Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 5: Lake Manyara and the road to Ndutu

-The best nights sleep so far thanks to Tylenol PM. On the safari at 6:30AM. Not as many animals here as Tarangiri but they are very pretty in the jungle setting. Several elephant herds. One elephant stuck his trunk right at me. We watched a lioness sleeping awhile on a dried out riverbed off in the distance for awhile. Our patience paid off as 3 cubs showed up to play! Beautiful.

We then drove to see the enormous Lake Manyara. It was covered with tens of thousands of flamingo's though we couldn't get close enough to get detailed shots of them (the photo's posted were shot at 800mm f5.6). Some giraffes gave a great pose with the lake behind them in the distance.

I thought my stomach problem was a thing of the past but as soon as we got back to camp it reared its ugly head again. We have a 5 hour drive to Serengeti ahead of us today and I am very concerned about a repeat.

Breakfast consisted of toast, mangos and bananas. I love the fresh fruit here.

-I have the most popular driver/guide in the world. Everyone knows Nixon everywhere. He is clearly very well liked. We are stopped on the side of the road getting supplies from another truck. 2 Masaai children are standing by me begging. The supply man gave them a huge fruit. I gave them some crayons and felt silly doing so.

-We are on route to Lake Ndutu and driving through the rim of Ngorongoro. The drive is brutal. Sharp turns, soft red dirt, huge bumps/holes and deep fog. While driving a kubwa tembo (big elephant) was on the side of the road. I happened to have my Canon 16-35 f2.8L II lens on my camera which was perfect as he was so close. Maybe the largest elephant I have ever seen. It was a great photo moment as he was in thick, tropical foliage with a deep blanket of fog behind him. Beautiful.


-Meat, blood and milk. The Maasai diet. It is hard to imagine living here.

-So sad driving past children begging for food and water.

-Off road driving now! (my writing is pretty much illegible in the journal at this point :)

-Stopped at Oldupai Gorge where the first remains of prehistoric man ever found were discovered. There were five visible layers of earth in the gorge. The layers range in age from 5 million years at the lowest level to 10,000 years ago! Many amazing archeological discoveries have been made here including the bones and tools of early man. Here is another good link with information about it...Oldupai not Olduvai. For a hundred years it's been called Olduvai because an explorer couldn't understand the thick accent of the Maasai man he asked. Only recently has the name been switched back to the correct word Oldupai.

I'm can't be sure of course, but I am guessing that the bathroom at Oldupai was made by some of those prehistoric men millions of years ago. Yikes.


-OK, 1 hour later. The trailer flipped off. Everything!

-I'll elaborate now that the ride is over :) I think I might have mentioned it was a brutal drive. I was thrilled to see the Ndutu Lodge sign. Then deflated when I realized it was another 30km or so from the sign. It was barren from there and an extremely rough road. Some areas you couldn't be sure you were on a road at all. About halfway down, Nixon realized we were no longer pulling the trailer. This was about 6 hours after we left Manyara mind you so I wasn't jumping for joy when we flipped a U-turn to search for the trailer.

It wasn't far back, but devastating news. It was upside down and appeared irrepairable. We flipped it right side up and found all of our food crushed on the ground and in bad shape as well as all our camping gear..everything. The hitch had split with one piece remaining on the Land Cruiser, the other on the trailer. All hope appeared lost when in the vast distance we saw dust from a vehicle approaching. I don't think we were even on the road so this was no small miracle. Wouldn't you know it...Nixon knew them! They stopped to help and loaned us some tools to bang some bolts back straight. They got the trailer reattached somehow. We loaded it back up and off we went. It is a necessity nothing goes to waste out here so I'm sure we will be able to salvage the food and supplies.

-Outside of Oldupai gorge there were many Maasai. Shortly after leaving we found two vehicles stuck in the deep, soft sand (did I mention the brutal road?). We stopped to help and I was immediately surrounded by Masaai women asking me to take their picture for money. I couldn't resist though I knew Nixon disapproved I not as the money goes right in their pocket and isn't shared. Some Maasai villages welcome toursists into their village and the money they charge for this is shared with all of the Maasai. The life these people live is incomprehensible to me. It is so hot and incredibly dusty everywhere.

-So here I am in the Ndutu Lodge bar. It is nice to be around other tourists as I'm reminded of how trivial my "normal life" complaints are by listening to some teenagers interacting with their parents.

I just met a nice family from Holland and have begun my 2nd Safari brand beer. We stopped at a liquor store en route where I purchased two 6 packs of Kilimanjaro beer (It's Kili time!) for $20! I can't help but think they charge residents less.

Quite honestly, I love this lodge! It is rustic, quiet, clean and there is hot water. They turn off the generator at 11:30 and my phone is charging in the bar (no power in the room). There are Genet cats (though not really cats, closer relation to a mongoose I am told) lounging on a ledge inside. They are a little larger than a house cat but colored like cheetah's with very long tails. I am feeling too lazy to walk to my room to fetch my camera. At this moment I am thinking of my beautiful wife Lea and my amazing daughters Savannah and Sophie. I miss them so much even writing their names is making my eyes tear up. I am proud to be on the adventure but at the moment I am sad to be alone.

-We arrived at the lodge too late to do laundry which sucks royally. My clothes are foul (massive understatement). I've already changed into my last set of clothes after my blessedly hot shower and was counting on being able to do laundry before the next round of camping begins. Dinner is be continued.

-I just spilled beer on my new clean shirt...aaaargh!

-I'm debating on whether I should be writing personal thoughts here because my plan is to blog this journal (you can tell I opted to go for it anyway.)

-Hani Baja. A man tells me Nixon is Hani Baja during dinner. He told me to look it up when I get home(anyone know what it means?). Nixon knows everyone!

The next post is due by Saturday...stay tuned and thanks for visiting the blog!

3 awesome giraffes posing in front of Lake Manyara for me.
Impala Momma
One of the adorable little lion cubs. I would've loved to have picked him up and gave him a pet. I think his Mom may have objected however so I left well enough alone.
Thousands of Pink Flamingo's on Lake Manyara.
More Flamingo's. I sure would've liked to have gotten closer.
Didn't matter where we found them or what time of day it was...all the Cape Buffalo looked ticked off!
This elephant amazed me. He just appeared out of the fog and watched us watch him. I wish I would've asked to stay longer.

Some cool trees buried under a layer of red dirt and masked by the deep fog.
The dust and dirt on the rim of the crater made everything nearby appear red.
My first look at Ngorongoro Crater. We will spend the last day on Safari down there.
it was heartbreaking to drive past children in this harsh environment of dust and heat.
It could be argued that Africa possesses some of the worst bathrooms in the world. I believe it could be argued that this is one of the worst in Africa. Therefor, my claim is that this is the worst bathroom in the world! :)
Oldupai gorge..way off in the distance there was a team digging for bones.
An old Maasai woman near Oldupai gorge
The Maasai woman thought I was nuts when I dropped down low to shoot her beautiful feet!
I was so happy to see this sign! Little did I know...
On the bright side of least it's a unique photo op!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 4: Scariest night ever...for a while

If you have ever heard the growl of an elephant then you know it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. If, like me last night you have been alone in a small tent in the middle of a pitch black night and not only heard but felt the growl of an elephant less than five feet away from you followed by a loud trumpeting alongside the obnoxious and scary laughter of a pack of hyenas with the screams of many baboon's then you know as I do that it will stop your heart!

Because the campsite was so empty last night (only my tent and Nixon's), a herd of elephant's paid us a visit. They tried to knock the outside sink from the bathroom to get the water to spray for them but it had long since between rendered elephant proof so they only managed to knock the soap dish off the wall. They came so close to the tents we are lucky they didn't trample us. The trumpeting and growling was a sign of agitation so there was very real danger involved. Even Nixon admitted to being afraid which wasn't very reassuring in hindsight :) He was debating whether or not to attempt to run for the vehicle but decided they were too close and he wouldn't make it. I was deciding whether or not I had a clean enough pair of underwear to change into once they left.

The elephants arrived at 4:00AM. Coincidentally, like clockwork at 4:00AM every night, my bladder is full. Last night was no exception and I had to pee in a bad way. Clearly there was no way I was getting out of course so I laid there and suffered. I mentioned my dilemma to Nixon in the morning and he said had I stepped out of my tent there was no question they would have charged me. I'm glad I held it :)

So two very long hours later, the Tembo are gone and I exit the tent. It's still pitch black outside when I go behind the tent to relieve myself. While doing my business, I shine my flashlight and am startled to see multiple sets of eyeballs intensely staring at me! Once again, my heart stops! It was a pack of hyena's about 30 yards away! I didn't have anything to worry about though. I clearly marked my territory..and then some :)

So, I charged up the defribilator, started my heart again. Had a cup of coffee and Nixon and I went back out on safari. Right next to camp we saw two trees filled with those pesky, screamin baboons. I was taking some photo's of silhouettes when I heard louder than normal screams from the trees. I looked over just as a large baboon shoved another right out of the tree! It was a brutal fall and I was surprised he survived. The cries were unbearable.

Sightings: many birds, wildebeest, zebras in beautiful tall grass where I got some nice shots with Sophie in mind specifically (she asked for cool zebra photo's for her room). Saw many warthogs, a pride of 8 lions very far away. Nixon spotted fresh Cheetah tracks but we couldn't find him. We stopped at a high lookout point over Tarangiri river and I was overwhelmed by the view.

Camp is packed-we are heading to Lake Manyara!

-We are at Lake Manyara. Yesterday, Nixon suggested we camp outside the park at a different public site. I said I would rather camp here and I'm very glad. The other site looked terrible! Right in the middle of a very crowded town. I would not have enjoyed staying there at all.

We arrived at Lake Manyara Park and it was like we were in another country. Lush, tropical plants, trees and monkeys. Very beautiful. At camp, we have it to ourselves again. I guess not too many tourists are as crazy as I am to see Tanzania this way. I am beginning to question the sanity of my choice right now as upon arrival I was greeted with XXXXXXX(OK, I've decided to spare you all the details of my bathroom problems. Let's just say I was not feeling all that great at this point in the trip :)

We are going on safari at 3:30 (It's 1:00 now).

I'm napping in my tent and Nixon and Swalehh just left in the car. Yikes-now it's really solo. I look out of my tent and two large baboons are rummaging through our stuff. Weird.

The Monday evening safari at Lake Manyara Park was OK. It was neat seeing elephants in a jungle habitat though there weren't any ideal photo ops. The foliage is very dense here so we could have driven past a leopard and not known it. My stomach is pretty upset. It took some Immodium (a must bring if you are travelling to Africa) and I've been eating Pepto pills as though they are PEZ. The highlight of the park by far is the Hippo Pool. 40 or 50 hippo's ranging from tiny babies to gigantic monsters. There was a lot of downtime followed by loud fights and big yawns. Thousands of birds, zebra's, cape buffalo in the same general area. It's much different here though I must say I prefer Tarangiri.

We're back before dark. Another guide from Naipenda Safari's is in camp and is agitated about something. No introductions were made, no English was spoken. I'm feeling pretty isolated today. Double that with the nausea and I know that is why the negative tone. I miss Lea, Savannah and Sophie very much. This park is beautiful and it's incomprehensible that I'm used to seeing such diverse wildlife now. Swalehh is cooking some sort of chicken dish with lots of garlic. I hope I have an appetite. I barely touched lunch.

I enjoy listening to people speaking Swahili. It is a neat language that reminds me of French with a fun flare.

-Dinner was good. It was a nice dish of Mbuzi Kataliki. The chicken was for lunch tomorrow. Mbuze Kataliki is translated in English as Catholic Lamb. It was a Pork Chop and a tasty one at that. They call it Mbuze Kataliki because many people here are Muslim and do not eat pork.

-OK, this moment is what separates the men from the boys. After dinner, Swalehh and Nixon said they had to go to town to find ice. There is no one else camping here so that leaves me and me alone in this pitch black campsite. The sounds of the jungle are calm and peaceful. Millions of crickets, the occasional owl and sometimes baboons. Once again there were glowing eyes watching me when I flashed my light in the jungle behind my tent. I'm not freaked out by :)

During dinner I asked Swalehh if he cooks at home for his wife. He looked at me like I was insane. Nixon explained that in Africa, married men never cook or clean. It is the wife's job. He then confided that he does not mind helping out every now and then. Once a friend came over to visit him and saw him in the kitchen. "You are cooking!? But your wife is home!" to which Nixon told him "She works hard too, and she is tired." He is a very nice man and I'm sure many of the woman reading this will appreciate that. Apparently, as soon as his friend left he began telling everyone what he saw and the story spread like wildfire through Tanzania and to this day he still fields a great deal of grief for it (sorry if this post rekindled the gossip Nixon!).

-I just spoke with Lea, Savannah and Sophie. I miss them a lot. Lea told me about car problems we are having and that seemed so unusual to me. I am so in a different state of mind right now.

Next update will be on Thursday. Thanks for reading my blog!

My neighbors the baboons hanging out before the sun comes up.
I'm a sucker for zebras in tall grass.
A couple of White Backed Vulture's just waiting for something to die.
Yours truly above the Tarangiri river.
I do love the Warthogs.
The locals nickname for Impala is "McDonald's." Can you see why?
Baby is hungry.
Male Ostrich
Vervet Monkey
Home at Lake Manyara.
A pair of Silvery-Cheeked Hornbills. They mate for life.
I need some help in identifying this bird species. If you know, please shoot me an email. Thanks!
African Spoonbill.
A flock of Great White Pelicans in flight.
An African Fish Eagle being pestered by what I believe is an African Pied Wagtail.

Mother and Baby Hippo's
Young baboons eating the fruit from a sausage tree.
Cape Buffalo

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day 3: Tarangiri

-The morning safari...It was still dark when we left camp at 6AM. There were probably 15 or 20 other tents at the campsite and we were the 1st to leave. Within 5 minutes we saw many magnificent Masaai Giraffes. Big males, shorter females eating from the tree tops. We saw many Wildebeest and Zebra as well. Amazing elephants with many babies. A family of Warthogs ran in front of us too. I can't tell if those shots are going to come out good or not.

There was a large tree filled with Vultures. I loved shooting it with my Canon 15mm f2.8 Fisheye lens and capturing the dramatic sky above. We came across some Cape Buffalo that were not too happy to see us. They are angry looking beasts. Again Nixon proved his vast knowlege of the many species of exotic birds. At one point we saw a Hamerkop skillfully fishing with great success. We drove several hours and saw ostrich and more elephants. We then came across an elephant that had been killed yesterday by a Lion! If you ever get a chance to absorb the aroma of the rotting corpse of a giant elephant, I recommend you pass :( RANCID is a word the comes to mind.

After the elephant was killed yesterday, Park Rangers removed the tusks and will donate them to a museum. About 25 yards down the road we found our first cat of the trip. A male Simba (lion) relaxing behind a bush licking his bloody chops. Very, very cool. This was about an hour and a half from camp. Tonight we will head back hoping to find the male and his pride feeding. In about two days more, the smell will become (even more) unbearable and I'm told the rangers will need to burn it. In the meantime, it's a feast fit for a king (literally). On the way back we found a cool Monitor Lizard on a riverbank where under the tall grass on the other side a pride of lions including cubs were reported to have been resting. A beautiful herd of elephants walked by unconcerned with the nearby lions and gave us a nice look while in the river.

When we arrived back at camp I was surprised to find it completely abandoned. Ours were the only 2 tents remaining. Because of the lack of people now there are many, many birds in camp and a large group of Mongoose is very close to the tent scavenging for food. Now I will try to nap for we go out again shortly.

-The inside of the tent is hotter than two cats doin it in a wool sock! No sleep still-I was bathed in sweat. Nixon is napping and Swalehh doesn't speak English. I tried starting to read Catch 22 as I finished my other book last night. I need to get some sleep so I can focus better. After dinner tonight I'll take some Tylenol PM.

Down the road from our campsite is a group of 60 students that have been here for 3 weeks. Every now and then a small group will come over and ask about America and our zoos.

-This evenings Safari was nothing shy of amazing! Just around the corner from camp were Warthogs bathing in the swamp for a great photo op. We were driving fast as our goal was to reach the elephant kill and we only had a couple of hours of daylight. On route we saw a herd of around 300 Cape Buffalo. Awesome, angry looking animals. We saw a group of safari vehicles down neard the river where we heard lions were earlier. Sure enough, there was a lioness right in front of everyone. It was funny because when we parked and I started shooting, many cameras turned on me. When I asked why, they said because of my lens! That cracked me up. This lioness had a radio collar on her neck. We shot her for awhile and continued towards the elephant.

Near the kill, we found another lioness hanging out on a rock. someone had spotted a Leopard earlier but we couldn't find it. We got to the elephant and the smell was worse than before. Next to it was the male lion and two females. They looked quite content so we knew we missed dinnertime. Moments after we arrived I looked behind us and saw a lioness looking very apprehensive. I said to Nixon I didn't think she was part of the pride when the male got up and slowly started stalking her. His two females right behind him. In the blink of an eye, all four lions were running. They went behind some bushes and we heard vicious growling and fighting. We quickly turned the car around and found the 3 lions in the pride running down the road after the uninvited female. They cut into the brush and instantly, the male turned a hard right and started chasing a warthog instead of the lioness. It was so exciting! The lioness continued her retreat and the pride dropped where they were and began to!

Mbili Twiga while the day was just starting to get light outside.
I was looking up at the dramatic clouds in the sky when I noticed there were vultures hanging out in this beautiful baobab tree. Look closely and you can see them.
I had to post this tree again. I really like the mood of these photo's.
A lightning fast fisher...the Hammerkop.
A group of Rock Hyrax sticking together for warmth on a cold morning.
A beautiful Martial Eagle.
This awesome Cape Buffalo challenged me to a staring contest and won with no problem.
A Monitor Lizard hunting on the riverbank.
This elephant was relentless in shaking this tree until it's fruit fell from the branches.
There was a pride of lions under the brush just to the left of these elephants.
A Pied Kingfisher
This cute little guy is called a DikDik (yes, I giggled every time I called it out after spotting one :) They stand about 15 inches tall or so and we saw quite a few.
A huge Lappet faced vulture showing off his wingspan.
A couple of monkeys grooming each other under a tree.
Assuming Lea approves, this one is going on my wall.
The number of elephants in the different herds was unbelievable. This was only a fraction of this particular herd!
A pretty scene with two elephants getting a quick drink in the Tarangiri River.
This is the lioness just moments before she realized she was going to have a very bad day.
If you look closely, you can see the three lions sleeping nearby the dead elephant.
The male lion just noticed that they had an uninvited visitor.
At this point, you could feel the tension.
He took off after her and fast!
At this point the lion being chased had turned off into the brush on the right.
After all the excitement he went right back to resting peacefully.
A flock of birds flying by in the beautiful golden light.
Another beautiful sunset just on the other side of the road from the lions.