Tag Archives: Adventure

Safari Time Again….

We had a flight from Dar es Salaam to the Island of Comoros (north of Madagascar).  Comoros closed to tourism and our flight was not cancelled!  I tried to change our ticket online and their site was down.  I tried calling using the English option to only have them hang up on me (I was told that was because I did’t speak Swahili).  So our super Dar es Salaam hotel driver/business center manager went to the airport on one of his pick-ups to change our flight (change fees included).  

We had to come up with a plan since Covid and civil fighting were closing off previously planned options.  I said, very much to Bill’s dismay.  “Let’s go on another Safari!  We’re here in Safari Land let’s not go home and wish we had done it.”

Bill’s thought, “We walked the ultimate safari and saw animals in their natural environment why do another???”  

Because the princess wants to……

Tanzanian safaris start in Arusha. So I, in my delirium, asked the driver to change our flight – Dar es Salaam to Arusha.  He was able to do that for us.  Great! We had a plan.

Onward to Zanzibar and now you are caught up.

Zanzibar was just what the doctor ordered.

We hired our same taxi driver to drive us back to Stone Town so we could to take the ferry back to Dar es Salaam, spend the night and fly to Arusha the next day.

The departures screen told us the Arusha flight gate number. However, the gate said Zanzibar.  I inquired and learned the flight went from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar on to Arusha.  Yes, Zanzibar.  We paid for a ferry ride, hotel stay and one extra leg of a flight to only to go back to where we started.  

I did that! I was so proud that hours before we were to take off to a place we couldn’t go I saved the day by changing our non-refundable flight only to find out we wasted all the money we saved changing the flight by picking the wrong departure town.

Check out the casual airport in Arusha.  How about that baggage claim?  Now that’s efficient!

Click photos to enlarge….

I searched the web for private safaris. A gal from Australia blogged about a company called Wild and Me, the company that she used to do a solo safari. She said she spent hours researching to find the one that fit her needs. Luckily, our needs aligned with hers.

For years I wanted to go on a Micato safari. The magazine quality multi page pamphlet they send out had me drooling every time one showed up in the mailbox. The price told me I could buy a car with the money.  This girl has champagne taste and a cheap gene!

I messaged Wild and Me and started a dialog. The owner said all the rights things. I told her we’d let her know but it might be last minute.

Since we were unable to personally verify the safari company we figured the tourist office in Arusha could give us a recommendation and an opinion about Wild and Me.

The tour “rating” booklet listed thousands of licensed safari companies. The good news was Wild and Me got an A.  The worker said they were not allowed to recommend a company but if I reached out to him personally he would connect us with a quality tour.  They ended up being more expensive so Wild and Me it was.

Then you have to choose a budget, mid-range or luxury safari. Our wallet wanted budget. I wanted luxury but not willing to pay for it. So we settled on mid-range.

Many tour companies have their own vehicles as well as lodges and/or campgrounds. Wild and Me has their own guides and modified 4×4 Land Cruisers and then they book hotels, lodges or camps depending on their client’s needs and price range.

We decided on four days and three nights. We go from morning to night. No lounging around like you do at those luxury lodges.

This gave us a couple days to hang in Arusha.

Our driver, Amon, picked us up from the hotel at 8 am. and we drove 3 hours to Another UNESCO site – Lake Manyara.  A shallow, alkaline lake. Known for having masses of flamingos – a photographer’s dream.  

It is so stimulating driving out of the city. The burbs had many rundown moldy concrete “Russian type” housing projects.  Many hosting government workers and teachers who are provided free housing, water and electricity.

The countryside is riddled with Maasai men and boys herding cattle and goats.  More about that later…

It was a hazy day at Lake Manyara.  The lake was overflowing its banks.  Wildlife were plentiful if you’ve never been on a safari before (tee hee).  The flamingos were non-existent.  Waaaa.  It was a lot easier to keep track of what we saw:

Springer antelopes
Baboons
Silver bill Horn bills (big beak)
Elephants are called Tembo
Impalas
Zebras
Ververt monkeys
Egyptian geese
Worthogs
Bush Buck – Antelope
Giraffe
Water Buck

So just a heads up.  I’m sure you don’t need me to explain but my pride makes me.  My camera lens is only 20-70mm.  That means unless the animals are real close they will look like dots on the horizon.  I believe that wildlife photographers (which I am not) use something close a 200-600mm lens.  

Super thankful to be out in the fresh air seeing animals in their natural habitat but it had us wondering…  Was Bill right? Was the walking safari the best? Should have left it at that?

We stayed in one night Karatu. Our hotel was fabulous.  The room was huge.  The grounds were well thought out.  A pool, fireplace area and veggi gardens. The lounge area and dining room were open air, rustic and comfy.  We could have stayed an extra day.

 

 

 

Zanzibar – Stone Town

Doesn’t that sound so sexy and exciting? Zanzibar.

After a two hour ferry ride across the Indian Ocean heading due East we docked in another UNESCO World Heritage site called Stone Town.

From the UNESCO website: The buildings of the Stone Town, executed principally in coralline ragstone and mangrove timber, set in a thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime-washed, reflect a complex fusion of Swahili, Indian, Arab and European influences in building traditions and town planning. The two storey houses with long narrow rooms disposed round an open courtyard, reached through a narrow corridor, are distinguished externally by elaborately carved double ‘Zanzibar’ doors, and some by wide vernadahs, and by richly decorated interiors. Together with, the simple ground floor Swahili houses and the narrow façade Indian shops along “bazaar” streets constructed around a commercial space “duka”.

The old carved doors in Lamu and Shella originated in Zanzibar. They are truly a work of art and the focal point of most facades.

Click to enlarge photos…

We stayed in an old converted mansion. Much like a Mexican hacienda but probably Portuguese. The decor is old, stylish and ornate. It felt like we had stepped back in time.

Still sick and dragging. We managed to explore everything Old Town had to offer. We’d walk and walk and then I’d collapse in bed.

The streets in the old portion of town were narrow and filled with cars and motorcycles making passage on foot quite dangerous.

Every 15 seconds we were asked if we wanted a taxi ride or to visit a shop. Zanzibar is still reeling from the shutdown – there are 30 parked taxis for every person visiting. 

Once off the beaten path we were able to avoid being on alert and were able to experience the quiet more “normal” non-tourist life.

Strolling through markets can be enlightening. The colors and activity are invigorating. It’s mind-blogging to see how meat and fish sit out unrefrigerated. It’s always an opportunity for me to explain (haha – often with hand signals) that our son does the same job in America (albeit wayyy different). This precipitates smiles and invitations for me to take photos.

A dark side to Zanzibar was the slave trade market that started in 1811. The world’s last open slave market. Over the course of 60 years one million enslaved were traded here. Taken from Central and East Africa and brought across the Indian Ocean to Stone Town.  Some slaves remained in Zanzibar to work in the plantations and the remaining were sent overseas to the Persian Gulf and Asia.  David Livingston in 1857 made an appeal to Cambridge and Oxford Universities to end the slave trade in Africa. By decree of the Sultan of Zanzibar slave trade ended in 1873.  In 1874 the Cathedral Church of Christ was built in its place. The haunting Slave Market Memorial was created in 1998 by Clara Sornas of Scandinavia.  This day a class of high schoolers were learning about this site.

Side note:  Tanzania has two presidents.  One for mainland Tanzania and one for Zanzibar.  When we entered Zanzibar we went through customs even though technically it is Tanzania.  They went from a Covid denying President (on the mainland who died during the pandemic) to new one (five months in office) who is trying to change the perception and response to Covid.  The only people with masks on are hotel workers.  As I am writing this and doing research online the first (not the “first” but that’s his title) VP of Zanzibar died today of Covid.  The USA State Department issued warning for its citizens not travel to Tanzania because they have not reported their Covid cases.  I should also add that no one on the island of Lamu in Kenya wore face masks.  It was strange, a bit unnerving but in the same breath fun to see people being normal.

Off to the beach…

 

 

 

 

Next stop Lamu Island, Kenya


We drove out of Tsavo East and headed to the town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean where everyone but us got a Covid test for their return flights home. Afterwards we hopped on a plane and 25 minutes later landed at the Manda Airport on the Island of Manda.There is something magical and primitive about landing at a tiny remote airport. It’s informal – no jetways or sidewalks just earthen paths. Everything is dulled by a layer of red dirt. Our luggage was loaded into a old wooden pull cart and rolled to the nearby boat ramp.

We boarded a boat taxi and headed across the channel to Lamu Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site and Kenya’s oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement on Africa’s East Coast.Our reward for finishing the walk was to stay at the renowned family run Peponi Hotel in the adjoining community of Shella.

Lamu and the Peponi are listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and rightfully so.

Carol and her daughter Elke run the hotel. I’m sure they don’t like the reference but I had visions of Mama Mia. Elke is stunningly beautiful, make up free and bare footed. Her mum is clearly a spitting image of the same girl just years later. They are hands on and make sure your every need it met.

Previously warned by Tropical Ice that we should extend our (included in the safari) one night stay and enjoy the pole pole (Swahili for slow, slow) lifestyle. We had booked two nights. A perfect end to a perfect walking safari.

Our original plan grew into five nights. Covid was starting to affect our trip. The flight to Zanzibar had been cancelled and the Islands of Comoros and Madagascar closed their borders to tourism. Coupled by civil unrest in others countries – we needed time to hatch a new plan.

First things first. We girls headed out just behind the hotel to explore the narrow streets and pathways that wind through the village of Shella. There are no cars and donkeys are used to transport goods and people. We set out with a map highlighting the “best of” and no sooner than we made the first turn and we were lost.

What a place to be lost. It was a maze with a muted palette of dusty paths and creamy buildings with stunning carved door, offset by bright bougainvillea, drying laundry and women in colorful hijabs and dresses.

It’s a certainty that every country has its one percent. This was evident at the Hemmingways and Peponi. Lots of lethargic people wearing $1,000. sunglasses and designer clothing. Safari clothes – not appropriate.

Shela and Lamu Island are Muslim communities. 50 mosques for 50,000 people. My shorts and skirts from the safari wouldn’t suffice so I was on a mission to purchase a modest dress. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. It was a request but not enforced. Light and airy dresses were what most woman wear. Scarves worn for coverage work as well. There was one boutique shop in town where all of us found a treasure. One dress worn over and over will suffice.

A lot of the homes and fenced walls are built with coral. They’re rough, porous and plentiful. 350 members of the Luo tribe live on a nearby island and spend their days harvesting the dead coral from under trees and transporting them by boat to Lamu Island. Beamed ceilings are made with Mangrove poles and therefore rooms are narrow since the trees do not grow tall. Floors and walls are mostly rough dead coral and the coated with coral limestone for smoothness. Many homes have a “daka” entry porch where men gather to visit.  Inside are are small niches carved into the walls of stone structure.   Inside elaborate “vidaka” walls – small niches carved into the walls of stone structures – are a stunning focal point.  Decorative but also used to reduce echoing in the home.

Iain’s wife, Lou, flew in to join everyone. Our first evening, the last that we were all together, we had a Swahili feast. The setting was stunning. We sat in a lush area near the pool on ground height couches surrounded by vibrant fluffy pillows. The men were not quite sure what to do with their legs which prompted us to become silly children once again. The food was spicy, flavorful and bountiful.

After a luxurious night’s sleep six of us took a dhow (ancient Arab sailing boat) to the old town of Lamu. It’s within walking distance to Shella Village at low tide but the dhow was a more traditional means of entering this famous town. The bustling streets where “pole pole” meets the fast pace of commerce, donkeys are the beast of burden and hawkers try to lure you into their shops.

Lamu is bursting at the seams with cats, cats and more cats.  Unique cats.  The only place in the world to have the same physiques as the cats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

The evening commenced with a sunset dhow cruise sipping wine and drifting by patches of mangroves. When the sun began to set we turned course and met up with masses of dhow boats where we all raced towards the sunset. It was stunning.

I’ll have you know it took me three days to shake having to look for predators while traversing the garden lawn from our room to the restaurant!

We said goodbye to everyone on day three and it once again became the Bill and Paige show. Time was spent exploring Shela and Lamu Town, walking the beach, lounging, catching up on emails, posting a few blogs, making plans, eating too much food and having sunset cocktails.

Sand life and art:

 

The Great Walk of Africa Days 6 and 7


Sunrise happens quickly in these parts. Beyond our jambo wake up call the sun ushers in a yellow and orange medley of colors setting the tent aglow. To our surprise, on the way to the bathroom, the full brilliant moon was setting between the doum palms. Last night the palms were alive with baboons scurrying about shaking the branches and making the sound of a monsoon rain. This morning all is calm and peaceful.

I failed to mention yesterday that we walked down the Tsavo river toward its confluence with the Yati River which together form the emerald green Galana River.  You can see below where the color changes.  We had been using the Tsavo River water for showers but the water from the Galana is not used in camp.

This brings up the big question “Why are we wading through it?”  Yes, this too I failed to mention (on purpose) because I didn’t’ have photos.  We’ve been crossing the river. The body of water full of savage crocodiles. Crocodiles make alligators look like baby lambs.  They are bigger, stronger and look for trouble.  We paid for this!

So here are the rules:  We only cross at elephant crossings – never where there are smooth rocks where you can hopscotch across the river (because the crocs lurk there). We are to look BIG.  To do this we grab our partner’s hand standing shoulder to shoulder and then we hang onto the person in front of us – bellies to butts. No talking and walk briskly!

Lajori and Tioko test the water before we start.  They throw rocks in and then grab poles and stir the water.  The water depth is unknown but perceived to be okay.  The short women get an occasional douche and the guys mostly get the bottoms of their shorts wet.  I walk on tippy toes.  If we can’t bathe with this water I certainly did want it going where it doesn’t belong.  I have enough things to worry about.

Day six we walked a new trail for this safari.  Not only are we chum but now guinea pigs.  As we prepared to cross the river a crocodile slipped off the shore into the water. Red alert. My heart starts racing.  Iain walks 75  feet down the shore and says this will work!

Day seven our river crossing area was full of luxuriating hippos.  Iain had us walk down the shore and away from the herd but fairly close to a single hippo submerged in the cooling water.  I’m sure he saw the concern in our eyes and promptly exclaimed, ‘If we all huddle together and move quickly we might all make it!”  Some of our crossings are more than 100 yards wide so I’m sure even a hippo could catch us.

I think every one of us stared down that hippo and never even thought about the crocodiles.

From the Yatta escarpment to the Galana River elephants have forged a path for over a thousand years.  For Bill and me, this may be the first thousand year old trail we’ve hiked which was not built by the Romans.

The volume of game grows daily.  Especially the elephants.  Their nature is so human like. Witnessing up close the way they nurture and discipline their babies could keep me spellbound for hours.  A memorable moment was watching a female dig a hole in the sand to find filtered water.  She’d scoop it up and throw it over her shoulder.  In the meantime, her baby, thrilled to drink from the same hole, tried to get on the action only to be continuously pushed aside so mama could finish the task at hand.

Each evening while eating dessert Iain likes to tell us about what to expect the next day. Tonight’s briefing ended with a story about what happened on his previous safari two weeks prior on the same path we will walk tomorrow…

Of late the vehicles wait for us to conclude our walk and we drive back to camp.  Simon, the other driver, had gone to the pick-up site early.  As he waited for Iain and his group to crest a hill before crossing the river he witnessed a lion stalk and kill a zebra. Right in the pathway where Iain would emerge.  He had no way of warning them.  They were off the grid – no cellular service and the emergency radio only worked one way.

Iain said as he and the group were about to crest the hill he came face to face with a bloody mouthed lion.  Both stood there shocked.  Seconds later the lion turned and ran away.  Iain said one of the walkers fell over right there in his tracks.  I’m sure that’s the least of what I would have done.

We were left with this story.  Go to bed, sweet dreams and tomorrow might be real fun……

Photos from the day. Click to enlarge.

Driving to the starting point:

Walking.

Iain showing off his rock climbing skills.

Game drive.

 

T minus 48 hours – Nairobi here we come.

Some of you know that flying is a white knuckle event for me. Much improved over the years I still feel some strange force like fog on a misty morning in the days building up to departure.

*stock photo- not mine

Yes, 130 countries and I’m afraid of flying. Actually – crashing.

Anxiety be damned. Power through it – have a martini or worse case pop a Xanax.

This time I am so excited to leave that I’ve even been talking about it. We have to – there are sooo many balls being juggled precariously in the air. Flights being cancelled – countries closing – Delta Variant – civil wars and protests…..

For now we’re:

Packed ✅ There is a strict 33 pound weight limit because of small planes. If I carry my 6 pound camera around my neck this is doable. Normally, a mixture of black, gray and splash of color are my go to items. Simple and quite effectively doesn’t show red wine drool.

This time. Beiges, light pinks, khaki green and creamy whites are what’s called for. The tsetse fly is a thing in Africa! I remember growing up hearing my mother say she thought she was bitten by a tsetse fly whenever she felt tired.

A couple of Google searches later and we’ve learned that this fly is attracted to dark colors. Apparently blue is its favorite color and black is its second. They bite – hard – through clothing and can carry a sickness. Sleeping sickness – as well as a bunch of ugly side effects including death when not treated. You didn’t have to convince me.

Covid test ✅ (waiting for our results – no time for delays). Like traveling to Hawaii – Kenya requires a negative Covid test within 96 hours of landing.

Countries for which we have non-refundable flights have recently restricted travel for tourism. No entry. Vaccinated or not. Covid test or not.

Covid, malaria, sleeping sickness and imaginary plane crashes… what’s a girl to do?

This will certainly be an adventure. Last time we left the country – altitude sickness, protests and a government overthrow kept us on our toes. This time we’ll get to experience new countries in the life and times of Covid and once again we’re going to be flexible like silly putty.

Nicaragua

UGH. I’m the tight wad in the family.

Bill confessed that he splurged and bought business class tickets from Panama City to Georgetown, Guyana. With all the fiasco about us not having yellow fever vaccinations we had to come up with plan B.

Of course, we didn’t buy flight insurance (not sure it would have applied) and immigration issues are of no concern for Copa Airlines. “You can pay $150.00 per person to change your flights. If you want to use the credit from your cancelled flight you must book business class out of Panama City.”So here I sit again typing this blog from the most expensive seat on a one hour 35 minute flight. At least we were served tapas and we’re drinking copas de vino tinto – that’s a bonus. One doesn’t get to use any remaining balance of the un-used plane fare. Bill chalked it up to another adventure while I fought back tears from losing the value of our tickets. Such is life.

We’re on our way to Managua, Nicaragua.

More later……

So we get off the plane and two people in lab coats are checking the immigration papers that we filled out on the airplane. They looked at each person’s form in front of us and waved them through.

But not us. Oh no. “Where’s your vaccination paperwork” questions the man with the lab coat. Say what? “No tenemos.” I exclaimed. We don’t have them.

He promptly calls over another more official lab coat person who pulls us out of line to interviews us. She wanted to know how our ages, how many days we were in Panama and did we really visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Visions of the Managua Immigration Hotel were floating in my head.

We answered her questions and after a few hems and haws she waved us on through with a bienvenidos – welcome.

Phew! Close call. Now that has me wondering if we could have pulled that off on the Guyana trip.Not too many tourists stay in the capital of Managua. It’s a jumping off place for other locations in the country. The only building of any historical significance is the cathedral that was devastated in the 1972 earthquake and never rebuilt. Supposedly the whole center of Managua was destroyed in the earthquake and the following years of civil unrest kept it from flourishing.

There’s a fantastic malecón. The long walkway boarders Lake Managua with a huge park, restaurants, amusement activities and rest areas.Since we arrived late we decided to stay here to check it out and then move onwards.Granada. A popular tourist destination resting at the foot of the active Mombacho volcano on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. A charming old town with colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. The hawkers in the main square were exhausting. Lucky for us it was the first time we had to deal with it on this trip and when we left the main tourist area to explore we were left alone.It’s remarkable how many countries look the same. Discovered by the same people, ruled by the same people, built by the same people. Bill reminds me that countries are just lines on a map.

Off to El Salvador. Let’s see if it’s different…

Crazy creepy birds at sunset. The volcano cleared for just a moment.

Panama City, Panama

Believe it or not immigration in Panama did not ask about our flight out of Panama. Go figure.

The airline clerks in Lima were more about Panamanian Immigration than the Panamanians were.

It’s all smoke and mirrors!

The good thing about the whole ordeal was that we didn’t have to spend the night in the Panama Immigration Hotel.

The first day was the hop on hop off bus and Yup…. it was a national holiday – diá de bandera (flag day) and half of the bus stops were closed. One being access to the historic district – Casco Viejo and all the museums. Flag day in Panama is a big deal. We caught a glimpse from the bus and hundreds of thousands of people were out packed in like sardines celebrating. It was great fun to see.Lucky for us we got to watch a huge ship go through the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal. I was able to experience locks growing up on Saranac Lake in New York. It’s a tedious and meticulously planned operation. Train-like engines guide the ships through the canal keeping the boat in the middle. It was a bit like watching water boil but thrilling none the less.

A malecón (seaside walkway) called Cinta Costera Park links the wildly growing modern urban center to Casco Viejo – Panama City’s spectacular old town and UNESCO World Heritage site.We baked ourselves in the sun walking from our hotel to the historic center on the Cinta Costera but enjoyed the seaside breeze in the evening on the way back. Skaters, walkers, joggers, dancers, vendors, kids and their parents, novias and amigos relished in the cooler night temperature.
Casco Viejo is a mixture of crumbling abandoned buildings and new or newly refurbished ones – stately, ornate and adorned with Spanish inspired balconies. Fantastic restaurants, super cool hotels and fun bars.Oh yeah – the moon righted its self. Explain that to me please!We happened upon a runner, Jan-Casper Look, who just completed running from Vancouver, Canada to Panama City. Phase one of his journey. It took him a year. He runs pulling a cart behind himself averaging 30 miles per day. You can follow him on Instagram @jclloo21 where there’s also a link to his blog. And we thought walking a few Caminos was a big deal.

Strange and crazy. This Camino Pilgrimage symbol was on a building in Casco Viejo!