Foreword (25 Feb 2004)

I recently returned from a three week vacation in Africa.  I spent two weeks in Tanzania with my wife, her brother Matt, and our friend Stefan.  The last week was just my wife and I in South Africa.

 

The trip was awesome!  We have many stories to tell and many pictures to share.  The trip had many elements:  we went on safari, engaged in cultural tourism, and lounged on the beach.

 

Anyway, I kept a journal.  I hope you enjoy it!

24 Jan 2004

We are just one hour from Kilimanjaro, on the KLM flight from Seattle via Amsterdam.  We left Seattle 24 hours ago and I am tired, although I slept some on this flight.  It will be 9pm when we land, eleven hours ahead of Seattle time, so it will be time to get a full night’s sleep.

 

When we land, we’ll meet Matt and transfer to Moshi town.  Jennie is very excited to see him, as am I.  Stefan is sitting separate from us on this leg of the trip, but I know he’ll be just as excited as we are to get off this plane.

 

The airplane food tastes fine but gave me indigestion.  The mozzarella sandwich I bought at the Amsterdam airport was good, though.

 

The in-flight movie was “Seabiscuit.”  We’re almost there …

25 Jan

We’re here (Moshi, Tanzania)!  We’ve already done so much.  This morning we had breakfast at the hotel (the Kindoroko).  I had toast, watermelon, pineapple, banana, and papaya with passion fruit juice (literally translated as “juicy passion” from Swahili, a source of some jokes).  The fruit is all very fresh and tasty.

 

We took our time eating breakfast.  Everyone takes their own sweet time doing anything here – people walk slow and drive slow.  Matt says that’s all just fine, until you make an appointment with someone and they show up 45 minutes late.  None of the locals seem to mind, though.

 

And speaking of running late, we walked down the road to the Moshi Cathedral to attend mass this morning and it lasted two hours, which is ½ hour longer than usual.  The church is large and breezy inside.  Services are full – I would estimate 1500 people.  We were the only three white people, but no one seemed to pay us much attention, except for the little girl who ran up to me and said “Hi,” then laughed and ran away when I said “Hi” in return.  The same thing happened a second time later in the day, by the way.  A young lady said “Hi,” to which I replied “Jambo” (Swahili greeting).  They laughed at me, of course.

 

Next we ate lunch at one of Matt’s favorite restaurants, on top of a hotel half the distance between our hotel and the cathedral.  Jennie and I split a dish which consisted of ground white corn (“ugali”) which can be rolled in a ball and dunked in gravy.  Custom calls for bare hands to be used.  It was all delicious, including the ginger-based soft drink (“Tangaweeza”) available locally, courtesy of Coca-Cola bottling.

 

Next we took a dalla-dalla to Mr. Muro’s house in Machame on the side of Mt. Kili.  This excursion was quite an experience.

 

First, a dalla-dalla is typically an old Toyota mini-van, converted to hold as many people as possible.  There are very many of them in Moshi and they serve as the public transportation.  They don’t leave their initial pickup point until completely full, which meant 25 people in our case!  Once underway, our dalla ride was about 40 minutes and cost us next to nothing.

 

Mr. Muro is a retired music teacher and the father of a research assistant that Matt knows in Dar es Salaam.  He had invited Matt to bring us to his home.  Muro (Ephraim), his wife Olga, and their house maid were the most gracious hosts.  They first served us Fanta and Coke as we sat on their couches.  The house is small and beautiful.  The played music cassettes on the radio, and the background noise made understanding the conversation difficult at times.  Ephraim speaks English, but the two women do not.

 

We next moved to the dining table, having discovered that a full meal had been prepared.  This was troublesome, since we had just eaten a large lunch at the restaurant.  But we couldn’t turn him down, so we ate.  The food was quite tasty and superior to the restaurant.  I had a banana (there are so many different varieties of banana here), fresh avocado (which I typically don’t like, but this one was great), cucumbers, carrots, and a potato dish with a light curry-like gravy.  There was too much food, but everything was so fresh.

 

Finally, Kilimanjaro beer was served and we moved back to the couches.  Ephraim wondered why Jennie was drinking her beer so slowly, while observing that Olga had already finished hers.

 

We learned that Ephraim’s younger brother is named Stefan and older brother is named Daniel.  His father was David, just like Stefan’s dad.  They call Matt “Matteo” and have virtually adopted him as their son, although they already have approximately six children, plus grand-children.

 

We also learned that Ephraim plays the organ at the Lutheran church down the road and conducts the choir.  He said there aren’t many men in the choir so they must use female tenors, but that it doesn’t sound as good.  He wished he had a book about how to conduct vocal choirs.

 

Ephraim also wishes that he had an electronic Yamaha keyboard to use for music lessons, but they’re too expensive – 400,000 shillings which is US $400.

 

Now we’re back at the hotel.  The view of Mt. Kilimanjaro is astounding.

 

Matt just showed up with his camera and one of the rolls of film we brought from Seattle.  Since we packed the film in a checked bag, Stefan says it’s ruined from the X-rays.  Matt will run this roll and see what happens.

 

For dinner, we ate at the Star Hotel where some man yelled at some Europeans for smoking in the dining room and putting him at risk for 2nd-hand inhalation.

26 Jan

Today we did a day hike on Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Our hike took us to the first stop on the Marangu, or “Coca-Cola,” summit route, up to about 3000 meters elevation.  The guide showed up late in the morning, plus we took our time with observing nature in the jungle on our way up, so it ended up being a full day trip.

 

In the jungle on the mountain, we saw blue monkeys up close.  From a distance, we also saw big, fluffy, white monkeys whose name I forget.

 

The countryside is so beautiful here, and it’s just like the beginning of The Lion King.  During our trip up the mountain, we passed through everything from arid, rocky conditions like New Mexico all the way to rain forest.

 

And speaking of rain forest, we got completely soaked on the way back down.

27 Jan

We again awoke today to the Muslim call to prayer around 5am.  The mosque is just down the street from our hotel.

 

Today was our first day of safari, spent in Tarangire National Park.  Tonight we’ll sleep in “The Tree House” in the Nitolia campsite owned by the safari company, East Africa Safari and Touring Co.

 

Today we saw warthogs, lions, dik-dik, impala, giraffe, elephant, goliath heron, stork, flamingo, and fish eagle.  We also got a flat tire, which our guide Moses fixed quickly and easily.  Still, and although the truck carries two spare tires, I was a little nervous about blowing a flat on the first day, and in the middle of nowhere.

 

Last night we heard a leopard, plus tons of birds.  All of the various animals make it very loud here during the night.

28 Jan

This morning on our nature walk we saw dik-dik, elephant, and horn bill.  During the walk, the guides were demonstrating the tracks left by elephants, including foot prints, droppings, and broken trees.  Near the end, I noticed a tree branch at quite some distance that appeared to be moving oddly.  I pointed it out to the guide – it was actually an elephant’s tail! 

 

We weren’t sure if it was safe to approach the elephant, so one guide went ahead to check things out.  Meanwhile, the bush next to me seemed to literally explode and I probably jumped about 15 feet in the air!  A freaked-out dik-dik ran out at top speed.  Thank goodness it wasn’t something carnivorous.

 

The guides decided it wasn’t safe to approach the elephant at that time, a decision I was quite comfortable with.  We headed back to camp for a large breakfast.

 

The guides explained that they’re all afraid of a leopard which lives near the camp.  In fact, that’s why they were late getting us up in the morning for the nature walk – they were too scared to walk to our hut until the sun was fully up.

 

Our toilet won’t flush since the elephants drank the water.  Apparently this is a fairly common occurrence.

 

Today we made the big drive from Tarangire to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and our campsite at Ndutu.  We went through the very dusty town of Karatu where we stopped and drank Fanta while our spare tire got fixed.  While at the service station, the locals initially approached us to sell their crafts, but they grew bored within about 30 seconds when we didn’t show much interest.  The younger children all begged us for pens, but we really didn’t have any extras (I needed it for my journal!).

 

When we finally got into the Ngorongoro area, I frankly went into sensory overload, and the content of my journal has suffered as a result.  I find it impossible to put everything I’m seeing and thinking into writing – the whole experience of seeing the huge plain and big animals is breathtaking. 

 

Anyway, we saw Thomson's Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, antelope, eland, zebra, giraffe, dik-dik, wildebeest, a small monkey, and a genet.  Our visit coincides with the massive wildebeest migration, so we saw a large number of them.  However, the “short rains” didn’t come this year, so it had been unseasonably dry up until shortly before we arrived, when it started raining again.  The weather is a bit out of whack, and the dryness has caused the animals to be somewhat more spread out than usual.

 

We saw the genet at night, sitting in a tree overlooking our campfire in Ndutu.  The light from the fire was such that all we could see at first was the cat’s eyes and long tail.  We therefore dubbed it the Cheshire Cat.

29 Jan

Today we saw serval, lion, six cheetah, two leopard, gamma lizard, ostrich, bastard, vultures eating a wildebeest, tree eagle, long crested eagle, jack rabbit, flat-topped acacia tree, yellow-barked acacia tree, baobab tree, guinea fowl, various hawks, buffalo, mouse, mongoose, bat-eared fox, various owls, lots of termite mounds, and hyena.  This was all in Serengeti National Park, in the Gol Kopjes area, and on the drive to and from our campsite in Ngorongoro.

 

We really had to work to see the cheetah.  Our guide drove us around Gol Kopjes for close to six hours with no sign of them.  At some point mid-afternoon, we spotted a few jeeps in a group so we headed that direction with a good feeling.  Score!  There were the six, including a couple of younger ones, frolicking in the grass.  Amazing!

 

The experience of seeing the leopards was also pretty wild.  Having seen the cheetah, we told Moses that our new big goal was a leopard sighting, since we’d heard about them at the campsite the day before.  On the way back to camp, another driver said that leopard had been spotted less than 10km from Ndutu.  We decided to head back out, but the directions had been vague – besides, all these twisty, nameless dirt roads cross each other.  But after turning around a few times, and even examining the tracks left by previous jeeps, we spotted a group of jeeps near a line of trees and knew we’d hit pay dirt.  We saw the male leopard at the top of a large acacia, just lying around.  A few trees down from that, after a bit more driving and searching, we found the female leopard in a similar position.  And a few more trees from that, we found a half-eaten young zebra that the leopards were saving for a future snack!

 

I really don’t know if we had a “typical” safari experience, whatever that might be.  For example, we saw five different species of feline (lion, cheetah, leopard, serval, and genet).  This was a huge deal for us – have other people been so lucky?

 

Anyway, by the time we saw the leopards, a storm was rolling in, so we closed up the top of the jeep and heading back to camp.  As the rain and wind picked up, the guides asked us to stay in the dining tent where they had left fresh hot water for coffee.  Before long, though, we had a full tropical storm on our hands.  We were each pushing at the walls of the dining tent, keeping it from blowing over.  We fared better than the campsite next door – one of their tents literally blew into the trees.

30 Jan

We saw jackal, kestrel, many hippo, two black rhino, crested crane, black kite, lions, elephants, three cheetah, egret, and pelican in the Ngorongoro Crater. 

 

We met a lady from Auburn, WA whose husband just retired from Weyerhauser.  She was glad to see people from home.

 

On the way out of the crater, we saw a safari jeep that had fallen off the road and into a steep ravine on the side of the crater. 

 

We’ll be staying at the beautiful Serena Ngorongoro Lodge for the last night of our safari.

31 Jan

Today we saw some workers removing the jeep that we saw yesterday in the ravine.  We were told that the accident was two days old and that no one was killed.  We’re glad it wasn’t us.

 

Today in the crater we saw four fat cheetahs.  They had apparently just eaten.  We saw an elk that was just born and couldn’t yet walk.  We saw a baby wildebeest, four lionesses with two cubs, a zebra carcass that had just been licked clean by lions that were now in hiding, and two male elephants fighting.  Plus we saw waterbuck, vervet monkeys, and chickadees.

 

This was the end of the safari.  Tonight we’re staying in the Klub Africo Hotel just outside Arusha, Tanzania, where each room is an individual bungalow.  The rooms are nice and the employees are helpful, but the service during meals is very slow and the meals themselves are too expensive.  Plus, tons of dogs are barking throughout the night.  I don’t recommend the place.

1 Feb

This morning we took a taxi to the German Boma to see the Natural History Museum.  The cab driver was kind of sour, perhaps because all of the hotel staff was negotiating with him at the same time, on our behalf, to agree on a price for his services.  The lady at the front desk was criticizing him for the dirtiness of his beat-up Toyota Corolla.

 

The museum had some exhibits on prehistoric man, such as the famous bones found near Ngorongoro, and also on insects.  It was fairly unimpressive.

 

We ate lunch at the Via Via Café then walked to the Jambo Café to a buy a stuffed monkey (yes, we came all the way from Seattle with this goal in mind).  I had a Masalla Tea and a cookie which were quite good.  Turns out it’s hard to find good cookies in Africa, so that was nice.  We then walked to the bank and back to the Impala Hotel where we had left our bags for the day.  We did some email at an overly expensive internet café while waiting for the shuttle to take us to Kilimanjaro Airport.

 

Our flight to Dar es Salaam tonight was late, when we got there the airport was hot and humid as hell, and on arrival we were routed through passport control even though we were just connecting.

2 Feb

Despite the nasty flight last night, we’re now safely in Zanzibar.  We stayed at the Dhow Palace Hotel last night and ate dinner nearby overlooking the Indian Ocean.  The hotel is highly recommended, with large rooms, air-conditioning, beautiful furniture, and a nice breakfast on the roof with a view of the Indian Ocean.  Today promises to be exciting and very hot.

 

This afternoon we transfer to the east side of the island to stay at the Breezes Resort.

3 Feb

We’re now staying at the Breezes Resort, on the east coast of Zanzibar, on the Indian Ocean.  It’s beautiful, fairly cheap, and the food is good.  Last night it rained quite hard and the clouds are only now clearing, at 3pm.

 

This morning we went snorkeling at the nearby coral wall, and Stefan did a short “just trying it out” SCUBA dive.  The water was cloudy and the surface was cold as it was still raining, but we saw lots of fish and a wide range of coral formations.  It made me want to get my dive certification.

 

Now we’re sitting at the pool, listening to the nearby crashing waves.  Not bad.

4 Feb

Last night was our last at the Breezes.  There was a traditional Swahili dinner with banana soup, ungali, flat bread, fried plantains, curry, and fresh fruit, plus traditional dances.

 

Despite that, the most interesting part of the meal was probably the German couple that walked in.  Honeymooners, she was wearing a very tight pink dress.  Her black lace bra was completely sticking out above the dress, although it did have clear straps, at least.  Shortly after walking into the dining room, they left.  We wondered if they got kicked out for breaking the dress code, which is strict in this largely Muslim country, although somewhat vague regarding women.  But, the couple reappeared with no apparent change.

 

We woke up this morning to our last day at Breezes and knew we would be sad to see it go.  Before a quick swim in the pool (the sun finally came out), I reflected on some of my recent dreams.  In the first dream I was invited onto the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer to play the old Seth Green character.  I was helping to write the script.  In the second dream I was playing Enter Sandman by Metallica on guitar.  I’m pretty sure I went through the entire song in my dream, although I can’t actually play guitar.  I know the song from the drum part.

 

We took a taxi back to Stone Town – for 30,000 shillings, the same price we paid the same guy to take us out here – and ate at Mercury’s (highly recommended and decorated with full Queen Memorabilia) while waiting for the ferry.  I had carrot/ginger soup and we all had pizza, plus Fanta (the staple drink of the trip, aside from bottled water).

 

The ferry ride was quite bumpy and two hours long, at a cost of US $35 apiece.  There was quite a mix of people on board, including an Indian business man who came, right as the boat was pulling away from the dock, and bribed the ticket-taker to let him on.  Don’t know how much he paid.

 

We’re now back in Dar es Salaam, staying at the New Africa hotel near the ferry terminal.  It’s a nice place with a nice pool and gym.  We used the latter before dinner.  Dinner was at the Addis Ethiopian restaurant.  This was excellent food.  There we met Matt’s friends Amy (from Harvard, studying malaria) and Christian (from the University of Texas, studying people related to the Massai).  The coffee was served in a little brass vessel, accompanied by burning Frankincense, which I had never smelled before.

 

As an aside, there’s an interesting thing about Swahili.  People sometimes say “Karibu,” which they’ll helpfully translate to “You’re welcome,” before they’ve said anything else.  This happens when they’re offering you something,       and it’s like saying “Please, go ahead and take some,” or, “Welcome – come on in!”  It’s the ultimate in politeness, but it still feels weird to hear “You’re welcome” before having said “Thank you” (or, “Asante”). 

 

I’m been reading Jack Welch’s autobiography.  It’s an inspiring approach to business and life, although certainly not a healthy balance between the two.  It makes me want to be a jet-set deal closer or negotiator – like The Donald.

 

Our taxi driver to dinner proposed waiting for us to eat and then to bring us back to the hotel, all for the price of Tsh 8000.  A good deal!  When we came out of the restaurant, the driver was gone, but someone told us that he had gone for gasoline, and he soon returned.  Gas is very expensive here – approximately US $2.50/gal equivalent.

5 Feb

Our full day in Dar es Salaam:  we started out by arranging an all-day taxi for 30,000 shillings (US $30).  The first driver that pulled up wouldn’t accept this price, even though the hotel door man told him it was plenty fair.  Most drivers make about 20,000 per day.

 

Once in the taxi, we went to the wood carvers’ market and spent Tsh 40,000.  We then went to the Tingatinga (a traditional Tanzanian style of painting) market and got a big painting for Tsh 30,000.  Next, lunch was at the Sea Cliff Hotel.  I had an excellent Indian/Masala dish as we watched the waves crash and the rain come down.

 

We took the taxi back to the New Africa Hotel, dismissed him, and walked around town for a bit.  We saw a bazaar, stopped at the “A Novel Idea” bookstore near the Zambian embassy, and saw Matt’s usual boarding house near the local UNICEF headquarters.  We then went to a local bar called “The Green,” which is built out of a green inter-modal shipping container.  Beer was Tsh 600.  Matt bought an umbrella from a street vendor and other vendors tried to sell us bootleg CDs.

 

We returned to the hotel to eat at the nice Thai restaurant on the top floor.  The food was spicy and good.  Stefan took the 9pm shuttle to the airport for his flight back to the states.  Then the rest of us hit the casino.

6 Feb

In the morning we went to the hotel gym while Matt applied for a Zambian visa.

 

Lunch was just at the hotel bar, but it was good.  Then we said goodbye to Matt and took the shuttle to the airport.

 

The flight from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg was uneventful and about 3.5 hours long.  We sat next to a local who told us to check out the Caesar’s casino near the airport if we got bored during our layover or to head to Cape Town if we had extra days.  So far, we’ve done neither.

 

Our layover was at the Airport Grand Hotel.  I have a couple of complaints about that place:  they were late picking us up from the airport, despite an explicit agreement covering this, and the guy who eventually showed up with a sign with our name on it wasn’t holding the sign up, but rather at his side.  The hotel location is loud, being immediately below the runway landing approach.  The place is expensive (US $90) and doesn’t include breakfast at that price.  And, although the front desk promised to confirm the fax we sent that night, they never did.  Finally, the morning staff was anything but friendly.  Still, as our worst experience thus far (knock on wood), it wasn’t too bad.

 

Another thing about the hotel – room service called me back once to tell me that the sandwich I had ordered wasn’t available with the bread I had requested.  Whatever!  Then they called again to tell me the dessert I wanted was not available, and what did I want instead?

 

Later, the bellman showed up with just the sandwich – no dessert, no drinks.  He said he’d be back with the original dessert I had ordered.  Great, but where are the drinks?  Fifteen minutes later, he was back with those.

7 Feb

We flew from Jo-burg to Richard’s Bay first thing in the morning.  Before the flight we had breakfast at a Nestle Café in JIA, which was surprisingly good and almost as efficient as a Starbucks… Plus, I made them do two different credit card transactions on my behalf while they were pretty busy, which didn’t seem to bother them at all, despite being time-consuming.

 

The flight was 1.5 hours in a turbo-prop.  It was smooth up until the landing.

 

Etienne, who would be our guide for the next six days, picked us up right at the gate when we landed, although he missed us the first time we walked through.  Apparently, we didn’t look like Americans.  He got us quite promptly started on the 1.5 hour drive to the lodge.  Much of the drive to the Zulu Nyala lodge was through acres of tall eucalyptus tree farms.

 

Etienne is originally from Zimbabwe and is very nice and knowledgeable.  He likes to share facts and explanations with us while on safari, unlike our guide in Tanzania who was nice, knowledgeable, and didn’t say a damn thing.

8 Feb

We’re at the Zulu Nyala lodge now, near Richard’s Bay, South Africa.  We arrived yesterday in time for lunch, after a short flight following a one night lay-over in Johannesburg.

 

The lodge is situated in a private game reserve co-owned by a South African who made his money in, guess what, diamonds.  The other owner is Greek.

 

We went on a game drive yesterday afternoon and again this morning.  Our wakeup call was late today, though, so we didn’t get started until 6am.

 

Most notably, we saw white rhino – all four of the ones that are in this park, consisting of one cow, two bull, and a male calf.  I think the female is the largest – two tons of pure muscle plus an enormous horn.  We’ve also seen Nyala – they’re like a larger Impala, but with vertical white stripes.  Nyala have bigger ears and tend to be more solitary.  They’re more suited for the thicker bush than the Impala, which have evolved for the open plains such as the Serengeti.

 

South Africa is home to about 950 species of bird and we’ve seen many of them, including various Little Brown Jobs (LBJs, a legitimate scientific term referring to a bunch of different species of small brown birds that all look more or less the same), shriker, plover, vulture, duck, etc.

 

For our bush walk today, following High Tea, we started out driving the grounds at about 2:30pm, looking for a good place to get out and walk and see some game.  But not just any game – we drove well past a herd of buffalo before leaving the jeep.  Too dangerous, those buffalo are.

 

The walk put us on a good 1.5 hour circuit during which we saw zebra, giraffe, impala, and warthog all right up close.  We examined the tracks of these animals, plus those of elephant and anteater.

 

The park’s elephants are shy and none of this week’s guests had yet seen them.  When we got back to the jeep after the walk, we decided to try and locate the elusive elephants.

 

It wasn’t long before we saw the first signs – fresh tracks leading into an area of thick bush at the corner of the park, up against the railway and an electrified fence.  Shortly thereafter, the guide spotted trees moving near the area and then spotted the elephants directly.  We were still quite far.

 

We drove the road along the perimeter hoping to catch a better glimpse, but didn’t.  We spotted another jeep working its way down the hill where we first started out so we figured that maybe they could spot the elephants for us and then clue us in.  The other jeep wouldn’t answer a radio call, however.  Etienne jumped out of our jeep and said, “I’m going to go find these things [the elephants],” and ran off into the bush, leaving us with the jeep, the keys, and the rifle (.375 caliber; the minimum allowed when walking in the bush)!

 

Soon we heard voices in the direction of the second jeep, and shortly thereafter Etienne reappeared.  He had not only found the elephants (he explained, “They’re in the thickest shit”) but also talked to the other jeep.  The ranger driving the other jeep had neglected to bring her radio this day.

 

We agreed to drive to the other side, back near the railroad, to try again, this time with both jeeps together.  Complicating the matter was the fact that the guests in the second jeep had not yet seen any elephants on their trip (whereas we had already seen tons of elephants in Tanzania) and this was their last day before heading home to Pennsylvania.  Note that safari rangers work for tips.  The stakes were high for a decent elephant sighting.

 

Before circling around again, we decided to drive the jeeps straight into the bush and see how close we could get.  We called this new trail we attempted to blaze “Etienne Road,” after our guide.  We then had to change the name to “Dead End” – the bush was just too thick.

 

So we stuck to the original plan (and the preexisting road) and drove back around.  It wasn’t long before we all got our first reasonably close glimpse of our quarry.  By standing on top of the jeep, we could see two full-grown females about 100 feet into the dense bush.  We enjoyed that scene for a while as the elephants gradually moved away, back toward “Etienne Road.”

 

At about 5pm, a third jeep pulled up, wondering what was going on.  This jeep consisted of the rest of the Americans staying at the park at that time (New Yorkers, these).  There were now six guests and three rangers.

 

Naturally, the rangers wanted to pursue an even closer look.  We figured the elephants by then would be really close to the new “Etienne Road” on the other side.  So the whole convoy drove back around with us in the lead.

 

When we got around – there they were!  Elephants are pretty destructive as they feed, tearing the bark from trees and even knocking the trees over as they lean in.  We could now see and hear them, less than 50 feet away.

 

Now things get crazy!  The guides said the wind was “perfect,” so let’s walk in closer and let the elephants walk right past us on the ground.  The rules were clear – always stay behind the guy with the rifle (good thing we had it with us for the earlier walk), stay single file, close together, and under no circumstances run away.  If anyone freaks out, we’ll back out slowly.

 

We then got to within 20 feet of them – on foot – and allow me to confirm that they’re really big, with long scary tusks.  By then, I had noticed what I presumed to be an additional complication – a baby was with them, no taller than a man, and mirroring the mother’s every move.  Baby elephants are so cute, yet so intimidating.

 

Now things get even crazier!  Our guide had brought up the rear of the group, just behind me, but he ended up kneeling about 10 feet back from the rest of us.  The mother elephant spotted him and got nervous.  She took a step toward him, stood up really tall to look big and scary (!!) and then backed off to see what the response would be. 

 

Elephant psychology is such that they expect you to back away at that point.  Anything else, such as a rhino, would indeed do so out of fear.  In our case, though, we do fear it, but we can’t show them that we can be intimidated. 

 

So we all just sat there, frozen for a couple of minutes.  The elephants moved deeper into the bush, but closer to the jeeps.  We decided that this was our opportunity to return to the jeeps as well.  Anyway, being on the ground with them was too scary for me.

 

We pulled the jeeps around into an area where the beasts appeared to be heading.  We got lucky; they came right up to us since we were in the lead jeep.  The mother elephant was just right there – less than 30 feet away.

 

Then things got craziest of all!  The third jeep restarted its engine and backed away right as the mother elephant was looking at us in the front jeep.  The elephant started to freak out.  Furthermore, the people in the second jeep were talking loudly and taking flash photographs.  The elephant got confused and thought all of the distraction was coming from us.  She stepped toward us quickly and then immediately ran backward in a tight circle.  She advanced on us and stared in a very menacing way!  She was preparing to charge our jeep.

 

Everyone in the whole group was frozen at that point, not wanting to agitate her further.  It seemed like an eternity before anything else happened.  Fortunately, she was satisfied with that and slowly moved into the bush.  We pulled out and got the heck away from that area.

 

Etienne later blamed the so-called mock charge on the third jeep, that that ranger had not “read the signs” of the situation, and had thereby put us in danger.  Whatever!  The whole thing freaked us out. 

 

It was after 6pm when we left the area – we’d been tracking the elephants for 3.5 hours.

 

We ate a quick dinner, after watching the sun set behind the clouds, and then headed out again for a night drive around 7:30pm.  During the drive, we saw Nyala, Impala, giraffe, and two genets.  We also got a really close-up view of a bush baby.  It reminded me of a mini-koala.  I also saw the Southern Cross constellation, fulfilling a life-long dream in doing so – great!

 

It was indeed a full day.

9 Feb

Today we left at 10am for a 4pm river/nature cruise in the St. Lucia Estuary.  We think our guided wanted to leave so early just to avoid his morning chores.  Anyway, St. Lucia was very pretty.  Driving around, we saw water buck and bush buck.

 

The main focus of the excursion was a 1.5 hour river cruise.  We saw crocodile, hippo (including a one week old), gray heron, goliath heron, and these little, bright yellow birds that make tons of nests in the reeds.  The boat skipper was a complete bitch, though.  Aside from being a boring narrator, she sent her assistant over to tell me to get my shoes off of the seat cushion.  I’m sorry, but all of the seats in the boat actually face toward the inside, so what do you expect?  This made looking outside the boat – which was the whole point – pretty uncomfortable while seated.

 

Another cool estuary feature is the crocodile/reptile house.  Here they breed the Nile, Dwarf, and Long-Snout crocs, plus the North-American alligator.  After that is in exhibit featuring more species of live snakes than I’ve ever seen, including those from Africa, Asia, and North America.

 

Evening found us at the bar in the Zulu Nyala lodge and I learned a new favorite drink:  J&B whiskey on the rocks.  The bartender is one of the owners’ sons.  The bartender’s brother does computer-related work here.  I learned from the bartender that at least some of their work involves the use of stolen software.  He told me this quite plainly, explaining that his brother will sometimes say “There’s this cool new program coming out,” and two hours later they’ve got it from some warez site.  The bartender then said to me, “You don’t work for Microsoft, do you?”  Yes, and I told him so.

 

By the way, this guy has got such an unbearable attitude; I can’t believe one of his co-workers hasn’t fragged him, even if he is the owner’s son.  Anyway, here’s his website:  http://www.joannides.com. 

10 Feb

This morning brought another game drive at 6am.  We saw four elephants, a goshawk, an eagle, vervet monkeys (including one posted as a sentinel to warn the other monkeys of our approach), African Elk (the biggest of the local elk varieties; I can’t remember the real name; it’s dark brown with long twisty horns), plus the usual buffalo, impala, nyala, giraffe, zebra, warthog, wildebeest, and unidentified birds (not that the guide doesn’t know what all the birds are called – I just can’t remember or didn’t ask).

 

On our afternoon game walk we saw a monitor lizard (very big) and a secretary bird (rare).  We stalked white rhino and saw all four of them.  Meanwhile, we gave a very wide berth to the buffalo that were enjoying their midday wallow.  The guide predicted the whole situation, including where all of the animals would be at this time of day.  It was a long, hot walk but enjoyable. 

11 Feb

Tonight on our game drive we saw kudu and red duiker before dark and then a mongoose after dark.

 

It’s extremely windy here.  The wind even knocked over a full glass of diet coke.

 

This morning we Hluhluwe-Umfalowzi park, having left the lodge at 4:15am and stopping for coffee and muffins at a gas station with some insane guy wandering around the parking lot.  The excursion cost us around US $100 apiece and we saw nothing interesting except pretty scenery – no rare wild dogs and no cheetah, although we may have seen the remnants of a kill from the latter.  We saw some eagle with a French name.

12 Feb

Yesterday we ate breakfast at 7am and went on a walk down into the ravine adjacent to the lodge starting at 7:30am.  We walked along the river which was unusually flooded due to recent rains.  The flooding washed a lot of animal bones, especially impala, onto the bank.  The impala appeared to have been killed by a leopard, judging by the way the snout and other bones had been crushed.  We also saw leopard tracks.

 

After walking for a while, we were picked up by another ranger who took us for a short drive.  We saw nothing out of the ordinary except recent elephant tracks.

 

We then packed, which was particularly painful due to the fragile wood carvings we had purchased in Tanzania, and the wine and Amarula we anticipated buying in the Jo-burg airport duty-free.

 

At 1:30pm, we drove to Richard’s Bay.  Our flight to Jo-burg for us there at about 5:15pm and we hung out at the Café Roma and bought new reading material while waiting for the KLM check-in desk to open.

 

Some guy showed us where the KLM desks were located after we had just walked into the terminal, then asked us for some money to buy a cold drink in return.  We said no.

13 Feb

Today we’re traveling home, although the whole thing is just a blur from yesterday.

 

At 11:40pm last night, our plane left for Amsterdam and we landed about eleven hours later (and set our clocks back one hour).  It’s now Friday morning and we’re sitting on the plan at the gate, waiting to leave for Seattle.  At least we have exit-row seats with plenty of leg-room for this flight.

 

We arrived in Seattle, and reached our door step 36 hours after we left Zulu Nyala.  What a trip!