Tag Archives: Photography

Ngorongoro Crater and Onward to our Serengeti Camp

When we were on the island of Manda in Kenya I bumped into a group of young women from Barcelona.  They were still on a safari “high” having just left Tanzania.  They were stoked about Lake Manyara and even better yet Ngorongoro Crater. “You have to go there!”

To be fair, our day before at Lake Manyara was wonderful but not earth shattering.  It’s not Disneyland even though at times it feels like someone in the background says “Cue the lion”.  It’s pure luck.  The wildlife are in their natural habitat and you see things when you do.

Off to Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest inactive caldera and another UNESCO site.

Per Wikipedia: A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the rock above the magma chamber is lost. The ground surface then collapses downward into the emptied or partially emptied magma chamber, leaving a massive depression at the surface (from one to dozens of kilometers in diameter).[1] Although sometimes described as a crater, the feature is actually a type of sinkhole, as it is formed through subsidence and collapse rather than an explosion or impact.

This crater collapsed on itself two to three million years ago! Today approximately 25,000 animals roam on its floor.

We drove down into the crater on a windy narrow road with steep drop offs. It was a one lane road handling cars traveling in both directions. Lovely….

Tourism is down 80%.

Imagine safari vehicles roaming every which way over the 100 square miles of the caldera.  This is what 20% looks like in one tiny part of Ngorongoro.  I can’t imagine what it would be like when tourism was at 100%.  We are very lucky to be here now when it is relatively quiet and we can help provide income to those who desperately need it. There is no unemployment from this government.  They’re on their own.

Click to enlarge photos…

The drivers use radios to tell each other if they have spotted something extraordinary. Although we couldn’t understand Swahili we knew something special had been spotted. Amon would put it in gear and dart off.   The safari vehicles grew en masse as everyone vied for a spot.

The wildebeest and zebra numbered in the thousands.  A lioness walked calmly next to the shoreline and upon spotting her the wildebeest lost their minds and ran in every direction.  I had a glimpse into what the “wildebeest migration’ would look like. The zebras stopped and watched closely seeming to be plotting out their escape.  A few gazelles followed closely behind as if they were toying with her.  A full belly must have kept this lioness disinterested.

It was unexpected but I did get to see flamingos.

Here’s the tally for today:
Grants gazelles
Cape buffalos
Hammerkorp bats
Vultures
Water buck
Elephants (Tembos)
Elan antelopes
Guinea fowls
Pumba warthogs
Thompson’s gazelles
Flamingos
Zebras
Caracal – cat family
Gray crowned cranes
Wildebeest
Ostriches
A lioness
Ibis
Marubu stork
Giraffe

We stayed in the crater about three hours then headed to the Serengeti – another three hour drive to get to camp. Some on pavement and the rest of the drive was on dirt roads in the Serengeti Park.

More about the Serengeti in the next posting….

Heads up – the first video loaded is the one I posted.  The one you see after viewing that are ones YouTube wants you to see….

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 – Nungwi

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe – Bill judiciously picked a cab driver to drive us one hour north to a village called Nungwi. Nungwi is known for its lack of wind, white sand beaches and turquoise water. 

It’s hit and miss taking photos out of a car but here’s a look at the countryside.  The island is mostly Muslim, homes are mostly made of mud and transportation is mostly by motorcycle or on foot.

Click to enlarge photos…

We continued walking five miles a day hoping I would sweat out my sickness. Here we were in paradise and it was hard to put one foot in front of another.  It was suggested the I try antibiotics. We always have Cipro in our arsenal.  That was plan A .  Plan B was to go to a hospital (scary) or fly home (not any easy task with Covid and PCR testing – it would have taken days).   48 hours of later I finally turned the corner.  

Life on the beach was interesting. Right outside our hotel several Maasai warriors interacted with tourists all day long. Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting Kenya and northern Tanzania. Known by their distinct dress. They wear checkered patterned fabric much like a sarong to cover their bodies and carry a long stick. Customarily they live in the country where men and boys herd cattle and goats. It seemed strange to see them on the beach. More about them later…

The coast is riddled with wooden boats and fishermen.

Everyone including children forage in the sand for worms and for fish in the tide pools.

Large groups of colorfully dressed women sorted through silver fish much like oversized anchovies.

They must eat puffer fish. I thought they were poisonous.

Starfish (some look like Covid) and especially sea urchins were plentiful.

A swing had me captivated.

Our beach came alive as the sun lowered.

 

A dress code wasn’t enforced at the hotel but we read that in town women with uncovered shoulders and/or knees and shirtless men were subject to a $1,000. fine.

We vegged the last two days so I could gain some strength back. Walking was probably better than laying in bed but laying by the pool worked better. I lost six pounds in only a few days.

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…

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Kenya – Jambo Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Swahili is spoken in Tanzania as well as Kenya. Asante sana is thank you very much and karibu is welcome – as in welcome to our hotel, shop, etc. or you’re welcome. When someone presents you with something – for example a cup of coffee they say karibu (you’re welcome) before you get a chance to say asante sana (thank you).  It is as if they believe karibu is “here’s your…”.

We’ve all heard hakuna matata (no worries, take it easy) from Disney. Every time I heard that I thought they we’re pulling my leg.  That’s a Disney word!  Of course the first time I heard Washii (the Samburu bush man) say simba to Iian I knew exactly what he was saying.  Again, from Disney!

Bill wanted to go to Dar es Salaam – place of peace. The largest city in Tanzania and the gateway to Zanzibar. Due to all the Covid shutdowns we had to fly back to Nairobi to get to Dar es Salaam which is normally a direct 45 minute flight from Mombasa. This one is just another big city with 7 million people.

We walked and walked. Along side the Indian Ocean and down to the port. First stop the museum where we ran into a bunch of kids on a field trip from another city.  At one point they spotted us.  They wanted to fist bump!  

We decided to check out the Lutheran Church (this was a German colony until lost to Britain at the conclusion of WW1). The church cleaner, a 30 year employee, invited us to climb up the clock tower. Bill passed and I challenged my lungs. The church was built in 1898 by German missionaries and had a zillion steps to the German bells. The view was endless. The 100+ year old clock still worked.

A unique way to sell shoes. On the Lutheran Church’s fence.

Click to enlarge photos….

The Catholic Cathedral was two blocks away. As we approached there were a lot of police and machine gun packing military. They asked our intentions and we said it was to visit the church. They pointed to the side gate where we have our temperatures taken by security. Upon walking up the steps to the church a lady cop ran over to us and demanded to know what we were doing. Visiting the Church, of course. You can’t do that the President is inside – come back later!

Exiting to the street allowed us to remain inside the police barricade where we stopped and watched. It was a wedding. When the festivities were over the President was escorted off the property by 16 security vehicles. To think we got that close.

While waiting for our take out dinner I suddenly felt like I’d been hit by a freight train. I was sick. Lunch from the museum? We grabbed a tuk tuk ride back to the hotel where the bed became my sanctuary.

Day three and still super sick.  We walked five miles to the ferry building and back with tickets to Zanzibar in hand. I thought I could force myself to get better if I walked it off.

Dragging, the next day we headed to the ferry for our next stop.

 

Jambo and Hello Mombasa

After our relaxing time in Shella we decided fly to the city of Mombasa.

I personally wanted to visit Mombasa (as well as Tsavo and Malindi) to see places that had been the setting for books that I’ve read. It also has two UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Mombasa is a bustling large city with a population of 1.3 million. It’s the second largest city (Nairobi the first) in Kenya populated with locals, Arabs, Asians, Portuguese and the British. Normally our goal is to stay away from big cities but there’s always exceptions.

In so many countries around the world tuk tuks are a popular means of travel. If we aren’t walking to our destination we’re in a tuk tuk.  Blurred photos as we whizz through the town.

We spent time at Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to protect the port of Mombasa and the surrounding Old Town (both UNESCO sites) with buildings dating from the 18th century. Like Lamu and Shella they too have exquisite old carved doors.  The old town is  crumbling but part of the attraction.

Mombasa rests on the Indian Ocean and we dined each night at the water’s edge feasting on large lobster dinners for only $15.00.

 

 

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.