Quick Shot: Puma

Warthogs were not terribly high on my list of 'must see' animals in while in Tanzania, but I was surprised to find them far cuter and more interesting than expected. Their skin is actually covered in a thick and bristle fur and they have some funny behaviors - for instance, when they run in a group, they always stick their tails straight up in the air. This reminded me a bit of remote control antennas - the tip of the tail was sometimes all you could see. The warthog was also surprisingly brave - we saw a warthog take on a cheetah when it was irritated that the cheetah was walking through his territory. And when rummaging in the ground, the warthog often gets down on his knees to get that big face closer to the dirt.

Here's two shots of the warthogs - one is a momma with her babies and the second is a warthog on his knees.

Quick Shot: Butt Shot

Sometimes having a photograph where the face isn't front and center is a good thing..... and in this case, the butts are center stage. These two wildebeest were facing away, but I was patient with the camera and was ready to shoot once both turned to look at me. I love the look and feel of this image!

1970s.....? No, 2015 Lion!

Looking at this photograph quickly and you might think it was taken in 1970. It's got that distinctive color and feel of a photograph from 1970..... the feel of a photograph taken with old film.

That's because it is! The photograph is from 2015 and Tanzania, but was shot on a 1970's era Rolleiflex 120mm camera on Kodak color film. 

For the past few weeks I've slowly been developing all the rolls of film I shot in Tanzania and am excited to start sharing those shots, starting with this one of a very friendly lion. Although the composition is a little.... wacky.... I think you can appreciate that I was a bit nervous to shove my arm outside the car to frame a better shot!

Ngorongoro Sunrise

Good morning! Sunrise in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania was extremely photographic as the sun peeked through the dense cloud cover that settled overnight. To get this photograph, I stitched eight individual images together into a single mosaic. Shot on the Nikon D610 with Nikon 80-400mm lens.

A Day in Ngorongoro

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the often overlooked treasures of northern Tanzania as it sits next to one of the best known parks, the Serengeti. To start our adventure, which requires a decent of 900 meters, Ben had us up at 6am so we could catch sunrise in the crater.

We woke up to a very chilly morning; it was barely above freezing and a dense fog sat over the crater and our hotel. Ben was constantly having to wipe down the windshield to fight the condensation - it was like driving through a cloud. Barely able to see the road ahead of him, Ben slowly crept the jeep towards the edge of the crater. I knew the crater was on my right side as we drove and just kept watching to make sure there was some visible road out the window as there was almost no way to know if you were about to dive off a cliff!

Eventually we arrived at the gate for the crater descent road and the sun was just starting to put some light into the sky. This significantly helped and within minutes we’d gone from virtually zero visibility to several meters. Beginning the decent onto the steep crater road, we were welcomed with some wonderful photographic surprises. First, the sun penetrating through the clouds offered some spectacular beams of neon pink light. Second, from below the cloud line, we could look up at see big dramatic clouds ‘stuck’ on the edge of the crater. In the soft morning light, it was a photographer’s dream. Not only did I get busy with my Nikon, I also pulled out the Rolleiflex 120mm film camera and fired off several images onto some color Kodak Ektar film.

Our journey into the crater had one specific goal - Rhino! Unfortunately, in talking with other visitors over the course of our journey who had been to Ngorongoro before us, no one had seen a rhino. It sounded like it had been several days or even weeks without a spotting. The rarity of this animal cannot be overstated; there are estimated to be less than 50 left in the entire country as poaching largely destroyed the population. Even though these black rhino are now under guard and protection from poachers, the rhino is not quick to reproduce, so restoring the population will take centuries. Ngorongoro is considered the best place to look for these animals because it’s estimated that up to 50% of Tanzania’s rhino population lives in this crater. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make things easier; the rhino is very particular about certain weather conditions like wind and seeing just one in the distance is a treat for visitors.

We drove around the crater spotting the usual assortment of animals - zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, lion, warthog - but all eyes were focused on finding a black dot on the horizon that would belong to a rhino. There were plenty of false alarms; the crater is also home to the water buffalo, which looks very similar from a distance!

Over the radio, in Swahili, came the call. A pair of rhino had been spotted walking in some grassy fields. We tore over to that area and stopped the jeep. Scanning the horizon it was possible see two little black dots with horns - two rhino. We were elated. It was too far to take pictures, but looking through the binoculars we could make out the faint shapes of the rhino.

We felt very lucky to see these rhino at all. Our search for the “safari big 5” (the name given to the five animals most safari-goers hope to see: rhino, lion, elephant, water buffalo, and leopard) was over. 

We continued the drive and made friends with several groups of lions, including some cubs that again decided the best shade was found next to and under safari jeeps. Time in the crater is limited, as is the number of vehicles allowed in at any one time, and we knew our morning in the crater was rapidly coming to an end. Around noon, Ben started to speed up and joined a line of other jeeps that was driving quickly down a main road. We assumed this was part of the jeep migration out of the crater and thought little of it. 

A moment later we joined a long line of safari jeeps; here was another (different) rhino and he was very close. Very close. For the next 45 minutes, we watched this animal walk around the grass, at one point coming very close to the car, before walking past. I rattled off hundreds of shots; the rhino walks with his head down and in the grass so rapid shooting was key to see his horns in the breaks of the grass. 

We were exceptionally lucky. To see even one rhino is a treat and we thought two at a distance was fantastic, but here was a third rhino very close to us. Morale in the jeep was very high as we exited the crater for our next adventure. 

Safari Cats: Lion, Cheetah and Leopard

There's one question I get asked over and over by coworkers and friends as they hear about my safari:

"Did you see any cats?"

It has become evident that I need to post some pictures of the felines observed during this safari to northern Tanzania pretty quickly, or I may have a mob of angry people to contend with! And after yesterday's somewhat depressing update about the Maasai, it's time I give you what you want! Pictured here are a collection of Lions, Cheetah and Leopard seen during our safari through Tanzania with Caracal Tours & Safaris.

So, without further ado, may I present *some* of the cats of Africa! I have to save a few surprises....

The Secret Life of the Maasai Tribes

** Warning: Controversial and possibly upsetting content ***

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then I shouldn’t need any words to describe the Maasai people seen in these photographs; however, I feel compelled to add to the story - the story the photographs don’t tell about the Maasai. It’s the dark side of the Maasai - the part they don’t show the tourists.

The Maasai are one of the biggest tribes in Tanzania and Kenya and span large areas of the countryside. Traditionally nomadic, they are cow herders and believe all cattle were given to the Maasai by God. Maasai don’t farm crops, their lifestyle involves herding goats and cattle. Before seeing it for myself, I assumed the Maasai were similar to the Amish of the United States; a small group living traditional lifestyle. The reality is that over 1.5 million Maasai people are spread over thousands of miles - that’s more people then there are living in San Diego! Not a small community!

Their society is entirely male dominated; a man has many wives and is allowed to marry as many women as he has cattle. In other words, wives are a sign of wealth. Equally, children are considered a sign of wealth and Maasai men strive to have as many cattle, wives and children as possible. 

Women have essentially no rights in Maasai culture; they are rarely educated and very few Maasai women speak Swahili - they only know their tribal language. Likewise, very few can read or write. Although the Tanzanian government has a legal marriage age of 18 years, Maasai women are regularly married well before then, often shortly after going through puberty. Their marriages are arranged by the parents in exchange for a dowry. Maasai men will invite other like-aged males into their homes, meaning sometimes their wives are asked to share the bed with another man. Reports from health organizations suggest almost 90% of Maasai women are subject to female genital mutilation (the removal of female external genitals in order to ‘prepare them for marriage’). Despite being outlawed by the government, Maasai girls are held down as a tribal elder uses a razor blade to remove portions of the female genitalia - often causing lifelong pain and suffering. Even men are subjected to some cruel treatment; boys are circumcised around the age of thirteen as part of a warrior tradition and it’s highly shameful to make any sound of pain during the process, which is done without anesthetic. 

The Maasai village we visited was run by a man who proudly had eight wives. Each wife and the children had by her live in one of the huts constructed from cow dung. The hut also holds some of the livestock at night; sleeping in such small quarters with restricted air flow and along animals means tuberculosis is a common killer of Maasai children. In fact, the infant mortality rate is so high that children aren’t even acknowledged in a Maasai village until they have achieved “three moons” of age. The Maasai reject modern medicine and most modern technologies. Lacking an education, most Maasai women do not understand to protect themselves against diseases like HIV/AIDS.

In all fairness, I need to acknowledge that there are two groups of Maasai - the modern and traditional. The modern Maasai blend into society; it is the traditional Maasai living in the bush that I’m referring to here.

While much of the Maasai lifestyle is troubling to westerners, there are some aspects that are rather fascinating. For instance, a common meal is to fill a gourd with goat milk, animal blood, and a millet of sorts to form a sludge drink rich in protein. No thanks! Their footwear of choice? Old car tires cut into thin strips as they last much longer than normal shoes- Maasai walk a LOT! Finally, Maasai attend a weekly market where they can trade goods and purchase other produce.

Amongst tourists, the Maasai villages have become a popular place to visit and see the nomadic lifestyle these people still enjoy. The Maasai have learned to exploit the tourists’ curiosity and now sell various knick-knacks to the visitors under the guise that it ‘raises money for the women.’ This is almost certainly a lie; Maasai women aren’t allowed to own property and certainly would not be allowed to keep American cash! Their entrepreneurship has led Maasai to stand by the side of the road, waving at safari jeeps driving past, hoping for a cash hand out. This caused me great personal conflict - in a society where poverty is so common, you feel obligated to help, but at the same time, I am then knowingly giving money to men who oppress the rights of women. 

The Maasai were fascinating subjects to photograph and observe, but my conscious could not allow me to be a neutral observer of the Maasai. I feel obligated for you, the viewer of these images, to really understand the Maasai culture and lifestyle. Aid groups have historically had very limited success in offering education and options to the women, although some men are starting to become educated and leave the traditional Maasai way of life. I cannot begin to fully capture the Maasai in this post, so I encourage you to take a moment to educate yourself about these tribes and their traditions - below are a few links to get you started.

Day 8: A Swim for Survival

The time has come for the annual great wildebeest migration as over 3 million animals will cross the crocodile infested Mara River that separates Tanzania and Kenya. Considered one of the natural wonders of the world, it is very difficult to predict the timing, but once a year millions of wildebeest will travel north over the Mara River into Kenya searching for fresh grasses to graze upon. The river is not very wide, but the journey is made treacherous by lots of slippery rocks and crocodile that are awaiting their annual wildebeest feast.

The migration is difficult to predict, but normally occurs in mid-to-late August, so I timed my arrival in the northern Serengeti hoping to coincide with the arrival of the wildebeest herds. Getting to the northern Serengeti requires 4+ hours of driving over unpaved roads and there are few camps to support visitors, so only the most dedicated will travel this far in search of the migration. My chances of seeing a portion of the migration depended on being lucky with the timing; I became very nervous that I would miss it completely as reports in early August indicated the migration started early. Thankfully the herds had split into two larger groups, so I was not too late! As I arrived in the northern Serengeti, I began talking to other visitors and guides who indicated no migration activity had been seen for several days prior, so we again had to get lucky. 

Our safari driver, Ben from Caracal Tours and Safaris, wisely instructed us to start the day a little earlier than normal so we set out half asleep in search of some wildebeest. We didn’t have to go far - within 10 minutes we were watching a decent herd gathered in a corner of the river. We moved our truck behind some bushes so as to not scare the herd and waited for the call over the radio that they had started running. Apparently the wildebeest will be spooked by the smallest things, so the presence of a 4x4 will cause them to hesitate running; hiding behind some bushes can speed things along. As the call came over the radio, we pulled out it from the bush and my heart jumped into my throat. Here it was……. the migration of tens of thousands of wildebeest was happening right before my eyes. 

It took almost an hour to complete the run, with thousands of animals galloping into the river and struggling to get across the other side. They sang a song (“he-haw”) that captured the fear these animals must have as they made this journey. Some got stuck. One young one broke his front leg and hobbled across on three legs (and was probably prey to a hyena later that evening). Another group crossed a major portion of the river only to get confused and turn back to the original shore (and they will have to cross again in the future). 

Miraculously, we only witnessed one fatality and it did not come at the hands / mouth of a crocodile. While there were several in the water, they must have been well fed in prior days as they expressed virtually zero interest in the migration. The one wildebeest who did not survive had a stuck foot and while he eventually dislodged it, he drowned before making it across to the other side. While it was sad to watch a helpless animal die before your eyes, it was a good reminder of what makes this journey so powerful to witness and made me glad that we saw so many other animals cross safely. One fatality in several tens of thousands of animals is a good success rate!

The experience of watching the wildebeest was surreal and different from anything the documentary TV could have offered. While many of the animals we’ve seen in Tanzania have acted in very predictable manners, watching tens of thousands of frightened animals swim for their lives really is a magical and humbling experience. Sitting at the bank of the Mara River and experiencing it for myself will be something that stays with me for the rest of my life.

Day 6-7: Serengeti National Park

Rather than repeatedly offering play-by-play accounts of the animals we saw on safari in the Serengeti, I’m going to mix things up by instead offering a recap of the highlights from Days 6-7, which were spent in the Serengeti National Park. These days brought us virtually all of the animals seen in the Serengeti-  the exception being a rhino. We had almost forty lions, leopards, cheetah, gazelle, giraffe, elephant, hyena, warthog, crocodile, hippo, etc etc etc!

Some of my favorite moments in the Serengeti:

  • One of the roads we went down took us into the middle of a group of hundreds of Zebra. It was probably the biggest concentration of a single animal we observed outside the wildebeest in the north. As far as you could see were zebra, even spanning across a small river. The funny part was listening to the zebra; they make a "he haw" sound like a donkey, but when hundreds of them do it simultaneously, its a sound unlike any heard before. It became dubbed the zebra song and we enjoyed hearing it from smaller groups elsewhere.
  • The gazelle are particularly amusing when you watch them move. While their normal process is to just walk like deer, they have this very funny jump / bounce that they will do whenever they are moving faster (like when our truck approaches). It looks like someone attached springs to the bottom of their feet!
  • Lions are very lazy. Very lazy. They make my house cat look productive! In the Serengeti we saw several lions that decided to nap in the shade not under a tree, but under the shade of a safari truck. As a result, we had several lions just feet away...... talk about surreal!
  • Speaking of lions, they normally hunt in groups and we had a chance to see a failed lion hunt. There were three lions involved; two sat on the horizon near trees while the third was closer to us and sat in the middle of the field. A group of gazelle unknowingly walked between the group, making them in prime location for a hunt, but the lions were not successful in stalking the gazelle. One of the gazelle realized what was happening and they sprinted away before the lions could make a kill.
  • We saw other cats, including a cheetah, in the Serengeti. The funny thing about the cheetah was watching it be harassed by a much smaller warthog when the cheetah started to mark its territory. Apparently Puma felt differently about who owned the territory and, undeterred by the size difference, the warthog chased the cheetah out of the area. It was unexpected interactions like this that made the Serengeti so interesting!

The end of day 7 took us to the northern Serengeti where we began our quest for wildebeest migration.... stay tuned!

Day 5: Serengeti National Park

After many days of teaser / warm-up safari days, it was finally time to set out for the Serengeti. The national park is one of (but not the) largest parks in Tanzania, certainly the most famous. To get here, we drove through Ngorogoro Crater (pronounced “un-gor-o-gor-o”), which is a caldera formed by volcano millions of years ago. We’ll be back to the crater near the end of our trip, so more to come about it and the ecosystem there.

The drive through Ngorogoro was relatively uneventful, but getting there required a little extra effort. On the way there, we passed through a police “checkpoint” setup in the road. Our driver, Ben, was flagged for a crack in the windshield, which is very common here considering the unpaved roads (we got several new cracks driving the rest of the day!) Most windshields only last a safari or two before they need replacement. Anyway, although Ben had the proper paperwork stating he had ordered the replacement windshield and despite the appropriate stamps, the police here pretended that the paperwork was not in order. I say pretend because the police in Tanzania are notoriously corrupt and a major part of their job is to bother people for bribes. For the average Tanzanian who may not be well educated or know better, this is a part of their life, but Ben is very well educated and knew that he was technically in the right. After almost 30 minutes of debate, they finally agreed that we could go on our way if he paid a “fine” of 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings…… or $5 US Dollars! The police clearly pocket the money and we were sure to notice the diamond earrings and ring on the policewoman probably weren’t purchased on salary alone. While it does not seem like a significant amount of money, $5 USD here is a small fortune and can feed a family for a week!

Once we’d resolved the bribes, we continued for the Serengeti. The road was fairly bumpy and dusty, so it wasn’t my favorite of our drives, but certainly one of the most beautiful. The arrival into the Serengeti was marked with nothingness. Seriously. As far as you could see….. nothing. Flat. Not a tree to be seen. The only thing breaking up the horizon were the herds of gazelle nibbling on the grass. The midday heat caused a mirage effect as the ground radiated. On we drove and eventually ended up in the areas of the Serengeti that are closer to what I’d imagined; the odd tree, some rolling hills and the occasional dried up water hole. 

We finally approached a side road where another safari driver indicated to Ben that there were some cheetah, so we detoured off the main route in search of some cats. We drove for awhile never finding cheetah, but the cats still showed themselves. This time it was a mother lion and her three lion cubs. The cubs were hungry and you could see ribs and bones, indicating they could use additional feedings. A little stream separated us from the lioness and her cubs, so Ben started driving to find a way across the stream to the road on the other side. As we proceeded, I spotted another pair of lions laying in the grass in the sun. We drove over to them and saw two adult lions, one who was just starting to grow his first mane, lounging in the midday sun. After watching them for a minute, we went back to the lioness and her cubs. She got up and started to lead her cubs away from the comfort and shade of the tree they were under and toward the other lions. We were hoping she was going to hunt one of the million gazelle ambling nearby, but she kept walking. She walked so quickly that her cubs fell behind, eventually separating her from them completely. Her walking ultimately also brought her within inches of the side of the truck - close enough that I could have reached my arm through the open window to pet her (I did not!). It was totally surreal to have a lion walk up on you like that, just inches away. I think I held my breath the whole time, but I did manage to take some shots! 

Finally she went to join the other adult lions lounging in the sunshine, her children probably a half mile away and “lost” as far as we could tell. Ben tells us this isn’t all that uncommon, but we certainly were judging the momma lion’s parenting techniques to leave her young vulnerable like that! 

The rest of our safari drive brought us more hippo, more giraffe, more elephant, more zebra, more monkey, more gazelle…… more animals! We joke that we’re starting to become choosy safari folks - the sightings that would have consumed us early in the trip are now waved on like “oh, another one of those.”

As the sun set, we approached our camp, the Kati Kati Camp, which is a roaming tent camp located squarely in the middle of the Serengeti plains. There is no fence, just a bunch of tents that are setup for a few months and then moved. As a result, you are smack dab in the middle of the animal action and not allowed to leave the tent after dinner. You are escorted to and from the tent in the dark and have a whistle for emergency, but are NOT supposed to exit the tent. Lion, hyena, zebra, giraffe, etc are all common sightings around the tents at night and I woke up several times to the sound of an animal right outside the tent. It was fascinating to also watch the sun set over the Serengeti from this vantage point and I’m glad we are here another day to enjoy it again.

Day 3: Lake Manyara National Park

I am finding it increasingly difficult to come up with the words to describe the incredible wildlife and landscape in Tanzania. Our adventure today took us to Manyra National Park, which is located squarely in the heart of Maasai territory. The Maasai is one of the oldest and bigger tribes in this region; historically cattle farmers, they live a very primitive lifestyle in mud huts that dot the remote countryside. 

Manyra park borders a lake that is an alkaline lake full of millions of flamingos, but the park itself contains several mini ecosystems. With Ben once again at the helm, we set off in search of elephants, giraffe, monkey, and (fingers crossed) big cats. Ben told us that we’d have to be extremely lucky to see any cats in this park, it used to be more common but the cats have learned to avoid the areas visited by the 4x4’s and stick to remote areas. We started a running joke with Ben that, despite his warnings that this wasn’t a place to regularly see the big cats, we were still going to find a “leopard in a tree.” After a day and a half, the joke had evolved to finding all sorts of animals in trees: leopards, lions, and elephants! Every time we said it, Ben would chuckle and shake his head, no doubt thinking “those crazy people.”

You can imagine our excitement when a German tourist in another jeep mentioned “there is a lion in a tree just down the road, next to the wooden bridge.” Ben hit the accelerator and moments later we found the tree in question. Indeed, there was a large lioness relaxing in the upper branches in retreat of the hot sun. While we’d found our lion in a tree, this lion wasn’t exactly feeling social and only gave a view of her butt as she napped, occasionally shifting a paw to maintain her balance. As an aside, I was surprised by her choice of limbs for napping - she didn’t exactly go for big strong branches and I can’t imagine it was a terribly comfortable nap. 

I am sure Ben was relieved to finally produce a cat in a tree, hoping that would quell his guests and their jokes, but we immediately began joking that we now wanted elephants and leopards in trees. (Note: elephants don’t climb trees, but since Ben had delivered a sighting that was fairly rare, we figured we’d ask for the moon and see what we got!)

As we continued down the path, Ben would stop and chat with other guides in Swahili about their sightings: “did you see any elephants? any lions?” Ben reported back to us that the other safari groups were coming back empty handed, but this didn’t deter Ben. He’s one of the best drivers in Tanzania and if anyone was going to find the impossible, it was him. Onward we went!

Less than an hour later, we passed some very fresh elephant dung and urine; when urine is still present you know the elephants MUST be nearby. Despite our eagle eyes, we couldn't find any elephants, and pressed forward, disappointed that we may have missed a sighting by mere minutes. The end of this road was an open plain that eventually stretched to the edge of the lake. As we emerged onto the plain, Ben yelled out “Lion!”

Sure enough, in the middle of the plain was a single lioness walking towards the only bush that occupied this otherwise barren grassland. I only got a few quick snaps before she disappeared into the bush and sat down. After spending a minute looking around at the other animals, Ben drove the 4x4 over to the bush, putting us just feet away from the lion as she rested in the shade. 

Wow! These are big cats and very impressive to see in their natural environment - no cages or scheduled feedings. I don’t think she was as impressed with the humans as she’d occasionally lift one side of her lip to show us a long tooth. She was a truly magnificent animal and I cannot wait to see more in the Serengeti. 

We felt incredibly lucky - TWO lions! Ben commented that this is very rare to see here, so we felt very good about our timing, although still bummed the elephants evaded us. Unfortunately, the park was closing soon, so we had to start the drive back to the main gate without our elephant sighting. About fifteen minutes into the drive, Ben spotted an elephant leg as it moved across the road and into the bush. We drove to that area and could hear the sounds of a bunch of large animals and saw trees shaking. Ben stopped the engine and we sat there in silence listening to the bushes and trees around us shaking from a herd of elephants. Moments later the first elephant emerged from the bush and ambled toward us, getting within inches of the truck before ducking back into the overgrowth. Another group of elephants emerged, this time with a baby. The adult elephants surrounded the baby to protect it, but I still managed a few shots. Ben was starting to get nervous - the park was closing soon and we still had a long way to drive, but the elephants we were previously struggling to identify were now not in the mood to yield from the roadway. Even as we inched closer in the truck, the elephants were not interested in moving and we had no choice but to sit and watch this group of 10 or so elephants (bummer!). Almost as quickly as we found them, they disappeared when an older elephant was spooked by a nearby sound. Ben wasted no time and we tore onward to the main gate.

At this point, it seemed every time we wished to see an animal in a tree, that animal would appear for us, albeit not always in a tree! Once again we joked that all we needed now was a leopard in a tree. Almost as if it was on command, we passed another safari truck that was watching a leopard moving in the bushes. Unfortunately he was moving very quickly so we only got a minute to watch him before he disappeared from view.

On the whole, we had an extremely lucky day in a park that is more commonly known for the bird life. We are hoping our luck didn’t run out too quickly as our next safari stop is the Serengeti! The moral of this story is that we need to keep asking to see animals in trees!

Day 2: Arusha National Park Safari

If I was to sum up today's safari drive through Arusha National Park in northern Tanzania, it would be with one word..... 'Monkey!'

With our safari guide and driver Ben at the helm of our Caracal Tours and Safari's 4x4 truck, we set out this morning for a small park north of Arusha. The park has an interesting mix of dry landscape and lush greenery, providing a home for a variety of animals. Since our travels will soon take us into the dry Serengeti, I was most interested in the lush greenery as the animals we see there will not be found again later. One of the trademarks of this park is the black and white Colobus Monkey, which is relatively rare for visitors to see, but we were fortunate to catch twice. Along with hundreds of baboons, the monkey crowd certainly stole the spotlight and were the highlight of our day.

Monkey business was not the only thing we enjoyed as Ben also took us to see some Zebra, Giraffe, Warthog, Buffalo, birds and flamingos. While we eagerly eyed for Hippo and our first African cat sightings, neither made an appearance, but Ben promises an abundance of them in our future! With Ben's re-assurance that the other animals would come in due time, I focused my energy (and camera) into capturing the magic of the monkey.

Here's a selection of shots from the monkey business we observed today. All shot with the Nikon D610 and Nikon 80-400mm telephoto lens.

Momma and baby baboon sitting on a rock in Arusha National Park. The mom was preening while the youngster kept a nervous eye on us.

Another mother baboon breast feeding her young

I love the big orange eyes and the smile on this baboon!

The Colobus Monkey is less common for visitors to spot, so we were very fortunate to have some cooperative monkey business to watch. The Colobus Monkey is known for being a great jumper and we witnessed our fair share of that being demonstrated.

A little Sykes Monkey eyeing a branch and contemplating if he could make the jump for more leaves to nibble. 

Day 1: Tanzanian Coffee and Villages

Wow! Today was an incredible cultural experience and there is almost no way for me to do it justice via words, but I’ll try! Our day started with a pickup by our driver and guide, Max, who took us up to see a coffee plantation and tour some of the villages that dot theslopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The drive up the mountain was incredibly bumpy and I was certainly appreciative of the 4x4 safari vehicle. We passed some very small villages of local Tanzanians in the middle of their daily business, including gentlemen carrying the head of a freshly killed cow, kids going to school, and women gathering grasses to feed their cows. 

At the top of the mountain we parked and started a walk to one of the local waterfalls. The hike took us passed even more huts and small family dwellings where we had a chance to really experience the life of a local. Words cannot begin to describe how different this was from everything I’m accustomed to seeing in the western world, which made it incredibly powerful. For instance, most of the houses had limited electricity and flushing toilets were regional and shared by multiple people outside the house. I saw one radio (that was probably from the 1970s) and no televisions. Access to the internet and cellular networks is extremely limited. Most of the women didn’t have shoes and it was obvious that much of the wardrobe originated as a donation from a western country. For instance, we saw t-shirts from a Halloween party in Chicago and a lacrosse high school team and I’m 100% certain they were charitable donations that eventually found their way across the oceans.

While the waterfall we saw was spectacular and very pretty, the cultural immersion was far more powerful to experience. We had fantastic guides who were happy to talk to us about their lives. Here’s a sample of “fun facts” we picked up during the day:

  • A family here can have upwards of 20 children, although most will have more like 7 kids. Men who have many cattle are allowed to marry multiple wives.
  • A well-to-do family here will make 2 million Tanzanian Shillings a year. That equates to about $1,000 USD. Many families here live on less than $1USD per day.
  • While schooling in Tanzania is free, parents need to pay for books and uniforms, which can cost $50/year per kid. The economics mean many kids won’t get an education; a family living on $1 a day can’t exactly afford the fringe costs of education.
  • A favorite drink is a beer made from dried millet and sweet banana. We got to taste some and while the beer wasn’t exactly my favorite, they had a banana wine that I found more appealing.
  • The coffee farms here are hardly what we’d call a farm in the United States; it was a cluster of a handful of bushes and coffee beans were sold to a larger coffee company that distributes it worldwide. For the family we saw, this season yielded approximately 150kg of coffee, which is their only source of income for the year.
  • Many families will keep their cattle inside their house and have the house serve as the cage. This is so they can collect the dung for fertilization.
  • In Moshi, women sell a variety of things from shoes to pants. To advertise their sales, they will carry one of the items on their head - so we saw some women carrying a single shoe on their head. Apparently size isn’t an issue here either, you buy shoes because you like them, not because they fit.
  • Election season is approaching in Tanzania and we passed a pickup truck blaring some music and slogans. We asked and apparently the truck was driving around to remind residents to register to vote.
  • Coffee is a big cash crop here, but corn provides the major food source for locals.

After the hike, we visited the coffee farm of one of the local residents. Farm is a very generous term because it is not the sort of farm we are accustomed to seeing in the west. The farm consisted of a dozen small bushes that they pick the coffee bean from. Once the beans are picked, they use a hand mill to remove the bean from the outer shell and then wash the beans. Any beans that float are bad and have been affected by one of the parasites, while sinking beans are good. After they soak for a few days, they are set out to dry. Finally, they are roasted over an open fire for 15 minutes and then crushed (by hand) into coffee grounds. Watching the process as they made us a cup of coffee gave me a new appreciation for this drink and you can’t help but think that instant coffee makes these people furious!

Having a day completely immersed in the lifestyle of the local villagers who live around Mt. Kilimanjaro was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had traveling. Even my travels through the Middle East have been relatively “normal,” but seeing people who may not live to be older than 50 and who live on so little was truly eye opening. I almost felt guilty using a camera that cost three times their annual income to photograph them! Yet despite their situation, they never sounded sorry for themselves. Seeing people who have such a different view of the world and their lives is an experience that will stay with me for an eternity. 

Unfortunately the wifi at our current hotel is very slow, so I can only share a fraction of the photos I took of the adventure, so I’m sharing these to wet the appetite and more will follow when internet improves.

The daughter of a coffee farmer sits on the mud step outside her hut

The daughter of a coffee farmer sits on the mud step outside her hut

A woman who is probably in her 50's was shucking corn shells by hand while her sons work the coffee farm

A woman who is probably in her 50's was shucking corn shells by hand while her sons work the coffee farm

Some village children sitting by the side of the road. They were very amused and curious to watch the white people since they see so few tourists.

Some village children sitting by the side of the road. They were very amused and curious to watch the white people since they see so few tourists.

A woman carrying a bunch of grasses over her head as she walks home to feed her cattle. Many cattle live in the huts with the family, so the food has to be brought to the cattle. 

A woman carrying a bunch of grasses over her head as she walks home to feed her cattle. Many cattle live in the huts with the family, so the food has to be brought to the cattle. 

Day 0: Tanzania Safari

Today represents Day 0 of a 13 night safari through Tanzania and although most of the day was spent flying, I wanted to provide updates as often as possible. I can't promise wifi access every day, but will try to share updates (and of course photos) when internet permits. Worst case, you'll hear about it upon my return!

The trip to Tanzania was a long one and took almost 13 hours of flying from London. We flew Qatar Airway via Doha to arrive in Kilimanjaro Airport this afternoon tired, stinky, and hungry. After clearing customs, we met our driver and drove the 45 minutes to the Weru Weru Lodge, where we'll spend the first two nights. The logistics of this trip were a little more complicated than some of our other travels; for instance, we have to take a structured regiment of anti-malarial medications and avoid eating certain foods. Hopefully those sacrifices will be worth it when we're watching lions in a few short days.

During the drive to our lodge, I had a chance to make a few interesting observations. First, I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure as we flew into the airport. Granted this isn't a large city, but thousands of mountain climbers and safari goers will pass through it every year, so I expected a little more of a 'city' around the airport. Instead, as soon as we left the airport, we started seeing men herding small groups of goats and cows with sticks and women walking with bags on their heads. Speaking of bags on the heads of women - I am impressed watching that feat! I barely have the balance to carry a glass of water without spilling it, so my hat goes off to these women! Finally, I was very surprised by the number of sand/dirt/dust devils and mini sand tornados we saw. 

The locals mostly speak English and Swahili and I've learned my first Swahili words. I won't attempt to spell it, but the way to say thank you sounds like "Ashanti" - so I'm on my way. 

Tomorrow we're off to tour a local coffee plantation, a waterfall, and hopefully will catch a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

Sand / Dust / Dirt devils as seen from the airplane on our approach into Kilimanjaro Airport

Sand / Dust / Dirt devils as seen from the airplane on our approach into Kilimanjaro Airport

Some locals with their motorbikes gathered outside the school in Weru Weru. I guess the school serves Coke?!

Some locals with their motorbikes gathered outside the school in Weru Weru. I guess the school serves Coke?!

Some women gathering water from a well along the road

Some women gathering water from a well along the road

Mount Kilimanjaro making a brief appearance through the clouds. Shot very quickly with the iPhone before she vanished again.

Mount Kilimanjaro making a brief appearance through the clouds. Shot very quickly with the iPhone before she vanished again.