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Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 14 Part 1

14.1-HEADER

November 16, 2015 – 5:50A
Looking out from the front porch of our “tent” at a beautiful sunrise over Hwange National Park.  Temperatures are nice and cool.  Enjoying all the sounds of nature surrounding me and feeling very privileged.  I slept like a log last night.  Heading to breakfast soon.  I have a feeling today’s visit to the “homestead” and the elementary school will be eye-opening.

3:45P

Back at Tent 9.  What an enlightening day for learning and discovering.  Our jeep drive from Kashawe camp to the Hwange National Park boom gate entrance is 45 minute and from there to “Hwangetown” was maybe another 25 (by minibus).

First, we stopped at an open-air market to look around at the wares the local people were selling.  Most of the stuff was items you’d find at a hardware store along with cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, produce, spices, dry beans and nuts.

Fruit Market

A glimpse into one of the open air markets we visited. This was a produce stand but most of the items sold were hardware-based.

After browsing around for about a half hour, we got back on the bus and drove to a local supermarket called OK Market.  There, we donated $5 to Vitals for him to purchase groceries and cleaning supplies for the family at the “homestead” we were about to visit.   Browsing through the OK supermarket was a learning and discovery experience in and of itself.  The store was clean and very well-organized.  There was a variety of grocery items along with a section of cooking supplies, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, paper products, etc.  Everything was arranged on the shelves in a neat and orderly fashion and each aisle was clearly labeled overhead with the category of products it held.

OK Supermarket

Looking in the OK Supermarket from the front entrance.

I bought a $1.00 packet of oxtail soup dry powder.  I thought this would be an interesting thing to take home and cook for Aaron.  I also bought some pre-packaged chocolate chip cookies (brand name Charhons) to try.  I ate two and gave the rest to a family of three sitting outside the store.  Their baby was so adorable and smiled at me when I handed him a cookie.

Flame Tree

A beautiful flame tree across the street from the OK Supermarket in Zimbabwe.

Then we got back on the bus to head for the hosting homestead in the Lukosa village.  On the ride there, Vitalis taught us the words “Chi-ni” (which means “Greetings”) and “Ta Boca” (which means Thank You in the Shona language.  Vitalis explained all about his native language of Shona.  He said the alphabet is the same letters as ours expect they don’t have the letters X or L.  Their vowels are the same 5 vowels as ours but pronounced the same as they do in Mexico.  Words of the Shona language are very basic and easy to sound out as everything is pronounced just as it looks on paper.  Vitalis joked about how difficult it was for him to learn the English language.  He asked us why certain words were pronounced nothing like they are spelled.  We all couldn’t help but laugh in agreement as he gave some examples.  One example he used was the word “cafe.”  He asked: “If the word ‘cave’ is pronounced ‘k-ayve’ then why is the word ‘cafe’ pronounced ‘ka-fay’?”   That’s when Nora shouted out:  “Blame the French for that one!”  Haha!

Next, Vitalis asked us:  “If the plural version of ‘tooth’ is ‘teeth’ and the when you have more than one ‘goose’ you have ‘geese’ then why if you have more then one ‘booth’ you don’t say ‘beeth’?”  We all laughed hysterically at that one.

As we neared the village, we saw a couple of women carrying baskets on top of their heads.  Very cool.

Basket African Woman

A woman gracefully balancing a basket on her head.

There are a total of 500 homesteads within the village of Lukosa.  The homestead that hosted us today was very simple.  There were a few small structures made of mud from termite mounds with thatched roofs, a chicken coop and corn and grain silo made of sticks and a small outhouse made of cement blocks.

Lukosa Homestead

A view of the homestead we visited within the village of Lukosa.

We were immediately greeted by the family who were all very friendly.  There were six women, an older gentleman (the “headman”) and a boy in his twenties.  The school-aged kids were all in school but there were four 3 and 4-year-old boys.  One of our OAT pre-trip letters had suggested bringing something customary of your home state to share with the people at the homestead.  I brought a small pack of Ohio State Buckeye candies.  I handed them to one of the women.  She showed her son who was standing beside her and a big smile came across his little face.  It was adorable.  I loved it.

The family invited us into a structure called the “summer kitchen.”  They said it would be nice and cool in there.  We all filed inside and sat along the built-in bench that aligned most of the interior wall.  The women and children all sat on a grass mat on the ground.  In the center was a long wooden table. The boy in his twenties did most of the talking and then another boy (also in his twenties) came and took over the lecture.  Both of them spoke very good English.

Summer kitchen

In the foreground is a wooden stand used to dry dishes. The round building in the background is the summer kitchen where we all gathered to meet the family.

I’m heading out now for our evening game drive.  I will write more tonight before bed.

 

Travel

Trip of a Life Time: Ultimate Africa: Day 13 Part 2

Day13HEADER.01

November 15, 2015 12:46P post cont …

While Mafuka continued making the bracelets out of the baobab tree fibers, he invited us to ask whatever questions we like.  After all, we’re out in the middle of nowhere so, other than a nearby fisherman down on the riverbank, who else in the world is going to overhear our discussion?  No one!  Our questions eventually led us to another controversial topic:  Parents teaching their kids about sex.  Here in Africa, what a child learns about sex is from another adult figure other than their parent.  In fact, parents won’t even so much as kiss one another in front of their children.  Vitalis seeing your parents kiss would only occur at a special event, such as a wedding, and it would be very brief.  These affectionate displays are kept private.  So when a parent realizes it’s time for one of their children to learn about the birds and the bees they will approach a respected elder in the village that’s close to the child (say an uncle, grandparent for close family friend) and ask them to have “the talk” with the child.  It’s not that it’s too embarrassing for the parent to talk to their child about sex, it’s simply that it’s not an appropriate behavior in the African culture.  Very interesting.

While we were all standing beneath the thatched roof of the stone pavilion, listening to Mafuka, we spotted a crocodile floating along in the water down below.  In the distance, there arose a rather plump hippo.

Speaking of animals, when you’re out on these game drives, never assume any of them to be uneventful.  On our ride back to camp, we had a near assault with a rather upset teenage male elephant.  I was able to get some great photos, being so close, but wished I had caught the experience on video instead.  Here’s what happened: we were driving up the dirt road and spotted two elephants to our right.   The nearest one was not happy to see us.  He raised his head and threw out his giant ears.

Hwange Elephant

Elephant throws out his ears as a warning.

I zoomed in my camera lens and got a great close-up shot.  This one is definitely getting framed!

Elephant Close Up

Quite possibly one of my favorite pics from the entire trip.

Our guide Thabani said that the elephant was probably trying to cross the road and our jeep had interrupted his path.  The second elephant stayed calm in the background but the one nearest to us, continued staring us down.  For a moment, I sensed that he and I had locked eyes.  I moved my camera out of sight worried that he might think it was some sort of weapon.  He began swaying his head from side to side, flopping his ears.

Angry Elephant

Angry teenage male elephant approaches our jeep.

We all sat there breathless with our hearts racing.  Thabani backed up the jeep to make room for the elephant, who them stepped into the road.  As he crossed the road he faced us head on and ran forward.  We thought we were about to get plowed over by this massive creature.  Suddenly, he reared back and trumpeted loud.  None of us could move  Oddly enough, Thabani and Vitals, seated at the front of the jeep, appeared perfectly calm – almost relaxed.  After the elephant cross the road he rounded one of the mopane trees, tilted down his head and thrusted his entire head and body into the tree knocking it to the ground. Wow!  Now the road was clear and Thabani turned around and asked:  “Had enough?”  Each of us swallowed the lump in our throat and assured him that we were ready to get the heck out of there!

Charging elephant

Elephant stepped into the road and started to charge towards our jeep.

Now that we are back at camp, I am relaxing on the front porch of our tent enjoying the peaceful view.  At each the 4 camps I have collected a small handful of dirt from just outside our “tent.”  The dirt I collected from this particular camp was a few feet from the stairs to our tent and had a lion print in it.  How cool!  I’m hoping to find a wood-carved bowl with a lid, identical to the ones placed on the bathroom counters at every one of our tents, holding the powdered laundry detergent we can use to wash our “smalls” (underwear).

Before our evening game drive, the camp staff is going to show us how they make origami safari figure out of table napkins.  Lots of laughs.

Napkin Origami

Origami with napkins lesson at the dining table of the main lodge of Kashawe Camp.

3:31P

Maybe this is just a guy thing but it’s so cool to stand over a toilet as you’re gazing out through your screened tent window into the nature of Africa.  Haha!

9:10P

I love watching all the warthogs run away.  They’re so cute with their tails sticking straight up like an antenna and then having to stop and look back at what they’re running from because they’ve forgotten.  So funny.

Back at tent 9 relaxing in my very comfortable bed.  It’s a cool, clear night with no lightening or thunder so hopefully we get a good night’s sleep.

Napkin folding was fun to watch and our game drive’s main highlight was pulling up to the top of a ridge for a stunning look of the golden and green valley below.

Hwange View

Stunning evening view of a small piece of Hwange National Park.

This was a great opportunity for Aryn, Judy, Katheryn and me to capture a picture together with the beautiful view in the background.

Hwange Zimbabwe

Kathryn, Judy, Aryn and me in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Two particular palm trees were pointed out to me as resembling the facial image of two lions.  Very cool.

Lion King Trees

The Lion King palm trees in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Hwange Natonal park

Mafuka and I. This cat’s been leading safari game drives for over 50 years.

We remained up on that ridge, taking pictures and mingling, right through to the final drop of the sun into the horizon.  It was a beautiful experience I will never forget.

Hwange Sunset.

Sunset over Hwange National Park. See image at top of blog for another sunset view from the same night.

Our drive back to camp was full of laughter as Aryn, Katherine, Judy, Cheryl, Donna and myself joked about making up some extravagant tale we could boast to the group in the other jeep about what we saw on our drive back.  The story took the embellished and hilarious turn (thanks to Cheryl’s contagious laughter) of our group witnessing an elephant giving birth to a baby.  Before you knew it we were fabricating that the infant got stuck halfway outside of the mother and Cheryl had to get down from the jeep and assist in delivering the baby!  She said: “Oh yeah, I just reached right in there and pulled on the baby’s trunk!”  We laughed the entire way back to camp.

(Note:  I just heard a hyena in the distance).

Aryn and Cheryl both have much nicer cameras than my Canon Power Shot. Aryn has a DSL and Cheryl a two DSLR’s.  I know they were able to get some pics of animals running or birds in mid-flight that my camera’s shutter speed is too slow to catch.  Cheryl’s always so funny when she gets one of those unexpected amazing shots – with an expression on her face as if to say:  “Wow.  That was 100% luck.”

I’m off to sleep now.  Tomorrow we are visiting a village “homestead” and an elementary school.  These are schools that OAT supports and money has been raised at this particular school for a computer room.

Publishing

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 13 Part 1

Day13HEADER.02

November 15, 2015 – 12:46P

Sitting on the front porch relaxing in the cool afternoon temperatures of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  Let me start by writing about last night.  What a fantastic thunder and lightening storm.  The lightening first appeared in the distance filling up the entire sky with deep shades of red.  Not long after, there came bellowing roars of thunder that spanned for nearly an hour as I lay awake in bed.  I was hoping for rain and between wind bursts I could hear footsteps in the grass outside our “tent.”  The wind bursts became so ferocious that one particular gust blew so hard against the canvas wall behind our beds that it knocked over the lamps on Aryn and my nightstands.  This really made us nervous and my first reaction was to quickly unplug my camera battery that was charging.  Then, I replaced the lamp onto the nightstand and finally it began to rain.  The rains were heavy and I pulled the heavy comforter up to my chin to keep warm.

Eventually, the weather system moved out and we were able to sleep again.  The following morning we both admitted our concern over the canvas roof possibly ripping right off or the doors flying opening and a lion creeping inside to escape the rain.  You know, I never did figure out what those outside footsteps were.

After a nice breakfast, the following morning, we headed out on our first game drive of the day!  The sky was overcast and a light rain materialized which really cooled things down to, I’d say, the mid 60’s.  It felt amazing.  I can’t say enough good things about OAT.  They don’t miss a trick because the jeeps came equipped with enough green ponchos for us all to wear.  Unfortunately, when the rains come the animals hide.  We did, however, see a few impala, zebras and some birds.

Zebras in Hwange

Zebras hanging out in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

After a while, we stopped at a picnic area with bathrooms.  The guides served up our morning tea and coffee with these wonderful rosemary shortbread cookies.  Since it was overcast and slightly raining, we gathered beneath the thatched roofs of one of the structures that stood beside a giant candelabra tree.

Hwange Pavilion

Pavilion where we gathered to escape the rain for our morning tea & coffee. Notice the beautiful candelabra tree.

One of our guides, Mafuka, had taken some long strands of tree fiber from one of the baobab trees.  He began by pressing them in a downward motion along his leg and by doing this he was able to twist the strands into a tight, thin rope.  He, then, used these short ropes to make bracelets for all the ladies.  I, selfishly, asked him to make one for me as well, which he did.  He also made one big rope and, when holding it up, said it was strong enough to tow one of the jeeps.  Wow!

Baobab Bracelets

Mafuka making the bracelets out of fibers from the baobab tree.

While Mafuka was making the bracelets, he shared with us bits and pieces of his life and the Zimbabwean culture.  He particularly focused on the cultural practice of polygamy.  Very educational.  Mafuka is 74 years old.  He has been leading game drives for over 50 years.  He, now, has 3 wives as he divorced his 4th one years ago.  Divorce is a very informal process here in Africa.  The man simply tells his wife he no longer wishes to be married to her and sends her on her way.  No divorce attorney or paperwork is required.   If there is a child between them, the man is expected to provide for that child.  Sometimes this gets messy.

The process of getting married is fairly simple, as well.  If a man likes a particular girl, he simply courts her and if she falls in love with him and and he wishes to be married, he asks her to marry him.  If she says yes, he, then, pays a dowry.  The dowry price ranges based on the value of what the woman can bring to the marriage.  For example, if she is educated, she could bring a substantial income to the marriage and, therefore, the price of the dowry increases.  Mafuka gave the example of “10 cows and $5,000,” as a dowry price.  He also explained that if a guy has a good reputation the dowry price is lower than a guy with a bad reputation.  This is the opposite of what we would think would determine someone’s dowry price.  However, it’s done this way so to possibly discourage a “bad boy” from marrying your daughter by raising the dowry cost hopefully to a level that he can’t afford.  Smart thinking!

Mafuka continued by stating that if a man finds another available girl that he likes or, in some cases, his wife may suggest bringing in a particular girl (say one of her cousins) and the man likes her, he can ask her to marry him as well.  Mafuka said he knew of a man with 40 wives.  He also shared that despite having multiple wives, some men cheat on their wives with a mistress.  This can create a lot of village gossip.  Our other game drive guide, Thabani, is much younger (probably in his mid 20’s) and has only one wife and three children.

We also learned there is a lot of societal pressure around having children.  So much that there have been cases where girls who were unable to bear a child have committed suicide.  There have also been cases of men committing suicide from the stress of trying to keep his mistress a secret from his wife(s).

Baobab Tree

Beautiful baobab tree where Mafuka stripped the fibers to make our bracelets. Notice the extensive scouring of bark. This is the work of elephants rubbing their bodies against the trees and can be seen throughout Hwange.

(This conversation will continue in part 2 of Day 13)

 

Travel

Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 12

Day12.HEADER

November 14, 2015 – 7:30A

Today is my dad’s birthday!  Happy Birthday Dad from Zambia!

We are getting ready to take off on our 12-seater “puddle jumper” plane to leave Zambia for Zimbabwe (or “Zim Zim” as Vitalis calls it).  Zimbabwe is his homeland and you can tell he is both proud and excited to show us some of its highlights.  Unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is 80%.  Yikes!  Many of its unemployed are earning money by selling their hand-carved and handmade goods (i.e. sandstone and wood carvings).  Our pilots again are Julie and Shane.  Skies are clear and the sun is shining. It’s tough to leave this particular camp. The riverfront view from the main lodge and our “tent” was spectacular.

Last night, I woke up briefly around 1:30a to use the bathroom and heard footsteps in the grass outside our tent.  I turned off the oscillating fan for a better listen and discovered there were two hippos using the “hippo highway” right along side our front porch.  One at a time, they splashed into the water.  I then, turned back on the fan, walked through the mosquito netting, and got back into bed.  While we were getting ready this morning, Aryn said she had been awake and heard them as well.

I woke up to my 5:30a cell phone alarm (a half hour earlier than our wake-up call from the camp staff).  I planned this to give myself some extra time to sit out on our front porch.  As I stepped outside, all wrapped up in my giant white comforter, I checked my surroundings for hippos.  As soon as I knew the coast was clear, I sat down on one of the director’s chairs with my feet stretched out before me and gazed out at the morning view of the beautiful Kafue River.  The reflection of the trees in the water across  the river was stunningly perfect.  The staff informed us that the water level is currently down around ten feet due to the lack of rain.  From my vantage point, the benefit to the drought is the ability to see the intimately-woven root system of the trees exposed along the river bank.  The low waters also allow the hippos to stand on the river’s bottom and poke their eyes up and look around.  I saw a couple pairs of hippo eyes popping up this morning, as well as, a couple of fish jumping up out of the water.  I could have sat there for hours.  It was so peaceful.  It was perfect!

Kafue River

Morning view of the Kafue River from my tents front porch. Zambia 2015

As I was sitting there thinking, I recalled saying to the group during one of our recent game drives that with all the magnificent animals and scenery we’ve experienced: “I expect my afterglow from this trip to last me a whole year.”  After saying this, Norma turned to me in the jeep and said:  “Brian, it will last you the rest of your life.”  I bet she’s right.

Now, we are flying at 10,900 feet with beautiful views of the green “bush” all around.  So far, it’s been a smooth flight.  Thank you Julie and Shane!

Vitalis told us that on our way to our next camp, Hwange National Park, we are stopping to look at fabrics.  Should be interesting.  I know Aryn’s mom, Judy, is very excited as she hopes to buy a huge variety of bright colors to make things when she returns home.  Vitalis told the women in our group that he would pay for the first round of fabric.  His idea is that they are to bring one of their fabrics to the homestead we are going to visit and the women there will show them how to properly tie it around their waist.

On a side note, I find it interesting how the staff at each of these tented camps will spend months away from their families.  They either work for 3 months with one month back home with their families or work for 2 months with eighteen days off back home.  That must be a hard schedule but they say they love it.  We’ve learned that some of the single staff members end up dating some of the other single staff members and, sometimes, marrying them.  Makes sense because these are the people with whom they spend most of their time.

On another side note, I must say that I have been very fortunate with the choice of anti-malaria pill (Proguanil) that I was prescribed by Passport Health back home.  Even though the bottle lists no specific instructions, I have always taken it will food and have yet to experience any stomach issues.

We are now flying over a large blue lake.  Spanning from its breadth is an intricate system of rivers stretching and turning in all different directions.  What a spectacular perspective we have from this height.  I’m really hoping for some Wifi at the airport.  I’d like to get some communication out to Aaron and Ma.

4:10P

After landing and crossing into Zimbabwe by minibus, we were able to stop at the Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls (which is actually going to be where we’ll stay for our last two nights of this adventure).  There I found a single spot where my phone was able to get a good enough signal to send text & Facebook messages.  I camped out in this chair for a good half hour touching base with Aaron and sending other messages.  I also visited the Sprayview Gift Shop in the lobby (bought nothing) and shared a Zambezi beer with Karen, one of the ladies from our group.  While checking in with Aaron I learned that nearly 200 people were killed in Paris by members of the Isis terrorist group and the entire soccer stadium was under threat and, therefore, evacuated.  Back in the US both JFK and LaGuardia airports were shut down as a safety precaution.

After leaving the hotel, we briefly stopped at a small tented marketplace in town to browse and buy the $2.00 fabrics Vitalis had told us about.  They were all so colorful and I bought two (a tan and brown one for me and a purple one for Aaron.  Purple was his mom’s favorite color).

 

Market Fabrics

Beautiful fabrics only $2 a piece at an open-air market in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

The bus ride to Hwange was over an hour and before entering the park we passed through an open casting coal mine – very interesting to see.

Now we have arrived at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  From our front porch we overlook a beautiful view of the rust-colored river valley.  Again, the water level is extremely low.  Hwange National Park is 14,000 square km and the terrain is completely different than the previous game reserve parks we’ve visited.  The terrain here is quite rock and hilly.  The main lodge at Kashawe overlooks the dry river valley and the golden rolling hills and tall bluffs.  When we arrived there were 12 giraffes down in the valley feeding off the acacia trees.  Vitalis proudly refers to this as “African tv.”

Kashawe Camp

My travel companions enjoying the view from the main lodge at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

African TV

A few of the giraffe’s we were watching from the main lodge. “African TV” in Hwange.

We all stood in the main lodge and looked out at all the giraffes.  The camp managers, Sally and Ed, requested our attention and introduced us to our game drive guides Mafuka and Thabani and briefed us on the camp’s layout and safety protocol (ie. the medical emergency horns, walking backwards vs turning and running if you encounter an animal, etc).  The current temperature is 98 degrees and Sally explained that this hot dry weather is unusual for this time of the year.   Their rainy season was supposed to have begun by now.  We filled our OAT water bottles before being shown to our tent (Tent 9).

Kashawe Tent

Tent 9 at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

On each of our beds was a towel folded up into the shape of an elephant.  Very cute.  As always, our OAT bags were in our room when we arrived.  We only are responsible for carrying any small bags (ie. carry ons).  The room is very comfortable.  I’m going to grab a quick cold shower before walking back to the main lodge at 5:00P for our evening game drive.  When I get there I do want to check out their gift shop.

Hwange Tent

Inside Tent 9 at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park. Notice the towels on our beds formed into the shape of an elephant.

9:10P

Our evening game drive took us past scores of vultures perched high up in the trees.

Hwange Vulture

Vulture perched high up in a tree scouting the area.

This is a good sign that there is a lion nearby so we began scouting for the high profile animal.  Unfortunately, we did not find one.  We did, however, stop to watch an entire herd (or properly referred to as an “obstinacy”) of cape buffalo.  There were dozens of them along with some of their young.  It’s funny how they will stand there staring back at you, motionless, the entire time you’re there.  We also saw a few giraffes, a memory of elephants and actually heard a couple of elephants trumpeting in the distance during the picturesque sunset … Ahh Africa!

Game Drive Jeep

Our jeep in Hwanage.

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo staring at us in on our first game drive in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Before dinner, Mafuka was standing at the edge of the bluff, beside two wicker chase lounge seats, that looked down into the river valley.  A few of us walked over and he held one finger up to his mouth and said:  “Shh, there is a leopard out there.  I can hear it calling.”   In my opinion, the leopard call is the most intimidating.  It’s a low and throaty panting grunt.  We stood there listening for a while but did not hear the leopard again.   Sometimes the waiting is the most exciting part.  🙂

Right now, I’m propped up in bed at our “tent.”  Dinner was delicious but dessert was even better: chocolate mousse.  Our guides, Mafuka and Thabani, escorted us to our tents bearing rifles.  This is the first time we’ve been delivered to our tents by armed guards.  Apparently, it’s Zimbabwe law.  They did warn us about frequent lion and leopard sittings throughout camp.  Jetting in one direction from the main lodge is the rust-colored dirt path to our tents.  The shorter path to each “tent” is marked by a series of sticks planted into the ground.  The number of sticks marks the tent number to which the path leads.  It was a long walk to our “tent” – Tent 9.  The guides were sure to shine the flashlight into the darkness looking for eyes looking back at us.

Tomorrow morning’s wake-up call is early at 5:00a in order to beat the heat while out game-driving.  I hear lots of sounds outside although, so far, no cats.  Night night!  Don’t let the lions bite!