Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, Feb 29th, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge


We left the Serengeti this morning and headed to the Oldavai Gorge. You know that place, it’s the cradle of mankind. Technically, we’re all Tanzanians. Pat suggested they issue honorary citizenships for $5 each.

On the rain-soaked roads (we had a wonderful lightning and thunderous storm last night), we saw a pack of hyenas, kori bustard, chanting goshawk, and some jackals. The Gorge is a 31-mile long , Y-shaped, river bed stretching on the east from Ngorongoro Reserve to Serengeti Reserve on the west. The river bottom soil is basalt devoid of life. Next up is volcanic ash making up Layer One (1.5 million to 2 million years), where they found Lucy, a very important human track containing human footprints preserved in solid ash deposits which was researched and then re-buried for periodic study (they’re digging it up again next year to preserve in a new museum on the site by 2015), and early stone tools and animal bones. Then comes Layer Two made of some ash and sandstone (800,000 to 1,500,000 years), where not much is found because river sand doesn’t preserve much. Layer Three (600,000 to 800,000) is that iron-rich section you’ll see in one of the photos on the top of a dirt island in one of the photos (again, not much). And then there’s two layers leading up to the rim of the Gorge where the visitor center is. Lots of stone tools, animal bones, and evidence of recent ancestors were found in those deposits.

Notes of importance: 1) it’s Oldapai, but an early German researcher heard it wrong from the Maasai (the name is from a Yucca-like plant found there); 2) Mary Leakey found the Australopithicus skull on a day when her husband was back at camp sick; 3) continuing research is being supported by universities in Spain, and in America at Rutgers, Wisconsin, and UC-Berkeley. The Getty Institute is funding most of it.

Just before lunch, we left the Gorge (not without pocketing a small stone which could have been a hand-tool while no one was looking) and drove to the Ngorongoro Crater to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge. Lunch overlooking the Crater was exquisite, though some remarked that the staff seemed like they were in training compared to other Sopas we’ve been to. In late afternoon, we’re catching up on travel routine chores (laundry, emails, blog posts, and a group orientation before dinner.

Not many photos, but click here to see them: Wednesday, Feb 29th, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday, Feb 28th, Serengeti Birthday


My birthday celebration started off early with the successful posting of the last few days texts, and a few photographs, just after midnight last night. I came to bed one of the last to leave the bar at the hotel, and tried to get some sleep before our long day on the Serengeti plain began.

One of the first scenes we encountered later in the morning was a lion and his lioness in full mating enthusiasm about twenty yards from the road. It's harder than you think for lionesses to conceive, and his royal kingliness must perform his part every 20 minutes in order for it to be successful. It shouldn't have been a surprise, as a result, for us to run into the same couple in almost the same place - eight hours later. We watched yet another amazing display leading to both of them laid out on their backs in utter exhaustion/bliss? until we had to leave in time to get out of the park. It was a great birthday present to see a that the ultimate male identity was still needed in nature's world.

In the interim, we added lots more bird species to our list. Several types of hyrax were also seen (they are large hamster-like creatures, related to elephants and dugong), as well as leopard tortoise, crocodile, reed buck, and dwarf mongoose.

Tomorrow, we head into the Oldavai gorge to visit the site of the Leakey's anthrolopithicus discovery and his museum. We're also staying in the Ngonorongoro Crater for two days, before driving to Arusha and on to Zanzibar.

My hearing has gotten worse, and I'm waiting for others to get tired of looking at the right side of my face while my right eye peers back at their lips. Everyone on the tour is accommodating, and I'm still hoping the salt water in Zanzibar will reverse it.

My birthday ended this evening with a large celebration, including music by the Serengeti Sopa choir, to the delivery of my birthday cake at dinner. We got the CD, and will share with those who want to enjoy it.

To see the photos taken today, click on: Tuesday, Feb 28th, Serengeti Birthday

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, Feb 27th, Serengeti National Reserve


Tanzania's favorite wildlife reserve has to be the Serengeti. The name means "view that goes on forever". You will see in some of the photos that I tried to give you a sense of how large that is. 14,000 square kilometers is a lot of open view. With the exception of a few granite outcroppings resulting from small magma eruptions about 180 million years ago, it's flat. I am eager to spend some time when I return on Google Earth reviewing where we've been.

First, to get to the Serengeti Reserve, we passed through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It the world's largest caldera (sunken volcano explosion site), and it's where we're going tomorrow. There are thousands of animals inside, including hundreds of prides of lions. I took some photos from the top, and of a plateau above it where Maasai raise cattle.

As all safari days have gone, this one started out with zebras, wildebeests, cape buffalos, and impalas, graduated to giraffes, hyenas, and jackals, and then finished with lions, hippos, and leopards. Of course, there were lots of birds all along the way, riding on the backs, necks, and butts of the above, and picking off all manner of things.

We did have an entirely new species today ...... tse fly. We were warned to wear white clothes, and we sprayed ourselves with repellants. We were advised that a good strategy would be to close up all of the windows in the rover when we encountered them and drive to where they weren't as quickly as possible.

That would have worked if we hadn't come across the flies just after we left the lodge, and had just lifted the top and opened the windows for that first stretch of "let's go get the wildlife111'. Thinking we could just swat them down in the moving vehicle, we proceeded into what the YouTube video to come (Kathy promises to be kind) will no doubt portray as six travelers and a driver swatting each other with safari hats as carefully and strategically as possible just short of causing an accident. Fortunately, we kept Kashia (our driver) from having to beat off those which attacked him, enough so he could navigate us to aafety. But I'll bet the video will go viral.

We got our wish, and today's drive brought the animals up closer for the newbies to see. We who had fabulous wildlife viewing days in Kenya's reserves are feeling much less guilty about those experiences. The encounters here are on par with any in Kenya.

Having a lot of trouble getting photos up today, either into the past few days blogs, or up to Picasa. I'll try tomorrow (Tuesday), but we're at the same lodge, so I have only a little hope. But stay tuned, the scenes are great.

To see the photos taken today, Click on (150 in all): Monday, Feb 27th, Serengeti Sopa Lodge

Sunday, Feb 26th, Manyara National Reserve


For a park that’s famous for herds of elephants and lions in trees, it didn’t live up to its reputation today. We saw lots of flamingos here at Lake Manyara Reserve, and monkeys and other birds a plenty. And elephant poop that you could trip over. But zilch on the sightings of two of the big five. While we’ve seen them before, it is exciting to be able to share those sightings with our two new travelmates.

We crossed the border from Kenya into Tanzania today. Paperwork for leaving Kenya = one form and show passport. Entering Tanzania = one form filled out at the hotel was the wrong form, a similar form but issued at the immigration checkpoint, fingerprints, visa ($100 for Amricans, $50 for Canadians), and proof of Yellow Fever innoculation (not really looked at).

The Chinese must have gotten a head start in Tanzania in their quest for Africa’s oil and other precious minerals – the roads are much better. With some extra delay at the border and a flat tire, we still got into the Lodge late for lunch. Some more good food, and off to another wildlife hunt. See above for results.

Late dinner will be followed (hopefully) by a successful wifi connection (reception isn’t sure), and snuggling with my lady under a mosquito net til we fall asleep. I’ve been trying to regain my hearing for the past day, to no avail. I'm going to try to ignore it until we get to Zanzibar and the beach. Salt water has always been my best medicine, and I think a little bodysurfing and shorebreak wave pressure might just do the trick.

Having some trouble getting photos up today, but to see all the photos I did get up (if any), click on: Sunday, Feb 26th, Manyara Reserve


Saturday, Feb 25th, Amboseli Reserve


We gained some travelmates this morning from Florida among the newbie’s, the rest reinforcing the Canadians from Vancouver and Toronto. I got some of their names, but was having so much difficulty hearing, I didn’t try very hard. Thankfully, we found a pharmacy on the way out of town, where we purchased some ear wax solution.

Sharon and Junia joined Tralee, Pat, and I with Joseph, and we were off to Amboseli National Reserve near the Tanzania border. The road was the main highway used to support traffic to Mombassa, so it was fairly well-paved. Villages front it for miles out of Nairobi, and the truck exhaust can be overwhelming. Joseph is skilled in passing them up, and will have our love forever for his care.

Amboseli Serena Wildlife Game Lodge meets the high standards we experienced at the Nairobi Serena, and in several in its chain in Egypt. Owned by the Aga Khan, they are really the best places to stay in the best places to go. From the moment you’re greeted with warm, minted towels and cold juice at the front steps to the last goodbye at checkout service, you’re treated with courtesy and respect. And the accommodations are beautiful, expansive, and filled with lots of local art and music. We’ll be looking to stay at more of them in our travels.

The Reserve was a little disappointing, however. Coming from Maasai Mara, where close encounters were the norm, the vast treeless desert-like environment made it harder to get close to the variety of animals we had experienced in the past few days. Wanting to share similar encounters with our newbies, we were limited to telephoto and binocular lens views of most of them, except elephants and zebras. They seem to walk constantly, and cross the road frequently, so getting up close is not difficult anywhere. And the babies are so cute it makes up for squinting at giraffes and lions.

Having some trouble loading photos, but to see all of the photos I could get up today, click on Saturday, Feb 25th, Amboseli Reserve

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday, Feb 24th, Nairobi Serena Hotel


Other than a very educational trip to the Karen Blixen Museum, outside of Nairobi, the day was spent driving from the Massai Mara Reserve to the Nairobi Serena Hotel. For those of you who did not read her book "Out of Africa" (or see the movie), Karen was a Denmark aristocrat who married her cousin, and came to Kenya to start a coffee plantation in the early 1900's. Abandoned by her playboy husband, she ran a 6,000 acre property until a fire in her factory led to her financial ruin. Along the way, she fell in love with a hunting guide/pilot who died in an air crash about the time of her bankruptcy. Selling the ranch, she returned to Denmark where he took up writing, publishing 17 books and stories under several pseudonyms. After her death in 1962, the Denmark government purchased her home in Kenya, bought back its furniture from her patrons, and gifted it all to Kenya in celebration of its independence.

We had lunch in a restaurant nearby, and bought several local craft items that will fit nicely into our collection of bowls, gourds, and baskets. Returning to Nairobi, we checked into the hotel and uploaded the last three days posts to this blog. Dinner was at the Tammerind in downtown Nairobi.

Tomorrow, we lose our friends Ian and Carol Fischer, and gain eight more travelers for the tour of Tanzania. There will be a series of one-night stays in game parks, and so we may not have wifi for a while. Our guides seem convinced we'll see a cheetah in Tanzania.

No additional photos were taken today.


Thursday, Feb 23rd, Massai Mara Sopa Lodge


Yesterday was such a great safari day, and I can't believe we'll ever see lions in the same way again. We've been counting up the different big five and other animals, but never seeing lions until now. Two of our friends were leaving on Saturday, and the whole crew was hoping we would see a lion by then.

And then, just like you imagined lions to act, they brought their regality to the scene. Okay, we did see five lazing around together last night. But that really wasn't like seeing them hunt, or watching a baby lion sleep peacefully on top of its parents. You want prides hanging out together, we'll give you piles of them under a tree. You want hunting parties sneaking around a bunch of water buffalos. It's been great.

Though we didn't see a cheetah, we've been fortunate enough to get up close a personal with almost 80% of the animals and 70% of the featured birds in two good books we'd recommend. I'm hoping they can be purchased on Amazon, because they've made good spotting tools. The titles are "Jonathan Scott's Safari Guide to East African Animals", and "Jonathan Scott's Safari Guide to East African Birds", both revised and updated by Angela Scott.

The Massai Mara Sopa Lodge stay was perfect, perched against a mountain in the heart of the National Reserve. The Reserve goes on forever, and is only second to the Serengeti in size on the continent. Those members of the group who chose to lift off at 5am today aboard a hot air balloon were given a great birds eye view of its many tribal compounds, and of its huge expanse. The rest of us slept in, and joined them near an airstrip before lunch. And all of its come away from the wildlife safari adventure with a day we will all remember forever.

One apology. Yes, there are probably too many photos of the animals we saw today. But it is so hard to choose which ones to delete, and it seemed important to us that you get the movement of them. So you'll just have to endure the flood of them today.


To see the photos taken today, click on: Thursday, Feb 23rd, Massai Mara Sopa Lodge

Wednesday, Feb 22nd, Massai Mara Sopa Lodge


We jokingly refer to it as the Massai Massage. The trip over the first 200 miles to the Massai Mara Lodge is over road that requires auto acrobatics. Our driver, Joe, is a master at driving our van on the crown of pot-holed asphalt flanked by gravel. The trick is to drive with one tire on the gravel, and one on the untouched asphalt in the middle of the paved section of the road, with the van at an angle of about 20 degrees. And remember, they drive on the left side of the road here.

The second shorter section wasn’t bad, as some of it was actually completely asphalt. But while the country has decided to concentrate its paving funds on the main east west road (trucks carrying goods from inland to the country’s port), smaller roads are being systematically de-paved. That will eliminate the need for the trick described above. The road to Massai Mara was experiencing a de-paving at the end of the middle section as we drove it, and we were glad to meet the de-paver as we crossed to the end of the middle section.

But the last 60 miles was never even prepared for paving. It was dirt and rocks just chaotic enough to create a teeth-grinding experience, especially if driven at the speed necessary to get us there for lunch. By the end, we had all recalled the worst road stories ever, and some were planning on adding this one to the short list. This evening, I heard at least one couple planning to take a local flight back to Nairobi at the end of this tour.

But as bad as the drive in was, the stay here has been great. This reserve is 1,600 square miles of protected wild animals and gorgeous African savannah. Our game van’s roof raises up, and Joe takes it everywhere in search of anything. The only rules are that we can’t get out of the van, and we have to head back to the Lodge at 6pm. We’re fine with both, as I’m sure are the animals.


To see the photos taken today, click on: Wednesday, Feb 22nd, Massai Mara Sopa Lodge

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday, Feb 21st, Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge


Our driver/guides are top-notch, in their skills negotiating the roads, answering our many questions, and spotting animals for us to see and photograph. We usually get on the road after breakfast by 7:30am, and arrive at our next destination by 1pm. That's followed by a terrific lunch, and a game drive for most of the afternoon. Each van has the driver and five travelers, all eager to help each other spot and photograph as many living creatures as possible. Of course, it is a little like the movie "The Big Year". It's much more exciting when we see something we haven't seen before. But how can you not love each one you see? Around every corner, up every tree, behind each bush, there's something wild.

And they are all mixed in together. I think I was assuming before I got here that they stayed separate. That they respected each other's territory. They do when it comes to lions and leopards. But just about everything else just gets along. It's very cool, and results in our having no idea what we're going to see next.

One thing that amazed me was the Corriolus effect at the equator. It's so precise. You'll see some photos of a demonstration we saw which tested how a matchstick circled in a basin of water at three locations - north, south and on the equator. I couldn't believe that it changed that radically within 60 feet of the equator!

Though the last 25 photos (among the best) can seem to make it up to the web tonight, I'll keep trying. I think I may have run out of bandwidth, and will have to post them at the next stop. We'll see. To see those that did make it up, click on: Tuesday, Feb 21st, Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge


Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday, Feb 20th, Serena Mountain Home


7,500 feet up a mountain in central Kenya is a mountain lodge built around a waterhole starting in the 1970's. It's our home for the night, and the animals which showed up to drink were quite a sight from our posh bedrooms in the four story structure.

Earlier in the day, we drove out of the Samburu Nature Preserve, and got our last look at some exciting wildlife once again. On the long drive to our next destination, we visited a Samburu village, where we were greeting in song and dance, and taught some of their culture and practices.

To see the photos taken to day, click on: Monday, Feb 20th, Serena Mountain Home


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday, Feb 19th, Samburu Sopa Lodge


“Do you have a special name for these herds of elephants, like we call killer whales ‘pods’?”, my friend Ian asked our guide Joseph. “Herds” he replied, to our delight. That didn’t stop our group from assigning a number to each group, “1,2,3…”, as we encountered them. They are so quiet, and walk so powerfully.

Today’s morning safari before breakfast was mostly a reprise of last night, except for the giraffes, more birds, and a couple of new monkeys. When we get more time, we’ll label each photo in the album so you can learn as we do.

We came back reluctantly from the morning safari to a great breakfast, and are now hanging out by the pool. Pat is devouring a bird book she bought, and I’m typing this post. There will be another safari at 3:30pm.

The 3:30pm safari was even better then this morning. We saw as many animals, a few new ones, and a leopard!!

I'm sitting in the bar at 9:30pm, and trying to nurse a really bad wifi connection to upload 250 of the best wildlife photos I've taken - to this weekend's posts. Since these are really the first I've taken, I can have the liberty of saying they're my best. Like to know if you agree. But there's a good chance they won't go up until next week. Don't worry, they're worth the wait.

Here they are: Sunday, Feb 19th, Samburu Sopa Lodge