Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Zanzibar

No trip to Tanzania is complete without a swing over to Zanzibar.
We reluctantly and emotionally came out of the bush to have one last perspective of this complex and varied country. We took a small plane to Dar Es Salaam and then skipped over to the island of Zanzibar, also a part of Tanzania - it actually puts the Zan in Tanzania, (a marriage of the countries of Taganyika and Zanzibar in 1964). This blue water island is totally different from the area we were in. Tropically humid, crowded with people and startlingly poor. Tourism is super important to all the country.
We stayed for a few days on the beach end of the island and had some fabulous snorkeling and chillin'.



We spent one day in Stone Town which is an ancient crossroads of trade in spices, slaves, and mariner tales.
This is the home of sultans and the first home of Freddie Mercury of Queen. (They have photos and plaques- and lots of hawkers- outside his unassuming home)
We really enjoyed the exotic-ness of it,  the history layered on the winding alley streets. Lots of fortunes were made and lost here, chiefly by outsiders. The sultans of Oman took over from the Portuguese to control this trade route center.
The market was interesting, The doors of the town were beautiful and there were interesting sights almost everywhere you turned.

I think at this point though we were on the edge of being overloaded. It was hard to take in the history, the agricultural spice tour, the people.
I'm glad we went.
It's time to go home.

Narrow streets kept homes shady and cool



Saturday, June 11, 2016

The land

We started in the Eastern Serengeti, rolling hills, grasses and acacia trees, home to grazers and those who fed on them. When we arrived it was like driving into Eden seeing all these animals together.
With each place we visited the landscape would change until we reached tropical Zanzibar, with it's white beaches and palm trees.  Tarangire was baobabs- the "upside down tree". The Ngorongoro Crater was a mixed habitat for all. Olduvai Gorge was harsh, dry and old -geology and archaeology abounds.   The Central Serngeti ties to millions  of acres of mixed terrain which allows for the incredible diversity that travels through there. Ruaha was dense grasses and thick low woods. Now Zanzibar- palm trees and bougainvillea, populated and visited by Africans and Europeans alike.












Z

They were Big

Monitor Lizard











Explanation needed?

I am really not sure how all these blogs are showing up. The Internet is sporadic in the spots we have gone. When we are in the bush there is no internet at all- hence the periods of silence. Some pictures load in a large format, some not at all and some of the tools that are possible never show up.
I have been in touch with family via cell phone. THat being said the only thing it does is messages and no pictures with them. It is flip phone technology. If you are looking for a place away from the world you can still find it here. And probably other places. I will tidy everything up when I come back in a few days now. There is snorkeling to be done first!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Impressions of Tanzania

It is hard to describe what Africa does to you. It washes the soul. It centers you. It does all those things that sound like cliches which are very real to the western psyche, perhaps the African one as well. To me it seems as though the "modern" world can't begin to understand the African perspective. Empathize, perhaps but there is a woven connection to nature that Americans would be hard pressed to connect to. The weather, the animals, the spirit of the land is part of the everyday for those who live in the bush. Heading out after 12 days of bush we know we will head into a culture shock of sound and human activity. I understand why people go back to Safari (journey) again and again.
Perspectives of life and death become ingrained in the process of everyday living. Life is a challenge to rise up to, for both animals and humans, finding food, toting water, Doing what you need to survive and to make the most of the life you are given. Every animal life here, vultures, hyenas, elephants and birds seems to have a purpose in it's connection. Again the cliche- the Circle of Life is never more evident as Tanzania, and probably Africa in general.
We saw such a small part of this country but we have seen so much. So much. 50 kinds of animals, 135 kinds of birds. As you drive along in the Safari jeep you sometime crush against wild basil or lemon grass or other aromatic plant that releases it's scent. As a result the clear air is filled with smells, sometimes animal laid organic and sometimes aromatic. As the animals walk through the grasses they also release the natural smell. The very air is a wonder.
This time of year the grass in the Ruaha Park is relatively high. The plants are still green in June so they form small shady canopies for animals to take refuge from the midday heat. As a result it is often hard to see the animals but traveling down the game roads you see their prints- jackal, lion, giraffe, gazelles, kudus, snake, everyone leaves their trail. The Tanzanians call this the daily newspaper. In camp you can see who has come through the night before. The morning stroll becomes a fascinating read, both on the paths and on the rivers of who has come around in the night hours- civet, hyena, lizard, tortoise, jackals, and so many more.

Getting around


Pilots of the small planes we used to get from location to location seem to be largely South African.
THe bush plane industry is thriving in this wild place. I would guess, from conversations that flying is the most efficient was of traveling as many of the roads are not paved at all, certainly not in any of the parks, and in large parts of the country are not either. That being said, the roads that we did travel on, for instance between the Serengeti and Tarangire parks was excellent and paved. Traffic police have places where they wave folks over to check for licenses and various paperwork. Local buses and minibuses are packed with people. THe smaller buses and vans are referred to as dolladolla , which was the amount paid at one time. (Now the economy is based on the Tanzanian Schilling although most tourist industry operations do their trading  in American dollars.) The more affordable wheels, the bodaboda, or hireable motorcycle is a versatile choice. You see the local Masaai, robes flying, behind a sometimes helmeted driver with their walking sticks and bags. Often the vehicle is carrying water jugs that will be filled at some stop. I did not see many bodaboda with filled jugs. Perhaps that happens later in the day. Donkeys are also the workhorses of the Masaai. They will carry water and belongings, in between chores they guard and tend to the cattle, goats and sheep.

Walking is still the major method of transportation. They walk with water, large bags, huge sheeves of grass, whatever. They come from the bomas off the road to wave down a bus or bodaboda. They walk their livestock to market, several miles away.  They often seem to be walking in the middle of nowhere, then a cluster of bomas appears out of the land. Sometimes they are fortunate enough to have a bicycle which sometimes they push up mountains to get to the trading centers- villages of some makeshift stalls, storefronts or hubs.

Mgwusi Safari CAmp

The Mgwasi Safari Camp

The Mgwasi Safari camp is a destination in itself. There is only one other small hotel (in Italy) that I would go back to just to stay there. It's not because it's sumptuous but it is exquisite. The bamas are thatched rood structures that have polished cement floors. Within the bama is a tented room that is zipped up every night away from night critters, both the flying and the footed variety. Each bama has a bathroom with toilets, sink, shower, foot faucet, hot and cold water- in short, all the amenities. The power is solar and the sleeping arrangements are superlative.
Real beds with good linens and pillows, seating areas, desk, rocking chair. Each bama also comes with it' s own porch which overlooks the river and so the animals that come to drink and stroll through. A hammock is a lovely place to take an afternoon nap and the lounging couches catch the breezes and provide a good place for reading or snoozing or just watching the animal and bird world go by. There is no fence around the camp so you are accompanied by staff members generally, who will pause should there be an elephant on the path. Gazelles, in the day roam the river and at time other animals. Night brings lions, hyenas, jackals and other uniquely African characters through but there are no worries.
Communal areas such as the dining area are peppered with art, natural treasures and lounging, created to catch the breeze. The staff is super. They are efficient, professional, and friendly. THey will answer any questions. Some have been part of the operation for decades. Their families are also
accommodated across the river. They are discreet and well trained. At the same time you feel that they are not subservient in the slightest. THey take pride in the job they do and do it well. Kanu, the bama tender folds laundry to rival the strictest 5 star hotel. And is rather famous for it to the many returning guests.
 It is clear that management works here as a labor of love as well as a source of professional pride. Erica, our South African General Manager was informative and charming. Stories of the camp, facts of the country and it's people were cornerstones of evening conversation.
And the evenings... Dinners were in a different place every night, always outside, always with a campfire to start the evening and kerosene lanterns placed in a wide arc around the area. Staff attended your every need, tables and chairs were set with linens and glass, candles and placemats so that when you help yourself down the buffet of the excellently prepared and creative food you feel as though you re an honored guest in a star filled first class restauarant.

The Masai

THe Maasi
The Maasi people moved into Tanzania a couple hundred years ago. THey are nomadic folk and have created a lifestyle around the Number One Most Important Thing- Cattle. They base their whole lifestyle on the acquiring and tending of cattle. When we commented on the size of a particular herd our guide said, with evident pride, "and it all belongs to one man." Now that would be a great man in Masaai standards. He also asked us how American cows were. Ummm, cows?

Later we discovered that all Massai believe that all cattle in the world belong to the Masaai. If other people have them they must have stolen them from the Masaai originally. Look out cattle ranchers. You may have visitors!
Frequently, and we are told, by choice, they live in areas called bomas. These bomas have several elements, the houses which are made of woven sticks and then a plastering of dung and mud (not unlike the old horsehair plaster of the early American houses). THey are low ceiling- to keep the heat in (evenings do get cool) and have sleeping areas for men, for women, for the calves and young livestock babies, and a small section for storage and for the gods of cattle and sheep. THere aren't many belongings, there aren't windows on most of them. Some Masaai choose to build more modern homes. Some are wealthier than others. Also in the boma are thorned enclosures that are used every evening to store the cattle and the goats and sheep. The cattle go In an enclosure by themselves. Dogs also become sentries against whatever predator that may be so foolish as to attempt harming a Masaai cow.
Consider the perspective of your Maasi guide in the Serengeti. I thought I would show him some of what it looks like where I live. I showed him pictures of snow. He asked what he was looking at. THe more I tried to describe snow and it's effects the more futile I saw it was. 1) He had no concept of frozen water. 2) He had no concept of snow falling from the sky 3) He could not understand the piling up of this "snow" to be something to walk through or shovel or anything. 4) Coldness of the type it needs to create snow has no reality to those who live in the Plains of Africa. Expecting the knowledge of such an idea is a mistake on the Westerners part. Their lives work for what they have, which is as it should be.
All that being said, the robe garbed shepherds are frequently seen, leaning on their staff, talking on a cell phone

Ruaha camp

June 6
Packed up and headed out of town, giraffes and elephants on the way. Stopped by a handicrafts center in Arusha which was for tourists but the quality was wonderfully varied and the prices very reasonable. I saw hippos like the one I got in Manyara for less than I paid on the street. As I told the savvy business boy who I "negotiated" with he was a good businessman. He claimed it helped the local economy. Nice to know I did my part. ;-)
We bid a sad adieu to marvelous Robert and boarded a small Cessna to Ruaha. We were the only ones onboard. Slept some, it was cloudy.
Arrived in the remote National park of Ruaha. We're met by Justin of the Hehe tribe, a fairly local resident. We have an open jeep this time, sitting high up. t was a half hour to the Mwagusi Safari Camp, on the shores of the Mwagusi River. The room (Banda) is super fun, like a small house. Erica is the manager and probably has some stories to tell. We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I did not see towns coming in. We will be going out early mornings and late afternoons and enjoying this beautiful spot in between. A nice way to wind down.
We have seen giraffes and elephants so far, and Impalas. Let's see what's next!
Kudu, giraffe, elephants, gazelles, crocodile, Lion and a beautiful sunset.
Off to dinner. We are lead down the dusty path by a staff to come to a clearing -the river. On the walls were scoops filled with kerosene lanterns and a large fire burning. It was as though the Stars had fallen from the sky. Fire and night. A bar was set up and the stars were amazing. We were served dinner in big pots on coals and it was out delicious. Other dinner guests were a pilot Flying Safari guy named Luca, his sidekick, an American adventurer named Michael, The managers, Erica and Simon. What a pleasant evening. Service was good and on the way back to the Banda we were accompanied by the staff who checked for dangers- a hyena on the rocks above us. Luca had an ultraviolet light which detected scorpions which we saw- very small. Visually a gorgeous evening, magical!.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bird Gallery









Trees and birds

June 5
Began the morning with a lesson on the baobab tree. Robert cracked open a fruit and yielded a dusty interior that had a citrusy flavor and dissolved in your mouth. He spoke of how they make it a drink by soaking the fruit in water and adding honey. A remarkable tree. Later learned that every meter of diameter is approximately a hundred years. Crazy impressive when you figure that many trees are a thousand years old.
 Drove around Tarangire and had a wide education of birds. Saw dozens of elephants, giraffe and antelope. enjoyed a nice picnic overlooking the swamp with a huge herd of buffalo in the distance and a large flock of Open Billed Storks. The picnic grounds were decorated with Superb Starlings, which, next to the hornbills are probably my favorite bird.
In the evening we gathered for dinner and swapped stories. Dinner was too much as usual. But was capped with a wabawaba- a surprise, The surprise was for my birthday they all came out and danced around the room singing and then presented me with a personalized birthday cake. They lit a "candle" which was a firework. Quite the occasion!
What a fortunate life full of special moments I have had.

Tarangire

June 4
Tarangire Park- Elephants, baobab trees and the usual suspects. Our new critters were a wide variety of birds, banded mongoose, a tortoise I will have to look up- leopard tortoise.
Camp is within the park. Another family staying here. Light was lovely but driving through the tsetse fly area was not. Made for an amusing car ride though. Everyone swatting and batting.

So many animals we have seen that we have lost count-
Elephants Vultures Giraffes Baboons
Hippos Lions Ostrich
Zebras Thomson Gazelles Warthogs
Wildebeests Impalas Buffalo Weaver birds

The camp is much the same as the others so feels like home.They have huge baobab trees on site. This park is known for it's trees and elephants and we are not disappointed. It is both rally hills with low trees and wide expanses of swampland which show up as acres and acres of green grass. The presence of so much water is especially nice for birds and bathing guys- like elephants and water buffalo.

Gibb's Farm

Gibb's Farm

Gibb's Farm is a delightful luxury hotel in Katara, an hour from the Ngorongoro crater. It is an old colonial farmhouse that has been converted to an organic farm. The chef is pretty darn good and they had a variety of wines to choose from, South African and pleasant. The coffee hills stretch below the farmhouse and there are a variety of places to sit and enjoy the view and the breezes. One of the nicest views was from our own deck. We were given a cottage with a large bedroom area including fireplace, a sitting area and a bath area that had two showers, one indoor and one out. It was a bit nippy for the outdoor shower but we enjoyed showers next to the fireplace which went from the bedroom to the bathroom. If we had been another day I would have taken a bath in the luxuriously large bathtub.
Dinners were served at the main house an appetizer, soup, entree and dessert. All with ingredients from their garden and the meat from their animals. The Osso bucco the first night was delicious. Poached chicken in a lovely light herbed sauce the second night. Breakfast buffets were accompanied by whatever eggs of your choice (the fresh poached eggs were spot on). And various cereals, home baked breads and homemade jams, jellies and local honey. They sourced their own coffee and roasted it so it was smooth and delicious. THe bartender was the only staff member that needed additional training but the rest of the staff was super friendly, polite and helpful. You wanted for nothing. Excellent service.
In the evening a fire would be laid in the room which is a wonderful way to go to sleep. There was a little basket of wood so that was fun to mess with. Morning wake up calls were at the room accompanied by hot coffee. Could have sat there for a week! Some people use this as a base of operations to go to the crater. The drive is a bit far overall. I would not recommend it unless you stayed at the farm for a day between crater visits.


While at GIbb's Farm we went to the Lake Manyara Park. another different ecosystem. It is a park known for it's lion in trees but regrettably we saw none. We did see the blue monkeys they are also known for but it was a relatively quiet day in the park. There was a plethora of water birds, some elephants, black backed jackals, and the usual suspects (gazelles,ostrich, wildebeests [brown], zebra, baboons...) .THe lake was high from previous rains so the flamingos did not have their usual feeding area. Every day we see new critters, new birds, new sights. It is a luxurious thing to do to drive around all day looking for animals.  ;-)