Thursday, October 28, 2010

Safari Part 3 -Chipembele Education Center

Quick reminder the FS Friday blog roundup is being hosted this week by Becky at Small Bits. The theme is "I never thought I would...." this post is my entry. Make sure to click over to Small Bits on Friday to see what everyone has been up to.

One of the best parts of our Safari experience was also the most unexpected. Saturday we decided to drive the roads that surround the South Luangwa National Park. There are no fences around the park and the animals are free to come and go as they want. So you stand a halfway decent chance of seeing animals if you just drive around. Why would you want to do this instead of just heading into the park? For pretty much the same reason I was camping rather than staying in a cushy chalet. Money! The park itself is expensive to get into. $30 a person with kids under 12 half price, more than $100 for our family just to get into the park. The pass is good for 24 hours. Our plan was to do the guided night drive our first day then do a self drive the next morning so that we only had to pay the entry fee once, but could go into the park twice. We had all day to look for animals outside the park while we waited for our night drive

My scouts scouting the river banks for wildlife from the safety of the sunroof.

One of the guys at Wildlife Camp suggested we head towards an education center about 20 km south. Sounded like a plan so off we went. The drive was rough in parts requiring four wheel drive. We passed very close to some elephants with babies in the herd. The big male didn't seem to like us much. Elephants were by the far the scariest animals we saw on the trip. They are big enough that being in your car is no guarantee of safety and the males are very grumpy when there are babies in the group.

When arrived at the Chipembele Education Center we were greeted by Steve. He showed us around the center. Inside his wife Anna was teaching a class of local students in the classroom. The room we were shown was Colin's idea of heaven. It was stuffed to the hilt with bones, feathers, skins, minerals, scat, fossils, gems, rocks and ancient artifacts, all collected in the local area and used to teach the local children about the environment. The hope for these students is that when they grow up they will be able to find work at the park and become caretakers of the environment. They need to be able to recognize not only the animals but also the traces they leave behind.

The kids spent a long time at this table examining the scat. Scat would be poop y'all, lots of poop, all neatly labeled in pretty baskets.

Alonzo standing next to the neck bones and skull of a giraffe. Gives you an idea how big they really are. Big! Trivia fact: Giraffes have the same number of neck bones as humans.

When we went outside we found warthogs running around the driveway. Look it's Pumba! I love how they stick their tails straight up in the air.

Steve took us down to the river. It is hard to believe but in a few short months when the rains come this almost dry river bed will be full of water and this boat will become Steve and Anna's only means of transport. Crazy!

Steve telling us about the animals he sees around the center and the artifacts found in the area.

This is when I did something that never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined doing. We waded right into the Luangwa River, a river well known to be full of crocodiles and hippopotamus, two of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Clearly we have all lost our minds. I would never do this on my own, but Steve routinely walks the river area and is aware of the dangers and knows what to look out for. In we went and it felt as if we were wading right into an episode of Wild Kingdom.

Look at that smile. I am picturing myself as the next Marlin Perkins. Unlike Mom the kids are obviously worried about something.

I wonder if it could be this crocodile that was making them nervous?

We only waded a short way to a sand bar. From there we could watch the hippos. It was pretty cool to be so close to a wild hippo herd. Steve also pointed out a herd of elephants in the distance, and a colony of bee eaters living in the dirt cliffs above the river.

What do you call a group of hippos? Herd? Pod? Dale? Bloat? Whatever you call it that's a whole lot of hippo out there. I love their little pink ears sticking up above the water, they flick their ears constantly.

This picture taken with out zoom gives you a better idea of how close we were to the hippos, close enough, but not too close. A zoom lens is a wonderful thing at times like this.

All those holes are made by bee eater birds. They are gorgeous. If you click on the picture you might be able to make out a couple in flight. I couldn't get a better picture because:

a) unlike Kolbi I have no idea how to use my camera
b)I need a bigger, better, more expensive zoom lens
c) there are hippos between me and the birds so this was as close as I could get
d) all of the above

The answer is d of course.

Now this is the safe viewing distance for elephants. No danger of being trampled here. Just that pesky crocodile over there. Pay no attention to the crocodile.

After we left the river area Steve graciously invited into his house were he showed us bunches of artifacts he collected in the area. There have been people living around here for a long long time. Some of the pottery shards and weapons he showed us were simply amazing. Recently a team from a UK university dug up a pot containing food remnants including domesticated sorghum which established a date for farming in the area as early as 400 AD. Wow! Just wow!

We were shown one more thing. This grave of one of Steve's dogs. If the name sounds familiar it's because there is a children's book written about Bulu. It is called Bulu: African Wonder Dog and it is available on Amazon. You just know that will be under our Christmas tree this year!

Just to make the day a little more perfect on the way back to camp to get ready for our night safari we saw giraffe in the distance. At first I thought they were tree stumps, I am so glad I was wrong. It was our first, but not last, glimpse of wild giraffes.

*If you are going to be in the area and are wanting to go the wildlife center click here for the contact info The GPS coordinates are S13 12.143' E31 42.274' The roads can bit a bit confusing so it is really nice to have the GPS. They do ask for a donation return for your visit.


Bfiles said...

this is amazing!! thanks so much for the detail! Love the pic of you in the water. You have a carefree smile on your face but you're clutching one kid and it looks as though another is clutching you! LOL

Daniela Swider said...

Awesome indeed! I'm living vicariously through you/your blog...

Becky said...

So cool! I agree. Reading your blog is like National Geographic. (Or just graphic it you're taking bugs.) Some post you make me want to run screaming to Singapore. Other blog posts, I want to hop the next flight to Africa. Sch an awesome experience.

Becky said...

Your post has been included in the weekly State Department Blog Round Up

Thanks for your wonderful contribution!

Connie said...

What an amazing day out! I would love to visit that center. I think I would be more terrified of the hippos than the crocodiles!

A Daring Adventure said...

Good heavens, Shannon- what amazing pictures.

Love the - Look! It's Pumba! That was hilarious.

I just can't even wrap my brain around everything you're doing and seeing. It's absolutely amazing. Truly amazing.

And I can't fathom how much it is to buy entrance to the reserve! $100+ for your family?! That's a lot of money! I mean, obviously, it's worth it- it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that's a lot of money!

Sara said...

What a wonderful adventure you are having. Thanks for sharing!