A Travellerspoint blog

9-Northern Pemba/Tanzania and Home

Manta Reef

View Tanzania 2009 on Sharon E's travel map.

"The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

And how easily this can be accomplished once visiting Pemba.

August 30, 2009
Location:............Manta Reef Resort

Somehow we manage not to get any mosquito bites. And, there are no bush babies here.

We have a delicious breakfast on the deck. The cooks will basically make anything you want. We are treated to some fresh donuts that the chef was really making for the staff but since I befriended him, he thought we'd enjoy them. Not being a regular coffee drinker, I have not had any African coffee the entire trip so I thought as this is my last chance, I should at least try it. On the rare occasions that I drink coffee, I've always thought that strong coffee was better but now that I'm trying the African version, I think I like the more "delicate" flavor. There are a lot of people who don't like the coffee here because it is barely potent but I think it's a bit aromatic, or maybe everything just tastes better when you are on vacation.

After eating, we grab our towels, snorkel gear and some water for our trek to Vumawimbi Beach. As we wait for our butler in the reception area, I sit by the bao board which I am intrigued by. It's been in every room/hotel we've stayed. It looks like a mancala board but there are SO many holes so I could never figure it out. One of the staff approaches me and teaches me how to play. It is a complicated version of mancala that is enjoyed in Tanzania. Even with the help of another staff member, I am losing badly and I don't understand all of it but have fallen in love with the game. Alas, our butler is ready so I can't finish out the beating. They invite me back for another match whenever I want.

Our butler is carrying a picnic basket and then insists on carrying my stuff as well. He would not take no for an answer. A little different from our experience elsewhere, the staff on this island do not speak a ton of English so sometimes it is a little difficult to communicate. We are walking with another couple from South Africa. The four of us are a bit puzzled as to exactly how far away this beach really was. We pass through farms, rubber tree plantations and small villages. Most people will stop to wave. And, as we enter a village, all the children will immediately stop what they are doing and gather to the side of the road and watch us. Then they will giggle and shout out "goodbye." When you try to speak to them, they run away and keep repeating "goodbye." It is the only English word they know and I am curious as to why that word. We are told by our butler that many of these villagers grew up with great distrust of the white man and they believed that white men were the devil. When the hotel first set up here, the children were very afraid of the staff but eventually they grew accustomed to them. Our butler has no idea why they say this. I'm thinking they really don't understand what it means and perhaps once a villager told them to say "goodbye" if any foreigner should approach them...just a guess. Either way, we are amused because the children are laughing the entire time. The South African woman took her camera out and as soon as they saw what it was, they fled, screaming in laughter. Our butler says they do this every time. They are very camera shy. But as we walk away, the children follow us for quite a while shouting "goodbye" but keeping a "safe" distance. Eventually, we run into the next village and the process starts all over again.

We finally arrive at the beach. I think it was a couple of miles. Our butler says that many locals come here, particularly on weekends. Some are here to buy fish and some just for leisure. At this hour, the fisherman are all gone. There are a few people near the entrance and our butler tells us to keep walking to the other side.
We put all of our stuff down under the shade of a tree and can't wait to dive into the ocean. I didn't take a photo but picture four foreigners in bathing suits and snorkel gear with a local man dressed in a button down shirt, khakis, black socks and dress shoes carrying a picnic basket, watching over our stuff as we head out to snorkel. I am feeling a little elitist.

There really isn't any coral here so there aren't any fish. But we run into all sorts of unusual jellyfish. I am a little nervous as I couldn't figure out whether they were friendly or deadly. I know we're not in the states but you'd think our butler, or someone at the hotel, would have told us to "beware the jellyfish" if it were a problem. They are actually really pretty.

The beach is quite stunning, earning its James Bond nickname.
We relax and dry off in moments when the sun appears. Our butler breaks out his picnic basket and we have sandwiches and drinks before we pack up and start the long trek home.
Traffic (bicycles) is a little heavier on the way back. I couldn't figure out why I would almost get run over every time I scooted over to the edge of the road. After one of the locals yelled at me, the butler told me that I should move to the center of the road when the bicycles come because the side of the road is where it is more compacted and solid and the middle has the most sand. OH, now I get it.

The drill starts once again with the local kids. But this time, I start a conversation with one of the girls. I only know basic swahili (with the help of the butler) and I ask what her name is. I tell her I am from the United States. She's a bit shy but she finally answers me which is surprising. Maybe they trust Asians a little more than white people? I decided I would take a stab at taking some photos. As I position my camera, there is one brave boy who is willing to pose.
I turn the camera around to show him the results. A few of the kids gather and start laughing. As we continue on the road, I decided to take a video this time. When I turned the camera around to show them, they all started fleeing but as soon as the video started, they all returned in amazement. Whether it was one of the kids saying something or the sound of the video, the adults started gathering as well. I wish we had our other camera because it would have been a great photo. All were staring at the camera except for one boy in front who had his eyes glued to me. It was pretty funny as I gazed back into his wide eyed stare.

Pemba is different from Zanzibar. It's much more quiet and remote. People don't know who Obama is or have ever heard of California. So this is my Africa moment. To be humbled by these people who will probably never leave the outskirts of their village during their lifetime. To see their bewilderment by the everyday technology that we take for granted; to understand that they live by the light of the kerosene and use firewood to cook...day in and day out; to recognize that they have so little yet can enjoy life; to watch them extend kindness to the society who a long time ago took their freedom. I am not blind to the fact that these villagers do want more than what they have and life is not 100% hunky dory but it is certainly a lesson in life to rediscover humanity today.

We return to the hotel just in time for lunch. After returning our snorkel gear, we sit down and enjoy a meal on the deck. It is a beautiful day.

Matt returns to the bungalow for a nap and I head out for my massage. It is in another ocean facing bungalow. It is a bit windy but the breeze coming through the open windows feel great! And as I lie face down, I get to breathe in the wonderful scents of the tropical flowers that are floating in a bowl of water beneath me. What a great idea...I wonder why they don't do this back home? I was very content with my massage which was the perfect end to our long trip.

I've been wanting to visit the northern tip of the island where a scenic sandbar supposedly exists. We look outside and still see that the water is at high tide. It is also very windy.

So we head to the beach bar to wait for low tide so we can make our walk. In the meantime, we are entertained by our Christian bartender.
We talk about the alcohol of choice by country. Of course whiskey comes up when you talk of the Irish. The Italians love their sweet, icky liquors and the Scandinavians love their vodkas. Manta Reef is a quiet place and you won't hear any music blasting anywhere on their property. But on New Year's Eve, they have a huge beach party with blaring music and all the alcohol you can drink. Last year, the guests were up til 5am partying. No doubt the Italians were the last to go.

We kept waiting but the water would not recede so we had to give up. As it was getting close to sunset, we headed back to our room to take our showers. As the bathroom is totally open, you get to watch the sunset as you shower.

Being Ramadan, we had to wait for our butler to eat dinner since the sun was already down as we entered the dining area. So we imbibed in cocktails out on the deck, gazing at stars.

Your last evening meal at Manta is always a seafood dinner. Tonight we get two of everything...lobsters, octopus, fish, veggies, etc. And, Matt loved it. I was surprised he ate all that octopus. By the end of the meal, we had nothing but bones and empty shells left on our huge platter. We talk to our butler about his family life. His wife and kids live in Dar es Salaam and he gets to see them every few months. This is just how life is in Tanzania.

Back at the bungalow, we packed up for the trip home. I had forgotten that Crater Lodge had given us a bag of coffee as a goodbye gift and the wonderful aroma filled my bag. I was so excited that I would be able to experience more Africa upon returning to the states.

While Manta Reef was not the nicest place we stayed, where they didn't leave personalized notes or did not do wake up calls, we loved the people and the experience of the locals and the area. So in the end, we are very glad we stayed here.

August 31, 2009
Depart:............Manta Reef Resort

We awaken with sadness, knowing this is our last day. I have to admit, I am not one bit homesick and I am dreading the journey home. After our breakfast, we grab our bags and meet two other people for the ride to the airport. They are pilots and were invited by the hotel to stay a night. Due to the economy, these two young Europeans lost their jobs flying the huge commercial jets so now they are aviating the local planes here. One of the pilots finds it a bit refreshing because the prop planes are much more fun to pilot. He especially loves the rough rides when people get really nervous and then clap at the end upon safe landing. But he says that the Zan Air equipment is really top-notch and most of the crafts are brand new. We all marvel at how things manage to get done correctly and efficiently in Africa because it does appear that things are run rather haphazardly at the airports. We find it interesting that their most favorite airport to land is LAX because they are super buttoned up and organized...good to know. Before you know it, the hour and a half is over and we are at the airport. Our driver checks us in and we move our bags through the x-rays. They are a bit picky here and rifle through the contents of our luggage. But soon we are sitting on the plastic seats by the runway. We see one of those old style planes gleaming in stainless steel. I have never been on one and don't care to get onto a plane that's been in service for over 50 years but Matt reminisces and appreciates the style of these twin-engines. Check out the steep angle of this craft...and you haven't even taken off yet.

So we had the 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport, and now we have a flight to Dar es Salaam where we have a few hours layover. There, we have some lunch in their cafeteria. I visit their gift shops and find a couple of small things but no where can I find a real bao board. Most are the small, compact boards with half the stones. Darn, I should have splurged in Arusha. Finally, we board the Emirates plane to fly to their hub in Dubai. We get there late at night so we look for some of those lounging seats but they are all taken. As I go to brush my teeth and wash my face, I realize that my bag of pills must have fallen out somewhere. Oh oh, we still have to take our malaria pills for another week once we get back. So poor Matt had to scope the airport to look for my missing bag. I had dropped it at the x-ray machine. Phew. This time, we decided to transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow via bus since our layover was only four hours. Good thing it wasn't any shorter because with the morning traffic on the road and the super long lines at Heathrow, we just made it on to the plane! While we should have been tired, for some reason, we could barely sleep. These American Airlines planes aren't the most comfortable and I seem to be drawn into "The Proposal" for the third time. Finally, after 41 hours of transit, we're home. Paul picks us up at the airport and we have dinner with our cousins. Back at home where apparently the crime rate is higher than Tanzania, we forget about our burglary and as bed time looms, we finally fall into a deep slumber...dreaming of Tanzania.

So was Matt smiling by the end of the trip? No. He was sad we were leaving! I only saw a huge grin that started upon landing on the continent and San Diego Wild Animal Park was soon a distant thought. What an incredible experience which I know is what every traveller to Africa says. And most visitors are humbled when they return to the cush lifestyle of the U.S. I'm not saying I wasn't (because I did have my Africa moments) but I'm not gonna lie, as we flew back on our economy coach flight, I kept thinking...it would be just awesome to be rich! The service, the kindness and attention the wonderful Tanzanians showed us in the five-star accommodations is to blame! After all, you can't desire something you don't know exists. In the end, I feel the same way that every person I've talked to who's traveled to Africa ...I can't wait to come back...this is certainly (hopefully) NOT a once in a lifetime journey but one of many. And perhaps the next time I return, I will be able to offer something more to this wonderful continent.

Asante sana.

Posted by Sharon E 15:55 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

8-Southern Pemba/Tanzania

Fundu Lagoon

View Tanzania 2009 on Sharon E's travel map.


"Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get."
--Forrest Gump

August 27, 2009
Depart:............Sanctuary Swala
Arrive:..............Fundu Lagoon

I know what you are thinking...when is this trip ever going to end and will she ever shut up? It has been quite a journey but it is almost over and I am really sad. However, I don't think I've ever been so inactive in my life. From day to day, we sat in a car and just watched animals. More exciting than the National Geographic Channel but strangely just as sedentary. So I am very eager to head back to the islands. Being in a national park definitely takes away from the experience of the true African culture. We are certainly glad we visited the Masai boma to give us a taste of their life. But on the islands, you are among people who live there day to day and you see what their normal, daily routine is without having to take a tour. Pemba is a remote island in the archipelago of Zanzibar. There are only two major lodges and we will be staying at both. There is a little trepidation about the places we are staying at (the first place is a luxury tent that cost an arm and a leg and I read so-so reviews on tripadvisor, and I know that the last place won't be nice just because it was 1/3 the cost of Fundu) but really, we have no choice. The island mostly attracts divers.

There is some confusion on flights and we keep getting delayed but we finally make it to Pemba via Zanzibar, just one hour late. The flight over the islands is beautiful. Here's the eastern coastline of Zanzibar:

Here's the western coastline of Zanzibar where you can see the reefline.

Pemba is very lush with wild beaches.

As we walked from the plane to the terminal, I stopped dead in my tracks and screamed, "What in the world is that?" The woman behind me laughed and said, "that's just a millipede, you've never seen one before? They are all over the island." Uh, that would be no. It is big, fat and creepy. Oh no...I thought spiders were scary.

It is now Ramadan so we will be experiencing people who observe this ritual. We are picked up by the hotel van and our driver, dressed head to toe in Muslim garb, starts to give us a tour of the island as we make our way over to Fundu Lagoon. He explains the different crops and trees and sites. This island produces most of the cloves and you can see a bunch of them drying out on the road. Our driver has so much energy and manages to joke with us as well (even though he hasn't eaten since 5am). We go through the center of the major town and it is like Zanzibar...poor. But the homes in the outskirts don't seem so bad...like a lower middle class neighborhood. We are dropped off at the pier so that we can take a boat over to the lodge. There are no roads that can take you there directly. There is a boat captain and an assistant that meets us for the 15-20 minute ride. It is raining right now and it reminds me of our nasty experience on Bora Bora...rain, wind and an open boat=soaking wet luggage. Thankfully I did learn from that incident and managed to buy water resistant luggage; however, it is not coming down super hard and it ends up to be rather short-lived. We get a glimpse of the sunset.

While it did warm up somewhat after the rain, it was still a little chilly. But as we head toward the hotel's dock, we could see people still swimming in the ocean, a couple learning to windsurf and some boys jumping off the pier. Brrrr. We are met at the jetty by the manager, Matt. We get the usual "Karibu" and welcome drink. He gives us a tour and then walks us over to our tented bungalow. It seems really far away but then he finally turns right. At first I thought we were entering an area with several bungalows but then I realize this is all ours for the next two days! They upgraded us to the next level which is their superior beach suite. If I would have known that, I would have stayed here all four days! There is a large deck, a plunge pool, outdoor shower, a private beach area with loungers, the tented bedroom and a two-story cabana. We have three fully stocked refrigerators...two inside the tent (one for alcohol and one for water and soft drinks) and one upstairs in the cabana. Wow, this by far is the coolest place we've stayed. We did hear that there were some renovations which would explain why I thought this place was stunning and the tripadvisor review couldn't be more wrong!
Fundu Lagoon Superior Beach Suite Deck

Fundu Lagoon Superior Beach Suite Deck

Cabana, Tent, Splash Pool

Cabana, Tent, Splash Pool

Fundu Lagoon Bathroom With Cool "Skylight"

Fundu Lagoon Bathroom With Cool "Skylight"

Fundu Lagoon Bedroom

Fundu Lagoon Bedroom

It's already late so we shower and unpack. Matt's ankle/feet are totally bit up by the tse tse flies from the safari. It is actually really puffy and he is a little worried it's infected. But I told him it's just a reaction from getting bit so much. I have a lot of experience in this area and it happened to me all the time when I lived in Florida. Check this out.
Matt's Tse Tse Fly Bites

Matt's Tse Tse Fly Bites

We start our long walk over to the main beach as they are serving dinner there tonight.
Surprise...it is a Swahili buffet dinner. But the food is scrumptious. Since we are back on the islands, seafood is abundant. There is lobster, octopus, fish, etc. We also have sausage, beef and vegetarian dishes. Everything we tried was superb.
At dinner, we talked to the dive outfitter and signed up for the AM scuba excursion.

So I promised you I would talk about bush babies. They are primates but nocturnal. So, as soon as the sky darkens, they immediately become active until the first light of day. I don't have any photos because they are a bit elusive (very keen sense of sight and sound), pretty small and they just hang out in the trees. I told you earlier that they look a little like gremlins. And when we first heard them, we couldn't stop laughing. It was so cute. They literally sound like "ha ha ha ha ha, hahaha." I didn't think it sounded anything like a human baby cry but that is why it got its name. But imagine this sound all night long. And Fundu Lagoon is FULL of bush babies. It soon annoyed Matt to tears. When we asked the staff about them, they told us a story of one of the guests who woke up the next day and demanded that they hunt down and shoot all of them...after all, he had paid tons of money to stay here to get some peace and quiet. Now how can you fight nature?

August 28, 2009
Location:.............Fundu Lagoon

We pack up stuff for our morning dive and decide to take the beach route to the restaurant. At this hour, the vervet monkeys are lively in the sand and bushes.

We have been dying to have bungo juice as we heard they are all from Pemba. But we find out that they are out of season and they have none! We are so sad. :( But we enjoy a wonderful, fancy breakfast and then make our way over to the dive center. After getting our gear, a group of us are ready to head over to Misali Island, a marine sanctuary, for premier diving. We are paired with Fil, who is a renown Tanzanian divemaster.

It is a 15 minute boat ride to the island. We have two boats with about 5 people each. They are super fast, modern, speed boats...the wetsuits keep us warm. We disembark on the island first. And I misjudge the height from the bow of the boat to the beach and end up rehurting my sprained ankle as I jumped off (no way I would have lasted any longer without an injury anyway). It looked so low but water can be misleading. There is an area for the resort that has tables, lounge chairs and umbrellas. The staff unloads drinks, we drop off our beach gear and I make a quick pitstop at the toilet (I really do hate those floor contraptions and with a wetsuit...nearly impossible). The divers get back onto the boat, leaving the snorkellers on the island and we head out to our site. The three of us are going to Coral Mountain. We wanted an easy dive so we opted not to do a drift dive (which dominates the sites). We have a boat captain and an assistant. They prepare all of our equipment and do a thorough job of rubbing in toothpaste in our masks and giving it a good rinse. They are all about service here and do everything for me. This is my first time diving with steel tanks and it is super heavy. It doesn't take much for me to roll backwards into the water.

Our favorite diving without question has been French Polynesia and no place has come close. We now finally found a place that rivals the Tuamotus/Bora Bora. Immediately you are surrounded by sea life in all colors. So you rarely have to go deeper than 30 feet. There are fish in every direction and you can't avoid running into them. Fil knows what to look for and goes to his usual spots, whether he is tricking an eel to come out of its hole by spraying him with his regulator or pointing out the nudibranches. It's absolutely breathtaking. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Each dive session is just a one-tank dive. So after 55 minutes bottomtime, we surface and get back onto the boat. Here's my technique: take off the BCD and tank in the water and have the staff grab it, hand them my weight belt, hoist my body up to the side of the boat, swivel my legs into the boat...a little like a seal.
They all laughed at me but it's faster than the ladder and having to hoist that heavy tank on my own weight. I have to say, I really loved the steel tanks though; because they are very compact, it wasn't hitting my tailbone AND, I really didn't need any weights. I had a bit difficulty with my weights today as I had to keep putting more air into my BCD so tomorrow I'm ditching them!

So we took off all our gear and the staff took care of everything. We returned to Misali Island to dry off and get refreshments. This time I dove into the water from the stern of the boat. Brrr... but it is nice and sunny and they have towels waiting for us on land. Fil goes right for the hot cocoa as he is shivering but I'm not as cold as he is. We relax for a while on the loungers and talk to the snorkellers about their ocean odyssey. Looking through a dive book, everyone points out what they saw. It's remarkable that within just a few feet of water, you can encounter lion fish, lobster and even wrasse, on top of the usual triggerfish. If only I had the courage to get back in the water without a wetsuit!

We pack up for the ride home. The wind does kick in later in the morning so it makes the boat ride back super bumpy, especially travelling at supersonic speed. We actually have to brace ourselves so we don't fall out of the boat. On top of that, we are getting dumped on by the waves. We loved the dive so much, there is no hesitation in booking another one for tomorrow morning. Fil was a bit surprised by me tipping him. He is actually the first person that didn't expect one...that's refreshing!

It's lunch time and we have two choices...the main restaurant or the pool bar. I've been enticed by their pool so I pick the pool bar. After a quick dip, we sit down and have a yummy fish salad and an ice cream dessert. The food at the hotel is first rate and everything we've had tastes great.

We returned to our bungalow to take advantage of our wonderful setting. We grab a book and head out to our private loungers on the beach to get some sun and relaxation.

I decide to go into the ocean which ends up to be a bit painful as the beach is filled with shells. But the water is warm.
Taking a walk on the beach, I notice a lot of tracks in the sand that look like it was made by a small moped. I wonder what that is. Guess what? They were tracks made by...MILLIPEDES! They must be huge here. I have been lucky that I haven't really seen any.

There is a sunset dhow cruise tonight so as we get close to the departure time, we head over to the pier bar. We get a couple of drinks from the bartenders. Matt loves their hat.

Departure time! We didn't reserve ahead so it was questionable on whether we'd make it on or not but they said they'd squeeze us in. We watch them put up the sails and then they pour us wine and beer. They hand out my favorites...fresh roasted cashews and taro chips. We sail around for a while waiting for the sunset.
In the meantime, we have conversations with the music conductor and English family. After sunset, we return in time for a shower before dinner.

It has become a ritual to enjoy cocktail hour before dinner. We head over to the bar and order some drinks. I dared try a bloodymary again...hey, it's free this time. They did make it with fresh squeezed tomatoes but they added a bunch of spices and it was delicious! We strike up a conversation with an English couple, Matt (yes, another Matt) and Kath. Kath mentions that their bungalow's bathroom is full of millipedes...ew...I guess I've been lucky. As we discuss British entertainment and culture, I can't resist but bring up the silly names of the Tube stations. Matt and Kath agree and tell us about a "Come As Your Favorite Tube Station" costume party they attended. Guess who won...you guessed it...Cockfosters. It's almost like the trip has come full circle. Before you knew it, we had a few drinks and a couple hours had passed.

Tonight's dining is in the restaurant and we have a choice of 3 different entrees. We have a great meal and head back to the cries of the bush babies to pack up for tomorrow. I try to record the bush babies' cries but it's not predictable as it isn't constant. Oh well. We had a big day and thoroughly enjoyed it here but I am ready to move on to a new experience.

August 29, 2009
Depart:............Fundu Lagoon
Arrive:.............Manta Reef Resort

We have all of our bags completely packed up. Because the dive boat doesn't return until noon and check out is before then, we have to have them ready for pick up. But rather than get on the 12:30 boat back to town, we reserved the 2:30 boat so that we could have lunch before leaving.

We enjoy another breakfast and kill some time checking our emails, looking through their stuff at the gift shop (surprisingly priced cheap) and marveling at the millipedes in the gardens.

The dive center is full today and the clouds are heavy. We're pretty sure it is going to rain. But the staff assures us that somehow it is ALWAYS sunny on Misali Island. I don't know how that can be.

We are paired up with Fil again and we will be diving Coral Gardens today. I told him that I wanted to see Napoleons. The boat ride was much colder today and it is sprinkling. But miraculously, as we get closer to the island, it is true that it is always sunny on Misali Island. Do you see that the clouds just part right above the island?
No one could explain it but they say the weather is always like this 11 months of the year. Same ritual as yesterday. My ankle is not too bad today but I can still feel that it is quite not right.

After dropping off the snorkellers, we head out to the dive site. Again, we are treated to a spectacular dive. It is much more comfortable without the weights today and I have no problem remaining neutral. Matt is diving below me which concerns me since he already sucks a lot of air. I try to motion to him to stay above me. Unlike Zanzibar, visibility here is unbelievable and it is rare to just see an expanse of blue so it is easy enough to split up somewhat and find each other again. Out in the distance I see a Napoleon and I am so excited. I try to get everyone's attention. Matt finally sees it. I just love their freakishly big, cartoonish features and they are so colorful for a wrasse. Not a good photo because it's a bit far away.
We see all sorts of fish and we are lucky that Fil likes to take pictures so we just hand him our camera and we don't have to worry about it.

We are down here for a long time enjoying the sea life. Even during the safety stop, you are just surrounded by fish. IMG_1704-199.jpgIMG_1691-187.jpg
Today's dive was a little over an hour. It helped tremendously that Matt floated above me so he'll just have to remember that trick. We are sad that today is our last dive...look at how happy we are!
Since we need to stay dive free for 48 hours before we get on a plane, we won't be able to dive when we go up north to Manta Reef. But I read that their diving is not as good and a lot of the reefs were destroyed in a storm a few years ago.

Today is a bit colder so upon our return to Misali Island, I am eager to have some hot chocolate.
Since we are somewhat in a rush today, we don't linger on the island too long and return back to the hotel jetty.
I grab our clothes bag and take a shower at the dive center. It's just as luxurious as our bungalow. We have fresh towels, robes, a mirror and even lots of room. We say goodbye to Fil and head over to the restaurant for our last meal here. Everything looks good so we order it all...beef steak salad, coconut veggie soup, fish salad with pineapple salsa, fruit crepe and coffee ice cream. Again, fantastic!

We say our goodbyes to the staff and Matt walks us to the boat. We will miss Fundu.

Our same driver picks us up but we have a full load of people this time. We are headed to the airport where they will hand us off to the Manta Reef driver. Upon arrival, we see a man who seems to be looking for us. Once we confirm who we are, he takes our luggage and we go to the car. I start to get nervous because we are in a jeep with a broken windshield, torn seats and the car won't start. I am thinking twice about my choice now. After a few locals help, we finally get started. It is about an hour and a half drive but it is very scenic. We go through a town where our driver stops. It is his village and his wife has packed him his dinner for after sundown, which will be soon. We pass the famous Ngezi Forest which is known for the flying foxes. I am fascinated with the rubber trees. It is for some reason stunning to me.

The staff at Manta Reef greets us and they invite us to the deck for our orientation. I love the rocking chairs. We get a cocktail and they explain all the details. The only direction I remember hearing was...don't forget to sign up for your free massage. Eventually, we are escorted to our room which overlooks the ocean. I was really hoping that it was going to be better than I thought. A little disappointing. It's clean but basic. I am a little worried as there are a lot of holes in the mosquito net and none of the windows are screened or close. I find that strange where malaria exists. All of a sudden Matt blurts out, "I would have gladly taken the loss on this place to stay another night at Fundu." These are the words out of the mouth of the man who thought this trip was too expensive and San Diego Wild Animal Park would have sufficed, who won't pay more than $30 for a pair of jeans, who makes me wear a jacket in the house in the winter because heating is expensive...stunned. But on the bright side, we both agree that we have a beautiful view and we watch the sunset.

Our butler serves us dinner on the hotel deck.
We enjoy a quiet meal and as the sky darkened, we could see a billion stars. Dinner time is when your butler and the service staff come by to see what you would like to do tomorrow. Matt hates massages so I book a time for myself tomorrow afternoon and we decide to take the excursion to what the staff calls the "James Bond beach" in the morning.

Diving makes me sleepy.

Posted by Sharon E 13:53 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

7-Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park Safari/Tanzania

Day 12-13 of Safari

"Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all!"
--Brian Jackman

How true this is...my pocketbook may never be the same.

August 25, 2009
Depart:............Plantation Lodge
Arrive:.............Sanctuary Swala
Animals Seen:..Baboons, Vervet Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, Elephants, Giraffe, Hippos, Wildebeest, Zebra, Mongoose, Kudus, Jackal, Gazelle, Impala, Antelope, Buffalo

[*]After a leisurely breakfast at the lodge, we leave for Lake Manyara at 7:30. It is sprinkling today. The roads are all paved from here on out. We pass a lot of souvenir shops and as usual, all the kids stop to wave whenever we pass by. The road becomes hilly and we are amazed at all the people who are on bicycles returning from the market, carrying sacks of flour and rice...somehow balancing all of it without falling
[*]We wonder how the vehicle gets so clean every now and then and we discover that our guide will wash it down when we arrive to camp and he gives a little wash down inside the vehicle as well. It's nice to have a clean car. :)
[*]Hemingway thought Lake Manyara was the most beautiful lake in Africa...not so sure I agree
[*]Tons of blue monkeys in the trees at the Lake Manyara visitor center but they are rather shy
[*]A lot of baby baboons nursing and grooming

Lake Manyara has the highest concentration of baboons in Africa. We watch a bunch of them climbing (and some falling from) the trees
[*]Elephants nursing as well
[*]Lake Manyara is famous for all the water life. Here's a hippo pool with a bunch of school kids visiting
[*]We get to watch two hippos fighting

I didn't know they could open their mouths that wide!
[*]I can't believe this is the first time on the entire trip that we've seen a fully developed, male vervet monkey. They are nicknamed Blue Balls
[*]Finally, some blue monkeys that aren't incredibly shy...I manage to get a couple of photos that aren't too blurry or too far away
[*]Elephants are plentiful here but most migrate to Tarangire. Interesting that most of the elephants we see have no, broken or short tusks...there are too many of them to have been losses in fights so they must just have bad genes.
[*]Check out this big elephant coming our way. It is constantly dusting itself with dirt to keep off the flies
[*]We lunch by the lake prepared for us by Plantation Lodge. As usual, it is too much food so we give some of it to the park attendant (who does an excellent job of keeping the toilets super clean). Why do they put yogurt in these lunch boxes? Our guide shows us nature's toothbrush from a nearby bush. They actually sell it in the markets.
[*]Next stop is Tarangire National Park, nicknamed Elephant Park due to its heavy population (3,000!). It seemed like it was just yesterday when we couldn't find any elephants in Arusha.
[*]Elephants LOVE to eat moist bark and they often leave holes in baobob trees. Check out this hole...all the way through
[*]There seems to be plenty of water in this park which is why it attracts so many animals
[*]We finally get a close up view of the mongoose...this one is the banded mongoose
[*]There really are elephants everywhere!! In the '80s, they were heavily poached in this park. So now there is a baby boom and most of the elephants are under 10 years. Here are two brothers fighting

[*]A new animal! We got to see the rare and super elusive kudu...their ears are so colorful
[*]These jackals are so cute
[*]We are welcome by the staff at Swala...nice cold towel and drink. Feels good after a long day! At Swala, you still feel like you are in the bush because the animals are so close but you are surrounded by elegance. They have a beautiful reception area, their own water hole which is frequented by elephants and lions and the vervet monkeys are found everywhere. Good thing they have their own water hole. We heard about elephants approaching camps and destroying the swimming pools for fresh water
[*]Even though it's a bit remote at the southern end of the park, I think this is my favorite place. It's stunning...the tents, the land, the wildlife. Our tent is next to a huge baobob tree
We have great views and the tents are ultra contemporary, luxurious. On the left is or outdoor shower!
This leads from our indoor shower to the outdoor one which has a view of the sunset!
Our room is exquisite!
[*]After our showers, we relax for a minute enjoying all the wildlife around us before heading out for cocktails and yummy pupus by the campfire. We meet the other families from ADS...a mother and daughter and then a family of four who speak fluent French and English. We exchange stories and keep our eye out for bushbabies because the other families have not seen them yet. Our hosts join us as well
[*]We get a lovely table by the acacia lit up by lanterns. We are a little disappointed with the first course...I actually couldn't even finish it...peanut soup. But the main course and dessert are wonderful!
[*]We love the beds. Even though we have to use mosquito nets, this place was smart enough to include the side tables and ample reading light within the netting! We are so glad we got to visit this place right after the extensive renovations. Lala Salama!

[*]While we have been on the road for a very long time, I am starting to get very sad that our journey is nearly coming to an end. I can't imagine getting up and not seeing wildlife; I start to think about all the things that I might be missing (elephants knocking down trees, etc.); Where are my morning tea biscuits? **sigh**
[*]So very sad but we see a vervet monkey up close who has miscarried and her baby just hangs from her as she jumps from limb to limb. Unless someone pulls it out, she will die.
[*]We did not get to see the infamous but elusive tree lions at Lake Manyara. It is very difficult to see any of the cats in this park.
[*]It is quite dusty here and there are a lot of tse tse flies. All the elephants are brown from the dirt.
[*]Wow, an entire day without seeing one lion! Or any other cat, for that matter!
[*]Hippos have been poached to extinction here.

August 26, 2009
Location:.........Sanctuary Swala
Animals Seen:..Impala, Gazelle, Elephants, Zebra, Vervet Monkeys, Flamingos, Giraffe, dik-dik, Lions, Leopards, Cheetah, Jackal, Birds, Buffalo

[*]AMAZING breakfast. Immediately we are startled by all the wildlife. We see a battle ensue between two impala and watch the other animals staring intently. It's as if they are attending a boxing match. The fight is fierce and loud and we squirm every time the two hit really hard. The photo is blurry because the light is so low at 6:30 in the morning but I included it anyway. We couldn't believe this was all right in front of our table.
The elephants are at their watering hole as usual. They start spraying water from their trunks everywhere!
[*]Right off the bat we see elephants this morning. Here's a photo of an elephant using their tusk. They need it to help them cut the branches
[*]The scenery is beautiful in this park with volcanic mountain ranges in the background
[*]This elephant is enjoying his mud bath
[*]More fields of elephants
[*]Birds are plentiful in this park. An eagle and a stork
[*]Our guide sees a leopard in the tree so we stop to check it out. He/She soon leaves but it moves too fast for us to track it
[*]We drive a little further down and we can't believe there is another leopard in the tree. Pretty rare as they are solitary cats. They must be mating. Our guide drives right up to the tree and we get to look up towards the sleeping leopard. I'm not gonna lie but we were a little nervous that he might wake up and just drop into our vehicle
[*]We get a call that a leopard has been spotted. To our surprise, we missed this leopard which was in a tree not far from our first spotting. 3 leopards near each other? Completely unheard of. We wonder if it is a family. This one looks like it just fed since it's still a little bloody
[*]All three ADS cars meet for lunch at a picnic site. Swala has prepared a beautiful picnic meal.
[*]Returning to our game drive, our guide spots a lion...and a cheetah. They are territorial and do not coexist together. Lions will kill cheetahs to protect their territory but they won't eat them
The lion starts chasing the cheetah away
While the cheetah runs, it is almost toying with the lion as it knows it can outrun the lion any day.
The cheetah spots something and starts running. I can now check off "see cheetah running."
[*]The elephants are just covered in dirt. Look at all the babies!
[*]Giraffes have the most amazing tongues.
In action:

[*]We drove up and down the swamp to look for the tree pythons without success but we catch a herd of zebras drinking water instead
[*]We stop at Poacher's Hide which is one of the largest baobob trees in Africa. Poachers would hide inside the tree for protection (from animals)
[*]We take a scenic drive to the top of the mountain. No animals but it's like a scene out of a Halloween display...tons of scary, leafless baobob trees everywhere
[*]Returning at 5pm, we relax a bit before the evening ritual. This time, the bushbabies are present. It is our last night of the safari portion and we are really sad. This evening we are served a traditional Swahili buffet with all sorts of food from barbeque to curries. The kids from the French American family have made their own pizza and they throw it into the outdoor pizza oven. We are totally full when we get a second dessert from ADS which is a goodbye cake.
[*]Matt is a bit nervous that our Masai escort is flashing his lights right, left...AND up. When he asked why, the Masai said, "Just in case there are any leopards in the trees." I thought it was funny but our tent is next to the biggest baobob tree on the property...nice, big, fat limbs for resting.
[*]As we turn in for bed, I notice a bunch of vervet monkeys on the tent's ceiling. I couldn't resist and poked one of their sinking butts...they are SO cute!

[*]We looked for the famous tree pythons but couldn't find any
[*]I almost thought I would be able to check off "elephant knocking down a tree" from my wish list but he changed his mind at the last minute
[*]Packing up our stuff.

August 27, 2009
Depart:...........Sanctuary Swala
Animals Seen:..Vervet Monkeys, Elephants, Impala, Gazelle, Waterbuck, Birds, Zebra, Kudu

[*]Our last bush breakfast. We enjoyed the views for the last time. This time we see some of the smaller antelope mimicking yesterday's fight. A lot of play fighting among the young.
[*]We are off at 7:30 because we need to catch the plane to Pemba. We rush through the park but we get our last views of the animals. For the first time, we clearly saw the trademark "toilet-seat rings" on the butts of waterbuck. They are funny looking when there's a lot of butts lined up next to each other. We say bye to the elephants, to the zebras, to the kudus.
[*]Driving through the town as we head to Arusha, there are vervet monkeys and baboons littered in the streets...some walking on their hind legs (Matt gets a kick out of that)
[*]Stopped due to traffic, we notice the guy in the street is trying to sell us a blanket...with Obama's face plastered all over
[*]More kids wave to us
[*]We enter Arusha which is lined with coffee plantations and jacaranda trees. The outskirt area is so much prettier than central downtown.
[*]We have plenty of time to shop in Arusha before our flight. But we couldn't find an ATM so we have to scrape up all the dollars we have. Our guide recommends the Cultural Heritage Center, particularly if we are buying tanzanite as they are reputable. It's a very modern looking structure with several stores. As we enter, we are lured into playing some of the traditional instruments.
[*]We find some things but I am also worried about weight so I opted not to purchase the heavier wood carvings or bao game board. I also promised Julie that I would look for some tanzanite for her. It is an alluring, blue gem that can only be found in Mt. Kilimanjaro. It's quite beautiful and I am tempted myself but it is not a cheap stone. I picked out the darkest blue stone I could find for the budget I had...a bit difficult when you are shopping for under 1 carat. This is Africa so if you ask, they will give you a discount on what I thought was already a good price compared to the other souvenir shops we visited.
[*]We head for the airport and meet up with our ADS representative. We eat our box lunches, take care of some paperwork and he checked in for us. I give our driver his tip, we take a photo and then we waited for our plane. It's late. I feel bad that our guide and rep is just sitting and waiting with us but they don't want to leave in case something happens. But we finally get called and we get to sit and again wait at the "gate," the plastic seats set up near the runway. But we finally take off on our small plane and wave goodbye to the guys. I hope our guide one day finds the time and means to travel to the Sahara which is his dream.
[*]This is our last chance to see Kili. It doesn't look promising but we do get a slight glimpse of the very top!
[*]All in all, I got to check off most of my wish list...the big 5, elephants trumpeting, lions roaring, cheetah running, a kill, Mt. Kili, giraffes drinking water, a hippo out of the water, Serengeti sunset among the acacia trees. I know...it's a weird list. I am a little sad that I was not able to see any elephants knock down a tree, a crocodile making a kill, the wildebeest crossing a river, a tree lion or a python. But we saw so much more than I anticipated and our guide agreed that we witnessed things that many people don't ever see on safari. And, we knew we were lucky, particularly because the other tourists were jealous of us.
[*]Safari means journey and indeed we had a spectacular one! I fell in love with this country. Although, I have to admit, I am puzzled on the pronunciation of Tanzania. As a westerner, I grew up calling it Tan zuh NEE uh (which NO one pronounced it like this) but I heard other people call it Tahn ZAH nee uh OR Tan ZAAY nee uh. Either way, the wildlife is unbeatable, the landscape is beautiful, and the people are gracious. I learned so much in this far away land. I am glad I chose Tanzania which was based on a lot of research on the best country to visit if only given the chance to safari in one. Our guide said that we should visit in February where South Serengeti is just teeming with animals. I can't wait to come back!
[*]The people of Tanzania are very poor and while many of the outfitters are foreign owned, they must, by law, have a 50/50 partnership with Tanzanian owners as well. They also give back to the villages with their profits. So if you are considering a safari, I HIGHLY recommend Tanzania...and you'll feel good about giving back to the community as well! Here's hoping you get bit by the safari bug too.

[*]Rushing through Tarangire which ended up to be one of my favorite parks...so picturesque!
[*]The end of our safari!

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Posted by Sharon E 16:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

6-Ngorongoro Crater Safari/Tanzania

Day 10-11 of Safari

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“Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.”
--W.C. Fields

Thank goodness we had a corkscrew!

August 23, 2009
Depart:............Mbuzi Mawe
Arrive:.............Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Animals Seen:..Transit/Cultural Day (Masai Rock Painting, Olduvai Gorge, Masai Village)

[*]We got to leave late this morning (7:30) since it's mostly a transit day. The mornings are always beautiful, even the dangerous animals look so peaceful and harmless
[*]Even though there were memorable events in Central Serengeti, we are SO ready to leave
[*]Stopping through Moru Kopjes, we visited what used to be Masai land. "Gong Rock" is this huge rock that the Masai banged on to assemble the villagers. It is a big, white, granite rock that somehow sounds a bell when you hit another rock against it. All those pocky marks were created by Masai over hundreds of years
[*]Here's a Masai rock painting and their dwelling. The black marks are from the fires they lit for food and warmth. It's not what I would call dwelling but maybe more a shelter from rain
[*]It takes a while to check out of the Seregeti. There is a lot of paperwork that our guide has to handle! In the meantime, I get out of the safe haven from the car and into the dust storm to check out the stores. Not much but I got this great picture of the Superb Starling. Isn't it pretty? I love the "bling" (c'mon Tamra, even you can't deny its beauty)
[*]It is more miles of just flat, dusty, boring desert. Because of this, we close up the roof which is good because then flies can't get in! Our first stop is a small Masai boma (village). (Such a relief to finally stop!) We gave the elected Masai liaison $20 and he took us inside. They greeted us
and we partook in some rituals...lots of jumping up and down
As you may know, the Masai typically wear shades of red and blue. The warriors only wear red. It is believed that the animals are fiercely afraid of red because long ago the Masai hunted many of the animals. So now you know what color to wear on your safari. The Masai, while not a big tribe, is quite famous for their way of life and decorated bodies (stretched earlobes and all)
They made me check out their jewelry and I bought a $5 bracelet (overpriced but I felt bad). Then we went inside one of their homes. It's small, dark and uncomfortable.
A family of four live here. Dad sleeps on a mat by himself and mom and 2 kids get the other mat to share. You can't stand upright as the structures are short and there's always a blazing hot, smoky fire in the center for cooking. I don't know why they like the pitch black; there are no windows. There is no room to move about, either. Our liaison tells us what village life is like and explains the process of a Masai warrior. You are selected from childhood and it is a tough life ahead. They have long hair, drink blood for good health and when called upon, they will come to any village to protect the boma/cattle. They live simply as they did hundreds of years ago. They are mostly nomadic herders and sell the occasional cow for food and education. Not sure how people get married off but each boma is just one family (in some cases, only one father...polygamy is acceptable in their culture and AIDS is rampant unfortunately). The liaison explains the females are responsible for getting food, preparing meals, taking care of the children, building/maintaining the homes and making/selling the jewelry. I later asked our guide (too afraid to ask the liaison) what in the world the adult males do since the children take care of the cattle. He said that they go out to bars/restaurants and meet their friends and talk all day. Sounds just like the animals here. The last visit is to the school. I'm pretty skeptical that this is just for show and that they really don't teach here. It's full of children and as usual, they sing and spout out their ABCs and I hand them a donation. The poor that you imagine Africa to be is definitely the Masai. They are the Unicef poster children...dirt everywhere, holes in their clothing, yellow eyes with goop dripping down, crazy teeth. Nevertheless, they are adorable and so friendly
[*]Next stop is Olduvai Gorge, "The Cradle of Mankind," site of the work of the Leakeys. The guide gave us an introductory speech and there is a museum (a small room) filled with the exacavation discoveries. It's more of an historical appreciation rather than an exciting visit. It's just a big excavation site as you can see
[*]I can't believe there is clear, blue sky in the middle of the day. We stop to see our first glimpse of Ngorongoro Crater
[*]We are super excited about Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. It is funky looking. There are zebra grazing the property and we are greeted by our personal staff with a drink and hot towel.
The crater is at 8,000 feet so it is a bit chilly here but that means there are no mosquitos! The decor at the lodge is extravagant old world. Check out the reception area
Daniel is our personal butler. He shows us to our room.
We are near the restaurant so we won't need an escort to go back and forth in the evening (we like that!). It's a bit cold so I ask Daniel to start a fire and then he sent hot cocoa my way. I draw a hot bath in the clawfoot tub that overlooks a view of the crater and grab one of the chocolate truffles. This is the life. I wish I were rich.
[*]When we first arrived to the room, there was an envelope with a gold wax seal addressed to "Haron and Matt." We laughed but Daniel was mortified. They had not seen the "S" so they were calling me Haron the entire time. But we were impressed with the nice note left for us.
[*]After relaxing and wishing we could afford another night here (we really can't), we head out to meet everyone for cocktails and pupus. The deck overlooks the crater and there is a nice, hot fire to warm us. We have wine and a bunch of yummy appetizers. We engage in a wonderful conversation with the chef who is from South Africa and another couple who have been hopping around to other luxury safari lodges. As much as I really can't complain about our trip, I was jealous. I think they did the right thing by visiting (by plane) different places and using the lodge's safari drivers. These guys are out driving the same course every day so they know exactly where the animals are and if anything unusual is going on from a day-to-day basis. Daniel tells us how afraid of the animals he is and we find that this is common among the Tanzanians. Every day he takes a bus to work but there are days when the buffalo just won't leave his property and he is afraid to pass them so he then has to tell the lodge that he will be late that day. Africa's form of a traffic jam, I suppose. This evening, there is a woman celebrating her birthday. The chef baked a special cake and the staff started singing, dancing, playing instruments. It was definitely a day to remember for the rest of our lives (yes, it was pretty much worth every penny we spent here)
[*]We come back to our room to find another new note personally addressed to us, the bed turned down, a blazing fire and the truffles have been replaced by brandy. They really have the service down here! Unfortunately, we have to pack up to leave tomorrow. Since we'll be coming back after our day at the crater, Daniel will be taking all of our laundry in the morning and he promised it would be ready when we return in the afternoon. It really is nice having an all-inclusive package.

[*]Saying goodbye to the staff at Mbuzi Mawe
[*]No sightings of any of the 12 black rhinos (or really much of any other animal) at Moru Kopjes. A bit boring here but this is the only area outside of Ngorongoro that has a black rhino population
[*]Our guide is a master at spotting the oddities. This cape buffalo is really sick...look at its mouth!
[*]South Serengeti is where the animals live during the wet season. Right now, it's a totally empty (as they have all migrated north), dry, flat desert. Quite boring.
[*]Leaving Serengeti, the road to Ngorongoro is wide and straight but, as warned by many, it is super bumpy and unbelievably dusty. It was a very long ride that made me nervous as we sped through riding the side of the road as much as possible. I buckled up because I really thought we were going to turn over any second.
[*]Matt had terrible stomach aches during the Masai tour and had to go back to the car. Unfortunately, he couldn't wait for Olduvai Gorge and had to visit the dusty fields for a little relief. He didn't feel good all day. The bathrooms were really not any better at the Gorge. Not very comfortable to be in the bush today for Matt.
[*]Every time you get out of the car, there are Masai constantly hovering over you, soliciting their wares (they are a lot cheaper than the Masai bomas, though)
[*]Sad we are only staying at Crater Lodge for one night!

August 24, 2009
Depart:............Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Arrive:.............Plantation Lodge
Animals Seen:..The Final Of The Big Five...The Black Rhino, Elephants, Cranes, Warthogs, Cape Buffalo, Hippos, Serval, Wild Cat, Lions, Jackal, Vultures, Ostrich, Zebra

[*]Waking up to hot chocolate and biscotti in bed
[*]We are packed and ready to leave by 5:45. We are third in line to get into the crater which opens up at 6am. But the office is open so we can process our paperwork in the meantime. There are only a few cars (most from the same outfitter as ours as most drivers don't come out this early) and we make the scary drive (steep and narrow) down to the bottom of the crater. We are there just in time for sunrise as our guide stops to roll up the vehicle's roof. It's actually not too cold today
[*]Passing the beautiful cranes in the salt lakes, our guide thinks he spotted a black rhino and its "baby" so we head out towards them. We can't believe it is our first sighting of the day and no one is here! So now we've seen all of the Big 5...check that one off the list. We watched the rhinos cross the road so we were able to get a close view
Black rhinos are rare and endangered. They are solitary animals and hardly mate so it's a little difficult for them to make a comeback. They are the one species that rangers make an exception and interfere with nature to protect them as best as possible.
[*]Our guide tells us a funny story about a client that insisted she saw a baby rhino by itself. He was pretty skeptical but he stopped and backed up the car because she literally screamed "Stop the car! I see a baby rhino!" Turns out it was a warthog. She had never seen one before. If you think about it, I could see maybe a resemblance
[*]We stop at a beautiful hippo lake (this one doesn't actually smell) to have our picnic breakfast. Cape Buffalo cross the field but stop as they see us
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge goes all out with even the picnic meals. It's enough food for six, though. We have a variety of eggs, pastries, fruit, granola, the works. Look at all the bacon!
[*]Can't believe we saw another serval!
[*]The marshes are actually beautiful and you'll see elephants out there soaking the day away. These two we nicknamed Brokeback Mountain elephants...can you tell why?
[*]The lions are so used to humans here. Once again, they find refuge from the heat right underneath the car
I like this photo...real lions against a backdrop of a fake lion
The other family travelling with ADS had not seen any lions active at all on their entire safari so they were pretty excited that they were doing more than sleeping

[*]But lions still find sleeping their favorite pastime
[*]These zebras have spotted the pack of lions and can't help but be frozen in their defense positions
[*]And yet more lion photos
[*]This is an exciting area to see predator/prey in action. It's a lot of animals in a relatively small area (12 miles across and about 100 square miles). We saw a lot of close calls but the lions haven't been successful today.
[*]If you recall, the rangers intentionally burn fields so that they can keep the grass low for grazers. An unfortunate circumstance is that bird eggs will burn with it. We saw an ostrich egg in the middle of one of these fields. Vultures are smart birds and will pick up a rock and from a distance, will drop it on the super hard egg to crack them open. No such luck in seeing that today. But we heard that there was an abandoned egg with green grass surrounding it. When the mother sees the fire, she will begin to bring water in to try and protect the egg which is why the grass is green there. So sad.
[*]Here's a lion and a jackal awaiting a victim
[*]You can only picnic in two designated areas because the lions are ubiquitous here. We have lunch in the same spot as breakfast. It's another wonderful meal and mostly vegetarian so I am ecstatic! Daniel said that the lodge can also prepare a huge bush lunch in the crater. It's a huge deal that takes several hours.
[*]A zebra crossing. The one on the ground is trying to get all the bugs off by rolling around in the dirt
[*]We see a hippo and a baby calf
[*]Working our way towards the beautiful rain forest, we see a wild cat chasing an animal. I think we've seen every form of cat now!
[*]The forest is so stunning as we work our way out of the park. It is super steep and curvy. It amazes me that the elephants can migrate out of here
[*]The view is spectacular as we make our way to Plantation Lodge which is where Daniel got his training before getting his dream job at Crater Lodge.
[*]There are coffee plantations all over and the Lodge grows their own vegetables. As a result, we get a wonderful home-cooked meal for dinner...salad, stroganoff, mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.
[*]The lodge is cute and homey but it is no Crater Lodge

[*]While it was a fairly good day at the Crater, especially since there were a lot fewer cars than normal, there was still a LOT of dust and a bit anticlimatic from Serengeti. One day was definitely enough. We hear that they are thinking about stopping visitors from going down to the crater and you will only be able to look from the top. That is a bit of a bummer but they have huge environmental concerns.
[*]No giraffes live in Ngorongoro Crater and we didn't see any cheetahs or leopards.
[*]So very sad to be leaving Daniel and Crater Lodge

Posted by Sharon E 23:56 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

5-West and Central Serengeti Safari/Tanzania

Day 6-9 of Safari

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“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

August 19, 2009
Depart:.............Migration Tented Lodge
Arrive:..............Mbalageti Lodge
Animals Seen:...Birds, Hippos, Lions, Lions, Lions, Leopard, Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe, Gazelles...the usual

[*]In love with the Pak-it Cubes Karen G. let me borrow. With this much moving around, it is SO easy to pack and unpack the cubes and find stuff. It's a must have for anyone who travels!
[*]Giraffes can manage to strip the foliage off of the Whistling Thorn acacia without disturbing the thorns OR seeds. Pokea grabs his pocket knife and taps on one of the round, hard seeds. All of a sudden a bunch of stinging ants start coming out of them...those giraffes have pretty talented tongues
[*]The further south we go, the more ubiquitous the lions are and the more they are used to humans. Central Serengeti is known for the large number of cats as animals are not migratory in this area and the water supply, spread throughout the region, does not dry up in the winter
[*]It is rare to see a chui (leopard) up close in plain view since they are always seen up in the branches of trees but we get a pretty nice look as we pass through this big, open acacia tree in Central Serengeti. Leopards are solitary so you'll rarely see them with another
[*]We see an older male lion with a full mane...doesn't he look so 70's?
[*]From a distance, we saw a ginormous herd of elephants lined across the prairie...hundreds of them!
[*]They do have bathrooms at the visitor's center (but you gotta have strong thigh muscles for the squatting)
[*]The visitor's center is a popular lunch spot for picnicking. We unwrap the ridiculously huge lunch that Migration Lodge packed for us: fancy pizza, hot dog AND chicken along with the chocolates, fruit, cookies, nuts and chips
[*]Birds and hyrax cover the grounds of the visitor's center. There is also a nice, educational hike on the grounds
_DSC1360-1.jpg_DSC1354-2.jpg_DSC1356-2.jpgcactus grow huge here!
[*]We ran into Scott and Laurie who saw a duma (cheetah) kill a gazelle and tembo (elephants) mating (now that would be interesting to see)!
[*]Our first fuel stop since the beginning of the trip. The Land Rover has two huge gas tanks and a few spare tires so we don't have to stop often!
[*]There's a big hippo pool in the middle of Central Serengeti and we get our first view of hippos out of the water, which is quite unusual in the daytime, but the cloudy day prevents burning of their sensitive skin...there are so many of them!
[*]Even though the pools are stinky with algae and hippo poo (they defecate to mark their territory...it is a disgusting sight as the poo flies everywhere), it is still fun to watch them twitter their ears and climb over each other
[*]Wildebeest do not exist in Central Serengeti and we almost miss seeing them. But alas, West Serengeti has non-migratory wildebeest
[*]We check into Mbalageti (prounounce the M as "um") Lodge. They greet us as usual with "Karibu" (welcome), give us refreshing cold towels, a welcome drink and then ask us what time we will be having dinner, breakfast and what we want for lunch
[*]Our presidential tent which is near the restaurant and pool is pretty impressive. We have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room (with flat screen tv), a dining room, a sitting room, a huge deck that overlooks the wildlife and access to a butler. Again, we have a real door that locks
Wow, this is a huge bathroom for a tented lodge. And we have two of them!
[*]They have free internet here. It's slow like anywhere else and it takes 20 minutes just to check emails but it's better than nothing!
[*]The lodge's pool and dining area are gorgeous! I love this chandelier made of wine bottles
[*]A beautiful sunset
[*]There aren't many people here so we all get to dine outside.

[*]We spent a long day in the Central Serengeti Kopjes to avoid the crowd but there's a reason no cars were here...the animals are few and far between. It's hard to keep your eyes open when there isn't much to see
[*]Central Serengeti is really busy. It's full of tourists from cars to SUVs to these enormous vehicles that are a cross between a semi and a bus. They have hundreds of operators that just serve this area
You'll know if something exciting is being seen because there are a mass of vehicles in front of it, so you are competing with tons of people to get the best view
[*]You must stick to the roads here so sometimes the wildlife is a bit far from us
[*]No monkeys in Central Serengeti
[*]It is super dusty here due to the heavy traffic. Now I understand about the dust people have been talking about. My camera has layers of dirt on it as well as me
[*]Even though there is one bathroom in Central Serengeti, your hands get dirty from all the dust and grime...handywipes are essential!
[*]A little sad that the outdoor jacuzzi tub on our deck is a bit rusty

August 20, 2009
Location:...........Mbalageti Lodge
Animals Seen:...Hartebeest, Hyena, Jackal, Birds, Baboons, Lions, Giraffes, Wildebeest, Zebra, Hippos, Crocodiles, Elephants, Warthogs

[*]While fun, it is much easier to do breakfast at the lodge than out in the bush. They made me my favorite pancakes!
[*]We started later than planned but we were out the door by 6:45 so we still saw the sunrise over the clouds _DSC1417-16.jpg
and had a lot of beautiful, early morning light. The animals are so lively this hour. It rained a little last night and they are all excited and running about (except for the cats who hate rain)
_DSC1422-19.jpg hartebeest and calf frolicking
[*]Witnessing a super close-up view of scavengers munching on a kill. Actually it was just one hyena in control but it was both fun and disgusting to watch as the animals lose patience for their "turn" and start to get bold. There is definitely a hierarchy in the animal kingdom and a followed protocol. Here we have a lead hyena and then other salivating hyena, a jackal, flocks of buzzards/vultures/storks just waiting
In this video, you will see how bold the scavengers get

[*]Baboons are everywhere. West Serengeti is known for their primate population. While I'm not fond of adult baboons (they are skittish and mean; and their prominent butts are really unattractive, especially a female in heat), the babies are SO cute and fun to watch
Baboons are picky about their water (as am I!) and they will take a little scoop in their hands to taste before committing their face to it
[*]We can't believe there are hippos out in the open on this sunny day! We get to watch a territory battle, although it was rather calm
[*]Giraffes fighting for the hand (o.k., feet) of a female! It does seem rather lame at first because how much damage can one giraffe inflict upon another? But once in a while, they get in a good, solid head butt into the opponent's stomach. But still, I can't see how a winner would ever be determined. Watch the video to see what I mean

They can be graceful looking while at the same time be awkward
[*]Watching a kill in action. We saw a group of lions sitting by the river (as they always do so that they can sneak up on animals getting a drink of water) that trapped these baboons in a tree. As you'd imagine, the female baboon exerted the most effort to shoo the lions away but mostly, they just sat in the tree...stuck. Our guide saw one of the lioness leave so we followed her. All of a sudden, it crouched and chased a baboon out of the bush!
The baboon was not happy and was only too eager to fight back!
I gotta tell you that you not only have to have a really good guide but luck is a big factor in seeing a battle. We were the first to see the action and it did not take long for other cars to appear. Our guide had never seen anything like this. If you only see one video in my blog, this is it (I've been solicited by National Geographic as well as a Japanese production company to use the footage). Matt is the videographer and you'll see that it is my most popular You Tube video from Tanzania (people love a fight) and I have more COMMENTS (not rated G) on this video than I do VIEWS for my other videos!

Did you hear how mean Matt was to me? All I did was root for the baboon. While I did want to see a kill in action, my heart rooted for the baboon as they are a little too close to the human race. This large baboon, probably an alpha male, was at first protecting his troop. But soon his ego and bravado became his downfall. It is not common for a baboon to fight back with a lion which is why all the guides were in awe
[*]Big crocodiles by the river
[*]Crossing a bouncy, pedestrian bridge that is used during floods to transport you and your luggage to your lodge on the other side of the river (as well as monkeys). We got to swing on a huge vine
[*]While not as impressive of a lunch as Migration, we ate right next to a herd of zebra and wildebeest! Wouldn't be happening if they weren't so dumb and frightened
[*]Our guide explained to us the training needed to be a safari expert. You have to go to a professional school and pass the test. They are required to know all the latin names of the animals and plants which he complained about learning because none of his clients would understand him. I agree, acacia is hard enough let alone the Latin name!
[*]The west is not a popular area for visitors this time of year so there are not many cars and we can drive off road to get real close to the animals
[*]I think we've seen just about all the lions in Tanzania! Plenty of sightings today. The ones in the west are a bit skittish but laziness always trumps work. These lions are resting after feasting on a zebra kill. A couple of them got up and walked away from us but the rest were too hot
[*]Never tire of elephants
Here's one with flared ears that got super close, I can barely get him in view
[*]Even though we arrived back at the lodge a little behind schedule, I was determined to take a dip in the awesome (but really cold) pool, especially since it was such a hot day!
[*]A beautiful sunset _DSC1501-97.jpg
While not exactly what I wanted but good enough to check off on my wish list, I finally get a photo of a sunset beyond the acacia trees
[*]A special bush dinner, about 20 minutes from the main lodge, was arranged for just me, Matt and our guide. The weather looked foreboding but they promised it wouldn't rain...and it didn't! While waiting for dinner, we watched the baboons in the palms get ready to sleep and watched the beautiful sky turn to a nightfall of stars. Matt tried to explain the stars to our guide but it's a little different in the southern hemisphere. But he did explain the Milky Way which he found fascinating
[*]It was a delicious meal with a wonderful staff that was catering just to us...bartender/waiter, chef, escorts for protection. After some homemade chips and cocktails by the fire, we sit down to a traditional Swahili barbeque. The pork sausage was my favorite
[*]Matt, with super sonic hearing (no one else knew what he was talking about among the thousands of sounds we were hearing in the night), was excited about the bats soaring above
[*]Watching a fantastic lightning storm in the sitting room of our tent. We rolled up all the shades in the bedroom so we could watch it while we fell asleep...so cool

[*]The Masai escort was not responding to our whistle this morning so we had to wait a few minutes for some sunlight in order to cross safely to the dining area. This place is too big and hilly to just wave your flashlight in the dark so whistles are necessary but no one heard our whistle. Unfortunately, we got a bit of a later start this morning
[*]Mbalageti is about 45 minutes from the main road. It's a long way on dirt roads!
[*]I almost touched a poisonous tree that blinds you if you touch the flower and then your eyes...phew, I need to be more careful
[*]There are a lot of trees in the west; therefore, there are a lot of tse tse flies! You can see them in the lion photos. Pokea gave us a Masai fly swatter made from a giraffe's tail. We just keep waving it but there are SO many
[*]An open roof is hard to take on a sunny day but I wouldn't trade it for a pop up roof as they really do inhibit your view, especially for photographs
[*]Mbalageti has a separate tip box for the restaurant than everyone else. So we had to go back to the restaurant and leave a tip for last night's dinner and breakfast

August 21, 2009
Depart:.............Mbalageti Lodge
Arrive:..............http://www.serenahotels.com/tanzania/mbuzi/home.aspMbuzi Mawe
Animals Seen:...Vervet monkeys, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hippos, Gazelle, Waterbuck, Antelope, Elephants, Warthogs, Klipspringer, Lions and Lions

[*]Leaving a little later this morning, we got to have a more leisurely breakfast
[*]Check out this cute, baby vervet monkey!
Traveling back to Central Serengeti:
[*]As we enter Central Serengeti once more, we see a couple of elephants...Matt's favorite
The little one is nursing
[*]A leopard eating its kill. To avoid scavengers from stealing its hard earned reward, leopards bring their kill up to the tree. So smart!
[*]Watching cheetahs watching gazelle but they are just a little too far away
[*]Hippos fighting...it's all about who has the biggest mouth
[*]We are addicted to these tea biscuits! We started out with a huge jug of them and they have been our daily mid-morning snack. Got to find out how I can buy them!
[*]Animals out and about grazing
[*]Staring right on top of the lions as they sit directly below us where the car provides shade. Wow, they are so close I can practically touch them
You can see the scars on this one
[*]Warthogs make me laugh. The Swahili name is not Pumba as many think. It is Ngiri. Like the Disney character, they are really funny looking and they really do lift their tails straight out while running. From a distance, they are easily mistaken for one of the predators but so disappointing when you just realize it's another warthog
[*]Wow, we saw a male lion by itself with the biggest mane ever. Shhh, don't tell anyone, our guide drove right up to it so we could get a closer look
[*]Eating lunch in the Kopjes next to the big lion
[*]Going pee during lunchtime but with the door WIDE open as our guide instructed me. Better than going in the public toilet which requires strong thigh muscles and good aim...I hate those floor toilets!
[*]This hartebeest stares at a lion and is paralyzed in fear as the lion sits next to the water source...getting so thirsty
[*]Finally, a close up of the duma. Shhh (again)...our guide drove right up to the cats. This is why he likes to come out here...it's normally cheetah land (shorter grass so that the gazelle can graze) and they are usually abundant. With the drought though, it has been slim viewing but today the Kopjes paid off! We catch the two brothers marking a tree
[*]After checking into Mbuzi Mawe, Matt waits for the keys. When they ask what he is waiting for, everyone laughs and says "your room is a tent, there are no keys." To Matt's defense, the other two tents did have locks and doors. Technically there is a lock on the tent's zipper to keep the monkeys from entering the room but you just hook it through without locking (they can't figure it out)
[*]We arrive early enough to relax on the daybed, turn in some laundry (since we'll be here two nights and their prices aren't bad), wash some essentials (as they do not wash ladies' undergarments...against their religion) and enjoy the room before showering and dinner
[*]Matt thinks he sees a dik-dik (super tiny antelope) on the property but it's actually a klipspringer
[*]The lodge has entertainment at night featuring local, authentic music and dance. I love their sound...very Jamaican
[*]In love with the staff, as usual. Everyone greets us by name and chit chats about America. They really love Matt a lot

[*]The water levels are so low...it's quite sad
[*]Both nature and man destroy the forests but not sure if it's positive. The elephants destroy forests by killing trees and often don't even eat all the leaves and man intentionally burns the fields so that the grass will be short enough for grazing but as a result, some animals don't make it out of the fire alive...babies, snakes, birds with eggs, etc.
[*]Is it better to reinforce the dirt roads so that it doesn't erode and get everything dusty or leave it alone so that when it rains, it won't flood?
[*]The tents remind me of camping in Yosemite. They are quite close so you can hear everyone and you can also see your neighbors. The area is not super scenic and about a half hour from Seronera (the center of Central Serengeti). Food is so so but I love the staff.
[*]Am I getting boring?

August 22, 2009
Location:..........http://www.serenahotels.com/tanzania/mbuzi/home.aspMbuzi Mawe
Animals Seen:...Elephants, Hippos, Cape Buffalo, Crocodile, Lions, Hyenas, Gazelle, Antelope, Guineafowl

[*]A crossing of elephants
[*]It's a beautiful morning, even the buffalo look good and the birds are happy to get a ride
[*]Visiting one of the largest hippo pools. I think it's ironic that you always here from non-Africans how dangerous they are but the only place you are really allowed to get out of your vehicle in the wild are the hippo pools and they always place the bathrooms there. The locals seem more afraid of the buffalo
[*]The hippos are gross but can't help photographing them...yes, there's sh*t everywhere, they live with crocs and did you see their nasty teeth?
For some reason, I like the trumpeting of hippos

[*]Watching hundreds of elephants cross the hill while a pride of lions look on
[*]One of the largest pride of lions we've seen. I think there's close to 50!
[*]It looks like they are making their way over to the nearby camp
[*]We thought there was a dead elephant laying in the road but just turns out he was napping. He eventually got up and moved over when we got on his tail
[*]Hyena roll around and lay in mud to appease their stomachs and aid in digestion of all the animal bones they eat
[*]Our guide spots an injured gazelle. It looks like it lost one of its antlers in a fight. Unfortunately, if the antler doesn't fall off, he'll die because he can't graze with it in the way. Life is tough out here
[*]Watched a hyena feast on a gazelle, which he probably stole from a cheetah
Within minutes, the vultures circle the air. From a distance, a lion sees the vultures. She starts walking towards the birds
But she soon sees that a hyena has a kill and changes her trot to a gallop. She sneaks up on the hyena who, on first impulse was going to run with the gazelle in its mouth but thinks better of it and drops the meat and runs away. Lions are definitely the bullies in this land
[*]Getting a glimpse of a serval cat. They are so cute but their small stature easily gets lost in the tall grass
[*]Witnessing a chase between a female elephant and a huge bull elephant who is really ready to mate. They made a complete circle around us. The male elephant was a bit frustrated and kept crying out because he really didn't want to run anymore...it's probably hard running around with a fifth leg

[*]Mama and baby cheetahs sitting underneath a tree
[*]This super tall, ancient elephant doesn't like us hanging around and chases us away. Check out his feet!
He is right on our tail. This video is a bit funny because as our guide pulled away, we lost our balance (look at the last symbol you see on the video...they have rules for a reason, I guess)

[*]Wow, there are so many elephants here!
This baby elephant has so many wrinkles!
This one is a little itchy

[*]I love the tropical jungle feel by the river. The elephants and hippos mingle
[*]We were a little leery of spending another day in Central Serengeti but it was definitely worth it today!

[*]It's been sprinkling on and off all day but then it started to come down a bit harder. You have to quickly unroll the tarp roof and get out and snap them in place. But we didn't exactly have time to do that as we started to slide around in the slick mud and we violently jerked left, right, left, right... Thought we were going to roll over for sure and all I could think of was "how do I protect my camera?" instead of "oh no, we don't have our seatbelts on and there is no roll bar." But our guide finally saved it and we avoided disaster... thank goodness for mandatory driving school for the guides
[*]I am really getting tired of the public toilets
[*]A little tired of the crowded visitor's center but I guess it's nice and clean for lunch (some more chicken again). We also had a flat tire which Pokea changed in a matter of minutes. Not so uncommon, I guess

Posted by Sharon E 22:06 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

4-North Serengeti Safari/Tanzania

Day 3-5 of Safari

View Tanzania 2009 on Sharon E's travel map.

"There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you drunk half a bottle of champagne--bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive!"
--Out of Africa, Karen Blixen

Our gracious host from Hatari Lodge hand wrote this on one of their personalized notes.

August 15, 2009
We are at the bottom of the hill at Kigongoni Lodge...103 steps. The property is beautiful but the service is not up to par with the other places. It's a huge bungalow with a super funky bathroom. Back to mosquito nets at this lower elevation. It was nice to just climb into bed at Hatari without worrying about bugs for two nights.
Two representatives from Africa Dream Safaris came to meet us at Kigongoni. Just a confirmation on the itinerary and to tell us about tomorrow. We will leave at 6am for the airport. They have Internet here but the frequent power outages were killing me! Oh no, the burglars took Paul's ipod. After dinner, we repacked for the airport (they still have all those same liquid rules in these tiny "airports"--what terrorist would ambush a 12-seater? that's like no statement at all) and went to bed.

August 16, 2009
Our safari will focus on the Northern parks of Tanzania: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
Bright and early and Kili is still socked in. We are never going to see that mountain! We get picked up at 6am from the lodge. Even this early in the morning, we see everyone dressed in their Sunday best heading for church. Wow, these people are committed (most Tanzanians on the mainland are Christian). We are headed to Kogatende in North Serengeti. We learn that it will only take one hour. Our representatives checked us in and phoned our driver that we'd be early. What service. The key to not having your luggage weighed is to have your driver check in for you! So the pilot collects tickets, passes out candy and goes over safety instructions on top of flying. No attendants required for planes with less than 20 passenger seats. This Regional Air plane is older than the Zan Air fleet but it's slightly bigger at 14 seats. I will ignore the cracked windshield and the strange seatbelt shoulder strap that comes loose if you move. Still overcast. We see sinkholes everywhere in the land below. As we get closer to our destination, we begin to see large animals littered all over the ground (we soon learn that they are wildebeest). Here comes the clearing for our landing.
It was a perfectly smooth flight and no animals running across the airstrip (the "runway" does have animal poop on it). We (the four passengers) clap. Matt and I picked out our luggage from the plane as more people joined the continuing flight. The "terminal" is just an outhouse and there's a place for cars to wait for the planes. There's no one for the pilot to communicate with as there is no traffic control. Instead, the airlines call the lodges nearby ahead of time to see what the weather is like. Our vehicle is that big, dark green Land Cruiser.
Wow, I really feel like I'm in Africa now.
We have a driver/guide. We have three rows of seats to move about in the vehicle and the top is completely open. We feel a little guilty for having such a large truck for just the two of us. But it is really nice. After we check in to Serengeti National Park, we are officially ready to start our safari!Serengeti_Check_In.jpg

It is towards the end of the dry season and the migratory animals have moved from the south to the north. Due to the drought this year, we hear that many of the animals moved a little more north than usual so there are tons of animals in Kenya's Masai Mara. But the wildebeest here are still migrating back and forth across the rivers. It rained last night and we expect more rain which may confuse the animals. Here is how we cross:
But the wildebeest, who are scared by their own sneezing, refuse to use the bridge and cross right next to it where they are prey to crocodiles and injury.
That's how smart they are. Baboons, on the other hand, would use the bridge. The only way wildebeest survive is because they procreate like crazy. That keeps their numbers stable each year. While they have great sense of smell, their eye sight sucks so they actually travel with zebras who have excellent eyes. You'll notice that they always stare back at us when we watch them.
Giraffes are one of the only animals that can see color and they also stare back at us with an intense look.
Our guide thinks this baby is only 2 weeks old (ouch). They stand up immediately and walk within an hour of birth._DSC1026.jpg

There are thousands and thousands of wildebeest in this area (1MM make the migration). They look exactly like they do in Lion King--evil and fierce.
And when they all run, it is an awesome sight.
But they are so weak that I'm pretty sure I can knock one down easily. In fact, there are wildebeest carcasses and skulls all across the land. Some lions follow the migration since wildebeest are relatively easy prey. The vultures, along with the ugliest looking storks, are the last to pick at a kill.
The Northern Serengeti is what I picture when I think of "African Safari."
It's a bit wild. We can drive off road to get right next to the animals, there aren't many visitors in this area so the wildlife treat people and vehicles cautiously (and the roads are also much smoother due to lack of people) and there's incredible diversity from plains to woodland. It is extremely hot when the sun beats down on us and the awful tsetse flies sting right through your clothes. For lunch, we stop under a shady tree and set up the table and chairs for a picnic. No, our guide does not carry a gun. You just crack the door open in case you need to get in the car real fast. Similarly, there are no bathrooms in this area (other than at the airstrip) so you just go to the back of the vehicle and pee next to the zebras and wildebeest. We find out that our guide doesn't feel too well today because yesterday he was talked into taking some "medicine" from a Masai for his ulcer. He said it tasted awful and he was paying for it today...so much for "holistic" medicine.

No need to look hard for wildlife here, we are constantly running into them due to the migration.
The eagle was actually our first wildlife sighting in the morning
I thought hippos would be cuter. They are actually disgusting.
Crocodiles range in size but I am glad to learn that they don't like to move much when out of the water (as I stand on the edge of the embankment).
Strange to just see wild ostrich all over. They are quite a sight.
Other birds we saw include the colorful Lilac-breasted Roller and the Secretary Bird which hunts for snakes.
The impala are pretty (way more than Chevy's version).
And we finally see the elephants. Here's one climbing over an embankment.
Funny how the big animals are the vegetarians.
And they are actually picky. Their trunks are very strong but they don't like to eat everything so they shake out the unwanted parts.

And at the end of the day, we see our first simba (lion). I have to admit, she alarmed me because we drove right up to it and she gave me the scariest look. I wasn't sure if I should snap the photo or back off since my window was wide open. We knew she was protecting cubs. I did hesitate and this is the shot I unfortunately got.
On our way to camp, we were lucky to see the elusive leopard. Even more unusual, we saw it hunting. It was waiting for a small wildebeest to cross. The one shown here was too big to attack. Usually, the wildebeest can smell its predators but the leopard must have been downwind.
No luck in this crossing so the leopard moves to another position.

This time, the wildebeest and zebra that are crossing come to a complete halt. The wildebeest must have smelled the cat. The zebra get into their defensive positions (each facing a different direction) and start looking for danger. We've lost sight of the leopard as it is moving in very tall grass. Finally, the herd moves in the opposite direction of the leopard. It is amazing to see that nature definitely has a system of checks and balances and you cannot deny that natural selection has ensured the survival of each species. Leopards can run fast but they can't run for much of a distance so they must sneak up on their prey and pounce. So if their prey spots them too soon, it will be outrun and no meal for the leopard. Hunting, even attacking dumb animals, is not as easy as it seems.

Well, what an exciting day. We've already seen four of the big five on our trip: buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard. Just the rhino remains which we will only be able to see at Ngorongoro several days later. We finally arrive at Lemala and we are floored at just how fancy a tent can be. These are semi-permanent tents so that they can relocate to the most optimum sites for game driving; and they are 100% canvas but we do have running water in the tents, including a flush toilet. It doesn't look like too much from the outside.
But we just couldn't believe the interior. They run on solar power so there are no outlets (we must charge our batteries and such in the reception area) but we do have more than kerosene lamps. We have an outdoor deck and then a living room area which has some cool, posh furniture.
Lemala_Sitting_Room.jpgThe next zipped area is the bedroom. It's huge with a full king size bed and armoire (housing two plush robes). The tent floor is covered with wood flooring. But you can still feel the slope of the land...makes it feel more authentic.
The bathroom has a copper bowl sink and a dressing table. And the shower and toilet are in the adjacent rooms. When you are ready to take a shower, the staff brings hot water for you. At the twist of a knob, you have instant hot water coming out of the shower. One tank lasts about 4 minutes so you have to be good at taking military showers. Both Matt and I were able to get clean on just one tank of water.

We have sundowners in the living room/dining tent and meet the other guests.
There are South Africans and Italians. Tonight, they have invited the driver/guides to dinner as well. After polishing off some tasty appetizers, we sit down to dinner. Soup is always the starter and tonight it is cream of radish. Guess what? It is now Matt's most favorite soup. While it sounds unappetizing, it is delicious and most of us have seconds. The staff is impeccable here as well and we can't believe you can turn out gourmet meals in a temporary kitchen.

It is raining slightly as we are escorted back to our tents. It's been a fantastic day and we are soon fast asleep in our comfy beds without the worry of mosquitos. I told Matt that I'd like to camp like this from now on.

August 17, 2009
Depart:............Lemala Luxury Camp, Mara Triangel/North Serengeti
Arrive:.............Migration Tented Camp, North Serengeti
Animals Seen:..Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Baboons, Waterbuck, Vervet Monkeys, Male Lion, Love Birds, Rock Agama Lizard, Hyrax, everything from yesterday except Hippos, Elephants, Crocs and Leopards

“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

[*]Sitting in our living room at Lemala for 10 minutes and watching wildebeest in the distance
[*]Seeing just how big an elephant skull is
[*]Bumping into Haika and Petra (from Hatari) on the Lobo route. What a small world!
[*]Seeing lion cubs for the first time as they play after a satisfying meal of buffalo..how could they be dangerous? Just 2-months old.

[*]Watching lions mate. Apparently, it's a rare sighting (as the male and female aren't usually found together during the day...unless they are mating) and I disappointed our guide when I told him that I wasn't going to take a photo of it. (It was too late anyway because it's over within a blink.) Even with an encroaching buffalo, Mr. Lion was in the mood but quickly roared at Mr. Buffalo when it got too close (mind you, he was still in the act). But 15 minutes later, they were at it again. They are not as loud as house cats, though.
[*]Watching baby baboons play
[*]Seeing new animals
WaterbuckWaterbuck.jpg6Rock_Agama_Lizzard.jpgRock Agama LizardLove_Birds.jpgLove Birds
Olive BaboonBaboon_Eating.jpg
[*]New photos of animals seen before
The gazelles remind me of reindeers from Rudolph the Red Nosed ReindeerReindeer_Games.jpgMama_and_Baby_Impala.jpgImpalaLion_Stare.jpgImpala_Drinking.jpg
A Lion with a Full Stomach!Full_Lion.jpg
Zebra are so photogenic!Field_of_Zebra.jpg
Birds getting a free ride from the giraffebird_and_giraffe.jpg
[*]Our first sunset. Blocked by clouds at the bottom but at least we saw something today!

[*]Migration Tented Camp is awesome! This is a permanent tent site.
So, there's actually a wood entry door and french doors aligned on the opposite wall, real walls around the bathroom, full plumbing, electricity and hot water (hard to call it a tent)! It's huge with lodgy, African furniture and I am in love with the shower. It has THE most beautiful teak floor with drain holes carved into the wood in a big pattern. We have TWO sinks within the granite counter and of course a real flush toilet.
[*]Unlimited free laundry at Migration Camp! We have loads!
[*]Taking a refreshing swim after a sweaty day
[*]Watching the hyrax on the property. They have amazing balance on the tree twigs. We thought it was a large rodent but guess what they are related to? Nope (whatever you said, I guarantee you were wrong). They are related to the elephant. Huh? Their feet are the same as elephants. Huh?
[*]Yummy barbecued appetizers with cocktails during sundowners at the outdoor bar, which has the best view for watching the animals from above
[*]3 Cape Buffalo looming near our tent on our return from dinner--frightening but exciting. The guards just throw rocks at it and then they tell us to run to the room
[*]Hippos trumpeting all through the night as they come out of the water to graze. All kinds of animals parading through camp--we're convinced they were on our deck

[*]Lemala tipping guide suggests $15 pp per night minimum as the staff they hire are locals and don't make much money. I don't mind tipping but why don't the resorts pay the staff more? Believe me, these places are not cheap to stay in so someone has to be making a ton of money. On top of the $40-$50 per day for our driver, you have to have a lot of cash for just tips alone!
[*]Darn big spiders are flat and can squeeze through anything!
[*]Pesty tsetse flies sting right through clothes...but even more painful on bare skin!
[*]The animals went too far north! The sightings aren't as prolific as last month
[*]Elephants destroy forests. They knock down trees to eat the leaves like the one in the background of this photo
[*]Our lunches get prepared before we leave in the early morning. And it just sits in the car, unrefrigerated, until we eat at around 1pm. It's often chicken and other perishable goods. I bet only Americans think about this
[*]When the sun does shine, it's really hot and you do get a little sweaty...gross. I'm going to have to do laundry every night!
[*]We think the tent needs a ceiling fan. If you saw how much I was paying for this place, you'd agree with us.
[*]Bummer, the drivers don't eat dinner with us
[*]Rain and clouds. We still haven't seen stars

August 18, 2009
Location:...........Migration Tented Camp, North Serengeti
Weather:...........Fairly Sunny
Animals Seen:....Ostrich, Vervet Monkeys, Cheetah, Jackal, Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Lions, Eland, Zebra, Wildebeest, Elephants, Grant's Gazelle, Thomson's Gazelle, Impala, Harmerkop Bird, Vultures, Giraffe

[*]Leaving our tent at 6am in the pitch black and being eye to eye with a cape buffalo as I opened our door. I screamed. And then as we were walking down the path with our escort, I hear a grunt and ask what that was. He shines a flashlight next to me and it's a giraffe. I could touch it but didn't dare as they tend to kick. They are much taller from this view. All this before we even got to our car this morning!
[*]It's dark and the first animal on our 6am game drive are bushbabies. It's hard to see but they are nocturnal, small, live in the trees and look a little like gremlins. You'll hear more about them later.
[*]We see our first cheetah. There were two brothers hunting with a jackal in tow (they follow the cats during hunting hours so they can sweep up the leftovers) and stopped at a tree as we approached.
[*]Seeing a lot of animals out early in the morning, particularly the scavengers
jackal.jpgjackalhyena.jpgHyenacape_buffalo.jpgCape Buffalovervet_mon..h_trees.jpgVervet Monkey
[*]Having breakfast in the bush. Matt maybe would have listed non-refrigerated milk as a downer but it tasted fine. Our guide couldn't have any coffee due to his ulcer so he made a concoction of milk and hot water...ew. But we feasted on Scotch eggs, cereal, pastries and fruit...not your traditional African meal.
[*]A different group of lions and cubs feasting on the same buffalo kill from yesterday. These cubs were a little older. The stomach is the coveted meat

[*]Seeing just how lazy the male lions are. They take cover under a tree knocked down by an elephant2_male_lions.jpg
[*]We just love watching the monkeys
[*]Matt's favorites are the elephants
The animals hate the tsetse flies as much as us. Elephants throw dirt on themselves to try to get rid of them

A baby elephant is restless and entertains himself by trying to catch the tails of mommy and brother
Still can't get over how big these guys are...an impressive sight when they travel in large troops
[*]Like many guides, ours can spot animals from a mile away. And they know so much about them. I now know to look for a flock of vultures or watch a lone animal or that zebras in their defense position likely means a lion is around. But our guide is an expert on behavior and he can spot the strangest things, even without binoculars. He told us this zebra was injured by a lion during the night and once we got up close, sure enough we could see the gash
[*]Coming back to the tent after the AM drive to lunch and relax before the PM drive
Lunch_at_Migration.jpgfancy dessert of sauteed bananas in passion fruit sauceIMG_1320.jpg
Migration_Porch.jpgRelaxing on the wrap-around porch Migration_Living.jpgComing inside as the flies intensify in the afternoon
[*]Taking a slow, peaceful drive through the Grumeti River as we watch the baboons and get super close to the elephants
[*]Getting shoo'd away by a bull elephant. He is not happy we are in their territory and keeps following us. Not a good sign when they flare ears and trumpet. Yikes, they are TALL, and we are standing in a car. The African elephants are the largest and can grow to 5 meters in height! Elephant_Chasing_Us.jpg

[*]Watching baby baboons run up and down a tree

[*]Witnessing baboons, even the young ones, defending their territory. WOW, I didn't know baboons could run that fast! They are also super loud
[*]Having cocktails/pupus and dinner with Scott (a submarine commander) and Laurie (an airline pilot) who are another couple travelling with the same outfitter and swapping game drive stories

[*]The rain seems to lull the animals. We're actually disappointed that the cape buffalo didn't greet us after dinner and the hippos barely sang during the night
[*]Still haven't seen stars yet

Posted by Sharon E 12:34 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

3-Arusha National Park Safari/Tanzania

Day 1-3 of Safari

overcast 60 °F
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"The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings."
--Dave Weinbaum

And that is what I intend to do.

August 13, 2009
Hmmm...my eye is a little better since I switched to glasses and I think laying off the mangoes has helped my lips but ooh, that canker sore hurts! Today we are heading to Arusha to start our safari portion. It's amazing to me that these airports do not run with the aid of any computers--everything is by hand. And somehow it all works! As luck would have it, we end up on the 12-seater Zan Air cessna. It is actually not bad as we get some great views but we are packed like sardines. Our carry on luggage is actually stowed in the wings! Who knows where our check-in luggage is. There are two other big planes following us on the same "flight."
We're in the last row, literally the tail of the plane..you can see a little of Matt's face at the right of the photo.

Tanzania's official language is both English (The Queen's English) and Kiswahili. I think Arabic is actually the most widely spoken language on the continent but English is dominant in East and South Africa. It also makes it easy to travel in Tanzania because the preferred currency is US dollars. And I've made it easy on Matt because I've hired drivers for the entire trip. He would have killed me if I made him drive...he hates left-hand driving (what's wrong with those English?) and the people drive fast here. It's slow-going only when the roads are super bumpy. Today, we will be picked up by Hatari Lodge at the airport.

Arusha is slightly cloudy and of course, Kilimanjaro is socked in so we can't see any of it. Passing through the town, we realize just how poor Zanzibar was. There are actually normal middle class stucco homes here with plumbing and electricity, the cows' bones aren't sticking out everywhere and there are a lot of big buildings...even a Shop Rite! And oh yes, McMoodys (a rip off of McDonald's) but no one goes there because you can get an entire steak meal and beer for the same price as a hamburger. As we enter Arusha National Park, we immediately see the wildlife. Our first giraffe, our first zebra, our first cape buffalo, our first baboon! Wow.
It is very different in this park as lions really don't exist and the landscape is a mix of grassland and mountain rain forest similar to Kili.

Hatari Lodge is wonderful. (For movie buffs, this is where they filmed Hatari. One of the actors loved it so much, he bought the land and built this lodge.) The rooms are really funky but they are nice. Check out the bathroom!
They have resident warthogs on the premise. They are funky looking (just like Disney's version) and they have to kneel to feed on the short grass.
The staff is amazing and Unambwe is my favorite. He calls me "ms. sherry." It's really cute.
For cocktail hour we had freshly roasted peanuts and cashews...yum! I never liked cashews until today! Dinner is at one table with all the guests. Matt was infatuated with Manfred. If Alec Baldwin had a German look alike twenty years older, Manfred is it! He also had his personality, right down to the mannerisms. I should have taken video, or at least a picture. We also enjoy talking to the manager and her daughter. Most guests are German so the manager craves anyone who speaks English. Dinner was yummy as well. Cream of carrot soup, chicken stroganoff and ice cream. After being escorted back to our bungalow, we get a special surprise in the room. The fireplace is lit and we have hot water bottles to warm our feet in bed. What a perfect day! We didn't even notice that the power is only on from 5:30pm to 11:00pm. Lala salama (good night)!

August 14, 2009
We thought we heard the vervet monkeys on the roof last night but they just might have been large fruit falling onto the roof. No view of Kili again. It is another cloudy day. We turned down the wake up call service but they bring you hot tea or coffee to your bungalow if you wish. Normally, Hatari is filled with giraffes and zebras but the Masai have brought their cattle to this land due to the drought, and cattle scare away all the wildlife. This morning there are a few giraffes in the field and we watch them awkwardly drinking from the river. Today we will be game driving and hiking to the caldera of Mt. Meru. It is Kili's sibling. A more technical climb but not quite as high. We are in an open vehicle and Rashid is our guide/driver.
Petra and Haika from the lodge are also joining us. Petra just successfully climbed Kili. She wanted to do it because it was a lifelong dream but said that she's glad it's done and would never do it again. It's a bit cold today so I have my jacket and gloves on. The forest is quite beautiful. There is a lot of wildlife and it is pretty cool in an open vehicle because you can easily smell what animals are near. We're getting good at identifying the animals by their poop. We are tracking elephants but they are elusive here. It's amazing how the guides can pick out the animals from afar. We enjoy Rashid's commentary as he shares his knowledge with us. Did you know an ant can take down an entire elephant? We've seen blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys (they remind me of skunks), all kinds of antelope, birds, giraffes, buffalo.
We also got to drive through two fig trees that joined together as one.
We did have to take an armed ranger with us as the buffalo are dangerous and we were going to hike.
The hiking to the caldera is up, up, up. It is a beautiful trail and we see some of Mt. Meru but there are clouds in the way of the peak. We get to the ash cone in the middle of the caldera.
We did not run into any significant animals. I guess there were buffalo on the trail the other day.

We stopped for a fancy picnic lunch at a waterfall before game driving back to the lodge.
The monkeys were quite active this late in the afternoon. They are fun to watch!

Another fabulous cocktail hour, dinner and chit chatting at Hatari Lodge. Alert the press: Matt had cream of eggplant soup! But he had two servings of milk tart for dessert. Matt and I love this place and would recommend it to anyone. It's not serious game driving but the lodge is peaceful and the service is outstanding. We also love meeting other people. However, it is a little remote. Can you imagine living without any power at all? No one in these villages can have access to electricity...not even the manager's house. That's right, not only do you not have a blow dryer but no TV, no computer, no stove...yikes!

August 15, 2009

You guessed it, another cloudy day...really socked in today. The buffalo are all over the property this morning. Along with a couple of giraffes. We are sad to be leaving the lodge today and we reluctantly say our goodbyes. We have a game drive to Momella Lakes and Ngurdoto Crater and then we are off to Arusha to start our next adventure. Rashid will be our guide/driver again. It's just us this morning.

Big Momella Lake is home to thousands of flamingos. You can actually see a line of neon pink from afar.
It's a bit stinky here. On our way out, we ran into a bunch of giraffes right next to the road. It's amazing that they are so easy to miss even though they are so tall. They are good at blending.
This one is tired. After all, they only sleep 2 hours a day.
And a little further down we see zebras as well.
Not much going on today except a lot of vehicles on the road. We ran into a handful of cars yesterday but this route is much more popular. When we get to Ngurdoto Crater, we only see buffalo. I have to say, it's a bit disappointing. The only thing I find interesting is the group of school kids on a field trip. They all dress so colorfully here. Again, many stared at me.
Good thing we did the Momella drive or we wouldn't have seen too many animals. On the way out, we see some active monkeys so we sit for a while to watch.
Rashid is now driving us to our next lodge...Kigongoni in Arusha. We pass a bunch of schools and villages and we finally arrive in time for lunch. We say our goodbyes and welcome our next adventure with Africa Dream Safaris.

Posted by Sharon E 08:33 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

2-Island of Zanzibar/Tanzania

sunny 77 °F
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"Be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find."
--William Least Heat-Moon

August 6, 2009
Most people do the safari first and then go to the islands to relax. And that is how I originally planned it. But on a whim, I decided to check when Ramadan occurred. Figures, it starts in mid August. SO, we reversed our plans and went to Zanzibar first so that we could enjoy the island without the effects of Ramadan.

Our flight to Zanzibar was at 6:40am. Since we had to be there an hour early, we left the hotel at 5:15. It took us about 10-15 minutes this time...no traffic at this hour. Even though we were technically travelling domestic, our airline worked out of the Julius Nyerere International airport (where we first arrived). When we got there, there was one huge line out the door so we just got in line without knowing if we were doing the right thing. There's good reason to get to the airport an hour early. And then it's a mad rush for the window seats on the plane.

This was the shortest flight ever...about 20 minutes from leaving the gate to landing. We took a pretty big prop plane and we shared it, interestingly enough, with mostly locals and the former president of Tanzania. It was a bit rainy this morning and our luggage got wet when they dumped it onto the ground. Good thing Matt saw someone from our plane carrying luggage from the runway because we were waiting for our luggage at the "luggage carousel."

Our driver was waiting for us and our first stop was to Jozani Forest. As we leave the airport I was again disappointed to see billboards. But it soon became rural. We had to pass through the market and I have never seen so many cars, bicycles, mopeds, carts with donkeys/cows and people as well as market stands. Here's a less crowded area (atually from Stone Town).
We were told there are a million people on the islands of Zanzibar (most being kids). One thing we noticed right away were all the Obama stickers on cars. The people in Tanzania LOVE Obama and Michael Jackson. We've also noticed that everyone knows the "Governator." It's the first thing they say when we tell them we're from California. Most of Zanzibar is fairly rural. It is quite poor. The dwellings have four walls (sometimes a ceiling) and a cement floor. You'll usually find a mat that is used for eating and sleeping. That's it. No electricity. But it seems that every person manages to have a cell phone. Great reception and it is really cheap here. There are police stops every few kilometers. They check to make sure the guides/cars are legitimate, you have permits, licenses, etc. They are heavily armed and from what we hear, they are quick to give out fines. I don't think our guide translates English too well but I asked why there were school kids marching, dancing, singing and playing instruments on the road. We were told that the Torch was scheduled to arrive that morning. It is carried all throughout Tanzania and he said that it promotes all the national programs and it's cause for big celebration. I believe it was the freedom torch representing their independence.

Our guide/ranger at the Jozani forest had the most pleasing personality. Soft spoken, he knew all the Latin names of the plants and animals and was really into his job. He, like many others, have never been off the island and his dream is to see big animals in the wild. The largest non-domesticated animal he had ever seen was a boar (supposedly there is a rich Arab on the island who has camels for pets). The highlight of the forest is the red colobus monkey. They don't have thumbs and are endangered (not inferring that one leads to another). One group of monkeys aren't shy and we can get right next to them. So cool to be so close without any cages, bars, fences or walls.

Next stop was a village tour of Jambiani. We first stopped at the school for 3-7 year olds. The company I booked with (Eco + Culture) gives back to the country and this is one of the schools they developed. They are all taught Swahili, English and Arabic. When we came in, they sang to us and showed off their English skills. But mostly, I was the one learning...a little Swahili...habari (how are you?), nzuri sana (very well), tembo (elephant). Watching the teachers and kids, it really made me want to someday take a year off and teach in Africa. They so badly need the help. I am disappointed I couldn't carry the 15 pounds of school supplies I had purchased in the states. Despite their surroundings, the kids are happy and really enjoy getting their pictures taken. A couple of the boys were pretty lively.
A pretty nice house in Jambiani.
We then went to see the women harvesting/planting seaweed in the ocean. It's a lot of work for very little money and a bit controversial from an ecological viewpoint. I got to help string and stake some of the seaweed.
When the seaweed is fully grown, they bring it back to shore for drying.
The tides are extreme here and as you can see, low tide is REALLY low tide. During high tide, the water will come all the way to the wall of the hotels.

For lunch, we ate at a local hut for traditional village food. I can't believe it but Matt ate everything...eggplant, spinach, squash covered in curries and sauces. And, he enjoyed it! It was very good even though we didn't know what we were eating most of the time. We also visited a woman who grated coconut and another that made rope out of the coconut strands. The last stop was the "medicine man" who really was an herbalist. Apparently, he is famous in all of Tanzania.

So I was curious about the dreams and aspirations of our guide. I asked him if he could visit anywhere in the world, where would he like to go? I think he was stunned by the question because he didn't know how to answer. It was almost by default that he proclaimed England. And when I asked why, he said "it wouldn't be too expensive." I'm guessing he was equivalating distance with expense. But it just shows how traveling is not even a thought to him. He is so proud of Jambiani and such an ardent supporter of their village lifestyle.

Our first night was at Kikadini Villas in the Palm Villa and it was spectacular. We had a butler and the villa to ourselves. The rooftop lounge had great views.

The water is an intoxicating blue here.
As it is August, it is quite breezy. Everyone is very friendly here and we don't even mind the peddlers. They are actually fun to talk to and we are learning phrases beyond "hakuna matata" (thanks Disney). One thing we've noticed is that the power outages are frequent. We had dinner in the dark. Although, not sure how the cook was managing it. Some of the hotels have back up generators but those are only at the big establishments. So you always have to be prepared although we've been lucky that they haven't lasted long (as in several days straight).

August 7, 2009
Jambo (hello)! We are off again. The people at Kikadini are sad to see us go. I am absolutely impressed how immaculate everything is in Africa. They are constantly sweeping, dusting so that everything is pristine. We are headed to just north of Bwejuu. We are staying at Echo Beach Hotel. Every hotel arrival is met by "Karibu" (welcome), a welcome drink and a cold towel. Today is just a day of relaxing. Matt is still not caught up in his sleep and takes very long naps as well as going to bed super early. The beach is not too much more different...there is not as much seaweed, it's a bit more swimmable but the water is not as blue and there are just a few more people here.
For dinner, we all sat in the lounge and had cocktails while we waited for our first course to arrive and then they showed us to our dining table. Pretty nice. The food was yummy. My first attack of mosquito bites was here. 4 GIANT ones. It didn't matter that I had sprayed my clothes with insect repellent, smeared on deet, wore an insect repellent bracelet and a mosquito patch. Matt was fine.

August 8, 2009
We are now headed to Stone Town. It will be a big day today. We are doing the obligatory spice tour and then we will visit the giant tortoises on Prison Island. Boy, it is hot here. It is in the high 70s but it is winter so the people of Zanzibar find this weather quite cold. They don't like air conditioning and they even wear jackets! Matt and I are streaming sweat (let me rephrase, I AM glistening). But we are headed to the highlands today (300 feet above sea level) so it will be one degree cooler. Matt discovered he's pretty good at identifying spice plants. Watch out for the turmeric because it is very staining! We tried all sorts of yummy tropical fruits and spices but the highlight was the coconut climber. He was quite a character and had a beautiful voice. He sang the famous "Jambo Jambo" song as he climbed to the top of the tree to cut down some coconuts (you can find him on you tube). We tried young coconuts and a medium mature coconut. Never had the fruit of the young before...it's really soft. Throughout the tour, you are approached by many selling their wares. It seems mandatory for you to buy some spices. They do have a large selection and I pick up a few teas and some hand made soap. At the end, they made us crowns and baskets out of the palm leaves and flowers and we were deemed king and queen of spices for the day.
I am glad we went on the spice tour but I did feel I tipped out more than the cost of the tour...everyone is looking for a little money. For lunch, we ate a traditional Swahili meal at a local house. Matt continues to eat everything (yams, eggplant, dried fish, etc.) and I am just floored (more than just from eating on a mat on the floor). Here we encounter our first begging experience. The children immediately cry "pennies or dollars for school supplies please," and then insistently place rings and bracelets made from palm leaves onto your finger and wrist.

We stopped to check in at the Zanzibar Serena Inn in Stone Town. This is where we discovered bungo juice. It is absolutely delicious. We need to figure out how we can get it exported to the US. The hotel is in a very colonial style and the staff is incredibly friendly. There really aren't elevators in Zanzibar so we had to climb 3 stories every day. Good exercise.

Off to Prison Island. We took a small boat across to the island (about a half hour trip). The waters, while quite beautiful, are a little rough...you get pretty wet.
A view of Stone Town from Prison Island.
The type of boat we took to get here.
The hotel on the island looks nice here. But we are here to see the giant tortoises. There are many of them in all sizes. As you enter, you grab a bunch of spinach and feed the turtles. They will practically jump for the food. Once they know you are there, they start clamoring your way.

After playing with them for a while, we get back on the boat to snorkel. The water is a little cold. I am somewhat afraid of the snorkel gear. Not only were my fins too big but the mouthpiece was a bit non existent on the snorkel (and who knows if they clean these things). So, I got a lot of water in my mask as well as snorkel. On top of that, there were thousands of tiny jellyfish. I am sure I swallowed many. Visibility wasn't great and not too exciting. But in the end, it was a fairly decent day.

August 9, 2009
Wow, breakfast is fantastic at Serena. You can order some hot items and the rest are buffet style. We've grown addicted to the mango, pineapple, Swahili donuts, banana bread and Norwegian pancakes. And all the bungo juice we can drink! They squeeze everything fresh and after eating a bungo fruit, I've found it is not really a practical fruit for juicing.
Today was a free day. We were going to spend it touring town and then go swimming. But first off to the bank. The lines for the ATM are painfully long and guarded by an armed police. I don't know why it takes so long for people but the guard will come in and hassle you if you are in there for a really long time (so he's in there quite often).
Matt at the ATM and the orphanage straight ahead.
I really like Stone Town. This is a high density population and the buildings are on top of each other. This results in many narrow streets that wind everywhere. It is extremely easy to get lost. But eventually, you will pop out to a main road.
Zanzibar from above
They are also famous for their extravagantly carved wood doors. At some point, these homes belonged to wealthier people and now most house the poor.
Some people are shy and won't let you take pictures but most of the kids want their photos taken. This one's a little blurry, but they are so cute!
We went by Mercury Restaurant & Bar (in honor of Freddy Mercury...he was born in Zanzibar).
I noticed that many people stare at me...not just the kids. I don't think there are a lot of Asians in Zanzibar.

Now, you're probably thinking, Zanzibar doesn't look so poor. Many of the lodges and restaurants are amazing five star places but not so much the case with the homes and markets. We browsed the shops and local market but were afraid to get anything cause we were already over our weight limit. At the market, they sell everything from fish to entire dead animals to shoes. I did get a CD and a banana leaf print for about $7 (10,000 shillings) after bargaining with some of the boys. I do feel a little bad. Note, if you travel to Tanzania, bring lots of singles because NO ONE has change either in dollars or shillings. And remember that all currency has to be newer than 1997? or they won't accept it. Not too many places take credit cards and if they do, they have a 5% surcharge on top of the fees you will be paying with your bank, even if it's a US dollar transaction (unless it's AmEx). This is one of the things I read about before coming and it is totally true. I have money hidden everywhere and you don't realize how thick US money really is until you have a stash of $150 in singles.

Upon returning to the hotel, we discovered the pool was going to close today! But it was because there was a big boat race happening in front of the hotel. We saw about 26 boats lined up on the shore. We had a great view from the daybed on our floor.
The tides are crazy here as well and we watched as the boats started a bit down from the beach but by race time, the water had come all the way to the walls of the hotel (you'd think they would have known that as this happens every day). We felt sorry for some of the teams because they had such a hard time constantly bailing water and holding the boat back. After all that work, it was just a short sprint out and back. The president of Zanzibar was there to congratulate the winning team.

We had sunset drinks (sundowners) at the famed Africa House Hotel. They have the best view and cheap drinks. Matt got a beer and I got a bloody mary (note, do not order again...it's just freshly squeezed tomatoes over vodka). It is very crowded here and Matt thought the person behind him kept bumping into his back. But it turns out, he just had a monkey on his back...literally! She scrambled everywhere but eventually jumped onto the table and settled on my bloody mary.
I think she quite enjoyed it so I let her have it.
She is actually one of the staff's pet so no need to worry about getting bit. Dinner was at Beyt al Chai. It was really good and much more reasonable than the Serena Hotel's fancy seafood restaurant (which wasn't even good). My appetizer course of layered crab, crispy eggplant and green mango was excellent. There is a lot of seafood here in Zanzibar and they cook it just as any other fancy restaurant in the U.S. We are not really experiencing a totally different food culture in the top-rated restaurants.

August 10, 2009
Today we are headed to Chumbe Island. It's a private marine reserve and only 14 guests are allowed at any time. We pass through a village called Mwembe. This is the first time we saw real houses. In fact, some were mansions. We were told that this is where people who have money live. What a difference! The boat ride to the island is about 45 minutes. We had no idea what to expect but I chose the island because I heard it had the best snorkelling. It turns out, every guest, including day guests, get a bungalow for the day and it is pretty much an all inclusive deal. It's a beautiful beach and we are welcomed upon arrival. Our bungalow is ecologically built. It is very Robinson Crusoe...solar lights, compost toilets, rainwater storage, completely open to nature. The downstairs is the living area with a hammock and upstairs is the bedroom.
We are now wishing we were staying here for the night. Our first excursion is a reef walk so we head back to reception to meet our guide. They also have extreme tides and right now, the reef is exposed. I have never seen so many colorful marine creatures. From all kinds of starfish to slugs to oysters.

It was over an hour and the sun was blazing but we had a great time. Next was a traditional Swahili lunch of octopus, pumpkin, spinach, etc. And yes, Matt ate it all! Amazing!!! Every table had a wonderful view of the ocean. We went back to our bungalow to rest and Matt and I fought for the hammock. I won. But I gave it up after a while...I did want Matt smiling on this trip. Interesting story about a couple who donated the solar lamps. When they returned to the US, they asked what would be most valuable and solar powered items were by far the most useful. So, they mailed off a bunch of them. After a lot of tracking and cajoling authorities, the torches finally arrived 6 months later. So I guess I shouldn't mail my 15 pounds of school supplies. At 3pm, we took off for our snorkel trip. They were handing out wet suits and we were a little surprised but everyone said that we should wear it. Mine was just a skin suit and I was wishing it were neoprene once we dove into the water. There were all kinds of fish...and so many. We ended 45 minutes later, shivering but satisfied that two sea turtles were swimming with us. We rushed to make it to the returning boat but I desperately had to go to the bathroom. So I ran back to our bungalow, washed my feet off and raced to the toilet. Only, the floors are all cement and I went down really hard since my feet were wet. Accident #1. Bound to happen. I was pretty sore and a little worried I had damaged my shoulders. But hopefully it will go away in the morning. We were REALLY sad to leave. This was by far the coolest excursion and wish we were staying a couple of nights. We would recommend this to anyone travelling to Zanzibar. I am also sad that it is our last night in Stone Town. We had dinner at Al Johari. It's one of the best restaurants on the island but I thought the food was just o.k. My shoulder still hurts.

August 11, 2009
Yay, shoulder pain is pretty much gone. However, all the yummy mango I've been eating has affected my lips and the small, blistering, painful bumps are appearing. I also have a cankor sore developing. Darn.

We did a quick tour of the House of Wonders this morning. It is the first dwelling to have electricity and an elevator in East Africa. It was very grand in the old days. The redone Forodhani Gardens are also really beautiful...hard to believe you are in Stone Town.
Checking in on the ATM again to see if there's any money in it. Yay, there's at least some (you have to keep punching in different amounts of money until it matches the amount it is willing to give you that day). We've been fairly lucky that we have been able to withdraw something but I wouldn't rely on them. They break and/or run out of cash frequently. After a quick walk through the alleyways, we head back to the hotel to say goodbye to the staff at Serena. We've grown fond of them and they all know Matt really well. Asante sana (thank you very much) Serena!
Our driver is headed to Matemwe today. It's about an hour away. It's only 11am but Azanzi Beach Hotel has our room ready in 15 minutes. It is AMAZING. We have a gigantic deck that has a full panoramic view of the ocean! And the bathroom is beautiful. It's a pretty enormous room.
We are only here for the day and diving tomorrow. We have a couple of hours before we have to leave for our scuba refresher course. We decide to walk the reef with the hotel guide. It is painstaking as there are a gazillion sea urchin here. We have these rubber shoes on but it is slow going.
Once out to the reef, there wasn't too much there. But just as we were turning back, a sea snake weaved its way through us. Matt has a great video of it.

So it was worth it just to see that!

Thank goodness we took a scuba refresher course. It's been about 6 years since the last dive and I can't believe I forgot a few things. My one mistake was slightly opening my eyes in the heavily chlorinated pool (even though the instructor warned us not to open our eyes). Dinner was buffet style. Matt tries Tusker beer and it is his favorite so far. I have some tropical martini but it is too sweet for my taste. Not fond of buffets but we did try everything. We are pretty exhausted and we have to get up early for the dive tomorrow. Am getting tired of brushing my teeth with bottled water and worrying about my contacts but so far neither Matt or myself have been sick...yay.

August 12, 2009
Oh no, accident #2. I awoke this morning and thought I had pink eye. My left eye was goopy. But Matt insists it was the chlorine. I hope so. I now have a bad eye, swollen lips and the cankor sore is huge! While getting ready and packing up our luggage, we got a call this morning. A bit of a panic when I answered. My cousin was calling to tell us that our house had been robbed again. I couldn't believe it but I did leave thinking that it could happen. In fact, I left Paul with all of our home insurance information and I had fortunately hid most of our valuables (since safe deposit boxes are impossible to get in L.A.). A weird burglary. They took movie tickets. The laptops were still there, the keys were untouched. I'm guessing they were kids/drug addicts looking for cash.

We rushed to One Ocean Dive Center to catch our boat for the dive to Mnemba Atoll. There are about 19 of us diving/snorkelling. The boats are big and can hold 18 tanks. One of the couples overheard us talking about our burglary and they sympathized with us because they had been robbed before as well. But they live in Johannesburg and when they say robbery, that means guns blazing, holding hostages, taking everything they own. Now that's scary!

The trip is about a half hour to the reefs. We wore 5mm suits and I felt like I could barely move in them. The dive masters had 10mm suits and wore hoodies and booties in 24 celsius water. We made fun of them. The first dive had really poor visibility but at the very end of the dive, it cleared up. Again, tons of fish but nothing too big. We did see a grouper but I really wanted to see a Napoleon. No luck. I had plenty of air but everyone else was low so we went back up after 40 minutes or so. We had a small snack on the boat before heading out to dive #2. We were going to the Aquarium. Wow, it was pretty cool. The currents were strong so my oxygen was depleting quickly but we saw octopus, yellow snapper (very pretty), eels, squid, nudibranch, etc. The coral was amazing. Unfortunately, we were only able to see a quarter of the dive as the currents we were swimming against were strong. Back on the boat, we made a quick pass of the exclusive Mnemba Island. It is breathtakingly beautiful. So remember the tides I talked about? We had to unload at a different beach because it was super low tide by the dive shop. So we all disembarked at a beach further up north and had to take a chicken bus (dhala dhala-a flatbed truck with bench seats) back. I was so excited. Although there were no chickens with us.
View of Mnemba Atoll from the dhala dhala
Our dive master
Our driver was waiting for us at the hotel. Today we are transferring to Nungwi beach to The Z Hotel. We are staying at a hotel designed by Phillipe Starck. Does that seem strange for rural Africa? We have an overwater bungalow. The beaches here don't experience as extreme of tidal changes. But as everyone said, it is much more touristy here. The water was extremely inviting, even though it was cold, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in the sun.
Our room is two stories and it has a TV in the living room downstairs as well as in bed. Matt was going through withdrawals and had to watch some TV. After a very long dinner, we were glad we were only here for one night. We much rather prefer the tranquil settings.

So tonight ends our portion of Zanzibar. The highlights were definitely Stone Town and Chumbe Island. Those are must sees for anyone going to Zanzibar. But we enjoyed all 8 days here and I'd come back in a heartbeat!

Posted by Sharon E 21:26 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

1-Off to Tanzania

Air Travel

View Tanzania 2009 on Sharon E's travel map.

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
--G.K. Chesterton

And so our adventure begins.

August 3, 2009

It was pretty much impossible to pack to a total of 33 pounds as my camera equipment alone was 15 pounds. Both Matt and I are about 40 pounds each and hopefully we will shed some weight as we go (or I will be wearing a lot of accessories in flight). Our first flight is on American at 7:50pm (boo, not as nice as the foreign carriers). We actually slept a little and landed in Heathrow at 2pm. Never been to England before. Taking the Underground, we actually got to see above ground. I will admit, every time the lady said "Picadilly train going to Cockfosters," we kept chuckling (I'm still laughing). We did a whirlwind tour of London from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben.

Now we can say that we've been in an authentic London phone booth.

Look how cute this pub is and did you see the sign...Great Scotland Yard!

We then took the train to Gatwick to catch our next flight. I never thought 66 degrees could be so hot.

Emirates is a nice carrier but it was extremely strict on the flight to Dubai. Am thinking it was because we were going to a Middle Eastern country or they are just super anal in Gatwick. They weighed everything...carry on as well as check in. They even weighed your purse. And when they say only a purse and one carry on item, they literally mean a purse. Surprised for an international flight. They are also not as lenient in the liquid carry on rules. Long story short, we almost missed our flight because we had to repack so many times because people kept telling us different things. Not sure why people in England have trouble communicating in English. But the interesting story is that we flew on the same flight with Russell Crowe. He had a ton of bags and was stuck at check-in for almost as long as us. We think he just finished filming Robin Hood and was heading back to Australia with his wife and two kids. (He did look a bit out of shape but we swear it was him.)

Dubai is smoggy and full of pollution. The airport is not that big (although the giant elevator is cool) and is full of duty free shopping. I don't think anyone goes to Dubai, it's just a holding cell for people in transit. We were glad to leave. It was 43 celsius (109 F) when we left!

Our flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam went fine and thank goodness we got our visas before we left because the lines were long at the airport. We landed during their traffic hour so it took us about an hour to get to our hotel. The airport is more in the rural area but not far from the city. Disappointed to see billboards all over the place (yes, I understand the irony of this statement as it is my business). There is a big battle in telecommunications and between Coke and Pepsi (is there really a battle between these two?). As you wait in traffic, people try to sell you everything from toys to spark plugs. It's like the mall coming to you. A lot of dirt roads. After 36 hours of travelling, we were pretty tired. We stayed at the Kilimanjaro Kempinski which is a swanky hotel. Matt was excited that they had washcloths and I was thrilled that a mosquito net was not needed. We are also happy to report that the malarone has not caused us to have strange dreams. Although Matt claims his dreams are more vivid but who knows.

The map below outlines the areas we will be visiting.

Posted by Sharon E 17:00 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

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