Thursday, August 28, 2014

AFRICA: OUR SERENGETI HOBBIT LODGE (TANZANIA)

Our lodge in the Serengeti was another winner. In general, the Serena lodges we stayed in were all fantastic:
Main entry:
Beautiful Makonde carvings graced the lobby:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

AFRICA: THE SERENGETI (TANZANIA)

Right on. Thank you, Pinterest
This is a very long post, but it's mostly pictures. Its length is a reflection of the unbelievable variety of wildlife that walks or runs around, flies over, climbs up, and soaks in the Serengeti. The vastness of the park is matched by the teeming life within it.

ANIMAL SIGHTINGS
*Only sighting
Giraffes
Impalas
*Caracal cat
Elephant
Baboons
Warthogs
Impalas
*White-backed vulture
Marabou stork
Vervet monkeys
Black-headed heron
Blacksmith plover
Crowned plover
Nile monitor
Hippopotami
Lions
Mongooses
*Leopard
Hyena
Thomson's gazelles
Coke's hartebeest
Secretary bird

The name "Serengeti" is a version of the Maasai word siringet, which means "the place with no end," an apt description of a place that covers 5,700 square miles. In that much space, there is a wide assortment of climate zones, each one memorable and beautiful in its own way. The scenery ranges from this:
. . . to this:

. . . and this:

. . . and this:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AFRICA: CROSSING THE BORDER INTO TANZANIA

Map from Wikipedia
Our tour included several days in Tanzania, the country directly south of Kenya that was once two British colonies: the mainland state of Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar. Tanganyika received its independence from Britain in 1961 and Zanzibar gained independence in 1963, and in 1964 the two countries merged their names and their land to form a single nation (although Zanzibar remains semi-autonomous). Like Kenya, Tanzania is still part of the British Commonwealth.

Bob and I have had serious discussions over the pronunciation of the name of this country. While there we heard both "tahn ZAHN yuh" and the more familiar "tahn zuh NEE yuh"  or "tan zuh NEE yuh."  We asked our various guides how to pronounce the word and even got different pronunciations from them. I guess it's a "to-mah-to / to-may-to" kind of a name.

Honestly, I knew nothing about Tanzania before this trip, but I've learned a lot in the last few months.

For example, Zanzibar, famous for its production of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and nutmeg, was once known as the Spice Islands. The population is almost 100% Muslim. The mainland of Tanzania, however, is predominantly Christian, but with a significant Muslim minority. Our guide told us that intermarriage is common and acceptable. Tanzania has 120 different ethnic groups and over 100 different languages, making it the most linguistically diverse country in Africa. Most Tanzanians speak both their tribal language and Swahili, and the educated sector also speaks English. Tri-lingual? That puts most Americans to shame. Unfortunately, almost half of the children don't attend school.

Sizewise, Tanzania (population 49 million) is a little bit larger than twice the size of California (population 38 million), or 1.36 times the size of Texas (population 26 million). Unlike California and Texas, Tanzania is ethnically homogenous, with 99% of the population being of native African descent.

I found a very sobering website that compares living in the United States with living in Tanzania. If you lived in Tanzania instead of the U.S., you would:
• be 10.3 times more likely to have HIV/AIDS
• have 11.1% more likelihood of dying in infancy
• have 2.4 times more babies
• die 25.75 years sooner
• use 99.39% less electricity
• make 96.98% less money
• spend 98.93% less money on health care
• experience 23.11% less of a class divide

In most of the categories, statistics are similar in Kenya. Our drive to Tanzania from Kenya gave us the best view of that poverty that we had on this trip.

The early morning skies were an incandescent blue as we crossed the Maasai Mara Reserve:
For the paltry sum of $500, we could have
taken a "balloon safari." Maybe next time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

AFRICA: MAASAI MARA II--BATHING BEAUTIES, NECKING, AND A LATE-NIGHT DRIVE (KENYA)

ANIMAL SIGHTINGS, MAASAI MARA, DAY 2
Hippos
Crocodiles
Maasai ostrich
Topi
Thomson's gazelles
Giraffes
Impala
Jackals
Hyena
*Aardvark
Jackals
(*Only sighting on trip)

We had two days in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, and our second afternoon drive began with our first hippo sightings. Yeah, they're in there, but you have to look pretty closely. Their disembodied eyes and ears are poking up through the water, somewhat like candles floating in a swimming pool at an outdoor reception.  Or maybe more like a double periscope from a huge submarine peering at the enemies on the shore.
More hippos. All told, we saw seven or eight in this location.
One enormous croc lay indifferently inert on the far shore. Judging by the smile on his face, it had been a good day for hunting.





Later in the day we stopped at a different spot on the river with a dual purpose: to see more hippos, and to make a bathroom stop at another luxury squat toilet. I guess the theory is that a patron is supposed to hold on to that red pole for balance, but there was no way I was touching that pole without gloves. Ew and double ew.

Another problem was that between our vehicle and the "bathroom" (I'm not sure what to call it--maybe the literal term "hole in the ground" is the most appropriate) was a long line of siafu, or really large army ants, which our guide told us to be very careful to avoid. They have huge, scissor-like mandibles they use to slice and dice their prey.

This site and several other sites say that the Maasai use the heads of army ants to suture wounds. Supposedly they have the ant bite the wound on both sides, then break off the body. The ant's pincers stay attached, serving as a kind of staple that holds the wound together.  On the other end of the life-death spectrum, African kings used to use army ants to execute criminals. A swarm of these covering a human body, something that sounds like it came straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, could do a lot of damage.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

AFRICA: MARA SERENA SAFARI LODGE IN THE MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE (KENYA)

The Mara Serena Safari Lodge in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya was one of our favorite accommodations, and it certainly has one of the most interesting histories of the places where we stayed. 
We loved these signs that gave us our precise location on the planet.
The architecture of the lodge mimics the traditional round, modular shape of the Maasai manyatta, or home, which is usually made from mud and manure. (I think they skipped the manure part at the Mara Serena.)
We were greeted as a rafiki (friend) by our hosts:
The front hall, unlike a manyatta, was light and airy, and embellished with wonderful African designs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

AFRICA: MAASAI MARA LIONS (KENYA)

This post is about lions. Lots of lions. It's another one of those posts that needs some musical accompaniment. The obvious choice is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," recorded by The Tokens in 1961 and re-recorded in the mid-90s for the Disney movie The Lion King. I have one question: Why do the lyrics say, "In the JUNGLE, the mighty JUNGLE, the lion sleeps tonight?"  Maybe because "savannah" has too many syllables and "veld" doesn't have enough? Anyway, betcha didn't know that this song was originally recorded by a South African Zulu singer/composer named Solomon Linda. (If you are interested in the original version, a recording can be found here.) I did not make the video below and I don't think all the pictures in it are of Africa, but it's still fun to watch.


And one more thing. Guess what the Swahili word for "lion" is. Simba!

All ready?  Okay. Here we go.

In addition to the wildebeest migration that occurs annually, the Maasai Mara is known for its large cat population--lions, cheetahs, and leopards. We were fortunate to see quite a few lions. The first eleven pictures are from our first day in the Mara.

The shiny, tawny coats of the lioness and her cubs are perfect camouflage when they are playing in the tall, amber-colored grass:




Sunday, August 3, 2014

AFRICA: OUR FIRST FORAY INTO THE MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE (KENYA)

GAME SIGHTINGS
(First day--two game drives)
Elephants
Giraffes
Waterbucks
Zebras
Hyenas
Cheetah
Thomson's gazelle
Topis
Wildebeests
Lions
Cape buffalo
Hippos
Warthogs

The Maasai Mara region of Africa is named for the native Maasai tribe who inhabit it. "Maa" is the language they speak. "Mara" means "spotted" in the Maasai language, and refers to the trees, bushes, and cloud shadows that dot the flat landscape. The word "mara" is often used by itself to refer to this area. ("The Mara")
It is beautiful country, seemingly untouched by industry and technology. It can't look much different than it did hundreds of years ago, except for, perhaps, better-defined and maintained roads.
Well, okay, there is also the occasion funny-looking tree:

Close-up view:

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