Back to Zimbabwe
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  • 3/18/98 Letter - Farrell settles in... The Pelum Project... Different ways of Zimbabwean living... Home stay in a rural household
  • 4/28/98 Letter - Preparations for PELUM College students... Rock rabbits... Lake Chivero National Park horse safari... Amazing!
  • 5/31/98 Letter - Opening of PELUM College!.. Tanzania and Zanzibar... Spice Tour... Prison Island

Letter from Farrell Hochmuth
Writing from Zimbabwe

Hello again from Zimbabwe!

Finally, after four months in Africa (I can't believe I've already been here four months!!!) I have seen elephants. What an amazing adventure I have just returned from.

To Mana Pools
Two representatives from PELUM's German donors, Bread for the World and GATE, happened to be visiting Zimbabwe at the same time. In an effort to kindle our donor relationship, PELUM's Workshop Co-ordinator and I decided to invite them on a three day trip to Mana Pools National Park. Mana Pools is located in the Zambezi Valley, in the northern part of Zimbabwe, next to the Zambezi River. Zambia is on the other side of the Zambezi River.

We left early on Wednesday morning. One of the German donors is with a non-government organization, while the other is associated with the government. It was neat to hear about all the different projects they work with. One of the donors brought his girlfriend, who is from Bolivia, but is working in Nairobi, Kenya. Richard, from PELUM, is originally from Canada, worked in the Kalahari Dessert in Botswana for three years, and was one of PELUM's founders; he has been in Zimbabwe for about 7 years. All our different backgrounds and experiences made for an interesting car ride.

It takes about three hours to get from Harare to the first gate at Mana. I thought, "Wow, three hours, not too bad." Immediately after the first gate, the road goes from pavement to rocky corrugated dirt. The road from the first gate to the second gate takes over an hour and a half...and on that rough road, it feels like a day and a half. After the second gate, the road gets worse. Another hour, and we reached the third gate. If you can believe it, the road gets even worse. By that time, however, your bum is so numb from all the bumps, you can hardly tell. It takes as long to get into the park as it does to get from Harare to the park. I was not too impressed with the last leg of the car ride, but when we pulled into our campsite, all bad thoughts vanished.

We stayed at the most remote campsite, far from the main camp, which looked out onto the Mana River. In the setting sun, we saw kudu, water buck and buffalo getting their last drink. The mountains in Zambia provided a stunning background, and as the sun slipped behind them, the sky turned the most amazing mixture of pink and red. The sunsets in Africa are amazing. After surveying the scene, we rushed to put up our tents before all light had vanished.

Night Visitors...
I had been designated as head cook-all vegetarian meals. Hooray! I had prepared a vegetarian curry stew the night before, so it just had to be heated for dinner. We sat back with some curry, a beer, and relaxed. I thought that National Parks were supposed to be quiet. During hippo mating season, however, there is hardly one quiet moment. You can hear them sloshing around in the water, and their calls can wake the dead. It sounds very similar to someone revving up a Harley Davidson--very loud! The hippos came out of the Mana River to graze at night, right next to our tents. I was afraid that they were going to step on my head! That, in addition to hyenas coming to look for dinner scraps (they sound like big pigs), and the local bird life assured that none of us got any sleep that night.

Cape Buffalo...
The next morning we got up, each drank a pot of coffee to wake up, and had some breakfast. We spent the next two days going for game drives and walks. At Mana Pools you are allowed to walk around, whereas at many of the other National Parks walking is forbidden. We typically drove for a half hour, found a good spot, and walked for awhile. You don't want to get too far from the car though. There is an average of five people who die each year at Mana Pools from casualties with the wildlife, most having to do with Cape Buffalo. Cape Buffalo look like cows on steroids with horns that curl down the sides of their heads-I think they look like a mixture of an old maid and Pippie Long Stocking. One butt with those horns, however, and you are dead... instantly. On walks, you have to continually clap your hands to let the wildlife know
you are coming.

... and Elephants!
The first day we saw many elephants. They are so huge and their tusks are amazing. It is neat to just watch them eat. When they want to eat branches off thAcacia trees, they lean forward on their back tippy toes, stretch their front legs and reach up to the tree with their trunks. It looks really funny. At one point, we followed an elephant for three hours. She was beautiful, and quite playful. We would follow her, and then she would duck into a bunch of tress. When we would pass, she would mock charge us. Supposedly, when an elephant charges, if it has its trunk up, it is playing. If the trunk is down, it means serious business. We took all charges seriously (all 6000 kgs of them), driving as fast as our truck would take us. Then, we would hide in some trees, and she would pass us, tossing us a nonchalant glance. Eventually, we followed her to a water hole where we watched her drink. She would suck up so much water, it was unbelievable. Then, she would tilt her head back, put her trunk in her mouth, and let the water flow down. The sound in her stomach was so hollow, like water in a well. She always saved a little bit of water to spit out. I could have watched her all day, but after drinking, she headed into the trees. We figured she had had enough for one day.

All Kinds of Animals
In addition to elephants, we saw lots of Vervet Monkeys, Baboons, Impala, Kudu, Waterbuck,Zebra and Warthog. The one thing I was glad we did not see a lot of were crocodiles. Our only sightings of them were sunning themselves by the lakes far away from our campsite. The numbers and diversity of the animals at Mana is stunning. The bird life is incredible. I am ashamed to admit that I was disappointed at not getting too close to the animals. When I was on the horse riding safari at Lake Chivero, we could get amazingly close to the animals, where at Mana, you could not. At Mana, we spent a lot of time camped out in the grasses watching the animals with binoculars.

On our third and last day, we went on a three hour game walk with one of the old sukurus (tour guide in Shona). We met him and his big gun (assuring, yes) at 6:30 am and began our hunt for the lions. We were all disappointed that we had not seen any lions. There had been a big kill two days before, so they were just lounging somewhere resting after their big feast, but no one could find them. We saw lots of Cape Buffalo on our walk, but could not find any lions. After three hours of walking in the bush, we were hot and tired and decided to call it quits. On the way back to the car, the sukuru stopped, pointed his finger and we saw EIGHT lions lounging under a tree about fifty feet from where we were. We all sat down and watched them for an hour. There were two cubs playing, and let me tell you, they are cuter than Simba! There were five females keeping watch on the cubs, and one male in all his glory. At one point, a kudu came prancing near to where the lions were lying. It was interesting to see their attention shift from watching us to scoping the kudu. Lions eat once every three days, and they had just eaten, so the kudu was lucky. It would have been wild to see a lion kill, but in the same respect, I don't know if I'd really want to see that.

After our walk, we headed back to the campsite, cleaned up and cleared out. We were all so sad to leave. We were especially sad to have to face that terrible road!

I will be working at the PELUM office diligently for the next five weeks. I am helping to co- ordinate an Information Management workshop to be held in Lusaka, Zambia in July. That will take up most of my time, but is such a great learning experience. My other big project is to get things ready for the PELUM College students' return in July.

So, I'll be around for a while now. How are things in your neck of the woods?

Stay well, shamwari (friend in Shona)!