Friday, 28 February 2014

100 Happy Days

A friend of mine has been participating in the 100 Happy Days challenge where you submit a picture every day that makes you happy. As of tomorrow I will be starting my own 100 Happy Days on Instagram. You can follow me @filawless. Why am I doing this? Well as the website says "We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it, isthe base for the bridge towards long term happiness of any human being." I want to start looking at the little things everyday that make me happy. As a general rule I have much to be happy and thankful for and I hope that by doing this challenge it will remind me how good my life is and that even on a bad day there can be a glimmer of hope that shines through and makes the day all the better. 

So why not join me? Can you be happy for 100 days?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lion Alert Livingstone

Having heard about this charity from a friend and having read on their offer to "Walk with the Kings", it was something that was on my radar while in Livingstone. I am normally a little skeptical about these type of animal "encounters" as sometimes the animals are being mistreated or exploited for the tourist's benefit. However having read through the Lion Alert website and having talked to people who have visited I decided to go and see (and potentially get some REALLY cool pictures). And so I booked the encounter with my hostel and was picked up the following afternoon at 2pm.

Lion Alert's main aim is to replenish the lion population in Africa. Our guide was more than willing to answer any questions we had and we watched an informational video before our walk. The lion population in Africa is in decline, for example it is believed that there are around 25 lions in Malawi while parts of Zambia are believed to only contain 50 lions. Read more about the threats to lions on the Lion Alert threat page but as with most animals that are under threat it is normally interaction with humans (both direct, from humas killing lions that have attacked livestock, and indirect, from a loss of their living environment as the human population of an area expands) that is the main problem.

Lion Alert's aim is to replenish the lion population throughout Africa. How they hope to achieve this is by breeding lions and releasing them into national parks around Africa. In the Livingstone branch they are 4 years into their programme. The programme consists of 3 steps. Firstly the bought 2 lions from South Africa which had been raised in captivity and used them for breeding. The idea is that the cubs from these 2 original lions are the ones that you can walk with. They are brought out every morning and evening and during the day are kept in a large enclosure. Once they reach approx 18 months they can no longer be brought out walking and they are released into a 500 acre area where they form their own prides and have cubs themselves. These bubs will have no human interaction and will effectively be wild animals and these are the animals that will be used to repopulate parks around Africa.

The experience was definitely not something I will forget easily and it is reassuring that the money spent will go back to preserving these beautiful animals. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Mosi-Ou-Tunya "The Smoke That Thunders"

Anyone who knows me well knows my love of water. Whether it is swimming in it, diving to it's depths or simply sitting beside it listening to the sounds of water trickling or crashing over rocks. As such it is no surprise that I LOVE waterfalls. I think they are wonderful. Having visited Iguazu Falls on my first backpacking trip, I was eager to see, and hear, the smoke that thunders.

For those of you who don't know Victoria Falls are on the Zambian-Zimbabwean border and is fed by the Zambezi river. On the Zambian side is the town of Livingstone and on the Zimbabwean side the town is aptly named Victoria Falls. The falls were named by Sir David Livingstone who is said to have been the first European to set eyes on the falls and named them for the Queen at the time- Victoria. The indigenous name is Mosi-Ou-Tunya meaning the Smoke that Thunders. Visiting during the dry or the wet season offer completely different views and experiences. I was lucky enough to visit in the shoulder season so while the rains had started (and were uncharacteristically heavy according to some locals) I was still able to see that falls. During the rainy season they are said to be cloaked in spray and that it is difficult to even see them through the dense spray. 

I took a nice 9 hour bus ride from Lusaka (air-con = a nice change from Malawian buses) and based myself at Jollyboys Backpackers right in the centre of Livingstone. I was lucky in that 2 friends I had met in Malawi at Butterfly were there also. I set up my tent, in what I considered a prime position (in the shade) and settled into read the various activities I could partake in from throwing myself off a bridge to walking along the top of the falls and sunset booze cruises on the Zambezi. Livingstone offers it all. The choice was overwhelming so when Heather and Lindsey suggested a trip to the Royal Livingstone hotel for a sundowner. 

The Royal Livingstone is the type of place I could only ever afford to stay in if I won the lotto. However as the hotel nearest the edge of the falls, it offers an amazing view as the sun sets behind the spray of the falls. It is well worth splashing out on a cool glass of white wine and sitting with some new friends while watching the sky and water turn from pink to orange as the sun sinks towards the falls edge. We all fell silent as the view captured us. Plus the hotel has zebra and giraffe that roam the grounds as it is technically in Mosi Ou Tunya National Park.
Even zebras get to enjoy 5 star hotels

After my first glimpse of the spray, I could not wait to see the falls close up and I decided to splash out on a trip to Livingstone Island. Unfortunately Devils Pools were closed early this year due to the unseasonably high rainfall in December, however Angels Pools was opened which was still no more than 5m from the edge of the falls. After a 5min speedboat ride from the Royal Livingstone, we reached Livingstone Island which is protected as a World Heritage Site. After a mini tour of the island and a glimpse over the edge of the falls it was time to strip down and swim at the top of the world's widest falls. A swim, a mini massage from a rapid and a photo shoot later and it was breakfast time. We were treated to delightful Eggs Benedict while being able to hear the roar of the falls before boarding our speedboat back to the main land.

After managing to blag a ride on the free hotel shuttle (they thought I was a guest!) I arrived at the National Park Gates, dodged the curio sellers with a "I'll look when I come out" and set off to spend some quality time with some waterfalls. I came up against one major disadvantage to making the trip to Livingstone Island on the morning that I was going to visit the falls: I missed the hostel shuttle which means I missed having a group of people who could take my picture. Now, I have absolutely no problem in wandering around in my own company, often I quite like it, being left to my own thoughts and doing things in my own time but often it results in quite awkward 'selfie' shots as I try to get both me AND the attraction in at the same time.
Case in point- awkward selfie
But I digress, back to my trip to the falls. As I rode the hotel shuttle (a golf caddy), I could hear the sound of the falls, It truly was thunderous and it made me wonder how loud it would be in a month when it is in full swing. It is no wonder the Tonga of Zambia named it the Smoke that Thunders. Now some people think a waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall and if you have seen one you have seen them all. That is NOT my view (see first paragraph). I was awestruck. Seeing the line of cataracts rushing towards the base of the falls, catching a glimpse of the elusive double rainbow, feeling the spray on your face (and on your body and inside your clothes at some points) this was different. From standing at the top of the falls that morning to seeing the extent of this natural wonder was something I will not forget easily. 

There are trails leading you in front of the falls towards the knife point bridge (where you will get SOAKED) and towards the rather nerve-racking Danger Point. Here you are about half way along the width of the falls and are coming towards the end of the Zambian side of the falls.
After crossing knife point bridge and getting soaked

Double rainbow

Standing at Danger Point

 Then there is the "Photography Trail" that gives you a more panoramic view of the falls. You really get a sense of the green surroundings and the falls as a natural wonder (as opposed to trying not to get soaked to the skin while closer to the falls).

The trek downhill to the Boiling pot is full of baboons so be sure to hide any food that you may have. Apparently these crafty monkeys have learnt to recognise Shoprite bags and realise that it means food. Be warned that if you take this trail at 1pm (like I did) that it is HOT. You pass through some shade but a lot of the time you are in the open sun. It is all worth in when you arrive at the end of the trail and see the swirling water that only moments before was crashing over the lip of the falls. I was extremely lucky and had the area to myself for the most part. I spent a glorious 30mins just contemplating life and watching some crazy people throw themselves off the Victoria Falls bridge. As I said before the sound of water soothes me and I could have spent hours sitting listening to the gurgling water, maybe reading a book and have been completely content in my own little world. As I scrambled over rocks in an attempt to be able to see the Boiling Pot and the falls simultaneously, I marveled at how this natural phenomenon can attract thousands of visitors every year. How that when you talk about Zambia, people instantly think of Victoria Falls and I was fortunate enough to be here, enjoying it. 

Finally there is the Upstream trail which I just noticed as I was about to exit. Not one to leave a trial unexplored, I headed off up stream where the path took me close to the lip of the falls. From the boiling point at the bottom to the upstream trail, I had walked all of Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Often said to be one of the best safari experiences in Africa,South Luangwa was high on my list of places to visit. It is also quite easy to get to as an independant traveller and as a result can be done on a relatively tight budget. It's relative closeness to the Malawi border makes it a popular choice for weekend trips from Lilongwe and this is evident by the amount of Lilongwe based safari companies who offer trips here.

I am happy to say that South Luangwa did not disappoint.

I left Lilongwe on a mini bus to the border (Michinji) and from there I took a taxi to Chipata. There is now a regular time tabled bus that goes from Chipata to Mufwe at 2:00pm making it much easier to visit independently. The bus even dropped me to my camp, Croc Valley Campsite, which is located just outside the park gates and right on the Luangwa river. This means the sounds of hippos lulled me to sleep every night. I set up my tent and decided to explore options for game drives. Croc valley run game drives twice a day, at 6am and 4pm. A morning game drive is prime time to see noctornal predators such as leopards and lions after they have been hunting and before it gets too hot for them. The evening game drive continues once the sun goes down, with a huge torch, to see a different perspective of life in the wild. There are also the options of game walks during dry season.

The morning after I arrived there were people scheduled to go on a game drive and I decided to join in. Before even entering the park, we could spot elephants just outside the campsite. After entering the park and paying the park fee, we happened on a herd of zebra (my favourite animal) complete with a baby zebra. Turning the corner we encountered a group of giraffes having a morning drink. About 5 minutes drive away we came across a leopard just chilling on a tree watching some kudu (no doubt contemplating breakfast). As with most encounters, the pictures are worth a thousand words. The night drive was something I had not done before and it was interesting to see hippos out of the water (man but they are HUGE). One of my favourite things was that, for the majority of the time, our car was alone. In comparison to the safari I did in the Serengeti this time last year, where sometimes there can be 30 cars crowded around one lion or leopard, it was amazing, a real sense of adventure and you feel closer to the animals.

"You are between me and my breakfast"

Zebra bum

This is a photo without using any zoom. The elephant was less than 5m from the car!

I was there during the rainy season (or the green season) which had both pros and cons. Pros included a quiet campsite, less vehicles while doing game drives and discounted accommodation. Cons include, higher grass which means more difficult to spot wildlife and of course the rain.

Would I recommend South Luangwa? Definitely, it really deserves it's reputation as one of the premiere parks in Africa with the added benefit of being one of the cheapest.

Minibus Lilongwe to border: MK2,000
Taxi from border to Chipata: ZK 70 (normally 20 in a shared taxi but I was rushing to catch a bus)
Bus from Chipata to Mufwe: ZK 70
Game Drive at Croc Valley: First drive ZK208 Second drive ZK182
Park entry fee to South Luangwa ZK182
Camping at Croc Valley: ZK57

*NOTE* Croc Valley add 16% tax and 10# service charge on top of these quoted prices