The Zimbabwe Mountain Guide Training Course

The Chimanimani Mountains are a special place. We are proud to be part of this initiative. Watch the video, read the article, get involved.

Zimbabwe-Mountain-Guide-Badge-04jpg

How can you get involved? 

Applicants should be 19 – 25 years old and love living in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.

Applications strictly by letter to: ZMG, P.O. Box 75 Chimanimani.

Can you Donate? This programme needs all the help it can get. Please contact us at pezatrust@gmail.com to find out how you can help.

Mountain Guides Boost Zimbabwe Tourism

Written by Jane High

Some people cannot resist Mountains. All over the world people pit their fitness and climbing skills ‘against’ the great crags and slopes of our most famous Mountains. Many die doing it. Some get lost or survive by sheer luck. But the lure of these giants just gets stronger.  Africa has her share of these massive natural wonders and unknown to many,  the highest in Zimbabwe and the highest in Mozambique have both claimed their share of lives.

In the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe stand Mount Nyangani and Mount Binga  and in between them runs a startling mountain range containing immense and valuable secrets. Secrets that are only recently being revealed and documented for a new generation of Zimbabweans. The process of finding, documenting and then teaching these secrets was activated in January 2018  – the result is the  Zimbabwe Mountain Guide Training Scheme.

1. How long is the mountain guide course?

The Zimbabwe Mountain guide training course is two and half years of theory and practical training.  The final 6 months includes guiding work and attachments with Tourism operators. Once they have amassed the minimum guiding experience and completed their log books the candidates can sit their final exams.

2. What qualifications does one need to apply, if any?

In terms of required qualifications the main thing is that candidates have good language skills, both spoken and written. We are not specifically looking for any A’ Levels or O’ Levels. We will search for people who are passionate about nature. He or she should enjoy being out of doors and working with people. Enthusiasm to learn as much as possible about their own area, from history to geology will be vital. It’s much more about the character of the student than his present academic qualifications. Training to be a guide can be the first and most important step in a long, diverse career in the Tourism Industry.

3. Which type of personnel make the best mountain guides?

The kind of person who makes a good guide varies, people are different and the guests that you work for are different. Groups may request or prefer a female guide, especially female clients. They usually like someone who is friendly, confident without being dominant and they  should be experienced, hence the course being two and a half years, with a great proportion of that carried out in the mountains. Customers need to feel confident that their guide will not make mistakes. Obviously guides need to be energetic people.  Physical fitness is important as is the ability to converse well – these are the minimum traits we will require.

4. What are the benefits of employing local guides?

It is essential to link surrounding communities with the benefits brought by Tourism. Safety of visitors is paramount and only a welcoming local community can make sure of this.  Local people value these areas as a natural heritage when they are the first beneficiaries of any potential employment. They are the real caretakers.  If they feel that protecting the flora and fauna of the Eastern Highlands is a good thing for the community because it provides jobs, they are likely to be vigilant – stopping damage to trees, preventing the shooting of their birds, that sort of thing. Local people employed as Cultural and Mountain Guides are also naturally interested in their own heritage and local culture.  Tourism creates gender friendly jobs in these rural areas and particularly in the areas which still have intact ecosystems. People surrounding those natural areas are the future custodians and it is obvious that they should be the ones that benefit.

5. As tourism increases in the area, how do you expect to reduce their ecological footprint?

Let me give you an actual example – In 1994 through to 1997 there were so many visitors coming through the Chimanimani Mountains National Park that residents ended up creating the Chimanimani Tourist Association in response to that very problem. Litter being left in the mountain, much firewood being collected and even branches being broken off living trees, paths becoming eroded etc. Complaints about some visitors not following Parks rules resulted in responsible Operators creating the Chimanimani Tourist Association to educate all who went hiking. Lodges took information and made sure that they spoke to anybody going up the mountain about bringing down everything they took up and how best to avoid damaging the Park. In general people who enjoy hiking respect nature and simply need the information on how best to reduce their ecological footprint. We pushed a Zero tolerance for litter. All of this experience will be built into the training of Zimbabwe Mountain Guides. They are going to be trained to ensure minimum impact from their clients on our mountains.

6. What size is the Chimanimani mountain range?

Roughly 50km long with four parallel ranges of mountains and one and a half of them occurs in Zimbabwe and the rest are in Mozambique. The Zimbabwean side is one of our smallest National Parks but it has the highest density of endemic species of all of them. It is known as a Biodiversity Hotspot. This is a trans-frontier park so the opportunity we have here is for guides take clients in Mozambique as well. However the Mountain Guide Training course is not just limited to the Chimanimani’s – it is going to be for the Bvumba and also Nyanga – this is a spectacular and varied part of Zimbabwe to work in.

7. How many visitors do you receive each year? And predominantly from which countries?

At the moment the Eastern Highlands is only receiving around 8% of the number of visitors coming to Zimbabwe. Most are going to Vic Falls – it’s easier to fly in and fly out. The problems we have had with our economy and the negative perception of Zimbabwe created by our politics has effectively destroyed the once vibrant tourism sector here. Visitors have taken their custom to Botswana, South Africa and lately to Namibia. Self-drive tourism is the big one for Eastern Highlands and that was completely destroyed by the roadblock situation that we had. Destroying an Industry is the easy part…rebuilding it is arduous and requires a whole change of mind set by our Government. We are also still too expensive and time consuming for start-up businesses in Zimbabwe.  Take the vehicle car hire people for example – they are suffering from the same situation as we are, to start your business you have to process upwards of a dozen different types of licenses, paying various government bodies just to get up and running. Imagine that is actually cheaper and less complicated for a client to hire a car in Johannesburg to tour Zimbabwe!  This is even with the big challenge of driving through Beit Bridge with those cars.  Zimbabwe has recently put up yet another obstacle –   our Customs at port of entry now treat private but hired 4x4s as “Commercial,” so now the visitors coming into Zimbabwe have to pay commercial vehicle license fees. The response is predictable – Self-drive visitors are simply avoiding us. Namibia and Botswana are enjoying an absolute boom in self-drive while the Eastern Highlands languishes.  Our policy makers need to wake up and realise we are in a very tough competition for business – our neighbours are just loving our mistakes. We are creating jobs for Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia and at the same time sending our own Industry into a tail spin! We hope that is going to change, we have all been engaging with government over that issue.

In terms of which countries they come from, Germany tops the list at the moment and then British, quite a few from the Scandinavian countries, France is also there, we do get some Americans, but the few remaining self-drive  tourists are predominately from South Africa and Namibia.  Germans are bringing vehicles in at Windhoek, using that route coming in from there. With the correct approach we should see a larger group coming in from the Diaspora and our own hire car companies flourishing.

8. What fascinating wildlife can one expect to come across?

The flora and fauna is quite different from the rest of the country and much of it is in the form of endemic species of plants. These special plants give rise to a range of insects and birds which are limited to the Eastern Highlands. This incredible diversity is yet to be exploited by the Tourist Industry in terms of marketing. Almost every southern African country can offer you the big five mammals but endemic species of plants, like orchids, ferns, lichens and aloes along with small but gorgeous butterflies, moths or frogs are of tremendous interest to naturalists.  Birding is especially rewarding. Rare birds such as the Taita Falcon in the mountains and threatened species such as the Blue Swallow. Miombo woodlands are important with specialised species that birding clients are looking for such as the Miombo Rock Thrush and the Cinnamon Breasted Tit, both are Miombo specials. In the highlands they are looking for Gurney’s sugarbird, Bronzy sunbird and Malachite sunbird. Such birds are limited to the Eastern Highlands.

For those who are interested in flora, Chimanimani has 40 endemic species of plants and small creatures such as dragonflies and frogs. Those people who have done a lot of traveling who now not so keen on sitting in the back of a vehicle looking at Big 5, are much more interested in the smaller things that are unique, they are the of people we find coming. When you walk you can notice the extraordinary details such as lichens and orchids on Msasa trees, or delicate ferns in the shelter of a rock covered in moss.  These areas of the Eastern Highlands are currently of great interest to scientists because there are many undiscovered species. Just last year we had moth scientists from Belgium, UK and France. Prior to that we had the Fern scientists and the Mushroom scientists. We regularly receive the frog scientists. Frogs, lichens, dragon flies are indicators of a healthy environment (clean air and water). Bulawayo Natural History Museum is now collating this information on the Eastern Highlands. These protected areas are crucial to world science because endemic species avail information about evolution around the specialized flora of an area. Scientists are still working out the relationships between endemic creatures and their food plants.

9. On top of hiking what other activities are available to tourists?

In Nyanga there is white water rafting and the Sky walk as well as the Turaco Trail, in Chimanimani there is mountain biking and horse riding as well. For young or fit people, “Bouldering” and “Canyoning” are taking off.  The relatively new sport known as Bouldering is a type of free climbing on huge boulders. It is done without ropes simply your fingers, toes, body strength and flexibility. With help from experts in South Africa we plan to include Bouldering skills in the training of Zimbabwe Mountain Guides. Let’s not forget that in the Eastern highlands it is safe to swim because there are no crocodiles or bilharzia. People use it as a great time to spend with their friends or family putting together a delicious picnic, cooler box and off they go.  This is the place for spending quality time in beautiful nature, away from technology. Something that a lot of families are missing these days.

10. How much can a tourist expect to pay?

In general the Eastern Highlands is affordable for locals and overseas visitors. Our guides are not yet qualified so they obviously also charge a lot less than the average fee for a trained Professional Guide. Presently in Chimanimani the fee is around USD20 per day and you can expect to pay someone who is more experienced in the region of USD35 per person per day.

This video created by Bad Rabbit Studio based in Harare.

Comments are closed