Friday, December 2, 2011

Lions and Leopards and Giraffes... Oh My!

I am not going to lie.  This past week is one of those experiences where you literally have to remind yourself that what you are experiencing is actually real life.  it is also one of those experiences which plays into a "typical African stereotype"that there are wild animals running rampant.

but, let me back up a bit.  A visitor's visa in Malawi is for 30 days.  You can get it extended 2x for 5000MK (which is about 25$), and then you have to either leave or get a temporary resident's permit (or, alternatively, in my case, I could also get a student permit).  Since the TRP will take forever and a day, I knew that I would have to leave.  So, I have been contemplating in the last little while:  just go to the border, eat lunch in Mozambique or Zambia, and come back?  hmmmm, nope, that would be an expensive lunch (visa for both countries are about 50$). By a plane ticket to South Africa? (hmmm, i wish!) go on a discount safari to Zambia?  SURE!  that sounds like fun.  I mean... i am in africa.  Isn't that what you are supposed to do?

 So, last week, I packed my bag and headed up to Lilongwe.  

Now, how did I get there?  There are google groups in each of the major cities in Malawi called "chat."  It is kinda like the Craigslists of Malawi, where people advertise different things (nothing dirty!) and sell things and do exchanges, etc.  I posted that I was looking for a ride up to Lilongwe (as I didn't want to cram onto the bus again).  I got a nice girl (my age) who would be driving back up there on Saturday morning.  Sure, a day earlier than I would like, but, whatever.  Comfortable, convient ride.  She even offered for me to stay at her place in Lilongwe, which was really nice of her!!!  I gladly accepted.

Now.  wowza!  I don't know much about the nightlife here in Malawi, except that it frequently keeps me awake on weekend nights, as my window faces a busy street with a few bars on it. 

on a side note:
Even sleeping, in Africa, is different from at home.  You probably go to sleep with relatively little things that are bothering you.  It is probably fairly quiet, and fairly dark.
not here my friend, not here.
Malawi is an early nation, most things get done in the morning.  I go to sleep quite early (10pm... wow. that is a late night.) and wake up early as well (normally 5-5:30).  but. nigh time is filled with things that it is not filled with in Canada.  A mosquito net that traps in the hot air. if you are not under it... a mosquito that buzzes in your ear.  A security guard who activates the motion contol indicator each hour outside your window.  The bar that keeps it's music on until all hours of the morning.  the chicken that calls.  The dogs that run around and bark and might even fight.  

and yet... somehow I manage to sleep like a log.  

so.  lilongwe.  For the first time, I was able to experience the nightlife of Malawi.  I went out with this new friend and her friends.  And, oh man.  Was is a nightlife.  you can imagine how awkward I felt when I normally feel awkward in dance clubs in Canada.  Here i was, the only white girl, and way taller than most people in the bar.  Then... we danced.  And, I don't know if you know... but every. single. person. in Africa has rhythm.  In cultures where dance is taught at such a young age (we even, at one point during the day, were dancing in a circle around my friend's 1.5 year old daughter who was also breaking it down!) and it is so ingrained into being... you feel like you can certainly be out danced. Other than a bit more drinking than I would prefer, and a wayyyy later night than I would prefer (um, arriving home at 3 am?), it was a lot of fun.  I got to see a part of this continent that is so relevant in cultural norms of young city folk... It is hard to explain, but, it is just another aspect to understanding how things are.  And, the more understanding I can have, the happier I am.

So after a weekend of living a city life, I was out to the country.

I hooked up with Kiboko Safaris, and the other 3 people who were on our way to see the animals.  It was the most money that I have spent in one bought, since I have arrived on this continent: 495$ for a 4-day, all-inclusive safari.  And, it even left from Lilongwe, so, it was nice.  There were a few bumps and bruises at the exit gate for Malawi (yup, corruption is alive and well, but it was only 25$ worth of it, and not on me.  On a lawyer.  he has the money to pay ;) ), but otherwise smooth sailing.  And, on my very first (short) impression, Zambia is not much different from Malawi.  The village houses are a bit different (they have a lot of round ones), the villages were far more spread out, the schools seem more developed, and the roads were less bumpy (and being built!).  Both these last two points indicate at a better economy.  but... pretty much, it didn't feel much different.  

Upon our arrival at our camp (Kiboko leases spots from Track and Trail River camp), we were greeted by our amazing guide, who's name is escaping my memory right now.  But, let me tell you... this man knows every single thing you need to know about plant and wildlife in Zambia and southern Africa.  Just amazing.  Not a single question that he couldn't answer, or bird/animal call he couldn't identify, or behaviour he couldn't explain.  Amazing.  The lodge is situated (as most are) right on the banks of the Luangwa river, directly across from the park.  South Luangwa is Zambia's premier park, with people coming from throughout the world to research, to learn guiding and conservation, and to (of course) tour.  

we got there, not expecting to see much on the first night, as we would not be going into the park.  but, get this: we arrive. Within 30 minutes, we see a buffalo on the other shore munching on a bush.  Then, a elephant.  and another one.  And, then 6 more.  then, they forge the water to the other side.  Then it starts to rain a bit... which forms a rainbow over the river where the elephants are.  Birds are flying everywhere and at the other side of the horizon... a thunderstorm.  Um.  AMAZING!

it just got better and better.  we saw every sort of animal imaginable.  the very small to the very large.  My favourites were the cats (of course) and the giraffes.  The giraffes there in South Luangwa are shorter and darker than the ones anywhere else on the continent.  they are *Very* cute, and so graceful.    We did a total of two drives a day, a morning and a night drive.  Our first night drive was pretty uneventful, except for the MASS amounts of bugs.  ridiculous.  they are unexplainable.  The second night drive, however, made up for all of the bugs on the night before.  Not only did we get good sights before the sun when down, but, also at night... we saw 3 lions (two female, one big male), a hyena munching on a carcass under a bush.  With that, we thought our chances at seeing the ever elusive Leopard was done.  However, 20 minutes later, there she was.  Not in a tree, not under a bush.  Just sitting out in the middle of the open, right beside the road, having a little rest and roam.  

I have no photos of the leopard... but, she was so beautiful.  Smaller than i imagined, but a typical cat in the way she walked and lay in the dirt, and ignored us while yawned, then just slinked away into the night.  

from then on... it just kept me smiling.  I could not believe it.  And, even the drives where we didn't see as much, had absolutely breathtaking scenery.  There are very few things about nature that I do not like.  Nature just reminds me of how small we (as humans) are in the world.  How incredible creation is and the one who put it all into place.  This experience just reminded me how much Africa just such a jewel, and such a magical place. There is no place like her.  She just cannot be compared to anything.  Virtually every day, you have to remind yourself that this is real life.  Everyday, it seems a little unbelieveable.  I am just so blessed to be a part of this, and to be able to be part of this experience.

Pictures to come! 


Anj said...

I have been in your shoes & I agree life is amazing there. Things we just don't get to experience in N.America. I kept having to pinch myself that I was experiencing all that I was.

Margie said...

It is so "out-of-this-world" isn't it - seeing all these so incredible animals, all living together in one spot, so evolutionarily different...ones we are used to seeing in books and photos, but to see them living in their natural habitat ALL together! Blows the mind!! Fertile Africa...