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By this Author: spsadventures

Kilimanjaro Day 2- Shira

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

After close to 10 hours of sleep, I woke before they came by with the wakeup call. I felt so much better than last night, but was still disgusting. After a nice baby wipe bath, I felt much nicer though. Of course, after I had finished, they brought by warm washing water and soap.
Everything was covered in frost, and we're only at the first camp.
I prepped my daypack with way less than I had carried yesterday and showed up for breakfast. They served porridge, eggs, vegetables, and hot dogs. I ate what I could, but mostly enjoyed the hot cocoa.
We took off from camp at around 8.
The moreland path was super steep and rocky. The trees and shrubs only reached to the height of a person (taller than a leprechaun) and aren't nearly as dense as in the jungle part. We saw lots of clusters of tiny flowers not more than a cm in diameter, as well as gladiolas. Around this point, we started to see and hear large black ravens.
We hiked for quite a while. I felt that we had passed the midpoint for sure as today's hike is listed at 3-6 hours, and I estimated that we had been hiking 3-4 already. Also, while lots of porters passed us, we seemed to be going at a normal pace based on the other tourists. They'd pass us, but later we'd pass them while they rested (and repeat). I asked, and was told that the midpoint was over an hour away.
WHAT!?! How could that be?
Well, it was 9:10 and we had been hiking only a little over an hour.
panoramic view down

panoramic view down

As the path continued on very steep and rocky, I realized how unprepared I was for this. I had been swimming (exercise with low oxygen), and I did a lot of hiking to/from work, and did a lot of hiking around our area, as well as running. But all of these paths are well-maintained dirt that is relatively smooth from side to side. You can keep at a semi-constant pace and maintain running breathing as opposed to the uneven ground here that messed with my rhythm. Also, I'd hike 1 hour uphill one way or even 4 round trip, but that means you get as much down as up. Here, it's just hours of up, with no down to break it up.
Part of the path even required a little bouldering.
I kept thinking the path would improve just around the bend. There were some less-rocky dirt parts, but for the most part, it was uneven and I found it difficult to use my proper breathing.
view up

view up

Finally, the path turned downhill and even and we relaxed for the last portion into Shira Camp (12500 ft, 3.8km altitude).
This time, I had no issues signing in. I used a lighter bag, paced myself, and felt good at the end of the day. My nose had been a bit runny, but that's manageable and non-serious.
We saw some porters headed down from camp to help those who couldn't make it. I felt bad for them, but had a new sense of confidence that I can do this. I will be able to summit.
Still, I have a million-dollar idea for a local: set up a massage shop at the camps. I bet tourists would pay exorbitant amounts of money for massages after a day of hiking.
When we got to camp, the guides sang us their Hakuna Matata song. It's not the Disney version, and I only recognized place names, but no other words.
shira camp

shira camp

We had a great peanut soup for lunch and realized that on day 2 we had almost half finished the bottle of chili sauce. We enjoyed watching the ravens as we ate.
Then, it was time to get clean clothes on and take a nap!
When hiking, we had passed one layer of clouds and they were below us, like they are when you're in an airplane. But, there was another layer of clouds above us. Occasionally we had walked through them. Yes. We literally walked through clouds. They're chilly and moist, and basically just like fog. The second layer also means that while it may not be raining below, it can be raining at our altitude.
When I woke from my nap, it was drizzling, but by the time I had to use the toilet, it poured. My rain gear was in the guide's bag as it was heavy and they helped lighten my load by taking it. I snuggled more into the mummy bag and tried to hold it until the rain let up. Eventually, I put on my partner's raincoat, grabbed his umbrella, and braved it. Of course, the rain that had lightened when I decided to gear up had started to pour even more by the time I was ready to go out.
The restroom tent is only a few meters/yards from our tent, but it still takes a lot of effort given that the tents are low to the ground and altitude increases even the effort of standing. I'm just glad we had a restroom tent and didn't have to walk all the way to the public bathrooms.
I also started to cough today. The "stomach engineer" heard and made me some ginger tea. These guys really do take care of you well. For example, one of the zippers on one of my pouches broke. I was ready to declare it trash, but the assistant guide took it and had somebody repair it for me.
The rest of the day, I relaxed with my kindle, had dinner, and went to sleep. I was lulled into slumber by the gentle rumble of voices from the various camps. Really, the magic is not getting to sleep the first time, but staying asleep as you turn over and getting back to sleep quickly after bathroom breaks.

Posted by spsadventures 05:02 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Kilimanjaro Day 1- Machame

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

This portion of my blog is from the journal I kept (on paper) while climbing. Some of the thoughts I had at various points may seem like premonitions, foreboding, or irony given later events, but this is what I was thinking at that time. If it seems as if my mood is like the Katy Perry song Hot and Cold, that's because it truly was.
We got a good look at the outskirts of Arusha on the way to the mountain. In general, the main street area was lined with brightly-colored one-story shops, usually built of concrete. They had their names painted right on the building in big, bold letters, but they were also usually at least partly open so that you could see right inside as you passed, and check out the goods.
Many of them had names like "Glorious Luminosity gas shop" or "Praise Stationery," reminding me of some of the shop names in The Number One Ladies Detective Agency books.
Behind these shops, little shantytown streets stretched back some distance. Many of the homes were still corrugated metal. Occasionally, we would see another fancy building behind serious walls (like our hotel) and note that it was labeled also as a hotel or resort. I'm wondering if a lot of the tour companies put people up in places like this just as a stopover. There's not much to do in the surrounding area other than visit the little shops, so I would guess tourists don't really leave the compound. As long as they're not leaving, the location doesn't matter too much, and so the tour companies can save money by putting tourists up for a night well out of town. The hotel makes an extra killing overcharging for food as there aren't any options nearby. Ours even had a warning sign in the room letting us know that we were not allowed to bring in outside food because the hygiene was likely lacking in the nearby shops.
One of the ways the barbershops we passes advertised their services was either painted-on pictures or photos of various hairstyles they could give. Many of the pictures were of celebrities, which is a typical way of advertising. But I was amused to see Justin Timberlake and David Beckham among the other celebrities at one shop, given that their hair type is so drastically different from everybody I've seen here (except tourists).
Another quirk I found interesting is that seemingly almost every shop had a wakala, mpesa, tigo, or vodaphone logo out front. These are all logos related to cell phone services and mobile money. Using phones for payment has clearly leapfrogged credit cards here.
At one point, the road became divided. Somebody was slowly driving the wrong way down the road. Several drivers who were driving in the correct direction slowed and there were several places he could have used to turn around and fix himself, but he kept on driving the wrong way down the divided highway as if going slowly made it ok.
For the past several days, we've been on safari and driving over very bumpy and uneven dirt roads. The smoothness of the city streets feels like such a drastic contrast compared with that.
We left the main town and entered an area with more jungle or forest and green with the occasional large house behind a fence before entering more agricultural areas with lots of cornfields. I also noticed cabbage, peppers, coffee, chickens, and crops that I couldn't identify. The scenery for most of the rest of the drive alternated between agricultural areas and small towns set up as we've previously seen. Some of them also had some light industry visible from the main road, mostly cement block making and furniture making (by hand). The finished goods were just sitting in the yard, waiting to be admired from the road and covered in dust as there didn't seem to be any warehouse to hold them.
In addition to furniture-making by hand, the agriculture seemed to be by-hand as well. People picked weeds or tended fields, but I didn't see tractors or much heavy farm equipment. Most of the fields were too small for the heavy equipment to really be practical anyway.
Some of these small farms had cows. After days of seeing large Masai herds of tiny nomadic animals, seeing a single large cow in a fenced enclosure was quite the contrast.
We made a stop at a gas station so that the crew members could get something to eat, but also for us to pick up some last minute snacks for the mountain. We already had some snacks, but it's better to be safe than sorry. We had heard that you lose your appetite as you climb higher, but of course you need as much energy as you can get to continue. So, we bought snacks that answered the question: what would I want to eat no matter how full I was? Of course, they didn't have my reduced fat Skippy, but they dad have spicy banana chips, cashews, and a plastic container of mango pickle. Glass would have been bad for weight and breakability reasons. My partner got oreos and juice.
Finally, we got our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro, after almost a week in Tanzania. We couldn't really see the top, as the clouds blocked that from view, but we at least saw the base of the impetus for this trip.
Shortly, we passed an unassuming sign in the middle of a cornfield welcoming us to Kilimanjaro National Park, but it was no larger or bolder than the signs we had passed for various schools, so it was quite easy to miss.
Despite being inside the park, we still passed signs that people live here. Corn fields, cultivated fields blooming with red flowers, coffee plantations, and banana trees dominated what scenery wasn't cut off from view by lines of woods along the road. Scattered homes and eventually a small town showed that people continued about their normal lives near the base of the mountain.
As we got closer to the entrance to the climb, I spotted a fancy mega church next to a building with a prominent ATM in what looked like an either soon-to-be hotel or a rundown hotel. Other rundown buildings looked as if they once may have been popular hotels or lodges, and I wonder what drove them out of business, considering their prime in-park location.
As the van climbed toward the dropoff point, I could already feel the air starting to cool a bit. And then, we had arrived.
We waited in a picnic shelter as the porters unloaded the van and started organizing the bags. Our chef, George (King George, as everyone seems to have a nickname), brought us lunch that consisted of eggs, juice, and mostly carbs. While others seemed to have those lunchboxes that we'd been having on safari, our lunch was presented on a platter and we had plates and silverware to eat with. It wasn't necessary at this point, but it did feel fancy.
A couple of cats roamed the picnic area, looking for scraps, and my partner made sure to pet the cats and get them chicken bones from other groups' trash.
I observed the other tourists as we all waited for our groups to take off. Everybody had pretty professional gear. Nobody seemed unprepared. I haven't even seen this much performance clothing at a gym. I heard dozens of languages as this was truly an international group. One group from Malaysia had "Kili over 50" t-shirts as it consisted just of older folks. Another group had an Irish flag. (There was actually a vendor selling flags out front, in case you forgot yours at home.) A French lady stood outside the pavilion and smoked.
Seriously. I half-jokingly wondered if her plan for dealing with the low oxygen at altitude was to just quit smoking on day 2 so her lungs healed and handled better.
We signed in to the mountain at the ranger station, as we would do to each site each day, and waited some more.
I used the last restroom I expected to use for days. It had running water and flush toilets, but the toilets didn't actually flush and one was missing a seat, so they weren't that great. But they had toilet paper, so that was good.
We waited some more.
The government has imposed strict rules for the porters- each is only allowed to carry up to 20 kg, and they have to get weighed. Depending on the size of the group, there might be 10 or more porters. So, it takes a long time for all the porters from all of the groups to get weighed.
Finally, we were off into the jungle.
As soon as we rounded the first bend from the entrance gate, we saw porters sitting in groups along the side of the road, rearranging their bags. Apparently, it is typical practice to somehow sneak in a bit of extra weight and rearrange just out of view of the rangers.
porters rearranging

porters rearranging

As we trekked through the jungle, we saw some monkeys, impatiens violets, and some impatiens that are endemic to Kilimanjaro. We heard hyrax? or some sort of tree mammal.
kilimanjaro flower

kilimanjaro flower

The path was mostly dirt and mud, retained by pieces of wood. Periodically, a break in the path would allow for water flow (during the rainy season) to cross only in specific locations.
It was a generally nice path, although somebody was eating some sort of candy and littering wrappers like they were Hansel and Gretel and needed to find a way out. My partner picked them up and we sort of hoped to find out who it was so that we could return their trash to them.
At first, we were going at a good pace and were actually passing some groups. Of course, the porters were passing us much faster. Our assistant guide, James (007), was walking with us while the main guide was doing something with the porters. After a while, we started slowing and people passed us. It's not a race and I was only using them as a reference way to know how we were doing. I was carrying way too much in my daypack, but nobody had checked the weight until significantly into our hike, when James took my water bottles to help me along. Eventually, my back hurt and he ended up taking the whole bag, even though I hadn't asked. I was sweating profusely, so my wicking clothes were wet. Yet, I was still hot and sweating more as it started to get dark and everybody else added layers.
jungle path

jungle path

We had been walking through green jungle filled with moss, ferns, and tall trees. It started to get dark, but then we exited into the mooreland and got some extra light.
Our main guide had rejoined us, and even had some porters come down from camp to help carry our stuff. They also brought us light as even in the mooreland, we would not make camp by nightfall. But, by this point, I had pushed myself too far.
Even with hiking poles and no bag, I was taking a lot of breaks. At some points, my partner was literally pushing my back, helping me up the hill. (He's the best.)
Eventually, we made it to Machame Camp, ~3km altitude.
We actually had a great camp site, a bit isolated from the larger groups, but we had to walk past it in order to get to the ranger station to check in.
At the check in point, I could barely hold the pen to write my name. I was sweating and freezing at the same time. By the time we got to the food tent, my temperature regulation was way off. Even though food was ready and I was encouraged to eat, I absolutely had to get out of my wet clothes and into something dry and warm immediately. Food could wait.
Once dry and warm, we settled in for dinner. I could barely eat anything beyond zucchini soup and hot cocoa. I was so exhausted and starting to seriously doubt my capabilities here, but also hoping that a lighter bag would make the hike easier. I didn't need most of my daypack items in my daypack every day, and I could pack differently- like only taking snacks for the one day and not all of them. Still, I questioned my sanity and was pretty confident that I wasn't going to make it another day on the mountain.
We had already seen some people turn back, and I wasn't so sure they were wrong.
I settled in for sleep in thermal shirt and pants, sweatpants, a fleece, a hat, the mummy bag and a liner. Quickly, I realized I needed 2 pairs of socks and gloves in order to sleep comfortably. Other than getting up to pee, I slept very well.
The toilet tent has a chemical toilet that "flushes" by pulling a lever to release the waste into the bottom portion. It smells like chemicals, which is a lot better than waste. It zips shut and has a little wall pouch for toilet paper. Still, depending on how cold the night is, the paper can get cold and damp. Maybe it's an odd thing to notice, but both at the hotels and camp, the paper has been 2 or 3 ply. As everything these days seems to be "quilted" or fluffy, it sort of feels like a 90s throwback to have toilet paper with a ply count.

Posted by spsadventures 03:56 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

From Safari to Climb

Arusha, Tanzania

This morning, we slept in a bit and awoke without an alarm. I got organized a bit and then went out on the front porch to just enjoy the view. I didn't expect any wildlife, but what looked like a black mongoose crossed the yard. Too bad Eli wasn't here to see it, or he would have easily been able to identify it for me. It's cool and breezy, so the trees rustling provides a nice white noise. I can still hear the cars passing on the main road, but they sound further away than they actually are. Also, the occasional rooster crows, and I think I hear a cow mooing.
hotel view

hotel view

One thing that surprised me is that we forgot to put the mosquito net around the bed last night, but didn't get bit at all. Actually, I haven't seen any mosquitoes at all. And I haven't seen any "indoor wildlife" here. Given my experiences in St. Kitts, I'm pretty amazed at that.
Actually, this whole trip has been amazing- the scenery, the animals, Elyon tours, the glampsite. I just can't recommend this experience enough. We are already thinking about what else we want to see and do next time, when we come back. And for those who know me or have followed my long blog, there are very few places I have been that I ever feel the need to go back to, so that should tell you how special Tanzania is.
The drive back to Arusha was pretty uneventful, although I really enjoyed watching the people go about their business in the small towns. The shops are all painted in bright colors and partly open so that you can see some of their wares.
We arrived at Summit Safari Lodge, the hotel for Climb Kili, and said goodbye to Eli. Now begins the impetus for this whole adventure- climbing Kilimanjaro.
The hotel has very nice grounds, but it's set in a bit of a ramshackle neighborhood. It's high walls and guard at the gate make you forget that though. However, there is a paper in the room warning guests not to eat food from nearby shops and telling them it's actually forbidden to bring in outside food as the hygiene level is unknown. That didn't stop us from eating our box lunch though.
In case I hadn't mentioned it, each day that we've been on safari the hotels where we spent the night before has packed a box lunch for us. It literally comes in a cardboard box. They fill it with a drink, some sort of dessert, and whatever meal items strike their fancy and give it to the guide on the way out. All of the food was tasty, but none was spectacular. My favorite of all the items were the samosas, but other examples of lunchbox items are: pancakes, bananas, sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, fried chicken, spaghetti, and mango juice box.
Our ClimbKili briefing began in the afternoon and they explained to us what we needed to do (and not do) as well as bring (and not bring). I also got a chance to chat with a couple of guys who had just come down the mountain to pick up some tips and perspective.
We ate dinner at the hotel and got organized for the trip.
Wish us luck!

Posted by spsadventures 14:24 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)


Ngorongoro, Tanzania

In the middle of the night, we were startled awake by a deep roaring sound followed by some sort of barking and another deep grumble. Clearly, some predator had found their prey, right near our tent. In the morning, the people who knew animal sounds informed us that was a lion attacking a buffalo.
Despite the interruption, we awoke before sunrise without an alarm, even though ours was set for 5:30 so we could make it to 6am breakfast and get an early start on the day. Breakfast was tasty, although simple- eggs, crepe pancakes, buns and some meats. Afterwards, we were incredibly lucky to be able to watch the sun come up over the horizon. The colors are amazing, and the tree silhouettes created by the angle of the light just add to the beauty.
sunrise over the serengeti

sunrise over the serengeti

Less than a minute after we left the glamp site, we started to see wildlife. The plains abounded with Thompsons gazelle munching grass, zebras barking away, and topi running around in play. Behind a bunch of these, two secretary birds sat atop a tree, preening. These birds have amazing crests. I want to know who does their hair and get mine done like that!
secretary birds

secretary birds

We saw a hyena hiding in some grass, watching some gazelle. And then we spotted a spotted a hyena walking down the road. His belly was huge, so he must have eaten his fill pretty recently.


We caught a glimpse of some dikdik running away from us as a goose sat and watched.
All this was within about 20 minutes of when we left the camp. As the dirt roads are very bumpy and uneven, this is not a very large distance.
Every few minutes, we stop and see something else amazing. This place is incredible!
Hippos stay in the water during the day, but at night and early in the morning, they come out to eat grass. We saw a couple of them out for a snack. One of them had ox pecker birds sitting on his back as if he was just a big rock.


A couple of minutes later, we caught sight of two lions. One was sittting under a copse of trees while the other walked towards her.
A herd of impala blocked the road as we passed near a ranger post, marked by a huge antenna or pole sticking up out of the bush. Nearby, there's a tiny little airport, right in the middle of the savannah. The planes are small there, but they fly to nearby cities. Overhead, two hot air balloons floated past. I'm sure they had an amazing view. Maybe we'll splurge for that next time.
One thing that amazes me is how our guide gets us anywhere. There are tons of dirt roads that all look the same to me, and no signs at 90% of the junctions. The ones that do have signs usually have signs that say things like "danger" or a bridge weight limit and not street names or directions to a lodge. I would get so lost if I tried to navigate myself. Meanwhile, Eli is capable of quickly driving over the bumpy, uneven road, while keeping a keen eye out for interesting wildlife, and turning at just the right places. And the guides can't just memorize one route. We came upon one area of mud that was impassable. So Eli backed up, turned around, and found us another way to wherever we were going.
He found us a cluster of safari vehicles watching a mama cheetah out with her four cubs. For a while she was calmly walking on the road as they followed. As more and more vehicles joined he audience, she moved off the road and into the grass. But as the grass was taller than the cubs, they had to hop in order to follow her. So here she is, calmly strolling through the golden savannah, in a most dignified manner, with a bunch of kittens hippity hopping around following her.


In general, the dirt roads were wide enough for vehicles to pass. But at one point, we came to a road that only had ruts wide enough for one vehicle. Bushes lined either side of the road. Of course, there are no directives or one way signs out here, so when we came upon another vehicle from the opposite direction, he had to back up a bit until our driver could find a low enough bank to climb and wait as the other vehicle passed by. Then, we could continue on.
We saw a pair of trees containing a vulture and another lilac breasted roller, then two in the same tree.
bird on plant

bird on plant

We keep having good luck with big cats. We saw another lioness on top of one of the big piles of rock like they have in the Lion King. And then she went to hide in the bushes.
I saw a red and yellow barbet perched on a branch. Some superb sterlings fluttered about as we passed them. And then there he was- adult simba. A big lion with a large mane walked along the horizon line before plopping himself down in the grass to survey his territory.
We had the opportunity to see a bustard, the biggest flying bird in Africa. Some blackwing stilts dug for bugs in a marsh nearby.
The grassland road we took towards the exit was less busy than the greener area we had spent the early morning. There were no marshes for water, and eventually no trees for shade. Still, we saw quite a few birds as we bumped our way along the road. We also saw another hyena strolling through grass up to its belly and Thompsons gazelles munching on the short grass.
I'm starting to get good at identifying the different animals. The Thomspons gazelles are smaller than the Grants, but bigger than the impala, and have stripes on their sides. We saw more of them hanging out by a bunch of hot beasts, which I still can't tell apart from topis though.
We made a quick stop at the Serengeti park "entrance" where we ate lunch yesterday. The spot still teemed with superb starlings. Then, we continued back across the plains with endless short yellow grass where no trees or scrub broke the infinite pale golden ground. The only difference between one minute and the next were the herds we occasionally passed.
At the park border, the scenery is still the same. As soon as you leave the park though, you are in the Ngorongoro conservation area, as they abut each other. The road is just as bumpy and rumbly as the grassland plains area inside the park. Really, you pretty much vibrate the whole way. I am super impressed with the guys who designed the Toyota Landcruisers as I don't know how the vehicle doesn't just shake apart. A suggestion for the ladies who might plan on taking a trip like this: wear a good bra, even a sports bra if you have a comfortable one. The various dirt roads alternate between an unevenness that causes large sideways rocking, bumpy that causes just general jostling, and an odd pattern that causes constant vibration.
Slowly, Masai and their herds and villages start creeping into the monotonous landscape. The occasional tree appears. Then, the mountains off in the distance grow and grow, until you're right next to them.
As we neared them, I saw a vertical discoloration off in the distance. I thought it might be smoke from a Masai village, but it was too straight. I thought it might just be the way the light was pouring through a hole in the clouds, but the clouds were normal and not shaped for that. Then they were identified as sand devils- sort of a mini tornado that had picked up a bunch of dust.
We passed them and the vehicle began the climb up the mountain. The scenery now alternated between areas that consisted of lots of close together scrubby trees and bushes and areas of short grass with virtually nothing else. The animal life was limited to giraffe, Masai herds, and some birds until we passed a large lake, where we also saw ostrich and impala.
We got a great view on Ngorongoro crater from the entrance point, and then proceeded down. The guide explained that since this is really a collapsed volcano top and not from a meteor, it's technically a caldera and not a crater.


On the way down, we saw a patch of yellow flowers, which were some of the first flowers we have seen this whole trip. I guess it's just not flower season now. A few of the cactus trees also had some yellow at the tips, which may have been flowers. As we descended we saw maybe 10 different kinds of tiny flowers, although they were still few and far between.
The entrance road is pretty narrow, twisty, uneven, and generally treacherous. The vehicle swayed side to side as we bumped slowly along at a speed I probably could have walked. I noticed that some of the rock walls were an interesting turquiose blue color, but I'm not sure what mineral made them that way. Also, about halfway down we started seeing the herds. They were there all along, but too far away to see them from the top.
Once we got even closer, could identify the animals as more than black dots. The first animals we saw were some buffalo catching shade under a tree that was filled with weavers' nests. On a much closer tree, we saw the weavers flitting about their nests.


A red winged lark whistled from a nearby tree.
And then, we got to the bottom and the flood of wildlife. We saw anteater chats, a warted starling sitting on a zebra's back, eating bugs. We saw a bunch of crowned cranes, the national bird of Uganda that is on their flag. We saw a seemingly endless amount of zebras, warthogs, buffalo, Grants gazelle, and wildebeest all mixed in with each other, and all munching on grass or just standing there, dumb.
warthog DSCF2153

warthog DSCF2153

We saw both female and male ostriches, and even got to hear the male calling to the female ostrich. We saw several lone bull elephants.
birds on zebras

birds on zebras

We ate lunch amongst the animals. It was surreal to look up from a bite and see Wildebeest fighting.
As we moved to more wetland and lake areas of the park, we spotted flamingos in the alkaline lake. Nearby, wildebeest honked. Turning around to look at a smaller pond, we spotted some Egyptian geese with babies, stork, eversets, and ducks. Then, some flamingos from the big lake flew overhead and joined the small pond party.


Here, both hyenas and jackalls roamed the fields freely. They were out in the open, not hiding, and it didn't bother any of the herd animals.


We saw several groups of lions, although they were all just sleeping or sunbathing. At one site, I actually thought one was dead at first.
sleeping lion

sleeping lion

We also caught a few different groups of hippos. Most weren't doing much. They sat submerged in the water, maybe spashing water on themselves rarely. But the group by the restrooms was super active. They made noise and snorted. One got up a few times. Periodically they all popped their heads up to look around, before resubmerging themselves.
Near one of these water holes, we also saw some egrets and pelicans.
bird in a tree

bird in a tree

And we did get to see one of the rarer animals- a rhino. He was a bit far away, but at least he was moving. He took a nice walk through the brush and then out into the open, just for us.
We passed some eland and bustards before happening upon a group of olive baboons. The group contained some babies, but some of the large adults were more amusing. One of them kept charging around like he was angry or something.
On the way out of the park, we caught sight of some Guinea fowl and two different types of jackal, right in a row- the black backed jackal and the golden jackal. And of course we passed through many of the same herd animals we had been constantly seeing the whole time.
animals DSCF2281

animals DSCF2281

We climbed back up through the jungled walls of the caldera/crater and drove to the exit point, where our guide had to check out. Right by the exit point, we saw a family of baboons, but they scattered as we tried to slowly approach.
We returned to the same Green Hills Lodge as two nights ago. Like last time, it seems like we are the only ones here, although this time we did see another couple and their guide at dinner. Our guide explained that the high season is over as European vacations are over and that they try to put their guests in locations that aren't too crowded.
As last time, the service here is impeccable. The food is good. Most importantly, it is clean, quiet, and beautiful.
Since we're near the end of the safari portion of the trip, I'd like to give mad props to our guide, Eli from Elyon tours. He was perfect for us. He is very knowledgeable and was able to answer all but one our hundreds of questions. For the single question that he didn't know, he was honest and said so instead of feeding us b.s. I really appreciate that. He is AMAZING at animal and plant and bird identification. Seriously, I think he memorized an encyclopedia or something. And he wasn't too chatty, which was perfect for us. We like looking at the animals and scenery in relative serenity. Ok, maybe sometimes quiet plus the sound of the engine rumbling or the car chugging down the road, but still, not lots of mindless chatter. He would give us the explanation we needed, answer our questions, and let us enjoy what we were looking at and the feeling of being semi-alone in the middle of nowhere. He didn't feel the need to fill every second with noise, like some guides I've had in other places. He was one of the reasons that we really enjoyed the tour and we strongly recommend him for anybody who wants to go on safari in Tanzania.

Today's animal summary: Thompsons gazelle, zebra, topi, secretary bird, hyena, dikdik, goose, hippopotamus, ox pecker, lion, impala, cheetah, vulture, lilac breasted roller, red and yellow barbet, superb starling, bustard, blackwing stilt, buffalo, weaver, red winged lark, anteater chat, warted starling, zebra, crowned cranes, warthogs, Grants gazelle, wildebeest, ostrich, elephant, flamingo, Egyptian geese, stork, eversets, flamingos, ducks, egret, pelican, rhino, eland, guinea fowl, black backed jackal, golden jackal, olive baboon, cattle.
Spelling and grammar will be fixed and good pictures added when I have my laptop.


Posted by spsadventures 03:16 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)


Serengeti, Tanzania

We began the day with a nice but simple breakfast at the hotel. We packed and hopped into the vehicle to get an early start on the day.
Perhaps due to the altitude, it was actually a bit chilly this morning. We were good in pants and a t-shirt or light long sleeve, but a lot of the locals wore hats and coats.
Yesterday, we were in Tarangire, which is a national park. This means that it is only for the animals and no people can live there. Today, we're starting by cutting through Ngorongoro Conservation area. This area allows Masai to live along slide the animals because they don't hunt them. Other tribes are forbidden because many of them like wild game meat and would hunt the animals.
masai with herds

masai with herds

The entrance has a little introduction area, with a 3-D map of the territory as well as signs and pictures explaining the geology, animals, and people of the area. It also has a gift shop and free wifi, which is where I posted yesterday's blog from.
The scenery at the entrance to the park is drastically different than the scenery yesterday. We are in more of a jungle than savannah. Dense green brush and trees line the red mud road. The color scheme here is not golden and light green, it is deep rust and bright forest green.
As we got higher up the mountain, we entered the fog. All we could see past the nearby brush was a big field of white.
Once we were back in the sun, we could see over the edge and into the crater a bit. We got a glimpse of the lake and a bunch of the in-park lodging.
Upon exiting the forested area, we entered into a hilly grassland area. Zebras and cows grazed by the road side. Eventually, we entered another yellow grassland area where we could see a large lake below and several Masai villages nearby. Just like yesterday, the people wore their traditional cloths and drove cattle. I had thought to describe them as a sort of Tanzanian Amish because they don't mix and modernize. Except, today I saw a herder texting on her cell phone.

As we traveled, we saw some steamrollers maintaining the dirt road. They weren't laying anything down, just compacting what was there. Haha. Steamrolls.
We continued driving through the Ngorongoro area, and saw gazelle, wildebeest, and a giraffe close to a lake as well as a buzzard in a tree. We also passed more Masai with their herds and one of the more commercialized Masai tourist villages.
road to lake

road to lake

The trees in this area are rather scrubby. I can't tell what color they naturally are, as all are covered in dust, so they are the same brown as the road.
As we passed from area to area, the landscape slowly changed. We'd be in a section with golf-course-short yellow grass where you could see for mes that there was pretty much nothing else, and then intermittent scrub appeared. Slowly the scrub turned to umbrella trees or got denser and we'd be in an entirely different landscape. Which might fade to desert scrub again.
Somewhere in the midst of this, we stopped at a Masai village. They speak Ma, and some of the younger ones speak Swahili as the government requires it in school now. One guy spoke English as well, so he was our guide.
We were welcomed by a song performed by a group of adults wearing traditional clothes. We learned that the women in blue were married and the red ones were still not.
After the song, we entered the village and shook hands with the chief. This man was very old and I'm not sure how coherent he was. He may have been a model chief.
The same individuals who sang to us, then performed a dance. The men jumped. In their culture, the higher you can jump, the better you are considered as a mate. For women, the better you dance, the more you're considered a good mate. But you're not really dancing for your peers, you're dancing for their parents as marriages are arranged.
Next, we got to watch how they make fire from cypress and camphor sticks, then dump it into dried grass to catch. We even got to try it ourselves.
masai fire

masai fire

They invited us into a model house to show off typical household items, and then into a real person's house to see how they live.
The walls are made of sticks cemented together with mud. The roof is straw and sticks. It is not tall enough for us to stand straight up, so we had to stoop. We sat on a cot made of sticks and cow hide as we listened to our guide tell us about their family life.
We exited to look at the handicraft goods for sale. The women are famous for turning little glass beads the beads into large pieces of jewelry.
Actually, the women do a lot. They build the homes (although the men bring back the sticks). They take care of the village. They haul water. The kids take care of the cattle. So I asked what the men (who are all considered warriors if they're 15-35) do. The guide said that the men do the dangerous outside work because it's too dangerous for the women. (Except the women still have to go out to get water and it's safe enough for their kids to herd their cattle there.) Masai don't hunt. Men gather sticks and protect the village. I'm not quite sure what that entails as there are not really proper wars going on now.
As my partner purveyed the wood carvings, the guide asked if I'd like to join the Masai, now that I've seen their lifestyle. I jokingly asked how good the wifi in the village was. But the joke fell flat as his response was "what is wifi?"
Despite being open to tourists, the village children are not that familiar with them. One toddler was looking at me, and so I went over to offer to take a picture with her. She started crying because I was so scary, apparently I'm too light. Another group of toddlers waved to me, but when I waved back, they ran in the house. I think that last one is a universal game anywhere though.
We saw a few other demonstrations, like the schoolhouse. It was tiny and only one room, with two rows of kids who must have been kindergarten age. I guess all of the older kids are out with the herds.
Another demo was spear throwing, although they gave us a blunted spear to try. I was actually not bad and at least I hit something.
One part of the village I got to see that a lot of people skip is the toilet. The hut containing the toilet is outside of the main village by a short walk. The hut is made of sticks, like the houses in the village, except it is much bigger. There are rocks surrounding a hole in the ground. And that's it.
Masai village

Masai village

We moved on from the Masai village and into short grassland plains before entering savannah areas. The word Serengeti means endless plain, and that's what we saw. Plains as far as the eye could see. No mountains, no trees, just grass and more grass. The only sense of perspective came from tiny dots in the distance that were animals.
infinite serengeti

infinite serengeti

This section contained lots of Thompson's gazelles and Grant's gazelles as well as lark flocks that scattered as we passed.


We entered a different section of the park that was more savannah. The savannah at least has scattered trees to provide a visual contrast.
Here, we stopped for lunch at one of the picnic areas. We didn't get to eat lunch with zebras like yesterday, but we were surrounded by plenty superb starlings. Superb is part of their name, not just how I want to describe their irridescent blue color.
superb starling

superb starling

At this picnic area, we climbed a short hill to get an amazing view of the serengeti. It was still flat plains as far as we could see.
At the top, we saw these amazing red-headed agama lizards. They are such a bright pink and purple that they seem more like a kid's toy than a real animal.
colorful agama lizard

colorful agama lizard

When we climbed down, the real game drive began.
We quickly found a group of several lions, one of whom was sleeping belly up in the middle of the grass.


We watched ostriches, an eagle, and saw a new type of antelope called a hot beast, as well as plenty more gazelle. Up until this point, we were still driving with the top down because the roads were extremely dusty.
As we got into a bit muddier area, we put the roof up so that we could stand and see everything. Shortly after, we saw another new antelope- the topi.
The guides have some sort of cb system and I assume what they're using it for is to tell each other where the good animals are. So when one person finds something cool, like a cheetah, everyone nearby knows where to go. Or maybe the guides just see a group stopped and so they pop on by. Either way, we joined a bunch of other groups that were watching said cheetah. Really, the cheetah didn't do much. He just popped his head up a bit, but that was still really neat to see.
Now, we were in a savannah area with tall golden dried grasses and periodic large boulders or outcroppings. Here, we saw a jackal and on top of a tree saw a lapet faced vulture.
We then joined a big group of other safari vehicles that were parked near an acacia tree. Underneath, 6 lions lolled in satisfaction. One had assumed the belly-up sleeping position that we had seen already and see Sushi do at home all the time. Another was licking itself to clean itself, just like a housecat. And we also saw why they were so satisfied- they had just killed an warthog. One cat was playing with a tusk while occasionally nibbling from what was left of the meat. We observed the lions for quite some time, fascinated, before moving on.
We noticed these really cool-looking trees with some fruits that look like big sausages hanging from them. They are aptly called sausage trees.
Most of the day, we had been in golden grass. Towards the evening, we started to see more marsh area, where the grass is green and there was some small amount of water flow and mud. While the water is a bit too salty for the herd animals to flock to it the way they flocked to the watering holes yesterday, it still contains plenty of wildlife.
bird with dinner

bird with dinner

We spotted a black headed heron, some guinea fowl, and some fowlspar fowl. We spotted a pile of hippos sleeping in the mud. One was occasionally splashing water with its tail. I didn't know hippos had hairy snouts until seeing these. Also, hippos are very dirty. They poop in the water where they sleep and just keep sitting in the same water. Eventually, the water gets very poopy and smelly. Later in the day, we passed a section where hippos clearly had been, but were no longer, which we could tell by the smell.
hippo pile

hippo pile

This area also had some sort of volcanic geological formations that stuck up from the plains. These piles of big black rocks were created by volcanoes millions of years ago, and then eroded and rounded by the weather until they achieved today's shape.
Nearby, we saw a lone elephant. Then we followed our eyes to two more. And then the whole herd. Again, we saw a baby rolling around and playing today. These elephants were eating bushes. One was struggling to pick the bush it was trying to eat. We watched as it pulled this way and that for a while, sensing its frustration. Eventually, he got the bush and started chewing. These elephants were not afraid of us at all. They completely ignored us as they crossed the road only about 2 car lengths away from us.


Near another stream, we saw an Egyptian goose. As we stopped to take its picture, we noticed something moving across the stream on a rock. It was a family of monkeys! But these were no monkeys I had ever seen before. These are called blue ball monkeys for a very good reason. The males have huge blue balls. Not blueish- bright robins egg blue. I guess the whole point is that you can see these balls from very far away. They certainly do stand out.
adult blueball monkey

adult blueball monkey

The group contained one large male with his big blue balls, but also several females carrying around lots of babies. I'm guessing that his big blue balls are more than just for show. The babies hung from the underside of the moms as the moms made their way around. Other moms fed their babies. Some of the babies were playing with each other. This group of monkeys was fascinating to watch, and not just because of the blue balls.
youg blueball monkeys

youg blueball monkeys

I think that at this point, the guide was headed to our lodge. But still, we saw plenty of wildlife on the way, including a huge herd of giraffe, some crocodiles, zebra, more topi, and impala. The herd animals actually prefer this area as it has lots of new grass. Last year, this area had been selected for a controlled burn, so the tall grass no longer blocked the light from getting to new grass and was fertilizing the ground.


Elyon tours chose for us to spend tonight inside the park at Mbugani tented camp. Our "camp" is amazing. Really, I'm not sure I like any place I've ever stayed more, and that includes the 5-star hotels my company puts me up in for business trips.
This cannot be called camping. Sorry. It's glamping once the tents fit 2 queen beds, have electricity, and have indoor plumbing, including a proper flush toilet.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with a wet towel and a drink and asked to sit by the campfire for a description of the facilities. These included laundry service for those staying more than one night. One important item of note was that nobody is allowed to walk to/from their tent by themselves at night. If you need an escort to the main dining tent, they tell you to flash your flashlight and somebody will come get you.
We got settled in our spacious and luxurious room that just happened to have walls made of thick cloth instead of drywall or brick. We then came back to the dining tent for happy hour, where we chatted with lots of other well-travelled people. Then came dinner. First came a delicious soup course, followed by a high-quality buffet, served on plates with animal print rims. The placemats were Masai bead style. Everything was so incredibly amazing.
After dessert, I got an escort back to the tent.
"Do you see those eyes?" he asked.
Finally, he pointed the flashlight at two sparkles in the dark. Eyes!!!
"That's a hyena," he informed me.
I have no clue how he knew, but that was one of the last animals we hadn't seen and expected we might see.
I actually wasn't quite sure which tent was mine. They all look the same and I didn't see any identifiers. So we just sort of walked towards the end of the row I knew we were in. I thought maybe the third one was ours and stood outiside discussing it with the escort. The guys inside helpfully let us know that it was not ours. So we tried the second one, which was also not ours, as the residents informed us. I checked the first, although I was pretty sure we weren't at the end of the row. Aha! We were the fourth cabin in and my fourth guess. Fourth try is the charm, right?
Before going to bed, we took another good look at the stars. Again, we could easily see the Milky Way with our bare eyes. I admit that I don't usually find stars too impressive, but looking up at that sky, I understand why pre-industrial societies were intrigued and enthralled.
As we closed our eyes, we were lulled into slumber by the soft chirps and croaks and other animal noises surrounding the tent.
So, today's summary is: zebra, cattle, wildebeest, giraffe, Thompsons gazelle, Grants gazelle, buzzard, lark, superb starling, red headed agama lizard, lion, ostrich, eagle, hot beast, topi, cheetah, jackal, black headed heron, guinea fowl, fowlspar fowl, lapet faced vulture, hippopotamus, elephant, Egyptian goose, blue ball monkey, crocodile, impala, and hyena eyes.
And of course, there were lots of birds that went unidentified. Really, there's far too much to take in here. More to find than can ever be found...

Posted by spsadventures 08:24 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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