking out the dogs. Fortunately the dogs have their own armed guard who let off a warning shot and the leopard has not visited the dogs since.

The beginning of the year was a fretful time but we are at last at peace with our paradise again. We have put Mutinondo on the market. We are not in a hurry to sell but if the right people come along we will be happy to let it go and start our next life. The decision itself without the actual action of selling has been good for us, it made us appreciate the things we took for granted. Lari walked down to the waterfalls on the escarpment three times for various reasons, each time thinking it might be the last! The plant data base has had to have plenty of attention as we might not be here for ever to collect and record ad lib.

A new plant species found here has been described and named after Mutinondo, a Scrophulariaceae now called Crepidohopolon mutinondoensis. It is a very pretty little plant which grows all over the rocks near the lodge in March, April and May. Many years ago Mike Bingham found an unusual dry season orchid to the south of Mayense Hill which has since been named “Habernaria binghamii”. Paul Smith of Kew gave Lari a whole day of his precious time in Mount Makulu Herbarium and visits from Maartin van Hove from Belgium, specialist in Rubiaceae and James Byng from Kew have all been a great help and inspiration for the plant data base.

We have had a good dash of travel, golf and birding this year. Mike's son Charlie got married near Hazyview in SA. A truly wonderful occasion full of fun, family and lovely to meet their friends (and plenty of golf!). We have also enjoyed local trips to North and South Luangwa and Kasanka and have been reminded just how absolutely magic our doorstep destinations are. Many thanks to Vanessa Buxton for getting us to visit South Luangwa again. The last time we were in Mfuwe was for Norman Carr's memorial in 1997!

Very sadly Lari's jeweller Elliot was found dead outside a bar in Itimpi on the Word cup opening night. We had already closed the workshop due to its attraction to the previous robberies and Julie had very kindly taken on the equipment and given him a job. The centrifugal casting, stone cutting equipment and fabricating jewellery equipment is for sale.

In preparation for our “next life” we found a perfect house on a hill in the bush but only 15 minutes drive from the Lusaka Golf Course. The sale went amicably until the seller owed us money due to the change in exchange rates and the promise of payment proved as leaky as the roof and as dodgy as the wiring! This was the beginning of a trend this year of what Alexander McCall Smith calls “no moral imagination”. We thought we were so lucky when we soon got a tenant working for Madison Life Insurance who wanted to rent the house for 3 years, signed the agreement requiring 2 months notice either way, gave us a list of repairs to be done and then failed to return or to honour the agreement. We had to accept a third of what he owed us otherwise we would “get nothing” or have to donate more money to lawyers. Apparently he got a better job offer with Sanlam Life Assurance in Lagos – no problem with such inconveniences as having to honour agreements there!

The above problems and ongoing problems with Lari's parent's estate are summed up well in a joke Colin Congdon told us over Christmas: “As an engineer was about to be welcomed into the pearly gates the Devil pleaded with God to borrow him for a year to do some maintenance on the boilers and air conditioners in Hell. God agreed but made the Devil promise that the engineer would be returned after a year and they shook on it. After the year went by the engineer wasn't returned so God reminded the devil that they had an agreement. The devil refused to return the engineer and told God to sue him if he wanted. God asked: “Where do you expect me to find a lawyer?”

This year's problems were mostly created by our attempt to plan our new life. We thought management would release us from the day to day demands of Mutinondo. Lari was very enthusiastic about the couple we employed, one a biologist and the other an outdoor activities instructor. Mutinondo seemed to be the perfect place for them. Unfortunately our paradise isn't to everyone's liking and our values clashed considerably. They resigned after 6 weeks. We would still like to employ management or have campsitters for at least for a few months to allow us to get away a bit more. If anyone knows of preferably a Zambian resident who would appreciate the wilderness and conservation aspect of Mutinondo with “good moral imagination” please ask them to contact us.

The huge but natural hole of 2010 was caused by a lion which killed our beautiful big bay gelding Zebadee. He was the only horse which had been trained well enough to believe that lions didn't exist, he didn't shy and was wonderfully placid. It was a stressful time trying to shoot the lion, thank you for your help Charlie Harvey and Mike Fisher. After four nights it wandered off much to everyone's relief. Many thanks to Lucy and Steve Rufus for advising us on how to keep the horses safe from the lion in the future, they are now protected by an armed shepherd when the lion are in the area.

We became resigned to the fact that Cloudy's (our old grey mare) melanoma under her tail had got so bad possibly beginning to restrict manure movement that we realised we would have to soon put her down. Thanks to Janice May's research on cancer and alternative treatments and Dr. Pauline's reminder we now give Cloudy 8 x Phenegan a day and the melanoma has reduced considerably. Apparently Robert Jones spent his life researching and proving this but ended up writing “In the dark shadow of science” in frustration with the medicine industry which refused to recognise his discovery.

In November one of our staff noticed large pot like indentations in the sand down by the bridge. On further investigation it became clear they were caused by an elephant which had also been eating the matete (reeds). From there it moved towards the villages where we are told it met another elephant. Apparently they both made their way safely back towards the valley.

Last night we watched the last sunset of the year, it looked as though it was going to be a wash out but then suddenly burst into the most brilliant crimson cradled by the Ishilankuli hills. The end of a fairly tranquil year and we are really hoping for a VERY, VERY quiet and maybe even boring 2011.

All the very best to you all and may you have the sort of year you wish for too.

Lari and Mike