Mutinondo Newsletter 2015
Our year at Mutinondo is ending a bit earlier than normal, hence the uncharacteristic early newsletter. 61mm of rain has brought the transformation of a dry and badly burnt bush to beautiful new green growth, an array of flowers popping up all around us, brilliant morning chorus and fledglings hopping all over the place. The magnificent season of new beginnings!
This year was our 20th at Mutinondo Mayense Camp. We first saw the area in October 1994, returned the next year and walked extensively in June and July looking for a suitable site for the lodge and what area we wanted included in our land application. On 21st June when the Mpika District Council gave us permission for two blocks of 5000ha we had the luxury of drawing a line around the area we wanted. On 23rd August 1995 we put our tent up in the woodland below the main camp (west side) and started to build our beloved Mutinondo which filled the next 20 years with sweet and sour experiences. Mutinondo has taught us a lot in that time, from road and lodge construction including puzzling about "hook pylons" and all sorts of funny things we have had dropped on us along the way! After six years of developing we opened in 2001 which was another steep learning curve but, as with the building, we had great staff to work with and thank heavens for our very forgiving and extremely appreciative guests. And now 20 years later the most important thing is that despite several challenges Mutinondo Wilderness Ltd has survived and we are both still happy and healthy. We are privileged to have truly had the time of our lives thanks to Mutinondo and all the people and things which Mutinondo has introduced us to!
The years have certainly become easier (which unfortunately also goes with shorter) as many of our projects such as our 1500 outgrowers, farmers shop, jewellery company, community work, horse riding etc fell off the table for various reasons. In comparison to "those days" this year has been an absolute doddle and here's to another very boring peaceful newsletter!!!
Life was just settling down by late January with the New Zealand holiday mode gradually washing off. Lari hopped off Kite after an early ride just as he went for a fly, bumped her elbow and out popped her arm for the 23rd time. The problem this time it wouldn't go back in (after all the physio to try to keep it in!). Thanks to Dr. Pauline and team (and pethadine) at Chilonga Hopital it got put back. Poor Mike after having a wife hobbling around for half of last year after rupturing her Achilles tendon now had a one armed one! The good thing was it kept Lari office bound for 3 weeks playing with her plants (one handed) in preparation for pending botanist visits.
Mike, Christopher and Humphrey continued running Mutinondo fantastically as was the case last year, leaving lucky Lari to accounts, odd jobs where she can help and....the plants. Kennedy now has his driver's license renewed which adds another driver and reliable person to the Mutinondo A team!
February brought Jo Osborn of Kew RBG and Florence Nyrienda of UNZA to Mutinondo to collect for a couple of weeks. Kai Vollesen and Sally Bidgood, both from Kew and Kenneth Bauters from Gent University visited for the month of April. We are astounded at what magnificent work is being done for Mutinondo plants especially by Jo and Kai, never in our wildest dreams would we ever have expected to have got over 1000 determined species within the Mutinondo Wilderness Area. This started as a ham fisted hobby for us and then thanks to Paul Smith's (ex Kew RGB now at BGCI-Botanical Gardens Conservation International) guidance and endless help from Kew Botanical Gardens (names listed in last 2014 newsletter) and Mike Bingham it has truly flourished with many more species still to be determined (and undoubtedly more species waiting to be collected - Jo, Sally and Kai found at least 3 new species to science during their visits). Even after 20 years Lari is bound to find something she has not seen before whilst out with the dogs.
Talking of which, our little dogs from LAWS have adapted to their not so new bush life a little too well. Roxy the little (17kg) African brown with not a lot of help from the others has killed 4 baboons since April! The first was when Lari was cycling with the 3 dogs when she saw a bundle of fur rolling across Little Chipundu dambo and realised it was a ball of dog and baboon! Despite attempts to separate them the dogs won and the baboon had to be shot. A different ball game all together from the normal dogs barking and baboons barking back safely from the trees. So now Roxy has to be walked on a lead, luckily for the baboons she too will soon be leaving Mutinondo.
In an effort to keep the 2 remaining younger horses safe from the insidious Kleibsiella pneumoniae bacteria which took Lari's mare Ceswa last year Mike drove Spirit and Flame to Lusaka at the end of February.
It was clear that the arm needed sorting because Lari was protecting it to such an extent she was getting drop wing! Dr. Van der Merve who did a great job on her Achilles pointed her in the direction of shoulder fundi Dr. De Beer in Pretoria. After a good month of fossicking with Sally and Kai at Mutinondo she went to see him having already booked an appointment for an op, just which op had yet to be decided. The Later jet procedure was done on the 14th May in the highly professional manner expected of SA medics and SES insurance followed by 5 months rehab with the endless encouragement of equally professional physio Elsabe. The physio was much more specific than that for the Achilles so Lari became a periodic Pretoria resident spending a total of 2 months at a real gem of a guest house called Treetops being extremely well looked after by Jeff the manager and his lovely ladies. On a leafy ridge west of Pretoria within 30mins (safe and view filled) walk to the hospital which had a little friendly shopping center opposite and only another 15 mins walk to the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary, it couldn't have been more perfect.
Possibly a bit too soon after the op we went to Malindi on the 19th. Just lovely to meet on the Rwanda Airways plane from JHB to Kigali via Lusaka where Lari first saw Mike’s golf clubs being loaded and then his bag and then him! A perfect plan to go and lie by the beautiful Malindi sea this time being spoilt by the wonderful Driftwood staff, Liz and David for 2 weeks whilst Mike played golf with Dave. Thanks to Stu Fisher for the advice to sleep sitting up if your shoulder is too painful to sleep lying down - so it was a beach bed by the sea by day and a beach bed in the room at night! Our staff ran Mutinondo without a campsitter, except our retired Diwell came in to help run the office with Humphrey. They did a great job! A HUGE thank you to everyone for all their unbelievable help and kindness which gave Lari her arm back.
A few days before leaving Malindi we heard that Spirit had been found dead in the morning. He had been ridden the morning before and was fine, a post mortem done by a Lusaka vet couldn't find anything, a possible bacteria which caused a heart attack??? The most robust Basuto cross quarter horse, - a big strong healthy beautiful grey boy WITH CHARACTER. The survivors at Mutinondo are Kite, Zambuka and Cloudy, 2 out of 3 are living miracles. Lari has started singing "Its time to say good bye" (Con Te Partiro) in Cloudy's ear, she is nearly 30 with terrible melanoma but wow what a little trooper still determined to keep going. Zambuka looks like a thoroughbred in his prime having been so close to death 18 months ago and Kite's legs are beginning to show the strains of his racing and polo past.
The horses are good reminders of how long we have been here - Zambuka was 4 when we got him, he is now 21! They too must look at us and think - mmm they are getting long in the tooth! As mentioned in previous newsletters and discussed with many of you whilst visiting, we have been concerned about Mutinondo's future. Since 2009 we have not found suitable buyers and have had a few false starts with management. Our staff are very capable at running the day to day business of Mutinondo but it needs more than that. Mutinondo like all small businesses needs to be very carefully managed to ensure close attention to detail, tight discipline and good business common sense to stay in business - especially now.
In August it became a possibility that Inge and Frank from Kasanka could join us. We didn't want to count our chicks too soon until immigration formalities were met. In September Gerard Fagan very kindly camp sat for about a month whilst we went to Turkey for a couple of weeks with Ali, Charlie, Sam and Fred with time in the UK too. We were on an island off Marmaris, Adakoy, which was a really great fun venue for a family holiday.
Whilst there we heard that the change of employer procedure was successful! Inge and Frank have both worked at Kasanka for 7 years, are familiar with a similar operation within the same area (Kasanka is only 200km away). Many of you already know them. Frank is an ecologist and the official bird list keeper for Zambia. Frank and Mike have added 4 new birds to the Mutinondo birdlist this month: Pallid Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Red-capped Lark and Little Swift, bringing the total to 328! As well as the bird watching we are in the midst of handover (and mega clearing) so thought it an appropriate time to send out the good news in an early newsletter! We wish Inge, Frank and little 5 year old Robin all the very best in their new life at Mutinondo. Robin has brought a new dimension to Mutinondo, and to the horses especially Zambuka who has the huge responsibility to teach Robin to ride! It is the beginning of a new era at Mutinondo. We trust that Mutinondo, our guests and staff will be in safe hands with Inge and Frank.
Earlier this year Frank, Inge and Robin visited Mutinondo and Frank found a tadpole with a longer tail than normal - as one would. It is possible that this is a new species to science. We wonder what else is out there for him to discover? - watch this space!
Last year's newsletter ended with: "Here's hoping for good rains, clean, peaceful elections and a more responsible government........."
986mm was not enough rain for the rivers and dambos to recover from 3 dry years. No one in Zambia needs to be reminded of the plight of the low level of rivers and reservoirs resulting in urban power outages of up to 9 hours a day. Elections were not clean and the Government has borrowed and spent so irresponsibly that the Kwacha has shrunk from K6 to a US Dollar this time last year to K14.5 last week. The combination of the price of copper going down, the severely reduced production due to power cuts and the fall in the Kwacha is alarming, the implications are yet to resonate fully. Earlier this year someone interviewed on the BBC used Zambia as his prime example of the African equivalent of Greece!
The school groups didn't come to Zambia with World Challenge this year mostly due to Ebola which doesn't say much for the quality of geography being taught in the UK! Instead we had 3 CAMPTREEs organised by peacecorp volunteers, it was run very close to non-profit but wonderful having children from villages in Muchinga, Central and Luapula Provinces having great fun at Mutinondo. Our pretty average annual turnover this year is worth only 38.6% of its value a year ago. This is just a small reflection of what poor governance can do to an economy. If a business goes bankrupt it is a jailable offence for the directors responsible, if a country's entire economy is crippled no one is held responsible. We have another election next year and heaven help Zambia if we don't get good leadership this time (someone who will appreciate the importance of the statement: "It's the economy stupid!"- Bill Clinton.)
Sadly on Zambia's Independence Day eve our solar waterpump was stolen. Not a good sign of the times.
Another frightening fact highlighted is in the 2016 budget: Environmental Protection is the lowest allocation 0.3% of the entire budget equating to K151.41 million, the second lowest being Recreation, Culture and Religion at 0.5%! Zambia is presently being branded as the fastest deforesting country in the world.
Levison Wood's staggering read "Walking the Nile" highlights the damage civilisations and development has done and is doing to Africa's forests. "Africa has to develop, its people have to be empowered to use their natural resources - but.....to think of the forest that had once been here, vanished forever so that we can get fat and rot our teeth." - Referring to the sugar cane estates north of Jinja Uganda.
A seemingly good development within Chief Mpumba's area is the introduction of about 2000 bee hives from John Enrite. The harvest figures aren't great this year but it is hopefully a small beginning for a sustainable small holder enterprise which in turn should help to protect the woodland. Our harvest this year was badly affected by a bad fire on 28th September which came from the east, a huge thanks to our staff for protecting the lodge. It is the worst fire we have ever had here.
It is a challenging time for everyone in Zambia (except the jet setting politicians and prez!). We have had to revert to putting our prices in dollars based on K6 and then deducting 30% to accommodate the fact that everything within our cost of sales has not suddenly doubled in price. These rates will be valid until 15th January when we will redo the pricelist and offer a 20% discount for the wet season. Your feedback on this would be very helpful and we really hope many of you will be returning to Mutinondo soon.
We launched our updated website and promotion cards earlier this year (see below). These highlight great offers for hiking and cycling including free camping in the bush on longer hikes and bike rides (guided or unguided). Mutinondo is one of the few places where you can still hike in pristine woodland for days without seeing any settlements or people and swim in and drink from the rivers and streams. The roan herd have been seen often in the last few months, the number of reedbuck and warthog continue to increase. It's as magic as ever and we look forward to coming back on holidays and to campsit when Inge and Frank go on leave.
Cathy Sharp and Meg Coates Palgrave will be holding mushroom and tree identification courses in early February next year please tell Inge if you would like more information about this. Likewise please tell us if you wish to be taken off our annual newsletter mailing list.
It's now time for us to say good bye! Please stay in touch and hopefully we will see you around. Lari's email is [email protected], Mike is [email protected] and our cell number is 0979 484820. The Mutinondo email addresses include: [email protected]; [email protected] and [email protected] Keep an eye out for when Inge puts Mutinondo on Facebook!
Wishing you all the very very very very best.
Much love and all the very best wishes from us
Mike and Lari X
AND "Here's hoping for good rains, clean, peaceful elections and a more responsible government"