Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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. .  . 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. 

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. 

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.  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. 🙂 ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . .

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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 🙂

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

Leaving Nsefu for Chongwe; The Most Exciting Moment of our Trip

Early, early the next morning we heard a crashing and crunching – sounds we can easily identify as elephant. At first we continue sleeping, our only morning for sleeping in, but I can’t resist, I have to get up, and lo! The elephant is between our cabin and the next, obliviously chomping and breaking and tearing the tree for an early breakfast. 

I decide to get up and get dressed so I can get the iPad charged before the generator goes off at 10, but I can’t go out until the elephant has departed, and she heads in the direction of the lodge, which is where I need to be. Deb Tuttle, the walking guide, walks with me once we see the elephant walk a little further down the valley, I’m able to get the iPad charging and grab a cup of coffee so to be able to say farewell to some of the guests whom we will not see again. 

Sunrise over Nsefu:

Travel agents heading out on a Robin Pope Walking Safari:

Making Toast is the favorite job in the winter, close to the hot coals:

It is so nice to be able to pack in daylight! My iPad is at 100%; I have finished The Paris Wife and am starting Wolf Hall, which also holds my attention. While carrying books is bulky, this constant underlying awareness of needing to recharge camera batteries and iPad is also a deterrence. I find I am less desperate about the camera batteries, I always carry at least one back-up so I always have a charged spare, but when the iPad goes, it has to be recharged before we can use it again.

A couple of the travel agents who didn’t know each other had to bunk together in Nsefu. I don’t feel sorry for them; they get to come free. It seems to me, though, is hard to come on these trips as a single person and not feel the odd one out when the game drives go out. They say it is no problem, but I’ve been the odd one on trips to Kawazaa, etc., when AdventureMan wanted to do some activity and I wanted to do something else. It is possible, anything is possible, but sometimes it is just a little awkward. Sometimes people are nice; sometimes they are not so happy to have someone else with them. We are finding that the best of all worlds is to come with your own little traveling group. 

The first time we came as a small group was with our son and his wife. We were able to do game drives with people who share our preferences, have people to talk to at dinner if everyone else has their group, etc. We like meeting up with other people, and at the same time, it gives you more confidence to have a group with you, if the other people are all absorbed in one another, or not great company.

The most difficult people are those who don’t understand that this is not a predictable experience – that’s why it is an adventure. There is no guarantee that the lion will crawl over the lip of the riverbank just in front of your car. There is no guarantee you will find the same great, shaggy maned lion at the salt pans that the other guests found the day before. There are NO guarantees, and so you have to treasure all the moments, great and small, and if you are blessed with an extraordinary experience, you celebrate, but honestly, just being here is cause for celebration. Those whose noses get out of joint because you might have seen something they haven’t aren’t a lot of fun to be around. We had one experience when a group that had been friendly to us got all sour and disgruntled because we had seen the lions at the salt pan and they had not. Hey! The lion don’t always show up! The leopard are elusive. This experience is one that totally has to be lived in the moment.

You have to love the smell of the campfire in the morning, and be willing to sacrifice your one morning of sleeping in to spot the elephant chomping outside your bathroom wall. You have to love the little elephant shrew as much as the elephant. There are some drives that are just quiet. It’s like you can’t expect Christmas every day, and if it were Christmas every day, it wouldn’t be special any more.

Just before Holly arrives to open up the Bend Over Store (LOL, it’s a trunk full of goodies) we are blessed with one last elephant crossing! Two days earlier, the elephant were crossing back and forth like a street in New York, then yesterday – not an elephant! It was so unearthly quiet! Today, groups are massing once again, and crossing. We love watching the baby elephants as they learn how it is done.

Drinking; getting ready to cross:

Mom, wait!

On the way to Mfuwe airport, we see Eland – we’ve been looking and looking for these large elk-like ungulates, they are shy and elusive, but Jonah spots them off in the distance, a parting gift from Nsefu.

We have an all-too-brief mad dash through Tribal Textiles, where we ‘invest’ in tablewares, cushion covers and deco for children’s rooms. AdventureMan befriends one of the Tribal Textile cats while I am busy shopping. I have cleared out my backpack so I would have space to put my purchases. 🙂

We have a full flight from Mfuwe to Lusaka, and not a lot of time to spare before our next flight.  Smooth flight to Lusaka, just minutes to pick up luggage and transfer to next ProFlight flight, this one is not even on the departure board, only eight passengers, our party of four and a German family from Bavaria. At the very last minute another man comes running, running to catch the plane, we are all busy chatting, it is already a family. They are en route to Chiawa.

It’s a short flight, but here comes the most exciting moment in our day. The pilot is looking at a cheat sheet and the suddenly the plane is saying loudly “Pull Up! Pull Up!Terrain! Terrain!”

The pilots are looking confused and annoyed, one still looking at the instruction sheet, a mountain is rising in front of us, the plane is banking and the loud voice keeps saying “Pull up! Pull up! Terrain!”

I thought I had a movie of all this. I remember making a movie, thinking that if these are my last moments, I will record what happened and try to store the iPad in a place where it might be safely found. Of course, as it turns out, we landed safely and . . . somehow, I don’t have the movie. I must have shut it off too quickly and it didn’t save; I was in a hurry – just in case those were my last moments. I have to admit I am disappointed not to have it to share with you.

Waiting at the airstrip is Victor, our guide, and we rode with him and Chris, who turns out to be one of the owners of Chongwe, to the Chongwe River Camp.

(This is a waterbuck we passed on our way into camp, and again on our way out of camp the next morning; so so sad, part of the circle of life and death, but as we departed Chongwe, his bloated body was in the same field; they suspect he was bitten by a snake and died.)

Arrival is lovely, we are greeted at a tall stand, so we are not climbing in and out of the Land Cruiser, we walk right out onto this stand and down the steps. Flossie greets us and then they tell us that we have been upgraded and put in the family suite.

The Family Suite . . . As soon as we see it, we remember. We had totally forgotten . . . we loved our cabins at Chongwe, we were delighted with all the amenities, and we also remember our first boat trip riding by a place that looked like a fantasy from 1001 Nights, a tented living room and dining room, with carpets and nice furniture and linen tablecloths and gleaming candles – it was so lovely. We remember, it was the family suites.  And now, the family suite was ours!

We were a little dazed by our good fortune, we couldn’t believe this lovely place was ours. Our butler, Steve, offered us drinks, Flossie, the camp hostess showed us to our bedroom/bathroom/dressing areas and explained how everything worked, where the electrical outlets and switches were, how the double shower works, where the bath oils were for the claw-footed bathtub, gave us the white cotton pique robes and the fluffy thick Turkish Towels.

This is our sleeping area:

This is our dressing area:

This is the view from our tent toward where the Chongwe River meets the Zambezi River:

This is our bathroom, with a two-person shower and claw-foot tub 🙂

And this is the desk area, also where we can charge our batteries and electronics:

This is our dining room:

The Family Room:

This is the view out over our swimming pool to the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers, and the hippo pods:

There are woven mats and kelim carpets, and we feel at home, if home can be a huge octagonal tent with an indoor / outdoor feel.  Victor comes back, pulling up in a boat next to our swimming pool,to take us for a sundowners up the Chongwe and then back down into the Zambezi.

And Victor has fishing equipment with him for the fishing enthusiast in our party. He is able to cast to his heart’s content with a rod and reel trying to hook a Tiger Fish (catch and release) but no luck.

We see lots of animals coming down to drink at dusk, just across the Chongwe:

Our first Chongwe sunset:

Dusk settles on the Zambezi:

After sundowners, we head back and go to our luxurious tents to clean up, then reassemble around the fire to have a glass of wine before dinner.

The ultimate luxury is privacy. We have met such lovely people in the camps, and still, I am who I am, it is hard for me to exert myself to be charming every night at the end of a long day. I do fine at breakfast around a campfire. I manage at lunch, although after an early start and a long game drive, I am usually eager for a quick snooze. But by night, at the end of the game drive, all I want is comfort food, quick, like tomato soup and a cheese sandwich, not so much chit chat and good night, see you all in the morning when I am more chipper.

I recognize there are people who do well later in the day. I recognize that there is this thing called civilized behavior. I do have manners, I know what is important, and  . . . yet . . . late in the day, I have the nature of a curmudgeon. I need some quiet. AdventureMan and our friends are out having a great conversation in our living room area, I can hear them, I delight that they are having such a great conversation, and I really, really need to be in here, writing up my notes. By the grace of God, they understand me and have compassion on me. I am able to join them a little later, and we have a lovely laughter-filled dinner in our private dining room and then off to bed – we have a full day tomorrow in Chongwe!

The butler, Steve, does wonderful napkins:

We did nothing to deserve this beautiful upgrade. We loved the spacious tents we had the last time we were in Chongwe River Camp, but this . . . this is a totally unexpected, undeserved blessing, it just fell in our laps, and we are so appreciative. We feel so cherished, so blessed, so beautifully taken care of. We go to sleep with the sound of hippos . . . . .ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . . .

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Relationships, Shopping, sunrise series, Sunsets, Travel, Zambia | , , , , , | 2 Comments