Trip with Justin’s class

December 3, 2013 1 comment

  The world’s largest mammal migration occurs in November and December in Kasanka National Park in Zambia.  Fruit bats from central Africa descend upon Zambia at the beginning of rainy season.  I had wanted to go to Kasanka but it is far away and never had the opportunity.  However, the grade 5 classes from ISL visit every year and this year was Justin’s turn to go.  I have always jokingly asked the boys, “Don’t they need some parents to go along?”  Well, this year they did need someone and they called me.  I had lots of work to get done but this was a free trip to a national park and I couldn’t miss it.

   We started out on Monday morning and returned on Thursday afternoon.  It was a really nice break and I am very thankful to have had the chance to go.  Justin is still at the age where he thinks I am pretty cool so he was happy to have me along.






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Work permit

November 6, 2013 2 comments

  Like most other countries, Zambia requires that I have a work permit in order to legally work, or in my case, volunteer in Zambia.  It isn’t a difficult process… fill out a form, pay a fee and wait.  They are good for two years so when I arrived, I obtained a work permit.  Two years into our service, I renewed my work permit and last year I had to renew once again.  The renewal process is very easy as they just fill in another page of your book.  When I say book, the Zambian work permit looks like a standard passport, just a bit smaller.  It has a cover and pages that get stamped inside.  The problem is the cover…

  Prior to last year, all Zambian permit books were the same color and they decided that they needed to have the covers a different color for each type of permit (study, work, resident, investor, etc.).  Not a bad idea but the execution was a bit lacking.  I applied around July of last year and very shortly was told that my work permit was approved but that they didn’t yet have the new books.  In lieu of a book, they gave me a piece of paper with a stamp on it.  It was a temporary permit but was only good for two months.  Since the entire family is covered on my work permit, they needed to stamp each of our passport with the temporary work permit information.  No problem.

  I returned in two months and was told that they haven’t yet received the new books so they put another stamp on my paper and had to stamp each of our passports again.  I returned again two months later and was told that they still haven’t received them but they would have them next time.   I returned again two months later and was told that they still haven’t received them but they would have them next time.  I returned again two months later and was told that they still haven’t received them but they would have them next time.  I returned again two months later and was told that they still haven’t received them but they would have them next time. (Yes, I was able to cut and paste the last four sentences.)  On my visit in September, I begged for them to just give me three months and they would never see me again as it would carry me into December.  (Remember, every time I went in I needed to get my paper stamped and each of our passports).  However, they informed me that they were not allowed to extend them for more than two months at a time. 

   I needed to return in November to get my final stamp but I was told by my boss that my work permit was ready.  So today, I visited my friends at immigration yet again.  While above I make the process seem pretty easy, in fact here is how a normal visit goes… here is today’s visit.

    STEP 1 – Ask at the front desk where I go to collect my work permit.  The man directs me to desk 13.

    STEP 2 – After waiting in line, the man tell me to go to another room and check with someone there.

    STEP 3 – At this desk, I notice boxes filled with work permits with letters written on the boxes.  I start going through the “M” box which contains about 200 work permits in no particular order.  I found mine about 3/4 of the way through the box. (It dawns on my how my boss knew my work permit was ready… their surname also begins with an “M”)

   STEP 4 – The gentlemen stamps my work permit and has me sign it.  (Have you noticed that Zambian’s like stamps?)  He directly me to a man at desk 16.  

   STEP 5 – After waiting in line the man directs me to a woman wearing glasses in another room.

   STEP 6 – I find the woman wearing glasses but she directs me to desk 6.

   STEP 7 – After a short wait, the man at desk six stamps our passports while complementing me on my boys.  (I should mention that each time they stamp a passport, they have to manually write information on the stamp… for each of us!)

   I leave by 9:30 with my shiny new work permit in hand, which now expires in about 7 months.  Fortunately, I will not need to get another.  However, it will serve as a great souvenir for my years in Zambia.  So, to recap, it took:

  14 months, 7 visits, and 42 stamps

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The last safari…

October 26, 2013 2 comments

  We just returned from South Luangwa National Park.  It is located in eastern Zambia and requires about 10 hours of driving each way.  Driving in Zambia can be a challenge but the drive went very smoothly.  South Luangwa has a reputation as one of the best parks in Southern Africa and we wanted to go there before we left.  Hot season is at it’s peak and the temperature on the day we arrived topped 105 F!  (Lusaka is at a high elevation so it is cooler where we live).  Our camp was right on the bank of river…


  As the only source of water at this time of year, animals come to the river to drink. 




   Luangwa is known for having the highest density of hippos in Africa.  They were everywhere and getting a bit grumpy as the water level continues to drop.




    Luangwa also has a few subspecies that are unique to the park.  Thornicroft’s giraffe is only found here.


  The main reason we came at this time of the year was to see a lion kill.  It is so dry that many of the animals are weak and all of the animals need to come to the river to drink.  This makes easy pickings for the lions.  On our first morning, we came across a pride of lions enjoying  a buffalo…





   That evening, we checked in on them and found the remains…


  The next morning, they had killed a hippo…



  The last evening we were able to witness another pride of lions kill a buffalo (more details in my next post).  We also were able to see a leopard sleeping in a sausage tree.



Below is an album with some more photos from the trip.

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Wild Dog!!!!

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

  While I enjoy any trip to the bush, I have been hoping to see wild dogs (aka African Painted Dog) for quite some time.  They are endangered and cover large territories so it is very hard to find them.  My trip earlier this year to Botswana was my best chance yet but… no dogs.  Next week our family is going to South Luangwa National Park, which is said to be one the best but, even there, wild dogs are elusive.

  We have only about two months left in Zambia and the rains will soon be upon us, so I decided on a quick trip to Kafue National Park this past weekend.  Nigil (a SALTer with our organization), Justin and Thomas (our bosses son) woke up at 3:30 Saturday morning, jumped in the truck and drove to the park for just one night of camping.  We arrived in 3 hours since there was no one on the roads.  We immediately went for a drive in the park while the animals were still active.  At one point, Nigil asked if I would back up as he thought he saw jackals or hyena or something.  I gladly put the truck in reverse as it never hurts to check but it often turns out to be a stump or some other trick of the eye.  Nigil pointed to what he had seen… and I could tell by the distinctive large round ears, they were wild dogs!!

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   We counted about 15 in all but there may have been a few we missed.  They had killed an impala.  The adults had eaten and the younger dogs were gnawing away at the little there was left.  We were able to get quite close and enjoyed watching them.  Wild dogs are rather small and hunt in a pack.  They are very efficient runners and basically chase the prey until they are weak and then the pack tears them apart. 

  Needless to say, I was happy.  Not only did I get to see wild dogs but also was able to capture some pretty good photos. 


As you can see, their ears and coloring are very distinctive.


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Bad parenting–Jonathan style (#4)

September 29, 2013 Leave a comment

  I’ve been very busy but I need to finish this series, so here is the last installment…


   We were going to a place where I have never been and I like to know where I am and where I am heading so I normally search the internet for GPS points, so I can at least have some idea of where I am going.  In this case, they furnished me with a map of the area and I found a tool that can take a physical map and overlay it onto a GPS so that we could actually see ourselves driving on the map.  I was so proud of myself.  We arrived at the gate and I fired up the application and we were able to track our progress toward the camp.

  We soon discovered that the very nice looking map wasn’t very accurate as the main road that was supposed to take us to camp did not exist (or was very, very overgrown).  We made it to our camp and for the next couple of days, it did provide a rough guide for where we were driving.  On the last day we packed up and were ready to leave but I wanted to try a different way out that was supposed to bring us past some wildlife we hadn’t seen.  I talked to some people and they made it sound like it was no problem so we set off…

  The drive started out great as we came across a female lion who tried to catch a warthog within our sight.


  We continued down the nice road and came across the wildlife I had hoped to see, sable and roan antelope.  The road divided and both paths looked good (and neither were on the map) so I chose one and continued on.  The road divided again and both paths looked equally good so I chose one and continued on.  At each junction the quality of the road was a bit worse and after several of these, we were eventually driving on a path that was clearly a path but also clearly not well travelled.  As the road slowly deteriorated, I began to get a bit concerned but didn’t want to upset the kids so I continued on.  Besides, I could at least see where we were and that we were headed in the right direction.

  It wasn’t long before we came across a small tree pushed over the trail and we joked that maybe someone put it there on purpose to prevent people from driving further.  After scanning the area for danger, I got out and moved the tree.  Before too long, it was unclear if we were still on a road of if two game trails were just running in parallel.  A bit further down the “road” we could no longer make out two game trails, it now seemed as though we really were following a game trail.

  At this point, let me recap our situation… We were driving a non-4 wheel drive vehicle, we had six people in the truck, it was hot, if we rolled down the windows, tsetse flies immediate entered in large numbers, no one knew where we were or exactly where we were going.  We had a spare tire but it had been punctured earlier in the trip on a road much better than we were currently on.  It should have taken 1.5 hours to get to the “main” road and we had now been driving for 2 to 3 hours.


  The photo above shows the state of the “road”


   Again, I could see where we were on the gps and that we were headed in the right general direction.  We had the choice to retrace our steps (which would have taken forever) or to continue forward.  By now, you know what I chose…

  We continued on driving very slowly to ensure we didn’t get stuck.  We came to a low area which in rainy season would have been a swamp.  In dry season, the mud hardens to concrete like hardness.  The problem with these areas is that hippos and elephants walk through them and sink deep into the mud.  When it dries, you are left with a very rough, hard surface.  Several times, I had to get out and walk the path in front of us to clear brush or to ensure that it was passible for the truck.  The boys were getting concerned so the adults had to reassure them that we were fine and worst case scenario we could always turn around.  We joked that we will either die in the bush or have a great story to tell.  (I don’t think the boys thought that was funny.) Every kilometer we covered made me think that it was at least one less kilometer I would have to walk if we ran into a problem.

  The map showed that we were almost to the road we had entered on.  I was no longer too concerned about our safety and getting more concerned about my pride.  If we got stuck, I would have no choice but to walk to the gate and explain how we ended up where we were.  In the back of my mind I heard them saying things like, “Didn’t you see the trees we pushed over the road to prevent you from going further?” and “Why didn’t you just turn around?”  I was more concerned about my explanation than any animals I might encounter in route. 

  To my great relief, right as the GPS showed, we came to the real road!  We and my pride were saved. 


  We all found it funny that the “road” we had just followed had a name… “Lewis Road” was nailed to a tree.  It had a road sign but wasn’t on the map.  I took one more photo of Lewis road (which at this point was actually identifiable as a road… maybe.


  A bit more adventure to end our adventurous week.  I would do it all over again…  Anyone want to visit?

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Bad parenting–Jonathan style (#3)

August 17, 2013 2 comments

    Night drives are a great opportunity to see many nocturnal animals as well as predators.  In ordered to have a good night drive, you need a good spotlight.  I didn’t have a spotlight (as you aren’t allowed to self drive at night in national parks) but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to do our own night drives.  I found a place in Lusaka who sold spotlights but they were nearly $200!  I came up with an idea to create my own and purchased a outdoor light with a very narrow beam.  However, I needed an inverter to make my setup work (an inverter plugs into the cigarette lighter and gives you a normal electrical plug in which you can plug in normal objects).  To make a long story short, in my search for a reasonably priced inverter, I found a cheap spotlight.  So with all of this effort, I was very keen to go out at night.

   I convinced my mother and the boys to go out with me.  While the roads were pretty good, they were narrow with occasional bad patches so it was not wise for me to try to drive and spot.  The boys were happy to do the spotting and while I thought we might miss some animals the joy it brought the kids was more important than spotting an animal.  My job was to watch the road and drive while the boys shared the spotlight and looked for eyes reflecting in the light.  We saw bushbabies, mongooses (or is that mongeese), a civet and other nocturnal animals.  The boys agreed with me that it is much more satisfying to find the animals yourselves.  But it is hard to keep your eyes on the road as one is tempted to follow the spotlight which explains the noise that came from under the truck.  I stopped and then continued slowly forward.  We heard another sound and I slowed to a very slow crawl.  As I tried to ease the truck over the stone, the truck stopped.  I tried to move forward and back but the wheels spun (the truck is not four wheel drive).

   It was dark, we were about 100m from where we had seen the lions earlier that evening and we were stuck.  A good parent probably wouldn’t have taken the family out at night and, if they had, would have informed the camp in advance the route they planned to take and the estimated return time.  However, as the title indicates, I am not a good parent.  One thing that I have learned is that it is critical to maintain an air of confidence in order to make the boys think everything is okay, even if it is not.  I am getting pretty good at this.

   The boys were concerned but I assured them it was nothing as I borrowed the spotlight to scan the area for lions.  Nothing in view, so I jumped out to examine the situation.  The differential bump in the axel was resting on this rock, just enough to have lifted the rear tires off the track.  Had I not been going so painfully slow, we would have gone right over with a small thump.  In retrospect, I don’t think I could have accomplished this feat of driving had I tried.

   I got back in the cab and, with some supporting evidence this time, assured everyone it was no big deal, but that I did need grandma to get into the drivers seat.  I don’t know how long it had been since mom drove a manual but I am pretty sure she had never driven one where the driver is on the right and the gear shift is on the left.  After another quick scan of the night for lions, I jumped out and lifted the back of the truck as mom drove forward.  With ease, the truck moved forward and we were free.  Except the truck continued to move forward and I had to run along side and ensure mom knew how to stop it.  She did and I think she just wanted to make me run a bit. 

   We rearranged everyone in the cab as I bragged to the boys about the strength of the father to single handedly lift the truck off the, now massive, rock. Smile



The truck safely back at camp the following morning.

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Bad parenting–Jonathan style (#2)

August 15, 2013 2 comments

   If you go on a real safari, they have nice boats to take you on the river.  But the place I choose only provided boat rides if you brought the fuel and the 2 stroke engine oil.  While we had beautiful views of the river from the camp (especially at sundown), it is nice to go out onto the river, so we did.


   I arranged for us to take a ride in the afternoon and everyone came along (my family of 5 plus grandma).  Since we were a large(r) group, we didn’t fit in the nice boat but we were provided a very adequate boat and a “skipper” named Patson.

   As we approached the boat, I saw no sign of life vests which wasn’t a big concern to me.  The water level is low, so you really don’t even need to know how to swim and we can all swim.  Besides, on a past safari, the boys all had a reaction to some chemical on the life vests so they were happy to go without.  None of the adults made any mention of the fact despite knowing there were large crocs, hippos, and elephants all around.  We went up river a bit and saw a large group of hippos on the shore.


   We stopped and Patson and I helped the boys fish a little.  There were four elephants on the opposite shore that gave the rest of us something to watch while the boys fished.


   Justin has become deathly afraid of elephants ever since I (unknowingly) drove into the middle of a large herd with babies two years ago.  While they never got too close to us, there was one elephant that chased us about 150m with me driving in reverse as fast as I could go.  Apparently, Justin didn’t mind these elephants and enjoyed his fishing.


  After a bit of fishing, Patson took us down stream as it was too shallow to go further upstream.  I saw a small stream emptying into the larger river and was thrilled when Patson took us up the stream.  The stream was much narrower than the river and within minutes a large croc snapped at the air about 5 meters from my mom.  Then we saw several large crocs slide into the water as we approached.  Cynthia began to freak out a bit and Patson was concerned she might flip us.  (In reality, Cynthia was just moving toward the center of the boat, which wasn’t a bad plan).  The was a bridge that was out and blocked the river, so Patson had to turn us around.  Immediately after turning, we ran around on some rocks in the middle of the river.  After another small panic by Cynthia and Patson pushing with our lone oar, we were free and heading back out to the larger river.  The boys and I thought it was great, I am not so sure about mom and Cynthia.

   Again, before you call the Child Welfare office, keep in mind that life vests really wouldn’t have helped.  The crocs definitely would have gotten us even with life vests Smile.

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