Yeah, I know you can get burned out on too many animal pictures. One of the things I’m mixing up here to try and keep it interesting is closeups–or as I call them “The National Geographic shots”–and some wider views of the plains with the animals dotting the landscape, to give you perspective on what we saw, and reassure you this is not some open air zoo, but their homes. There is an unmistakeable vibe of peacefulness and contentment with the animals here, and though the law of the wild/circle of life still applies, the tranquility of the crater and these magnificent beasts is unmistakeable. That’s part of what makes a trip to Africa a spiritual journey of sorts. Which says a lot, since in my regular life, I’m an earthbound, pragmatic fellow in general. Moreover, if the zoos back home were hard to visit before the trip, we all agreed wed have a very tough time seeing these guys in small enclosures ever again. their spirits soared on these wide open plains, and ours with them.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a couple hours away from Lake Manyara, and stunningly beautiful. The NCA is home to the Ngorogoro Crater, a 13 mile diameter collapsed remains of a volcanic caldera where 25,000 animals now make their home in this lush green Babylon garden. The place was simply jaw dropping, hard to believe you were not looking at a postcard–much like the Grand Canyon, except far far greener. If you need a reason to go to Africa — this is definitely it. It also happens to be the home of the critically endangered black rhino, and rhino sightings caused hordes of Land Cruisers to converge as the guides talked on their walkie-talkies. We were very fortunate to get close sightings of a mother and her young rhino son within 50 yards. Anyhow – enjoy the simply amazing pictures of this natural wonder of the world.
Tanzanian Tourism–of which safaris are a huge part–took a 40% nose dive due to basic geographical ignorance on the part of many tourists who labeled the entire African continent with the stigma of the Ebola epidemic that broke out last fall. Never mind that Tanzania is in east Africa over 3100 miles away; to put that in perspective, it would be like canceling a trip to Key Largo, Florida because someone in Seattle got the virus. Moreover, Western Europe, including Spain, which did have Ebola cases, are closer than Tanzania to the western Africa outbreak. And the final depressing fact is that although the US and Europe reported both Ebola cases AND deaths resulting from it, Tanzania has to date reported zero (0) cases of the epidemic. The net result was that the four of us stayed in some grand old lodges all by ourselves – polished timber throwbacks to the 1800’s English hunting lodges. Amazing and a little sad. I hope Tanzania rebounds soon.
NOTE: After this initial safari post, I’ll try and keep the stories to a minimum and make the posts heavily image based, since we captured so many amazing images, they sorta speak for themselves (or through their captions).
After 9 days on Kilimanjaro with no shower and a limited change of clothing, Alex, Irina, Caryl and myself welcomed the idea of a 7 day safari standing in a Toyota Landcruiser, staying in lodges each night with–we hoped–warm water. Tanzania doesn’t really do washers & dryers, so our first night back at Iboru Safari Lodge, we walked down the road and picked up an old fashioned bar of washing soap, which we split. I’ll simply say it was both a workout and a scary amount of dirt wrung from my clothing.
We met our driver Julius Wenga (call me “Wenga”), a seasoned laid back fellow with a pleasant demeanor, packed our stuff into the 6 seat green Toyota Land Cruiser, and headed out of Arusha to Lake Manyara, the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks (40% of the country is protected reserve parkland).
Although we visited a Masai Village on the way to Lake Manyara, I’m saving that for another post. We drove for a couple hours out of Arusha, then started ascending. When we entered the park – we raised the roof, and stood up as we went pole pole–there it is again, the ubiquitous “slowly”–over a dirt road and plunged into the jungle, Irina had her binoculars, and the rest of us 3 were armed with cameras, eyes peeled. Today’s pictures are just a few of what we captured, and I’ll try & post a few each day with minimal story. Let’s just say every time we saw a new animal we’d ojnly seen in zoos before, we could barely contain our exceitement, except, as Wenga cautioned us, we had to, to avoid startling the animals. Some of the animals were indifferent and somewhat used to the many jeeps (baboons and monkeys in general), some would start running for the hills (gazelles), and some were far enough away to simply keep an eye on us and continue munching whatever they were munching. Regardless…birds, ungulates, insects, or all manners of flora and fauna..everything we saw was an exotic thrill.
This is a photo blog series about my February 2015 trip to Tanzania, Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and go on Safari in western Tanzania. I’ll take you day by day through the trip, written after the fact because, after hauling a small army of electronics with me–a tablet, iPhone, GPS, PS Vita, everything short of an actual laptop–it turns out that Tanzanian internet is pretty feeble, still cable connected, and the country is largely all about cell service, dashing my dreams of any reliable real time WiFi blogging. Lesson 1 learned.
DAY 1 HIGHLIGHTS
After having dealt with a last minute lost passport in San Francisco that delayed my flight by one day, I arrived the night of Feb 11 in Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) to find my main and only bag of camping gear delayed or lost back in the US (thanks, Delta!), meaning I had only a pair of pants, the shirt on my back and a goofy grin–“I’m in Africa!” to start the hike. Guess we’ll figure it out, since this is unlikely to be the first time this has happened.
An hour and half drive from the airport, then a quarter mile up a dirt road fully worthy of a four-wheeler, I enter a gated compound for Iboru Safari Lodge, an oasis of thatch roof huts and mosquito net beds. I crash, and in the morning, my friends Caryl, Alex and his wife Irina are waiting at breakfast.
Our lead guide, Justin Thomas (JT), of the African Walking Company, briefs us on the 9 day climb up the mountain, and makes arrangements (paid for by me..but I’ll file insurance) to have a porter haul the missing bag up the mountain to wherever we happen to be and in the meantime, I’ll use rental gear to make up anything missing. JT is a sunny, articulate fellow who’s got great social skills and has guided clients up the mountain since 2004.
There are four additional summiteers joining us on our journey: Kitt and her husband Rhys, US Marines currently posted in Senegal, Cort, a cybersecurity specialist from St Louis, and Paul, whom we call Buddha, an animator from the Carolinas.
We drive 2.5 hrs ascending from dusty dry plains past an assortment of tin roof shack, half finished brick houses, vibrantly dressed locals and Maasai herding cattle, up into the lush green forested foothills to the Londorossi Gate, where we register for the trip. Then it’s another 30 minutes down twisting dirt roads to the Lemosho Gate, our starting point. We’re doing the newest route on the mountain, the Northern Circuit, which is a combination of routes from the wet side of the mountain–Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, plus its own stops.
At Lemosho Gate, we first see the army assembled to help and guide us up the mountain: lead guide JT, Assistant Guides Said, Halid, Viviano, Chief Stomach Engineer (Chef) Joseph, 6 helping porters who carry our luggage, and a whopping 28 regular porters who carry mess tent, cooking tent, mobile toilet and tent, all food and water. The fellow with the AK-47 on his back is reassuring…wait, what?
We start at last! It’s raining steadily and after donning rain gear, we first learn the meaning of the Swahili word “Pole Pole” – “Slowly”…as we take one achingly slow step after another behind lead guide Said with Viviano and JT following up the rear– enough so that it’s actually calf work to move that slow, ascending up through the plush green jungle to Tree Camp. One the way, the army of porters ascends past us, luggage precariously balanced on their heads, backpacks on, rock and rolling ahead to get the camp setup by the time we arrive
Roughly 2 hrs and a 1000 feet later, we come into Lemosho Forest Camp, elevation 8700 feet, where we find our tents setup, along with the mess and cooking tents. JT then briefs us about the small blue tent he calls the Internet Cafe (pronounced with the long A), where we can send email, and do all manners of Internet activity. He’s referring to the mobile toilet, of course, but this will become our staple sense of humor for the duration of the trip, approaching the tent in the middle of the night and asking “Cafe in use?”
Along the rim of the camp, we can see and hear the clatter of monkeys; with long 3 foot tails of flowing black and white, it’s the black and white colobus monkey; we rush into the trees to capture pictures. Later at night, we’ll hear the staccato chatter of an alpha, and the call and response all around us as well.
After dinner, JT briefs us on the hike next day Eventually, we drift off to sleep in the rainforest to a star filled night and the chirps of forest birds, a full and fulfilling day behind us, and more adventure to come.
Oh, I loves me the Ray Bradbury quote that makes up this blogpost subject line. I’d like to think that the four month sabbatical I took on Saba and the months around it comprise a crossroads of sorts, and after a few discussions with my closest friends, it certainly has that possibility.
It’s not that easy to get to the dropoff in this picture, due to the dense vegetation that surrounds the occupied core of Windwardside village. You have to ramble down the winding rolling Road until you get to the English Quarter (the eastern settlement side of Windwardside), where you can make some cut throughs or paths you can take OR you have to have friends in cottages perched on the tops of the cliffs, which are many, relative to the general population. Regardless, the views from virtually anywhere in Windwardside range from the benign to the spectacular, typical of this l’il island that could.
On the final jaunt up Mt Scenery before I left the island, rambling up Bud’s Mountain Trail on the way to Mt Scenery, there was a break in the canopy and a couple palm trees stark against the sky. Don’t ask me why I processed this in this color, probably desire for variety more than anything.
Generally speaking, for Saba jungle images I took while I was there, I have to reduce the saturation of the color green, because it’s so incredibly green on your way up, it tends to blow out your eyes ability to pick out detail. I let the green be in this picture, so you can really get a sense of the kinds of jungle flora around you, on trees, ferns, plants, and the man made volcanic stone walls that line some of the hike to Mt Scenery. It’s the most strenous official trail on Saba, and I summited ten times during my four months there. I always discovered something new and delightful.
For those of you who’ve summited Mt Scenery, this particular structure is very distinct and unique on the scenery path. Care to guess where on the path it is?
My last hike on Saba was an easy ramble up Mt Scenery with my island amigo Fred Bower, who in his five and a half years on the island, hadn’t made it up the mountain. We stopped plenty for photographs, and although it was cloudy up top so views were curtailed, it was still otherworldy enough to afford Fred the views everyone else had referenced. Now he’s off to Costa Rica with his wife Kelly (a longtime Sea Saba boat captain and dive instructor) for some more craziness, of which I confess I am jealous. Kudos for them!
I dig this photograph not because it’s a great photograph, but while I stood there with the clouds racing over the cliffs, and just a peak view of the ocean and Statia and the green cliffs from the Scenery summit, I felt like it was the kind of cloud view the movies so often portray, and eventually an angel or some otherworldly creature (Avatar?) pops out, flies around, freaks everyone out, then everyone watches in awe as the beast zooms and zigzags around. Ah, well. There goes my imagination again. Enjoy! I’m back in San Francisco, but still going through my archives for worthy pix. Not many more, I promise.
The title refers to an obscure pulp film from the 70’s that I recall enjoying a lot because of the rather lovely and scantily clothed ladies in it. Not on the AFI’s list of Top 100 Films, though.
Got home to San Francisco at 1:45am and woke up early today, visiting with my l’il nephew Kai, brother Doug, and wife Jen. We’ll see if the cats recognize me on pickup in the next day or two, and I’m back in the loft.