Francisco Gordillo and I got back from our trip on the 19th of january. We spent a week up in Zimbabwe between Victoria Falls National Park, the base of the IAPF and Chizarira, the new park that the IAPF has been given the go ahead for the feasibility study. The trip was unbelievable and I will begin by saying THANK YOU to Damien Mander for having had taken the time and having taken such good care of us while we were there.
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We began our trip with a night in Vic falls before jumping in the jeep early the next morning for a 6 hours hectic drive to Chizarira. It was long but the scenery, good company and great book made it pleasurable. When we arrived at the border of the park we met with the chief of one of the villages, very kind man whose worries for his people show in his eyes. We got a good idea of their daily struggles and their protocols of how things must be managed to be able to help them. Damien will be meeting with all the chiefs to establish an understanding of what we are able to do for them in a respectful way so that our relationship will grow strong.
We then pursued our drive into the park….no comment!!! Ok I will say that the roads haven’t been touched in over 20 years and the insect population is Not in threat of going extinct any time soon.
When we finally made it to the lodge, we found a beautiful place on the edge of a cliff with the most extraordinary views you could ever possibly wish for. The lodge needs work, but its basic repairs and nothing too demanding, although a long-term solution for electricity and communication needs to be established.
Damien and Leon Varley then took us to the ranger Head Quarters to see their set up and meet the crew. Everything is kept clean, they have respect for their jobs, their uniforms and they accomplish a lot with almost no equipment. To give you an idea, we went for a hike soon after our visit and within minutes we heard gun shots, Damien and John (IAPF ranger) wanted to go after the poachers, Leon knew that if we got into a conflict with them and weren’t in the presence of a National Park Ranger we would get into trouble. There was no way to get in contact with the rangers, they have one radio (that is kept off until they need to give updates, to save on battery) and no other means of communication. So we had to get back to head quarters “As fast as you can” as Damien said! Francisco and I looked at each other like…mmmmm this isn’t going to be good!! We were right, after a 6 km very fast hike we got to the car and headed back to HQ, notified the rangers, waited for them to get geared up with their guns and jump in the car before getting back to where we heard the shots. All this took so much time, the sun started to set and our hunt was over. If these guys had the basic equipment to do their jobs, we would have informed them of the location of the shots, they would have deployed a team to the location and we would have had ourselves a couple of poachers with our dinner that night. I really understood their frustrations, their handicap is real!!
The next day we visited the location of the school, the residence of the rangers, their water supply, their struggle trying to grow some food. You need to understand something, although these people have the bare minimum they are already so grateful, they have a roof and a job. In Zimbabwe, where 80% of the population is unemployed they are already winning and with the difference we will bring to them they will be thriving which in return will give us an army of dedicated and loyal soldiers to go and kick some ass!!
Then came the day for our big hike and over night camping in the bush!! I still am a bit confused, I was given a choice between a beautiful waterfall and stream or Tundazi mountain…I’m sure I chose the waterfall but for some reason we climbed the mountain! It was a mission on its own! This is where I will slip in a huge thank you to BE FIT…without their expertise I would have gone into the foetal position and cried for my Mamma, it was that hard! Damien has sent a team back to look for Gordo’s lung that is some where on that mountain. When we finally reached the top we realized why we had to do it! It was breath-taking, you could see the entire park from up there, we made it just before sunset and I’m lost for words…I understand why the Batonka people think that this is the stepping stone where god will return to earth. We set up camp, our chef Damien got busy preparing dinner, Gordo quickly removed his boots to make it understood to all that there was no way he would walk another inch.
In the morning we continued exploring Tundazi mountain, then realized that there was another mountain…still can’t believe it…but we climbed it and survived! we eventually cleaned up our camp site and headed back down the mountain in time for lunch. After a very long drive back, where Gordo got attacked AgaIn by every insect in the african bush and I ended up loosing my phone and all my money which with the help of amazing trackers and a persistent Leon we managed to recuperate, nothing short of a miracle!
Our trip eventually came to an end in Chizarira and we headed back, by the end of the day we were with the rhinos of Victoria Falls National Park. I could watch them for hours they are so extraordinary. In the morning Damien spoiled us by taking us River Rafting in the mighty Zambezi river, amazing!!! But had to climb another mountain!!! That afternoon it was back to work and Francisco with Damien and Steve Dean (IAPF Australian kick ass Special Ops Commando that’s been with Damien for years) got busy setting up blogs, twitter, etc…everything that has to do with social media. They got a lot done but Francisco had to continue working on it in Johannesburg since the wi-fi connection in Zim was so bad.
While back in Johannesburg we had a meeting with Adrian Gardner, he is part of the Wilderness Foundation and a partner in the Chizarira project. We have begun our discussions on dividing the responsibilities of the park and we have a strong and experienced partner in them.
We also met with Bevan Oschger, a gentleman introduced to us by Jason Hartman and who has a sanitary system that requires no water and that is 100% environmentally friendly and hygienic! Poo is a real problem in the bush as we learnt!! We asked Bevan to join Jason’s Gardens to complete the community side of the project and he has accepted to go with them to Chizarira to complete the feasibility study.
I can not wait for the work to really take off in Chizarira and then to get back to Zimbabwe and watch the changes that these dedicated men on the ground will be accomplishing. One thing is certain, we need support and everyone can and should take part in making a difference, whether it’s by donating money, volunteering, Tweeting, lets not let our generations legacy be the extinction of beautiful animals and the destruction of habitats that we will never be able to get back.
Donatella Knecht de Massy