Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Leaving Tanzania

After breakfast, we weren't in a hurry, so just slowly packed and then headed back to Arusha. Ernest arranged a day room for us at a hotel before our bus to Kampala, Uganda, which is scheduled to leave at 4:00pm.

The hotel was in the downtown area, and it was bustling with activity, so we walked around the area. The locals were very friendly saying hello to us whitey's. We had a lunch at the hotel, then got a pickup from Ernest and Danford to take us to the bus.

The bus was over 2 hours late, and we didn't leave until after 6:00pm. In order to make up time, the bus driver was going at incredible speeds on the highway, reaching 140kph (most people drive around 70-80kpm). We arrived at the Kenya/Tanzania border in the evening. I had pre-purchased our transit visas before going, but I had made a mistake on mine, and put the date of entry and date of exit as Nov 30. But we weren't going to he leaving Kenya until tomorrow, Dec. 1. I told the immigration dude I made a mistake, and he's like "Oh, your visa is already expired! You have to pay $20 US dollars", with a big grin on his face. He was just joking around and it wasn't a problem. We had to haul all of our gear off the bus and take it through security, which was nothing more than someone going through your bag. It was a big pain in the ass, and I don't usually remember having to do this at border crossings on buses. Tracy had to the go to the bathroom, and she got there, and found out that you had to pay. Fortunately there was another local woman there that was on our bus, and she paid for Tracy to go to the bathroom.

At Nairobi, we changed buses. The bus company held that bus back so we wouldn't miss it. I think there were also other people on the first bus that also needed to be on the second bus. The bus from Nairobi to Kampala only left about 30 minutes late.

When we got on the bus, they were playing local rap videos with women shaking their booty in front of the camera, wearing not much.

We tried to get as much sleep as we could on the nighttime bus.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tangarire National Park

It sucked trying to sleep to the noises of the city again. Motorcycles, people coughing and talking, people in the room above us doing it, Muslim mosque doing it's call to prayer and a horrible hour. Yuck. Give me the animal sounds of Africa back.

Breakfast at the hotel and then we headed out for Tangarire National Park, known for it's large elephant populations, more than any other in Tanzania.

Along the way we stopped in a small village and visited the market so the cook could pick up some fresh food. We got to follow him around.

On the way we stopped at a view point for a view of Lake Manaru (Manyara?)(or something?) National Park.

We arrived at Tangarire and headed for the campsite, got setup and had lunch. There is one other older couple from England staying here as well.

Tangarire is much hotter than Serengeti. Wow.

We saw lots and lots of elephants from a close distance. They dig into the dry river beds to get at water and throw dirt on themselves to help protect from the sun and insects.

The park is also known for the giant baobab trees. During the dry season, they look like they're planted upside down.

Back the campsite and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and talk with the British couple. They've done safaris all across Africa, and they feel the campsites in Tanzania are some of the most neglected, not nearly up to the standards as the ones in southern Africa.

During the night there were lots of amazing animal noises again, including an animal that had a god awful, low growls very close to the campground. Very vicious and aggressive. Tracy burst awake shitting herself. She thought it was a large baboon being aggressive at the humans in the campground, and was errified to go outside. Later, after the sun came up, we found out that it was nothing more than an impala.

I have to say, I love sleeping with all the animal noises. Loud and quiet, I'm going to miss it and it seem to be very relaxing to me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ngorongoro Crater - Todd pisses off more wildlife.

We woke up with the sunrise as usual. Lots of awesome animal noises all night, and the stars are amazing.

We packed up camp and left around 7:00 for Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped at a Maasai village, where they did the tourist thing, doing the Maasai dance for us, then showing us the school (a small shack with a blackboard), then a house (tiny mud-built house with cooking fire and two beds). Then we got the opportunity to buy handmade crafts. I bartered down from 75,000 shilling to 40,000 shilling. I'm pretty proud of myself, as I'm not particularly good at bartering.

Then we headed to Ngorongoro Crater, which was fine. The views of the crater were spectacular, but we've seen so many safari animals (including the rhino), that there wasn't really anything new to see here. When we were in the crater, the guide turned on the CB radio and was listening to all the other tourist guides all talking about trying to find one of the rhinos in the crater. There are 20 in all, and there are none in central Serengeti, so this is the only chance many tourists will get to see a rhino. Our guide laughed at them, because we got our rhino (the black rhino at that!) in the northern Serengeti. (In the end, they couldn't find any of the rhinos today.)

We stopped at a picnic area for lunch. I was eating a pizza pop-type thing (but much better than a pizza pop), and had about one bite left, and was holding it my left hand at the side of my head, as I was chewing the previous bite. Suddenly I'm enveloped in shadow, I feel something touch my left hand, and I heard a woosh. I was completely startled and probably screamed a bit. I totally freaked me out. I then looked at my left hand and my food was gone. WTF? Not understanding what just happened, I looked up and saw a large bird of prey fly off with my food! I was freaked and we all then climbed in the truck and finished eating. Danford (our guide) said it was a Black Kite, a large bird, a fair bit larger than a hawk. I'm shocked it didn't cut my finger open, they have large, sharp claws.

We then left for Karatu, and the Panorama Inn for the night. It's a very nice place in a totally non-touristy part of town. I asked Danford if it was safe to walk around here, and he said yes, totally safe, no worries at all. After showering for the first time in almost a week, we went for a walk around. Dirt streets, tons of local shops all over (hair dressers, welders, little convenience stores, auto-body shops, clothing, etc.), not touristy at all. We weren't bothered at all, except for one Maasai guy came and started chatting us up in English, he ended up wanting to sell some handmade stuff his grandmother and him makes, so he can pay for schooling. We got a couple of nice necklaces for 10,000 shilling.

As we were walking around, three young boys (maybe 5 or 6), came walking along, and one of the came over and rubbed his hand along my arm. I've noticed the locals (and the Maasai) are fascinated with the hair all over my body.

We then went to a restaurant across the street (Karatu Corner Bar) and ordered a couple of beers. The lady working there spoke no english, but we managed to convey what we wanted, and it was nice sitting outside watching the world go by.

We also got a load of laundry done.

Back to the hotel for supper.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Day in Serengeti

I had to pee four times last night. It made me mad.

Today was a pretty relaxed day. We have seen pretty much everything in the first two days (which is quite unusual), so today was just going to be a slow day.

After breakfast, around 10:00am we headed out on another game drive and got two more surprises. We headed out to less popular roads again, staying away from the crowds trying to see the lions and giraffes. So in addition to seeing more of the "typical" animals we've already seen, we got to witness a cerval cat up close. It's a small cat, a bit larger than a large house cat. He was hunting for mice and similar creatures along the side of the road. We also got to witness a jackal chasing a hyena. Jackals are quite small, less than half the size of a hyena, but the the jackal probably had a den with babies nearby, and was trying to keep the hyena away from her babies. It was pretty neat to see this tiny dog take on the large dog and win.

We also headed to the visitors centre, which is quite nice. When you arrive, you are taken on a tour by a guide of the visitors centre, and you're expected to tip the guide afterwards. I was a bit miffed that our guide didn't tell us that before we went there. Anyway, whatever.

We headed back to the camp for lunch.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What Happened to Tracy

Something has happened to Tracy. Yesterday she was an animal lover, nature lover, all animals are cute, baboons being one of her favorites. Last night's baboon encounter has changed her. She's angry at them. She hates baboons. She has created a pile of rocks, if they come even remotely close to our camp, she throws rocks at them and hurtles swears and insults at them. She has changed.

We woke up this morning with the sunrise. Last night we went to sleep with all kinds of strange and amazing animal sounds. Hyenas, leopards, buffalo, elephant and more we didn't know what they were. I slept soundly, but Tracy kept waking up. It's great sleeping in a tent, hearing all of the night noises. When we woke up, four buffalo were no more than 50-60 metres from our camp, sleeping. A small group of hyenas were a short distance off in another direction (that would explain why we heard them to clearly last night). We were the only ones in the public campground, which Tracy didn't like.

We had our little table and chair setup  to overlook the grasslands, and tourist were driving by throughout the morning. At least two of them, when they saw our little campsite, with our little table and two chairs, Tracy and me standing there observing our domain, grabbed their camera and took pictures of us and our campsite. We were the tourist attraction! They were probably staying in some fancy lodge and were fascinated by people sleeping in tents amongst the wild animals. They were probably jealous.

It's incredible and amazing to wake and see a plethora of animals roaming in the vista from the campsite, including zebras, buffalo, giraffe,wildebeest, hyenas, various antelope and more.

The baboons came back this morning, watching us. Tracy was our protector, though, and kept them at bay with her rocks. After they left, black-faced monkeys arrived and watched the cook as he was making breakfast and watched us eat. They are quite a bit less scary than the baboons, and Tracy was less aggressive with them.Jumping on our truck, around the trees at our camp, on the cooking shelter. The cooking shelter has a wired windows and doors, with latches, so they hung around the door and in the windows peering in at us as we ate. It was quite awesome, actually.

Then a large female baboon came back, and it's obvious the baboon rules over the monkeys. The baboon would push his way around the monkeys, scaring them off if they were in her way or got too close.

Around 10:00am, we left for another campground, Pimbi campground I think. We're now in the central Serengeti region, which is quite a bit more popular, so was quite a bit busier with more tourist trucks around. On the way there, we got close to a family of elephants right near the side of the road, including one teeny, tiny elephant baby sticking right by mom's side.

Once again, we're astounded and we got some very good luck in seeing things.

Another lion family, no males around, but a bunch of females and about 10 kittens. After observing that for a while, we didn't go more than 5 minutes and we got a leopard in a tree. That means we've now got all big 5. Moved on, and not 1-2 minutes later, a cheetah in the field. He'd stop and stand and observe, then move on, then jump on a mound and sit and observe everything again, then move on. There were quite a few other tourist trucks around these parts, and we'd seen tons of stuff yesterday, so our guide decided to go off to some areas where there weren't any other tourists. What a treat! We got up and close and personal with a couple of giraffes. Then we hit another jackpot, a cheetah female with 5 cubs literally right by the side of the road. We were the only tourist truck there, so we got the treat of observing them. This is very rare for cheetahs to be so close to the side of the road. After we observed them for 10 minutes, our guide called on the CB radio to the other tourist trucks, and the rush was on. About this time it started to rain, so we closed the roof and the cheetahs decided to move on. By the time the other tourist trucks started to arrive, the cheetahs were in the field and hard to see. So, we got a treat by seeing them first.

We also saw a snake, African python I believe it was.

More ostriches, zebras, wildebeests, various antelopes, etc., etc., etc.

Back to the campground around 5:00ish, and we had another amazing day.

Friday, November 25, 2016

First Day in Serengeti - Todd pisses off wildlife

We woke up very early this morning to leave, as we had a long drive to get to the north gate of Serengeti National Park.

We entered the north gate (Klein's Gate) entrance to Serengeti National Park. There were some cool red and violet lizards at the entrance, scampering around. The toilets were squatters, Tracy's first experience with them.

Well, talk about animals. Everywhere. Zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, warthogs, all kinds of antelopes (mainly gazelles and impalas), ostriches, elands, etc. The landscape just covered with them. It kinda blew my mind. For some reason I thought all of the animals congregated in smaller areas. Saw many elephants from a distance as well.

We did a game drive up to the Mara River, famous for the wildebeest crossing during the migration. On the way up, we came across two male lions lazing in the heat of the day beside the side of the road and got some great pictures. We missed the crossing by a short bit, they've all crossed now, but we went to see the crocodiles in the river. Also saw lots of hippos in the river. They're huge.

As we were returning from the Mara River, our guide stopped suddenly, and grabbed the binoculars, then immediately turned the truck around and raced off. We were all wondering what he saw. As we approached, we found out. A black rhino, which are very rare. He said we were very lucky, as the rhino is the hardest one to find. There are none in the central Serengeti, so if you don't find one in northern Serengeti, you have to try your luck in Ngorongoro National Park. So, it's only been a few hours and already we've seen 4 of the big 5 in Africa! Amazing stuff.

On the way back, one of the two male lions was now sprawled out across the only road leading over a small stream. Two other safari trucks were sitting there taking pictures and waiting for it to move. We pulled up and got some amazing pictures, then noticed the rest of the pride was just a few feet away, lots of females and about 10 cubs! Fabulous pictures. They also had a fresh kill there. At one point, the male lion got up and walked up to our truck and our cook freaked out and rolled up his window. It was kind of funny.

We game drove to the Lobo campground. When we pulled up, it was empty, nobody else there, except a bunch of baboons. We pulled in and started to unpack. The baboons were blocking the path to the bathroom, and Tracy wanted to go. Our guide aid the baboons would run away when we approached, so we started to walk towards them. They didn't back away. They started to slowly approach us. We were both a bit unnerved, then Tracy freaked out and turned around and started to walk away. I then did the same thing. This is where I learned my very first lesson. NEVER turn your back on a wild animal! As soon as my back as turned, they came at me. They shrieked and screamed and one of them hit the back of my leg. Tracy yelled "Oh shit" and started running. I turned my head back around to look at them, and they stopped baring their teeth and shrieking. I actually thought one of them cut my leg open, but looking down, it was all good. I slowly backed away, and our guide said "What did you do?" We said nothing, we were just trying to back away and they attacked! He started laughing. It ended up that someone had left a slingshot in the kitchen area. Our guide grabbed it and started showing it to the baboons and they started to back away. He started to shoot rocks with the slingshot and throw rocks at them, and they scattered up the rock face behind the camp. It was pretty scary anyway.

We had a supper and then went to bed early. The sun sets around 6:30 and it gets dark quick, and then you get tired and to to bed.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our Failed Trek

Up at 11:00pm and we drove to the base of the volcano. The skies were clear when we woke up.

The drive was about 30 minutes, then we started out with headlamps on.

As we ascended, we moved into a cloud layer. We were moving at a good pace. About 3/4 of the way up, it started raining and our guide said it would be raining lots at the top. So we decided to cut our losses and head down before we had to descend in pouring rai, which could be hazardous to our health. On the way down, we met two other guys going up. We got about 3/4 of the way back down and it started pouring. Fortunately we had our rain jackets with us.

We made it back to the start point around 4:30 or 5:00 (still pitch black), but our truck wasn't there. The drivers that brought the other two hikers were still there, so they let us sit in their truck (and even gave us food!) until either the other two hikers returned or our driver came back.

The other two hikers got back after it brightened up and they said it was pouring at the top. They got to the top and turned right around and came back down.

At the same time, our driver arrived. Most people take about 6 hours to go up and 6 hours to come back down, but our pace was so fast, we would have done the whole thing in 6-7 hours probably.

We didn't do much for the rest of the day. We just relaxed.

We had another activity scheduled for 5:00, a walk along the shore of Lake Natron to see the pink flamingos. Thousands and thousands of them, both Lesser Pink Flamingos and Greater Pink Flamingos. It was a pleasant walk and then we returned to the camp, had an amazing supper of bbq meat (pork chops, chicken and beef).

I have to say that the food is amazing, but there's soooo much of it, it's getting unbearable and we're getting fat again.

We went to bed early, super tired after hiking all night last night.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waterfall Hike

This morning after breakfast, while waiting to go for a guided hike up a ravine to a waterfall, Tracy and me decided to go walk down the road. As soon as we left the camping area, we got swarmed by local Maasai girls selling stuff, mainly bracelets and necklaces they make. It was crazy, and while it shouldn't have been unexpected by me, for some reason I didn't think it would happen there. They were super friendly and nice, wanting to know our names and where we were from and all that, and kept telling us their names, hoping we'd buy from them. They were sneaky too, they put bracelets on Tracy without Tracy even realizing they had done it. In the end we got away by telling them we'd be back later to buy something.

We then went for a hike up to a waterfall along a gorgeous ravine. We had a guide, a Maasai guy nameed Ngaka. Of course, we have to leave the "compound" with our guide to do the hike and the girls followed us to the start of the ravine, always reminding us of their names. We had to fjord the river numerous times. We saw some baboons (from a distance) along the way. We went swimming under the waterfall, it was very nice.

After the walk we just lounged around the campground, reading and crap. A fierce electrical storm rolled in, with a crazy wind and clouds, but no rain. We are scheduled to hike the only active volcano in Tanzania tonight (Oldoinyo Lengai), but if it rains, we might have to cancel it.

After a very filling supper (the food is amazing, we have our own cook cooking everything for us), we went to bed early, as we're leaving on our volcano trek at 11:00pm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All the Animals We Saw Today

We're still jet lagged, so we didn't sleep that great. Got up around 7:00 and went for breakfast, then headed back up to the room to try and sleep some more before our 10:00am meeeting with Ernest from World Wide Safaris.

After meeting Ernest and getting the last details sorted, he left us with our guide, Danny Boy, the same guy who picked us up at the airport yesterday. He's great, super funny.

We headed to a supermarket to pickup some snacks and such and Tracy got a hat and we hit an ABM. I took out 400,000 shillings.

We headed north, and turned off the main highway at Longido, onto a gravel road towards Lake Natron.

This is where we started seeing our safari animals:
* tons of giraffes
* a number of secretary birds
* zebras
* wildebeest
* gazelle
* Impala
* and, the rarest of East African animals, the camel!

Yes, we saw a camel. Our guide was just as shocked, laughing hysterically that there was a camel here, thousands of miles from a desert. He figures it was owned by a local Masai guy. I didn't have any humps, as it has no need to store water, and it didn't have a traditional camel toe, it's feet more like that of an elephant.

We had a mid-afternoon lunch that was way too  much food.

He took us to a huge volcano crater first, then we made it to our camp, a wonderful little Masai tenting campsite. There were a number of other tourists here as well. We're spending three nights here with a number of activities planned over the next few days.

Monday, November 21, 2016

In Africa

We have made it to Africa with no surprises.

Darren drove us to the airport and we had about an 8 hour flight from Calgary to Amsterdam, a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam, then another 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro Airport outside of Arusha. Shortly into our flight from Calgary, one of the flight attendants came up to our seats with two glasses of champagne and asked me if I was Mr. Courtnage. I said yes. She then asked if today was my birthday. I said yes. (In actuality, they were a couple of days early, but whatever). So, we got a glass of champagne a little gift.

Immigration and customs in Arusha was excruciatingly slow. But we made it through and only needed a single-entry visa, which the customs guy said would still be good after we come back from Kenya and Uganda, saviWhen we ng us $50 each!

When we exited the airport, there was a guy from World Wide Safaris holding a sign with our name. Everything going to plan. It was about an hour drive from the airport to the Silver Palms Hotel in Arusha, where we spent the first night.