Safari Styles

This post was transferred from my old blog. See the original post (with comments) at:

http://thoughtsfrommalawi.blogspot.com/2009/08/safari-styles.html

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Hey Everyone,

Sorry for the long delay between real blog posts. A lull in my motivation happened to coincide with a spike in my work-load, which has made it a bit challenging to get anything written in the last while.

Anyways though, I think it’s about time to put up some pictures from my first every safari. After a net time in Africa of about 6.5 months (counting my JF placement in Zambia in ‘07), in mid June I finally bit the bullet and went to see some animals. The story leading up to it is probably worth telling too though.

With the weekend approaching we knew we wanted to go somewhere, but were debating exactly where to go. Liwonde National Park, a small but popular place, close to Blantyre, was high on the list. Still, I think we needed something to kick us into high gear, blast away the Thyolo-induced inertia, and really make sure we were on a bus by Saturday morning.

Luckily, that something came a day early. For all of Thursday, my nose had been a bit swollen. It was annoying, and painful if I pressed on it (which, being human, I obviously did about every 5 minutes) but no big deal. However, I woke up Friday morning and, first thing, realized I could barely open my right eye. My photo-in-lieu-of-mirror indicated that my eye was, indeed, super swollen.

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Self-portrait eye examination to start the day. My facial expression is probably trying to convey the following message: “I’m tired, I just woke up, why the f’ is my eye so swollen.”

As the day went on, the eye didn’t get any better. In the afternoon I took off from work to go to the Thyolo District Hospital, but found a crazy long line-up of people waiting for admission to an office that didn’t have anyone in it. Someone told me they’d all been waiting since morning. Not feeling like joining this mess, I decided that since we do have pretty rock-star health insurance through EWB, a trip to the private clinic in Blantyre was probably in order.

Long story short, at the private clinic the doctor said it didn’t look like an infection, and it was probably a bite. He “prescribed” some over the counter anti-inflammatories, and said to come back in a few days if the swelling hadn’t gone down.

Over the course of the weekend the swelling did come down – by pouring out my nose in a slow, clear, runny mess. It was a nice experience. Further inspection also revealed a small bit mark under the eye, close to my nose. There are few things as heartwarming as the thought of swelling-inducing bugs biting your face while you’re asleep…

SDC14032 Another self-portrait-in-lieu-of-mirror later that night. You can see that the general facial swelling had come down, better highlighting the localized eye swelling. Nice.

Ok, so, the good news in all of this was that the private clinic trip got us halfway to Liwonde National Park. We weren’t out of the woods yet though.

The next morning we took off around 8:30, hoping to get to Liwonde early. However, the minibus we found wasn’t filling up fast. Luckily, it compensated for this with ridiculousness.

In Malawi, busses don’t leave until they’re full. Everyone knows they don’t leave until they’re full. However, sometimes they still feel the need to rev their engines, honk their horns, pull in and out of the parking space – basically trying to do anything they can to trick their foolish passengers into thinking they’re about to leave, so they don’t hop on another bus.

Our bus was even more ridiculous. Its battery was too weak to be able to rev the engine at will, so they had a team of people push-starting the bus out of the parking space, only so it could drive 20 feet, stop, honk the horn, and then back up to where it started. This happened a few times, and each time the bus had a little more trouble starting than the time before. We began to wonder whether the bus could actually make it to Liwonde.

Shortly after the bus finally left, our suspicions were confirmed. The bus didn’t make it more than 1 km before breaking down on the side of the road, still well within Blantyre. True to form though, they didn’t let us off right away (which would mean losing the potential income from our fares). Instead, the conductor barred the door, while they tried to fix it.

Finally, we got frustrated, and bailed off the bus. We immediately managed to flag down another one, hoping to get to Liwonde before it was too late. Unfortunately our first conductor thought this was a breach of mini-bus ethics, and started yelling at the driver of our new bus. The driver wasn’t very impressed, and started driving away, at which point our conductor hopped on to the bus too, to better continue his yelling. When yelling was no longer enough, he then decided to start punching the driver of our bus in the face. Our driver responded by aiming wild punches back at the conductor – all while continuing to drive down the busy streets of Blantyre. So, here we were, sitting in the back of a bus being driven through the downtown of a large city, while our driver is actively engaged in a fist fight. Just another day in Malawi…

Long story short, after waiting for our new bus to load, and a few more random delays, we eventually made it to the city of Liwonde, probably around 2:30. It was at this point that we realized we’d made a few mistakes – we didn’t have a guidebook, we didn’t know the names of any of the places to stay in the park, we didn’t have a way to get transport to the park, and we didn’t have any money. Travel planning at its best.

The money bit, luckily, was easy. There turned out to be a bank in Liwonde, and we just had to walk for about 25 minutes to get there. No big deal.

As for the rest…what are friends for. I phoned up Alynne and Garrett, two EWB volunteers, who interrupted their lunch, busted out a laptop, fired up the Lonely Planet pdf for Southern Africa, and got us the name of a lodge – Chinguni Hills – that caters to the backpacker crowd. I called Chinguni and they said that their car was in Liwonde, and so if we could meet it, they’d drive us in for free. We got there just in time for the 4:00pm sunset safari drive. Luck, thy name is Liwonde.

Liwonde park was really awesome, and Chinguni Hills was beautiful. Before we even got to the lodge, we’d already seen a herd of elephants. We did the sunset safari drive, saw a bunch more animals, and then woke up the next morning for a canoe safari on the Shire River before booking it back to Thyolo. In between, we were served wicked meals in a fun communal dining room with all the other guests. Good stuff – highly recommended to anyone.

Anyways, writing about the trip to our safari was fun, but writing about the safari itself is probably unnecessary. I’ll let the pictures (and captions) do the talking. Apologies for my cheap camera and lack of skills. Either way though, enjoy.

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Elephants on our drive in, totally debunking my suspicion that Malawi doesn’t have African-style animals.

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They didn’t call it a “sunset drive” for nothing.

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The rare Hiphopopotomus.

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Multiple hippos. Chillin'

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Hippo out on land. Apparently we were lucky to see them out this early. Usually they hide until night.

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Dorms at Chinguni. $15/night isn’t too bad when you’re in a park. I think most lodges charge in the hundreds.

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Beth looking like a total safari dork on the river trip, along with our guide in the background. (They gave us the hats and binos). Stay tuned next week for a picture of Beth looking angry because she found out that I put her safari dork photo on the internet.

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Shoreline elephants plus beautiful scenery.

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Hippopotami in the water. (Can’t believe I spelled that right. First try.)

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Illegal fishermen and hippos – something for everyone.

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Giant-Ask Termite Mound. (I kept thinking how much it would suck if you were skydiving and accidentally landed in one of these).

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Awwwwwwwwwwww.

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Baboon or monkey or something, playing it cool behind Chiguni Lodge.

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Dining room at Chinguni. Pretty nice communal meal scene.

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Relaxin’ room at Chinguni. Also pretty chill.

Ok, just a quick note that I left out. On the first night, when we were walking from the dining room to the dorms (about a 5 minute walk), buddy we were walking with came like 1 foot from stepping on a giant snake. He freaked out and yelled, and then we shone the lights, and just see this giant snake, all coiled up and hissing and stuff. Luckily Liwonde’s only about a 15 minute drive from a hospital, so he’d probably have been fine. Might have lost the leg though…

Anyways, awesome time, fun safari. It kind of felt like a commando operation: in one afternoon, out the next. Good fun though, and I’m glad I’ve finally seen some animals.

For anyone who’s curious, the dorms cost $15/night, dinner cost another $15, breakfast cost like $8 or something, and each safari trip cost $25. So, all told, it ran about $88 for an overnight, meals, a safari drive, and a boat trip. So this kind of thing is definitely (occasionally) affordable on the backpacker budget, if anyone’s thinking of coming down here.

Still catchin’ up on posts and stories. I’ll have more later.

Owen

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