A Travellerspoint blog

Tanzania Day 7 Part 1: Skies Over the Serengeti

Our Monday began very, very early. We were awakened at 4:30a to get ready for our hot air balloon flight. Just after waking, we heard lions roaring near our tent. I looked out the back window of the tent but couldn't see anything clearly. I thought I saw a shadow pass by but am not certain. Sounds of impala snorting (alarm calls) were coming from the front of our tent. It is incredible to be able to hear these sounds in the darkness. About that time, one of the camp staff came to our tent to walk us to our ride. The balloon company driver had arrived to pick us up. We had a few more stops to make at other camps/lodges to pick up others and then were on our way to the launch site. A few miles before the site, a pride of lions crossed the dark road right in front of us. We wouldn't have seen them at all if not for our headlights on the road.

We arrived at the launch site where they were busy readying the balloons for flight. There were three flying today. Each balloon basket was divided into five compartments--one in the middle for the pilot and four surrounding compartments that held three passengers each. We were instructed to put on harnesses that we would hook into the balloon basket.

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Brenda had been ballooning several times before but this was my first time and I was a little nervous. She said I was breathing heavily! The basket was turned on its side and we each had to climb in and hook up our harness. Brenda and I shared our compartment with a pilot-in-training from England. Our other balloon passengers were a couple of gay French guys, some guy traveling by himself, and a family from Canada. We took off around 6:45a, just as the sun was coming up.

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We passed over the top of a tree where some olive baboons were hanging out.
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Once we were in the air, I relaxed and was no longer nervous.
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Most of the animals we saw were scared of the balloon, unfortunately, and would take off running when they heard it or saw it.
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At one point, we got fairly low over a burned area of the Serengeti. We saw a gazelle frantically running for its life, making a horrendous snorting noise. We thought it was just scared to death of the balloon but then realized it was being chased by both a hyena and a jackal. Our balloon interrupted the hunt and the gazelle got away.

After that, we went a little higher.
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The shadow of our balloon.
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A herd of cape buffalo.
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A small herd of zebra.
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We landed a little over an hour later - HARD! It was not an easy set down. We landed on our side, just as we had started, except there were some unseen rocks at the landing site and it was a rough, bouncy landing. Luckily, Brenda and I were on the top side and not the side that was dragging across the ground. I don't know how those people didn't get injured.
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After we landed, we had a champagne toast to a safe balloon trip. Our pilot related the story of champagne toasts after a successful balloon flight.
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The toasts date back to 18th century France. Balloonists carried champagne to share with the farmers whose fields they would land in to convince them they were actually human and not some kind of alien or demon falling from the sky.
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The snooty French gay guys (who were wearing matching scarves) refused to partake in the champagne because it was not good enough quality for them. They also spent most of the day making fun of everyone and everything in French and stinking up the place with their cologne. We felt sorry for their safari guide.

Our balloon pilot had been a pilot for 17 years and he was the first Tanzanian-born balloon pilot. He received his training in Northern California and came to work for this balloon company on the condition that they hire and train a certain percentage of Tanzanian balloon pilots. His tie had little cheetahs all over it!
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After our toast, we were driven to another location in the Serengeti for a full English breakfast (and more champagne). We sat next to the family from Canada. They were a widowed father with his two grown children (older teens or younger twenties) and his deceased wife's sister. The father and mother had previously been to Tanzania and done the balloon flight. This was her favorite place in the Serengeti (although I'm sure the breakfast site changes from time to time). The father and mother had planned to travel back to Tanzania to renew their wedding vows but before that could happen she died of cancer. The family was taking this trip to honor her memory and show her children her favorite place. But the kids were acting like spoiled brats. There were a few bees buzzing around because of the orange juice, champagne, etc. They were freaking out and causing a major scene about it. One went so far as to skip breakfast and sit in the truck.

Despite all of that, the breakfast set up was lovely. The full English breakfast consisted of eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, and mushrooms.
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The three small buildings in the background are what is called "loo with a view." When you walk around the backside, there is a toilet and there is no door. As you sit on the toilet, you have an unimpeded view of the Serengeti. Since I'm from the country, I've done my share of going to the bathroom outside but the loo with a view was a new one for even me.
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Hand washing station.
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After breakfast, around 10:30a, we were driven to the Serengeti Welcome Center to meet up with Maningo and begin our day of safari.

Posted by deniseandmike 21:57 Archived in Tanzania Tagged balloon tanzania serengeti brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 6: Hip Hip Hippo-ray!

The next morning we met Maningo in the dining tent for breakfast around 6:30a. Breakfast at Serengeti Wilderness Camp was usually the same each morning. There was a table of fruits and cereals set out and hot items such as eggs and bacon were cooked to order. They also had some very good homemade peanut butter that I put on toast each day.

It was our plan today to find the migration. Millions of wildebeest, accompanied by large numbers of zebra, follow a circuitous route through the Serengeti each year. The pattern is fairly predictable so depending on the time of year, the guides and trip operators can somewhat predict where the herds will be. In June, they usually congregate somewhere along the western corridor of the Serengeti before crossing the Grumeti River. Since we were in the Central Serengeti, we headed west to see if we could catch up to them.

On the way, we saw a sacred ibis and some giraffe and topi.
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We startled a bachelor herd of impala crossing the road. There was one female amongst the herd. Maningo referred to her as a "lucky girl." Brenda and I looked at each other, laughing, and said we sure didn't think so.
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Finally, we came upon the migration. In this area, the wildebeest break up into smaller herds before heading north.
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Some of the wildebeest milling around were limping. This was very sad to see because we knew the fate that awaited them. They would not last long.

This group of wildies and zebras were drinking and seemed expecially nervous and skittish.
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We didn't think much of it. All of the zebras we had seen so far had been skittish. But then suddenly, from nowhere, a single hyena came running into the herd. Everyone scattered. I immediately thought of the limping wildebeest that we had just seen. But the hyena wasn't interested in food apparently. It ran through the herd and continued on its way.
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On down the road a warthog family was having a late breakfast. This was the first time the warthogs hadn't bolted the second we stopped the truck. They are so cute when they run as their tails stick straight up in the air but that doesn't make for very good photos. I was glad they stayed put.
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Some olive baboons were wandering around with elephants in the background.
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We came upon a much larger herd of wildebeest, walking in long lines. Every once in a while, something unidentifiable would spook them and they would start running and jumping. We decided this was how so many of them got injured. They didn't appear to be the smartest animals, poor things.
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We watched the wildies for a while then drove to a small pool of water to look for hippos and crocs. A marabou stork was sitting on the banks surrounded by several yellow-billed storks.
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A small group of hippos were sunning on the bank as well. The dominant male was clearly visible (the one with poop on his butt) and there were a couple of babies there, too.
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By now it was almost noon and we were getting hungry so we drove over to the Grumeti airstrip to eat our lunchboxes. The day's lunch was pretty good and consisted mainly of a beef pattie and a fried vegetable pattie. We had to fend off a few birds to make sure we got our fill.

After lunch, Maningo took us to a swinging bridge used by one of the camps when the roads sometimes flood. Usually there are crocs in the water under the bridge but today none could be found.
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We made our way to a larger hippo pool where there were lots of hippos and several crocs hanging around.
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We stayed at the hippo pool for quite a while, listening to the grunts and splashes. On our way back to camp, we came across some lions lying in very tall grass. They were hard to photo and in my inexperience, I allowed the camera to auto focus on the grass instead of the lions so the photos I did get are not good. But the gist is clear.
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We made it back to camp around 6p and were welcomed by Claudio and the staff. They immediately got some hot water ready for our showers so we could be refreshed before dinner. At this camp, you are allowed one bucket of water per shower which is warmed over a campfire by the staff then poured into the bucket behind your tent. To make it last, you must turn the water on and off throughout the shower when you're not using it (i.e.., during the lather and shampoo phases of the shower). It sounds unpleasant but actually, these were the best showers we had during the whole safari. They were always warm and a bucket of water lasted the whole shower.

Dinner was vegetable soup, beef lasagna, potatoes, vegetables, and salad. My notes do not include what was for dessert although I'm sure there was one. We washed it down again with a bottle of red South African wine. After dinner, we sat around the campfire with some of the staff, Maningo, and another guide named George who had quite the personality. George was guiding a couple from Colorado but they didn't join in the after dinner activities (and seemed a bit stuffy and unfriendly). When the wine was gone, we called it a night.

Posted by deniseandmike 20:34 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania serengeti brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 5 Part 2: Let's Rock and Roll

A little over an hour later, we arrived at the gate to the Serengeti National Park.
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We were met at the gate by two Maasai boys, wearing all black, with white painted faces. Their clothes and face paint meant they were newly circumcised. They must dress like this during the healing process. It seems they hang out at the gate so that tourists can pay them to take pictures of them. I have a personal policy that I refuse to pay people for pictures so I was not interested and wouldn't take their picture. Brenda, however, wanted to give them something anyway so she gave them the leftover fruits from our lunchboxes.

Just inside the gate, we were welcomed by a curious giraffe.
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We stopped at the welcome center so that Maningo could pay our entrance fees and get us registered. I don't really know what all is involved in this process but in every park we entered, this process seemed to take forever. It was especially long in the Serengeti. Brenda and I had time to walk up to the gift shop where I purchased some additional phone minutes and she purchased some souvenirs including a leopard bookmark, hippo magnet, various postcards of cheetahs and lions, and a beaded Tanzanian flag bracelet just like the one Maningo wore.
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After that, we walked up to the overlook so that we could have an unimpeded view of the Serengeti before us.

Serengeti means "endless plains" in the Maasai language
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This is the road we drove into the Serengeti
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Finally, our paperwork was in order and when Maningo returned to the truck he said, "Let's rock and roll." This is always what he said when he was ready to go. He had a funny way of rolling his r's but not in the Spanish way. So we set off into the Serengeti. Along this stretch, we were constantly having to dodge the suicidal Thomson's gazelles who would suddenly leap in front of the vehicle with no notice whatsoever.

A couple of shy female reedbucks were grazing on the side of the road
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A secretary bird was stomping some prey further down
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We saw a car stopped up ahead on the right and we pulled in behind it to see what they might be looking at. A lone lioness was drinking from a large puddle of water by the side of the road. It was so quiet that we could actually hear her tongue lapping at the water.
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She got up and walked around some, checking out the surroundings.
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She took one more drink then sauntered off into the grass.

Shortly afterwards, someone contacted Maningo on the radio and they had a conversation in Swahili. This was a pretty common occurrence and we had no idea what had transpired. Maningo was being very secretive. Brenda pressed him for additional information so Maningo took the leopard bookmark she had just purchased and placed it across his forehead. We knew then...leopards had been spotted.

A mom in a tree
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And her cub climbing up
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We watched for a while until both leopards came down the tree and wandered over to a nearby dead tree on the ground.
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Mom climbed to the top limb where she was most likely surveying the land to plan for dinner.
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Pretty high from our lion and leopard sightings, we headed towards camp for the evening. On the way, we passed an area with some tall grass. Maningo suddenly stopped and yelled "Lions!" Brenda and I were looking around and looking around and we didn't see them. Maningo motioned that they were on the right. So we looked again and sure enough, we could see black ears sticking up out of the grass. There was a pride of lions lying in the grass just off the road to the right. One lioness stood up to take a look at us.

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A little while later we finally made it to Serengeti Wilderness Camp. We were greeted by Claudio, the manager, who showed us to our tent for the next four nights and gave us a quick orientation before dinner. The Serengeti Wilderness Camp is a seasonal camp that moves within the park every three to six months. By moving, it can follow the migration and have less of an impact on the environment.

Our tent, powered all by solar panels, bucket shower is in the back
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Inside our tent
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View from our tent of the bar tent (left) and dining tent (right)
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Inside the bar tent
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Inside the dining tent. At this camp, each group and their guide dines at a separate table. It was great to have Maningo join us for meals.
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After the tour and a wonderfully warm shower, we joined Maningo in the dining tent for dinner (served every night at 7:30p sharp). Dinner was always a three course affair at this camp--soup, main course, and dessert. Our first night began with celery soup. Now this chef knew how to make soup; it was creamy and tasty like soup should be. The main course was lamb with vegetables and dessert was a vanilla mousse. We washed it all down with a bottle of red South African wine. It had been a very long day so right after dinner, Brenda and I went straight to bed.

Posted by deniseandmike 20:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania serengeti brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 5 Part 1: Cruisin' in the Crater

Morning came and it was very cold and very windy. We were up early for breakfast because Maningo was picking us up at 6:30 so we could get down into the crater before it got too crowded with other vehicles. Plus, we had a long drive to our camp in the Serengeti afterwards. The Sopa Lodge had a large breakfast buffet set up with everything imaginable including my favorite, the omelet station. What it did not have, however, is the most important breakfast treat of all - my Coke. Apparently the Coke was all in the bar and the barman was not on duty at 6:00 in the morning. Not good! Maningo arrived right on time as usual. The poor guy was so cold that he had two blankets wrapped around him when he picked us up.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera that was formed two to three million years ago. It's about 2,000 feet deep and covers around 100 square miles. It sits at 5,900 feet above sea level (thus the reason it is much colder here). The Sopa Lodge where we spent the night sits on the rim of the crater and is conveniently located by the descent road into the crater.

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Right away there were three black-backed jackals on the side of the road. Two of them scattered immediately but one stuck around, continuing to chew on a small snake of some kind.

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As we descended, the scenery inside the crater was simply beautiful.

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A hyena family was squabbling over a wildebeest skull.

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Some cape buffalo and zebra were also hanging around nearby.

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A couple of vultures were roosting up high
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A Kori bustard, the heaviest bird capable of flight
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We drove to the top of a large hill to get a nice view and check the lay of the land.

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Specifically, we were looking for rhino as this would be the only chance we would have of seeing rhino in Tanzania. There are very few left in the crater and the few that are there make a rare appearance. They did not appear for us. Instead, we saw some Grant's gazelles, hartebeest, flamingoes, and cape buffalo.

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A flock of grey-crowned cranes flew overhead.
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They landed next to a golden jackal who was finishing off his flamingo lunch.
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Nearby, a couple of grey-crowned cranes and a chick were pecking around some kind of animal dung.
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We watched a long line of wildebeest and zebra walking along the lakeshore.
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A lone elephant bull came wandering through.
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We drove on and found some lions lazing around on a slight hill overlooking some hippos and zebra in the distance.
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By now it was around noon and about time to head out of the crater. On the way out, some olive baboons were crossing the hillside.
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After we ascended, Maningo stopped so I could take a picture from the crater rim.
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Just outside of the gate we stopped and ate our lunchboxes in the truck. The Sopa Lodge lunchbox was pretty good--a beef pattie sandwich, Lay's Thai Chili chips, apple, banana, and juice box. We then drove through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where a lot of Maasai tribesmen still live. This is also the area where a lot of trip operators take tourists to visit Maasai villages.

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A typical Maasai village
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Maasai herding their cattle and donkeys
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From here, we drove to the Serengeti National Park.

Posted by deniseandmike 20:37 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania ngorongoro brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 4: Monkey Business

We slept in a little bit today and had breakfast at the lodge. It was a slight improvement over lunch and dinner since there was an omelet station (yay!). Brenda tried a local dish called African millet which is some type of grain. It was brown and soupy and kind of oily. I couldn't bring myself to try it so early in the morning.

Our plan for the day was to leave Tarangire and head towards Lake Manyara, game drive in Lake Manyara National Park then drive to our overnight lodging at the Ngorongoro crater rim. On the way, we passed through the town of Mto wa Mbu, which means "river of mosquitoes."

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The town is a big banana export center and there were many different kinds of bananas available for sale on the roadside. We saw several signs advertising red bananas. Brenda wanted to try some so Maningo pulled over and bought some for her. Other than the red peel on the outside, they looked like normal bananas. Tastewise, they were a bit sweeter.

Not far down the road we came to the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park. This park was vastly different from Tarangire. Whereas Tarangire was dry, Lake Manyara was lush with red dirt.
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A few months prior, the park was devastated by a severe flood. Some of the buildings at the entrance had been completely washed away. There were piles and piles of huge boulders everywhere and lots of evidence of road repair.
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We came upon some blue monkeys.
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A klipspringer, the rock jumping antelope.
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And some olive baboons.
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While watching the baboons, suddenly a female bushbuck came bolting out of the bushes with a fawn. The fawn stayed hidden in the grass while the normally shy mother came up right next to us, as if she were trying to distract us.
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On down the road we saw a warthog family, an African fish-eagle, and a grey-headed kingfisher.
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We stopped at the hippo pool.
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The forest-type surroundings then changed and we came to an open field. A lone black-backed jackal was running across the field as if on a mission.
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Some grey crowned cranes were pecking around.
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A herd of cape buffalo were hanging out by the water.
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As were a few flamingoes.
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We stopped for lunch at a picnic area with some other guides and their guests. Our TSL lunch boxes were, as expected, truly awful. There was a boiled egg, some kind of unidentifiable sandwich, an apple, a banana, peanuts, and a juicebox. The egg and the peanuts were the best part. We were so glad to be done eating TSL's food!

After lunch we drove through a heavily treed area with a lot of undergrowth. There were numerous monkeys up high in the trees making lots of noise. To us, it sounded like alarm calls which could mean a predator was around, most likely leopard. We searched and searched in this area but never did see anything.

On down the road a lone wildebeest was standing in the middle of a field, looking nervously out towards something on the lakeshore. We got out our binoculars and could see a pride of some six or seven lions feasting on a kill right on the lakeshore. Our guess was another wildebeest. The crazy wildebeest kept walking and walking right towards the lions. Somehow the lions either were too busy to notice or didn't care because they let him walk on by.

By now it was time to turn around and head out of Lake Manyara since we needed to make it to the crater before dark. We came across this monitor lizard sunning on a rock on the way back.
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A large troop of olive baboons with lots of babies kept us entertained for a while, especially this little kung fu guy.
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There were more olive baboons at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. One little baby was especially being a brat. He kept trying to climb the concrete wall the baboons were sitting on but was too short to make it. So he would grab on to the other baboons' tails. He would use their tails to make it up the wall then jump down and do it all over again. His mother finally had enough of that so she dragged him by his own tail into the middle of the road. He was screeching the whole time.

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We arrived at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge before dark and were greeted with juice and warm towels. The lodge sits on the rim of the crater and at about 7,500 feet above sea level, it was cold and windy. Unfortunately, there is no regular heating here. The hotel is kind enough to turn the radiators on each evening between 7:30 and 9:30. After that, the only heat you get comes from a hot water bottle they place inside your bed. By sleeping in every piece of clothing we brought, we stayed pretty warm. The guides are not so lucky. Maningo said they are not provided heat or water bottles of any kind.

Inside our room #3
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The walkway to the rooms
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The main building, restaurant, and bar
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Since it was cold in our room, we thought we'd head to the bar for a drink or two and some happy hour snacks. We settled ourselves in front of a huge fireplace and ordered our rum and cokes. A fire had been set in the fireplace but it was barely burning, as in a slight flame. I asked if they could do anything about it and they acted like I was crazy. The fire was lit they told me. See the flame (that would be that tiny little orange speck just to the right and above the candle flame). OK, whatever. I grew up with bonfires in the country. A couple of coals of charcoal does not make a fire to me.

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We then moved to the even colder dining room for dinner, a four course affair. Mr. Goodluck was our waiter. The first course was a salad nicoise.
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The second course was chicken soup.
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The main course was a filet mignon with carrots and broccoli.
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Dessert was supposed to be apple pie with coffee ice cream. We told them we didn't like coffee ice cream so they brought us mango ice cream instead but no apple pie. I guess that's what we get for being difficult.
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Dinner was very good, the best we'd had so far. Afterwards, I called Mike from the lobby and we were able to talk on the phone for a bit before bedtime.

Posted by deniseandmike 19:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania manyara ngorongoro brenda Comments (0)

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