A Travellerspoint blog

Photos!

We have managed to find the rare combo of free time and a decent internet connection, so we decided to post some pictures from the last couple weeks. Hopefully this will keep everyone entertained until the arrival of Brangelina's twins.

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Posted by cmgildea 23:47 Comments (0)

Ruaha National Park

More Serengeti than the Serengeti

sunny 75 °F

We have to admit we were not expecting a whole lot from Ruaha National Park. No reason really... just that we hadn't heard much about it and we figured we were just stopping there since it was on the way to Malawi from the Tanzanian coast. But Mary and I are definitely in agreement that Ruaha has been our best national park experience in Africa to date.

We went on an 8-hour game drive yesterday through Ruaha and it was amazing. We entered the gates at about 6:30 AM, just as the sun was rising. The park is slightly elevated, so when the sun did rise, it revealed a thick layer of mist surrounding everything, a very spooky effect when combined with the many baobab trees in the park (some of which are absolutely enormous and can live up to 3000 years). As the sun gradually burned off the mist, we saw our surroundings: baobab trees everywhere, lush vegetation (a pro to being here during rainy season), and rolling hills and mountains topped with enormous granite boulders. And it was around this time that the wildlife started to appear as well. Giraffes were all over the place, seemingly peeking their heads from around every acacia tree. And they were accompanied by hundreds of zebras, impalas, eland, and the odd kudu.

We were just about to head to lunch very satisfied with our drive so far - despite having seen no animals we hadn't seen before - when we came across the mother lode of lion prides. Somehow, our guide spotted them about a hundred feet from the road under an acacia tree. We got the binoculars out, but they wouldn't be necessary... the driver promptly swerved off the road and drove right over to them. Startled, they spread out to a few different trees, and we drove right smack in the middle of them. Now, I should mention at this point that we were in a completely open safari vehicle with no doors, so this was slightly unnerving. However, the lions didn't seem bothered in the least and just kind of watched us watching them. It was unreal. Hanging out in the middle of a pride of nineteen lions, probably no more than 10 feet away... I couldn't believe it, and still almost don't. Needless to say, we and the other couple we were with had plenty to talk about over lunch.

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Then after lunch, we had an even rarer experience: a cheetah sighting. How the guide spotted it's ear sticking out of 6-foot high grasses, we have no idea. But sure enough, there he was, eyeing a small group of impala. I suppose we would have been satisfied with seeing just the ear, as cheetah are apparently extremely tough to find especially during lush rainy season, but again our guides apparently went to the Doc Brown school of safari driving ("Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads...").

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So before we could even think about snapping a photo, we were off the road and into the bush. Not heading in the general direction of the cheetah, rather heading STRAIGHT towards it. So the cheetah pops it's head up and then makes a break for it, right towards the impala, who start barking and scattering. Our driver decides to follow the action, and while we we're trying to keep an eye on the cheetah we have a slight incident. Our first clue that something was wrong was the "Ah!!" cry that we heard from the driver or guide (we're not sure which). This was then followed by the unmistakable feeling of the front left of the car heading straight downwards into a ditch with a thud. We were stuck, and what a moment to be stuck in. As we spun our wheels loudly and in vain, the cheetah was standing a mere 30 feet away from us, still eyeing the remaining impala (why there were remaining impala at this point, I have no idea), and a lone giraffe was peeking over a tree to keep track of the goings-on. You could almost here him saying to himself: "This should be good."

When it became apparent that 4-wheel drive was not going to save us, the guide and driver got out and started trying to dig us out, yelling at each other in Swahili. And after a few minutes of this, the cheetah turned around and just looked at us with this look on his face that said "Are you kidding me? I'm trying to get a meal in here and you're not helping!" We eventually got the car out of the ditch and headed back to the road, so we're not sure if the cheetah managed to snag himself an impala or not, but it was one surreal experience. We can't wait to post the picture of what we saw. It almost looks made up.

So in closing, Ruaha was amazing. We both agree that it was exactly what we thought the Serengeti would be like (don't get us wrong the Serengeti was great, just different than we imagined). Miles and miles of open wilderness, barely visible roads (unlike the Serengeti which had paved roads everywhere), lakes and winding rivers, and we were clearly on the animals' turf. In the Serengeti, there were so many people that it almost felt as if humans belonged there as much as the animals, but not in Ruaha. We only saw one other car the entire time we were in the park, so during our lion and cheetah encounters, we were the only humans around for miles. Now THAT's how we pictured a true African wildlife safari.

Posted by cmgildea 00:54 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Ok? Ok. Ok?

A couple of things we've learned so far on this trip and a couple of thoughts to chew over while we go into radio silence for a while...

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When I went on my first "big" trip, a backpacking adventure with my friends Kate and Kevin through Europe post-college, we documented the experience by writing an "I learned" book throughout the trip. These little "I learned" books were popular at the time so I thought it would be a good idea to create one ourselves as we ate, drank and frolicked through several countries in the EU. The basic premise is to write down things you've learned- both literally and through observation. For example, some of the things I have learned thus far on our Africa trip:
1. Nutmeg is used by Muslim women to get a confidence boosting buzz if they are too shy to dance at a party.
2. Don't order the pizza at the bar named after former resident Freddy Mercury in Zanzibar.
3. I would not make it one night alone in the bush.

This last point occurred to me the other night while we were camping in Selous game reserve in Tanzania. Selous is extremely large and known to be one of the real "wild" game parks given its size and absence of visitors. We were the only guests at this campsite and it was located on a hippo/croc infested river (seems to be the theme of our campsites). Anyway, Col and I retired to bed around 8pm...our typical African bed time. As the blank of night covered us completely and the chorus of evening sounds began I started to think about what it would be like to have to sleep out in the bush. Giant bugs the size of small birds were hitting the tent. Monkeys were laughing above us. Hippos began their snorting as they made their way from the river. Something much larger than an elephant shrew was chomping its way past the back of our tent. The idea of being out there all alone was one that made me snuggle deeper into my reliable sleep sack. (Normally I would have cuddled closer to Colin but unfortunately we are both suffering from a bit of the old Tanzanian tummy. Personal space is a must at a time like this.)

I also couldn't help but think of a book both Colin and I recently finished: A Long Way Gone. It's the firsthand account of a child soldier during Sierra Leone's civil war. My friend Wendy had taken me to an author's book signing this past September but I had yet to read the story until I came here. The story is told by a young man who experienced the death of his entire family at the hands of teenage rebels and then went on to become one of these child soldiers himself. The book is an incredible read - even more so when you are in Africa and can picture the village by looking out the car window. Anyway, one part of the book that is glossed over a bit is the fact that this kid, at age 12, had to spend months alone in the bush. He just kind of mentions it and moves on. Had I been reading this at home I might have done the same but when confronted with the realities of the bush at night it made me really reflect on how truly scary that would be. I mean, I'm thinking this while safely tucked into a tent, family doing fine at home and not a single rebel to be found. Reminded me again how lucky we all are to be born into our lives as we know them and not forced to sleep in a tree night after night.

One other thing I've learned on this trip so far is that a single shared word may be the key to communication. In this instance the word is "okay". A word we take for granted and use in abundance without even realizing its power. In our African adventure it is a word that can make or break the experience. For instance, if you are out on a game drive with a non-English speaking driver, "okay" will dictate exactly how long you will spend watching an animal. This driver has no idea what your personal interests are and therefore will weight the importance of seeing a lion slaughtering a cape buffalo the same as say a guinea fowl pecking at some dirt. He will stop. You will look. When you are done you say "ok" and he will move on. We haven't tried it yet but I wonder...if you never said "ok" would you sit there all night? Certainly seems that way. The same is true for ordering food. You look at the menu (fish with rice, chicken with rice, beef with rice). You point and say "beef with rice". The waitress will say okay. You'll say okay. She might say "potato?" and you might make a big mistake and say "no, that's okay." An hour later she will walk back with a big pile of potatoes - no beef or rice to be found. You just can't fool around with okay.

So far the "I learned" list is a long one. We can't believe its only been a little over a month since we left home. I assume that it will only get longer as we go along. Speaking of...we are currently on a mountain village heading to Ruaha, Tanzania. After a quick stay at what Skank calls a "flash camp" we will be making our way to internet-less Malawi. Don't give up on us...check back when you can because stranger things have happened than finding a random internet shack in the middle of nowhere.

Oh, and a final I learned...I learned that Mrs. Ozar was right when she said the one thing she'll never get used to is how off the cuff nose picking is in Africa. The waitress, the policeman at a road block, the customs official...and the adorable south African Skank who is driving us around this part of the world. Please pass the Purell, it's a long drive.

Love to all....

Posted by vandewme 02:18 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus!

How Mary became one with the sea and Colin let another man hold her hand for roughly 60 minutes at 12 meters below

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As you can tell, we are definitely taking advantage of Zanzibar's fast internet service while we are here. A record 3 posts in as many days! Alas, we return to the mainland tomorrow and the 1998-like internet connection speed. At least it was fun while it lasted.

Anyway - Zanzibar (or ZAN-ZI-BAAH if you are Skanky) has been absolutely wonderful. The rainy season held off long enough for us to have a sunny break from our safari. Colin is officially "end-of-baseball-season" tan and I have a few more freckles to my name.

I also have a new favorite hobby: SCUBA diving. Col and I decided to take the beginner class today and do our first real dive. It wasn't Col's cup of tea so he decided to snorkel while I went diving along the reefs with our instructor Dan. I had a slight notion that it would be cool but nothing prepared me for that experience. I'm officially hooked. We saw coral and fish in every shape and color. We swam with schools of hundreds of tropical fish. We stared a morey eel in the face and swam side by side with a huge sea turtle. This being my first experience, Dan decided to hold my hand so I wouldn't go ruining the wildlife by smashing into the reefs. Yes, it was somewhat akward but like Colin said "I'd rather have you hold his dude's hand for an hour than die." I love my supportive husband.

After coming down from the high of the dive we cleaned up and had another lovely seafood dinner on the beach. We'll be sad to leave Zanzibar but know in our hearts that we are mainland folks and it's time to return. After a brief stint in Dar to recoup we'll be heading to Selous game reserve and then off to Malawi. Stay tuned!

Oh, and for those pop culture buffs, can you name the sitcom that taught us all what SCUBA stands for?? Hint: Think siblings jumping around the room while repeating the headline of this blog entry.

Posted by vandewme 09:42 Archived in Tanzania Comments (4)

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