Monday, July 29, 2013

The Land of Giants

 July 24, 2013 (started this post a few days ago...)

Two posts in one week?? Could be one of two reasons, I'm ill or my significant other and partner in crime is out of town...

Aside from a slight hangover from a girls dinner last night... I feel great! So it must be the latter.

My boyfriend stuffs animals for a living. And when it is hunting season, he takes "field trips" to go and collect trophies aka hunted animal skins, skulls, horns, tusks, etc.. in line to be mounted at Trophy Consultants International. Typically taxidermists wait for the products to be sent to them from the safari operators after a certain amount of time. But my clever beau decided that it would cut out a lot of time to just go and collect them himself! Clever, or just an excuse to get out of town and into the bush**, but either way it works. He makes clients happy by speeding up the process, while getting to visit other potential clients in camp who are hunting at the time.

     ** I've been meaning to put this little tid-bit in for a while now. "The Bush" isn't a term that I was very   familiar with before moving to Africa. We call them bushES back home. But it's a totally different thing. It means basically any African setting that is wild. No cities or real roads or cell phone signal or many people (aside from villiages). Just game and trees and mountains and grass and rivers. I know what you thinking, "Isn't that what all of Africa is??" Believe it or not, no.. Although cities are a biiit more spread out than in good ole 'Merica. So think of 'the bush' like 'the forest' or 'the woods' or 'the plains'..**

Anyway, so it's hunting season which means about once a week or so Cuan ventures off into the middle of nowhere to get "work" done. I joke, but he really does work hard putting in a lot of driving hours and getting up at stupid times of the day to go and collect trophies.

This latest trip was a combination of work and play. Cu does a hunting trip every year with a few of his buddies from school, the only time they are all able to get together and run around in the bush and forget about work for a while. So he left Friday the 19th  for a place called Mokore, in the Save Conservancy. Mokore is actually where I shot my first and only African animal! (see below) Beautiful place. Lucky little devil has been there for 5 days now and was supposed to be back today...
But that's where the work comes in. He's off collecting trophies all over the country today and wouldn't be able to make it home before dark.

Another side note: it is extremely dangerous to drive long distances at night here. Highways don't have street lights, dumb dumb people park their cars in the middle of the road with NO LIGHTS on, donkey carts don't have lights, and of course the occasional goat, or cow, or donkey, or impala, or elephant may just decide to cross the road at the wrong time. So its just a given rule. You don't drive at night.

My first Impala! -- at Mokore, 2011

So long story short, I've got some down time to write another story!

As mentioned in my previous post, I got right back into the swing of things after arriving back in Zim... The wedding on Kariba Lake was absolutely beautiful and I had such a fun and exiting time.. Over the next few weeks we did our usual outings on the weekends, entertaining at the house and work somewhere in between. Just a few snapshots..

Sunset cruise on the way to the houseboat for the wedding!
Cooking "Potjie" (poy-kie) on a lazy Sunday. Potjie is an African stew-type dish made in these pots with oxtail or lamb and cooked for hours. This one was oxtail and it was divine! Oh, and to add to the laziness, the mattress came outside with us..

 A few months ago, Cuan needed to go and collect more trophies in the Victoria Falls area so we decided to make a weekend out of it. Luke Terblanche, a good buddy of ours lives up there and is always so welcoming and ready to give us a place to stay on a minutes notice. So we gave him our usual few hour warning before pitching up at his doorstep. And he already had a nice game drive evening planned for us!

But before meeting up with him, we had to do a little work at one of TCI's showrooms in the falls. Which also happens to be at a crock farm! Cu and I took a tour around the place and saw crocodile of all sizes. Those things are scary even behind protective gates.

After settling in at Luke's we loaded the ice chest and hopped in "Arnie" and headed to the Victoria Falls National Park. Arnie could have an entire blog to himself but I'll just humor you with a short description. He is an over-lander (big game viewing vehicle/RV) with a lot of character. Not sure exactly how old it is but you can tell its seen a lot. The inside could sleep 6 people comfortably and it has a great rooftop for game drives and sunsets. This thing is a beast.

So we head out just before sunset and spent a few house in the park. We were able to see elephant, giraffe, and even sable (only second time I've ever seen one). Spent some time on the riverfront eye-level with the great Zambezi River. Its times like that, that I really do appreciate what is right at in my back yard, I have made a promise to myself to never get used to things like that. I don't ever want to take the country I live in for granted.

Now I did mention that I'm not entirely sure how old Arnie is, but he's got a few issues. We had to give him a little downhill push start to get going, and then there was that time we ran out of fuel. In the middle of the park, at the bottom of a hill...

 After a little huffing and puffing and pushing we managed to get it to start again! And allllmost made it back to Luke's house. At least close enough to walk and get the truck to give old Arnie a tow back home. Never a dull moment!

The next day we headed out to Hwange National Park toward Nehimba Safari Lodge, "The Land of Giants." Good friends of ours Martin and Candy Pieters own this lodge set right in the middle of the country's largest National Park. Given its location away from everything, you get to see the most incredible game. Our drive out was exciting in and of itself, the amount of game we saw what insane, and of course I was able to get behind the wheel for a while which is my favorite kind of driving, in the bush.

Cuan has talked about this place since it was being built. Nehimba is just a few years old but has already reached #1 on TripAdvisor for photographic lodges in Zimbabwe. And now I could finally see why! Each chalet is in my opinion (if not officially) a 5 star abode. Inside the room you would not believe you are sitting right in the middle of the African wild. Giant beds, the finest linen and feather duvets, beautiful claw-foot tubs in each room, private outdoor showers for the more adventurous, and a balcony that views the "watering hole" right in front of the camp.

This particular body of water attracts HUNDREDS of elephant to its refreshing shores almost every day. And if that's not replenishing enough the elephant have no problem walking right up to the swimming pool for a drink! They have the area barricaded off with a fence of trees, but given the size of these massive creatures, they can simply dip their trunks over! When I was there it wasn't quite peak season for the elephant to come, so I didn't get to witness this unique event, but from my recent update on the happenings at the camp, the elephant have arrived! And are there to stay for at least a few months.. See the latest goings-on at Nehimba on their facebook page:

What's also great about this place, and the people who run it. Is they are involved in, have created, and contribute to numerous wildlife conservation projects. Candy is very passionate about these animals and is dedicated to keeping their way of live as pure and bountiful as it was before man settled among them.

After dropping our things off in our impressive rooms, we headed out for a game drive to the "Nehimba Seep" (what the lodge is named after). Saw plenty of elephant along the way and enjoyed a few drinks as the sun set over one of the most beautiful African settings. We had more elephants surrounding us while we chatted and kept an eye out for lion, who like to hang out on the seep, but it got too dark before we could spot any..

Our trip back to the lodge that evening was an adventure in itself. We were in a vehicle very equipped for game viewing, but as the sun was already set, and the night chill was upon us, we were in a hurry to get back and sit by the fire. Our experienced "chauffeur" Martin Pieters, was doing his best to get us back to camp as quickly as possible. Martin not only owns the camp but also happens to be a Professional Hunter, so he knows his way around wild animals, and it's a good thing because we had quite a surprise on our quick drive back..

The road we were on cuts through pretty thick bush that doesn't allow for much peripheral vision. As we were driving along, the vehicle startled an elephant right into our path! He dashed out right in front of us and gave everyone a fright! If it weren't for Martin's quick reaction that poor guy would have sat right on the hood of the car. As he stumbled away safely out of sight we all took a sigh of relief at that veeery close encounter. Always an unexpected adventure here in Africa!

We made it back to the lodge and spent the rest of the night basking in the warmth of the fire while staring at the amazing night sky full of stars. Got to talking about the universe and the planets and stars, a conversation that we could have kept up until sunrise, but we decided to call it quits at a decent hour to get a good nights sleep.

It still does amaze me when I look at the amount of stars you can see in an African sky. On a good night the stars are plentiful and bright enough to fully light your path. Its also crazy to think that in the Northern Hemisphere, none of these stars are visible. Its a totally different view of our universe, with new and different constellations. Not that I would be able to recognize many, but still a very interesting thought...

Our plan for that Sunday was to drive back to Bulawayo, but we had a very tempting offer to go and stay at Gorges Lodge back in Victoria Falls. Plus there were clients up there whom Cuan would benefit from having a meeting with. So we decided to make the "sacrifice" and head back up to the Falls for a night.

Had another incredible drive out of the national park. Up until that point I had yet to see a Cape Buffalo in the wild. One amazing animal that I have been dying to catch a glimpse of since I moved here. And low and behold, not 20 minutes into our drive out of the park, we stumbled on to a herd of about 60 buffalo! They had stopped at a pan (of water) so we had plenty of time to get a good look, and some great photos... but unfortunately, my camera decided to stop taking a charge even though it was plugged in all night, it kept telling me "battery exhausted." Boooooo...... but Candy was able to get some great shots, I'll have to steal her memory card and post those soon. But nonetheless, it was a very cool experience.

Gorges Lodge is located just outside of Victoria Falls town, and sits right at the top of the gorge that overlooks the mighty Zambezi. This is the area of the river where you can do white water rafting. One of the most intense rafting runs in the world, with multiple rapids that exceed a category 5 (that's big!). I've done the rafting before and it is loads of fun.

Now saying that, the view of the river from where we were made those rapids look like tiny little white dots.. At that particular area the gorge drops over 200 meters (like 650 feet!) before reaching the river. So you can image the view! They built part of the lodge straight off the cliff, so when I approached the edge, I couldn't help but get huge vertigo and shaky knees. It almost looks fake from up there...
Again, since the camera decided to die on me, I wasn't able to get any pictures, but trust me, it was breathtaking. See some photos on their website:

Had a nice chill evening and a delicious dinner before heading off to bed in a beautiful suite right next to the cliffs. The weather was perfect, so we slept with the balcony door slightly open and fell asleep to the sound of the rushing rapids hundreds of feet below.

As much as we would have liked to extend our stay at the lodge, Cuan's a busy man and we had make our way back to Bulawayo and collect more trophies along the way... But man, what at weekend. I'm thinking I may have to join in on these "field trips" more often!

Big crocks at the crocodile farm! Our sunset drive into Victoria Falls National Park, and (I had to do it Luke!) towing big ole Arnie back to the house..
Stunning Nehimba!

Until next time! ---

Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Place Like Home..

I'm having a little bit of a homesick day today so I figured its perfect timing for my next post! Okay, let's be honest, perfect timing would have been right when I returned to Zim almost two months ago.. but who's counting the days??
Going home for some family time was exactly what I needed after the exciting but intense trip to Mozambique.

Layovers weren't too bad on the way back, but I was definitely ready for some R&R by the time I made it to Shreveport. And to my surprise, my ENTIRE family was there to pick me up! I was just expecting Mom to be there but everyone made the effort to come and welcome me home. Made me feel so special..

All the fam at the airport!

 For the first few nights back home, we had a FULL HOUSE. Literally. Lauren and David were in between homes (sold old one, hadn't moved in to new one yet), so we had both of them and the boys. Lindsey was staying at mom and dad's for pre-wedding.. everything, and of course me and Mom and Dad! It was like old times, with a few extra boys running around. I have to describe the sleeping arrangements because I think its hilarious. Lauren and hubby in Lauren's old room (makes sense), Hudson in Lindsey's old room (because he's used to sleeping in there for naps/nights with DeeDee and Pops), Andrew in the closet in Lauren's room! (because well, its big enough and close enough and quiet enough), Lindsey in my room (because that was the last big bed left)... So when I get home I'm sleeping in the "twin room," our guest room upstairs that just so happens to also be the diaper changing room.. ha.
It was loud and chaotic and messy, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

After getting one good nights sleep at home (next to the diaper genie), it was time to head south to New Orleans for Lindsey's bachelorette party! See all the craziness in Lindsey's blog here about the weekend. I had such a good time hanging out with my sisters, roaming the streets of New Orleans, eating great food in some interesting places, and enjoying live music in the "mud pit". Organizing things like that, in a town like that, with that many people on Jazz Fest weekend is not an easy task, but I think Lauren Merrick did an incredible job of arranging everything, and we all made sure the Lady of the Weekend was happy and having a good time! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did Linds.

NOLA baby!

I spent the weeks leading up to the wedding spending time with the nephews, catching up with friends, going to Dallas for wedding dress fittings, helping paint the new house, eating some of mom's delicious home-cooked meals, and watching crime dramas on the couch with dad!

I'm so glad that I got to be in town for Mother's Day. It was such a special day. The weather was perfect so we decided to have lunch outside on the back porch and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, laughing and enjoying the day!

Mother's Day fun!
The weeks flew by and all of the sudden it was wedding week! Bridesmaids luncheon was elegant and delicious, Rehearsal dinner was emotional and exciting, and wedding prep in the Remmington was so much fun!

I could not believe how chill Lindsey was the whole day leading up to her wedding. She was as cool as a cucumber as we listened to music and drank mimosas while getting our hair and makeup done. And my goodness did those ladies look remarkable after a day of pampering (not that they didn't look that way before!). Watching Lindsey put on that absolutely stunning wedding dress made it all become real to me. She looked flawless.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the church! I could tell once we arrived, after we took some photos, it was starting to hit Linds. I knew she was human! Nerves kicked in as we were all crammed into this tiiiny little cry room in the back of the church. But we all managed to keep our makeup from running and the ceremony began!

It was a beautiful service and Father Gallagher said some inspiring and thoughtful words on love and marriage. Then there was that moment. The moment when Miss Lindsey Marie Hudson become Mrs. Lindsey Hudson Tison, the moment when you know their lives are going to be different from here on out, that Lindsey is starting her own life and family with Justin. To be able to witness that was priceless. They said "I do" and became husband and wife, a moment I will remember forever. I love the both of them so much. And so, so happy that Justin is now officially part of the family.

Despite Southern Trace chefs being fired and tornadoes hitting clubhouse 2 days before the wedding... the reception went off without a hitch. Lindsey's style and personality showed in every corner of that room. My camera was locked away to make room for drinking and dancing so unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the party, but let me tell you it was the most beautiful decor I have ever seen. The flower arrangements alone were something meant for a magazine. Upon entering the room, Lindsey welled up with tears at the sight of her reception. Months in the making it all came together and I believe even better than she could have imagined.

The rest of the night was a whirlwind of music and dancing and catching up with old friends. It of course flew by and in what seemed like mere moments, we were lining up to bid Mr. and Mrs. Tison farewell! It was an extremely emotional moment for me as she was running down the passage to hop into her get-a-way car, because despite all of the warm wishes and good feelings floating in the air, I couldn't help but think that this is the last time I'm going to see her until 2014! I of course was" boo-hooing" but didn't want to put a damper on such an exciting moment. They sped away to the honeymoon suite as I said a special prayer and a silent goodbye to the new couple. And just like that, they were off and the party was coming to and end! It was a remarkable evening and one I know I won't ever forget. Thank you Lindsey and Tison for putting on such a memorable and special event.

I spent the days after the wedding packing and soaking up as much family time as I could. Had one more delicious Louisiana crawfish meal, said more emotional goodbyes, then I was back in Dallas waiting for my flight back to the other side of the world.  I had the most amazing few weeks with my family and love and miss them so much!!

Now I know I always have stories about my plane travels back and forth, but this one turned out not to be so bad.

The day before my flight the tragic tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma. So everyone was on high alert for bad weather. The entire DFW airport shut down after I arrived and was not letting planes in or out. So for some time my connecting flight was circling around overhead before eventually landing in Houston. That one flight delay made me miss my other flight out of Chicago, so everything had to be rearranged. The airport staff was doing their best to accommodate the hundreds of people who were put out by the bad weather. They handled it very well and I was transferred to another airline and booked on a flight that would get me on my last scheduled plane to Johannesburg on time! And to top it off the new flight booked had no more seats in coach so I was bumped up to business class! Woweee I don't ever want to go back. Seats that lay all the way back with leg supports AND a lower back massager.  Fantastic 3-course meals served on my own personal white table cloth and the best flight attendant service ever! Cuan is in trouble now... I was so spoiled.

So I made it back to Johannesburg feeling more rested that I ever though one could be after traveling for over 36 hours. Had a bit of a layover in Joburg so Cuan's sister Kelly who lives there, very kindly arranged a ride for me from the airport so that I could spend a few hours catching up with her! A much-needed break from living in airports and I appreciated it so much! Got back on the plane for the short flight to Harare.

Just before landing in Zim, this happens every time, I get this wave of peace and happiness that I am now back in this amazing country. Just looking around at the other Zimbos with their great attitudes and relaxed way of life makes me feel warm and welcome.

And just like my trip back home, I got right back into the swing of things. Landed at about 10pm and had a decent nights sleep before getting back on the road to Kariba! I blogged about that place here when we went on a houseboat for Easter. This time we were going for a good friends wedding. So I fought the jet-lag and lack of sleep and carried on for another party, and it was an amazing one. I've been up to lots since I've been back and am going to try and get more posts up soon!

Until next time friends! Enjoy the slideshow...
Lindsey's STUNNING wedding dress, it turned out absolutely perfect, and better have after all the trips she made to Dallas for alterations! Literally landed in Shreveport the day before the wedding.. Cutting it close Linds!
Making a wishes for a perfect wedding outside the dress shop!
A good way to spend time in the Northpark mall while waiting for wedding dress alterations to be completed
Beautiful Bridesmade Luncheon!
Rehearsal Dinner: great food, even better speeches

Pamper Time!

We had such a good time and the bride and groom looked so happy!

mmMmmm Crawfish...