A couple of weeks ago we had ventured to Legoland for Morgan’s Birthday ‘party’. Today it was Joshua’s turn and he had chosen to take a couple of friends to Marwell zoo for the day.
Given the recent record of wet weather, we had pretty low expectations for having a dry day walking around an open zoo environment, but in the end we were pleasantly surprised. BTW, the water companies have finally lifted the ‘hosepipe ban’ which they brought in after three years of mild winters. Apparently, we have had enough rain in the last three months to make up for that!
So another early start was on the cards to pick up Jack and Leo, and then wend our way south west towards Winchester. On the way we went through the new tunnel that has been built through the Devil’s punch bowl to bypass the notorious traffic-jam spot at Hindhead, which was quite exciting for all of us – yes, Liz and I really need to get out more 🙂 We soon found our way though the back country roads to Owlesbury, where Marwell is located.
They have a good selection of animals in relatively happy environments at Marwell and first on the route round the park were the penguins (one of whom had a jacket on?!?), many variety of antelope which was teasingly opposite the cheetah enclosure, before we listened to a quick talk at the giraffe house
The children were very excited and were rushing around from one fence to the next straining their little necks to see what was hiding around this clump of bushes and behind that tuft of long grass, and they were over the moon when they actually spotted something more than a sparrow. At around midday we listened to another talk at the meerkat mounds and then stopped for lunch at a very muddy playground on the site.
Things were too exciting to waste time eating though and they very quickly wolfed their food and were back on the swings!
We did bugs and bats, leopards and lemurs for the next couple of hours after our break and then with some very tired children made our way back home.
We stopped off at Pizza Express in Alresford on the way home, where they continued to run and play around outside for every free second, before, in between and after each of the courses and it was then that we realised it wasn’t the children that were tired 🙂
Another fun packed and full day. Starting with another bit of a lie in (the children are being very accommodating at the moment) we then had to hot foot it the other side of Guildford as I had a dentist appointment for a checkup. at 9:45 and as Liz had arranged to visit the cat lady around 10:30 the whole family accompanied me, and we made our way through to Woking straight afterwards.
The family seemed to like not only cats, but a large variety of other animals as well, as they had cats, dogs, chickens and even a pig. They brought the kittens in and understandably we all fell straight in love with them, having all underestimated how small and cute 8 week old kittens would be – for the record, they were born on 12 Feb 2012.
We bundled them into the new box and they took their first journey into the big wide world.
The children were struggling to contain themselves with the excitement of the new arrivals, although they were a little subdued initially, eventually they settled down and came out to play and explore their new surroundings – not quickly enough for the children though, who were beyond the point of being patient with them after such a long time, so they followed them around with their pom-poms asking if they wanted to play and asking if they could pick them up.
After lunch, we went up to town again to watch a Wintershall passion play production of the final days of Christ, which was a very dramatic, full costume affair and well done as a reminder of what Easter is all about.
The children played some more with the kittens, had dinner and then made some more pom-poms for the morning!
The little-ones are settling in, and during the evening were up every 30-45 minutes racing around the ground floor.
Heaven knows what is going to happen when they learn to climb stairs.
Liz has located a couple of black kittens which are available on Saturday to be picked up. Perfect really. Although Liz said we would only be coming to have a look, the lady selling them said they were VEEEERY cute, implying we are unlikely to leave without them!
In preparation for the arrival of the kittens, we spend some time this evening making some plaything’s for them – they each made a ‘pom-pom’ using the traditional, tried and trusted two pieces of cardboard and wrapping wool method, which I remember using myself to adorn wooly hats and the like when I was their age 🙂
It’ll be just like having babies again. Oh my word! What are we letting ourselves in for?
The trauma of the day was when the youngest’s musical bunny malfunctioned and so because of my surgical experience I thought I’d give the veterinary procedures a shot.
The procedure was not difficult, after the initial keyhole surgery to get said musical instrument extracted in the first place, and after some delicate repairs with evo-stick and best quality white button thread, the fluffy internals were re-inserted and the patient sewed back up while still under a general anaesthetic.
The bunny lived again and Savannah was happy with the result.
The rest of the day was a standard Saturday with Morgan returned to his drama class and Luke and Savannah now doing their swimming at midday before lunch.
Liz had her long run to do today, and being a Saturday we have been trying to get the children to run as well, so we had the ironic situation that I was the only one of the family who didn’t run today.
I’m sure the situation will be different tomorrow.
When I was planning the MdS in 2008, there was a myth going around that we would be frequently visited by ‘solifuges’ or camel spiders when in the desert – see Desert Companions.
Much to our relief it turned out we saw little in the way of any animals in the desert, let alone camel spiders.
So imagine my surprise when THIS turned up in our room in Kapamba Camp, South Luangwa.
We had seen fleeting glimpses of these arachnids in the Safari house a few days earlier, where our guides had laughingly referred to them as ‘kalahari ferraris’ due to the speed at which they move 😮 but as a consequence we had not had the opportunity to take any photos.
Not even on ‘SPORT’ mode.
The entertaining thing about these chaps, once you realise it, is that their name derives from the fact they run from the sun, they prefer to be in the shadow. So of course at night if you stumble across one, and shine a light on it, they naturally head for a the nearest shadow; invariably this is behind you, so in a scene easily reminiscent of any English pantomime, the ensuing dance of light holder and solifuge is a sight to behold as they run round and round trying to get into the shadow which is constantly moving, but always has the individual between it. The obvious extinguishing of the source of illumination takes conscious thought as well as a monumental amount of effort – especially when you are wearing only shorts and flip-flops!
While they look like a formidable adversary, the body size was probably only 3-4 inches although the confusing 8 legs, plus an additional pair of legs used as feelers, give them their apparent turn of speed and vicious pincers have also given them a reputation which is perhaps unfairly deserved. As with most arachnids they are unlikely to be the ones to start a fight with a human.
The holiday of a lifetime to Zambia planned down to the last detail – nothing had been left to chance at the three ‘camps’ we were visiting – Chiawa in the south Zambesi National park, the Safari house at the Nkwali camp on the Luangwa River, further up to the north east and finally, Kapamba camp on the Kapamba river.
We had even checked with the agent that running would be possible and he had confidently replied that it would not be a problem and that the guides did this all the time and all we needed to do was arrange this with the camps when we arrived.
The face of the manager when we somewhat niavely asked at the first camp about a running excursion was incredulous, to say the least!
Running in the national park is not allowed, he explained; indeed, getting out of a vehicle, without a guide is a no-no and even a walking tour requires engaging the services of a park ranger of the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) with a rifle for those unexpected round the corner eventualities.
So although we had a fantastic time at Chiawa, running was most definitely NOT on the agenda.
The second site was set up rather differently, being across the South Luangwa river and not in the national park itself, and Kiki, our guide, duly explained again that we would not be able to run in the park, but he was quite happy to take us from our camp where we could run out to the ‘main’ road, a distance of 6-7km, and from there we could run through the villages towards the airport at Mfuwe.
Feeling our feet twitching from low ceratonin levels, we jumped at the chance and made the arrangements for another running adventure ‘with a difference!’
At 5:45am the next morning, we were off, with instructions to keep looking out to the sides for anything untoward, especially elephants, lions or leopards!
Liz and I started running, with a certain amount of trepidation as this was the first time we had been ‘out of the vehicle’ on our own, but the first few moments were uneventful. We saw a few baboons and impala, relatively common for the area, which we saw mostly disappearing off into the distance as they were far more concerned with the unfamiliarity of our heavy stomping gait than in allowing us the delight of running in their company.
Eventually though we turned a corner and were faced with a group of elephants browsing through the undergrowth and spilling over the road a few metres ahead of us. Kiki in the landcruiser behind us, immediately closed on our position, and realising discretion was the better part of valour when it comes to dealing with the unpredictable nature of several tons of African elephant, we hopped back onto the vehicle and drove slowly past the retreating herd.
Actually, that was to be our one and only skirmish of significance with the african wildlife, but the cultural adventure was just beginning.
As we continued our way to the main road Liz confirmed neither of her ITBs were holding up well so she would be stopping soon. As it was, she managed another couple of kilometers before we reached the turning off to Mfuwe.
The turning was a few hundred metres before the start of a route which passed through a number of villages consisting of schools, shops, mechanic’s workshops for both cars and bicycles and of course a variety of churches and bars. The buildings in these settlements consisted of two main varieties: brick with shiny galvanised corrugated steel roofs or mud and straw combinations of the type you would have thought would struggle to stand up to the oncoming rainy season onslaught.
The buildings were not the first thing I noticed though.
Unsurprisingly, the local habitants were not really used to seeing ‘whities’ outside of a jeep on their way to a safari camp or even in their villages, but at the site of me running down the road at 6:30am I was greeted with a mixture of shouts of ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ which I subsequently found out in Zambian are exactly the same word, hence the translated interchangability. On responding myself with salutations of ‘morning’ and ‘how are you?’, the beaming smiles and excitement were such that I felt I was running my own special race. I love running!
At one point I caught up with a couple of boys riding a bicycle slowly along the rough and uneven gravel sides of the road along which I was running. I presumed they were doubly surprised by the fact not only that I was running, but also that I was passing them. I asked them how they were and they responded they were fine and retorted in kind. The conversation continued with the one lad asking me ‘Why was I running?’ I explained it was merely for fun and fitness and he echoed my comments by recognising it was to keep myself in shape physically, to which I laughed and responded that I ate too much – although I immediately felt guilty about the imposition of situational comedy on these two individuals whom it is quite possible could never even contemplate the concept of eating ‘too much!’ I moved on steadily considering again how strange my actions might appear, on so many levels, to these locals.
I was starting to think about how far I would realistically be able to do at this modest 5 min/km pace with the heat beginning to increase considerably in the exposed conditions, when another young lady passed me on her bicycle, but this time with a look of real concern, bordering on abject horror, on her face as she asked me a now familiar ‘How ARE YOU???’ This time though, I translated the greeting into something more akin to ‘Are you about to expire?’ or ‘Would you like me to call a medical service for you?’ such was her body language as she rode by.
Many times along the road and through the villages, I was spotted from a distance by young children playing in their ‘front yard’ and often their reaction was to shout excitedly for their friends and siblings and run and wave enthusiastically along side me for a few metres. When I waved back and shouted hello’s to them, the level of laughs and shouts characteristically went up a notch or two.
After about 17-18km I saw a group of three elderly women on their way somewhere ahead of me and as I passed them they all gave me the usual polite ‘Hello – How are you?’ greeting as I passed and acknowledged them, but one of the lady’s also smiled and clapped briefly as I went past, saying something in her local dialect probably akin to ‘bravo’.
I ran on in the heat and considered how few cars there were out here, the primary mode of transportation seeming to be the bicycle, many of which were unfeasibly loaded with a vast array of goods being distributed to the myriad small huts along the sides of the road and elsewhere for sale. Most had more than one occupant.
After looking at my watch for a couple of km and counting down, I decided it was time to stop; just under two hours running and all flat, but what a fantasic experience!
As I turned round and jogged slowly back to the landcruiser I saw not only Liz and Kiki, our guide, but also three others. As the ensemble approached me I suddenly smiled as I recognised the ladies that had greeted me a few km earlier. They were more than happy to cadge a lift and ride in comfort at the 12km/h I was maintaining obliviously ahead. Unfortunately, now I had decided to finish and their opportunistic ride was therefore about to disappear and at this the one lady that had clapped me was MOST upset! “How?” she exclaimed to Liz in her pigeon English, effectively meaning ‘why is he stopping now? I’m quite happy to sit here and enjoy the ride and just because he wants to stopsurely it doesn’t really mean that I have to get out.’ Eventually, they all alighted from our temporary mobile training base, with some most disgruntled looks and carried on with their slow stroll towards their eventual destination at some point ahead.
Although I had only done 13 miles or so (the full route here), it was the first time I had run in several days and the feeling was therefore that of relief mixed with exuberance as the cerotonin levels increased and the malotonin levels were banished to acceptable levels.
The experience of the culture as I was running was just amazing, and yet again proves what a versatile activity running can be; from Mont Blanc to Zambia, Berlin to San Francisco, running is just a fantastic way to experience life in so many different ways.
It has been some time since I have run along the canal to Woking more than a couple of miles – I seem to remember the last was an ill fated 20-22 miles with Tim and John just before the Amsterdam Marathon last year. The run then was a good run, where we all took it in turns to pace each other, and consequently had a good run.
After that was when I had my second bout of problems with my shin though, so I do not I do not look back on that time with great affection.
Today was good though and also a good ice breaker as I started to ramp slowly back up the distance running trail.
Out at 8:30am, I was back by 10:00am having put any remaining demons on that run to bed.
The weather was sunny and it was an enjoyable jaunt up the canal – only a couple of roads to cross and then out into the countryside. The sound of the A3 was never that far away, but an iPod goes a long way to masking the rumble of traffic.
Ironically got stung by a bee AGAIN today, this time a bumble bee that got itself stuck between my iPhone and my arm and has to be helped off. Not quite as bad as last weeks tangle with the fallen nest on the railway line, but just as unexpected.
If you are of a nervous disposition DO NOT READ THIS
It would appear that we are not going to be alone in the desert running all this distance.
We will have a number of small friends to keep us company which my young son, Joshua, who loves animals, is very excited about. I do not entirely share his enthusiasm. Let me explain.
There is a species of ‘spider’ known by many names, Camel Spider, Wind Spider, Sun Spider which although arachnids are not actually spiders and are found particularly in hot, arid regions of Africa (i.e. where we are going!).
There are a number of myths surrounding these solifugids as they are classified, which originates from latin meaning “fleeing from the sun” as they dash between shadows, sometimes giving the impression they are ‘chasing’ humans. They have no venom glands but they do have a powerful jaws which can inflict a painful bite should they have cause to.
So, while they can move quite fast, they are unlikely to attack people although I personally would not want to give them the chance.
Dave Beare mentioned sleeping OUTSIDE of the Bivouac one night when he was on his run in 2006 as there was a Camel Spider on the INSIDE!