Going To The Dogs - Nyamepi Campsite Review
Close your eyes. In the distance hear the cry of the African Fish eagle calling its mate. The soft rustle you hear could be a Vervet monkey suckling her young one, the soft blow is an Impala warning the herd of possible danger and the loud swishing and snorting in the water a hippopotamus abluting comfortably. Occasionally, you’ll also hear the plop of a fish jumping and the loud crunch of grass being pulled and pummelled by elephant.
This is what one anticipates when you make a booking a year in advance at Nyamepi campsite and Mana Pools. One imagines evenings around the camp fire sipping drinks, relaxing with friends and enjoying conversations into the night while hyena prowl scrounging for scraps or even easy meals.
What one does not expect is a poor management of the campsite. In a country where jobs are hard to find one would think that staff would strive to give their clients the very best service in an effort to lure them back again and again.
Unfortunately this was not our experience. Since our last trip the management has changed and sadly not for the better. I do understand the circumstances. I do “get it” that the employees will, under no circumstances, rat on colleagues because there the worm turns quickly and one never knows when you’re in the firing line. We understand that maladministration and corruption further up the chain of command is rife. I have empathy with a lowly clerk whose job is on the line and puts themselves at risk of losing their job if they should complain or make waves. I know that many positions are filled by family and friends and loyalties are paid for. I live in Africa. It is not prudent to bite the hand that feeds you especially if it’s a bureaucrat. Departures are swift.
Complaints go mainly unattended. Our friends’ almost daily request to have the fires stoked for hot water fell on deaf ears. There was hot water on three occasions within a MONTH. Wood, not in short supply, was seldom delivered for the donkey's fires. One day, a scrap of a girl, unaided, had to pull heavy logs into the fire, had to haul the heavy bags of ash she’d cleaned from the fireplace and lug them off somewhere. I can’t blame her for not pitching up again.
The ablutions, upgraded a few years ago by Friends of Mana Pools, are disgusting. The small ablution on the eastern side of the campsite had a broken toilet bowl. Goodness only knows how long it had been broken prior to our arrival, but, after countless requests by guests was only repaired two days before the official game count. Management probably knew they’d have to answer to that if repairs had not been carried out.
Our friends, with a bucket and the threadbare mop, cleaned the showers in the main ablution block for their own use. It took hours and lots of elbow grease. Of the three lavatories NONE were in working order and we had to use rusty bits of wire to get the flush mechanism going, drains were blocked, taps drip incessantly and the showerheads spray everywhere but south. They tried to show the cleaner how things should be done, but only succeeded in scaring her off. She was never seen again. Lavatory doors didn't close and rocks had to be employed to do the job. I had visions of snakes and spiders lurking in dark corners.
A question I’d like answered is this: It is accepted that visitors to Mana Pools are of similar persuasions, we are like-minded in that we love nature, wildlife and the outdoors. What really baffles me is that the state of the ablutions is due to visitors, in this case ladies, who frequent them, how is it possible that they have so little self-respect or respect for other guests that they leave the premises in such a shocking state of uncleanliness and disrepair? Especially since they know the staff certainly don’t care.
Nyamepi office offers visitors paid Wifi. At $2 for 30minutes it doesn’t come cheap. In my wildest dreams I could not have anticipated the shocking slowness of the service. A “Chinese torture” for sure. Frustrating it was, yet, staff, their friends, family and extended family have the use of a much faster internet service (as it should be). How is this possible the paid service hardly trickles? I hope I am never in a position to have to rely on Mana Wifi ever again. The days of going off into the bush for a month without communication are long past. We all have families living all over the world and its accepted to occasionally keep in touch to let them know we’re ok and for us to find out they’re ok. Since 9/11 the world is not the safe place we took for granted. Staff, simply shrug their shoulders and continue their WhatsApp messaging on their phones or enjoying comedy shows on YouTube. The Wifi hotspot under the tree did provide live entertainment as elephant came at noon to pick at seed pods.
Visitors are reminded that all garbage has to be removed on departure. So we diligently bagged all our waste and recyclables as did other guests. Very honourable. On the other hand the staff don’t. Large, overflowing holes in the ground attracting flies and critters are left unattended or mopped up. Roads there are littered with dirt and garbage. So much for environmental consciousness.
Someone asked me if I should be given a choice to relocate would it be Mozambique or Zimbabwe? Without hesitation I’d say Mozambique. Both countries have experienced maladministration, corruption, the one a 21 year civil war the other a megalomaniac, both countries were crippled financially. Citizens left in droves to seek a better life. Mozambicans lifted their heads and with the little they had started bartering, selling and trading, even if it was a bowl with 5 small tomatoes or three onions.
A garden enclosed by a 3 meter electrified fence has been erected on the side of the Nyamepi staff village. Cabbages, onions and a few other vegetables have been planted. They were wilting in the hot sun. During our weeks there it seemed unattended and bone dry. I must concede when we enquired whether we could purchase the vegetables we were told orders could be placed at reception. We didn’t. In Mozambique someone would’ve come around to the campsites daily and flogged them or set up a stall near the ablutions. But, come hell or high water sell them they would’ve.
The staff village is buzzing, there are store rooms with new farming equipment, boats and trucks, all sponsored by China Aid, yet, the tractor is seldom seen doing anything other than transporting people. The roads into Mana are horrific and unless you have a workhorse or 4x4 vehicle getting into the campsite is bothersome as the road deteriorates by the hour. I’d hate to see the conditions there during the rainy season. The road from Nyamepi to the main road will take a slow vehicle like ours at least 3 hours, a mere 100km.
We did, on two occasions, support the local spaza. Well stocked with liquid refreshments and some basic store cupboard goods. Nothing fresh was available. The store keeper was friendly and we really enjoyed browsing around. I loved the Mazoe, a fruit cordial, we bought and stocked up before returning home. The mango flavour was particularly good.
Vervet monkeys are the cutest animals out there. The young ones are adorable and it’s an education watching them interact. They’re playful and funny. Baboons can be more menacing as their social intercourse and hierarchies are so much like ours and the large males are commanding and intimidating. They endear themselves to us and we forgive them their playful antics until they raid a tent, trash everything, open car doors and destroy your property. We witnessed guests helplessness on countless occasions. Many forewarned. These animals are very smart and know how to open zippers, press studs and valcro. When all else fails they just rip and rent. Mission accomplished.
With the unemployment in Zimbabwe could it not be possible to employ monitors to guard against this destruction? Educating guests at the office might also help. Most people do not realise these animals have been habituated and have no fear of humans. In fact they’ll look you in the eye and steal your butternuts trashing the wrapping with no regard. They are so nimble and can easily pop tablets from their encasings, give them a lick and spit the bitter pill to the side unceremoniously. We were fortunate and employed a “camp manager” who did odd chores and kept our campsite baboon and monkey free (mostly).
Two days after our departure from Mana pools it was widely publicised that a German tourist had been killed by an elephant. The animal was shot. The story goes that the tourist got herself between a mother and her calf. Ignorance caused these fatalities. Both avoidable. On a few occasions I’d hear new visitors comment that the elephants were “tame”. They certainly are not. How many people or animals must be killed before the powers that be realise all guests should have a short orientation and presentation on animal behaviour and their responsibility to safe interactions with the animals? Knowledge is power. This could be done in the neglected natural sciences room at reception. Maybe someone would dust the specimen jars, bones and skulls on display or get rid of them. Anthropology is not a priority.
On our previous visit to Mana Pools we did a canoe trip. It was divine. The guide and I were in the same boat. He was fabulous, well informed and a very good paddler taking us down stream while he safely navigated us around the hippos and crocodiles. Sightings from the canoe gave us a different perspective and we enjoyed the exercise (I was the photographer so didn’t have to row, just steer!) and the afternoon was exhilarating.
We suggested this to a neighbour, an American tourist. With our good recommendation he made a reservation. It was after an hour waiting at the Reception for his guide and numerous questions that he was informed that the guide had taken the day off. No apology and no attempt to persuade him to make another booking. He was so disillusioned he left the next day.
Private campsites with all amenities, transport and guides have sprung up all along the riverbank. These concessions are awarded by Zimbabwe national parks, presumably on a tender basis. Well run, professional and very enjoyable with top class guides in attendance. This concept is probably the way forward where service orientated, profitable, private companies will become the norm. The downside is that these exclusive campsites limit other guests from having access to the river front where their camps are based, and are beyond the budgets of most.
If I’d been fully informed and knew that there were no services at Nyamepi Campsite and paid at an according rate, I’d have had no complaints. But, we were charged top dollar for a campsite which was suposed to have working facilities, as on previous visits. These rates do not include daily park rates, which make them on a par (or more expensive) with any campsites worldwide.
It really distresses me that we are being ripped off, exploited and made to make up the budget deficits in these self-serving third world countries who have become accustomed to having charity doled out to them, but have no idea what service delivery is. I have a simple philosophy, one can take a client/customer for granted only for so long before they wise up and then it’s too late. Just so, it will happen at Nyamepi campsite. Even during the school holidays and game count, both popular times for visitors, the campsite was virtually empty. This is a loss of income Zimbabwe National Parks cannot afford unless, the will to survive has left them or they see easy money from the private concessions.
P.S we heard from very reliable sources that the park and camping fees for Zimbabweans have more than doubled in the last months, and only US$ will be accepted for foreigners. The fuel price has sky rocketed to almost $6 per liter if you can find any. I am sure if fees have risen they will for foreigners too. Believe me services will not improve. Coffers have to be filled not maintenance done. I will have to listen to the call of the wild on Sound Cloud and use a spade when nature calls.