A Travellerspoint blog

Lions

Going through my photos from South Luangwa, I have realised that I seem to have a ream of photos of Lions. Which I'll almost certainly never do anything with. So whilst I don't have any specific reason to use them here, I figured I may as well chuck a load up here for the heck of it.

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And yes, i know that served no purpose whatsoever.

Posted by Gelli 04:19 Archived in Zambia Tagged animal Comments (0)

Hippos with beach balls. And rusks (But without hippo's)

It was good to be back in Zambia. Ignoring hotels in Mongu, it is generally a very friendly, relaxed kind of place, where they don't worry about pretty much anything:

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Originally I had intended to head to Zambia on a visa run and visit some people in Chipata, the town just over the border. But with stunning inevitability, my friends in Chipata were then away, and the trip i had planned to take got canceled. Thus my options degenerated to either going to Chipata alone and spending 4days there by myself, or extending my visa for a couple of days (or overstaying and trying to talk/bribe my way out, and back in the same way a few days later). I ended up paying, was given – for the normal fee, naturally - an extra month, and left 2 days later. Yay.

I had decided to come back so as to visit South Luangwa national park, home to lots of animals, not so many tourists (allegedly) and one of the largest hippo populations in the world. And i like hippos. Though I didn't realise at the time that I would come to like them in a very different way...

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I've started to really love these Baobab trees. They just look so great

And I did actually enjoy it. The campsite was brilliant, in that it was on the river front where we could watch the crocs and hippos playing, but better than that we were regularly visited by both monkeys and elephants. And elephants wandering around the campsite is very cool (unless you happened to be the South African woman who came out of the shower block oblivious, suddenly saw an elephant; screamed and ran until being persuaded by our desperate shouts to stay still, and thus narrowly avoided being skewered to death by a tusk).

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For reasons now lost in the midsts of time, a longstanding dream on this trip has been the introduction of something utterly implausible – and just a single animal, not a whole herd/group etc – to one of Africa's big game parks, just to utterly confuse the tourists. I have visions of hundreds of people enjoying the wildebeest migration and then seeing one random kangaroo bounce past. Thinking about it, kangaroo's would probably prosper wildly, so perhaps that isn't a great idea. A whale or dolphin would be very hard to fix, but a polar bear is another favourite, although i'm sure a Tiger would cause limited extra excitement in places as it is 'close enough' that it wouldn't raise the same suspicions. Somewhere down the line, and at a local South Luangwa level, this translated into Hippos balancing on beach balls. Possibly whilst attacking monkeys on elephants. Whilst all avoiding the ants with nukes, naturally. It's best not to ask.

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From a distance, this looked like one really strange mutant giraffe....

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To the boring stuff (yup, animals), we did ok. A couple of leopards were spotted (one in the day in a tree, the other at night stalking two lots of dinner: the impala were one thing, but the Kudu was too big to be attempted), plus two prides of lions, one of which was 16strong and the other which we saw twice including once on the hunt. There were several elephant families including a couple of small babies, a small number of giraffe (but including what looked to be twin youngsters), a hippo fight, a hippo running – feck me, they can move -, Impala sex (out of mating season and with a baby – also out of season – looking on: That was one randy Impala), an Impala with only one antler and assorted other antelopes including Kudu; civet cats, a mongoose, some owls, many sorts of bird, a small number of zebra, some buffalo's and a hyena. It as a pretty good selection, although the other vehicle of our group - who had struggled a bit – saw a lion kill on the final night. Danged it.

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Animals like Impala are often so omnipresent that it is easy to get bored of them, but if you pay attention, every now and then you still mange to see something a little different. This poor one antlered guy (top) will have to work extra hard to find a mate, whereas the guy below didn't seem to be having any such problems, despite it not being mating season

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I am now completely animaled out, and have no intention of visiting any large game park – unless it's very cheap or for a very special reason – for a long time to come, as i'm sure you will all be happy to hear.

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Greg, I promise no more leopard pics for a really long time (unless they are really, really good ones of course)

As to the different way of enjoying hippos, I must admit that it was not intentional and not even entirely confirmed, though I have very strong suspicions. On arrival, we had been asked if we all ate 'red meat', although our attempts to find out what red meat were studiously ignored. For the next 2 days we were then served a selection of dishes all using the same red mince meat – Versions of spaghetti bolognese, chili con-carne and shepherds pie all made an appearance. All using this strange red meat, which actually tasted pretty good whilst being a taste not entirely like any meat I eat with any regularity. So we were served unidentified red meat at just the same time as the annual hippo cull (to keep numbers in check) occurred.

I think putting 2 and 2 together in this instance is entirely justifiable...

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Top: This Hippo wandering into his small pond quickly led to this hippo fight (below), which the incumbent won. That evening, the interloper could be seen standing about 20 away from the pool, looking hot and a bit sheepish and with some bloody wounds from the encounter

Actually, ignoring the hippo meat (if, indeed, it was hippo meat), the food was universally pathetic. Portions were small, and some of the stuff was just wrong, or at least very odd. Being woken up at 5am before a safari is one thing – but then offering solely decaf chicory (instead of coffee) and rubbery 'toast' without topping for breakfast is something else. Similar things, obviously recycled food or just rubbish continued throughout (a single stale lettuce sandwich was our lunch on the journey over), but the brilliant finale was lunch on the journey back to Malawi which included Shoprite-value Rusks.

To take a quick straw poll, has anybody here had a rusk since they were about 5years old???

South Luangwa is a great place for Sunrise's (if you aren't a lazy ******) and Sunset's (unless you are already drunk), though these photos really don't do it justice. I really need to learn how to actually use a camera properly

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Posted by Gelli 04:11 Archived in Zambia Tagged animal Comments (3)

Ants with Nukes

How to solve the problem of Africa

DISCLAIMER: The views within this blog entry may not represent the views of my employer. To be fair, as i'm already more than 7months late – and this number will rise - back, I may not even have an employer anymore anyway. But even if I do, they might not agree with this. As might most of you. And really, there is no need for this post at all anyway, let alone for any of you lot to actually READ it. Oh no. You might as well just skip it. I just wrote it because in a slightly bored moment, i realised that somebody needed to say it, and that might as well be me.

Whilst sitting in the bar of Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe's premier – and, pretty much only – backpacker destination, i got talking to Sam, the friendly if sometimes confused (OK. Always confused) barman. It wasn't the first night I was there – and won't be the last – and so we were continuing, to the utter bemusement and incomprehension of anybody else within earshot, with our attempts at solving what, in our high and mighty and possibly drunken tones, we had described as the problem of Africa.

In a nutshell, that meant NGO's.

Now before you all start sending hate mail to the wonderful overlords (Hi Sam and Pete) here at Travellerspoint, or go and actually do something useful (you know: watching dry paint fade, rearranging your ties according to hue, or talking to your wives/husbands/partners/kids [delete as appropriate], that sort of thing), I should probably explain. I will start with another disclaimer: There are many, many NGO's that produce brilliant – indeed, often miraculous – results every week, all over the world. There is lots of good work done, and there are any number of minor Saints who, day after day, fight against a virtually incomprehensible range of problems, bureaucracy, corruption, stupidity, incompetence and odds in order to try and make peoples lives better. And there are lots of well meaning, well intended aid and NGO workers and projects in Africa, and indeed the world. That I am not disputing.

What I am saying, is that so much more could be done with even half the current resources and donations that are used, if more of it was actually of immediate relevance to the people who are they think they are helping. For years it was a vague curiosity of mine that Aid/NGO workers (especially the 2white people in a brand new white 4x4's that proliferate allover the world) were pretty much the most despised people to locals around the world. In all seriousness, I have met people in countries that Dubya Bush declared war on (or at least royally f*cked over, though I admit that doesn't narrow the list of countries down much, if at all) who much prefer Dubya – even love him – in comparison to NGO's and Aid workers.

It is an odd situation to fully grasp. Do the locals not understand that they are here to help, I thought? Then, one day several years ago in a really really really poor village somewhere lost in my memory, I finally realised (or admitted) what I think I had always known at least subconsciously: They are here to help, but are really not helping. Too much aid/NGO is about the aid company feeling good in themselves, showing the people back home how great they are and how much they care and how much they are helping, whilst simultaneously managing to not actually help out the people they are supposed to be – and are saying they are – in the slightest, for a variety of reasons. I would even go so far as to state that in the medium to long term, significantly more than 50% of the normally well-meaning aid 'given', actively make things worse (sometimes significantly worse) for those it is intended to help, in one way or another. I wish I was joking. I really, really am not.

I don't have the time (or, really, the inclination) to expand that to the lengths that I probably should, full of detailed examples and personal experiences, but I will happily debate that point in depth with anybody who wishes to, when I have more time, internet access, and possibly alcohol. For now, to those of you frothing at the mouth and plotting my long and painful death – or, worse, tipping off Kiki to my whereabouts – let's just agree that everybody is entitled to their own opinions and let it go at that.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the bar at Mabuya.

Anyhow, Sam and I were discussing this problem (and it was him that started this long 3 day debate, saying how useless the NGO's are, not me) and how to save Africa. We started off by thinking that the easiest way was just to destroy Africa and then start again. But then we felt that to be grossly unfair to all the innocent animals and locals. So we looked at removing all the animals and most of the locals, and then bombing the utter sh1t out of Africa, killing the NGOs and then returning the animals and locals; ideally with new countries and national borders that actually make sense (unlike 99% of existing African borders which are basically, ignorant, arrogant imperial European f*ck ups). But logistically, that would be hard: To take just one reason, there are no planes able to carry a big enough payload to drop a single nuke that would be powerful enough to destroy Africa. And we don't have the budget for the number of planes that would be needed to do it independently. And besides, such an approach would also destroy much of the glorious nature and countryside that Africa contains.

We needed a different approach. One on a smaller scale.

To this day, I don't know the route we took – and it was a long, convoluted and possibly (though actually, not all that) drunken night to be sure – to arrive at our conclusion, but in the end it was pretty much agreed.

Yup, Ants with nukes are the answer to all of Africa's problems.

Posted by Gelli 01:38 Archived in Malawi Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

How do you hide a double mattress from 4 security guards?

Hi folks, It's quiz time. Hooray, i hear you shout. Or that could just be the voices in my head.

For todays starter, what is the following a list of?:
- A swiss army knife
- 200usd
- 2 cigarette lighters
- A mobile phone
- A small container of antiseptic handwash

So what are you thinking so far? Contents of a handbag? A survival kit? That would be feasible, for sure. But no, not quite. Let's continue.
- A pair of shoes
- A pink camera
- An Ipod
- 10000 Malawian Kwacha
- a USB memory stick

Now that's starting to look a bit more obvious, isn't it? But then again, we can continue on a bit more and see if we can stump you properly.
- Half a pack of chewing gum
- 2 half bikini's (both bottom halves)
- A skype headset
- 2 handkerchiefs

That starts to confuse things a bit more, doesn't it? But as you are all clever people, i'm sure that you have already worked it out. And you don't even need to see the final 2 items on our list:
- A lightbulb
- A double mattress

So what is this motley list of items a list of? Yup, as i'm sure many of you have guessed, it is a list of items that were stolen from our dorm room. Whilst all 4 of us were asleep inside it.

Robberies are a sad fact of life. But whilst pickpockets, bag snatchings and opportunist thieves are one thing, robberies from a room you are actually asleep in are a bit different. And this was no opportunist robbery. Exactly what happened will doubtless always remain unknown, but it was very deliberate and almost surgical in it's execution.

Two of us are very light sleepers, yet none of us heard anything or woke up. And it wasn't as if the thieves snuck in grabbed whatever they could and fled. Everything i lost (barring the phone which was on the floor next to my bed) was in zipped pockets of my trousers, which were next to my bed. But they didn't just grab my trousers, or even open the pockets and grab stuff and go: They were so confident that they had time to open my wallet and look inside: I know this because an email address on a piece of paper which had been under some money in the wallet was on the floor, and could not have accidentally fallen out. My passport was also left on the floor.

The dorm had a door which stuck, and needed a hard shove to open (and made noise), and all but one of the floorboards squeak like heck, but we still heard nothing. And the floor on one side was an utter mess of assorted bags and stuff, yet the thieves still were able to root through and find what they wanted without disturbing us. The following morning, a handbag, my wallet and two pairs of trousers (not mine) were found just outside, missing anything of sellable value, but nothing else: Passports, credit cards etc were all left. My wallet had been gone through carefully, but they had even attempted to put items back in it instead of just dump the stuff they didn't want. One of the girls purses was found minus the useful cash, of course, but still included coins. or some of them. The thieves had been that brazen/confident that outside the door of the room they had just robbed they would go through all the coins in a purse and only steal the Malawian ones – euro and British pound coins were left.

Then there was my pockets: A cigarette lighter and the chewing gum went from one pocket, but my watch (a knackered old one, admittedly) and a pen in the same pocket was left. And amazingly, my 'day' cash in my back pocket was missed by the thieves, and so still there. And why steal dirty handkerchiefs???? The two bikini bottoms (also, perhaps unsurprisingly, not mine) were hanging up to dry outside, but next to their corresponding tops which were still there. One of the girl shoes had been stolen, but mine which were just as accessible were left. A couple of other bags and zips on bags (again not mine) had been opened and pockets searched but contents left.

And the double mattress (taken from the room next door, which was empty) had had the sheets taken of it and neatly folded on the floor. It just make no sense. The lightbulb had been removed from the outside light from next doors room, but totally removed and stolen as opposed to just unscrewed or dumped. The light in next doors room had been left on earlier that day by accident and yet was still on: the mattress wasn't even taken from a dark room. There were 4 night watchmen on duty and many lights on around the site, yet no one could see a lightbulb being removed or a double mattress being stolen....?

It is all very strange. Later the following day after the inevitable farce of dealings with the Malawian police, i randomly – and very luckily - found my swiss army knife and USB stick in a nearby cactus. But it was in such a place that it can not have fallen accidentally, and must have been deliberately chucked. Why? Who knows!

Robberies are always annoying, but it could have been much worse. My personally loss of 200usd, 3500ish Mkw (about 25usd), my phone and some small very random bits was frustrating but not the end of the world – the dollars are the worst because i need them for visas, but there is very little foreign reserves in Malawi and so replacing them is going to be hard and at an appalling rate. Of the other stuff, the camera's photo's had luckily been burnt to CD only 2 days previously, the ipods songs on her home computer and her boyfriend flying out in a weeks time so he can bring another pair of shoes. We could have all come out of it much worse.

The hardest part is understanding how none of us woke up or heard anything (none of us had had much to drink, 2 of the girls nothing at all) despite the creaky door and floor and the obvious time they spent in our room and then sorting stuff just outside. if any of us had woken up feeling iffy, or it had been elsewhere, i would have instantly suspected gassing. As it was, we all woke feeling fine – rapidly changing when the losses were realised – and all that is left is a big mystery.

Posted by Gelli 06:14 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

It's plague time

When I first arrived in Malawi, i was sitting on a bus coming down the M1 when I got my first glimpses of Lake Malawi. A few minutes later an I could see several thick columns of smoke emanating from the Lake, which didn't look good to me. I asked some locals on the bus what it was, and they told me it was lake flies. I struggled to believe it could be flies, but asking other people over the next few days confirmed that it was.

Now I know that it was.

Back in Nkhata Bay, I somehow managed to spend another week doing not allot. By now I knew a number of people, and there was a good crowd around, and so it hadn't been very difficult to persuade me to stick around to be sociable, a birthday celebration and to watch some cricket (WooHoo! Another Ashes victory!). After a few days, we were sitting there one morning watching as what looked like a deep rain cloud descending over the bay, until we realised that it was the Lake flies again. Malawian Lake flies have a fun life cycle: They are born, blown into shore and die. In their billions of billions.

That evening, we got to experience it properly. Luckily they are not in any way dangerous, and don't bite. But they are annoying as heck. Any kind of light attracts them in hoardes, and even non lit areas get infested. Simple things like talking end up with you having a mouthful of flies. The only drinks worth attempting are bottles, which you can cover the hole with a thumb when not being drunk from, but your drinks are still lumpier than ideal. Food is offered with a lake fly coating – extra protein, if nothing else. They get through the smallest gap, and that includes holes in mosquito nets. Showering is just not worth it. Basically, you just get covered by flies regardless of what you do. It is a strange experience, even for me who has been in sandstorms before – lake flies seem so much intrusive.

I was going to take some pictures of the mess, but somebody else attempted it and their camera died seconds later because of the flies getting into it (similar to when sand gets in a camera), so I decided against it. The following morning, the number of live flies had rapidly diminished, but there was a black layer of dead flies, sometimes over an inch thick covering pretty much everything. Clean up is attempted, and respite gained, but they return the following evening to start the cycle all over again.

The technical term, I believe, is yuk.

Posted by Gelli 06:10 Archived in Malawi Tagged animal Comments (0)

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