Tag Archives: safari

The Serengeti

Ah the Serengeti (Maasai – meaning endless plain).  12,000 square miles – flat and sprinkled with stunning acacia trees.  It’s everything I dreamed it would be.

As we entered the park they were doing a controlled burn to get rid of overgrowth to keep the floor of the plains healthy.  Burns are done sections at a time and the results are clearly visible. Lush green grass was growing in the areas previously burned.

It’s remarkable how different the flora, terrain and wildlife are in Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and in the Serengeti. Even Tsavo for that matter.  It is LUSH!!  Tanzania is the place to live if you’re a hungry animal.  Poor creatures in Tsavo, Kenya are starving.

We had hoped to see hyenas and cheetahs in Tsavo so it was a real treat to see them here.  The gazelles were the bunny rabbits – prolific and everywhere.

Day one we saw:
Hyaena
Ostriches
Thompson’s gazelles
Grants gazelles
Secretary birds – they peck with their feet like typing
Topi antelope
Serval cat like a cheetah
Cokes hartebeest
Cheetahs
Hippos
Blue Herons
Lots of different birds
Impalas
Elephants
Zebras

Click to enlarge photos…

We went with the beer budget safari and it was perfect.  However, I was thrilled to see a Micato Land Cruiser pull up next to us.  It was the same vehicle that we had and it had six people in it!  Same car and ours was just the two of us. Score one for us.  I did notice a tiny difference at lunch time.  The park had designated eating areas with bathrooms.  We had boxed lunches packed by the hotel and French press coffee made by Amon.  The chichi tours had a wicker basket with food, drinks and wine served on plates.  They sat at the same tables as we and peed in the same toilets. I’ll give that one to them.  I can’t speak about the accommodations.  Ours tent camp felt like we were one with nature.  Tents surrounded by zebras. Rustic but with everything one could need (I didn’t say want).  We left with money to live on for the next six months so I’d say we won.  Here’ our rustic…

Our tent was approximately 50 yards from the mess tent (reception, lounging and dining area).  We were given walkie talkies and were told not to venture from our tent in the dark.  “Call for an escort.”  We made it to dinner in the daylight but it was dark when it was time to go back to the tent.  One of the workers grabbed a flashlight and started leading the way.  “Where’s your gun?”, I asked.  “Oh we don’t need one.  We’ve been doing this for a long time and know what to look for.”  Say what??? Hello, we know from the Great Walk of Africa that guns are essential.  There were many times that the workers were armed and protecting us.  It reminded me of un-armed security guards back home.

Breakfast and dinner were served buffet style.  No Covid here.

New animals on the second day:
Cheetah and 2 Cubs eating an impala
Water buck
Lion laying on top of a huge rock
Leopard in the mouth of a big rock formation
Mongoose
Superb starling (blue and Orange bird)
Monitor lizard
Guinea Fowl
Parrots – One tree full of beautiful yellow birds
Ground hornby (big bird)
Dik Dik
Lion with a big mane
Leopard walking in the middle of the road!  Again, so lucky.  They are nocturnal.

Leopard gets its own gallery:

On our second night at camp – out cold and sleeping.  A zebra bumped up against the tent right by our heads and woke me up.  For the next 20 minutes it grazed.  I could hear it pulling the grass out with its teeth and chewing!  It was very cool.

Day 3 on the way out the most majestic and beautiful male lion walking in the field near our camp.

Impalas have one male that rules the herd. They fight for this position – retain it until they are challenged.  We watched younger males being trained to fight with their horns by the ruling male. We also watched the ram gather the females to cross a road.  He was quite impatient with the flaky females who lingered.  He actually wrangled each one individually until they were all in a group again.

The whole safari experience was tremendous.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  At the pace we went we were glad it was only 4 days.  It was exhausting!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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 Final Walking Day 10

Tioko showed up in fancy sandals way too small for his feet.  He must have borrowed someone’s clubbing shoes!

Today we walked 17 miles.

Click to enlarge photos.

A large group of elephants were spotted on the ridge line.  Iain headed in their direction but the wind was blowing our scent towards them so they started to turn in a different direction. We changed course and ran across the plain to meet up with them. This time undetected.  With the Henry Mancini “Baby Elephant Walk” playing in my head, we followed them towards the river. Walking briskly to keep up then running around the saltbushes to watch them at the water. 

It seemed strange in our given environment of not seeing another human or non-wild animal on this journey to walk into a huge herd of cattle and goats shepherded by children appearing to be 6 to 14 years old.  They are from the Orma tribe near the Somalia border.  Supposedly rich Kenyans own the animals. It was fascinating to watch. The kids were bathing and cleaning their clothes in the river.  Their life is dreadfully hard and often short lived.

At lunch time we crossed the Galana to a grove of palms where the crew had set-up a tent and brought lunch while we walked. To relax, cots had been placed under the palm trees. We rested and then headed out again.This time we walked to the finish line!  100 miles in 10 days.

It was an adventure of a lifetime.  The crew at Tropical Ice has this down to a science.  We were so lucky that the three additional walkers were fantastic, lovely people.  A couple from Colorado and a 84 year old retired doctor from San Francisco.  We giggled so much.

We’re two very grateful people.

The Great Walk of Africa Day 9

What you don’t know won’t kill ya. Apparently that’s not the way in the bush. 

This morning I felt like Emily Blunt in the The Quiet Place movie.  The predators are out there….  There’s no Jaws movie music Da dant da dant da dant.  Not only have we taken the oath of silence so have the predators.  It’s a quiet killing grounds in Tsavo. The only things making noise are the harmless birds.  HA!!! The stuff I think about…..

Lots of game sightings today – zebras – elephants – gazelles…

Click to enlarge photos…