Monday, March 21, 2011

Munford Family's African Vacation

The Munford Family has, over the years, taken big trips together. There was the mid-1990's road trip from Mississippi to Gettysburg to track down where our ancestor fell victim to a Yankee soldier's bullet. (Instead of a soundtrack of music, we spent most of the multiple day journey listening to our parents read aloud Civil War letters recovered from my grandmother's attic. This is where I think my love of music came from...in the form of my Walkman.) There was also a trip out West to Charlie's graduation from Deep Springs and our folks thought 120 degree Death Valley would be the perfect destination for teenage daughters -"It's like the beach, except way hotter and no ocean. " More recently there was Scotland in 2006, when my family came to see me at the end of my semester abroad there. We were all considerably more patient post-adolescents but maturity and restraint was tested when the rental car for the 5 of us (plus suitcases and my guitar) turned out to be a close cousin of the clown car. I enjoy drawing comparisons between my family's vacations and the classic American vacation cinematic series known as National Lampoon's Vacation (and sequels European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, and Vegas Vacation).

Africa, as it turns out, is no exception for the Munfords-come-Griswolds. The family met up in Livingstone, Zambia to see how Sister's been managing there for the last 7 months. (She is half-way through a little over a year of working for African Impact, coordinating their voluntourism effort in the area.) We spent a few days in Livingstone before crossing the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers to Botswana and then jetting down to Cape Town for a week. All events below are true, although they are true according to me. If someone disagrees, it wouldn't be the first time we have different versions of our family vacations...
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March 7th - March 10th: Livingstone, Zambia
Mom and Pops stepped off the plane in unmistakable safari gear, but against our predictions and to our delight, they weren't wearing matching his and hers safari outfits. Phew. Charlie, on vacation from graduate school, seemed pretty stoked to be in Africa ("Back in Africa after 40,000 years!!") and kept asking us (Sister and me) about the various legumes and grasses that make up African bush. Not really our specialty, it turns out. While Sister was working one morning we visit Victoria Falls, which is near peak because it's the rainy season. This means over a million cubic feet of water pour over the falls every second. There's so much water that it sprays the entire canyon area with droplets. Knowing this still didn't stop Mom from asking, "Is it raining?" Sister took us on project tours and a hike into the gorge, where the Zambezi is hardly the calm, but swift current of the upper Zam - it's more like foaming white death. She also treated us to a braii (African bbq) at her favorite lookout into the gorge.

video

Rainbow over Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. You could barely see the Falls because of the spray.


Sunset on the Zambezi from our booze-cruise on the Lady Livingstone

Sister takes us on a project tour in Nakatindi Village

A hike into the gorge one afternoon

March 11th - 13th: Muchenje Lodge outside of Chobe National Park, Botswana
We all head to a pretty amazing safari lodge on the bluffs overlooking the Chobe River, Muchenje Lodge. Upon arrival drink orders are taken. Turns out all food, booze, and game drives are included in that price we've already paid. Pre-paid beer, delicious food, and stalking wild animals while someone else drives? Yes, I think this is heaven. We went on several drives over the few days and managed to see literally hundreds of elephants (Chobe claims to have over 120,000 of them in and around the unfenced park) and giraffes, which turn out to be Ginnie Munford's favorite animal. When the rest of us feign surprise at this revelation, she retorts: "I can't believe y'all didn't know that! I always took you to the giraffes first when we'd go to the Jackson Zoo." I quickly respond, "Mom, that's because they were in the first cage when you walked in the gates." Still, the giraffes seem to please her so we stop for a long time to watch them. We all quickly discover that Mom is a little too excited about her new super zoom camera and photographing duties are handed over to me, in large part to censor how often we stop for photos. Charlie seems to be most animated by the warthogs: "Just imagine slappin' a number on one of those guys and runnin' him in a greyhound race." Huh? Pops is into the kudus and for the remainder of our time in Africa he searches for a wooden kudu to put in his office. We also saw sabel, impala, water buffalo, lilac breasted something, water bucks, hippo, crocodile, zebra, and (on two separate occasions) a lone lioness. Despite a small desire to shove Charlie out near the lioness sighting, we all managed to avoid any wildlife (or sibling) attacks.

This lioness came fewer than 10 feet from our vehicle, but didn't seem the least bit phased.

Elephants playing in the Chobe River. The other side of the river is Namibia.

March 14th - 21st: Cape Town, South Africa
Some sort of sheep emergency prompts Charlie to change his ticket so as to forgo his few days in Cape Town (he's got a flock of sheep in Connecticut with him at graduate school). Now Sister and I are evenly matched against our parents. When we get to Cape Town it's a bit of a shock for all of us, but especially Sister, who has been living in Africa since last summer. Cape Town is very first-world: the power doesn't go out, beer comes out of a tap in the pub, and the streets are actually paved. Sister just about has a heart-attack when we go into the grocery store and immediately stocks up on all sorts of goods she can't get in Livingstone, like couscous and good cheese. Over the course of the week we hike up Table Mountain, visit Robben Island (where Mandela served 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment), take a tour out into wine country, drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, and visit a few museums.


Hiking up the side of Table Mountain, which overlooks Cape Town


Took a drive out to the Cape of Good Hope

All-in-all, from stalking lions stalking impala to keeping our mouths shut when Sister stalled the rental car half-a-dozen times, the Munford's African Vacation was pretty stellar. Of course, somethings haven't changed much since that Gettysburg car trip: we still are fully capable of carrying on 3 conversations at once (if you do the math, that means that at least one of us is talking to ourself); headphone therapy still very much works; sometimes you (or they) just need a nap; and at the end of it we are both grateful to our family we love, but somewhat pleased to be fully capable of traveling on without them.

From here it's up the coast to Durban before crossing over to Mozambique and into Zimbabwe. Just under a month to go...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Money, Obama, and Gadgets

A few more musings from the African continent. I head into Zambia tomorrow and will work my way down to Livingstone, where Sister is currently living and working. My folks and Brother come to the continent on Monday. Yes, the Griswolds take Africa. The next blog is sure to be a doosey.

  • If Obama ever gets depressed about his approval rating in the US, he should just schedule a state visit to an African country. They love him over here. I've seen t-shirts, hats, bags, and even bubble-gum with his face plastered on them.
  • ATMs give you money in denominations of $5 equivalent bills. I get around $200 out at a time, since that usually lasts me a week or so. This means it spits out 40 notes and I feel like a millionaire walking around with all that dough. I can't wait to get to Zimbabwe and get a billion dollar note...
  • There are hundreds of different languages in each of the countries I'm visiting. However, there is one word that seems to be used in all of them: MZUNGU, it's Swahili for "white person." The plural is WZUNGUS.
  • In Malawi, there is such a lack of a tourism infrastructure that I have yet to find a place to buy a single picture postcard. There are handmade ones you can buy in the markets, but good luck finding what we'd consider a normal picture postcard. Sorry, folks. You're not getting a card from this country.
  • In 1994, with the stepping down of Dr. Banda, Malawi's "President for Life," the official dress code for the country was eliminated. Thank gooodness, because I really don't think I would have fared well in a country where women can't wear trousers. Of course, I still dress conservatively so as not to offend. And I won't be looking for love while in this particular African nation - an "unnatural offence" carries a sentence of 14 years in prison. No thanks.
  • I've done a fair amount of travel in the last year and I've been seriously helped with a few techonological devices that weren't even invented 10 years ago. With me I carry an iPod (enourmously useful for buses that play obnoxious music or falling asleep in noisy dorm rooms), a digital camera (15 years ago it would have been near impossible to share photos of my adventures while still adventuring halfway around the world), an iPhone (the leisure of being able to download new podcasts when I reach wifi spots is pretty fantastic), and a Kindle (carrying a few ounces worth of 20 books). Of course, with each gadget comes a risk of getting it stolen, lost, or damaged. I am sad to report that my Kindle (the second one, since the first one died in Thailand) ceased to function properly this morning. So while it has been nice so far, I'm now without access to several e-Books I purchased for this trip. Good thing the 3rd world still believes in second hand books. I stocked up on 4 new reads for a little under $8. Phew.