Mutinondo Newsletter 2011

Posted on Wed December 28, 2011 in Newsletter.

On the 2nd day of the year Moses the groom cycled at great speed into camp. He had encountered a very cheeky lion on the road near Big Kabasano. We drove out to see if it was still there, couldn't see anything other than foot prints. Mike ignoring an earlier request not to get out of the car, walked about 50m looking for other footprints to see where it had gone off the road he returned to say that something brown had rustled in the bush. We drove back to see what the brown thing was and there was the most handsome young lion sitting about 10m into the bush at the foot of an anthill. Every time I wound the window down to take a photo it threatened to charge the car and when we drove off it chased us. Will Mike listen next time???????? Hahaha!! After a few warning shots later on in the evening the lion moved on up the road and hasn’t been seen again.

Very early on the 21st January Humphrey told Lari that Ryan had been run over by a train. She thought, or maybe wanted to hear, that it was actually the lion which had got run over. Tragically, it was Ryan, the talented, wonderful artist who made many of the items sold in the shop. He cut all our glasses out of bottles, made napkins, table mats and cushion covers, altered and mended clothes, made the Christmas decorations and all the jewellery bags and boxes, was so clever and creative and such a pleasure to deal with. He had just had a successful exhibition in Lewis, Delaware, USA organised by Seth Price where his collage art on recycled paper was a hit. He was due to be at Mutinondo the following day to bring out more works of art to send to Seth. We all miss him dearly and are reminded of him at every turn by all the things he has made around us.

In February we had a break through with Lari's seemingly endless family saga. The Zambian Law Association held a hearing and told the estate lawyers to supply accounts. The LAZ panel also encouraged Lari to pursue legal action against the executrix as it was her responsibility to supply the beneficiaries with accounts. (The executrix had refused to supply these for the past 3 years.) The estate lawyers justified their conduct with what they always say – “we are just following the executrix's instructions”. After further pressure from LAZ, eventually in December final payment was eventually offered (on the condition we the beneficiaries signed an indemnity declaring that we would accept it as full and final and not take the estate team to court). Thank you LAZ for bringing an end to this bad and sad story. Something should be learned from this: do not make beneficiaries executors; keep lawyer and accountant involvement to the absolute barest minimum (their charges and performance are absolute opposites). Sadly, I don't know how someone with dementia can be protected from being made to change her/his will – any suggestions are welcome. Mum and Dad should have just done much more “SKI-ING” - Spending the Kids Inheritance. (However, the estate team should represent Zambia in the Winter Olympics!)

Fortunately there is a lot more to life than pros and cons (which of course doesn’t mean professionals and con artists). Fascinating visitors continue to visit Mutinondo, enhancing our lovely wilderness with appreciation and constantly enlightening us. Mutinondo is still amazing us with its beauty, over 100 different orchids have been photographed in the area. Our staff especially Christopher, Diwell, Humphrey and Stan have done their jobs so well that we have so much less to do. Stan studied the Pat Parelli horse training home study course with excellent results on Spirit. Our dogs also made our year so much fun.

March had a huge treat in store for Lari. Sally Greyvenstein advertised that Meg Coates Palgrave (co-author of Trees of Southern Africa) from Harare was doing a tree ID course at their farm in Mkushi. After the course Lari brought Meg back to Mutinondo for a few days for a recce to do a course at Mutinondo later in the year.

The first quarter of the year brought high wage hikes and very few guests, resulting in our first cash flow concerns since starting Mutinondo. We decided to reduce our horse herd. Patrick Phiri took over Poko and Jack who just hadn't fitted in as guest friendly horses. He has done absolute wonders with Poko who is now the “laziest ride in his new riding school” and Jack has found his perfect home with Alex Walsh.

In May Mike continued his work with Chintu Mukulu. Guni and Misael Kokwe kindly offered their expertise and some of their time to access funds to further this community project. Sadly no progress has been possible because the large area of land allocated to Chintu Mukulu by the Chief and District Council was
purposely incorporated into a farm block being demarcated and established by Tazara Corridor. Currently efforts are being made to have this reversed. Meanwhile Chintu Mukulu has no land to base a project on. Sadly it now looks as though a fertilizer scam has emerged within the Chintu Mukulu co-op leaving many of the local farmers and our staff deprived of their valuable shares and fertilizer. Another disappointment is a joint attempt to build a four schoolroom block for Muchelenje School following the collapse of the roof of the existing building in January 2010. As their contribution the parents undertook to make bricks, provide water, bring sand and move the bricks to the site. The Ministry of Education disaster fund provided most of the materials, Seth Price of Muchelenje Development Project paid for the crushed stone and we paid for the transport. Building is being held up because parents refuse to carry bricks 50m without payment.

In June, Angie and Chris' daughter Alison got married in Longsleddale in the Lake District. Angie is Mike's UK sister. This was another great gathering of friends and family from UK, New Zealand and South Africa. It was wonderful to catch up with Chris's side of the family and meet Jim and his lovely friends and family. We had good fun staying with close family in the various beautiful places Angie found for us in this spectacular remote valley. We ignored the weather, hail and all, enjoyed some good walks and even some golf in the wet but very beautiful hills of Cumbria before heading south with Mike's cousin Nigel and Colleen to their bit of paradise in Dorset, meet their alpacas and visit many “memory lanes” around Golden Cap where Mike and Nigel spent a lot of their childhood together. The last part of our month away was spent with Charlie, Ali and Vicky in Horsham. A few days of sunshine allowed Lari to borrow Charlie's bike and nip off along the South Downs Way to Eastbourne. Yet another magic part of the UK. While we were away Lari's sister Jan and Quentin campsat for us. A very big thank you Jan and Quentin.

Jack, our lovely Rotweiller-cross, was bitten by a snake while we were in the UK. He had a habit of shaking snakes which sadly was a one way ticket to a Darwin award. He had even dug this one up! He was a beautiful dog inside and out, we and Karla his sister miss him terribly. Subsequently some neighbours of our Lusaka house were threatening to poison one of our dogs in Lusaka so we brought him to Mutinondo to replace Jack. Max is a huge old Ridgeback cross, also a very lovable and special pound-hound who we adopted with all the geese, cats, staff etc when we bought the house and cottage.

While we were away Minstrel developed very high temperatures. He was treated for tick fever, recovered and then went down again several days later. Jan and Stan did wonders to keep him alive. They called a vet out who unfortunately didn't do any investigations to find out what the problem was. When we got home he was still going through fever spells. Blood samples we sent to Onderstepoort returned with the diagnosis of Tryps +4. Very grateful thanks to the following people who generously shared their knowledge and advice, tested and monitored Minstrels progress during the long and tough following months: Drs. Amy Cantley, Neil and Louise Anderson, Lisa Oparaocha, Pauline Borsboom, Boniface Namangala (of UNZA who is studying Tryps and kindly continued to test blood samples after Minstrel had been diognosed); Alison Mundy with her incredible hands-on experience of dealing with horses with Tryps in Tanzania; Vanessa Buxton and her Mum's network of UK vets; Abdi from Medina Chemicals in Nairobi, Dave, Liz and Mark Hopkins and DHL who managed to get the drugs to us and Amelia Kinkade and Jeff who tried to help Minstrel through herbs and alternative methods. We were warned that once Tryps gets into the central nervous system horses don't survive but we wanted to try everything just in case. We were thrilled in September when Boniface reported that the latest samples proved negative. Minstrel started to put on weight but his tail and hind legs were still semi paralysed. We hoped for the best.

The Mutinondo tree course was held very successfully soon after we got back in June. Lari then drove to N.W. Province with Meg for a couple of weeks to find trees neither of them had seen before. Fortunately we were introduced to Edson Katota from Chief Nagwesa's area near Ikilenge who was an absolute wealth of knowledge. There is a drastic shortage of accommodation north of Mwinilunga and a big thank you to Charles Rae for all his help including letting us stay in his house. Going through Solwezi was interesting having not been there since 2000. It is extraordinary how it has morphed into a sprawling mining town, salted with pampered expats, a bizarre reflection of Copperbelt towns 50 year ago.

Another great treat and assistance towards our attempts to record the plants of Mutinondo was the arrival of Paul Smith and family in July. Wonderful assistance followed from Paul's colleagues at Kew's Royal Botanical Gardens (Iain Darbyshire, David Goyder and Kai Vollesen).

Work started on our Lusaka property in June. We contracted Daniel Chilekwa and his team from Mpika, also using his buyer from Mpika, and started building two staff houses and a studio and art gallery for Quentin. Quentin spent the whole of 2011 exploring for as many new waterfalls as he possibly could. His trips are recorded in the Lusaka Lowdown which are worth reading. He has had an incredible year doing a magnificent task of charting waterfalls most at least 2 days (sometimes 5) hike away from the closest access road. On several occasions he hopped or stumbled into Mutinondo for a number of days of R&R, a good feed and scrub up between trips. At the beginning of the year he moved all his things into the cottage on our Lusaka property to save paying rent in his Makeni house for the year and, now that his “waterfall year” is over will live there.

Phil Turner has had his crew fixing up our Lusaka house since July. By the end of November it was looking much better. Thank you Phil for doing our lovely house justice, it helped so much to have someone who was creative, practical and very optimistic. Hopefully it will soon be finished..... We have also sorted out the outstanding business with the previous owner. (It's a wonderful peaceful place if anyone knows of someone who would like to rent a house in the bush only 15 minutes drive from Lusaka Golf Club.)

August was a very special month, continuing with the building theme, but this time in Mutinondo. The bathroom extension to the ex jewellery workshop and shop was completed. It is great to have our own bathroom at last as well as the most lovely little home to unpack some of our belongings and a place we can call our own.

On 2nd Aug Mike, Quentin and Michael Colbert drove to the escarpment. 3Km from camp they came across pile after pile of elephant dung. A herd of about 5 elies had wandered along the road. Very exciting that they have now visited Mutinondo area 2 years in a row without being hunted.

Also in August, we stayed with Gus, Rod and family for another magic stay at Kutandala....possibly for the last time due to ZAWA's difficult attitude towards operators (– another institution our new government needs to sort out!). The loss of Kutandala to Zambia's tourism is tragic, they run such a fantastic camp with the perfect site, Rod's phenomenal guiding skills and Gus's amazing meals!

The month ended with a very welcome and interesting visit from Peter Ashton, an expert in African epiphytic orchids, who kindly went through the Mutinondo orchid photos solving many of the long-term “unknowns”.

Mutinondo has attracted several potential buyers who loved it. Very interesting people and encouraging to know that there are such suitable people for Mutinondo on the market. Unfortunately the Ministry of Lands is either being very inefficient, corrupt or there is something more sinister happening (or maybe all three). Chintu Mukulu the community project land to the east of us is facing similar obstacles at the Ministry of Lands. After our previous bad experiences with Tazara Corridor we suspect that we will soon have to resort to some exposure of this concerning situation. Everything will hopefully get sorted out eventually, in the meantime we continue to love life at Mutinondo. The longer we stay here the better the plant collection will be – but unfortunately not good for the golf – unless we put a few holes on the airstrip!!! (well actually Lari meant along the side of the airstrip.)

Zambia did itself proud with the September elections, a huge congratulation and relief that all went well. Our new Government has so many rotten institutions to sort out, we wish them all the very best for fulfilling their good intentions and promises. Its' not going to be easy and nothing but a change only for the good of Zambia and Zambians should be accepted. Greed, contempt and corruption has been tolerated for far too long. It is disgusting what people have been allowed to get away with, starting with Chiluba and all his henchmen. NAPSA is immoral the way it has abused Zambia's pension fund. David Chomba (our wonderful member of staff who died in 2009)'s wife, Dorothy, has spent K400,000 visiting the Mpika Napsa office 10 times to collect the money owed to her only to be told “come back next month”. It is all so unfair.

We salute our democracy as well as those very brave people in the Middle East who managed to change their unacceptable governments through peaceful protest. Here’s to change and please don’t let it get hijacked by power and greed.

Our beautiful old grey gelding, Bushy, tragically died of a twisted gut on 9th October. A young boy, William, rode him in the morning and he died in the early hours the following morning. He was such a special horse, he’d hardly done anything wrong since we bought him from Lorraine Chalcroft in 1996, an absolute gentleman, he was about 24 and couldn’t have given us more than he did. Heaven knows how many children had lovely safe rides on him over the years.

Much of the remainder of the year was blissful. Mike became a grandfather to Sam Michael Merrett born by caesarian at 21:40 on 13 November, 8lbs 8oz. We went over to the UK to welcome him. Another lovely family gathering and wonderful to see more of Ali's family and thank you so much for our special time with you all. We continued on to Kenya to meet friends and family at Mathaiga Club, a soggy round of golf between plenty of rain, great food, wine and company before all flying to Samburu on safari supremo, followed by a few days of being utterly spoiled in Mukima House at the foot of Mount Kenya, playing some croquet and golf, again between rain, great company, food, and wine. 5 days in Malindi with Liz and Dave Hopkins was just a splendid end to a perfect holiday. Another big thank you to our staff and Quentin for making it possible for us to get away again.

Our homecoming on 8th December was the biggest and sorest thump imaginable. Stella, our absolutely magic little dog and companion, had died of a presumed snake bite two days before on the 6th. Diwell described her beautifully to Jan as “a darling in every sphere”. Minstrel deteriorated and needed to be put down after we returned to Mutinondo on 16th. They must have both been so unlucky, Stella was clever with snakes, always watching them from a safe distance. She had no wound but hemorrhaged after her death. For an infected tsetse fly to have bitten Minstrel it must have traveled in by car or plane. We moved into the festive season with very very heavy hearts. All we really wanted for Christmas was our dog back. The most amazing group of Christmas guests could not have been better company for our very sad souls. Thank you the Green, Van der Nest and Bate families, you have no idea how good you were for us (not to mention all that delicious cream Frank!).

May everyone’s year be filled with good people, loads of love, laughter, peace, health and happiness.

Much love and very best wishes to you all.

Lari, Mike and everyone at Mutinondo