Sunday, January 09, 2011

January 7 & 8, 2011

I am sitting in our camp/cabin at Mvuu Camp writing this while the wind and the rain storm around me. The cabin has a brick foundation, a porch and a roof – between the foundation and the roof are vertical beams between which are strung screens – the screens have curtains hanging in front of them. During the day the camp/tent/cabin has electricity provided by generators for a few hours and in the evening the solar energy is used to provide electricity from 7 until 9 p.m. So lets hope the light lasts long enough for me to write this post.

It has been the most incredible two days.

Yesterday started as normal at the Sun ‘N’ Sand with an early breakfast - same food as every other day with even less concern for service. Margaret and I met with the 14 participants that were still on site and worked through a debriefing exercise that Margaret had devised. Then I asked the participants to answer a few workshop evaluation questions for us to take back with us for the project administrators. Then the fun began – a few speeches closing the workshop and handing out participant certificates. The VP pointed out that certificates were important because they can be used during job interviews – just like the one he had this past Wednesday!!!

We checked out trying to pay with a Visa but the brand new Visa machine didn’t work and no one knew how to get it to work. So I am supposed to pay someone in Blantyre – I’m not really sure who I am supposed to pay but I am sure someone will ask eventually.

Fredson was waiting for us and we packed the car and headed for Liwande and the Hippo View Lodge to catch the boat to Mvuu Lodge.

Two men greeted us there – the first was the admissions officer to the Park (750 Kwachas per person per night please) and the other man was the man with the receipt book. Getting the receipt and signing all the different copies took quite a bit of time but we were eventually on the boat.

The boat was sent by the Mvuu lodge (Mvuu means hippo) and is the first step to our luxury weekend ($225 per person per night – food and safaris included). This was a motor boat with a shade cover covering 8 metal and plastic bridge chairs. It was actually quite a comfortable ride.

After a safety speech and putting on our life jackets the boat fellow told us that the trip would take 45 minutes but we should ask him to stop if we saw something we wanted to see – this is Africa – time is never a problem.

No sooner did we get out into the river that we encountered a raft of hippos. Nothing can prepare you for seeing these things live and up close. The boat fellow knew his stuff and gave us tons of information. It took us over an hour and a half to get to the Camp because we insisted he stop and let us look at and take pictures of the hippos, crocodiles, fish eagles and other birds.

The hippos have skin that dries out very quickly in the direct sunlight so they spend their days immersed in the water. They have family groups called rafts – one dominant male, young males, females and babies. They can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes and come out of the water exhaling through their noses causing a spout. They also make moaning types of noises. They submerge, move around, emerge, sit there with only their eyes, nose and ears visible and sometimes they jump out of the water sort of frolicking.

We reached Mvuu camp where out luggage was taken out of the boat and we were greeted by the manager. This is a very well taken care of resort, well managed, well manicured and concerned with customer service. We were given a late lunch in the dining area. There are virtually no enclosed spaces (other than bathrooms) in this place. This is an open camp (no fences so the animals wander in and out) in the Liwonde National Park. It is owned and run by a South African company and they cater to their clients very well. Rustic but well maintained, simple but just enough – clean large soft towels in the stone and marble bathroom for instance.

After lunch we were shown to out chalet - #6 and were told to be at the staging area at 4 for our motorized safari. Henry and Patrick were both there to greet us in their immense 4 wheel drive Land Rover. We headed out into the park.

Impalas, Water Bucks, Wart Hogs, Baboons, a million types of birds, the wildlife was constant and Henry and Patrick knew everything about the big game, the small animals, the birds and the vegetation.

We would spot a group and Henry would turn off the motor and then let the Rover drift over towards the animals.

There is one Rhino in this park as it was expelled from the protected area by its Daddy – too much competition. We found its tracks but couldn’t spot him.

We did, however, see Elephants which evidently is unusual for the rainy season. There was lots of evidence of elephants as they knock down Acacia trees in their efforts to eat its branches and we found dung and tracks. But we didn’t see them for quite a while.

Just before dusk we spotted a young male feeding off a tree just on the right. He seemed to disappear but in a few minutes 2 large females with two very young elephants emerged and slowly, very slowly passed by us, crossed the road and wandered into the distance with the teenage male following them. It was an unbelievable sight. Something that its not likely we’ll forget soon.

We stayed out until well past dark – close to 7 p.m. – looking for night creatures – not very successful there. Dinner was at 7:30 – pork chops, mashed potatoes, etc.

And then lights out and I do mean lights out – the power goes and we had a candle and a ‘torch.’ So we got into bed. Bed is two camp beds side by side with mosquito netting on a frame around each – fortunately there was a crawl hole between the beds.

The mosquito netting is important as …..

My writing was just interrupted by a family of baboons that came to play and feed around our place. I hope I got some good video through the screen.

The mosquito netting is important as there are gaps between the screens and the wood frame. I also discovered that any kind of light attracts a variety of night life. So I couldn’t even read my Sherlock Holmes on the iphone. And it was dark – pitch black. No light whatsoever. (The baboons are still climbing and jumping around on our roof as I write – one just ran down the tree on other side of the screen behind me)

One of the things we notice here is that it is so still – hardly ever any wind – except right before it rains. Last night the air was filled with everything from Monkey calls to warthog snuffles to hippos splashing into the water just below our porch. All of that on top of the various insects, birds and other assorted night creature sounds.

Given that our walls are screens it goes without saying that we don’t have air conditioning. No wind, no air conditioning and it was likely around 30 degrees when we went to bed. It was also preparing to rain so the humidity was off the charts. Helene’s skin is reacting to the heat (making her prickly) and I was reminded of the attic I used to sleep in on Rupertsland when I was young. Needless to say we only slept a bit.

It is becoming a habit to text the kids each night to let them know we are ok – there is no internet here (well actually there is but they didn’t get the cards to sell this week – or last week – maybe next week) and as it turned out I couldn’t text for some reason. We eventually used the iphone to call Stacey to let her know we’re ok and to write the boys. Stacey has a cold and heard some bad news a few days ago about a friend of hers. I felt bad that we couldn’t have talked longer. This is a wonderful adventure but I miss my kids.

We finally fell asleep to wake up to all hell breaking loose. This morning they said it was only a shower but during the night it sounded and felt like a hurricane. Back to sleep again to the background noise of thunder, animals and any other kind of sound you could imagine.

Margaret went on the 5:30 a.m. walking safari. Helene and I gave it a pass. Breakfast at 7 and then off for a two hour water safari. This was a different boat – sun shade over benches on the side of a relatively small motor boat – couldn’t have fit 4 more people besides the three of us and the driver Henry (same guy as the motorized safari.)

We drifted up the river stopping to look at Impalas on the shore, hippos and crocodiles on the shore and in the water and innumerable birds and trees. Helene’s favourite is the sausage tree with its long thick hanging fruit.

We got back mid morning and then were taken on a tour of the ‘lodge.’ This is an area of Mvuu for those who want luxury (basically one step up from our camp) and seclusion – nowhere close to anything else.

We have just finished lunch. If the rain stops we’ll go for the 4 p.m. motorized safari again.


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