Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our African Safari Continues...Masai Mara!!

I sure hope that all of you are still enjoying reading about our African Safari and seeing our photos.  I've gotten some great feedback from people at Boulder Hills Golf Club who have looked at our Facebook albums...I really like to hear the feedback, but the fact is that I took all my pictures with a "snapshot" camera - point-n'-shoot style.  It's a Sony and it seems to have a pretty good lens and decent zoom.  I have not even done a "Best of Amy's" album...I think she took over 2,000 pictures...I will get around to it, I promise.

On to this episode:  We left the Serengeti National Park, prepared for what our itinerary said would be "...a LONG drive (and the) road will be rough and unfinished...the total drive to Masai Mara will take approximately 6-9 hours depending on game drives and any breaks taken."

The road we were supposed to take ended-up being completely washed-out and un-passable in certain places...meaning we had to take the long-way around the took almost five-hours to get to the border-crossing - it was the bumpiest part of our journey, by far!!  We had a few places where our guide, Christopher, had to really concentrate on making it through some washed-out sections.  We crossed the border at a place called Isebania - and the same program exists going from Tanzania to Kenya: check OUT of one country and check IN to the next... thanks to Christopher and Infante who got us moved-up in the lines.  We said our sad goodbyes to Chris...and - then asked how long it would take from the border to the Masai Mara "camp" - - and he said "five hours"!!

Amy's response was classic and I will never forget - - she exclaimed: "FROM HERE???" ended up being quite a bit longer because we had to go another "long way".  We picked-up a passenger at the of the managers from the Kensington Mara West Camp.  The road remained rough and some parts were really tough to time in the cars - driving from the Serengeti to Masai Mara - 12-HOURS!!  The last hour-or-so was in the dark!!  We were just wasted from the drive...and - we were hoping the new camp was going to be nicer than the last one.  Well - - we hit the jackpot - this was an awesome place!! You almost couldn't call the chalet we stayed in a "tent". had a canvas roof and partial walls - - but it also had hardwood floors and french-doors with etched-glass - - and matching etched-glass wine-glasses!!  The view of Masai Mara from our wood-deck was stunning - sunrise in the morning was stunning!  Check out their website (above) - the place is really special!!

The next day we started out in the early morning, right after sunrise and the incredible breakfast served in the beautiful dining-room - for a day-long game drive.  The numbers of animals in the Masai Mara seemed to be down from what we were expecting...but - the animals we did see were awesome!!

Here are three Facebook albums with 88-total photos - - and - the YouTube link is of a leopard that walked right by our van, right out in the open!!  Even our guide said that seeing a leopard out in the open for so long was amazing!!  Enjoy!!

Masai Mara West - The NICE Tent!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Leaving the Plantation (Lodge) for Serengeti...

Leaving the beautiful Plantation Lodge was not easy.  But considering that they had booked our Zanzibar Suite to someone else... it seemed as if we had to get back on the road. According to my notes and Facebook status, that was on 2 January 2012.  

Here's my FB entry for that morning: "Off to drive into the Serengeti National Park today....unknown about future Internet connections in next few days....we'll check in when possible. — at Plantation Lodge, Karatu, Tanzania"

As Willie Nelson sang, we were "On the road again!"  And what a road it was!! Our brochures and travel itineraries were filled with warnings about "LONG drives", "rough roads", "6-9 hours driving-time". If anybody else is planning a safari-trip to East Africa...when you see those words printed in a slick brochure...YOU HAD BETTER BELIEVE THEM!!  As India does, Eastern Africa has a rainy season...and it seems that they had a beaut the month before we arrived.  Traveling out of the Ngorongoro are and over to the Olduvai (really the "Oldupai") Gorge - (the name is a misspelling of Oldupai Gorge, which was adopted as the official name in 2005. Oldupai is the Masai word for the wild sisal plant Sansevieria ehrenbergii, which grows in the gorge.) - we crossed some areas where the roads had been completely washed away and large river-rocks were being cleared away by heavy equipment - but much of it was being done by hand by the local villagers.  The tourist-trade and the dollars that travelers bring into this part of Tanzania are all-important - and it is essential to keep the roads open.  Sometimes the "roads" were so poor that you literally had to turn around or go a different way.

We did have a very educational stopover at the Olduvai Gorge.  Made famous by Dr. Richard Leakey and his family - and by the skeletal remains of the 3.2-million-year-old "Lucy", discovered by his wife Mary Leakey in 1959 - Olduvai is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution. This site was occupied by homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago, paranthropus boisei 1.8 million years ago, and homo erectus 1.2 million years ago. Homo sapiens are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.

Our driver/guide, Christopher, then took us for a little "off-roading" - and - I swear - OFF the road was sometimes smoother than ON the "roads"!!  This was in a flat area of grasslands that seemed to go on forever.  As a matter of fact, the Masai word Siringet from which the name Serengeti is derived means "endless plains, where the earth meets the sky"

What a perfect name for an awesome place!  We finally began to see wildebeests on the horizon, and drove over toward them. At one point, we were in the middle of grazing wildebeests  as far as the eye could see in all directions.  It was probably the most incredible sight of our entire safari!!  

We were pretty whipped from the drive...and could not wait to arrive at our next stop for the night, the "Kensington Serengeti".  Now - again - I do advise any future safari-travelers to READ THE BROCHURES you will no-doubt receive very carefully and know that words really do mean something.  Our next lodging was to be at a place described as "A tented wilderness camp in the Serengeti, this is and intimate connection to nature in the world-famous park..."

There were no untruths in that description.  It was exactly what we got!!  Unfortunately, having spent the last four nights at the Plantation Lodge - our arrival at the tented-camp was a bit of a shock to the system...especially because - much to my immediate shock and dismay, Amy Suzanne had never slept in a tent!!

After the initial shock wore off (and the fact that they were having trouble with the piped-in water and there was not to be even a cold shower for us (you see, when the water is functioning properly - the staff fires-up a wood-burning boiler that warms the water ... but only once in the morning - so - you gotta be quick.  The water seems to hold its temperature throughout the day, as it's pretty warm in the Serengeti, year-round...but - we were dusty and hot and - well - I wasn't sure if Amy was going to make it through the night.

After a pep-talk from Christopher around the campfire before dinner (and during a glass of fine South African wine - the place wasn't THAT primitive - - and the mess-tent and food were actually quite nice!) - we convinced her that these two nights were going to be an integral part of our "safari experience" and to enjoy every minute of it.  With a new-found positive attitude, I think she really did enjoy our Serengeti stay...but - my beautiful wife is really a "Plantation" girl...roughing-it in a canvas tent.  She was a trooper, I must say. 

We spent the next day on the longest (and perhaps the best!) game-drive of the entire trip.  We saw the whole spectrum of African wildlife...still some remaining wildebeests from the migration we had driven through the day before, elephants (with many babies!), hundreds of hippos, giraffes....and even a pair of mating lions who were enjoying an active sex-life (they do it quite often, so we heard and saw!).

Here are some links to our Facebook Photo Albums for these two days, showing the Serengeti, our camp, the incredible wildlife, and - in retrospect - two of the very best days of the whole trip!! Thank you were right!

Entering the Serengeti and our "Camp"

Next blog....Out of Tanzania, back to Kenya and the "nice tents" in Masai Mara!!  Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Manyara and Ngorongoro...and the Plantation Lodge

Whoa!!  It's almost the end of January! My birthday is tomorrow and it will be the second one I have spent "At Home in Hyderabad" It is hard to believe that we have been happily living in India for almost 20-months!!  If Amy Suzanne had not gotten her extension, we would be starting the process of ending our ex-pat assignment here and packing for going home in June.  I really need to keep at this blogging project....there is just so much information, so many photographs...and I promised Amy that I'd finish before we go to Goa early next month for the Deloitte USI Partner/Director Retreat there.  We just got back from a quick trip to Delhi for a recruiting trip and I didn't have time to write at all.  Today is "Republic Day" here in India and most places are closed... I think Amy will go into the office anyway to get some things done as the traditional Tax Busy Season is now officially here!

Let's see....where did we leave-off??  After we left Tarangire, we headed for a smaller, more compact game preservation area in a place called Lake Manyara

Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a truly a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.  Our guide-book said that "The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience." the "animal department, we were a little disappointed, but the place was certainly beautiful!

From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where we saw hundred-strong baboon troops lounging and playing nonchalantly along the roadside and blue monkeys scampering nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees.

There are distinctly different ecological areas within this park area. And they are noticeable as you drive into the park. Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Masai Steppes. We saw large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregating on these grassy plains, and several giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Inland of the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions (although here we didn't see any!) and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias, while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above a field of searing hot springs that steams and bubbles adjacent to the lake shore in the far south of the park.

Our hotel for the night was up on an impressive hill formed by the Rift Valley millions of years ago.  I must say that the view (and the bar overlooking the lake and valley below!!) was beyond spectacular and all expectations!!  The Lake Manyara Hotel is very well located and built. Management seemed a bit cold going by the overall warm standards of the hotels in this part of the world. Rooms are a bit cramped and food is not so generous as in other competing properties like Sopa.  It didn't help matters any when we found out they had mis-filed our reservations under a different name and it took a while to get things right (we waited in the bar, which helped speed things along) - - also - it was at this hotel that we had to have words with our hotel neighbors.  The walls were very thin and the group of people (and I do mean a GROUP) were noisy-beyond-belief and we asked nicely twice to have them "STFU!!" ...and finally felt it necessary to call the front desk.

The next morning we took a beautiful drive toward the Ngorongoro Crater and our next stop...the Plantation Lodge.  Both are equally spectacular in their own way!!  That says a lot for the Plantation Lodge.

Before we go to the photos...I need to say a bit about both places.  The Ngorongoro Crater is really other-worldly - as you drive down to the bottom, descending through the rain and clouds, it's like going through a time-portal to prehistoric times.  The concentration of wildlife here exceeded all we saw lions and rhinos and elephants and - - well - - just about anything you might expect to see on safari.  My comment to Amy was: "Honest to God! If I saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating a Brontosaurus - it would look perfectly normal here!"

The "Plantation Lodge" just may be the nicest place we have ever stayed.  And having stayed at the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, the Leela Palace in Bengaluru and the Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur - this is the highest praise I can give to a hotel.  But the Plantation Lodge is not just a's - - well... I will let the photos (below) tell the story.  We stayed in the Zanzibar Suite... a fabulous and huge suite with an upstairs loft and it's own patio and garden.  It was so nice...that we decided that it was too nice to we didn't!!  We ended up touring Ngorongoro and then staying until after the New Year!!  Once again, Eve Wertsch from Fugazi Travel to the rescue...despite the holidays, she was able to make the arrangements for our staying longer and changed our flight-times home!!

Here are links to two of our Facebook Photo Albums:

Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

African Safari Part IV - On to Tanzania

It was difficult to believe that we had only been in Africa for four days, and we had seen so much!  The beauty of the savanna and grasslands sprinkled with the occasional flat-topped acacia tree is breathtaking!  Some real "Out of Africa" stuff!  Much of that classic movie was shot in the Kenya and Tanzania landscape that you almost feel like you have been transported through the screen and into the movie!

Our driver/guide in Kenya had been a wonderful man named Enfante (not really sure how to spell this!) - - and it was his job to get us safely to the border-crossing with Tanzania at a spot called Namanga.  Our ultimate destination at the end of the day was to be the Tarangire National Park and the Sopa Lodge inside the park.

Our new driver was to be Christopher - who turned out to be a wonderful tour guide, a most knowledgeable expert on Tanzania and a terrific guy all-around!  We got dropped-off at the border and - well - - let's be honest for a moment...Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania are not the most wealthy places on the planet. We live in India, which has it's own problems, to be sure....but the poverty in the area is pretty striking.  The Masai tribesman look perfectly happy, herding their cattle...but - the rest of the place looks so downtrodden. Everything needs paint, the roads (LOL) are unpaved if they exist at all, the actual customs-stations for both countries are poorly organized and mismanaged - - and - unfortunately you have to check OUT of Kenya on one side of the border...and then check IN to Tanzania!! Kind of a Mess.

Tanzania is a socialist country...and one sees many more soldiers with automatic weapons on the Tanzania side of the border.  And - purely by observation, I would say that Kenya is the far-more-wealthy of the two East African countries.  Transportation is terrible...everybody walks!  Out in the middle of NOWHERE you will see kids walking to school, women carrying water and children and bundles of wood...and one has to wonder where the hell they are going!  They do have large (usually Toyota) vans....this is their "bus system" - they pack 20+ people into these things...I got claustrophobia just watching them drive by!!

But we came for the animals!! After a brief stop at a hotel for lunch in the town of Arusha - we pushed onward into Tarangire National Park.  As you leave Arusha behind, you start seeing the landscape changing constantly.  Turning into the actual park is amazing....the animals are all over the place....zebras, giraffes, elephants...the cutest little creatures called the dwarf mongoose that take over termite mounds - - and hundreds of different kinds of birds!!  This part of the world is a bird-watchers paradise - - I don't consider myself much of a bird-watcher - but this place may have changed me for good!!  Beautiful birds of every size and color!!  And the unique baobab trees (see my photo above left) that surround the Sopa Lodge...makes it feel like you are on another planet!!

Below is a link to our photo-album on Facebook of our stay in Tarangire and the Sopa Lodge...including a snapshot of a monkey that had gotten inside of the dining room there, elephants, giraffes, the dwarf mongoose, beautiful birds, impalas, zebras, baboons, monkeys...and a few shots I took around the lodge: 

Africa Safari #3 ... Tanagire to Lake Manyara

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Amboseli ... The Second Day - Christmas!

We had such a good time during the first two days of our African Safari in Amboseli and at the Serena Lodge, that Suzanne really didn't want to leave.  She said that she was afraid that "we might be leaving the best place behind and we might not see any more animals!" Well...I kind of chuckled at that and told her that we needed to push on and see what adventures lay ahead....secretly hoping that I was not wrong.  Man, was I ever NOT wrong!

It was Christmas Day... we woke up to crazed monkeys and baboons playing outside of our room, just off the patio.  What fun it is to watch these guys play.  All the baboons are not the giant, angry ones that we saw in The Omen - in fact - they are pretty cute, swinging from tree to tree, falling a lot, big ones chasing little's really a three-ring circus that we watched for hours!

We had two official "game-drives" that Christmas in the morning and on in the evening.  You don't really have to go far from "camp" to see the animals that live in Amboseli...there are zebras and monkeys and giraffes just outside of the gate...and it doesn't take long to see the elephants.  Our "game van" was an older Toyota - kind of like an "Inova" as they have here in India... but the top opened-up for easy-viewing.  Amboseli if famous for it's great herds of elephants.  The African elephants are distinguished from Asian ones that are common here in India and Thailand, etc. - most noticeable are the HUGE ears on the African ones (they use them to fan themselves and keep cool in the African sun, which can be intense!! They have lots of circulatory veins in those big ears, so - it works like an air-conditioning system for the whole body.  The African variety is also a big larger overall, has a concave backbone, both male and female have ivory tusks and are much less hairy than their Asian cousins.

On our game-drives this day, we saw a wide variety of God's creatures...the big male lion we saw - (see photo above), hyenas, giraffes, a bald eagle, lots and lots of African elephants, the stately impala (I couldn't tell if they were '63 or '64 Impalas, actually, badda-boom!!) and many others.

The photos for this day are found on this Facebook Album: Africa Volume 2 - Amboseli to Tanzania

The last few snapshots in this album are actually from after we crossed the border into Tanzania (quite an experience!) - more about that later!

Next up: Leaving Amboseli behind, crossing the border at Namanga, lunch in Arusha, and into Tarangire National Park!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

African Safari - Part Two - Amboselli National Park

Jambo!! It's Day Two of our safari adventure...and - it's Christmas Eve!!  We got up bright-and-early and had a pretty good buffet at the Norfolk.  I was already getting the feeling that two-full-weeks of buffet food was going to take it's toll on my waistline...but I also didn't know how long of a drive it was going to be from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park.  I mean...I didn't want to risk starving to death out in the middle of the African Savannah!! 

It turned out that the drive was scheduled for 4-hours - I think it took closer to 5-hours, but the scenery got nicer and nicer as we got out into the country.  Amboseli itself is kind of a barren plain - but most of the grasslands of East Africa are that way.  The iconic flat-topped acacia tree is all over the place...but the stand completely alone, not growing in groups or groves.  As you approach the park, you notice a large cloud....sort of high on the horizon...not to far away.  It's a daily fixture, actually.  It's Mount Kilimanjaro - shrouded in clouds.  The mountain is so big (the world's largest free-standing mountain!) - that it has it's own weather systems!  It's actually in Tanzania, the result of some negotiations with neighboring Kenya when the United Republic of Tanzania was formed back in 1963-64.  Funny...I always wondered whatever happened to the country of Tanganyika - the one I used to read about in my Colliers Encyclopedia.  Now I merged with the Island of Zanzibar and became Tanzania after the British left.

As you enter Amboseli - there's nothing really special about it...BUT - almost immediately you begin to see the animals.  I'm afraid the photography from our initial days in the park were not our best efforts...  We would see a herd of zebras or a few scattered elephants on the horizon...and out came the cameras!  Little did we know on the first day that we would soon have our car surrounded by elephants and zebras and wildebeests and buffalo.... The photography actually gets much better as the safari rolled onward.

Our first two nights on safari were spent at the beautiful Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge - located far inside the parks borders - and with a beautiful view of....a bunch of clouds shrouding Mt. Kilimanjaro !!  It seems that, despite all the wonderful photos you can see online, the giant hides behind the clouds 99% of the time!!  Sort of frustrating...but on the day we left - - the clouds parted for a few minutes - and we got a tremendous view of the mountain - and I must say - it is spectacular!

We went on three very special game-drives in Amboseli - each better than the last and the animal count grew and grew.  It was on the second day in the park that we saw our first lion - a big male just sunning himself in the grass, without a care in the world!

The part of our visit to the Serena Lodge that we will remember the most?  The monkeys and baboons playing right outside of our room!!  We sat on our rear patio virtually for hours, just watching these clowns tumble and play and jump from tree-to-tree - - they were hilarious!!  I posted a few photos from the Lodge - although the Internet speeds were slow (and in Tanzania, virtually non-existent!!) Here is a link to the Facebook Album: Monkey Mayhem (on our back porch!!)  

From our first day game ride I was able to capture and upload the following photos to another Facebook album called Africa Safari Part One (Amboseli) 

In there are some good elephant photos, a good one of a tiny BABY elephant (they are soooo cute!!)...

I posted this little album from the Lodge...there may be some duplicates in here...but - it shows that first big male lion, a couple of goofy giraffes, two male elephant teenagers sparring - and even our first hippopotamus!!  Link album here: Not a bad second day!!

That's about it for now.  More later on Christmas in Amboseli, leaving for Tanzania - and many, many more animal photographs!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Our African Safari - Part One

Jambo, everybody!!  Thanks for reading our blog today!! "Jambo" means "hello" in Swahili - and is the all-purpose greeting for any and all things in East Africa!!

I want to begin today with this fun-fact: My wonderful wife is impossible to shop for at Christmas time.  Especially nowadays since she's not involved in the horse-show world at present, due to our living in India.  I used to be able to go to Broken Horn, fill up a shopping cart with riding crops and socks and gloves and a few cute horsey-things, and I was good-to-go. This year, she actually made a request...all she wanted for Christmas this year was that I digest our African Safari and begin to blog about it as soon as we got home!!  We got home early yesterday morning...and - after a day of recovery (and unpacking all of the treasures we brought back from Kenya and Tanzania!) - I got to uploading photos to Facebook (a link to my page is on the right-hand column of this blog-page!) - and now - it's almost 3:30 P.M. on Tuesday, January 10, 2012....and here I begin!

First of all - - Happy New Year, everybody!! Heri ya mwaka mpya!!

It's actually quite a good thing that I'm starting to blog about our trip while things are still fresh.  You see, I will be turning 55 later this month...and - it's not that my memory is failing, exactly - actually - it functions just like a computer.  The data is in there, somewhere - but sometimes it gets put into the wrong file and gets hard to access properly!! Also - sometimes I think my brain is a Commodore 64 living in an iPad 2 world!

I will be relying heavily on the Safari Itinerary provided for us by Eve Wertsch at Fugazi Travel in San Francisco - that way I won't miss any large sections of our trip and can concentrate on recalling the smaller details.  If you have any travel needs - Eve is the best - and - unlike many travel agents - she has actually been to any of the places you might be considering.  Her advice is golden - and - all of the trips we have booked through her have been beyond outstanding!

The safari that Eve booked for us was called the "Kenya and Tanzania Game Tracker". You see, for Amy Suzanne - it's all about the ANIMALS! Everything else is secondary.  And the trip is aptly-named.  Man - did we see a lot of game!!  Everybody who goes to Africa on a safari like ours wants to see the so-called Big Five animals (see photo above) doesn't always work out that way.  As our guide told us during one of our last game-drives (in Kenya) told us - - "These are wild animals...and this is not a zoo!"

Well...the Game Gods were certainly smiling on us - - during our two-week-long safari (it turned out to be longer - more on that to come!!) - our totals on seeing The Big Five was:

Lions: 21
Rhinos: 10
Leopards: 3 (and they are shy and rarely seen, so we found out!!)
Elephants: I can't count that high!
Cape Buffalo: Hundreds, maybe thousands!

As I continue to write this blog (it will be in several parts - I don't want to bore you, dear reader!) - I will be posting links to our Facebook photo albums - so - if you want to be surprised - don't peek!!  There are lots of photos of all of the Big Five and many, many, many more incredible animals!!

The Safari Begins:  We left Hyderabad at around 3:00 A.M. on Qatar Airways - for a quick 3.5-hourflight to the capital city of Doha - a brief layover there - then on to Africa!

After another 4.5-hours of flight-time, we arrived safely and comfortably in Nairobi, the bustling capitol city of Kenya.  Highlights of the day were that we flew to Qatar on the first leg of our journey with our ex-pat friend from Manchester, England, Graham Hardyman (we quaffed a few cold ones at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport Lounge).  Our flight-attendant's name on the flight from Qatar to Nairobi was "Pei Yu" - I am not lying and I thought I was going to lose it!  The airport arrival was flawless (typical for a Fugazi Travel-arranged holiday!) - but the Nairobi traffic is almost (but not quite!) as bad as Hyderabad.  It took us almost 2-hours to get to our hotel - the beautiful Fairmont Norfolk Hotel!  We actually saw our first animal just outside of the airport - some giraffes were right there in town - grazing on flat-top acacia trees!  We had a late-lunch - forgot to wake up for dinner - slept a needed 12+ hours - - then we got up for the first real day in Kenya!! As they say in Swahili: Hakuna matata!!  Everything was going to be all right!!

Please stay tuned!!  Next up: Amboseli National Park in Kenya