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

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.