Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tanzania and The Journey Back to London

The last day of the safari really started our journey home even though our flight wasn't for another day. From the Serengeti we had about a 6-7 hour drive back to Arusha. It's times like these when you really miss the Interstate system. Check out this short video clip of our ride. Now try and imagine 4+ hours of this before you hit the paved roads. Dust anyone...

After we made it back to Arusha we had to re-confirm our flights at the local Kenya Airways office. For some reason if you have more than 72 hours between your arrival and departure flights you must re-confirm your flight or else it will be cancelled. Yes I know, its a strange policy.

To wind down our trip we had one more night at the Patwa's residence. Luckily we took some advice and booked a flight to Dar instead of the 8 hour bus ride again. The 12-seater plane was an adventure and when we hit a nice little air pocket in the sky it gave us that feeling of free fall. Although it lasted a mere moment, it made us exchange sideways glances!

We caught our flight in Dar back to London and arrived "home" without any issues.

Finally Steph and I want to give a few shout outs to wrap up the trip.

The Patwa's, thank you for all of your hospitality! Thanks for giving us more food than we could possible eat, places to stay before, during and after the wedding and for helping schedule the safari and Zanzibar trip. To the whole family - we enjoyed meeting and getting to know you all. Someone ask the Secretary General to keep an eye on his "diet" for me...

Ali, thanks again for helping schedule our flight from Dar along with shuttling us to the airport. Also thanks for keeping an eye on me during the wedding ceremonies helping me to avoid any "stupid moments". It was a pleasure!

Sameer, thank you for letting us be a part of your wedding. It was a wonderful experience and we were honored to be invited. Best wishes to you and Tez.

That's all for Tanzania. So what's next?

Safari Day 4 - Sunrise over the Serengeti

We had our driver pick us up early, 6:30am, so that we could see the sun rise over the Serengeti. As we headed towards the game areas, we had several beautiful sunrise moments.

Today's mission was to spot some large cats as they tend to hunt in the early morning. As we drove around, the silence of nature was amazing. With the vehicle stopped, engine off, the delicate sounds of grass chewing, a few gentle steps and the occasional trot, made a peaceful soundtrack to the spectacular views. There were also fields as far as you could see full of gazelle and zebra.

During the early morning drive we found a pack of hyenas that were following a male lion. We came to find out from our driver that the hyenas thought they were following a female lion hoping to chase her off of an eventual kill. As the lion continued they soon realized it was a male lion and dispersed. It wasn't a total loss because the lion walked directly in front of our vehicle as he sauntered across the road. See this short video of the lion.

After a couple more peaceful hours of morning drive, with no major sitings, our driver started cutting through a field. In some parts of the park you are allowed to drive off the paths which can be helpful due to the size of the park.

We saw a few vulchers circling above and then saw movement in the tall grass as we drove closer. We spotted more vulchers finishing off a recent kill and not too many paces away were two cheetah. They were walking away having just given up their leftovers to the vulchers.

We followed the cheetah across the field where they stopped to sit on top of a dirt mound for a good view. Then we noticed the cheetahs were surrounded by lions. On one side was a lone lioness on the prowl. On the other was another lioness with her two cubs. Since none of the cat species get along the cheetahs were trying to avoid any contact with the lions by laying low not moving or drawing attention.

We were able to get extremely close to the cheetahs on the mound. It was one of the best moments of our safari, rivaling one of the lion hunts in the crater! The cheetahs were so amazing, too bad we couldn't have seen them in action at full speed.

We saw quite a few other animals and the only other thing to mention is a leopard we found sleeping in a tree that had carried its kill into the tree. Unfortunately it was quite far away so the pictures didn't really turn out.

Finally the picture is of a yawning hippo.

Serengeti Photos

Next Up: The Journey Home

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Safari Part 3 - Serengeti Day 1

Where to start with the Serengeti? For starters it is the most well known National Park and biggest in Tanzania plus it is casually referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. The first thing that strikes you as you are driving through is the vastness the park. The plains and forest go in all directions as far as you can see....and in some ares the animals seem endless too.

We were in Tanzania during winter, the dry season. This means the plains are usually only inhabited by gazelles at this time who can quench their thirst by eating the grass so they don't need to be next to a water source. My favorite gazelle was the Thompsons Gazelle which is a smaller gazelle. They have a 6-8 inch tail that is constantly wagging happily like an excited dog. It is quite humorous to see a herd of them bent over eating peacefully but to see a wave of little black flicking tails! So cute!

One of our first stops was a hippo pool. Oh, the hippo pool, how it stinks. During the dry season the water where these hippos were doesn't turn over very much so the water becomes filthy dirty with poop. Yuk, it smelled so bad. Here is my initial reaction, funny I know. The hippos spend a lot of the time under the water or in the water during the day. They actually get out to eat at night. They are interesting to watch, bobbing up and down, snorting water, moving slowly about in the water...but the smell was too much to handle for too long!

We also found a huge crocodile, thankfully at a good distance. We were fighting off the infamous tsetse flies while spying on the croc. These flies are super annoying, flying all around your face and at your ears. They also carry the disease better known as Sleeping Sickness which basically makes you very sleepy. So, we headed straight for our bottle of DEET bug spray! It helped immensely!

The remainder of our first day was relaxing with several lion spottings but they were all in trees, relaxing in the shade from the late afternoon sun.

We also spent some time at a zebra watering hole. There was a VERY large herd of zebra and wildebeest next to the river. Zebra are smart, but suspicious animals so they always feel conscious of potential lion or crocodile attacks. The watering hole was hilarious because zebra in a group would wonder over, start drinking, then one zebra would flinch and they would all take off in a mad dash away from the river. In this short video clip you can see them running away but also here a zebra call (donkey-like he-haw). It was always being echoed throughout the herd. I wonder what they were saying...

We then took the long ride back to the lodge, speeding fast down some questionably rocky roads, but standing out the roof with the warm wind in your face was actually quite invigorating. Talk about fresh air - we were breathing it all in.

At the lodge, we relaxed with a cup of coffee and the view over the vast Serengeti before getting ready for dinner.

All of the Serengeti Photos

Next Up: Serengeti Day 2

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Safari Part 2 - Ngorongoro Crater

Our second day of safari started with about a 2 hour drive to the Ngorongoro National Park and Conservation Area. We then had to to descend 7000 feet down to the crater floor where all of the action is.

Two words sum up this day, "Lion Hunts".

After our descent we enjoyed our first glimpse of the wildebeest. They are such goofy looking creatures but we decided they are very photogenic. One even decided to run into our vehicle.

From there we ran across our first and only Serval cat of the safari. A small but beautifully colored cat. She was the size of a very large house cat.

At our next stop there was a moment to savor, our first glimpse of a pride of lions in the wild.

As we watched a pair of warthogs stumbled into the area, the poor things have terrible vision. In this picture, you can see one of the lions watching hungrily. Gradually the lions all took notice and started moving into place stalking the warthogs. You can see the lioness stalking in the background.

This went on for a while when our driver said, "Oh, that warthog is in danger".

Then out of nowhere a few zebras wondered into the area near the warthogs and one of the lionesses took off chasing them across the plains. The surprised warthogs and zebras scattered in all directions trying to confuse the lioness. Wait, a moment of indecision by the lioness. She tried to change targets in mid chase. That was all it took, one moment of indecision and the prey escaped, luckily. The hunt was over with no snack for the lions this time.

The adrenaline was pumping. Steph and I exchanged looks in awe of what we had just seen. It was intense and thrilling to watch the lions in action. What a show!

We left the lions since there was no prey remaining to see what else we could find. We drove around for some time until we found another pride of lions which included males as well. We were on a road bumper-to-bumper with other safari vehicles. Then one lioness just stands up and starts walking towards the vehicles. Steph was getting a little nervous as it looked like her sight was fixed on our vehicle, then our driver says, "She is hunting. You are very lucky to see this twice". Steph, still a little nervous, didn't relax until she turned around to see a large herd of zebra in the field behind us.

The lioness proceeded to stalk the zebras, walking between the safari vehicles as if we were part of the environment. She ended up walking one vehicle away from us. You can actually see the tire of the vehicle right behind us in this picture of the lioness, not to mention her whiskers and teeth. She ended up chasing the herd, aiming at the slowest zebra at the back of the running herd, but was quickly out run by the zebras. Our driver at one point during this chase said, "just dive at it", but she didn't and failed. Again totally breathtaking.

After lunch we came back to the spot of the second hunt to find the male lion snacking on a kill. Again some warthogs wondered in and another hunt was on. Three in one day, can you believe it?! This one was short lived as the warthogs got wind of the lions and took off. We did however get this incredible picture of one of the lionesses stalking about to pounce and another of the warthogs escaping.

Overall, Ngorongoro crater was an amazing day. We saw many other animals but the lions stole to the show.

All of the Ngorongoro Photos

Next Up: Serengeti

Safari Part 1 - Lake Manyara

Our Safari started at the Lake Manyara National Park. It is a smaller park that gave us a good start into our safari. In the picture you can see our safari vehicle. The roof pops up for optimal animal viewing.

After entering the park the first animals we saw were elephants. We turned a corner and there was a family of elephants blocking the road. It was a male and female elephant with their little ones. We watched them for quite awhile but eventually they decided they were tired of us so the last one let out a silent, but deadly, elephant fart and as they strolled off into the jungle. And YES, elephant farts stink. We didn't stick around much longer.

At one point during the morning drive we found ourselves stopped looking at a family of hyper monkeys on the right side of the vehicle and a family of bandit mongoose on the left side of the vehicle. A few minutes pasted when our driver noticed an eagle high up in a tree straight ahead. All at once the eagle took off and everything went into action. The monkeys starting sounding off to each other while they dashed for cover...up into the trees and into the bushes. On the other side, the mongoose simultaneously did the same disappearing act. They were all locked on the eagle in defensive mode. It all happened so fast. In case you didn't realize, this eagle eats animals such as these small monkeys and mongoose.

When we stopped for lunch at a picnic site we were with a group of other tourists. After one group of people finished the mother and daughter starting walking away from the site towards the lake. They were a ways away before the driver noticed and starting yelling for them to come back. "Hey. Come back. Its not safe to be walking out there". Think - you are in an open park that inhabits lions, leopards and other large wild animals. Stupid tourists...

Finally on our way to the lodge we met a family of baboons walking in the road. Here is a photo one of the baboons sitting on the guard rail. Not a bad photo.

Lake Manyara Photos

Next Up: Ngorongoro Crater

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wedding Photos

I posted photos from Sameer and Tehzeen's wedding photos. The picture above after the final reception and we holding traditional Maasia symbols.

For some reason quite a few of the photos didn't turn out as expected. We think it may have been the lighting because we were quite a bit of low lighting during the wedding. Anyway the best of the bunch are available. Have a look. There are some good ones of us wearing some traditional outfits. Steph was digging the clothes...

Next Up: Lake Manyara

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Zanzibar Photos Online

I have posted a collection of the Zanzibar photos. They are broken down into 4 sets organized into the one collection. Below is a brief description of the sets but you can also refer to the blogs Zanzibar 1 and Zanzibar 2 for more detail.

Dar Es Salaam Photos - The economic capital of Tanzania, this is the city we flew into on day one, having lunch at a place called Slipaway. We then caught a ferry to Zanzibar the same day. Only a few photos here.

Stone Town Photos - This was the first portion of Zanzibar where we visited the Stone Town a World Heritage Site. It was a vibrant and hectic place.

Ras Nungwi Photos - Sitting on the north tip of Zanzibar is our resort Ras Nungwi. Here we were able to take a break from the hectic pace and relax on the beach. The service and food were fantastic. We even took a snorkeling trip.

Jozani Forest Photos - Here we took a trip to the Jozani Forest where they have an endangered species of monkey, the Red Colobus Monkey.

Next Up: Sameer's wedding

Am I Really Back To Work Already?

The trip home from Tanzania was uneventful which is how we like it. We reached the flat early Sunday morning and had to happy cats waiting for us. Now we are resting up getting back to real life which kicked in quickly because we both went to work on Monday after 17 days away.

As many of you know our trip was split into 3 distinct events Zanzibar, Sameer's wedding and our safari. We have right at 1000 photos for the entire trip so I have some weeding outdo. Over the next week I am planning to post the 3 sets of pictures and blog about the remaining portions of the trip, mainly the safari so check back this week.

Next Up: Zanzibar

Friday, July 13, 2007

Back From the Safari

We are back from safari safe and sound. What an adventure!

Lions, leopards, cheetas, jackals, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, buffalos, hippos, crocidiles, monkeys, elephants, vulchers and on it goes.

I don't have much time at the moment so I have to be quick.

We start our journey home tomorrow morning getting in to London some
time early morning on Sunday. I will do my best to get some pictures and blogs up on the safari soon. We haven't had any access to the internet all week. For some reason in the middle of the Serengetti they just don't have internet connectivity...

More safari details coming soon.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Back in Arusha

The wedding is over and we are back in Arusha. Yesterday and today we are spending with the Patwa family as we all recover from the wedding especially Sameer & Tez.

Today we are going to do a little souvenir shopping at the Arusha Cultural Heritage. I hear its hosted quite a few important people including former US presidents so it should be a neat place. Then tonight we are talking about catching a movie.

Finally, our long awaited safari starts tomorrow. We can't wait! We will try and report from the field but no guarantees...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Congratulations to Sameer and Tehzeen

After several events and a couple days, Sameer and Tezheen are now Mr. & Mrs. Patwa. The picture of them is after the wedding ceremony.

The events leading up to the wedding have been amazing and there are still a couple more to go. Here is what we have done so far.

The first event here in Moshi (Tez's hometown) was a lunch provided by the bride's family. Then all the women attended an event at the bride's family house where the groom's family presented her with gifts...tons of gifts that included clothing, shoes, gold jewelry, purses, etc, etc! The bride's family also gave us small gifts and served us food (food is a big part of every event).

Later that evening, everyone went to the bride's family house where Sameer was to be received by the bride's family formally for the first time. Sounds simple, but the process includes the bridesmaids playing tricks on the groom and groomsmen to make it more complicated. Sometimes grooms have to be covered by a cloth to prevent flying eggs from hitting him...but no eggs for Sameer. They did however put salt and vinegar in foods that should have been sugary sweet - yuk! Josh had a yummy piece of chocolate made with vinegar. :) That event was capped off by a huge barbecue.

Yesterday was the actual wedding ceremony at the mosque which is between Sameer and his new father in-law. Tez was sitting in a separate room watching though. After the ceremony - we ate. Then that evening the groom's family hosted an event to receive the bride in to the family. This is a big event where the groom's family serves the food and provides gifts.

Today we have the last two events of the wedding. First is lunch provided by the groom's family then the BIG reception to cap off the events. I hear we are having a live band. Also we want to wish Sameer luck as he has to give a speech to all of the family tonight.

Good luck buddy...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Time to Focus on the wedding

We said good bye to Zanzibar and boarded the ferry back to Dar which was quite a trip. It started off being an hour and a half late so we had to stand at the not so friendly port waiting on the boat. Luckily our fantastic guide Omar waited with us. The ride was really wavy and we could hear everybody getting sick as they were handing out plastic bags left and right. Luckily they were playing an old Sylvester Stallone movie that kept us occupied. Out of sight out of mind right?

One funny note, as we were leaving the ship (everybody trying to exit at the same time through one small door, arg) Steph had to be careful to not hit a 32' TV that a guy was balancing on his head while exiting in front of her. Oh man what a site..

We then took the bus (a grueling 9+ hours) from Dar to Arusha where we finally met up with Sameer which was a big relief. This is when Steph got here henna tatoo in the picture. We then had a huge party where we were able to meet all of Sameer's family, who are a riot by the way, and had our first taste of Tanzanian grilled kabobs called Nando (I think). The kabobs were marinated in some sort of spiced yogurt concoction grilled over real charcoal and excellent! I am getting the recipe so we can try it out at home.

Today we drove to Moshi where the wedding will take place. We started off with lunch at a mosque where we ate traditional Tanzanian/Indian food. Believe it or not I am enjoying all of the food. It is so different from anything I normally eat but it is really good. We may just have to start eating more Indian food...

Finally Happy 4th of July everyone! Put a hotdog on the grill for us...

Zanzibar Continued...

Our adventures in Zanzibar are going as planned. We toured Stone Town including what has to be the craziest open air market on the planet and then headed to the northern costal city of Nungi. In the picture we are drinking sugar cane juice.

Our hotel, Ras Nungi, sat right on the beach of white sand and emerald ocean. When we arrived we were greeted with cold towels to freshen up with and fresh juice to sip on while we checked in. Sweet service!

The first night of our stay was my birthday. After dinner we heard some singing coming from the kitchen where the wait staff was carrying a cake. Immediately I looked at Steph who said she did not set it up so I thought it must be for someone else. They walked around the entire dinning room before finally stopping at our table to sing Happy Birthday to me and present me with a two layer cake that even said "Happy Birthday Josh" for dessert. It was an unexpected but welcome and memorable surprise. Oh, in case you were wondering I to put out all of the candles with one breath...

After breakfast the next morning Steph decided to read in the hammock so I went for a walk down the beach where the local fisherman were bringing in the days catch. I made a friend in one of the tribes who took me around to all of the fisherman showing me their catch as they cut it up. He even went so far as to translate in English what they were all saying. It was unbelievable that I could get this close to real life on the Zanzibar coast. My new friend was so friendly and welcoming that at one point he was even telling me about his wife and soon to be born child along with some of the tribe gossip. He whispered and pointed, "This guy has 2 wives, shhh"...

From Nungi we toured the Jozani Forrest which has an endangered species of monkeys. This was our first chance to see monkeys in the wild and they are to say the least fascinating. After the forest we went to Prison Island where they have the giant turtles that live for 150 years or so. Our guide even arranged for us to feed the turtles! Steph was in heaven.

Now off to the mainland of Tanzania...