Friday, March 17, 2006

Observations at noon

I just took almost an hour to write this entry and guess what, "There were errors" when I went to post and lost the whole stinking thing. That's actually the first time that has happened to me on blogger, so I guess I should be thankful, but AAAAaaaarrrrggggggggg for now!

So I said that it would have been rude for me to snap a million pictures while driving thru Arusha and that it was like stepping into National Geographic, but I did not describe the visual treats I chose not to capture.

All women wore skirts or dresses. Not one woman had on pants (at the lodge, the women's uniforms included black dress pants). Mostly wrap skirts of every color and pattern known to man. Some wore business attire. One woman walking down the street wore a business dress suit and talked on her cell phone. She could have been placed in any downtown and visually fit in perfectly.

Men wore everything from traditional Massai clothes to jeans and t-shirts to starched and pressed white shirts and dress pants. School aged children wore their school uniforms. A common one consisted of yellow shirt, kelly green sweater and green skirt for girls or knee length pants for boys. Some children wore knee high striped socks.

There were people everywhere. People walking, riding bicycles, pulling carts, sitting at fruit stands, working in shops, riding or waiting for the bus, hanging out chatting. These carts are big heavy wooden things. I saw one man pulling a cart up hill loaded with two by fours. I wondered if this is his daily job or if he purchased the wood for some project. He used the tortoise method - slow and steady - one small step at a time. How long would it take him to get where he was going?

We've all seen pictures of women carrying baskets on their heads. Most of the "on the head transport" was HUGE bunches of bananas which required on hand to keep balanced. I also saw a couple of baskets perfectly balanced. One woman had a pile of folded and bundled socks piled high on her head. Maybe she was carrying them to a store or maybe you could buy them straight form her. A few men were carrying several pairs of tennis shoes for sale.

There was every type of business represented here. There were beautiful plant nurseries, cafes or bars, furniture shops, fruit stands and other road side vendors, lumber yards (we saw at least 6). I saw men welding in front of a shop, beautiful wood beds displayed, and men walking or watching their cows and goats graze the grass along the side of the road. All the animals were tied with a rope to a tree or post or lead along by the person like a slow dog on a leash.

Finally, I saw absolutely no display of affection. No parting peck on the cheek, no wave goodbye, no holding hands, no couples interacting. Maybe this is considered a business setting which would make affection inappropriate like our office settings. Or maybe affection is a luxury that we take for granted - maybe there isn't time for walking your husband or child to the bus stop. Most people did seem very busy. Thinking of a New York scene where everyone is rushing to their next destination... Not much affection there. Or is public affection not tolerated at all? And if not, does that really say anything about a society? Modesty is not a bad thing. Does it show a lack of love? I doubt it, at least I hope not. Having lived in our affectionate society where we generally view affection as mutual love and respect and a way to support and connect in a small way to our partners, I'm not sure I would feel as loved or as loving. No sending off your sweetheart into the world with a kiss to remind him that he is loved and that someone cares. No reaching out to touch his hand when you notice something touching. No discussing which bed to buy or which restaurant to visit. Hmmmm... Maybe this is a completely invalid observation all together. Maybe people make up for it at home. Maybe our public affections are superficial and don't mean anything anyway...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Birds and return to the lodge

After flying out of the Serngeti on a slightly larger plane than we flew in on (20 seater instead of a 12), we drove back to the lodge we started out at. The drive was incredible. We drove through busy Arusha. It was every bit as much like stepping into a National Geographic page as being on the Serengeti was. I wish I was an artist. There was so much to see, so many observations to be made, and unfortunately would have been incredibly rude for me to snap a million pictures.

Once back to the lodge, we had about 5 hours to eat lunch, rest, shower and repack for the big flight out of Africa. Somehow we managed to repack only using the bags we packed originally. We brought back a few souvenirs which I thought would have to be placed in an extra bag that I brought just for the occasion.

Birds in the Serengeti included Crowned Crane (finally!), Rosy Breasted Longclaw, and White Headed Vulture. Back at the lodge, I found a perfect male female pair of Baglafecht Weavers, Taveta Weaver, a Vitelline Maked Weaver showing off for a female, and a pair of Common Fiscal Shrikes.

We arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport with PLENTY of time to spare. This side of the airport was not leaky, but it stayed pretty warm inside. When we finally got to walk outside to board the plane, the outside air was cool and refreshing.

Leaving the Serengeti




All good things must come to an end. We were lucky enough to have a flight departure time of 10:45, so we didn't need to leave until 8AM. Before we left, we took pictures of our hosts and hugged each other and exchanged adresses so we could trade disks of our pictures. Koni on the far left was our room guy. He usually dressed in his traditional Massai clothing. In the center in a white shirt is Singo, one of our drivers and quite a performer. Last night we had a traditional African meal and the hosts sang songs. Singo seemed born for the stage! On Singo's right is Kashuma, our other driver/guide. Joseph is the next right, and Joe is the next. Joe was our waiter and greeted our jeeps like a mother hen every time we came back. He was incredibly kind and had a fantastic sense of humor. He said I taught him the term "yummy yummy".



On our way, we did some last chance critter and bird watching. We had not previously seen the crocodile. And this water buck was much closer than the one we had seen the first day. We were told that they secrete an oily and VERY stinky substance that makes them waterproof and also keep predators form wanting to eat them.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Feathered Friend Day










Today the others made plans to go on a balloon ride. They had to be in the cars by 4AM to make it to the balloon site on time. We slept in and left for a birding morning about 8AM. We found an area that was home to LOTS of Lovebirds. Some of the pictures above are from other days, but this is bird day, so here they are.

Today's birds include Bateleur, Drongo, Lillian's Lovebird, Auger Buzzard, Scarlet Chested Sunbird, Crested Eagle, Red Chested Cuckoo, Little grey Woodpecker, PEARL SPOTTED OWLET, European Roller, and Eurasian Curlew.

The night before, Joseph said something about possibly finding the owlet. We paused to look at something else when he flew right into my view. Joseph was obviously surprised to have found him so easily.


Dan and I also got to see the tiny Dikdiks pictures here. They were the shyest animal we saw the whole time.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dose of Birds

White Browed Courcal, Rufus Sparrow, Red Wing Lark, Black Crake, Gray Backed Camaroptera, Broad Billed Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, and African Grey Flycatcher.

Elephants and a Leopard

We went in search of a leopard today. And like birding, where there are many cars stopped, there is something to see. We were not very close, but through the binocualrs you could see him there in the tree.


On the way out of the area we stopped to help some Swedish travelers out of a ditch. While Joseph and Kashuma worked on that project, we could see elephants just up the road. By the time we were done with the rescue opporation, the elephants had made it to the road for our up close viewing pleasure. Mom & Baby.... And the above picture was actually a mildly annoyed elephant (I say mildly because he didn't approach or make any noise, he just fluffed up his ears and gave us "the look"), but his displayed gave us a great shot.


We also got a good look at some hippos, which lead to the other jeep getting stuck in the mud.

We stopped to eat a snack at a lodge near the air strip. There were Banded Mongoose and Hyrax all over the place. You have to admit that the Hyrax is awfully cute.

Friday, March 10, 2006

More Birds

Palm-nut & Lappet Faced Vultures, Secretary Bird (which to be more politically correct, we should call the Administrative Assistant Bird), Rufus Tailed & Lesser Masked Weavers, Cape Rook, Capped Wheatear, Yellow Throated Sandgrouse (a group lannded near the lounging cheetah in the rocks and I asked if the cats ever went for birds here.... the answer: No. These cats don't know what they're missing), Red Capped Lark, Beautiful Sunbird, and Spotted Thick Knee.

More than Cheetahs



Other animals today included a group of 8 Hyenas, an Eland (the largest of the antelope family), and of course our daily dose of Wildebeest and Zebra and the usual agama lizards sunning themselves on rocks.

On the afternoon drive we saw an Albino Wildebeest which was too far for my camera, but Stan's camera has some serious zoom. And we also saw a Banded Mongoose hold his ground against three Jackals. A jackal would approach the mongoose until the mongoose would turn around and hiss him back. Then the jackal would lie down pretending not to care until the mongoose went ahead. The game continued for quite some time until the mongoose finally trotted over to a "resting" jackal and nipped him on the tail.

MeeeOOOOOwwwwww

It's Cheetah day! There is a restricted area that a group of cheetahs live. You must obtain a special permit for the area. Our two jeeps and another jeep with a German cheetah researcher were the only cars we encountered today. Cheetahs are usually solitary unless they are young and still under Mom's guidance. These, we learned at our evening dinner briefing, were young siblings. Mom was in another area and we did see her on the prowl in the distance and then again lounging in some rocks. We got to climb up some rocks and take in a great view. Up on the rock were some rocks with dents beaten into them. We learned that the Massai people used to make music by hitting these rocks. The sound that was made was very metalic, like a huge iron bell. That's Joseph and Becky practicing. And then myself, Joseph and Dan taking in the scenery.

Lion Passing

This afternoon the girls' jeep was driving down the road and saw that the guys' jeep had stopped ahead. This is normal... we stop to look out into the fields at something all the time. As we got closer, we saw that it wasn't something in the field, it was something walking down the road coming our direction. A large female lion walked passed the car, picking up just a little speed as she walked directly next to the Jeeps.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Few Birds

Todays new birds are Grey Capped Social Weaver, Black Chested Snake Eagle, Egyptian Geese, and Rufus Naped Lark.

Elephants

Dan's most wanted critter is the elephant. And today we saw them. So why no picture today? Because these guys were pretty far off, but in a couple days, we get up close and personal for some GREAT shots! They were beautiful. We could watch one of the elephants fill her trunk with water and spray it all over her.

We saw a troop of Babboons. From the big male show off to the baby clinging to Mom's back. And a hyena lounging in a hole next to a termite mound.

We were sent back to camp in a hurry because it started raining. All of the roads are dirt roads, some more road-like than others. The roads got pretty sloshy almost instantly. Even with caution, our jeep spun on the main road. Our driver handled the 90 degree slide across the road very well - he kept us out of the side ditches which would have been disaster and got us safely to camp.

Camp life

Dinner was server each night at a long table in the dining tent. This picture is actually the last night when we had traditional African food under the moon and stars.



These are the camp giraffes. If you couldn't see them from the dining tent, then they were over by the road that enters and exits our camp area. We saw them at least once each day - usually both morning and evening.


Sunset at camp. Yes, Dan survived a week in a tent. The Coke in the next picture is the key to his survival. One or two each morning... and another Coke anytime he wanted it.

This is Joseph getting aquainted with Cindy's Ipod. He enjoyed watching episodes of "Lost" in his tent or by the campfire each night.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Daily Birds

Northern White Crowned Shrike, Abmin's Stork, Fischer's Sparrow Lark, Earasian Swift, Wattled Starling, Gull Billed Tern (hunting bugs over the plains - none were over the lakes as there are no fish), Montagu Harrier, Ruppell's & African Vultures, Grey Breasted Spurfowl, Little Ring-neck Plover, Greater Flamingo, Tawny & Steppe Eagles, Laughing Dove, Red fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Kestrel, White Belly Busterd, Blacksmith's & Three Banded Plovers, and Lilac Breasted Roller. Please excuse misspellings... I am going from my sloppy notes - it would take too much time for me to double check spellings in my bird book.... maybe later.

Sensory Overload


Today's drive took us around a lake where we saw flamingos, wildebeests walking across the lake, 8 giraffes gallopping across the beach and an assortment of shore birds.


In another area, we got to get out of the jeeps and stretch our legs and look at the dung beetles hard at work rolling poop balls across the dry field. They lay their eggs in the ball and bury it so the eggs have something to eat when they hatch. yum.

We got back into the jeeps and drove around the next bushes which we could see from where we had previously been on foot to find some lazy fat lions. This, we learned, was why we are not allowed to wander off by ourselves under any circumstance - you never know what's behind the next bush. The dominant cat didn't want us to be so close so she would walk away anytime the jeeps moved closer, but the other two just watched our jeeps and showed off their abundant bellies. These cats were less than 10 feet from the jeeps. As we drove back out of the brush, we saw their kill under another bush. I won't post the picture here, but we did get a good look and a good picture of the large wildebeest lunch.

On the way back to camp, we saw many of the same animals as yesterday and got a good look at some jackals, both silver-backed and golden. Pictured is the Silver-Backed Jackal. Isn't he cute? Other animals of the day included agama lizards, a tortoise and a hare.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Birds

Little Swift, Mosque & Wire-tailed Swallows, Superb & Hildebrandt's Starlings, Black Headed Crane, Red Billed Oxpecker, BruBru, Common Sandpiper, White Headed & Red Billed Buffalo Weavers, Secretary Bird, Cattle Egret, Ring Necked Dove, Two Banded Courser, Massai/Common Ostrich, Red Billed Duck, Pied Avocet, Black Belly & Kori Bustards, Black Shouldered Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Harrier, and Crowned Lapwing.

First Sitings




With no stops, the journey to camp would take about two hours. With excited tourists stopping every other minute for another animal, it took about 4 hours. We saw Topis, Grant's (pictured above) and Thompson's Gazelles, Warthogs (above), Wildebeest & Zebra (which we have about 5 million pictures), Massai Giraffes complete with attached Red Billed Oxpeckers to clean the bugs from their necks, a WaterBuck, Impalas, Hippos, Banded Mongoose (a great spot by Becky), Lions and Hyenas!!!! I didn't expect to see this many animals the whole time we were in Africa, much less in the first 4 hours. whew!

We made it to camp and met our hosts. We washed up and set our things in the tents and came to lunch. Lasagna. Hmmmm. It was VERY good, but not the "lasagna" we know. I scarfed down two huge pieces along with a wonderful salad and a bowl of fruit for dessert. Joseph granted us nap time, but promised more animals if we road out at 4.

To the Serengeti

5:25AM rise and shine. Well, rise.... I've been awake since about 2 AM. I am so excited to see what the day brings. We are supposed to leave for the Arusha airport at 6:30. Our plane leaves at 8 and it will take an hour to get there. Joseph arrived about 6:30 to find that Charlotte and the kids didn't get a wake up call and were still asleep! We didn't get one either, but we didn't count on one. After a bit of rush rush and breakfast scarfing, we raced to the airport - smaller than Kilimanjaro International. Little Swifts and Mosque Swallows were flying around seperated by the building and I quickly jotted them down in my bird log as we were hurried through the minor security check.

Our pilot was an Itallian who had been living in Tanzania for about 3 years. Dan enjoyed using the little of what's left of his Itallian vocabulary with the pilot. I got the co-pilot seat on this 12 seat plane.


The view was incredible. We flew over mountains and plowed fields and circular thatch roofed homes and the famous Ngoragora Crater. We had to make a pre-landing fly by to scatter any animals that may be on the airstrip. There were some large birds that I was glad we shooed away. A perfect landing brought is to a landing area with a small coffee shop and bathrooms - no actual airport - the pilots have lists of their passengers and gather those people when it's time.

While gathering our bags and getting settled in our safari jeep, I picked up a few more birds: Superb Starling, Black Headed Crane, Wire Tailed Swallow.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Birds

Common Bulbul, African Pied Wagtail, Northern Masked & Grosbeak Weavers, Maribou & Yellow billed Storks, Hamerkop, Vulturine & Helmeted Guineafowl, Speckled Mousebird, Habana Ibis, Collared Sunbird.... and a couple other yellow birds which I never figured out. Al, you don't have a wagtail? That's too bad; they're so cute. :-)

Usa River

We had all planned to meet up at 10AM for a little shopping and to visit the village down the street to which our guide, Joseph, was the chairman (mayor). We decided to start with shopping. Joseph's daughter organizes a women's co-op store which had everything from traditional Massai bead work to sculptures to dyed cloth to carved spoons. I got some very cool beaded sandals and a most amazingly cool beaded cloth that the woman said could be a skirt, but I don't want to ruin it or risk loosing beads in the washing process, so it may be a wall hanging.

At lunch, we met Millicent and her granddaughter, Becky, the final 2 of our group. The eight of us shared a table and ate a wonderful meal at the lodge. Millicent lives in Washington, DC and has been on many trips with Natural Habitat. Becky lives in the San Francisco area and has been to Africa once before.


After lunch, Joseph took us to Usa River. He uses his job as a wildlife guide in a very positive way for his village and his country. He told us about the goals of his community and the country and about the accomplishments they had accheived so far. The school we visited was a new school for children who accel beyond others. This is the third year of the school and each year they build a new classroom. This year K-2, next year K-3... each year building for the eldest group to graduate to the next grade. The nation has a goal for everyone to be literate. In schools, children learn Swahili and English. They may come to school knowing a language from their parents and community or tribe.


We learned our first Swahili: "Jambo" (How are ya?), and "Poa" (cool). The locals helped us practice. Many of the houses were made of wood with mud just like early American settlers. Shops were different - plastered and painted with tin roofs. The newest construction is with orange brick that they make locally. And what did the children like? Our cameras! They wanted to be in the next picture so they could see themselves. It's too bad we couldn't print pictures on the spot.

Arumeru River Lodge

When we arrived at the lodge, we were greeted with glasses of mango juice. Yum! After dropping off our stuff in room 7, we returned to the main buillding for a beer. Dan had a Kilimanjaro beer and I had a Castle stout. We sat outside and enjoyed the cool breeze. Soon, Charlotte and Cindy joined us, and not far behind them, Gary and Stan made it. The lodge was on a generator, but needed to be turned off about 11. So with flashlights and new friends, we all sat around and continued drinking our beers on the covered patio in the rain.


Dan and I woke at 5:30AM to the power coming back on with about half the lights in our room still on. We both tried to sleep a little longer, but there was too much excitement. The birds were singing songs I'd never heard. Who would I see first?! I got up to bird until breakfast at 7AM.... The first African bird? A Common Bulbul. After breakfast, a walk down the dirt road leading out of the lodge led us through some coffee and banana trees. Very tropical. So is anyone surprised to find out that I was bitten by the largest mosquito type bug I've ever seen in my life, and the little #*&@ wouldn't die even when I swatted him straight on? And don't think we didn't wear half a bottle of deet. The walk was worth it - I found a Collared Sunbird (Africa's version of a hummingbird).