Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hanging out at Kasanka

In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday (which they don’t celebrate in Zambia), we took a little camping trip to the Kasanka National Park, home to the world’s largest (?) bat migration.  The bats come to one of Zambia’s smallest (and only privately managed) parks from about the end of October to the end of December.  Where do they come from?  It’s a bit of a mystery but it is believed they come from all over central/Southern Africa, mostly the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, or Congo DR as they call it here....).  The number of bats that come have been reported as high as 8 million.The bats are Straw-Coloured Fruit Bats.  They have a wingspan of about 80cm.  They eat....fruit!  The BBC is sending a crew for a month so we'll be on the lookout for the results of that project.  This migration phenomenon is still kind of a mystery.
Access in the bat forest is tightly controlled as the bats are easily disturbed.  Also the Park funds itself with entrance fees and such -- it's run as a private trust, the "Kasanka National Trust."  Two of the kids classmates have grown up here b/c their parents manage the trust -  but are recent migrants back to Lusaka, having now turned 6 and 8.  

As we heard from the folks at the main lodge....after the fact... the forest is also a favorite place of the park’s leopards, crocs, black mambas, and elephants.  Another good reason to go with an armed escort.

To see the bats you can climb up into ‘hides’ that are platforms 40 feet up. 
This is a hide that isn't in the bat forest but it gives you an idea.  The hides in the forest rise out of dense cover and you only get to them when the forest is dark .... and creepy.  Perfect for leopards and crocs but not perfect for cameras.

 The first trip up was terrifying for him, the rest were terrifying for his parents! Fearless Finn!

It’s hard to describe. It looks in the photo as though we’re at top of the treetop (the view from our perch, below)  but in fact the treetops have been all pulled down to this level by the weight of the many bats roosting daily in the forest. 

Every evening at dusk the bats leave their roosts, returning at 3 or 4 in the morning.  The spectacle of 8 million bats taking flight at’s incredible. The taller trees in the distance are just stick trunks -- the clumps are all bats.

 you can see the tree on the left, full with bats and the trees (what's left of them) on the right where the bats have already flown. Below, a close up -- those dark clumps are all bats.

The best is the sound - of the bats calling but also the 'whooooossshhhh' of them flying from a roost all at once.  For that you'll have to climb up the Fibwe Hide and experience this yourself! (tho I think O took a movie with his camera, I'll see if he can upload it onto his blog!)

Camping at Kasanka


In Africa?
Yes and yes.  When a tented chalet at the luxury lodge is $200-350 a night per person and tent camping at the same lodge is $10-20 it’s hard to pass up.   Typically, campers have access to the same amenities -- swimming pools, bar, restaurant and staff to help with everything from doing your dishes to setting up your tent.  We have brought back with us a good assortment of camping gear, including a great, Target car-camping tent and a incredibly comfortable queen size aerobed.  I pack my little Bialatti stovetop espresso for my little baby-baristas to fix lattes with in the morning and off we go.  
The lodge at a Wilderness Safari Camp. (note the italian espresso 
machine?  the wood fired pizza oven? the Weytlands decor's)

It’s a bit more involved than that b/c it’s still camping, but then’s not.  At one campsite they have gas-heaters for your own personal outdoor stone shower, flush toilets, running water, etc.  At another they send three staff your way throughout the day to see what you need -- help with the tent?  preparing your meal?  doing your dishes?  starting your fire? arranging for boat trips or game drives?  an armed guard patrolling the camp at night? I’d like to see that at Mount Ranier National Park! (well, maybe not the armed guard....that wouldn't go over well now would it.)
Camping at Kasanka was the most rustic of all our camping experiences, complete with strange insects (straight out of Dr. Seuss,) animal noises thru the night, murky shower water pulled from the river and a pit toilet.  In reality it was much more normal, much more like camping in the US.  

a fellow camper at Pontoon Camp in Kasanka National Park

If you see me wondering around Nehalem Bay State Park looking lost come August, whimpering ‘Eskari? ...Eskari?  ....Eskari?’  and wondering where is my (1) cold beer (2) hot shower and (3) spa appointment at least now you’ll know why.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Coffee: from field to cup

I am headed back to the coffee plantation this week with some friends.  I brought back to Seattle the photos from my and Alan’s shoot out there in June during the harvest but I never got around to posting them.  Here is a quick look at the 2010 coffee harvest in Zambia.  The arty photos that we set out to get are interspersed with the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes-pictures to give you an idea of goes into coffee at this stage in the game.  

As our hostess lamented, she can do everything at the farm to get the best beans but once they are picked it can only go down-hill.  They start with a great product and do everything in their power to ensure that the cup you drink at the coffee shop is up to her standards.  Every step along the way from picking and transporting to fermenting, drying and roasting to storage, packaging and of course preparation can support the quality of the initial product or....not.  

Like many things, when you look closely at all the things that go into getting a product to a customer, it’s pretty amazing you can get a decent cup of coffee anywhere!  Here is some insight into to process:

The operation here starts with the cultivation/nursery center.  They grow several strains --one short and bushy sun-loving and another really tall and planted with tall shadey trees.  Clearly I was paying more attention to lighting and framing and not to Marika's technical science lesson.... All their beans are Coffea arabica.
Alan and Marika checking out the some experimental plots.  More impressive that the health of this cultivar was the gigantic spiders that were stringing their webs between the rows.  I was nearly an arachnid appetizer.

Above, Ripe beans.  They have an almost cranberry-like tartness and texture.  The coffee bean in inside there somewhere.

At this farm beans are hand-picked.  The farm employs a few hundred people but at harvest there can be 1,000 people working.  Harvest in Zambia is June-August.  
Machine picking is possible but because the beans grow not at the end of the branches, but tucked inside along the trunk, the mechanical harvesters are really hard on the plants.  Also, the machines cannot discriminate as to which beans get picked (e.g. not yet ripe or overly ripe), they just strip the plants.

(Above) The result of hand-picking -- all the beans are ripe and ready and delivered straight to the processing staging area only as the processing area is ready to receive them.

The processing area is situated on top of the farm's highest hill to take advantage of gravity to move the beans from cleaning, hulling and fermenting to drying.  The farm also has a milling operation and alternates growing soy and wheat.  They had a go at Ostrich farming but the birds are so unruly that they gave it up.  There are a few remaining "free-range" birds who wander the property and torment everyone at the farm, especially Marika who is a strong long-distance runner but who found out the hard way she can't outrun them!
Imported from Columbia, the initial sorting machines serve to clean and strip the beans of the tough outer skin

A giant chalkboard shows the daily harvest numbers

(Above) The fermentation tanks where the pulp/mucilage is removed.  The beans require constant stirring to ensure equal/even fermentation.  If a bean gets stuck in the corner and goes bad it can spoil the whole tank.

Beans floating in the tanks (above) and (below) being coaxed 'downstream' to the drying racks.

Alan, perched atop the last row of fermentation tanks, looking down to the drying racks
 Raking the beans under cover.  The drying is done under a mesh canopy and over a ventilated mesh grate.

The light was so great in this warehouse I had to take some pictures....but it's barley from the milling operation and not coffee that's pictured above.

After the beans are dried to a moisture content of 12% they are ready for further processing.  At this stage there is an outer husk that is removed.  The resulting product is called "parchment."

 (above) A gorgeous old roaster.  The beans are roasted at the farm for tasting and grading.  A roaster in Lusaka handles the commercial roasting process for the farm's three lines of coffee.

Having a familiarity with the chocolate tasting process I was surprised to see a similar array of tools for coffee testing/tasting, called "cupping."  It is fascinating to watch the pros at this stage.  I won't go into the details here b/c it's quite complex.  (A quick google search for 'coffee cupping' will give you more information than you will ever need, I promise).  I will say that the samples of the different blends (green beans and roasted beans) are prepared and tested/compared side by side.  The standard preparation 2 tablespoons of freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee in a 6 oz cup.

There is an elaborate process for warming the spoons and cups, preparing the water, judging the grounds, waiting for the coffee to brew (to the precisely right point), smelling, scooping, spooning, slurping (to take into your palate air and coffee), spitting and repeating.....

 Marika's expertly-trained tasters left my novice taste buds in the dust.  "lemony, fresh, fruity, sour, bitter, floral"....but all I could muster was 'oh, that's nice....that is also nice....that one is only OK (but why, I had no clue)...hey, I like this one....."  Chocolate is much more up my alley apparently. (If only it WERE up my alley!)

Guatemalan Quetzal

Here is Professor Jakob (age 5-1/2) showing off his Passports Club Resplendent Quetzal...the national bird of Guatemala.  The other new study countries and their national birds?

Yemen = golden winged grosbeak
Jamaica = Doctor bird (or swallowtail hummingbird)
Bhutan = Raven

The real thing:

(this image © Nick Athanas of Tropical Birding,
Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica, Savegre 16-Mar-2005)


The water tower at 23b
How we convinced the boys not to climb is a mystery

After some days without water our property management company finally got a crew over to investigate.  
To fill you in, it hasn’t rained since March.  Our water is CONSTANTLY running -- watering the garden (not by choice), filling up the pool (a selfish priority) and from normal daily use.  Where does the water come from?
Some houses have ‘Council Water’ which is piped into luska from a river somewhere, filtered and treated (hopefully).  Our old house had Council Water; the water bill was somewhere close to $150 a month and we did not water the grass all thru the dry season.  There was a tank to serve as a backup for when the water was shut off (which it is frequently) but it was sited at the bottom of a hill and our two-story house sat at the top of the hill.  This meant that when the water was off, the pressure was low or the power  went out (also frequent) we were instantly without water in the house.  Also, our cheap landlords bought the tiniest little pump they could find in all of Zambia (oh, did I say that?) that was meant to get water up the hill and into the house -- so the pump was always breaking.  It was also somehow hooked into the pool pump and filter setup (saves money, right? wrong!) so the little thing was working quadruple time on top of having to handle power surges, etc.   at any rate, our house now has a totally different and really beefy setup.  We have no council water and we get all the water from a well, or a ‘borehole’ as it’s called.  It’s common that houses have both so when one is finished they can switch to the other.  Boreholes and pumps and the setup required is a really costly initial investment but in the long run saves money and hassles. 
So, from our water troubles this week I learned that our borehole is 43 meters down.  The water table starts at 5m from the top even, so despite the lack of rainfall, the water table is actually fine -- it's in great shape.  This is a relativley shallow borehole, apparently.  The crew reported that some are 100m, 150m and more in some places.   Amazing.  
At any rate, we have this borehole and a borehole pump, and a booster pump and a tank that sits high up on some scaffolding (the first photo) and perhaps another pump somewhere in there b/c we have a double+story house and a hot water tank (a “geyser”) that sits on the roof which  must be set at about 200 degrees F b/c it’s really that freakin hot.  When your geyser blows (which of course they do!) you do not want that thing INSIDE your house, up on the roof seems a strange location but it’s best you leave it up there.
There were two surprising things about this borehole crew and their work besides the facts about the borehole.  The crew came and spilled out of a truck with about 10 workers and it included 4 women.....dressed in coveralls, steel-toed work boots and they worked right alongside the guys.  and the other funny and amazing thing was that one of the guys wore SHORTS.  I don’t know that I have seen an adult in shorts here ever.  This was my real reason for wanting to take a few photos of their project.  

The "Simply Red Pump" crew at work. 

The borehole pump that needed servicing and a new coupling. It should have come up sparkling clean.  clearly there were some issues....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ruby in the Sky With Diamonds

Like so many great dogs we have known - Raina, Doug Fir, Sally, Joey, Sparky, Muffin.... it was time to say goodbye. We are sad but we are happy to have had such a great dog and also to have had so many friends and family take her in while we are away.  Thanks to the Grandparents, to Rachael and Scott, Jason and Marie, and Kathi and Marc, and to Jim, Molly and their girls for whom Ruby was as much theirs as ours.  

Or maybe it's that we were hers.

Ruby, who would follow Todd anywhere

Our fondest Ruby memories? 
Picking her out of the litter at Battleground
learning that dogs have belly buttons and that their puppy teeth fall out
that tail...ouch, that TAIL!
toilet paper tubes
search and rescue and agility training
frozen peanut butter kongs
her inability to BACK UP
umbilical cord (owen’s that is......ewwww)
leash laws (and violating them)
off-leash parks (and loving them)
the Greenbank Farm
harmonica howling
mud puddles
digging for gold
Receiving a trophy for “Best Dog” odience training class (the no-treat class)
Failing the AKC Obedience training class (the salami and cheese treat class)
the beach, the beach, the beach, the beach
more beach
tennis balls
pretend sleeping 
space invading
fake snoring
and the fact that she never believed for even a second that she was not a little lap dog

Wag more, bark less.
Good girl, Ruby.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Retro Remodel

It went from white with purple and yellow flowers with white tires to chrome with the retro bauhaus coffee sticker (Thank's Alan! ), black tires and the chrome airplane with the red propellors on the handlebars. I'm a bit jealous. *( ... it is a great bike and the boys never once complained about the color!)

O. cleaned the bike and got it ready for spraying

The kids both tried spraying -- the safety goggles and hat were not my idea! The kids had already blown up a few things already this morning so were a bit on edge about the possibility of something (else) exploding.

Think he likes it? Just a little bit.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


What a party! The headline should read: "All-dad cannonball contest soaks partygoers!" or "Swimmers unable to break 5 seconds on water rodeo champion Flippy Walrus!"

We had a great time. Can't believe the little monster is 5. After asking every day for the past two months, "When is my birthday?" "How many days til my birthday?" "When will I be 5?" ....When it finally WAS his birthday he didn't quite believe us. "Really! I am five? It is my birthday?"

Hip Hip Horray! It's your Birthday!
(from the benefit compilation CD called "Do Fun Stuff")

Happy Birthday!