Friday, September 9, 2016

A Day in Dubai


Our flight arrives into Dubai at 3:30am. Walking out of the airplane, the heat hits you like a ton of bricks. At 3:30am it is already 33 degrees. Shawn and Cameron are already at the hotel that Shawn had prebooked because their flight was earlier and direct and arrived the night before.

The Dubai Airport is the polar opposite of Addis Ababa. After getting off the plane, we are guided to the trains by Arabic airport staff wearing immaculate white dishdash ( robe) and keffiyeh (head scarf) to trains which transport us to immigration.

You can tell we are in a wealthy country because even the airport clocks are made by Rolex.

The line-up to check passports is long but they have free high speed wifi. We quickly collect our luggage and get a cab from the clearly marked cab area.

It is 5am when we arrive to our hotel. As per Shawn's instructions, they have a key waiting for us. The suite is huge and comes as a shock after seven weeks in Africa. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room and separate living room. The lights are even bright. We head to bed.

Shawn and I get up at 7:30 am and cross the highway by way of an overhead pedestrian pass to the mall across the street. It is like a high end North American mall. We order takeaway breakfast from the Tim Hortons. Yep, you heard right, Tim Hortons.

In the five minutes that we are outside, the heat is almost unbearable. Mind you this is Dubai's hottest time of the year.

After breakfast in our room, we head down to the lobby to meet our tour guide. Graham and I bring all our luggage because we will be dropped off at the airport directly after our day of touring.

Our guide, Assim is very knowledgeable and proud of his city. Dubai is run by the Sheikh. There are no taxes because he owns almost everything and uses the profits to run and improve the city. Assim tells us that there is zero crime in Dubai because everyone works and there are no homeless people. If someone commits a crime, they are swiftly caught, do their punishment in Dubai and are then deported, blacklisted and never allowed back.

Traffic is organized but congested. Probably because everyone uses their cars since it is too hot to walk anywhere.

The city is pristine with innovative architecture everywhere you look. Always tall buildings. Dubai strives to have the biggest and best of everything.

Dubai has it all, but it is mostly man made . It is gorgeous, but seems to be missing a soul...or maybe I haven't been here long enough to find it.

Shopping centers are everywhere. We stop at a shopping mall, The Souk al Bahar and walk through it to get to a beautiful man made pool surrounded by restaurants with outdoor patios (which are empty because of the heat, everyone is indoors).

We stop for photos in front of the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building.

Our next stop is The Mall of Dubai, which is the worlds largest mall. We take a look at the worlds largest fish tank and watch the Sharks for a bit. There is a Tim Hortons here too. All of North America's greatest chains seem to be here.

We drive to The Palms where Atlantis Resort is located. The other Atlantis Resort is in Bahamas but this one is much bigger.

We take a monorail train so that we can get a better view of the resort and community. The land that the Palms area is on is shaped like a palm leaf and surrounded by the Persian Gulf. Atlantis is at the centre top of the leaf. The very very rich own homes here and the famous usually own homes at the tip of the fingers of the palm leaves. David Beckham, Tom Cruise And Angelina Jolie are all residents.

Most people cannot afford to own homes in Dubai so they rent.

Our next visit is to a place that sells higher end Arabic souvenirs and merchandise such as scarves, carpets, jewels, jewelry, clothing etc while Assim goes across the street to the mosque to pray.

Assim takes us to a small transit boat that holds about fifteen passengers and ferries us across a canal where he meets us on the other side. He then takes us to the souks. I buy a belly dancing belt. I also buy hibiscus at the spice souk.

The last place he shows us is the gold souk. There is so much gold in every store including full dresses, crowns, large statues and more. There is so much wealth here but I see no armed guards. Maybe there really is no crime here.

Our final stop is the airport. Shawn also gets out with us because it is easier and less expensive to catch a cab from here as he wants to go back downtown to go up the Burj Khalifa. Cameron is hot and tired so Assim takes him back to the hotel.

Shawn has no wait when he gets to the Burj Khalifa and pays to go the the highest level possible. The worlds fastest elevator (made by Otis) travels at 9 meters per second to the 124th floor and from there it's a second elevator to the 148th floor which is the highest point the public have access to at 555 meters. At this height the observation deck is higher than the very top of our own Toronto CN Tower which is 551 meters high. The Burj Khalifa and its spire tops out at 829 meters.

When he gets back to the ground, Shawn watches the Dancing Fountain show at the base of the tower. The fountains are very similar to the fountains outside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Shawn then takes the metro back to the hotel where he and Cameron hang out until it's time to go to the airport to catch their 2:20am flight to Washington DC from where they will connect to Toronto. Unfortunately when their plane- one of the double decker Airbus 380s- backs up from the gate, one of the nose wheels deflates. They wait in the plane for another 2 hours on the tarmac while they jack up the front nose gear and change tires. Then it's a 14 hour non-stop flight to DC for a total of 16 hours sitting in the same seat!

Graham and I fly from Dubai back to Addis Ababa where we connect to fly to Toronto with a quick stop in Dublin to refuel.

It is hard to believe that our holiday is over. It's been awesome.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ngorogoro Crater and Off to Nairobi





The fog is thick as ....lets just say it's really thick when we get up at 5:30am. We pack and meet Chicho and Peter for breakfast at 6:30.  Peter always served wieners at our breakfast and today they have wieners in the breakfast buffet. It must be a Tanzanian thing.

Water buck are eating grass beside the terrace.

We actually get internet so I help Graham put a bit more money into his bank account to pay his rent.

It's still foggy and bitterly cold when we leave. Shawn and I are in our winter jackets and wish we had also worn our toques and gloves.

Chicho is back to wearing his normal hat instead of his tall hat. I comment on the change and he says he wears the tall hat to keep the dust out of his hair but the Ngrorogoro crater roads are not as dusty as Serengetti so he doesn't need it. It now makes sense.

The dirt on the road is red. All the plants at the side of the road are the same red  because the jeeps kick the dust onto them.

As mentioned, we are on top of an extinct volcano and are descending into the large crater area. Many of the animals live there all year round and don't leave the vicinity.

The road is super steep going down into the crater and has numerous curves and large drop offs at the side. I'm thankful that Chicho is a such a good driver.

The fog begins to dissipate the lower we get until it finally disappears. The views are great and Shawn is constantly clicking pictures. It's a bit harder for me to get the pictures because only my telephoto lense is working on my camera. My regular lense stopped working in Zimbabwe for some reason. My lense cap also hasn't stayed closed since Shawn stepped on it in the Serengetti.

In the crater, we are out of the fog but the sky is still overcast. It seems a bit desolate at first ( could also be my mood because this is the last game drive of our trip), but then the sun peeps out more and more.

We spot an adorable flock of Guinea fowl. I always get a kick out of them with their bright blue heads and plump bodies.

A number of hyena and two jackals run towards a safari jeep that is amplifying hyena laughs. Once the hyenas get close, they seem confused as to who is making the sounds.

Chicho explains that hyenas are also one of his favourite animals because they laugh when they find a new carcass to alert the other hyenas. I get my best pictures yet of jackals.

Chicho says his least favourite animal is the hunting dog which lives in the Serengetti but is becoming less and less visible. He says that unlike the lions and hyenas who kill swiftly, the hunting dogs take bites out of their prey a bit at a time. Chicho says he hates to watch because it is a long and painful death for the prey.

A male lion lies in the grass as a herd of nearby zebras keep wary eyes on him.

We stop at a swampland pool that is fed by underground spring water. There are bathrooms and a picnic area here so we can get out and walk around. A herd of hippos wallow in the pond a few feet from where we stand on the shore.

Continuing our drive, we get some great close up ostrich shots. Besides all the usual animals, there are also many gorgeous cranes as well as saddle bill storks here. We watch a couple rhinos in the distance. Rhinos are the only animal of the big five that can't be seen in the Serengetti, but some do live in the crater.

Too soon we need to zip out of the park in order to get back before our park permit expires. The guides are fined by the government even if they are one minute late. One time Chicho was late because he was stuck on the road for 45 minutes behind a herd of elephants that wouldn't move. Despite it not being his fault, he was still fined.

After leaving the park we pass a large ostrich killed on the road.

We also pass by many Masai villages. The Masai in their colorful blankets and beaded jewelry seem timeless...however,  the spell is sometimes broken when I notice one speaking on a cell phone or driving a motor bike.

Chicho and Peter sing a few Swahili songs for us. The one that stays with me is the Jambo, Hakuna Matata song.

Our time together becomes shorter and shorter, the closer to Arusha we get. We pass Karatu Town with its Hilary Clinton Shop and Mosquito River Town near Lake Manyara. We spot a giraffe standing beside the highway.

Traffic comes to almost a standstill when we get into Arusha. It takes forever to go a short distance. Drivers are aggressive. No one wants to let you in. Chicho drives by the It Started in Africa office and they come out to the road and give us our bus tickets for the morning. They advise us that a car will be by exactly at 7am in the morning to take us to the bus depot and that our bus leaves at 8am.

We say goodbye to Chicho and Peter when they drop us off at "Christina's Place".

We have a lovely Tanzanian supper cooked by Rose at Christina's. It starts with a delicious pumpkin soup served in a wooden bowl with a large wooden traditional Tanzanian ladle. We then go on to a number of other Tanzanian dishes including a bean dish, rice with beef, a vegetable curry and fruit salad. The boys, Shawn and I have a beer and really talk and laugh.

The plan for the next day is that a car picks all four of us up and takes us to the bus station. We will take the 8am bus from Arusha, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya which is a 5 hour trip. The bus driver will drop Graham and me off at a different stop after the airport. He will have organized this by phone with our private tour guide, Stanley after we cross the border into Kenya. Graham and I will meet Stanley, who will take us on a four hour tour of Nairobi and drop us off at the airport in time for our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we will connect with our flight to Dubai.

Meanwhile, Shawn and Cameron will get off at the Nairobi airport because they have an earlier flight to Dubai than us.

After supper, Im very relaxed as I pack up for the morning, shower and then all hell breaks loose when I check my emails. There is a notice from Ethiopian Airlines advising of a change in one of Graham's and my flight times. Originally we had a 55 minute flight changeover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but then the airline bumped our first flight back by 30 minutes causing our layover to be for only 25 minutes....which makes it almost impossible to make our connecting flight to Dubai.

Thank God we actually have internet that works so I can make successful skype phone calls. I first call Ethiopian airlines who say that even though they changed the flight time, any flight changes for Graham and I need to be done through AirCanada not them because that is the Star Alliance partner I booked it with . They give me a number for help from Air Canada, which I call. It's the voice mail of some guy who works for Air Canada. I then call up Aeroplan's customer service, whom I got the tickets from. I receive a message saying that due to high call volume, they are not accepting any calls,call back later....its currently 11:00pm In Tanzania and I need to be up at 5:30am.

I look up the number for Air Canada customer service. After about 5 minutes on hold, I get a service rep. I explain the situation, she looks it up and says that it was booked through Aeroplan and I need to speak to them. In the background Shawn says, " keep calling back Aeroplan". Instead I tell the sales rep that Aeroplan is not excepting calls, it's after 11:00pm in Africa and it looks like my son and I are going to be stuck in Ethiopia and I'm a little freaked out...I said this all in a very calm voice. She says she totally gets it and if I could stay on hold, she will call Ethiopian Airlines and get this all worked out. After checking back with me many times, after 25 minutes, she comes back and says that if I miss my connection to Dubai in Ethiopia, they will put me on the next flight to Dubai, leaving an hour later. I am so relieved. That Air Canada consultant went over and above for me.

I am now able to sleep soundly in our white cotton sheets swathed in mosquito netting.

*******
Our family wakes, eats a lovely breakfast prepared by Rose and has all our luggage waiting at the entrance for our 7:00am ride to the bus station. And we wait...and we wait... By 7:15 I ask one of Christina's staff if he would call " It Started in Africa" and let them know that our ride didn't show. Within five minutes, Christina herself pulls up her own car and braves the busy, often disorganized traffic and under construction, bumpy roads to take us to the bus stop. We get there in time. The bus leaves twenty minutes late.

There are a mix of tourists and locals on the bus. Sitting across from me is a local boy about eight or nine years old. He is neatly dressed in a school uniform and dress shoes, a back pack at his feet and one in his lap. On top of the backpack on his lap is an envelope with his name ( I assume) Davis on it. He is totally by himself. He dozes off and the envelope falls on the floor a few times. I pick it up and put it back on top of his backpack.

About an hour into the trip the kid opens his backpack and pulls out a brown glass bottle with a label that reads "Bavaria". It looks an awful lot like a beer. As the ride goes on, he drinks it...?...hmmm.

Then seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the kid goes up to the driver, gets him to stop the bus, grabs his stuff and gets out. The driver and a local lady in the front talk to him as he leaves but the kid seems confident that he is in the right spot. Shawn says that he saw a Private school a little bit back.

We pass five giraffes eating leaves at the side of the highway.

All passengers get out of the bus on the Tanzania side of he border. There are all kinds of people hawking their wares. We show our passports to the agents, give our fingerprints and get our stamps. Then we walk over to the Kenya side.

On the way I spot some pay washrooms. Shawn pays the fee. Unfortunately they end up being squat bathrooms that we have to pour water from a bucket in when done.

When we get to the Kenya side there are lots of Masai selling jewelry, carvings and Blankets. We say no to any purchases, go in to the office, have our passports checked, give our finger prints , get our stamps and have our baggage security checked.

Getting back to the bus, I am surrounded by Masai women again. I stick out of the crowd here as much as a person in Masai dress would stick out in Downtown Toronto. One elderly women with very stretched earlobes is especially persistent. I see a bracelet that catches my eye and I buy it. Then I get a second Masai blanket. We get more bracelets and by this time we are so surrounded that I get back onto the bus. The women,  especially the older one, continue to press things up against the window. I am forced to pretend I don't notice.

The bus driver says he will call Stanley. the guide for my Nairobi day tour,  shortly in order to work out where to drop Graham and I off.

The border crossing for everyone on the bus takes a good hunk of time. We are now running over an hour late. The bus stops at a big souvenir shop on the Kenya side so that people can use the washrooms. This also takes a while.

Once we get to the outskirt towns around Nairobi, traffic grinds down to a slow crawl. We are over an hour and a half later than planned and I find out that we would be dropping people off at the airport first before getting to our stop with Stanley.

As we get to the airport, all the locals at the front of the bus and the bus driver feel that I would be risking my flights if I try to do a tour in the crazy traffic. The bus driver promises to call Stanley. I feel awful about not doing the prearranged tour but we can't miss our flights.

Graham and I get off at the airport with Shawn and Cameron. We split up since Shawn and Cameron are flying out earlier on United Emirates.

This gives Graham and I a chance to speak with the check in agent and management about our challenging flight connection. Management advises that there are a number of people going to Dubai from our flight and that if it is missed we will go onto the next flight an hour later. However, she said that since we are early, she will put us first on the waiting list to get an earlier flight to Addis Ababa.

True to her word, we do get on the earlier flight.

Ethiopian Airlines is good in that they serve a lot of meals and offer free wine or beer along with their other drinks.

Addis Ababa has one of the most disorganized and confusing airports I have ever experienced. As soon as they open our gate there is a huge mob pushing and shoving to get on to the plane. Once we get to the front of the line, they make Graham and I wait until almost the end because for some reason, despite us both having boarding passes, Graham is booked in, but I am not. After getting on the plane, all goes well and we make it to Dubai only a half hour late.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Serengetti to Rhyno Lodge

It's dark when I rise. We head out to try and catch some of the migration across the Mara River. The landscape is dotted with horned sculls ,bones and some carcasses. Many of the bones have been picked clean and bleached bright white by the Tanzanian sun but other carcasses are only partially eaten and left to rot.Shawn says that every now and then he gets a brief whiff of rot.

I ask " why are there so many uneaten carcasses here when the ones in central Serengetti are mostly picked clean?" Chicho replies "because there are always more bodies where the migration is taking place. More animals die from old age, injury and weakness as well as predators during migration and freshest carcasses are always eaten first."


At some carcasses a group of smaller vultures watch as the white headed vultures eat first. Chicho says that the white headed ones are the king of the vultures because they are strong and big. They use their strength to rip the carcass open to get to the meat. The other vultures wait until they're done. Maribou Storks often hang around and try to steal the vultures feast.

Serengeti belongs to the animals. When game driving, we are not to leave the jeep except in designated areas... ( or an emergency bathroom break behind the jeep...and only after Chicho has checked that there are no preditors in the vicinity). During one such occasion there are no bushes nearby so Shawn holds up Chicho's  Masai blanket for me. No one is around but I take the precaution because with my luck a convoy of jeeps are sure to materialize the second my pants are down.

This area has a lot less traffic than other parts of the park. Much of the time it is only us and the animals with no other jeeps around. When we stop and the motor is off, it's so silent that I feel I need to whisper.

Wildebeast and zebra mingle everywhere we look. There are over three million wildebeast in the park.

We get to the river. A large number of zebras and wildebeast have already crossed and watch a herd of a few hundred on the other side who are thinking about crossing....we stop and wait along with a number of other jeeps. The wildebeests continue to think about it....and think....and think. Finally all start heading down the incline to the water's edge. And then they stop...to think.

A large crocodile sits in the sun a few meters down from the herd. They continue to think.

Suddenly one wildebeest enters the river and the others follow. We stand up with cameras poised...and then they turn around and go back. The herd splits in half, some following one leader towards the croc and the other half still thinking about crossing.

Finally one wildebeest dives in, gets halfway across and realizes no one is following so he turns around and struggles back. I'm not sure if he will make it or not.

At last, one brave soul goes in and the others follow. Hallelujah. We snap pictures, take video...but wait, half the herd holds back and just watches as the rest struggle through the water and successfully clamber up the bank on the other side. The newly crossed wildebeest expectantly watch the remainder of their herd who still need to cross.

The hesitant wildebeests gather tightly as if having a conference....and they think.....and they think.

Twenty minutes later they are still pacing and thinking, loudly lowing their concerns. The part of the herd that already crossed lose patience and run to catch up to the larger herd who crossed in the morning.

We give up as well and follow the river to check out what else we can see.

Crocodiles, hippos and water birds are plentiful. We return about an hour later to where the Wildebeest had been trying to cross. The crocodile is gone and we find the rest of the herd grazing on our side of the river, probably relieved to have finally crossed over.

Many of them stand in smaller groups of five or six, facing the same direction as if posed for a family portrait.

We continue our game drive away from the river. Chicho spots another jeep stopped by a lion and lioness sitting under a tree. Both jeeps drive in a bit closer and the lions move a few meters into the grasses. We click pictures and wait. The other jeep leaves and we are alone with the lions. We wait and I say, "we've taken all our pictures. Can we move now."

"Let's just stay here awhile longer. Something big is about to happen." Chicho says. The lions continue to lie there. I'm not convinced about this big event.

Slowly, the female gets up, stretches and moves towards the tree. Her tail brushes his face in a come hither fashion as the male follows behind. Chicho says " get your cameras ready".

As they reach the tree, the male mounts her and completes the deed in under a minute. We manage to get National Geographic worthy video and pictures before they lie back down under the tree as if nothing happened. According to Chicho, lions will pair off and mate on and off for a week.

Our campsite is a few hours away, so we slowly start to head back. The whole area is really dusty. The dust cakes on my lips and I need to keep reapplying lip moisturizer.

We see kale spring antelopes, the stalky eland antelopes, Topi, bush buck ,water buck, ground hornbills and all the other usual animals. We pass a few zebras on their backs, rolling back and forth with their legs in the air. "Scratching, scratching, scratching." Chicho says.

It's late afternoon when we arrive to our campsite. We are the only campers there tonight.  Zebras and Impala graze by the washroom. They barely blink an eye as I run in to use the facilities. I dodge large piles of evidence attesting to the fact that the Buffaloes had also been eating near the bathroom.

The herd of buffalo are now grazing a number of meters in front of our tent.

Peter is cooking our supper in the kitchen enclosure. He's been there by himself all day and says that baboons and a lion also visited our site today.

The temperature drops quickly when the sun disappears. I wear my winter jacket at night.

We eat by lamp light...no electricity here. Chicho tells us about one time when they accidentally locked a baboon in the kitchen area. When they came back it was crying, crying, crying and had deposited diarrhea poops all over the place. That baboon really thought it was all over for him. He took off like a flash when they opened the door.

I wear a pair of long johns and undershirt along with polar fleece pants and top and wooly socks to bed. Inside the sleeping bag I am perfectly comfortable. The wind howls outside and the tent walls move to its song. I'm loving this.

In the morning I zip open the front door of the tent. The Buffaloes are lined up in a row with all eyes fixated directly on me. I'm glad it's the buffalo and not a lion.

I am not graceful as I stumble out of the tent; definately not a model for Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Graham wants to climb the huge rock hill behind us for pith and pipe shots but Chicho says " no way. It's too dangerous". Too many poisonous snakes, scorpions and predators live there.

After breakfast the guys start packing up while Peter cleans up after breakfast. I play Cold Plays "Adventure of a Lifetime" and start to dance....after all, who is going to see me in the middle of the Serengetti.

Suddenly one big baboon runs over the cleft of the rock, down towards the kitchen structure. He's soon followed by more and more. It's like a small invasion. There end up being a troupe of over thirty; large males, teenagers, mothers and lots of babies. Peter and Graham take turns chasing the more daring baboons away from the garbage and I watch the babies play, still to the soundtrack of Cold Play.

Romance is in the air for one couple. They copulate more like the lions instead of the hippos and its over in under a minute.

I notice a lot of large Guinea pig type creatures with disgruntled looking faces sitting on the rock behind us. They don't do much, just sit there. Similar to the ones we saw in Spitzkoppe. Chicho tells me they are Rock Hyrax.

We head back towards central Serengetti on our way to Ngronogrono Crater.

At the side of the road a pride of ten lions feast on a zebra that was probably killed last night. The eye has already been consumed but the rest of the striped face is still recognizable. Vultures hover on the sidelines. We are the only human witnesses.

The roads are crazy, rocky and bumpy. Sometimes the jeep needs to traverse in and out of deep gullies, often filled with water. Passengers receive an African Massage during the game drives. This terrane is really hard on the jeeps.

Lots of the trees are broken, split and torn. The work of elephants who eat for twenty hours and sleep on and off for four.

We pass many warthogs, ( pumba in Swahili ). These big pig like creature's tails go straight up in the air like an antenna when they're startled or running. I think they are one of my favourite animals...Chicho says they are one of his.

We stop at a park information office that has fabulous bathrooms and the first mirror I've seen in three days....not pretty. There is a really good walking trail that explains the migration. They also offer balloon rides from here. We don't go because it is really expensive and with my fear of heights, it's only slightly less scary than bungee jumping.

There are rock hyrax everywhere here. They barely move when you walk by. Despite knowing better, Graham pokes a rock hyrax which doesn't react. Cameron shows more restraint and keeps his hands to himself.

Jeep traffic increases as we get into central Serengetti. A jeep is stuck in a rut not too far from a pair of lions. Guides collect rocks to put under the tires and then all the guides surround the jeep with their vehicles, get out and push it free. Chicho says they always help each other because you never know when it's your turn to get in trouble.

Just before we get to the picnic area at the park gates our jeep breaks down. There is a crack in one of the fluid lines. Peter and Chicho get out to fix it. Within minutes another jeep and driver arrives to take us to the picnic area.

Chicho and Peter show up at the picnic site within an hour. The jeep is temporarily fixed but they aren't confident it will last so we transfer all our stuff to the other jeep, which is driven by Chicho's friend" ( Chicho's a friendly guy and seems to have lots of friends).

We are driven to the Rhyno Lodge which is at the top edge of the Ngorongoro Crater.

This lodge is our big splurge because if camping in this area we would  experience the coldest nights with the worst washrooms ( according to trip advisor). There are less than a handful of hotels or lodges in the national park so they are all very pricey. We have two rooms beside each other.

Internet is available only in the restaurant/bar area which has large windows and is wrapped in a huge deck and surrounded by wilderness. We are told not to leave the deck or lodge area. The Internet is spotty at best.

Chicho and Peter show up partway through our buffet supper. They advise us that the company is sending us a new jeep for the morning. Graham has a slight allergic reaction at supper because he didn't check on ingredients. He takes a benedryl and things improve but it makes him tired and he goes to bed early.

We stay up chatting with Chicho and Peter since it is our last night together. They tell us how much they enjoy working for "It Started in Africa" because the company is honest with their customers, they have no mileage limits, they trust their judgement and they always send replacement jeeps if Chicho says he has concerns about one. Some companies tell their drivers to tell people they are at the Mara River when really they are at a closer, smaller river that has wildebeest nearby. Also many companies have mile restrictions so if a guide wants to drive further to have a good animal sighting, they are unable to or fined for taking the extra miles.

We find out that Chicho and Peter are brothers- in-law since Peter is married to Chicho's sister. We have a few laughs before we head off to bed.

Our room is nice with our own spacious bathroom. We have a deck surrounded by forest. You can only charge your electronic devices until 9pm because then the electricity is turned off until 5am. The lights run on the generator at night so you can still turn them on when you want them. There is no heating and it is cold so the staff put hot coals into the cast iron wood heater and then add logs to make a fire.

I wear my long johns to bed and am perfectly comfortable. I also fill the hot water bottles that the hotel supplies. Mmmmm. I forgot how good a hot water bottle feels on a cool night.The wind blows wildly outside. I wake up from time to time, look at the fireplace and go back to sleep. Shawn adds a few more logs at some point.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Lake Manyara to the Serengetti



After breakfast we pile into the jeep and head for Lake Manyara National Park.

The first thing we see are blue monkeys hanging around the front gate.

Throughout the day we see the usual elephants, giraffes, zebras,dikdik, Impala, Buffaloes,waterbuck, baboons and both velvet and blue monkeys. We also see a female brown Agama Lizard, and striped mongoose

Lake Manyara is also known for its birds. We see hornbills, king fisher, pelicans, flamingos, maribou storks, terns, ostriches, Hamacope, spoonbills and more.

One highlight is the butterflies...many different kinds of beautifully colored butterflies sitting on and fluttering around a big hunk of elephant poop. I don't know what the attraction is but I have never seen so many butterflies in one place....and it only seems to be the elephant poop in that area that the butterflies are attracted to. That elephant must have been eating something really special.

We see lots of Impala. They are either in a herd of all females with one male or a herd of all males. This is because in a breeding herd, there is only one male ( the strongest) and only he breeds with all the females. All the other males have their own herds and from time to time one of these will challenge the male with all the girls.

This is different from the dikdik who mate for life, however if one of them dies, the other finds another single partner and starts again.

Another funny thing happens when we are watching this one particular elephant tear a tree apart. Suddenly he lets out the loudest fart I have ever heard. Graham says " That is one really big fart" and I reply " Well if elephant poop doesn't stink then the farts should be fine"....then a breeze blows it in our direction. Holy cow, what a stench!

The monkeys and baboons are hilarious. Out of all the animals, they are the ones that fight with each other the most. At one point they seem to be having a turf war between groups of monkeys in different parts of the trees....lots of screaming ensues to the point that the baboons down below stop what they are doing to see what is going on.

We stop near the lake at one point. No one is supposed to get out of their jeep except in the picnic trail areas of the park but there are no animals around and nature is calling ( actually she is screaming hysterically). I go behind a bush by the road, praying that a Japanese tour group doesn't choose that particular moment to drive by.

Chochi drives us to the hot springs at the side of the lake. Expecting the stream to be warm as bath water, I put my finger in and it feels close to boiling. Some local guys are actually boiling eggs in there..I don't stay long enough to see if it works.

After eating the boxed lunch that our chef Peter prepared, we do the boardwalk trail to see the flamingos, storks, buffalo and other water birds at closer viewpoints.

Our day of game driving through Lake Manyara passes too quickly. As the shadows lengthen we stop at the main gate on the way out and I am able to grab a couple minutes of wifi before Chochi drives into town to get some water.

I receive an email from the coach of the Amagagasi, hoping that we had a safe trip home. I let him know that we are still in Africa and thank him and his team for making our trip to Victoria Falls so special.

In town, as we wait in the jeep for Chochi to pick up the water, a number of men selling stuff come to our slightly opened windows and try to get us to buy their wares. They are not frightening or mean but I do find myself feeling slightly hassled.

On our way back to the Haven Nature camp, Chochi stops off at a few places for me to buy a blue Masai blanket. None of them have blue so we will try again tomorrow.

When back at the camp, I go to the kitchen where all the chefs are preparing their safari group suppers. I ask Peter where Chochi is and he says he is out. I ask him what time supper is and he says to ask my chef Georgie. "But my chef is You, Peter", I reply. He starts laughing, gives me a hug and admits he didn't recognize me and didn't recognize the name Chochi because our guides name is Chicho.

At supper we apologize to Chicho for calling him by the wrong name and he says Chochi is close enough. Going forward we will call him Chicho.

I am feeling a bit sad because our trip is coming to an end and then the boys will both be heading off to university. I'm not very good at separations and endings.

******

Chicho normally has long hair in tight individual curls. Today he's piled it under a very tall knit cap. I am directly behind him in the jeep. It's like sitting behind Marg Simpson at the movie theatre.  Its ok though, because I can see easily out of the side windows and the room.

We meet a few fellow Canadians who are also going to Serengeti National Park today.

Peter, our cook comes with us. Peter and Chicho speak Swahili throughout the drive.

As per my request, we stop at a place that sells handicrafts and I buy a blue and yellow Masai Blanket. I probably paid more than I should have cause the guy is really happy after the sale.

Continuing on our way we pass a bad accident between a truck and a van. The van is mangled and the truck is on its side. They are both on the edge of a cliff. Lots of people stand by and watch. I don't even want to think about it.

Along our route there are many Masai people herding their cows. They stand so upright and are in perfect control of the animals.

It's market day at a town we drive through. The streets are packed with people and there is a large area of tented stalls. At the side of the road we see a cart selling African handicrafts with a sign over top saying " The Hilary Clinton Store".….. I still don't understand that one.

In the rural areas ( which most of it is), we often pass young Masai men with white painted faces. Chicho says they are the Warriors in training.

We stop at the entrance for Ngorongoro  Crater National Park. A family of baboons is in the parking lot. There is a really young baby ( who looks like Gollum from Lord of the Rings) who is full of beans and appears to continually get in trouble with the other baboons and then runs back to his mother for protection.

Chicho notices one regular car amongst all the jeeps in the parking lot and shares a joke with his fellow guides. He later tells us that you need a jeep to get around  the park on its unpaved, gutted and sometimes flooded in places roads. He jokingly told the guides that maybe he should cut a hole in the roof of his family car and go into business for himself.

Our route takes us around the edge of the crater, and we stop at a stunningly gorgeous lookout of the crater down below.

Our next stop is at the gates of Serengeti National Park for pictures before going through the main gates and having our lunch in the picnic area. Gorgeous iridescent blue Superb Starlings scavenge in and around the lunch crowd. One aggressive bird actually makes a grab for my sandwich as he flies through.

There are signs posted everywhere stating not to feed the birds or animals. I find it ironic that the starlings like to hang out on these signs. Fines are given out to anyone who feeds the birds or animals.

Very large mice, the size of gerbils are also prevalent in the picnic area.

There is a short trail that leads to the top of a rocky hill. From this vantage point, I can see for miles.  I spot the road we arrive on, there Is a long trail of dust following a jeep in the distance.

Some of the most colorful lizards the I've ever seen are lounging around at the top; magenta, purple and blue. Stunning. We had seen the female Agama lizard yesterday but she was all brown the vibrant ones are the males. They use their colors to attract the gals.

Next we head out for our first Serengeti game drive. The roads are unpaved; tracks really. Acacia trees dot the vast , golden plains. Rocks crop up every so often because millions of years ago volcanoes created mountains and then soil filled in the area between the mountains creating the plains and only leaving some eroded down mountain peaks.

Chicho says that thousands of both the grand and the Thompson gazelle live here. We also see kory bustards ( a bird), the secretary bird, ostrich, warthogs, elephants, giraffe, zebra, buffalo,  Heartbeest and more.

Chicho spots three lions so we drive in close. We are the only ones there. They re so close that if I reached out off the jeep I could touch them ( but that would be ill advised). We leave after we take a number of pictures. We notice that the lions are moving on so we stop and swatch. A young elephant is having a drink nearby. Then two gazelles notice the lionesses, one runs off and the other stands there like a dear in headlights just staring. Fortunately the lions had just eaten.

Moving on we spot a dikdik and his mate.He is pooping on top of one of his old poops. She waits. He continues to poop. She continues to wait. He's still pooping, ( maybe he should have brought a magazine). She patiently waits. I can't believe how long it takes him, he must have been saving it up. Finally he drops the last little ball and the couple nervously take off into the grasses.

Dikdiks are the smallest of the antelope and everyone wants to eat them. You can't blame them for being nervous. They poop in the same pile which is far away from where they actually live in order to fool their predictors.

Chicho gets a call and we take off fast, wildly bumping on the unpaved road. I call out"Chicho, I see a hippo!" He answers, " we'll go see the hippos later, I'm taking you to something exciting".

He is right. We pull in amongst a bunch of safari jeeps who are surrounding a pride of lions ( a total of eight), eating a buffalo. We are so close. A cub has his whole body inside the carcass and other lions are lying around in the shade of the jeeps, sleeping off their meal. Every now and then one of them gets up and moves around.

"Chochi, can we move the jeep a bit to the left? " I ask. "There seems to be a problem. The jeep won't start, I need a boost", he replies.

He calls to some of the other drivers and one of them pushes our jeep with his jeep. We move a bit away from the lions. Another jeep comes and they flank our jeep on both sides as Chochi and Peter grab their repair kit and leave the safety of the jeep. The other guides watch the lions. Within minutes, the jeep is fixed. The bumping of the roads had caused the terminal on the battery to come loose.

We go back and watch the lions until almost sunset.

Our campsite is very basic. There are a lot of people there including the Canadians we met in the morning. We are told that if we need to go to the bathroom in the night, we are to go in pairs and bring a flashlight. The showers are cold so I hold off. There are two normal toilets and the rest are squat toilets with some kind of hose

We watch the sunset, swig some brandy and listen to music before going to supper.

**********

It is still dark when I get up. I watch the sun rise over the hills. I have somehow managed to catch a cold and my nose is stuffed up.

I heard that baboons got into the garbage in the night. There is a large group of striped mongoose also present at the site..,not to mention hornbills, starling, little yellow and little blue birds.

We start our game drive at 7am. We see all the usual animals but I know we are in for something special when Chicho takes off after hearing something on his radio. We park with a group of other jeeps and Chicho points to two shapes in the distance"cheetahs eating a gazelle"' he says. They get up and start walking towards us, they walk right in front of us and sit under a nearby tree. So elegant.

We later spy a lioness that has just killed a small animal. Blood covers her front legs and chest. The male takes her prize from her and drags it into the grass to eat. Without argument, she continues on her way.

In the Serengeti every day is an animal soap opera.

We drive over to where the lions were eating the buffalo yesterday" today 13 hyenas and a bunch of vultures are picking at the leftovers. Actually, only the dominant hyena is eating and everyone else is watching. From time to time a vulture sneaks in for a bite but he is quickly sent on his way.

Later' Chicho spots a serval cat. This is a really rare spotting. These cats are just a bit bigger than a house cat and have spots.

Chicho dashes off again. This time we find a leopard sleeping in a tree, legs hanging off the branch.

Moving on we see a group of hunting lionesses, another serval cat, a kory bustard, secretary birds, a beautiful lilac roller bird, crocodiles and all the usual animals. We also find another Cheetah having an apres feast sleep in a tree. He has his kill ( gazelle) lying on another branch high above the ground. Just in case he needs amid sleep snack I guess.

After stopping at our campsite for lunch we pack up and start heading to the northern part of the Serengetti, Lobo. On our way, as Chicho promised, we stop at the hippo pond, there are literally close to a Hundred hippos in this pool. A lonely crocodile sits on the shore. Love is in the air. I notice one hippo giving his lady a love bite, then one thing leads to another....now who can say that they've seen two hippos mating? He was still at it when we left.  I have the video.

There is a problem getting gas at the central Serengeti gas building. We have to wait while they call a big truck in to bring more gas to the pump. They use a generator for pumping gas and sometimes it gets stuck.

It takes a few hours to get to Lobo. There are a lot less people in this part of the Serengeti. When we arrive there is only one other family at the camp site but then a group of Italians arrive. The temperature has really dropped. I brave a cold shower and do my best to comb my hair with no mirror. I have to be careful where I step because there is all kinds of animal poop by the bathroom ( I think buffalo). The wind picks up and blows all night. It is cold out but we are warm in our sleeping bags.

*******
It is dark when I rise. We head out to try and catch some of the migration across the Mara River.. The landscape is dotted with sculls with horns, bones and some carcasses. Many of the bones have been picked clean and bleached bright white by the Tanzanian sun but other carcasses are only partially eaten and left to rot. Shawn says that every now and then he gets a brief whiff of rot.

Some of the carcasses have a group of vultures watching as the white headed vulture eats first. Chicho says he is the king of the vultures because he is strong and big. He has the strength to rip the carcass open to get to the meat. The other vultures wait until he's done. Maribou Storks often hang around and try to steal the vultures feast.

The Serengeti belongs to the animals. When game driving we are not to leave the jeep except in designated areas... ( or an emergency bathroom break behind the jeep).

This area has a lot less traffic. Most of the time we are the only jeep around. When we are stopped and the motor is off, it's so silent that I feel I need to whisper.

Wildebeast and zebra mingle everywhere we look. Chicho says there are over three million wildebeast in the park.

We get to the river. A large number of zebras and wildebeast have already crossed and are watching but a herd of a few hundred on the other side who are thinking about crossing....we stop and wait with a number of other jeeps. The wildebeests continue to think about it....and think....and think. Finally all start heading down the incline to the water's edge. And they stop to think.

A large crocodile sits in the sun a few meters down from the herd....and they continue to think.

Suddenly one wildebeest enters the river and the others follow. We stand up with cameras poised...and they turn around and go back. The herd splits in half, some following one leader towards the croc and the other half still thinking about crossing.

Finally one wildebeest dives in, gets halfway across and realizes no one is following so he turns around and struggles back. I wasn't sure if he would make it or not.

One goes in and the others follow. Hallelujah. We snap pictures, take video...but wait, half the herd holds back and just watches as the rest struggle through the water and clamber up the bank on the other side.