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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pumping Legs for Water – 2011

Pumping Legs for Water – 2011

The weekend of 29th, 30th and 31st July, saw the annual “Pumping Legs for Water” fund raising bike ride take place in Hwange National Park for the fourth year. As we were involved in assisting during the weekend, we added a day extra to each side of the weekend.

So, Thursday mid-morning found us at Sinamatella, gazing down from the heights onto the valley floor which was covered in a huge buffalo herd. It was estimated that there were easily over three hundred animals. After a short meeting with the warden, Moses Gomwe, we set off with Stephen and Sue Long and their six French volunteer workers to have a look at the solar unit that has been installed by DART at Bumboosie South. It has been some time since that pan has been pumped so it was great to see water back in that area. While inspecting the unit, it was obvious that elephants had been having a bit of fun with the cable, so a temporary trench was quickly dug to bury what we could. We then went to the pan to see how much water was coming out and inspected the spoor around the pan before choosing a large, shady ebony tree under which to have our lunch. Once back on the road, we made a quick call in at Mandavu Dam. It was around half past two and we were surprised to see crowds of hippos out of the water, pink bellies exposed to the sun. The water was obviously pretty chilly. On one of the tiny sand bars, fourteen large crocodiles were also out sunning themselves and there were several more monsters on the boating island being stepped over and around by a long legged bunch of yellow billed storks. We then took the Lukosi Drive road so that we could call in and see how the solar unit was coping at Baobab pan. Here again, pumping capacity is obviously not keeping up with demand but at least there is water back in the area. We found the Sinamatella area very dry and desolate – they did not have a good rainy season this year.

While setting up camp for the night at Masuma, another large herd of buffalo arrived, in the region of two hundred odd. Small herds of elephants had already been down to the pan and more were arriving and awaiting their turn on the periphery. Apparently pumping at Masuma is only taking place during the day and we were a bit concerned that with the large numbers of animals already coming down, that the available water would not be sufficient if pumping isn’t 24/7. As we were packing up camp the following morning, huge flocks of guineafowl streamed down to the pan for an early morning sip. The small herd of waterbuck that had been seen the previous evening also came down to drink with their three wooly youngsters and a rather magnificent ram which was seen taking an interest in one of the females.

On our way through to Main Camp, we stopped off at the various pans to see how much, or how little, water was still available. Fortunately, the windmill at Shumba has been re-erected and was working well in the high and rather frosty wind. We called in at the new concessions – there being one at Shumba and the other at Danga – to see what progress had been made on setting up the camps and to find out what pumping is taking place. Shapi continues to hold good water although the trough wasn’t full and the windmill there is still working a treat. Whitehills still holds a bit of water. Guvelala was an absolute disgrace. The pan held very little water and the state of the abolutions at the platform appeared to be in appalling condition. There was such a stench emitting from the toilet with its broken down door, that we did not even investigate. We were appalled at what a tremendous waste of time, money and effort went into revamping the facilities at the platform and Parks were not bothering to keep it in good working order. Pumping was not taking place at Nyamandhlovu as there had been problems with the pump but it was holding quite a bit of water. Dom, too, holds good water.

Main Camp was abuzz when we arrived shortly before two, with the tourist office being kept busy with people booking in and paying their Parks fees, the car park was packed with bike trailers and vehicles, the accommodation facilities were filling up and the camp site was already littered with tents. Registration of riders took place outside the Waterbuck’s Head most of the afternoon and we ended up registering 73 riders before having a quick briefing at six thirty, putting everyone in the picture of the do’s and don’ts of the following day’s ride.

There was an air of expectancy as folks made ready for Saturday’s ride. As we were going to get tea and coffee at the restaurant, we were told that a pack of hyena had killed a kudu bull not 2kms from the gate so as soon as the gate was opened we set off. There was only one hyena left at what remained of the kill and several scavenging jackals being chased about. Makwa was holding less water than normal but this is an easy pan to catch up and pumping started there again on Monday. On our way down to Kennedy One to set up the riders’ water point, we called in at Sinanga as we’d heard about five lion feeding on a dead elephant right at the pan. We were very lucky as the two males were sitting, fat bellied and bloody muzzled, right out in the open sunning themselves when we arrived. One of the females was drinking on our side of the pan and then sauntered round the pan to join the other two females who were obviously feeding hidden behind the dead animal, from where they kept peering around to see what was going on. Most of the folks involved in the ride got to see the lion at some stage during the weekend. Sinanga is holding a bit of water and giraffe were seen drinking with several kudu ambling around the periphery of the pan, obviously not coming too close because of the lion!

Once the last pack of riders had gone through the water point, we packed up and followed on down to Ngweshla which was the end of the first day’s ride. We stopped off at Kennedy Two and were pleasantly surprised to find more water in the pan than we’d expected. Still not good but better than anticipated. The solar unit there is not working as well as we’d been led to believe and later, on Monday morning, with Gary, we visited the site of the proposed new borehole which we hope will be going ahead soon. Some of the funds raised from this year’s Pumping Legs for Water will be used to help finance the drilling of this borehole. There was a great crowd of riders, back up personnel and families at Ngweshla and there was a real festive air as the last of the riders were cheered into camp. Two of the Hydraco fellows had offered to cook boerewors rolls for everyone for lunch but unfortunately, they obviously had no idea of the magnitude of the task they’d set themselves. Riders are HUNGRY after all that riding and trying to cope with only one skottel braai which was running out of gas, could not keep up with the never ending line of waiting customers! Stout effort though and many thanks go to them for persevering. It was quite a mammoth task now getting everyone, plus bikes back to Main Camp but thanks to some excellent organization, everyone arrived back safely.

On Saturday evening there were the necessary thank you speeches and a few awards, before everyone enjoyed a delicious braai provided by Waterbuck’s Head. It must be noted that Elson and his staff did an amazing job of the catering over the weekend. We heard only compliments from those who’d had meals there and the meals that the organisers had asked to be provided were just fine, on time and well executed. It wasn’t long before the entire camp quietened down and not long before sun up and another round of bustle.

As with most events of this nature, there wasn’t quite the same air of enthusiasm for the second day and the start of the race was plagued by a few lost items such as helmets, someone’s ride number and several people forgetting which group they were riding in! Sunday’s ride was to take riders first past Sedina so that everyone could see the borehole that has recently been drilled there. It was hoped that the pump and engine would be in place and operating by the weekend but hey, this is Africa and things didn’t move along quite as swiftly or as smoothly as we’d hoped. It is intended to get the small hide there revamped and the toilet facilities working again. Looking out at the vlei, there are often several animals to be seen so this could be a good spot for sundowners in the future. Riders then proceeded through the main gate and on to Caterpillar, Dopi, past Dom and Balla Balla before returning to Main Camp. The trough at Caterpillar was full and overflowing into the small pan and there was a bit of water at Dopi. Unfortunately, the supply of diesel has, once again, been a major problem for Parks recently so pumping stopped for some time before supplies were brought in. At this time of the year, a day – two or three - without pumping is hard to catch up. We set up the water point in the erioloba forest just past Dopi, in the shade as we thought that the riders might like to cool down. We didn’t realize that there was such a chilly blast blowing and it turned out to be quite nippy! The first lot of riders had to remount and take off fairly swiftly as the next two groups arrived much quicker than anticipated. The fourth group lagged a little behind but everyone was back in camp just before one, to much applause, congratulations and ululations. Again there was a quick meeting and a few speeches at Waterbuck’s Head before boerewors rolls were dished out and those returning home started packing up and departing.

As hot water in the ablutions blocks had been a continual problem throughout the weekend, we managed to snatch a shower at Safari Lodge before joining most of those left at Nyamandhlovu for sundowners. When we arrived to a packed platform and a full car park, there was a delightful herd of elephant calmly drinking. No one knows quite why but suddenly they all wheeled and took off at speed, clouds of dust obscuring baggy backsides. Not sure what disturbed them so. An old bull that had sauntered in to join them, did not seem fazed at all and carried on with his evening sundowner as if nothing had happened.

Monday morning found the camp bustling with packing up and people departing. We went across to the school to have a look mainly at how the vegetable garden was coming along. It looked quite productive with onions, spinach, choumollier, tomatoes and herbs coming up. Unfortunately, the soil is abominable but they had found some manure and there was a large drum of liquid manure brewing next to the start of their compost heap. After a quick chat with the headmistress, Thembi, we handed over the remains of the oranges for the children and then watched as the kids all marched, singing to their classrooms for the start of the day’s lessons. After breakfast at Waterbuck’s Head, we headed on down to Kennedy Two with Gary for a look at the borehole site before meandering back through the park and home.

By all accounts, the weekend was a huge success, both as a fund raiser and from a promotional aspect. Despite colds and flu hampering some of the riders, everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves and most participants are keen to return next year. It is always heartening to see so many people out enjoying themselves, having fun, plenty of amusing chirps, much laughter and camaraderie. It was extremely disappointing, however, that as this is a major fund raising effort for the water project in Hwange, there was very little, or no, evidence of Parks officials at any of the functions to which they had been invited. A very big thank you must go to the organisers, who did an amazing job, the sponsors without whom none of this would have been possible, and of course, to the riders and their families for turning out and making is such a fun time.

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