Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What to do?

I keep looking back at our Thailand photos and seeing more fun things to write about, so I”m just going to keep posting our holiday photos until...our next holiday?  

Maybe it’s just the nature of a holiday to see that there was just SO MUCH TO DO or maybe it’s just that in Lusaka...there is really so little to do.  There are days, many many days when i find that it’s quite incredible that we keep busy here.    I KNOW, I KNOW...I just need to, you know..."Live at presentty."

Yeah, yeah.  I know.  But until then I'm going to go off on Lusaka. I'll stop but really, watch out.   Here goes:

There really are very few options for kids/family activities in Lusaka that do not involve something as basic as a play date at someone else’s: different toys, different colour balls, different pool, same routine.  Usually even the same kids, just a different arrangement.   We ‘lost’ our bowling alley a few years back to what I find to be a really awful not-fast food joint.  We ‘lost’ our water slide/adventure park a year later.  The water park was one of my least favourite activities so I was glad to see it go.  The pools were never clear + clean, the chemicals in the slides were at toxic levels most days and the safety record of the place was downright scary.  The indoor play area was always dirty, the trampolines without padding and usually with broken springs.  The toilet facilities....ugh.  Top it all of with with a complete lack of supervision and life guards and the huge crowds of non-swimmers made for a very dangerous outing.  It wasn’t cheap, either.

One tragedy kept us away for a long long time.  We went out one morning before the busloads of school kids were dropped off; the kids enjoyed a multiple-eagle-eyed-parent-supervised morning. (NOT fun or relaxing for the parents who were constantly counting heads and keeping track of kids).  Then the buses showed up.  Literally HUNDREDS of kids were sheparded in and it was a free-for-all.  Big kids, little kids, boys and girls in various states of dress/undress.  (Swimming suits are hard to come by!  And the girls mostly all wrap their wigs/extensions/braided heads in plastic shopping bags)  Not a lot of kids know how to swim but for some reason it does not stop them from just jumping/diving into the murky/cloudy...not knowing the depth of the water and not having an actual plan of what to do.

On the day we went the little kids were done and the big kids were playing a game of hide-and-seek, possible of course because the water was so full of chemicals it was like swimming in milk.  Anyway, the school kids joined in and this was great fun to watch until we all realized that while OUR kids could easily navigate underwater and pop up where the wanted the other kids...couldn’t swim.  A few rescues later, we called it a day, fearing the worst.  This day was fine but the next day, three children drowned in the very pool we were playing in.  I couldn’t go back after that.

ANYWAY -- this is all to say that there really isn’t much to do in Lusaka. We have three movie theaters in two malls. And.  Uh.... that’s about it.  45 east there’s a reptile farm (the kids can ride their bikes out there) and 45 min west there’s an elephant orphanage and a bit further on is a ‘conservation park’.  But a recent visit to this park was beyond disappointing.  They lost one of their cheetahs a few years back to a wandering cobra and the second died sometime ago. Their small, grassy enclosure was burned out and now houses two gnarly looking turkeys. The lions are....not looking so good and there a lot of farm animals where we expected to see something different: ducks, goats, and bunnies.  The two ostriches looked great and there are eggs all over the place.  The zebra are crazy looking as ever but the cranes were gone, the antelope were gone, the raptors were gone, the servals were gone.  Even the monkeys were scarce.  Needless to say, not only our my guys not interested anymore, I’m fed up with how bad the facilities are looking and how horrible the animals looked. Boo for them.

What else is there?  There’s a lawn-bowling club but that’s more of a proper grown-ups sport (particularly b/c there’s a bar at the clubhouse). There are two golf courses, one with very brown and crispy fairways and the other is better kept -- but again, it’s not really for kids. (Tho two of O’s classmates are very seriously into the sport)  So -- the kids join every sport possible at school and endlessly swim and play soccer with eachother.  The local kids at the school ride horses and/or ride polocross -- which is also a ways out of town from where we live and not really something we are into, but it’s great fun to watch and incredible to see these little guys up on their ponies.

But really and truly -- for our family, this arrangement generally works. We have a nice big yard and a lot of friends to call on.  Our American boys do NOT suffer from too much screen time or an overscheduled life.  Yes, they want to go kayaking and hiking and rock-climbing and to the dog park or the blueberry farm or to Gameworks, the Science Center, the Center for Wooden Boats, the Art Museum, the Museum of History and Industry, the Museum of Flight, the aquarium, the .... egads, I’d better stop.  Back to my happy place.  Back to Thailand.

In Chiang Mai it was hard to sort out what NOT to do.  One day, wanting a change of pace from the typical tourist activities -- eating, getting massages, visiting the fish spa (ew - the boys did the fish spa....), 

.....eating more, shopping and eating, visiting temples and eating -- we headed out to a local spot - the botanical gardens just outside of town.  

We took a 40 minute tuktuk ride (always fun) 

and found ourselves in a world of sculpted trees, manicured groves and more colours of orchids than I thought could exist.  There was a wonderful Lanna cultural center built in a series of 4 beautiful houses.  

We rented crooked, rickety bikes and explored the gardens.  I crashed into more then a few hedges, more than a few times trying to keep the wheels on the path while carrying the camera, balancing a basketful of lunch goodies and keeping up with the kids. It was hysterical.  

The gardens were just big enough that the kids could go off and explore without us and small enough that they felt comfortable being farther than arms length -- getting fresh air, exercise and LOTS OF ELBOW ROOM is always a good thing when you’re on vacation together and sharing lots of small spaces. The garden had topiaries galore, including an entire dinosaur garden.  ROOAAAR.  

We played Harry-Potter-style hide-and-seek in a labyrinth 

and the boys terrified us and themselves on scary hand-made playground equipment. (DANGER!)  

We sweated thru our shirts as we furiously paddle-boat raced through a series of man made, fountain-filled ponds. We got busted by the management for insisting the boys each take a boat out for spin.  This was NOT allowed -- as we suspected -- but we played dumb and the kids got a quick escape even from eachother’s company.   

There was a conference going on at the garden’s only canteen center so we weren’t able to enjoy lunch + a swim but we managed to find a snack shack and tried some more wacky crisps/potato chips and taste-tested more Magnum ice cream bar flavours.  

Every flavour is good of course (the ice cream bars, definitely not the crisps!) but we all agree that generally speaking it’s best to stick with simple vanilla ice cream and chocolate coating.

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