Cheryl and I flew back from our holiday in Tanzania/Zanzibar/Holland just last weekend. Our safari was with African Eco Safaris, and coordinated by our amazing travel agent from Toronto - Fawzia. What a great time!
We flew out Nov. 8th from Seattle to Kilimanjaro via Amsterdam, went on a private safari through Tarangire National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and Lake Manyara National Park. Then headed to Zanzibar where we stayed in Stone Town a couple of nights before heading to Breezes Beach Resort on the other side of the island. On our way back to Seattle we spent a few days in Amsterdam. We returned back to Seattle Nov. 29th.
Now, the entire full set of pictures (600+), can be seen here. - (WARNING... get a cup a tea. We have a bug out to the usually reliable photo guys - the Kodak site does not deal well with massive galleries.) Below I'll point out a few highlights, and also throw in a couple of selections... Stay tuned for Cheryl's animal highlights reel later this week.
This was the longest vacation I've had since spending 3 months in Australia prior to starting work: many moons ago. The trip was sweet, and the pictures will certainly not do it justice, but... Here it goes...
Day 1, 2 & 3: Seattle to Arusha
As you can imagine, going 11 time zones over takes a bit of time. We flew through Amsterdam on a nonstop flight from Seattle. From Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro was also direct. Overall we spent just under 20 hours in the air.
Arusha is a large city (270k people), and well situated for travel to some of the most incredible parks in Tanzania. We took a quick tour of the city which exposed some of the poverty in a region where we were told 10-15% of the population has both electricity and running water. Many businesses, huts and houses are built with sticks, sand/mud, and thatch roofs - seemingly on the brink of collapse.
Our job there was to take a quick tour around, exchange US$ to shillings, and get going to Tarangire National Park.
Day 4 & 5: Tarangire National Park
Ok, so I knew we were going to be camping in permanent tents, but I didn't realize they would practically be lodges :)
Here's what a Luxury "Tent" looks like...
From the outside:
The malaria nets make the bed look more luxurious:
At this point I realized we weren't really going to be 'roughing it'... Which was fine by me.
Anyhow, on our way into the camp we saw our first animals: Zebras - three of them hanging just outside of the campsite. The rules of the campsite are to stay in your tents after dark given the number of animals that come into the campsite every night. All the tented camps had this rule, and there was a whistle attached to the bed "in case of emergency." A Maasai warrior was around to walk people from tents to dinner and back at night.
Tarangire is known for a couple of things... One is elephants, the other is baobab trees. And we definitely saw a ton of those. In Tarangire we saw giraffes, warthogs, impalas, lions, baboons, mongoose, ostrich, waterbuck, etc. etc. etc. And we didn't really need our binoculars because, as with everywhere we went, the animals are not bothered by the vehicles...
Driving up next to a few elephants:
Elephants have "the right of way":
Trying not to wake the lions as we sit and watch them hang out:
The baobab trees certainly had some girth:
Lone giraffe in the sunset:
One really cool scene we witnessed while in Tarangire was a herd of elephants kick a pride of lions out of the shade of the acacia tree they were under. The elephants simply started moving towards the lions, and one by one they lazily got up and walked away to avoid conflict.
Day 6 & 7: Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater is a marvel of nature. Here's a panoramic that gives you an idea of its size... As per Wikipedia, it is the worlds largest and unbroken, unflooded, volcanic caldera. Which in its case is a volcano the size of Mt. Rainier that essentially ate itself such that it now appears like a crater formed by a meteor.
In this crater is a stunning array of wildlife including the "big 5": leopards, lions, elephants, buffalo, and the black rhino. There is an estimated 25,000 animals in the crater - including 20 black rhino.
While in the crater we stayed at the Sopa Lodge.
As you can see, we were not roughing it here:
Yes, that's a pool overlooking the crater...
While at Ngorongoro Cheryl and I did a relatively interesting cultural tour of one of the Maasai bomas. The Maasai are probably best known for drinking cows blood. They traditionally truly rely on meat, milk and blood from the cows they herd for their survival. In our tour they explained their social structure in more detail.
While in the crater, we saw pretty much everything we could imagine... including lions with freshly killed lunch (zebra). Just the day before I asked our driver to make sure I saw a dung beetle before I left Tanzania... The next day he stops the truck and asks us to look out the back... Sure enough... Dung beetle with a sizeable dung pile ready to roll. The dung beetle lays their eggs in the dung, which provides a nutrient source for the young when they hatch.
Thousands of flamingos hanging out at the soda lake:
Large male lion, behind him a male and female:
Late afternoon view of the crater from the lodge:
Day 8, 9, & 10: Serengeti
Ok, the Serengeti was ridiculous. "Serengeti" is an approximation of the words the Maasai used to describe it: endless plains... Upon entrance it was obvious why they chose those words :)
We were fortunate enough that the wildebeest migration (the largest land animal migration on the planet - where about 2 million wildebeest, and zebra continuously search for food) was a bit early this year, so we managed to drive right through the middle of it on our way into the park.
While at our tents in this park we were given the usual safety warning, but in addition we were given locks to put on our tent zippers "to keep the baboons out"... Apparently baboons have a great sense of smell, and an ability to open zippers, and they make a mess.
While in the Serengeti we saw thousands of wildebeest and zebras, ridiculous amounts of giraffes, impalas, gazelles, and hippos. We saw lions and leopards in trees, and cheetahs - even a kill with a vulture aftermeal.
One night I had a hard time falling asleep after hearing a massive animal near my tent. It stuck around for at least an hour, and I could hear its deep guttural breathing which kept me wondering what it was. In the morning there was a huge pile of buffalo dung outside of the tent - there you go.
But we did stay in luxury tents again:
Cheryl's new favorite animal:
The hippo pool was much more interesting than those at the zoo... When you get a hundred hippo together there's bound to be some pushing, shoving, and other drama:
We saw a ton of elephants (this is actually multiple tons of elephant):
How many lions in this tree?
And... the wildebeest... You'll need to open this one full screen to really see how many there are back there.
Ants on the outside making a path for the ants on the inside... Odd.
Day 11 and 12: Lake Manyara, Town Walk
Wow, I think I've thrown in too many photos already.... Considering we started with over 3000 it's understandable.
Anyhow, Lake Manyara is known for its birds among other things. We did see a ton of interesting subjects from pelicans, flamingos, snake eagles, hornbills etc... There was also another hippo pool with zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo in the distance. There seemed to be an overabundance of baboons, and a few types of monkeys.
Our town walk was interesting, we went to an orphanage where upon entering the kids seem to completely latch on to every limb. 5 kids played with my watch for my entire time in the common room. Afterwards we visited the local hospital, and a banana plantation. We drank banana beer (not so good), and talked with local painters, and carvers. We asked our guide how busy it has been, and he mentioned we were the first people to come by this month. I didn't mention this, but we were traveling in the low season during the "short rains". We didn't notice much rain though - seemed fine to us.
As we walked around the town, kids kept following us, and wanting to understand what was going on.
Cheryl took what turned out to be one of my favorite pictures of our trip (showing the clear excitement from these kids):
Day 13-17: Stone Town, and Breezes
After finishing our safari Cheryl said goodbye to the giraffes, and we took a flight to Stone Town in Zanzibar. Stone Town has a long long history of trade. It was also known as a major center for the slave trade. The roads are very narrow, and cars still try to drive them, so while walking around you're always on the lookout for cars. The maps have street names, but there are few street signs, making orientation a bit more difficult, but the most interesting parts of the town are bounded by one major road and the Indian Ocean, so you can't get too lost.
While at Stone Town we visited the local markets, a few museums, a former slave storage room, and some churches/mosques. The main religion practiced on Zanzibar is Islam, and we were told to dress modestly when walking in public.
Another interesting tidbit about Stone Town are the dhows. The dhows are sailing ships characterized by their triangular masts, and in the past they had been constructed without nails - using rope instead.
Here's a view from the Serena Hotel. We went there for a drink since our hotel (The Dhow Palace) did not serve alcohol.
From stone town we went to Breezes Beach Resort... Which was on the other side of the island. To get there, our driver had to run through 5 police checks - our driver mentioned that police routinely stop people and hassle them for money. He said it was a good job because the police make so much that way.
Our driver managed to get us there without paying any 'road tax', and we were set for our relaxation time.
Breezes was a great place to finish off our time in Tanzania. White sandy beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, and even an exercise room I could use - and was badly in need of by that time.
Rows of empty chairs waiting for folks to come from breakfast:
The dive boat taking both snorkelers and divers to the training lagoon:
Cheryl and I spent most of our time reading or swimming. At low tide we would go out and look for octopus, and tropical fish - and try not to step on the thousands of urchins on the sea floor as we walked. The reef shoes were a bargain.
At the end of our time in Zanzibar Cheryl put one last message in the sand before heading out to Holland:
Day 18-21: Amsterdam
We left Zanzibar for Dar es Salaam, where we had a long layover before heading to Amsterdam. We exchanged money to euros, finished up some shopping, and went on our way.
When we left Dar es Salaam it was 27 degrees Celsius, the temperature in Amsterdam was a chilly 2 degrees - Good thing we packed our jackets...
We managed to do a lot in Amsterdam. Our hotel (on Dam Straat) was a short walk from the train station, so we didn't even need to buy a pass. We walked by the Anne Frank house, and went to the Dutch Resistance Museum showcasing the atrocities of WWII and what went on in Holland at that time. We went to The Heineken Experience, and took a boat tour around the canals. The Rijks Museum, which had Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God" $100m skull at the time, was definitely worth the entrance fee even though they are still in the middle of renovations. The signature painting at the Rijks is Night Watch (which as one curator put it, is Amsterdam's Mona Lisa), painted by Rembrandt, it is one of the most famous paintings on the planet.
We did not go to the Van Gogh exhibit since Cheryl had already gone there, and we had spent considerable time in the Rijks.
This is me in front of the Rijks:
One thing that's interesting about Amsterdam is the bikes. Everyone bikes here. The streets have designated bike lanes, and bikes seem to have the right of way no matter who you are (pedestrian, or vehicle). This picture shows the bike locker by the train station:
The canals in Amsterdam:
Day 22: Home to Seattle
By this time we were ready to head home. Getting to the airport was smooth, as was the flight. We were lucky enough to fly over Greenland and have an extended sunrise on our way there. It is amazing that we were able to see both the Sahara, and Greenland on our trip - we did cover some ground.
Here's one of the pics over Greenland:
At home all was well. We left Amsterdam at about 1:30pm, and landed in Seattle shortly after 2:30pm, so we were in for a long day :)
Stay tuned for my cheetah post...
Next trip is in a week. I will be going to the Dominican Republic for Jamie's wedding. Congrats Jamie and Michelle!