A Travellerspoint blog

Tanzania Day 3: Lucky Boys

The damned spurfowl woke me up about 4:30 this morning. Noisy birds! We got up at 5:30 to begin our game drive at 6. This is the earliest game drives can begin in Tarangire and there were lots of people leaving at this time. But TSL only turns on the generators between 6-10 a.m. so you have to get dressed by flashlight. You would think they might adjust those times to 5:30-9:30 so you can have some electricity in the morning. Brenda thought it was a good idea to take a shower. There was not much hot water so her shower was pretty cold. I passed on that idea and just put my hair in a ponytail.

Our first sighting of the day were some helmeted guinea fowl. In the coming days, every time we saw these Brenda would say, "Guineas!" And every time she said that, I thought she said, "Denise" so I would say, "What?" And it would take us a while to figure it out. We never learned.
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And then these vultures in the top of a palm tree
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Around the corner, some Southern Ground-hornbill were walking along the road. This guy had something wrong with one of his feet.
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Nearby a vervet monkey was sitting in a tree.
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A female Defassa waterbuck was not happy with our presence. She snorted her discontent several times.
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Her male counterpart looked like he was lying in the grass, until he started walking, and we realized he was standing and the grass was just that tall!
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The rock hyrax were scurrying all over the rocks. They froze when we drove by.
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By this time we were getting hungry so we stopped at the picnic site for breakfast. A giraffe was there to greet us.
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We had breakfast boxes from our lodge. I couldn't wait to see what delights these included after last night's meal. I was not disappointed (wink, wink). There was an apple, banana, juice box, salami/cheese sandwich, and a sweet roll. At this site it was the squirrels and the starlings that tried to pilfer our food. The food was so bad I considered giving it to them.

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Afterwards, our breakfast giraffe was still hanging around just down the road.
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And a warthog was nearby.
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A male Dafassa waterbuck was hanging out with some Impala girls.
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A couple of dik-dik were hiding in the bushes on the roadside. They always looked so terrified, poor things!
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Around the corner a large herd of impala girls and babies were grazing with their male leader. Maningo always called these males "lucky boys" because they usually appear as one male with a large herd of females. One boy with a group of girls to himself. Impalas are very territorial and the males spend a lot of their time shepherding the females and keeping them within the herd, fending off rival bachelors, and cutting out the juveniles with antlers.
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We spotted a couple more dik-diks.
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Brenda then spotted what looked to me like a big rock way off in the distance. So Maningo patiently stopped the truck and got out his binoculars. Turned out it WAS a big rock...with two cheetahs lying on top. Maningo was very excited. Cheetahs are a pretty rare find in Tarangire. I don't know how she saw them with her naked eye. They were so far away I couldn't even get a decent picture with the zoom lens. Maningo said it was a mother and cub. The only picture I could get was of the mother.

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Maningo got on the radio to tell the other guides about the sighting and before long, a ton of trucks were there. It's amazing how fast the word spreads. Unfortunately one of the other guides who showed up laughed really loudly at one point which caused mama cheetah to decide it was time to move on. She led the cub out into the long grass until they were out of sight.

Moving on to a male impala, more ostriches, and giraffe.
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A herd of female elephants and calves came walking by.
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Another guide called us on the radio to tell us about a lion sighting. Three lions had gone down to the river after a warthog. The warthog got away but the lions were resting on the other side of the river. This was our first lion sighting!

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We returned to the lodge for a hot lunch and a break. Lunch was another buffet (yuck) which included honey chicken, meatloaf, rice, spaghetti with mushroom sauce, and veggies.

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After lunch we browsed the gift shop a bit. I bought some black and white safari coasters and my usual Christmas ornament. I took some pictures around the lodge while Brenda rested in our tent.

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White-bellied Go-away bird
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Apparently this bird sings a song that sounds like it's saying, "Go away, go away." Brenda wanted one to take home. I would have liked one, too, but my bird would have to know Spanish to be effective.

We went for a short game drive in the late afternoon. We saw the usual suspects--zebras, warthogs, and impalas. We stopped by a termite mound and found a troop of dwarf mongooses, Africa's smallest carnivore. Of course, Brenda and I had a discussion as to whether the plural of mongoose is mongoose, mongooses, or mongeese. You'll be happy to know that I have looked that up and according to Webster's online, it's mongooses. I know everyone can sleep at night now.

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We watched them scurry around and wrestle with each other for a while. They are busy little things. Brenda was happy to find them. She named one of her cats Goose (after Mongoose) because he's such a good snake killer.

On the way back to the lodge, we stopped to watch the beautiful sunset.
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We continued our sunset watching on the terrace with more vodka tonics and chips and salsa. Dinner at TSL was truly horrible. It started with potato soup that looked like dishwater. I expected it to actually have potatoes in it. No such luck.
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The buffet contained some kind of crusted chicken that almost made me physically ill. I ate a lot of white rice instead.
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After the previous night's applesauce pie fiasco, I decided to go with the ginger cake for dessert.
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Brenda ordered the pie again. This time it was a lemon meringue. The meringue was burned completely black.
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We were both thankful this was our last dinner here.

Posted by deniseandmike 18:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania tarangire brenda Comments (0)

Tanzania Day 2: Elephant Crossing

The next morning was basically a repeat of the previous morning: lukewarm trickle shower and omelets for breakfast. Maningo was there at 8:45 a.m. sharp to pick us up for the drive to Tarangire (pronounced Tar un gee rah, with a hard g) National Park to officially begin our safari. We were so excited!

We drove through Arusha again. This took a long time; morning traffic was pretty stacked up. Once outside of town, we passed lots of Maasai tribesmen herding their goats and cattle and lots of people using donkeys to carry water and goods.

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These hollowed out logs are hung in trees to attract bees to build their hives. Honey can then be harvested from the logs and used or sold.
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We drove through a large military zone where pictures were not allowed. Surprisingly, there were camels in that zone. While driving through a small town just outside the park gates, we met Michael, the Tanzanian owner of A2T. Finally we arrived at Tarangire around noon.

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Maningo did the required paperwork while Brenda and I stretched our legs a bit.

Elephant skull at the welcome center
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Tarangire is known for its large baobab trees.
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We stopped just inside the gate at a picnic area to eat our boxed lunches. A word on boxed lunches....not good. Some are better than others but most are not that great. This was one of the better ones, containing a fairly overcooked piece of fried chicken, samosa, crepe, donut thingie that wasn't sweet, meat pie, juice box, and cookies. Several vervet monkeys were hanging around at the picnic site trying to pilfer everyone's food and climb inside the safari vehicles. Maningo calls the monkeys troublemakers. He and the other guides took turns running them off.

After lunch, we were off on our very first game drive! And just a minute or two later we were rewarded with a herd of bull elephants right on the side of the road. They were standing in a semi-circle, cooling themselves by flapping their ears.

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A few minutes later, a mom and baby wandered over. They were part of a female herd passing through.
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The baby must have had an itchy ear.
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Mom and baby greeted the oldest elephant of the bull herd, the one standing behind her.
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This guy got himself pretty excited over mom. He pulled out his "5th leg."
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But in the end, she rejected him and he went off to pout by himself.
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The rest of the female herd crossed the road to go to the watering hole.
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Suddenly, a small herd of zebra came running across the road. They joined the elephants on the other side.
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We saw a few birds on our drive.

Superb starling
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Ashy starling
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Red-and-yellow barbet on a termite mound
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Crowned lapwing (or crowned plover)
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Yellow-necked spurfowl. These damned birds would start making all kinds of noise about 4 a.m. Apparently they don't realize the sun is not up and they should still be quiet at that hour!
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A couple more elephants and another herd of zebra.
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We came upon one male and two female ostriches. Suddenly, another male came running up and ran off the first male and one of the females. He was left alone with his female.

Male ostrich
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Female ostrich
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We found these zebras hanging out at a watering hole just off the road. They kept spooking themselves every few seconds--drinking, running away in a panic, coming back down to the water, repeat.

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After our game drive, we drove to our lodging for the next two nights, the Tarangire Safari Lodge.

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TSL is a permanent, tented camp with an awesome view. We had tent #34.

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Inside our tent, the bathroom is just behind the zippered part
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The view from our tent
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The main building
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Each night before dinner, TSL offers a happy hour on the terrace where they serve vodka or gin tonics, popcorn, and homemade salsa and chips.

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The view from the terrace is the only reason to stay here. We saw this elephant picking fruit or leaves from a tree down by the river.
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We enjoyed happy hour until it was time for dinner. Dinner at TSL begins with a soup (of course) and then consists of a buffet for the main courses and a dessert. The soup was carrot and coriander which was a little watery but decent.
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The buffet had beef stew with rice, poached fish, green beans, and carrots. These were edible.
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But then there was dessert. It was supposed to be apple pie. It was essentially applesauce poured into a frozen pie tart. Ick!
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A good laugh later and we were escorted to our tent for the evening. The generator is turned on each evening from 6-10 p.m. Outside of that time, there is no electricity in your tent. You can't really leave your tent after dark since there are no fences or anything. Wildlife can and does roam through at any time. This was not a big deal since we were pretty beat and ready to go to sleep by the time the lights shut off anyway. It's amazing how tiring it can be riding around on those dirt roads all day long, not to mention the excitement of not knowing what you'll see next.

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

Tanzania Day 1: Karibu

Karibu!

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We must have heard that phrase a thousand times. It means "Welcome" in Swahili. It's used to welcome you to a place but also in response to thank you ("asante sana" in Swahili). Over and over. And over. It's an overly polite group of people living in Tanzania, which is better than the alternative I suppose.

Brenda and I landed at Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania, around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 17, after a 24-hour journey. After some initial confusion as to which line we were supposed to get in, we got our visas, stamped our passports, and retrieved my duffle bag. No customs check. Our guide for the week, Maningo, was waiting for us outside. We hopped in our Land Cruiser and disappeared into the night. The airport was about an hour from town and our hotel, Planet Lodge. Driving through the dark town, there was actually a lot to see. Many people were out and about, having dinner at restaurants, drinks at bars, and going about their daily lives. We arrived at our hotel, "Karibu, karibu, karibu" and the chef was so kind as to cook us a special meal even though it was late. Before retiring for the night, we spent some time after dinner sitting on our private porch marveling at the fact that we were actually in Africa. So how did we get here?

For the last 20 years, Brenda and I have talked about going on safari in Africa. It has always been our dream trip. Last July, she said let's just do it. So I started checking things out and doing the required research. I first started looking at both Kenya and Tanzania and quickly realized that trying to do two countries in two weeks was way too much. For a number of reasons, Tanzania won out. For the most part, this was because the time of year we wanted to go (June), the annual migration of millions of wildebeest would be in the Serengeti. The wildebeest don't usually cross over into Kenya until August or September and even when they do, more stay behind in Tanzania than cross over. Secondly, the famous Ngorongoro Crater, which I've always read about, is in Tanzania. And finally, Kenya seemed much more crowded and touristy to me than Tanzania (in the areas we would have visited, not all areas). With the where settled, we had to figure out the how so I contacted about 10 trip operators to get quotes. I had already done extensive research on the Tanzanian parks and read many trip reports on Trip Advisor before contacting them. I sent them all the number of days we wanted to visit along with the parks we wanted to visit, budget, and some personal information. Most came back with detailed itineraries including camps/lodges based on our criteria. A couple never responded and a couple sent itineraries completely different than what we asked for. Obviously, those were marked off the list immediately. I compared the prices, lodgings, routes, etc. and narrowed it down to two itineraries. I then posted both on Trip Advisor to get feedback. Finally, we chose Access2Tanzania, a company jointly owned by a Tanzanian man and an American couple.

Our itinerary looked like this:

Sunday, June 16 - Fly from Dallas/Houston to Amsterdam (short layover).
Monday, June 17 - Fly from Amsterdam to Arusha, Tanzania. Spend two nights at Planet Lodge in Arusha.
Wednesday, June 19 - Drive to Tarangire National Park. Spend two nights at Tarangire Safari Lodge.
Friday, June 21 - Day trip to Lake Manyara National Park. Drive to Ngorongoro Crater. Spend one night at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge.
Saturday, June 22 - Day trip to Ngorongoro Crater. Drive to Serengeti National Park. Spend four nights at Serengeti Wilderness Camp.
Wednesday, June 26 - Fly to Selous Game Reserve. Spend four nights at Selous Impala Camp.
Sunday, June 30 - Fly to Dar es Salaam. Day room at Harbor View Suites. Evening flight to Amsterdam (short layover).
Monday, July 1 - Fly from Amsterdam to Dallas/Houston.

Most safaris in Northern Tanzania are private with your own vehicle and guide who accompanies you from park to park throughout the country. A2T provided us with our guide, Maningo, who would stay with us until we boarded the plane in the Serengeti. We would then fly into Selous in Southern Tanzania where we would be provided a guide by our camp. This is how most safaris are done in Southern Tanzania.

We woke the next morning in our bungalow at Planet Lodge, around 8 a.m. Showers were a fairly lukewarm trickle of water (a theme throughout the trip) and we headed to the main building for breakfast.

Inside our bungalow at Planet Lodge
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Pathways to the individual bungalows
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Our bungalow #5
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The main building (the bar, restaurant, and lobby)
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Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet of fresh fruits, cereals, sausage, bacon, pastries, and an omelet station with some hot, hot peppers. I was all about the omelet station! After breakfast, we joined two older ladies on the 10 a.m. free shuttle into Arusha. They had arrived one day early for a group tour and asked us loads of questions about how we were doing a private tour. They seemed a little jealous. I guess lots of people don't know how to do trip research.

The shuttle dropped us off in the center of town at the clock tower and then it started. We were descended upon by the locals. They weren't trying to sell us anything. I don't really know what they were doing. They wanted to escort us or talk to us or something. They were relentless. We tried being firm, polite, rude, ignoring them. Nothing worked. Initially we escaped into the money exchange. That was a whole separate problem. We walk into this money exchange which is not much bigger than a closet. The door is standing wide open and this crowd of locals is outside. This is a bit disconcerting when you have a wad of cash to exchange. I give the woman behind the counter the first batch of US dollars (my personal money). She puts it in the bill counter and then gives me only half the Tz shillings I'm due. What the hell? I'm thinking....what kind of idiot do they have working here who can't change money? I argue with her and she doesn't seem to understand. A second woman comes in and goes behind the counter. I explain the problem to her and she understands, clears it up, and gives me the correct amount of Tz shillings. I think, ok, we're good. So I hand her the second batch of US dollars (our spending money). I tell her this is X amount of US dollars. I know this amount is correct because I counted it last night several times and wrote the amount on the envelope. It hasn't been touched since. She puts the money in the bill counter and it comes out $500 short. Now what the hell? What happened to the $500? No one knows. It had disappeared. I'll tell you what happened. The money exchange in Arusha is running a scam. The first scam is to try and give you less Tz shillings than you're entitled to. When that didn't work with us, they simply stole some US dollars off the top. I then had no way to prove that had happened because I failed to count the money out in front of her. Lesson learned. Always count the money out before handing it over so there is proof of how much you are exchanging.

The next stop was to get a Tz cell phone for texts and calls home. The Airtel store was across the street from the money exchange. It was like crossing the gauntlet, surviving another group of locals hounding us. Once we were safe in the store, I bought a Nokia unlocked phone for about $30 and some Tanzanian SIM cards. Very easy and very cheap. The helpful saleslady pointed out a taxi driver just outside the store so our next escape route was planned. Upon leaving the store, we headed straight for the taxi. We had people following us there, even talking to the taxi driver on our behalf!

Women walking in Arusha
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Carts for hire to transport goods
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Market for the locals
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The taxi driver took us to the Maasai Market for a little souvenir shopping before our lunch reservations. The hassle factor was much better here even though it was a place I would have expected it. The market was huge and everything there appeared to be handmade. I bought some beaded sandals, a soapstone dish with zebras on it, and a handcarved wooden globe. Our taxi driver waited for us to take us to our next destination, Shanga House.

Shanga is an organization that employs disabled Tanzanians to make jewelry, glassware, and other items out of recycled goods such as bottles, aluminum, etc. The workshop, along with a restaurant, is located on a coffee estate. After a hectic morning in town, visiting Shanga made for a peaceful afternoon.

You are greeted with a glass of champagne.
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Lunch is served in a separate pavilion.
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The first course was spinach soup. Soup is big in Africa. It was served at almost every meal we had.
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The second course was samosas. These were delicious.
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The main course was barbeque beef, chicken, and fish. Sides included rice, carrot salad, sweet potato (the potato tasted like sweet potato but was white in color), and salad.
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Dessert was fruit with coffee beans. Dessert was usually the worst course of every meal. Africa needs some help in this department.
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After a leisurely lunch, we toured the workshop and did some more shopping. The goods for sale here were beautiful. I would have loved to have bought some glassware but didn't really have a way to pack it and tote it the rest of the trip. I did buy some beaded placemats and some coffee for souvenirs.

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Coffee beans
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Our trusty taxi driver came back to pick us up and take us to our hotel as we'd had enough shopping for the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, checking email for the last time on the free computers at the hotel, and getting ready for our safari to begin the next day.

We stayed at the hotel for dinner that night, another three course affair. I dined on tomato soup, pork chops with rice and veggies, and vanilla cake with strawberry sauce. Brenda had beet salad, veggie curry with rice, and nuts "mouse".

I took advantage of the free computers and last chance at wifi and spent some time Facebook chatting with Mike before heading to bed.

Posted by deniseandmike 18:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania arusha brenda Comments (0)

TX Camping Day 3: Chillin' on the Frio

We had talked about going into Garner State Park on Sunday and possibly doing some hiking or tubing down the river. But then we decided what the hell for? We have our own little piece of the river right behind the campsite. No need to get in the car and drive into Garner to deal with other people. Plus, the river over on that side looked pretty shallow and dried up. So after more yummy breakfast tacos, we hauled all of our fishing and lazing around gear down to a little patch that was uninhabited.

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We spent the day there until it was time to pack up to cook dinner. For our last night, we decided to have a nice dinner of ribeyes, corn, and potatoes.

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Mike was chef tonight and dinner was perfect. He and Vi played washers for a bit while I took some pictures of the campgrounds.

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After dinner, Mary Kay had to head home so we helped her pack everything up and get on the road. Vi was really tired so she went to bed early. Mike wanted to get a little more fishing in before dark so he and I went down to the river. Again, no luck catching anything but a poor turtle. I'm convinced it's because the water is too clear. The fish can see you coming!

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Mike and I stayed up for a while enjoying our last campfire.

The next morning we packed everything up and drove into Bandera. We met my mother for lunch at the OST. I wanted Vi to see the town where I grew up. The OST's chicken fried steaks and enchiladas were good and greasy as usual!

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After lunch, we drove back to Dallas. It had been a great camping trip with good friends. Mike and I remembered how much we enjoyed camping and committed to not waiting five or six years before the next camping trip.

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Posted by deniseandmike 15:49 Archived in USA Tagged camping texas Comments (0)

TX Camping Day 2: To the Bat Cave!

The next morning, Mike woke up early to go fishing in the river. He didn't catch anything so he was back before breakfast. Vi went up to the bath house for a quick shower then got started on some breakfast tacos. We are lucky....when she travels with us, she always volunteers to be the chef.

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We were expecting Mike's college friend, Mary Kay, to arrive some time today. We were pretty worried about whether she would make it or not. We had planned to call her with directions after we arrived but didn't realize we wouldn't have cell phone coverage. So the day before we had called her from the owner's cell phone and given her his phone number in case she got lost. Based on our conversation with him yesterday, who the hell knows what he'd say to her.

After breakfast, we headed down to the river to hang out in the water and wait for Mary Kay. We didn't want to stray too far from the campsite.

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Sure enough, Mary Kay came walking up about mid-afternoon. Somehow she had found the way. She had been trying to call us but did get our message to call the owner, which she did. When he found out she was lost, he asked her if she was blonde. Typical! But he kindly gave her directions. Mike was very excited to see her as it had been almost 15 years since he'd seen her previously and I was excited to meet her.

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We cooked and ate an early fajita dinner because we were going to see the bats before sundown at the Frio Cave near Concan. Every year, between March and September, about 10 to 12 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to the Frio Cave from Brazil. Most of the bats are female and migrate to the cave in order to give birth and raise their babies. Every night at sunset, the bats leave the cave to feed on insects. It's an unbelievably beautiful event. They return to the cave before sunrise the next morning.

The cave is located on a private ranch. There is a paved walkway up a hill to the cave and viewing area.

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The view from the top over the hills is beautiful.

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Right on time, the bats began flying out of the cave. They came in droves.

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During the flight, you could feel wet drops falling on you. Apparently this is bat pee, not a pleasant thought.

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Periodically, various predators such as hawks would circle through the bats although we didn't see any actual take downs.

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We stayed at the cave for about an hour and a half and the bats were still coming out. It was starting to get pretty dark, however, and they were no longer easy to see. We headed back to the campsite and hung out around the fire the rest of the evening, mosquito free thanks to the bats.

Posted by deniseandmike 15:49 Archived in USA Tagged camping texas Comments (2)

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