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So much has happened since I last wrote, and I just don’t think I will be able to recount all that has happened since then, its been almost a month I think. Not in very much detail anyway. So nyanga was where I left off. And the lions, oh yes. I found out last night that there were lions in the past in this area before people settled there…so it can’t have been an environment too non-conducive to lions after all.

Anyhow. Back to now. We have been in Harare for the last month or so. Its been very interesting seeing the city now. When I lived here before, I was staying pretty close to the centre. This time we have been in the suburbs, and the overwhelming feeling is that there are so many trees. Its lovely, a very green city. Not a huge amount of time has been spent in the city itself however. The day after we arrived we were back on the road, north towards the Zambian border and the beautiful Zambezi river. We had been invited to join a few people who were taking a trip up to a national park called mana pools – which incidentally is one of my favourite places in the world. It is truly stunning. Its also the only park in Africa where you can walk without a guide in the bush, so is definitely a more raw experience than a lot of national parks. Mana pools is basically on an old flood plain of the Zambezi which would flood every 20 or so years before lake Kariba was built upstream and regulated the flow of the river. In the dry season (we went at the end of the dry season here) the vegetation is very sparse, very little grass (apart from clumps of what is called ‘adrenalin grass’ – thick patches of hip high grass from which can emerge any kind of creature – leopard, lion, and most risky – buffalo). And the plains are dotted with the most gorgeous acacia trees (I forget the latin name)– with their pale trunks, umbrella canopies and pink, purple and orange curly seed pods. You can see for hundreds of metres beneath the canopy, across the plains, clusters of antelope, elephant, etc etc and it is truly magical. I will try and put some photos up, though I am not sure these will do them justice. We were there for 4 days, and it was Hot. 49.9 degrees C (it went up to 53 the week after we left – October is known as the suicide month here, though it only gets that hot in the very low places), the lowest temperature was 26 degrees, at 4am. Pretty warm. We spent the days game driving (early mornings) then sloped around in the shade and cold showers until 3ish where we would go out again.

We did quite a bit of walking (never too far from the vehicles!) as we had with us a guy who is learning guiding and has a lot of experience in the bush. On one occasion we decided to walk up on a lioness and her (toddler) cubs. We shuffled to about 30 metres away, quite close enough for me. As we retreated (they were pretty calm) we walked down towards the river (the lion were up on a bit of a bank). After a while there was a bit of noise and we saw a little way from us a young bull elephant coming out of the trees towards the river. On an island in the river itself were 5 eles, some female, a few little ones, and a very frisky bull trying hard to get friendly with one of the females, who didn’t seem interested. The young bull was walking towards us, and getting fidgety. The frisky bull started coming towards the other bull through the water. And the lions were still there. So we were a bit surrounded. Contrary to instinctive assumptions, in a confrontational situation elephants are probably more dangerous than lion (as long as you don’t run from a lion). As the eles got closer we managed to get back through to the vehicles, only to discover (as dusk was falling quite quickly) that car keys were missing from the pocket of one of the drivers. They had dropped out in the lion shuffle in the kind of area where the frisky bull was now throwing his head around. Going on foot would have been pretty dangerous, especially as the light was falling very quickly. So a car was driven up to the shuffle place and amazingly the keys were found very quickly – an ele can even do damage to a car. As we all drove off it was beautiful to see the four cats limbering across the road in front of us, off to hunt perhaps and we made our way back to camp. The camp site at mana is right on the edge of the Zambezi, with the hills on the Zambian side a stunning backdrop to the river. It changes constantly depending on the time of day, and the sounds of hippos and birds are always there. As it is not fenced, there are always inhabitants of the park walking through. Which means one has to be a little careful when walking to the loos, or around the campsite. You never know what you might bump into. But it is glorious there. Such a treat.

After mana we decided to do a permaculture design course. There was one running just outside town and it was focusing on Africa as a place to design sites for. Permaculture is a way of living and designing your surroundings (house/land/garden) so that you can be as self sustainable as possible, with as little energy input and as much productivity as possible, letting nature do the work for you and learning from principles that can be observed in nature and tweaked and applied to your particular site. It can enable communities to be self sufficient, have food security, generate income and maximize the fruitfulness of their resources. It was a fantastic course. We were glued for two weeks and sucked up the information like sponges. By the end I just wanted to go and start planting. There was so much of it that could be applied metaphorically too, not just to land but to life and people. I love that. For example, if an area is barren, the first plants to start growing are what are called pioneer plants (or often weeds). They are usually nitrogen fixers, so good for the soil for increasing fertility, and often thorny or prickly (eg acacia trees). We also call them weeds. As they grow, they provide soil fertility, wind break, shade, stability for the secondary trees to grow, like fruit trees, or other smaller shrubs. These in turn can provide shade, and more soil fertility for smaller plants (like vegetables) which are more regularly fruitful. After a while the pioneers can be cut down and used for firewood. Which is in some ways like an organization or business. The prickly, often hard to deal with entrepreneaur comes into a place few people are, establishes something and begins to grow it, providing necessary resources. Then come the secondary people who are easier to deal with, and give more structure and productivity. Then come the people who are highly productive, and at a certain point the pioneer is no longer necessary as the eco system can support itself. The pioneer goes off and provides energy for something else.

So we met some brilliant people, (from 15 different countries) and we came away inspired. It made me want to go and live with people who are saturated in this kind of knowledge and with the depth of experience the teachers had, to learn as much as possible. And to go and do it myself.

Since then we have been doing bits and bobs in Harare, working out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Or something like that. There really is so much opportunity here, if one is prepared to take a risk (Zimbabwe is still far from being politically stable and run under rule of law, even though every day life seems very peaceful and friendly), be patient (with the potentially maddening petty officialdom – for example if one wanted to open a company, shop etc) and look at the long term rather than the short term. There is also a huge amount of desire here for people to work – there is something like 90% unemployment – and need to provide employment or at least a way of people being able to start generating income – as so much of the population is still extrememly poor. Its easy to look at the fully stocked supermarkets and the well dressed people of Harare and the extremely swanky cars (I mean, honestly!) and think that this is a relatively prosperous country. Looks can be deceiving.

Take Martin for example, a chap Jonny met the other day. He is 70 and lives with his wife (who is 60 but invalided from a bus accident) and 8 grandchildren. His son died and his daughter is in South Africa, and has been for a year, getting medical treatment for a condition she has. They have about 20 acres of land 30 miles outside Harare. He has to come in to try to find work, to support the family. This involves a nine mile walk (he is 70, I reiterate) to the main road and a bis the rest of the way, with no guarrentee of work in any case. They have enough maize from last year’s crop to last the ten of them until march. If he is going to plant maize (to provide food for them until the next rainy season) he needs to do it in the next few weeks before the rains come. One hectare will cost around $250 to plough and plant and fertilize (if doing it in the way he normally does it). Where does a peasant farmer with no extended family support get this kind of money? And martin is probably one of thousands if not millions who are unable to resource their planting. We went out to visit him and the family, it was pretty stark the situation they are in. The children, however, were some of the most contented I’ve ever seen. They were all under the age of about 10, and yet all (except the youngest who was barely walking) helped with the firewood, collecting water, looking after the younger ones, cooking the pea nuts. Very peaceful children.

This is where permaculture is a fantastic model – the aim is to get to a stage where your inputs cost nothing ie no ploughing (minimum tillage methods of land management/planting), no fertilizer (the ground is looked after well enough not to need it, and manure/compost comes from waste products of a household and the plants themselves) seeds can be used from the previous years crop (not possible in many conventional ways of farming as the seed from the crops grown by seeds supplied by companies often cannot be used the next year) and clever planning and land use can mean that food production can be varied, staggered and intense (eg using one piece of land to plant wheat, beans, maize, root vegetables, fruit trees, climbers etc interplanted with each other). Each plant selected can have a beneficial effect on the rest (eg a natural pesticide/shade/nitrogen fixing/natural mulch). And that’s only a very small aspect of permaculture. The thing is that the best way, I think, to pass on the knowledge of this alternative way of food production, is by demonstration. Without this, you can talk and gesticulate and tell stories, but I would imagine for a lot of people who have been doing something in a certain way for many years, what is needed is a visible parable of the alternative. So….who knows what will happen. I would love to grow and show. Kind of like show and tell.

sorry not to put photos up, its hard with the slow internet. but there are some on the facebook page for those who are interested…

Nyanga is one of my favourite places in the world. At an altitude of over 2000 m it’s the highest area in zim and one of the most spectacular. There are several high peaks in the national park which have the most breathtaking views for miles and miles and miles. I spent many happy holidays with my family on the slopes of a one of them playing in freezing streams (despite the burning sun), warm scented pine forests and around log fires in the evenings when the mists descended. There are pine forests as far as the eye can see and wonderful quietness. The highest falls in Zimbabwe and I think possibly in the whole of Africa are there, dropping over 800m over a sheer cliff face into a luxuriant forest below. Anyhow…Jonny and I went for a visit there yesterday so I could show him my old favourite places. I always remembered Nyanga as being quiet but it really is extremely quiet now. It sounds as though, from talking to locals there, very few people come and visit now. Clearly tourism generally in zim is pretty non existant (people have been excited to hear we have come to see the country as so few do) but even here, a popular destination for Zimbabweans seems to have been quite severely hit too by the recent problems. Having said this, before climbing the (terrible) road up to the cottage we used to stay at and World’s View, a stunning view point, we popped into a hotel at the foot of the mountain where we sometimes would go for tea or golf. It was spotless, the gardens meticulously tended, a sizable number of staff and (hysterical) guards at the entrance who did a little saluting dance as you approached and drove away, stomping their feet and whipping their hands up to their forehead with stiff straight backs. Yet, at this carefully maintained hotel there were very few visitors. The only people aside from staff we saw were four children coming back from a horse ride.

Right, I must interject here and say that its been over two weeks since I was able to spend time writing and such a lot has happened since then. So I will try and take myself back to nyanga which seems a long time ago – and remember what happened after the hotel. OK…Seeing Michael, the caretaker of the cottages, after 10 or 11 years was lovely. He is a very gentle man, and hadn’t changed at all. The cottages hadn’t really either, but their surroundings had immesurabley: very extensive deforestation and bush fires, evidently activities of war vets and troublemakers during the political upheaval here, had demolished the beautiful pine forests that in my memory characterized this part of Zimbabwe I love so much. So instead of being nestled protectively amongst huge solemn evergreens in a little hollow these two old cottages, full of character (and very dated) are exposed in a charred landscape is punctuated with burnt tree stumps, seem very small and vulnerable. Michael was telling us that when ‘war vets’ (many of them too young to have been alive during the liberation war) came and threatened to take the properties (which belong to the school we were at) he had to pretend that he was a war vet who was already squatting there, and after a while they let it go. Many many people have left the area due to violence over the last few years and many houses stand empty now.

Another interesting thing Michael told us about was a small pride of lions which arrived in the area at the beginning of the year and began to kill horses and cows. Nyanga has an altitude of around 2000 metres I think which is not only very high but also can get pretty cold. Its unusual to have lions anywhere near human populations now – you only ever hear of them in national parks, reserves, and sometimes ranches. Almost always they …..TBC…..

Jonny has from time to time in the last few weeks introduced himself thus to people:

“Hi, I’m Jonathan”.

“Hi Jonathan, pleased to meet you. I’m William. So…what has brought you to this part of the world?”

“I’m actually on the run. Had to get away before the chase got too heated and didn’t think anyone would bother to come looking for me in Zimbabwe”

Dead pan face. And this to people who have trusted us and invited us into their home.

Nervous laughter. And a diplomatic explanation from me.

There are very loud crickets and birds all around me. I am watching some rather large ants devour a piece of my toast which fell on the floor – they are truly swarming all over it. Every now and then it moves off the ground as if its struggling underneath them…I wonder if they will carry it away or just reduce it to nothing where it is and carry the crumbs back to the queen. I am writing this at the house of friends who have gone to Harare for a week or so. They live in an old house which is on about a hundred and fifty acres of which about 30 is arable. We were here for the weekend with them and then they went to town and have left us to use this as a base whilst exploring the eastern highlands, one of my favourite areas in Zimbabwe. The landscape here is really extraordinary. Sheer granite domes rise out of the land, impossibly growing trees here and there (heaven knows where they put their roots) and scrubby grass. The area is not very heavily populated and peasant farmers seem to eke a barely survivable living from the land on small plots. There are no large shops of any kind of service for miles. The electricity is outrageously unreliable, we have been here 4 days and it only came on last night (I am not sure how long it will last so making the most of this power to the laptop!). At this house, as it had not been lived in for 7 years (after the grandparents of our friends were beaten and forced to move out) there is no running water and most appliances are run by gas.

I have to say that although I can imagine the lack of reliability in electricity and water here could be quite frustrating if one lived here all the time, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few days where we really have had to be much more at one with the rhythm of the earth and really quite adaptable to circumstances. We have generally been awake by half past five and up to start the day soon after the sun rises. Being conservative with the water (which has to be collected from a neighbour’s well) has been challenging though good for remembering how many people in the world do not take water for granted but have to walk long distances to collect it and carry it home on their heads with exceptional grace and poise. Only flushing the loo here when absolutely necessary and washing up once a day is definitely a change from normal. Its really good for me. The house here looks out over a valley to a granite dome and more pointy, volcanic-plug like ones beyond. I took a lot of photos which show some of the landscape as seen late afternoon from the top of one of the big rocks, we climbed on Saturday. We are surrounded by pine, wattle and gum trees which in the early morning give the most wonderful warm smell as the sun begins to heat them. From the top of the ridge behind the house one can see across to Inyangani, the highest peak in Zimbabwe, a beautiful mountain with a ridged plateau at the top, and relatively easy to climb. It is really beautiful here – but also quite remote.

On the arable land here the plan is to use a minimum tillage method of planting and harvesting crops that will be used for seed. (ie no ploughing, and also using homemade compost rather than bought fertiliser). There is a company in zim which provides the initial seed for planting and then guarantees to buy back the resulting harvest at a particular price, minus the cost of the input. This is then sold on as seed to other farmers. This is good as it means there is a guaranteed buyer – which can be a tricky aspect of small scale farming. Matt and Lauren whc live here and are embarking on this are also using it as a way to work with other farmers in the area – illustrating that people don’t have to be dependent on big commercial fertilizer suppliers to get a good crop and can be self sustaining on small plots. It seems like a very healthy approach especially for those peasant farmers who cannot afford big payouts for initial seed and fertilizer. We gave a hand turning the compost a few days ago. A 2 metre cubed stack of wattle branches and grasses/dried bark is left to decompose and gets turned every week and watered all the way though, which speeds up the decomposing process. This then provides enough (I think its called) mulch for about half an acre and keeps ground cover over the growing crops and feeds all the micro-organisms that are essential to the process.

But its been brilliant staying here and hearing a little of where they are going with plans, which also involve an orphanage on the farm and beading and crochet work with local ladies. We’re definitely still at the stage of hearing about what people think of the current situation here, how they have got to where they are, where they see things going, and wondering about the possibilities of being based somewhere in this part of the world. Still very open and unsure. Enjoying the adventure. (and the toast has moved.)

Continuing north after leaving vilanculos we drove for about 6 hours to Gorongosa, a national reserve which is undergoing a huge restoration and conservation effort under the philanthropy of the person who invented voicemail. I think. I wrote briefly about that when we were there but it really is an astonishing place; we saw a reasonable amount of game and birds (though the populations are only gradually recovering from their decimation), and the different types of vegetation in such a small area are lovely. And the project where we stayed is so inspirational. http://www.envirotrade.co.uk, if you ever want to off set your carbon emissions they do a fantastic job.

Gorongosa was Hot. Extremely hot and dry: its quite low lying, which drives the temperature up. So leaving there for the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe was quite a change. We climbed up and up and up, went through chimoio, past chicamba, and up towards the blue hills. This was quite a significant day for me as it was the first time I had been back to Zimbabwe in ten years, and what a lot has happened since then. I was actually quite nervous going through the border post but remarkably we were through without hassle (just slowly) and climbed back into the car to drive towards the Vumba, a mountainous area just south of Mutare, which I have always loved. I remember it being so mystical, full of amazing views and almost tropical vegetation – dripping creepers, huge leaves, the soft patter of mist on the forest canopies. As we started to climb the hills, the wind suddenly changed and began to whip around the car, dead leaves flying everywhere and flurries of dust and twigs. Further up we reached the beginning of the mist and it started to rain, and, dressed as we were in very thin clothes, began to get rather chilly. Winding higher and higher we came around a bend – not fast – but the camber was pretty steep, the road slippery and we just slid (in a landrover can you believe!) pretty fast off the road and into a water channel up against the side of a ridge. The landy was at quite an impressive angle, but I think looking back its probably quite fortunate that the ditch was there to break the skid, otherwise we would have been into a tree. I wont tell you what Jonny had said literally seconds before it happened but it was enough to suggest that even the air has ears when it comes to politics in this country, just as in narnia the trees had ears and betrayed people to the white witch. Anyhow…there we were, freezing in pretty heavy rain, half into a ditch just off a blind bend, no phone reception and light fading fast. In that sort of situation where one doesn’t know where the nearest house is (its very sparsely populated) its probably best just to wait for someone to stop. So in my little skirt I collared the first vehicle that rounded the bend, after about 15 minutes, a Very Smart Landcruiser with a Very Smart Chap with a Very Smart Tow-rope (well actually it was an immaculate rubber coated towing wire thingy). He kindly offered to try and pull us out but I was rather hesitant that he would damage himself or his car or something in the process. Try he did and the immaculate tow rope broke and after giving us the name of a company we could try off he smoothed for his supper. Whilst he was there several others had stopped – a bearded guy in a campervan, a lady with a truck who was rushing somewhere (but advised us not to get involved with the campervan man) several other non 4x4s who all stopped to see if we were ok – in fact almost every vehicle who passed us stopped – and then the most wonderful guy pulled over, jumped out, and said – how can I help, what can I do for you guys, please let me help however I can. Lourens is South African, and such an amazing example of humanity at its best. He was driving a little bakkie with various tools in the back and turned out to be the project manager for the installation of econet towers (what will be the biggest mobile phone and wireless network in zim). He was so fantastically helpful and packed us into the cab of the car (jonny and I squashed on top of each other) to drive us to where someone had suggested there was a guy with a big landcruiser who might be able to pull us out. We drove for about 15 minutes, got lost a few times, and then when we arrived the guy wasn’t there. So plan B was to go to where Lourens knew there was a chap with a tractor who might be able to help. No-one there either. By this time it was pretty dark with driving rain and so, he said, you’re coming back to stay with me where I’m staying, they owe me a night which you can use, and we’ll sort the car out in the morning. We had also just found out that the place we were due to be staying that night had burnt down a while ago (and I hadn’t realised this) – so to be able to just slide into a clean room and be fed by a lovely chef called Laurence (too) was Amazing. Yet again.

And the entire conversation we’d had with the other Lourens whilst we were searching out rescuers had been so interesting – he absolutely loves Africa, loves the bush, loves the challenges and that not everything is straightforward, and has traveled very extensively on the continent setting up the means for people to communicate with each other reliably and inexpensively. He was saying that invariably the reports are that when the mobile communications are set up there is a definite increase in business influx into countries as people are more happy to invest where there is established communication technology. He said of course! Come to Africa! Come and stay here! It’s a wonderful beautiful continent.

I have forgotten to write about another very engaging and fascinating man we met in Gorongosa. Whilst in the park office I had been reading a bit of the blurb about the history of the park and the different projects which were being done around the area and noticed there was a fruit-drying plant which had been set up to provide income for peasant farmers (buying their fruit) in the area so that they would not be using the trees to get an income by producing charcoal and thus decreasing the forests and contributing to almost irreversible damage of beautiful years-old hardwood forests. We were keen to go and look at this so Sakkie our host arranged for us to meet Alex, the manager, the next day. I bring this up now as I want to illustrate the tremendous differences of opinions that people have about this complicated continent. Alex was a wonderfully present articulate man from portugese stock (in fact his family had been one of the most wealthy and influential in the days of the colony) who had seen his family lose everything as a young man, had to work very hard to create a livelihood for himself afterwards in various industries, mainly agricultural, and after being ripped off latterly by a dodgy business partner had decided to take up this job of working with the local community in gorongosa to create a viable business that served and supported peasant farmers, their families, and the environment. We had a very interesting tour of the plant, machinery, tasted the dried fruit (very delicious) and then talked about life, politics, religion, music, communism etc…Without knowing that we were looking for a possible base somewhere in southern Africa he said ‘Just don’t, whatever you do, come to Africa.’ – his reasons were quite long and well thought out and clearly influenced by his past and experiences, and very emphatic. Having said that I don’t know if he would ever leave, but he certainly advised us against trying to settle here unless we were absolutely prepared and certain it was the thing to do..

And the next day we meet Lourens, after the road incident, who was of a totally different opinion. Overflowing with positivity (without naiivity) about the opportunities, beauty and hope on this continent. I’m realising more and more the diversity of approach and perspective that so many people can share on the same subject and all so dependent on their lives, character, experience and values.

The other amazing thing is that Lourens is very great friends with Sakkie’s parents and the family (the hosts of the camp at gorongosa), and had wanted to visit them the weekend we had been there, just gone. He hadn’t in the end but what a funny co-incidence and string of connections.

The morning after was very wet and chilly. We were up early to have breakfast and then go on to find a tractor. Leopard Rock (a rather famous and very beautiful hotel which is now very quiet) seemed the most promising and so there we drove, to meet Beefie, a warm and larger than life character who looks after things there. Beefie immediately said that it was perfect we were there, of course we would be able to make a plan use his landy to pull ours out and that in fact he and a friend had been driving around last night to try and find us to see if we were ok, they had been worried about us wandering around in the dark! So kind. Anyway, in between talk of politics and opportunity, the current Zimbabwe situation and various other things we managed to eventually get the landy out – with the help of this other friend, and all was well. Lourens had scooted off to work and we trundled down the mountain to a mechanic they had recommended in Mutare. There was something wrong with the steering wheel and ignition block which may or may not have contributed to the skid but needed to be looked at definitely.

The next few days in Mutare were spent relatively quietly with a super couple we met in vilanculos, Jane and Bill, who have lived in Mutare for the last 12 or 13 years from where they conduct their business in Mozambique. We had a great few days (its always so nice exploring a town with someone who knows it well) and we were introduced to some great people. There was an art exhibition opening at the National Gallery’s Mutare branch and we got to meet the artists. There was some very disturbing work of the impact of the last few years’ political and economic turmoil on the people of this country, and beautiful Henry Moore-esque stone sculptures which I could not resist. Going around the main street in Mutare was honestly like stepping back about fifty years in England. The store shelves, now much fuller in supermarkets, seem very old fashioned with handwritten labels, piles of unwrapped soap, and smells which reminded me so much of my childhood. Not many brands of each product which keeps it simple. In the newsagents (and other specialized shops, pharmacies etc) there was much less stock… a pile of a few rough exercise books with yellow-brown pages took me right back to school, little pots of biros and a packet or two of notecards. Very surreal.

Mutare is a city (though more like a town, possibly the 3rd largest in zim) which last year received an absolute boom of business as a result of an alluvial diamond field discovered after an earthquake (or tremor) last year, about 65 miles away. Thousands of people flocked to the free-for-all bling extravaganza and many became very rich overnight. I don’t know a huge amount about it (though have asked lots of people) – who owned the land, who bought the diamonds, where they have ended up, but I do know that once the government got wind of what was happening there was a brutal crackdown by police and the army who secured the site using extreme violence and evicted all the people who were there. In a very short space of time, it seems, life in the region for many people became quite affluent. And then with the same speed with which it had boomed it collapsed and people were left with half built houses, and very big cars but no future security. I am not sure how many people died in the violence. Another government coverup. Apparently traveling along the road south of Mutare towards where the diamond field was young guys will jump up at the side of the road and make a diamond sign with their hands if they have one for sale. We’ve not been down there yet but I’ll look out for it when we are.

Bill and Jane left the same morning we did with a handful of friends for an absolutely incredible sounding sailing trip in little traveled waters off the northern mozambiquan coast. They very kindly invited us (I love the attitude of people here where people are often welcome to join in the plans of others at very short notice) but we had to decline as we had other plans for the next few weeks…but who knows – if this trip goes well they are thinking of Madagascar next year, so perhaps we could join that one. So after a lovely time in sleepy Mutare we headed north towards Nyanga, the eastern highlands of the country.

we are in the gorgeous eastern highlands of zimbabwe, one of my favourite places to be, unending views of the morst extraordinatry hilly granite volcanic landscape. have such short time on the internet here, so sorry for the tiny post, but have lots to write about the last week or so, will try and put up in the next few days. what am i learning at the moment? not to take for granted running water, constant electricity, phone lines. loving the rhythm of the earth.

Backwards to our first days in Mozambique. Crossing the border felt like a definite change. Acres upon acres upon acres of gorgeously fragrant orange groves and hilly countryside had flattened out into scrub but passing through the gates into Mozambique the surroundings suddenly were very flat and very dry. It is the end of the dry winter here, the rains are yet to arrive, so the land is looking extremely thirsty. The mozambiquan customs officials seemed much more friendly than the ones on the SA side, and we were given our visa by a toothless wrinkly old man called Augustine. The paperwork for the car was very straightforward and we were off. Roads that we have traveled on thus far in Mozambique have been mostly very good, few potholes and only a couple of stretches of about 70 miles or so which were very bad. These are being ‘rehabilitated’ by the Chinese currently.

It seems that the Chinese government are very keen to build infrastructure in some African countries (we have only seen it so far in moz but it is evidently more widespread), and they then use this investment as leverage to extract residence permits for Chinese, whom presumably they hope to rehabilitate in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia etc. In return for building a soccer stadium in Maputo, capital of moz, they (apparently) require one million residency permits for their own people. Quite strategic given that the pressure on the land and resources in china must be getting heavier and heavier as the population and economy booms. When they offered to build a bridge linking the two sides of the main harbour in Maputo they were asking for a little more – just 5 million residencies. At that it seems that some players in the international community were rather alarmed and advised the mozambiquan government to not go ahead. So perhaps this is a new type of colonialism, I know very little about it but I would imagine there is a long term strategy in it for the Chinese…

In any case, our first night in Mozambique was an extremely early one as it had been a long day on the road. But we were up the next morning with the sun, actually before the sun, to head to Morrongulu where we were due to meet up with Jonny’s brother. As the road headed towards the coast every now and then we would see, over the brow of a hill, a bright turquoise horizon interspersed with hazy dune hills, and sometimes inland lakes. It was really very beautiful. A dirt road of about 10 miles winds from the main road east towards the sea at morrongulu and ends on a ridge that overlooks a sweeping untouched bay of the most fabulous palm fringed sea. It is absolutely beautiful and so delightfully unspoiled. We set up camp metres from the beach and then went on a hunt for David whose group of travelers were also camping there. We had a wonderful few days together, enjoying the sun, sea and fresh fish. It was so quiet that seeing other people tiny on the horizon made me feel as though my space was being impinged upon….!

David and his troop left after a day and a half (they had traveled almost 5000 miles on their journey I think) and we left shortly after to head to where they had come from, vilanculos, a much more well known and popular town further north but which was a good stop off point (not wanting to do too much driving every day) en route further north. After the quiet seclusion of morrongulu I have to say vilanculos was not particularly attractive as a town. Where we were staying however was much nicer – about 5 miles outside the town and again right above the beach. The feeling here was different, bigger sea, wider horizon, and dotted with fishermen, dhows, and a fish and crab market. Not too long after we arrived a lady in jodhpurs appeared chattering on a phone and we started talking with her. It turned out she and her husband (who are Zimbabwean and used to farm there) look after seventy horses which were left homeless when various farms were taken over all around Zimbabwe. I think they initially did have over 100 which is a sizable stud when you have nowhere to house them (as they were evicted from about 7 farms over the course of the troubles). They since moved to Mozambique and have started doing horse safaris on the beaches, which is I believe very slowly growing. Over the course of the next 3 days we felt very at home amongst the horsey people, the clients they had visiting (a really brilliant Australian who teaches astro physics who kept us rapt with stories of black holes quarks and the unimaginable size of the universe, and a very beautiful and elegant French lady, both of whom loved Mozambique), and the people who ran the campsite, and then various other people locally. Did some fun snorkeling, had a trip around a few of the (gorgeous) islands and stayed for about 3 days. Oh yes and also caught up on some writing.

Its been quite difficult interacting verbally with many of the locals in Mozambique as we don’t speak any Portugese or the local languages which is problematic (English is very rarely spoken). But we have had some very funny non verbal interactions which have involved jonny dancing, bras, piles of fruit, cashews and many other things. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

i can hear sprinklers and crickets and am just able to write a few words before bed time. we have had a marvellous time here in mozambique, i intend to write quite a bit about the last 5 or so days when i next have proper internet, but for now, just a small amount. we have been staying at a wonderful eco camp, the owners run a conservation/carbon offsetting/microfinance/generally pretty great set up and we have been most superbly looked after. there is nothing better after being in the bush for the day than coming back to the camp fire lit, a hot shower and the silence of the night of Africa. the camp is just outside gorongosa national park, a reserve that is gradually being regenerated after years of environmental degradation, poaching and killing of game to feed the mozambiquan army. we heard today how choppers during the war would fly over the park, drop grenades down into the herds of buffalo and various antelope, the pieces to be picked up by people on the ground to feed a 2 million strong army fighting for frelimo during the civil war. it decimated the population which is now, years later, only just beginning ot recover. The park itself is the southern most tip of the rift valley and has a huge diversity of eco systems within the 4000 square kilometres – from savannah grassland to tropical palm forests to mountainous scrub and its stunning.

We leave for zimbabwe tomorrow – I have not been back in 10 years and am so looking forward to it – though also slightly nervous as i have heard it has changed very much. so many mixed reports… it sounds as though now, as compared to a year ago, there is a huge improvement (if one has access to US dollars of course), while the poorest are still struggling tremendously. so we’ll see. we are heading to one of my favourite parts first of all, the eastern highlands, and hopefully will be able to write again then….

(oh yes, some extraordinary stories today about how china is getting a rather alarming foothold into very many african countries, how mozambique is one of the biggest drugs corridors in the world, and the ingenuity of peasant farmers to get their fruit to market….more to come…)

this blog used to be the one we used for our ethical clothing website, but we now have a different one on our actual website….so i will use this to update our trip. photos hopefully coming soon….