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Read Don's blog and poems of our year around the world 2011

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Fishing village on Lamma Island, Hong Kong

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 2 - Our Serengeti Safari

I rarely watched Animal Kingdom on TV because it always seemed to be about animals eating its defenseless prey that was usually my favorite animal. I didn’t have the stomach or curiosity for it.  But here we are in the heart of Africa, going on our very own safari. It is just the two of us and our driver Madeal who will also be our safari guide. It seems odd to have our own personal safari…how extravagant! We leave Moshi in the morning and drive to Arusha, the third largest city in Tanzania. We stopped at a very touristy curio shop chock full of wood carved objects. Most of it was beautiful and I might have bought some except it was quite expensive.  The same chair that I saw the men carving in Malawi selling for $70 was $850 in this shop. I didn’t want to look at another thing, just in case I found something I couldn't live without! Our first stop was at Lake Manyara and Manyara National Park. Our driver lifted up our roof so we could stand up and watch the monkeys and baboons without any windows between us. We saw blue monkeys and yellow monkeys. These animals, along with the baboons are so fun to watch. They really do seem like they are so much more intelligent than any other animal. They are not afraid of our presence at all and sit by the road and preen and whatever else they are in the mood to do. It was mating season so the female baboons had swollen bright red fleshy bottoms and the males had blue genitals. Yes, they were literally blue! Interesting how God made nature to make sure they mate! “Hello, I am over here and don’t you like my color?” There were also some very newly born monkeys and baboons, just days old. So Cute! At the end of the tour, I went to use the bathroom and disturbed a group of monkeys washing their seeds and pods in the outdoor sinks in the standing water.  When I opened the bathroom door, I could see they had been rummaging through the trash, knocking over the can. I looked in each of the stalls before I chose one, to make sure I wouldn’t have a guest while I was using the toilet!

As we climbed up the mountain range we could look out over the lake and see the flurry of pink in the distance, a group of flamingos. We reached the Highview Hotel on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, just as the sun was going down. Dinner was delicious and we were later entertained by a group of local singers and dancers. It was delightful, until they started to relentlessly push their wares on us and it really soured the fun of the evening.

We left the next morning with mist in the air. It only got thicker as we climbed up to 6000 feet in total fog. I just caught a glimpse of the Ngorongoro crater far below in a slight break in the fog and then it was gone. What a tease! Once we hit the summit and were on the other side, suddenly the fog dissipated and we were out of the green lush mountains and in the arid Serengeti. Our beautiful road disappeared and became dirt and volcanic rocks. What a bumpy road! It was miserable! I was grateful that we were in a land cruiser and not the overland truck. We signed in at the park entrance, took a break and watched the mice and birds eat the scraps of food left by the picnickers. Don was lucky enough to see a Servil cat pretty close up, that was about the size of a bob cat. It created quite a stir! I never did see it.  I choose the wrong time to use the restroom. We drove on to our camp that was in the middle of the Serengeti, slowing to watch elephants, gazelles by the hundreds, and different types of deer and antelope. We were met by gentlemen with hot washcloths and shown to our tent. What a mansion! It had a rod-iron queen size bed, a desk, a table in one room and the connecting room was a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower. The shower had a hanging bag outside that was filled with hot water at night and the morning then was released by a valve on the shower head. What service! They brought a pitcher of hot water into our bathroom every morning to wash our faces before breakfast. We had a dining room where we all ate before going on our safari. It was so nice! Our first night’s sleep was interrupted by lions and hyenas making noises all night. The second night I only heard the hyenas, but they were between two tents next to us so they were really loud. I did feel safe in these very strong canvas tents and slept very well. We spent two days driving the Serengeti, looking for animals to watch. We saw the big 5: elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and water buffalo. One afternoon Don stayed in camp and I went out with Madeal, our guide, on a game drive. We stopped on a low bridge in the path of an oncoming elephant herd that munched their way to our car and went either behind it or in front of it, never touching us. I was a little nervous. These mothers could get spooked with their young, and one swipe of their truck and our car would be damaged! But Madeal assured me it was fine, and encouraged me to take lots of photos! I watched a baby elephant stand under her mother’s trunk and as the mom pulled leaves off the trees and brought the food to her mouth, the baby put her trunk into her mother’s mouth and stole a portion of it for herself. It was so cute. Another highlight was watching a lion stalking a lone zebra, drinking water in a pool. The cat had to jump into the water to reach the zebra, which slowed her down enough so that the swat she gave the zebra did not have the punch it should have and the zebra got away. I was very relieved since zebras are my favorite wild animal, though I was very fascinated by the chase that was very short lived. That poor zebra must have run a few Km before she slowed down, galloping a zig zag across the tall grassy plain.

One morning we ate breakfast in the dining tent and watched a steady stream of gazelles on their migration to greener pastures. The stream never ended. There must have been hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. We saw hundreds of zebras migrating as well, just not next to our camp. We caught them near a watering hole and watched for close to an hour. I didn’t realize what skittish animals they are. It took them a full ½ hour to cross the dirt road to the water. One would lead out, get half way, turn on its heels, kicking many times, and spooking those following it. Then another one would lead out, get almost to the water, get spooked and return to the grass. They finally got to the water, cautiously drank, jumping at any anomaly, as if there was a crocodile in the water, which there was, of course. Soon there were 20 to 30 of them in the water, up to their bellies, filling up on water.  This all happened over an hour’s time, with many frightened galloping sessions from pond to the safety of the grass.

We saw our share of lions as well. We saw several she lions with cubs, or she lions lying around in the shade. One photo we have is of three she lions in the shade of a tree, just a few yards from a herd of wildebeest and zebras. The wildebeest seem to ignore the lions and keep going, but the zebras will stand and stare at the lions, then shake their heads up and down to warn the others of danger, and continue to stare at the lions. It is the oddest thing. Behind them, the mother zebras are hurrying their young on beyond the lions, not taking any chances.

We got our chance to see the male lions in the Ngorongoro crater. It was an amazing huge mountain that blew its top millions of years ago and left a crater 22 Km by 19 Km. There are several rivers and springs bringing in plenty of water and a salt lake in the middle that dries up in the dry season. The animals that are in the crater do not migrate since it is in a relatively controlled weather area. It usually has a cloud cap over it, keeping it a comfortable temperature. This is the only place to see rhinos in Tanzania and we saw two of them at a distance. We saw the usual animals as well, zebras, wildebeest, deer and gazelle. The highlight, besides the rhino, were the male lions. We saw two of them lying in the sun sleeping. Just as we pulled up, the one male raised his head, yawned a deep yawn, and went back to sleep. He didn’t care that there were four car loads of people snapping photos of him and his pal! The next pair we saw were on a ridge just above the picnic area. We had to eat in our cars (I think to make sure we took our trash with us) but after eating, people were running around, photographing the hippos in the water, using the bathrooms and just above us, not more than 20 meters away, there sat two male lions, probably amused at our inadequacy as wild beings to protect ourselves.  However, it is not the males who normally hunt, so we were probably safe, but logically, we could have easily been his dinner.

We were coming to the end of our safaris and Madeal asked us if we wanted to go on one more game drive in the Terangire National Park or go for a hike in the Ngorongoro Conservency. We were pretty tired of sitting or standing in the truck and were excited about getting some hiking done. Besides, Don was going to be hiking Mt. Kili in just a day or two and had done very little to prepare for it. We needed a warm up hike. So we left the hotel at 9 am and walked through the maize fields, the brick yard and past the coffee bushes to get to the gate of the conservancy. Our guide from the hotel was named Stanley and our official guide was Dr. Mao. He was full of Latin names of plants and trees, as well as their traditional medicinal powers. He found a cave that the porcupines slept in and pulled out some quills and gave to us. He also picked a variety of plants for us to smell and a plant for my tsetse fly bites. He also let us take a tooth from a jawbone we found at the elephant caves. What is an elephant cave? I had never heard of it before today. There are many minerals in the surrounding mountains of the Ngorongoro Crater and the elephants will dig with their tusks into the soil and eat the dirt to get the salt, magnesium and iron. Eventually a cave is carved out and the elephant moves to another spot and starts the digging again. It was pretty amazing! We had a wonderful 5 hours of hiking, exploring and learning about the fauna and flora of the Ngorongoro rain forest. What a wonderful place! This safari has been better than my wildest dreams. I am so glad that Don booked this trip and that we got to go!

1:37 pm edt 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting for DHL in Moshi

Doing business in another country is always interesting and we were able to personally experience it ourselves in Tanzania. We needed to get two items from the States, and DHL is the only carrier who comes to Moshi, one of the two cities in Tanzania that are close to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our bank had discovered that someone in South America, had stolen our credit card number and was buying games on line. Our bank caught it right away (most 50 plus year olds don’t play video games!). We ordered new cards and we gave them the address of the hotel that we knew we would be at in 30 days. Just the fact that we had a hotel booked 30 days in advance is, in itself, a miracle.  Since we are planning as we go, we generally have no idea where we are going to be beyond 3 days . We had scheduled a safari and the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb so we did have an arrival date and a location for them to mail our cards. When we arrived May 31 at the hotel, they did not have the DHL package with our cards. We tried to contact the bank by calling on our phone but had no service provider. We tried to call them through Google call, a free service to the States but they couldn’t hear me, even though I heard them fine. The hotel land line did not work so by simple elimination, we used the hotel Skype line at $2 a minute, to call the Credit card company’s toll free number. It took 20 minutes and 3 people before I got a manager who could authorize the cards to be sent to the hotel. “It will probably only take 7 days, 10 days at the most” she reassured me. We waited, rather I waited while Don climbed Kilimanjaro but no package came.  So here we are on day 10 and still no DHL package with our cards.

We did get a DHL package two days ago, so we know that they do bring items to the hotel. It was a document from our roofing contractor in Florida who needed us to sign and notarize authorization to repair the roof. It arrived in 3 days as promised and we promptly went to the bank to ask who does notaries. “What is that?” they asked. We explained the process and they sent us to the police station. We were pointed down the street so we followed the directions, asking twice again before we found it. We stood in line and before we reached the desk a policeman asked us if we needed help. We explained our situation and he took us into a room that had a man sitting behind a desk, obviously his superior. He chewed out the policeman for disrupting his work so we walked out and he tried to find another room, empty this time, and assured us he would help us. All the doors were locked so he told us to wait in the dark hallway while he went scurrying around to get a stamp for our documents. We struggled to balance the documents on our knees and read the small print in the dark. The policeman saw our predicament and he took us outside and we used the trunk of a car in the parking lot to sign our documents. He checked our passports, signed the document, put on the police station’s stamp. We thanked him profusely, gave his some shillings for his service, that we are sure will not get into the stations cash box!  We asked for the location of the DHL office to mail the document and he told us to wait right there. He disappeared into the police station and reappeared with his beret and billy club and told us he will walk us there. It is just a few blocks away but we are grateful to have an escort. People stare at us, trying to figure out who we were, getting this special treatment. The DHL office was so difficult to find that we would have spent many smiles and stumbling explanations, trying to find it. We were very grateful he knew where it was!  We got the new package addressed, paid the postage (only $60  compared to the small fortune of $122 to get here!) and then thanked our policeman for his kindness again.  We asked him if he knew where the IndoItalian Restaurant was and he told us to follow him. He warned us that it was an area that was infested with pickpockets so we needed him to take us. We chatted about the politics of Tanzania, the US and other countries.. We soon ran out of subjects we could discuss but soon we were at the restaurant. Again we thanked him profusely and we exchanged email addresses. We were glad we had such a helpful policeman to guide us through town and we didn’t see a single pickpocket. And I think he was glad he got out of the office for a few hours!

Still waiting for those cards to arrive!

Post note: We did have to call our bank again and they informed us that a “Henry” had signed for our package 3 days ago. “Didn’t we get them?” There is no one named Henry employed by the hotel, so those cards had to be cancelled! (I think that this is the third set of cards they have had to send us!) We couldn’t wait another 10 days so we told the bank to mail them to our house in Idyllwild and we will have Don’s mom mail them to us when we figure out another address. We are learning to have patience and that having a second credit card with you is sound advice!

4:15 pm edt 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Africa: Not too hot, not too cold

Not HOT!  
We have just bought two tickets with the bus company we were assured is a LUXURY bus with a good driving record. I am so relieved. Will they have a toilet? Will there be air conditioning? Will we have large comfortable seats?  But alas, this is Africa and we have learned to lower our expectations. No, there is no toilet, but we can use the “hole-in-the-floor-toilets” at the roadside restaurants, IF we stop. No, there is no air conditioning, but you can choose a seat that has a window that opens. The seats: well, the seats look more like chairs out of a dingy 70’s hotel lobby but they aren’t too bad.  Much better than the jump seats we sat in for 12 hours on yesterday’s bus ride. (My back muscles still have not recovered!) The bus sounds like (it keeps dying in neutral) and looks like (hand spray painted over the original peeling paint) that it should have been taken off the road twenty years ago. How old IS this bus, anyway?  I check out the tires and am pleasantly surprised that the tread is close to an 1/8th of an inch deep of so we hop on feeling fairly confident we will reach our destination. We climb up the steep stairs into the bus. Someone is in our seat, right next to the open window and she is not going to move! Humm. The other option is the seat in front with all the leg room, but no sliding window. Window=moving a person and giving up leg room. Humm, think we will take the seat in front and see how it goes. Then enters the holder of one of the seats we just took. He is not giving up his seat and neither is the person in ours. Great! A potential scene before we have even departed!  I take the seat behind with the open window and let Don keep the leg room and everyone is happy. Not long after the bus rumbles out of town, Don catches a movement on the wood panels in front of his seat. There are cockroaches on this ride, and I bet they didn’t pay the tourist rates! We knew that there were cockroaches in the luggage compartment under the bus. When Don had put in his suitcase minutes after me, he saw a 3 inch cockroach crawling across my suitcase and a chicken (Yes, also in the luggage compartment), was pecking away at it. Lovely, a feeding frenzy going on under our floorboards, on top of our luggage! Hope that chicken got it and all the others as well! Where is that chicken now? I didn’t really want to watch cockroaches clean up the last group’s trash for the next 8 hours! It will all be over soon! What seemed like more than an 8 hour trip, we arrived at our destination. We took the friendliest taxi driver we could find (Please don’t beg me to use your services!) and sighed a sigh of relief when we saw the neon Hotel sign. We were shown to our room. It didn’t take me 2 seconds to strip off those possibly cockroach infested clothes and jump into the hot shower. Wait, there is no steam! No, not another pleasantly warm shower. I need a HOT shower. And then again, I readjust my expectations. This is Africa. Be grateful that it is WARM!

It is a typical hot day, but not too hot, just hot enough to need one of those ice cold Coca Colas that are advertised on the side of the many little shops along the road.  The bus stops and the vendors carrying their wares in baskets on their heads descend on the captive audience. There is an exchange of money through the bus window and the snack is sent up. The bottle of Coca Cola looks chilled, sweating beads of moisture, causing us to drool.  Ah, a cold soda! But alas, it is just cool, not ice cold, as we have grown accustomed to it in the States. Just cool enough to sweat and then absorb the outdoor heat. Oh well, it could be worse and not be cool at all. Besides, if it really was COLD, I would be tempted to buy several bottles of soda. Then to my horror, I would desperately need a restroom a few miles down the road.  Since there are no toilets on the buses in Africa, using the great outdoors is the only option between rest stops. Mmm, I don’t think I am going to drink ANY soda on this bouncy 8 hour drive!

12:34 pm edt 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

May 27 Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania

It was raining hard by the time we got to Dar Es Salaam. There were people every square inch of the road and the dirt walkways. The puddles were becoming deeper, and the outdoor shops were finding any plastic they could find to cover their goods. The furniture shops that set their finished beds, couches and chairs on the dirt in front of the shop were quick to cover them. My first impression of Dar es Salaam was not a good one. For that matter, neither was my second one, a few days later, though better since it was no longer raining. We paid a visit to the bank and money changers, had a Subway sandwich (we have seen Subway in EVERY country so far, along with KFC) and headed to our campground. We took a ferry from Dar to an island just a five minute ride across the narrow bay. The ferry was crammed with cars, bikes, carts, tuktuks, and motorbikes, mingled in with the passengers. There was little or no order on loading and the same was true for unloading. It was a matter of who was the pushiest. The way of Dar! We drove a short distance and arrived at our campground. Secure behind a gate guarded by a Masai draped in red plaid cloth, it was obvious that there were problems outside our gates. Behind the bathroom door was a sign “ In the campground = safe, Outside the campground = unsafe. This is not a joke!” The white beach was beautiful and the water was knee deep a 100 yards from shore. There were not many people at the campground and less in the water. It was like our own private beach. That illusion was broken that night when the lot next to us had a party from the time we went to bed until 5 A M. Luckily I was tired and didn’t lose that much sleep.

We said our Good Byes to Henry, our truck driver, and thanked him for our safe travels and our Overland trip came to an end. We got into our tuktuk, with our luggage piled all around us, and rode down to the ferry to cross over to Dar es Salaam. We got in line for the ferry to Zanzibar, a 2 ½ hour ride. Again, it was who ever shoved the hardest got to the front of the line. Ugh! Boarding was chaotic at best. Our luggage was piled on the bow of the boat which made it hard to give it to them. Luckily they did cover it with a plastic sheeting before leaving. We sat on the top deck where it was open to the air but shaded from the hot sun. Don did have to find an open deck on the bottom floor since it was a bit too rocky for his equilibrium. We were excited to see what Zanzibar would look like. It was so different from anything we have seen in Africa. We felt like we were back in the middle east.  For the first time on our trip, there were more mosques than Christian churches. There was a definite Arab flavor in the building architecture. Zanzibar had once been ruled by an Omen sultan, hence the Arab flavor. Our hotel was in the maze of the old city and the streets were winding passages between buildings where no car could go. It was delightful and I wanted to snap photos but there were so many Muslims, who do not allow photos, that I just gave up trying to sneak a photo. I am just not good at being sneaky! We went with a guide and had a traditional lunch ($2.50), went to Livingstone’s church, saw a slave holding tank, and visited a spice farm. It was great seeing a cinnamon tree, vanilla vines growing around their host tree, smelling clove leaves, ginger, turmeric and a slew of other spices. My most memorable moment was tasting a fruit that smelled like dirty diapers, but was tasty and smooth like custard.  That is where my adventurous spirit starts and ends! I will try any food!  Our local guide showed us how he climbs a palm tree to get the coconuts down. It was pretty amazing. He takes the leaves of a palm frond, makes a circular rope that he twists into an eight. He places a foot in each loop and hops up the tree with this rope on his feet and his two arms, no straps or ropes for protections.  It is amazing! One of the athletic guys in our group gave it a try and didn’t do too badly for a Swiss. Or an American, for that fact.

We returned back to our hotel and Don wasn’t feeling well at all. Montezuma’s revenge or was it Sultan’s Payback? While everyone went on to drink a beer to the Zanzibar sunset, Don and I stayed at the hotel to rest. Sounds like we are the old people……. which we are! I thought some baked bread would be a good dinner for an upset stomach, so I went to the hotel desk and asked if someone could walk with me to the bakery. It was dark by now and didn’t think it wise to wander by myself. The clerk asked an elderly man to walk with me to get some bread so I followed him out the door. The man took off at the brisk walk and was hard to keep up with. There are no lights on these walkways so I was busy watching where I was walking and keeping this man in my sights. We finally wound our way out of the maze of buildings into an open market and there he found an woman sitting on the ground, frying up bread on a metal plate over a fire. Her clothes were covered with flour and her bare feet out in front of her were filthy. I took assessment of the situation. I figured that the bread was fresh  and thoroughly cooked so how bad could it be. She made four round flat breads for me and I handed her 30 cents. My guide whipped around and headed back into the maze, with me hurrying to keep up with him. He easily got me back to the hotel and went on his merry way. I would have been totally lost without his help. (He has been the only person since our stay in Zanzibar who helped us and did not have his hand out!)  Don loved the hot fresh bread and did completely recover from his bug by the next morning.

One thing that really bugs us here is the pushing, shoving and cutting in lines, no matter who you are or how old you are. It is everyone for themselves. We are standing in line to get our passport stamped at the border, and people shove in ahead of you even though it is obvious we are in line.  I thought that since I am now 55 I should have some privileges but no, not here! I will interpret their rudeness as assuming that I am much younger!

We have seen that when a country has low employment and low wages, people get very creative to earn the much needed money. Some of it is more socially acceptable to the western way of thinking and other methods are just down right offensive.  In most countries, locals try to cater to tourists because they create jobs and income. In Tanzania, they are so poor that they literally hustled us at every turn, so much so that it made us want to leave and never return. If we didn’t buy their product they were angry at us. If we asked directions, they would help us find our way , and then demand money for their good deed. Or grab us a cab at an inflated price so they get a kick back. Anything they did for us had a price tag attached. I realize that our paths, as tourists, crossed with the men who are hustling tourists to make a living and I am sure that there are many wonderful Tanzanians who do not harrass foreigners for the sake of getting their money. It is so exhausting fending off salesmen, taxi drivers and negotiating children and adults. On the one hand, we want to shout “Leave us alone so we can make our own decisions, PLEASE!” On the other hand, we want to give them all the money we have in our pockets, but we know we can’t give to everyone. Dealing with the guilt we feel because we know we have so much more money that they will probably never be able to earn in their life, also pulls at our hearts. Ah, the hazards of world travel. And do I have any reason to complain. I truly think not!

12:12 pm edt 

May 22 Hike to Livingstonia, Malawi

We had made a decision in Livingstone to skip one more day there and spend an extra day in Malawi and climb a mountain. Henry, our driver, said he knew of one and so we set off to Malawi, a day early. We camped at Kande Beach for two days, then on to another location on Lake Malawi. To get to Chitimba Beach we had to cross a range of low mountains. The road was good, but pretty narrow. We met trucks coming up the mountain road, two that were broken down. One truck had gone off the road and got his rear tire into the water drain system putting his truck at a dangerous tilt. He was hard at work digging it out. The views were fabulous of the valley and lake, once we reached the other side of the pass. It was so green with two rivers running through it. It was the first real crops that we had seen growing as a collective.

Our night at Chitimba Beach was quiet. It was warm and Don and I slept in our misquito repellant  knit sacks. We woke at 5 am, ate breakfast and Dixon, our local guide, led us out the front gate by 6 am.  We walked through town and turned off on a dirt road with a sign that read “Livingstonia 15 Km”. Don and I did the conversion and realized that we had signed up for a 20 mile hike. OK! The road was either dirt or rocks and was only paved on the hairpin curves. It was hot, the sun beating down on us, even though it was only 7 am. We kept watching the dark clouds above the mountains, hoping they would keep coming our way and cool us down with a little rain. It never did rain, but once the clouds covered the sun, it was pleasantly warm, instead of sticky hot. We stopped at a few viewpoints, seeing the valley on the side of the lake as well as the valley between two mountains. We could hear water and knew that we were near the waterfall. We finally reached the outskirts of the town of Livingstonia and found the entrance to the waterfall. We were on the opposite side of the waterfall so we couldn’t get close but the view was wonderful. It dropped a good 150 feet. What impressed me the most was the two houses who were within 100 feet of the top of the waterfall. They were two simple mud huts, with large gardens around their homes, overlooking the valleys and the lake below. And all within earshot of the waterfall. It looked absolutely blissful!

We left the waterfall lookout and walked farther up the stream to a swimming hole.  The water rushed through large rocks before dropping down to the second waterfall. There was a nice huge rock to have lunch on so we all pulled out our lunches. Our guide, Dixon, had only brought a small bottle of water and cigarettes but no lunch so I made him a peanut butter sandwich that he ate slowly. (I forgot the honey that would have made the sandwich much more palatable.) Dixon is a pretty amazing and probably typical Malawian. Both his parents had died from Malaria 4 years ago so he was raising his two younger siblings. He had been going to school when they passed away, but had to quit school and get a job to support the family. He hopes that when they graduate, he will be able to return to school. His little sister is still in elementary school, so it will be a long time before he gets the opportunity. Being a guide on this hike is his only job and he made only $25 that was split between 3 other guides. He might not get another job for several more days. The people here have to made so many sacrifices just to get their basic needs met!

After lunch, a swim and naps, we set off once again to see the mission that Livingstone founded in the 1800s. We walked through more little villages and finally reached the mission. Livingstonia boasts of a secondary school, a hospital, a university and a church that looks like it was straight out of Europe. We climbed the bell tower in the church. It was probably three floors high and some of the wood on the floors and stairs must have been the original wood. Some of it had been replaced with new wood, but there were two broken stairs and several others that had rotted. I wasn’t too confident climbing those stairs. But they held up and from the roof of the bell tower we could see the whole mission as well as Lake Malawi. The view was pretty good considering it was a humid day and a bit hazy.

Our return trip down the mountain was the best part of the hike. We took trails through the villages and crops, following the dried streams. My feet were killing me but the views were so wonderful it almost distracted me from my discomfort. There were children along the way that were interested in our presence but didn’t shout “hello” as the children on the roads. They seemed sadder. It is hard to see children not happy in life. The children asked for money, a pen, or our water bottles. It bothers me that the children only see us as people to beg from but then, we do have more than they would ever ask for. It is a cruel part of life. Makes me very grateful to have been born in the States and given so many opportunities.

Our trail finally met up with the dirt road and we finished our 32 KM hike on the main road. We took another short cut through more crops and ended up at our gate. I headed straight to the dinner table, ate the delicious soup Henry had prepared for us and crawled into our tent and went to sleep. I didn’t care that it was only 7:30 pm and that I hadn’t brushed my teeth. They can wait until tomorrow morning!

I woke up at 3:15 am to the shouts of men and the beating of drums. What was going on? I couldn’t tell if they were happy shouts or angry shouts. What were they saying? Another person in our group was woken up as well. I heard him ask the security guard what was going on. The fishermen had had a great night of fishing and they were coming home celebrating. Wow, it must have been a great fishing night. I fell back to sleep and when I woke up 2 hours later, they were still chanting, singing, and beating on their drums. Glad THEY had a good night!

We are leaving Malawi today. I will be very sad. Of all the African countries, this one is my favorite.  Good bye Malawi!

11:12 am edt 

May 19 Malawi, the heart of Africa

As the countries get poorer, the salesmen become more persistent. We crossed the Malawi border with some difficulty. Luckily, it wasn’t us this time.  Don and I had enough money to cross, but Christof, the Swiss with us, needed a Visa from the Zambia capitol, Lusaka, that we had passed through several hours ago. He had been reassured that he did not need a visa so he did not get one when we were there. Luckily, after much conversation with immigration, they allowed him to enter as long as he promised to get a visa in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It took them 1 ½ hours to get the visa, so we had plenty of time to shop for our dinner and get lunch. Don and I were cooking dinner for all that night so we chose a typical American meal; fried chicken, yams, green beans and French bread. It was delicious, though the yams turned out to be sweet potatoes.

We rode at least 600 km, bouncing around in the back of the truck, reaching our destination just before dark. Malawi is another beautiful African country. It has many green mountains, covered with trees and grass. There are many streams that flow past villages near the road we travelled. The villages did look a little more poor, yet there seemed to be more personal gardens of food and larger crops for selling. The children run out, wave and yell “How are you?” “Hello!”. The women also wave to us and the men give us a thumbs up or an admonition for not stopping at their shop. The villages on the road had shops a short distance from the highway, lining our route. The name of a lot of the shops were followed by “Investments”. Not sure what that meant! There were a few villages that were large enough to have a open market, with all sorts of items hanging of the frame of the hut: meat, clothes, cloth (learned that the wrap-around skirts are called Shalong and are the proper wear for women.) They looked rather fun to go to and explore but then again, we would stick out being the only white person in the market. I don’t think we would have been able to have done any shopping, just lots of talking!

Our first stop was Kande Beach, a camping “resort” that quickly filled up with GAP kids from the UK and Australia. I think that the camp site ended up with 6 trucks full of kids ranging from 18 to 19 years of age, filling in time before settling into another 4 years of higher learning. A great idea, that wouldn’t be a bad option for kids in the US. We made dinner, ate and fell asleep. Don and I have been going to bed not long after the sun sets. We don’t have internet, most of the time, and there is definitely no TV.The others on our truck enjoy drinking after dinner, so we generally join them for a short while. We have played cards, darts and pool but that is about all the entertainment we have for ourselves.

I woke up early, with the sun just rising, and thought to myself “Ah, a walk on the beach by myself would be so refreshing!” so I headed out. I didn’t get but a few steps from the “resort” before I got several visitors. First Jonathan, who really was nice, then another guy called Mr. T, then another joined called James and the list goes on. Yes, the young men were very nice, but the end of the conversation was always about what I should buy from them. Ugh! After three days here, I am so tired of being “befriended” so that I will spend my money with them. Don has a harder time resisting their wooing. He bought a wood carved globe (it is very cool), a key chain, a printed shirt, paid Sweet Banana to canoe him to the island 800 meters from shore, and I don’t know what else. Just out of exhaustion, I did not buy anything because I was just tired of being harassed. I know that they are poor, which is the reason why Don spends money, and that they are so much more desperate to make a salw. A days wages is about $1-$2 a day.

Today is Sunday and James, a villager who cooked our pig for last night’s dinner, offered to take us to his church. He said he would come get us at 9:30. When we got to the gate, there was James, still smelling of the spiked punch that he had over consumed the night before. He had remembered! We walked with him to his church just a short 10 minutes from our campground. The church had only 6 benches (no backs!), and no windows, with a quote on the platform wall. There was a song leader who also preached, a reader of the scripture, who also preached and then a woman, who also preached. They had a wonderful choir who sang from the congregation and they shuffled their feet and swung their arms to the rhythm. Wonderful music, and songs we had never heard of before. Evidently, when Livingstone came to Africa, he brought the Presbyterian Church with him. However, the original church in Scotland no longer recognizes them as their church, so there are several African Presbyterian churches throughout the Eastern African region. They took up an offering for the church as well as for refugees and poor people coming into their town that needed help. We put in an offering, and true to Don’s very soft and generous heart, he gave everything in his pocket to the pastor when we left. I was so glad that we were able to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it was so nice to be with the Malawi people just as they are, and not trying to sell us something.

This afternoon and evening we went on a village tour of Kande. We first stopped at the chief’s house and sat in their stark living room. The walls hadn’t been painted in years and were black from smoke. Some of the furniture cushions no longer had cloth around them. However, there was an iron and a TV in one corner. His son told us about the Tonga tribe’s traditions and marriage rites. A bride’s worth is 3 cows, or $900 and a young man must have this if he wants to marry. The chief is chosen from either the men or the women, whoever proves to be a good citizen, and does not smoke or drink. Interesting! The chief’s son took us to the clinic and then to the school where, of course, they asked for donations. Both places had electricity, but they did not turn on their lights even though it was getting dark. Everywhere we walked, children flocked us and we held hands with them. The kids are charming!!! The government provides the Malawi people with free medical care and free education. However, the medical care for the town of Kande is a clinic with a doctor coming just once a month. If anyone needs surgery, or has an emergency, they have to wait for the ambulance that services 100 towns, or have someone take them to the highway and pay for public transportation to take them to the hospital 70 KM away. The people do not have the money for the public transportation so many times they will go to the witch doctor that is nearby. The government requires that all expectant mothers in their last month stay at the clinic so that they will deliver in the hospital. We were able to visit three new mothers and their babies who were staying in a room with 6 beds and depending on their families to take care of them. The clinic sees approximately 300 patients a day!

 Education is free, however, the students must buy their own uniform and their own school supplies…paper, pencil, etc. This school had about 1000 students with at least 100 students in a class, a room the size of any US elementary school classroom. There are no desks so the students sit on the floor. It just didn’t seem like that would be a place children would want to be but they love school.

After the school tour, we returned to the chief’s house and had a typical dinner of sweet potato soup, kidney beans, boiled eggs and stewed tomatoes, rice, and spinach. YUMM! When we finished eating, the children sang for us in their loud voices! I love how African children sing!! We returned home that night feeling pretty good, in our tummies and in our hearts.

5:35 am edt 

May 11 On to Victoria Falls and two more countries

We got up at our usual 6:30 am, made breakfast, cleaned up camp (we left the hair from Dan, NOT Don, getting his head shaved last night) and pulled out at 8 am. We only traveled a short distance and we were at the Botswana/Zambia border, the Chobe River .It is at its maximum and the river is over its banks. We drive past the 3 km line of trucks waiting to cross and go to the front of the line. There is one advantage to being a tourist; we get priority crossing. These trucks can wait up to two weeks before their turn to cross comes up. The problem is that the river has to be crossed on a ferry. They have 4 ferries but only 2 are operating so the wait is incredible. We stood by the shore and waited for our truck’s turn. I talked to the border police and asked him what he looks for. They have problems with illegals coming across the border from Zambia to look for work. “No passport, no entry” he tells me. The ferry is nothing more than two motors on a flat barge with room for 2 cars and an 18 wheeler, and space on the sides for the passengers to stand. It has a ramp on either end so it could be lowered, if it worked, but it did not so when they approached the beach he just gunned the engines and the ramp would slam into the river bank. A person would kick some dirt to even out the difference in height and off the vehicles would roll. As we were waiting, a pickup pulled up to the docking area, three women jumped out and started unloading the truck; TVs, sound systems, blankets, clothes, food and on and on. There was a huge pile of goods. Soon these women were joined by close to 20 other people and they started dividing up the items into smaller, carryable groupings. The women tied items into large pieces of cloth and tied it around their backs. The blankets were taken out of their packages and shoved into plastic gunny sacks. Clothes were shoved inside of the blankets hoping not to be discovered. Our truck’s turn came and the people crossed the river with us. Once we reached the other side of the river, we were in Zambia and we walked to the customs and then immigration offices. We paid our $50 visa fee, had our passport stamped and went to our truck to sit and wait for Eddy, our driver, to finish his more complicated paperwork. As we are sitting in the truck, a young man approached our windows and asked if we want to buy some money. He sold our group money that is no longer in Zimbabwe but we thought the money would be fun for our coin collection and we were glad to get rid of our Botswana pulas.  Can you imagine a 50,000,000,000 Zimbabwe Dollar bill actually being used? It was only worth a few dollars at one time. Some of the bills were only good for a six month period. That’s inflation gone wild!

While waiting, we got to watch a Zambian avoid paying the customs’ tax. Two men were carrying a heavy bundle from the ferry boat. They turned left towards a waterway instead of heading to the customs office.  A mokoro suddenly appeared from the reeds, quickly poled up to the docking area, the men ran from the dock with the bundle, wrapped in none other than a bright yellow plastic sheeting, and threw it into the mokoro and the poler quickly disappeared back into the reeds. With very few guards and our truck blocking their view, we had ring side seats to watch smuggling at its best!

Our first night in Zambia was spent at The Grotto, run by a man called Grubby, a pot smoking longhaired white local. There was a large house that was used for the office and bar, a huge lawn in front of the house, a pool and a large gravel parking lot for our truck. All this was enclosed in a high wall and a 24 hour guard at the gate. There was also a bus and truck belonging to We pitched our tents, and had a short intro what Livingstone offered.  We listened and did our signing up for the various tours. The next few days were going to be busy. Don and others in our group flew on a micro-light over Victoria Falls and the more adventurous did bungie jumping, rope swinging and zipline off the bridge, over the gorge where the Zambizi River flows. They are truly either very brave or just plain crazy! I watched from the bridge, enjoying watching the “boiling pot” and the mist rising from the Victoria falls. The Zamibizi River was at maximum. An Amazing amount of water flows down that huge waterfall! So much mist was coming up that I couldn’t see but a few feet of the top of the waterfalls. While the group was doing their jumping, etc. Don and I decided to go to Zimbabwe, officially. The Zambizi River is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and there is a line down the middle of the bridge as the border, but we wanted a stamp and visa from Zimbabwe. It was only a $30 visa fee to enter Zimbabwe, but a $50 to re-enter Zambia.  After exiting Zambia and as we were walking toward the Zimbabwe border, Don checked his money pouch to discover that he did not have enough money for us to re-enter Zambia. I did not have any cash but had some Travelers Checks we hoped they would take. We begged them at the border to take our Traveler’s Checks and like everyone else, they didn’t want them. A kind Zambian woman said she would drive us to Victoria Falls and there would be a bank in town to cash our TCs or an ATM to withdraw cash. We got a lift from her to town, just a short distance and she told us that she would be returning to Zambia at 3 pm if we still needed help. She is the owner of “The Spot” restaurant in Livingstone. We went into the bank and they told us that they do not accept Travelers checks! Don had his ATM card so we tried that and sure enough, it was rejected, as usual. I just happened to have my credit card and we gave it a try and I got CASH!!! We were so relieved. We weren’t sure what we were going to do if we couldn’t get cash. We went and had a traditional Zimbabwe lunch, spinach, maize, dried meat in hot sauce and beef with brown gravy. The meat tasted very gamey so I just ate the maize, spinach and gravy. Oh, yes, and a glass of mango juice. Yumm!

We walked back to the border, and went to the entrance of the Victoria Falls. It was $30 each. It seemed like a lot since the Zambian side it was only $20 so we decided to not goin. I later learned that the Zimbabwe side was much better than the Zambian side. Oh Well, can’t win them all. Don had flown over it so he didn’t care that he didn’t go into the park. And I did get to go in the park that night to view the lunar rainbow and walked in the water of the Zambizi above the falls.

The following day, we went with the book bus to a community school out in the “bush”. The roads were red dirt and full of ruts, tempting the books to fall off their shelves. The book bus has 3 volunteers who PAY to spend their weeks with the bus, sleeping in tents and working from 8:30 to 1 at village schools. It is sponsored by a publisher in the UK. We drove through villages that were very poor, mud huts, people selling a few apples or coal. Most of the kids waved and called out Kelly’s name, the only paid employee in charge of the book bus who has been there for three years in a row (she spends 8 months at a time.) We arrived at the school, a community of only 15 families but serves several other communities similar to theirs. The school was made of cement block with a flag pole in the middle. The children hung out of the doors and windows, then shyly came up to the bus. This was the second time the book bus had come to their school. The volunteers set up mats under the trees behind the school and took 25 students and taught their lesson. I didn’t feel needed there so I asked the Principal, Emmanual, what I could do, and he suggested reading for the 5th grade class who had no teacher that day. The school has two shifts, providing classroom space for the older kids in the morning and younger kids in the afternoon. I ran to the bus to find an appropriate book…that was a task! These children don’t have electricity, therefore no TV nor computers so their world is what they see and experience around them. It is a very small world compared to ours! I did chose “Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type….I had to explain what a typewriter was, and electric blankets, but they listened quietly. Since they were 5th graders I assumed they could read and I had a child come up to read the “notes” that the cows typed. Only one child could read every word, at about a second grade level. These children are so far behind in our standards but not that far behind the government schools.  These are the children who can not go to the government school because they don’t have the money to buy the uniform, shoes, and school supplies.  Since they live out of town, they also do not have transportation to school. The children wore ragged clothes, some from the YMCA in Florida or somewhere else. Some wore old uniforms, ripped and too large or too small for them but it was clothes that covered their body. I read stories for three hours until my throat was dry. I was so touched by their wonder of stories, their determination to be at school even if their teachers didn’t show up! The principal and his brother started the school and church for the community and are volunteering their time, a full time job. Amazing men with a wonderful vision to better their community. We hope that we can help them somehow, someway.

We met our new truck driver, Henry and said goodbye to our old, Eddy. Wednesday we got up, exchanged our trucks, packed our bags in the new truck and set out by noon. As we were packing, I noticed my glass frames had broken and that my camera was missing. I am so sad!! I left my address with the secretary (was she a she or a he?) and hoped that it would be found! Tonight we unpack our bags and gave it one more good look before I buy another camera. Where will I ever find a town big enough to have a camera store? Cities in Africa are not easy to find!
5:12 am edt 

May 9 Overland trucks from South Africa to Botswana

I am not one to go on tours, or so I thought but we have done two tours this trip and they have been the highlight of our travels so far. The first was Galapagos Islands and we are on our second, an overland trek from South Africa to Tanzania. So far, we have travelled a little over 1000 km and it has been great. I would highly recommend not only African Trails but overland trekking through Africa. We are riding in a truck that is a flat bed that carries 28 people. There are seats down both sides and there are clear vinyl roll up windows and a hard top roof. There is plenty of room to walk around and sleep or watch the scenery go by. The roads have been two lane roads and are in good shape. The only real danger is the domestic animals that graze by the side of the highway.(There was a stretch of highway in South Africa that had a sign stating “This was a highjack area Do not drive at night”) We are not talking about a few animals but groups of 5 or more every kilometer. We will be speeding along at 80 kph and the driver, will slow down, then suddenly slam on the brakes. The donkey is taking his time crossing the road. Donkeys are not the only animal: goats, horses, cows. The animals graze on these highways and when the owner needs meat, he will go find them. I hear that driving at night is like playing Russian Roulette with the animals.

Our trip started in Johannesburg, Monday morning at 6 am. The camp ground was very damp from the night’s dew. We climbed into the truck with our luggage and he pulled up the floor near the front and revealed a compartment to store our suitcases. Once we had  put the luggage in, he put the board back over the hole in the floor. Then he pulled up one of the seats and there was another compartment for our day packs, shoes and snacks. Slowly, 5 more people appeared from the tents nearby and we were all introduced. Chris from New Zealand, Christof from Switzerland, Buffy, Dan and Brian from the UK. Buffy and Dan, 18 and 19, who had met on the overland, were already a couple by the time we joined them, but the rest were single guys out for an adventure between work or holidays            .We were very excited about what our trip.  We drove 400 km the first day until we reached Palapye, Botswana. We pulled into a campground and parked. We watched Eddie cook dinner of hamburger with spaghetti. We set up our tents and Don and I crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep at 9 pm while the rest of the group drank beers in the bar. We were exhausted from our overnight trip in the bus from Cape Town the night before. It was surprisingly cold in the middle of the night. Don and I had zipped our new sleeping bags together thinking how romantic, but it only gave us both a very fitful night. We woke up at 6 am exhausted!  That was the last night we slept in the same bag.  So much for that romantic notion!

Breakfast and off for another 600 km truck ride to the Sedia Hotel in Maun. We arrived early evening and while Eddie cooked dinner we set up our tents. We asked for another tent since ours did not zip up well. Everyone went to bed early and Don and I went to the bar area to get on the internet. However, the internet was down and so we downloaded photos and charged our computer batteries. This night we slept very well in our separate sleeping bags.

Up again at 6 am, packed our day packs for the next two days, locked up the truck and we set off in a jeep. We reached the Okavongo Delta by 8 am and met our polers for the mokoros that would take us across the delta to the island that we were going to stay on for the next two nights. Mokoros are boats (used to be hand carved out of the Great Feverberry tree) that are only 18 inches high, flat bottomed so that it will glide over the shallow waters of the delta. These boats only carry two people and the poler, the person who uses a long wooden pole to push the boat through the shallow waters. We shoved off the beach and quietly glided through the lily-pad water. There was grass, reeds, white lilies, thorn bushe,s cattails and lots of spiders and little bugs. I was in the front seat and Don behind me with Dutchman as our poler. It was a very quiet ride, floating through the channels of water.  We heard our poler call to the other polers and we changed directions. He had heard an elephant and we were on our way to see if we could find it. We saw a tree shaking on an island just 50 yards away. Then we heard a tree crack and he appeared, with the tree underfoot. How do they do that? At first he didn’t see us then he turned and stared at us. More mokoros on the delta heard the elephant and were joining our group. We had close to 20 mokoros and 60 people watching this elephant watch us. Then he shook his head, fanned out his ears, stomped foot, and trumpeted. Dust poured off of him.  Our poler slowly backed up the mokoro and told us to not make a sound or movement. I have to admit I was rather afraid! The other boats that had joined us had senior citizens in them and one of the ladies was very hard of hearing and had not heard to be quiet. With a loud voice, she shouted “Come on down to the water, Mr. Elephant”. Everyone was trying to shush her but she couldn’t hear us! I wondered how brave this woman really would be if the elephant charged us. He watched us a full 5 minutes, decided we were no threat and turned and walked away. We all breathed a sigh of relief but were thrilled to have watched an elephant so close up.

Our campsite is on an island in the delta that snakes through miles and miles of land. This water is not from Botswana, but from countries north of it. National Geographic did an article about it and I painted my water lilies from one of their photos. I am so happy to be in this delta, seeing and experiencing this water shed that I painted and never dreamed I would ever be here myself! The land is very flat and the rain water takes several months to travel to the Okavagno Delta where it settles in the flat lands. The water is here for several months before it evaporates and/or is absorbed into the ground. The locals tell us that is the highest the water has been in 40 years. Good year to come. By the time we arrived the two women who had poled our supplies to the island, had already set up all of our tents. We put our gear in the tents and the leader announced that we were going on a 1 ½ hour hike. We followed him just a ways from our tents and we gathered for quick instructions. As soon as he said, “If we run into animals, you run from Hippos but you must stand still and stare at the lion until he goes away” I knew that I was not going to go for that hike! I think everyone felt the same way as me but decided to risk it anyway. I wish I had that kind of bravery, but alas, I do not!!  And they did return safely and they did not see a single animal!

We cooked dinner and sat around the fire late into the night. We heard hippos walking through the water and roaring his throaty roars, probably scaring us instead of the animals in the delta. The guide assured us that they were a long distance away. I wished I could believe him!  I stayed around the fire until I thought I was exhausted enough and would go asleep and not wake up. We left the fire and went to our tent, but couldn’t stop listening to the hippos roar, imagining all the wild creatures roaming around, afraid they would come to our camp. Don and I played a few hands of Canasta until we were totally tired and I fell into a deep sleep, not waking up until the morning. Don however, had a terrible night’s sleep, waking up to all the noises of the Delta. We had agreed that night that if it was a bad scary night, we would just go back to the truck; However, I felt pretty good in the morning and even went on the three hour hike across the island. We didn’t see or hear any animals, much to my relief. We did see a lot of birds and found some huge elephant bones, bleached in the sun. We made lunch and some went swimming( they said it was refreshing but didn’t like the leaches, Ugh!)  We asked Beauty, one of the polers, if she would teach us how to make a palm leaf basket and Andrew, another poler and guide, would show Don how to make a miniature makoro out of wood. Beauty made a beautiful basket, I helped a little, and she must have worked 5 hours to finish it for us that day. Don carved a wonderful, floating mokoro in miniature that even foated. We enjoyed our quiet afternoon and later took another mokoro ride to the island where the hippos have a water hole. They were not there, however, a herd of zebras and their foals were there and they seemed as interested in us as we were in them. I would much rather encounter a herd of zebras than a group of hippos any day. We watched until the sun set and we poled our way back to the island. We made dinner again, a huge pot of pasta and shared it with the Botswanians. We sat around the fire telling riddles that they were very good at it. They had more riddles than we did, the result of sitting around fires at night, since they had no electricity much lessTV or internet in the mud huts! Then they sang us some wonderful local songs. Our favorite was the frog song where they hopped around the campfire, pulling us in with them. We had so much fun. We sang to them “Row, row, row your boat” the best thing we could think of. We had a good nights sleep, only hearing the hippos in the distance, the far distance this time.

When morning came, we went for another short hike, seeing no animals again, but lots of tracks of the animals. I am growing rather attached to our little island. We got back to camp, packed up our gear and headed back to the jeeps. Chris and Christof showed off their new found skills and poled the mokoros back to the jeeps.

Back at the campground, we took showers, washed all of our clothes, drying them in the hot sun, got in about 15 minutes of computer time and then hit the road again. We saw so many elephants from the truck, some crossing the road, others just meandering through the brush, searching for food to feed those huge bodies. We saw warthogs and oryx along with the usual amount of cattle, goats and donkeys. One thing I love seeing is a cart full of people being pulled by 2 to 6 donkeys 

Most of the houses in the villages are round huts with thatched roofs. The villages are small and as neat as a pin. Some have gardens with stick fences around it. The children run out and shout “Hello” to us and are happy and healthy looking. Not what I had expected. It is nice to see families who are happy in spite of how little that they do have. We might be the richer nation, but they are blessed with contentment! We have a lot to learn from them.

4:29 am edt 

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Mimi Lamp


It all started here, a little gallery in Idyllwild, no better place on earth. Or so I think.  My husband Don and I are on our way around the world this year. Watch my website for new drawings, sketches, watercolor washes of places we visit.

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