Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday, March 18th, Hearing Returns

Greetings! I've received lots of well-wishes and inquiries about the hearing loss I suffered on our recent trip to Africa. I want to sincerely thank all of you for the love and concern you all have showed. The good news is that the visit to my doctor last week showed that Pat's suspicions were correct about my left ear. A giant goober of wax dissolved quickly at the hands of a talented nurse and the right set of solutions. The Serengeti dust reinforcing it didn't help either. And that's the conclusion as to why both ears were impacted. Standing like a human weathervane at the top front of the land rover we used in Kenya and Tanzania caused both ears to receive prolonged trauma to the ear canal. They just weren't used to that much direct wind and dust. And recover wasn't aided by the inflamed nasal passages caused by the cold I've been trying to get rid of for two weeks now. But I can tell you all that I'm hearing fine now. Yesterday, Pat and I attended the memorial service in Marin of a good friend of mine from college, and I actually heard every word well. Because most of us attending are getting on in years, and our voices are fading anyway, I was happy to be there fully. I learned a good lesson about the frailty of ears. And have an enormous appreciation of the difficulties experienced by those whose hearing weakens. Gregory

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday, March 14th, Santa Rosa

Greetings! There's still no bed better than the one in our own bedroom. After two days of fights, and a sleep of almost 18 hours in an airport hotel in Paris, we arrived home last Friday evening. We were prepared for more chaos, as our home internet connection (and our internet-based phones) was inoperable. Fortunately, a neighbor's open wifi and our cell phone have kept us barely communicable for the past week. Our bodies are still not adjusted to day/night sleep cycles, nor has my cold gone or hearing returned. But we're back in our own bed, and we're working our way back into our Sonoma County lives. Gregory

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday, Mar 5th, Sultan Sands Resort, Zanzibar


I swear that today I swam in an ocean warmer than any I have experienced.  It was warmer than the air temperature in the mid-afternoon sun.  The heated pool I swam in afterward at the resort was colder than the ocean.  It was very eery.  There was a reef a mile out which kept any waves from reaching the shore, and the shallow water inside above the coral just cooked up.

Sultan Sands Resort, and its sister resort Blue Bay next door, will be a great end to this adventure.  It's the vacation after the "educational experience" as our guide James calls it.  Tomorrow morning, there is no wakeup call.  We're on our own, after so many days of non-stop ruin-hunting and animal/bird hunting.

Today, we stopped on the way here at the Josani Forest National Park.  It is home to 3,000 rare red colobus monkeys, a large mangrove swamp, and a mahogony forest.  There are 50 species of trees and 40 different butterflies.   We were especially privileged to have with us a guide who was not only a noted naturalist, but a local healer familiar with the medicinal capabilities of all of the plants and trees in the forest.  He dazzled all of us with his immense passion for the species under his watch in the forest, and the care which he took to help our group understand their importance.

Did you know that there are eleven different  "Mangrove" trees, and that each thrive in different salt/fresh water and mud/brakish water conditions?  Did you now they develop seeds which resemble short spears which fall from the bud and stick into the mud?  We got to drop some off a wooden bridge and plant a tree.

Tomorrow, I'm going to attempt to do some wind-surfing.  I can't promise any photos (either of me or any other general subject) as we'll probably just be lazy ll day and do what people do at resorts - vacation!

To see the few photos we took today, click on:  Monday, Mar 5th, Sultan Sands Resort, Zanzibar


ps.  The photo of the spider was taken yesterday, and it's bigger than my outstretched hand!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday, Mar 4th, Zanzibar Serena Inn


Pat and I were poolside, basking in the setting sun as those ancient single-masted dhows sail by that you imagine once were carrying Arab and Indian merchants to these shores.  Hundreds of young Zanzibar men were wading in the water, enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the beach, and celebrating the set of three-foot waves which could be seen for minutes moving toward the shore.  The western shore of Zanzibar faces Africa, so you wouldn’t expect any swell activity.  But something stirred out there, and the shouts from those on the beach brought me to the hotel’s perimeter.  Out on the horizon, dark blue lines approached, and each swimmer wanted to be with their friends in the water and ready when the waves arrived.  Security guards radioed each other, alerted by the noise on the beach.  Hotels guests wondered what was up until they saw the waves.

To say the conclusion was anti-climatic is an understatement.  But there was a wisp of jealousy I felt, standing poolside above them, as swimmers feverishly swam toward the shore riding the crest of energy from out of the distant sea.

Today, we visited a spice farm.  The plantations which grew these treasures imported from the east, brought by the traders whose main business was slaves.  But they liked their fruits and spices, and all grew well in this climate.  As our hosts guided us through the forest of trees and plants, they would cut some leaves, mash them up in their fingers, and give us a few to smell and hazard a guess as to what it was.  Next, they'd find the fruit, nut, or root which was often they spice.  About half the time, Pat would guess what we were seeing.  But most were amazed at where things they used in everyday cooking came from.  A small cup woven of leaves was given to each lady, to build a cornucopia of spices and fruits.  Toward the end of our journey through the forest, a young man demonstrated how coconuts were collected.  Climbing an 80 foot tree by binding his feet together, he sang to us as he scampered up the tree and back, trimming some dead palm fronds, and retrieving some ripe fruit.  Later, in a covered table area, we sampled some of the fruits and coconut juice, and were given necklaces, ties, and hats made of palm leaves.   We bought some spices, it was a very educational visit, and the staff of the spice farm was very hospitable.

This evening, we had dinner at the African House Hotel.  Previously the Old English Club, it was the site of many a gathering of explorers for over 100 years.  The photographs on the wall are worth the visit, but the atmosphere and elegance of the terrace dining under the clear night sky made it even more precious.

We'll be heading to the other side of the island tomorrow for two days.  The word is that there is no wifi available there, so we may be out of touch until we get home.  There's a stopover night in Paris on the flight home, so I may be able to post from there.  

It's been a great trip, despite my hearing loss and colds we're carrying over the past week.   Hope all of you have enjoyed the posts and photos.

To see the photos from today, click on:  Sunday, Mar 4th, Zanzibar Serena Inn    

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday, Mar 3rd, Zanzibar Serena Hotel


With the sounds of a 60’s easy rock band playing from the pool below, we’re laying in a mosquito-net covered bed listening to the last vestige of a Queen song played by the band in tribute to the late, lead singer (Richie Mercury) who was born here in Stones Town, Zanzibar.  The band’s songlist covered every band around during that time, and they haven’t had a break in three hours.  As usual, Pat’s reading, and I’m typing this.  The hit tonight on the menu was a tough choice between the stir-fried calamari or the lime-ginger-sugar cane juice, hand squeezed on the grounds.

Zanzibar is part of Tanzania.  In fact, it’s the “Zan” in Tanzania.  For those of us who missed that part of the Africa history, There used to be two countries: Tanganyika and  Zanzibar.  After a revolution when they threw out the last Sultan, they merged, kept separate governments, and made the President of Zanzibar the Vice President of new combined country of Tanzania.  But they still refer to this island as Zanzibar.  

The houses in the old city, Stones Town (now a world heritage site) have architectural features (mostly big doors with spikes to stop the elephants from bashing them in) from the Arab and Indian world.  They were the organizers and recipients of the east coast slave trade which built this city.  We visited an Anglican Church constructed by the British in 1874, to re-claim the ground used as a slave market, shortly after the Sultan III abolished the practice.

Later this afternoon, I got to swim in the coastal waters in front of our hotel.  It was exactly what I had been hoping for, except that there weren’t any waves and it hasn’t cured my ear problem.  I’m going back in tomorrow.  And I’m hoping for waves at the second hotel we’ll be at in a couple of days.  But I shouldn’t complain.  It’s really wonderful here, and we’re having fun.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Saturday, Mar 3rd. Zanzibar Serena Hotel


Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday, Mar 2nd, Mount Meru Hotel


Capping our bonanza week in Tanzania, we drove from the Ngorongoro Crater, visited a coffee plantation/lodge this morning, and arrived at the Mount Meru Hotel late this afternoon.  We've had a request for a comment on the food here in East Africa, so I've asked Pat to weigh in on our lunch today, and any other meals we've had.

Hi friends!  We've had a great variety of meals here.  Many African stews, Indian curries, British deserts, and lots of fresh fruits, and veggies.  Mostly we've had buffet lines so the temptation has been to try a little of everything.  I can't say that this is "traditional fare", although we've had ugali, a main stay of East African meals: a white cornmeal polenta, which is tasty with gravies.

Now that we have stronger wifi in this large hotel in Arusha, I've been able to upload photos to both this day, and to the post on Feb 28th.  If you have time, I know you'll enjoy the many more photos on that day.  I'm including links to both of them here:  Friday,Mar2nd,MountMeruHotel and Tuesday,Feb28th, Serengeti Birthday.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday, Mar 1st, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge


On our last full day of wildlife safari, we criss-crossed the Ngorongoro Crater in search of the elusive cheetah. Alas, no luck. I'm beginning to worry about their numbers. We'v not seen a sighting of on in any of the sighting books maintained by the lodges, and the tour guides aren't promising anything to their participants. But it was a wonderful day, full of new birds and lots of animals we've seen before, but still amaze us.

And every one presenting their babies to us. January and February are big birthing months for very species, and we can't seem to stop taking photos of their antics. But it can bring the big challenge - how to protect them from harm by the carnivores. As cute as jackals, hyenas, lions, and the birds of prey are, there's life going on here. Fortunately, we've missed seeing a direct kill, but we're still reminded when we come across a group feed.

On the way back to the Lodge, we visited our second Maasai village. With houses a bit larger than the other (we could actually stand up in these), groups of four were treated to an intimate tour of their village, including the one-room (about ten by ten) school used to teach their 3-6 year olds. We provided a small stipend for their teachers, and bought a few crafts from the women in the village. The villagers performed traditional Maasai ceremonial songs and dances, and we were glad to have been invited.

Tomorrow, we drive to Arusha to spend the night, lose and gain some travelers, and take a lane the following day to Zanzibar. On the way to Arusha, we'll visit a coffee plantation in operation since 1911.

To see the photos taken today, click on: Thursday, Mar 1st, Ngorongoro Sopa lodge