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Brian

Travel

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 3

Header3

November 17, 2015 cont …

The walk from the Sprayview Hotel into Victoria Falls town center was quick.  I was amazed how friendly people were.  Random locals passing by would smile and say “Hello” or wave and greet me from across the street.  It was such a friendly and open atmosphere.  I loved it.  My first stop was the post office and much to my dismay it had just closed.   An iron gate covered the glass doors of the entrance and through the glass I could see two clerks behind the counter.  As I looked in the slatted windows a woman called out asking if I needed stamps.  I answered “yes, just thirteen post card stamps.”  She asked if they were intended for the United States and I told her they were.  I thought she was going to tell me to come back tomorrow but she said:  “that will be $13.00” and in a minute she came to the window, handed me the stamps through the slatted glass panes.  I, then, gave her the cash and thanked her.  Wow!  What nice people!

Just outside was a red post office box and as soon as I stamped each of the post cards I slipped them inside.  The time was a few minutes after 5P.  From there, I walked across the parking lot and street to check out the strip of shops along the main drag.  The sidewalk was beautifully festooned with vibrant flame trees.

Flame Trees

Beautiful Flame Trees along the strip of shops in the town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The shops were packed full of locally inspired curios all made by local artisans and very reasonably priced.  I was told you could not bargain in these shops but I soon learned otherwise.  All the shop keepers were very friendly.  You’d walk in their store and they’d greet you and ask where you were from.  If you found something of particular interest they’d say “I can give you the sunset discount.”  If you were not interested you could just say “thank you” and walk away with zero harassment.  As you exited their shop they thanked you for stopping in.  These interactions were very refreshing compared to some of the other overseas shopping I have done (particularly the Aswan and Khalili (open-air) Market in Egypt).

Victoria Falls Shops

More shops in downtown Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Shopping and Dining

A small cafe among the shops in Victoria Falls

In one of the shops I was captivated by a beautiful 11×17 pencil sketch of a baobab tree.  I thought what a wonderful representation of Africa to display at home.  The artwork was signed by a Vincent and I asked if he was there in the store.  The young man who helped me quickly went and got the artist (who was outside but somewhere nearby).   Vincent Mathe was a young man from Zimbabwe probably in his late 20’s.  He told me about the piece and said his original asking price was $65.  I explained that I was not prepared to pay that price and I was concerned about getting it home without it being torn or creased.  Vincent said he could make me a cardboard tube to store it.  I agreed that should work and knew I would just have to carry it on the plane myself.  From there, he and I negotiated the price of the artwork down to a final $40.  We shook hands and Vincent signed the back of the artwork and wrote down his contact information.  I told him once I had it framed I would send him a picture of it hanging on my wall.  He was so excited about that.  Then we walked to the back of his shop and he picked up a cardboard box and proceeded to tear it down to the right size to make a sturdy tube.  Then he carefully rolled up the artwork and placed it in the cardboard tube for me to safely take home.  I was so happy with my purchase.

Vincent and I took a quick picture together outside the shop. We shook hands again and then I began my walk back to the hotel.

Vincent & Brian

Vincent and I outside of his shop in Victoria Falls

Across the street from the hotel was a small park with iron statues of horses, cape buffalo and other animals.  There was a “congress” of baboons moving through the park.  I tried to get their picture but they moved quickly and soon disappeared.

Before dinner we all gathered into a small room extended from the hotel lobby.  We sat in chairs surrounding a long table and in came a men’s quartet.  I was extra excited for this because I’m really into music.  The group had a robust and dynamic sound.  They sang their own interpretations of a handful of American doo wop songs.  I was hoping for some local tribal singing but listening to them was very nice and reminded me of some of my High School singing days.

Dinner was served poolside and the main course was one of the best entrees I’ve had this entire trip – roasted warthog.  Yes, you read that correctly – warthog!  I could hardly believe how good it was.  Perfectly cooked.  No fat whatsoever and deliciously seasoned with a nice dark brown gravy.  🙂   Too bad we can’t get warthog back in the Ohio.  LOL

After dinner, I sat at a table beside the pool and Facetimed with my mom and dad for a while (they live in Florida).  I was able to catch them up on most of the highlights from this trip and then I went to my room for some air conditioned sleep.  Before dozing off, Aryn and I chatted for a while.  Apparently, that night she had seen a lizard darting around our room.  I warned her she better check inside her shoes before slipping them on in the morning.  I had to be up earlier than her the next morning (5:00A) for my rhino game drive in the Livingston Private Game Reserve.  So excited!  I was told we have an 85% chance of seeing at least one rhino.  I really hope so since it will complete my goal of seeing all five of “The Big Five” (Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhinoceros and the Cape Buffalo).  Night Night!

 

Travel

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 2

Header2November 17, 2015 cont …

Our minibus drove us from the Sprayview Hotel into the center of Victoria Falls.  Vitalis informed us that if we wanted to go shopping later on or the following day we could either call a cab or walk.  Walking, he said, would only take between 15 and 20 minutes.  Vitalis had already taken our lunch orders for the Rainforest Cafe and we were all very hungry but before going to the restaurant he informed us that there would be a slight detour to see a “surprise.”

We were all excited with anticipation to see what “surprise” Vitalis had in store.  As we drove around the Victoria Falls Park we arrived at an enormous 1,400-year-old baobab tree.  This sucker was enormous.  We all got off the buss to take pictures.

Baobab Tree

1400 Baobab Tree in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

After our stop at the baobab tree, we drove to the Victoria Falls Park entrance where we had  wonderful lunch at the Rainforest Cafe.  

Rainforest Cafe Zimbabwe

Our table at the Rainforest Cafe.

Our meal was delicious but dessert was quite possibly the BEST desserts I’ve ever eaten in my entire life: a scoop of chocolate mouse with a slice of flourless chocolate cake.  (Thank you Donna for not being able to eat sweets which left an extra dessert that I quickly and selfishly volunteered for myself).  As an added bonus, an extra dessert was mistakenly served to our table.  A huge smile swept across Vitalis’s face and he said:  “Brian, the restaurant seems to have overestimated our servings of dessert by one.  Would you like this extra slice of chocolate cake?”   I practically jumped up from my seat and grabbed it.  BONUS!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The most AMAZING flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse.

What happened next soon came to be known as “the chocolate cake incident.”   As I was about to dive into my THIRD chocolate mouse/cake  dessert I began to feel a little guilty so I offered a bite to Aryn, Kathryn and Judy who said no.  So I asked Cheryl:  “Do you want a bite.”  (stressing the word “bite”).  Well, Cheryl accepted without batting an eye and practically grabbed the plate right from my hands and placed it on the table between her and Norma.  Like vultures, the two of them proceeded to DEVOUR my dessert!  My eyes burst from their sockets and I gasped.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It was as if these two women hadn’t had a meal in weeks and I had to move quickly if I was going to get any of my dessert back.  “Hey!”  I said, “that’s mine!  I was just offering you a bite.”  Cheryl and Norma looked up with a shocked look of guilt.  “Oh my God,” they said with a laugh.  They thought I was giving them the entire plate.  I, then, took back what little scraps of my dessert were left and “the chocolate cake incident” became a running joke from that moment on.  As Cheryl would say with a hearty laugh:  “It was HILARIOUS.”

During lunch, a young David Livingstone impersonator stood among the tables and told of his life and missionary travels and vision for Africa during the mid 1800’s.   I’m sure many people have heard that famous quote:  “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  It was interesting to hear his story.

After lunch, we proceeded on our two-hour walking tour through the rainforest trail along the amazing Victoria Falls.  Near the beginning of the rainforest trail was a bronze statue of David Livingstone looking over the falls.  Judy, Aryn, Katheryn and I gathered together for a photo.

Victoria Falls Tour

Me with Kathryn, Judy and Aryn (left to right)

In some of the photos of the falls we saw back around the visitor’s center you could see a rainbow spanning along the falls.  I thought to myself:  Wow!  I hope we get to see one of those today.  Well, I underestimated my expectations because there was a rainbow in almost every view of the falls.  Magical.

Victoria Falls

A view of the beautiful Victoria Falls from one of the lookout points along the rainforest trail. Notice the rainbow my camera captured in this photo.

We walked from the beginning of the trail (just outside the Rainforest Cafe and the gift shop area) all the way to the end that looked across at the Victoria Falls Bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls

Another view of the falls. This pic was taken with my cell phone.

The walk lasted from 2P till 4P.  For most of the walk I stayed with Vitalis and our group.  But later I ventured ahead and just enjoyed the peaceful beauty of the area.  I was able to gather many of my thoughts about the trip as well as sort through some of my experiences throughout the entire year.  It was a really nice experience and in some ways mirrored the peace of my walk back home along the Towpath in Summit County, Ohio.

Rainforest Trail

Rainforest Trail along Victoria Falls

After our walking tour of Victoria Falls, we returned to our hotel and I was anxious to venture, on my own, into the town of Victoria Falls.  I was on a bit of a time crunch because I wanted to mail my post cards and I knew the post office, in town, closed at 5P.  I could have grabbed a taxi for $5 but I chose to hurry on foot instead.  Vitalis had told us it was a safe walk during the daytime, even alone.

My first stop, was the post office.  I needed to buy 13 postcard stamps and get my cards mailed back to the US.

 

Travel

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 1

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November 17, 2015

9:40P

What a night last night and what a day today.  Wow!

Aryn and I both woke up around 1:30A to these horrific winds and heavy rains pouring down on our canvas roof and blowing in the screened windows behind our bed.  We immediately closed the window flaps to keep out the rain.  The wind was so bad I envisioned trees falling down on us and our canvas roof ripping right off.  I then gathered my wallet, passport, camera, glasses, cell phone, and malaria pills and placed them all in my small bag in case I needed to abandon ship.  Of course, that would present an entirely different host of concerns knowing there had been a leopard outside just a few hours prior.  For the next hour or so, we laid in bed very afraid of how this night was going to turn out.  Finally, when the winds & rain calmed down I was able to fall back asleep.

At breakfast, I was surprised to hear no mention of the storm from anyone on staff.  Apparently, it wasn’t as big a threat as we had felt.  We did, however, hear reports that a lion had been roaming through camp most of the night after the storm subsided.  Thank God Aryn and I followed instructions to not step outside our tent.  I imagine if the storm had been enough of a threat to compromise our tent, then one of the staff members would have come and collected us all and taken us somewhere safe.

After breakfast we said goodbye to Ed, Sally and all the wonderful staff at Kashawe Camp and piled in our two jeeps.  It was about 6:30A.  It was interesting to see the accumulation of rain deposited throughout the area.  The water levels of the rivers had risen and the soil was no longer so devastatingly parched.  About 15 minutes into our 45 minute drive to the boom gate we approached a fairly steep hill.  The first jeep struggled but made it.  We, on the other hand, were hauling the luggage cart and our tow was too heavy for us to make it so we got stuck in the mud.  Although, inconvenient, this experience actually became hilarious.  After many unsuccessful tries of laying on the gas, backing up and forward, Mafuka, our bus driver and Vitalis all got out of the jeep and detached the luggage cart.   Mafuka, then, radioed for help.  With the luggage cart and two passengers removed from the equation, Mafuka was able to get enough traction to get us up the muddy hill.

 

The sky was still overcast, there was a light rain in the air and we were all wearing our ponchos as we sat in the jeep waiting for help.  About a half hour later, a big red tractor arrived and hauled the luggage cart up the hill.   Cold and wet, we happily applauded the tractor driver and were happy to be on our way to the enclosed mini bus waiting for us 30 minutes away at the park entrance.  The guides quickly reattached the luggage cart and off we went.

Stuck in Mud

Luggage cart being hauled up the hill by the tractor in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

When we arrived at the boom gate, the first half of our group was anxious to learn what had happened.  Oh well, nobody was eaten by a lion or injured so there really was nothing to complain about.  I guess Hwange National Park was not going to let us get away that easy.  Haha!

The bus ride to the town of Victoria Falls was an uneventful 2 hours.  Vitalis had our driver take us through some of the residential streets of Victoria Falls so we could see how the locals lived.  Most of the homes were single story and very modest.

Home in Zimbabwe

A typical residence in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We also stopped along the side of the road to interact with some women selling chickens, guinea fowl and roosters.  This was more of the learning and discovery exposure that we all really enjoyed.

Birds for Sale

Chickens and Roosters for sale along the side of the road in Victoria Falls.

As soon as we reached the Sprayview Hotel I hopped on the Wifi to connect with Aaron, my mom and a few other folks back home.

Sprayview Hotel

Entrance to the beautiful Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Sprayview Lobby

Reception seating area at Sprayview Hotel. It was seated in that chair that I was able to find a solid Wifi connection to send text & Facebook messages back home.

It’s weird to be back in civilization with four walls, a real roof and air conditioning.  The pool area here is simple yet beautiful.

Sprayview Pool

Pool area at Sprayview Hotel.

Our room at the Sprayview Hotel is clean and cozy.  Our OAT luggage bags were on our beds when we arrived in our room.  I have yet to actually carry my bag anywhere on this entire trip.  The service at all the camps and now, so far, this hotel has been on point.

Sprayview Room

Aryn and Brian’s room at the Sprayview Hotel. We did see some monkeys and baboons in these trees during our stay!

After a quick check-in to our rooms, we all gathered back in the hotel lobby to board our minibus which was taking us to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world: Victoria Falls.

 

 

Travel

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 14 Part 3

14.3-HEADER

November 16, 2015 9:18P post cont …

After our visit to St. Mary’s School we returned to Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park.  Just after passing through the boom gate we spotted a lioness walking in the grass.  She was on her way to lie down in the shade of a tree.  As we zoomed in with our cameras we discovered she had a rather nasty scar around her neck.  Our guide, Mafuka, said it was from a snare trap and that he was aware of this particular lioness.  He explained that the park wildlife reserve will soon be coming to treat her wounds.

Wounded Lioness

Wounded lioness walking towards the shade.

Our evening game drive started out with a nasty flat tire.  Our guide, Thabani, quickly resolved the situation and we were back on the dirt road.  We soon encountered a giant “obstinacy” (herd) of cape buffalo.  These animals appear incredibly curious as they all stop to stare at us in our parked jeep.  As long as we sat there, they stood there watching.

Cape Buffalo

Cape buffalo carefully watching us.

The drive continued without much excitement until we got word from another jeep that there was a pack of 19 painted dogs nearby  ‘Painted dogs?’ I thought.  I had never heard of such a thing.  Thabani stepped on the gas and hurried us to where they were just spotted.  Who would have imagined wild dogs could be so beautiful.  Their mottled black, beige and white coats are stunning.  They have large round ears and dark brown circles around their eyes.  What a peculiar yet handsome sight!

Painted Dog

Painted wild dog in Hwange National Park

The dogs were quick to move as they were hungry and hoping to find food before sundown.  Our jeep was on the road looking down from a low ridge and the dogs disappeared for a moment but then we found them again.  They had identified a potential meal: a lone female kudu and the hunt began.  Oh wow!  How lucky are we to see nature in full action.  The kudu went into the river as her protection against the dogs who were pacing back and forth surrounding her.  The hunt lasted over a half hour – right through sundown.  At one point (probably twenty minutes into the hunt) every one of the dogs disappeared.  This was a strategy to confuse the kudu into thinking she was safe to leave the water, which she did, and the dogs instantly reappeared.  Quickly, the kudu escaped back into the water and now the dogs became more aggressive.  They started entering the water in a drawn-out relentless hunt to secure their dinner.  As they drew in close, water was splashing everywhere and with the night sky around us it was impossible for my little camera to  capture the final kill.  But we could see it from where we all stood at the edge of the bluff.  After a 30 or so minute hunt the dogs succeeded in killing the poor kudu.  They all piled on top of her and in less than three minutes she was eaten.  What a rare sight to witness – talk about National Geographic live and in person!

Dogs hunt Kudu

Painted dogs have the female kudu trapped in the river.

Kudu and Dogs

Painted dogs desperately trying to get close enough to make their kill.

I also caught some pictures of the beautiful sunset behind us.  Those of us who chose to go on this game drive were so excited to brag about our discovery to the rest of the group when we returned to camp.  “Good good” as Vitalis would say.

Expecting rain, we all gathered outside around the crackling fire of the “boma” for some entertainment before dinner.  Over the bluff, the distant overcast night sky was being lit up in a deep maroon by the oncoming  showcase of lightening.  The staff formed a drum circle and performed for us and we followed by them singing the African national anthem.  It was beautiful.  Next, Judy led our group in “The Hokey Pokey” and the staff all joined in.  We all laughed and danced and sang together.  It was so much fun!

Boma

This is a shot of the boma during the daytime.

Next, Sally announced that dinner was served.  First, there was soup and then the main course was served buffet style.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love our dinner conversations.  There’s always so much laughter and new discovery as you get to know the local staff.

Now, I’m propped up in my cozy bed.  For the last 45 minutes or so we’ve been listening to the intimidating mating grunts of a leopard.  He seems to be getting closer.  Despite the other mating sounds we’ve heard, including the lion which I actually find quite soothing, the leopard mating call is a little scary.  I hope he doesn’t decide to come up on our front porch.  The winds have really picked up and are actually sounding rather ferocious.  I hope, if it does rain tonight, it’s a nice gentle rain.  But just in case of a storm, Aryn and I are setting our night stand lamps down on the floor (to avoid them being knocked over by the wind) and unplugging our phone chargers.

Nite nite!

 

Travel, Uncategorized

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 14 Part 2

14.2-HEADER

November 16, 2015 cont …

9:18P

Back from dinner and drum entertaining and dancing around the boma.  For our presentation we performed the hokey-pokey again.  All the staff members joined in and danced with us.  It was really fun and nice to drink a local beer (Zambezi) by the campfire.

So, anyway, back to our list at the Lukosa Homestead.  As we were sitting there in the “summer kitchen” we all went around and told our names and where we were from.  Then each of the villagers, minus the small children, who were only seen and not heard and very well-behaved, told us their names, marital status and how many children (and grandchildren) they had.

Homestead women

The women of the homestead were seated on a mat on the floor inside the summer kitchen.

Shalom, the first twenty-some year-old boy, translated for the headman as he explained the men’s duties in the homestead and his wife, via her grandson, who was the older young man, told us about the women’s role in the homestead.  We were then encouraged to ask questions followed by them inquiring about our life and culture back home.  They were particularly interested to learn about our process of getting married, weddings, and having children.  They were intrigued to learn that some married couples in our culture choose to never have kids.  The woman then brought in a tall wooden receptacle that resembled a butter churn and two long wooden poles.  Inside the receptacle they placed grain and used the wooden poles to pound down on the corn, alternating one pound at a time forming a fast engine-like motion.  By doing this for hours they would eventually create cornmeal. To help pass the time the ladies would sing while they worked.  The grandson who had now taken over the tour, translated the song’s lyrics:  “Those who work will prosper and those who are lazy will suffer.”

Cornmeal churn

Women making cornmeal

(Note:  We are now hearing the deep grunting of a leopard right outside our tent – yeesh!)

The grandson then gave us a tour of some of the structures around the homestead.

Village tour

Young man giving us a tour of the village. Beside him is the village “headman.”

We were able to go inside the girls hut because it was “the tidiest hut in the homestead.”  Haha!  The boys hut was off limits to our viewing because it was “messy.”

Village Hut

The girls room

We also went inside of the “winter kitchen.”  This is where the women do their cooking when it gets cold out because it’s more enclosed that the “summer kitchen.”  Interestingly enough, this winter kitchen is also where they hold “calling hours” for viewing a dead family member before they are buried.  The room was very simple.  It, like the “summer kitchen,” was round.  We were told the kitchens are intentionally designed this way because snakes like to hide in corners.  The villagers build their kitchens round so there are no corners for the snakes to hide.  Against one of the walls was a case of shelves and in the middle was a small fire covered by a metal grate.  On it sat a cast iron kettle with two small cast iron pots beside it on the ground.  The structures where everyone slept (the girls’ bedroom, boys’ bedroom and headman’s house) were all square.

Winter Kitchen

Inside the winter kitchen

After the tour we returned to the cool summer kitchen for “bush tea”, coffee and delicious rosemary shortbread cookies.

African Bush Tea

The young man being very hospitable and serving the “bush tea,” coffee and cookies.

We were also given the option of eating home-cooked mopane worms – yes, you read this correctly – WORMS!  This was a very interesting experience.  Vitals informed us prior to arriving in the village that the women would not be offended if we declined eating them.  The worms come from the mopane trees and are loaded in nutrients.  They were first boiled in water, then fried with onions and tomatoes.  As the bowl was passed around, I took one of the worms.  I mean, why not?  When in Rome … right?  The worms were crunchy on the outside and squishy on the inside.  Their flavor closely resembled that of a sardine.  Hmmm … no regrets but not exactly on my most favorite list.

Mopane Worms

Village woman offering us some mopane worms

As we enjoyed our morning tea and coffee, the learning and discovery continued as we were told that when a young man is talking one-on-one to an elder he never looks him directly in the eye or if the elder is seated the young man never remains standing so that he is above the elder’s head.  Eye contact is considered a form of aggression and standing above an elder is disrespectful.  So the young man must kneel or be seated.  I did not notice this behavior during our visit to the village.

Overall, visiting the Lukosa homestead was an amazing experience. The family was so grateful for all the groceries and cleaning supplies we brought them.  It was wonderful to see smiles on all of their faces.

Smiling African woman

I love the smiles on the faces of the villagers.

Next, we took the minibus to St. Mary’s School.  There, some of the kids came outside to greet us with a song.

African children singing

The boys and girls of St. Mary’s School in Zimbabwe greeting us with a song.

We were able to visit three different classrooms (the 1st graders, a computer room and the 4th graders).  In the 4th grade class we sat down amongst the students and talked with them.  They were still learning English but able to communicate pretty well with us.   I sat at a table with Cheryl and the kids told us about their favorite sports and games to play at lunch time and what they were learning.

St. Mary's School

Sitting down with the 4th Graders at St. Mary’s.

One particular boy was very enthusiastic in answering our questions and even read us a long paragraph from his English textbook.  It was so heart-warming to see the excitement in all their faces.  They loved having their pictures taken and insisted on us showing them their picture from our digital cameras.   Each of these kids had their own pencil, broken in half from a full one.  There were also aluminum soup cans on their desks filled with rocks or corn kernels.  This was what they used to learn math.

African Student Reading

One of the boys eagerly reading to Cheryl and I.

The school’s principal was grateful for all the gifts we donated including reading books, coloring books, deflated soccer balls, pencils, pens and crayons.

Some of these students walk up to 6 km a day to get to school and then, of course, another 6 km to return home.  This made me ask Vitalis if they had to worry about encountering wild animals during their walk.  Vitalis explained that the kids are only walking when their is, at least, some daylight and they are taught what to look out for and how to respond.  However, he said, there aren’t too many encounters with animals except for elephants.  Then he chuckled and explained that the elephants have learned to avoid and actually will run away when they hear children coming.  This is because children will sick their dogs on an elephant who is too big to stop a small dog as it darts in between and around their legs.  This behavior exhausts the elephant who then gives up.  In addition, Vitalis said that children used to roll tires over to an elephant who would pick up the tire with its trunk and throw it down.  The rubber tire would then bounce back up and all over the place.  This frustrated and exhausted the elephant who didn’t expect the tire to bounce so they would eventually give up and walk away in frustration.  So because of this, Vitalis stated that as soon as elephants hear the sound of children coming, they take off to avoid these frustrations.  I thought this was an interesting and hilarious look into the life of the locals.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the new learning and discovery throughout this trip.