An ordinary evening at an Etosha waterhole

7 Oct

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It is 18:30 and we take a sit at a waterhole in Etosha National Park. While waiting for the animals to arrive I get the feeling I have booked for the opera The Lion King. On my left and right several tourists with their binoculars ready and the sun that is starting to set in giving the idea of lights going out just before the actors arrive on stage.

The first animals start to arrive. Tens of zebra’s, wildebeasts, gemsboks, impala’s and giraffes suddenly show up from behind trees, bushes and from some dry area’s in the far distance. All in a hurry to recover from the extreme heat of that day. The arrival of these animals does have extreme similarities with the start of the musical The Lion King. For those who have seen this musical, I can tell you that they have done their research well. The zebra’s and wildebeasts are the first to jump in the water for some bathing and a lot of drinking. I imagine seeing the relief in their eyes after experiencing the heat of Etosha that day on our campsite myself. The gemsboks and impala’s quickly join the zebra’s in and along the waterhole, the giraffes patiently waiting for their turn. The show has officially started.

The incoming dusk announces one of the main characters; a rhino has silently arrived. The bathing animals politely take a step a side for the rhino, but don’t seem to be scared of him. The rhino seems restless. The water is apparently not the only reason of his visit. I try to peek behind the coulisses to guess what he is looking for, but I do not have to wait long before my question gets answered. From far away I see another rhino coming followed by her baby. Father rhino pulls himself out of the cooling water and greets his family warmly. Mother obviously being very thirsty, starts drinking immediately and seems less interested in seeing her husband again. The little baby tries a few sips from the water but realises that this is not what was written in the script. He quickly turns around, bends his four little legs, slowly lies down on his side underneath his mother and starts drinking. While I enjoy this touching scene I notice many animals have left and a leopard has sneaked in for some water. But before we realise it happening he dissapears. Clearly there was not enough budget left for such an expensive actor.

The dark has set in. Only a deep red line is still shown at the horizon. From the red light a small silhouet is moving towards the audience. Silently the silhouet moves closer and closer and becomes bigger and bigger. A huge elephant bull enters the middle of the stage. The zebra’s, wildebeasts, gemsboks and impala’s that are still around, move quickly a side reminding themselves of the fact that they are just supporting actors. The giraffes almost seem to bow for the elephant. I often wonder why they call the lion ‘the king’ of the jungle when an elephant seems so much more powerful and has nothing to fear either.

Some movement on the left. From out the bush three other elephants are approaching the water. Two bigger bulls and in the middle of them a just born baby elephant. I recognise the baby; it is Dombo! A tiny elephant trying to keep up with the others while trying not to step on his big ears or trip over his mini trunk. All his features and cute movements are exactly like in the Disney movie. It is clearly not only the European musicals where they use famous stars to promote their show…

Dombo does not notice the audience laughing silently and keeps his head up high and flaps his big ears while proudly following his big brothers. The big elephant seems to recognize the three elephants. He quickly takes his trunk from out the water, takes a few steps backwards and than greets his family members by taking his trunk up, fold it like an attacking snake with the end bit facing the others. The other elephants do the same thing towards him, while still hurrying towards the water. I had seen elephants greating me like that in the circus, but never realised that this is their official way of greeting one another. A beautiful sight.

After fullfilling most of their thirst the four elephants gather along the water; the three bigger elephants facing eachother and the little one underneath them in the middle. The bigger bull puts his trunk a bit higher up, while his sons snuggle theirs around it. Dombo is putting his trunk in the air as high as possible to reach the other three trunks that are now completely wrapped around eachother. A group hug of an elephant family that obviously has not seen eachother for a while. I look to my right to see if I am the only one fighting against my tears. Luckily I notice Shun being just as silly.
Dombo gives up reaching the group hug and puts his trunk in the water to start blowing bubbles. The three bulls look over to their naughty family member and grandfather kindly strokes Dombo over his head. To protect their skins from insects and sunburn the elephants start to rub themselves in mud. Not only their trunk is used to spray mud over their backs, but they also use their legs. They stick one leg in the mud and than rub it over their other leg. Dombo copies his big brothers but has difficulty to balance on three legs. Fortunately his big brother saves him from falling over and rubs the mud over his wobly legs. Again tears burning…

The elephants and most other animals have left the stage. Only the giraffes and rhinos stay behind for the final scene that evening. Suddenly two lions have arrived. The atmosphere does not seem to be so cute and quiet anymore as the lions are not thirsty but obviously very hungry. It is no tender little jumpy impala they are after that night, no it is giraffe they have on their menu. Although I know that giraffes are not an easy target for the lions, I do not understand why the giraffes did not run away. Instead of running away, one giraffe starts daring the two lions. She does not move but swings her head towards the approaching lion. The lion stops, but than the lion on the other side starts approaching the giraffe. The giraffe turns around and also starts daring the other lion. The rhino is annoyed the quiet night seems to be over and charges towards the lions. The lions run, but return 5 minutes later. Again they both head for the giraffe. I get nervous, as I know soon other lions will arrive. She will be able to handle these two, but not 5 of them. Please run you giraffe!! Are you stupid!? But than I realise what is going on. On the left two little baby giraffes are looking at their mother almost being attacked. They nervously move towards and from the scene, being scared but also not wanting to move on without their mother. The mother is trying to tire and distract the lions, as when she runs, they will go for her two babies, who will obviously follow her. The scene seems to go on forever and I get more and more nervous and unhappy. I know it is amazing to see a real kill during a safari and it is often one of the main goals besides spotting ‘The Big Five’. But a giraffe mother being ripped apart in front of the eyes of her two scared little babies is too much for me. Just as the mother giraffe seems to get tired another giraffe proudly shows up and takes over the scene. Please run you mother! Take your babies and run!! But no, she still needs to drink before leaving and uses this moment to stretch her four legs and bend over the water. My goodness! How can she run quickly, standing in that position!? I guess she has no choice and will not make it the next day in the heat without drinking. The lions notice her being in this difficult position and turn towards her. Again a long scene of the mother giraffe distracting the lions, while now the other giraffes use this moment to drink. As I can’t handle looking at the two worried babies anymore, I decide to go for an open ending. I look at my watch and notice it is almost midnight and go to bed.****

* Above content is fully based on a true story and happened right in front of our eyes.
* Nothing was directed or influenced by human beings except of there being an artificial light.
* Unfortunately pictures were not possible lacking sufficient lighting.
* Four days later a terrible man made fire in Etosha killed and burned a lot of elephants, rhinos and giraffes. Especially their babies got killed, not knowing what to do. No a happy end after all….

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Mokoro Camping

4 Oct

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As Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are difficult countries to travel by public transport, it was time to change our means of travel. In Francistown we rented a 2 wheeldrive that would take us all the way to Cape Town, via The Okavango Delta in Botswana and several places in Namibia.

To balance our daily budget we needed to find a fellow traveller to share the car with, but we also needed to start camping. Although I never really got into camping, I did always fancy doing it. Pitching your romantic little tent in a beautiful deserted area, cooking your food on your selfmade campfire while watching the stars and sleeping in the middle of the stunning nature. Camping in Southern Africa is where all these camping dreams come true. Wherever you go you will find great camping sites with amazing views, perfect braai solutions, billions of stars right above your tent and more than enough elephants, leopards and other creatures to keep you busy at night.

In Maun, a crazy travellers town in The Okanvango Delta, we got lucky immediately. It only took us 30 minutes to meet Shun, a great Japanese guy, who has been sharing the car with us ever since all the way up to Cape Town today.
After a scenic flight above the delta we decided we wanted to see more of this impressive part of Botswana. The best way to get into these waters and to see the wildlife here was apparently by ‘mokoro’ and camping. A local ‘poler’ managed to fit us, himself, our brand new tent, sleeping bags and groceries on the narrow boat. He used our matrasses to make us two comfortable seats and off we went. This canoe-like boat took us right into the middle of the Okavango jungle, through waters full of lush green grasses, stunning flowers and everywhere you looked wild animals having a cooling shower.

I sometimes wonder when it is going to stop. Everytime when I ask myself if it can get any better, I get overwelmed again. The Okavango totally surprised us with its beauty and again we mentioned to eachother that we had never seen such a beautiful place. Those days we camped in the middle of nowhere on a tiny island where again our tent was surrounded by elephants. Funny how something that seemed so scary to me a month ago, has become part of our daily routine. In the afternoon the poler took us on one of the most impressive walking safari’s we both ever had. Right trough the bush and no gun on him. No one knowing where we were.

Me: “Are there lions and leopards here”?
Poler: “Yes, there are. Also 12 rhino’s living in this area”.
Me: “So what do they do if they happen to be right behind these bushes and see us?”
Poler: “They will probably attack madam”.
Me: “In that case, what do WE do sir”?
Poler: “Not much madam, not much.

His answer does not surprise me anymore. A continent where death is something part of everyone’s daily life, it is not something you worry about that much anymore. If it happens, it happens, that’s life. I quickly forget about our conversation anyway, when we walk into hundreds of impala’s, zebra’s and wildebeasts by surprise. The mixed hurd galops away quickly through the waters, giving us the National Geographic feeling. What a sight. What a sound. Chicken skin.

Poler: “If you would like to cool off, you can swim here, its safe here”.
Manengu: “Why is it safe here sir”?
Poler: “The water is really clear here, not so much grass. So you can see the hippo’s and crocodiles coming”.
Manengu: “But sir, when you see a crocodile or hippo coming, its too late….”.
The poler grinned but no answer. We both jumped in, soaked ourselves in the soft, clear and cool water and just did not think about animals for a while.

That night we cooked our curry on a campfire overlooking the water and listening to the hyena’s and leopards in the distance. Like this trip was not perfect already, we got a bright full moon to finish it off.

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Yes Way, in Botswana

1 Oct

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Remark: The photograph page is updated!

It was early morning when we left ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, the real name of the Victoria Falls. It means ‘The smoke that thunders’. I have always found this a powerful name, but being called this might have been a bridge too far. Bou and Net were thinking of giving me this name. Manengu is exotic enough, I would argue. During our early car ride to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border we were still amazed by our experience in Zimbabwe. How dire the situation might have been during the current dictatorial ruler there is change in the air. There is a tensed and excited vibe which I would like to call positive. The more obvious clues are from some of the people we have talked to or from the active bustling city of Harare and its surroundings. Buildings, sidewalks and parks are being renovated. New urban developments are planned and constructed. The economy is growing, inflation in relative check and the people have hope.

Talking to some of the locals, they reassured us, that hope was always there and life has always been reasonable. Confronting them with the terror dictatorial government, farm invasions, hyperinflation and the economic meltdown both white and black would smile and tell us that sometimes you need to have patience. “We need to grow as a society and hopefully be lucky that our growing pains will be mild”. Since the shaky coalition government is in place and the introduction of the US Dollar as the official currency there are clearly some positive changes. The middle class is strong and seemed to be in charge, albeit in the background. The dollarization of the economy for example was pushed by the middle class. During the crisis years the grey economy in USD was growing so fast that the government could not ignore it any longer. Although for a foreigner all these stories and facts seems a bit over optimistic with the current ruler still in charge, there is hardly any doubt that there will be change, also in government. The current power struggle in the leading party Zanu PF due to the ailing Mugabe, proving a possible fractured party, might have something to do with it. But there is more, a combination of many factors that could at last reach the tipping point for the better.

The driver asked us whether he should stop when spotting wild animals. We both said yes. The drive to the border would take us through the Zambesi National Park and would last approximately one hour. A stunning landscape with few giraffes on the way. We walked to the border and were greeted by smiling immigration officers. Their office was clean and tidy and everybody seemed to be having a good time. This was a novice to me. I was a little bit overwhelmed and still had my normal immigration face on. “Enjoy our country, sir”, and she gave back our passports. I was actually thinking of writing a post about the personal traits and characteristics of people working at immigration and custom offices all over the world but unfortunately I can’t use this generalization anymore. Botswana was already living up to the promise. According to some, the best managed sub-saharan country after South Africa. We could not wait to see more of this country.

After a short ride to the main junction in Kasane we were dropped off at an obvious hitchhike spot. We knew we were too late for the regular bus, so the only other way to Francistown was hitchhiking. It is a kind of inter-city taxi service by private vehicles. People will offer you a place in the trunk, in a chair, on top of boxes or whatever space they had for a small fee. Some people at the junction seemed to be waiting for a long time already. Cars and trucks stopped while picking up or dropping off people. There was no logical way of doing this, but we finally got on to a pickup truck. I was sitting, or actually more struggling leaning against my backpack, in the back with a seasonal farm worker from Zambia and a business woman from Zimbabwe. Hilje was offered the front seat after some hours of driving. Elephants and especially ostriches were plentiful, surprisingly to me. For the animals it looked like the road had something else to offer than fast moving vehicles. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck talking to complete strangers from different countries and backgrounds made me realise again how special and rare it is that one wanders off outside their comfort zone. I always advocate this to people around me, but at the same time I realise its rarity in my own life. She, Udzi, was on her way to Gabarone to buy a mini van for her new venture, a 7-Eleven in Kasane. He, Phillip, was on his way to one of the many farms where he could work for the coming couple of months. All the differences in the world and a very hard ass! could not change my joy of being there at that moment.

A bit sore and sweaty but relieved we were walking through a genuine shopping mall where we would meet Dawn. I could see Hilje looking at the shops and she was smiling. The virtual shopping list was made. After being offered a nice refreshing drink in the mall we drove to their farm just outside Francistown, Way Side. The welcome was so warm it felt like home. “Are you with me?”‘ Mike asked. I was not sure what he meant, but I reckoned it was good. In this case it meant a nice cold Castle beer. A home cooked lasagna in a lovely outdoor setting made it complete. The 13000 ha farm is enormous and is specialised in breading stud cattle. The farm is also host to various game species where visitors can take game drives and shoot pictures or do the real shooting for trophy or meat. We had lovely game drives and were introduced to the whole family, each member had specific responsibility on the farm. We had tasty dinners, great company and I think I had the best steak ever. The cold beers were unmatchable and we immensely enjoyed the unforgettable sunsets.

Michael was right. We could not travel through southern Africa without visiting Botswana. Michael is Mike and Dawn’s son. We met him in Zanzibar. He took us for a couple of dives off Fumba lodge and we enjoyed some nice cold beers during various evenings on the island. On one of those nights out he made sure we would change our itinerary so we could visit Botswana. We are glad for that. It was the perfect spot to mentally and physically prepare for the next leg of our trip.

Mike’s brother Keith, the Don of the family and the captain of the farm had his lifelong dream come true when he realised a nine holes golfcourse on the farm. I definitely had to get used to it but just walking around the ‘bush-veld’ with Keith and Mike was already a huge treat. The sight of a lone kudu, impalas, steinboks and an incredible amount of birds compensated for my dissmal golf performance. The farm has been in the family for 100 years and it has evolved into a small village with hundreds of people working and living on it. During the many conversations it was nice to hear about the history of the farm and the family. Although challenging, Keith and his family have been able to difersify the activities on the farm and create the economic stability it needs to hopefully survive another couple of centuries.

Botswana as a country is trying to do the same. Blessed with an incredible amount of diamonds, it has been able to accumulate wealth for the last couple of decades. But unlike many other sub-saharan countries with an abundance of minerals, precious metals and other commodities Botswana has been investing the generated income in the country and its people. The next economical challenge would be to difersify away from the diamonds and create a stable economic and political society to last multi generations.

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Zim, alive and kicking!

24 Sep

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After just eating and eating, after far to many beers, after being lazy on beaches and terraces, it was finally time for some excercise! With no pressure from tight schedules of workhours or a social life and having all the time of the world, it is hard to keep up the running and exercise during the trip. Three months of hardly any exercise made our lazy asses started to be floppy and our bellies undeniable.

But there came Zimbabwe to the rescue! Meeting Issa in the bus to Harare was the kick-off of our sporty Zim experience. Issa’s stories about his boxing career made us excited so we booked a private boxingtraining on the grass field of our B&B the next day. Even though we could hardly move our bodies anymore we decided that we wanted more! We left Harare and took the bus to Vic Falls, the adrenaline and backpackers town north of Zim.

Vic Falls is obviously the place in Zim where you can visit the amazingly stunning and impressive Victoria Falls. The widest falls in the world that looses its water to the Zambezi river.
Falls + river = rapids. And rapids means….. Rafting! And not just rafting. No the Zambezi river is known for being one of the most challenging rivers to raft. Piece of cake for Manengu, but not for me. What is exactly so much fun about falling out of a boat into a rapid, swimming away from crocodiles, ending up underneath the boat or ending up in a so called ‘washing machine’ and thinking you are going to die!? That was what I was wondering together with some other travellers we had met in a bar. After quite some beers we decided that we were just as tough as all the others and signed up together for a boat and a whole day of rafting the next day. We did not realize than, that being scared on a raft is not very helpful; The better you peddle, the less chance the boat will flip over. But scared people tend to just hide away in the raft and completely forget to peddle, which obviously means…. flipping over.

It was only rapid three that already made our clumsy boat flip. Like some…. We got catapulted into the Zambezi….. Immediately we got known as the ‘Zambezi National Swimming Team’, as we still had 17 rapids to go and were already swimming. The names of the rapids did not really help either. Can you imagine approaching a huge and crazy rapid and your instructor says: “Okay guys, hold on tight please, because we are now approaching the “Devil’s Graveyard Rapid” or “The Angry Big Mama Is Going To Kill You Rapid” or even better: “The Suck your Brains Out Rapid…..”! And to make it even worse, he would each time add: “Please make sure when you fall out of the boat that you swim to the left, because otherwise you will be smashed against the rocks” or “please make sure when you fall out, that you stay in the middle of the rapid, because there are many crocodiles on the side here”. Whahaha!! Like you are able to THINK when you are being washed away by a rapid and having nearly death experiences!! And like you can do ANYTHING against the extreme current of the river!? But the more often I thought I was going to die and the more I looked at the scared faces of my companions, the more I started to understand the fun and thrill of rafting. Everytime when our instructor announced the next rapid I just laughed my head off. What else can you do except of surrendering and just enjoy it. And I did!! Rafting is the bomb! Can’t wait to raft the famous ‘Wall’ in India in November….

To complete our ‘Zim Exercise & Adreanaline Tour’ we decided to take our sore muscles onto a horse to do a horseback safari. These safaris are special, as you can approach the wild animals from extremely close. The animals are not able to smell us, as the smell of the horses is so much stronger than ours. This way we were able to approach elephants from just a few meters distance (like I did not have enough of that….) and walked right through a hurde of 60 buffalo’s. Such a special experience, realizing that the animals would have definitely attacked if we would have walked there.

Zim was not only just in time to get our lazy asses moving, but also just in time to safe us from becoming prejudice about Africa. After Zanzibar, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi we were starting to get a little synical, a bit frustrated and hopeless with some aspects of the general African mentality. What a relief to meet so many Zimbabweans that were well educated, fluent in English, hardworking and clearly on top of the current affairs. Do not get me wrong. One of the reasons that Africa is such an amazing continent to visit, is because of its differences with the Western World. But for most Africans you do hope they will have a better life one day soon. But unfortunately their different attitude, their lack of education and their way of only thinking about today and not tomorrow, makes change difficult. That is a complicated discussion we will leave for another time, but although Zimbabwe’s political difficulties are still very challenging, this country gave us hope and plenty of new energy!

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Fighting through tough borders

17 Sep

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It was 11 o’clock in the morning and we had just arrived at the Malawi border. Two hours behind schedule and no progression at the immigration cue. We had departed early that morning from the bus depot of the only bus carrier to Zimbabwe. Marlene, a Dutch expat in Blantrye, dropped us off. She offered us to stay at their house the night before after meeting Margriet. After a couple of days low budget sleeping, their beautiful house felt like paradise.

After another hour delay, we could finally embark the bus to drive for another 5 minutes before arriving at the Mozambique border post. People had warned us about the Mozambique border posts and they were right. A lot of discussions and frustrating moments were needed before the 80 passangers could board the bus again. Although the bus was in a relative good condition, unfortunately the tour operator wanted to increase his margin by selling 6 more tickets than the available seats. So, coming back into the bus was even after all the hassle on the borders not a relieve at all. We were cramped in the back of the bus, while some of the ‘extra’ passengers were forced to sit in the narrow aisle. The only working speaker of the dvd/radio was just above our heads and it was hauling and they have put the only dvd music on repeat. Every stop was used by our co-passengers to by as much food and drinks as they could. It has been clear to us, that for most parts of Africa, when there is an opportunity to eat, EAT! It could be your last chance. The bus started to smell of greasy chicken, beef stue and other beautiful odors. The aisle of the bus had become slippier by every stop. We were not sure whether it is chicken grease, beef stue or other unidentifiable liquids. Although we didn’t wanted to show our desperateness to eachother we must have asked ourselves: How on earth were we going to survive this 12 hour plus ride?

I was very happy to see Hilje was getting more and more creative finding a spot to wee when we had our stops, because it was hard for a guy to manouvre through smelly bathrooms, walls and other toilet areas let alone for a woman. In the bus we both tried to concentrate the bus by reading our books and occasionally peeped out the window to see the surroundings. The part of Mozambique we went through was dry, flat and clearly very poor. Besides a couple of huts of lone farmers there were no clear signs of villages let alone urbanisation.

The guy sitting next to me, was a professional boxer from Zimbabwe, Issa Phiri. We were lucky to have him as our seat mate, because he helped us through the border nightmares. He just got back from Blantyre assisting one of his junior fighters at an international fight. His son was also a boxer and was an olympic bronze medalist in Athens. We had some interesting discussions about the current political situation in Zimbabwe and other insights of the culture and possible future of his country.

After many more hours in the bus, we started to get in to the rythm of sitting in the bus, getting out of the bus and getting in again. Although it was even hardship for our local co-passengers they were still making the best of it. Some of them asked us why the hell we didn’t take the plane for this part of our trip. At those moments we realised that this was the only way to enjoy the real world. Getting to know the locals and their way of living. One of the guys who was sitting close to us in the bus emerged as the bus comedian and made jokes, in his local language, during the entire journey. Unfortunately he did not want to make an exception for us, so we could only try to understand and smile. Finally, we had even made a pact with some of the passengers in the back to urge the bus host to turn the volume of the dvd player down. Even the border crossings seemed to be easier than before.

After almost 16 hours we finally arrived in Harare. Issa arranged a taxi for us to share and escorted us to some of the possible hostels. Harare looked dark and very intimidating at night. Somehow, the stories about Zim and the current economic and political situation had made us both nervous. A couple of tries later he decided to call a friend of his to help us out. We finally ended up at her house and were offered a bed to spend the night. We even witnessed a full bred race horse giving birth that morning.

The couple of days in Harare would change the clearly misinformed perception of the world about Zimbabwe.

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Malawian challenges

11 Sep

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“Please, do you want to listen to this?”, Francis took the earpieces out of his ears and handed it over to me. It was a discussion on a liberal independent radio station between the DJ and the press officer of Mr. Bingu Wa Mutharika, the current president of Malawi. The president just gave a speech a couple of days earlier regarding the protests which were violently hit down by his government. Nineteen people were left dead during the protest and we noticed the anger of everybody we met in Malawi. The discussion on the radio was specifically about the speech after the protests, in which the president tried to defend the actions. The discussion was in English, so while I was struggling to climb the steep path to the top I was happy to be kept busy by the interesting radio show.

We met Francis while we were climbing the Zomba plateau. We were using the so called Potato Path, which is still used by farmers to transport the veggies and fruits from the plateau to town. Zomba town, which was the Malawian capital during the British time, lies in the shadows of the plateau. On the slopes of the plateau there is still evidence of the British. Most of the houses and gardens are some what intact but clearly neglected. While enjoying some of the views, Francis added his concern about the fact that his countrymen are not taking care of the beautiful properties.

The climb to the top of the plateau took us more than two hours. It was steep, very steep. Even Francis, which turned out to be a part time tour guide and a curio shop owner, had to stop for a breather once or twice. He also pointed out some people illegally cutting down the beautiful pine trees. The plateau itself is officially a natural reserve, but due to the extreme poverty and negative economic outlook, people are desperate and will do everything to survive. We were amazed how some of the women and kids negotiated the small path while descending the mountain with pretty large logs on their heads. We are definitely degenerating.

After arriving on top of the beautiful plateau we decided to ask Francis to guide us for another walk on top of the plateau for three more hours. Although we could see a lot of bare land due to the illegal logging, some parts of the forrest were very dense and the rivers and falls stunningly breathtaking. The viewpoints were out of this world. We could visually follow the road we took from Liwonde National Park winding through the dry land. It felt very strange to be in such a cool environment at 1800 m after the dry and hot savanne at Liwonde Safari Camp. Just 24 hours ago we were still enjoying an exviting hot ride through the Liwonde National Park with Frederick (http://www.liwondesafaricamp.com/) and now we could feel the cold night coming. We stayed at an abandoned trout farm on top of the plateau. We asked one of the local boys to fetch us some cold beers and enjoyed the mist slowly descending on us. While cooking our makeshift dinner we were joined by two other overnight visitors at the farm. They turned out to be the Dutch couple we met on our Train ride from Dar es Salaam to Kasama. What a small world! We enjoyed a surprisingly nice dinner, made of our combined ingredients.

The next day we took another exciting minibus ride from Zomba to Blantyre. We met Margriet, a Dutch local who has lived in Malawi for more than 45 years, at her bookshop in the shopping mall. She is also the initiator of the orphanage, Chiuta Childrens Home, Leanne has been supporting for the last couple of years. Hilje had been looking forward to visit this orphanage and now we were very close in doing that.

Greatly stunned by the beautiful and divers settings of some of the places in Malawi but also saddened by the extreme poverty, fragile political situation and incredible HIV statistics we had planned to take the 12 hour busride from Blantyre to Harare.

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Chiuta Childrens Home Malawi

10 Sep

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After some relaxing at Lake Malawi, being spoiled in Liwonde Safari Camp by my old friend Frederik and climbing the Zomba plateau, we finally went off to Mulanje to visit the Chiuta Childrens Home. It was great to see that Malawi is not only about poverty, draught, HIV and a great amount of orphans, but in the end a big part of it still is…

A few years ago my friend Leanne decided to help one of these orphanages in Malawi, together with her sister and mother. They left the Netherlands for several months to help out in The Chiuta Childrens Home. During their stay they helped out at the school, thought the children English, explained them about hygene and took them to the hospital to get them checked. But most of all they gave them love and attention, something that is not available when you have to share with 63 others. Ever since the family goes back one month a year to get the orphanage back in order, to take the children to the hospital and to show them that they haven’t been forgotten. Back in The Netherlands they organise frequent events to raise money to make sure the children will be able finish their schools and will leave the orphanage having a job and a house to live in. Being compasionate with Leanne’s hard work, her incredible touching stories and lovely pictures, made me curious. We all try to support Leanne’s work in The Netherlands, but to be able to actually go there and spoil the children ourselves was very special.

With several kilo’s of beef and goat, loads of banana’s and papaya’s, a dozen biscuits and a shiny brand new football we tried to make a difference for one day. In the beginning the children were a bit shy and confused about our visit. Luckily the language of music and football is spoken in all worlds and it did not take long before the children were singing, dancing and laughing about Manengu’s football tricks.

But to make an actual difference, more needs to be done. If you take the amount of followers of our blog into account, we could make a significant difference all together! Why don’t we all transfer 5 Euro’s each to the Chiuta Childrens Home and ensure that the children of Chiuta will have another year of school, healthy food, medicins and hopefully some fun as well!

Hoping for your support, hereby the account details:
Accountnumber: 13.94.82.814
In attention of: Stichting Chiuta Projects
IBAN nr: NL13 RABO 0139482814

Rabobank Regio Schiphol
Schiphol Boulevard 119
1118 BG Schiphol-Centrum
BICcode: RABONL2U

We are most greatful!

A special thanks to Margriet, Marleen and Frank who so spontaneously and warmly took care of us in Blantyre. Thank you, and most of all for making a difference in Malawi.

For some more information please visit Chiuta Childrens Home Malawi

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Elephant encounter

4 Sep

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A loud bang. Silence. And again the same noise, but not much louder. I quickly sit straight up in my tent and look carefully out of the little tent window. There it is; an elephant standing only 6 meters from our tent.

I turn around to see if Manengu is awake. Ofcourse not. He is sleeping like a baby. Not me, as the many stories about wildlife attacks on campers have been creaping around in my head all night. I have done safaris before, but never in a tent. Everyone you talk to has a story. A leopard that ate a 5 year old girl on the parkinglot, a lion attacking a father and son in their tent and an elephant taking a woman out of her tent with his trunk, just to finish her oranges in her backpack. That last story happened just two weeks ago in the exact same camp we are staying that night. Just like the story of 9 lions ripping a giraffe apart; right behind our camping toilets.

I again look out of the window and now see what this bull is doing. He has dicovered our huge metal trunk with all our food for the following 5 days. To protect it from the animals we hid it underneath the pick-up truck. Mister elephant is clearly angry we tried to make life difficult for him and agressively tries to get the trunk from underneath the car. Not a nice thought as the pick-up is parked right in front of the river….

I decide it is time to wake up my so called Tarzan. First of all because I think he shoudn’t miss this exciting moment, but second of all because I am a bit scared. As soon as Manengu realises what is going on outside our tent, he also sits up straight next to me. The elephant has now managed to get our food trunk from underneath our car. Time to alarm Claire an Sean, sleeping in the tent nearby. “Get out!” I hear Sean shouting. No time to think; I open the tent and run quickly to the campinglodge from where we can see the elephant trying some of our salt and vingear chips. I suddenly realize that I did not think of getting dressed before running out of the tent and notice that I am standing in my underwear next to several other excited campers. Nice.

Although the bull seems agressive we decide that it would be a waste if we let him finish all our food. First Sean and the guards try to scare him away with their flashlights, some big branches and stones. But he is not impressed as he probably smells our fear. He also smells some more juicy oranges, tomatoes, corn and some maze and continues his dinner. It is teargass that finally scares him away.

Somewhat relieved we calculate the damage. Except the fact that al foods are covered in elephantsnot, he did actually leave some behind for us. We hide the food that is left in the campinglodge, park te car away from the river and go back to our tents.

And again Manengu is right a sleep, like nothing ever happend. So I decide it is clearly me, who need to protect us from hungry elephants and stay awake. I am no animal expert, but I am absolutely confident that this elephant is coming back. He has tasted our lovely goodies and we have pissed him off. I decide to put on some clothes already, to make sure that next time I am ready for my escape. I stare into the darkness of the tent. Complete silence.

Krrrrrck! Bang! Bang! He is back! And angry…. He has noticed the food is gone and is now showing his anger by banging his head into the roof of a little openair dining place right next to our tent. Before I realise it, the elephant moves towards our tent and it is too late to do my well prepared escape. Also Manengu has woken-up by now. Apparently because of my loud heartbeat that by now was making more noise than the angry animal outside our tent. All that is left to see is this huge shadow right in front of our tent. The elphant facing our dinner table in front of our tent, his enormous ass facing us. The elephant agressively takes our dinner table into the air and smashes it on the ground. But I hardly notice it anymore. All I can hear is my blood being pumped into my head and Manengu breathing loudly of fear in my ear. He is holding me tightly, but I realize that that is not going to save me of this angry elphants ass. The elephant has nowhere to go as the river is in front of him, on the right a big tree, on the left the openair diningplace and behind him…. our tent.

While I more and more realize that the elephant is probably going to trash our tent any moment now, he suddenly smoothly turns around his huge body and finds a narrow passage between our tent and the diningplace. I unzip the tent and run for my life, my knees reaching my ears and Manengu right behind me.

While running I hear the loud and relieved laugh of Claire. Apparently they did manage to get out in time and had been watching the whole scene. “whahaaha he was almost sitting on your tent! whahaha how does an elephant’s ass looks from a half a meter distance guys, whahahaha!?” Claire enjoying our situation sort of comforts me and makes me breath again. “O Manengu, what kind of a professional photographer are you!? Have you again left your camera in the tent!?” Says Claire again jokingly. But the show is apparantly not over yet.

The elephant did not give up, but just went away to get his big, big and I mean BIG brother. As the bull is still angry that there is no food left underneath the car, he tears off one of the side mirrors and a third big friend approaches the camp. Now Claire also is not laughing anymore. Finally the camp management has woken up and fires a loud gunshot in the air. The elephants realize that the pyama party has now really come to an end and leave the camp as fast as they can.

That night no wild animals visited our camp anymore. But after that night I kind of got used to finding baboons in our tents having breakfast with toothpaste and coconut bodycream, hippos eating the grass around our tent at night and regular visits of greedy elephants at dinner time. But I have honestly never been this scared in my life….

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Zambia

3 Sep

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As the African Internet cannot really keep up with our travelspeed, our stories seem sometimes a little outdated. But before we tell you about our lovely visit to the warm heart of Africa; Malawi, I would like to tell you a story about a family in Kasama.

After 5 amazing weeks in Zanzibar, it was again time to say goodbye to luxury, family and friends. The 9th of August the Tazara train in Dar Es Salaam was waiting for us, to take us to the country of the red earth, world’s second largest lake, Africa’s most beautiful national park and country of birth of Manengu.

The Tazara Railway, a gift from the Chinese, made its first ride in 1976. It connects Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania with Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia. Our stop was Kasama, which would take us 2 days and 2 nights. Here we were visiting old friends of the family of Manengu. To give you an impression of this famous Tazara, try to imagine a train built in 1976 and never being cleaned, serviced or repaired ever since but with a view comparable to this TVC of Samsung Smart TV that many of you might know:

I guess I don’t need to say more. Just stunning and a real African experience with endless African landscapes. Also the perfect spot to get to speak to some locals and meet other travellers. Even an eight hour delay in Mbeya did not seem to bother us or any of the other passengers.

And there it was…. Hilje’s paradise….. Everywhere I looked little kids, all kinds of dogs, tens of puppies, rabbits, chickens, guinee pigs and even piglets running around. A B&B, several farms and an international primary school. A little paradise called Powell. So heartwarming and welcoming that it felt like coming home.

Hazel and Ewart Powell left the UK 45 years ago to start teaching in Zambia. They have three children and two of them still live in Kasama with their families. Ewart and Hazel run a lovely B&B, an international boardingschool and several farms. Their house is the ‘hang out’ of Kasama, as everyone who needs some company, a chat or a generous meal is very welcome. This hang-out is not only populair with adults and pregnant dogs, but most of all with all their grandchildren and the Zambian children who go to their international school. For these boardingchildren it is not only a hang-out, but they actually live at Hazel and Ewart’s during their terms. To complete this beautifully organised chaos, also Hazel’s mom, about 94 years old, stays on the terrace of the B&B where she enjoys being around her great grandchildren or bossing around the nurses for some icecream.

But not only Hazel and Ewart looked after us like family, also their children Luke and Claire, who both live just around the corner. Luke runs the family coffee farm and his wife Stephanie is the headmistress of the boardingschool. Also their house is a cosy chaos with their three children Gawen, Alexandra and Mbuilo, some local boardingschoolers and in every closet or cubbord a nest of puppies.
Claire is the beautiful and tough bush babe that runs her own Safaribusiness together with her Tarzan Sean. Besides many puppies, chicken and piglets they have a son Bumble and in October they are expecting their second child.

How lucky we were, that exactly when we arrived in Kasama the school holidays had started. Before we knew we were invited to join the family to Lake Tanganyika, where we stayed 4 days at Luke’s secluded beautiful little beachlodge. 4 days of beach, swimming, waterskiing, fishing, yoga, nice meals, but most of all having laughs and drinks while sitting at the campfire. And like that was not enough, Claire and Sean invited us to join them for some days in the Valley; camping in South Luangwa National Park! Claire, 8 months pregnant, behind the steeringwheel and Alexandra (7 year old daughter of Luke and Steph) and me in front of the pick-up and the boys in the back. Off we went for one of my most amazing safari experiences, which included lots of fun, loads of animal spotting, stunning nature, beautiful braais and several elephant encounters…..

Dear Hazel, Ewart, Luke, Steph, Claire and Sean, natotela for an amazing Zambian experience, your generousity, your friendship and for borrowing your lovely kids for a while! Unforgettable!

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South Luanga National Park

29 Aug

Sometimes you just have to shut up and be humbled!

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With special thanks to Claire, Sean, Bumble and Alexandra for an unforgettable Safari. For an unique taylor made safari experience contact Claire at Thorn Tree Safaris

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