Photos: Africa

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Okay -- we'd done New Zealand (2002) and Chile (2003), what could be more wonderful/odd/different/wilder? Mathieu had talked about Africa, the "dark continent" for a long time -- so off on photo safari we went -- into the land where gazelle and lions roam...

Unlike previous trips, we used a tour company, Micato, to plan everything. Despite dire warnings from our own government, we left on December 26th for the countries of Kenya and Tanzania. We landed safely at home on January the 11th.

Right away, I'd like to thank our fellow safari travelers: Anne and Joe, Mary and Carl, and Heather and Brian. I'd also like to thank our friendly, informative guides: Lewella and Victor, and the countless drivers, pilots, porters and wait staff that made the whole trip fabulous.

Here's a quick summary of our preparation, for those of you planning your own safari:
- Malaria pills? We decided no. I saw four mosquitoes. None bit me. They don't live at high altitude. Anyway-the drugs usually have nasty side-effects for very little risk--no thanks
- Small airplanes have a 33lbs. luggage limit - pack carefully. (Note: Micato shipped us bags well in advance to help us figure out the size limitation)
- Camera? We purchased an Olympus and a very large memory card. Digital with lots (10x +) of optical zoom was an excellent choice. Shoot lots, delete later.
- Binoculars? These worked very well.
- DEET (bug repellant)? Mosquitoes aside, the flies were very bad - so a little bug spray helped. Beware: at 95% concentration, DEET melts through plastic bags and dissolves the paint on Kenyan automobiles.
- Bring pens, rubber balls, paper and blue LEDs for the children.

To see the pictures from the trip, follow the hypertext links below.  I'm using this format so I can merge all the picture captions into a single story.

I've assumed you're running in 1024x768 screen mode. If you don't know what that means, don't fret. All the pictures will display in this page so to get back to this text just click on the browser's back arrow or hit the Backspace key.

Feel free to right click and "Save As..." pictures you especially like for personal use. Many have been cropped or resized, so if you'd like the high resolution original, email me at logrus101 at yahoo dot com. I humbly ask that we're given credit for the death-defying feats involved in capturing these images. If you are linking to these or using them for non-personal use, ask permission at the same email address. :)

Day 1 - Saturday - U.A.E. - Dubai

Mathieu used frequent flyer miles to buy the tickets. The only seats available are in First Class. Shucks.

This is my first time riding on the top level of a 747. *^_^* We're stuffed full of wine and caviar.

The caviar almost makes up for our itinerary: Boston to Frankfurt in seven hours, six hour layover in Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Dubai in six hours, an overnight stay in Dubai, followed by a six hour flight to Nairobi.

On the plus side, we got a great view of mountains in Turkey and a cool sunset above the clouds. I awoke to a politically relevant "you are here" map of the arabian peninsula.

We arrive in Dubai, a large coastal city in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), at about 10pm. A short cab ride later, a light dinner of humus and olives, and we're ready for bed.

Day 2 - Sunday - U.A.E. - Dubai

After a breakfast on the hotel patio with more olives, dates, humus, spicy eggplant, and very fresh orange juice, we walk around the city for a few hours. Basking in the balmy 80 degree sunny weather is a welcome change from the 25 degrees we left behind in Boston. The bright sunshine helps with the nine hour jet lag.

We find a very modern city with prayer rooms in shopping malls, people thrusting $5 name-brand dress shirts into our hands "cheap, cheap, good buy" and a highly gender aware society.

I wish we could have spent more time in Dubai, but the lions are waiting for us. On the plane we go (again).

From the sky, Nairobi has far fewer lights than an American city. Our passports and visas are stamped a few times. Lewella, our Micato guide in Kenya, meets us outside. He and our driver, Martin, chauffeur us to our hotel. On the way, we replace the myth that "Boston drivers are the worst " with a simple "oh my god, Kenyan drivers". Very few street lights, 100km/hr, six inches from cars going in the opposite direction, five inches from a guy changing a tire.

Our hotel, the Grand Regency, feels more like a fortress, with four guards, a ten foot perimeter wall, and two-tiered vehicle gates.

Day 3 - Monday - Kenya - Nairobi

Awake the next day to see the city for the first time! First impressions are: quiet, warm (low 80s F), very polluted - diesel fumes and burning garbage are the most common smells, and quite poor. We're briefed by a Micato team about our itinerary (map courtesy of Micato's brochure).

Before we leave for the bush, there are a few sights worth seeing in Nairobi. One such sight is a private reserve for Rothchild giraffes. Visitors can hand feed the giraffes from an elevated platform. Their tongues are unbelievable -- they are as dextrous as a human hand! Too bad only 300 are left in the world :(

Another great attraction in Nairobi is the Carnivore restaurant. They're an all-you-can-eat restaurant, specializing in game animals - zebra, crocodile, gazelle, giraffe, and our favorite, eland. They will continue bringing meat to your table until you "surrender" by means of a little flag at each table. All of the game animals are farm raised, so it isn't all that different from ordering cow or pork. Zebra is very tough and tastes like a botched pot roast. Eland is more tender, with a richer, beefier flavor. Crocodile tastes just like alligator, which, of course, tastes just like chicken.

The most moving experience of the whole trip is when we "escape" into the streets of Nairobi, unaccompanied by our guide. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel, a street urchin adopts us. We are the only white people within blocks. The boy, somewhere between 7 and 10 years old, follows us for a good 20 minutes, whispering and asking for money, showing Mathieu his sores and scars, singing songs. His eyes are yellowed and glazed.

Since we speak no swahili, we never learn his story. We lose him when we walked into a building with a bank. The guards at the front door (who searched both of us with metal detectors before we could go in) scare the urchin away.

Day 4 - Tuesday - Kenya - Amboseli Park

Monday morning we fly into the bush: Amboseli National Park. There's a stunning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from everywhere in the park. Amboseli is famous for its large elephant population.

Our first "game drive" starts right at the airstrip. As we drive, every direction looks like bonus material from the Lion King. All the herbivores hang out together. Elephants really do have little birds living on their backs. If you close your eyes and run in a straight line, you won't get more than 100 yards before planting your face on a wildebeest or zebra.

Halfway to the hotel, we see our first carnivore - a lone hyena skirting a herd of zebra. The hyena moves on without incident.

A herd of elephant is approaching the road, and we position our vehicle right in their way. There is a momma with her baby - a very young and cute baby.

A bit further along, a different herd is running! (notice the gazelle posing in the foreground) Our guide assures us that running elephants are a rarity. The herd's bull takes up the rear, forcing the line forward.

We make a stop at the elephant swamp, where scores of elephant eat and bathe. Elsewhere in the swamp, we see mated pairs of crowned cranes. These beautiful birds mate for life, and never seem to be far from their partner.

None of the animals are disturbed by our vehicle. They check us out for about five seconds, then wander away and keep grazing. That meant we could get close to this zebra and this gazelle. Diversity abounds. In one picture, I got a wildebeest, gazelle, crowned cranes and elephants.

The last treats before the hotel are a lizard and a pair of old male elephants (that's the roof of our car at the bottom of the picture).

The hotel, Amboseli Serena Lodge, sits in an oasis of trees and water. It is organically integrated into the land: you can watch elephants from the comfort of the bar, there's a family of mongoose living under our room, and vervet monkeys everywhere.

In the late afternoon, we go out for another game drive. There's a hyena burrow, complete with baby hyena. Are baby hyenas cute?

There's a detour through a troop of baboons, who ask us for a toll.

Our car's radio squelches to life - a lion's been spotted! On the way, we see a Goliath heron finishing off a helpless snake.

When we get to the lion, we have our first lesson in photo safari-ing: make sure your car is there first. Once people hear there's a lion, you get a lion traffic jam. At first, all we can see is a patch of yellow fur, really far away, surrounded by yellow grass. By now, the sun is low in the sky, and in the fading light everyone loses track of where the lion is.

Eventually, the ol' boy awoke, yawned, and got up for a night of hunting. Exhilarating as it is, this would not be our last, and far from our closest encounter with a lion.

Heading home for the night, we see a bunch of moving rocks - like a cross between Fizzgig ("Dark Crystal"), "Critters", and a Perdue Butterball. These are guinea fowl, and quickly become Mathieu's favorite animal. Henceforth, we just call them "butterballs."

I can't get over Kilimanjaro's height. Those funky bonsai-like trees are acacia, and they're everywhere. They've got two inch thorns that protect their leaves. Acacia are photogenic.

What a long day! I fall asleep hoping the monkeys don't get us.

Day 5 - Wednesday - Kenya - Amboseli Park


We're up before dawn to prepare for another game run. We drive past lion haunts, but see more tracks than cats. We do get a nice look at a curious hyena, who checks us out.

Our Amboseli driver, David, is a movie fan. He does a great job of lining up cinematic shots -- locations which have been used in Hollywood movies.

There are a few elusive oryx grazing nearby.

We catch a whole pack of hyenas resting after a successful hunt.

Today is a good day for birds: hawk, stork, Goliath heron, secretary bird, pelicans, Egyptian geese, this blue bird, and a bird that looks photoshopped.

It is also a good day for buffalo. Buffalo with bird. Buffalo with tree. A hiding hippo. Two lionesses under a tree.

We return to the hotel for lunch, then go on a nature walk. There's an albino frog sitting on a leaf, and a couple of lizards on a rock. Just a stone's throw away is a big spring where the local Masai do their laundry and water their goats. Almost every Masai we meet, even young children, has a yard long stick, like the one this gentleman is leaning on. It not only serves as a means of support, but is also helpful when herding goats, sheep and cattle. The Masai are not warriors, but many will carry spears to defend the herd from predators. One more note - his sandals are made from old tire treads. Tire shoes are inexpensive and very popular.

Before dusk, there's another game drive. This time we visit the old Amboseli ranger station, where you can watch the whole park. On the way, we see some warthogs, a hippo, and a giraffe. Around dusk, we have cocktails at the elephant research station, where the clouds parted just long enough to re-assert Kilimanjaro's size.

By dinner, I'd totally forgotten it was New Year's Eve! The resort has a great party, complete with ice sculpture (those are Christmas lights and lettuce inside the ice), a game of "Identify Your Wife By Her Feet", a few elephants quietly walking past our dinner table, and a stick bug who falls on Mathieu's arm.

Day 6 - Thursday - Tanzania - Lake Manyara

Today we drive to Tanzania. Halfway out of the park, our car has a little breakdown. Not an uncommon event - these folks keep spare parts in the glove box. But it happens in a rather remote spot. We hitch a ride with another tour group, and we're soon at the border town.

The long drive into Tanzania is a cultural experience. We see lots of farms surrounded by small houses. We stop at a large gift shop and haggle over the price of a painting done by a local artist. The cost of framing the painting here in the U.S. far exceeds the price we agree on.

Our first Tanzanian destination is Lake Manyara. We arrive a bit too late in the day for a game run, but I enjoy a nice dip in the pool-with-a-view at the Serena lodge.

Day 7 - Friday - Tanzania - Ngorogoro Crater

Once again, the lodge is organically attached to its surroundings. Right outside are hordes of male weaver birds, picking twigs to build impressive nests for their mates. There's also a cluster of bats just outside the foyer.

In the morning, we do a game drive around Lake Manyara. I wonder what events precipitated this sign? The elephants here are just as friendly as the ones in Amboseli.

We get our first look at the "sausage tree", which has enormous fruits shaped like, well... sausages. The fruit is large - almost as long as your arm and thicker. Victor tells us that a local tribe makes a potent beer from the fruit. As we found out later, the sausage tree is the arboreal residence of choice among leopards.

A few (million) flamingos feeding in the distance.

A flock of ground hornbills plod past us.

Back in the forest, we catch an impala having lunch.

Let's not forget our friends the termites, who keep themselves very busy.

Those vervet monkeys are everywhere.

Elephants like mud baths. Family mud baths. With mud. Lots of mud.
You Lion King fans will recognize Rafiki's tree home: a baobab. Rafiki, we learn, means "friend" in swahili, not baboon.

After lunch, we start the three hour drive to Ngorogoro crater. The countryside is mostly farmland. When we stop for gas, I snap a picture of this cool rooster carrier on another car.

We get to the crater late in the afternoon. It's about ten miles in diameter, and we have to drive halfway around to get to the Sopa lodge. The view from there is exceptional - we decide to kick back with our books.

Day 8 - Saturday - Tanzania - Ngorogoro Crater

Down into the crater! It feels so much like Jurassic Park.

Our first sighting is a jackal, slinking around in the tall grass.

Caution: wildebeest crossing. Notice the zebra mixed with the herd. The wildebeest keep the zebra around because they have better eyesight, and, in my opinion, better "situational awareness". They feed on different levels of grass, so they can co-graze. The zebra keep the wildebeest around for... well, ... fodder for the attacking predators.

Wildebeest are also known as gnus, because of the sound they make.

There are a lot of zebra babies and young adults. Zebra for the first year and half have brown stripes, not black. Baby zebra lie down on the ground, to hide their small size (everyone's the same height in bed!), and the brown fur helps them blend in with the grass. 

There's a party at the water hole and everyone is invited.

I can't shake the feeling of being inside a lost world - a feeling that is only enhanced by the frequency distorted swahili coming from the car's CB radio. It sounds like confused Jawas. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Bantha.

The animals are so much cooler than our North American fauna. The birds are either more colorful or just plain BIG.

A hyena walks right down the road, a few feet from our car, and keeps on going.

I spot my first lion - a big male taking a nap. He gets up to check out some birds circling a kill. Once he clears the rise of the hill, he sees a few jackals around the carcass of a bird. Lions will scavenge other animal's kills, but not something so small. The lion returns to his nap, and the jackal to the kill.

The rhinos here are shy. There are only sixteen of them in the whole crater, and the park service guards them fiercely against poachers.

Over by the hippo pool, the local Masai (they're nomadic) are watering their herd. See how they're all holding sticks? You can also see some hippos and blacksmith plover birds in the foreground.

It rains before lunch. Lions don't like rain.

During lunch, a black kite (the bird, not the toy) snatches a dinner roll out of Carl's unsuspecting hand.

On the way back to the lodge, we see a cheetah.

Near the rim, we're lucky enough to see a lioness take down a wildebeest. The kill was over in seconds, so I didn't get a shot. The wildebeest is the black lump behind the lion.

When the lioness' cub approached the wildebeest's herd, the zebra guards had a stare down. The cub returns to mom.

The clouds part, and more sunbeams fill the crater as we leave.

Day 9 - Sunday - Tanzania - Serengeti

From Ngorogoro, we set out on a long drive to the famous Serengeti. On this satellite map, you can see Lake Manyara (lower right corner, our first stop in Tanzania), Ngorogoro crater, and the Serengeti. The park is over 3,200 sq miles!

The drive is excellent - we see a hardcore punk giraffe with a chunk missing from its mane. Further along is a more tame family in search of lunch.

We take a quick detour to Olduvai gorge, named after a plant that lives there. The real name of the plant is pronounced "Oldupai", but the British butchered it. Louis and Mary Leaky's work makes this a famous archeological site for the study of early humans.

Here is a picture of the toilet there. Lots of lizards live near it.

We arrive at the gateway (360 degree panorama) to the Serengeti. There's a rest stop to take lunch, watch pretty rainbow lizards, and enjoy the view from atop a granite rock formation. A sign here tells us that the rainbow lizards are called "Agama", the rock formations are called "Kopjes", and there are small furry creatures called "Hyrax" living on top of the rocks.

There's time for a game drive before reaching the resort. We see our first Topi (found only in Serengeti), a reddish creature with black patches that look like it has been marked up by a butcher.

Atop another granite mound, there's a pride of lions taking a nap. This is our closest encounter so far!

We find two cheetahs relaxing under a tree. The tree isn't far from the road, so we can drive right up and hold our cameras very close.

The roads, just like Kenya, are all dirt, a little bumpy, and sometimes have bodies of water flowing right over them.

Word is out on Bush CNN (drivers shouting swahili to each other from passing cars) that there's a leopard up ahead. The leopard is the most elusive of all the cats. They're hard to find, because they spend a great deal of time in those sausage trees. We try to maneuver for a good photo, but all we got were spots.

Heading back to the Sopa lodge, we get close enough to some giraffes to see their helpful bird friends. We also see more wildebeest than ever before. The park has a population of two million. They migrate from one end to the other in search of water.

Day 10 - Monday - Tanzania - Serengeti

Today's game run kicks off with some giraffe fleeing an unseen predator (our driver suspects a lion). Note: the giraffes are running *away* from our hotel. Fellow guests reported "lion noises" last evening. The resort does not allow people to wander outside at night, offering escorts to and from buildings.

Running giraffes are better than coffee - and it looks like this dikdik, a small species of antelope, is wide awake too.

We drive for a long time, then are rewarded with lions in repose. These two are cleaning each other. This girl is out for the morning. The pride is watching a herd of wildebeest. Have I mentioned there are a lot of wildebeest?

There's some excitement when we hear that a cheetah's been spotted with a fresh kill. Here's the cheetah, dead gazelle, and the cheetah's baby cub. We're only twenty feet from them, so close that I have trouble getting the camera to focus behind the acacia branches. Mom and baby clean each other after they're finished eating.

More driving around. Potentially great shot of a leopard, but far, far away.

If trees had feelings, this one would be lonely.

Hippo mom and baby heading for the river.

We stop for lunch at another kopjes (rock formation). I think this is a great "you are here" sign. The arrows are not recommended driving routes, but rather wildebeest migration routes.

There are hyrax here, cute little creatures a bit bigger than a chinchilla. And, exactly as the sign shows, they live on the rocks.

Also on this kopjes are metal sculptures of serengeti animals. (the claws are made from old spark plugs) There's a great view of the plains, some really big cacti, and the ever present weaver birds. A mural tells visitors about the challenges of being a serengeti ranger.

Lunch concludes with tea in real teacups, then we hit the road again. Some male impala are standing off and locking horns.

Down by the river, a banded mongoose shows off his bands. This lioness is sporting a fashionable radio collar, so researchers can track her movements. No African river is complete without a croc.

Luck! Someone's seen a leopard we can drive near. I'm so happy to get a decent leopard shot. I can even get a close up. Leopards haul (Icky dead animal WARNING!!!) prey up into the tree for later consumption - very creepy.

Back at the hotel, we are surprised to see this sign about crowding cheetahs. I hope we didn't traumatize the mom and cub, since there were 13 vehicles around them, some less than five meters away.

Another great view to end a great day.

Day 11 - Tuesday - Kenya - Maasai Mara

Today we fly back to Kenya, via the Serengeti International Airport, terminal E... er, the airstrip.

There's time for a group photo next to the plane. We fly to Lake Victoria to get our passports stamped out of Tanzania. The lounge there has awesome chairs. Then we get on the little plane and get our passports stamped into Kenya and onto the little plane again. Flying five full hours for two stamps and a one hour direct trip.

A few hours later, and we're driving through Maasai Mara, the northern part of the serengeti that sticks into Kenya. Here, you can drive off road. That means if you see some cheetah, you can drive right up to them.

This resort is a tented camp, but our tent has a toilet and a shower. Hot water, just like all the other resorts, is only available from 5pm to 8pm and 5am to 8am. Electricity is on most of the time (generators switching every 2-3 hours). Notice the sausage tree lamps by the beds.

Once again, there is no border between the wildlife and the resort. There's a family of warthogs grazing poolside. Cheaper than a lawnmower!

In the afternoon game drive, we see an eland, one of the beasts we ate at Carnivore (rare find). There are a lot of buffalo here. They don't move much, so we get a good extreme close up.

Our driver takes us to three lions under a tree - two males and a female. We're offroading, so we get uncomfortably close. (Uncomfortable for me, at least. The lions don't seem to care.) Look at all those teeth! He licks his paw, looks around, and cuddles next to the other male. Ahh, the life of a lion: yawning, looking here and there, reclining, and sleeping.

An elephant herd crosses our path on the way back to camp. A mom and her baby. Note: our car has no windows.

Some local Masai men do an audience participation dance before dinner. Mathieu is brave enough to join in. I'm not. Someone has to take the pictures, right?

Day 12 - Wednesday - Kenya - Maasai Mara

Today starts with a hot air balloon ride. High in the air at dawn, we see sunrise. In the distance is the other hot air balloon. Our capable pilot, Elle, brings us down to see hippos in the river, giraffes on the banks, and sometimes brings us just a few feet above the ground.

Our landing is unexpectedly smooth, and the support crew runs in to pack up the deflating balloon. There's champagne waiting for us, and the best breakfast I've tasted since we arrived.

The rest of the morning is a game drive. Back in the river we flew over, a crocodile suns itself.

A slim cheetah rests in a slim shadow. I'm still in awe of how close we can get to these beautiful animals. I think this picture makes a good wallpaper.

I'm lucky to get a baby zebra and a baby giraffe in the same picture.

Just down the road is a (Icky WARNING!) lion with her fresh kill. It is unusual that she doesn't drag the (WARNING, still icky!) kill into the shade. (no more icky) This picture give you an idea of how close we were. Note: still no windows.

The lioness had to keep running to and from the shade to scare away the vultures.

Ever wonder how giraffes drink? They cut off the blood to their brain to drink. Very dizzying!

Before lunch, we find a gully with several lion cubs. We keep looking around to make sure mom does not sneak up on us.

Back to the resort for lunch. Did I mention it feels like Jurassic Park?

In the afternoon, we visit a Masai village. The village women sing a song to welcome us. This is the eldest woman in the village - she is 45 years old. A young man named Andrew speaks english, and invites us into his house. There are two beds, one for the husband, and one for the wife and children. Our fellow safari goer, Mary, has brought bubbles to give out to the children.

Here's Justin (for scale) standing next to one of the huts. The Masai traditionally wear shades of dark red, a tradition carried from the days when they wore blood-stained animal hides. Today, most Masai children go away to school when they are six, reading and writing are encouraged, and Mathieu happily notes that pen chewing is a universal behavior. Smiles are all around.

It is near the end of the day, so we stop for cocktails in the bush. There's a beautiful sunset, followed by a beautiful moonrise.

That evening, we do a night game run. It is nearly impossible to take pictures, but I do catch some hippos. Hippos are a lot more active at night. They run around and graze. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for the most deaths by far. Do not taunt a hippo or get it its way.

Day 13 - Thursday - Kenya - Mt. Kenya

Today we enter the "relaxing" phase of the vacation. Less activity, time to reflect on everything we've seen and done.

Here is terminal E at the Maasai Mara International Airport. We fly back to Nairobi and start the drive to Mount Kenya. We stop at another overwhelming gift store, where Justin haggles for a soapstone sculpture. Nobody puts prices on things. It is expected that you will try to bargain. Americans can't seem to get over this. Even hotel gift shops will haggle. I saw many abandoned paperbacks in english, wrapped in plastic with a nominal price scrawled on them.

We do not stop at a "real" street market.

The countryside is mostly farmland - coffee, papayas, mangoes and pineapples. It weirds me out that almost all the men wear very nice button up shirts, even in the middle of nowhere. They do a lot of walking on the streets! It is common to see people collecting sticks for firewood.

After driving all day, we arrive at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, where a malibu stork greets us, just outside the bar window.

Day 14 - Friday - Kenya - Mt. Kenya

We sleep in a beautiful cottage with flowers all around. The Safari Club is like a country club, but keeping with that theme of organic integration into the land. There's a peacock living in the courtyard. They have a tennis court that straddles both hemispheres.

The morning is relaxing, and we have time to walk the hedge maze behind the club. We go for a short horseback ride.

After lunch, we visit the Sweetwater camp. Here, they have a rhino orphan that was saved by humans. He lives in a very large fenced enclosure, with armed guards to protect him from poachers. He has become used to humans, so we can pet and feed him. I finally get my rhino close up.

Down the road is a chimpanzee orphanage. They live behind a tall electric fence ("hatari" means danger). We ride down a narrow river to watch the caretakers feed the chimps. They throw fruit from the boat, and the chimps catch them.

Day 15 - Saturday - Kenya - Nairobi

Today is our last day. We've both had a great time. Kenya and Tanzania are beautiful countries, full of rich wildlife and deep culture.

As we load the car, Justin notices that the world is really, really small.

It is another long set of flights back. We land back in Boston to find record breaking lows (-15F) and frozen water pipes. Ha... - civilization :)

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