Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Homesick for Africa….

Posted: 13/09/2011 in Africa

Beautiful Amazing Africa!

Africa has done something extraordinary to me and I have fallen in love with her and her people. I’ve been thinking about my trip to Europe 3 years ago and considering how different my experiences there were compared with Africa. Of course this might be stating the obvious because its like comparing chalk with cheese but it goes beyond what I’ve seen and experienced to how its made me feel. In Europe I was able to learn the fascinating evolution of the western countries and see history captured in architecture, music and art. I had an amazing 10 weeks there but was always content with the thought that I would be going back to Australia. There was no desire to travel in Europe long term or to ever live there and at times I would feel homesick for my family and friends and all the places and things I knew.
Africa has completely taken me by surprise. I knew I’d enjoy it and I knew there was so much to see and do but I was a little nervous about how I cope with camping and so much driving but mostly about missing home and the simple things I’m used to. Yeh, I’m a bit over putting a tent up and down but I’ve discovered I don’t mind camping at all, especially in a place like this. Last night I was woken I’m the middle of the night and stuck my head out of the tent. 4 large elephants and a baby were walking past right outside my tent! I’ve stayed in places where the landscape is breathtaking, where the animal noises at night are both fascinating and frightening. As for the drives…every kilometer we’ve driven brings new landscape, it’s constantly changing. In the last 48 hours I’ve gone through undulating sand coloured hills sparsely covered by trees, to massive rock formations with unusual white trees growing from them, to vast landscapes smothered with yellow grasses, to flat and completely barren desert lands, to massive orange coloured sand dunes. This is only one small part of one country! And then there are the people groups that still live in the traditional way like the Masai and the Himba tribes.
So I guess you could say it’s history verses nature and perhaps that’s why I love it here so much; I’m a nature and animal lover but it’s more than that. This place has done something to me, it’s in my system and I have fallen in love with her and her people. I miss Australia from a patriotic point of view and of course I miss my family and friends and my little Gypsy girl but I’m not homesick and I’m certainly not counting down the days until I go home. In fact if I were counting down it would be because it will be a sad day for me, I will truly miss it here. Australia will always be home and I love my country but there are things that I have become so frustrated with, especially the self indulgent me first attitude that is taking over our society. Respect, tolerance, honouring others and basic morals are seemingly considered old fashioned. Many parents are more concerned with satisfying their own needs than they are with teaching their kids boundaries and manners. I know not everyone is like that and of course there are many people who are good (whatever that might mean to you) and live morally healthy lives. I do love Australia but she also breaks my heart. I’m under no illusion that Africa is without it’s problems, this is perhaps one of the most troubled continents on earth. Political corruption and greed have and are destroying nations. Poverty, starvation and lack of education makes life more challenging than we can, for even a second, comprehend. And tourists haven’t helped by unknowingly teaching people to beg rather than become self sufficient. It’s the whole “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a life” scenario. We’ve been giving and not teaching for too long. And regarding education in schools many of the subjects are so outdated and irrelevant; it’s school for the sake of school. The children become unmotivated and the parents don’t see the point of pushing their child academically when he or she could be out begging or working. And perhaps the biggest problem is lack of motivation. Many people here do not see the point of work for varied reasons and are content to sit around. This causes a ripple effect in communities and all aspects of community life. But there is still something that draws me here, something I cant identify and it’s been with me from the beginning. Don’t ask me to reason it, explain it or justify it, i simply can’t. All I can say is its almost like that feeling of coming home. A friend I made along the way said to me that she tells people if they only ever get to visit two continents in their lifetime it should be Africa and I concur! I honestly could live here I love it that much…..

Livingston in Zambia is an adrenaline junkies paradise but there are also things for those not so in need of a quick heart start. Of course you also need to be a millionaire to afford it all! Here’s some of the things you can do:

Bungee jump
Absail
Rock climb
Gorge swing
Flying fox
White water rafting
Jet boating
Microflight flight over Vic falls
Helicopter flight over Vic falls
Walk with the lions
Safari
Elephant ride
River cruise
High tea

I had planned on doing a microflight but mostly for the photographic opportunities. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take my camera on the plane, actually I don’t think you can call it a plane, more like a couch with wings. Anyway I couldn’t take my camera so I wasn’t about to pay $145 for 15 minutes, only 5 of which would be over the falls and not be able to take photos. Of course i could buy their photos for $35!!! I’m confused, they’re worried about a camera dropping on someone’s head but not about people falling off the edge of a waterfall, hmm logical!

As a retiring adrenaline junkie I decided to see if I still had any nerves and do the white water rafting and why wouldn’t I? It is the worlds greatest place to raft with some of the most challenging rapids around. Can I tell you, the challenge is not so much the rapids themselves but sitting through the safety briefing without having an accidental loo stop! Im sitting there listening to him talk about how not to drown, why we have to get people in the raft quickly (prevent drowning), what to do if your raft flips (how not to get sucked down the rapids and drown), what to do if your stuck under a flipped raft (how not to drown under a flipped raft) and am thinking why am I doing this again. Then comes the indemnity form and it’s not just the rapids I need to worry about but the walk down the mountain (cliff….seems like). Phrases like “I’m aware of the risk of walking in an area with unstable rocks….” and “I won’t hold the company responsible if I get sucked under by a rapid and ravaged to death by a Zambezi croc”, ok maybe that bit wasn’t in there but it should have been! So we take our truck ride out the some seemingly random area and listen to some MORE safety briefing. Risk of drowning, must help each other, rapids are dangerous, the life vest has to be suffocatingly tight or it will slip off and you’ll drown etc… I have photos and video where I think you can actually pinpoint the moment I crapped myself.

Suitably dressed, vested and carrying our oars we make our way down the steep mountain then through dense bushland, past a burning tree (huh!?), until we come to the mighty Zambezi river. In our boat we have lessons on how to paddle, what our instructors various directions mean and we practice pulling each other out of the water and into the raft. Then he tells us the name of the first rapid. ???? Are you kidding me, who named these things and why are they called that? I found out as we rounded the corner. Breathe, breathe, breathe…. What an experience! We didn’t flip or drown (hurrah!) and I was pumped. The next rapid is called commercial suicide what the? Why would i go down a rapid with a nme like that. Well we actually didn’t because companies will loose their licence if they take rafters on it, thus the name, We have to get out and walk around it looking our for crocs as we go! We spend the next 3 hours making our way down the river passing through 16 more rapids all of varying risk. By now I’m more relaxed but I do feel nervous again when Vinney our instructor says things like “its really important we row hard to the right, we have to get this one right, you don’t want to end up in the washing machine” or “we can’t flip at the first sister because the other 2 sisters come immediately after it and you can’t get caught in all 3”. Yay, I’m confident!!! About 1 hour in we’re in a calm area of the river and James asks if we can jump in. I’m hot and love the water so I want to jump in too. Vinney says it’s ok but it’s not until we’re in that he says, jokingly…maybe, personally he probably wouldn’t because of crocs and all! Thanks Vinney! At another point we come to a mild rapid and we’re told we can safely jump in a float down. What an experience that was. It looks like the water is moving at a slow to moderate pace but when your in the water the river bank is flying past. And you just bob up and down in your lung squeezing life vest. It was so relaxing until the moment we passed a small croc on the river bank right next to us,. Its not so bad he’s on the river bank. Suddenly I see him SLIDE INTO THE WATER!!!! There I am with my raft way behind me and none of the rescue kayak’s real close by and I’m bobbing down a rapid with a croc swimming somewhere next to me. No words…..

We survived, didn’t drown, didn’t get eaten by crocs and didn’t flip once. And we made some new friends which we shared dinner and drinks with that night. Experience of a lifetime!

Rafting the Zambezi!

My NOT favorite animal!!!!

Posted: 13/09/2011 in Africa

I’ve left Zambia and begun the Botswana leg of the trip and what a beautiful place it is, land of the elephants. Our campsite is average but the resort it’s attached to is beautiful and I decided to upgrade for the night. My room is a gorgeous roulade on the Chobe river where I sit on my balcony and watch the sun set. My first game drive is early in the morning. How I’m beginning to hate the early morning starts, those that know me know how much I hate mornings already! Of all the game drives I’ve done this was the most disappointing, we saw very little. Having said that I have been so beyond blessed with what I’ve seen on my other drives that my expectations are pretty high. The afternoon boat game drive however was another thing. We saw an abundance of birdlife, hippos, elephants, huge crocodiles and the most beautiful sunset. Not only did I get my hippo yawning shot but also a baby hippo yawning. Hippos are cute looking but scary creatures.

Hippo facts:
Hippopotamus means water cow
They can hold their breath under water for 16 minutes
They spend most of the day in water because their skin dries out very quickly
Hippos are fiercely territorial
Don’t get between a hippo and water (why would you anyway, like you can stop them getting there!)
They sound like they’re having a deep belly laugh when they make their call. Think count Dracula. Very creepy when spending the night on a river bank to wake to the sound of count Dracula laughing outside your tent.
Yawning is a warning sign to other animals…just showing you my big teeth buddy.
Their teeth are not only pointy and sharp and long but they actually shear next to each other when they close their mouth so they literally slice their prey in half as well as pierce them. Friendly!
For a fatty boom bah they can run fast
When they have a loo stop they spray their poop out and swish it from side to side with their tail. I’m guessing it’s a territorial thing otherwise that’s just freakin gross!

Nope, not a big fan of hippos.

Sunset over the Delta

My visit to the Okavango Delta is somewhere on the top of my list of favourite places in Africa so far. This huge inland waterway is the largest delta in the world ranging from 15,000 to 22,000km2 depending on the floods. What’s surprising is that it is in the middle of a thirsty desert land. It’s fed by the Okavango river from flood waters that travel 1300km across the kalahari sands. My delta experience was in the panhandle, a narrow arm that eventually stretches out into a fan. We left our truck at a local village and 4X4ed our way to the campsite where spent our first night. We had to sign an indemnity form regarding the risk of staying there becaus.e of wildlife (you know, the usual elephants walking through the campsite, crocodiles in the river etc…), high malaria risk and dangers in the delta. Never had to do that before! Imagine having indemnity forms in Australia:

“There is a high risk of stepping on kangaroo poo, you might get a cold due to varying temperatures and fly’s will really annoy you, please sign here”.

I met a group of 10 Aussies and it was so nice to be able hear voices from my homeland. This whole trip I’ve only met 3 Aussies until now, such a difference to Europe where Aussies have pretty much taken over. It’s actually not a bad thing. James is constantly poking fun at Aussies but I think he’s just jealous. One of the guys we met was wearing what I considered to be a totally reasonable straw hat, albeit a little ragged and ripped, however James commented that only an Aussie would wear a hat like that and get away with it. I’ve also learnt that simple words or phrases have the guys really confused. Early in the trip my thongs were coming apart and I commented on the fact that my thong was broken. The boys had a chuckle at this! Ok fine I’ll call them flip flops. Another phrase was “not happy Jan” which Chris can’t wait to try out.

Anyway digressing. So we head out the next morning after packing some of the kitchen, our tents and overnight gear onto a speedboat for an island where we are greeted by our enthusiastic polers. We are about to spend 24 hours in the delta, camping on an isolated island that we will have to ourselves and getting about in mokoro’s. Polers are the experienced guides that manoeuvre the mokoros, know the wildlife and keep us from getting lost in the delta. The mokoro experience is something else. They are long dugout canoes that sit very low in the water. It takes a little, ok a lot of getting use to. As soon as the poler first pushes off I was convinced we were going to tip. And we all had our camera gear, maybe not a wise decision but it’s the delta, you’d be crazy to not take a good camera! Our poler had told us to be a sack of potatoes in the mokoro and not try to balance it and not to move around too much. Easy for Ebron sitting behind me, he’s done this a million times before and is sitting back calmly listening to his music but its a first for me and I’m sitting bolt upright holding my breath and fearing the slightest movement. Seriously you are almost level with the water in what may as well be a dugout toothpick and it’s not just the camera I’m worried about but the hippos and crocs! So there I am whispering to myself “be a sack of potatoes, be a sack of potatoes, you look like a sack of potatoes so just be a sack of potatoes dam it” and as I got used to the rhythm of the mokoro and poler I relaxed…a little. We spent 40 minutes winding through thick reeds and water lilies in the quietest place on earth. The only sound is that of the long pole gently pushing through the water (and my occasional sucked in breath when I think we’re about to tip).

We had our small island to ourselves and we got the usual talk about it being a wild area with wild animals that will likely wander through the campsite and not to wandering off on our own. Our guides find a suitable spot for a bush dunny and dig a hole; there’s no loo, no electricity, no shower but no matter, we’re told we can swim in the delta. Huh?! With hippos and crocs, are you freakin kidding me?! No, they were not kidding! We went out for a late evening mokoro…what would you call it…ride, paddle, sail…anyway, we went out and the polers pull over at an island (clump of shallow water reeds in the middle of the delta) and proceed to jump in. The water is clear as glass and the bottom completely sandy. It’s easy to see there is nothing there but I’m sure that doesn’t stop something from swimming in. However….it’s hot, I’m dusty, there’s no showers, most of my clothes are back on the truck half of which are dirty so maybe I should just jump in. Hurrah I got brave and in I went! It was so refreshing and cooling and a little nerve wracking but fun fun fun. I’ve swum in the delta, yay! And didn’t get eaten by a hippo or croc, bigger yay! And hopefully won’t get bilhazia, biggest yay! I was assured by numerous guides and the polers that bilhazia is not found in the delta, I just hope that’s not the same as politicians promise.

That evening as we’re settling down for the night I can hear the laughter of hippos. Its very close AND my tent is next to the water, NEXT TO THE WATER! Not my fault, that was one of few spots in the bushy little island. Hippos in the water, endear our island…now is not the time I want to play hungry hungry hippo nor do i appreciate them laughing at me. NOT yay! I escaped being chomped in the delta only to find out that I might get chomped in my sleep. Its like an African version of nightmare on elm street except my freddy is big and fat with a pink belly and sharp, long pointy teeth. I can hear the girls at work laughing now because they heard all about my hippo phobia before I left! Suffice to say I’m obviously alive.

Before leaving the next day we took a mokoro to another island where we undertook a walking safari. To get there we had to pass through about 200m of deep water where hippos are usually found. I can tell you now I was having more than a few palpitations waiting for one to pop it’s head up right next to our mokoro. At the start of the safari we are told by our guides to keep quiet, not wander off on our own and stay in single file as it’s less threatening to wild life (coz I seriously look like a threat to an African elephant…as threatening as a bug, squish!!!). But of course it’s more to prevent them from charging. And then we’re told if they do charge to scream loudly and clap our hands. Hey enormous elephant with huge feet are you scared by little me clapping my hands and yelling? Bahahahahahahaha, I’ll be running mate! Ok, so again it’s not about me being threatening but more to do with the fact that while elephants have an excellent sense of smell, their eyesight is poor and if they hear a lot of noise they may be persuaded not to attack when they don’t know the size of the “animal in front”, not that I’m calling myself an animal. Sadly we saw no animals but we did see a few uncommon birds. Then it was back to the mainland through the beautiful, gorgeous, surprising Okavango Delta.

The smoke that thunders….

Posted: 13/09/2011 in Africa

Victoria Falls

No trip to Africa would be complete without a trip to victoria falls and the perfect words to describe it is the Zambian phrase Mosi oa tuna – the smoke that thunders. Driving through Livingston one can see a dense cloud of what appears to be smoke rising but as you get closer you can see that is actually the mist from the falls. It is an amazing sight but does not compare to that first glimpse of the falls themselves – beyond breath taking! A 1.7km ravine stretches between Zambia and Zimbabwe; it’s as if someone has scooped a narrow ???m wide chunk of earth 155m deep in the middle of a river so gallons of water have no place to go but over the edge in a thunderous cascading torrent. Of course in order to enjoy it you have to be wary of baboons. The Vic falls ones are big and aggressive. We learnt early in the day not to leave our bag on the ground when a large male baboon decided that Keith’s bag was worth stealing. James had a short lived tug of war until the baboon started to get a little aggressive and off he ran (the baboon not James) with the bag, down the steps, clunking Keith’s other lens as he went. In the end do you know what he wanted? Sunscreen! To eat! Because sunscreen is so delicious, especially factor 30! I think my dislike of baboons is well founded.

The photographic opportunities, except for the whole water all over the camera thing, are phenomenal. So Chris, Keith, James and myself head in laden with tripods, lenses and plastic bags and started shooting, I didn’t quite make the 700 photos I took of the lions in the tree but I got some fantastic shots. Sideways rainbows, velvet looking white water, scale shots of people standing on the edge of the falls…yes the edge!! They don’t actually block this area off or police it so anyone can walk wherever they want and if that should be at the top of one of the worlds largest falls then so be it. For a fee locals will take you across the river on a “safe route” (because anything that involves walking across slippery rocks in fast moving water that ends with a 155m water fall into a river filled with hippos and crocs is safe!!) where you can stand on the edge and say “I’m a moron with a death wish”. Actually I would have been that moron a few years ago but I’m loosing my adrenaline junkie nerves. Probably not a bad thing because some risks are not worth it. Only 2 days before we arrived a man died falling of the edge not because he slipped but because he was chased by a baboon. So I left that experience to Keith and Chris (not calling you guys morons) and photographed them from the other side.

It would be easy to spend a day there; you can walk parallel to the falls, across a bridge, ducking into numerous viewing points that are fenced off, or you can walk to the bottom of the falls or even get yourself a day visa and head across to the Zimbabwean side. There is a restaurant that offers high tea and great views of the falls or of course you can walk to the falls side and stand on the edge yourself. There is even a place called the devils pool, a small part of the river right on the edge of the falls where you can jump in and not be swept over….providing the water is not too high.

The AIF motley crew!

Posted: 13/09/2011 in Africa

Let me tell you a little about my traveling companions. It’s been 4 weeks on the road living in each others pockets and pretty much doing everything together. At the same time theres little opportunity to get your own space given that in many towns its not safe to walk around on your own and campsites are not that big. Despite that we’re doing ok and are still getting along (although first thing in the morning is another issue for me…). We’re pretty lucky actually that it’s such a small group because we basically get an entire row of four seats to ourselves so our “me time” is often on the road. Initially I was a little in need of some girl company given that I’m traveling with 5 blokes but I’ve actually gotten used to it. Its nice not to have to worry about all the bitchiness, gossip, preening and carry on that can sometimes happen with a lot of girls traveling together. From time to time we come across other overland trucks and some are filled with girls. Whenever you go to the loo they are all in there slapping on the makeup and perfume (which malaria filled mosquitos love!!) because thats what you want to do before a safari drive. Yep those lions love makeup, gotta impress them somehow! Mind you on our last night we went on a sunset cruise and I did a little bit of preening but it had been 4 weeks of no makeup so why not? Anyway the boys have been great and I’ll miss them when they go tomorrow but shh don’t tell them that. So the boys…

Will
Will is our 31-year-old South African driver extraordinare, which you have to be on a truck that towers above everything else, sharing a road with crazy drivers and wildlife on a surface that can often be described as tooth extracting, spine breaking, neck jolting and downright dangerous. I reckon there is something wrong with him because I have never seen him flustered or worried. He’s like a giant chill pill. Even after driving for 12 hours and being stuck in horrendous traffic or having to change a massive tyre, we’ll arrive at our campsite and he’ll be as happy as he was in the morning. And the morning is a whole other thing, he’s annoyingly happy which does not mix well with a morning grump like me. Work wise he’s professional and gets the job done and even in stressful situations I feel relaxed because his attitude puts me at ease. Nothing is too hard for him and he is happy to accommodate in whatever way to make our trip more enjoyable. Will is one of the most easy going and relaxed guides I’ve come across and he surprises me too; he’s a little whacky but in a fun, not-quite-grown-up-yet kind of way and yet at the same time he’ll suddenly come out with some intriguing and poignant statement. He’s a mixed bag with a lot of layers and I reckon it would take a while to get to know him well.

James
James is the Africa-in-focus photography guide, 32 and South African as well. He is a professional wildlife photographer with an enviable talent and an amazing portfolio. James is passionate about wildlife and the environment and his knowledge is phenomenal to the extent that I’ll hear an animal or bird noise and look to see where it’s coming from and it’s James! Or we’ll be driving somewhere and he points to a bird at least 5km away (seems like) and say “oh wow theres a purple crested blah blah bird” and I’m there trying to find the bird only to see some random dot on the the horizon and wonder how on earth he can see it let alone identify it. He must have some kind of telescopic eyes! Of course he also goes by the call the bird makes but at 5km away (again, seems like) he must have sonic ears too! Anyway James is really easy to get along, he’s a bit like a brother, he calls me names, I punch him, he leaves bags behind and I pick them up and take them to him. His nemesis is food; we’re not long on the truck before I hear “I’m hungry” and there’s James hunting for fruit or biscuits. As a photographer sometimes his brain thinks a little differently to the normal person. We see a hippo and keep a safe distance, he sees one a follows it to get that great shot. We see a difficult to get to tiny grassy knoll jutting out from the cliff of victoria falls with an 125 metre drop and stay safely behind the fence, he sees a great photo opportunity of him standing on the tiny knoll! Besides all that he’s been a good photography teacher and a patient one at that. I suppose one has to be when constantly having to remind people of the same things again and again (use your flash melinda)!

Ebron
Ebron is 39, born in South Africa and raised in Zimbabwe with a Zulu mother and a Sutu father, and yes he speaks Zulu – I’m trying to learn click click! He is a qualified chef who specialises in pastries…mmmm pastries. I thought I might loose a little weight in Africa eating camp food but unfortunately Ebron can turn the blandest ingredients into a grand meal. He’s up before the rest of us preparing breakfast before we head out for the day and his dinner routine will vary from 2-4 hours depending on whether we have charchole, gas or wood and what he’s cooking. Sometimes we have a cooked brunch after a game drive and we’re full for a week! We have not gone hungry. At first he seems like a quiet guy until you get to know him, then its hard to shut him up. He knows a lot about a lot and will give his opinion on anything you ask for. And he won’t put up with crap from anyone, I don’t think I’d want to get on his bad side. He seems to know people in every country and town we visit and even if he doesn’t know them he soon will. Plus he can speak a little of all the local languages. Ebron is annoyingly sneaky with his camera getting candid shots of us that he threatens to put on Facebook. His nemesis is definitely his mobile phones. We were out for the night in the Okavango delta and he forgot his phones, well you may as well have amputated a limb!

Keith
Keith is a 50ish guy, born in wales, raised in Kenya and now living in Dubai. Although a little type A (and I can say that because I am too….he’s just more than A than me), he is easy enough to get along with has a vast knowledge about EVERYTHING! And he has done it all, seen it all and been everywhere. You’ll be talking about some random thing and he’ll know all there is to know about it. He has been on many safaris and has a vast knowledge of bird life so it has been a real educational experience for me. I think he’s in love with Dubai because he is always talking about how dubai has the best of this, the most dangerous of that, the longest of something else and so on. I kind of feel like I need to move there. And he looooooooves his beer, I don’t think there was a night that went by where he was beerless. He, Will and Chris spent many an evening solving the problems of the world (or of Will’s love life). Actually I think they spent a lot of time bird watching and I don’t mean of the winged kind!

Chris
Chris is the youngest of the group, our 25-year-old love lorn dutchy. He has a psychology degree and has also done a lot of travelling, his latest venture being 5 months in Ghana doing project director work. He has some amazing and funny stories to tell about his experiences there. His girlfriend of 5 years is studying tropical medicine but it’s been 6 months since he’s seen her and consequently he talks about her a lot. Actually it’s a competition between how much he talks about Ghana and how much he talks about his girlfriend. We were in doubt for a while that she existed because it was always “my girlfriend this” and “my girlfriend that”. We finally found out she actually has a name, Anne. Easy going guy with a love of life and more travelling still to do. We got along well and somehow ended up with a collection of crazy Chris and Melinda photos. It wasn’t planned but towards the end of the trip when we were going through all the photo we noticed a whole lot of weird ones of us. I’ve been teaching him Aussie slang too. He can’t wait for the opportunity to say “not happy Jan”!

Ludmila

Lou joined us for the second half of the trip, yay a girl! She’s a 34 year old lawyer from Slovakia. In the getting to know you kind of way we were talking about our jobs. It sounded like the start of a joke … an ED nurse, a psychologist, a lawyer, a photographer and a chef went on a trip… She’s at the start of a 6 month around the world trip (I’m so jealous!!!).
I’ve only been travelling with Lou for a week so I don’t know her well but we get along great and she’s got an appealing dry sense of humour. I think we’ll be just fine.

A beach journey in Malawi.

Posted: 22/08/2011 in Africa
Tanzanian Highlands
Lake Malawi

Our last few days in Tanzania were spent driving through the highlands and what a picturesque landscape it is. I had always imagined Africa to be fairly similar from north to south but I’m astounded at how often it changes. We spend a night in the baobab valley surrounded by all those trees that look like they belong in a Dr Suess book; fat, gnarly and ancient. It makes for some great fun night time photography as we learn how to paint a tree with light using torches and a very slow shutter speed. Our host is a rather unusual drunk south african born Australian who thinks it’s “savage” to ruin a good nights drinking by paying the bill as you go rather than in the morning. The boys are not sure why but ok whatever! Our next night is spent at a farm surrounded by hundreds of gum trees. There are a lot of eucalypts in Africa, sometimes I could be at home. It was here I had my hilarious in hindsight broken shower experience as described in one of my earlier blogs.

The next day we head into Malawi and on the way we stop at a clothing market. I misheard Will and thought he was giving us a chance to buy some really cheap brand name second hand clothes. When I get back to the truck he is carrying a Santa negligee, James is carrying a black sparkly dress and I have nothing. James proudly shows me his dress which confuses and concerns me (is there something about our photographer that I don’t know?!). I have to ask and it turns out that we were supposed to buy a weird outfit for Keith and James’ birthday, I don’t know whether to be relieved or frightened! Ahhh so this is what Will meant when he was talking about guys with garbage bags full of clothes. I had thought he meant they had good deals and yet they were showing me weird, funky, scary, sparkly outfits so I ignored them and just figured Will had bad taste. It turns out that most overland trucks go in there and buys clothes from these guys for parties. Anyway I managed to run out and find my own scary outfit!

Eventually we got to lake Malawi where we were to spend five nights at 2 campsites. It was a totally amazing experience getting my first glimpse of this massive body of water. It looks exactly like port Phillip bay and yet it is actually a lake, a really huge lake. Our camp sites on the lake were an improvement on what we were used to. Warm showers (most of the time), electricity (most of the time), hang on, I’m not sure I see the difference! Ok there was the beach (lake, but come on it looked like the beach – sand, waves, even a little island), a bar, hammocks, internet and loads of activities including fresh water diving. Walking along the beach was another adventure on how not to be harassed by locals trying to sell you stuff or ask you, yes ASK YOU, to take their photo and then request money for it. I understand why they do it, especially in malawi, one of the poorest nations in africa but after a while it just gets annoying. I just want to go for a walk in peace and quiet. While walking we saw a couple of local farmers tending to their cows on the beach, it was an unreal photo opportunity but the local boys that were harassing me were going on about not taking photos of the local fishing boats without paying the fishermen. Of course I’m standing next to the fishing boat, not behind it and was trying to explain how I was not taking a photo of the boat, which I think was kind of obvious but anyway, he kept going on. Meanwhile cow men are getting further away. Grrr! In the end I got a decent shot.

We celebrated Keith and James’ birthday in style with a table set up on the beach, surrounded by the African version of outdoor lighting – candles in paper bags. I think in Australia we would call that a fire hazard rather than lighting but it worked. We had a beautiful curry and the most delicious chocolate cake cooked by the amazing Ebron. While relaxing around the fire (not the ones in the paper bag) we were joined by people from gap adventures tour that we had met at a few stops along the way. Although I’ve come to enjoy the company of my 5 boys it was nice to meet some other people. What a great night we had.