Diving the Rainbow River

May 27, 2013

When I turned 16, the first two things I did were get my driver’s license and my scuba diving certification. Years of Jacques Cousteau as a child (I was even a member of the Cousteau society at one point) had me thinking that I might want to be a marine biologist.  That passed, but the desire to dive and explore remained.  In the many years since, I have dived (dove?) in British Columbia, Hawaii, and Thailand but always with years passing in between outings.

I wanted to take a scuba refresher class with hopes of doing some diving down in the Florida Keys.  The manager at the American Pro Dive shop in Crystal River asked Diane if she would like to try diving.  At first she said no, but apparently she enjoyed snorkeling with the manatee enough to consider it.  After a retreat to the RV for lunch to consider it, she returned to the shop the same afternoon.  We made arrangements to do a combined class, a refresher for me, and Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) for Diane.  Win-win.

Diane at the counter in the dive shop

Diane signing up

We arrived at the dive shop just after lunch the following day.  Our very young instructor Rich wore a beanie but was very professional.  After getting geared up, Diane watched a short video while I tried to figure out the cheap underwater camera that I’d purchased to record the event.  We also met our captain Zac who ate his lunch while the video played.

Diane standing on 1 foot putting on a wetsuit in a room full of wetsuits and diving gear

Diane getting geared up

We both took the short Discover Scuba Diving quiz.  I kept thinking that since I was doing a refresher course, that I should have received something more or different, and a record for my log book (which I don’t have with me anyway), but I basically did the same as Diane.

Driving the Dream Machine, we followed them and our dive boat about 20 miles to K.P. Hole Park in nearby Dunnellon.  The park charges $5 admission per person which is common in American state and some county parks.

A pontoon boat with cover being pulled by a white pickup truck

Chasing our dive boat

The very clean Rainbow River is fed only by underground springs.  It is very popular with kayakers and inner tubers, who float down the river enjoying the water, the wildlife, and the sunshine.  The county helps to keep it clean by banning disposable drink containers of any kind on the river (a $75 fine).

Diane sitting on a bench on the pontoon boat while the captain stands at the helm at the rear

Heading up river

We headed up river, enjoying the scenery, while Captain Zac gave us the safety lecture.  We put on our wet suits and got ready to go.  Diane was nervous.

Diane standing beside Rich in their wetsuits while Patrick completes putting his on

Getting ready

Zac anchored our boat near the river bank and took pictures while we were in the water.

Diane, Patrick, and instructor Rich standing in shallow water in full scuba gear

Class in session

Rich led us through the basic scuba drills starting from the beginning…

Diane and Patrick with faces in the water while instructor looks on

Breathing with only your face under water

Patrick, Diane, and instructor just below the surface of the water

Breathing while sitting on the bottom

We then progressed through other skills like using the buoyancy compensator, regulator remove and replace, mask clearing, and equalizing the pressure in one’s ears.  The pace was fine for me, but I thought rushed for Diane or anyone who hadn’t done this before.  Diane had to try the full mask clear twice and seemed a little apprehensive, but did well.

Diane, Patrick, and Rich posing for a photo just before heading downstream

Posing (Patrick on left, Diane on right)

After a quick photo op, we headed down river.  Rainbow River is a drift dive, where for the most part you can just let the current carry you along.  Very relaxing.  The river is shallow, varying from 3 to 23 feet deep, which is great for a beginner.  Plenty of opportunity to practice ascending and descending.

Sign with words "Shallow Area" with a bird sitting on top

Shallow

The river bottom is sandy and mostly covered in long grass, which bends gracefully downstream.  The visibility is amazing.  Crystal clear water allows you to see over 100 feet (30 meters).  There are lots of fish and turtles.

We drifted down 1 mile of beautiful river for about 40 minutes.  I took pictures of Diane to record the event.

Diane diving just above gras with a blue water background

Diane in the grass

Diane scuba diving and pinching her nose to equalize her ears, with only blue water in the background

Diane equalizing her ears

Diane with black wetsuit and yellow framed mask with a blue water background

Diane looking like a pro

Closeup of Diane's face wearing a scuba mask with bubbles

Diane — It’s time for my close-up Mr. DeMille

Diane asked to come up at one point, “just so I knew I could”.  Despite the wet suits, we both got a bit cold by the time we were ready to board the boat.

Diane, Patrick, and Rich floating on the surface just behind the pontton boat

Fun’s Over – Ready to board

Diane was happy.

Diane sitting on a bench on the pontoon boar wrapped in a multi-coloured towel

Diane smiling

Until she saw the alligators.  You see, there are almost no bodies of fresh water in Florida that don’t have alligators.  And snakes.  We passed 2 alligators on the way back, both about 4 feet long.

Alligator floating on the surface in the weeds

Let’s go swimming!

Alligator head among the weeds

Time for his close-up!

Diane said that if she had known about the alligators in advance, she wouldn’t have done it.  Perhaps that’s why Zac and Rich didn’t point them out until after her first scuba dive.

Oh, and I had a great time too.  Now I have visions of Diane and I scuba diving together in exotic, crocodile-free waters around the world.  Diane’s not so sure.

Patrick on the pontoon boat wearing black swim trunks

This guy needs a tan!

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City of Rocks

March 25, 2013

After a night camped beside the stables at the fairgrounds in Safford, Arizona we headed east into New Mexico.  We crossed a desert where yucca, straight out of Dr. Seuss, dot the roadside, and arrived at City of Rocks State Park in the afternoon.

Tall strange y-shaped plant with hairy body, green leafy top, and stalks sticking up into the air

Roadside Yucca

We really didn’t know what to expect, but were immediately impressed when we saw the rocks rising from the desert in the distance.

A desert with rocks in the distance

City of Rocks from a distance

The best thing about the park is that access to the rocks isn’t restricted in any way.

Diane posting on path with rocks rising behidn her

You can hike among them,

Car campers among the rocks

camp among them,

Patrick standing on high rock

and climb them.

The desert landscape is even more beautiful against a vertical backdrop.

Yucca plant on desert with rocks in the background

The rock that forms the City of Rocks was created 35 million years ago by the eruption of a nearby volcano.  Over the millennia erosion sculpted the rock into its present form.

City of Rocks is a small, unique state park, not more than a few square miles in size.  The dirt road around the rocks is a bit bumpy, but still accessible by motorhomes.  Most of the campsites are primitive, without any hookups, but there are some bathrooms.  Some of the spaces will accommodate even large motorhomes.

Large motorhome parked amonth the rocks with nearby bathrooms as viewed from across the desert

Large motohome among the rocks

We found a nice spot up against the rocks facing nothing but miles of open desert.

Our motorhome against a backdrop of rocks as viewed from acsross the desert

Our campsite

In the evening we attended a star party, where astronomers gave a guided talk about the crystal clear night sky of New Mexico.  They pointed out the visible planets, major stars, and constellations using a green laser, and we looked through 2 telescopes, including one which is permanently mounted in a small observatory in the park.

Like cloud gazing, looking at the rocks brings images to mind.  What do you see here?

A grey rock against a blue background that may resemble a face to some

What do you see here?


Taking it on the chin — Mountain Biking in McDowell Mountain Park

March 18, 2013

Our friends Kevin and Annette flew from Vancouver to Phoenix to visit for a few days.  They’re active people, so we planned 3 full days of mostly outdoor activities.  On Day 1 we hiked Pinnacle Peak, the ‘Grouse Grind’ of Scottsdale, though it’s not as challenging.

A rocky double peak with desert leading up to it and a dirt trail in the foreground

Pinnacle Peak viewed from the back side trail

That afternoon we enjoyed the Fountain Hills Festival of Arts and Crafts, a twice annual outdoor show, where we consumed a giant bag of kettle corn (OK, it was mostly Kevin and me).

On the morning of Day 2 we headed out to McDowell Mountain Regional Park, a popular place for mountain biking in the Phoenix Area.  With the addition of 2 borrowed mountain bikes (thanks!), we had enough for 4.  We had a few hours to ride and so we headed north on some trails that I had explored a few days earlier named Wagner, Granite, Bluff, a short section of Pemberton, and Rock Knob.

Everything was going great.  It was sunny and the temperature was perfect for cycling, a lot warmer than Vancouver!  The trails were good and the terrain moderate.

A desert landscape with small mountains in the background and a sign post intersection in the foreground

Great mountain bike trails!

We climbed gradually as we pedaled further and further away from the campground where we began our ride.

A trail in the desert with Diane riding her mountain bike on the left side and small rocky mountains in the background

Diane riding

We turned around at the park boundary, aware that we had to get back in time for our planned afternoon activity.

Patrick riding his mountain bike on a dirt trail with a large Saguaro cactus behind

Patrick cruising

The return trip was mostly downhill.  Easier and faster.  Aside from a small section as we crossed a little valley, it was not difficult.

Kiving riding his bike down a short dirt hill with desert in the background

Kevin coasting

Everyone was having a great time, stopping to pose for pictures along the way.

Kevin and Annette posing with their bikes

Annette and Kevin posing

Diane was having a good time too, enjoying her first mountain bike experience.

Diane stradding her bike and holding another

Diane smiling

Then, with less than a mile to go, things took a turn for the worst.  While making a left-hand, off camber turn, Diane drove off the trail.  Her front tire slide in the loose gravel and she fell forward and to the left.  Luckily she avoided serious injury to her hands and body by catching herself with her face.

Picture of Diane's face after her crash, bloody chin, lip, and nose

Diane bleeding

Diane was a great sport about the whole thing, despite the sand embedded in her chin and the blood running down her neck

Diane standing with blood on her face

Diane bleeding AND smiling

She was very concerned though about bleeding on her precious Blacka Chicken jersey.  She splashed some water on her face and cautiously rode back to the car where she changed and cleaned up a bit in the campground restroom.  Kevin had a large bandage in his backpack which she put over her chin.  Her top lip started to swell as we drove back to Scottsdale.

We arrived in Old Scottsdale just before game time.

Green Scottsdale stadium sign showing names of teams play

First game of the non season

We had tickets to see the ‘World Champion’ San Francisco Giants play the Los Angeles Angels in the opening game of the Cactus League, the series of baseball games that take place in Arizona during spring training.

Diane with a bandage on her chin and Annette talking to the park staff

Annette and a bandaged Diane entering the stadium

We had great seats about 10 rows back on the 1st baseline.

Wide shot of baseball stadium taken from 1/2 way down 1st base line

Take me out to the ball game

At the end of the 3rd inning, Diane and I went to the ball park’s first aid room.  They used distilled water to clean her wounds, but didn’t have a good replacement bandage.

First aid attendant cleaning wounds on Diane's face

Diane’s new dermatologist?

Instead they used a giant gauze pad and some white tape, creating a small Santa Claus beard.

Diane's new and not improved bandage

Diane’s new and not improved bandage

Remarkably unphased by the whole thing, Diane bought a hotdog afterward to take back to her seat.  Eating that hotdog with the ‘chin sling’ in place was quite a feat.

Kevin, Anette, and Diane with new chin bandage standing in the stadium bleachers

Still having a good time!

Except for the bike crash, it was another great day with our friends.  I was very impressed with how Diane handled with whole thing.  She even went out to a honky-tonk, greasy-spoon for dinner that evening!

Patrick, Diane, and Annette seated at a table with other tables and a country western band in the background

Still going sans bandage

———————

Thanks to Kevin and Annette for joining us, and to Kevin for allowing me to use some of his great photos in this post.


Whatever happens, don’t run

May 20, 2009

Our train ride took us to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the nearest city to Matabo National
Park, known to the locals as ‘Matopos’. This park is home to one of the best collections of San rock paintings, many of which are over 20,000 years old.


The San are better known as ‘bushmen’, the same ones found in the Kalahari Desert (which covers much of Botswana), and featured in the movie ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’. The San are a small-statured people, who traditionally lived in the brushy flat landscape that extends across all of Botswana. They are nomadic hunter-gathers who speak in a distinctive sounding language that utilizes lots of clicking sounds. The San have lived in this area for tens of thousands of years, and often dwelled among the many large bounders that litter the landscape. In many of these sites, they painted amazingly accurate pictures of animals and people, which have persisted to this day among the sheltered areas.

We came to Matabo to see the rock paintings, but we got more than we bargained for. Because the park is fifty kilometers outside of town and requires a 4×4 to get around, we made arrangements to go with a guide named Andy from Black Rhino Safaris. Andy is Zimbabwean, born and raised. His family lives in Zimbabwe, and they have survived the recent hardships that have devastated the country. Andy is a self-declared ‘professional hunter’. These days he is primarily a guide on photographic safaris, rather than hunting safaris, but he has killed at least one of almost everything there is to kill in Africa.

In addition to the rock paintings, the other reason that people come to Matabo National Park is to see the rhinos. Andy said that he could take us, ‘to see some rock paintings in the early morning, then once that was out of the way, we could go looking for rhino’. It sounded like a good combination to us, but we really hadn’t anticipated what was involved.

Just before noon, Andy stopped the vehicle, and called us out to look at the dirt road. He showed us where there were fresh rhino tracks. You could see the pattern from their skin imprinted into the soft sand. He told us that, ‘Several of them laid here during the night or early morning.’ At this point, he got his binoculars and rifle from the truck, and we set out on foot, hunting for rhino.

Andy was an impressive tracker, following sometimes imperceptible tracks on soft and hard ground, through the grass and the bush. He turned and twisted, gesturing with his arms as he followed the smallest of indicators. He showed us how to tell the difference between white rhino and black rhino tracks. He stopped to feel their dung and told us how old it was (based on how crusty and how warm). He could tell the age of a rhino track by assessing the overlapping tracks from other animals, and whether these other mammals, birds, and bugs were nocturnal or not. This guy was a real African bush man, right out of the old safari movies.

As we entered the brush, he stopped to whisper the only safety instructions, “Walk in single file, don’t talk, and whatever happens, don’t run.” That was it. Patrick wondered whether this should perhaps have been discussed previously, allowing time for a few questions. But Andy was hot on the track, so that was all we got.

After about twenty minutes, we heard a noise, and peering into the dense brush, Andy said that there were two white rhino in there. We saw only leaves and branches. Nothing resembling a rhino. He signaled us to wait while he went ahead to investigate. Before he left us, he whispered, “If things go really wrong, climb a tree”. Diane looked around, and noticed a severe lack trees that looked both climbable and rhino-proof. Patrick wondered how he was supposed to get to a tree without running.

From fifteen meters away, making signals like the Special Forces, Andy indicated that there were four rhinos, and that we should follow him. We circled around the rhinos, trying to find a vantage point where we could see them through the foliage. We found a spot with a good view of one rhino, about twenty meters away. The others were somewhere in the bush, and we kept looking around and behind us just in case. Presumably Andy knew where they were. Andy indicated that Patrick could step forward to take pictures of the visible rhino.


Here is the only rhino picture that turned out. In case you’re wondering, the rhino is facing the left, and its head is obscured by foliage. Although you can’t see it in this picture, Patrick was surprised at how long and sharp looking its horn was. Apparently the horns of rhinos in captivity get worn down, but in the wild they can be up to 4 feet long!

When Diane adjusted her stance to get a better view stepping on a twig in the process, the rhino snapped his (or perhaps her, we have no idea) head up to stare straight at us. After a few seconds, the rhino started to run directly towards us, accompanied by two others that appeared from nowhere.

We stepped back, and Andy started to yell. As the three rhinos closed in on us, his volume level increased. There was the slightest hint of desperation in his voice as he reached his crescendo. He also shouted to us, “Don’t Run!”, which was perfectly timed, as that was exactly what we wanted to do. Andy raised his rifle and removed the safety. Diane melted into bush beside us, trying to get very small. The rhinos were running at us full speed, and were within twenty five feet. At what seemed the last possible moment, they swerved around us to our left.

Afterwards, Andy asked if we were OK. He apologized and said, “That’s not what normally happens.” He also said, “Another two steps closer and I would have fired a warning shot.” Looking back, Patrick seriously doubts whether there was enough time to warn the rhinos, and still get off another shot with his bolt action rifle if they didn’t stop. Andy surmised that these white rhinos, which are typically more docile, felt trapped between us and a creek behind them (that he wasn’t aware of), and perhaps couldn’t see us clearly enough to know where we were and how many of us. Rhinos apparently have poor eyesight from straight on, with eyes located on the sides of their head and large, especially pointy looking horns blocking their forward vision. Andy then said, “I think this would be a good time to go for lunch. We can track some more rhino in the afternoon.”

We had lunch overlooking a hippo pond, surrounded by a troop of overly bold baboons. After a short drive, we again started walking to find rhinos. Diane was definitely torn. On the one hand, she hoped to see more rhino, but she was thoroughly afraid to do so. Perhaps we could find some well-behaved white rhino and view them from a distance?

Andy explained that we were heading into an area frequented by black rhino. They are smaller, faster, and much more aggressive than white rhinos. Andy said that if the rhinos that ran at us in the morning had been black rhinos, he would have needed to shoot. Apparently when black rhinos feel threatened, they charge first, and ask questions later. Actually, they don’t ask questions. Patrick wonders which of the three he would have shot, and whether the other two would have noticed before they impaled us.

We were walking up a dry creek bed. Andy said, “We’ll circle around through the rocks on the right. That’s where the rhinos often sleep”. Patrick was hoping that they slept there at night, and not during the afternoon, assuming that black rhinos would be even more aggressive when woken prematurely from their afternoon nap.

Andy stopped and said, “Can you smell them”? He then loaded another two gigantic bullets into his rifle, and said, “I always like to have a couple extra in the magazine when I’m going into black rhino territory”. Diane and Patrick looked at each other with raised eyebrows. We wove between the closely spaced rocks and trees, and Andy showed us the flattened places where the rhino rest. The terrain was gradually narrowing, and we dropped back down to the river bed. Later Andy told another guide that he was pretty sure the rhinos were there, but didn’t feel safe proceeding into such close quarters.

So we walked back to the vehicle and drove a short distance to an open area filled with eight foot high grass. Does grass even grow that high in Canada? We pushed through the grass following the path of least resistance, where other animals (presumably rhino) had passed before. Patrick was thinking of a joke:

Q. How do you find a rhino in the tall grass?
A. You know it when you feel it.

We didn’t find any rhino in the grass, but afterwards Andy said, “I hate walking in that tall grass. You never know what you’re going to find, until a rhino tears you a new anus”.

Unfortunately and fortunately we didn’t find any more rhinos in the afternoon. But we did have the most exhilarating day of art viewing we’ve ever had.


Things never work out quite the way we planned

May 20, 2009

We arrived in Zambia about a week ago, and spent the first five days in South Luangwa National Park. Like many of our stories, this one started off with a transportation challenge. South Luangwa is about 120 kilometers from the small town of Chipata, and there isn’t any regularly scheduled public transportation to the park. There is often one minibus that covers the rough dirt road per day, but it leaves when full, which can take many hours. Some friends from Holland boarded this minibus at 8 AM, and waited until 4 PM for it to depart! Hitchhiking is the preferred alternative, and the one utilized by most locals. In more remote areas of Zambia, hitchhiking is an accepted form of transport, with many routes having established rates. Unfortunately, you often end up riding in the back of a pickup or on a flatbed truck.

We left Chipata in the early AM and were waiting at the side of the start of the road to the park at about 8 AM. We got a ride three hours later, in the open back of a small truck. A number of local people shared the ride with us, including a woman, her mother, and her two- year-old child, sick with malaria and on the way to the hospital. The road was rough, and once again we were struck with the double flat tire and only one spare scenario, so we waited in the heat of the afternoon by the side of the road, battling the flies. The driver and another guy took both flat tires and started rolling them down the road, heading for the nearest village, which may or may not have had the facilities to repair the flats. The mother and sick child had no water, so they asked and we shared ours.

Vehicle traffic on this road is limited, and we flagged down every vehicle that passed. One was a USAid non-governmental organization (NGO) vehicle, that wasn’t allowed to take any passengers that were not employees. Another was a car with five young men, all drinking heavily, who insisted that we could both squeeze in. We passed. After two hours, a vehicle from Land and Lakes safari company came by, and we pleaded our case. Luckily, they had two empty seats, and one of the passengers was a young Canadian woman from Vernon, who saw the Canadian flags on our backpacks standing in the back of the pickup. They gave us a lift to the park, and we ended up staying at the riverside camp called ‘Croc Valley’ where some of them stayed. In fact, we ended up spending the next two days with them, going on daytime and nighttime game drives, and sharing early morning breakfast and mid-day brunches.

The park was terrific, and we saw a wide variety of wildlife from our open safari vehicle. The driver Godfrey was very good, and he did his best to manage our expectations while catering to our preferences. We had good luck, and saw everything we wanted to. I’m saving the pictures, so as not to spoil things for my friends who are coming to meet us for a safari in Tanzania in a few weeks. Here’s a picture of us on safari.

By staying an extra day in the park, we were able to catch a ride back to Chipata with the same group. Unfortunately we arrived too late to obtain onward transport to Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, so we headed back to the guest house run by the municipal government where we had stayed previously. The young woman from Vernon (Chloe) and her traveling companion from England (Mark) had only a few days left on their trip, and were pressed for time, so they caught a cab to the edge of town at about 3 PM to try to hitch a ride for the eight hour trip to Lusaka. We briefly considered joining them, but thought that hitchhiking with four people would be difficult. We met up with them two days later in another city, and they told us their tale.

They waited at the side of the road with a local man, and all three got a lift in the sleeper compartment (behind the driver and passenger) of a semi-tractor pulling dual gasoline tankers. Their ride was fine for the first two hours, until they stopped for food. After about 45 minutes, the driver and front seat passenger returned to the vehicle, and had been drinking. In addition, they brought a bucket of beer with them. By now it was getting dark, and they were in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere in Zambia. They decided to continue, but spoke to the driver, and asked him not to drink any more. He only had one or two more beers while driving, but the passenger was downing them rapidly, and had about eight or ten. This was OK because he wasn’t driving. About 11 PM, after a long day, Chloe and Mark nodded off. When they awoke, the passenger and driver had switched places! In what appears to be a case of seriously bad logic, they had switched places so that the previous driver could also drink (without driving). Amazingly, they arrived safely in Lusaka about 2 AM.

This was one ride that we were glad that we had the better judgment not to take!


Rest and Relaxation

May 3, 2009

After a challenging few days of getting here, we finally reached the country of Malawi. We arrived after thirteen hours of travel from Mbeya Tanzania, to a popular backpacker hangout called Nkhata Bay, on the western shore of beautiful Lake Malawi.

Our arrival just after dark was blemished by our vehicle being surrounded by touts in pursuit of a commission, who threatened our driver, and then ran ahead of our vehicle blocking the dirt road to ensure that they arrived at whichever hotel we were heading to before we did. We arrived at our chosen resort and got a shared room with the other Canadian couple (Terence and Natalie) that we’ve been traveling with recently. On the way to our cabin, we told the night manager why we didn’t think he should pay the touts in our case, and he obviously agreed with us, because a couple of them made a point of telling us so when we walked into the village the next morning.


Despite this, Nkhata Bay was lovely. Cabins on a hillside overlooking the water. A beautiful open air shower on the edge of the lake. The nicest outhouse (aka composting toilet) that I’ve ever seen, decorated with lovely potted plants. Great food, though very expensive by local standards, it was still cheaper than Vancouver, and the beer was still half the price of home. Fresh water snorkeling, with thousands of small colourful fish called ‘cichlids’.


Patrick went on a challenging hike, which included getting a bit lost in the jungle and steep scrambling to a summit, while Diane and two other women went to a pottery making and local cooking class in a village about 90 minutes walk away.

Patrick and his hiking companion, a recent PhD graduate from Holland, timed their hike so as to arrive just in time to enjoy the food the ladies had cooked. It included nsima (the local staple made from cassava flour, which Diane ground and sifted herself), cassava leaves that they had picked, yellow flower buds (perhaps from pumpkins), and usipa (small dried fish) that had been cooked in oil with a bit of tomato paste. The fish are eaten heads, bones, scales, and all. We didn’t eat very much by local standards, but we didn’t want to offend our hosts.


After three days, we left Nkhata Bay rested, and headed north to Nyika National Park. As usual, our transport was a challenge. Our fourty minute mini-bus ride took three hours, when a local man was removed from the bus by police for transporting little fish. He must have done something wrong, because everyone else on the bus was also transporting little fish. When we made it to the nearest town, we negotiated a taxi to take us to Chilimba Camp, about 180 kilometers away, two thirds of which is on gravel roads. We were looking for a 4×4, but were assured by the driver that he had done it many times in his car. We made it to the park gate, but had two flat tires simultaneously about ten kilometers further on. We changed one tire to the spare, and did a temporary patch on the other tire (which was leaking but still had some air) with crazy glue and some spare tent material. It was enough to get us back to the park gate, where we waited for a few hours until we got a ride (for the final sixty kilometers) in the back of a park ranger’s pickup truck, which we shared with a drunk park employee. Although the ride was cold, the sun was setting over Zambia, and the moon and stars came out in full glory.

Our objective in Nyika National Park was to hike across the Nyika Plateau, a three day trek from Chilimba Camp to Livingstonia. We had rented a tent, two foam sleeping pads, and two blankets from a guy in Nkhata Bay, because we have no camping gear with us. In the park, we arranged a ranger to guide us, and a porter to carry our food and extra gear. We didn’t have any cooking gear, but the guide and porter let us share their pots, and we borrowed some spoons from the camp.


The hike was terrific. The plateau we were walking across was a beautiful landscape. We saw some animals, but not as many as we’d hoped. The first day we camped on the high plateau, at about 7000 feet. The second day we started to descend and we spent the second night in a rural Malawian village, camped right in the center of the village green. We could get soda and beer there, but they had no electricity or refrigeration, so both were warm.

The last day we ascended to Livingstonia, a missionary post named after Dr. Livingstone. We spent the next two days relaxing to recover from our trek, except for a nine kilometer hike down the mountain to the beach, and then we were ready to move on to our next adventure.


Don’t Mess with the Mizungu

March 23, 2009

We stopped in the town of Nakuru the other day, on our drive to Lake Nakuru National Park. Norma and Wayne wanted to purchase some roadside reflectors, a first aid kit, and a flashlight, as these are required items in a private automobile in Kenya. The fine for not having them is apparently 5000 Kenyan Shillings (KSh), at least that is what the handsome, young, smiling policeman told them, before he extracted a bribe of 3000 KSh (about $50 Canadian) to avoid an all day court appearance. This was the policeman’s lucky day, as Wayne, who isn’t a Kenyan resident, was driving. An International Driving Permit is a giveaway that the white guy (‘mizungu’ in Swahili) is a tourist, and therefore eligible for the maximum fleecing. We went through five police checks on the way out of Nairobi, each enforced with spike belts laid across the highway, but luckily only got stopped at one. The police use these to augment their salaries.

Upon our arrival in Nukuru, Wayne went to the store, Norma stayed to watch the car, and we walked down the main street to find a bank machine. We were walking side-by-side on the busy sidewalk, when a young man coming from the opposite direction collided briefly with Patrick. Patrick felt the telltale pressure on his shirt pocket, and reacted immediately.

He let out a loud yell, spun around, and set out after the man who was running. He didn’t get far. Patrick grabbed him at the corner, spun him around, and threw him up against a wall. The man raised both hands into the air, feigning innocence. Holding him with one hand, only then did Patrick check to see if anything was missing from his pockets. The only thing in his shirt pocket, which was unbuttoned but shouldn’t have been, was the only thing that should have been there, a pair of glasses. He also checked the pockets of his shorts, and nothing seemed to be amiss.

A quick decision was required — what to do with the man? He had clearly tried to steal by pick pocketing, but he wasn’t successful, so there was no evidence to speak of. Holding him for the police seemed fruitless. Patrick briefly considered public embarrassment – dragging him out into the street to let the growing crowd know exactly what he had done. He decided against this though, which was wise, because vigilante justice is not uncommon in Kenya, and there was a small but real possibility that the crowd might take his punishment into their own hands right then and there. In the end, he pushed the man away, and returned to Diane, who was shaken up and still standing on the sidewalk.

Afterwards, Diane told Patrick that there was a second man also, who walked up from behind to split the two of us apart and leaned into Patrick to make it difficult for him to avoid the front man, and perhaps to try for his back or side pockets simultaneously. He had run away in the other direction from Patrick and the first guy, leaving Diane standing startled on the busy sidewalk. Luckily, everything turned out in the end, and we continued on to the bank machine with hearts racing.