Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lakes Trail (Sequoia National Park)

Mary and I went backpacking in Sequoia over the weekend of July 28-29. This time it was just the two of us. We wanted to test out our new gear, including:

  • My Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 backpack
  • Mary's Osprey Aura 65
  • A BearVault BV350 Solo bear canister
  • MSR Pocket Rocket stove
  • MSR SweetWater microfilter
  • Platypus Water Tank (4L)
We weren't able to reserve permits for the trail we wanted (Lakes Trail), so we'd have to get there early and hope for the best. We left home around 5 AM and started the drive to the park.

We got to the Lodgepole Ranger Station around 9:45 AM. Only 7 of 25 permits had been assigned so far, so we were able to go for the Lakes Trail. The trail is around 6 miles each way with about 2200 feet of elevation gain. It passes 4 different lakes with campsites and toilets at two of them. Our goal was the 4th lake, Pear Lake.

We set off from the trail head at Wolverton at around 10:40 AM. The weather was beautiful as we hit the trail and entered the forest. The first part of the trail makes a steady climb up a moraine deposited by an ancient glacier. The trail heads up to a ridge along the Tokopah Valley. From the ridge you can see the Lodgepole Visitors Center. Continuing along the trail we saw a log with some amazing orange mushrooms growing on it's side. At about 2 miles we reached the junction for the Watchtower/Hump Trails. We choose the Watchtower Trail.

The Watchtower Trail is slightly longer than the Hump Trial, but it is also flatter. That aside, it also provides some spectacular views. We stopped for lunch near the top of the Watchtower and had great views of the Tokopah Valley. We should probably have eaten a better breakfast because we were both starving by the time we stopped for lunch. We scarfed down our sandwiches and tomatoes in no time. Man did that taste good! I was a bit confused about the Watchtower, because the picture in the trail book was from the bottom, but we were at the top.

The trail followed along a cliff. There were more stunning views of the Tokopah Valley and Tokopah Falls (though there wasn't any water flowing at this time of year). A bit further along, at about 4 miles, we reached the first lake, Heather Lake. The banks of this lake are lined with red heather and various other trees and plants. We saw a few people swimming and a few more fishing. There's no camping allowed at Heather Lake, but I think it would make a great day hike destination.

From Heather Lake the trail heads up another ridge. We were keeping our eyes peeled for marmots and pika as they are supposed to be numerous along this part of the trail. Maybe they're not very adventuresome during the hottest part of the day because we didn't see much. We did spot a pika or two darting among the rocks, but didn't manage to capture any with the camera. After crossing the ridge we had a great view of Aster Lake. Emerald Lake at mile 5 is not visible from the trail so we decided to save it for tomorrow and continued on.

We had one more ridge to cross to get to Pear Lake. Again we were awarded with some amazing views up the Tokopah Valley and had a better view of the Watchtower (the point just left of center in the picture on the right). There are still a variety of flowers in bloom along the trail. We saw a few hummingbirds buzzing about along this section. After crossing the ridge we arrived at Pear Lake around 4 PM.

Upon arriving at Pear Lake we looked around to find a good campsite. The campsites here are numbered and you are only allowed to camp in a numbered space. We eventually settled at site #2 just across the small creek. They also have a couple compost toilets set up here which sure beats ducking behind a tree. We set up camp, filtered some water and started on dinner. Dinner was a bag of dehydrated beef stew. It wasn't too bad. Our new stove worked reasonably well.

We watched the shadows from the setting sun slowly creep up the Pear Lake basin. There was a nice alpen glow on the looming Alta Peak (picture right). There are no campfires allowed here, so we decided to turn in. I had a bit of a headache either from the altitude, dehydration or both. It made it difficult for me to sleep. I don't usually sleep all that well out camping anyway, but this was even a little worse.I did managed to doze off a bit over the course of the night. We were up again by 7:30AM.

Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and instant Vietnamese coffee. We had a few morning visitors including a marmot, a very cute pika (picture left), and a brave little golden-mantled ground squirrel. We had hung most of our gear in trees because of the warnings that the marmots like to chew on your salty gear. Fortunately the marmot we saw was eating a more natural diet. We enjoyed watching our visitors for quite a while, then finally packed up camp. After topping off our water bladders we were ready to head back out.

The hike out was much easier since it was mostly downhill. We really enjoyed the awesome views of the lakes and valleys. This time we took the short detour to see Emerald Lake, and it was worth it. I think Emerald Lake is even nicer than Pear Lake, and there are camping sites and a compost toilet there as well. Next time maybe we'll camp at Emerald Lake instead. We never did walk down to Aster Lake, but we had some nice views of the trail.
We saw more day hikers fishing and swimming at Heather Lake. Before we rounded the ridge by the watchtower, we took one final look back up the Tokopah Valley (picture on left).

The only real excitement on the way down was a loud crash that made us both jump. A small tree fell across the trail about 30 yards in front of us. It made quite a racket, but was easy to get around.

I made a map of the trail we took at Gmaps Pedometer.

Epilogue: We both really enjoyed this hike, though it was a bit more challenging than we thought. I guess we never give the altitude enough consideration. This was my first trip to this sort of altitude with a full pack. We were mostly happy with our new gear, though Mary had problems with her pack. The strange waffle pattern on the shoulder straps bruised her collar bone. She will most likely return it and try to find another one. It also seems that the BearVault BV350 may be a little small, so we may upgrade it to the BV400. Thank goodness for REI and their liberal return policy.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Chilnualna Falls (Yosemite National Park)

Mary and I went backpacking in Yosemite over the weekend of June 23-24. The trip was coordinated by our friend, Matthieu. We ended up having a group of 10 people for a one night trip to Chilnualna Falls in the Wawona area of the park. This was my first time going on an overnight backpacking trip.

We decided to drive up early on Saturday morning. Mary and I had borrowed some gear from friends, and we stayed up until about 2:30 AM Friday night packing and repacking our gear in various backpacks. We got up at 4 AM after a whopping 1.5 hours of sleep. We picked up Chris and Ashley to carpool to the park. We were the first to arrive at the Wawona ranger station.

Once everyone arrived, we got a couple bear canisters and drove up to the trail head. After various adjustments and vying to be the last person to put on a pack, got on our way (that's me in the picture on the right). The first half mile of the trail is fairly steep. You can see Chilnualna Creek for most of this section, and after the climb, we arrived at a nice cascade with a nice pool at the base (see picture on top left).

The pool was pretty crowded and we had a ways to go, so we continued on. After a short time we reached a trail junction where the foot trail meets up with the stock trail. From here the trail was a bit less steep, but there were a lot of switchbacks and it was a fairly warm day. The trail veered away from the creek for the next couple miles. It was tough going, especially for a few of the beginners who had "over-packed" for the trip. On the left you can see Leire, Francesco, Chris, Ashley, Mary and Patrick coming up the trail. We stopped for lunch under the trees along the path. Everyone was happy to have the break, but it was tough to get everyone going again.

After many more switchbacks and a few more breaks, we made it back to the creek. We stopped here for a long time soaking in the cool water, refilling our water bottles and resting in the shade. The picture on the right shows Karen, Maggie and Francesco enjoing the cool water and hamming it up. It has been a pretty dry year, so there wasn't much water in the creek. I seem to remember much more impressive falls a few years ago when Mary and I day hiked here with our friend Steve. Of course that was a particularly wet year and we were there at the peak water flow.

Fortunately, the camping area wasn't too much father. After a couple creek crossings we found a large area with a fire pit right next to Chilnualna Creek. We rested for a bit then set up camp. We had various dehydrated meals for dinner, needing only to add a couple cups of boiling water. The food is pretty good. As the sun was setting, we started a camp fire. On the left is the group sitting around the fire. From the left, thats Chris, Ashley, Maggie, Matthieu, Patrick, Karen, Francesco, Liere, and Mary. Mary and I were the first to turn in having only had 1.5 hours of sleep. I slept like a log. My all-time best night's sleep camping.

The next morning Mary and I woke up because we were baking in the tent. We had somehow managed to find the only spot without good shade. Eventually everyone else was up, and we all had breakfast of oatmeal and such. We explored the creek a bit, topped off our water and broke camp. The hike down was much easier as you might expect. Thank goodness for gravity, or as Francesco said, "Thank God for Newton." We didn't take many breaks on the way down, but we did stop for lunch on a huge log next to the trail. We also stopped at the lower pools again (pictured at the top left). We got back to the cars in the early afternoon and decided to head over to the Mariposa Grove to see the sequoias.

The lot at the grove was full, so we had to park near the South park entrance and take the shuttle up. The bus had AC, so it was quite comfortable. We hiked around the grove for an hour or two then took the shuttle back to the cars. On the drive back to the Bay Area, we all stopped for diner at the Black Bear Diner in Gilroy. It's a pretty good restaurant. We arrived back home pretty late, showered and went straight to bed. It was a pretty fun trip. I think I'd like to do some more backpacking in the near future, maybe in Sequoia...

Patrick and Karen's photos from the trip are here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Africa Trip, Part 2: Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya

This is Part 2 of my Africa Trip blog. This entry covers our trip in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya as well as our stops in Zürich, Windsor and Washington, D. C. For Part 1, check the Tanzania Safari Post.

Day 12: March 23 (Friday)

Early breakfast and on the road by 7. Bypassed Kampala then out to the countryside. Passed by a lot of fruit stands and groves. Saw papyrus swamps. Stopped for a bathroom break in the bush. Passed through small towns (picture left). Passed many tea plantations. Starting to see the mountains in the distance. Entered Kibale NP. Stopped at The Gardens Restaurant for lunch. Not so keen on the meat, but the millet and sweet potato were good. On the dirt road in the park. Passed by a herd of longhorns.

Arrived at the Kibale National Park Visitor Center. Going for hike. Our guide for the hike was Jerrod. We were out for about 3 hours. The first thing we learned was we should tuck our pant legs in our socks or boots. We learned this the hard way when some army ants climbed up our legs and bit us. Jerrod took us to a fig tree full of fruit, and sure enough there were chimps in it. They were pretty high up so we trekked on. We found a group of about 5 males on the ground. A few of them were grooming each other. Eventually they moved on so we followed. We could hear chimps all around. The males went to a fruit tree to have a snack. We watched them for a while then walked back out. We drove up to our lodge, Ndali Lodge, which is on a ridge between some lakes. We have our own little villa with no electricity. It's quite lovely. Dinner was a sit down meal in the dining room. We sat at a table with 3 couples. Two from Michigan and one from Florida. The Florida couple has traveled just about everywhere. The food was good: tomato soup, steak, potato, squash, Yorkshire pudding, and bananas flambé (yum). We'll have to turn in early to get an early start tomorrow. Check my gallery for more pictures of Kibale National Park and miscellaneous images from Uganda.

Game: Olive baboon, chimpanzee

Day 13: March 24 (Saturday)

Woke early. Nice breakfast. Packing in the dark. 3 hour drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Started seeing game from the main road. Turned off for game drive. Back on the main road. Didn't see any lions. Saw some vultures pecking at a skeleton and a lone hyena. Heading toward the Kazinga Channel for a boat trip. Just inside the gate we saw a big herd of elephants (picture left) with lots of calves. Found another herd. The bull challenged us a bit so we backed off. Stopped for lunch at Mweya Safari Lodge. The lunch was from Ndali. The chicken was the best yet. There's a nice view of the channel and Lake Edward. The lodge is situated high over the channel. We'll have a cruise on the channel soon. Great cruise, tons of wildlife. Also saw some fishermen heading out to Lake Edward. On the drive out of the park we saw a lioness and two cubs. Later we encountered a troupe of baboons all over the road.

Heading to the Jacana Safari Lodge now. There were 2 colobus chasing each other through the trees. The lodge is nice. Individual cabins in the forest next to a crater lake. Our room overlooks the lake. We watched the sun set (picture right) and even saw a hippo close by. Dinner was nice: steak w/peppercorn sauce, potato, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkin soup. I had coffee after dinner by a great big fireplace. It's funny to have a fire so close to the equator. For more pictures, check the gallery for Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Game: Ugandan kob, cape buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, vultures, hyena, elephants, fish eagle, pied kingfisher, hippo, cattle egret, oxpecker, grey heron, croc, gull billed tern, African skimmer, spoonbill, saddlebill stork, marabou stork, pelican, lion, baboon, black and white colobus monkey

Day 14: March 25 (Sunday)

Woke up at 6:30. Power is not on yet though it was supposed to be on at 6. No sign of the hippo. Nice breakfast overlooking the lake. I'm having some allergy problems today. Hopefully some antihistamine will clear it up. The generator finally came on during breakfast, but we're running a bit behind. Turns out we had to wait for our box lunches because of the power problem. It was nearly 9 by the time we were on our way. The road through the park is quite bad for some 20km. Passing 3 big trucks on the road. They have been stuck for days. Thank goodness for 4x4. Looking for tree climbing lions in Ishasha area. I'm beginning to think the talk of tree climbing lions is just to keep your mind off of the hot, bumpy ride. No luck with the lions. Stopped for lunch by a school in a small town. Children gathered around while we ate. It was a little strange. Paul says the children are used to NGOs visiting, so they all gather around. We are very close to Congo. Checked in at the Gorilla Resort (see picture). Mary and I have a double tent cabin. It's basically a huge canvas tent pitched under a wood roof. There's even a toilet and shower in the back. I think we're just going to relax for the afternoon. Maybe do some reading.

Game: waterbuck, kob, baboon, topi, crested eagle

Day 15: March 26 (Monday)

Went to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a gorilla trek. We went to see the Mubare family of 10 individuals. The silverback is Ruhondeza, and there are two babies. We had to hike to the top of the hill which took about 2 hours. Then we had a short trip down to the next valley were we found the trackers. The gorillas were not far off the track, but they were in the bush. After about 30 minutes they moved out to the sun. Nearing the end of our hour, they started to move to the thick brush, so we headed back. We had lunch at the top of the hill then headed back down to the Visitors Center. We got a certificate for going on the hike. Relaxing at the lodge drinking a Bell Lager. I read a bit of Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey. They have a copy at the lodge. She did a lot of her research in the Virunga Range in Rwanda. We will be there in two days to experience another gorilla trek. We relaxed the rest of the day reading and enjoying the peace and quiet. Even the short rains were very tranquil. We had another nice dinner, read a bit more, then went to sleep. For more pictures of the trek, check out the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park gallery.

Day 16: March 27 (Tuesday)

Woke up at 6:30, packed up and had breakfast. I'm not looking forward to the 7 hour drive, 4 of which will be on bumpy dirt roads. We will cross into Rwanda today. The trip hasn't been too exciting. We passed through the Elephant/Duiker Project area. We saw a duiker but the elephant are apparently in the lowland swamps this time of year. The road is mostly a one lane dirt road. It is quite bumpy at times. The views have been quit nice. Green hills and mountains. Lots of tea and banana farms. Most of the children smile and wave, but a few hold their hands out and ask for stuff and one threw a rock. The truck stalled at one point but after a little fiddling under the hood, Paul was able to get it started. The truck is a 1985 Land Cruiser with 250k miles on it. I'm sure most of them have been hard miles. The road to Kisoro is slightly better. Well, at least it is wider. We stopped for a toilet break near Lake Bunyoni, but the only toilets were locked. We resorted to the bushes. Walking back from the bushes I encountered some stinging nettle with my foot. It's not very pleasant. We can see the Virunga Range now (see picture). Stopped for lunch along the road with a view of Mt. Mahavura. Now we continue on to Rwanda. In the area we are driving through there are more kids with there hands out then there are waving. At the border now. It took longer to get out of Uganda than it did to get into Rwanda, for us anyway. It took Paul longer on the Rwanda side. No visa needed to enter Rwanda but I guess we'll have to pay to get back into Uganda tomorrow.

The road is much better in Rwanda, maybe because there don't seem to be any cars using them. We arrived at the Mountain Gorillas Nest (picture right). Our room is not as nice as some of the other lodges, but it's pretty good. We walked to the local market about 2km away. It was quite an event. Lots of kids followed us around saying "hello" and "how are you?" A group would follow us for a while then drop off. Shortly after a new group would form. The market was mostly vegetables and some clothing. With all the kids following us around we didn't stay long. Besides, it keeps threatening to rain again. There's not much to do until dinner. I guess we'll read some more. It did rain, so we did read. Dinner was ok. They had an extremely limited menu: ham and cheese sandwich or goat stew. After pressing them, we managed to get steak which wasn't too bad. We tried to get to sleep early for our early gorilla trek. More pictures on the miscellaneous gallery for Rwanda.

Day 17: March 28 ( Wednesday)

We got up at 6:30 and had an early breakfast. It rained more during the night so we knew to expect mud. It was still cloudy so we donned our rain gear. We got to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters and were assigned to Group 13. It has only one silverback but 22 total individuals. It's the second largest group in the park. The three of us were joined by 5 Brits for the trek. There was one other group going out today. After a briefing by our guide, Francis, we drove from the HQ to the starting point for Group 13. There we got some walking sticks and our armed guards. We started the trek by crossing some fields outside the park. After about 30 minutes we passed through the park wall which is there to keep the buffalo and elephants in the ark and out of the crops.

From there the hiking was a bit steeper, but less than in Bwindi. However, the mud made the trek a little harder, plus we had to pass through some dense bamboo (picture right). It was actually pretty fun once I stopped worrying about getting muddy. It took about 45 minutes after the wall before we found the gorillas. When we arrived most of the gorillas were up in the bamboo eating. It's quite amazing such large animals are able to sit on these flimsy bamboo plants. I guess they find a dense stand and sit on the growth between multiple trees. Our guide and the trackers kept trying to find us better angle to view the gorillas. One would pop it's head up for a moment so we could see it, the duck back down and continue munching. After 30-40 minutes there was a lot of excitement as the big silverback came down to the ground.

The other gorillas made quite a ruckus and some followed the chiefs lead. Most of my views of the silverback were from behind. He's a big boy weighing some 200kg. We did get some pretty good views of a sub adult (left), a juvenile and a mother with baby. The sub adult made some charging motions so we all backed off and it passed by. The juvenile also made some threatening moves but in the end seemed more playful than agitated. The juvenile and baby tussled a bit then the family wandered off. We caught up with them briefly to get some final family photos then our time was up. It started to rain on our hike out so it was even more muddy and slippery. It took about a hour to get back to the car. We drove back to HQ and received certificates. We cleaned up a little, ate our lunches the got on the road back to Uganda.

Crossing the border was pretty easy. Just a couple of stamps and since we only have a couple more days we got a transit visa for only $15. It not raining in Uganda, too bad the road sucks. The scenery has been pretty nice, especially the views of the Virungas.
We even saw a gray jacket monkey along the road. The drive along Lake Bunyoni is quite scenic. Too bad it is one of the worst roads yet. The ride is making me sore and has destroyed all my enthusiasm. Note to Uganda: if you want more tourism, pave a few roads! We got to the lodge. We had to take a small boat to a small island in Lake Bunyoni (right). On the island is a small lodge called Nature's Prime Island. It's a bit more rustic than the other lodges we've stayed at. It has pit toilets ensuite, but there's electricity (solar for limited lighting) and hot water (wood fire heated). It's a cute little place, but the island is so close to the shore that I can hear people all around. Dinner was pretty good. More pictures in the Parc National des Volcans gallery.

Day 18: March 29 (Thusday)

Woke up to the rain. Might not be able to tour the lake this morning. Had a nice breakfast. We did go on the boat tour, but it was quite overcast. The lake is very picturesque, but the light wasn't very good. We only saw a few birds from the water. I guess you need to walk around the islands to see more. It started to rain pretty hard on our way back. Luckily we were wearing our rain gear. After our tour we went back to the lodge to pack up, then took the boat back to the shore to meet up with Paul. This part of the road was not nearly as bad as yesterday, and after only 7km we reached the paved road in Kabale. We still have more than 400km to Kampala. Stopped for lunch at the Agip Motel in Mbarara. We had our packed lunches from Nature's Prime so we only bought drinks. Mary likes the Krest Bitter Lemon soda, but it's too bitter for me.
It is like eating a lemon peel. Back on the road again for our long drive. A least the sun is out now. The sun is quite warm. It made me doze for a bit. We stopped at the equator for pictures and a GPS reading (right). I had to move about 30 feet to the south to get a true 0 reading, but that was about the error rate indicated. We're almost to Kampala, but there's a funny sound coming from the truck. The tires look ok, so we stopped at a service station to have a look. Looks like a problem with the differential. It doesn't sound like it will be fixed soon. Paul called to have another car come get us. It should be 30 minutes. The other car is here. The driver, Medi, will stay with the other car and wait for the mechanic. Paul will drive us to the hotel in the new car. The drive to the hotel was terrible. We were stuck behind a truck with really bad exhaust most of the way. When it finally turned off near Entebbe, another took its place. I was getting hungry and tired, especially of sitting in cars. We finally arrived at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel. Apparently Clinton and Bush have both been here, though only Clinton has a suite named for him. The place is pretty nice but the service was not impressive. Dinner was ok. I had an Indian style curry but it was a little bland.

Day 19: March 30 (Friday)

Rain and thunder during the night. I hope it doesn't impact our trip to Ngamba Island. The breakfast buffet was pretty good. It was raining when we got to the dock. We had a 40 minute boat ride and it rained half the time. When we got to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary we met our guide, Silva. He introduced us to the staff and explained the function of the preserve. The preserve is on a 100 acre island, 95% of which is set aside for the chimps. There are 3 enclosures for the 42 chimps on the island. One small enclosure houses the dominant males when the need to be separated from the main group. One is used for new or problem chimps. The third encompasses most of the island and is covered with forest habitat. All but one of the chimps came to the island as an orphan. The other one was born there much to the dismay of the staff. They use birth control implants to allow normal mating behaviors while controlling the population. Some how one implant was removed and a new chimp was conceived. The baby was named "Surprise." The chimps spend most of the day in the forest, coming back for feeding and sleeping. They can forage in the forest, but it is not big enough to support this population, so the staff supplements their nutrition with fruits and protein. At night they sleep in a big enclosure in hammocks so they will not destroy the forest by building nests every night. After a half hour talk on the plight of the chimpanzee and the conservation efforts in progress we went to see the 11am feeding. We saw most of the chimps near the edge of the main enclosure enjoying papaya and bananas and such. It was pretty cool seeing so many chimps, but sad to think they were all orphaned because of poachers and habitat destruction. Hopefully someday more land will be set aside and this group can be reintroduced to the wild. After our time with the chimps, we departed Ngamba by boat. Check the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary gallery for more photos.

We went back to the hotel for lunch and to pick up our luggage. Now we're heading to Kampala to look around before our evening flight. The city center is pretty busy.
The hills are occupied by the rich businessmen, foreign dignitaries, churches, charities, and NGOs. Why charities like Amnesty International have offices on Kololo Road, one of the richest neighborhoods in Kampala, I'll never know. After our drive around Kampala (right) we headed to the airport in Entebbe. Virginia had access to the lounge so our wait was pretty comfortable. Check the Kampala gallery for photos.

Next stop: Nairobi. The flight to Nairobi was short and uneventful. A driver picked us up at the airport an brought us to the Kenya Comfort Inn. It's not as nice as the other places we've stayed, but it's not as expensive either.

Day 20: March 31 (Saturday)

Slept pretty well. Had breakfast at the hotel. Waiting for our driver to arrive. It's going to be a long day. The driver, Peter, picked us up at the hotel. We went straight to Sheldrick's Elephant Orphanage. We were a little late so we only caught the end of the youngest calves (picture left). We did enjoy watching the juveniles feeding and playing.

Next stop was the Giraffe Center. There's a big platform for viewing and feeding the giraffe.
You give the giraffe some sort of pellets and supposedly they only eat until they're full. They seem to eat a lot though. Mary really enjoyed feeding them (right). Ok, I enjoyed it too.

We went to Nairobi National Park to visit the animal orphanage there. Our guide Stephene showed us cheetah, serval, forest cat, black-backed jackal, crocodile, leopard, mongoose, patas monkey, vervet monkey, syke monkey, baboon, cape buffalo, ostrich, lions, Thompson's gazelle, duiker, bushbuck, and hyena. Most of the animals were orphans from parks around Nairobi. The leopard is only 5 months old.

There are many black kites flying around. We even got to pet the cheetah (picture left). Our final stop was the Bomas of Kenya, a cultural center for the various tribes of Kenya. We caught the end of the dances including Maasai, Taita and acrobats. Visited traditional villages of Taita, Maasai, Mijikenda, Kuria, Luo, Kisii, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, Embu. It would have been more interesting if there were people in the villages explaining life there. Maybe there were earlier in the day.

Now were heading to dinner at The Carnivore. Dinner service started with hot towels followed by bread and mixed vegetable soup. The soup is pretty good. The veggies are puréed so it's hard to discern what's in there. A big, two level lazy susan is provided with an assortment of salads and dipping sauces. The green salad was a little bitter. The corn salad is nice with a bit of spice. The matooke (banana in spicy coconut milk) it better then Uganda. The meat was coming hot and heavy. Hard to keep up or even remember what's what.
  • Chicken - pretty average but garlic sauce is good
  • Pork sparerib - not well flavored just ok
  • Osterich meatball - well seasoned good w/berry sauce
  • Chicken wing with honey - bland
  • Lamb chop - grilled nicely and I actually liked the mint sauce
  • Pork sausage - tasty but could be from anywhere
  • Turkey - moist but needs sauce
  • Roast lamb - pretty good, especially the spiced outer layer
  • Beef - fatty edges but very tender
  • Pork - so juicy but could use a little flavor
  • Crocodile - not bad but kind of fishy
  • Pinapple pie with a scoop of ice cream - yum
After dinner we headed to the airport. Waiting in the lounge. The rest of the day will be finished here and on the plane. Check the Nairobi gallery for more pictures from Sheldrick's, Giraffe Center, Nairobi NP Orphanage and the Bomas of Kenya.

Day 21: April 1 (Sunday)

Arrived in Zurich. Went to the Swiss Air lounge to freshen up. Parted ways with Virginia. Gonna head to Zurich for a while. I hope it's not too cold. Took the train to town. It was nippy, but not too bad. Walked along the Limmat River (left), through Niederdorf, near the Zürichsee and up Bahnhofstrasse. The Zurich Marathon was in progress so a lot of the streets were closed to traffic. At the airport we bought a lot of chocolate and waited in the lounge. It's just a short flight to London. From Heathrow we took a bus to Windsor and checked in to the Macdonald Castle Hotel.
We dropped off our bags and walked to Windsor Castle. It's pretty cool. We walked around the grounds (right), toured through the State Apartments, and viewed Queen Mary's Doll House. The State Apartments are quite lavish. Too bad you are not allowed to take pictures. The doll house area is a total zoo. It's pretty amazing to see all the detailed work if you can get close enough to see. It seems the Queen was even in residence based on the flag being flown. After the castle we walked around Windsor. It's a nice place but everything closed pretty early. Went back to the room and passed out.

Day 22: April 2 (Monday)

Woke up early. Finally heading home. Took the bus to Heathrow. Checked in and waiting at the United lounge. Got bumped up to business class which made the transatlantic flight more bearable. After landing in Washington, DC we decided to visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Stephen F Udvar-Hazy Center. It is an annex of some of the bigger displays from the Air and Space Museum, and is a short bus ride from the airport. They have an SR-71, the space shuttle Enterprise (left) and the Enola Gay among other things. Headed back to the airport at closing time. The flight to SFO was pretty long. We both nodded on and off. We arrived on time, but our luggage did not. Apparently it was put on another flight. Hopefully the airline will deliver it tomorrow. It's past midnight now, but it’s good to be home.


The airline did deliver our luggage the following night. We've been back home a couple weeks now. I've been reliving the trip over and over by going through all these pictures and telling various stories about the trip. It was a great experience. It's definitely worth it, though I would do things a little differently. I loved the entire Tanzania experience, though I would probably skip Lake Manyara and go to Tarangire instead. I enjoyed the chimpanzees and gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, but we spent way too much time in the car traveling between places. It may have been better to start in Kigali, Rwanda and go to Volcanoes National Park from there, then fly to Entebbe and go to Ngamba Island. I enjoyed Kibale, Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi, but the drives are brutal.

We book the tour with Good Earth Tours & Safaris. They handled the Tanzania portion of our trip directly. We were extremely pleased with our driver, Abdul. I would highly recommend Good Earth and especially Abdul. The Uganda/Rwanda portion of the trip was handled by Travelust African Safaris. While our driver, Paul, was very kind, he just couldn't live up to the expectation set by Abdul. It is possible that the Uganda/Rwanda leg would have been more enjoyable with a better driver/guide.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Africa Trip, Part 1: Tanzania Safari

Mary and I traveled to Africa March 12 - April 2, 2007. The majority of the trip was spent in Tanzania and Uganda, but we also visited Rwanda and Kenya. We also made brief stops in London, Zürich and Washington, D. C. We were joined in Africa by our friend Virginia.

I wrote most of the blog on my Treo PDA during the trip then edited it when I got home. You can find a map showing key points of our journey on a Google MyMaps labeled Africa Trip. You can also see a map with links t my gallery pages by clicking the "View Album on a Map" link on the Africa section of my Gallery.

This entry covers roughly the first half of the trip, a safari in Tanzania. We visited three main areas in Tanzania: Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Day 1: March 12 (Monday)

We’re starting our Africa adventure today, though it will be a while before we actually arrive in Africa. We’re starting our trip from SFO. We went to UA lounge for a snack. Departed SFO for LHR on United. Watched: Man of the Year and A Good Year on the in flight entertainment system. We also watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica using the Epson P-5000 (picture right) storage device I bought for the trip.

Day 2: March 13 (Tuesday)

Arrived at Heathrow and took the Hoppa bus to our hotel, Jurys Inn. Caught the tube from Hatton Cross to Piccadilly. Walked around central London. Saw Piccadilly Square, St. James Park, the Horse Guard, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Stopped at a café for a salami, tomato and basil sandwich and a mocha. Went to an Internet café to check email. Bought a SIM card from O2 so I could make calls on my cell. After sunset we walked to Buckingham Palace (picture left) and the Wellington Arch. Took the tube to Hammersmith to meet up with Mark and Milya. Had dinner at a Thai place in Chiswick. Took a long time to find hotel driving around Heathrow. Not much sleep.

Day 3: March 14 (Wednesday)

Early taxi (4:30AM). Kill time at Red Carpet Lounge in Heathrow. Fly to Zurich on Swiss Air. Short layover then Swiss Air to Nairobi. Watched: Déjà vu and Night at the Museum. Played games: Caveman, Trivia, Mini Golf and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Arrive in Nairobi. Met up with Virginia. We were having problems with our Kenya Air tickets. Managed to get boarding pass thanks to an airport staffer named Albert. Flight to Kilimanjaro airport delayed because of transfer problem with large group. Arrive at Kilimanjaro and meet Ben from Good Earth, who takes us to our hotel. Check in to Impala Hotel (picture right). Not much sleep.

Day 4: March 15 (Thursday)

Awake early after poor sleep. Breakfast at hotel. Meet our guide, Abdul. Drive to Lake Manyara, about 3 hours. Near the park saw tawny eagles, giraffe, and zebra. Had box lunch just inside the park. Saw giraffe, elephant, hippo, baboon, blue monkey, vervet monkey, pelicans, dik dik (picture left) and buffalo.

The popup roof is nice for game viewing, it keeps sun off. It’s not so good if you are over 6'3". Drove to Gibbs Farm. Staying in the library house at top of hill. Saw weaver birds and bush babies (picture right) on the lodge grounds. They had an art show featuring a Kenyan artist followed by a good dinner. You can see more pictures from Lake Manyara here. More pictures of Gibbs Farm here.

Day 5: March 16 (Friday)

Slept well. Good breakfast. Left at 9AM. Heading to Serengeti via the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Game along the way: kori bustard, grant gazelle, Thomson gazelle, eland, gnu, ostrich, hartebeest, black shoulder kite, guinea fowl, white headed buffalo weaver, elephants (dist). Stopped at a scenic overlook for the Ngorongoro Crater. Went to Olduvai Gorge (picture left), commonly refered to as “the cradle of mankind.” This area is famous for its archeological digs, most notably those of Louis and Mary Leakey. Had lunch and saw museum. The museum includes a cast of some prehistoric footprints. I was hoping to see a dig site, but apparently we could not.

Next we visited a Maasai village. The assistant chief, Joseph, was our guide. We were greeted by the villagers with a welcome song then saw some dance, heard some songs, visited a hut, bought handicraft, and met the school children. We gave some pens to kids. The Maasai men wore shoes made from old tire tread. I didn't really enjoy the village experience that much. It seemed very exploitative. We entered Serengeti National Park via Naabi Gate. We took a short walk while Abdul was arranging the paperwork. We saw an agama lizard during the walk. We didn't see much coming across the Serengeti because the grass is pretty high.

Coming up to the lodge we saw some giraffe. We arrived at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge around 6:15PM then it started to rain. We had a nice room with a great view. Dinner was good. The waiter's name is Moshi. We went to sleep early to be ready for our first game drive in the Serengeti. Check my gallery for more pictures of Olduvai Gorge and the Maasai village.

Day 6: March 17 (Saturday)

Woke up early. Saw the sun rise. Saw 4 giraffe from the room. Lesser weaver bird nests in trees by pool. Good breakfast. Headed to Gol Kopjes. Lots of lions on the rocks. One lioness had a collar for research (picture left). Stopped for a broken down car from Ranger Safaris. Saw hyena cooling off at watering hole. While watching, Abdul noticed we had a flat. After using one of our two spares, we were on our way. Saw lioness with collar again. Pride: 1M 2F 2cub. Heard of elephant on Serengeti. Light rain on drive back. Arrived around 6:30. Buffet dinner. Lots of bugs.

Game: white bellied go-away, red bill hornbill, black bellied bustard, hyena, serval, elephant, buffalo, lions, marshall eagle, cheetah, agama lizard, kestrels, bat eared fox, Thomson's gazelle, topi.

Day 7: March 18 (Sunday)

Slept pretty well. Rained during the night. Some lightning and thunder. Went to see the birds by the pool. Saw 3 red headed buffalo weaver birds. Breakfast buffet. Good coffee. Heading to central Serengeti today. Hoping to see leopards. Saw a jackal on the road (picture left). Stopped at visitors center and saw hyrax. Saw lions with a carcass near the Visitor Center. A little jackal was trying to sneak up to eat. Crocodile sunning in pond. Baboon troupe grooming and eating.

Stopped by the Retima hippo pool. Saw babies, mating and a little fighting (picture right). There were some crocs too. Stopped for lunch at the Visitor Center while Abdul went to fix the spare tire. Had lunch with dwarf mongoose and hyrax. Driving down muddy tracks looking for leopard. Abdul spotted one in a distant tree. Shortly after we saw it, it came down from the tree. We lost it in the tall grass. Practically driving sideways due to the mud.. Sometimes its like a track car. The rain is coming down now. We just closed the top. I guess we're about done for the day, but we've got to get off this muddy track first. The rain was short lived, but we can see a big storm in the distance. We had a big fat tsetse fly in the car. It was full of blood. I wonder which of us was the donor. Saw 3 jackals by the road. One tried to catch a hamerkop to no avail. It rained pretty hard coming up the hill to the lodge, but it has slowed down. 3 course dinner tonight. Early to bed.

Game: white headed buffalo weaver, Thomson's gazelle, topi, bushbuck, African fish eagle, bare faced goaway, marabou stork, fishers lovebirds, marsh harrier, black-backed jackal, hyrax, lion w/carcass, crocodile, baboon, giraffe, hippo, dwarf mongoose, chanting goshawk, lilac breasted roller, lesser masked weaver, squawk heron, leopard, hamerkop, D'arnaud's Barbet

Day 8: March 19 (Monday)

Wake up around 6. Seems to have rained much of the night. Still cloudy. I hope the roads are passable. Another good breakfast. We were nearly joined by a baboon. Not far from the lodge we saw a pride of lions but they wandered off shortly after we arrived. A little further up the road we found another pride. Some females with cubs (picture left) near the road. A couple of males passed by in the trees. Pretty wet trip on the way to central, rain and mud. Had to put the top down. Spotted reebok by the road. Hippo walking along the Seronera River. Oxpecker on another hippo. Not finding much so we're heading south to find the migration. Lunch at the south gate. The skies starting to clear.
Found the migration! They are coming this way. Wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye can see. We spent nearly 3 hours with the herd. They hesitated near the road. Especially as more cars pulled up. Finally a few zebra breached the road and a stream of beasts followed. We watched as thousands of animals crossed the road. They spread out around us in all directions. Choruses of wildebeest an zebra song in full surround sound. We were all part of the migration. Alas, the day was coming to an end. Time to return to the lodge.

On the way back we had another treat, we watched a serval hunt, kill, and devour a big rat. It started raining again on the drive, but the sun was still shining. It turns out Moshi is from the same town as Abdul. Gotta pack then hit the hay. We will have an early start to Ngorongoro. Check the Gallery for more pictures from Serengeti National Park.

Game: lions, hippo, red billed hornbill, reebok, Egyptian geese, hippo, grey heron, impala, bat eared fox, wildebeest, zebra, serval.

Day 9: March 20 (Tuesday)

Early breakfast and check out. We're on our way to Ngorongoro. Overcast but no rain so far. The roads are a bit muddy. We saw another jackyl and a serval along the road. After the gate we passed through the migration again. We saw some of the females and calves. There was a film crew in the distance filming a lion with a kill.

There was also a hyena loping along with the heard. Views of the Ilmakut Mountains. We encountered some ostrich near the fringe of the migration heard. Leaving the Serengeti NP and entering Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Golden jackal up just outside park. Stopped to see some of the plants going up the crater (whistling acacia, khaki weed). Descended into crater (picture right). See lots of wildlife on the way in. Got our first close view of buffalo. Found a pride of 9 lions. Old elephant with huge tusks. Having lunch with 2 male lions. Lots of elephants around. We can see 3 of the big 5 from our lunch site. We're off in search of rhino. Starting to rain. Cleared a bit. Spotted 2 rhino in the distance. There are some ahead by the road! We're heading for them. It's a family: mom, dad, and baby. Now we have seen all of the big 5.

On the way out of the crater to the lodge, we saw 2 cheetah brothers (picture left). Spent a long time with the cheetah. Now we'll head up to the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge. Met an Indian couple that live in Miami, Shonali and Sumitra. They went to CMU for grad school! She teaches at FIU and he at Nova. We had a nice dinner with them.

Game: Giraffe, jackal, serval, wildebeast, zebra, hyena, Thompson's gazelle, osterich, golden jackal, warthog, bufalo, lion, elephant, crowned crane. black rhino, cheetah

Day 10: March 21 (Wednesday)

Nice view of the crater while enjoying breakfast (picture left). Heading into the crater now. Lots of wildebeest and zebra. Spotted a lion in the distance. Stopped by the Munga River to see many vultures on a dead buffalo. Further down in the crater we saw a big heard of bull elephants. We watched them graze for quite a while. Found a rhino in nice light. Another 4 in the distance. Saw a pair of lions: female and big old male w/black mane. Stopped for lunch at a picnic site. Lots of vervet monkeys here. We had to eat in the truck to keep the monkeys from stealing our food.

Leaving the crater on our way back to Arusha. Grave marker of Michael and Bernhard Grzimek, a father and son instrumental in beginning wildlife conservation in Tanzania (picture right). We're out of Ngorongoro now, and back on the paved road. The end of the "free massage." There are some baboons right outside the gate. Catching more rain on the drive to Arusha. Land Cruiser has only 14000 km on it. We went about 1400 km on this trip. Stopped at a souvenir shop. Got a wax painting (batik). Back in Arusha. Walked around near the hotel, but it started to rain again. Had some Tanzanian dishes at one of the hotel restaurants. The use a lot of green banana for starch. I'm starting to get tired so I'll probably turn in early. There's not much on the agenda tomorrow. Fro more pictures from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, check here.

Game: Zebra, wildebeest, warthog, lion, black kite, eland, elephant, rhino, kori bustard, ostrich, lion, lesser masked weaver, vervet monkey, baboon

Day 11: March 22 (Thursday)

Liesurely morning. Breakfast at the hotel, then head to town to straighten out our airline tickets. So much for liesuely. We spent 3 hours at the Precision Air office. Thank goodness for Juliette, the district sales manager. She seems to have sorted everything out. We're checked in at the airport, so hopefully we'll make it all the way to Entebbe. Virginia managed to get food and drinks from the business class lounge, so I guess we won't completely starve. We made it to Nairobi and we have tickets for Entebbe. Looking good. Arrived in Entebbe and met our driver, Paul. He transferred us to Windsor Lake Victoria. We had a buffet dinner. Our room is recently renovated and has AC, but Virginia was not so lucky. We have an early start tomorrow, so we better get to bed.
To be continued...