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We had one more full day in the valley, and spent it on the northern fringes of Chirisa Safari Area. We marked down how much more the cultivation had got close to the boundary track of the safari area than even on last year’s satellite imagery. But even so there were large tracts of almost pristine cathedral mopane. Towards the eastern side of the Busi Valley was a bluff of land visible from almost everywhere else, and I decided we should try and climb this to get an overview of this area. Bob was much more healthy than he had been at the beginning of the trip and did not blanche at the suggestion. We rose out of the mopane woodland and reached the bottom of the bluff. The route up took us circling around this block of land, the rise becoming ever more steep. As we reached the last hundred feet, it became sheer, and only by finding a gulch did we manage to get to the top. The revelation at the top of the mesa was incredible.
Not only did you have extensive views all around of the thick mopane woodland followed by mile after mile of cotton fields, but the nature of the vegetation atop the mesa was totally new. Bob found many species we had not come across, and a tufty wavy grass that covered the entire surface and was still green even late in the dry season. At one end we disturbed a group of impala – it still amazes me to imagine how their nimble surefootedness had got them to this safe haven. It was a wonderful secret garden. As we prepared to descend, I noticed a gleaming white vehicle coming along out track below – still five or six miles away. We got down just as the vehicle approached Judith.
A typical Boer emerged from the vehicle, about 5’9” but thick set with rhinoceros skin and a bull’s neck. He was dark brown and covered in freckles and blotches from forty years in the African sun. His small eyes peered out from under a white wide brimmed hat, and he was followed by a beautiful girl who we later found out was his daughter. We exchanged pleasantries; Bob was much easier at talking in these situations. He was always curious to find out who people were related to, where they came from. This man was a safari hunter, an example of the very people who exploited the CAMPFIRE policy to gain revenues for their safari operations. It worked very well for him, he brought rich American and South African tourists up here, camped in the National Park, and either gave them the opportunity to shoot pictures of the animals, or, for the right price, shoot the animals themselves. He had heard of some poaching going on in Chirisa and wanted to check it out for himself, but had seen nothing.
It had become obvious that the residents of Busi had taken a wrong course. The cotton industry was just not suitable for this remote valley. They had to see that the position of the valley in the V shape between a quiet national park and a hidden safari area was perfect for CAMPFIRE operations. Unfortunately, Busi was connected to the Gowke North Communal land which extended much further south and east, back to areas where cotton growing could be made marketable. To allow entrepreneurs like this Boer in to run his operations, and tax him for the offtake or activity seemed a good way forward. I never managed to work out the economics of it, but I believe the one problem against this utopian source of income was that the population of Busi was continuing to grow, and the total community could probably not continue to be supported by the CAMPFIRE initiative without damage to the sustainability to the system. However, it was being shown that the cotton route was not satisfying more than the short term economic needs of selected inhabitants of the valley and that the damage to the remaining environment was increasing year on year. What was the alternative for the people in this beautiful valley?
Unfortunately our time in the valley had finished and we had to get to Victoria Falls to pick Benjamin up in two days time. We offloaded the excess shopping on Edmore and Second, and paid them well for their services. We then took John and drove that long road back through the park, past the salt springs, over the river, up into the mountains and finally to his camp. We gave him a bit of extra pocket money that was probably more than a month’s salary. It was lunchtime and instead of heading straight for the falls, we drove down a little road to the most magnificent view.
The main part of the park, as I have said, is high on a plateau, and the route from the east rises through a series of geological faults to reach the top. The entrance to the north is even more dramatic, as the park is part of the great Zambezi Escarpment. Great gorges cut deeply into the escarpment to pass water down towards Lake Kariba, and the Chizarira River itself forms the most spectacular gash. A small gazebo has been built at the best vantage point and we had out lunch up there that day, chorused by a bunch of inquisitive baboons, and with all sorts of wildlife crashing around in the vegetation below us in the gorge.
Then we gently descended down another valley, a route I had last taken three years ago, and across a wide stretch of farmland before reaching the main gravel road that goes west to east. We headed west and drove through some wild country before ba-bump, we were back on the tarmac just south of Binga. We were on tarmac for the next two hundred miles, but it was here that the jungle had another laugh at us. Bob thought my steering was getting more erratic than usual, and we realised that, even though away form the roots, thorns and stones of the bush, we had managed to get yet another burst tyre. That fixed we rolled on to Dete Crossing and down down down to Vic Falls.