Monday – DON’T COME HERE
It’s a very normal Monday night in Matiamanene. The plains are wet so nobody has been out in the field. Instead both my colleague Kings and I are in the kitchen cooking dinner.
I hear some rustling but I don’t pay attention to it, thinking it is a toad or something. Until Kings almost gets a heart-attack and gives me one when he starts screaming ‘LIONS LIONS LIIIIIIOOOOOOONNNNNSSSSS’. Everybody jumps up and looks around, including the five lions of various ages that were casually strolling past, right in front of the kitchen.
Daan comes running from the bathroom screaming ‘WHAT’S HAPPENING?!’, followed by us screaming ‘NOOO GO BACK, DON’T COME HERE!!’.
The chaos is complete.
Soon after we all calm down and with pounding hearts we look at the lions who are now calm again too and have bedded on the path to our tents (nice and soft). Until, apparently, it’s hunting-time and the lions get up and continue their once so easy and leisurely stroll.
Saturday – See ya lataaaaah
Today our colleague Teddy left.
You may wonder: why the hell would anyone leave the coolest place, job and team on earth? What reason could there possibly be?!
Well… Teddy has a good one. He was selected for a postgraduate programme at Oxford University. He has worked very hard to get in and now his time of departure comes closer and closer. Of course we wish him the very best and we as ZCP are super proud of him. But we will miss him here Liuwa. Teddy is not only the best colleague who knows everything and is always up for a chat, he also gives the best impression of hyena- and lionsounds that go with his endless field-stories.
Teddy is off to rock Oxford and we are hoping to see him again soon!
Sunday - Flying
I see it just before I hit it, but it’s too late. Before I can do anything to move my motorbike away from the massive anthill that blocks my route, my front-wheel hits it full force. I am launched into the air with a surprised squeak and all I can do is repeating my mantra ‘hold on whatever happens, hold on whatever happens’ while preparing for my hind-wheel to hit the same anthill. For a split second me plus motorbike are sent flying through the air. When the front-wheel comes back to solid ground it is swiftly followed by the back-wheel. And before I know it, my reflexes react to the blast the motorbike has just given me. My hands automatically pull the brake and the clutch and my left foot finds the solid ground and is strong enough to hold the weight of me plus bike.
Out of sheer relief I start to giggle. I’m glad nobody saw that. But because I didn’t get injured, I’m awarding myself 10 points for the landing.
After a lot of hard work we were looking forward to a holiday. And so, after crossing the country for my Employment permit we set off to a tropical island off the coast of Tanzania named Zanzibar.
I’m not a travel blogger. Far from it really. But Zanzibar is just one amazing place and it would be a shame if I wouldn’t tell you about it. So here is: 9 things I love about Zanzibar! (and a little education about plastic)
#1: The Ocean
I am a sucker for seas and oceans. Swimming, walks along the beach, just staring at the water feeling calmness take over, give me a sea or ocean and I'm entertained. During our time in Zanzibar we swam several times a day. The Indian ocean (the only ocean I had never swum in before) surrounding the island is stunning.
It is the bluest of bluest shades of blue I’ve ever seen in my life and the beaches are white. The water is so clear that even at a 10m depth the bottom is still visible. The reef where we went snorkelling was beautiful with many different corals and colourful fishies. In Nungwi, where we spent our first 2 nights, the ocean is the sort of blue that you just can’t believe. It’s the kind of beach that you can’t look at without sunglasses to protect your eyes from the brightness. The beaches of Paje and Jambiani, where we spent the rest of the week, are different. Because they are on the Eastern side where there is a reef near the coast, the tidal differences are huge. At low tide the ocean is about 2 km away, at high tide it almost bashes into the hotels and lodges on the coast. The transition from low to high tide is beautiful to watch as it brings about all kinds of colours and the tidal pools are awesome to investigate with many fishies, crabs, corals, starfish, snails and more.
So, Ocean: #1 love.
#2: Hakuna matata
Hakuna matata – No problem, no worries. I’m sure I have opened up yet another link in your brain to our all-time favourite movie The Lion King. But Hakuna matata actually means ‘no problem’ in Swahili and it’s the favourite phrase of many locals. The locals are super friendly and nice and they have stolen my heart a little bit. Whether they are explaining you where to go, or selling some fruit for a fair price, they are all smiles and waves and Hakuna matatas and helpful and friendly and they are also just beautiful.
I love food. It makes me happy.
Because the island of Zanzibar used to be and still is inhabited by many people from different cultures, there is so much variety in food! Whether you’re after curry, pasta, pizza, stir fry or coconut- (stuff), with prawns, calamari, fish, beef, chicken or just vegetables… It’s all there! It’s like getting the best of every world. Mind you, all these options can cause some serious choice-problems, especially if you already struggle with that in normal life (which I don't… Totally not… of course).
#4: Fresh fruit
Should probably be added to the previous item, but I think the Zanzibar fruit deserves its own mention. It’s fresh, it’s tropical, it’s local and it’s delicious. Plus: thanks to Daan’s excellent bargaining skills we bought enough fruit to be lunch for 3 days for less than 7 dollars. Pineapple, mango, lychees, banana, watermelon, all of my favourites. Of course fresh fruit juice is also available at every bar as well as the coconut JU-ÏCE (pronounce with that weird I for the right vibe) sold by guys walking by on the beach. The coconuts that the guys on the beach sell actually come from the lodges and resorts, to prevent them from falling out of the tree and potentially killing someone, the coconut ju-ïce men are asked to pick the ripe ones before they fall, which they then sell on the beach. It’s a good system.
#5: Fairly undiscovered
Yes, there are many people on this island’s beaches whose only concern is taking the perfect selfie, buuuuut it’s really not that bad compared to other holiday destinations. The most touristic part of the island is the North (Nungwi) where the ocean and beach are the most beautiful. But other parts of the coast (such as the East) are much more quiet and genuine. Here you can experience Zanzibar’s people, cultures, religion and beauty a bit more. In general I got the feeling that Zanzibar is still fairly undiscovered by the big crowds, although it probably won’t be long before that changes.
#6: Endless things to do
Snorkelling, diving, swimming, walking, boating, shell-searching, laying somewhere doing nothing, stone towning, spice touring or -marketing, kitesurfing, eating, drinking, chatting, chilling… So many things to do, so little time. And the best part? No phone or laptop required for any of these activities!
#7: Local crafts and art
There is a lot of crafts and a lot of people selling it. Even on Zanzibar many of those crafts turn out to come from China, but if you discover something that not everyone is selling then most likely you have found something genuine. My point is: it is not difficult to discover that. Leaving the beach sellers behind and going into the village will get you to the local sellers that mostly sell their own art and craft. Whether that’s made of fabric, wood or paint, it’s all beautiful.
What makes going to Zanzibar even better than the 7 reasons mentioned above? Seeing a very dear friend whom you've known for ten years! When we were planning our trip, January was perfect because it was one of the several months that Amber was there, working at a diving school to become a Dive Master and it was great to hang out so far from home, yet fairly close to my Zambia home.
#9: The use of paper bags
I haven’t seen any single-use plastic bags on the island. Things are carried in paper-bags and in more durable hard-plastic bags. Although I’m not sure whether that is a (government-implemented) preventative measure to limit environmental impact of single-use plastic, it is something that made me very happy.
Zanzibar is amazing and I will definitely visit again! If you're looking for a fairly cheap island getaway without the big crowds (avoid December and first half of January) then Zanzibar is your place to be!
Tapping into that last reason why Zanzibar is cool, there is one thing that is not so cool. There is a lot of plastic littering the beach and the ocean. Every time the tide rises, it brings along countless plastic bottles, flip-flops, nets, etc. Most of the washed up plastic is ‘local’, Zanzibar water bottles and tourists’ shoes. I think it is taken by the high tide into the ocean from resort- and hotel beaches and washes up a few kilometres down the coast. However, so much of that plastic doesn't get back to the beach and is blown out to the open sea to join the massive plastic soup that is killing our oceans.
And some of the plastic actually comes from far, such as this ice-tea bottle I found in Paje. It had been in the water for some time and the label says it was manufactured in Singapore, on the other side of the gigantic Indian ocean!
This is not just a problem on Zanzibar. Plastic is a global problem! It pollutes land and oceans and harms animals that eat it. But I don’t want to end this nice story about Zanzibar on a negative note. So here are some simple tips and tricks for YOU to help tackle the global plastic problem.
Reduce: Tell the waiter you don’t want a straw in your drink, use a reusable cup instead of plastic ones, food-containers instead of (Ziploc) bags, a shopper bag for groceries, a shampoo bar from Lush (in general, visit a Lush store, they are great), a bamboo toothbrush, etc. There's many ways of reducing!
Reuse: Easy! You can reuse Ziploc bags and plastic bottles as well as packaging. Here in camp we reuse all plastic containers of feta, yoghurt, etc. to keep dry goods such as rice and also as plant pots.
Recycle: Yes all of you in the western world. You can recycle plastic and you know it! If you don’t know how, I’m sure your municipality or google can answer that question.
Start with a few things, get excited and do more. And make sure you tell everyone. Brag about it, to your friends, on social media. Inspire other people to do the same. Remember that if you convince ten people to take action and those ten people then each convince ten, together you’ve influenced 100 people!
Monday – Seasonal struggles
Learning to ride a motorbike is a process. The basics, the riding itself, is easy and picked up in a few hours. The second part is the part that can only be learned by hours and hours of doing it and, unfortunately, fucking up and trying to control the damage. The Liuwa humps and bumps, sand, tall grass, holes, dens, approaching animals, manoeuvring around all of it or shaking through. It’s all learned by kilometres of riding, getting stuck for hours and of course… Falling and getting up again, like I did in quite an extreme way last August.
And now there is a new challenge. A new thing to learn to conquer. Water.
Riding in water is difficult and that’s not only because it’s everywhere. Go too fast and you’ll get wet, go too slow and you risk falling over. Shallow water is ok, shallow water for long causes more wear and tear. Waterbodies that look shallow but turn out to be deep can potentially drown your bike: if water enters the air-intake, it’ll get into the engine, causing a lot of (often irreversible) damage. When encountering a stream, you must find a crossing point where it is safe, and be sure about that. In the rare case of finding muddy- instead of sandy soil, the only way to get out is to step into the water and push. Yes, I’ve already been over-knee deep in water.
The water is a challenge. One not to take lightly. And I hope that just this once, I won’t learn by falling and getting up again.
Tuesday – Getting stuck and out
Yeah… So I wrote the above yesterday and apart from the mentioned over-knee deep incident I had been doing really well so far!
But today I came across a ‘waterbodies that look shallow but turn out to be deep’ kind of situation... The ‘waterbody’ in question was more like a rooting mission result by Bushpig Inc. (rarely seen but oh so present with their business). A small rectangle of ploughed soil, full of water and mud. Little do I know that it’s about 30cm deep. I find out soon enough when I want to ‘slowly drive through’. At the very moment that my front-wheel touches the mud, it gets stuck and the bike abruptly stops as if someone pulls the emergency brake. My body is, of course, still moving forward and with a surprised ‘WOAH’ I slam forward over the handle bar. In a split second my stomach is on the handlebar, my backpack in my neck and some fieldgear 2m in front of me. Because of the abrupt stop, the bike slowly starts falling over to the right and like a cartoon I see the mud come closer and closer until a soft landing right in it is inevitable. Even though I’m alone, I can’t stop laughing. I wish someone had filmed that! The front-wheel has buried itself in mud and with all my strength I eventually manage to pull it out. Thanks Bushpig Inc. for a new blog-story. Much appreciated.
Wednesday – Den found
I really shouldn’t have started writing about motorbike riding issues! What I did today? I got stuck in a den. Yes. Properly. It was an old, abandoned hyena den. Even without GPS I can normally find this one without a problem, I know exactly where it is, even now that I haven’t had the need to be there for a while. Yet, coming from the other side, I guess I found it without a problem, I just didn’t realise I was THAT close. And I was probably up with the fairies, not paying too much attention.
So basically I just found myself stuck in a giant burrow, exactly the length of the bike, all of a sudden. This time I had to dig out the high, steep edges of the burrow and lift the 120kg bike out as there was no way of pushing it out. It took me half an hour and a bucket of sweat to get out (too proud to call for help of course). I have not done any further exercise today, my arms hurt too much.
Friday – The long road
We are in ILA lodge in Kafue National Park, the beautiful park I used to call home for a little while. We left Liuwa yesterday and got a lift from NCS to Mongu (3 hours) where we spent the night. We got on the bus this morning at 5.30 for a 6 hour journey to Kafue and to go from the discomfort of the bus to the sheer luxury and beauty that is ILA lodge is like entering heaven! ILA is a great supporter of ZCP’s work and the place is phenomenal. Their ‘tents’ or small palaces as I’d rather like to call them, are beautiful, overlooking the river, and have everything you could possibly need. The main area is just as gorgeous with a pool, bar and dining all overlooking that same mighty Kafue river where elephants come to drink and hippos chill in the water. ILA’s staff is the best! Friendly and super helpful and some of them became friends immediately. ILA is very nice and generous to us as ZCP and always happy to help in any conservation related initiatives and/or issues. They definitely deserve a shout-out. If you’re planning a visit to one of the coolest parks of Zambia: Kafue, then have a look at ILA’s website! Oh, if you weren’t convinced yet, the food is amazing too!
Unfortunately we will only be here for one night before we move on to Lusaka (4 more hours) where we have to do some work (and have a bit of social life muahaha). Monday we are going to Mfuwe, which is on the other side of the country in the East, right on the edge of South Luangwa NP. It’s another 10 hour journey but unfortunately, again, we will only spend 2 days there. The distance from Liuwa to Mfuwe is about 1500 km. Why all that effort you may wonder? Well… That’s a story for next time!