Swimming with the fishes….and mammals

Swimming with the fishes….and mammals

Snorkeling, actually. We were paired up with some scuba divers who had left the boat to dive and when the crew saw the dolphins they went all out to catch up to the dolphins. We caught up with a pod of 7 Bottle-nose dolphins and immediately jumped in with snorkel, mask and fins. The dolphins were cruising slowly so I was able to keep up with them for about 100-150 yards. Swimming directly under me about 20 feet just above the ocean floor, I saw one of them turn on its side and look right up at me. That was really cool!

Every afternoon a stiff breeze picks up. The kite-boarder above was catching big air.

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Chillaxin’ in Zanzibar

Chillaxin’ in Zanzibar

We had planned on heading east to hike in the Usambara mountains but after reading that it was recommended to bring an armed hiking guide, we got a couple of plane tickets to Zanzibar, spent one more night in Arusha and off we flew. We’ve been using the Lonely Planet guide books and found them to be about 75-80% accurate, but when you’re talking armed guards for hiking, well, it just didn’t seem worth it.

Our timing has been impeccable. We left Egypt as the first petitions to oust Morsi were being handed out, we got to Istanbul a few days before the start of a hiatus in the protests, even visiting Taksim square. Then, we left Istanbul a day before the protesters and police clashed again. To top it all off, while sitting in a travel agent’s office in Arusha getting ourplane tickets to Zanzibar, we read about a grenade that had been tossed a month earlier somewhere in Arusha killing 4 people; the FBI were investigating, too, because (Obama had visited Tanzania and) the police are suspects.

So, after very good fortune, several days road-riding, lots of one-nighters, and touring the heck out of Turkey and safari’s in Tanzania, we’re taking some beach time in Zanzibar just off the coast of mainland Tanzania! Zanzibar is a possible future breakaway from Tanzania. Tanzania was formed in 1964 as a union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar Island but there is unrest as more than a few Zanzibarans would prefer to form their own government. Things move slowly in Africa, so if there’s a revolution I’m sure it will wait….at least until just after we leave.

Chillaxin' at it's finest

Chillaxin’ at it’s finest

We’re staying at the Baby Bush Lodge (thanks for the recommendation, Bruce!) which is a small, funky hotel/restaurant a few meters right off of a fine white sand beach that has regular basic hotel rooms and two dormitories that can house a total of 48 backpackers.

We quickly added some new Swahili words to our vocabulary:
Jambo- Hello!
Asante – Thank you.
Hacuna Matata – No problem. (Made famous from the animated movie, “The Lion King”)
……and the all essential tout-busting,
Hapana Seetaki- No. I don’t want it.

As in mainland Tanzania, there are touts, or as they are called locally, “beach boys”. As we walk down the beach we can count on being approached by them with a big fat, “Jambo”, trying to strike up a conversation with “Where are you from?” or “Where are you staying?”, etc… trying to sell artwork, a tour or to get us to visit their store, “free to look”. We even met Coco Chanel who has a store 200 yards from where we’re staying! Armani and Gucci are also very close by.

These touts, or “ticks” as they’re referred to in the Lonely Planet guide, are plentiful but have nothing on their counter parts in Egypt. They’re plentiful but relatively easy to shake. Still, it would be nice to walk down the beach without the hassle.

View from our balcony at Baby Bush

View from our balcony at Baby Bush

Surprisingly, there are Maasai on Zanzibar. Generally tall, lanky and lithe, they are natives of the mainland but made their way here and dress traditionally in robes with stick/spear and a long knife/sword.

Maasai in da 'hood

Maasai in da ‘hood

The safari

The safari

I researched safaris and safari companies before we left the states so I was armed with some costs (they’re expensive) and a good idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. My first thought was to go into Arusha and shop the safari companies in town. But as we were at the hostel and the owner, Justin, arranges safaris, I decided to see what he had to offer. There were a number of variables that factored into pricing, the key one for us was being able to get up in the middle of the night for a pit stop and not being some predator’s midnight snack! Traipsing around Arusha with a scant few hours of sleep played into the scenario, as well. After all was settled, we paid a touch more than $280 pp/day which $60 pppd less than any quote I’d gotten previously. An expected RTW budget buster, for sure, but I thought I did well and it turned out to be a winning move.

Arusha was one chaotic, crowded, dirty, dusty crap-hole of a city. (And I say that will all due respect). Justin took us into town and helped us get a nicer place to stay in town as well as negotiating our way through the urban morass to get a SIM card for our phone. We were ready to roll the next day.

The road to Tarangire National Park was packed with detours or “diversions” leading off the main road on to the most pot-holed, jarring roads imaginable. Since it’s the dry season the dust from other cars could bring visibility down to a blinding 5-10 feet at times. And in the Tanzanian’s road engineer/administrators’ infinite wisdom, they added speed bumps just to make sure no one sped on these un-speedable highways. In fact, they even had speed bumps on the newer sections of that stretch of highway. Thank goodness for some of these things as on occasion I’d seen and heard things in/about other countries that made the U.S. look third world. Tanzania took care of that.

A warthog relaxes and cools off

A warthog relaxes and cools off

Ngorongoro crater rim

Ngorongoro crater rim

On the first day of the safari (or game drive, as they’re called, I was sitting at a picnic bench in the perimeter of the area eating a food roll-up of some kind when, before I knew what happened and faster than I could blink, a monkey came down from the tree and grabbed it out of my hand. On the third day, at crowded Ngorongoro picnic area, there were Black Kites (a kind of raptor) flying over head and no one got out of their cars to eat. We were told that if they mistook your hand or finger for something to eat, you could get hurt.

Male lion with wildebeest kill

Male lion with wildebeest kill

We saw this big guy above on the last day of safari in Ngorongoro conservation area. It was mid-day and he looked very very content. It’s good to be the King!

The jackals on alert for an opportunity to cash in on the lion's efforts.

Jackals ready for an opportunity to cash in on the lion’s efforts.

Our driver/guide, Ibrahim, was excellent. A 15-year veteran guide, he was still interested in showing and describing the wildlife and flora and fauna. He had a field book for detail, too, and he had a couple of funny stories he shared with us along the way.

The shy and elusive Dik Dik

The shy and elusive Dik Dik; one of the world’s smallest antelope

Lazing lion in the mid-day sun

A lion lazing in the mid-day sun

We counted 11 lions in Ngorongoro.

Happy hippos

Happy hippos

Cindy and our most awesome guide/driver, Ibrahim

Cindy and our most awesome guide/driver, Ibrahim

Ramadan started on the second day of our safari. As a practicing muslim, Ibrahim would wait until beyond sundown to break fast, and then head to the local mosque to pray. Each morning he was with us during Ramadan he showed up feeling refreshed and renewed. It was good to see.

Guinea fowl

Guinea fowl

Giraffes by Lake Manyara

Giraffes by Lake Manyara

We saw tons of zebra and wildebeest. They were easily the most abundant and visible game.

Wildebeest and zebras appear to be BBF's

Wildebeest and zebras appear to be BFF’s

Zebras on the move

Zebras on the move

It's true that Elephants never forget

It’s true that Elephants never forget

Ostrich feel very comfortable around us.

Ostrich feel very comfortable around us.

Every time I’d see a hyena I would think of the movie “The Lion King” and hear Cheech Marin’s voice playing the hyena.

I gotta have a wildebeest, I gotta have a wildebeest, I gotta have a wildebeest!

I gotta have a wildebeest, I gotta have a wildebeest, I gotta have a wildebeest!

"Sometimes I just feel like a piece of meat!"

“Sometimes I just feel like a piece of meat!”

Zebras on alert for nearby predator

Zebras red flag the nearby predator

Blue Heron

Blue Heron

The areas we visited are south of the Serengeti and part of the East branch of the Rift Valley. Here’s a list of the parks/conservation areas we visited and (a fairly complete) list of what we saw in each area.

Tarangire National Park, Savannah Woodland
Lion, Giraffe, Elephant, Thomson Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Warthog, Zebra,Water Buck, Wart hog, Wildebeest, Ground Horned-bill, Superb Starling, Ash Starling, Rock Hyrax

Manyara NP, Woodland
Mammals and birds: Elephant, Zebra, Giraffe, Blue Monkey, Baboon , Black faced monkey, Grey headed Monkey, Guinea fowl, Grey Crowned Crane, Cormorant, Lesser Flamingo, Heron, Egret, Pelican, Stork, Cape Buffalo, Thomson Gazelle, Warthog, Yellow billed stork, Dik Dik, Secretary Bird, Tamarin tree, Sycamore Fig, Pigeon tree, Sandpaper tree, Mahogany, Quinine tree

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Crater Savannah and Woodland
Lion, Hippopotamus, Black Rhino, Zebra, Jackal, Kuri Bustard, Grant’s Gazelle, Thomson Gazelle, Sacred Ibis, Black Kite, Candelabra Cactus, Yellow Back Acacia

A Grant's Gazelle

A Grant’s Gazelle

We said goodbye to our safari with a rousing drive home via the same route, diversions, dust and all.

A Superb Starling

A Superb Starling

Arriving in Tanzania

We arrived at Mt. Kiliminjaro Airport at 3:30 a.m. and after getting a Visa, going through customs,finding our driver, and getting to our lodge, it was nearly 5:00 a.m. and still pitch black outside.

When making the reservation at the hostel, I didn’t know I was going to have to climb a mountain to get to it. The driver/guide had a flashlight and was leading the way to the lodge.  Bill was close behind him but, as usual, I was a few yards behind.  It was difficult seeing where I was going. I knew I was walking on dirt, that it was a narrow, steep path and kept losing my footing while stumbling over rocks.  We kept climbing.  

Finally, we get to our room.  It was hardly bigger than the bed!  The bathroom door didn’t have a handle so you had to kind of punch it open and coax it close.  The toilet wasn’t working.  The blanket didn’t cover the entire bed.  The room was cold.  I put on extra layers and passed out thinking, this is too much!  I’m too old for this. (Side note: You never know exactly what you’re getting into when you stay at a hostel. We’ve stayed in some great ones and some that I wanted to leave as soon as I walked in.) We had reserved our room for two nights and I kept thinking there’s no way I’m staying the second night.  I was willing to lose our money, if necessary.  I’m not sure Bill was feeling the same way.  

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After only a few hours sleep, we wake up so we could start planning a safari.  After searching the complex for someone, we finally find Justin, the owner of the lodge, in one of the outbuildings.  He greets us with a big hello and invites us into his apartment for breakfast. He opens the shades and we are treated to a nice view of mountains.  

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Luckily, everything worked out fine. in addition to being the “CEO” of Arusha Lodge Hostel and Adventure (he is the only one running the place), he organized and arranged safaris.  Bill had already done some shopping around,so we knew what to expect.  Justin was able to offer us what we wanted at a reasonable price. 

The icing on the cake, though, was what happened the rest of the day. Justin had his driver pick us up, carry my bags back down the mountain, take us to a bank, stop at a grocery store for personal supplies, get us a SIM card for our phone (going to two stalls when he thought the first one was too expensive), and went to not one, but two hotels until we were happy.  He suggested a restaurant that we should try for our evening meal, but unfortunately, we didn’t listen and had an inferior meal.  I think we will have another opportunity to try Justin’s suggestion, though, because we will be back in Arusha after our safari. 

The next day, off we go to Tarangire National Park.

Tootles to Turkey

We can’t figure out why more Americans don’t visit Turkey.  While we have seen some Americans in Istanbul, we only saw a handful in all the other places we’ve been to — and that counts the one that just finished his stint in the Peace Corps.

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Inside the Grand Bazaar

The Turkish people are kind, honest, warm, friendly, and hospitable.  They have a sense of humor (like the time we were walking down the street and a shop owner said, “tell me, how can I get your money,” or when a restaurant owner was trying to get us to eat at his place and said with a smile and a wink, “the food is really terrible.”) We met people who treated us to a 4 star dinner (see Bill’s Istanbul post).

This was more the norm than the exception. From the hotels/hostels to the ticket taker at the Metro, they went out of their way to help us. If they didn’t speak English, they would find someone who did. 

The transportation system, including buses, dolmus’, trams and ferries all ran like clockwork.  The seating was comfortable and the service exceptional.

Istanbul from the Bosphorus-Galata tower in the background

Istanbul from the Bosphorus. The Galata tower is in the background.

The food was fresh, the fruit sweet.  We enjoyed our time in Turkey very much. We’ll be back someday.

Cappuccino. Mmmmmm.

Cappuccino. Mmmmmm.

Turkey to Tanzania!

Turkey to Tanzania!

Even if I had nothing to say I was really looking forward to a post with that title.

We got the only direct flight from Istanbul to Kilimanjaro airport. The only problem being the 1am scheduled arrival time. I peaked at the flight update two days before departure to discover the departure and arrival had been pushed back 2 1/2 hours. Woof! Travel at night can really put a crimp in a normal “next” day. By the time we got to the hostel it was 4:30am or even later.

After spending the last two months in hot climates and landing in a locale close to the equator I was surprised to find I needed a long-sleeved shirt after landing. We had arrived in the mountains of Northern Tanzania and it would be chilly, especially at night.

Istanbul

Istanbul

We kept in touch with our new Kiwi friends, Dave and Sue, who we met while hiking in Cappadocia. We knew our travel itineraries would overlap in Istanbul so made loose plans to get together with them while there. While on the bus to Canakkale, and thanks to mobile wifi, our plans gelled to have dinner with them that evening. We were joined by Aussi friends of theirs, Jack and Jenny. We had a blast and what a great way to arrive in a new city!

The Blue Mosque

The spectacular Blue Mosque

I brought binoculars into the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia so I was able to see the beautiful mosaic artwork sitting high above.

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Inside Hagia Sophia

Inside the amazing Hagia Sophia

St. John the Baptist looking despondent over dark spots showing up on my camera.

St. John the Baptist looking despondent over the dark spots showing up on my camera.

Cindy and I stayed in the old city exploring so many sights, we didn’t see any other part of Istanbul for the first three days. We heard some people visit Istanbul and never leave the old city at all.

Right up close at the Museum of Mosaics

Right up close at the Museum of Mosaics

Growing up in NYC I used to laugh at the tourists who would stand around looking up at the skyscrapers. I went out for a walk one afternoon and chuckled at myself for doing the same thing. Just standing around taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul.

On Independence street, Istanbul.

On Istiklal (Independence) Street, Istanbul.

We visited the Museum of Archaeology. My off the cuff conclusion:

16,000 years ago – Ice age begins to end, the Sea of Marmara is fresh water lake and the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are valleys.
10,000-12,000 years ago – Humankind transitions from hunter-gatherers to agrarian-agricultural society
8000-10,000 years ago – Surplus agricultural production leads to growth of large population centers and the development of first civilization in Mesopotamia including art, culture and religion.
Today – Religious differences in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) lead to sectarian violence and destruction of civilization.

I love mummys!

I love mummys!

We met a couple back in Fethiye while touring some ancient tombs carved into rocks, similar to those we say at Petra. They asked us to take a picture of them and since we forgot our camera they offered to take ours and send it to us. They said they were from Kazakhstan but were living in Istanbul and to get in touch when we got there. We did, and to our surprise Dauren and Ainur showed us Kazak/Turkish hospitality and took us out for a delicious dinner followed by a ride around Istanbul!

Travel is enriching not just from the different things to see and do, but from meeting people you meet along the way who come from far and distant lands and having lived very different lives from us. Dauren and Ainur speak 4 different languages and I learned that Kazak and Turkish are similar in that they come from the same language group (Turkic). Hence, after almost 4 weeks I had only learned a paltry 15-20 Turkish words and occasionally was still stumbling when saying the 6 syllable Turkish “thank you”.

On the Bosphorus

Sailing the Bosphorus

We toured the Bosphorus and Golden Horn of Istanbul like locals. Instead of taking the “Short tour” or “Long tour”, we used our metro tickets to criss cross both using public ferries.

On the Golden Horn

On the Golden Horn