Category Archives: Carlson / James Family Travel

Real Housewives of the Serengeti (Lion edition)

21, 22, 23 December, 2018. The Thorntree Lodge, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

ACT 1 – The story so far… a pride of lions near Lake Ndutu has had two females come into heat. They have both left the pride for a private lakeside rendezvous with the dominant male …surrounded by 8 safari tourist vehicles and at least 25 cameras. Unbenownst to no one, a second male has also left the pride and sits about 15 metres away, occasionally craning his neck over the tall grass to see what is happening.

The dominant male lies near his favoured female. The second female lies about 5 metres away, occasionally craning her neck to sneak peaks at the second male.

…and…. ACTION!

The second female makes some suggestive moves. The dominant male goes over to her. The first female pretends she doesn’t notice anything.

‘Grrrr’… says the second female, and takes a swipe at the dominant male. She walks off about 20 metres in a neutral direction. The dominant male, somewhat mistified, returns to his favourite female. The second male has seen all this, and sneaks over to the second female. The dominant male notices and takes a few steps towards the pair, but he’s tired and it’s early, and so returns to his favourite female. Then he changes his mind and goes for a drink at the local watering hole, which is only a few steps away.

While he’s drinking, his favourite female leaves and goes to visit the other pair, to wait her turn with the second male. The dominant male sees all this, and returns to the watering hole once again to drown his sorrows.

End of Act 1.


Who knew the lives of lions could be so complicated?

After leaving the Ndutu plains, we entered Serengeti park. We saw a second pride of 7 lions who had a mostly eaten wildebeest carcass. The dominant male could not eat any more… but he was not ready to let the younger lions have any. When the senior lioness walked away a few steps to lie in the grass, you could almost hear him think: “I want to go over with her, but I can’t leave the carcass. Hmmm, what to do…” He eventually dragged the entire carcass off so he could sit near her but still have the carcass nearby. One of the young males came too close, and he asserted his dominance quite strongly. Kirsten took a great photo – if i can only figure out how to upload it.

Actually we saw a lot more than lions yesterday. We found a cheetah and three cubs that must be just weeks old. As this was in the park, we had to stay on the roads, so we followed her for about half an hour until she crossed very close to us. Then we saw two hyenas take down a wildebeast about 500m away. We found a dead gazelle up in a tree near the hotel, so there is a leopard in the area. We also saw hundreds of thousands of wildebeast, and thousands of zebras having just completed or still in progress with their annual migration. There is a lot happening!

Today we saw maybe 20 lions over the course of the day including three cubs that were 5 or 6 months old. We found the leopard near our camp, but it disappeared under a bush and would not come back out. And we saw a hippo who showed us both of his weapons- his huge mouth… and his windshield wiper-like tail that spreads his poop in all directions at high speed like a manure spreader. Actually this last one may not be an official hippo weapon, but it certainly would be effective. And we found a very elusive Serval cat – the female is about the size of a big house cat, but they look like a cheetah

We leave the Serengeti tomorrow, and hope to visit the Oldepai Gorge Museum. then we’re off to the Ngorongoro crater for Christmas day.

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Did civilization miss something?

20 December, 2018. Mbugani Migration Camp, Ndutu Plain, Tanzania

We visited the Hadzabe bushman tribe this morning. They speak the ‘click language’ , and live as nomads in the bush. They hunt with bow and arrows, and wear clothes made from hides of animals they’ve skinned plus hand-me -downs. We were supposed to go very early in the morning and hunt with them, but it was raining hard so we went over after breakfast… and after the rain.

It’s been fascinating- they have zero carbon footprint as a people. Actually, the Datooga and Maasai basically have no or negligible carbon footprint either, yet they are being pushed to join the rest of the world. I think there’s a lot we can learn from them on how to live simply again through living comfortably with what they have rather than wanting more.

After leaving the bushmen, we drove along the top of Ngorongoro crater on the way to Lake Ndutu.   We could see rhinos on the crater floor with binoculars as we drove by, and we look forward to trying to find those on our visit to the crater floor in a few days.

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400 cows

19 December, 2018 Eyasi Lodge, Lake Eyasi, Tanzania

400 cows is what the first wife of the chief of the Datooga tribe recommended that Mark pay to Kirsten should they ever decide to get married. It would be up to Kirsten to decide what to do with the cows. 

It was as if Sarah had provided the script to the first wife beforehand.  After a tour of the their village, and a demonstration of how to grind corn into flour, we started asking questions of each other through the interpreter/ guide.  They asked Sarah to explain how we were all related. When it became clear that Mark and Kirsten were not married, then came the recommendation that 400 cows was appropriate.

So Mark now has a goal, and Kirsten has a decision to make: what to do with 400 cows.  They may never get married! 🙂 

We left the Sangaiwe Lodge this morning and drove to Manyara Lake where we saw a huge number of baboons and blue monkeys… with a few elephants and a distant leopard thrown in for good measure.  And Heather learned that ‘brother’ in swahili is ‘caca’, which is french for ‘poo’. I’m sure that will get old fast for most of us. 

The first tribal visit today was to the Datooga tribe that does metal work. The girls now have bracelets. We have a second tribal visit tomorrow to visit bushmen. If you remember “The Gods Must be Crazy”, these are the tribes that speak with a series of clicks and live a nomadic existence in the bush. 

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How did he see that?

17, 18 December 2018, Sangaiwe Tented Lodge, Tarangire National Park , Tanzania 

We were stopped at a corner just about to turn left in the Tarangire National Park. Salim, our guide glanced to the right prior to turning and said “there’s a leopard”. 

We all looked. 

“It’s lying on the branch”

We looked harder.

“it’s on that tree, on the big limb that has the vertical branch”

Heather got the binoculars. Mark, Kirsten and I zoomed in our cameras. It was really hard to see, but we could finally make it out. I have no idea how Salim could see it with a single glance through sunglasses while driving.  A number of other safari vehicles passed by us and missed it completely too.

Unlike the leopard Sarah and I saw in Samburu, this one did not move as we approached, so we got to look at it closely. 

I had been worried that the National Parks would not be as good as the conservancies that we visited in Kenya. However the elephants were as close as we’ve ever seen, and today we watched as one group played in a waterhole. 

Unfortunately Sarah’s been sick, probably from something she ate yesterday. She was very quiet in the back seat saying very little through the day… until Heather asked how to tell whether the elephants were male or female. Sarah perked right up and finally got that awkward ‘birds and bees’ conversation over with. Pheuw… better late than never. 

… and we’ve discovered Heather’s favourite African animal: the dung beetle.  It actually was kind of fun watching these things appear out of elephant dung, and roll dung the size of lacrosse balls across the road. I have named one of them Sisyphus- it pushed the dung ball up the tire track, only to have it roll back down again. 

Sarah sat out day 2 at Tarangire and felt much better at end of day. She should be 100% tomorrow. The kids and I saw 5 lions: 3 sleeping, 1 eating grass and then being sick, and the final one was hunting. They really are like every cat we’ve owned. We were downwind of the one that was hunting, so it quickly disappeared from view as it went away from us. 

And I realized we missed a golden family opportunity- there was another family with older kids at the picnic area today.  They were all dressed in matching khaki pants, shirts and safari hats!  It would have only cost me a little money and all my self-respect

We’re off to two lakes tomorrow: Manyara first, and then staying overnight at Lake Eyasi. 

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The gang is all here

16 December, 2018.   Arusha, Tanzania

…All the gang except for Chloe and Stephanie, of course. Unfortunately they had to stay home and work. We are missing them already, but happily they will be with Stephanie’s family on Christmas Day. 

Mark, Kirsten, Sarah and I spent a hot day and a half in Moshi before picking Heather up at the Kilimanjaro airport this afternoon. We’re now in Arusha and leave for the 9 day safari tomorrow after breakfast.  

I’m  not sure about the availability of an internet connection while we’re travelling, but we will send updates when we can. 

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Even more lions and cheetahs

12, 13 December,  Porini lion camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Kenya

Situated on a conservancy adjacent to the Masa Mara, this camp is run by the same management as the amboseli camp.  The advantage to the conservancy is that there is limited access to just the few companies that work in the area, and those companies are not limited to staying on the park access roads like they are in the Masa Mara.  So we could go up close to the lions and cheetahs: they did not seemed bothered by us at all. 

They have two lion prides in the area, and also two cheetah mothers with their cubs. One of the lion prides is over 20 lions.  And one of the lion mums had three babies that were three weeks old. They were just learning to walk, and we could see the mum still picking them up by the scruff of their neck.

Like Porini Amboseli, there are no fences between the tents and the park. The animals are able to freely roam through the area. This is not a problem during the day, but after dark they require us to have staff walk us to our tents. Both nights,  we were awoken by very noisy grazing. The first night, it was a hippo, and the second night was a cape buffalo: we stayed in the tent!

We got to watch the cats very closely. It is amazing how similar their  behaviour is to house cats. One of the similar behaviors was how house cats play with mice, birds, etc. The mother of the 4 cheetahs had captured a baby gazelle… and the cubs were playing with it, learning how to hunt. It was a good life lesson for these endangered cubs, but it was hard to watch for more than a few minutes.

We were here for two days. Next stop is Moshi and Arusha in Tanzania to pickup Mark, Kirsten, and Heather. Next safari starts on Monday.  

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Flooded Again

11 December 2018, Intrepids Safari Camp, Samburu Park, Kenya

“Hello, Housekeeping” were the words that woke us up. “You have to get up now”. 

We’re more or less over the 10 hour time change from Calgary, but this was the first time we’d slept soundly through the night. The morning game drive starts at 6:30 and I’ve never had to be woken up before. I thought we’d slept in and I wondered why my alarm had not gone off. 

“You need to leave now”. 

I looked at my watch: 1:36AM. 

“The water is coming up and you need to leave now”. 

There are two rainy seasons in Kenya: the Big Rain in March/April; and the Little Rains which is around now. It’s rained overnight many times since we arrived a week ago, but the days have almost always been nice weather.  It had rained on and off yesterday evening, however, upstream it must have rained a lot.

The hotel area floods continually in the big rains, and frequently in the little rains.  It’s no big deal because everything is built on stilts.  But we had to leave our old tent, which was closest to the river, and come back to a more central one. One other guest was evacuated from the tent beside ours,  but the rest of the guests were fine. 

There was about a foot of water at ground level around the tent. We were carried to dry land with all our stuff. 

The water was within 6″ of needing to evacuate the entire camp… but by the time we got out,  the level was dropping and hotel staff were no longer concerned. 

By this morning, the water flow was still high, but the level was back within the banks. 

We had a great game drive this morning. With breakfast done, Sarah’s gone back to bed!

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Lions and cheetahs

10 December, 2018 . Intrepids Safari Park, Samburu, Kenya

We saw some new animals in Samburu: an Oryx, which my sister-in-law points out is both a type of antelope and a 14 point scrabble word. That’s 14 points  in only  4 letters ~before~ any multiple letter or multiple word scores. The giraffes here are reticulated giraffes, which means their spots are rectangular rather than round.  The ostrich and zebras are also different from their southern counterparts, although we have yet to see an ostrich. 

Forgive me for becoming  a tourist snob again when I say that the most special things we saw today were a cheetah on the prowl, and two lionesses and their 4 cubs (or are they kittens?).  Having a herd of elephant walk by within a few metres no longer qualifies as special!

The cheetah was oblivious to the 6 safari vehicles that leap frogged over each other along the roadway to give their pasengers a look as the cheetah walked parallel to the road.  It was also oblivious to the herd of impalas that were united in stamping their feet and growling at it from a safe distance.  

The lions were another find by a different tour group that Dom, our guide, heard about by phone. By the time we got there, it was raining and all the other trucks were gone so we had a private visit. It was two Mum’s with two cubs each. 

And we saw a leopard from a distance of about 100m. It dissappeared as soon as we turned the truck towards it. 

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A different take on safaris

10 December, 2018  Intrepids Safari Camp, Samburu Park, Kenya

We’ve left the Porini Amboseli camp and are now in Samburu National Park at the Intrepids Safari Camp. 
The Intrepids is a different take on tented safaries. There are 28 tent sites built on permanent stilted platforms, with concreted stone pathways connecting them all. The central buildings are enormous thatched roof structures that are reminiscent of an all-inclusive beach resort.   There is wi-fi, although it is broken and not expected to be fixed while we’re here. 

The area is gorgeous. It is situated at the water’s edge of a muddy red river, with large acacia trees everywhere. Velvet monkeys are common on the hotel grounds, and we have to use a mini carabiner to hold all the tent’s zippers closed to keep them out when we are not in the tent. The food menu offers a selection to choose from for 4 courses, and the service is presented impeccably on trendy square plates. 

So far in Intrepids, all the guest groups eat at their own table. No drinks are included, which is fairly common in safaris.  At Porini, everything was included. The food was good, but much more utilitarian. And all guests ate at one large table at the same time, which I prefer because we very much enjoy meeting other travelers. 

The staff at both places have been exceptionally nice. Our driver/ guide and about 40% of the staff are Maasai, but they are required to wear the hotel uniform to work. 
The hotel is located in the middle of the Samburu National Park, which is in the northern part of Kenya. We’re here for two nights. 

Maasai village visit

8 Dec 2018 Selenkay Reserve, Kenya

We just had a very authentic cultural visit to a local Maasai village. This was not a re-enactment of traditional ways… they still live like this.  We were greeted by hunters and then walked into the village, where we listened to a welcome song. 

While this may seem contrived, and yes they would have repeated it for every visitor… there was no doubt that they actually lived in the mud huts we toured, and brought their sheep/ goats/ cows inside the compound every night to protect them from predators.  No electricity, no tv, no internet… but many had cell phones (not sure how they’d charge them).  They have an amazingly strong desire to maintain their own insular culture.

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