December 9th, 2013 · 1 Comment
Article and photos by Laura Scheiber
A giraffe keeping vultures away from her baby
For me, an ideal vacation includes a little rest and relaxation mixed in with adventurous activities. Perhaps this was why my stay at Tongabezi Lodge along the mighty Zambezi River in Zambia was so memorable. On the day of arrival at this luxury lodge, I met with Quentino Mbingi, the director of activities, who invited me to choose from a handful of activities ranging from the adrenaline pumping thrill of sitting on the edge of Victoria Falls to relaxing on a sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi River with sundowners. Quentino efficiently put together an itinerary that allowed me to partake in all of my preferred activities during my three day stay. Most activities were included in the room rate, along with meals, and drinks. Some activities offered by outside companies were available for an additional fee.
On my first day, I enjoyed a two hour sunset cruise on the beautiful Zambezi River. Four other guests and I hopped into a small motor boat on the dock at Tongabezi with Captain Victor, a soft-spoken friendly man who pointed out the many birds we observed along the bank. We meandered around a small island in the middle of the river, and Captain Victor positioned our boat within a few feet of crocodiles sunbathing on the sandbar. Without warning, one of the big crocodiles splashed in the water at lightening speed. I had quite the adrenaline rush. I would have felt scared if I hadn’t been in such good hands.
Captain Victor serving up sundowners
While stopping for sundowners in the middle of the river and watching the magnificent sunset, Captain Victor explained that he was a well-known crocodile hunter who had caught hundreds of crocodiles in his lifetime and set them free further down river away from human populations. I liked hearing his fascinating stories about crocodile (and snake) hunting while drinking a refreshing South African Sauvignon Blanc on the Zambezi River.
A crocodile sunbathing on the river bank
The next day I went on a private game drive in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, the second smallest in all of Zambia, and roughly 20 minutes from Tongabezi. I had hoped to see a rhinoceros since it was the only one of the Big Five that I had not seen during previous safari adventures in Zambia. My private gaming guide, Fabias, provided clear and interesting explanations of the animals we saw while stopping anytime I wanted to take pictures. Most memorable was when Fabias spotted a number of vultures flying high in the sky. He drove to where they were circling and a few minutes later, he spotted a giraffe in the distance herding a bunch of vultures on the ground. Curious to find out what was going on, he drove closer to the giraffe where we eventually saw a young giraffe that had died sometime within the previous 24 hours, according to Fabias. Though sad, we couldn’t help but watch the mother giraffe valiantly try to keep the vultures away from her baby.
My guide demonstrated where I should sit at the edge of the falls
After a two-hour game drive, Fabias drove me to the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel where the management of Tongabezi surprised me with a complimentary gourmet lunch and tour of Livingstone Island, which departed from the Royal Livingstone. I, along with seven other guests, was chauffeured by motorboat to the island where, our tour guide, Collins, took us on a five-minute walk to the side of the island facing Victoria Falls. He offered wetsuits to those of us interested in sitting in the natural pools in the Zambezi River on the edge of the Falls. Our fearless leader walked us toward the edge that had a heart-pounding drop of 100 meters. The views were spectacular and we were treated to a double rainbow. Collins carefully led three of us, one by one, into the water where we sat about 15 feet away from the edge of the Falls. Scary? Yes. Exhilarating and unforgettable? Absolutely. After such an adrenaline pumping experience, we were served a delicious lunch of fresh green salads, couscous, fresh tilapia fish, grilled vegetables, and a sweet bread pudding as a dessert. A South African white wine went well with the fish.
The tiger fish I caught with Fabias
After we returned to Tongabezi, Fabias prepared a small motorboat for my private fishing excursion. It was a lovely late afternoon with ideal temperatures and a cloudless sky, perfect for a relaxing boat ride on the Zambezi River. Fabias patiently showed me how to work the fishing rod and explained Tongabezi’s catch and release fishing policy. Within minutes, I felt a tug on my fishing line and excitedly reeled in a tiger fish. Fabias took care of the not so pleasant task of unhooking the fish. Throughout the trip, I enjoyed sundowners of my choice and opted for a refreshing South African Sauvignon Blanc. The hour and a half fishing trip ended with a beautiful sunset. At the end of a day full of activities, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of sparkling wine in a bucket of ice, and a candlelit hot bubble bath waiting for me in my room, compliments of Tongabezi.
My final river adventure was a private canoe trip. Quentino, a certified river guide, went over the safety rules and helped me into a small canoe, while Captain Victor was in a motorboat ahead looking out for crocodiles and hippos. Quentino welcomed me to paddle, but made it clear that it was not necessary if I preferred to relax and take in the tranquil scenery. After crossing the river towards the Zimbabwe side, Quentino pointed out a number of colorful birds that were fishing along the riverbank. On our way back to Tongabezi, we canoed through some reed-covered islands where hippos were resting on sandbanks about 50 feet away from us. It was exciting to be so close, but I was happy to keep a distance, as I knew how fast hippos could move. Between Captain Victor and Quentino I felt in good hands, as both had had years of training and experience as river guides.
Hippos sunbathing during my canoe trip
The only downside of my stay at Tongabezi Lodge was that it ended too soon. The location of this luxury lodge was ideal. Just 40 minutes upstream from the hustle and bustle of Victoria Falls, the lodge was close enough for activities associated with the UNESCO world heritage site, while far enough to explore the Zambezi River. Having an activities director who customized my itinerary added a personal touch that set Tongabezi apart from other lodges. The service was top notch and I plan on returning someday to partake in the activities I did not include during this first visit.
Tags: Attractions · Ecotourism · New Articles
Article and photos by Laura Scheiber
A double rainbow over Victoria Falls
During a trip to Zambia, I visited Victoria Falls, a UNESCO world heritage site forming part of the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Powered by the mighty Zambezi River, the falls are over 1,700 meters in width, and an impressive 100 meter drop. The Falls are known in the local language as Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning The Smoke that Thunders. I was in awe at the spray that loomed above this geographic wonder that has bragging rights to the greatest sheet of falling water in the world. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, I anticipated it to be beautiful, but Victoria Falls was beyond my expectations in terms of size, strength and magnificence.
To get to Victoria Falls, I took a one hour flight from Lusaka to Livingstone within Zambia. I stayed at Stanley Safari Lodge, a luxury lodge tucked away on a hillside in the African bush, just a ten minute drive from the falls.
The bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe
To enter Victoria Falls, I had to register at an entry point. International guests at the time of my visit in June 2013 had to pay a fee of $20. Luckily for me, the staff at my lodge arranged day and night walking tours with a private guide, Effeso Hammabola, who helped me navigate through the entry process.
Since I happened to be visiting during a full moon, I had the opportunity to do an evening Luna Tour. The highlight was seeing a rainbow at night, illuminated by the moon above the falls. We stopped at four different viewing points along the man made walkway on the edge of the falls during the hour long tour. I was amazed at how close we could get to the bank of the river just before it spilled over the edge.
Though I enjoyed the evening tour, I much preferred my day visit when I could fully appreciate the beauty and impressive size of the falls.
Effeso Hammabola, my Victoria Falls guide
Thanks to the proximity of my accommodations I was the first guest to arrive and finished up my two hour tour before hoards of tourists entered the site. Starting at the bank of the river, Effeso and I followed the walkway that had numerous lookout points from different angles, including the side of the falls, directly facing the falls and views of the Zimbabwe side where we could see a series of gorges. It was a pleasant pathway with many trees and greenery surrounding it.
I visited at the end of June, which was an ideal time because there was still an impressive amount of water in the Zambezi River that powered the falls yet the water flow wasn’t so strong that the amount of spray made it difficult to see, which happens, I was told, during the wet season.
Spray from Victoria Falls
Overall my trip to the area was an unforgettable experience due to the awe inspiring size, incredible force and utter beauty of Victoria Falls. I would recommend a trip to friends and family who are interested in geographic wonders. I also would return to Stanley Safari Lodge to steer clear of the urban hustle and bustle of Livingstone while remaining close enough to the falls in the early morning hours.
Tags: Attractions · Ecotourism · Luxury Travel
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The exterior featured two tables sheltered under an awning
One of our most satisfying eatery experiences in Portland, Maine was at Duckfat. Lunch at the popular informal restaurant was best approached armed with patience and the willingness to share space with neighbors. There were seating options indoors and outdoors. Outdoors there was one wood table with two benches on either side of the entrance door facing the sidewalk and street. The tables were shared by couples and small groups while other would be diners waited on the sidewalk for a place to free up. A staff member explained that a two hour and longer wait was common for lunch.
Delicious fries cooked in the namesake oil
The day we dined outdoors, cool temperatures contrasted with the harsh afternoon sunlight that filtered through to our table. Our server was friendly, well informed and helpful. When our Belgian fries, size large, arrived too salty he replaced them quickly. The fries, sandwich and special board of the day followed by an Original Duckfat Milkshake Double Thick with Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream shake, a house specialty, were all exceptionally good.
Our first special board of the day
Our next meal, inside the sandwich shop, was less pleasant although the food itself was equally good. Stool seating was possible at stand alone tables or against the wall. It was crowded, warm and noisy. An open kitchen took up the rear of the interior. A narrow hallway led to single stall restrooms shared by the staff.
The decadent vanilla bean shake
Our server seemed rushed and left without saying a word halfway through our meal. We had to ask another staff member for a beverage refill, a shake and eventually to pay.
A second variation on the special board of the day
Once again our order was worthwhile. The fries, cooked in duck fat and served on a stand, were as good as the first time and stayed hot until the end. The fries were prepared with seasoned salt and served with our choice from among eight dipping sauces. The House Cured Ham and Cheese grilled sandwich and cold deli board were both rewarding.
The grilled sandwich and fries with truffle ketchup
The well made flavorful dishes prepared with many local ingredients (a list of suppliers appeared on the restaurant website) more than made up for the crowded and loud ambiance and uneven service. We also liked that Duckfat, according to its website, is independent and locally owned. Should we return to Portland, Duckfat will be at the top of our eatery list.
November 11th, 2013 · 3 Comments
By Laura Scheiber
Photos by Matthew Harris
My husband and I had high hopes that Chiawa Camp, a tented property in Zambia's Lower Zambezi region, would provide us a premiere safari experience based on the property's awards and recognition. Soon after our arrival we discovered the camp, situated on a picturesque riverbank in the Lower Zambezi National Park, offered outstanding game viewing, luxury camp accommodations, and excellent cuisine and service. We also learned that Chiawa had another side. Its founders, Dave and Grant Cumings, a father and son team, participated in the fight against poaching. While staying at the camp, we had a chance to chat with Grant about how it all began.
Back in the day, Dave used to take his son Grant on bush trips, exploring east along the Zambezi River. Eventually they arrived at Chiawa’s current location and found themselves going back for repeat trips. Sleeping under the stars and surrounded by amazing wildlife and geography, they believed the spot to be a magical place, and wanted to share it with others. They started taking friends and family on trips to the area. In time, the practice evolved into photo safaris with diplomats living in Lusaka. Through some convincing and lucky contacts, the governmental parks department awarded Dave and Grant a permit to build a semi permanent camp in the Park.
Grant Cumings, co-owner, Chiawa Camp
At first things were difficult. Zimbabwe is just on the other side of the river, and the civil war saw a lot of guerrilla activity in the region long before Chiawa’s existence. Soldiers from both sides would frequently fight on the Zambian side of the river. Eventually the conflict ceased, leaving a number of former soldiers in possession of firearms. With few opportunities to earn an income, many turned to poaching. Grant spoke poignantly of seeing his first butchered elephant as a young man, something that moved him deeply and motivated him to fight passionately for conservation.
The Cumings father and son team started to move against poachers, working with scouts to track, capture and turn them over to the authorities. It was dangerous work. To their dismay they uncovered evidence of corruption, which strongly suggested that some officials were in collusion with the poachers. On one occasion, Dave brought in a detective from Lusaka to break the poaching ring. A number of poachers were found and captured, and used rifle shells were gathered as hard evidence of poaching activity. However, the day after capture a detective said the shells had mysteriously been misplaced.
It quickly became apparent to them that the poachers had bought him off. Dave thought quickly on his feet, and in a moment of inspiration, responded that losing the shells was no problem since he had some extras (which wasn’t true). That tricked the detective into thinking that the prosecution would go ahead. During a tense showdown, the detective “found” the missing shells and the prosecution was able to proceed.
The Conservation Lower Zambezi Environmental Education Program
At the height of poaching, Grant and his team might come across 60 to 70 mutilated elephants each year, whereas now they might come across six to seven carcasses in the bush, most of them from animals that had died of natural causes. Grant and his father realized that capturing poachers was only half the story, education was also key. If poachers and the children of poachers could be made to understand that keeping those beautiful animals alive was worth more in the long run than killing them, then conservation efforts would be sustainable.
Through a serendipitous meeting with a Danish ambassador who drove into Chiawa Camp one day, Grant was able to secure Danish sponsorship and establish the Conservation Lower Zambezi Environmental Education Program.
A residential center, he explained, it strives to provide a wide variety of conservation and HIV/AIDS education to Zambians from all over the country. It also hosts the rigorous guide certification exams. The program, he said, has provided career opportunities for many locals, some of whom now work as guides at Chiawa. Grant explained that although poaching remains an ongoing battle to this day, it has significantly declined in the region thanks to the efforts of the Cumings family members and park scouts, and subsequently through Conservation Lower Zambezi, a charity they co-founded and of which Grant is a trustee and past chairman.
A bulletin board at the Conservation Lower Zambezi facilities
Grant’s conservation efforts are not yet done. His dream is that one day the black rhino might be introduced back into the Lower Zambezi National Park. He’s resigned to the fact that this isn’t possible just yet because they would present too tempting a target for the poachers. His hope is that over time this will change, through continued education and anti-poaching efforts.
It was a pleasure to meet Grant, an inspirational pioneer of conversation in the Lower Zambezi region. While we thoroughly enjoyed our luxury safari experience at Chiawa, what made it special was understanding firsthand the ethos of conservation that is so intricately intertwined in the history and current practices of the camp. We hope to one day return and see its continued conservation efforts evolve to preserve the natural beauty of the Lower Zambezi National Park.
Tags: Accomodations · Ecotourism · New Articles
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Currier's Flying Service had a selection of amphibious aircraft
During a stay in the Moosehead Lake area in Maine we took advantage of the autumn picture perfect weather by going on a scenic flight. The Moosehead & Lobster Lake Air Tour offered by Currier's Flying Service, Inc. consisted of an hour long scenic flight on a 1954 de Havilland Beaver seaplane, one of few such seaplanes still in commercial use in the United States. A two person minimum was necessary.
The shore of Moosehead Lake before takeoff
We departed from just outside of Greenville on the southern side of the lake, flying north along the Moosehead Lake's eastern shore toward Lobster Lake then west past Mount Kineo and south again to our point of departure. In addition to our pilot, we shared the plane with a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.
Fall colors from the air
Fall colors were beginning to spread along the canopy of tress across the lake area like a blossoming palette of colors on a painter's canvas. The sun was reflected brightly on the water during our mid afternoon flight.
Roger Currier, pilot and co-owner of Currier's Flying Service
As we flew north we could see the small shadow our plane cast along our path. The time on the plane remains among my vivid memories of that trip. Should I return to that part of Maine I would take the tour again in a heartbeat.
Tags: Attractions · New Articles