Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day One - Tarangire National Park

The Vacation of a Lifetime! (this is a link)

On Tuesday, December 20, Paige arrived for the Christmas holidays. The next day she and I set off from Tunis to Arusha, Tanzania. The object? A five-day safari that took in Tarangire National Park, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater. The air travel there and back was not easy - 20 hours total to do nine hours of flying - but the experience made it all worth while, exceding our expectations in every way. Between the two of us, we took over 1,700 photos, some of which I'll share through this blog. 

On the recommendation of a colleague who worked in Tanzania, I booked the tour through Safari Makers. Our guide's street name - his own term - was Tiger, and he was the best. (Most men we met had English - often vaguely Biblical - names as well as their birth or tribal names. TIger's was Domas.) At almost 31, he has been guiding safaris for seven years and had taken a two-year wildlife program. He knew every plant, animal and bird species in the parks as well as their geological formations. He also had amazing vision. One day, while driving over a bumpy trail at 50 km/hr, he spotted a leopard napping in a tree about 100 metres away!

Day One - Tarangire National Park.
Itinerary Day 1, 23th Dec:        We will pick you up from your hotel at 0900AM and depart for Tarangire National Park including your picnic lunches. Enjoy the Tarangire’s mob of elephants, baobab trees, bird varieties, great landscape and the Tarangire River before transferring to Tarangire Osupuko Lodge at the end of the day where you will eat dinner and overnight. 

My first elephant in the wild - but not my last!
So precious

Weaver bird nest

Nests in context - like little purses

Warthogs turned out to be my favourite animals.

The tiny dik dik is smaller than Libby - and maybe even cuter!
Ostriches roaming free

Tiger says giraffes are careless mothers. They just wander off in search of water if they're thirsty.

Add caption

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.

Actually, they're water bucks

Gorgeous birds whose names I forget

Black-faced monkey mother and child.

Locals call them blue-balled monkeys.

Baboon mother and child

Baboon dad contemplates the meaning of life

Impossibly cute baboon baby

Monitor lizard goes for a swim

I love this shot of zebras. Where exactly are the heads?
At about 6 pm, after a long day in the Land Cruiser, we left the park for our hotel. Not far past the gates, Tiger took a left and drove through Masai settlements for several kilometres. The road was not much better than the tracks in the park, and seemed to degrade as we went along. I began to worry seriously about the quality of our accommodation. This was a "budget safari", but were we actually staying in a mud hut with a Masai family? Was I up for that much adventure?
Fortunately, I was not put to the test. At the end of the lane lay the Osopuko Lodge, the most beautiful place I had ever stayed in. It was built in the style of a Masai village, so each client has their own private "hut". Here's a shot of an interior.

The curved space concept continued in the bathroom where the toilet and the shower were each sequestered in their own Cs. There was a second shower outside, overlooking the park.

The bar/restaurant looks across the swimming pool (!) into the park. After my swim and Paige's outdoor shower (her suitcase didn't make it to Arusha, merde, so she had no suit), we had lovely gins and tonics - for the quinine, you know - followed by a beautiful meal of avocado salad, beef brochets and homemade brownies. So not a lot of roughing it occurred.
Adorned for a bit of Masai dancing
Gettin' down with the Masai! A lot of vertical jumping is involved. Thank you, Dr.  Pommerville!
In the morning, the Masai excitedly told us that a lion had walked down the path right in front of our cabin overnight. Spread your fingers out fully. That was the size of the paw prints in the dust on the trail. 

After a wonderful breakfast of fresh juices, some of the best coffee in the world, fruit, eggs, bacon (hmmm, bacon) and homemade toast, off we went for the long drive to the Serengeti.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day Two - Serengeti

Day Two - Serengeti National Park
The drive from Tarangire to Serengeti is a long one, so right after an early breakfast we say goodbye to our beautiful host at Osopuko Logde and hit the road.
The owner, David, flanked by a staff member and two Masai

Our dancing partners of last night ply their wares.

Itinerary Day 2, 24th Dec:        After breakfast, depart for Serengeti National Park with a game drive en route via Olduvai Gorge or Maasai Village. After your picnic lunch, begin your afternoon game drive and enjoy the spectacular plains and the huge populations of wildlife followed by dinner and overnight at Seronera Wildlife Lodge for meals and overnight. 

Masai unloading goats from a really nice van.

We stopped on our way to take photos of the Ngorogoro Crater

This is Paige's fave. A classic of portrait photography.

We're here!

And so are the giraffes
Wildebeests migrating. 
 If you look closely at the background, you will see thousands of wildebeests. 3.5 million live in the park, moving from place to place to graze and drink.
Corey Bustard

 As mentioned earlier, Tiger was driving down a track in the Serengeti at 50 km/hr. when he spotted this leopard sleeping in a tree. (Did you know that they are arboreal? Me neither. Except when hunting, they live in trees.) This particular tree was at least 150 metres from the trail and for the first two minutes of trying, I could not see the leopard. Then the tail flicked!
The appropriately named Sausage Tree. Although poisonous, the fruit is used to treat syphilis and rheumatism.

Egrets by a hippo pool. 

 We were on our way back to the lodge when Tiger got a message on the radio and changed course. Minutes later, we joined a group of 4X4s and watched in awe as a group of four lionesses finished eating a buffalo they had brought down right at the side of the road the night before.

Note the tracking collar


I've eaten and I can't get up!
Not pregnant, just gorged.
Paige says it's against the serious photographer's code to take pictures of pretty things. Glad I'm an amateur.

Weird shot of some Grant's gazelles taken at dusk

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day Three - More Serengeti

Itinerary Day 3, 25th Dec: Today is a full day of game viewing in Serengeti with morning and afternoon game-drives. Enjoy the annual migration of wildebeest, zebras, as well as gazelles, great herds of buffalos, elephants, giraffes, and the spectacle of predators and pray i.e. lions, cheetahs, leopard and loads of other wild and bird life before transfer once again to Seronera Wildlife Lodge for meals and overnight. 

The Seronera Lodge was our least favourite accommodation, although it still far exceeded my expectations for a "budget safari". The rooms were small and noisy. We could hear people in other rooms coughing, talking and using the toilet, and the floorboards, though beautiful, squeaked with every step. That said, the food was good, the grounds were beautiful, the lounge and pool were gorgeous, all having been built right into the "growing rocks" of the Serengeti. Theses enormous boulders were tossed across the plains like pebbles by an ancient volcano. They are called "growing rocks" because the effect of erosion is to expose more of them over time so they appear to be growing out of the soil.

Faux cave painting in the lounge. It shows nicely the way the hotel was built into its lanscape.

Swimming pool build into the rock

A view of the lounge/restaurant building
An Agama Lizard suns on a rock
Rock hyrax were delightful

Super hyrax!

Here, on Christmas Day, I was felled by some sort of bug. After breakfast, I sent Paige off for the morning with Tiger and went back to bed. Didn't wake up until 12:30! We had the afternoon "off" so as to do some evening game viewing starting at 4. When Paige got back from her morning outing at 1, I had some soup and then went back to bed. Managed to join them for the evening viewing, but I felt awful. Back to bed by 9 pm where I slept for another ten hours! Glad I went out in the evening, though. Here are the pics.

A 200 kg Hartebeest

No, not the Littlest Hobo - a jackal

Cute creature with an important job and a bad rep.
 Our destination this evening turns out to be a hippo hangout on a small river. There are probably 40-50 of these huge creatures wallowing about. We learned that they have dual natures. In the water, they are both social an vocal. On land, where they roam to graze, they are solitary and completely silent. Weird, eh? They are also attack humans more often than any other animal in East Africa.

I am hippo, hear me roar!

And here's another horrible hippopotamus fact. They scent mark with feces rather than urine. Since poo does not spray particularly well, they fan their tails extremely rapidly while evacuating so as to spread the product as widely as possible. Even when the urge hits them while in the water. This is not attractive to watch.
A rapt photographer and a dyspeptic observer.

Sometimes nature is hard to like.

What are we looking at with such attentiveness? Crocodiles slowly eating the rotten, bloated carcass of a hippo the size of a pickup truck. This did not help my tummy any! 

The spotted hyena's coat makes for good camouflage
Spotted Hyenas have 21 distinct vocalizations consisting of whoops, grunts, groans, lows, giggles, yells, growls, laughs and whines. Their hind legs are a lot shorter than their front legs, and it gives their gait a bear-like quality. They have an interesting mix of cat and dog qualities. They hunt and scavenge, performing an important role in the ecosystem. We liked them.

As we wended our way back to the hotel, we saw elephants, baboons, wildebeests, giraffes and zebras. I keep having to pinch myself to believe I'm really here.
Maribou storks coming home to roost.
Good night, Serengeti. Hope I feel better tomorrow!