Saturday May 31st After a marvelous time in Uganda we head to the border of Tanzania, continuing my tour organized by East African Safaris with my driver/guide Ezekial.  A bit of paperwork, a visa and we drive through.  At lunch we stop at a small outside café so Ezekial can get some BBQ.  On the hill overlooking the café is the ruins of a Catholic Cathedral that was blown up by Idi Amin in 1978.  We take the whole day to drive to Bokoba on the west shores of Lake Victoria.  They have an African Grey parrot in the lobby and everyone is shocked when I just go up and scratch its neck, ears, under its beak.  “But that bird bites”, they say to me as I continue.  Sure he tried to and when he twists his head instead of pulling my hand away I twist my wrist so that my hand remains on the back of his head.  I miss Tia.  I go up to the pool and talk to a German guy and some local women that he knows.  He invites me to go bar/club hopping tonight but after a couple problems with the cab I arrive late to our meeting point and he has gone on.  So back to the hotel I go.

Sunday June 1st I wake up early and go to a location above the hotel that I scoped out yesterday to get a few sunrise photos over Lake Victoria.  After breakfast, it’s another driving day for us with box lunch.  We make our way around Lake Victoria and take a ferry over a southern extension of the lake.  We arrive to Speke Bay Lodge on the eastern side of Lake Victoria.  The lodge has luxury huts for me to stay in.  I have a couple beers while I take pictures of sunset across Lake Victoria.  I have a wonderful dinner with mango crumble and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  I make sure to get all my camera and flash batteries charged here because it will be hard to get them charged the next few days.  The excitement is building for the next part of my adventure.

Monday June 2nd In the morning after breakfast, a large canoe with 3 rowers and a guide pulls up to the beach.  I get in and we take a glide around the lake while I do some birding.  We come into a fishing village teeming with activity.  The morning catch is spread out on sackcloth along with fruit and vegetable wares.  Dogs and scavenger birds fight over the scraps.  Everyone is so nice, they open up their village to me and I soak it all in.  I ask to take a picture of three ladies sewing, one with a child strapped to her back and another child behind her.  After I take it they want to see the picture and they all point and laugh when I show it to them.  A little later a man holding a baby just comes up and puts the child in my arms.  I also meet the mother and tell her how beautiful her son is.  A couple hours later we arrive back at the lodge, pack up and drive an hour to the Serengeti.  The gate is adorned with skulls of the African buffalo.  We pick up our permit and I get a few cokes and snickers bars to keep me happy for the next 3 days in the park.  The roof is raised to give me a great vantage point for the animals.  Almost immediately the animals appear and I am shooting away, baboon, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, wildebeest, African buffalo, zebra, giraffe and warthog.  This is the first time I’ve pulled out the big gun, the 500mm with 1.4x making it a 700mm giant.  Also by my side is the 70-200 with 2x extender.  On the savannah, everything is bright and sunny including most of the animals to blend into the yellow field. I meter to up to 1 stop overexposure to properly capture the image, 0 when clouds block the sun.

At the river crossing are hippopotamus and Nile crocodile feeding on some unidentifiable meat.  We stop at the Serengeti air strip to pick up our camping permit.  Soon after we see a cluster of cars around a tree and head that way.  A leopard is in a tree with a gazelle kill.  The leopard lives and hunts alone.  I identify with its solitary existence and love of raw meat.  Leopard are quickly becoming extinct.  Hunting permits are still issued in some areas though there is a lobby to stop hunting of leopard.  The leopard is done with its meal and with a full belly is trying to nap.  There is a branch obstructing a clear view so I move down from the open roof to the window, put my beanbag support on the window and rest my 700mm on the beanbag while the big white lens sticks out the window.  There are a few oohs and ahhs from the surrounding Land Rovers.  My guide is talking to the other guides about my camera while I rattle off some shots at 12fps.  My guide now calls my camera “SMG”.  We all laugh, the leopard raises its head up at the noise and I get my best shot of the leopard.  We head to the campsite which is staffed by 4.  I am spending 3 nights here, the first 2 I am the only client.  A great dinner with too much food, I dine alone but then go over to socialize a bit with the staff.  We decide that we will go out early the next morning and take a box lunch, and this becomes our routine.  The tent is large with a bed, change room and bathroom with bucket toilet and 5-gallon shower.

Tuesday June 3rd The noises of the Serengeti at night are wonderful.  On any given night you may hear Buffalo, Lion or Hyena amongst the other creatures.  One night I heard and smelled a hyena only a few feet away.  This morning I awaken to a hot shower at 6:30, breakfast at 7 and we are off shortly after.  Ezekial knows I am most interested in the cats so today we are searching for lion and cheetah.  After a bit of searching we find a pride of lions with 4 cubs in the tall grass next to a pond.  The other side of the pond is teeming with prey.  We spend the better part of the morning with this pride until they seek some shade in the high grass.  After lunch we find a pond filled with hippopotamus, their backs and heads peeking above the water.  I’m just taking my time enjoying it and tell Ezekial that I just want to get one of the hippos with its mouth open.  He tells me that that is a rare occurrence and that we may be there for hours.  One minute later, the front hippo yawns wide like I had just asked him to.  OK, we can go now.

Wednesday June 4th Yesterday getting up early worked out well so we do it again, 6:30 hot jungle shower, 7:00 breakfast, 7:30 we are off.  We witness a hyena chasing a baby gazelle who is putting distance on the hyena, but the hyena is jogging and this will be the last day for the gazelle.  But today is to be the Day of the Lion.  We head to an outcropping of rocks and there are 3 lions sunning on them.  Something is going on off road, but we are not supposed to go there.  I just enjoy getting shots for 30 minutes.  2 other cars arrive and they take a few snaps and are off.  The lions on the rocks all hear something (probably the male and head off to the tall grass.  Ezekial has spotted lions coming our way so we stay put.  They come right to the rocks to sun, a pride of 15, all right in front of me.  I take a couple shots with a wide angle lens to get them all in before switching to the 500mm to take portraits.  I have about 40 minutes all to myself to shoot when the 2 cars that left come barreling down the road and within minutes the entire pride gets up and runs to the tall grass where we cannot find them.  Later we come across 2 lions who have climbed in a tree and a male sleeping near them.  We also come across a pride of lions who are finishing dining on an impala and 2 more sunning on some rocks.  But we aren’t done with lions, we come across lions hunting zebras but they are not successful.  Late in the afternoon a huge storm front is heading our way and I get some pictures of that before Ezekial starts driving, once he’s driving I try for more but it is near impossible with the bumpy roads.  So the cheetah still eludes us even though it is my #1 priority at this point and I am losing hope.  I get back to camp and have a hot shower and wait for a group of 8 people that will join me for dinner this night.

In the Serengeti I also photographed mongoose, jackals, hyenas, elephant, crane, hawks, owls, ostrich, vultures and stork.  I did not see any snakes and the Serengeti is home to Puff Adders, Black-necked Spitting Cobras and African Rock Python.

The rules of the Serengeti and really all the parks are simple.  Do not get too close to animals (we witnessed this broken, a Land Rover driving within 1ft of a male lion), Do not disturb animals with noise or any other way.  Do not destroy vegetation.  Do not discard litter.  Do not exceed 50km/h speed limit (broken by many) and do not drive off road (we witnessed this at least once). 

Thursday June 5th In the morning some of the group of 8 headed off for a balloon ride but the weather didn’t cooperate.  I’m up for an early breakfast and off shortly after for Ngorongoro Crater.  On arrival, this looks like a paradise, hundreds of lesser flamingo and Egyptian crane.  We come across the largest elephant I have ever seen…in more ways than one (the pictures will explain).  We see some Black Rhino but they are very far off, approx. 1.5km.  At the end of the day we drive up a steep cliff edge road to the crater rim where I check into Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.  Each room has a wonderful view of the crater as does the dining room, bar and large deck.  I clean some clothes and then head up to the bar/lounge and have a couple beers in front of a roaring fire.  I meet people quickly here and join them for a nice dinner. 

Friday June 6th The morning is foggy obstructing all views of the crater.  I have breakfast with the group from last night who is heading for Arusha and then Zanzibar beaches today…I’m a bit jealous.  We head down the mountain and stop at a shop where I find a nice iron wood carving of a Black Rhino.  It is too large and heavy for me to take with me so I have to ship it home, 2 weeks later I’m still waiting for it to arrive and starting to get nervous.  We head to Lake Manyara for game viewing.  Lake Manyara has the highest concentration of baboons in Africa and they are not too afraid of cars or humans.  I also get many shots of a variety of monkeys.  After we head to the other side of the Lake to stay at a lodge.  The views here of the Great Rift Valley are incredible.  There are thousands of flamingos on the lake and I go on a short hike to try to get some shots, but they all fly away when I get 100m away, not close enough even for the 700mm.  At sunset I head back out to the lake to try for sunset shots of the Great Rift Valley and the flamingos.  Dinner is cooked by a few Masai and is really very good, but this is not traditional Masai food.

Saturday June 7th After breakfast the Masai take me on a hike near the lake shore and to a Masai Boma.  Upon arrival I had to pay chief a fee, the Boma was filthy with all the ground covered in cattle feces.  The flies are relentless and some children have hundreds of flies on their face.  This is not representative of the Bomas we have been passing.  I refuse to take photos because this is like watching an episode of Hoarders and then saying that’s how Americans live.  We passed other Bomas later that day which had clean ground, properly clothed children who were not covered with flies.  The Masai that cooked for me were very clean as was their Boma which we passed when we drove out.  After the hike, we load up the car and head to Tarangire where we saw many elephants, mongoose and 2 leopards that were very far away.  The search continued for cheetah with no luck.  We drive through the park to Boundary Hill Lodge where I stay in a wonderful hut on a cliff overlooking Tarangire with Kilimanjaro in the distance.  There is a large deck with an outdoor bathtub that I immediately fill with hot water, grab a bar of soap and some shampoo and take a long soak.  I felt totally free and relaxed.

Sunday June 7th In the morning it’s back to Tarangire where the highlight is lions hunting buffalo.  We stop at a great spot where I can see profiles of 2 females staring intently on their prey.  Then a male comes in front giving me a profile shot of all 3, perfect.  We are having a problem with the Land Rover starter, so we cannot turn off the engine and I am forced to have to try to hand hold the big lens and not use the beanbag, so I hope these shots turn out (as I write this I have not looked at them yet).  Ezekial is hoping for a fight because buffalo work as a group when attacked, attacking the attackers and it is quite a battle.  They get within a few meters of one but apparently it was too strong or not to their liking and the lions lay down in the deep grass waiting for others to come along.  I spend the afternoon reading on my private deck where I witness a kill on the Savannah on the valley below.

Monday June 8th  This was my last night and almost as if to remind me that lions were the star of the last 10 days they call out around the lodge and awaken me.  In the morning I realize I’m out of tip money.  I have set aside Ezekial’s tip and I have 2-$100 bills but no one will take them as they are from 1999 even though they are the same as the 2000-2013 bills.  So in the morning we head off to Arusha.  Ezekial has other clients so along the way we meet a city driver and change vehicles.  I say good-bye to Ezekial and give him a nice tip, we exchange information and hopefully he will get me a t-shirt from Bwindi.  In Arusha I am given a day room for a chance to take a shower and have lunch.  Late in the day we head to Kilimanjaro Airport.  I have no problem with my camera equipment as a carry on.  There was to be no cheetah on this trip, that’s nature, but one family at the airport told me they saw a pride eating a kill on the airport road.  In Nairobi, I fill a 2nd backpack with Kilimanjaro coffee beans for me and my friends back home.

Tuesday June 9th I have 10 hours at London Heathrow Airport and decide not to go into London with my 2 carry on backpacks weighing about 25lbs each.  I buy a new book, read in the lounge and have lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food Restaurant, 3 glasses Cabernet, Arugula/Parmesan salad, Duck breast, confit leg hash with cherries, Chocolate torte.  Delicious.


Tanzania, Africa

May 31, 2014

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.