Elephants everywhere

We wake to the smell of honey, a delightful smell. Soon it’s annoying as the source pesters us at every turn. Bees are present at our breakfast, hanging out drinking our wash water and buzzing around our ears constantly. I retreat to the quiet of the tent and dine alone.

We climb into the safari vehicles for our last full day. Tarangire is home to elephants and they are everywhere. Their destruction is obvious too as we see trees stripped of their bark. The elephants do this to get at the water contained in the fibre of the tree.  Stephen seems annoyed with them as he tells us they need the shade of the tree that they tear down. It seems to be poor planning on the part of the elephant though we learn that they are making do with a small portion of the land they require. Stephen tells us that their habitat has been encroached by man. I think about bears and other wildlife back home and think of how this problem is widespread.  Humans everywhere always seem to always take more land then is needed.

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The baobab trees are plentiful here and I decide to photograph these trees today with a different animal in each photo. Stephen tells us of the legend of the tree. It is the tree of life. It seems as though the tree was conceited  about its beauty.  God was so angry at the tree that he ripped it from the earth and threw it back to the earth upside down.  The tree survived by being resilient  and learned to thrive in its harsh surroundings much like the African people.

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We watch a very young baby monkey and his Mom.  He is so unsteady on his legs as he take his first tentative steps.  The scene unfolds in real time and we are in awe as we witness this heartfelt moment.  We watch a baby elephant nurse, and a baboon looks right at us as we snap his photo.  It seems at every turn there is much to witness and record.

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We stop off at a Safari lodge.  It is a welcome reprieve as we step into another world of proper chairs and cold beverages.  This is where the other group will spend their final night of safari.  We sit down and I enjoy a ginger pop and check out the first photos of our newest grandson, Hudson.  John and I are teary as we look at the images.  It seems as though we have been gone for a very long time.

Stephen tells us its time to go.  I sink lower into my comfortable chair, willing him to go without me.  I’m quite happy here.  He tells us that he will bring us back here tonight and reluctantly I get up and join the others.’

We travel back to our campsite.  Our treat today is a hot lunch.  This is nice as we have all grown weary of the daily picnic boxed lunch.  The bees are absent as they are waiting until its cooler before they emerge. After lunch, we find a spot by the shade of the tree and read our books, chat and write about the adventure that  has passed and imagine the adventure that is yet to occur.

Later, we go back to the lodge and meet up with the remainder of our group.  Its nice to see them again, hugs all around.  We share our stories about our different accommodations, drink beer, wine and spirits.  It is such a nice treat.  Many in the other group are quite ill with colds and other infections.  It has been difficult with the continued fallout from Kilimanjaro.

Some of the group will be going to Zanzibar, others will be going home. This for many will be the last night in Africa and we all reminisce about our African experience.  I’m excited for the next part of the trip where finally I will share a bed with my husband, use proper sheets and have a proper bath or shower.  I’m giddy with excitement for comfort that just a few short weeks ago would not have warranted a thought.

We leave for our campsite and our final night camping.  The sun is setting and the scene is beautiful, the sky an orange glow. I quickly snap off a few photos and am pleased with the results.  The sky changes quickly and too soon the moment is over, the camera put away for another day.  We have taken nearly 6,000 photos on safari and countless other pictures that are imprinted in our minds.  It has been an amazing journey.

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Goodbye

At our campsite, the bees have taken over our shared shower.  I decide I will pass on the shower and wait for Zanzibar tomorrow.  Others’ in our group decide that they will persevere and are stung many times for their efforts.  We eat our final dinner together, sit by the campfire and chat about the expected tip that we will give tomorrow.  We come up with a plan and retreat to our tents for our final night.

I scarcely sleep this last night. The baboons are yelling as the lions are near.   This racket continues for the majority of the night.  John sleeps sound, his snoring adding to the cacophony of sound.The sound travels odd, but it does seem as though they are just outside the tent.  I am afraid to look out the tent window, so I say a prayer that I will not be eaten by a lion on my last night of the Safari. Morning arrives, I’m alive, my prayers answered.  Stephen tells us that the lions were outside our tent, lion footprints are noticeable. I’m glad that we will be leaving today.  I’m excited for Zanzibar.  The rest of our group seems to feel the same as we all pack up quickly today  We take a few final pictures of our group and then happily get into the vehicles for our final safari ride.

The lodge experience would have been nice, but it would have been so much like typical accommodations.  We were fortunate to spend time with our Guides, cooks and helpers and in this manner had a richer experience.  I wish that I had been in better spirits, wish that I did not feel so ill from Kilimanjaro.  Each day when we photographed the animals, I forgot all my aches, pains and sadness and was in the moment. If I could have had a proper shower nightly, and a cozy bed to share with my husband, it would have been perfect.  I do know that millions of people  would have gladly traded places with me and I was grateful for the experience.

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Walking with the Ranger

We pack our camp and prepare for our walk with the Ranger and our drive to our final park, Tarangire.

The Ranger greets us and leads us along the top of Ngorongoro crater where we have an aerial view of the caldera. He smiles but is a man of no words intent on his task of leading our group. John tells me later that the gun he carried would not have been effective against predators. Good thing we only saw four donkeys!  Good thing John kept this knowledge to himself.

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Kilimanjaro fallout continues to pester as I have no feeling in several toes and each step I’m reminded how much I’ve come to rely on all ten. I wonder if the feeling will ever return, or if this is my new normal?

We arrive back at the Safari vehicle, say goodbye to the Ranger and begin our vehicle climb out of Ngorongoro. It is beautiful, lush and green; a sharp contrast to the dust bowl of the caldera.

We see young Maasai men with their faces painted and heads shaved. Stephen tells us that they have just been circumcised. He further advises that during the surgery the boy receives no medicine and must not move a muscle or cry as this would bring shame to his family. He must be a warrior.  Girls are also circumcised and they are allowed to cry though they must not kick at the knife. It is a harsh coming of age.

We meet up with the Lodge group at our lunch break. It’s always a treat to stop at places where we can shop and have the potential for cold ginger pop or even a cup of brewed coffee. The retail shops and restaurants are set up for Safari folks with their inflated prices and costly brik a brak. We buy only a few trinkets as the shopkeepers are not interested in haggling. A few minutes up the road, Stephen stops to purchase cigarettes for John. He leaves us and instantly the vehicle is surrounded. We are offered sale day pricing for nearly identical merchandise and we happily purchase.  In seconds the word is out and layers of people converge asking, then begging us to buy. The prices drop, we are tempted and buy again, a thick glut surrounds our vehicle and our senses are in overload. Stephen returns and shoos everyone away and we are off.

We continue our journey to Tarangire. We are close as we see a sign with a picture of lions in trees. Stephen tells us we may see this at Lake Manyara, the only place where lions climb trees.  It is believed the they have adapted to get away from the tse tse flies, though this is only one thought. A few moments later we see a small pride of lions in a tree. We watch for some time as the cub tries to find a comfortable position. I wonder if the fire department would attempt a rescue?

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We arrive at our campsite, our last home for the final two nights of our Safari. Our site is next to a dry river bed and the centre is a large baobab tree. It is pretty and somewhat shaded but the neighbours are less than desirable as we step out of the vehicle and begin swatting tse tse flies and bees.

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Our water for washing is thick with bees. This is the end of the dry season and the bees are thirsty. I quickly wash and then throw away the water attempting to redirect the bees from the door to our tent.  We swat constantly and shortly it becomes exhausting. I think if I lived here, I would adapt and wonder if the lions are on to something?  We retreat to the swat free zone of our tent and read before dinner. The situation improves dramatically as night falls and the pests sleep.

I lay awake concerned as our campsite is exposed and we are in the tent farthest from the Guides. I’m in the farther cot and only the canvas separates me from the many predators.  It is at moments like this I wish for the safety of a proper structure. John sleeps well, perhaps he doesn’t want to feel it coming?  I remain alert for both of us until I succumb to sleep and dreams.

Serengeti

We board a small aircraft,  find our seats and settle. We are off.  We fly real low and soon we are treated to an aerial view of the Serengeti beneath our feet.  Its easy to see the ground and we peel our eyes for animals. I fantasize  seeing a lion catch an antelope for dinner and fondly recall childhood memories of  watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild kingdom.  In a pinch me kind of moment, here I am in Africa in the Serengeti, searching for animals.

We land in the middle of no where, on a dirt landing strip. There are four safari vehicles and their drivers stand by ready to greet us. We are introduced and split into two main groups, campers and lodge dwellers. John and I opted for the experience of camping. We wanted to be as close to the animals as possible and be immersed totally in the experience.This seemed like a great idea back home, but now I’m not as certain.   My stomach remains queasy from Kilimanjaro and I wonder if we will regret our choice.

We further split into our respective safari vehicles. We will be riding with Stephen. Our vehicle name is Chui, Swahili for Leopard. We say good bye to half our group and begin our adventure. Moments later we are all at the same place where the drivers need to do paperwork presumably to admit us into the park, though we are not certain. We use the time to take photos. I find curious animals behind a building and happily snap their photos. They seem used to the attention and I become worried as I wonder about my safety.  I know nothing about them and I’m alone. I find John and tell him about the cool animals, he rushes off to take their pictures. I spot a brightly colored lizard and take 50 or more pictures, thanking technology for digital photography.

We will travel through three parks. Our driver has told us that the Serengeti would be the appetizer. Ngorongoro would be the main course and we would end at Tarangire, our dessert. The Serengeti and Tarangire are National parks, Ngorongoro is a conservation area. It’s interesting, but I’m just excited about whether we will see Giraffes.

We are off in search of animals. The Safari vehicles bump along the dirt roads and we stand up in search of animals. Stephen seems to have amazing sight and sees the animals far in the distance. John and I did not expect to take photos so soon. We try using the tripod but it is of no use in the Safari vehicle. The pod beanbag is packed, we make do with two camera bodies, a 200mm lens and a 500mm lens and stabilize using the vehicle. This is less than optimal but we persevere. It’s exciting to see Cape buffalo, Cliff Springers, Ostriches and just as we turn into our home for the night we see Giraffes. They are covered in birds who are foraging on the mites on their bodies. The Giraffes move gracefully and seem to float. We spend much time watching them move and graze. The lighting is poor for pictures though I happily snap away recording the moment as well as possible.  I take the camera away from my eye and am present in the moment as I  snap a photo for my internal memory.

Our campsite is mere moments away and tonight we will sleep with Giraffes close. We ask the drivers about the possibility of lions eating us and are told that we will be fine.  They tell us that the lions are not interested in us at all.  Still, we are told not to leave our tent at night and if we have no choice, we should leave in pairs.   We ask if someone will stay awake at night to keep us safe. This seems funny to them as they tell us no. It seems odd to us that only canvas separates us from the animals.

Rock Hyrax
Rock Hyrax
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Salamander

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