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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!

 

Publishing

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

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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 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!