Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Great Migration (3)

Our trip started at the Grumeti River Camp and continued on the the Serengeti Tent Camps. We have filled our eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of the Great Migration, and have had the thrills of elephants, giraffes, lions, hyenas, alligators and vultures in addition. Now it is time to head north, to the Klein’s Wilderness Camp, located near Klein’s Wilderness Lodge.

The “airport” at Serengeti, from where we are flying, is a busy little place with one open-to-the-air little cafe and a toilet down a path with two stalls. It’s the bring-your-own paper kind of place, but it’s nice there is that convenience. The landing strip itself is just a cleared piece of ground where the little two engine planes land and take off.

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Our flight is larger than most we have taken, maybe 20-something people, most on the way home or to Zanzibar. First, they are dropping us off at Kleins, a short flight away. The landing field at Klein’s has a little antelope running across it when we get there, so the pilot circles and lands on the lush green landing strip. There is no one there. We wait, it is inevitable that a car come roaring around the curve any moment now, but no car comes. The pilot comes on the microphone and asks who the passengers are for Klein’s, and we raise our hands.

“I can’t leave you here,” he says.

We totally understand. There are lions around. This is a wild country.

“I have to take you to Arusha with us,” he says, “and I will bring you back on the next flight.”

I am not entirely unhappy. In the tiny little airport in Arusha, I found a vendor who is selling Masai textiles and raw gems at very good prices. He is Moslem, and astounded that I speak some Arabic. When I come back to his shop, he is delighted to see me again. (or maybe I paid too much the first time, ya think?)

I pick up a few more momentos, and head back for the airline departure desk, where there is a very loud argument going on over the telephone about who is to blame about our not being picked up at Klein’s Wilderness Camp. The Camp says the airlines never told them. The airlines say they did. It’s on our itinerary, which we have had for months, and we landed exactly when they said we would, but in Africa, you have to stay flexible, flight schedules change depending on where customers need to be dropped off. It doesn’t pay to get angry or aggressive, you learn to just go with the flow. Things will work out.

A short time later, the pilot takes us to the plane for the flight back, and whoa! We fly right over an active volcano!

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This time, when we get to Klein’s, a car is waiting and the arguement between Klein’s and the airlines continues. On the way to Klein’s, we are told that they were never told when we would be arriving.

Don’t you hate it when people refuse to take any responsibility? The airlines treated us so well, the pilot said he didn’t think it was their fault but he went out of his way to make sure we felt well taken care of. This is the only time at CCAfrica that we felt the camp was not well managed, and part of that feeling came from this continual message of “it’s not our fault.” We later learned that the previous camp manager had just been fired and a new manager was starting, and there was a lot of work going on to try to get the camp back on track.

This was another beautiful location, we were high up and could see forever.

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Sometimes, in the mornings, or in the late afternoon, the migrating antelope came through the camp. We could sit outside and just watch them file past.

Most of our days in this camp, we would leave early in the morning, have lunch with us so we would stop somewhere in the park, and not get back until late at night. These are the vehicles we travelled in, stopped for a break

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Some of the roads were barely there, were pitted, or rutted, or were raw rock:

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We spent hours watching the zebra herds, and the shy antelope:

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“How can you spend hours watching zebra?” you might ask. Every zebra is different. It’s particularly fun watching female zebra with their young. When they are born, the momma zebra insures that her little baby zebra sees only her coat for the first important hours of it’s life, so that the baby can recognize the momma zebra’s own unique markings:

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But there were other thrills as well. The nice thing about travelling in a very small group (most of the time just AdventureMan and I and the guide) was that you can ask them to stop while you photograph a beautiful purple flower:

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And if you see a leopard, you can just sit and watch him as long as you like:

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We rarely ran into others from the camps, but this Masai was accompanying another group:

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Among the thrills in this more northern camp were also the glorious birds. This is one of our favorites, a Lilac Breasted Roller:

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I’m not sure what this bird is, probably a common starling. His fluorescent coloring attracted my eye. AdventureMan says that the fluorescent coloring happens a lot in birds which eat excrement, but he is not sure that is true, just what he thinks he remembers:

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We love travelling with CCAfrica. They specialize in eco-tourism, like the Robin Pope Safari Camps we travel with in Zambia. Our all time favorite safari with them was The Hemingway, a 14 day safari through Botswana, starting in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls, heading south to Chobe and Moremi, Savute, the Okavango and then flying into the Kalahari. It was an all-time thrill. If January is a little slow for you and you want to read about the Hemingway Safari you can click on that blue type and it will take you to the first entry – of thirteen! I wrote it up back when I was first blogging, sort of as a discipline for myself to get it all down in writing. There aren’t a lot of photos – I wasn’t digital then – but it is a very thorough description of a trip-of-a-lifetime safari.

Even though they don’t seem to offer this particular safari anymore, CCAfrica will tailor any safari you want to your specifications. What we loved about the Hemingway was that so much of it was under canvas, so we would be sleeping right out among the animals – and listening all night.

A warning – none of these safaris are for people who HATE getting up early. The game is active in early early morning and late afternoon, so most camps get you up at 5:30 – 6:00 so you can grab a quick cup of coffee and bite to eat and then run for the jeeps/vehicles that will take you out to see the game. It can be very cold on an early morning game run, but oh – the thrills! It is SO worth it! You come back late morning, have your mid-day meal, which in these camps is always amazing, and then you have quiet time in the heat of the afternoon, when you can catch up on those zzZZZZZZZzzzzz’s you missed out on in the early morning. You wake up refreshed, ready for afternoon tea and your afternoon/evening game drive. They feed you and feed you – but we never gain weight on these trips, maybe because you are rocking around over the rough roads all day.

And, when the trip is over, and you are ready for a few days of sloth and luxury before you return to the real world, there is no better spot for transitioning than the CCAfrica private island hideaway of Mnemba, a place we dream about on a cloudy dark day in Kuwait:

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That is Mnemba island in the background, viewed from the beach in Zanzibar. You take a boat to get there, and when you land, you land barefoot. You never put your shoes on the entire time you are there. It is beautiful, secluded, luxurious and infinitely private. You can have all your meals in your own banda, if you wish. They have their own marine reserve, a dive shop, snorkeling equipment and it is all included. They even have internet. 🙂

View from our Mnemba banda:

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December 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Botswana, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Holiday, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Tanzania, Travel, Zanzibar | , , , , | 10 Comments

The Great Migration (2)

After two wonderful days in Grumeti River Lodge we transfer to the CCAfrica’s Serengeti Under Canvas Program, with the first camp being a short drive from the Grumeti River Lodge.

We LOVE tent camping. We used to camp out of a Volkswagon bus across the US with a baby and a cat (now that was an adventure!), in Tunisia, in Jordan. Now, I still love camping, and I particularly love it CCAfrica style – maximum 8 tents to a camp, a huge bed with good linens, an indoor shower and toilet, brass water containers, all very Hemingway in feeling. I love having coffee brought to the tent early in the morning, and I love the quiet shuuussshhhing of the wind through the high African grasses. We have our own dining tent to the side of our tent, which is high on the ridge, or we can choose to eat with the others.

Here is a view looking out from our tent across the Serengeti Plains:

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There is one little fly in the ointment – to get in and out of this camp, we drive our open vehicles through an area infested with tsetse flies. I am terribly, horribly allergic to mosquitos and to tsetse flies, and of course they find me irresistible. I am totally wrapped up in local large cotton wraps called kikoy – I look like a very colorful bedu woman, all covered except for my eyes.

But it’s worth it. I take tubes of Benedryl2 with me and lather it on morning and night to keep the size of the bites down.

First trip out of the game camps we find gnus at a water crossing. No hungry alligators, but it’s wonderful getting to watch them crossing:
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There are only four of us in the Rover, so we can spend all the time we need watching the elephants. It’s always a delight to find a mother with a baby. The elephants are so sweet with the babies:

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Early one morning, we catch a group of hyena:

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Even better, as sundown nears, we find a pride of lions, catching the last rays of the day and preparing to hunt:

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I have one of the early Lumix models, an FZ10. It takes beautiful photos, even under very low-light conditions. It is small, lightweight, fairly fast, shoots movies as well as stills, captures audio, and oh – did I mention small and lightweight? It has the equivalent of a 420mm lens, in a small body. It is an amazing camera and gets amazing shots.

Sundown has it’s own rituals, with a stop every night for refreshments and a toast to the setting sun:

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We spend two nights at the Grumeti River Camp, following the herds, photographing as they drink, as they trek, but in truth, you simply can’t imagine the scale of The Great Migration unless you see it for yourself. At one point, we sat in the center of a road as thousands of gnu and zebra filed past.

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We sat for an hour, shooting stills and shooting movies, and when we left, the line just kept going. We were surrounded. Sometimes it would thin a little, and sometimes the gnu would start to gallop and they would all start to gallop and the sounds of their hooves would thunder on the ground.

Other times, we would be sitting, and we would hear the sound of the gnu just shhhhussshhh, shhuusssss, shuussshhhhhh, interspersed with the occasional “hungh? hungh? hungh?”

Watching the zebras drinking, all would be quiet and then all of a sudden one would twitch or panic or something, and then you would hear loud “SWWWOOOOOOOSSSHHHing” noises as they rushed out of the water. We loved the vastness of the Migration, the enormity of it, the huge, grand overwhelming scale of it all, but for me, it was these sounds that have stuck in my memory.

AdventureMan and I find these experiences nourish our souls. We feel close to God in the African wild. We love the sights, and the smells and the sounds. We love meeting the African people. When we get back, we can still sniff the smell of wood-burning campfires lingering in our clothing.

Next, we head for Klein’s Wilderness Camp.

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December 29, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Lumix, Marriage, Tanzania, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments