Mutinondo Newsletter 2013

Posted on Thu March 28, 2013 in Newsletters.

2013 has been the most peaceful and positive year in our 18 years at Mutinondo. In February we replaced our big old adopted ridgeback Max with fluffy prince charming Chuck from LAWS (Lusaka Animal Welfare). Thank you to Alison McKendrick for rescuing the lovely little chap in Makeni. His passport said he was a two and a half year old rotweiler .... actually still quite a puppy, and a rotweiler with very long soft hair, long nose, fluffy ears and tail ???? A great addition.

Like the year, the rainfall was very short totaling 875mm, our average since 1996/7 is 1145.64mm and this year the last significant fall was on 12 March, so they cut off very early. Consequently we had a looooong dry season. The Musamfushi river only just kept flowing, it was down to a trickle by early October. There were still lots of swimming spots though. By the end of the year the river was still not spilling over Coso falls.

Plants have kept Lari out of trouble for most of the year. Paul Smith from RBG Kew/Wakefield visited in March and sorted through some of her dried specimens to be sent to Kew for identification. 804 plant specimens have been donated to RBG Kew over the past 2 years; to date the confirmed plant list of Mutinondo Wilderness Area stands at 558  (within 409 genera and 108 families); an estimated 592 names and samples remain to be either identified or confirmed. A new record for Zambia was collected in a batch of Cyperaceae collected for Jane Browning of Kew: Fuirena obcordata. Our diverse paradise hosts 94 species of orchids and over 100 types of legumes of which only 54 have been determined! Ruth Bone from Kew visited with a CITES certificate to collect orchids to study the evolution of Eulophia spp funded by the Swiss Orchid Foundation. Thank you to everyone for their assistance in the Mutinondo plant project, particularly Kaj Vollessen, Mike Bingham, Paul Smith, Jonathan Timberlake, Iain Derbyshire, Jane Browning, Martin Xanthos, Tom Heller and Ruth Harker. 

Mutinondo has been visited by several entomologists this year: Colin Congdon continues to study the host plants of butterflies, Stephen Downs to study the different flies in the area, a group from the Museum of Natural History in London who are surveying Zambia's moths and dung beetles and Alan Gardener had a brief stop and glance at moths since he was here on other business.

We joined friends in Southern Tanzania in May leaving Mutinondo in the capable hands of our staff. Driving was a very different experience to the train. To avoid Nakonde border (commonly called the worst border in the continent) we went through deserted but very smart (on the Malawian side!) Chitipa border post into Malawi. Had 2 nights on the lake at Karonga before a delayed departure due to Lari's arm dislocating during an early morning yoga session and being further delayed at the border whilst getting ripped off by the helpful insurance man at the Kyela Tanzania post. We got to Mbeya just in time to meet Liz and Dave for our safari and highland holiday in the Ruaha and Mufindi, enjoying some of Mike's old haunts. It was a very short week before dropping Liz and Dave back at the airport, Liz was reunited with her lost luggage the evening before they left. We wandered slowly home via the flower filled Katulo plateau, a few days on a Lake Nyasa beach at magical Matema and back through Malawi via Kyela. This time at Kyela Lari was conned by a friendly money changer, his friends eventually refunded us.

In June a friend, Julian Entjes, offered to look after Mutinondo for a couple of weeks which suddenly enabled us to arrive at Mike's sister's 70th birthday party in the UK unannounced on 19th July. Julian subsequently told us she would be happy to stay longer and we could stay away for 2 months. This turned it into a holiday of a lifetime with friends and family in UK during the most magnificent summer ever. This included LOTSOFGOLF on stunning and special courses including the Belfrey's Derby, Brabazon and PGA courses, Windermere, Siloth on Solway and the Royal Worlington. We adopted Selsey Golf course which was within walking distance from Mike's son and daughter-in-law's home near Chichester. We bought a second hand bike which Lari cycled mostly along the Avon Kennett canal from Henley on Thames to Bristol and down to Exeter catching up with friends along the way. Everything was pretty close to perfect with plenty of time to enjoy getting to know Mike's 22 month grandson and a healthy expanding little group of grand nephews too, no nieces! We got so comfortable we started eyeing real estate, Lari reckoned a garage or boathouse would do. Fortunately the weather changed and we were reminded what life in real England would entail.

Before leaving for the UK we applied to de-register Mutinondo from VAT, because our turnover is below the threshold, which caused a shock when we returned: a statement from ZRA (Zambia Revenue Authority) showing we had hardly paid any VAT since 2005, a debt of a mere K147,000 rebased (equivalent to +-USD30,000!) Lari bet every stitch of clothing on Mr...... in the ZRA Lusaka office that we had paid every ngwee owed. Letters and emails to ZRA were ignored resulting in a trip to Kitwe in November. Of all our quarterly payments and VAT returns made since 2004, 90% of our returns were captured, 20% of our payments were recorded and 50% receipts were issued. Reason given for this appalling lack of record processing being "It's the system" which actually turned out to be several different systems used since VAT was introduced in Zambia: (incl. DEO Data Entry Operation; NCS; Vatlink; TAPS and ITAS) of which none are interlinked or updated from previous systems and we were told that "lightening strikes cause town to town challenges". What a mess and heaven knows what will happen with the new fully electronic system "Tax on Line" just introduced. On 27 December we finally had our de-registration, a huge step forward. It means our lives will be a lot simpler, a lot less accounts work and we expect it to result in savings too.

Another reason to go to Kitwe was to take our hilux for panel beating after one of our general workers with no driving experience had a bash at driving our little Toyota hilux causing K35,500 worth of damage. Ouch!

The upside was that Lari's sister Jan was transferring her horses to their farm in Kitwe offering endless therapeutic horse hugging and riding and the VAT problem was saved by someone who recognised us from when we paid VAT at the Lusaka ZRA office and kindly sent us out for lunch while he captured all our payments from the various systems! A further huge Kitwe achievement was the resuscitation of the "plant laptop" which had crashed the morning we returned from UK. It had just been set up with a programme called Brahms to record the plant data. Cosmic in Lusaka had it for a month and did very little for the K320 they charged, Father Thomas of Mpika RC Diocese got it back to life while Lute from Digital Horizons (0966 190420) at Parklands in Kitwe returned it back to its former self and recovered everything for K150!

The year closes with exciting new beginnings: firstly the birth of Freddie, Mike's second grandson in November; Julian has stayed on to help manage Mutinondo for us; we have signed a letter of commitment with BioCarbon Partners (BCP) for Mutinondo to become part of the REDD+ project; and we have just finished assembling the first 112 out of 150 beehives as an introduction to what sounds like an exciting honey project for the north of Zambia in conjunction with John Enright of Kitwe. A meeting was held with Chief Mpumba and some of his headman just before Christmas to introduce the scheme which was positively received.

Our new government has not made business any easier, the dependence of our overseas visitors on bank transfers and ATMs has caused considerable problems. Foreign visa cards are subject to abuse by machines which record successful transactions without yielding any cash. When questioned, the bank staff blame "the system" (again!) and assure the poor cashless visitor that if they report it to their banks they will be refunded. Not much help when you are in mid Africa in need of cash to pay bills, even worse with a master card which is hardly recognised here. One transfer raised eyebrows this year: a VIP guest brought her sister's friends and family on holiday to Mutinondo. After several false starts of how to pay: "What is the best means of payment? Is there a means of avoiding carrying a huge bundle of cash?"; "Can you provide some additional details so as to enable the transfer of payment? We need a swift code or BACS to make an international transfer"; "It was always going to be an incoming transfer from UK as I am, sorry to say I haven't got much money in Lusaka". It took six months for us to receive the K12,000 owed. Despite detailed instructions from the bank the international transfer never actually made it, they paid locally instead - the excuse being "As stated below, they were not clear to someone not experienced in making international transfers as the first instruction includes two SWIFT codes. This applies as much to the staff in my local high street branch as to myself." - not THE SYSTEM again! John Hay from South Africa also seemed to have had trouble but this time with the exchange rate since he only managed to transfer half what was owed! Please remember to bring Kwacha not dollars or anything else. Otherwise guests have been great in depositing and paying promptly - thank you!

Zambia is becoming more and more difficult to visit and thank you to those who persevere, they assure us that Zambia is worth all the horrendous border hassles, the blatant police fund-raising ambushes, high visa costs, very high cost of living, crumbling roads etc. It is still a very special country with special people all paying a high price for our blase and greedy government. How we wish our government would recognise that there are serious problems handicapping development, investor confidence, conservation and tourism. Sadly our leaders are proving to be a huge disappointment and no improvement on the ousted MMD.

Unfortunately money is god in Zambia's ruling morality from top to bottom. The instigator and very generous provider to a twin schooling program involving Muchelenje School at the end of our drive sums it all up beautifully: "Though instrumental in navigating the petty politics and personalities of earlier committees, it seems Wonder, without the oversight of an outside entity, has turned the project into his own cottage industry based on the golden rule - he who has the gold makes the rules."

Enough of things out of our control and back to the basics at Mutinondo. We would like to clean up our little patch and are very concerned about our overwhelming pits and piles of rubbish, especially tins and plastic bottles. So we have decided to ask all our visitors to respect our beautiful Mutinondo and pack up your non bio degradeables (including disposable nappies) and take them back to town with you. We would really appreciate your consideration, this will go a long way helping us to control Mutinondo's rubbish. Within the lodge we use reusable bottles wherever possible, turn our savannah cider and wine bottles into glasses and drink water from the river, avoiding plastic bottles of water completely. We try to encourage our staff to avoid using things in tins and plastic packaging where possible. Any suggestions and comments on this subject would be very welcome, we have all ignored it for far too long.

Our loyalty to solar power has been challenged this year: an internal part of our Loretz water pump disintegrated, we were told it could not be replaced and we must buy a complete new pump, then 2 control boxes for the same pump had to be replaced - K14,053 later (which included replacing well used deep cycle batteries) and our supplier couldn't be bothered to get off the phone on our last visit.

Bushmail has had some considerable downtime this year. Please note that we have other backup email addresses: [email protected] (which also gave us trouble this year) and  now [email protected]. We also had a time when Airtel was down so we now have an MTN number as well: 0966 198198 (our airtel number is still 0978 198198). Hopefully all angles are now covered.

Animal sightings and poaching have both increased this year. We have seen more warthog than ever before and there have been good sightings of Roan herds but the farms around us have proved to be staging posts for local hunters who are becoming very bold even hunting within sight of the camp at night using torches. Hopefully the capture of someone on boxing day and confiscation of three muzzle loading guns will prove at least a little deterrent.

Thank you once again for your continued interest in and support for Mutinondo. We have enjoyed our freedom to get away more this year including a family Christmas with Lari's sister and family in Kitwe.

Happy happy new year to you all.

Much love

Lari, Mike (and Julian)