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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It has been a long crazy day. One of those days where the harder I worked the messier the house got. I just couldn't keep up with the messes the kids were making. I hate days like that. So tonight when I called it quits and settled down to watch TV while David went to The Shack to pick Dakota up from volleyball, it was with a sigh of relief that I sank into the couch with a cup of chamomile tea.

The quiet was short lived. Just as I started to take my first sip Colin screamed. About a half a second later before I could even put down my cup he came tearing into the living room. He was white and shaking. He managed to gasp, "There's a roach in my bedroom. It's INSIDE my mosquito net. I opened my eyes and it was right there!"

I hate roaches, even more than spiders! Hate them! The deal is David is supposed to kill all roaches but Dave was gone so I had to handle it. I pulled up my big girl panties, put on some shoes, grabbed the broom and went to slay the monster. Alonzo and Colin grabbed flyswatters and informed me they had my back. I was feeling the love. Then I saw this.

Yes I stopped to take pictures. I was stalling hoping David would suddenly appear and save the day.

How the h-e-double-hockey sticks am I going to be able to get that thing out of there to kill it? I tried knocking it down by swatting it with the broom. That didn't work. Grayson is asleep in that pile of blankets in the bottom bunk. I know right? You would think that the the screaming and lights would wake him up. I wish I could sleep like that. Anyway I can't leave my baby in there with a killer cockroach so I pulled the netting as far into the room and off the bed as I could and hit the roach with the broom again. This time it worked, sort of. Instead of dropping to the floor it ran down the netting straight at me. Dayum those things can move. I screamed! Alonzo and Colin screamed, Grayson slept on. The roach dropped out on the floor at which point I beat the living crap out it with the broom. Victory!

I need a stiff drink. I am not supposed to have to deal with this sort of thing. Alonzo and Colin have gone to back to bed. They took their flyswaters with them. Both of them are crammed into Alonzo's bed. Colin refuses to get back into his own bed. I can't blame him.

Wordless Wednesday -Fashion Statement?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where Am I?

I am in Africa, Duh! This week's FS weekly roundup theme is "A picture from where you are now" and it is being hosted by Becky at Small Bits. Make sure to click over there on Friday to see all the cool locations people where people are both mentally and physically. You may notice a ribbon of pink running through the photos this week. The pink is in honor of Jen Dinoia, a busy mom who decided to celebrate breast cancer awareness month (October) by getting diagnosed with breast cancer while her husband was serving an unaccompanied tour in the middle-east. I honestly can't imagine anything worse. Cyberbones has followed Diplopundit's example and gone pink in honor of Jenn. Today's post will be my contribution to the roundup, but first I bring you this public service announcement:

To the males in my household who delight in leaving this in every dark corner:

You are not nearly as funny as you think you are! If this continues we will see how funny you find braised chicken feet and stewed tomatoes and okra for dinner. Just Saying! Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to Africa. I loved watching documentaries about Jane Goodall. I wanted to go live with the chimpanzees too. I never missed an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom unless I was grounded. How many of you are now humming the theme song? "Mu-tu-al of Oooo-ma-ha is people you can count on when the going's hard" My favorite episodes were always the ones about Africa. I could see deer and raccoons out my door in my own fields but I just couldn't imagine walking out the door and seeing an elephant. How cool would that be?

Jump forward a few decades. We get posted to Africa. *SQEEEE!* Then we get here. In the first week the electricity goes out constantly, tiles fell off the wall in the kitchen, we ran out of water, the shower in the master bath (still) doesn't work, and the only animals out my door seem to be big a** spiders. YIKES! This was not the Africa I dreamed of. It is a dust coated, mosquito infested let down of enormous proportions.

Last weekend we went on safari. While hanging out in the pool staring out over the Luangwa River I began to fall just a little bit in love with Africa again. Suddenly I can remember why as a kid I thought Africa was the coolest place on Earth.

This pool is the perfect place to fall in love with Africa. Just steps away from the bar (11 steps, I counted!) it is calm, peaceful, relaxing and WOW! what a view!

Elephants! You wouldn't believe how long it took them to get up the nerve to walk down to the water. You would think something that big would be a lot less jumpy.

Impalas and baboons

Crowned cranes and sacred ibis

Pink baby baboon ears!
And yes they were very, very close to the pool.
How cute is that baby?!?

The pink of the sunset

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Safari Interrupted

We interrupt this safari experience to bring you Ntchisi Forest. Today was the last day of fall break for the kids. (OK they do have tomorrow off too but since Mom fired the maid, tomorrow will be clean the house day. The kids are not happy. Ha!) So we decided to fit one more adventure in before it is back to school this week. We decided that a hike was just the thing. After looking over our Malawi guide book we decided to head to Ntchisi Forest for a hike and lunch at the Ntchisi Forest Lodge.

Ntchsi Forest is some of the last remaining rainforest in Malawi. Deforestation is a huge problem here, to the point that we have been told by the mission not to buy wood or charcoal. Makes the fireplace and built-in BBQ a little pointless. At one time Malawi was mostly forested but now it is rare to see trees, mostly we see stumps that are trying to grow back. Most of Malawi looks like this.

The forest was a complete contrast to the Malawi I am used to seeing. It was lush and full of trees that reminded me of the trees in Indonesia, huge tall trees with arial and buttress roots. At times the canopy was so dense overhead that it was quite dark below. At one point we could see out of the forest to the deforested area beyond.

The forest is supposed to be home to a lot of animasl. We heard a lot of animals but only saw the occasional bird or bug. We heard monkeys but didn't see any. The other thing we didn't hear was airplanes or cars or other people. It was incredible to be in a forest and hear only the sounds of the forest. The wind was surprisingly loud in the canopy above even though we hardly felt any wind on the forest floor. What an experience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Safari Part 2- Monkeys, Mongeese, and Baboons, Oh My!

There was a comment left on Safari Part 1 asking about camping in Africa, specifically is there a big fence around the campsite. Nope, no fences. In fact all that separates the camp from the game park is the river, no fences anywhere. When we arrived and signed in we received a safety briefing letting us know that hippos and elephants sometimes wander through the camp at night, and that earlier in the week lions were seen crossing the river so once zipped up in your tent at night you should stay there, make sure you know where your children are at all times (GULP), and finally DON'T FEED THE MONKEYS! At this point you need to know something, I don't like monkeys, they freak me out!

Dave is standing in a tree right at the edge of camp. That almost dried up river is all that separates the camp from South Luangwa National Park. Those trees on the other side of the river mark the edge of the park. No fences, no barriers between us and all the animals we came to see.

Monkeys are freaky! Monkeys with blue balls are just too weird for me. Yes they are really just that color. It is hard to be afraid of a monkey when you are laughing at it. I think I hurt his feelings.

Actually I was pretty much against the whole idea of camping in Africa. I was convinced that the lions would rip a hole in the tent and eat one of the kids, or a hippo would stampede through the tent killing us all, or one of the kids would have to go to the bathroom on the game drive and the lions would eat the guide leaving us stranded in the middle of....Oh wait that is the movie Prey. Yeah not a good idea to watch that movie if you think you may ever go on safari. David and Dakota made me watch it years ago. I was so freaked by that movie that I brought a blue bucket to keep in the car just in case one of the kids had to go to the toilet during the game drive. Dave and Dakota laughed at me.

One thing and one thing only convinced me that camping was the way to go. Money! Virtually every place here charges per person not per room, per cabin, or per campsite. So if we had stayed at a chalet it would have run us around $220 a person per night. There are six of us. You do the math. Yes that would include all meals and game drives but still that's a heck of a lot of money. Africa ain't cheap! The camping fees were $10 per person per night with kids under 12 half price. Still way more than camping at the state parks back in Texas but at least within our budget. It didn't include our food or game drives but that's what sandwiches are for and we could swing one guided drive.

Our campsite. Our tent is the orange and grey one. Cody borrowed the small blue and grey tent from our campmates so he could have some privacy and sleep without his brother's foot in his ear.

The Wildlife Camp was pretty nice, it had hot showers, electricity, a bar, and a swimming pool. Not exactly roughing it. It also had monkeys, baboons and a pair of tame mongooses. The vervet monkeys were pests grabbing and running off with any food item left unguarded for even a second. The baboons mostly walked by and ignored us, although they too made occasion raids on our campsite. They were large enough that I watched them nervously but none of them approached any of us. The mongooses on the other hand were a lot of fun. The first night I was trying to get a few idea down on the computer so I could blog this later when I felt something touching my feet, it was the mongoose rubbing against my feet like a cat.

What do you think those monkeys are watching so intently?

The monkeys are watching this! Kids having breakfast. The monkeys are hoping for spilled fruit loops, dropped scrambled eggs, or unguarded bananas. A pack of messy kids turns out to be a pretty good source of food if you happen to be a monkey.

The monkeys weren't the only ones watching the kids. This baboon watched from a distance. The baboons were about three times the size of the monkeys. That's big enough to make them a bit scary.

In case you are curious here is what I typed that night. It captures the feeling of that night pretty well so I am just going to post it unedited.

Zambia night one

The road was horrible but we are finally here! The campsite is rustic but nice and as I type a mongoose is sniffing my toes. It tickles! I hope it doesn’t confuse my toes with grubs or snakes. OMG the mongoose is rubbing on feet the way my cat Bing rubs on my feet when he wants to be petted. It also makes tiny squeaky high-pitched grunting sounds. I had no idea that mongoose made sounds. Colin found out earlier that you shouldn’t mess with mongoose (mongeese? ) first he tried to pet it and almost got bit then he got scared and ran and it chased him until David grabbed him and yanked him up out of the way.

Sitting watching the sun set over the Luangwa River and listening to the hippos grunt was totally surreal. I am so glad the kids are getting a chance to experience this but at the same time I would love to come back without the kids and just sit and absorb nature. That would be fabulous!

Tomorrow we are going on a game drive, I don’t know if it will be the self drive daytime drive, or the guided night drive. I am hoping to do the night drive tomorrow and the self-drive on Sunday. I don’t know what I hope to see more, cheetahs have always been one of my favorite but on the way in we saw elephants in the distance, hippos up pretty close, a baboon, and vervet monkeys and that was just driving in.

For just a moment all the kids got quiet and we could hear the some sort of bird sound in the distance and the grunting of the hippos sounds much closer, which is a little unnerving. Earlier Conrad was here to give us a safety briefing. There are wild animals that routinely wander through the camp. Eeek!

The other family that we are camping with amuses me. He is former peace corps so I expected him to be a hard core back-to-basics type of camper. They brought everything and then some. An ipod with player, a mister, most of the pans from the kitchen, multiple ice chests, the kitchen sink. I was feeling guilty as I packed today. David likes to pack pretty light and I usually take crap for overpacking. I expect that conversation to be at an end, but I am sure it will continue.

Crap that hippo sound was very close!!! Very unnerving! At least I hope it was a hippo sound and not a lion "I want to eat you" sound.

I quit typing when the mongoose decided to climb up and make him self comfy on my shoulders. Yikes! I couldn't handle it and made David get it off of me. Dakota let it sleep on his shoulders for hours that evening as we set around the campfire. Dakota is either braver than me or less worried the wildlife will bite his ear off. The little guys didn't like the mongoose much. They would follow the kids around. The kids would get sacred and run and the mongoose was happy to play chase. Picture three screaming blond kids being chased by a pair of tiny Timon from the Lion King. Yes I know Timon was a meerkat not a mongoose but the mongooses made me think of Timon. I am afraid I wasn't much help since I was laughing at the kids. It really was funny. I wish I had stopped laughing long enough to grab a camera.

That look means "STOP TAKING PICTURES AND GET IT OFF OF ME! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!" Dakota just told me to smile, so I tried to smile while freaking out and ended up looking deranged.

It slept on Dakota's shoulders for a long time. Better Dakota than me.

Later in the night that hippo sound would come back to haunt me. I had a Perlman Update moment when I woke up just after midnight that first night with severe stomach cramps. I lay there for hours drifting in and out of sleep until about 3:30am when I suddenly bolted up out of bed and grabbed the blue bucket. You know the one I got laughed at for bringing? I spent the next couple of hours hugging the bucket, tossing my cookies, and listening to something very big walk around outside the tent. I did some very heavy praying that it was a hippo rather than a lion or leopard. At one point I wondered how dangerous what ever was out there was because I really really wanted to brush my teeth and that something big was between me and the bathrooms. David talked me out of it. Good man! No I never got up enough nerve to unzip the tent window cover and see what was making those sounds. I figured if I could see it, it could see me, and that could be bad. Yes I am a little crazy that way.

Sometime just before dawn I fell back to sleep. David said I slept about an hour. Some sort of noise woke me up. I opened my eyes and looking down at me was Curious George sitting on top of the tent. I am not so nice as the man in the yellow suit so I frightened the mokey away by growling at him. I am never frendly before my morning coffee and even less so if I have been up all night barfing. Poor little monkey.

Even though our first day of Safari didn't start well for me it got a lot better as the day went on. What an adventure we had waiting for us at the education center.

Gratuitous picture of the spider in the bathroom at the camp. Thank heaven it was in the boys bathroom, because if it had been in the girls I might have had to hold it for 3 days.

I just couldn't resist this picture. How often do you have the camera when a pair of monkeys decide to do the funky monkey right in front of you? Who could resist?