September 14, 2014

Day 43 (in the Serengeti)

I never really thought I'd be in the Serengeti until about 10 minutes into our first game drive.


After lunch at the Ngorogoro Crater, we drove through the Tanzanian countryside to the Serengeti, stopping just inside the entrance to climb up to a viewpoint and gaze out over the vast plains while toasting with a cold beer.

Plains from the Serengeti viewpoint

Even having booked the trip and paid for it months ago, it didn't register until the late afternoon sun and fading buzz, at which point I thought, "This is the SERENGETI."  A place so vast, an idea so iconic.  The stuff of "one of these days" aspirations and the Nature channel.

Which actually turned out to be a bit of a dud for the first few hours.  Lots of driving through plains of dry grass, a couple of birds, an ostrich, some large boulders... decidedly not the stuff of the Nature channel.

Tree.

Bird.

That is, until we came across a cheetah with her two cubs, crossing the road in front of us.

Camouflaged in the grasses...

Claiming the right of way.

Cheetah mom.

One cub lazy, curled up on the warm dirt of the road, identifying it as a prime spot for snoozing.  The other, more curious, decided to first inspect and then attack our truck.  Our left front tire, in particular, was the bit to which he took the most offense.

Who, me?

Hisssss!

I bite your tire now!

It was an exhilarating (proverbial) eleventh hour.  A baby cheetah cub attacking our tire!  In the Serengeti!!

We lingered too long and had to lead foot the gas in order to make it to our campsite before dark (night game drives are prohibited in the park).

Quintessential Serengeti sunset picture.

Goodnight, Sun.

And we camped that night inside the Serengeti itself.  Enjoying some red wine packed-in from the last convenience stop and falling asleep to the sounds of jackals and hyenas.

August 9, 2014

Day 42 (the Ngorogoro Crater)

The final few days on our epic-ish journey, the bits between Arusha and Nairobi, were spent off the grid in the Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti.  My hand-written journal is blank for those days, only giving a summation from the final campsite in Kenya.  Now, a year later, I'm looking back through these photos I have, amazed.  

The animals were so close.  Even with my silly little point-and-shoot camera, some photos only capture animal bits (a head, some hooves), not because of artistry, but because that's all that could fit in my viewfinder due to proximity.  And it's not necessarily an ethical issue of the habituation of wild animals to safari vehicles; even the baby cheetahs we saw in the Serengeti who had clearly never seen a safari van before came up to investigate.  Other animals just disregard you completely until you get in their way.  It's the feeling of being a shadow.  An almost-there entity.  But the feeling of being the coolest shadow in the world.  A hyena shadow!  A wildebeest shadow! A lion shadow!

The crater was rife with Thompsons gazelles, zebras, and wildebeest.  Flamingos dotted the lake in the center, and we saw a cerval tail swishing in circles as he walked through the tallest grasses.  Lions, hyenas, and wild dogs all crossed our path.  Zebras rolling in the dirt and lining up in an orderly fashion in order to take turns scratching their heads on one particular rock.  

Heading down into the Ngorogoro Crater, shortly after dawn

View of the crater and lake

Flamingos dotting the lake, zebras grazing the plains, against crater backdrop

Zebra feeding headshot

Taking dirt baths, two by two

An orderly line for headscratches

Ohhhhh those headscratches!

Whatcha lookin at, Wildebeest?

Traffic jam...

Wild dog, chillin'.  Ain't no thing.

Lion Xing

Heh heh hehyena

July 11, 2014

Days 40-41 (over rough roads)

The last few days have been transit days.  A shuttle to a ferry to a bus to a ferry to a bus in order to leave Zanzibar. 

Leaving Zanzibar

We spent a night at the same beachside camp in Dar with little stinging jellyfish bits interrupting the afternoon swim, and then embarked before dawn on a very long drive over rough roads to Arusha

Driving through the heart of town in early-morning traffic, I tried to imagine (or remember) how it would feel to see an East African city like Dar or Nairobi through fresh eyes.  People everywhere, walking miles on dusty roads to work.  Green folliage, grey and brown streets.  Cars and matatus rushing by in apparent traffic chaos.  Someone always selling something- produce, children's toys, umbrellas, maps, puppies.  

On the road from Dar es Salaam to Arusha:





Road traffic accidents contribute a real and depressing % to mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

At one point along the drive, you could look up and see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro floating, disembodied, in the clouds.  

Kili, modestly

In Arusha we camped at a site aptly named "Snake Park," which housed all manner of local reptiles.  I was offered the chance to hold a baby crocodile, but wimped out and let the handler keep his own hands over the mouth.  

4 year old crocodile

Of course, I was later justified when someone else held the crocodile too loosely and he snapped his jaws in some massive chomps.  Apparently a baby croc bite doesn't feel much different than a bee sting, but I don't like the idea of bee stings from each of the seeming 100,000 baby croc teeth.  

June 26, 2014

Day 38 (my favorite ocean)

The final days in Zanzibar were lazy days.  These days in my journal don't even attempt full sentences:

Lying on the sunny beach in Nungwi, Zanzibar.  Like Diani, sand so fine that it almost feels like dirt.  Or silk.  More reminders that I'm on familiar terrain, close to Kenya, close to home.

The encroaching tide

Days were spent sitting by the ocean with beers, and nights the same.  Perhaps some reading, perhaps a swim.  Some fine dinners and local dancing.  A snorkel if you're ambitious.  It was a time to recharge, to exhale.  To be off the bus.  A time to enjoy the natural beauty of my favorite ocean, the Indian.

Beautiful shore

Fancy restaurant bar

Fishing nets drying in the sun

Boats, Boats, Boats!

Tide and pebble patters

By night, the same
(Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya)

One morning, overcast and breezy, I waked along the shore collecting shells.  White and brown and purple, some whole others broken bits.  It's the only time I can remember ever doing that, slighty guilted by the echo of old aphorisms, "take only memories; leave only footprints."  Writing this a year later, they still live in a ziplock baggie in the drawer by my bed, awaiting a next move.

A blustery wander

Hello, old friends

Napping on my kanga-turned-towel I tried to let them dry, but high tide crept up and submerged us all, journal included.  So I brought home not only the shells, but some Indian Ocean salt on this paper.

June 24, 2014

Day 36 (some places familiar)

Sitting by the water in Stone Town, Zanzibar, not far from where I sat in 2011 when some local kids were utterly scandalized by my being unmarried at 27.  Am now unmarried at nearly 29, and I wonder where they are.



This morning was the bus from our campsite to downtown Dar, and then the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar.  This group is trying my patience.  People have begun to crack open under the time and stress of travel and togetherness.  No one appreciates the crush of the local crowd onto the ferry.  They liken it unfavorably to the wildebeest migration across the Mara river.  One eagerly anticipates the end of his trip and a return to "normalcy." This perhaps is the problem with overlanding.  There is a start to finish trajectory, with completion as the goal.  And no one realizes that it's better to enter the ferry swept along by the push of the crowd than to be crushed in resistance.  

I spent the afternoon (post-delicious coconut fish curry) walking the alleyways of Stone Town, Some places familiar, others foreign.  I remembered wandering these alleys, off the beaten tourist path, the last time I was here, but today felt more intimate in a somewhat uncomfortable way.  The twisty backroads of Stone Town are roughly divided into 4 different areas: the waterfront, the tourist shops, the local shops selling fabric and appliances, and the local houses.  Today I found myself among people's homes.  Seeing mothers cooking, laundry hanging, doors ajar, I felt as though I'd inadvertently invaded someone's privacy, and was oft abashed to take photos.  





I returned to the waterfront in the evening, to the magnetic pull of dusk swims in tropical settings, and watched young men perform acrobatic jumps from the wall into the water.  




Look for the jumper!

Grills were set for the seafood market, music was drifting, skewers were cooking.  Dusky lights.  I sat in the spot where I'd seen the streetlamps lit by sunset two years earlier, but I didn't try to replicate the illusion, lest it not be as good as the memories.  




By night, there were group drinks at a swanky rooftop bar, and then there were just the few, whittling away the hours and the beers, sitting outside on the cool sand throughout the forgotten hours of night, talking beneath stars about things almost said.