All posts by David

All the wildebeest in the Serengeti

Here’s a late addition, and final post, for our African Trip. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for a while… but I was writing the Real Housewives of the Serengeti when this happened, and this story just fell through the cracks.

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22 December, 2018. Mbugani Migration Camp, Lake Ndutu, Tanzania. Written 22 Jan 2019 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada!

We were just leaving the Mbugani Migration camp, and Heather and I were carrying our luggage around the corner of the dining tent towards the truck. Salim and three of the camp staff were at the truck, laughing. Salim said “Oh good, the father needs to be here for this”

Apparently one of the young staff members had told Salim that he found Heather quite attractive. Salim had relayed the story to the group about Kirsten’s 400 cow dowry recommendation.

Heather jumped into the negotiations, and quickly upped the price to 500 cows, so that she could give 400 to Mark.

The staff member considered this and then lit up with an idea: “how about 500 wildebeest? ” Being the migration camp, they move the camp seasonally with the migration, and we were probably surrounded by 500 wildebeest at the time, with more arriving every hour. He quickly escalated his offer: “No wait…All the wildebeest in the Serengeti!!”

Hmmm. There’s well over a million wildebeest in the Serengeti.

Heather is not getting any younger, so maybe next year I’d only be offered half of the wildebeest in the Serengeti. I’ll have to consider this proposal carefully.

This whole ‘old world dowry’ thing certainly provides new opportunities in capitalistic parenting. Up to now, the kids have just been a highly lovable money pit….

That’s a lot of wildebeest

Just the pics, Ma’am (not cell phone friendly!)

I know: reading is hard.

Here is a page with only the pictures. These are the same pictures as the rest of the web site, but you don’t have to read all those pesky words. Just keep scrolling down, and then select the individual photos in each section by clicking on the thumbnails . If you do want to read the story associated with any of the pictures, then click on the link above each group of photos.

And of course, don’t forget the videos: There’s no reading there either. Here’s a link to my youtube channel for all of them.

There’s some reading here, but everyone likes a map. See a google maps of where we went.

To make this page size smaller, I’ve limited it to pictures of the safari days. And I included Zanzibar because I like the two monkey pictures from the national park. But it’s still a huge number of pictures to download. You’ll need to be on a full time internet connection to see these in any reasonable downloading time. Don’t use your cell phone’s data plan!

07/12/2018: Saw lion 10 minutes after leaving airport

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08/12/2018: Giraffes and more

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10/12/2018: Lions and cheetahs

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14/12/2018: Even more lions and cheetahs

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18/12/2018: How did he see that?

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22/12/2018: Real Housewives of the Serengeti (Lion edition)

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19/12/2018: 400 cows

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21/12/2018: Did civilization miss something?

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25/12/2018: Merry Christmas from the Ngorongoro Crater

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31/12/2018: Happy New Year from Zanzibar

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08/01/2019: On the home stretch!

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13/01/2019: Last Game Drive

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Here’s a list of all the posts

It can be difficult to find stuff in wordpress because you need to go forward or back one post at a time. Here is a list of all the posts. But before I do that, here’s a handy map of where we went.

Final Thoughts on the Africa trip

The Fat 5

There is a big deal about seeing the Big 5: Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant & Rhino. Formerly, it was the goal of the big game hunters to get one of each of the Big 5. The guides now joke about the Small 5 (Lion Ant, Leopard turtle, Buffalo weaver, elephant shrew and Rhino beetle), and the Ugly 5 (wildebeest, warthog, maribou stork, vulture & hyena).

I’d like to propose the Fat 5. These are not animals. Similar in concept to the Freshman 15, the Fat 5 is the amount of pounds you gain while on safari.

The food is amazing and plentiful. I think they trick us on purpose by bringing out at least one more serving dish of food after our plates are overloaded with all the other multiple dishes we had to try. My plate looked like Thanksgiving at every meal. Compounding the overeating problem, there is zero opportunity to get exercise. Not only do you sit in a vehicle all day, but you cannot walk around the camp in the evenings because of the concern over wild animals. I’m not sure how to solve this other than we should not have done three safaris in 6 weeks. I’m swimming again, and I’ve added a whopping 10 seconds to my typical 100m practice time.

The tented safari camps

With one exception, the tented camps were all terrific. They really are tents, but don’t think you’re camping. They are big enough for a queen or king bed, some furniture, and all had an ensuite bathroom. Some camps had hot and cold water. Others only offered a bucket shower, where they would hoist a bucket of warm water up into the rafters and you had to have a complete shower through the hose connected to the one bucket.

All had solar power only. Sometimes you had to charge your stuff in a central area. Sometimes the solar power was enough to charge everything in your tent.

The staff were universally nice. Extra kudos to the
Mbugani Migration Camp staff in Ndutu for having better english skills than most, and having a terrific sense of humour. Also extra kudos to the Thorntree staff, who did a celebration every second night by delivering a cake to a table and singing Jambo Bwana at the top of their lungs while dancing in a conga line around the dining area. They were all having a great time and it was fun to watch. They picked (the gluten-free) Kirsten one night for their cake gift.

The one camp we were not that happy with was the Thorntree Camp in the serengeti. The issue was rats in the tents. Mark and Kirsten even had one up on their bed. Sarah had one in her bag and it munched its way through some of her stuff. The food and staff were great – it was just a rat issue. We can’t have been the first people to complain, and we would not go back there unless they confirmed there was no further issue, and I’d certainly read the tripadvisor recommendations to see if there is any mention of rats at any camp we were booking.

Fly vs drive

There are a couple of considerations on flying vs driving between the various camps.

  • When you fly, you would use the guides provided by the camp where you are staying. On one hand, you would think that the local guides would know the areas better. On the other hand, you get a rapport with a guide if they are with you for the full travelling safari.
  • The safari vehicles are different. The ones that travel on the highway are closed-in vehicles with windows and a pop-top roof. The windows open and the roof raises, but they are not as open as those vehicles that travel short distances from the camp to the local airstrip. This is not a major consideration.
  • Some parks are very far from each other, and flying would be favoured. It was a two day drive from Selous to Ruaha vs a short (45 minute?) flight. Mind you the drive was very interesting, but I think I’d recommend flying to anyone doing the same thing.
  • Some parks are very close to each other and would favour driving over flying. For example, the Serengeti/ Ndutu/ Ngorongoro/ Manyara/ Tarangere are all in a line so it probably makes the most sense to drive unless you’re very short of time

Conservancy vs National Park vs Reserve

Conservancies are on private land. The number of people using them are greatly reduced. In the serengeti national park, there were sometimes a dozen vehicles surrounding an animal. In ngorongoro there were even more. In the conservancies we visited, there was at most one other vehicle, so it is much more private. There were fewer people in Ruaha National Park too because of its remote location, but that meant less eyes looking for lions/ leopards/ cheetahs so it was harder to find them.

The other benefit to conservancies is that the drivers can go off road, while the drivers have to stay on the roads in the parks. In the Porini Lion camp, we were literally feet away from lions and cheetahs. We got to watch them do something other than sleep because the game drives were often earlier in the morning or later in the evening when the animals were active.

Reserves are somewhere in the middle, as the guide has some flexibility in leaving the road.

Which parks are best for which animals?

It’s not about the numbers, but here’s my guess on what we saw. You can use this as a benchmark of how you carefully you should plan your trip if you really want to see a particular animal.

Various birds _______________________ a gazillion
Wildebeests________________________tens if not hundreds of thousands
Zebra_______________________________many thousands
Impala______________________________many thousands
Giraffe_____________________________ 1000
Gazelles (Thompson and Grant)___1000
Elephants__________________________ 1000
Dik Dik _____________________________750
Hippos______________________________750
Baboons ___________________________ 500
Monkeys___________________________ 500
Cape Buffalo_______________________500
Lions______________________________ 100
Jackals _____________________________ 50
Hyena ______________________________ 50
Oryx_________________________________25
Rock Hyrax__________________________25
Kudu (greater and lesser)_________ 25
Gerenuk ____________________________ 25
Crocodiles___________________________ 25
Galago_______________________________ 20
African Wild Dogs ___________________20
Cheetah ______________________________13
Eland (biggest gazelle) _______________ 4
Serval Cat_____________________________ 2 (very rare to see these)
Leopard _______________________________1 close, three in the distance
Rhino__________________________________0 close, three in distance

Best Lions/ Cheetahs – Porini Lion Camp. We heard good reports from people who were visiting the Porini Mara camp too. We saw lions in pretty well every camp we visited, however we could really watch them do something other than sleep in the Lion Camp.

Best Leopard – They are located everywhere, but are very hard to find. There is no one best spot. It’s like winning the lottery if you find one.

Best Elephants – You see them everywhere, but Tarangire was particularly good

Best Wildebeest/ Zebra – you see these everywhere but if you can see the migration in the Serengeti you really should go there.

Best everything – Ngorongoro . You just have to go. It is spectacular.

Best Rhino – We heard the Porini Rhino camp was amazing because you could approach the Rhinos quite closely. The only place we saw Rhino’s was Ngorongoro, but you need to be lucky there to see them up close.

Best Hippo – Hippos are everywhere there is water, but the best was the Hippo Pool in the Serengeti. We saw two newborns in Ruaha.

Best wild dogs – Selous is the only spot for these.

Best Crocodiles – Selous, although the biggest one was at Porini Lion Camp, with another big one in Samburu

Best Rock Hyrax – Ruaha and the visitor centre in Serengeti.

Best Kudu – Amboseli for lesser Kudu, Ruaha for greater Kudu

Jackals, Giraffe & Buffalo – They are everywhere. We saw the youngest baby giraffes in Selous and Ruaha.

Hyena – Serengeti wherever the migration animals are, but we did see them all over. Look for the vultures and you may see a hyena walking towards them.

Baboons -They are everywhere but the biggest troupes are in Lake Manyara.

Gerenuk are easily visible in Samburu, not quite so easily in Selenkay, and not at all anywhere else.

Masai village tours are available in multiple locations. The Hadzabe are only located in the area near Lake Eyasi.

Time of year

We enjoyed the Kenyan and Tanzanian northern safari very much. The rain was not bad despite being the little rainy season. Late November/ early December are the low season so prices are cheaper and it is not crowded for Christmas until middle of December. We would recommend going in early December, although we have not seen what the fuss is about in summer so we could be missing something.

Selous and Ruaha are better for animal viewing in the dry season. During December/ January, everything is thick & green and the animals spread out and are harder to find. However, Ruaha was also where we saw the youngest elephant, giraffes, and hippo babies, and I’d hate to have missed that.

A word about the guides

Guides are really the one key person for the success of your holiday. A bad guide would be awful.

We had a number of different guides and they were all good. The two we had for the two longest safaris were both excellent but different: Salim from Bright Safaris, and Fanuel from Breakdown Safaris. Bright Safari works out of Arusha and does the northern circuit. Breakdown Safaris works out of Dar es Salaam and does the southern parks. Salim seemed to have a better feeling of our family: what we wanted to see, and how long we wanted to see everything. Fanuel’s english was slightly better, and he was super knowledgeable about everything we saw. Both were good at spotting hard to see animals.

If we were to do it again, and our two main guides were not available, we would definitely ask the companies about the ratings of specific guides, how good their english was, and what their knowledge and experience. Tripadvisor might be helpful too.

Which safari to choose?

If you really just want to concentrate on lions, cheetahs and rhinos, then go the conservancy route that specialize in those animals. The national parks were good, but the conservancies were spectacular just for those animals.

If you want to see everything and not just the big cats or rhino’s then I’d do the northern safari in Tanzania again. The one thing that I may drop was Lake Eyasi, which was two half days of driving to see the Hadzabe tribe. I think we also could have done with one less day in the Serengeti too. We really enjoyed Selous and Ruaha, but the wildebeest migration in the serengeti, and the ngorongoro crater just can’t be missed.

One option may be to do the northern safari and then fly into one of the conservancies for a few days for the in-depth lion/ cheetah visit.

What should we have done differently in Zanzibar and Mafia?

You never expect a place to have rats, but I would not go to the Mafia Beach Bungalows until they clean their problem up. They really didn’t seem to be concerned about it.

Overnight room temperatures of high 20’s or low 30’s are just too hot for us, even with a fan. We should have looked at a forecast and got an AC room. Mind you, I think we tried and didn’t succeed because we needed three rooms to house all of us over the busy Christmas and New Year’s season.

An AC room may also help with the rats because the rooms would be concrete instead of grass or mud.

Tipping

Tipping policies seem to vary between companies. A tip is expected in the tip box at each camp rather than tipping individual staff. And a guide is tipped handsomely at the end of the safari. The guidance varies from $10-$15/person per day, to the same amount per group per day. It would be important to understand the safari companies expectations as it will affect the total price.

Technical drivel

You’re probably not interested in all these details… and if that is true, then just skip to the next post! 🙂

Cameras

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime safari, so cameras are important.

Both Sarah and I have finally joined the digital age and bought digital cameras. The last photo camera we owned was a Canon AE-1 film camera, so it was probably about time.

Sarah bought a Sony hx-80. The big attraction to her was the 30x zoom, and it was an excellent choice for that reason alone. She has managed to get better shots than I a bunch of times because her camera’s zoom range is a lot longer. It is a terrific little camera and we’ve been very pleased with the photo quality.

So if you are not a gadget person and are going on safari, then just get a 30x optical zoom point and shoot camera like Sarah’s Sony, and you’re done.

However, I am a gadget person. After much agonizing, i bought an olympus OMD-EM5 II with a 14-150mm zoom. I also bought a significantly faster 25mm Leica prime lens on kijiji for evening, market/ street, and indoor pics. The camera is a micro 4/3, so multiply both lens focal lengths by two for the equivalent 35mm lens size.

Most people overlook the olympus camera in favour of Nikon/ Canon/ Sony. I bought it largely based on this article,  and on Marks’s comment that it was the camera he’d buy now if he was buying another camera. The fully articulating screen is certainly one of the best features, but now having taken thousands of photos, I can say that the article is quite accurate in terms of what the camera is good at doing.

I looked seriously at the nikon D7200 & D7500, but they are a lot bigger/ heavier, especially with the larger zoom that i wanted. And these Nikon models did not really come on sale on Black Friday this year, so that dampened my enthusiasm. The olympus sale price ended up being less than half the cost of the Nikon sale price. I’m not saying the Nikon isn’t worth twice the price: I just couldn’t justify spending that much more.

I also looked at bridge cameras like the Sony RX10 mark III and IV, and Panasonic FZ1000 and FZ2500. While these may have been the perfect safari cameras with maximum flexibility and zoom range, I was concerned that they would be something I’d outgrow as soon as I returned home because of the small sensor size and lack of gadgetry & features .

Mark and Kirsten each have the Sony a6000, which are excellent APSC cameras. However, I thought the lenses were just too expensive: i felt it’s like buying an inkjet printer- the cheap printer is offset by the high priced ink cartridges.

Perhaps one day I’ll be disappointed with the image quality of the micro 4/3 sensor, but the EM5 does seem to be the perfect weatherproof travel & all-round camera that I was looking for. It’s small enough that I hope I’ll continue to dig it out to use it when we’re off doing things. The image quality is better than a point & shoot and the bridge cameras that i was looking at, and it has a ton of professional features that I am slowly learning how to use. I may print some 11×17 or smaller prints for the house, but otherwise it will all be for web based and home display purposes: the photo quality should be perfect without needing to go to an APSC or full frame alternative.

My favourite feature of the olympus is the articulating screen, as I really enjoy candid/ street photography. And while photo geeks decry large zoom lenses, the 14-150mm was the lens I used for 99.9% of the pictures I took on safari mainly because the safari pictures could be anywhere from wide angle to super telephoto and I didn’t want to waste time switching lenses. I may get different lenses now that I’m home… but maybe not because I think the zoom lens plus my 50mm equivalent prime lens is good enough for my purposes.

The one piece of advice I would offer to any photographer is to go on safari with the largest zoom lens you can carry/ hold steady/ travel with. It is a balancing act of size vs weight because the fly-in safari’s limit you to only 15kg for all your checked baggage. Sometimes it is 15kg for all checked ~and~ carry on luggage. And they really do check weight on some flights, although they are flexible enough to combine the weights for all people in your party – so 30kg for Sarah and I, or 60 kg for all 4 of us.

In 35mm equivalent terms, my max zoom was 300mm. Mark’s lens was 450mm equivalent and Sarah’s 30x zoom was equivalent to 720mm. The larger zoomers like Mark’s and Sarah’s just offered much better photo options for small or distant animals & birds… and there are ~lots~ of small or distant animals & birds on safari. My max size of 300mm was undersized for some shots, and I feel that something with a max size of 450-600mm would have been ideal. One budget telephoto option is to do what Mark did: he bought his large sony pro zoom lens on kijiji just before he left on safari, and intends to sell it on kijiji for what he paid for it now that he is back home. At $1400, he could not justify keeping it in his bag, unused, now that the safari is over.

Telephoto lenses can’t do everything though: They really are only good for animals a hundred or so metres away – any longer and you start getting distortion in your photos from the heat waves rising off the ground.

I used just under 128GB of SD cards. Sarah used just over 64GB. My camera was new when we left, and it now shows 4732 shutter actuation’s. That’s a lot of pictures that I now have to do something with!

I had an extra camera battery, and Sarah had to remember to charge her camera every night because a full charge would not quite last two days. I went through a full battery in a day a few times, and went through two batteries in a day once at the very end of the day when I had been shooting a lot of video.

Don’t forget video cameras because the movement and sound really bring the safari back to life. Both Sarah’s and my cameras have video modes, but I also brought a new Garmin Virb Ultra 30 video camera. It is comparable to the top-of-the-line GoPro series of cameras, with the added feature that it ties in with all my other garmin exercise technology stuff that I use to record my outdoor activities like biking. It is waterproof to scuba diving depths, and provides remarkably good quality video both in, and out, of the water.

Electricity

I brought a no-name 12V car cigarette lighter multi-port USB charger, and a Targus multi voltage USB charger. Many cameras, phones & watches run on USB, so a multi port USB charger is almost mandatory. I thought the Targus was ideal for travel.

I brought the appropriate plug converters (do a google search for whatever country you’re visiting) and I tried to find a power bar so that I could plug more than one charger into our one adapter. However plug adapters are two prong, and they do not sell two prong power bars. So I used a 6′ extension cord with multiple sockets on it similar to this one. This is the kind of light duty cord you can find anywhere that you’d use to extend the plug from a table lamp so it could reach a wall outlet. This does not change the voltage or frequency, so make sure whatever you plug into it can deal with the 50/60Hz and 100-240V. Most things like cameras, and computers can.

Many places where we stayed had universal power bars where literally anything could be plugged into it. However I don’t believe this does voltage or frequency conversion… so heed the same warning as the previous paragraph.

Personal stuff

Bring enough toothpaste, ~waterproof~ SPF 50 or greater sunscreen, and bug spray to more than last your vacation. They all have to be travel sized unless you’re going to check your luggage. We were running very low on toothpaste and just ran out of sunscreen on the last day. We had looked at replacement waterproof sunscreen, and the only stuff we could find in Zanzibar was a too-expensive $45 for a regular size bottle.

We bought some non-DEET bug spray recommended by our travel clinic… but ended up bringing some DEET too just in case. I liked the non-DEET spray: it seemed to work well, and it is not corrosive to plastic or nylon.

Oh… check your travel toothbrush before you leave to ensure it will last the trip too. Oops.

Sarah brought a first aid kit including some basic treatment for diarrhea, and a prescription to cover potential food poisoning/ water contamination. See your doctor and you can buy it before you go.

We brought 8×40 binoculars. These were bulky. Mark and Kirsten have a much smaller pair (8×25?) that also seem to be quite good. Safaris were all in the bright sunshine, so we did not really need the extra light gathering of the larger binoculars. We used binoculars every day, but one pair between two people was fine.

I had a day pack and a carry-on size soft suitcase. Sarah had a cloth handbag, and a MEC kit bag on wheels that we bought 19 years ago and it refuses to die. The MEC bag was only partly full because of the 15kg weight restriction, but gave us flexibility to add my laundry as the days passed.

I had two pair of pants that zipped into shorts, about 6 T shirts, similar socks and undies, one pullover, a rain jacket, one pair of running shoes and a pair of sandles. We all had rashies
(UV resistant T shirts ) for swimming/ snorkeling/ kite boarding, sunglasses, hats, a bathing suit, and a micro fibre camping towel. We each had a mask and snorkel. I ended up buying a cheap pair of UV resistant sunglasses for kite boarding because I did not want to wear my expensive progressives out on the water.

Sarah did some laundry, but we used the hotel services for most things. Even hotel laundry was all hung out to dry, so we were limited to having laundry done when our itinerary had us staying for multiple nights.

Electronics other than cameras

We used our cell phones as quick cameras & for web access through wifi. You can leave your phone on (but turn data off) , and it does not cost if you do not answer the call, use data, or respond to a text message.

I love the app called Whatsapp – it provides free text, video and voice phone calling whenever wifi is available, and is the easiest way to keep in touch with family wherever they are.

Wifi Internet was available most evenings, and we’d connect through a VPN if we were doing anything more confidential than just surfing. We also brought a laptop for Sarah’s work and for my photo editing, and I brought my android tablet just for off-line reading and writing, and web site updating.

We never did get a local SIM card for our cell phones. We should really look into that… although I did not want to be bothered on safari so maybe it’s not a bad thing.

And of course, I’m wearing my garmin 935xt watch. The funny thing is I’m averaging close to 20,000 steps a day while on safari even though we are sitting almost constantly. The accelerometers in the watch are being tricked into counting the bumps in the road, rather than my actual steps. They are bumpy roads!

Web stuff

This web site uses wordpress with the free theme called twenty fourteen. I used mail poet 3 for the email sign up,
WP Sitemap to generate the list of posts, and Smart Slider 3 to display photos. The backend has wordfence, google analytics for WP, and an anti-spam program to monitor comments. Web site maintenance is a lot easier than it used to be!

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Last Game Drive

12 January, 2019. Ruaha River Lodge, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

We’ve just finished our last game drive, and have been here for two and a half days. 

Looking back to our first posts, I can see we’ve changed from “OMG, it’s an elephant” to “OMG there’s 35 elephants in one herd” to  “OMG did you see the matriarch trumpet and push the teenage elephant out of the way when it was close to walking on the baby elephant that had fallen over in the mud bath?”   As we learn more, we are now focusing on behaviours rather than just ticking animals off the list.  And I’ve started shooting more videos to record their behaviour, rather than just taking a still photo. 

It’s been a fantastic holiday. I hope the kids liked it as much as we have.  Sarah is already talking about organizing a group tour next year in early december based on our experiences this year… so if you’re at all interested, let her know.

The game has been harder to find here in Ruaha. Everything is very green due to the recent rain, but the rain means the animals have a choice of waterholes so they spread out over a wider area. During the dry season, predators and prey all congregate at the one main river because that is the only location for water.

While we had to look harder, we did see an elephant who was only a few days old: all the other elephants kept crowding around it for its protection, so it was very difficult to photograph.   We also saw baby hippos that were around 1 week old.

And in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ department, I have been trying to get a sound-bite of a hippo calling. They are just so funny. We were woken up twice in our last night by hippo noises that went on for 20 minutes each time. We were not sure if it was a fight, or one was giving birth, or if one was in heat.

Have a look at these videos:

We drive to the local airport early tomorrow to fly to Dar es Salaam. We have almost 12 hours there, so we are hoping to find a taxi to give us a quick tour. Then we fly on KLM through Amsterdam, arriving in Calgary early Monday afternoon.  

Mark intends to go to work on Monday afternoon, and I have my first meeting on Tuesday morning at 8:00AM. Pretty soon, it’ll seem like it was all a dream and we never left home!

Update 13 December Dar es Salaam airport

We finally have internet so I’ve been able to upload what I wrote yesterday while we wait for our flight. The flight boards in a few hours, so we’re having our last Stoney Tangawizi soda, Serengeti beer, and Savannah Cider now: I wonder when our next opportunity to have those will be.

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On the home stretch!

6,7,8 January, 2019. Selous River Lodge, Tanzania

We survived the Mafia Beach Bungalows! It’s still in the 30’s during the day, but at least the nightime is cooler so we’re able to sleep relatively comfortably.  And the geckos do a good job of keeping all the other wildlife out. 

I can tell we’re on the home stretch: The kids are checking out the snow forecast and starting to organise their upcoming weekends back home, and Sarah and I are counting clean undies to make sure we have enough to get home without doing laundry again. The worst part of coming home will be getting back into shape: we’ve done nothing but eat three fabulous meals a day, and then sit in a jeep on safari. Our new favourite sugary pop doesn’t help: Stoney Tangawizi. It’s stronger than ginger ale, but not as strong as jamaican ginger beer. Yum!

We’ve done two days of game drives in Selous (pronounced ‘Seloo’) Game Reserve, and we leave tomorrow to drive to Ruaha National Park. In addition to the usual safari sightings, we’ve seen African Wild Dogs, Bush pigs, Bush Babies, a huge number of new birds,  baby giraffes,  baby wildebeest, crododiles, and we’ve been charged by an elephant that we thought was in musth (i.e. rutting) Click here to see the elephant full screen in youtube… or watch the smaller version below.

A game reserve is different from a national park. We’re in the photography part. The other side of the river from where we’re staying is the hunting part.  And they’ve just annnounced the winning firm to build a 2100MW hydroelecgric station upstream of where we are now. It would create a 1000km2 lake entirely within the game reserve. WHile the total game reserve is over 50,000km2,   I hope they get it right because in addition to flooding a huge amount of land, there is a whole ecosystem here that relies on annual floods and droughts. 

It really has been an amazing trip. It’s not over yet… but there’s less than a week to go!  We drive to Camp Bastion in Mikumi on the way to Ruaha.

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Heather, Warrior Queen of the Fleas

4 January, 2019 Mafia Beach Bungalows, Mafia Island, Tanzania

What the manager should have said was ” The noises at night are teddy bears dancing on your roof”. What he actually said was “the noises at night are rats on the roof and in the walls. But don’t worry, they won’t come in unless you have food in your room.”  

Well,  the good news is we had no food in the room. 

Through a mixup in reservations, we were limited to two rooms  on our first night, so Mark and Kirsten got one room while the rest  of us shared the bed and an extra mattress in the other hut.  It’s hot and humid like Zanzibar, so we spent a restless night listening to the teddy bears dance to a tune played by the squeaky room fan. Sarah woke up in the morning with flea bites. 

We’ve checked and there are no reasonably priced alternatives, so we are here for the full five nights.  

Sarah and I slept much better on the second night in the new hut, while Heather, warrior queen,  bravely fought the fleas by flashlight in our original hut. She described the flea carcass-strewn mattress battlefield to us the next morning.  After reading this, Heather says I did not give her enough kudos – it was a full on war, and she stopped counting at 50 flea casualties.

Mark and Kirsten had a teddy bear visit on night 3, and it stole the soap. Apparently this is a common occurrence according to the manager. The staff will try traps and ground pepper today to avoid more problems. 

I think we really need one good night’s sleep in a clean & cool room, unoccupied by wildlife. However, the staff are very nice, and it’s community run so we’ll grin and bear it.  

Mark and Kirsten have signed up for 3 days of diving, and the reports back have been good so far. Sarah and I went snorkelling this afternoon and had lots of fun being on the water . They took us out by dhow using an outboard motor, we spent an hour snorkelling, and then we came back under sail. 

Swimming with whale sharks was pretty special. The biggest one we saw was about 7m in length, but apparently Mafia Island only has the babies. Adults can grow to 18m.  They are feed on krill (like most whales), except they are fish so they are impossible to spot because they don’t need to surface to breathe. However they often do come close enough while feeding to show the top of their fins, and that is what the spotters look for. We ended up seeing 5 of them and swimming with 4 of them. Click here to watch the video in full screen… or watch the small version below.

Heather left yesterday and will be on her way back to Geneva later today after exploring Dar es Salaam. She took great pains to let us know how her 5 star hotel was. 

We leave to go to Selous and Ruaha parks for our next safari on Jan 6 – only 2 sleeps to go!

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Happy New Year from Zanzibar

26-31 December, 2018 Racoco Villa, Jambiani, Zanzibar.

We are staying in Jambiani on the south east coast of Zanzibar. It’s hot. Really hot. Certainly in the 30’s with high humidity. The airbnb we’ve rented is about 50m away from the beach… but we don’t seem to get the cooling ocean breeze that the waterfront hotels may get in the evenings. At least the bedrooms have fans, but it is still very hot and difficult to sleep.

The area itself is pleasant and extremely laid back. The locals are very friendly and all the 4-5 yr old kids say ‘Jambo!’ (Hi!) and give us high fives as we walk by. The waterfront hotels here tend to be very small with 6-10 rooms. The larger town of Paje is a few km north, and we can see the glare of the bigger hotel lights there. The luxury hotels are even farther away at the northern tip of the island.

Unlike every other ‘non-western’ beachfront tourist destination we’ve seen, the locals come out and use the beach too, but they are sensible and wait until the evening when it is cooler. There were a bunch of small kids playing soccer while others dug up clams and the parents watched. I’m glad we’re sharing the beach rather than just taking it over. The locals’ fishing dhows are anchored just a few hundred metres down the shore. Hopefully it will remain like that… but that’s not what we’ve seen elsewhere.

Zanzibar is one of the world destinations for kite boarding, and four of us have signed up for kiteboarding lessons. Jambiani seems to be well situated for lessons: a shallow sandy bottom with the occasional sea urchin, and it’s a few km away from the two spots where the dozens of experienced boarders sail. Unfortunately, after two good days of wind, the wind died, so we have not been able to finish the course. This has happened to use before, and we think the best solution is just to buy our own kites and learn back at home.

We’ve rented a little 4 wheel drive suzuki, and we’ve done ok so far with Mark navigating & David driving. It’s about 1 hour from east to west coast, and three hours from north to south, so nothing is very far. There are police checks every once in a while, and we’ve been stopped eight times so far in our various drives around the island. It’s not just us – pretty well everyone gets stopped. They have all been pleasantly chatty and wanted to see our paperwork. Some asked if we were a family, where we were from, how long we had been in Zanzibar, and why we were driving when every else took tours. Others just wanted to give me a cool handshake just like you’d see two football players doing after scoring a touchdown.

We enjoyed Stone Town and the Jozani National Forest. Otherwise we’ve been melting in the room, or hanging out at “The Spot” restaurant and hotel, which is where Siren Pro Kiteboarding is located.

I’ve been playing with my camera: it can take pictures completely silently, and it will focus on any faces in the vewfinder, so all the market pictures were shot from the hip without me looking like a camera toting tourist!

We’ve had a quiet New Years and early bed because everyone hasn’t been sleeping well due to the heat. We plan to celebrate over breakfast on 1 January: midnight in Calgary is actually 10AM here. Then we leave in the afternoon to fly to Mafia Island for diving and hopefully snorkeling with Whalesharks.

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Merry Christmas from the Ngorongoro Crater

25 December, 2018,  Planet Lodge, Arusha, Tanzania

Merry Christmas!

We’ve just had a magical Christmas day in the Ngorongoro Crater after spending  a nice night at the Hhando Coffee Lodge in Keratu. The safari is now over, and we’re in Arusha until tomorrow when we fly to Zanzibar for 6 days.

Ngorongoro crater is a grassy plain with shallow lakes inside a 300 km2 extinct volcano crater. It is its own little ecosystem, and supports a huge amount of wildlife including wildebeest, ostrich, gazelles, zebras, jackals,  lions, hyenas, hippos, elephants, and a small population of rhino. The animals are so used to safari vehicles, that they are much less timid than we’ve experienced before.  Well… all animals except the one rhino we saw, that was eating its way in lazy circles about 500m from the nearest road.  The crater really is amazing, and a must-see. It was certainly the highlight of this safari for us.

We left the Serengeti yesterday. On the way out we saw a very nervous cheetah, eating her recent kill while watching for approaching hyenas. We also saw a scene strait out of the Lion King: a pride of lions sitting on the top of a large granite outcropping just like it was Pride Rock. Also on the way out, we stopped for a few hours at the Oldepai Gorge Museum. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s because us westerners have been mispronouncing it ‘Oldevai Gorge’.  We looked out over the excavations started by the Leakey’s, and had a look through the excellent museum on the evolution of man.

We spent 1 night in Arusha at the Planet Lodge, where we went through the Central Market. Next update from Zanzibar:  Stone Town, spices, beaches and diving.

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