Category Archives: Tanzania

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

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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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.

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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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