Lilongwe, Malawi: (Day 5) Dec-15-2013

After a very warm night I woke up before my alarm--just like I have been doing every single morning since arriving in Africa (except for my first day).  I stayed in bed till 5:00 listening to the wildlife around me.  I heard some hippos nearby.  I got out of my tent to wash my face and brush my teeth and saw a large baboon about 25 feet from me, across the pool, just sitting indian style.  There was a monkey nearby in the bar as well.  They seemed completely indifferent to me.  After having camped for two nights I had quite a bit of stuff that needed to be repacked.  I packed my bag for the day and then the rest in my overnight bag.  I repacked my sleeping bag inside my waterproof stuff sack and loaded that in the bottom of my bag.  My toiletries and electronics went on the top.  I carried my sleeping mattress over to the truck and put it above the seats in its designated holding space.


I very much dislike folding and repacking both the tent and rain fly all the time.  By the time I finish loading the truck with my tent and supplies I'm filthy--hands covered in rust and every other part of me covered in dirt from the tent/fly and their fabric covers.


Another day of burnt toast...toast without butter?  Yuk!  I forced myself to eat half a slice along with a few handfuls of unfrosted 'frosted' flakes.  A few gulps of tea go down just so that I get some H2O in my body.  After emptying and cleaning out the dish washing basin I took my seat on the bus.  I reviewed a few photos I took from my trip.  Honestly, I'm not overly impressed with them.  I love my camera, but it just can't compete with a full sized DSLR with a high mm lens w/ large aperture.  Taking photos at 200mm with 6.4f-stops just has its limits.


We're stopped right now taking a bush break.  We are on our way to Chipata for supplies, then we leave for  Lilongwe Malawi.  I loaded up on water and some chocolate treats.  Oh, and their apples have been absolutely delicious.
Getting Supplies in Chipata, Zambia


We arrived at the Zambia/Malawi border and stamped out out Zambia, walked over to Malawi through an iron gate that was slightly ajar and filled out some forms in the Malawi immigration office.  There was no visa required and also no fee...although we did need our Yellow Card (Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate).  The 2 women from Costa Rica needed to provide an extra visa they applied for through South Africa to gain entry into the country.  I asked her why she needed it and she told me "I guess Costa Rica and Malawi don't have the best foreign relations".  I told her, "That's weird because I don't have ANY relations with Malawi and they let me in".  We both chuckled.


Conversion rate is ~410 Malawi Kwacha to $1 USD.  In Zambia it was ~5,700k Zambian Kwacha to $1 USD.  However, in Zambia, most places accepted USD but equated 5,000 Kwacha to $1.  Beers at most of the bars in Zambia have been ~10,000 Kwacha (or $2 USD), ciders were 15,000, wines 16,000-19,000, cigarettes were 5,000-10,000 Kwacha.  At the supermarket cigarettes from local brands were as low as 5,000 Kwacha for a two pack.  That's less than $0.50 per cigarette pack.  US branded packs were ~$1/per.  Beer was between 5,000 and 6,500 kwacha for local brands and imports were around 8,000 to 9,000 kwacha.


I'm not sure if I stated this before but the sun tan lotions were very expensive...where everything else was at a discount compared to US standards, the sunscreen held hefty premium.


After we crossed into Malawi we stopped at some ATMs so that some of the people to could take out some local currency.  Godfrey also arranged for a local to come onto our bus to exchange money.  His rate was 410 Malawi Kwacha to $1 USD, if using bills larger than $20.  For $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills the rate was 350 Kwacha.  I tried to negotiate with him but he wasn't going to move so I went Kwachaless (as I did while in Zambia).  I learned that on the street larger bills are worth more than lower bills, thus the difference in the conversion rates.  My 500 Kwacha Calrsburg (Danish beer) was $2 since I was paying with smaller bills and they always round up to the nearest dollar.


We stopped at an animal sanctuary outside Lilongwe where they took in injured and poorly treated animals and helped them to recover.  Some of these animals were set free but the majority of them will live out their lives at this sanctuary.  It was like a zoo, but the animals had much more room and there was nothing artificial introduced into their environment.  They had quite a bit of monkeys/baboons. There were also owls, turtles, porcupines, 3 types of antelopes (bushbucks, impala, ?), a 5m (17') python, a few birds, crocodiles, and a female lion.  The lion had previously been sold to Romania where she was put on display and treated very poorly.  People had been known to burn the poor animal with their cigarette butts.  They showed some photos of the lion living outside during a winter, covered in snow....this was obviously not the animals natural habitat.  The lion's mate and child had died there.  The lion had two diseased eyes, one that eventually went blind.  Through international efforts the animal sanctuary was able to bring the lion back to Africa where she currently resides.  The center is currently trying to get another lion for her.


The lion was so beautiful...huge!  You can tell she wanted to play--she would rub her body against the metal fence, we were so close to the fence we could probably reach out and pet her.  She was trying to reach us and show her affection.


Afterwards we loaded back onto the truck--after putting all our rain gear away as it had just poured--we drove over to our camp site.  Along the way I immediately noticed how wealthy Malawi was (w.r.t. Zambia).  Many buildings looked very similar to those found in the west.  Roofing panels, inset windows/frames, proper foundations, etc..  There is clearly more money here than in Zambia...at least from what i've seen so far.


<I am writing this on June 27th, 2014:  I have since learned Zambia and Malawi are both VERY poor and any difference in perceived wealth had to do with the areas that we drove through and this was not representative of the country at large>


Placing a Bug Net On My Bed
We arrived at our campsite and they had no rooms for us to upgrade.  They offered for us to stay in this house-like place.  It was where they had their reception.  I believe it was a house for the owner/manager but likely hasn't been used for a while.  There were two bathrooms and two showers, though neither had curtains and only one bathroom had a door.  Some beds were missing mattresses and the fans didn't work.  However there were multiple TVs, though plugging them in would prove fruitless as it would just be static.  There were multiple rooms, maybe 5 or 6?  Stephanie took a room, I took a room, and the Couple (Debbie & Vincent) took another room.  I had told the person working at the campground that I will only stay here if they install a mosquito net...they complied.  The place was decked out with a sun room, fireplace, multiple couches, a scattering of African art, bongo drums, cabinets, dressers, and shelves.


They asked for $10 apiece for us to stay there and we all agreed.  Later on Godfrey had said that was a very good deal because these parts of Malawi "are getting very expensive"


I spent an hour (probably more) trying to get my phone to register on the Airtell Network, but it kept wanting to return to the TNM Network.  I think it was due to the fact that TNM has much stronger signal than Airtell--Airtell worked better though.  I learned that just because a phone has a strong signal does not ensure you can make a call (3rd world lessons).  The 4 bars--of service--I had on TNM just meant I had a strong connection with a TNM tower.  But if that TNM tower has poor 'service' or their 'broadband' is too low than having a strong signal from this provider is useless....Lesson learned!


I finally was able to call Kelly and we chatted for 30 minutes.  I had to eat dinner and I told her I would call her back.  We struggled getting a good connection so we just said goodnight and I promised to try to call again when I was able.


Dinner consisted of ground-beef topped with thick slices of boiled potatoes, and grilled vegetables.  I talked with Caralina and Sonia after dinner.  Sonia has a basenji and she thought the dogs in the local villages strongly resembled her dog.  I chatted with the group for a while and then with Tabby.


Tabby's real name is Umptabisee (sp?) and pronounced uump-tah-bee-see.  He was telling me how there is a tribe in Zimbabwe that is legally allowed to grow and smoke marijuana.  Otherwise, penalties for smoking marijuana can be fairly steep, though it depends on many things.


A Photo of the Two Bags I Traveled With
Tabby is 38 and is christian, but he has said that when we was younger he had never heard of Christianity.  In fact he said no one in his village knew about it.  It's fascinating how quickly christianity has been spreading to the south/eastern portions of Africa.  It's quite sad if you think about it.  I'll spare you a diatribe on the sucky-ness of Christianity and speak solely on the cultural impact.  Currently, there is very little, if any, cultural history remaining in these african countries.  There no longer exists traditional burial rituals, clothing, singing, etc.   Christianity has done more damage with their missionaries to the people of Africa than  I could ever have imagined.  It's one thing to ruin a persons mind, but quite another to erase generations and generations of tradition.  Only 3 years ago Tabby said Christianity was largely unknown and now it's gone completely mainstream.  He said the people chose Christianity because it's easy...."[all one has to do it pray to god and that's it, much easier than before]".


Ok, I'm back, had to throw up a bit. Just kidding!


Now we see burial sites with tombstones covered in crosses.

South Luangwa, Zambia: (Day 4) Dec-14-2013

It's before noon now and we just finished lunch.  We ate thin crepe pancakes with cucumbers, lunch meat, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, mangos, cantaloupe, and eggs.  I tried to eat a lot since we were not going to eat again until after we after we get back from tonight's game drive, which will be around 8:30 or so.  I'm sitting by the pool and it looks like more people are joining me.


My First Game Drive, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
The Other Vehicle
I didn't sleep too well, but well enough to keep me from getting draggy today.  I woke up around 4:30am, or probably a bit before, and but wasn't able to get ready for the day quite yet.  I heard some noises outside, but I couldn't quite figure its source.  We were warned about animals coming through our camp and if we found any to remain in our tents or to go back inside.  I just laid in bed till 5:20.  I put on my head-torch and packed my bag for the day.  I needed the torch since all my windows/doors were zipped closed and the fly was on.  It is pitch black in there all day long.


Approaching an Elephant
I packed a towel, fleece, rain coat, my monocular, camera, water, and some other stuff I just leave in my bag at all times.  I had a light breakfast and was on the road for our game drive by 6:00am sharp.  We split into 2 trucks and I was with Caralina, The 3 Swedes, and the Aussie family of 3.  We saw animals the entire time.  I was shocked on how densely populated the South Luangwa National Park was/is.  I'm really looking forward to tonight's drive.  The guide said we were extremely lucky because we saw some animals that are not easy to see.  More so, we saw animals that the guide said are usually only seen twice a year.


Fruit from a Sausage Tree (Kigelia)
We came across Hippos, Giraffes, Elephants, Zebras (somewhat hard to find), Impalas (and several similar species like Kudu, Crocodiles, Monkeys, Baboons, Some African Birds, Water Bucks, Hyenas, and Wild Dogs (very rare, and only really found in Zambia).  We, however, did not come across any cats.


Hyenas Devouring a Giraffe
We were able to get so close to the elephants, but they usually walked away after we approached them.  We saw groups as large as 4.  The zebras were grazing in a field.  I believe there were 4 of them too, one being a little one.  Impala, and other similar animals, were all over the park--easily this is the type of large mammal with the largest populations.  I believe one similar species is called a bushbuck.


The hippos were all in the water--one person had counted up to 50 of them.  The giraffes were a bit more skittish and it was hard to get very close to them.  The crocodiles, with the exception of one, were mostly submerged in the water only exposing their back and eyes.  The hyenas were much larger than I had expected them to be, but their behaviors were what I had expected.  They were concentrating on the meat around the giraffe's ribs.  It was extremely graphic, but I really enjoyed it.  Made me a bit hungry...ha!


A Rare Wild Dog Sighting
The park didn't seem that highly visited and the Aussie family had said that the parks in South Africa were much more heavily visited.  It was nice not having a bunch of people around while we got to experience the safari.  There were probably 6 or so 4x4s in the entire park.  Since the wet season hasn't really started the grass height is still quite low...which was perfect because I was a bit scared that we would have trouble seeing some of the wildlife.


A Monkey Holds onto Mother
The guides would stay in communication, via phone, with each other about nearby sittings.  This is how we came across the wild dogs.  Wild dogs are extremely rare and are really only seen in Zambia.  Even then, the guides said they were usually only seen a couple times a year...and when they are seen it usually only in passing.  We got to see a pack of a half dozen wild dogs completely devour a large impala.  It was a fresh kill, but we didn't get to see it.


Luxurious Chalet in the Park
On the way out of the park we saw a couple of crocodiles eating another dead crocodile in a lagoon off of the dirt road.  On the other side of the lagoon were 18 chalets, which are supposed to be very very luxurious.  Our guide said they (or one of them) were/(was) owned by Paul Allen (from Microsoft).


We saw a baby monkey holding onto the belly of its mother and I so badly wanted to snap a photo of it, but just couldn't manage it.  The baby was so tiny, probably weighing only a few pounds.  The way the mother was holding its baby reminding me of the way the the African women hold their babies.


During our drives to Lusaka and Chipata I saw many women working in the fields while hold their babies.  I even saw one women breastfeeding her child while she was picking some type of grain.  Women here also carry things on their heads.  I remember seeing this in books and movies but assumed it wouldn't be so common in eastern Africa.


A Photo Taken during a Tea Break
We are leaving early tomorrow morning--6:00am--to head back to Chipata.  From there we go to Malawi for three nights and then onto Tanzania, where we will remain for the remainder of out trip (not counting our last day/night in Nairobi, Kenya).


...it's 10:10 right now and I just got to bed.  I first came to bed at 9:45, but it was like a sauna in here.  The tent has plastic flaps over the mesh windows/doors.  This coupled with the rainfly completely traps in all heat and humidity.  Actually, all my clothing inside my tent are damp because of this.  Before I left for the night game drive at 4:00pm I swam in the pool with Beth and Sophie...both Aussies.  We were talking about salaries, medical systems, and universities in our respective countries.  It seems as though Aussies are paid very well.  Waitresses don't receive tips and are on salary.  The 21 year old receives $20/hr and she was telling me her friend, who is also 21, makes $25/hr as a paralegal a paralegal.

Part of Our Campground at the South Luangwa NP, Zambia

I just got out of my tent and moved the entire thing to the pool area.  I moved some of the pool chairs out of the way to make some room.  Now I have cover so I removed the fly sheet and opened the windows/door.  I feel a little breeze but am still boiling.  I tried to go into the pool, but there are too many bugs lurking around which kind of out.  I had huge beetles and other insects crawling all over my feet/legs the second I walked outside.  I both moved my tent and brushed my teeth while in my boxers and had to run and shake constantly to keep the crawly animals off of me.


I really hope the temperature drops within the next half hour.


A Monkey with Her Baby
Tonight's game drive was good, though it couldn't compare with this morning's.  My guide was horrible compared to the other group's.  We saw more of the same plus a few smaller animals.  We also were able to see some Hippos out of the water.  One elephant walked directly towards us and crossed the road less than 5m in front of us.  During the morning drive we stopped to get out of the 4x4 for tea/biscuits--in the evening drive we met the other 4x4 and had a beer while watching the sunset.  It was amazing.  I recorded the sunset for 20 minutes on my camera in HD 60p so that Kelly can experience it with me.  By this time it's been 6 days since I have been in any contact with my parents and 3 or 4 days since I contacted Kelly.  It's tough because I want to speak with people, but I just don't have service of any type.


Hyena at Night
About this evening's drive:  we ran across some newborn (<1mo) baboons still clinging to their mothers.  And when they weren't attached to their mother's stomach they were being heavily protected by their fathers.  There was one instance when a young one was trying to climb upwards on the branch of a shrub and the mother and father kept pulling the baby down.  It was funny because the small baboon was trying to hard to get away but no matter how hard it tried the adults just pulled it down.


We were most interested in finding some cats...lions/...leopards.  I really disliked our guide.  He was not friendly, didn't really explain much about the animals, kept circling the same places (with no success) and was too aggressive on the driving.  It seemed he cared more about driving fast over bumps and off roading that he did anything else.  The other group had seen a porcupine and leopard.  Their guide even went back to the giraffe carcass from this morning.


The Weathered Ground
Apparently there were almost 2 dozen giraffes that were 'giving their respects' for their fallen brethren.  There was still meat on the body and hyenas were still at it.  Whereas when they went back to the impala that the wild dogs had chased down and eaten the group had found that there was not one spec of meat left.  It had looked as if it had decayed there years ago and only bones had remained.


A Lone Tree Awaits the Sunset
After the sunset we continued to drive around the park, but this time we had a 'spotter'.  A 'spotter' is someone who just shines a light and looks for reflections.  The reflections would simply indicate the back of an animals eyes which helps to track down animals during nighttime.  We did this for 1.5 hours, which was 1.5 too many.  It was just very buggy and I had to go to the bathroom pretty badly.  We didn't see anything, really.  A couple of small animals, a tree filled with birds, but that was about it.  Update...it's 10:32 and I'm still boiling.  I'm in my boxers and I'm dripping buckets in here.  This is the part I hate most!  I don't mind that I haven't showered in 3 days, or that I can't go to the bathroom whenever I want because I'm too scared of the animals lurking in the bathroom.  But this sweating when trying to go to bed is horrible.


Anyways, dinner was good tonight.  It was served in three large pots:  pasta, chicken, and vegetables.


Tomorrow we're leaving at 6:00am sharp, which means I have to get up near 5:00 to pack my bag(s), tent, and rainfly...then I have to get some breakfast.  Getting up at 5:00 hasn't been a problem though.  Tomorrow we leave back for Chipata, get supplies, and then make our journey to Malawi.  Godfrey has warned us about what not to wear at the border, how to act and behave (e.g. taking picture), and reminded us that we need our Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.  Further, he told us of the mandatory 15 year minimum prison sentence for possession of Malawi Gold.  We first thought he meant that if we bought gold from Malawi it was illegal because the country didn't allow its gold to be mined.  I had some clarifying comments and we soon understood that Malawi is known for having very good Marijuana (for the area) and that it's a 15 year minimum jail sentence for possession of pot.  Yikes!


Ok, 10:40...signing off, Cheers!

South Luangwa, Zambia: (Day 3) Dec-13-2013

I slept fairly well on the floor.  I had a light breakfast of PB&J and some tea to help take down my pills.  We were on the road by 7:30.  We made a 45 minute stop to go to the ATMs and the supermarket to pick up supplies for the next couple days.  I noticed at this market, as well as everywhere else I've come across, that sunscreen is SO expensive.  It has to be becuase it is one of the only items that ONLYthe tourists buy.  I got some chocolate bars, apples, diet pepsi, and a 5L of water.


Local Children Playing alongside the Road En Route to our Campsite 
...back on the road for another 4 hours.  We had a quick 10 minute stop to take photos of the Luangwa Valley.  Afterwards we were on our way to our camp, where we will be staying for the next two nights.  I checked to see if we would have any phone service here...nope.  Damn!  Kelly may be a little upset that the soonest possible time I can call her will be Sunday.


I was able to read some of the PDFs I brought along with me.  I also got a few decent snapshots of some local villages/village children along the side of the road while we drove to our campsite.  We are staying right alongside the riverbank.  The the opposite side of the river sets the perimeter of South Luangwa National Park.  I set up my tent ASAP to give as much time as possible for the wet tent to dry...it did within an hour.  I washed some of my clothing and then jumped into the pool.  Tabby and Godfrey were prepping lunch when a small monkey came by and grabbed an entire cucumber.  Tabby had to chase that monkey down for at a minute...that little critter was fast.


It's 2:40 as I write this and there are monkeys and baboons trying to steel scraps from the truck's storage haul--but the food is locked up.  Every time we get off the bus we have to close and lock every single window or else the monkeys will open them and make a mess of the place.

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia 

A few of us took out out our binoculars/monoculars and scanned the other side of the river.  Along our side of the river in the distance we spotted a few Hippos.  Vincent and I decided to walk a bit closer to get a better view.  As we approached we made sure to take a route that was not between them and the water.  We also stayed fairly far away such that we still needed optical tools to see them.  During our approach we came across several types of bone fragments.  We came across what looked like a Buffalo skull, with its horns still attached.


A Buffalo Skull along the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
A few hundred paces away we came across a femur bone, likely from the same animal.  As we approached the hippos I was able to count 2 dozen of them bathing in the water.  Still, they were far away so even with my zoom lens I could not get a good enough picture.


For lunch we had salad, bread, rice, and some sausage.  It was quite good.  All this bread is making me feel bloated and sick...I'm not used to.  I don't think I would make a good poor person!


It's so hot here.  I finally started wearing my safari hat...it's a lifesaver.  I am going to jet now and put the fly on my tent, in case it storms.  Tomorrow I'm taking a 4.5 hour morning game drive that starts at 6:00am and another game drive at 4:00pm.  I'm not sure what I'll do from 10:30am till 4:00 though?


It;s 7:00pm and we're set to eat dinner shortly.  We arrived back from the Textile and Village tours not even 30 minutes ago.  It started pouring rain as we were leaving the local Zambian village.  We loaded into the 2 4x4 vehicles we had used and headed back to the national park, South Luangwa NP, where we were staying.  The ride home was the longest ever...mostly because the vehicle was open--except for a poor excuse for a roof--and the combination of the cold wind and rain made it very uncomfortable.
Textile Shop, South Luangwa, Zambia


The textile stop was a bit lame, but I tried to appreciate it.  It started with a brief tour-10 minutes, maybe?  We saw people hand painting fabrics, then we say them washing, and starching them, they had an electric dryer to 'bake' the color in.  We went to to another room where people where cutting and sewing up the fabrics.  The room smelled like burnt rubber.  Afterwards we were shown into the "shop".  While the textile working environment appeared very 3rd world, this shop was about as 1st world as humanly possible given that it's Zambia.  I soon found out this place was "white-owned", which made a lot of sense.


A Women Hand-painting Fabric, Zambia
Our campsite the first night was was filthy.  The second place, as well as where we are now, are very clean and well organized.  These places are "white-owned" whereas the first place was "black-owned".  It seems that a lot of well-educated white people 'open-up' shop here in Africa and employee a bunch of the local people.  The employees work very hard, but the owners seem very 'detached' from the worker's lives.


A Young Child in a local Zambian Village
The items at the shop were grossly overpriced,  some people on the tour bought some textiles...I passed.


After we left the textile shop we went to a local village.  It was very small.  The population seemed to be at least 60-75% children.  We were greeted with large smiles and 'open arms' by the villagers.  We took photos of them and showed them the pictures--they loved it!  They danced a bit for us while the elders played drums and other instruments.  We left them donations as we were heading out.


The rain was horrible but had stopped after 30 minutes, when we were only 2km from camp.  This was a godsend because we came across some some amazing animals.  We saw a couple elephants just alongside the road and over a dozen giraffes eating from trees--and also blocking the road.  We had to wait 10 minutes for them to move.  While we waited I admired the amazing sun set.  Since it was storming and lightening in the distance the sky was blood red turning into a deep purple.


We saw an impala, which didn't look that impressive, until I got to see it run away.  That thing jumped like a kangaroo on steroids.  It must have jumped 8 feet hight--it was such an elegant sight.  Once we got back the others went back to their Chalets to dry off and change for dinner, which was at 7.


Taking Pictures with the Zambian Villagers
I was happy to see that Godfrey and Tabby put the flies on our tents and that Godfrey took in the laundry that I had drying on the clothes line.  Dinner was an authentic african meal--cabbage, pap, and a seasoned beef that closely resembled brisket.  I ate my other chocolate bar for dessert and grabbed a glass of red wine at the bar.  I chatted with some of the people on my tour and when everyone else went to bed I made friends with two girls who where traveling alone.  They were from the States--New York, and New Jersey.  This was the first time in 8 days that I've come across someone else from the States.

A Dozen Giraffes Surprise Us Just Outside Our Campground, South Luangwa NP, Zambia


We talked for an hour--it was nice to talk to people with whom I shared a similar background.  I finally went to bed around 10:40pm.  I have to be up at 5:15 tomorrow to get ready for our 6:00am game drive.


We have 3 psychiatrists on our trip--kinda interesting.  Oh, and it is something else...that is, camping out along the river with wildlife all around us.  We are truly in the center of 'the action'.  While we were walking towards the hippos earlier today one of the men working at the lodge/campground ran to stop us.  He said that just one week earlier a female lion had wondered into our campground and that it wasn't safe for us to be out there alone.  It's a good thing that this camp, along with most other camps, have an armed watchman on patrol.

Children in a Village near South Luangwa NP, Zambia

Chipata, Zambia: (Day 2) Dec-12-2013

Wow, did I have an interesting night last night!  I went to bed pretty much as soon as my head touched the pillow.  We had put our flies up because we thought it might rain.  Around 11:30 I was woken by an EXTREME storm.  My tent was not staked into the ground and my fly was acting like a kite...I felt at times I was going to lift off.  I had forgotten to roll down the windows on 2 sides of the tent, though the fly covered them up well.  However, the door was left open and the fly did not do a great job covering up the opening.  I was enjoying the breeze too much that I had forgotten to prepare for rain prior to going to bed.  The other campers went to shower prior to going to bed, though I just washed my face, hands, and brushed my teeth outside the tent.  I'll set a goal of showering every other day...we'll see if I can stick to it.


THE STORM HITS HARD:  I made sure to push all my belonging towards the middle of the tent...also made sure my mattress and sleeping bag were not touching the sides.  I didn't mind the booming thunder, heavy winds, or sounds of the occasional hail--however I wasn't too keen on getting flooded.  I knew that the vast majority of water coming into my tent was coming straight through the exposed front mesh door.  When I first discovered my tent was getting wet I considered going outside and closing the front door.  However I knew this meant I would have to get up and open the front door flap--thus leaving my tent fully exposed to the elements.  I would also get wet in the process.  I figured it was just best to wait it out and protect my belongings.  I MEAN HOW LONG COULD THIS KEEP UP?  Answer:  longer than expected.  It probably stormed for 1.5 hours.  I haven't been in a thunder storm this bad in a long time.  However, I would say that at least 4 of the last 5 times that I've gone camping it had stormed.  I made sure to have a drop sheet, a staked-down tent, and tightly applied fly.  So for those times I was 100% dry.


I was tired and kept drifting off to sleep every 3-5 minutes.  I was so comfortable on my heavy-weight provided mattress and inflatable foam pillow--though I would jerk myself awake, using some type of untapped self-discipline and re-check the water level in my tent periodically.  I moved my belongings around accordingly.  I had all my things with me in my tent...my day sack, overnight sack, and a bunch of clothing/gear that was unpacked from my bags.  As the night progressed  I was unable to keep all my things dry so I had make some decisions.  I felt like I was playing a very non-fun version of Tetris--trying to arrange all my oddly shaped things into areas that were not flooded.  Eventually I had to abandon all hopes of the storm stopping and just accept the fact that the entire surface of my tent could/would fill with a cm of water.  I had light weight items in bags, my camera and other tech equipment in my sea-to-summit wet sack.  My rain poncho, Monkey Man Grid fleece jacket, and hat were placed in my semi-waterproof packing sack.  I thought about putting my waterproof covers on both my bags and just flipping them over so that the covers were laying in the water.  However I doubt that they would prevent all water from getting in.  Eventually I started curling up into a progressively shrinking ball on my mattress.  Where I made extra room on my mattress went my stuff.  The rain stopped and I felt comfortable with how my things were situated...so I went to bed again.


Woke up at 4:30am and I packed up my bags and got dressed for the day--all this while keeping myself and all my stuff on my small mat.  I was happy to finally get out of that soaked tent.  My bags got fairly soaked, but luckily all my important stuff/clothing remained dry.  I'll attribute that to my superior packing skills.


Breakfast included a couple types of wheat cereals (w/o flavoring/sweetener) and milk that didn't have to be refrigerated.  I also had bananas and sliced bread.  I packed a banana along with a Pb&J sandwich for the road after trying a bit of the cereal.  By the time I packed up my tent, fly, mattress, and bags in the truck it was time to leave.  We hit the road by 6:00am.  I slept for ~3 hours and when I woke up I listened to more of my book, "Starship Trooper".  I have also been talking to Paul, the Aussie.  We talked about corporate tax evasion and, of course, Apple was top subject.


Ann Marie, Sonia, and Paul Stretching their Legs in a Local Village
We made a stop in a very small village by the side along the road long with two 'bush' toilet stops.  The village we stopped at was named after the river that was nearby, The Gwangwa River.  We broke for lunch at 12:30 and had leftovers from last night + some mangos.  I've also played Yahtzee with Vincent for a bit as well.  I'm still sitting in the front of the bus as we're rotating seats clockwise every day.  Looks like I'll be ok for the first week of our trip, which is great since that's when we do a lot of driving.  Today is supposed to be 10-14 hours of driving and we've already been on the road for ~7 hours.  We should be making good time, but our guide said things will slow up once we get closer to Chipata.


Some of the others, who had stayed in rooms, were complaining about having spiders in their showers/beds.  Two others said they woke up and found snakes in their rooms.  At least with the tents I know that I will be sleeping alone.


Africa is a very very 3rd-world region.  For example, in Cambodia, India, and Loa internet was prolific.  Here it's incredibly slow and that's only when it's available...like at a nice hotel or very touristy area.  Even the poorest cities in Asia had restaurants and cafes, etc.  They were not just holes in the walls.  I think some of it is due to the African lifestyle but a larger part may be that the types of tourists that come by here are only here for a short period of time--a quick in and out safari.  There really isn't anything to see other than the natural world so why would a backpacker stay in the cities?  I guess in other portions of the world the cities have more to offer?


Hair Salon by the side of the Road
It's about 2:00 now and we have several more hours left on our journey.  Some are sleeping, others are playing games on their phones, and a few are listening to music.


I'm happy to be here, but I have to be honest...I'm a bit disappointed about the people who are on the trip.  Much of the group is comprised of older married couples with young children (17-21).  And these are the type of kids who stick w/ Mommy and Daddy the entire trip.  There is one girl from the US (Washington DC)--she was the one I thought was from South Africa.  Not sure of her name, but she has an accent, so something tells me she is from South America but is just currently living in DC.  She's also here by herself.  I'll try getting to know her more as I can't keep talking to Paul about Sci-Fi books.


...just a few more hours till Chipata, Zambia


Our 2nd Campsite in Chipata, Zambia
We arrived at our Chipata campsite at 5:00.  This place was packed.  There were multiple tour groups passing through here tonight.  There was a large motorcycle group of maybe a dozen...kind of a weird sight.  There was also another tour group that was traveling overland that was at our camp site last night.  All in all, there must have been no less than 50 people staying at this campsite tonight.


I finally talked with the other girl that I thought was from South America that is living in Washington DC.  Her name is Catalina.  She's from Chile and got her medical degree from there as well.  She came to NYC for her residency and fellowship.  She's a forensic psychiatrist.  She was so kind and offered the 4 of us that were camping if we wanted to crash in her hotel room.  She said it was huge and that she didn't mind.  The others said no, but I took her up on the offer.  Right now I'm sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag on a rug.  The room is pretty clean and I don't see any bugs crawling around yet.  I did put a towel in between the door and the frame to prevent any snakes from coming in.


Dinner
Dinner tonight was at 7:15 so I had a few hours to kill.  Phone reception was poor so I was not able to call anyone, but I was able to take my first shower since joining the tour.  It felt very nice to be clean.  Dinner started with tomato soup served with bread and for the main entree we had rice and chicken w/ vegetables.  It tasted like Chinese stir-fry.  I washed it down with some hot tea.


After dinner Catalina, the D-3, and myself played a Dutch copy of the game Yahtzee, called Topscore.  Tabby, our truck driver, joined in after the first round.  The score cards were in Dutch so it was difficult to understand, especially for Cat and Tabby as they were just learning.  I kept trying to pronounce the Dutch words on the scorecard and the D-3 just laughed.  We were playing at a table at a covered (but open) bar.  We were drinking local beers and ciders.  As we played we spoke with some other travelers.  One of the guys had stopped me on my way to the showers and asked if I had gone rafting in a large group on Dec-8 at Vic Falls.  I told him it was weird because I went rafting on Dec-10.


Some other people showed us videos they had taken using their phones while on a game drive--footage of an elephant taking down a tree.  They were just 4m from the action.  Tabby was teaching us some words in his language.  He taught us how "Mamma" and "Babba" are used as ways to show respect and not the age of a person.


Tabby, has had different driving jobs with various traveling companies other than Nomad.  He drives 8 weeks in a row and gets 10 days off.  He has 3 children that live at home.  I think he said he has someone watch them while he's away.  His youngest is just 3 years old.  I can't imagine how hard it would be to have to be away from my own children for that long.  He sends his oldest daughter away to boarding school.


Tabby was telling us how people in Africa don't smoke or drink much...somewhat because it's expensive and also because of their strong Christian beliefs.  I have noticed that everyone drinks Coke...many bottles a day.  This is one stock I may need to invest in.


It was so nice of Catalina to let me crash in her room, as my tent is still probably very wet inside.  The bathroom is connected to the room and provides no privacy.  I told her whenever she needed to use the restroom that I would go outside for 15 minutes and knock on the door to see if she was done.  I showered and used the restrooms in another facility, the ones meant for the campers.  I'm not sure why the other's didn't take Catalina up on her offer...I don't think they realized how much room there was.  Also, it was raining when we checked in to our camp site so setting up a tent in the rain, when the ground is already wet, just sucks.


After we finished playing Yahtzee, Tabby, Cat, and myself discussed traveling along with other things.  After a bit we decided to go to bed.  I let Catalina go first and told her I would follow in 10 minutes...giving her time to use the restroom and change.  I just slept in whatever I wore that day so it didn't matter for me.
The Largest Slug in the Universe


On my way back to Cat's room I found the largest slug in the universe....PLEASE remind me to show you the picture when I get home (see image on right).  The slug itself was the size of my face.  It must have weighed a pound.   GROSS!  I honestly had NO clue they could grow that large.


Anyways, it's 11:20 now and I should be going to bed.  We get to sleep in tomorrow and meet for breakfast at 7:00.  I cleaned the dishes this evening/morning so I may not help out too much for the breakfast prep.  Tomorrow is a short drive of 120kms to the National Park in Zambia--we will be taking our first game drive through the park.  The rains have started coming in, which means the grass has begun to grow and fill in, making some animals harder to spot.


Cheers!!!

Devil's Pool and Victoria Falls: Dec-9-2013

It's about 4:30pm here and I have had a full day.  Before I jump into things I have to say that I have lost two blog postings....god-damn tablet....I should have just brought my laptop.  I don't feel like repeating everything so you'll just never know the crazy shit that I wrote in those two postings.


My day started when I heard a knock knock knock.  It was the front desk-someone had been there to pick me up.  I looked at my watch at it read 9:15.  I flipped out because I thought I had to be at the place for the Devil's Pool at 10:00.  The place was in Zambia, which meant I had to exit Zimbabwe, cross the bridge over the falls and then enter back into Zambia.  Total distance was probably 5-10kms from my hotel to the meeting place....more on that later.  I had no idea who was waiting for me at the front because I was going to arrange my own transport (walking) for Devil's Pool.  It was someone picking me up for a day Safari Ride in Chobe, Botswana.  I remembered I had inquired about such a trip via email, but never ended up paying so I assumed it wasn't confirmed....oops!
According to my watch I had 35 minutes remaining to make a trip that the front desk suggested I set aside 2 hours for.  I had the front desk hail me a taxi and skipped the free breakfast due to time constraints.  I paid $5 USD for a 5 minute taxi ride and was through customs in no time.  I had to check out of Zimbabwe first, they gave me a receipt..then I have to cross a portion of the bridge and hand this receipt to a person in uniform.  From this point onward I was checked out of Zimbabwe but not stamped into Zambia...kinda like no-man's land!  I was booking it by this time...luckily a nice woman in a car (I guess it had been a taxi) had stopped over along the side of the road and asked if I had needed a ride.  I was thankful and hopped in.  We chit-chatted and I got off at the other end of the bridge (it was quite long).  I was happy that I had gotten my multiple-entry Zambian Passport because going through customs only took a few minutes...much quicker and less corrupt than the other border crossings I've been to--though I was usually crossing borders with my overnight bag and these crossing were at relatively highly-visited areas.


The Mist from Victoria Falls Rises in the Background
I took a taxi to the Royal Livingstone, where I was to meet for the Devil's Pool adventure.  The pure sight of the hotel from the inside left me breathless.  It was just like the lodges you see in those movies...you know the REALLY NICE ones.  I had to pay the taxi $4 USD but all I had was a $10 bill, which around this part is often too much to be able to change.  The front desk at the hotel told me they don't deal with USD.  The taxi driver said it was 5 (whatever their currency is) to 1 USD. I later found out that he was being honest with me because it's actually just around 5.5 to the USD.  I gave him 25 and kept 25.  I arrived at the place where I was supposed to be and a man told me I was early.  I was confused but he said that the tour left at 10:30 and not 10, but and it was currently only 8:15.  I was so confused.....had inadvertently changed my watch while setting my alarm clock the night before?  I probably woke up around 7:15 or so.  I haven't had ANY sort of jet-lag or whatever that b/s is people always talk about when they fly.


On the Ledge of Devil's Pool, Victoria Falls
The guy at the tour meet-up location place told me I could come back at 9 for the earlier tour and I could go if there were spots.  I walked around the hotel for a little and took a few pictures.  I sat down and ordered a coffee...probably the best coffee I had ever had.  I asked where they got it from and the waiter told me "South Africa".  I went back around 9 and they had room for me.  We split into several groups of 4 and a speed boat took each of our groups to Livingstone Island.
The Guides Risk their Lives for Our Entertainment...Very Dangerous!

On the Island we had a few minutes to snap some pictures of the falls and then we got into our swimming gear.  I was happy to be wearing my five fingers shoes.  My heart was pounding and I was getting pretty nervous/scared--though I cannot say I disliked the feeling.  I felt alive and started to embrace the thrill and just went with it.


I was in a group of 4.  There was a guy from Dublin, Ireland who worked in Australia for a while working in copper mines.  His company opened a new facility in Zambia so he had been working locally for a while.  Another guy was from Vancouver, BC, Canada.  He was traveling with his girlfriend but she was too scared to go with him on the Devil's Pool adventure.  The last guy was from Germany.


We Pose for a Photo Before we Risk our Lives
First thing we did was swim 40 or so meters to get closer to the Devil's Pool.  There was one guide that was already at the pool and the guide we came with had our cameras and was taking photos for us while we were in the pool.  He was literally ON THE EDGE of the falls to get the best pictures possible.  We lowered ourselves one at a time into the pool.  I felt the current try to carry me over the edge.  There was a rock wall to stop a person from falling off the end, but one has to make sure they don't overshoot and go where the wall ends.  Also, the water was a good 8-10 inches higher than the rock wall--it wasn't as if there was a hard stop...people have fallen off in the past.


NOW FOR THE SCARY PART WE ALL CAME FOR!  One after the other we had our pictures taken while laying on the rock wall and lifting our hands over our heads, thus being unsupported while leaning OVER the edge of one of the largest waterfalls in the world.  This is what the other guide, the one that was already there when we had gotten there, was for.  He was holding our legs as to provide so me support, though at no time did I feel he was holding tight enough.  The experience was amazing and was well worth the $60-80 for the 1.5 hr trip.  I would encourage anyone who has the option to go on this tour to do so...they only offer it ~4 months out of the year when the water is low enough though.


Afterwards we took a few pictures and made our way back to a tented area on the island where we were served eggs Benedict w/ bacon.  We also had bread that would put Cracker Barrel out of business.  I had tea this time as my nerves couldn't take any more 'energy'.  We took the road back to the Royal Livingstone.  I parted ways with the German but walked for a while with the two others.  We had trouble finding our way out of the hotel's front gate.  After crossing a few impalas and monkeys we finally found our way to the main road.  They were going to the park on the Zambian side and I was on my way back to Zimbabwe.


After I stamped out of the Zambia I made friends with a family of 11.  They were from Zambia, about 1.5 hours north of Vic Falls.  They had never been to Victoria Falls before and were excited.  We chatted and walked for 20 minutes or so.  I had explained the experience I just had and they were amazed.  Then I passed my camera around for all 11 of them to see the picture of me hanging over the edge.  You should have seen their faces.

Halfway along the bridge there were people bungee jumping.  For $130 USD I decided to pass.  Also, about 18 months ago an Aussie had gone and her rope broke and she had fallen into the river.  She survived, but still, I had no compulsion to go.  I met a local Zambian named "Innocent" and he tried to sell me some Zimbabwe currency.  He had a 100 trillion dollar bill and I told him I had no money.  We talked for 15 or so minutes.  I parted ways and headed towards the Zimbabwe border again.


Along the way I met a man and what seemed to be his older son.  I had asked how he was and he said he was good but he was hot.  He went on to tell me how horrible it was that these "tourist places" charge such high rates and do not even include water.  We talked about South Africa and Nelson Mandela.  He told me that "Many people outside of Africa think Nelson Mandela was a great man, but what he did to South Africa was horrible".  This man was black-as have been most people I've talked to here-and I was a little shocked to hear him be so frank about his disapproval of Nelson Mandela.  Remind me to tell you about this character I met last night...


I will not get into the details of the conversation but he seemed really upset that Nelson allowed all the property owners to retain their current property after the regime change.  This guy had a problem that 80% of the property was owned by individuals and he felt if he wanted land to farm on or to build a factory that he should be able to.  OR COURSE I had an opinion on the matter but I tried to suppress it and really understand this man's view.  I found out that so many of the land owners are 'rich' europeans that never use the land.  I kept wanting to draw parallels on how the US gained its land from ripping off the natives, but I figured this man wouldn't know enough about US history to get my point.


We talked about his business and a little bit more on the South African (and to a large extent all of Africa) issues.  He told me, while I was in line at the Zimbabwe customs, that all of Africa a shit.  I was standing in a line with 20 of people and it had been at least an hour since I have seen any white person so you can imagine how uncomfortable I felt.  But we talked about how the people of a nation should never be judged by their government/politicians.  We could both agree on that.


It was probably close to 11:30 at this time and I have been on my feet, swimming, and talking to people since probably 7:45 in the morning.  But if you have ever traveled with me you know that I NEVER rest...there is plenty of time for that on long bus rides, night time, and when the weather is bad.


I paid the $30USD entrance fee to the official Victoria Falls park and spent ~2 hours taking photos.



The falls were beautiful...though there was significantly less water volume than during the wet season.  Many of the locals claimed it was more impressive now since you could see more-as there wasn't the mist blocking the views.

Cataract Island View - Victor Falls

I chatted with a few families/people along the way.  With one family from Zimbabwe, the wife told me that they had been all over Zimbabwe and this was the last place to go.  I enjoyed that there weren't too many foreigners.  I would say at least 80% of the visitors in the area are native to Zambia/Zimbabwe.


I bought a 7-up for $2 and left the Falls to walk to my hotel...which was still another 5-7km away.  The boy I met yesterday was waiting for me and told me he had the item I asked for.  I waited for him to get it.  The craftsmanship was poor but had promised him I would buy it from him so I made an offer of $5 and he laughed.  Then I said $6 because I felt bad but I am not about the pay any games.  He said $15 and then I started to walk away.  He started to tell me how it was handmade and that it was real ebony.  I wasn't about to tell him I thought it was junk, but I did tell him I could get something of better quality in Chinatown NYC for half what he was asking.  He told me that getting something from the artist was important, but I told him I couldn't be sure that he even made it.  He told me he did, so obviously I was wrong.... ;)
A man next to him told me to just make another offer and that he would accept it.  I said I am not playing games and I walked away.  He waited until I took a few paces and said, ok $6 for you.  I told him no and that I already had offered $6 and that he was greedy and was trying to take advantage of me.  I told him he tried to play games to rip me off and that I no longer wish to do business with him.  He kept insisting that I pay $6 but I just walked away.


Later while I was back in my hotel room (about to shower) the front desk had informed me that there was a man in front requesting me.  It was the guy trying to sell me the thing for $6.  I told the man to instruct that guy that I was ill and was no longer interested.


Steak & Fries at Vic Fall Lodge
I took a short swim at my hotel, showered, and then went outside to write...which I have been doing for the last (almost) 2 hours.  I'm drinking a Zimbabwe Beer called "Golden Pilsener" and eating a steak and fries.  The food is "eh" but pretty cheap and I'm not too eager to spend a lot of money taking cabs to and from more expensive hotels for dinner.


---about last night...
I met a South African man at the bar at the hotel last night.  I talked with him for a while but realized over the course of the night we was a complete asshole and that I after a while I not wish to speak with him any more.  He was a racist self-righteous Christian moron.  He told me, "Blacks and Whites should just not mix".  He told me it "wasn't natural".  I responded by saying I didn't think it was natural for a white man like him to be in South Africa and that he should move back to Europe if he was so concerned about 'being natural'.  He didn't like that, but he continued to buy me drinks and actually bought my dinner too.  He went on to tell me that "Whites" were more "Evolved" and it just made me sick.  He told me that Indians were the product of when whites and blacks have kids.  I told him that archeologically speaking, Indians were in fact Caucasian, just like 'us Whites'.  He did NOT like that.  Then he said if "we were all equal" then why are we not all the same color.  I knew this man didn't have the IQ, education, or personality to understand but I tried anyways.  I explained that people with lighter skin would get cancer more often and have higher mortality rates and that natural selection would favor darker-skinned people.  I even explained why certain people put on more weight than others, why some people have wider-set hips, etc... He just wasn't getting it.


"He told me people can always look for answers but it's just easier to believe something and stick to it".  WOW!  At this point he had begun sounding a lot like a Baptist/Islamic extremist...I moved far away for Memphis for a reason!


I was 'saved' when a German guy came to the bar and ordered another beer.  We all talked for a bit but when the South African went to the bathroom the German told me he had to leave.  I told him I couldn't stand this guy either so we just moved down a few seats and continued talking for an hour or so.  At around 10:15 we each went off to our respective rooms.  The German, Ben, was 'volunteering' here for 16 days at the Lion Walk activity.  It's not really volunteering though as he has to pay for room, food, airfare, and the $1500 program fee  The Lion Walk is where tourists pay $130 or so to walk alongside young (1 to 1.5 year old) lions.


This guy had just turned 30 and designs the interior of grocery stores.  He uses both business and psychology in his work.  I've heard about marketing psychology before.  Last year he had spend 2 months in Kenya teaching at an orphanage.  For his recent birthday his friends wanted to throw him a huge party but he had told them if they wanted to than all the guests can not get him a gift.  If they wanted to they should donate to the orphanage in Kenya he had worked at.


We talked a bit on how important it was/is to take vacations away from it all and really experience the world as it is.  It helps re-base oneself and to allow one to see what is truly important in life.  People in Africa are magnitudes MUCH HAPPIER than those living in the US.  When everyone has nothing there is no concept of jealousy.  It really makes you think, "why can't I be happy living in a house 1/3 the size of my current house"?  We need big houses to hold all of our 'stuff'.


Even the locals trying to sell me stuff are nicer and more willing to talk with me and laugh than the people in my OWN building in Philly!  I don't think I can live in Africa, but if anyone knows of any opportunities in Asia please pass it along.  Tomorrow is Rafting...can't wait!