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Tanzania and the Crater - Part 2

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

We woke up this morning just before our "wake up call" at 6:15. It was amazing listening to all of the bird and other sounds there were to hear while lying in bed.
The wake up call consisted of an employee arriving at our tent with a tray. There was coffee in a silver pitcher, hot milk in a silver creamer and to hot crossed buns on china plates. The coffee cups and saucers were also china. It resembles the blue Delft style, but is German.
We had a good breakfast, consisting of the continental buffet with waffles, bacon and sausage.
On the way back to our tent, we saw a herd of elephants on the plain. I counted 24, but know there were others hiding.
We met Simon just after 7:30 and started the drive to Lake Victoria. On the way we saw the following:

vervet monkeys our elephant from yesterday gazelle zebra
wildebeests weaver (small, brilliant yellow bird) buffalo
warthogs Bateleur eagle tawny eagle giraffe impala
superb starling (bright blue bird)

The warthogs disappear into the long grass immediately after crossing the road, but you could see their long tails sticking straight up, kind of waving around stiffly. Simon referred to the tail as the "follow me" sign, because oftentimes that's the only way you can see them. Says they pick up a good reception with that antenna!
Superb starlings are a brilliant blue and are beautiful. Periodically we'll pass a tree that has a number of gourd-sized round balls hanging from it. These are the weavers' nests. The weaver is a small, bright yellow bird.
We drove through the town of Rimaldi to get to Lake Victoria. It's absolutely amazing how people live. We don't understand how so much progress has been made throughout the world and people live at such a primitive level. There is no running water, so people take 5 gallon buckets and fill them from common spigots to carry back home. Their homes are very small block structures, covered in mud with thatched roofs. There is obviously no inside plumbing, so they dig and use a hole which they build a small structure around.
Cooking is done over firewood or charcoal, and is done either outside or in a separate small building. Everyone is busy working: out in the fields harvesting, tending cattle, taking care of their basic needs. They wash dishes and put them over a frame structure made of wood, out in the yard to dry (which is where they washed them). They do the same with their clothes, or have them on lines to dry. It appears that they do their laundry either in pots of water in the yard or at local creeks.
We arrived at Lake Victoria, and it is pretty. It's hard to grasp the concept of it being the largest fresh water lake in the world. We drove from a lodge there at the lake to a small fishing village down the road.
If we thought the village/town of Rimaldi was primitive, we hadn't seen anything until we got here. There were probably 200 people living here, but it appeared very small at first. The houses are all of mud and built right on top of one another---not literally, but they are very close together. The people have their own village language, which Simon said was common for the individual villages. Some people do speak Swahili, so that's how Simon communicated.
The village smelled of fish (imagine that at a fishing village!) and they had hundreds of small silver fish laid out on the ground to dry in the sun.
The children all through Rimaldi and the fishing village were extremely friendly as we drove past, or walked through the village. They smile, wave, call out, run behind us. The adults in general were a lot more guarded, less friendly. Simon explained that most of these village people are very superstitious, believing in medicine men, etc. So anything/one from the outside is regarded with suspicion and distrust. Even among their own people, if someone tries to make changes, or have a better life than the norm, the risk losing their life at the most, being shunned at the least.
So, that being said, some of the people spoke or smiled, most just looked at us. Some let us take their pictures, others refuesed. To help build trust, Simon had a local walk us through part of the village. We saw a man weaving his fishing nets, a woman weaving baskets, individuals that had small piles of anything from produce to charcoal, presumably for sale to the community. Of course, there were the fish drying in the sun. They did have a shop that sold grocery type goods, and a doctor's office, although it looked closed.
We had our boxed lunch at the gates coming into the park area. Once back at our lodge (~1:30) we came to our tent and took a good nap. We've spent the late afternoon sitting on our deck, drinking juice, had a nice rain shower come through and looked at the Plains. What a life!!

*The weather today was not too hot. There were some clouds, a bit overcast. The tse tse flies were not as bad. Simon said they are unable to fly when the air is cold or wet.

The staff here at Kirawira are great. They are quiet, but friendly, and constantly looking to see what can be done for us. Two or three tonight asked where we were at lunch time today. They use "You're welcome" almost as a greeting, repeating it often: "You're welcome, here is your soup". And they are very apologetic--Mawaanasha apologized for handing me a menu when I was taking a sip of water. The food has been good. Tonight we had a vegetable flan-which was more like a quiche, cream of tomato soup with a single crouton. Larry had baked lemon chicken and I had pan fried trout. Potatoes and/or rice are served with the evening meal with a small, almost garnish size serving of vegetables (carrots, broccoli, peas tonight). Rum baba was dessert, which was a small, muffin-sized cake soaked in rum with a fruit sauce over it.
We had an escort back to the tent and heard a sound just off of the path. There were two dik dik which are the smallest antelope breed and look like tiny deer walking in the woods. The were beautiful and delicate looking, tan bodies with some white underneath, and black markings on their faces. They didn't appear to have a tail.
The paths around the lodge look like slate type rocks, laid to make the path. There is no concrete, dirt, etc. packed around them to hold them together, but it's a very solid walking surface. They get their water for the lodge from bored wells.
The escorts that we have in the evenings carry flashlights, but no weapons. Since this is a park/reserve area, permission must be obtained to kill an animal. The process could take a week or more.

*Larry said that when he got out of the truck in the fishing village, two of the small children ran up to touch his arm. They would then run away giggling and talking behind their hands to one another.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

The morning was cool and overcast. Animals seen:
Huge herd of impala, topi a single buffalo warthogs
vervet monkeys baboons large herd of buffalo waterbuck
giraffe tawny eagle vulture crowned hornbill ostrich zebra
gazelle jackal cuckoo dik dik large herd of wildebeests migrating elephant herd (14) at the road 2 male lions with a female, tree with four female adult lions and 6 cubs rock hyrax

This day has been absolutely incredible; we're dead tired. It's 9:45 and we have a 4:30 wake up call to go ballooning.

The migration of the wildebeests and zebras was astounding--thousands and thousands surrounded us as far as the eye could see.

We saw a large elephant family VERY close to the truck; a male and female lion "honeymooning" with a male competitor close by. After lolling around more than 30 minutes, the lion decided to consummate the relationship. The competitor stood up and moved closer. The male gave a mighty roar like thunder and charged him!! He returned to the female a bit agitated.....the lolling continued.
While driving, Simon stopped abruptly looking at a tree quite far off in the distance, thinking he saw something in it. Turned out to be four female lions and six cubs. That was a great find!! They all were just draped over the branches napping. Two of the mothers sat up and looked at us from their perch above, which made me feel just a tad bit uncomfortable....but not enough to move!!
The lodge here (Serenera) is very nice-odd, round structures. The lounge and restaurant are quite elegant. While it is very nice, it is more commercial than where we've been. I do kind of miss the homey feel of Kirawira with Mfumbi and Maanasawa taking care of us! Oh well, we didn't check in until 5:00. It was a 10 hour game drive with a short break for a box lunch. We leave at 5:00 in the morning!!

Interesting tidbits from listening/talking with Simon during the day:

The trees that you typically see in pictures of Africa--tall, with the leaves all spread out like an umbrella is the ballanite tree (spelled phonetically). There is a whistling acacia tree that has small ball on it. At a distance they look like cockleburs. But they are hollow inside and when the wind blows through them they whistle.

The waterbuck is a lucky animal because he doesn't taste very good. Predators will usually not kill a waterbuck if they have other tastier options.

The crowned hornbill is a VERY large bird. I'm pretty sure that it is the largest bird that is still able to fly.

The ostrich is the second fastest animal to the cheetah. It is difficult prey because of its speed as well as its very powerful kick.

Superstition has it that when the cuckoo sounds, it is going to rain. The cuckoo doesn't build nests, but uses other birds' nests. It possibly removes the other birds eggs, but definitely lays its own eggs for the other birds to incubate and hatch.

The wildebeests and zebras migrate together. The zebras have good eyesight, the wildebeests has better sense of smell, so they can work together to warn of predators. The zebras eat the long grass, while the wildebeests eats the shorter grass. They travel together, compensating each other and cooperating with each other.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Animals of the day:
hyena hippo (out of the water!) owl zebra wildebeests
lions gazelle impala dik dik bat-eared fox bufflao
crocodile hippos in a hippo pool waterbuck topi giraffe

It gets harder and harder to know where to start writing each day. At this moment, Larry and I are sitting at a campfire, at sunset, overlooking the Serengeti, with a kopje behind us and a bunch of baboons sitting on top of it looking down on us. We are seated in nice wooden/canvas folding chairs, drinking Kilamanjaro and Safari lagers at our very private camp. We are the only guests here.
Our day started quite abruptly at 4:33 am. We were dressed and out of the room at 4:45--an amazing feat by anyone's standards, much less mine!! I'd love to have that on videotape. (That was including having our luggage packed and out of the room).
Everyone was present and accounted for at 4:50. (We had met a group the night before that were going on the balloon ride....I didn't think they would all make it). There were 14 French and the two of us for the hot air balloon safari. The drive from the lodge to the balloon site took almost 1 1/2 hours. On the way we saw a couple of hippos walking alongside the road. Zack, the driver, explained that hippos come out at night to eat due to their sensitivity to the sun. They eat at night, then stay in the water during the day.
The balloon was set up when we got there. The basket was divided into 8 compartments, with two people in each compartment. There was a small step-like structure inside each. We had to load the basket while it was on its side which was a bit tricky! Then Muhamed, the pilot, blew hot air into the balloon, making it rise, dragging us along the ground a bit and lifting us up. At that point we could stand up and look around and take pictures.
The animals were not as plentiful as I would have liked, but we did see some and the trip was amazing. It was breathtaking flying over the Serengeti.
One thing I did learn is that it's very difficult for a predator to kill a hippo because of its thick skin. Oftentimes, what will happen is that its skin may be scratched during an attack, but the hippo is not killed. However, the scratched skin makes it too painful for the hippo to get into the water. When it stays out of the water, the sun hurts him more and eventually it kills him.
Also learned that cheetahs and hyenas can run very fast for several hours at a time. Therefore, they are more successful hunters. Lions can only run for brief periods of time, so they will often look for a cheetah or hyena to make a kill, then take it from them.
The balloon ride lasted about an hour. Upon landing, the crew had orange juice and champagne waiting for us. We toasted the French, the French toasted us, we all toasted Muhamed and the balloon crew.
*The landing was pretty exciting as we landed, ending up in the same position as we started--with the basket on its side and us in a seated position on our backs!
They took us for a short (5 min) drive to where breakfast was set up. There was a table with basins and pitchers of water for hand washing, long banquet tables with linens, china, silver, and breakfast was served!! More of a traditional English breakfast, but what a wonderful experience. We had a great time with our new French friends.
Only one of the group spoke pretty decent English, so he translated everything. We were driven to Serenera lodge where we said our goodbyes to our new friends and hello to Simon who was waiting for us. It was only about 10:00 and we'd already had a full day.
Game driving today was a little less than spectacular, but still it was a good day. We drove through even more zebras and wildebeests in the midst of their migration. It's hard to imagine such numbers of them!
We arrived at our mobile tent camp around 2:30 or so. It is considered a "private luxury tent camp". We have a tent for ourselves. It has a queen size bed, straw mat floor coverings, two bedside tables, a sink--piped directly to the outside, and bucket of water and pitcher beside it with a basin for washing. There's a wooden free standing towel rack, luggage rack, suspended wood shelves.
The back section has a small toilet to the right and shower to the left. Each is in its own zippered compartment.
To take a shower, the staff brings hot water that's been heating over a wood fire and pours it into a suspended bag for us to use. There is a shower head on it with a lever to turn to turn the water on and off during the shower to conserve the water. It felt really good after the shower today. The staff told us to just let them know when we wanted to shower so they could bring the water.
Our tent has an overhang in the front and canvas extension where there were a couple of wood/canvas folding chairs and small tables. There were also two canvas tripods which the staff put warm water in for us to wash our hands. (They also put warm water in them first thing in the morning for us to wash up).
It was really not today and, and after we took a shower we sat outside. But we're facing the north and the sun was beating down, so we came inside to nap. It was still hot and stuffy, but a short rainshower came through and cooled things off quickly, making it much more comfortable.
When we woke up it was about 6:00pm. A campfire had already been started, a drink/snack table set up. After sitting outside a bit (Simon joined us), we went into the dining tent for dinner. There was bread/butter, cream of leek soup, beef/macaroni (wagon wheel) casserole, veggies (green beans, carrots and zucchini). Fruit salad for dessert.
We had good conversation with Simon, talking about life in the US versus Africa, economy, opportunity, healthcare.....
We were escorted back to our tent after dinner--lanterns lit the way along the walk. I had joked with Larry prior to going to dinner about a turn down service. Lo and behold, our bed was turned down beautifully and two hot water bottles were tucked in the covers!
It's 9:15 now. Larry is in bed and I'm on the way. The only sound is crickets (or something like them) chirping in a very calming rhythm. We heard a skirmish outside a bit ago----baboons?! Don't know, but it sounded pretty exciting!!
There is a full moon out and a clear sky. The moon has been beautiful the past few nights. We saw the Southern Cross in the sky tonight.
*Oh, Simon took us to a hippo pool where we could get out of the truck. There were dozens of hippos, all sizes from young babies to HUGE adults. They dipped into the water, submerging themselves, peeking just over the water, splashing and snorting around. Several tried unsuccessfully to mate. What a great time we had there!!


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Heard lions roar around 6:00 am! The full moon was beautiful, even as the sun came up this morning.

Animals of the morning drive:
Baboons zebra giraffe wildebeests jackal leopard
female lions ostrich elephants (large herd-19?)
female lions in a tree

We got up and to the dining tent for breakfast just after 7:00 am. Breakfast was good: oatmeal or dry cereal, fruit (mangoes, bananas, pineapple), eggs (cheese omelet), bacon and sausage links.
We had a long drive, just over 4 hours. Animals were a bit sparse in this area (southern) because most of the migration is following the rains into central Serengeti.
We saw Masaai paintings on rocks that were about 200 years old. We also climbed up a kopje and saw huge boulders with rounded indentations in them. These were called "Gong Rocks". When these indentations are struck with a smaller rock by hand, different tones are elicited. This was one way the Masaai tribes communicated with one another.
We did see a leopard today which was a new species for us. It was very well hidden in a tree. The way Simon spotted it was by it's tail hanging down, which looks like another branch of the tree to me.
There were three female lions in that immediate area as well. A little further down was another tree draped with 6 female lions. We also saw a large family of elephants.
Simon said that leopards are very solitary animals. They are together when mating and raising their cubs, but otherwise they are alone. They even raise their cubs in separate areas, not together. As we could tell, they can hide very well. When they make a kill, they pull the kill up into the tree to hide it from other predators.
When we commented to Simon that we heard the baboons last night, he said that at night time, the baby baboons go to the top of the tree to sleep for security from predators. The parents/adults stay more in the middle branches. During the night, the babies may slip from the branches, or "make pee" on the adults, and the adults will go up and "beat" them.
We got back to camp around 12:30 and had a wonderful lunch shortly after. We had fried pork chops (Simon teased me telling me it was warthog.....), a spinach roll up (crepe), potato salad (sliced carrots in it), salad of sliced cucumber, green peppers, avocados and tomatoes. The lunch started with gazpacho (very spicy, but good, cold soup) and ended with pineapple upside down cake. (Keep in mind, everything is prepared outside over a coal stove).

We've alternately read and napped. Larry's gotten all of the camera batteries charged while they ran the generator.
While we were gone, our bed was made, room cleaned, chemical toilet emptied and cleaned.
Fresh hot water was brought to the canvas tripod outside basins for us to freshen up after the ride. They took our laundry, washed it, and it is on a line drying.
It was cool last night and this morning, but has gotten pretty warm. A breeze was blowing, but seems to have stopped. We'll go out driving with Simon again at 3:30.

Animals of the afternoon drive:
mouse giraffes cheetah lions sleeping on a kopje waterbuck
wildebeests zebras impalas ostriches secretariat

The afternoon drive took us to the Ranger Camp for this area. The rangers here concentrate on the preservation of the rhino. We looked through their small center. Three rangers work there and live there full time. They do not get a holiday until they work at least three months.
We didn't see very many animals on the drive, but what we did see was impressive! Simon found the cheetah, lying under a tree, just a few yards from the road. She spent the time lying around, but would raise her head periodically, looking up to give us the opportunity to snap a picture.
When we were leaving the cheetah, Simon couldn't get the truck started. Turned out the connection to the battery (under Larry's seat) was loose. Simon had to get out of the truck on the opposite side of the cheetah, Larry do the same, then Simon get back in to fix the connection. The truck started and everything was fine, but that was a tad bit unnerving!!
Simon also spotted, on a distant kopje, a pride of lions (4) sleeping.
We got in about 6:00 to camp. Paulo asked if we wanted to shower and when we said "yes", they brought hot water to put in the shower bag for us to have a hot shower.
All cleaned up, we went to the campfire, sat and talked. Anthony, the waiter, talked to us some. He said that people here cook over campfires daily. Here at the camp they use charcoal which makes them "look to be at a higher level".
They moved our dining table (white cloth, candles and all) outside for us to dine under the stars. Anthony made a wonderful presentation telling us how much they enjoyed being with us and having us here at the camp, and wished for us to return. He opened champagne for toasts: "maishamakura" -"long life; please return (roughly translated).
He then announced that the dinner would be traditional African. (What I'd been waiting for the whole trip!!) We went to the buffet table (we'd been served all of the other meals) and washed our hands at a basin, with one of the men pouring water from a pitcher to rinse. The do not use towels, so you shake your hands dry.
We had pureed carrot-rosemary soup; brown rice, grilled chicken (thigh/leg--which was the only pieces served every time we had chicken during the whole trip); kebob, pieces of grilled beef filet, a stiff porridge called ugali made with corn flour and boiling water. It was topped with some sort of meat sauce. There was also roasted banana and a dish called makande, which was a combination of white beans and corn.
Simon said that this meal is the typical meal of his tribe (Pare) which originated in the Kilamanjaro area.
When we started to eat, Simon and Anthony said that we could use utensils, but in Africa they eat with their fingers. So when in Rome----or Africa......... We ate our meal with our fingers as well! Simon ate so much quicker with his fingers than he does when using utensils! It slowed me down enough that I was full long before I was finished. Simon said most African families will use a larger soup spoon, but that is the only utensil they use. The basin was brought to the table for us to wash our hands again after the meal.
Then all 5 men came down singing a song and presented us with a cake they'd baked here at the camp (over a fire, remember). It was a single layer, iced cake that said "good bye and please return" in Swahili. The cake is not traditional. They said that they were just starting to have cakes at celebrations, such as weddings.
It was a wonderful evening---the best yet as far as I'm concerned. The full moon rose from behind the kopjis. We discussed politics with Simon and returned to our tent with our solar lanterns, the bed turned down and heated with water bottles. As primitive as this is, I really like this place!

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