Back in the blue

28 05 2007

The last entry in my paragliding log book is in April 2005. Then I had an amazing solo flight in the Zambezi valley. Having become fed up with the Zim paragliding attitude (same dull old flying, week in week out) I’d bought an old Land Cruiser, done it up and taken a driver from work up to the Zambezi valley to fly by myself. It’s an amazing site at St Albert’s Mission. It rarely fails to deliver and I have only had one flight less than 20km with the average in excess of 30 and a best of 85km. That day the wind was wrong in Harare but I said to Fabion, the driver, let’s go anyway as I really wanted to get out of town. In those days fuel was scarce but still cheap, it is the exact opposite now. When we got to the site it was over cast but it soon cleared and looked promising. I dithered, I was nervous about flying by myself but eventually I got it all together and took off. It was an amazing flight. Not very far at about 38km but everything else was perfect. The visibility was so good that I could see Kabora Bassa lake some 100km to the north. Thermals were exactly where they should be and it was just so much fun. I was still buzzing at 2 o’clock that night!

Two years and two knee operations later I finally got back into the air this weekend. It was a large gathering of pilots by Zim standards – 9! The weather in the Honde Valley in the eastern highlands was not great but it was flyable and as always the scenery was painfully beautiful. The Honde is the most densely settled rural area in Zimbabwe. In my youth Soaring the Honde Valleythere was substantial dense forest (low altitude of 600m and high rainfall) but it is now mostly gone and can only be found on the slopes of Mt Inyangani, Zimbabwe’s highest mountain at around 2500m. The rest of the valley is no longer fertile but is over-cultivated and badly eroded. Yesterday I had a reasonable flight in very light conditions and eventually sank out to land near a primary school still some distance from the valley floor (the valley is some 80km long by 30 wide at its widest and drops from the Zimbabwe escarpment to the Mozambique plain). I was soon surrounded by the usual gang of kids out for some entertainment (no TV down there). A couple of older people helped me fold up the glider and carry it to the school soccer field. We had the usual conversation about how harsh life was and one commented that you whites have it easy because you all have relatives overseas. This is not quite true as a large proportion of the whites here are second or third generation Zimbos and so have no escape hatch in the form of another passport. I then pointed out that at least 3 million blacks are estimated to live outside the country so they have managed to make a plan. I did not bother getting into the nitty-gritty about why we were in such a mess, that area of the valley is traditionally a ZANU-PF (governing party) stronghold so it would have been a little unwise. We parted on friendly terms (having had the entire conversation in good English thanks to Comrade Robert’s now rapidly collapsing education system!) with no promises to be back soon – we are paying first world prices for fuel and earning third world salaries. Down at the school there was the usual teeming mass of kids, shouting, laughing inappropriately and generally out to make the best of a very small bit of entertainment. At this time of year it’s often what I call a mobile TB ward down there. Snot flying, dripping, coughing, hacking. Once controlled in the rural areas, TB is now making a major comeback so I am sure that I have had at least some exposure this weekend! Still, I believe that I owe my reasonable health to an upbringing that was less than sterile.

Back on top of the hill and packing up we had a small crowd of kids just watching. They never seem to get bored of just watching a group of whites fly off a hill and do other very ordinary things, like eat. I did feel a little self conscious tucking into a home made chocolate cake that they would never be able to afford. I reflected that Jenni probably had a more balanced diet than they did although I did not notice any obvious signs of malnutrition, something that I have observed in the Zambezi valley.



2 responses

30 05 2007

Glad to see you are back flying again! How is the knee holding out after the ops, it must be a hell of a strain coming into land? There is an interesting article on Zim in the Sunday Times, tou should get it on line.

21 11 2013
Tonderai Nyazenga

You are too exaggerating Honde Valley is not all that poor, my dear…

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