Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tsika Island, Lower Zambezi River


Our arrival at the Island - how excited are we to be at Tsika?!


We'd been wanting to go Tsika ever since...well ever since we were invited and invited and invited and invited by our best family, the Winters, but had never managed to go. It was a shame we could not all go together but with our family on the Island, every last room was booked.  Accommodation on the island consists of three open air chalets, a kitchen and dining room insaka, and a lovely sitting area with a fire pit. That's it.  You have the whole place to yourself.  The staff (usually 2 or three guys -- a boatman, a guide and anyone you bring along (in our case, another boatman) stays near to the camp but are always there it seems...and you want them there because you need someone to watch for animals, start the fire, sort the fishing, or take you out in the boat.


Most every excursion involves a well-packed car.  This was a bit tricky because the car was already packed...with PEOPLE!  We had to bring all our own food and drinks so everything (besides some VERY sour jelly beans) went up top - even Uncle Alan!  Just kidding, he got an actual seat inside the car.  It was wee bit stormy when we left Lusaka.  We made the drive down to Gwabe camp tho in good time despite the unexpected diversion.  The highway between home and Zimbabwe has been under construction/repairs for most of the year -- we never know which stretch they are working on or how far off the path the detours will take us.  Getting there is half the fun tho, right?  eeeshhhh.  More like half the BATTLE.

On arrival at Gwabe, we quickly found our friend's car...he has parked there as well and took a boat with his daughters down to another camp.  We also found he had taken our boat/boatman.  The lodge owners were out and the fill-in knew nothing about our arrangement to borrow a boat+boatman for our stay.  Hmmmm.  Things were quickly shuffled, however and we managed to secure our transport (tho without discussion of the fees which we found out later (gulp!)) while we sat by their pool and had a nice cold drink.

The boat trip to Tsika would save us a long and bumpy road ride. (normally travel is across the river via pontoon and a few more hours on the road, then transfer of everything and everyone from a nearby village across the way over to the island)  The boat transfer was a welcome arrangement after our already long and bumpy ride.  Here is a shot looking over the Zambezi towards the escarpment - towards Lusaka as the crow flies.



Let's get straight to the food bits.  Self-catering for the guys on camping trips means fishing, eating fish and bringing/drinking beer.  For our gang, we went upscale (are your surprised) and had the Pikani cooks (that would be me + Rodar + Obrin) prepare meals for 7 for four days, not a small fete, especially since we didn't really know about the cook/kitchen set up.  We managed.  Here is one of my fave meals:  marinated + oven baked tilapia, coconut mint+chive relish on toast with a friend egg.  So so so yummy. (hahaha...I'm editing this but I'm leaving this funny typo; "Friend Eggs" sound so cute and healthy.)

me. fat and happy.  and out of focus. I think O was keen on taking pics of the elephants in the water behind me.

The boys set up the tripod in front of our chalet and had fun doing gymnastics and taking timer photos of themselves.  here are my favourites.  Contemplative Owen.


karate kids


and my goodness the kids got hops!




We didn't just see birds and boys....we some wonderful eles.  They were at our chalets when we arrived and hung around the camp and across the way the whole time we were there.  Amazing creatures. Finn and I surprised a huge monitor lizard and we had loads of birds and kuckey looking and sounding insects as per usual. Love the eles...love them more from a distance.


The bee eaters are always a favourite.  This is not the best photo but I love the fanned tail feathers.  They nest in the cliffs river-side.

 The Lower Zambezi is chock full of crocs...this one was monsterously large.  It is very freaky to spot them one second and the next second, they are all but gone...you can see the tail here still.  Do you see why we don't EVER risk swimming? or sitting by the river bank? or why fishing is even a bit fraught??

Ah, the national symbol of Zambia, the mighty Fish Eagle! We did not supply this guy with a single fish. but we spent many many hours trying.

The birders had a bit better time of things than the fishers although we were really missing having a proper birding guide.  That came later in their trip....thankfully we didn't know just what we were missing by being so rusty with our IDs and without the right guide.  The guys were wonderful to get us there and tour us around safely, but to get a good birder to accompany you into the bush?  well.... it's an amazing thing.


Because we had two boats and two boatmen, we split up - the fishers and the birders.  The birders got the banana boat and had a great trip around the island, the fishers got the Vundu and went round the other way.  We caught up with each other at lunch time.


Bye-Bye Tsika!  We'll be back!


Reunion Zed-Side!


If you have been living in cave in East Andalusia you may have missed the news that we had a big Jennings family reunion in Zambia.  We've just said goodbye to our last guest (right before we welcome our NEXT guest, world-teen-traveler, Kyla!) and so we finally have time to share with the world the photos from this amazing visit.  

Their trip began long before they arrived on our doorstep of course.  Getting ready to travel and to be away from home is an adventure that deserves its own post.  Also deserving of it's own post is the LONG JOURNEY that one has to take to GET here!  Our preferred airline of late is Emirates Air.  They fly to Lusaka in two looooonnnnnnngggg flights.  The first 14 hour flight is aboard a Boeing 777 and the second 7 hour flight is on the Airbus 304. The layover this direction is long and it's overnight in Dubai.  

This is one of the best, most direct options now that British Airways is no longer flying direct.  Oh we miss the London layover.

At any rate, we snuck in a few adventures between the normal catching up on sleep, catching up on family time, hanging out in Lusaka and playing with the new pup.

We bothered to all sit together for one SINGLE family photo.  This is at Tsika Island on the Lower Zambezi River.  I love that Finn is standing in the middle because when I look at his adorable little face I see a little bit of all our families in him. (most dangerous is the mischievious Ballou twinkle in the Brooks blue eyes! WATCH OUT for this kid.)

The sporting life


Like most families, our life seems to be organized around the kids school and sport.  Both boys join any team they are asked to join and do a few things outside of school as well.  They both excel at different things -- but both do athletics (track + field), field hockey, football/soccer, swimming, volleyball and cross country for the school teams.  They play on soccer teams outside of school as well.  O this year shocked us all by doing the 'Ultra' triathlon on his own while little brother stuck with a shorter race and also raced for a team.  

Some highlights as the kids wrapped up the school year.


O and I after he finished his cross country race. He takes XC pretty seriously but really doesn't have much opportunity to train before the two or three big races that the school team competes on.  (This could change next year when our friends return to Zambia after a year in the US...and after a year of proper XC and long distance running, training and coaching.  This is going to be an exciting new thing for us!)

The little brother competed in his first XC race this year as well, I think the race was one mile.  He ran well and took the even very very very seriously (which is to say, NOT AT ALL serisously -- see his pre-race routine, below...wrestling with his buddy and eating popcorn). But that at age 8 he can line up and run a new race course and finish well (and a-hem, SPRINTING) says something about him.


Next in line is hockey:  the boys LOVE hockey.  We know next to nothing about it still.  The rules are complicated and it looks dangerous.  (In fact it IS dangerous!)



The annual triathlon in Apil is always a highlight of the sporting season for the whole family.  This year, because of a glitch in the signing-up system three boys, including O, signed up for the adults-only "ULTRA" distance triathlon. The race organizers thought to exclude them (and have them do the shorter race instead) but thought again because they know each of these three boys.  It ended up being a real highlight of the year for the kids: a genuine challenge...something that really pushed them mentally and physically.


 800m swim.  In a pool!  This is unusual for a triathlon but when every open water swim possibility would involve the genuine added "loss of limbs" and "loss of life" challenge, a pool swim is positively the only way to go.  No crocs, no hippos, nothing else that a can kill you.

 20km cycle.  The bike course is also unusual (off-road, in-the-bush, technical mountain bike course) and makes up for the swim-in-your-own-lane-pool-swim in technical challenges -- with the added danger of being eaten by a python or attacked by rabid dogs.

The run is also cross-country/off road.  He's the big guy crossing the finish line.  He sprinted the last 400 meters....it was a pretty darn awesome finish.  HE WAS TIRED.  (but what did the kids all do when they got home?  played soccer and swam for hours)




Above: 2/3 of the Love&Toast team waiting for our cyclist...I swam (slowly) and TS ran (WITH her purse....she couldn't find the iPod holder) and Anna cycled - with a satin cape. Because, you know, we're so cool like that. Below (Love & Toast post-race w/ our support team.)




Serious athletes, waiting to swim.




Team THUNDER cleaned up in their team and individual races! 
"What are we going to do with all these medals??"


Then there's FIELD HOCKEY!  It's the favourite sport that the parents know next to nothing about.  It's really difficult to get a good photo of field hockey.


The Boys Under-10 team won this particular tournament...maybe they won the whole league.  We don't know...we don't understand this sport but we do know that alll the tournaments count toward one final score for the year...and we think they "won it all."

 You just TRY to get a good photo of a boy running after a ball with a stick and a black mouth guard!  I dare you!


Back to team swimming  This was a fun gala out at Martin House, a boarding school in Chisamba.
 BUTTERFLY!  What a rock star.


aren't you tired just looking at the photos?




MAZILLA!



It's tough to decide where to begin -- clearly we've done a few things since the 'frog socks' post.  It's great that we've been TOO DARN BUSY to sit and write at the computer.  So where to begin...

How about starting with introducing our new puppy? She is one of 9 puppies born to our friends dogs at the end of April: Sweetie (the momma, a black lab) and Djok (an african boerbul/mastiff with some labrador somewhere in his past).  Both of these dogs are puppies themselves and the litter was quite an unexpected (but great!) surprise.


Little Maza is in there somewhere. Poor Sweetie. She had a difficult job!

The puppies from the start had their own personalities and looks.  A lot of them had short velvet-soft hair w/ a brindle pattern (tiger stripes, I suppose), one was a beautiful weimeruner grey and two were black with soft long fur -- one was a boy with a white blaze on his chest and the other was one of two girls - this is our puppy, MAZA!  From  the start we knew we wanted this little girl.  Thankfully, it's worked out well and she ends up being just the sort of dog we needed and that fits well into our family.

This family includes Old Man Siku. Siku was the big unknown in all of this.  As much as having a puppy around would be something new for us, for Siku this was going to be a huge, major, big-deal change.  Let's just say that he's not exactly known for his kindness around other dogs and leave it at that.

Here is the pup when we first met her.  eeeeekkkkkk! so cute. of course we had to have a puppy.


Even if you're not wondering, we're going to tell you about Maza's name.  The kids were coming up with really lame names...we all were....so we took the naming project to the family that gave her to us.  Long story short....we came up with Maza.  Maza sort of means "darling" in Serbian.  Other reasons:  the serbian translation of "lady and the trap" (the disney dog movie) is "Maza i Lunja" and Lunja in our family is...Siku, the tramp.  Also, there is a town in Zambia called "Mazabuka" which is known as 'the sweetest town in Zambia" because this is where sugar-cane is grown and processed. (maza...sweetie (the mom)...get it?) There must be another reason but it's escaping me.  At any rate, the second we came up with the name, it stuck.  Maza, it is.  Since she is the puppy of Finn's friend we were able to get to know her from the week she was born -- and we all had a good bond with her long before we brought her some.  The constant contact also allowed us to bring this puppy's smell home with us for two months before we brought the pup home. I"m not sure if this made any difference to Siku but it can't have been a bad idea.

They boys are working hard to train her to be a good dog.  It's a challenge but as she's getting bigger the challenge is only growing, so we are happy to have gotten a good start.  She's only 4 months old and is nearly as big as 'the big dog'.  It's tough to say which genes are going to come thru -- the lab or the boerboel.  Boerbuls are MASSIVE dogs.  Our friend's boerboel (named AZA!! Aren't we clever to have struggled to come up with MAZA?), for example, has to wear a MAN's BELT for his collar.  He is THAT BIG.  He's the biggest dog I've ever seen, in fact.  His head is the size of a lion's it's HUGE.  His heart is just as big, thankfully, it's MASSIVE.

Boerboels are not a familiar breed to most of the world.  They are from South Africa and were bread for "defense of the homestead" and for tracking and defending game from lions hyenas and other big cats.    A Boerboel will take down a lion and yet...it's known for it's kindness with children and for tolerating any abuse they can dish out. They are also known for their loyalty and affection.  A boerbul looks like a giant rotweiler I suppose but they are yellow/blonde with black eyes, a wrinkly, worried-looking forehead and a black muzzel.  Adult Boerboels weigh 100-200 pounds.  If an adult boerbul jumps up on you it will put it's paws on your shoulders and have to look DOWN you to lick your face....which...it will do.

So far, Maza is of course growing like crazy but she'll likely be about 60-70 pounds (Ruby was 40 I think but she was on the small/trim side) and maybe will in the end look like a giant black lab.

 the littermates.  


Siku...wondering what the heck we brought home.  He HATES it when she goes by the pool.  Siku hates the pool.  We forced him in the pool ONCE and will never do it again.  It was a 100+degree day and he looked so miserable....bad idea.  Maza has been in a dozen times and while she's not happy (the water is really cold right now), we think she'll be a swimmer.  Her momma regularly jumps in the pool!


"I am puppy, hear me snore!" 

The first photos of the dog are all when she's sleeping -- every other photo is just of a giant fluffy blur.



 Finn is trying to get the dogs to stand nicely together to compare sizes now.  He's got a healthy fear of dogs (which was one reason to get a puppy, to be honest) but has done GREAT with Maza's training -- learning how to behave around a dog, how to 'act' dominant even if you are being overwhelmed by them -- for him it has maybe been more finny-training than maza training.  But the dog training has gone well, too.


 maza's personality: she is a big goof and she is not the brightest bulb.


This photo gives a glimpse of what she'll look like as a big dog -- the boerboel saggy, wrinkly, face, the lab eyes (bright and pleading), lab ears (as a little puppy she had longer curly fur on her ears -- more like a spaniel).  She's got fluffy soft fur still - like a big soft muppet.  Yes, her feet are giant.

She's a bit of the a thief at the moment.  She's only chewed ONE pair of shoes and they are almost still wearable (but not quite, grrr, they were mine.  my favourites).  We are now used to retrieving things from behind the outside couch and regularly spot her wandering off, dragging the kids stuffed animals.  Her favourite is this stuffed teddy bear that is nearly as big as she is.  Most recently the kids were using the kitchen scissors outside to cut a rope.  They left the scissors outside but we couldnt' find them anywhere....until we looked behind the couch.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Frog Socks

Inspection of the discovery
Hellloooooooo.  Funny things are happening here....science week MUST be on it's way.  It's the only explanation.   A couple of years ago I did a big lesson on frogs.  One of the things I told the kids was something I read and thought was funny.  I also...didn't quite believe it myself.  Until just now.

I just hopped out of the pool...we're starting 'training' for the triathlon and the swim is really my focus b/c with the neighborhood's rabid dogs (they are just loose and unvaccinated but they bite, so I'm not taking changes) and our broken bicycles, running and cycling are kind of a challenge to get around to.

ANYWAY, I noticed a frog who was also trying to hop out of the pool.  I scooped it out and in doing so, noticed something funny....Could it BE?

In my froggy lesson one of things I taught was that frogs shed their skin just like other amphibians and reptiles....but instead of leaving them behind (as 'evidence' of this shedding) the frog wriggles out of it's skin like it's taking off it's clothes and...it ....EATS the skin.  EATS it. Yup.  Crazy right? So, the froggy in my pool had the evidence dangling out of it's mouth.  A little gross.  But after inspecting the pool I noticed something funny floating around -- it was a Frog-SOCK!  Toes and everything, floating around, all inside out.


Cool? gross? funny?  I don't know but NOW I share this froggy fact with confidence having seen it with my very own eyes.

O 'tested' the skin -- i thought it would be more filmy and dissolving, but it was a bit stretchy, then broke when he pulled it a little more.

Back to work.  This years' lesson is on Chameleons.  TJ is doing Malaria+Mosquitoes 101 talks.  The kids projects....both very exciting.  One child is done and the presenation/report being written up, one still just has an idea.....send good thoughts our way.