Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Departing Chongwe River Camp

Oh! What luxury! To sleep in until 0615 and to watch the sun rise from my bed, hearing the Egyptian Geese, the hippo, the Fish Eagle- and across the river, from the Lower Zambezi River Park, the sound of the roaring lion, one last thrilling morning at Chongwe River Camp.

I dress quickly once I am up – it’s not yet 0630 – but the mornings are chill in late June, and we have learned to lay our clothes out so we can jump into them soon after we arise, so as to keep warm. We are dressed to travel today, so many flights, so many people. . .ย 

Although it is chilly, it is not cold this morning, and there is no wind. When we look out, there is this perfect reflection:

Victor joins us for breakfast, and CJ, and . . . we hate to leave. We are packed on time, our bags go, but we linger. . .

Victor says it’s time to go, he wants to take us by the Chongwe River Lodge – we had asked to see it. It is a marvel, sort of Gaudi-on-the-Chongwe, all natural materials and space, all privacy and perfect for family or a group of friends. There are four bedrooms with King sized beds, and more beds can be moved in to each room or the common rooms, if you really want to fill the house. ๐Ÿ™‚

We head out to the landing strip; we can hear the plane coming in, but here is what is cool – the plane is for us! If he dawdle, he will wait! LOL, we don’t dawdle, we are there to check in – check in is the pilot asking if we are the passengers, and we can go whenever we are ready. Oh, I could get so used to this ๐Ÿ™‚

The check in counter:

A few last photos with Victor, promises to write, we scramble aboard. Sigh. Farewell, Chongwe River Camp Adventure . . .

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July 1, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Bureaucracy, Civility, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Hotels, Living Conditions, Travel, Zambia | , , | Leave a comment

Last Full Day at Chongwe; A Day of Wonderful Surprises

I’ve really dragged this out as long as I can; as long as I am telling you about the trip, I get to relive it. In truth, I don’t want to let it go. We’ve been to Africa so many times, but this was one of the best trips ever.

It’s a little colder in the lower Zambezi than in the South Luangwa, so we dress in multiple layers, and we wrap up our heads, too. Victor and CJ join us for light breakfast and we head off on our last game drive. We have had so much fun with Victor; he works so hard to find us what we want to see, even trying to track down a leopard on a limb, with one of our party is eager to see. This morning, first thing, he takes us to a giant Baobob tree, which looks like it has Christmas decorations on it:

When you get a little closer, you can see it is full of Baboons, huddling together, trying to warm up after the chilly night.

He takes us to a sector of the Zambezi with severe erosion that reminds me of Cappadocia and there we spot a group of Zambian anti-poaching rangers, heading off on their day’s duty. These guys are real heroes. They leave their families and live outdoors, spending their nights out among the wild animals. There are real dangers, not so much from the animals, but from the poachers, who will kill an elephant just to cut out the tusk.

Victor spots a very cold little jackal, all curled up, trying to grab a couple winks:

We find a group of Cape Buffalo, still moving a little slowly so we can photograph them, but kicking up a lot of dust!

Yesterday, Victor found a leopard was on the limb but jumped down just as we arrived. Today, we see a beautiful large male leopard, being chased by an elephant. We get between them, not the smartest thing to do because the elephant is just behind us! I’ll show you photos of the elephant later – right now I want to talk about taking photos on safari.

You might guess I took a lot of photos. You might suspect you just get to see the best ones, and sometimes even the best ones aren’t all that good. Here is the problem. You don’t have a lot of control. You sometimes only get a quick glimpse. You can have an amazing experience, and then look at your photos and they are all too far away, or there is a small but important problem. I am going to be very very humble and show you the things that can prevent a good leopard shot:

Big male leopard, but you can barely see him in the shade and he’s heading off:

Now he’s walking into the bush:

You’re not going for perfect; you just keep shooting hoping for something good, but now he’s in the bush, behind the bush:

Now he is coming from behind a tree:

Then you get what might be the best photo you can get:

And then he walks away – leopard butt!

Are you getting the idea? You just really have to hang in there! Now, frustration, he has settled behind a bush:

Almost a great shot, if it weren’t for all that tall grass!

And here, he looks tawny and powerful, look at those muscles, but you can hardly distinguish him from the background:

The perfect shot! Oh wait . . . he’s blurry:

And this might be good . . . if he weren’t walking away, and most shots of leopards are them walking away:

I’m not kidding you, that is the exact sequence of this day’s leopard shots. But! He who persists, prevails!

Now! The Payoff shots:

Wooo HOOOOOO!

Can you imagine our exhilaration? Of the four of us, I have the smallest camera, with the least capability. I can only imagine how beautiful my friends’ photos are. This was a special moment, the moment the leopard stood still, out in the clear. You cannot make those moments happen, you just have to cherish them when they do.

LOL, this is what comes next – more humility:

It’s time for coffee, and Victor knows just the place – a palm grove:

It looks warm, but we still have one long sleeved layer on.

We head on searching for lion, which we do not find today. We find other things:

It is getting later, and we reach the camp boat waiting for us in Lower Zambezi National Park to head back for camp. . ย . About fifteen minutes into the drive, after spotting five huge crocodile sleeping on the riverbanks (each rolling off as we approached before the boat could stop rocking long enough for us to shoot until
the last one)

We approached a bank, not our camp, where a picnic was set up on an island – for us! We had no idea! Our Albida House butler, Steve, was there to greet us, as he is when we return to camp, and a crew including a chef, who is cooking a late breakfast with lamb steak, sausages, several salads, and fried eggs. We are set up out under a shady tree in camp chairs, at a table with tablecloth and napkins, and it is so elegant and so glorious, and it is a little paradise.

After our picnic, it is a five minute ride back to camp, where Victor drops us off

I have to wash my hair! I intended to yesterday, but there was a very cold breeze blowing and our bathroom is open to the elements, so I skipped a very chilly shower. Today, I must shower and wash my hair! It is a brighter, warmer day, so I do, and it is delightful, showering in the huge open bath area, nice hot water, a tiny chilly breeze, but big thick towels and a warm robe to wrap up in.ย 

It feels so good to be clean! We get so dusty on our drives!

AdventureMan follows, showers and shaves. We are leaving tomorrow morning, and he knows it will be chilly in the morning and wants to get it done while it is warm, so while my hair dries in the soft breeze, we chat about how much we love this place.ย 

For me, the greatest luxury is privacy. I do enjoy the people I am meeting, and at the same time, I need some quiet and some time alone. The great gift of being upgraded to this family suite has given us some wonderful dinner conversations, the ability to dine informally and earlier in the evening, and the joy of space and time. We have been less regulated here, more able to be ourselves. It is a great luxury.

After our quiet time, we had tea . . . well, really, I had mocha, decaf and cocoa. And cake. For all our protestations of wanting to eat healthy foods, they keep bringing us the most delicious cakes and desserts, along with a big bowl of fruit. We never choose the fruit. We are able to hold ourself to half portions. Well, some of the time we are.

Today I stayed back while the other three of us went canoeing in the afternoon, imagine, canoeing on the Zambezi, what a thrill. I packed, thoughtfully, and watched the hippos transfer from their sunning spot to their sand spit. I always loved what I thought of as hippo-laughter, but I am told it is simply an announcement of “I am here.” Like a space – I am in it. I wouldn’t want to get between a hippo and where they were going, but I do find them charming, and I still love hippo sounds. ย For me, another day in paradise is having the luxury of some time to myself, not to do anything important, think through my packing, read a little of the book I am reading, watch the hippos, just enjoy my own company for a few minutes.

They have brought in a large barrel and put it by the fire; it looks like a kind of a grill . . . hmmmm. They are so full of good surprises here. I wonder what this one is all about.

It IS barbecue, and when the three canoe-ers come back, all full of a really fun adventure, we sit by the fire with our wine and watch dinner being cooked. It is dark, but the cook has a headlamp so he can see what he is doing:

Our last dinner – awesome!

We fly tomorrow, first from “Royal,” which is really just a strip, to Lusaka, then from Lusaka to Johannesburg, then from Johannesburg to Atlanta and then Pensacola. We have only confirmed two flights . . . there is no internet connection in the bush, not for guests. It makes things more complicated. I am just hoping they make allowances for such, especially on the Delta flight out of JoBerg, but as our travel friend says “who cares if we get home on time? It was only getting here that mattered!” and she is right!

As we get into bed, we have hot hot water bottles, in cheetah-patterned flannel covers. ๐Ÿ™‚ ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . .

June 30, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Hotels, Photos, Random Musings, Travel, Weather, Zambia | , , | 4 Comments

First Full Day at Chongwe River Camp

Have you ever thought you might like to be a safari guide in Africa? It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? What a great life, you take people on drives a couple times a day, tell them about the wildlife, eat meals with them, it’s all fun . . . right?

These guides work hard. First, in order to qualify as a guide, you have to take – and pass – a national exam, an exam in three parts. If you don’t pass any one section, you have to take it again. You have to know the common name for animals, birds, trees, bushes and flowers, and you also have to know the Latin names.

If you are a guide, people will ask you the craziest questions, and expect you to answer. If someone gets sick on the drive, you have to know basic First Aid. If something goes wrong with the car, as a guide, it is your responsibility to fix it, or to get the people you are responsible for back to camp.

If you are a guide, you can go back to where the leopard ALWAYS hangs out, or to where another guide spotted mating lions, and today, with your guests, they won’t be there, and you won’t see any sign of them. If you show them two prides of lion, they will be elated until they hear that the other guests saw mating leopard, and they will be mad at YOU, the guide, because they didn’t see them. If the day is too hot or too cold, you have to find a way to make your guests comfortable.

At the end of a long day driving and trying to make people happy, you have to sit with the same people at dinner, making polite conversation, answering their questions, and you’d be surprised how often it is the same question.

We really admire the guides. They work hard. They can make or break a guest’s perception of a camp. It’s hard work.

Our guide at Chongwe River Camp, Victor, knocks himself out. Although we didn’t show up until after four the day we arrived, he had us out on the river by five ๐Ÿ™‚

Early the next morning, we have a campfire by the river, with a pot of porridge, home made hot muffins and a glorious sunrise:

We head out on a game drive, passing the waterbuck once again, and spot a stork fishing for his breakfast:

The morning light is achingly beautiful; we can’t stop taking pictures:

Victor is leaning over the side of the car; that is always good news. He’s spotted a lion print:

The Cape Buffalo are still sleepy and a little slow, so we get some good photos:

We get to the entrance to the Lower Zambezi National Park:

And we see a jackal! The only other jackal we saw as at the salt pan, and that at a distance!

We are driving around looking for lion when suddenly Victor stops the car and backs up. There, on the grass, under a tree, is a leopard, just waiting for us!

Now here’s the thing – I probably took about fifty shots of this leopard, but I am not happy, and this is normal for trying to shoot leopard, or lion – many times they are in grass. Sometimes it can confuse your camera, you think you are shooting the leopard, but your camera focused on the shoot of grass just in front. Or you think you’ve taken the perfect shot, and there is this leaf, or grass, just marring the perfection of your shot. Or the leopard is facing away from you. Or the leopard is walking into the brush! Oh no!

This nice little female leopard put up with us for about half an hour, then leisurely walked away, all of us still snapping, snapping, snapping . . .

I love this elephant, I love this elephant’s ear. We’ve taken a lot of elephant photos, but I really love this elephant:

We can’t believe what a wonderful morning we are having, and just as we are feeling life can’t get much better, Victor spots two young lions. He says they are part of a larger group, but the larger lions have gone off hunting and these have been left tagging behind:

Just after the young lions have wandered off stage, we see this big boy coming down the road, and he is terrifying. He has one thought on his mind, find that lady elephant, and we do NOT want to get in his way:

I know, I know, this is a family blog . . .

It’s been quite a morning, and we head back to camp, but we are all too excited to sleep after lunch. I intended to wash my hair, but there is a cold breeze blowing in off the river, and our wonderful open air shower is just a little too shivery for me today.

We take a walk into the main camp – here is the main camp lounge:

And the dining table overlooking the Chongwe River:

And overlooking a huge pod of sunning hippo:

We run into Chris, one of the Chongwe River Camp owners, with whom we flew from Lusaka to Royal, the airstrip for Chongwe River camp. He talked about the new direct flight from Dubai to Lusaka and how he wants to market to expats in Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. to get them to come down to Chongwe for their holidays. We tell him we did most of our Africa travel from Kuwait and Qatar, that it was a piece of cake with a time zone change of only an hour, not 8 hours, and travel time usually just overnight, and the price is a lot cheaper from there, too. It’s a great trip out of the Middle East, and we think he has the right idea, to market the camp to expats and locals there.

After tea, we head back out on the river, three of us, while one goes fishing. What we love about Chongwe is that there are so many things to do, and so much fun!

Victor finds a spot near the White Fronted Bee Eaters for sundowners, and we meet up with the fishermen, who, alas, did not catch anything:


Back at the AlBida Suite (the Family Suite) Steve-the-Butler has laid out a beautiful campfire to welcome us back.

It has been a perfect day. Victor joins us for an early dinner, and as we finish up a chilly breeze starts blowing and we all say goodnight, knowing morning will be coming early once again.

June 27, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Sunsets, Tunisia, Zambia | , , , , , | Leave a comment