African Safari Feb., 2001
Marcus P. Borom
Table of Contents
Sunday, Feb. 4 and Monday, Feb. 5, 2001 *
Tucson to Tanzania *
Luggage Problems *
Gathering of the Group in London *
Tuesday, February 6, 2001 *
Nairobi to Arusha *
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2001 *
Arusha to Serengeti and the Seronera Lodge *
First Giraffes *
Seronera Lodge *
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2001 Serengeti Plains, Tanzania *
Gol Kopjes *
Friday, Feb. 9, 2001 *
Leopard Sighting *
Baboon Imperative *
Hippopotamus Charge *
Odds and ends *
Saturday, February 10, 2001 *
Cheetahs and a lone gazelle – a Serengeti drama *
More cheetahs and lions *
Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001 *
Seronera Lodge to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. *
Oldupai Gorge *
Visit to a Maasai Boma *
Where to sit in a land rover *
Monday, February 12, 2001 *
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania *
Tuesday, February 13, 2001 *
From Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara *
Wednesday, February 14, 2001 *
Lake Manyara to Tarangire *
Thursday, February 15, 2001 *
Sopa Lodge – Tarangire, Tanzania *
Tree surprises and an afternoon with an elephant *
Friday, February 16, 2001 *
Tarangire, Tanzania toAmboseli, Kenya *
Saturday, February 17, 2001 *
Amboseli Serana Lodge Kenya *
Mt. Kilimanjaro *
Elephant crossing *
Sunday, February 18, 2001 *
Amboseli Serena Lodge Kenya *
Armed guards and missing teeth *
Amboseli to Tsavo West. *
The afternoon game drive: *
Monday, February 19, 2001 *
Kilaguni Lodge – Tsavo West to Voi Safari Lodge – Tsavo East *
Afternoon game drive: *
Tuesday, February 20, 2001 *
Voi Lodge – Tsavo East, Kenya *
Breakfast surprises *
Ten AM game drive: *
Chameleon Fantasy *
Four o’clock game drive – our last in Africa *
Tsavo East to Nairobi *
On the Lunatic Highway *
Orphanage Visit *
Rush Hour in Nairobi *
At the airport and homeward bound *
Kenya and Tanzania
Marcus P. Borom
Sunday, Feb. 4 and Monday, Feb. 5, 2001
Tucson to Tanzania
After almost three months of shopping for safari clothes, boots, insect repellant, etc, the day for departing for East Africa had finally arrived. I had spent the day in Tucson whiling away the remaining hours by visiting the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and becoming overwhelmed by the vast array of crystals, carvings, fossils, beads and jewelry. Many of the carvings were from Africa and some of the soapstone carvings were from the Kisi tribe in northwest Kenya. A nice preamble for the trip. The vendor said that she had stopped going to that area where the Kisi are located because it had gotten too dangerous due to political unrest. Her comments gave me pause for concern about my own trip, but the die was already cast.
I left the Gem and Mineral Show and drove to Tempe in time for a quick supper. I shaved, showered and dressed in my safari togs for travel. I was dropped off at the British Airways ticketing level. There was no line and I breezed through the check-in process. I checked only one bag. I had so much camera gear in my carry on that I had no room left for the usual emergency change of clothing. I even had so little room left in my carry-on that I had to pack my telephoto zoom lens in my checked luggage. It did not really occur to me that the luggage could be lost or delayed. I don’t know where my head was at the time.
There was a significant walk to the boarding gate and I walked on down to wait the hour and a half before boarding. I heard my name called over the PA system with the admonition that I should return immediately to the ticketing counter. I left my carry-on with a friend in the boarding lounge while I ran back to ticketing to find out what was the problem. It was too early in the travel game to be plagued with problems.
At the ticket counter, I learned that there was an item in my luggage that they were unable to identify from the X-ray image (I thought they did not X-ray checked luggage – guess I was wrong on that one). The problem item was my aerosol can of Repel – a 33% DEET spray that claimed to be compatible with nylon clothing whereas the more recent varieties dissolve nylon. The Repel was important since all my safari clothing is nylon. It took a lot of convincing even to the point of having to call in an inspection supervisor to allow this can marked flammable to be allowed in my checked luggage.
I made it back to the boarding gate in time to have some additional quiet time before flying off into the great unknown. I did not fully appreciate at the time of departure that it would be 48 hours before I would stop travelling and again have an opportunity to take a shower and change clothes.
The flight to London-Gatwick was rather uneventful – just long (10hrs) and leg swelling. I did have the luxury of having three center row seats to myself, and one visit to the cockpit to talk pilot stuff with the captain.
Gathering of the Group in London
The safari group gathered at the waiting area in the Gatwick terminal to ponder what was to be next and to wait the seven hours until our connecting flight to Kenya. I found a Cyber connection in the Gatwick airport lounge and sent off a couple of emails. Ain’t technology grand?? But then, on the other hand, technology can grab you when you least expect it. I was using a new gadget to type up my trip log. I did not appreciate that I would be reconstructing 48 hours of my typed log which I inadvertently erased on finally arriving in Tanzania.
The flight leg to Kenya was another long 8 hours during the night (departed at 10pm London time). Things seemed to be going smoothly (enjoyed watching the in-flight movie, "Pay it Forward"), but that can always be deceptive. In Nairobi we learned that the luggage belonging to several of our Tucson group had not arrived and probably would not arrive for two days. I was thankful that my luggage was not among the lost – particularly since my telephoto lens was in it.
After much negotiating with British Airways, the members with misdirected luggage were given cash credits for about $100 each to cover the cost of intermediate clothing. The cash credits, however, were a story in themselves and were not successfully cashed until we arrived back in Gatwick at the conclusion of our African adventure.
Tuesday, February 6, 2001
Nairobi to Arusha
We were met in Nairobi by our touring company – Bobby Tours. In the process of loading the "Bobby Tours" bus with our luggage and moving to another terminal we lost a German-American group member, Reiner Stang, who left the bus to use the bathroom before starting the 5h trek to Arusha in Tanzania. As the bus pulled out, someone noticed that Reiner was missing and shouted from the back of the bus that a passenger was missing. The driver did not fully understand English and Doc Justin, our tour leader who is hearing impaired and was sitting in the front of the bus could not hear the calls. We spent 30 minutes circling the terminals trying to locate the wayward passenger.
Prior to that delay, we had learned that Kenya had re-instituted a visa requirement – another annoying loss of time and an unanticipated $20 visa fee. We also learned that there would be a $20 visa fee for entering Tanzania (which actually turned out to be $50 for USA citizens and $20 for almost all other countries. I don’t understand the politics here.). Getting started can sometimes be very tedious.
At the Kenya/Tanzania border our tour bus was mobbed by Maasai women selling necklaces and trinkets and by men selling carvings. Arms were shoved into any open bus window and the women were shouting out their asking prices. It was a colorful scene since the women were dressed in traditional Maasai robes. Their hair was shaved close to their scalp and elaborate ear decorations hung from their slit and stretched ear lobes. Some of their ear lobes hung down to their shoulders. Colorful beaded, broad disks around their necks rested on their shoulders.
As we passed into Tanzania, the roadway became more difficult for high-speed travel. There were substantial speed bumps and occasionally the lanes were blocked by tire puncturing road strips at barriers maintained by armed military guards..
The landscape was fascinating. Acacia trees were scattered throughout what appeared to be tended pastures. We began to see zebra, gazelles, impallas and, at one point, a troop of about 100 baboons with females carrying small infants who were hanging on to their mother’s hind quarters for dear life.
New birds began to pop up everywhere –kites soared overhead. Huge eagle-like raptors sat on the telephone poles. Flocks of Marabou storks circled above the forested grass lands, and we passed a grove of trees with a half dozen storks tending to their nests. We were on the only main road between Kenya and Tanzania. The land adjacent to the road was sparsely occupied by Maasai, who were regally dressed in their traditional costumes. Many were keeping watch over herds of sheep, goats or cows. The cows were healthy looking Brahmas.
On the way to Arusha we stopped at two different Maasai craft shops (primarily for biological relief in the clean facilities). We were not given much time to do anything other than look around. The selection was magnificent and, at the same time, overwhelming. I have never seen such a collection of native art with some pieces being absolutely superb. There were no prices shown on any of the art pieces. One had to ask the hovering sales agent the price of an article, which you happened to fancy. He would write down a number on a piece of paper and show it to you with the caution there were deeeeep discounts on this day. We learned later that the deep discounts were around 50 to 60% off. Hopefully we will encounter more places like this, which will serve for more than just potty stops.
As we gained in elevation from the 4000-ft elevation of Nairobi to the 5000-ft elevation of Arusha, the terrain changed and became more rolling. The vegetation changed from scattered acacia trees to more dense forests of acacia trees, and then at the higher elevation back to rolling hills with few trees and many cattle, Maasai herders and grass thatched circular houses with conical roofs. The scenes were pastoral and depicted the Maasai as a peaceful, agrarian society.
Finally, after 48 hours of almost unbroken travel, we arrived, a little beat and leg swollen, at our Spartan hotel in Arusha. Paul Williams, my assigned roommate, looked out of the window of our bare-floored room, and commented that there were only black people on the streets. "Yes," I replied, "they are called Africans." Paul was among the group who had lost their luggage. To top things off for Paul he realized that his hearing aid had popped out and was gone forever. I guess he wasn’t able to hear it hit the floor. Fortunately he had a spare.
Things improved after showers and a good meal in a selected local restaurant with a large, open-air, thatched roof dining area. The end of the meal was punctuated by a late evening thundershower, which sent us all scattering for the tour vans which were to take us back to the hotel.
After dinner, Paul Williams and I decided to turn in for a well-earned night of rest in our extremely Spartan room. There were pull-down mosquito nets above the beds. I chose to use mine. Paul decided they were not necessary. It was heavenly to be able to recline after 48 hours of seated travel.
Prior to really hitting the sack, I spent some time trying to reconstruct the typing I had lost earlier when I pushed the wrong button on my Alphasmart word processor. The Alphasmart is a neat gadget. It is a lightweight keyboard with a four line LCD display. It will store almost 100 pages of text and will function for 500 hours on only three AA batteries. It unfortunately has some dangerous, one-stroke keys along the top of the keyboard with labels like "clear file". I had hit one of them in the Gatwick lounge and had lost all my previously typed input. I was able to reconstruct most of the input from memory.
Tomorrow sounds like it will be a really exciting day. Our land rovers will take us across the Great Rift Valley and up to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. We will descend from the crater rim into the Serengeti Plain and cross the path of a one and one half million strong migrating herd of wildebeests. Contained in the herd are millions of gazelles and antelopes and zebras. Accompanying the herd will be the associated predatory animals like the lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah. I slipped under the mosquito netting and drifted off to sleep with thoughts of wild animal sightings flitting through my synapses.
At 4 am I was unceremoniously awakened by frantic screaming outside our window. A woman was screaming in terrified tones in an African dialect. I got up and pulled back the blinds for a better assessment of the situation. My view was blinded by a lamp between me and the ruckus. There were men moving toward the incident from the hotel. After about 15 minutes the screaming stopped and all was quiet. I don’t know what the story was, but I had chosen not to play the role of some sort of hero in a land where I was a stranger in pajamas and non-conversant in the language.
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2001
Arusha to Serengeti and the Seronera Lodge
Today is to be another full day of travel in land rovers with 300 km of the 500 km over unpaved stretches. I was not prepared for the actuality of not coming to rest until 8 PM, but that is part of the story.
We were up at 6:30AM feeling reasonably rested. There was a full buffet breakfast with some great coffee, which was made from an instant coffee known as Africafe. It was unusual to find an instant coffee that tastes as good as the brewed version.
Our group gathered in the lobby of the New Arusha Hotel with plans for some of the lost luggage people to go out and shop for clothing. I elected to go along with Marty and Bobbi Abelson. The shopping trip was an interesting adventure into the native market used by the citizens of Arusha. There was an entire alleyway filled with little open-front, clapboard shops selling clothing goods and luggage. Marty and Bobbi bought some shirts and we headed back to the hotel where five land rovers were waiting to receive us and our luggage. After some time of sorting out who was riding with whom and getting the luggage strapped to the top of the land rover, and making final arrangements after assembling at the impossibly small parking atrium at the Bobby Tours office, we were underway at 10:30 AM.
We headed south along the paved highway, which led through pastoral scenes. Maasai men and women and children walked along the shoulder of the road. Cattle, goats, and asses were kept under their watchful eye. We began to see isolated wildlife. There were several zebras (which I now feel must have been corralled), scattered gazelles, an occasional baboon and many species of birds. These early sightings kept us alert and interested in the changing topography as we climbed higher in elevation.
We made two potty stops, which were timed to coincide with Maasai craft shops. The first craft shop stop was absolutely jammed with elegant carvings – some listed at $10,000 (before the advertised 35% discount). It was too much to absorb and there was the pressure to move on. At the second shop, where we also had our outdoor box lunch, several people, including me, broke down and bought some items.
Right after the second shop stop, we turned off the paved highway and headed east for a 7 hour stint on washboard roads. Those 7 hours were a mind-boggling overflow of visual sensations. The occasional sighting of zebra and antelope became more frequent. We continued to climb in elevation. Larger Maasai villages with their cylindrical walled huts with conical straw roofs, became commonplace. Maasai driving their cattle both alongside and in the roadway became frequent encounters. Black Kites (a type of hawk) flew overhead. Marabou storks stood on the tops of trees. Cattle egrets walked along with the Maasai cows in hopes of snagging some insects disturbed by the cows’ hooves. The long promised mass of wild animals had, however, not yet appeared.
The road climbed higher as we approached the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. The forest changed from acacia trees to dense rain forest with huge canopied trees. The forest canopy was pierced by the taller emergent trees, which were heavily laden with epiphytic growth of orchid-like plants. The road was narrow and clay red, but not slippery. We were once slowed in our ascent to the crater rim by a troop of baboons.
By the time we reached the crater rim, the group in our land rover had become amicably bonded. Our driver, Mwidadi Mussa Daudi (to be known to us as simply Mussa), was quick to point out and name birds, trees and animals and cheerfully answered our many questions. Paul Williams occupied the left front seat, Mickey Wilson was in the second row right seat in front of her husband Charlie Wilson. David McLean (an avid astronomer and former employee of the Goddard Space Center in Maryland) sat next to Charlie and I occupied the second row left seat. As the trip progressed, we were to learn how the desirability of the various seats would change with the function at hand – e.g. long-distance road travel versus game viewing with the land rover top up.
From an overlook at the crater rim we were able to get a feeling of what it would be like when we would enter the crater itself on our return there for a longer stay a few days from now. Our current stay, however, was restricted to viewing through binoculars and several photographs.
As we descend from the crater rim along the road leading to the Serengeti Plains, the vegetation and topography change again. Rolling hills and vast vistas of green grasses occupy our visual field. Lone baobab trees stand in silhouette against ominous rain clouds to the north. The population of Maasai increases in number as does that of their attended cattle. Where, thought I, are the lions. What easy pickings they would find among the Maasai herds.
We seemed to have left the Maasai behind, when suddenly we noticed that the lead land rovers had stopped. Giraffes!! Not just giraffes, but as least 18 of them, and right alongside the road. The sun was from the opposite side of the road and the giraffes were perfectly lighted. I shot numerous pictures using my 100 to 300 mm zoom lens. The framing was spectacular. We got out of the land rovers to get closer to the animals. The terrain was rocky and provided no real cover for predators. If only one of these shots comes out as I envisioned it, the trip, I thought, will have been worth it. Dave McLean commented that he anticipated the time when we would no longer consider giraffes as special sightings. I had difficulty in imagining sighting of these magnificent, oddly graceful creatures ever becoming commonplace.
As we left the rolling foothills of the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti Plains expanded in front of us. The grassy plains stretched from one horizon to the other. Wild animals were everywhere – from the edges of the road to out of sight. Zebra, wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, giraffes, a hyena, an occasional jackal, a solitary black-footed cat, and many species of birds including a secretary bird, yellow-billed storks, African vultures, superb starlings, etc. We were into animal overload. The experience was exhilarating and life changing. The scene was one of incredible beauty and harmony brought into balance by the interplay of prey and predator, birth and death, grasses and flesh.
As daylight began to wane we found ourselves still in the sea of grass that defines the Serengeti Plains. The land rovers ahead of us had pulled over to the side of the road and people were trying to photograph something without getting out of the car. As we pulled in behind, we could see the head and shoulders of a lioness hiding in the grass.
We pulled in behind and I asked Mussa to lift up the pop top on the land rover. When we were able to stand up in the land rover we could see that there was more than one lion in the pride. As a matter of fact there were four lionesses and two fully maned males – an unusual assembly. There was still enough light for photography and I think I got a picture of one of the standing males in the middle of a great yawn. Then all six lay down in the grass and just disappeared. The danger of stopping the vehicle and getting out became imminently clear. If you were to stop a car and get out for whatever reason, there could be a lion lying there just out of sight and within easy attack distance. We were visitors in the King of Beast’s living room.
Several kilometers down the road and in fading light, one of the land rovers blew a tire. As we pulled in behind them, the drivers were already out and under the car in preparation for changing the tire. The guests were all milling around. (Remember that thing about the invisibility of lions along the roadside) I guess there is safety in numbers, because no one got attacked or eaten.
At 8 PM we finally arrived at our elegant surroundings the Seronera Lodge. We were guided along an open walkway to our rooms and were invited to join dinner at 8:30 PM. The restaurant is built around a large granitic rock outcropping known as a Kopje (pronounced kopy). The rock structure is incorporated into the architecture of the building. Stone stairways wind through the channels between the huge boulders. The restaurant is beautifully done.
After dinner, I retired to my hotel room to write up the day’s events. Paul showed up later to get me to come out and see the herd of Thompson’s gazelles that had gathered on the front lawn of the Lodge. I took my camera and flash along to get some pictures under these evening lighting conditions. While photographing I was warned by an employee that there was a lion lurking in the bushes just beyond the circle of light in which the gazelles had taken refuge. Paul and I retreated, as a better part of valor, to our room.
As I was typing this account, my train of thought was disrupted by the cackle of a hyena just outside our ground floor window. We are immersed in the wilds. It is wonderful!!
Tomorrow will be a full day on the Serengeti Plains with slow moving land rovers plodding trails off the beaten path. Can it get better than this????
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2001 Serengeti Plains, Tanzania
Today is scheduled to be a long trip away from the lodge. After a good breakfast at 7 AM we chose the contents of our box lunch and gathered for a "game" drive to the Gol Kopjes (pronounced kopie). Kopjes are granitic outcroppings like islands in this grass sea of the Serengeti. These Kopjes which provide elevated lookouts for the predators are gathering sites for lions, leopards and cheetahs. We had much to anticipate.
The weather was not as cooperative as it was the day before. The sky was overcast and there was a threat of rain, but not enough to dampen our spirits. Not more than 300 yards from the lodge, the land rover stopped to give us our first look at a family of wart hogs. Then came a stop to view a Maasai giraffe, which is differentiated from reticulated giraffes by their blotchy pattern of spots. All the giraffes that we were to see on our safari were Maasai giraffes. The Serengeti Plain was lacking in the abundance of wildlife we had seen when we crossed the wildebeest migration route between Ngorongoro Crater and the entrance to the Serengeti park, but the richness of wildlife was greater. I could list the various animals we saw, but David McLean volunteered to make a chronological list of the sightings and to share it with us. I will only document the more dramatic moments of the day.
We encountered a pride of six lions lying near the road in waist high grass. There were two young males and four females. Several land rovers had drawn to a halt to view the pride from no more than thirty yards away. The lions were totally unfazed by our presence. No one was allowed to leave the safety of the land rovers (a no brainer, this). We were also not allowed to leave the land rover even when lions were not around, or, at least, when we could not see them. That is the point. As we watched this pride of lions from 30 yards away, we watched them simply disappear by dropping down into the grass. They simply no longer existed. Not seeing a lion does, therefore, not mean that they are not there.
We entered the Serengeti Park region through the Naabi gate and were greeted by a nesting pair of Secretary birds feeding their young. The nest was close to the land rover trail and in a tree no higher than twenty feet. Great photo opportunity.
The plains were dotted with thousands of storks of three different varieties – marabou, Abdim’s, and yellow billed (which we later more correctly identified as White Storks). African Harriers (a type of hawk similar to our Northern Harrier) circled low above the grassy plain. Squadrons of storks commanded the higher levels in the sky in great, circling, formation maneuvers.
At several of the Kopjes, we were able to observe lionesses lounging in what little solar heat slipped through the cloud cover. These magnificent cats lay like huge house pets draped across the back of a stone sofa. They were totally oblivious to our presence.
By watching the activity of the soaring birds, the land rover drivers could tell when a kill had occurred. The drivers had begun to gather at one particular Kopje. Our driver, Mussa, headed out to join them. We arrived to find a cheetah in the midst of a meal on a freshly killed Thompson’s gazelle. Standing around him on the ground were dozens of vultures (white backed and white necked) and marabou storks waiting for their turn at the kill. The cheetah seemed unperturbed by the encircling land rovers.
When the cheetah had had its fill and stood up to move away pandemonium broke out among the waiting birds. They all rushed in like a pile-up on a rugby field. The late arriving vultures just climbed up on the top of stack and dived headfirst into the pile. In a matter of minutes the carcass was cleaned of flesh. An amazing sight. I was reminded of some of the outrageous cartoons drawn by Gary Larson of "The Far Side" fame.
After the cheetah experience, we retired to a large Kopje for a picnic lunch. I assumed that our drivers either had checked out the Kopje and found it free of predators or had decided that there was safety in numbers. As we were finishing our lunch, drops of rain began to fall. We climbed into the land rovers and started the trek back to the lodge.
I had already put my camera away when we encountered two Maasai giraffes (one black) feeding on a small tree right next to the road. Then came vervet monkeys and helmeted guinea fowl and finally we were back at the lodge, and I thought our day with the animals was over. But not so. The lawn area of the lodge was peppered with rock hyraxes that are oddly related to elephants and not to the groundhogs which they, at first blush, resemble. Wart hogs were playing outside our hotel window and a Grant’s gazelle was not far away.
As I typed up the day’s events while sitting on one of the large rocks in the Kopje around which our hotel is built, I found myself being visited by Vervets. Jungle life is abundant here. During the night we were awakened by a hyena laughing in the courtyard. Several of our group were also awakened by a Cape buffalo right outside their bedroom window.
Friday, Feb. 9, 2001
The whole group was up and at breakfast without needing a wakeup call. Ten hours of jet lag had faded away in the excitement of the African scene. Today is to be Leopard Day. Our "game drive" will take us into another Serengeti environment – one of rolling hills and scattered tall trees. At 8:30 AM we were underway and headed for wetter areas. It had rained again during the night, but today was clear with some scattered clouds. The lighting was perfect for photography.
We drove for several hours along muddy roads without much success. There are not large numbers of animals in the section we were exploring, but it was the kind of environment where leopards hunt. We saw many new species of birds but no major mammals. We did encounter a troop of baboons high in an umbrella acacia tree. Shade is at a premium on the Serengeti and one can see the effects of shade under the various lone acacia trees. Vegetation different from the surrounding grasses grows in the shade footprint of each tree. The shaded plants have broader leaves and grow taller than the surrounding grasses.
Our drivers conferred and elected to try a different route. Then things began to improve as far as sightings were concerned. The topography was spectacular and quite different from the vast sea of grass we had experienced the day before. Prominent hills rose from the scrub brush of the lower hillocks. The green of the grasses carried right up to the crest of the hills and made a wonderful transition to the cobalt blue of the sky which was dotted with puffy clouds. Impalas, a favorite food of the leopard, are animals of the low woodlands and we found them exactly where they should be – among scrubby trees. There was one herd right adjacent to our drive trail. There were magnificent males and associated females with fawns. Camera shutters were clicking everywhere.
We had several sightings of secretary birds and crowned cranes on the ground, but no leopards. As we were about to return to the lodge for lunch (we were already overdue since it was almost 1 PM), Mussa stopped to talk with a driver who was returning from another area. There was much excited conversation between the drivers in Swahili. The other driver drove on and Mussa turned back and veered off on a road to the left. Not more than ½ mile away, in a lone acacia tree there was a leopard draped over one of the upper branches. Mussa put us very close to the tree and we all got some great shots. Mussa kept saying "hurrifast, hurrifast" in an attempt to get us to finish our shooting so that we could get back to the accepted trail. We gathered that there are rules about leaving the trails and getting too close to wild animals off the trail. We did get some wonderfully framed shots. Can’t wait to see them.
On the road back we encountered a herd of impala in deep grass. It appeared that the herd consisted primarily of males. There was also an incredibly posed Hartebeest right next to the road. The animal was standing atop a termite mound fully above the tops of the grass. He looked like a statue.
We were in for one last surprise on the way to the lodge. The land rover came to a stop to avoid hitting a troop of baboons that was right in the middle of the road. Mussa pulled forward so that we could get better shots of the complete baboon family. Then it happened. The dominant male began to fight with some of the younger males. There was much screaming and baring of fangs. The action was everywhere. The dominant male ran the competitor up a tree and cornered him at the end of a branch. The branch bent over and the challenger found himself dangling precariously at the end of the sagging branch. He finally let go and dropped to the ground thinking things were over. The dominant male descended the tree trunk and it started all over again. The ruckus continued for about 10 minutes and somehow resolved itself.
We returned to the lodge and had lunch and a bit of rest in preparation for an afternoon’s outing to a tsetse fly infested area where we hope to see hippopotami.
Sickness is beginning to take its toll. My roommate, Paul is feeling under the weather. Mickey and Charlie have opted not to take part in the afternoon outing. Other members of the group are also suffering from TD (traveler’s diarrhea), and that leaves only David and me as passengers in the land rover with Mussa as our driver.
We started out at 3:00 PM and headed toward the Hippo Pool on the Grumeti River. The Grumeti River is known to many of us as the place where the Wildebeest cross crocodile infested waters on their northerly migratory trek back to the Maasai Mara. That crossing has been made famous by many TV documentaries. The crossing is approximately 60 miles west of the hippo pool we are visiting today. Enroute we encountered a red-billed horn bill, a crocodile, many baboons, herds of Impala, several giraffes, dik diks, and many species of small birds. The large hills that rise above the lower lying scrub forest are dramatic. They look like huge velvet pillows nestled beneath the cloud dotted blue sky. The sparse trees that soften the ridge line stand like a frozen parade of equally spaced, but differently clad, soldiers marching up to the crest and down the trailing slope.
At the hippo pool we observed a pair of love birds nesting in an abandoned woodpecker’s hole. The small green and yellow and red parrots are lovely.
The river where the hippo pool was located was fast running and murky. The hippos were not being very cooperative. They would appear above the surface only briefly and them re-submerge. People soon tired of the uncooperative hippos and the limited vantagepoint among the high brush along the upper bank of the river. To amuse myself, I began to explore along the bank of a tributary that fed into the Grumeti. Only about 50 yards from the confluence, I found an animal trail that led to an embankment overlooking a quite pool – murky, but quiet. I counted 12 hippos (including 6 calves) whose heads kept popping up out of the water. I went back and got Doc Justin and David to share my find. They were impressed. Unfortunately the sun was from the opposite shore and photography was impossible.
In order to get a closer look at the animals, I descended the ramp that had been cut through the river bank by exiting hippos. I reached the water’s edge around 6 feet below the rim on which Doc Justin and David were standing. The hippos all turned and faced me. A large bull hippo (around 7000 pounds of flesh) eyed me menacingly. Without any warning, the bull threw his head out of the water, bellowed, and lunged for the shoreline. He was about 40 feet away when he started his charge. Without hesitation, I turned and scurried up the embankment. The slope, fortunately, was reasonably dry and not slick. The bull was satisfied with my retreat and halted his charge. David and Doc took an undue amount of pleasure, however well meaning, from my distress. Legends are made from such tales.
Our return to the lodge was uneventful.
Even though all our contacts speak English, it is desirable and appreciated if the guests make some effort to absorb the lingua franca of the region which is Kiswahili. Here are some of the polite phrases that go a long way..
Hujambo - how are you. The response is Sijambo – I am fine. Although most people just settle for jambo on both ends.
U hali gani – How are you?
Habari gani – How are you?
Kwa heri - goodbye.
Asante - thank you and asante sana is thank you very much.
Karibu – Welcome (said to one entering a room) or you are welcome said in response to Asante
Tafadhali - please. In ordering personally prepared omelets in the morning, I have learned to say kilikitu, tafadhali (everything, please).
Ndiyo – yes
Hapana – no (must not use it much since it is longer than the word for yes)
Hakuna Matata – No problem (very important phrase)
We have begun to refer to the various animals by their Swahili names (many of which I remember from my days of reading Edgar Rice Burrows’ Tarzan books and all those Tarzan movies from my childhood. Here are a few that you, too, may recognize:
Twiga (giraffe) – I wonder if Twiggy, the skinny model from England, wasn’t named after a giraffe?? Or maybe a giraffe was named by Roy Rogers’ horse’s groom who had a lisp??,
Odds and ends
Temperatures during the day have been in the mid seventies when the sun was out and in the mid sixties on cloudy and rainy days. It has been very comfortable during the days and the cool nights have made for deep sleeps.
Last night I went to bed at 10 PM and was up at 4:44 AM fully rested. I even did laundry in the tub and am now wondering whether it will dry by the time we leave tomorrow. You can’t hang things out on the balcony since the vervets (green monkeys of AIDS fame) may take them. The vervets can be seen hopping along the roof tops during the day.
The smaller animal life around the hotel consists of rock hyraxes (hyracies?? I guess not since the plural of mongoose is mongooses and not mongeese), vervets, some very colorful lizards (there is one 12" long one that has a blue tail that transitions at about mid body to a reddish orange head. I have learned that it is an Agama lizard. A resident group of marabou storks occupy the tops of the trees every morning at about restaurant window level.
There was some concern expressed by some of our group as they watched the hotel help mop up a large spot of what appeared to be blood along the open walkway to the restaurant one morning. We learned later that this was not the residue of a lion kill right under our noses, but rather a large spot of hyrax urine which is colored red by the berries they eat.
One thing that I had pondered 10 years ago when I was in Honduras out on the Islas de la Bahia, was the observation that the crescent moon had its horns pointed straight up from the horizon. I had never observed that geometry in NY state. I was told by an amateur astronomer friend of mine that that orientation was not unusual. I now think that that is incorrect. David McLean is a software engineer who worked at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland and is an accomplished astronomer. He pointed out that our view of the moon from below the equator is different than our view of the moon from higher latitudes. Of course, I thought, if we were viewing the moon from the vantage point of the north pole, the moon would be oriented with its north pointing pole pointed up. When viewed from the vantage point of the south pole, the north pointing pole of the moon would be pointing down. So why wouldn’t our view of the crescent moon also be influence by our latitude of viewing.
The picture of the great wildebeest (white bearded gnus) migration is becoming clearer as we absorb the dynamics of the Serengeti. The migration begins on the north end of the Serengeti, which is across the border in Kenya and is known as the Maasai Mara and moves in a clockwise path to the south with some of the population entering the Ngorongoro Crater area. The southern end of the migration is in the southeast corner of the Serengeti on the western slopes of Ngorongoro Crater. The migration moves to the south with the knowledge that the rains are coming and new grass will be available for the newly born calves. As the dry season begins in the south, the migration moves back northwesterly through the Serengeti toward the Grumeti River to the north and west of our lodge on the Seronera river. A famous part of the migration is the northerly crossing of the Grumeti River (about 60 miles to our west) where hoards of wildebeests thrust themselves into the fast flowing river and risk attack and consumption by 20 foot long Nile crocodiles. The loss to the herd of millions is relatively insignificant. The migration continues on northward and ends in the Maasai Mara where another cycle begins.
My pre-dawn writing was just disturbed by a plaintive yelp from out in the courtyard. I took my flashlight and went out on the walkway and scanned the yard and up among the large boulders next to the restaurant. There, looking back at me were a pair of glowing red-orange eyes attached to a hyena. Down at about the hyena’s knees was a diminutive set of glowing eyes belonging to a hyena cub. Yes, we are surrounded by both prey and predator species, and there are no fences. Since we have binocular vision, I only hope that the predators will recognize humans as also being predators and leave us alone. I have no problem dealing with raccoons and skunks wandering around in my backyard at home, but hyenas and lions are a different matter. Not to mention water buffaloes, rhinos and elephants
Saturday, February 10, 2001
Cheetahs and a lone gazelle – a Serengeti drama
Today is to be another box lunch outing. Paul is still under the weather so I put his box lunch together after breakfast and he joined the group at the land rover for departure. I don’t know what I am doing differently to avoid TD. I have even begun to eat the shredded raw vegetables and the salad greens. There seems to be cleanliness in the kitchen. I have discarded the rules about only eating cooked and hot things. I gather that the importance of the tourist trade has had a positive influence on sanitation in the cooking department. I, however, have not drunk tap water or even brushed my teeth with anything other than bottled water.
We drove east again along the road to the Naabi gate. The Naabi gate is where we first entered the conservation area from Ngorongoro Crater. It is also the point where groups gain special access to areas north of the gate such as the Gol Kopjes. The road to the Naabi gate is becoming familiar. There is a lone acacia tree alongside the road where we frequently encounter a giraffe family browsing on the acacia leaves totally unfazed by the long thorns on the branches. There is a termite mound close to the roadside where a Topi prefers to stand like a statue while he scans the vast expanse of the grasslands. That Topi reminds me of the Dr. Suess story of Yertle the Turtle, the king of them all who demanded the highest vantage point in his pond. There is the hippo pond where we stop on the bridge that is swept by the pond overflow to look for hippos and to watch weaver birds tending their nests in the branches of the trees lining the shore.
There is always a wait at the Naabi gate while the guides obtain park passes for our group to enter the Gol Kopje region. This is a good opportunity for a potty stop in the primitive facilities (there are no lions to worry about), and also to visit the information building. The story of the Serengeti is described on posters in the building. According to the posters, the Serengeti (which in Swahili means endless grassland) was formed when the nine volcanoes associated with Ngorongoro Crater just to the east erupted about 5 million years ago. The volcanic ash filled the basin and leveled the topography. The Kopjes (pronounced Kopies) which rise above the plain are upthrusts of granitic magma, which did not penetrate the upper layers but which have since been exposed by erosion. Kopje is a Dutch word meaning little head. The kopjes are also known by the German term "inselberg" or island mountains.
We headed out onto the Gol Kopje region where we had visited before under overcast conditions. Today, however, was clear and oddly chilly. Radiational cooling during the night had dropped the temperature into the upper sixties. The cool temperature was deceiving, however, and caused us to drop our guard relative to sun exposure and many in the group, including me, returned in the afternoon with sunburned faces.
As our land rover moved along the rutted road, Mussa noted that there was a gathering of land rovers about one half mile off to the right of the road we were on. Mussa left the rutted road and headed out across the plain toward the gathering. When we got there, it was not clear what people were viewing.
There was a herd of gazelles grazing on, and lazing in, the grass 400 yards to the right of the gathering of vehicles. About 200 yards perpendicular to the line of vehicles stood a lone gazelle grazing peacefully. What was the big deal?? When the gazelle turned to the right and put its head down to graze, the situation became clear. Two cheetahs about 100 yards to the rear of the gazelle rose up on their haunches and began to close the distance between them and their intended prey. The gazelle raised its head and the cheetahs dropped into an invisible crouch.
Now who are you pulling for?? Without describing all the details of the one hour drama, let me just condense the action. The cheetahs closed the distance to about 40 yards and there appeared to be a standoff. The gazelle was now facing the lone cheetah. The second cheetah was nowhere to be seen. The gazelle had stopped grazing. The cheetahs had stopped advancing. The situation was tense. Thirty-three vehicles were now positioned a comfortable distance (about 400 yards) from the activity.
The gazelle began moving toward the location of the cheetahs. We held our breaths. Was the gazelle walking into a death trap?? The gazelle then turned and moved away from the concealed cheetahs and gained more separation.
Three other gazelles came into the picture and began moving toward the lone grazer. The lone gazelle inexplicably broke into a run directly toward the cheetahs. This had to be the scene we had been anticipating. The cheetahs did not lunge at the passing gazelle, but waited for the three others which were now also following at a run. As they passed, the cheetahs (the second one appeared out of nowhere) broke into pursuit. The event was over in less than 15 seconds and the gazelles had won. The cheetahs had missed their meal, and had to start all over again. To add insult to injury, the vehicles all now moved in close to the panting cheetahs to share in the Kodak moment.
More cheetahs and lions
We left the site of the stalking and headed across the plain to our lunch Kopje. As Mussa guided the land rover through the grasses, several of us shouted out since the vehicle barely missed a cheetah lying in the grass. We backed up and got some wonderful close-up pictures. Then we saw three more cheetahs ambling across the vast plain.
After lunch, we again headed out across the plain toward a large herd of Burchell’s zebras and wildebeests. Near the herd and on the edge of an almost dry watering hole were four magnificent lions. They were sprawled out on the well-cropped grass in complete view. There were two young males and two females. One of the females wore a radio collar (I wondered if that was from the Earthwatch study – the lions of the Serengeti??) More photo ops. Film is running low. I have 10 days to go and only eight rolls of film left. I should have brought more. Enough of this self-flagellation.
The return home brought more sightings of now familiar creatures – jackals, Kori bustards, secretary birds, several varieties of storks, etc. We are learning.
There was to be an drive extension to a local museum after returning to the lodge, but no one had either the interest or the energy to participate. A nap before dinner sounded like a better option.
Before dinner and from atop the boulders around which our lodge is built, some of the guests observed an elephant passing. During the night there were sounds that brought everyone to their windows – the sound coming from right behind our rooms seemed to be from lions. This is Africa. This is wild.
Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001
Seronera Lodge to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.
The day has ended and I am writing up my impressions on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater from the porch of a fabulous lodge. It is almost dream-like to be looking across a 12 mile diameter caldera filled in part with a shallow lake populated by flamingos and visited by Cape buffaloes and elephants. From my vantagepoint 2000 feet above the crater floor, I can see tuskers and water buffaloes moving across the velvet carpet of the crater floor. Silver lined rain clouds hover over the rim of the crater. Our group has gathered for cocktails in the fading light of the day. But that is the end of the day which began for me with an early morning rise at 4 AM.
We loaded the land rover and headed east from Seronera Lodge at 8 AM. The scenery and animals were familiar. After passing through the Naabi gate once again, we diverted from our previous route and headed out along what appeared to be uncharted trails towards Oldupai (written in many publications as Olduvai) gorge.
On arriving at the gorge we had our box lunch and heard a lecture on the work Louis and Mary Leaky had done over the last fifty years in documenting the prehistory of the development of the human species. The most amazing discovery was not Lucy who was discovered in Ethiopia but the discovery of four million year old humanoid footprints preserved in volcanic soil.
The Oldupia gorge is named for the Oldupai plants (sisal) which grow there in abundance. The gorge consists of many layers of volcanic ash which were deposited over specific time periods. Fossils found in the layers can be precisely dated. The earliest layers in the Oldupai are around 4 million years old. One of the most significant finds is a set of hominid footprints made in mud and preserved by having been covered by deposit of volcanic ash. From the footprints it is clear that the makers walked upright and had feet similar to those of modern homosapiens. From the stride length, paleontologists have also estimated the height of the hominids.
Work in the gorge requires more dedication and patience than I possess. The Leakys worked here over a fifty year period and their rewards did not occur on a daily basis. It appears that years went by between significant finds.
At the Oldupai, I found an ebony bust of a Maasai man that I purchased for a very reasonable $65.
Visit to a Maasai Boma
Prior to leaving the Oldupai, we visited an active Maasai village surrounded by a traditional thorn boma (a lion impenetrable fence). The village had about 100 residents living in primitive circular huts about 5 feet high. The huts were made of sticks covered with straw which was held together by cow dung. The floors were dirt. The residents were all colorfully dressed and our admission fee of $4 each entitled each of us to unlimited photography. Body odor was significant, but then there was no water for bathing and certainly no deodorant. I learned later that the Maasai bathe using cow urine. I felt uncomfortable about this intrusion on a lifestyle I did not completely understand.
The Maasai are very thin due possibly to their diet of cow’s blood mixed with milk and cow urine. There are members of the tribe who are especially skilled at puncturing the neck vein of a cow to draw its blood. The puncture wound is sealed after blood letting with a dollop of cow dung. The mixture is carried by the Maasai in a gourd suspended from the shoulder like a hand bag. The Maasai are supposedly free of HIV and AIDS since they do not mix with other tribals and will refuse to allow reentry into the group to a member who has ventured into the cities.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up in our climb from the 5000 foot elevation of the Serengeti to the 7500 foot elevation of the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. During the rise we encountered a troop of 40 giraffes meandering along a ridge line. We have definitely become jaded and accustomed to such sights. No one took pictures of the magnificent animals. David’s prediction had come true.
Where to sit in a land rover
I will make a few comments on the desirability of seating in the land rovers in which we spend a large amount of our time. The passenger seat next to the driver is the best seat for long distance travel with the roof top down, but it is almost impossible for photography when out on the plain viewing animals. Out on the plain you are not allowed to get out of the vehicle because of potential lion attack. The rear seats are the worst for long distance travel since you are sitting too high to see either forward or to the side. The rear seats, however, are the best for game viewing when the top of the vehicle is open and one can stand up. The middle seats are ok for travelling and marginal for game viewing with the top up because your standing position is cramped by the seat itself. The middle seats also have no leg room. So much for seating. We solved the problem in our group by rotating the seat selection.
Our accommodations here on the crater’s rim are wonderful – elegant and first class. There is an open air balcony which faces due north and overlooks the crater with its lakes and flamingoes. With binoculars we could see many full tusked elephants. A Japanese tour guide just told me that there are around 10 prides of lions in the crater with up to 12 lions in a pride. I look forward to the descent into the crater tomorrow morning.
Paul has diarrhea again this morning. I don’t know what we are doing differently, but I have remained healthy.
Last night after dinner we were entertained by an African acrobatic team. They performed incredible feats of agility and balance. It was all done on a tile floor with no safety features. They performed flips and handstands and many more things. They were wonderful. I asked them why they were not in the Olympics and they replied that they were not able to obtain sponsorship. That is a real shame. Their skills were as good as any I have ever seen.
Monday, February 12, 2001
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The early morning view of the crater from the hotel balcony was restful. Mist lay across the flamingo lake which was no more than two feet deep at any point since flamingoes could be seen standing throughout the lake area.. The sky was clear with cumulus clouds beyond the rim of the crater. At early morning coffee, I learned from a Japanese tour leader that there were about 10 prides of lions with up to 12 lions in a pride in the crater. There was clearly more to be seen in the crater than we had been able to ascertain with binoculars from the balcony the evening before. The trees lining the crater walls appeared to be evergreens. On beginning our 2000-foot descent into the crater we found that the trees were not evergreens, but rather cacti up to 40 feet tall. They were of the species euphorbia bussei and similar to the euphorbia candelabrum which we had seen in the Serengeti at the Seronera Lodge.
I was surprised to find that Maasai herdsmen with large herds of cattle were also in the crater basin. The lions supposedly have learned to respect the prowess of these spear-carrying warriors.
There was a whole convoy of land rovers moving along the roads and they were all converging on one lone tree some two hundred yards off the road. Careful observation from that distance revealed a leopard draped along one of the branches. We were too far away for any photography and off-roading is not permitted in the crater basin. I had pondered how anyone could spot an animal so far away – like, for example, the leopard in the tree near Seronera Lodge. I suspect that the guides have identified trees and places frequented by animals and that they just look carefully for them in those specially identified places each day. Mussa left the crowd and headed the land rover clockwise around the large flamingo lake toward its northern shore.
(It is 5:00AM and I have been writing up my journal in the lobby since 4:15AM with the light from a small, mouth-held flashlight. Some of the drivers are sleeping on the sofas. They evidently are not supplied with rooms and must use the couches and public restrooms in the hotel. The generators are turned off and there are no lights or hot water. Candles are supplied in the rooms to cover the periods of no electricity. The electricity just came on and the lamps and fixtures of the lobby have automatically sprung into light)
The crater basin is primarily grass lands around the central lake with a small patch of woodlands on the southwest region. It quickly became clear that there was a full complement of African wildlife in the basin – both predators and prey animals. We passed Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles grazing by the roadside totally oblivious to the passing vehicles. Photographic opportunities are better here than on the Serengeti since the animals can be approached by car to within several feet. Even zebras and wildebeest were unperturbed by the presence of our rovers.
On the northern shore we located a herd of around 250 Cape buffaloes all gathered in a tight cluster at the water’s edge. Our approach was limited because of the restriction of on-road travel only. Nevertheless, we were able to get some good shots of the herd, and even some shots of the mating action of one particularly randy bull. The water near the shoreline was decorated with colorful greater and lesser flamingoes and peppered with a variety of other shore birds such as stilts, avocets, blacksmith lapwings, and many sandpipers. There were also dappling birds such as teals and Egyptian geese.
In the sandflats was evidence of lion predation. The bleached bones of buffalo and an occasional wildebeest were lying in the sand. We had not seen bones on the Serengeti. The hyena population there was probably larger and the hyenas rapidly reduced the bones to jaw crushed dust. Apparently, the major prey for the lion prides here is buffalo. The absence of bones in the Serengeti points up the significance of fossilized remains of extinct animals like dinosaurs. In a balanced ecosystem everything is recycled. A successful fossilization requires that the remains be isolated quickly from the usual elements of decomposition by some disaster such as a flood, a volcanic eruption, a mud slide, immersion in a tar pit, etc. Take for example the hominid footprints found in Oldupai Gorge. Had it not been for a timely deposit of volcanic ash, those footprints would have been lost forever – as were hundreds and maybe thousands of others.
We moved further along the sandflats to get a better picture of the flamingo flock. Our attention was drawn toward a strange roaring sound like that of a distant waterfall. We looked back toward the herd of buffalo and realized that they were making a traverse of the shallow lake from one shore to the other. The noise came from the churning of the murky waters by 1000 hooves. And there, in the midst of this moving mass of ruminants, was this one randy bull still trying to satisfy his urge to pass on his genes. His head and fore body supported by the reluctant cow beneath him while moving along with the herd toward the opposite shore. Life carries on blended with the surrounding evidence of death.
We passed one pride of lions lying on a sandy flat just out of reach of our telephoto lenses. We made close approaches to zebra and wildebeest on the way to our luncheon stop, which is one of the few places in the crater where one is allowed to leave the security of the land rover. Mussa had several conversations in Swahili with passing drivers and, instead of continuing on clockwise around the lake toward our luncheon rendezvous, he reversed direction and headed back toward our previous position.
He headed further north in the crater basin and finally came upon a lone lioness lying on a sandy flat in the track of the road. She was injured with a puncture wound in her left side and she was covered with flies. On the other side of the adjacent grassy knoll, we encountered four lion cubs. Judging from their sizes, they were from two different litters. No other lions were observed in the area.
The land rovers circled the cubs for photographs. The cubs welcomed the shade and quickly moved under the closest land rover. Now we were faced with the problem of how to get them to move out of the shade without running over them. Reving the engines did not faze the cubs. With guidance from the adjacent land rovers the shade car was able to move away from the cubs without running over them.
The presence of the cubs had been shared among the drivers at lunch. We admonished Mussa for not letting us in on the why and where of his route. He did not want to elevate our expectations since he might mot be able to find the cubs. We assured him that we would rather know the plan than be kept in the dark. We now had established a new rapport with our driver.
After the cub sighting we engaged in some pretty serious traversing of marshlands. The roads were a disaster and we headed out through tall grass. Mud went everywhere and the land rover slid from side to side in the marsh until we finally reached higher and drier ground. Getting stuck here would have been a major disaster.
After working our way back to the main road we passed the area where the large pride of lions had been lounging in the sand. A land rover had stopped to observe them and had paid the price of now having four adult lions lounging in the shade under their vehicle. This was not our problem (Hakuna matta), and we headed on to lunch.
At the luncheon area next to a hippo pond we were warned not to eat our lunch outside the vehicles. There was a circling flock of around a dozen black kites (a falcon like bird similar to our Northern Harrier). These birds are fearless and would swoop down and snatch food from your hands with their sharp talons. The scene was like something out of Alfred Hitchcocks’s movie "The Birds".
Prior to lunch, we had seen elephants and a lone rhino out in the grasslands far away from the road, and we looked forward to a closer encounter as we continued our clockwise tour around the lake. Instead, after lunch, Mussa and our group moved out in the direction from which we had come. We were left in the dark as to why. So much for the new rapport, which we thought we had established.
We found out later, that word had been passed around among the drivers at lunch, that a lion kill had taken place and Mussa was heading out to find the site. As we approached the kill site, we encountered a female lion sauntering down the road away from the site. Her face was bloodied with gore. She had evidently had her fill and was now heading for some place to relax and digest her meal
The kill had occurred in deep grass about 50 yards from the road. The road was lined with vehicles. Using binoculars we could see that the kill was a large Cape buffalo. There were eight adult lions and two cubs gorging on the carcass. There were several other lions lying in a sandy draw about 20 yards away from the kill. Several were bloody from their feeding. One female was quite clean. She might have been from another pride and was waiting for an opportunity to feed after the pride that had made the kill was satiated. Absent from the kill were the scavengers. There were no vultures, no storks and no hyenas.
We left the kill site and headed toward the wooded area in search of elephants. We found numerous elephants, but they were all too far away or too deep in the underbrush for any decent Kodak moments. In addition, clouds had covered the sun, thunder was rolling in the distance and some rain had begun to fall. The weather system was actually moving away from us and never caused us a problem – again - Hakuna matta.
At our last pit stop in a forest glade we met a troop of vervet monkeys with babies. Cute. But we also learned not to leave the door to the vehicle open since the monkeys had no hesitation about entering the rovers in search of food.
As we headed toward the ascent road out of the basin (the access roads are one-way) we passed tall trees with Rupell’s vultures nesting in the crests of the trees. I did not know that vultures actually built nests in trees since vultures in the Americas nest in crevices or on the ground. Live and learn.
We returned to the lodge at 4 PM and were happy to be able to get out and stretch our legs without worrying about marauding lions or swooping kites.
Tuesday, February 13, 2001
From Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara
After a full breakfast we left the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. With fully packed land rovers with the tops down we started the relatively short trip from the crater’s rim to the Lake Manyara Lodge on the rim of the rift valley escarpment overlooking Lake Manyara. The entire 60-mile trip was on heavily rutted and potholed red volcanic ash roads. The scenery changed from the cloud forests of the crater’s rim to rolling cultivated hills. Gone were the colorful Maasai. They had been replaced by black Africans wearing various combinations of western dress. Villages alongside the road were more crowded. The houses were made of rough sawn planks and tin roofs. People were riding bicycles. Heavy trucks were encountered more often. We passed a roadside mud brick plant and the houses began to be made of unfired mud bricks. I was not convinced that this was a better way to live.
We made a short stop at a petrol station for both fuel and a pit stop. Further down the road we stopped at a native craft shop. There were many lovely carvings, and I ended up buying several for myself. Bargaining was rampant. One of the objects I bought was a complicated and intricate carving of a number of human figures piled in a pyramid supporting the bust of the village elder - all carved from a single piece of ebony. The carving was first offered for $160 US. I ended up buying the carving plus a large ebony wall carving and two large masks for $135.
Our day’s trip ended at the Lake Manyara Lodge just in time for lunch. The lodge is located on the rim of the escarpment. Lions are not supposed to be in residence on the grounds, however, there is a large troop of baboons. They were in the trees and on the ground. There were many female baboons with babies riding on their hips like circus performers on horseback. Reiner Stang, who speaks with a heavy German accent, got the word baboon and bamboo commingled when he later reported an incident he had had with the baboons.. Reiner had left open the sliding glass door, which led to his room’s balcony. He reported, "The bamboons came in and scattered my clothes from the suitcase all over the room. From that point on we referred to baboons as bamboons.
Today was a day to relax. We had no planned agenda. After lunch "Doc Justin" gave an interesting lecture on the Maasai people. I found that he and I share the same philosophy regarding the negative impact of missionaries on the peoples of third world countries. After the lecture, some people swam in the Lodge pool (I avoided immersion in any form of uncertified water because of the threat of schitosomiasis), relaxed on the patio with drinks from the bar, or just watched birds on the grounds. The vegetation around the lodge is wonderfully tropical. The trees are identified with nameplates. One of the most beautiful of trees is the red flowering African tulip. These large trees were ablaze with fist-sized, red blossoms. The grounds are a botanist’s delight.
From various vantagepoints at the edge of the escarpment, one could observe the wildlife in the lake region below. Lake Manyara is large and the water is a volcanic-ash red. With binoculars we could see many species of animals in the grassy areas adjacent to the lake. There were animals with which we had become familiar – zebra, elephant, giraffe, various antelope, etc. Smaller animals, of course, could not be discriminated with binoculars. The game drive along the lake and through the dense forest tomorrow should hold many surprises.
In the men’s room there were mosquitoes perched on the white wall-tile. They rested with their rears pointed skyward – a sure sign of anopheles, the carrier of malaria. The hotel rooms again had those pull down mosquito nets. I used mine. My roommate, Paul chose not to because it was so warm in the room. We have now descended to a lower elevation and into a much more humid environment. We have been promised a real onslaught of insects including tsetse flies for our game drive tomorrow. The distribution of insects relative to elevation was reminiscent of my experiences in Papua New Guinea where there were no or minimal arthropod borne diseases at elevations much greater than 5000 feet. The human population living at the higher altitudes had a life expectancy of 75 years while the population living in the lower altitudes, and in particular in the coastal regions, seldom lived beyond 40 years of age.
Sleep during the night was not restful due to the temperature and the humidity. There is no air conditioning.
Wednesday, February 14, 2001
Lake Manyara to Tarangire
After breakfast the fully loaded land rovers left the Bamboons of the Lake Manyara Hotel and descended the approximately 2000 feet to the shore of Lake Manyara. Looking back at the location of the lodge during the descent we became aware of the sheer nature of the precipice of the rift valley escarpment. The lodge hung like an ornament on a cathedral wall.
We passed through the gate to the Lake Manyara National Park (1/3 of the land area of Tanzania is set aside as conservation area) and entered a dense, tropical forest. Our first order of business was the sighting of the famous tree climbing lions of Manyara. Our second order of business was observing the hornbills that inhabit the deciduous forest along the lake shore.
Not long into the traverse of the forest, Pat Lynch in the land rover ahead of us sighted two, large hornbills sitting together on a branch not very far from the road. They could easily be seen. They turned out to be silver cheeked hornbills, and they were very cooperative. We later had a rare sighting of a Verrauex’s Hawk Owl perched in a tree not far from the trail and in complete view.
We failed in out attempt to observe the tree climbing lions, although we sighted many of the prey species including Cape buffalo, zebras, impala, elephant and giraffes – all of which we had photographed earlier except for elephants. We got no good shots of elephants. We did see several species of hornbill.
We had a picnic box lunch in the park and departed for Tarangire around 2 PM. Our drive to Tarangire was over about 40 km of some of the worst potholed road we had been on. The road took us over the north shore of Lake Manyara and turned southeast to the main paved highway heading south to Tarangire National Park. We had a travel respite of 17 km on Macadam road to the turnoff to Tarangire. From the park entrance, our road returned to rutted dirt for the final 35 km. We used the last leg of our afternoon drive for observing birds and big game.
During the game drive we were introduced to what would become our major nemesis – Tsetse flies. Those little buggers have a nasty bite. They look a little like a robber fly with a long proboscis that they jam into your hide to feed. They also carry trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). We very quickly began shouting to Mussa – hurryveri, hurryveri. Even when the land rover was moving at 30 mph the tsetse flies were keeping up. In spite of the heat and humidity, we donned double layers of clothing to discourage the flies. They are undeterred by insect repellant even by that containing 33% DEET.
Flies notwithstanding, the scenery was marvelous. There were many baobab trees scattered across the rolling grass-covered hills. Baobabs are those weird African trees that have trunks of enormous girth and look as if they had been planted upside down. Each supports a wide diversity of animal life There are 516 known species of birds in Tarangire and they are almost all colorful and exotic – Go-Away birds (so named because of their call that – if you stretch your imagination – sounds like "go-away"), bee-eaters, hornbills, chicken-like Spurfowl, large vultures and eagles and many types of weavers.
On the sometimes-slow, most of the time fast-to-escape-the-flies game drive to the lodge we saw large herds of elephants, giraffes and Cape buffalo. We welcomed our arrival at the Sopa Lodge, and its accompanying relief from the tsetse flies.
Sopa Lodge is truly the most magnificent of the lodges we have stayed in. The rooms are dual cabins with conical roofs and two queen-sized beds with mosquito netting. The main lobby Y’s off into two huge, high-ceilinged rooms with intricate, exposed rafters and floor to ceiling glass. One room is for dining and the other is for socializing and drinking. The view from the large rooms is across a vast rolling plain dotted with other-worldly baobab trees. It is easy to forget that the terrain is the kingdom of the lion and not to be entered cavalierly.
After dinner, we received our marching orders for the next day. In order to avoid the tsetse flies, we were to get up at 6 AM and depart from the lodge at 6:30 AM on our game drive. We would return for breakfast at 9 AM and be free until our afternoon game drive which would begin at 3 PM (and what about the tsetse flies in the afternoon???).
Thursday, February 15, 2001
Sopa Lodge – Tarangire, Tanzania
According to plan, my digital wristwatch alarm went off at 6 AM. My roommate, Paul, had decided not to take part in the morning game drive. That gave us extra room in the land rover. When we left the lodge, the sun lay low in the morning fog and produced a soft light of low intensity. The grasslands were shrouded in a foggy mist. Conditions were marginal for photography – particularly with poor light gathering, large f-stop, telephoto lenses. Every glass surface – eyeglasses, binoculars, and camera lenses – tended to fog over with condensation. We basically resolved to just look for wildlife. The landscape in mist is even more surreal. There were no large mammals to be seen – the elephants and giraffes were absent. Birdlife, however, was abundant and varied. We enjoyed logging new species such as the gray-headed kingfisher and the chestnut-sided bee-eater.
As a bonus, we did encounter a pride of lions lying in deep grass alongside the rutted road. There were two cubs, several females but no male. We were destined to meet them again.
The drive was basically free of tsetse flies. We returned to the lodge as the fog began to clear. We had a large breakfast and settled in to enjoy a relaxed day.
Charlie Wilson had reported that he and Mickey had a large spider trapped in their shower stall. I stopped in to see it. It was terrifying. It was about 4 inches across and had a spindly, long, hairy body. It did not look the same as a tarantula. It apparently could not scale the raised tile threshold of the doorway. It must have entered the shower stall by crawling up the bath mat, which had earlier been draped over the door treadle.
I took a piece of toilet tissue, leaned out across the shower threshold and waved the tissue at the spider to get it to move out of the corner of the shower stall. That extra bit of adrenaline flow produced by my annoying it was enough to give the spider the extra energy needed to leap tall buildings. It sprang over the treadle and into the bathroom. I thrust myself backwards and banged into Mickey. Everyone scattered. Charlie, in his hour of triumph, dispatched the poor creature under his shoe sole. It was a truly awful looking critter. David allowed as to how it looked a lot like the hairy sun-spiders of Arizona.
The scary part is that the spider was there at all. The message is that you had better check your suitcase before you close it and check your shoes and socks before you put them on. It’s a jungle out there
I took a walk around the lodge and down to the swimming pool area. The pool overlooks a sandy draw through a cluster of boulders. Close inspection of the sandy bottom revealed lion paw prints. The pool attendants verified that the draw was used by lions as passage during the night. They confirmed that wandering off the hotel pathways, particularly at night, was not safe.
Tree surprises and an afternoon with an elephant
The animal population in the Lake Manyara and Tarangire region comprises a race that is different than that of the Serengeti animals. Manyara and Tarangire are below the rift valley escarpment and they have their own migration population with its own migration routes. The two populations do not cross paths in their migration routes. The rift valley escarpment easily keeps them separate..
We had a large, buffet style luncheon and spent the mid-afternoon lounging around. Some people lay in the sun or swam in the pool. I wandered the grounds and photographed birds.
At three o’clock, we assembled in the lobby in anticipation of our afternoon game drive through the park. We were all a bit uncertain about our forced exposure to the tsetse flies. Charlie and Mickey Wilson chose not to participate in the drive so that left the land rover to just David, Paul and me. Mussa disappeared somewhere at 3 PM to find diesel fuel for the vehicle and we did not get underway until 3:30 PM.
The sky was now blue and dotted with cumulus clouds. The grasslands were free of fog and mist. Yellow-throated and red-throated Spurfowl and guinea fowl were enjoying the warm sand in the middle of the roads. Hornbills frequently flew alongside the road with us. Large mammals were not to be seen. Mussa came to one spot in the road where a tree had recently fallen across the ruts and we could not proceed further. Mussa conferred with the two other drivers in our convoy of three and, after much discussion in Swahili, the decision was made to turn back. We wound through a maze of twists and turns and forks and intersections. We passengers were totally disoriented. Our attention was distracted by the tsetse flies. Even Mussa was slapping and uttering what must have been profanities in Swahili – all directed at those little insects. Mussa was wearing only shorts and a T-shirt and no hat on his shaved head leaving much flesh exposed. I don’t know how he tolerated the flies.
We met other drivers on the trails and there was the usual driver interchange in Swahili. We passed other drivers and some secret hand signals were exchanged as the vehicles passed one another.
In the distance we could see a lone, large, acacia tree off the road, standing tall and straight with its umbrella canopy shading the grass below. The tree was surrounded by three vehicles. Mussa headed toward it and dramatically turned off the road and across the grasslands to join the other vehicles. Pat Lynch later pointed out that the tree was directly across the road from where we had seen the pride of lions earlier in the morning. We were to see them again.
The passengers were all looking up and pointing into the tree. There, in the branches, amongst the dense foliage, and, difficult to discern, were five lions. We had found the tree-climbing lions of Tarangire. They were not just on the trunk of a leaning tree, they were in the uppermost branches, way out on the limbs of a tall, straight tree. I suspect that the desire to get away from those damnable tsetse flies was enough to drive anything up a tree. I would not, at this point, be surprised to even find giraffes up in among the branches. Mussa admonished us to hurryveri, hurryveri. We took what photographs we could in the poor lighting conditions of the shade tree, and carried the memory of this unusual sighting with us back to the vehicle trail.
Then elephants began to come into view. We stopped several times to try for a photo, but the huge mammals were just too far away for anything except a panoramic picture. We then spotted a lone, enormous bull elephant off on the right side of the road. He was about fifty yards away. The sun was to our backs and the elephant was feeding in the grass broadside to us. Perfect for photography.
We clicked off some shots and the elephant began to move at an angle, drawing slowly toward the road.. We all got excited about the possibility of a closer encounter without fully comprehending how close the encounter could become. The elephant moved from the area where the grass was about 3 feet tall into an area closer to the road where the grass was about six to seven feet tall. He moved closer to the road.
We encouraged Mussa pull forward to keep abreast of the bull elephant. Mussa view of the elephant was restricted by the tall grass. He was relying solely on our judgement of the situation. "Stop, stop." we all called out as the elephant drew to within 50 feet of the road. The elephant now was facing the broadside of the land rover and he was clearly agitated. Cameras clicked in the excitement of this first close encounter. We were so engaged in the act of photography that we were oblivious to the impending danger. The elephant’s huge ears flared out as his forward pace quickened. The tall grass was being pushed aside like the bow wake of a large boat. Our excited cries of "stop, stop" suddenly changed to "GO, GO, GO, GO" as the enormous, dark, gray-black form pushed past the curtain of tall grasses. Mussa did not need too much encouragement. The land rover leapt forward in a cloud of dust. The victorious megamammal raised its head at the edge of the road and displayed his massive tusks. His trunk pointed skyward and he trumpeted his delight at our cowardly departure.
We doubled over in laughter in the aftermath of our adrenaline rush and contemplated, in almost disbelief, the near disaster of our close encounter of an almost third kind. We were reminded again that we were admiring uncaged, wild animals – some larger, in both size and weight, than our own vehicle. You would think that we had learned our lesson – but wait.
Our afternoon had been perfect and, without regret, we headed back to the Sopa Lodge.
Tomorrow is to be a long day. It will start at 5 AM (for me it has already started at 3AM for this write-up. ). We will lose some of our group as they separate to catch flights home and the remainder of us will continue on to Amboseli in Kenya.
Friday, February 16, 2001
Tarangire, Tanzania toAmboseli, Kenya
After breakfast we loaded into our land rovers and departed from the Sopa Lodge at around 8:30 AM. We drove out of the park with the rooftop closed. There was a brief stop at the park gate to allow Doc Justin to clear the necessary paper work to leave the park. Then we were on our way north over real, Macadam roadways.
We were back to merely a third world country. Maasai cattle herders dotted the countryside. Naked Maasai children swam in gray, muddy pools of water. African asses with their characteristic short dark manes ending in a cross bar down their shoulders stood along the roadside and in the fields. It was hard to imagine that only 20 km to the south there were many wild animals and large predators.
We were to make a stop at the Cultural Heritage Center just outside of Arusha for possible purchasing of artifacts. About a half-mile from the Center, our land rover coughed and sputtered and the engine died. The vehicle had run out of fuel. Mussa allowed it to roll almost to a stop and then cranked it again. The engine coughed back to life and we gained another 30 yards or so until it died again. Mussa repeated the procedure for the next half-mile until we were able to pull into the parking lot of the Cultural Center. We left the vehicle in the parking lot and went in to check out the artifacts. Mussa, I believe, a bit embarrassed over the problem of poor fuel management, headed off with one of the other drivers to find diesel fuel for the car.
The Cultural Center has wonderful carvings of high quality plus truly magnificent (and very expensive) authentic ceremonial masks from all over Africa. I bought an artistic carving I liked very much.
A few miles down the road we were back in Arusha at Bobby Tours. I was able to get on the Internet and send an email messages to friends back in the States. We had some time for shopping and Mussa took us into a narrow alley with little shops lining the sides. The alley was originally about 30 feet wide, but the alley walls had become occupied by clapboard shops. Each shop occupied about a 10-ft. by 10-ft. space, and each had an indistinguishable supply of carvings made from ebony, rosewood, and soft woods like mahagony and teak. One had to be careful to distinguish ebony carvings from Kiwi wood carvings (any wood stained with black Kiwi shoe polish to emulate ebony). I bought two masks that I liked for gifts. I had to go with the vendor to a currency exchange down the block to cash some traveler’s checks. We finally ended up at Mussa’s sister’s shop at the end of the alley where I bought two more carvings. We had been badgered the full length of the alley by vendors. It was good to get back out into the main street and away from the hassle of the vendors.
Now came the time to consolidate all the passengers and their luggage into one bus and head off to Namanga on the Kenyan border. The bus was packed. Every seat was occupied either by passengers with bags in their laps or by baggage piled as high as possible. The ride was cramped, but it lasted only about two hours.
At the border crossing where we had to have our visas checked, we were mobbed again by Maasai women hawking trinkets. Arms loaded with cheap necklaces were thrust into every open window of the bus. Men were hawking more substantial things like carvings and masks. Some of the carvings were rather good and Doc Justin got a carving of a family grouping of Maasai for only $30. I have some trouble with beating the prices down knowing that the carvers spent many hours producing these artifacts and will see very little of the money paid to the vendors.
We continued on across the border and at a gift shop area our group divided into those going on to Nairobi and home and those going on into Amboseli on the Kenya extension of our safari. We bade goodbye to the friends with whom we had shared a unique experience and turned our attention to the continuation of our adventure.
We lost Charlie and Mickey Wilson from our land rover group and Pat and Diana Lynch asked to join us. We were no longer to be in a land rover, but would be in a five passenger van something more like a Volkswagen minivan with a pop-up roof. I, therefore, ended up in a van with Paul Williams and David McLane from Tucson and our new additions, Pat and Diana Lynch from Sacramento. The group was compatible.
We now had a new driver who called himself Mike. I asked him what his African name was and he answered, "Keoko". I asked him what name would he prefer that we use and he chose his African name. Keoko drove on the dirt road to Serena Lodge at upwards of 100 km/hr whenever possible. There were times, however, when travel was possible only at speeds of less than a walk.
On our trip in to the Lodge, the clouds to the south began to clear and the magnificence of Mt. Kilimanjaro emerged. The light level was fading, but we could imagine the wonderful photographic opportunities with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop that would be afforded us on the following day.
Serena Lodge is different from all the previous lodges. It is located in lush, tropical greenery. The grounds are surrounded by an electrical fence to keep the bad guys out. There are, however, panic buttons along the walkways, which you can push in the event of the sighting of predators on the lodge grounds. The food here is excellent and overeating is too easily done. The rooms are dual cottages with vervet monkeys in attendance on the roofs, in the trees and along the walkways. After dinner, some Israeli children called our attention to two hippos that were making their way along the stream bottom only 200 feet from the lodge patio.
When Paul and I entered our room we noticed that there were no mosquito nets. There were, however, insects on the walls including one that Paul squashed with his hand. The squish mark left behind a bloody stain. I identified the deceased insect as a riduviid bug also known as a cone-headed blood sucker or assassin bug. The presence of a riduviid bug caused a certain anxiety in me since I know that these bugs carry Chagas disease, which is deadly. That evening when Paul got into bed he felt something bite him on the rear. It was a tick that had not yet fully attached itself. It also was bloody. The evening was a bit fitful and I slept fully coated with DEET.
Saturday, February 17, 2001
Amboseli Serana Lodge Kenya
In spite of concerns about nasty insects, I slept well and got up at 4:30 AM to enter my thoughts into the trip log. Paul woke briefly and asked the time. He muttered some comment about my being crazy and drifted back into sleepland as I closed the bathroom door to protect him from my typing. Wake up was at 5:30AM and departure for an early morning game drive before breakfast was at 6:30 AM.
Paul chose to sleep in, and Pat, Diana, David and I were the only passengers in the van. The valley was shrouded in fog and mist. Mt. Kilimanjaro was totally obscured. The views of animals in this mist were special and mystical. It will be interesting to see how the photos come out.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast at 8:30 AM with instructions that the next game drive would take place at 10:00 AM.
On the second drive the fog had lifted and Mt. Kilimanjaro was asking to be photographed with something interesting in the foreground. Keoko obliged by positioned the van with a variety of animals in our pictures – zebra, elephants, wart hogs, etc. As the morning wore on cloud layers began to encircle the mountain and it lost its photographic appeal.
Clouds notwithstanding, photographic opportunities continued to be excellent. We spent a considerable amount of time observing a large herd of elephants close to the road. There were two young males engaged in a sparing contest with one another. It was all in practice for some big event in their future. You could hear the thunk of their clashing tusks. It was a marvelous event.
We came upon a fish eagle (very much like an American bald eagle) perched on a tuft of marsh grass right at the side of the road bed eating a freshly caught fish. Not 200 feet away, also in the marshy area was a huge bull elephant with cattle egrets in attendance. He posed grandly in the perfect lighting. On closer inspection, he appeared to be blind. With an abundance of food and water and no threat of predators, perhaps being blind was not a major handicap. Birdlife, as always on this trip, was abundant and varied.
As lunchtime neared and passed, we finally headed back towards the lodge. I suddenly shouted for Keoko to stop and back up. I had seen an ostrich sitting on a nest not 20 feet from the road. Even after backing up the others in the group at first only saw a large boulder, which they had to mentally transform into the female ostrich that it was. Neat sighting. We also observed several groups of hippos totally out of the water and grazing in the sunlight. There were even hippo calves in among the adults.
We got back in time for lunch, and it was fabulous. Another game drive is to be held at 4 PM. Some of the tour group has elected to just lounge around the lodge grounds. Not me!!. I’ll be there with bells on even though I am now down to counting remaining pictures rather than remaining rolls of film – I have only 96 pictures left.
The environment in Amboseli is flat plains with rather short grass and very few trees. There is a smell of marshland in the air due likely to the presence of phosphates in the soil. The short grass makes for easier sightings of animals.
The afternoon game drive was uneventful with the exception of herds of hundreds of elephants. The elephants were all heading in the same direction. Keoko said they were all heading toward a series of lakes for the evening along with herds of zebras. Keoko drove our van along a series of game drive trails until we reached one that was ahead of, and at right angles to, the progress of the elephant herd. He stopped the van near a point where he anticipated that the herd would cross the road and we waited. We watched as a platoon of about 40 elephants drew closer. Other vans joined our vigil and parked about 200 feet away from our van leaving a clear path for the crossing herd.
The elephants continued their approach and headed for the separation in the line of the vans. We were one of the gateposts. A group of females formed into a tight bunch surrounding and protecting their accompanied babies. The column lumbered across the road at a pace that clearly said that we will not be hurried by anything. Cattle egrets sporting reddish breeding plumage preceded the herd and some rode on the backs of the large pachyderms. Photography, even in the light of a diminishing film supply, was hard to resist. Every elephant and group of elephants appeared unique and photogenic. And then they were gone.
We continued the drive looking for large cats but found only zebras, wildebeest, a jackal with a tail like a pointer (not the usual bushy, fox-like tail), and a lone hyena. After some late afternoon shots of Mt. Kilimanjaro we headed back to the lodge to refresh ourselves. I took a long soaking bath in the large tub and wondered whether I was exposing myself unduly to an invasion of shistosomas. If I had, the exposure was at least pleasurable.
I relaxed by having several Tusker beers on the patio with the group. Dinner that evening was excellent. Over dinner we learned that our next leg from Amboseli to Tsavo West would be under military escort. That part of Kenya in the late eighties had been the venue of many poachers and thieves called schiftas. They poached ivory and robbed and killed people travelling in lone vehicles. When Leakey’s son became head of all the conservation areas in Kenya, he declared war on the poachers. He utilized planes and helicopters and outfitted his troops with AK-47’s. They shot to kill. There have been no recent killings or incidents with the schiftas and I hope it stays that way. But this is Africa and who can predict??
Sunday, February 18, 2001
Amboseli Serena Lodge Kenya
Armed guards and missing teeth
Since I was up early, I had early morning coffee with those guests preparing to go out on the 6:30 AM game drive. I went in for breakfast as soon as the restaurant was open. I had frequently noticed that there was a Maasai warrior in traditional dress in the restaurant area. I asked my waiter why he was there. He replied that he was an employee. I thought that he was employed purely as decoration. I was to learn differently.
The restaurant is open to the outside through many ports. The main entrance is open to the outside garden area, and there were large and heavy sliding glass doors leading to the outside garden right by my table. The glass doors were pulled shut. As I was eating, a vervet monkey came up to the sliding glass door and deftly opened it just enough to squeeze himself through. In a flash he was up on one of the unoccupied tables and snatching packets of sugar. Almost as rapidly, the Maasai warrior covered the distance from the open entrance of the restaurant, weaving through the maze of tables with his loose robe flapping in the breeze and waving a whip-like staff. I heard it swish through the air as the warrior struck at the agitated vervet. In a flash, the monkey was gone, but not without his prize of sugar. I pondered how this occupation should this read on a resume’? Previous employment: Monkey guard?? Primate security officer?? Animal control officer??
We gathered at the vans at 8 AM for our 8:30 departure. We were to have two armed Kenyans accompany us across the "dangerous" region. They were young men dressed in western clothing and carrying AK47’s. I asked why they were not dressed in military clothing. They answered that they were in camouflage so that they would not be singled out to be shot by the shiftas.
During the wait I had an opportunity to ask the drivers a question that had been a mystery to me. I had noticed that many Maasai women were missing their two lower front teeth. I wondered why. Was this some feature to enhance their attractiveness?? The answer was a medical one. There is a disease that is common among the Maasai that causes the jaw to lock (probably tetanus). It is so common that they elect to have the lower teeth extracted or knocked out so that during the period when their jaw is locked they can still be feed porridge or fluid through the opening among their teeth. I now notice that there are also Maasai males with missing teeth.
I also noticed that many of the male employees around the lodge had oddly shaped ears. Their ears appeared to be half the size of a normal ear. It became apparent that these employees were Maasai and were sporting pierced ears with fully stretched lobes. I guess that the floppy lobes got in the way of the employee’s work. To avoid the problem, the men simply twisted a turn in the lobe and hung it over the top of the ear giving the appearance of only half an ear.
Amboseli to Tsavo West.
I was warned by one of the hotel clerks that the road to Tsavo would be dusty. I thought it couldn’t be too bad. Wrong! Not only was it dusty, it was narrow and rutted and rocky, and rough as a cob. We were compensated in part by the lovely view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but that soon disappeared in the clouds.
The road rose from the 3600 foot elevation of Amboseli toward the higher elevations of the volcanic cinder cones characteristic of Tsavo West. The scrub acacia forests were dotted with both mud and grass hut villages. The people along the roadside were wearing western garb with tennis shoes. There were large flocks of sheep and goats. The road dust got into everything. As we climbed into the cinder cone region just outside of the park we crossed a black course of AA (ah-ah) lava that had formed during an extrusion about 200 years ago. The surroundings were hot and dry.
Just after passing through the park gates, we saw two water bucks standing in a draw – a new species of mammal for us. They are characterized by what appears to be bullseye target on their rumps.
The Kilaguni Lodge is not as elegant as the Amboseli Serena lodge, but it has its own lighted watering hole which can be viewed from the bar balcony. As we relaxed from our dusty trip over a beer, we watched marabou storks standing around the muddy pool. African gray hornbill and superb starlings fed at the nearby feeder. While we were eating lunch, a dozen zebra and two Cape buffalo joined the storks at the pool. I am curious to see what else will show up later in the evening.
Our game drive was not to start until 3:00PM so I took the opportunity to wash both my safari shirt and safari trousers. The water turned mud red from the accumulated dust. I hung the clothing out to dry from the lamp on the balcony. It less than an hour they were ready to wear. We have moved into a completely new meteorological zone – both hotter and much drier. The room is not equipped with mosquito netting. Does that mean that there are no insects to worry about here??. There are no fans and the only cooling will come from any cross breeze we might achieve by leaving the screened Dutch door and the screened balcony door open.. I don’t think I would want to be here during the hot, dry season.
The afternoon game drive:
The region around Kilaguni Lodge is all volcanic in origin and peppered with old cinder cones. The terrain is scrub thorn bush and medium high grass. Spotting animals is going to be difficult. Keoko drove us straight to Mzima springs (Mzima means "life") which are derived from the vast water holdings of the porous volcanic rock. The water that pours out forms the Mzima River which joins the Tsavo River about 7 km downstream. The spring with its flow of 50 million gallons a day serves as the primary water supply for Mombassa. The spring water is clear and clean (at least until it reaches the hippo pools).
I think that Mzima Springs is where J.Y. Cousteau filmed his documentary on hippos in Africa. Because of difficulty that Cousteau was having with finding a combination of hippos and clear water, he had to cancel a scheduled meeting with me in the Bahamas. We were to discuss business opportunities regarding my invention of the membrane controlled automatic decompression computer. I had to settle for meeting with his corporate officers. One of the real disappointments in my life was never having met Jacque Yves Cousteau although I later met his son Michelle.
In order to take the paved walkway around the springs, we had to engage an armed guide (something about dangerous animals (crocodiles, hippos, lions, etc.). They love AK-47’s and I am sure they would love blowing a lion away. We, however, encountered nothing more dangerous than a small crocodile.
The vegetation was lush and the large trees formed a canopy over the clear river. There were pods of hippos lounging in the 6-foot deep water. At one spot along the path there was an underwater observation hut from which one could see the many blue, carp-like fish (barbels) which feed on the hippos’ fecal matter. The hippos did not cooperate and remained submerged except for occasional lifted nostrils, eyes or ears. We saw two seven foot long crocodiles. One of them swam up to a small stream that entered the river over a 6-inch high waterfall. The croc positioned himself at the base of the waterfall with his mouth open and allowed the water to course through his teeth. He was patiently fishing for whatever might come over the falls.
We left Mzima Springs and tried another hippo pool. This one was a mud-red watering-hole. The hippos in the mud hole were no more cooperative than the hippos at Mzima Spring. We took a few pictures of weird trees with vultures in them. One looked like a strange menorah with vultures posing as candle flames.
Back at the lodge I got three roles of film from Bobbi Abelson and my film crisis was over. Only two more days of game driving and then 48 hours of non-stop travel to get to Phoenix.
The watering hole had several visitors during the night. Elephants and hyenas came through along with a rather rare sighting for us – a genet. A genet is a member of the mongoose family and looks like a long-tailed spotted cat. It is beautiful. I came to the bird feeder to find a delicacy of some sort which put it in easy observation distance.
The meals have been great, and delicious. I am overeating. Hate to step on a scale when I get home. My hair has gotten long and wavy. Next comes the Johnny Weismueller yell and a swing from a liana.
Monday, February 19, 2001
Kilaguni Lodge – Tsavo West to Voi Safari Lodge – Tsavo East
We started the trip from Kilaguni Lodge to Voi Safari Lodge at 9:00 AM sharp. I had waked at 4:00AM feeling refreshed but decided on going back to sleep. I slept until 7 AM and woke up with a stiff back probably from the strenuous effort of standing upright in the back of the van the previous day with all the bumps and swaying associated with the rough roads.
Our trip started out as a game drive and we quickly logged several new species of birds – notably: Pale Chanting Goshawk and Carmine Bee Eater. We saw no mega-mammals, but we did get a good opportunity to photograph an African Chameleon, which had chosen lime green as its color of the day. The Chameleon was on a small roadside plant. My hat was off to the driver in the vehicle ahead of us who spotted this small critter. David McLean had been hoping to see a Chameleon, but he really wanted to hold one and we were not allowed to get out of the van in this area of scrub woodland. Better to see and not hold than to not see at all.
We left Tsavo West and drove south a bit on the main highway between Nairobi and Mombassa. I had forgotten what real roads were like. The highway paralleled the Nairobi/Mombassa railway (known as the "Lunatic Express") which was made famous by the incident with the man-eating lions of Tsavo (the event has been covered in both book and movie). We passed the area where the major events occurred.
We entered the red-rutted roads of Tsavo West, some 30 km north of our destination of Voi. Not many kilometers into the park, Keoko took a minor fork in the road that led to a watering hole. A huge bull elephant was in the bushes at the water’s edge hosing himself down with the red, muddy water. Got several good pictures of this red elephant of Tsavo. We moved about 50 yards further on to encounter another large, dirt-red bull elephant who obliged with some challenging poses with raised trunk and spread ears.
There was nothing else exciting in the way of large mammals on the remainder of the trip to the lodge. We did see a really weird bird, however – eastern race of the paradise Wydah bird. The Wydah bird has a feather like a dorsal fin on its long tail. The structure looks one of those evolutionary quirks where designs to attract mates has almost gone beyond reason. When the bird flies, it seems to use most of its energy just to drag its tail along.
The Voi lodge is built on the side of a large granite outcropping and hangs above two watering holes. There were three waterbucks at the watering hole when we arrived.
We are back to mosquito netting and the altitude is 1000 feet lower than Tsavo West and the temperature is higher. The afternoon game drive will give us a better idea of the insect population.
Afternoon game drive:
There was nothing particularly notable on this game drive. We have perhaps been in Africa too long. Things are becoming too familiar. We hardly take notice of things that two weeks ago were attention getters. Birds as exotic as various hornbills, the Abysinian and Lilac-breasted Rollers, various bustards, Secretary Birds, Superb Starlings, Crested Eagles, Pale Chanting Goshawks, etc., get passed by with the phrase "carry on" to Keoko. I never thought that giraffes would become commonplace, but they have. We are still taking pleasure in photographing the red-dusted elephants of Tsavo as individuals or as large herds. They are still fascinating and not always predictable.
The flies were not bad even though the air is dry and the temperature warm. Keoko tried his best to dig up something special for us. He took us through the riverine environment of the seasonal and now dry __?___ river looking for leopards. Treed areas are favored by impala and, consequently, by leopards as well. Impala were grazing in the shade of the riverine forest, but no leopards were to be seen. Our hopes were elevated when a troop of vervet monkeys began a scolding call and the impala disappeared, but no leopard.
We drove away from the site and encountered several red elephants in the bush. One had his rear right up to the road. Keoko would not go forward since he could see no convenient escape route in the event the elephant charged. We waited until the elephant moved a safe distance from the road before we crept up and took some photographs in the soft and subtle light of the deep undergrowth. (Accent with Tarzan yell at this point).
On the way back to the lodge under fading afternoon light we encountered many elephants heading toward the road with the intent of crossing it. Keoko positioned the van appropriately and we waited. The herd started to cross. There were juveniles in the group. When the herd had completely crossed the road Keoko moved forward for some closer shots. The female in charge objected to our presence and started making some challenging moves.
As chance would have it, I came to the end of my film roll and began to change the film. As my attention was diverted to my camera maintenance, the female charged. Keoko put his foot on the brake and revved the diesel engine of the van in a pulsing fashion. The engine roared and belched black fumes. The elephant abruptly broke her charge, and we moved forward. I am not sure that this would have worked for Mussa in the land rover. I photographically missed all the action, but the adrenaline flow was not diminished. A juvenile bull strutted his stuff as we drove along with the herd. The little bull made several threatening motions toward the van, but they were all just show and bravado.
So much for the last game drive of the evening.
Dinner was enormous again and I chose to try and eat less. Jim and Cas were celebrating their first wedding anniversary this evening and Diana Lynch had made arrangements with the chef to make a cup cake with a single candle on it. Instead, the chef delivered a full blown cake to be shared by everyone at the table. When it was delivered to the table. we all joined in song with happy anniversary wishes.
Tuesday, February 20, 2001
Voi Lodge – Tsavo East, Kenya
I awoke at 2:45 AM fairly fully rested. I could not get back to sleep. My body was in Africa, but my mind was already back in Arizona. I made mental preparation for packing my suitcases in a fashion that would give me a change of clothing in England after a shower. I wanted to arrive in Phoenix as fresh and clean as possible. I have, however, another day to get through and another game drive starting at 6:30 AM. It is beginning to sound like I have had enough.
The 6:30 AM game drive was truly uneventful. We had great expectations and none were realized. Paul had elected at the last minute to join Pat, Diana, David and me. After such disappointment, there was some discussion as to whether to go again on the 10:00 AM drive after we returned and had had breakfast. Paul had had enough for the day and chose not to come along. The rest of us elected to go.
Breakfast offered a bit of excitement. Our table was right at the edge of the restaurant and next to a sliding glass window, which was open. David was sitting next to the window and was facing toward the rest of us at the six-place table. His back was turned toward the open window. He was holding a piece of toast in his hand and engaged in conversation with the rest of us at the table. Without warning a large male baboon appeared on the window sill and reached in toward David’s propped up hand. We were all so startled by this event that we were unable to frame the words to give warning to David. The baboon stepped out onto the table and grabbed the toast right out of David’s hand. The waiter swatted at the animal and he was gone. The bamboons strike again. Later Pat had the contents of his suitcase scattered across their room by a baboon that had gained access through the swingout screen window that opened to the roof. These primates are resourceful. Resident, beware.
Along the line of other safety issues is the Fire warning posted on the inside of the room door, which states - In the event of fire, raise the alarm at once by shouting "FIRE, FIRE"
Ten AM game drive:
With our expectations for sighting any more large animals or anything new diminished, we headed out on our next to last game drive in Africa – at least for this trip. The weather was cloudy, hot and muggy. The road was still deeply rutted in fine red dust waiting to be stirred into a cloud. The good news was that there were no biting insects. To occupy our minds while waiting for that big event (lions, leopards, cheetas, rhinos, etc.), which we were convinced would never come, we changed our animal locating scheme from clock position (eagle in tree at 3 o’clock) to compass rose location with the front of the vehicle at 000 and the rear of the vehicle at one eight zero. We had clearly become bored.
Our drive started off rather ignominiously with a 40 minute wait at the park gate where the drivers had to renew our daily park pass. The tour had a "quick pass" card, which was supposed to be easily read by a machine and, therefore, rapidly issue a permit. This is third world and the machine was broken, which was worse than having no card at all. After numerous phone calls and radio transmissions we were finally cleared to "carry on".
Early in the drive we encountered a herd of elephants at two eight zero with several infants. The lighting was right and several good photos were shot by all. David’s fantasy for this trip was, as I have mentioned, to actually hold an African Chameleon in his hand – an event he had suppressed as only a fantasy. Suddenly, Keoko drew the vehicle to a halt. We scanned the full compass rose and saw nothing. Keoko backed up the car and there, in the middle of the road, was an iridescent green chameleon. So near, yet so far. (Why did the chameleon cross the road? He needed a change. – my original). We were not allowed to get out of the vehicle – possibility of lions, you know. For a brief moment, Keoko risked suspending the regulations. David sprang from the van and 15 seconds later there was a chameleon in our car and on David’s hand. David was beaming. It was a delight to see a full-growed man revel in the thrill of discovery – an emotion too often limited just to children. The chameleon obliged with a full display of his throat blanket and changing color patterns. There were many photos taken.
The chameleon’s feet are like little T’s with three tiny toes pointing outboard and two tiny toes pointing inboard. Each toe is equipped with needle-like nails for good purchase on branches. It was interesting to feel the gentle pricks of these nails as the tiny reptile walked in slow motion up my arm and onto my shirt and shoulder. David was exhilarated. Marty and Bobbi’s van caught up with us and we shared our good fortune. Bobbi took several photos across the narrow space separating the vehicles. After the photography session, I hopped out and returned the unique animal to its natural environment and we drove on with renewed optimism.
Our search for the big cats took us all the way to the Aruba lodge, which is now in a falling-down state-of-repair. It is closed and we could not gain access to shore of the man-made lake located at the lodge. There was hope that there would be both prey and predators present in abundance. There were, disappointingly, only some shore birds and baboons nearby and two hippos in the distance with a possibly still born calf. Were we now, with a still-born calf, trying to imagine events?? It was not clear.
Diana was desperate for a rest stop. The lodge was closed and there was hardly a decent bush to hide behind. She elected to use the screen of the vehicle and we all agreed not to watch. Such are the rules of the bush.
Hope springs eternal and we continued to watch expectantly from our standing positions in the open roofed van. Keoko stopped and pointed to the right with the magic word "gerenuk" (pronounced gear-a-nuck). Two of these unlikely shaped antelopes, with necks that look stretched to three times normal length, were off to the right at zero five zero and almost out of good camera range. Keoko turned off the engine and we waited. Both animals began browsing their way toward the road. They were browsing on low bushes and did not perform their signature stance of standing on their hind legs and extending their necks to reach the uppermost leaves in a giraffe-like fashion. In spite of the distance between us and the gerenuks and their uninteresting, four legged browsing, many photos were snapped.
One of the gerenuks began to move to within 30 feet of the road and toward a slightly taller bush. I said, "He’s going to stand up and stretch."
"Three to one he doesn’t", challenged Pat.
"You’re on.", I replied, forgetting to set the amount of the bet.
Not ten seconds later, the gerenuk stood and stretched. He held the pose for many seconds and Kodak rejoiced. We had several more photographic encounters with elephants on the road back to the lodge and we arrived back late, but still within time for lunch.
Four o’clock game drive – our last in Africa
There was a bit of a surprise at our last gathering for a game drive at 4 PM. Charlotte, Jim and Cas had been sent on to Nairobi to catch an earlier flight. Political unrest had forced the cancellation of their Zanzibar extension and a flight from Nairobi today was the only one they were able to schedule. That left us with seven passengers for our remaining vehicle. We were crowded on the game drive. We anticipated additional difficulty when it came to trying to fit the luggage for seven people into a van that had difficulty fitting in the luggage of only five people. And now everyone had packed their extra bags with all their purchased artifacts. The four hour trip to Nairobi the next day was going to be interesting.. This was going to be next to impossible. No arrangements had been made to have the Nairobi bound vehicle return. As a Georgia cooperative extension agent once told a gathering of farmers in my home town, "Plan yo’ wourk an’ wourk yo’ plan. Yu cain’t no mo’ do whut yu doan no, then yu cain cum bak frum whar yu ain’t never ben." It wuz luk’n laik we wuzn’t gona cum bak.
The game drive was almost a waste as far as large animals were concerned. We saw and photographed some zebras close up and saw some exotic birds and took some closing photos of the sun setting behind cloud capped mountains. And our game drives in Africa were at an end.
Wednesday, February 21, 2001
Tsavo East to Nairobi
It is 2:20 AM on Feb. 21, 2001. I have turned 67 in Africa, but I am still 66 in Phoenix. My body is in Africa, but my mind and heart are in Phoenix. The schedule of game drives and overeating have kept my emotions in check, but the long confinement of a 24 hour plane ride will be difficult. And the plane ride is still 19 hours away. It is probably good that I am up. It is now 4 AM in Kenya and 2 PM on the 20th in Phoenix. My body has a big transition to make. At least going westbound with the sun makes the melanin readjustment in the pineal gland faster. Jet lag should not be too bad. And I am still well and healthy. I had no intestinal problems during the entire trip.
My bags are basically packed. I have a change of clothing in my carry-on along with my camera gear and my exposed film (the heart of my trip experience). Passport, airline ticket an departure tax money are all accessible. I am ready to leave Africa. Let’s get started – but wait, no one else is awake. In around 48 hours I will be back in Arizona. It is going to be a long, long day.
On the Lunatic Highway
After breakfast we met at the lobby and Marty and Bobbi offered the backseat of their van for some of the luggage from the passengers in our consolidated van (we now had seven passengers instead of five). All of the luggage was comfortably accommodated and we were underway
We left Tsavo East through the Voi gate and were soon out on the main highway between Mombassa and Nairobi. The railway, which parallels the highway, as I have mentioned, is known as the "Lunatic Railway". We soon learned that the same name must surely apply to the highway.
Keoko pushed the van upwards of 70 miles per hour. That wasn’t so bad on this good road, but we were sharing it with 26 wheel tractor-trailers (not our standard 18 wheel variety). Keoko deftly passed two and three of these vehicles at a time – frequently on blind curves and when approaching the crest of a hill. It was a terrifying experience that we finally accommodated by simply not watching. We were travelling in concert with Marty and Bobbi’s van and the two drivers were using hand signals between themselves to aid the trailing van in making a passing decision in this deadly game of chicken.
Then Keoko’s van began to have problems with the accelerator – it would stick in the full open throttle position. Keoko would have to shut off the engine and pull off to the side of the road to unstick the pedal. He pulled into a service station not far outside of Nairobi to assess the situation. A full open throttle would be a disaster in the city. The throttle pull cable was found to have frayed. The untwisted cable wires prevented the return of the throttle valve to a closed position. A new cable had to be found and the old cable replaced. There was no easy bailing wire and chewing gum fix. Even my Swiss Army Knife was not of much use. We were shuttled in the second van to the African Heritage Center where we could get lunch and do some shopping for artifacts while waiting for the van to be repaired.
The people who had had their luggage misdirected and delayed on arriving in Africa had still not received their financial compensation. The vouchers they had received could only be cashed at a specific bank. The bank had either been closed when it was convenient for us to make the exchange or, when it was found open, its voucher card readers were out of order. We now had to make a trip to the airport in Nairobi to get the voucher cashed. That trip was also unsuccessful and our 3 hour trip to Nairobi had turned into a seven hour marathon. We had not visited either the Giraffe Center or the Karen Blixen cottage (both of which I wished to see).
Instead of the continuing with the planned and scheduled sights, Paul Williams inveigled Doc Justin to take the group to an orphanage to which his daughter had made a large donation. Paul wanted to take a few photographs of the staff and the grounds and to see how the orphanage was operated. This was a very personal request on Paul’s part, and the rest of us tried to glean some interesting information from the visit and make it equivalent to the sites we were missing.
The orphanage takes in abandoned babies and nurses them back to health. The babies at about 18 months of age have a fairly high adoption rate. Of the 23 babies in the facility about one-half were HIV positive. One of the babies had been recovered from a pit latrine where it had been thrown wrapped in a sack. The baby had literally almost been eaten alive by insects. The pictures taken of the child just after it had been delivered to the orphanage were unbelievably horrible. There were now contrasting pictures of the same child as a healthy young boy. These and other before and after pictures were both amazing and gratifying. The orphanage has had many of the HIV positive (perhaps antibody response only) babies become HIV negative under their care with no residual signs of either the virus or the antibody. They also claimed to have achieved remission of HIV in some of the children who were earlier diagnosed with AIDS.
Rush Hour in Nairobi
It was near rush hour in Nairobi after the group finished visiting the orphanage. In spite of the traffic, we went downtown to buy some African instant coffee. What a scene. Nairobi is black Africa. There were no whites on the street. Keoko parked near an indoor market and Marty, Bobbi, David, Reiner, and Paul got out. The crowd did not look safe. Both Bobbi and David were sporting cameras hanging around their necks.
All the guide books had warned about the dangers associated with displaying desirable items on your person on the streets in Nairobi. This looked like an invitation to disaster to me. I stayed in the car with Pat and Diana Lynch. I will leave the detailed description of the scene inside the market building to David McLean and others. But briefly, I understand that the market consists of a large open area like a railroad station filled with poor Nairobians. The people pressure was intense and the little pod of highly visible, white people was surrounded and poked and groped by the populace that was begging and selling everything from fruit to sex. I was surprised to see the group return with cameras still hung around their necks.
Back on the street, our car was surrounded by people – children and adults – all either begging or selling. They rubbed at the windows and tried to open them. If they succeeded, they would implore us to give them money. One rather attractive black woman who looked like a mixture of black and Arab went from begging to offering sex. I was really ready to get out of Nairobi.
We finally crept out of the center of town in the midst of rush-hour traffic. Our route took us past one of the largest slums in the world. Across a ravine we could see and endless sea of metal roofed, one-story shacks jammed together for miles and miles. I don’t know how anyone ever found their way home. My desire was just to get to the airport and fly away. The Maasai living with lions was far superior to the depressing life style represented by these slums.
As a real contrast, the vans took us to the machine gun guarded, Nairobi National Park Restaurant. The group sat outside in lush surroundings. I ordered only a bowl of French Onion Soup. I felt that I had eaten enough in the last 15 days to last a lifetime. Those who did order complained about the poor quality of the food and the service. When it came time to pay, each person, except me, paid their bill with a credit card – big mistake. I paid cash and, because of the credit card payments, it took me almost 30 minutes to get a paltry two dollars in change. In trying to find out what had happened to my change I found out what was going on with the credit cards. There were nine people clustered around the cashier’s post trying to make the credit cards work. The phone would not dial. They were also swiping the credit cards with the strip on the wrong side and every other possible wrong technique. Our time for reaching the airport was getting short. We had long since written off visiting the Karen Blixen cottage and/or the Giraffe Center.
At the airport and homeward bound
We finally got to the airport and past the security checkpoint. I even got them to hand inspect my expose film. Inside, in the boarding lounge area, I noted the headlines on one of the newspapers for sale "Two large bombs destined for Nairobi Intercepted by police". I recalled the several long, south-bound convoys of white painted United Nation trucks, jeeps and armored vehicles that had slowed down our approach to Nairobi earlier in the day, and I wondered if there was a connection with the headline.
Finally, after the long flight from Nairobi, we arrived in London/Gatwick. We went through security and I asked to have my exposed film hand inspected. I had removed the film rolls from their canisters and placed them in a transparent, ziplock bag so they could easily be seen. The snotty English security guy said that they did not hand inspect film. I asked why not. He replied, "How many times do I have to tell you that we do not hand inspect film." I restrained myself from answering, "As many damn times as I ask you". You really need some rest between long flights.
Marty Abelson was behind me and he said that he put his film in lead-lined bags which blocked his film from exposure to x-rays. Now doesn’t that make a lot of sense. The English won’t hand inspect the film because they can’t tell what is in the completely visible, film roll containers, but they will accept the passage of film rolls in a lead lined bag where they can’t see the film rolls at all. Right! That makes a lot of sense. Bobbi was more helpful and said that she and Marty would pass their bags through the x-ray machine, remove their film rolls and throw their lead-lined bag back to me which she did. The English security guard was then happy as punch. He didn’t have to change the rules and he still could not tell what was in my film roll containers.
I was able to shower, change clothes and shave and I felt whole once again. It was nice to drink again from a public fountain and not to have to rely on bottled water. Fifteen hours to Phoenix. Just another long flight.