Friday, December 26, 2014

Stuff hiding in plain sight! Again.

As I observed yesterday, almost everyone out there in internet-land will be twiddling their thumbs in the aftermath of Christmas - and as tomorrow and the next day are a weekend, I think today is a good time to post one of my famous 'stuff hiding in plain sight' series. Two postings in two days is my gift to you for 2014.

(For newbies to the 'Sorry for that' Blog - you can see all previous 185 postings at the top right of this page - what a great way to spend a lazy rainy weekend?)

So - stuff hiding in plain sight, and apologies to regular readers as I once again feature my favorite 'hider' - a chameleon. I just love them!

The first hiding thing is an egret. These medium-sized birds are often found in game areas, and walk along next to the animals, periodically jumping up and pecking at ticks and other nuisances. They follow buffalo, cattle and the larger antelope, and most often you notice them flying when they are against the dark thunderclouds we get here - their stark white stands out.

They are kind of like our version of a seagull I guess.

Except Zimbabwe doesn't have a sea.


Until global warming kicks in properly.

With the season's rains starting in earnest just before Christmas, we had a sudden profusion of white lilies in the fields as you enter Pamuzinda - right next to the block of rock salt we set out for the wild animals as a salt-lick.

It was into this field of flowers that a couple of egrets wandered - looking for snails and other yummy stuff, though I only managed to photo one at a time.

Here then is a slightly harder task - find the egret. (In this pic he looks a little like a duck!)

And now the big egret challenge - where is he?

Just to show you the difference the rains make in Africa - here is a photo of the same patch of grassland - what we call a vlei (pronounced flay) as it is an old dried-up watercourse. In fact, the lilies pictured are called vlei lilies (not to be confused with the 'flame lily' -the national flower of Zimbabwe) and there are a couple of interesting facts about these lillies:

- they produce a beautiful and heady scent (described as 'romantic' by one of our guides!) at night, and then as a defense mechanism the scent changes to that akin to the smell of rotting meat during the day. How cool is that?

- there is a 'beer' produced from the bulb of these lilies which is extremely potent. Any alcoholic beverage in Zimbabwe is referred to as 'beer'. The same guide assured me that people who drink it lose their minds and walk around naked, so I shall keep my camera at the ready just in case this occurs in our patch. A good reason for you to keep reading the blog?

You can see the difference between the green of the previous pictures, and this more common view. Our rains - what we call 'the rainy season' generally stretch from November through to the middle of March, (though this year they only started properly just before Christmas) and then not much in between. This year I don't think we had rain for 6 months straight.

Just look at the difference in the color of the grass to the right of the trees.

The question is - did you spot the animals hiding in plain sight? And did you see all three - or just two? They had come down to the salt-lick mentioned earlier. One is actually licking the rock salt block on the ground.

OK - chameleon time! We'll start with the easy ones and get more difficult as we go along.

Where is the chameleon?

Maybe too easy? So here is a slightly more difficult challenge - here he is making his way to safety in a large bush, and only the white stripe down his back gives him away . . .

So - slightly harder now.

Where is the chameleon?

Regular blog readers will, by now, be pretty adept at finding my hidings - so here is a real challenge. If you didn't find the last one - don't even bother with this one!

Where's the chameleon?

Hope you found him? If not, let me know, and I'll tell you where.

Right - I told you in my last blog-post that Father Christmas was to be found working in the restaurant at Pamuzinda. Here he is (in a slightly blurry photo) to prove it to you:

The question is this (and the answer is in plain sight in the picture, I promise) - how did Father Christmas get into our dining room?

The correct answer is - through the door in the background of course!

I bet some of you said 'fireplace' or 'chimney'. How odd would that be if Maxman came to work down the chimney every day? Gee.

Have a great day! (Oh - and please click on the Facebook icon just below and 'share' the blog with your friends if you have enjoyed - just scroll down a fraction. Thanks).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas at Pamuzinda.

So a slightly longer interval than a week since my last posting - sorry. But I was busy getting ready for the holidays - and today I bring pictures of Christmas at Pamuzinda: Lots of pictures today - because while I am at work, you are probably wondering what to do with your day!

Zimbabwe has embraced with enthusiasm the Christmas trappings of the West, and so we have trees with tinsel, shiny glass baubles and flashing lights, cards with robins, snow-blanketed fields, and snowmen. A little odd, but that's the way we roll.So I start with pictures of some of our trees this year. My little point-and-click doesn't do justice to the lights, but certainly gives a general idea of what we had going.  This is the tree we had at the entrance to the dining room - buffalo and fir in perfect harmony?

This was the tree in the bar. Again the slightly incongruous juxtaposition of conifer, snowman and African mask - but it works!

For Christmas day and the following 3 days, we marketed a meal at Chengeta in the wedding marquee featured previously. The menu there featured pig-on-a-spit, wildebeest steaks and chicken poitjie - a large cast iron pot with chicken casserole. This was the tree that was set up in the center of the tent:

But I think may favorite tree was the one we had in Reception. Though smaller than the others, it was the perfect tree for a Safari Lodge, and Kylie and Limbane - 2 of the staff here, had spent a lot of time, thought and effort getting the tree and snowmen ready:

And my Christmas? Well, as usual, an awful lot of time preparing food. I spent at least 20 minutes stuffing baby potatoes with pancetta and mozzarella cheese, ready for baking.It was tough.

Of course, when things get tough, the best recourse is often the illegal one, and in this instance I decided to resort to child labor. My youngest daughter made the mistake of walking through the kitchen . . .

I don't know if you noticed in the above pictures that Father Christmas was helping us in the kitchen too? Well amazingly enough, he was also spotted serving in the dining room and then later seen taking folk around and about on Game Drives :

Santa certainly worked hard over the festive period!

On Christmas morning, I drove my motorbike to Chengeta and Shumba to check on preparations, and came across the strangest looking bunch of fellows - obviously on their way to a Christmas celebration of some sort. Though what sort of celebration I cannot tell you, because they didn't say, and I didn't ask.

I didn't dare!

My western audience may think that the scariest thing in the above pic would be the sight of the 2 fellows wearing feathers and Zulu leg ruffs - but the scariest thing for me is the fellow holding the brown plastic 'scud', a container of traditional beer which wreaks havoc on all who drink it. I made the mistake once of getting merry on it as a hotel student, and regretted it for days afterwards.

And what the reveler carrying the white 5L container has prepared for his mates to drink - I shudder to think! I don't even want to go there.

But I bet it was flammable.

Lastly - following behind the fine fellows pictured above and heading in the same direction - so probably to the same gathering, was a group of four individuals heading for Christmas lunch. I had a sneaking suspicion that one of the group wouldn't enjoy lunch quite as much as the other three.

Africa can be a tough continent sometimes.

I hope you had a pleasant and safe Christmas, and spent time with your nearest and dearest.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

There is a place for all of God's little creatures - right next to the potatoes & gravy!

It is time for me to show you a little of what I actually do for a living. It is not all fun and games running around with a camera, let me assure you.

My job title is 'Hospitality Manager' and I am responsible for upgrading guest hospitality and service within the Dunhuramambo Group - comprising Pamuzinda Safari Lodge, Chengeta Safari Lodge, Shumba Guest Lodge, and then 5 Houseboats on Kariba - which I hope to be focused on in the new year. Right now I am based at Pamuzinda.

We do have have a few cracks which I am trying to fix, but generally our products and service quality are very good. Right now I am focused on upgrading services and standards as much as possible, slowly but surely. And the one side of the business I enjoy, as those who know me well will attest, is the food. So this week is all about the food at Pamuzinda, and I shall feature a recent menu.

Here, then, the dining room. In the background is the swimming pool, and the roof is thatched:

The starter was a squid pocket filled with minced and herbed wildebeest meat, served with roasted cherry tomatoes and hollandaise sauce. A kind of surf and turf thing, African-style . . .

In the background above you can see the roasted squid pockets before we sliced them.

For the fish course we served crumbed goujons of hake with a lettuce and grape salad. I also made a tartare sauce (not shown) with mayonnaise, onions and gherkins, into which I put a little horseradish sauce. One of my more successful experiments!

Then the main course comprised of roast impala with spinach & feta stuffing, served with gem squash, roast potatoes, a red wine gravy and rosella jelly:

Being such a long way from town, our meat-sourcing tends to be in supermarkets that would be unrecognizable to my American and European audiences. Suffice to say we do not have natural predators here, (the lions are kept in enclosures), and we only 'buy' old males from the shelves . . .

Of course, such unconventional shopping tends to lead to lead.

In the food.

If you know what I mean.

So we have to be very careful to trim our meat properly when it arrives . . .

Good save!

That may have caused a few toothaches, methinks.

In conclusion - several folk have contacted me through the blog who I lost touch with ages ago. If you enjoy following it - please do me a favor and click on 'share' below and the facebook icon. Maybe I will find more old friends popping up. Thanks.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The bugs I live with are . . .BIG. And lethal!

The one thing that has struck me since moving to Pamuzinda is just how big everything is here. Maybe it is the water, or just a survival mechanism with all the wildlife around - I don't know. Today I am going to feature the large creepy-crawlies that share my space with me. With the exception of the scorpion - which I found at a wedding, every creature was photographed inside my house.

The first fellow pictured below clinging to my curtains is some kind of stick insect gone wrong. I have no idea what he is, but he was one big bug!

Apologies to regular readers because while I hardly ever post the same pic twice - in this instance I felt I had to. The scorpion below was featured in a very recent blog, but he still amazes me with his size.

The scary thing is that the folk who live here-abouts tell me he is not the largest type of scorpion we get. Can you believe it? If I find a bigger one - you will be the first to know.

So sorry if you have seen him before - but he belongs in this particular blog!

This is a moth - and while not the largest I have ever seen, he is big. When he flies around your face there is actually a buzzing sound like a large bumble bee.

The next fellow pictured is (Sarah Palmer skip this pic with your eyes closed) a spider. Though not overly large, he is the fastest spider I have ever seen in my life, and literally zoots around the floor of my house at full speed - about as fast as a scurrying mouse. I have no idea if he is dangerous, because he and I keep our distance, though we have shared the same house for the last 2 months.

Here is a picture of my bedroom.

I had been having a quiet afternoon snooze, when I was awoken by the sound of something ripping at the fabric of my mosquito net. I hurled myself out of bed and managed to take a long-range photograph of my attacker:

It was, of course, the world's largest mosquito - the anopheles giganticus. How scary is that?

These beauties grow so large that at the end of their life they simply die because they can't take off any more. If you are bitten by one of them, the strain of malaria is so virulent that you have about the same amount of time to find medical help as you do with a bite from a black mamba - 20 minutes.

And he was actively tearing at my net - trying to get to me.


Here is a closer pic of him:

OK, so not true - this is just a flying bug. A big one (like everything in this place), but not a lethal one.

Seeing as everything I have told you over the past 3 months has been 100% true, and seeing as I state at the top of this page that 'Content is almost all true', - I felt I had to throw in a little curve-ball today, just to keep you on your toes.

Anopheles giganticus? A mosquito that kills in 20 minutes? Ha ha ha ha!

How gullible would you have to be to believe that?

And you did, didn't you? Eish.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A wedding with a difference.

Following on from my post about my daughter's Leavers Ball - I thought it would be about the right time to post about the weddings we host at Pamuzinda.

There are actually 2 properties here, and the following photos were taken at a wedding we hosted at Chengeta - the second property we have. In my recent post titled 'Scorpionzilla' (you can go back and see old posts by clicking on the titles at top right of this page) I pictured the marquee that we have, but there is also a vast open plain with a giant Fig tree growing in the middle of it, and this was the site of one of our recent weddings.

Both the ceremony and the reception were held under the spreading branches of the tree. We took comfortable chairs down, and the guests relaxed until a ripple ran through the crowd as the groom was spotted making his way to the ceremony from across the plain.

The Groom arrived in style, followed by his Best Man. This sure beats the living daylights out of arriving in a Rolls! Though maybe not quite as fast, certainly way more impressive . . . .

The bride then arrived riding solo across the plain carrying a bouquet of flowers. Her bridesmaid was waiting to receive her with hay bales for the dismount.

The one thing you are assured of at a wedding on the Chengeta plains is a set of wedding photos unlike any other. The sinking sun painting a riot of color and light across the African sky adds a grandeur that perfectly frames the bride, the groom. And we have extras with attitude . . .

So just how do you cater for a wedding in the middle of nowhere? Simple really, you make a kitchen by cleverly erecting a table, and then you just go for it:

And the results of this 'bush catering'? Well - judge for yourselves, but in my opinion the canapes were looking pretty snappy. Here are the mini vol au vents, the herbed scones and the bruschetta:

So what about our toilet facilities - being stuck out there in the middle of an African plain? Obviously we don't have water, and we are going to need ablutions at some stage, aren't we? Well, we got that covered . . .

Normally the toilet is a unisex one used by both men and women, because it is quite hard digging such a big hole for what we call a 'long-drop'. However at this wedding we had a guest in a wheelchair, so we created 2 toilets - with a nearby one as it is quite hard wheeling yourself across the sandy ground of the savanna. The whole arrangement is set a discreet distance away from the fig tree for privacy with a little 'runway' of fairy lights for when the sun disappears. When we leave, everything returns to the way it was before we arrived.

Here are our 'wedding ablutions' - and much thought has gone into the preparation of the facilities. We check the pit before the wedding for snakes, remove the spiders from the walls, (all part of the service, you see) and make sure there is an ample supply of rolls. Plus air freshener, because the ladies seem to expect it - even though the roof is open to the stars:

No little pig living in his house of grass could ever has been so well provided for!

Soooooo - if you have someone getting married, and they are looking for a very different wedding venue - look no further.

Have a great day.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Leaving school - what a ball!

This blog is a bit of a break from the creatures of Pamuzinda because last weekend I was in Harare, attending my daughter's Leavers Ball. So this week is a bit of a family post . . .

The school year in Zimbabwe ends in December, and my eldest daughter has completed her secondary education; next year she will attend the University of Cape Town in South Africa. At the end of her school career there were many farewells and ceremonies to be attended - not least of all the Final Prize-giving, where she was awarded the Leadership Cup - an award presented as adjudged by her peers. This will probably be the last time she will wear a uniform, unless she joins an airline or goes to prison.

Both, obviously, a possibility.

So here is photographic evidence of her last day of school . . . . evah:

As an interesting note - the chapel in the background is the same one pictured in an earlier blog in May this year . . . .

What a change that was?

And the change among my daughter and he classmates - from schoolgirls to young debutantes, was no less amazing - like butterflies emerging from their chrysalises, all the girls looked stunning. This is the transformation that took place over 4 days - from schoolgirl . . . . to really really scary! Speaking as a father.

And the reason for the sprucing up was the Leavers Ball - the official end to her school career. The last time that a group of girls who have been together for the past 6 years will be together.

Her date for the evening even managed to co-ordinate colors - how cool is that?

Even my daughter's parents managed to dig out their 'glad rags' - and though her mother always looks impeccably turned out, her father managed to clean up a little too . . .

Not too shabby, hey?

The venue for the Leavers Ball was the Wild Geese Lodge, and it turned out to be a typically balmy African evening, with warm breezes, dust-scented air, and a moon lazily climbing into a star-spangled sky:

The Banquet Room was prepared by the parents of the Leavers, and looked amazing. Folk who have never been to Africa and have only seen images of deprivation and squalor on television, may be a little surprised at the levels of sophistication reached . . .

Yup - this Africa!

So honor was satisfied, a fantastic evening was had by all, and kudos to the folk who spent so much time and effort getting everything ready. I think the smiles said it all . . . .

 Of course all the excitement, the late night and all the running around were all quite overwhelming (even for an old once-upon-a-time-party-dog like me), and so the Sunday was spent cradling 2 girls and watching replays of the rugby on tv as we tried to work out how on earth Wales beat South Africa. Everybody was, after the fun of the night before, a little deflated . . .

A fine evening, and a fitting end to a school career.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

More stuff that would like to bite me . . .

Continuing with my series on stuff here that seems to want to bite, sting or paralyze me, see if you can spot the potential danger lurking in the photo below. I had been about to walk through the gate of my house when an urgent shout stopped me in my tracks . . .  

It was a snake - his head at the same level as mine, and poking out in a 'ready-to-strike' posture, even though he turned out to be fairly harmless.

As an interesting note - can you see the Crucifix Spider on the gate? He builds a web with a distinctive cross weaved into it - I shall feature him in the next couple of days.

Maybe you will find the snake easier to spot against the sky?

How he was seen by the staff I am not sure - though I guess the local folk here have some sort of innate inbuilt antennae system!

This is a clearer picture of my door-ambushing visitor:

Would he have hurt me? Well, no not really - the spotted bush snake is not considered lethal, and so I helped him on his way with a few gentle prods with a stick.

Not the case, however, with the fellow pictured below. This is a black mamba, found hiding in the thatch roof above the buffet table . . .

Not an extremely large specimen - but they are lethal whatever size they are (you have around 20 minutes to get help), and this one was put permanently out of action by the gardener wearing green in the background. His catapult came in handy, as well as a spear that had been hanging on the wall as decoration. As some of you know - the black mamba is not actually black - the name comes from the colour of the inside of his mouth, which is black when open. Like the cottonmouth snake of North America - which has a white mouth.

This new home of mine has some biting stuff, for sure. I think I am going to hang spears on my wall at home for easy access. Maybe in the garden as well. In fact, I may take to carrying one around with me.

Have a great day.