Monday, September 15, 2014

Lions, Leopards, and Buff's, Oh my!

Now I’m sure most of your are aware that I've just returned from an amazing trip back home to see my family and friends (well, over a month ago now). That will for sure be a post in itself, but if you will allow me to divert from the chronological path that I have kept since I began this little blog, I am going to go a bit out of order here. I had an incredible time back home with the fam, but unfortunately I left my camera in Africa… so I wasn’t able to capture many photos! I will tell you all about it though soon.

Now for this particular story, I DID have my camera on me. And man, was I glad that I did.

So Zimbabwe has two back to back public holidays (“Hero’s weekend”) in the second week of August every year. This is always a good time to take a nice little long weekend trip somewhere close. We had originally planned on going up to Masau, which you will remember from my previous posts with Adam and Megan, but its actually a really long drive for us to get up there and back even if we did have a few extra days to travel.

So thanks to our friend Lauren Mallett and her brilliant idea.. we decided to go camping in Botswana instead! Brief geography lesson: This country is directly to the west of Zim, as the crow flies probably about 250 miles from Bulawayo. But even closer if you are travelling across the border from Victoria Falls! With some last minute luck we managed to find an available campsite in Chobe (Cho-bee) National Park. The lack of availability led us to believe that this was a pretty popular place, and for good reason…

So once the decision was made and the final list of travelers was decided we got together all of our camping gear and headed north(west) toward Vic Falls, and the Bots border! We were originally planning on having 5 of us total on the adventure, but unfortunately our other two guests had other prior obligations. So at about 5am Saturday (Aug. 9th) morning, me, Cu, and Lauren (“Lol”) hopped in the truck and headed to the border!

We crossed the border with ridiculous ease and before we knew it were inside Chobe National Park! As this was the first time that any of us had been to this particular national park (and my first time in Botswana! Another one checked off the list..), we had no idea really what to expect.

The Chobe River creates the northern border of the Chobe National Park, and stretches towards Botswana’s Okavango Delta. So we were prepared for a lovely drive on the “River Road” in the park, but did not expect the vast floodplains beyond the river that allow for uninterrupted views wildlife all the way to Namibia. As we entered the park we were welcomed with a large herd of Elephant and Buffalo grazing along the river and an unbelievable amount of birdlife bathing in its refreshing waters.

It was at that point that we knew this was going to be a special place. The deeper and deeper we got into the park the more wild it became. We took the long way to our campsite along the road that runs parallel to the river all the way through the park.

I will say the only negative thing about Chobe that we noticed right away is the amount of people touring the park. That is one thing that we take for granted in Zimbabwe, it’s a bit of a hidden gem for some tourists who still think that the country isn’t safe or don’t realize the beauty it holds. So you rarely bump into another vehicle when in Zim’s national parks. In Chobe however, there was another car every 5 minutes. It took away from the awe of our surroundings, but only slightly. There is a reason that so many people visit this place.

As we were cruising along, we came upon a lone elephant really enjoying himself in a mud bath. He was caked in mud from head to toe and spend 20 minutes wallowing and rolling around in the pit! What a funny little guy. During the rest of the drive we spotted more elephants, giraffe, sable, kudu, and tons of fish eagles (looks a bit like a small bald eagle).

After winding along the river road for a few hours, we made it our campsite. We were pleased to find out that our site was right next to river and the endless floodplains beyond on a private section that no one could access unless they were staying at that particular campsite.

So we set up our tents and got our campsite organized then headed back out for a short drive to watch the sunset. There is something about an African sunset that just cannot be put into words. We sat and watched a herd of over 800 buffalo made its way across the plains as the enormous sun made its slow dip into the horizon. Its moments like these that I really appreciate where I live and what I am fortunate enough to experience in my own backyard. Those sunsets will never get old.

And as if that sunset wasn't enough, it happen to be full moon that night, so we stayed and watched the unbelievably huge orange moon rising into the sky, humbled by its presence. I know its not scientifically possible, but when watching that scene, a small part of me feels as if, in the very spot I am standing, I am miles closer to the sun and the moon than any other place on earth. It just makes you feel so small and yet so privileged at the same time. 

That evening we were enjoying our campfire dinner and drinks, when a couple at a nearby campsite warned us to be careful as there was a leopard right by us! We jumped from our seats, managed to grab the camera and slowly crept to the other side of the tree sheltering our tents. Sure enough, an adolescent leopard was sitting there waiting to climb “his” tree. He was not deterred by our presence and went about his business ascending the large tree to have a look around. He stayed there, directly about our campsite for what seemed like hours before departing from the tree and trotting off into the distance.

What an unexpected treat! We were hoping to see leopard while we were there, but not this close! We all sat in wonderment for a good hour trying to wrap our heads around what we had just seen, before heading to bed for the night.

Woke up early the next day so we could head out and catch some early morning game sightings. Not 10 minutes into our drive, as we rounded the corner onto the river road we spotted two lionesses sitting directly on the road! They looked fat and satisfied from what we assumed was a successful night’s hunt. Undisturbed by our vehicle, the lionesses allowed us to observe them and get some great pics.

The rest of the day was full of some more incredible sightings. We spotted a leopard sitting high in a tree lounging in the safety and comfort of a hamerkop’s nest (small African bird), a large troop of banded mongoose frolicking and playing all around us and our campsite, the largest herd of giraffe I have ever seen (about 30 in total), and yet ANOTHER sighting of a leopard sitting in the shade of a nearby bush. We also spotted the rare Lechwe antelope found in very few regions of Africa, snake eagles, and zebra frolicking in the plains alongside hippo, warthog, elephant, and buffalo. Overall one of the most stunning sceneries I have ever witnessed.

After yet another remarkable sunset we settled back into our tents, falling asleep to the sound of buffalo ambling in the riverbed next to us. The next morning we packed up camp and slowly made our way out of the park and back across the border into Zimbabwe where we spent a night camping in the Victoria Falls National Park. Not many game sightings in that park, but still so nice and peaceful camping on the banks of the Zambezi River with the soothing sound of the rushing rapids next to us.

What a trip! I’m still finding it hard to believe that each time I venture into the bush I discover more new and amazing things. This place continues to astound and amaze me! Can’t wait for more adventures to come!

Until next time… 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Family, Red Fishin', and New Additions...

So after recovering from a wild few holiday weeks, Cuan and I got on the plane for Ameeeerica! We timed it this year where we would land in Dallas just before the Dallas Safari Club convention, a hunting show that Cuan’s taxidermy company TCI participates in every year. We had a day to catch up on sleep and get over the jet-lag before setting up for the 3 day convention. I sort of play Cuan’s assistant at these shows, helping to make the stand look “pretty” and deal with payments and customers when Cuan is busy, which is pretty much ALL the time. His clients really value the opportunity to see a TCI manager face-to-face and take full advantage of it when he’s at the shows.  

This year’s Dallas show went very well, made lots of leather sales and satisfied existing clients with updates on their trophy’s being assembled back in Zim. We spend our days in the convention hall and evenings out on the town with some of TCI’s loyal customers. I do enjoy participating in the shows, but this time because I hadn’t seen my family in 8 months, I was so anxious to get home! After it was all finished, we packed up all the products and booth supplies, sent it off to Vegas for the next hunting convention, and Cu and I headed to good ole Shreveport!

We decided that we needed to rent a car for the time we were in the States so that we could have some form of transport while we were there. (I sold my car last time I was home… felt so lost without it!) It took me a few minutes once I got behind the wheel to re-train myself on driving on the RIGHT side of the road. But I got the hang of it and we made it to Mom and Dad’s in one piece!  

I was so excited to see the whole family, how much my two nephews Hudson and Andrew had grown, and especially my expecting sister Lindsey! The last time I saw her she was driving off in her honeymoon vehicle with her new husband after an incredible wedding and reception.. there must have been love in the air that night because 8 months after the wedding she was one month away from having a baby! I was so excited to see that baby bump and catch up on everything that had gone on since I last saw everyone.

We spent the next few weeks hanging out with the family, eating amazing home-cooked meals made by Mrs. Diane herself, and shopping. There were days where Cuan would say “I’m just going to run to Academy and grab a few things,” and I would literally not see him for 3-4 hours. Who knew he was a bigger shopper than me?! He blames it on the shopping list he received from all his friends back in Zim, but something tells me he got a little bit distracted in the fishing section, or the gun section, or the boating section or the camping section, of Academy and Bass Pro. He really would fit in well in Louisiana…

So do you remember Adam and Megan? The two brave Americans who came to visit us last year. Well we were dying to catch up with each other so Adam organized a weekend down in Grand Isle. And not only that, but a weekend bow-fishing Red Fish in the marshes of Grand Isle! I was back and forth about going as Lindsey was literally about to pop! She had gone to the doctor 3 weeks before her due-date and he told her it could be any day! So understandably I was a little hesitant to go, but I convinced myself if there was an emergency I could make it back in time!

So off we went, down into the deep, Deep South. I don’t think I’ve been that far south in Louisiana before.. Although it was absolutely freeeezing down there right on the shores of the Gulf we still had an incredible time catching up and meeting new friends. As soon as we saw Adam and Megan, it was as if we had just seen each other yesterday! Went straight back to goofing off and acting weird.

We stayed bunkered up in the cabin, laughing and playing games until it was dark enough to go fishing. Now I didn’t really know much about this bow-fishing thing so it was all a new experience for myself and Cuan.

We met Captain Dave or Mike (I can’t remember his real name since Cuan was calling him Captain Phillips the whole time..) and his daughter down under the bridge just inland from the Gulf. To put it lightly, I think this is the first time Cuan got to meet some REAL Louisiana Cajuns. I have spent years trying to convince Cuan that people from Louisiana are not like what you see on TV - Swamp People, Duck Dynasty, Bayou Billionaires, etc. But this duo on the air boat in the marshes of Louisiana just threw my whole argument out the window. Definitely would have needed subtitles had this evening been on a reality show…

But it was truly an experience unlike any other. We were each given our own crossbow and arrows equipped with a fishing line and reel, hopped on to the airboat fitted with lights surrounding the outer base of the boat, and headed off into the darkness to catch us some Red Fish! First time I have been on one of those air boats, it was so cool! Felt weird just being able to cut straight over the marshes without worrying about the motor getting stuck. Although it was quite frigid out, we had bundled up enough to not feel much of the icy wind..
 It was slow going at first, but once we spotted the fish the arrows were flying all night. Everyone else on the boat got the hang of the bow, and how to adjust your aim according to the deflection of light in the water, waay before me. I think they were starting to feel bad for me that I hadn’t caught a fish yet, but I was still having a good time! Eventually… I did manage to get one! I think it was pure luck, I still had no idea what I was doing, but I got one in the boat! So we all finished the night will at least one catch. I could not believe the time when we were wrapping things up and headed back to the boat yard. We started just after 6pm and fished for what felt like 3 hours or so, little did I know it was past midnight by the time we made it back!
I had such an amazing weekend in Grand Isle and was really glad that I made the decision to go, and luckily Linds didn’t have her baby while I was away!

When we got back it was almost time to get ready to head to Vegas for the second Hunting Convention that TCI was a part of. Again, mixed emotions about going since Lindsey was even closer to her due date. A big part of me visiting during that time was to be able to be there for her when she had the baby, and of course meet my first little niece! So I was not really looking forward to this trip and being away from her, and I think Cuan could sense that… So he told me not to worry about going to this show, that he had enough help in the booth so he would be fine. What a relief! So for the next few weeks I got to spend more time with the nephews, hanging out with the bros-in-law and catching up with all my series with mom and dad at the end of the day.

Of course, as Murphy’s Law goes, Lindsey didn’t have the baby during the time that I would have been in Vegas. But I’m still happy that I didn’t go, would have been too worried the whole time I was there I would not have enjoyed it, and of course I got to spend more time with the family!

Now this next bit deserves to have a blog of its own, but again as I'm trying to catch you up, I'll put it all in one! 

My beautiful oldest sister had a bit of a surprise when she found out that she was pregnant with her first child mere weeks after she became a wife! Exciting/terrifying realization for her I'm sure. But she grabbed the bull by the horns as they say, and carried on with her new life as a working wife and expecting mother without even skipping a beat. I do wish that I could have been around for her more during the pregnancy, but I have no doubt that the football team of family support surrounding her more than made up for my absence. 

Since baby girl Tison was so ready to come into the world, the doc decided to schedule and induction. Baby T was going to grace us with her presence on February 13! So when D-day finally arrived the whole Tison/Hudson/Merrick crew headed to the hospital to check how Linds was doing. I could tell she was in a bit of pain, but as we entered the hospital room, Lindsey put on a big smile and told us that she was doing "okay.." We were asked to leave the room for a quick check up on the mommy-to-be, but were told shortly after that this little baby girl was so eager to enter the world, we needed to stay in the waiting area until she was born! 

Anxious and excited, we spend the next few hours awaiting the announcement of the first female in the next generation of the Hudson family. After we heard she was born happy and healthy and Lindsey was doing just fine, we all breathed a sigh of relief and waiting on the edge of our seats until we were allowed to go meet this little angel. 

As we re-entered the hospital room, the atmosphere had taken a complete 180 degree turn. There was a sense of peace, and an overwhelming feeling of love throughout the room. Tison was holding his newborn baby girl and introduced Miss Evangeline Marie Tison to the rest of her family.  

It was such a special moment, Lindsey couldn't hold back her tears of joy, but I don't think I've ever seen her look more beautiful. Any worry about being a mom had completely vanished from her face, and she was just full of pure joy. She, along with Tison and the help of the Man upstairs, created that adorable, tiny little being, and was going to be her mother and role model and friend for the rest of both their lives. I was so happy and proud of her, and grateful that I was there to share that moment. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

For the next week and a half I spend as much time as possible with that little bundle of joy, but of course it is never enough. I was excited to get back to my life in Zim, however, I felt so broken having to leave that newborn baby EvANGELine, knowing the next time I would see her she would be almost a YEAR old! But I am so thankful for the amount of time I got to spend with my family back home, almost 2 months in total! So I am keeping all of those memories very close to my heart until the next time I am able to visit home!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Always Late But Worth The Wait - 2013 Recap

Where on Earth has this year gone??!?  I think most of you know now that I'm pretty terrible with keeping up with a regular posting schedule, but this is just ridiculous.. half way through the year and not ONE post?? I am a bit disappointed in myself, but I just really can't believe where the months have gone! In an effort to catch you up on the 2014 goings-on so far I am afraid I'm going to cut the text down to a short story as opposed to my usual unabridged novels, and entertain you with more of a photo journal. As soon as I feel I have adequately caught you up to date, I will carry on with my more than detailed recounts of my adventures in Zim.

Let's see, where did we leave off...   ah yes, just before the end of 2013. First here is a small recap of the first half of 2013:

Got an amazing opportunity to hang out with a few kind elephants and witnessed one of my best friends getting proposed to by her lovely boyfriend in stunning Mozambique!
Absolutely unforgettable "Bike Trip" with the boys last July (weekend of the 4th), and just goofing off....

The Holiday season was full of festive parties and countless trips into the bush. It was my first time to be away from home during a time like this and I will say that the feelings were a little mixed. It was just so strange to be celebrating Thanksgiving (yes, good friends who own a restaurant were delighted to host a dinner for this American tradition), and leading up to Christmas wearing shorts and sunbathing! It was very nice to be so warm don't get me wrong, I hate the cold, but at the same time it was difficult to get into the holiday spirit when it felt like the middle of June! But nonetheless, the house was decorated with trees and garland and, much to Cuan's dislike, songs of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin echoed through the house even before Thanksgiving...

Christmas this year was spent with Cuan's mom and family up in Mkushi, Zambia. We spend a lovely week with them on the farm and for the first time I was one of the "adults" watching the kids open gifts on Christmas morning! It was really an incredible experience and I felt very welcomed and at home with the Meikle family. They made me feel so comfortable and knew how sensitive I might be during my first Christmas away from home. It was different but beautiful and so lovely to see the traditions of another family. On Christmas day after indulging in an amazing meal, (the "pig on the spit" was still delicious even though it feel off the spit!) Cuan, myself and the younger sisters took boxes of gifts to the families who live and work on Steve’s farm. It was such a special experience, and felt really good to give those small children something on Christmas, however small. Our little gifts meant so much to them! It really put a big perspective on how lucky we are and truly made us grateful and appreciate the meaning of the holiday. 

The days after Christmas were spent relaxing in the pool, playing volleyball by the dam, and taking a day trip to a stunning waterfall! After saying our goodbyes, Cuan and I got in the truck for the long trip back town to Zim for New Years!

New Year's was spent back in Zimbabwe at Squirrel and Cat's house in Harare. The theme of "I can't believe you wore that" brought some veeerrry entertaining and interesting guests! We partied the night away, literally, watching the sun rise on the first day of 2014. Needless to say I didn't see much of the rest of the day as I needed to catch up on my beauty sleep! Definitely an excellent way to ring in the new year... 

Up next: Recap of my trip back home in January-February! It will come soon I promise...