Tuesday, August 16, 2016

DeeDee & Pops Do Zimbabwe

So I know there have been a few more current events that have occurred since the following narrative, but I am determined to keep things chronological.. I began this post before I got ENGAGED.. so you’ll have to wait until next time for that story.. 

Diane and David, my beloved parents, have had to put up with a lot from their youngest child.. I’ve given them quite a roller coaster experience in my lifetime. I believe in my early years I was a bit of a wild child, calmed down in my middle school years, got a little wild yet again in high school, and calmed back down to a reasonably responsible young adult in College. 

Just when they thought they were in the clear, I go and bring a boy home from ZIMBABWE —  Albeit a very handsome, charming boy. :) 

Mine and Cuan’s story is for another day. Although I believe most of you have heard it in some form or another, I’ll give all the gritty details once I’ve caught up with all the past events...

I’m not going to pretend to know or understand what was going on in my parent’s minds as they saw this relationship between Cuan and I grow and develop into something quite serious. I don’t think they had any idea as to what exactly would to come from it. But if there was a “worse case scenario” in their minds, I do believe that is the one I chose — not intentionally of course, and with a great deal of difficulty.

Despite the inevitable ups and downs of my parent’s trying to understand why I chose to leave my home, country, and family and move to the other side of the world, to a THIRD world country nonetheless -  We got through it, and we are still getting through it. 

The long and short of it is: You can’t choose who you fall in love with, and I followed my heart because it was speaking to me volumes louder than my head. 

I think once they began to grasp that, that I wasn’t choosing my boyfriend over my family. I was going where I felt the strongest pull, with someone that I couldn’t stand the thought of losing. And I knew that although I was physically moving away from my family, they would never leave me and never stop loving me. And that is what got me through my first few months, and years. 

Just for the record, making that decision to move (back) to Zim was THE hardest thing that I have ever had to do. I knew how it was going to affect my family, and it killed me. But in the same breath - I had to look forward and think inward. Cuan was my future, Zimbabwe was in my future, and I was chomping at the bit to begin the rest of my life, despite being completely torn about moving away.

WHEW!.. my apologies. I tend to get a little carried away on that topic. ANYWAY- back to my parents and their decision to finally come out and visit their youngest daughter in her new world. 

I had been hinting at it for a while, how much better it would be if they could just see what I was talking about. Breathe that sweet African air, and start to understand that this place isn’t so bad after all. I completely understand their hesitation in coming out. Obviously its a big trip regardless of the emotional implications involved. But when they finally booked that ticket, I’ll tell you my heart was filled with joy. 

Cuan and I had a bit more time to prepare for this one as we knew they were coming long before Haley and Jordan (read about their adventure here). But regardless of the extra time to prepare.. we came up with the same route as Hay and Jordan - just in reverse order. 

After months of back and forths, what to bring, anti-malarial, what to wear, etc. Diane & David were finally on the very long, quite uncomfortable trek to Zimbabwe. And for something that we had prepared so long for, you would think that Cuan and I would be on time to collect them from the airport right? Well, whoops… 

I honestly don’t know what happened to the time! I was so anxious about their arrival but before we knew it we were racing down the streets of Harare in pursuit of the airport before Mom & Dad thought we had abandoned them.. 

It didn’t help that the plane was actually early AND they breezed through Customs & Immigration like a couple of pros. But I felt terrible as we pulled up to the airport and they were already waiting outside with their luggage! I hopped out the car and ran over still in shock at the fact that my parents were on Zimbabwen soil right in front of my eyes. 

Exhausted and sore, they very eagerly climbed in the car so that they could get home and sleep fully horizontal for the first time in 2 days. 

But we didn’t wait long before beginning the adventure! Up at the crack of dawn the next day, we showed M & D around Squirrel’s house and garden before getting in the car for the long drive north towards, you guessed it - MASAU LODGE. I feel like the Meredith Family should start paying advertizing fees for all this promo I’m doing on their fishing camp.. ;) 

I was a bit nervous about this part of the journey with Mrs. Diane aka “Lady Di”. I know she has roughed it in the past — Back and forth from Mexico in her early nursing days, and she still has that adventurous spirit. But her grace and elegance as a woman of the South has outshone that side of her since I can remember. So I was a bit unsure how she would handle the long, bumpy, hot, ride into Masau without so much as a pit stop, aside from some tall grass and a clean roll of toilet paper.. 

As the bright lights of Harare disappeared in the rear view mirror and the paved road turned to dirt, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth my parents were thinking. I’ve explained this trip in previous posts, so you seasoned readers know just how remote this place is. 

But despite what might have been going on inside their heads, they kept smiles (if not curious glances) on their faces the whole way. Even with a bum knee I didn’t hear one complaint from Pops! 

One thing that we love to bring with us when we head to Masau is a bag of candy for the children in the villages. I swear you would think you are handing them pure gold when you roll down that window. They jump and scream and run to the car as if their life depended on it! So I let mom partake in that experience.. 

Its incredible how much quicker that drive is when you don’t have 15 people needing to use the “bush toilet” or getting refill on their “beverages” every 5 minutes, and before we knew it we were at the Big Tree - signalling the final stretch into Masau.

We stop at this tree almost every time we go to the river. Majestic old Baobab just off the road with a massive “cave” inside his trunk. If that tree could talk, oh the stories it would tell!

Made it to Masau by lunchtime and were welcomed by the smiling faces of the staff. They are always there at your beck and call, so willing to help out guests in any way. The embodiment of one of the things Zimbabwe is known for - its compassionate, genuinely good people. 

It just so worked out that there was a wedding for a family friend of the Meredith’s just upstream of Masau a few days before. So the Meredith’s extended their trip to come down and meet my parents! The infamous Squirrel Doug (aka “Dad”), Cu’s brother Brynn and his girlfriend Leslie-Anne and his sister Kelly. 

It was so special to spend that brief time with my parents and Cuan’s family on the same soil. I know how rare these moments will be so I slowed down the shutter speed and took in every bit of those precious days. 

I’ve written enough about trips to Masau for you to get the general gist of how we operate things there - all day fishing competitions, “fines”, wildlife, sunsets, & laughter. — And this trip was no different. 

Except this is the first time I have ever seen Diane Hudson with a fishing rod in her hand! AND she caught us a bait fish and a tiger fish all by herself! (with a bit of help from Norman of course…) 

And Pops - who hasn’t had the most successful “catching” career (sorry Dad..), but in my professional opinion, an outstandingly determined FISHING vocation - was slaying the Tiger Fish! I think it was the patient guidance of Squirrel & Stormin’ Norman, but at the end of the day dad sealed the deal with at least 3 Tiger in the boat! 

We really had such a nice time exploring the Zambezi River, but there was so much left to do! 

Since Bulawayo is ridiculously far from Masau we decided to break up the trip and stay at the farm of some very close friends of ours, Steve & Sarah on the way down. This adorable couple has made quite the life for themselves on their farm - crops, chickens, pigeons.. and to top it off a new baby boy to join the ranks! Although I was not raised in Zimbabwe I can’t help but feel that was the lifestyle the most of the people I surround myself with today grew up in..

We spent a lovely afternoon around the farm, sipping tea in the garden, driving around seeing all the crops Steve has planted, even got dad to shoot a shotgun! They have a small skeet shooting setup there and dad gave it a whirl - and hit quite a few clays if I’m not mistaken! He’s a natural.. 

 - So Mom with a fishing rod and now Dad with a shotgun - two things I’m not sure I’d ever witness in my lifetime!  “When in Rome,” right?

The next day we carried on south towards Bulawayo! I was so looking forward to this portion of the trip. Although it didn’t involve any wild animals, or fish with teeth, or crazy stories - this is the place has become my home for the past three years, and I was so excited to show my parents this little piece of my new world. (don’t worry Mom - Louisiana will ALWAYS be home to me).

For the next few days we spent time together in our house, with the dogs, cooking supper with mom in the kitchen, just as if it happens all the time! They got to meet my Bulawayo Bestie whom I talk about all the time - Gaylo, Sharon my employer, and all our other friends in town. 

Got to see where I go grocery shopping, where I work, where we go out to eat and go to church... - So many things that I have tried to explain and describe for years now, but can only imagine what they were picturing. We ventured downtown to see the National Art Gallery, Natural History museum, and the street stalls full of local hand made treasures, I even took them to a Castle! ;) Who knew this little town has so much to offer?!

Despite the unseasonably cold, rainy weather, we ventured out to Matopos for a day. I don’t think I’ve spoken about this place in my blogs at all actually.. but its yet another remarkable place in this little country, only about 45 minutes from Bulawayo. Matopos National Park is an ancient land of massive “balancing” granite rocks filled with strange rock creatures not often seen in other parts of Zim. 
  • Fun Fact of the day: “Matopos” in the local language actually means Bald Heads - describing the smooth rocky outcrops that cover this protected area. 
This place is quite different from the other National Parks I have spoken about. It is full of cave paintings, some over 10,000 years old, it’s also the burial site for Cecil John Rhodes - Zimbabwe’s first pioneer and founder of Rhodesia. Its a spiritual place, a historical place, with a landscape unlike any other. 

We had a picnic underneath a shady tree surrounded by towering granite monoliths, and baboons hoping to steal the scraps of our leftovers before heading to a tour of one of my boss’s properties - Camp Amalinda. 

There are not many lodges in Matopos, and perhaps I’m a little biased, but Camp Amalinda is by far the best and most unique place to stay in the area. It was literally built in and around the rocks and caves that encompass the National Park. One room even has actual cave paintings on the walls!

 It looks so unassuming from the outside but when you explore all the nooks and crannies of this mysterious hotel it reveals some wonderful things. Imagine sleeping in the same cave that the San Bushmen did thousands of years ago, but with all the luxuries and amenities of the modern day - best of both worlds! 

After a few days in Bulawayo we made are way northwest towards Victoria Falls.. 

Zimbabwe’s largest national park lies between these two cities— Hwange National Park.. I have spoken about this place quite a few times but it really is such a remarkable park. Every time I drive around this area I see something different..  It may be not anything extravagant for the seasoned traveller, but I'm my eyes there is always something new, an animal or plant or bird that I haven’t seen or learned about before - every time I go. 

We had organised a night at yet another one of the properties owned by my boss: Khulu Ivory. This safari lodge is located just outside Hwange National Park which I may have mentioned before, is not fenced. So regardless of whether you’re within the boundary of the National Park or not, you still see an incredible amount game. The wildlife doesn’t know the difference! 

This was the folks first chance at seeing a number of African species in their own habitat. And on our first game drive with good ole Dudley - they got the ideal african safari experience. Dudley is the head Pro Guide at Khulu and is full of interesting knowledge on the bush - even if there were no wildlife sightings on a portion of the drive he would entertain us with facts about the birds and the foliage.. very educational! Not to mention his great sense of humor. 

During that drive, combined with our self-drive through the park the next day, we saw loads of animals! - Giraffe drinking out a water hole, zebra, at least 100 elephant at various water pans, female ostrich with her babies, rare Roan Antelope, Sable, Wildebeest, Kudu, a heard of approximately 800 Cape buffalo, Snake Eagles & Secretary Birds and even Lions! 

As we drove into the park after a restful nights’ sleep at Khulu, we saw a vehicle stopped apparently looking at something off the road. Curious what it was we stopped and angled our binoculars in the direction of our neighbors, but we couldn’t figure out what they were looking at and shortly after, they drove off. As Cuan was panning the area before moving on, he spotted 2 lioness sitting on an ant hill off in the distance. - the complete opposite direction of where our friends were looking! 

These lovely ladies lazily lie there, yawning and posing for us as they soaked up the mid-morning sun. They weren’t even tempted by a warthog who was testing fate as he pranced around mere feet from the intimidating cats! - They had clearly enjoyed their fill the night before. 

It was later in that drive that we saw the largest herd of Buffalo I have ever seen. As we were approaching a huge dam in the park, we were forced to stop for the “buffalo x-ing.” They filed out one by one — babies with their moms, adolescents to the old “dugga boys” (aged males) —  not giving us a second glance as they disappeared over the hill in the distance. We were impressed with the size of this herd, having no idea what we would witness as we rounded the corner and caught sight of the dam.

Our small herd seemed to magically multiply to no fewer than 800 buffalo on the opposite side of the dam, the shoreline blanketed with the 1,000lb  beasts! 

For the little amount of time we spent in Hwange National Park, I was surprised and very happy with what we were able to show my parent’s of “Wild Africa.”  - a key component of our lives here and of my career! 

Speaking of my career, being in tourism I book trips for clients to Victoria Falls all the time, and have lived vicariously through their experiences in this tourist town. We visit there quite a bit, but rarely go and do the touristy thing, so I took advantage of having my parents with me to go and actually participate in these things that I sell! 

During our time there mom and I went on an Elephant Back Safari, the three of us went for a helicopter flight over THE Victoria Falls as well as viewed the Waterfalls from ground level. We also went on entertaining dinners with local food and dancing (dad even tried a local worm!), explored a 120 year old hotel, and sipped on signature cocktails on on my favorite sunset cruise.

I owe a huge thank you to Shearwater, The Boma, The Zambezi Explorer, & Lokuthula Lodges for being so generous when my parents visited. It really helped us end this trip with a bang! I always have a pleasant experience when dealing with these companies, and the fact they made an extra effort to welcome my folks to Victoria Falls won't go unnoticed!

And in the blink of an eye it was time to put mom & dad on a plane bound for the States..

Two weeks gone in a flash.. but so many memories made. I think the most important were the visuals that they walked away with. They can now picture where their baby girl decided to begin her young adulthood, and see that perhaps Life ain’t so tough in Africa after all.   

I may sound like a broken record on this topic, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the effort my parents made to come out and see me. I know its all a bit crazy and confusing, but it is the life that I have chosen and it means the world to me that you have learned to embraced that.