Friday, September 28, 2018

2018 Africa Safari

Day 1 - Arrived in Entebbe, Uganda

I left the JFK airport in NYC on Friday (8-31-18) on a 6:30 pm 7+ hour fight to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  There I had about a 3-hour layover before my next flight to Kigali, Rwanda that took 8+ hours.  From Kigali I took my final flight of about 1+ hour to Entebbe, Uganda, which is where I am for Day 1 of my trip.  Uganda is 7 hours ahead of NYC and Florida; I finally arrived safely in Entebbe about 10 pm Entebbe time on Saturday (9-1-18).  I’m writing this on Sunday (9-2-18).

On Sunday morning there wasn't much to do in Entebbe.  We walked around and over to the "big" mall.  Mostly trying to stay awake.  Not so picturesque unless we hike to Lake Victoria.  We might do that after a nap, but maybe not.  The uncountable hours of travel time needs to wear off.  It is the dry season with a 70% chance of rain Monday and the rest of the week.  Go figure.  I'll send a photo of Lake Victoria if we go. 

Below are a couple of photos from my iPhone, a toy white tiger in a truck (They said there were no tigers in Uganda!) and an artist from one of the small craft markets at the mall.   The artist was using small scraps of fabrics for the “paintings.”  Some were much nicer than the ones with just paint.
Above:  Toy white tiger in a truck

Above:  Artist was using small scraps of fabrics for a “painting”
A side note:  Before we landed in Kigali, Rwanda to drop off and pick up passengers, there was an announcement “No plastic bags are allowed in Rwanda, If you have anything such as something purchased at the duty free shop, take it out of the plastic bag and leave the plastic bags on the airplane.”  This was a policy that Rwanda put into effect in 2008.  I wish they would do that everywhere.   It wasn’t the plastic bags themselves Rwanda was concerned about, but the ways in which the plastic bags were being disposed of that was creating many environmental problems. 

Day 2: Entebbe to Queen Elizabeth National Park - 3rd Sept 2018

I’m writing this on Monday from the Mweya Safari Lodge at the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  We left Entebbe this morning after breakfast and drove for the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is about a 230-mile drive.

It was pouring rain and this is the dry season!  We took a dirt road for about an hour that was very bumpy.  Our driver by the name of Baker said this was an “African Massage.” On this drive (Masaka-Kampala Road) we crossed the equator near a little town called Kayabwe, about a 40-mile ride out of Entebbe.  I took the following photo with my iPhone of one of the two cement circles that marks the equator, known at the Equator Landmark.  This one was by the Equator Line Restaurant, there is another cement circle on the other side of the road.  Standing inside that circle you can have one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere.
Above:  Equator Line Restaurant
There was papyrus growing by the road and also in large fields. Our driver said the Asians used to make paper from the papyrus.  But the Uganda President (Idi Amin) forced all the Asians out of the country in 1972.  Now the papyrus is used for roofs and mats.  The second attached photo is of Papyrus mats taken with my iPhone.
Above:  Papyrus mats
There were numerous bricks kilns along the road for making bricks. Clay is dug up near by and made into bricks for houses, fences and racks for drying stuff, maybe drying papyrus.  On that bumpy road we saw lots of motorbikes with strange cargo. One motorbike carried a pig and another motorbike carried about 16 dozen eggs.  I suspect the eggs were scrambled at the end of that journey. 

The road was so bumpy that my fitness watch recorded that I walked 1,663 steps while I was just riding in the back seat.

Once we reached the Queen Elizabeth National Park I started seeing some wild animals and took some pretty cool photos with my Panasonic ZS50 camera and downloaded the photos to my laptop computer.  I saw zebras, an elephant, a mongoose, a warthog and lots of birds, and this was all before we started our trek.  But I’m unable to include any of those photos just yet (no Internet).  Hopefully I can include these later.

Day 3 (Tuesday): Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi National Park – 4th Sept 2018

After breakfast today (Tuesday) at the Queen Elizabeth National Park we went to the beautiful Kyambura gorge for the morning chimpanzee trek through the forest. The photo below is of our group heading out for the chimp trek.
Above:  Our group heading out for the chimp trek
On the way we saw the male waterbuck in the following photo. The male waterbuck is about 25% larger than the female and only the male has horns.
Above:  Male waterbuck
We also saw 4 lions watching a warthog to see if the warthog would come close enough for the lions to have for breakfast. We also saw 3 hippos and 4 elephants and this was before we got to the chimp area.  

When we got to the chimp area, the chimps didn't want to engage with us so the photo below of them staying in the trees taken with my iPhone is not very good.
Above:  Chimps in tree
Since the chimps were being arrogant we went to see a dozen hippos (see following photo for a few hippos).  The hippos were huge but mostly they stayed under water and watched us. Hippos are the third largest land animal, only the elephants and rhinos are larger.
Above:  Hippos
The following photo is of one of the elephants we saw today.
Above:  Elephant
It was an exciting day even without the chimps coming out of the trees.  

Tomorrow will be the Bwindi National Park and the gorilla trek.  Bwindi National Park is about 90 miles south (about a 4 hour drive) of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and I will be staying at the Buhoma Lodge tonight.  Hopefully better photos later after we get some Wi-Fi and I can send photos from my Panasonic ZS50 camera.  The Panasonic ZS50 has a 30X optical zoom.

Day 4 

"Jambo  kill mtu" (translate roughly "Hello everyone” in Swahili.  Although English is the official language in Uganda, Swahili is also widely spoken here)

We spent last night at the Buhoma Lodge in the Bwindi National Park. After breakfast this morning (Wednesday) we had a briefing on our schedule for the day, before starting on the gorilla trek. We were told the trek would take between 3 and 8 hours depending on which group of gorillas we were following and what they would be doing.

The gorillas in the Bwindi National Park are the Mountain Gorillas and tend to be a larger than other gorillas, they are in fact the largest primate on earth.  The mountain gorilla is also one of the world’s most endangered primates and some estimates are there are only about 300 mature individuals left in the wild, and the majority of these are in the Bwindi National Park.

Gorilla trekking is a way to see these rare, beautiful animals in the wild. We have to have a permit and a guide.  The photo below is of me starting our trek today, with porters in the background.  Note the action camera on my hat. This is a DBPOWER 4K Action Camera that I bought especially for this trip.
Above:  Diane and porters starting the gorilla trek
The next photo I’m simply calling “Here he is,” as seeing these gorillas is something I’ve been thinking about and planning for years.  As you can tell this guy is asleep. Seeing the gorillas has been an incredible experience for me. The photo after that is just a crop from the original photo.
Above:  Gorilla sleeping
Above:  Gorilla sleeping (crop of previous photo)
The next photo is a selfie I took as I was watching the gorilla sleep. It’s not a great selfie as I haven’t developed the Kardashian knack for taking perfect selfies yet. I took this selfie mostly for my mom and myself.
Above:  Diane selfie
Tonight we will again be staying at the Buhoma Lodge in the Bwindi National Park, and tomorrow (Thursday) we will spend another day gorilla trekking.  Thursday night we will also spend at the Buhoma Lodge before we leave this beautiful place Friday morning.

Found the following great picture of the Buhoma Lodge on the internet.
Above:  Buhoma Lodge photo found on the internet

Day 5 & 6: Bwindi National Park and leaving for Nairobi, Kenya

Thursday was my 5th day in Uganda and my second day for a gorilla trek in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  On Thursday we trekked with the Oruzogo Gorilla Group in a different area of the park, the Ruhija area. The previous day (Wednesday) we trekked with the Rushegura Gorilla Group in the Buhoma area of the park. Each groups has around 16 or 17 gorillas. There are four areas within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where you can track the various habituated gorilla families. See the first attachment that shows the location of the different areas. Over the two days I have see about 18 gorillas total.

Gorillas are susceptible to human diseases, so we were asked to not approach closer than 21 feet from the mountain gorillas, unless of course the gorillas approach you. Seeing the mountain gorillas in the wild these two days was a surreal experience. You can’t see mountain gorillas in zoos as zoos won’t keep them for several reasons (their rarity and the fact that they don’t do well in zoos).  All gorillas seen in zoos these days are the lowland gorillas.

The next attachment is a group photo of our group.  The porters, the trackers, the leader and you’ll notice one guard (near my left elbow) with an AK-47 rifle. There’s always someone with a rifle, they don't shoot the animals if something like an angry elephant charges, they just fire into the air to scare them off. Given how hard our trek was, I don't think an elephant could have made the trip.  There are no lions in the forest although I believe there are leopards.
 I mentioned the 21-foot rule, the rule is you cannot go close to the mountain gorillas but they can come to you. But a Silverback almost kissed me.  A young woman from London caught it on video and said she would send it to me later.  Gorillas have a strong sense of humor!

At the end of Thursday’s gorilla trek we headed back to the Buhoma Lodge to spend our last night in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Friday morning (Day 6), we caught an AeroLink Uganda flight from the Kihihi airstrip (about 25+ miles north of the Buhoma Loge) to go back to Entebbe, where we will then catch another flight to Nairobi, Kenya to start our Kenya safari. I had a laugh when I saw our airplane, it reminded me of the airplane I used to skydive from back in Florida when I was working as an aerospace engineer at the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. Both airplanes have single Pratt & Whitney single engines, a high wing and a large exit door. The airplane in Florida was a Howard DGA-15P with a 9-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior engine, while the airplane we took from the Kihihi airstrip was a Cessna Caravan with a Pratt & Whitney PT-6 Turboprop engine. I’ve read where the Cessna Caravan is by far the most common and popular single engine turbine powered skydiving plane in the world.

If you’ve wondered why Bwindi is called the Impenetrable Forest, check out the 3rd attachment, a photo I took on our flight above the Impenetrable Forest.
Mountain gorilla trekking was an incredible experience. It was physically challenging, in comparing notes with fellow trekkers we climbed up the equivalent of 40-50 flights of stairs.  All this at around 7,200 feet, very tough for those of us who normally live at sea level.

I will be spending tonight (Friday) in Nairobi, Kenya and will start the Kenya safari on Saturday.

More from Day 6, my second gorilla trek

I’m writing this Friday from Nairobi, but wanted to tell a little more about my second day of gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, it was a once in a lifetime magical and a difficult day.

We have been getting up between 5 and 6 every day.  OY!  The 2nd gorilla trek day at Ruhija area was no exception.  We had to drive up a mountain for 1.5 hours.  The elevation was 7300 feet, and as I mentioned earlier, the high altitude was tough for a sea level dweller like myself.

We met Simon the leader, three trackers, a protector with an AK-47 rifle and a host of porters.  I’m not sure how each one of us was paired with “our porter” but mine was the only woman and I was the only one with white hair, so that may have had something to do with it.   She was excellent.  She let me struggle alone and had the intuition to help when I needed before I asked.  The climb down the mountainside was steep and there wasn’t really a foothold anywhere.  I kept thinking about the trip back up.  We climbed through trees, grass, bushes, who knows what with the trackers hacking a path through the undergrowth.  At times it was so dark you could not tell that it was daytime.  They call this the Bwindi Impenetrable forest for a reason, 

We were in the jungle/forest about half an hour when we spotted a resting silverback.   Silverbacks are the oldest dominate males in a troop.  This troop had 18 members, 3 silverbacks and a younger male, called a Blackback because his fur/hair hadn’t started to turn silver yet.   They also loose the hair on their chest as they age and their arms get stronger and bigger as well.   A silverback can be 200 kg, which is about 500 pounds.  Whew!  There were I think 4 or 5 females and the rest of the troop were babies and juveniles.   They told us they couldn’t tell the gender of a gorilla until it is 5 or 6 years old (no sonograms in the forest). Soon after we spotted and took photos of the male, the rest of the family descended from the tree and spread out.  We followed them up and down and up and down through thick and thing undergrowth, streams, prickly bushes, well, you can’t imagine.  The gorillas would just climb up and if necessary swing to move along.  We actually used vines to pull ourselves up some of the really steep areas.  I thought my 2014 Camino de Santiago hike was challenging.  No comparison!   

We located and watched and took photos of several gorillas, mostly males and a few babies.  It was difficult to get good photos because of the leaves and branches in the way (see following photo).  We were told we had to stay 7 yards (21 feet) away from them if they were sitting still.  Not so, we were within 3 or  4 feet of them many times.  Several times the big males seemed not to like us and would roar, growl, whatever you call it and make threatening moves.  We were told to stand still.  The first time, our hearts stopped and the leader told us to stand still and take photos.  They all were completely nonplussed by these gorilla gestures.  And one of the trackers made a sound that the gorillas responded to.  It was a low lullaby type wordless sound, almost a chant.
Above:  Hard to see gorilla
 Well, we were standing up to our rear ends in shrubs about 5 feet away from the dominant Silverback who was eating leaves and watching us.  Someone had given me the front row position to get a good shot, leaves and all.  All of a sudden and out of nowhere, Mr. Silverback rocked up on his haunches, grabbed a small tree beside him, roared, pushed over the tree and appeared (or pretended I guess) to charge right at me.  Of course, I couldn’t stand still and capture the photo, I fell over backwards and everyone just laughed, and maybe so did the gorilla.  One of the fellow trekkers caught it on her video camera and said she would send it to me.  I don’t have it now to attach, but will when it comes.  It may not be as dramatic to watch as actually being in the way of a 500-pound gorilla, 

The trek out was equally demanding, again pulling ourselves up hills using vines and tree limbs and stepping over logs and fording streams.  It took almost 2 hours to trek out.   Some of the step up required a pull by the porter in front and a push on the butt from the one behind for many folks.  I only got one fanny boost.  Maybe my quads wouldn’t be so sore if I had had more.  Anyway, after the trek we headed back to the lodge to have a local  beer and pack for our trip to Nairobi, where I am writing this.   

Also attached is a photo of our luggage at the Kisoro airport.
Above:  Our luggage at the Kisoro airport
Day 7 (Saturday): We are in Nairobi, Kenya

Friday was a basic travel day from the Bwindi National Park, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya.  Pretty good timing as I needed the rest after the two days of gorilla trekking.  We were met at the Nairobi airport and driven to a beautiful hotel.  We met some new members of our group. There are now ten in our group, up from our original six. Dinner at the hotel was great, a good place for satisfying my salad craving.

Today (Saturday, Day 7) after breakfast we had a briefing and learned new Swahili words, like asante sana (for thank you very much) and sawa sawa (for OK).  It seems that the language they speak has trouble with L's and R's.  So interesting they pronounce the longest river in Kenya as the Tana  Liver (rather than Tana River).

After the briefing we were off to tour the Karen Blixen Museum. Karen Blixen was the author of the 1937 memoir Out of Africa and later made into the 1985 movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. It is an interesting story about Blixen’s life on her coffee plantation, which eventually failed. If you read the book what you didn't learn was that she had syphilis.  Her second male "friend" after her husband was her lover, a British soldier and planter. From reading the book we were all wondering how she lived so long with what they called “malnutrition.”

After the Karen Blixen Museum, we went to the baby elephant orphanage, which had eight baby elephants under the age of 18 months being given bottles. Then they allow were allowed to play in a large mud puddle (see following photo).  The baby elephants were cute and comical as some of them couldn't get out of the puddles and kept falling back in. But they finally succeeding in getting out.  The orphanage encouraged us to adopt an elephant for $50 a year and get monthly updates on how the adopted elephant was doing.
Above:  Baby elephants at Karen Blixen Museum
We had lunch at a lovely outdoor place, the Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, located near the Karen Blixen Museum, it is the site of the original farmhouse on the Blixen property.

We are now on the road for four hours in our vehicle (see next photo) that we will use tomorrow (Sunday) for the game drives.  The top pops up so our "traveling cage" allows us to stand up and watch the animals watch us.  It is not very comfortable for such a long drive.
Above:  Our "traveling cage
Just a few random thoughts I had while on the bumpy ride the other day.

I’ve had essentially no computer time on this trip and almost no Wi-Fi, most of my communication has been with my iPhone.  But I do appreciate you folks taking the time to read my emails, viewing my photos and making comments. I haven’t been able to respond to your emails but I did see a few questions that I will try to answer now. And I’ll certainly re-read all your comments after I return to the states, or get better Wi-Fi here in Africa.

Question from Jeanne: “Why did you choose Uganda?”
To Jeanne:  I’ll be going to three countries on this African trip, I included Uganda especially to see the mountain gorillas. The other two countries are Kenya and Tanzania.

Question from Marge:   “How many guests are in your group?  How close were you to the gorillas?”
To Marge: We were a group of six in Uganda, but it may increase as the trip goes on.  As far as how close did we get to the gorillas, the rule is we should try and stay 21 feet from them (unless of course the gorillas choose to come closer), but we have in fact been closer.  I was less than 10 feet away from the blackback gorilla in the first gorilla photo I sent, and about 3 or 4 feet other times. 

Question from Alan: “...aren't gorillas dangerous at all?”
To Alan:  I think they certainly could be if they want to be.  Did you see the 1933 documentary King Kong?  In that documentary they followed a gorilla that kills a Tyrannosaurus, an Elasmosaurus, a Pteranodon and destroys a military bi-plane that attacked him while he was climbing the Empire State Building. 

On a completely different subject, during my 2016 trip to Delhi, India some of you may remember that I mentioned they used water to wash after using the toilet instead of toilet paper, as in India water is considered a cleaner practice than toilet paper. And I hope no one was offended by that observation.  I also found out something in Uganda about toilet paper that I found interesting, and again I hope none of your find this offensive. And that is, in Uganda the toilet paper was just a long roll with no perforations to make into little sheets. You just had to unroll as much as you wanted and yank it off. In Kenya, toilet paper is perforated, although not the perfect perforation you get in America with Charmin products. 

Toilets in Uganda outside of the hotel were mostly the squat type.  My dad used to call them “squat e vous.“ In Kenya they seem to have regular toilets but with no seats.  The funny thing is that clearly men have hung the toilet paper holders as they are usually at shoulder height.  You get the picture 

And another different topic, the whole time we were in Uganda, we did not see a traffic light. And I don't remember any in Nairobi, Kenya either, but there must have been some.  They drive on the left side which is confusing to me, especially at roundabouts.

And I forgot to mention the name of the baby elephant orphanage we went to, that was at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, check it out at the following URL if you might have an interest, 

Day 7 – Arrived at the Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel

After our lunch Saturday at the Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden in Nairobi and a four-hour drive, we arrived at the Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel, which is situated on the foothills of Mt. Kenya.  Here we are spending Saturday night.

Mount Kenya at over 17,000 is the second highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro, at over 19,000 feet.)

The photo below I took from the hotel shows Mount Kenya in the background.
Above:  Mount Kenya in the background
The Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel straddles the equator and the equator literally runs right through the center of the hotel.

The next photo is of yours truly standing near a sign at the hotel that shows we are indeed on the equator…and at an elevation of 7,000 feet. 
Above: Diane at equator sign
Sunday our plans are to do a little touring, go on a game drive and later participate in the Equator Crossing Ceremony. But more on this after it happens.

Day 8: Kenya and a game drive

Below are seven photos from my iPhone.  Here's the story on the photos.

Yesterday (Sunday) we left from the Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel and went to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to see the two surviving northern white rhinos.  A mother and daughter that had been saved with two males in a zoo in the Czech Republic.  The rhinos couldn't reproduce because they lived in concrete so long their back legs were weakened and mating takes so long, the males couldn't stand up long enough. The males have since passed but they saved enough sperm they can take eggs from the two females and make embryos in the lab and put them in surrogate southern white rhinos females.

They have now produced one sample embryo using the southern rhinos and have figured out a safe way to ectopic the eggs from the northern ones, who because of their weak legs can't carry a baby for the sixteen months of gestation, hence the surrogate mothers.  Because the northern rhinos have lived in the wild they had a southern rhino teach them how to eat grass instead of people food.  Fascinating. Then we got to see a southern white nursing her baby and to meet Max, a black blind rhino that we got to feed and pet.  Black rhinos are lots smaller than the white ones.

The person with the blue shirt in the land cruiser (next two photos) is yours truly.
Above:  Diane in blue shirt in the land cruiser

Above:  Diane in blue shirt in the land cruiser
Then we went on the game drive. We saw herds of zebras, warthog, and some buffalo and one elephant. Yes it was hot but who cares.  We watched two lioness stalking. They were awesome. They alternated who moved forward constantly checking on each other.  We were later told they were young and probably practicing their hunting skills. Their prey was too complicated for the young lions to be successful.  The buffalo would stand up to the young lions, the warthogs were too small to be of interest to the lions, and the buffalo would warn the zebra.

After that we were off to the Sweetwaters Chimp Sanctuary that had chimps rescued by Jane Goodall among others.  They didn't want the chimps to reproduce so they gave the females birth control, but there had been five "accidents." So they were trying vasectomies on the males to see if it would change their behavior.  It seems that chimp babies get orphaned because their mothers get killed for meat and certain rituals.  And some babies get taken as pets until they are five years old and become uncontrollable. There are many stories about chimp rescues.

Later, more game drive seeing much the same type animals minus the lions and elephant.
Above:  Rhinos

Above:  Zebras

Above:  Lion
We had lunch at the Mount Kenya Safari Club and then to their orphanage. Are you tired yet?

We had to pick sweet potato vines so we could feed the Bombay, a big beautiful deer like animal also nearing extinction.  They were breeding them for reintroduction into the wild. Gorgeous animals. We fed baby buffalo, ostriches, crowned cranes, several kinds of monkeys, sat on a 150-year old tortoise, fed dwarf hippos, saw a leopard sleeping in a tree (next to last photo), and baby cheetahs. We tore ourselves away to go to the special Coriolis experiment that was part of the Masai Equator crossing ceremony (kind of bogus). Then a lovely dinner, I was asleep by 9:45 pm. 
Above:  Leopard sleeping in tree
Up at 6:00 am again this morning (Monday), and now on a small plane (DHC-6 Twin Otter with twin Pratt & Whitney engines) to the Masai Mara National Reserve.  We do an afternoon game drive here. I think we see giraffes.  Oh Boy!

The last and next photo is of Mount Kenya with Acacia trees in foreground.

Day 9: Monday - Masai Mara National Reserve & Day 10: Hot Air Balloon Ride

As I mentioned yesterday (Monday) we left the Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel and flew on a small airplane to land at the Masai Mara National Reserve. The following photo was taken of the colorful cockpit colors at the start of our flight.
Above:  Colorful colors of the cockpit
The next photo I took of our airplane (a DHC-6 Twin Otter) after we landed at the Kichwa Tembo Airstrip at the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve.  Notice our luggage by the fence, no Louis Vuitton Leather luggage here.
Above: Our airplane at the Kichwa Tembo Airstrip 
On a side issue, the DHC-6 Twin Otter is also a very popular jump airplane for skydivers, it has the high wing and large exit door that skydivers love.

We arrived at our lodge in time to freshen up before a delicious lunch. We took an afternoon game drive in the Masai Mara National Reserve, home to zebras, cheetahs, wildebeests, gazelles and the “Big Five.” The “Big Five” is a term that is used to refer to the five African animals that early big game hunters considered most difficult and dangerous animals to shoot while on foot. These animals include the African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros. Of course the only shooting we did was with our cameras, but no animal photos are included with this email. I did see some amazing stuff on the game drive today and have tons of photos, just not enough time now to post them.

This morning (Tuesday, Day 10) we took an early morning hot air balloon ride. We had an incredible bird's-eye view of the wildlife.  The photo below is of the balloons as they are now getting ready to go.  I also saw same amazing stuff on the balloon ride also. To my mom, I promise I didn't do any skydiving from the balloon. 
Above:  Hot air balloons
Hopefully I can post some of the above photos at a later date when I have some more downtime.

Day 10 photos (Tuesday, 9-11-18) - Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

I'm writing this today (Wednesday) but attached are a few photos from yesterday (Day 10, Tuesday the 11th) on the afternoon game drive we took after the balloon ride (had to get up at 4:15 am for the balloon ride).  On this game drive we continued exploring the Mara's open grasslands and spectacular vistas.  We saw zebras, wildebeests, lions, giraffes, hyenas, etc.
Above:  Wildebeests and zebras at Mara's open grasslands

Above:  Two lions at Mara's open grasslands

Above:  Diane at andBeyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp

Above:  Giraffes at Mara's open grasslands

Above:  Giraffes at Mara's open grasslands

Above:  Giraffe at Mara's open grasslands

Above:  Scavenges at Mara's open grasslands
More later when I have some computer and Wi-Fi time.

Day 11, Wednesday - Masai Mara National Reserve

As of today (Wednesday, 12th), we have been on four game drives in the last two days and another one scheduled for later today at 5:00 pm.  Even though we are riding in a game drive vehicle, it is still pretty tiring. At 12:30 pm today, my watch said I had climbed 51 flights of stairs and walked over 13,300 steps, all from just bouncing around in the vehicle. After the first game drive this morning and then lunch, the only thing I could do was take a nap.

I will be carrying four cameras and multiple layers of clothing for the evening game drive and later the traditional candlelit bush dinner.

This African trip has been the most extraordinary experience. I could never have imagined it and I feel more than privileged to be here.

Tomorrow (Thursday) will be a travel day, to my third African country, Tanzania (the Serengeti National Park).  So far I have been in two countries (Uganda and Kenya).  I plan to write more during my travel time.

I am hooked on Africa.  

Attached are a few photos from this morning’s game drive.
Above:  A Topi, a medium size antelope

Above:  A Lilac Breasted Roller

Above:  An Impala, another medium size antelope

Above:  Hippos

Above:  Hippos again

Above:  Diane, with Wilson, the guide and driver

Above:  Hippo Pool & Toilet

Above:  Hippos, they can bite a crocodile in half

Above:  Zebra & wildebeest (a large antelope and also called a gnu) migration

Above:  Fresh kill, cheetah & gazelle (Africa's smallest antelope)

Above:  Two lions

Above:  Crop of male lion from previous photo

Above:  Mama elephant and her 6-month old baby

Above:  Father baboon in a tree

Above:  Impala buck

Above:  Warthog (member of the pig family) taking a break in the middle of a hot day
Above:  Pride of lions that had 16 members.  These lions live right next to the Kichwa Tembo Airstrip

Day 12: Greetings from Tanzania

Today is Thursday (Day 12) and I’m in Tanzania, we flew here this morning from Kenya and we are in the heart of Serengeti National Park, location of the longest and largest over land migration in the world. Experts from around the world declared the Serengeti Migration one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa.  We have a game drive scheduled for later today, but this email is a catch-up from yesterday at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

More later from Tanzania, we’ll be in Tanzania for the next four days, until Monday (17th).

Day 13 (Friday): Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)

Today is Friday (Day 13) and I’m in the Serengeti National Park, as I mentioned in my last email we flew here yesterday morning from Kenya, and we landed at the Seronera Airstrip, which is the primary airstrip in the Serengeti National Park. The following photo is of the terminal at the airstrip from yesterday.
Above:  Seronera Airstrip, the primary airstrip in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
From the airstrip it was about 11 miles to the "Ole Serai Luxury Camp - Turner Springs" where we are staying for two nights. The next  photo is of the tent we stayed in, the photo after that was taken inside the tent (showing the toilet area). I don’t have any other photos of this place yet to send but you can check the place out at the following URL if you might have an interest, This place consist of about 20 luxury tents and are certainly the nicest tents I’ve ever seen.
Above:  Our tent at Ole Serai Luxury Camp - Turner Springs

Above:  inside the tent (showing the toilet area)

The photo below is of a beautiful sunrise over the vast Serengeti plains, a great way to start our day and our morning game drive.
Above:  Sunrise over the vast Serengeti plains

On the morning game drive we saw giraffes, zebras, topis (including a baby topi that was born last night), a leopard sleeping in a tree (but you can’t see it in the photo, no zoom on the iPhone), wildebeests, lions (including one good photo of a sleeping lion), and elephants (including one photo of a 6-month old baby elephant, after the sleeping lion photo). We returned to the camp in time for lunch of course. Attached are some of the animal photos from my iPhone for the day. All the attached photos are from my iPhone.
Above:  giraffes

Above:  Zebras

Above:  Tiny baby Topi, zero in on the little tan spot, born last night

Above:  Cheetah, look closely

Above:  Wildebeest

Above:  Giraffs

Above:  Leopard sleeping in a tree

Above:  Elephants

Above:  2 sleeping lions

Above:  6-month old baby elephant

After our morning game drive when we were back at camp for lunch, I took a photo of a sign in front of Ole Serai Luxury Camp an also a photo of yours truly.
Above:  Sign in front of Ole Serai Luxury Camp, Tanzania

Above:  Diane at Ole Serai Luxury Camp, Tanzania

The last two photos are of a cheetah from our afternoon game drive and a photo of the sunset.
Above:  Cheetah

Above:  Sunset

Time now to relax before dinner.

More later from Tanzania, we’ll be in Tanzania until Monday (17th). Tomorrow (Saturday) we drive through Serengeti National Park to the striking Ngorongoro area. So far this trip has been a huge thrill, almost unbelievable, but it’s hard to realize the trip is over two thirds over.

Day 14 (Saturday) - Olduvai Gorge Museum, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania 

Jambo rafiki (Swahili for Hello friends)

Today is Saturday and we left the Ole Serai Luxury Camp in the Turner Springs area of the Central Serengeti where we’ve spent the last two nights. This morning we drove southwest through the Serengeti National Park to the striking Ngorongoro area. The Ngorongoro Crater lies in the Great Rift Valley. This extinct volcano collapsed 25 million years ago, forming the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world.

By the way, Ngorongoro, a Swahili word, is pronounced something like “N-goron-goro,” but we get away with just calling it “the crater.”

I have a few attached snapshots to share from today and they are as follows.

The following photo was taken from the truck on the drive to the crater, the dark area is because they do controlled burns. The controlled burns allows the new nutritious grasses to grow for the grazing animals, older grasses make it more difficult for most grazing animals to feed. The bumpy road caused my watch to show I had climb over a hundred flights of stairs in 3.5 hours, all while just sitting in the back seat.
Above: Drive to the Ngorongoro Crater

The next photo, also taken from the truck, shows the terrain we saw for miles and miles on our drive. 
Above:  Terrain
The photo blow is a sign welcoming us to the Olduvai Gorge, this was one of our stops on our drive to the crater. Olduvai Gorge is the area in Tanzania that holds the earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors.
Above:  Sign welcoming us to the Olduvai Gorge
The next photo shows the plant commonly called Oldupai, the Olduvai Gorge get its name from this plant. Olduvai is actually a misspelling of Oldupai (also sometimes spelled Oldupaai) in naming the gorge, but the misspelled name stuck. The Oldupai plant is used in bush buildings including fences and roof beams, and also for making bandages, ropes and clothing.
Above:  Oldupai plant
The following photo shows part of the Ngorongoro Crater, The rocky protrusions in the upper right side of the photo is called the Olduvai Gorge Monolith, one of the more interesting geological formations in the area.
Above:  Part of the Ngorongoro Crater
The following photo was taken at the Olduvai Gorge Museum, we stopped here on our way to our lodge after visiting the crater. At this museum we got to view the displays of fossils that provide significant evidence of our ancestors. This photo is of a display of Lucy, the most complete skeleton of an early human ancestor ever discovered (Lucy is dated about dated about 3.2 million years ago), the bones were found in Ethiopia. This display uses only reproductions of the original bones. As Lucy was found incomplete, they have this display put together using metal for the missing parts.  Fascinating! The real skeleton of Lucy lies in the National Museum of Ethiopia.
Above:  Reproductions of the original Lucy bones
The 7th photo was taken after we arrived at our lodge where we will be spending the next two nights, the Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge, located just outside the crater. This lodge is a beautiful place set in a building with an outdoor swimming pool and a fitness center, ...and also has free Wi-Fi!  I haven’t had a chance to make photos of this place yet, but there’s a good website with lots of photos if anyone is interested, see;aggregationId=&albumid=101&filter=7
Above:  Sign at Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge
More later from Tanzania, we’ll be in Tanzania until Monday (17th). Our itinerary says that tomorrow (Sunday) we “descend into this primeval paradise of woodland, lake, river, swamp, and plains that shelter more than 20,000 animals.” I've been thinking about this trip for years, and it's hard to believe it's almost over.

Day 15 (Sunday) - Ngorongoro Crater

Today is Sunday and this morning we left the Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge and drove down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The Ngorongoro Crater is also referred to as the “Garden of Eden” due to its dazzling beauty and being a paradise for animals. 

The Ngorongoro Crater was formed when a large volcano erupted and collapsed on itself. This explosion created a caldera approximately two and a half million years ago. Ngorongoro Crater is about 12 miles wide and its rim rises as much as 1,600 feet off of its 102-square-mile floor.

Attached are a few snapshots from inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

Photo #1:  A large male lion in the distance, the first animal sighting of the day.  He’s a long way off so you’ll have to look closely to see him.
Above:  Lion inside the Ngorongoro Crater
Photo #2:  Some zebras that came close to our vehicle.
Above:  Zebras inside the Ngorongoro Crater
Photo #3:  An elephant that also came close to our vehicle.
Above:  Elephant inside the Ngorongoro Crater
Photo #4:  A wildebeests migration, note the dust.
Above:  Wildebeests inside the Ngorongoro Crater
Photo #5:  Some elephants, note the baby elephant between the two females.
Above:  Elephants inside the Ngorongoro Crater
Tonight, we are scheduled for a Farewell Reception and Dinner.

We’ll be in here at the Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge until tomorrow (Monday the 17th).  Monday we are scheduled to have a leisurely morning at the lodge before our trip home. After lunch we will be driven to the airport for our flight back to NYC.

This African journey was all that I imagined and more, a wonderful, breathtaking experience. Getting to cross the equator in two different countries, trekking with chimpanzee and wild mountain gorillas, going on game drives in two countries, viewing Mount Kenya & the Olduvai Gorge, taking a balloon flight, viewing the fossils at the Olduvai Gorge Museum, going down into the Ngorongoro Crater, and more! I took a lot of photos and have memories that will last a lifetime.

Day 16 (Monday) – Last day in Africa, I’m heading home

Today is Monday, the African journey is just about over, this afternoon after lunch we were driven from the Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge to the Kilimanjaro International Airport where we will catch our flight to Amsterdam, then to Boston, then finally to New York City. 

The drive to the airport took over four hours (125 miles) including a stop on the way. Our driver was a man by the name of Issa from the Zulu tribe, he is very handsome.

A few photos from today are as follows.

Photo #1: This is a picture of a Baobab tree at a stop after driving a little over an hour, the trees are known to live up to 2,500 years, although the one is this photo is only about 150 years old. The tree has many useful properties, which is why it is also called the Tree of Life. Unfortunately the trees are starting to die off at an alarming rate, some day it’s due to climate change, but no definite cause is known. Nine of the 13 oldest baobabs (aged between 1 000 and 2 500 years) have died over the past dozen years. Researchers are seeing very few juvenile trees in the affected region while the mature trees are dying off. 
Above:  Baobab tree
Photos #2:  A photo of two young Maasai boys, this photo was taken across the road from the Baobab tree. Most Maasai wear the color red because it symbolizes their culture and they believe it scares away lions. Also, most of the men wear the shuka, which is a red robe.
Above:  Two young Maasai boys
Photos #3:  Al with a Maasai family
Above:  Al with a Maasai family
Photo #4:  This is a photo I took at the Kilimanjaro International Airport in the Luxury Business Class Lounge. We had wine in boxes and saran-wrapped sandwiches. The airport serves the cities of Arusha and Moshi in northern Tanzania. Our flight out of this airport is schedule for about 9:05 PM (Tanzania time) tonight (Monday), we are scheduled to land in Amsterdam Tuesday morning about 7:35 am (Amsterdam time).  From Amsterdam we fly to Boston and then back home landing at the JFK airport. 
Above:  Kilimanjaro International Airport in the Luxury Business Class Lounge
 Photo # 5:  A photo I took out the window of my flight, somewhere over Slovakia or Hungary or Austria (not exactly sure).  I call it "Sunrise on the Way" 

Above:  Sunrise through the airplane window

Above:  iPhone GOS indicates Slovakia, but the Flight Aware website indicates maybe Hungary or Austria

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