Friday, August 2, 2013

Ecotourism

Defined by the folks at The International Ecotourism Society, Ecotourism is

"responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment 
and improves the well-being of local people."

And, usually by default and without really meaning to, Peace Corps Volunteers are some of the most eco-friendly travelers in the world.  Using public transportation, free rides, local markets, and the low-consumption bucket bath, Peace Corps Volunteers accidentally embody the very spirit of the Ecotourism movement. 

Let's pretend that it's on purpose.

This past week, Dan and I embarked on an eco-journey of our own to celebrate the last real break of our Peace Corps service.  As our time in Mozambique begins to wind down, we seek to spend our remaining time with friends and to revisit favorite places.  And, as both of us were too tired to travel very far, we settled on a familiar classic-- our regional capital, Chimoio (shi-MOY-ooo).

We spent several days with Hoang in the city at his fancy Peace Corps house (the one with running water, a full-size fridge, and a nearby grocery store), before going south to Jamie's site in Sussendenga.  Then, with Jamie, Dylan, and Jamie's friend Menalda, we hiked Monte Zembe and took a walking safari at the Ndzou Elephant Camp.  It was a small trip with good friends that highlighted two beautiful, undiscovered gems in the central mountains of Mozambique.  

Mozambique's Central Highlands-- The Chimanimani Mountains

Eco-tour #1:  Hiking Monte Zembe
Rising some 4,000 feet above the surrounding plain, Monte Zembe marks an eastern rumple along the Chimanimani Mountain range of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.  The mountain consists of four large domes and several smaller outcroppings, interlaced with vegetation.  Much of the mountain was once used in cultivation, and livestock still roam the lower peaks.  

How to Get There:
Monte Zembe is located about 24 kilometers away from the city of Chimoio, and is the premier landmark along the Sussundenga road.  The mountain is roughly halfway between Chimoio and Sussundenga, and is easily recognizable by its series of jutting peaks.  

How to Climb It:
Hikers who wish to climb Monte Zembe are obliged to take a guide and make an "offering" to the local Administrative Post.  Offerings range from a donation of 200 Meticais (7 dollars) to a few bottles of wine and a complete furniture set.  Expect vast changes to be made to the original set price of the climb.

When to Go:
Monte Zembe is best hiked in the winter months (June-July) when the aloe is in bloom, the vegetation is low and dry, and there is no risk of lightning.  

Why It's Special:
Monte Zembe is home to the extremely rare and endemic Aloe decurva, which is restricted to the slopes of Monte Zembe alone.  It is also the outstanding landmark in the Sussendenga area, reaching dizzying heights above the eastern Mozambican plain.  

Monte Zembe
Part of the hiking team:  Dylan, Jamie, and Dan
Our guide
Jamie's best friend, Menalda
Dan and Dylan
Dylan overlooks the edge of the Chimanimani Mountain range
from one of many small summits on Monte Zembe
With a "Candelabra" or "Cactus Tree" (Euphorbia ingens)
Monkeys scattered as we approached this unfinished hut on the mountain.
Menalda under the two largest domes of Monte Zembe
Red succulent
Yellow flowers
Cactus tree
Lovely purple flowers
Jamie laughs after taking a nap on the mountain
Dylan tries out a new handlebar mustache
Menalda and her straw hat
A series of cactus trees in a very African landscape
Monte Zembe behind a small shop in the town of Zembe
The tiny town of Zembe (on the unpaved Sussundenga road)
The boys decide to walk, not ride, the 22 kilometers back to Sussundenga
The overwhelming size of the landscape
Dan gives up the hike after about 10 kilometers
Hitchhiking back to Sussendenga
At the end of the day.  Ecotourism, indeed!

Eco-Tour #2:  Ndzou Elephant Camp
Located in the Chimanimani Conversation Area in the mountains of central Mozambique, Ndzou Camp is an eco-camp and lodge with a focus on sustainability.  The area is known for its rich biodiversity and for its elusive forest elephants.  

How to Get There:
Ndzou Camp is about one hour south of Sussundenga, along the Sussundenga-Dombe road. The road is unpaved, mountainous, and dangerously curvy, but among the most beautiful in Mozambique.  

Why it's Special:
The forests in the Chimanimani Conservation Area are home to forest elephants.  The camp (named Ndzou, after the elephants themselves) provides tracking and walking safaris into the surrounding wilderness.  

Why it's Called an "Eco-Camp"
Ndzou Camp works hard to provide environmentally-friendly accommodations in the heart of Mozambique.  In addition to striving towards sustainability (using solar energy, local building materials, and local produce), the Camp also works closely with Mozambican counterparts, hiring guides and workers from the community and sharing joint equity with the local community association.  

Ndzou Camp and a glimpse of the Sussundenga-Dombe road
The "Casa Grande" three-room house
Rondavel
Views from within the "Casa Grande"
View from the veranda.  Forest, just forest.
Menalda tracking elephants through the forest
Into the Chimanimani Mountains
Dan examines the elephant evidence
Our guide (armed with only a machete) scouts the area for elephants
An elephant footprint in the mud, hidden by grass and vegetation
In the forest
Strangely beautiful, feathery bugs
In the end, we found no elephants.  We did, however, find proof of their existence

Ecotourism-- that is to say, real, true ecotourism-- isn't just a catch-phrase.  It's a wise and cautious approach to travel, and the conscientious choice.  A careful traveler is more closely connected to the community and to the environment that he or she is visiting, which, in turn, results in a deeper and more meaningful experience.  By inspiring visitors to eat local, spend local, and interact with nature, ecotourism creates a sustainable relationship between people and the communities they choose visit.  

Find out more about ecotourism at the International Ecotourism Society homepage.

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