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...

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