Sunday, 28 June 2009


One of Dar's many quirks is its transportation system. I've already written about the various modes of transport in the city, which include (in decreasing vehicle size): daladalas (shared minibuses), taxis, bajajis, and pikipikis (motorbikes). You can flag down any of them for the right price. But I mostly use taxis.

In North America or Europe, taxis are highly regulated; they have metered prices, cleanliness requirements, medallion fees, etc. This makes them pretty close to commodities. Here, taxis vary on every conceivable dimension: cab quality, driver reliability, location, body odor of driver, fares. Mwenye taxis, as the drivers are called here, have to differentiate themselves somehow. Some guys wait at prime locations, others speak good English, and there's even a woman taxi driver who offers a harassment-free environment to female travelers.

All this variation means that a good cab is tough to come by. I haven't found a perfect cabbie yet, but I have found a few guys who work well for me. I have four main guys that I call: Rafa, Ali, Andrew and Charles. Andrew is just ok, but he's available during afternoon hours when cabs are scarce. Charles is good too, although he lives a bit too far away. Rafa is ultra-reliable and never argues on price, but his car screeches and groans whenever he drives it. The screeching might be a positive, though, because I can always hear him when he's pulling up outside. And Ali is a small bearded guy who works strange hours. He was driving us to a bar the other night and was bragging about how he works "the very most" of the taxi guys. He said he'd been awake for two days straight driving people around to make extra cash! Eyes on the road, buddy...

Ali pops up in strange places. We were looking for a cab after lunch today and I found him sleeping without a shirt in his car next to the restaurant. He didn't mind waking up to take us home, though. One of the advantages of working with the same guys over and over is that they start to rely on your business. In exchange for frequent airport runs and pricier trips off the peninsula, they're willing to do almost any run at a good price, and you can get priority over other customers. Once they know you well, they can also pick you up from home, which is a convenience in a city with no formal address system.

I'm painting quite a rosy picture, though. Overall, the taximen negotiate fiercely, drive like maniacs, often claim to know where something is when they have no clue, and maintain their cars badly. Even Ali's car broke down a couple of the times the other week when he took us downtown to get Indian food. The first time, we managed to roll it into a gas station and revive it. The second time, though, there was no bringing it back. A few of us got out and pushed it to the nearest corner. Here I am (looking back nervously at the oncoming traffic):

We tried to push it what looked like a driveway. After we got it in, I realized that the driveway was actually the parking lot of a graveyard. The automative gods have a sense of humor after all.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


[I went to Zanzibar last weekend but haven't had the time to upload this until now. Enjoy!]

The American Heritage Dictionary defines atmospheric as 'something intended to evoke a particular emotion or quality.' When I blogged about my central Asian travels last summer, I used the A-word a bit too much. It was always writing about atmospheric mosques, atmospheric villages, atmospheric ruins. This summer, I decided to turn over a new blogging leaf and self-impose a moratorium on the word. So far, I've stuck to my vow.

But if I'm allowed to use the word for one place I visit in East Africa, I'd use it for Zanzibar. It's an incredible place -- mysterious and exotic, but also fun and welcoming. Three of us left work early last Friday and took the four o'clock "Fast Ferry" to the island. Tanzanians aren't so great on choppy water, so the ferry staff passed out small black plastic pouches labelled "SICK BAG" in English. People used them, although I managed to make it without throwing up. I was too busy trying to understand the Jet Lee movie with Indonesian subtitles, although I probably wouldn't have figured it out even in English.

Zanzibar is a unique place from a political and legal viewpoint. When the African countries were getting their independence in the 1960s, Zanzibar actually won its independence several years before Tanganyika (the mainland). When modern Tanzania was created a few years later (TAN-ganyika + ZAN-zibar = Tanzania), Zanzibar was given a lot of independence. Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, of course, but it's semi-autonomous (like the UK / Scotland, or China / Hong Kong). Zanzibar has separate elections, political autonomy, its own flag, and customs controls. Fellow lawyers will be interested to know that there are even Sharia tribunals that operate in tandem with the national common-law courts!

The ferry arrived early evening in Stone Town, the oldest settlement on the island, with old buildings from earlier Portuguese, Omani, English and post-independence regimes. I've always loved exotic, 'Eastern' cities with narrow streets, tiny stalls and old buildings. Zanzibar is probably the best city I've ever visited for just walking around in the urban labyrinth. Here are a few pictures of the heart of Stone Town:

There are some great dining options in Stone Town. Unfortunately, the place we had dinner on Friday was not one of them. I probably should have guessed, since we were the only living creatures in the restaurant except for the big grey parrot next to our table. Afterwards, we went for a drink at New Africa House, a gorgeous house built during the Omani sultanate, now converted into a fancy hotel. Caris, Chris and I sat out on the balcony overlooking the ocean and watched the crowds below. Right behind the hotel is a giant outdoor food market which had been temporarily moved from its usual location at Forodhani Gardens. The food market had about twenty stalls, each manned by chefs in white chef hats who make incredible food. The prices were really ridiculous: shark meat kebabs for $0.75 each, giant helpings of 'Zanzibari Pizza' (fried pastries) for a dollar, and grilled chicken and meat for even cheaper. A few vendors were selling prawns on skewers -- kinda like a Swahili version of camarões da tarde. When I was walking around and smelling all the aromas, I really wished I hadn't spoiled my appetite at the place with the parrot. I bought a Zanzibari dessert pizza and spiced tea, a Stone Town specialty -- it's basically black tea brewed for hours with a bunch of local spices thrown in. If I go back to Stone Town again, I'm definitely going to eat all meals at the food stalls.

The next morning, I met up with two more TechnoServe volunteers and an American woman, Teddy, who was traveling around Tanzania. Teddy had hired a guide for the morning and invited us to join her on her tour. Our guide, Fareed, was gay (semi-openly), and was renowned for giving no-holds-barred insight into the gossip, taboos and intimate practices of the local people. At first, we walked around and saw a lot of the things you'd expect to see: a Hindu temple, fruit merchants, ancient buildings, and some boutique hotels. I'd actually never gone to a Hindu temple before. Although I have seen these before:

But we also saw some stranger things, including 'Jaws Corner,' a random little spot in town named after the shark film (it was a bit hit on Zanzibar). Fareed spent a long time talking to us about doors, the most famous cultrual symbol of Stone Town. (So famous, in fact, that many tourists have bought them illegally and shipped them home). All of the doors are two-paneled. Women and men used to knock on different sides so that an inhabitant of the appropriate gender could come to greet them. The older houses have elaborately-carved doors that used to convey information about the people inside. Flowers above the door showed the number of non-slave residents, the welcome slogan indicated religion, fish on the vertical part of the frame signalled pre-Islamic beliefs, and scrollwork told the occupation of the owner. Also, the spikes on the door are designed to protect against elephants. I have to admit that I didn't totally get that part. Here are some door photos:

After door-time, Fareed took us to a local cultural center, where he told us about some of the Swahili subleties around clothing and jewelry. Wearing your prayer cap a certain way lets women know that you're on the prowl; doing it differently says that you're in a bad mood, in mourning, or that you want to barter. I also learned about what Fareed called 'sex beads' -- chains of plastic beads that women can leave on their beds as non-verbal cues: 'come hither,' 'I have a headache,' 'I'm pissed at you,' or 'I'm leaving you.' We also discussed some more intimate practices, but I'll leave that for another time. Overall, the sublety and intricacy of Stone Town culture really reminded me of the complex non-verbal social cues that I've read about in ancient Persia or Baghdad, which makes sense given Zanzibar's cultural influences. A photo of us at the end of the tour, on a hotel roof deck.

After the tour, we left Stone Town and headed North into the naturally beautiful parts of the island. North of the city, there aren't any more ancient buildings, and the fields are filled with typical Tanzania villages, spices, coconuts and fruit. Our driver took us on a detour to a spice farm along the way to our hotel. As much as I'd like to think that I visited a working spice farm, it was pretty touristy -- after all, the sign said HAKUNA MATATA SPICE FARMS and the 'farmers' spoke English. Still, they grew vanilla, cardamom, pineapples, cloves, ginger and turmeric, and I got to smell and taste pretty much all of it. The taste of the spices right out the ground is actually quite different from the processed stuff. And who knew that cloves grew on trees and turmeric grew below ground? Not me.

One of the young apprentices at HMSF was an expert coconut-tree climber. He tied a rope around his feet and wormed his way up a coconut tree, where he knocked off a couple of dafu (young coconuts) before coming down again. He also sang a song at the top of his lungs while he was going up and down. Pretty hilarious!

Our host asked me if I felt like climbing up a coconut tree. Why not? If some 12-year old can climb up a tree in 40 seconds while singing at full pitch, I should be able to at least climb a few feet, right? It was tougher than it looked, though. You have to tie the rope around your feet in an infinity shape and then jump up and bear hug the tree trunk. At the same time, you jam your ankles against the trunk, so that the ragged rope will catch on the bumps of the tree; this stops you from sliding down. Once you're on the tree, you can wriggle your way higher. Here's me climbing the tree:

Post-spice farm, we went to Kendwa Rocks, a budget beach resort famous for its massive full-moon beach parties. We weren't there on a full-moon weekend, but the party was pretty great anyways: people dancing in the sand, a live acrobatic show featuring an albino who could dance with a flaming wheel on his head, cheap houkahs*, and a multinational crowd united by their love of reggae (or tolerance of reggae, in my case). Before the party, I walked along the beach (gorgeous) and played some more beach volleyball (quite intense). Here are some shots of the beaches at Kendwa:

That was atmospheric ol' Zanzibar in a nutshell. I hope I get back before I finish up the summer.

*'Houkah' refers to pipes, not professionals
**Thanks to Chris and Chelsey for giving me pictures for this post.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Retro Chic

I've always been fascinated by Africa's thriving second-hand clothing market. In the West, people mostly buy new clothes. Sometimes, people used clothing at consignment shops or Salvation Army-type places, but even then, the clothing is usually hanging on the rack. In places like Tanzania, many people buy their clothes from piles in massive used-apparel stalls in the markets.

It works like this: bulk apparel traders in North America and Europe buy all the leftover clothes from consignment shops, charity drives and fire sales for a couple of cents per pound. They compress them into palettes and ship them in
containers to African ports, where they unpack the clothing and sell it to bulk apparel wholesalers, who then ship it to market stalls around Africa. There, it sits in big piles of shirts, pants and undergarments until someone buys the items super-cheap. The price here is about $0.30 per article. The first time I came across the stalls (in Senegal) I was really amazed. Some of my favorite (and ratty) shirts are from a stand in the fishermen's quarter in St. Louis.

There's no telling what sorts of things show up here. Because many Tanzanians don't speak English, I've seen a lot of people wearing clothes that seem out of place and/or hysterical. For instance: a tough-looking taxi driver wearing a teal-and-pink Hello Kitty backpack, a farmer wearing a high school shirt ("working harder than Prep since 1890"), someone wearing a Brown University hoodie, and guys wearing women's soccer team shirts. I see a lot of people wearing red or black D.A.R.E shirts, and in one case the wearer was drunk. Occasionally, you'll see someone wearing something designed for the opposite gender. Am I wrong, o
r does this fellow have a purse?

The best part is that people wear Western clothes in totally different ways than back home. Take the farmers I work with: they all wear long-sleeved dress shirts and dress slacks when they're in the village or the field, because that's just what grownups wear. T-shirts might seem like they make more sense, but those are for kids. People here -- especially if they have less cash -- basically wear dress shoes or flip-flops, with little in between (e.g., sneakers). They use flip-flops because they're cheap, and dress shoes make sense because you can repair them over and over (for cheap). Also, many Tanzanians have a different sense of what's appropriate for various occasions. For funerals, weddings, etc., it's easy: you wear a suit or nice traditional clothing. In a business setting, it's not so clear. I went to a meting a few weeks ago with some farmers and businesspeople. It was quite formal and we met in a company conference room. Most of the farmers showed up looking proper in dress shirt, dress pants and dress shoes. One guy, though, showed up wearing a sort of pricey-looking, rapper-esque grey tracksuit with Chinese writing on the front. And sunglasses, which he wore the entire meeting.

Not everyone likes the second-hand clothing industry. Some development types think that the availability of recycled apparel stifles the chance for local clothing manufacturers to build up a strong textile industry. In Tanzania, for instance, there is very little clothing manufacturing outside of traditional kanga and kitenge makers, probably because would-be consumers can just buy second-hand clothing for the fraction of the price.

I still think the clothing trade is a good thing. People with small incomes can still clothe themselves and their families, after all. Plus, the slogans on second-hand clothes make me laugh at least twice every day, which has gotta be worth something.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Today is Wednesday. English speakers call today 'hump day' or 'mid week.' I prefer the Swahili: jumatano -- 'fifthday.' It suggests accomplishment, progress: 5 days, that's pretty good!

I don't feel like making a real post, so I'm gonna do something requiring less effort: spitting out random things in my brain. Kinda like freestyle rap, except it doesn't rhyme.

The answer is trivial
Dar's expat scene is remarkably well organized. There's a giant party every Saturday night that rotates locations each week, and salsa dancing on Thursdays, karaoke on Wednesday, Mexican food on Fridays, yoga on Monday afternoons... you get the idea. Squeezed into the Monday-night slot of Dar's social calendar is the quiz night at Irish Bar. A few of us went to try our luck.

Those of you who have joined me at Newtowne back in Cambridge know that I don't have the strongest track record when it comes to pub trivia nights. (Of course, this is only because the racist question writers don't include enough questions about Canada.) I thought I could start my trivia career afresh in Africa. Irish's trivia night was pretty short and sweet -- the whole thing is MC'ed by the bar owner, who read all the questions in about half an hour. We came in first and won a bottle of Jameson's. Definitely not my favorite drink, but it's something. Time to defend the title next week.

Bajaji fun
My friend Sekhar did something awesome this week: he rented a Bajaji (an Indian-brand auto-rickshaw -- described in earlier post: I guess he thought it would be funny, which it was. The going day-rate for Bajajis is about $12, but you can recoup a lot of that if you can speak Swahili, know the city, and are willing to work as a taxi. He didn't take the taxi route, but he's been driving around the northern part of the city doing various odds and ends for the past couple of days.

Yesterday, six of us piled into the Bajaji to go to lunch. It was a large load for a machine that runs on a scooter engine. It made the trip just fine, though. Those things are sturdy. Afterwards, Sekhar gave me a lesson on how to drive the thing. I never learned how to drive with a manual transmission [hangs head] so the whole clutching idea was kinda new. Bajajis are a bit easier than stick-shift cars since the operate like motorcycles: the clutch and throttle are on the handles. I only drove it up the street and back, but it was a ton of fun. I'm seriously considering renting one myself at some point...

I'm not Emeril
I've starting cooking for myself again in Dar. Long ago (in Cambridge, UK), I used to cook all the time, and I was pretty good at it. Unfortunately, 2 years of traveling for work + 1 year of living 75 yards from a cafteria = decayed cooking skills. For most meals, I've just gotten in the habit of buying food instead of making it. I'm a go-big-or-go-home type of cook: either I'm going to make some multi-course extravaganza or I'm not going to cook at all. I love making big, fancy meals and I get really into them. But I don't do small stuff. It's not that I look down on simple food. It just doesn't seem worth it to spend 40 minutes cooking just to get a mediocre pasta dish.

This summer, though, I have a lot of free time to make my own fodder. And now that I've resumed doing basic stuff, I'm discovering just how bad I have gotten at this type of cooking. Take tonight's meal for instance. I wanted to make vegetables and rice. I bought some carrots and peppers two days ago and chopped them up. I boiled some rice, but put in too much water and I forgot to add salt. Then I was trying to wok-fry the vegetables. They were burning, so I decided to add sauces and spices to make it like a sauce. I settled on white vinegar and red-chilli powder. The vegetables didn't burn, but they came out a bit soggy (cooked, but soggy), spicy, and very vinegary. The resulting vinegary-veg-and-rice dish wasn't awesome, I have to say. Chris took pity on me and gave me a frozen chapati to heat up, though, so it wasn't a total loss.

That's all I got. Looks like a trip to Zanzibar is in the cards this weekend. Will keep you posted.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Down with the Boost

Update about my weekend in Dar. I hadn't actually spent a full weekend in the city since I got here, so it was long overdue.

On Saturday, a small group of us went into the city center. The point of the trip was to see Kariakoo market, the largest market in Tanzania. Kariakoo isn't a touristy shopping mall or souvenir area. It's just a giant, outdoor maket where the locals shop. I wanted to see the business in action, but I also secretly hoped to retrieve my beloved digital camera (a blue Canon that had recently been purloined by a certain QBar employee -- that's a whole other story). Quite a few people (including guidebooks) warned me that the market would be tricky to navigate and quite possibly dangerous, so all I took was my phone and 25,000 /= (~$19).

Kariakoo was a pleasant surprise. Sure, it was hectic, but not dangerous. We started at the center of the market, large and fairly well-organized building that sells light industrial stuff like farming equipment, sewing machines and mechanical parts. We walked around there for a little while and went to the outside market. You could really buy anything under the sun: people selling knock-off quasi-athletic clothing (e.g., soccer jerseys that said "Fly Emirates"). Second-hand jean shorts from the US sold in a huge pile. Machetes, mini-machetes, and jumbo machetes (I kinda wish I'd bought one now). Guys sharpening knives on a modified bicycle frame hooked up to a spinning whetstone. Young men pushing wheelbarrows piled high with foam matresses. A sales team doing a public demonstration of a man-powered irrigation system. The market was loosely organized around different products categories, so the used/stolen car parts were separate from the fabric sellers. It makes sense in a way.

In the end, I didn't actually buy much: just a mango and a dafu (a young coconut with juice -- not milk -- inside). Each costs about a quarter. Oh, and I ended up buying another 'complete' copy of Lost Season 4, which also turned out to be incomplete. Before I bought it, I made the salesman put in the disc and show me the number of episodes so I wouldn't get screwed again. It showed that there were indeed 12 shows, so I took it. When I got home, I discovered that the disc was designed to make it look like there were all 12 episodes on the episode-selection screen, but the last 5 actually launched episode 7 instead of 8-12. I am starting to suspect a dire conspiracy underfoot to prevent me from watching that show.

But I digress. Overall, Kariakoo was a pleasant surprise. Sure, the market was hectic, but it wasn't dangerous. No one actually hassled me, I didn't really see any beggars, and no one in our group was pickpocketed. Even the vendors seemed quite honest; when Katie and Ineke were trying to buy Tanzanian-printed fabric from a couple of the stalls, the sellers actually admitted that they didn't have any, even though they could easily have passed off their entire inventory as local. Maybe my standards have dropped a lot from traveling, but that type of honesty really impressed me. You wouldn't get that a lot of places.

We were hungry by late afternoon and had our sights set on Indian food. We waited around downtown for a couple of hours until the Badminton Institute opened up. The Institute is a giant Indian social club with food and atheltic facilities: basically, the rival of the Patel Brotherhood mentioned in a previous post --

Food-wise, the Institute was pretty similar to the Brotherhood. We ordered a bunch of main dishes, breads, some rice, beers and a an appetizer and the total cost for three people was around $18 -- crazy, huh? The naan and main dishes were very good, but the dosa was one of the best things I've ever eaten. A dosa is basically a giant crispy crepe rolled into a tube, with spicy potato stuff in the inside. I'd only tried it one other time, but it was at that place in Harvard Square next to IHOP and was pretty subpar. This one, however, was delicious.

Sunday was supposed to be a relaxed day at the beach.

Five of us crossed over to Kigamboni District, a beachy peninsula south of the main part of Dar. We went to Kipopeo (butterfly) beach. It was pretty great. Actually, Kipopeo isn't actually the name of the beach; it's a hotel/restaurant/bar where you can sit under a banda and hang out for the day. The place is beautiful:

It also retains a certain Tanzanian something:

I drank a few beers, swam in the gorgeous water and played beach volleyball. The volleyball was my favorite part. The court was tiny and the net was low and sagging, but that didn't stop oh, fifteen people from squeezing on the court and getting in each other's way. I joined the fray and played for about an hour -- just good, unathletic fun with a bunch of random people.

The trip home is where things got interesting. Although Kigamboni is connected by land to Dar proper, it's almost impossible to get there by road, so all the locals and tourists take a (very short) ferry from across the harbor. It's a good and cheap system, but it makes it a hellish return trip when hundreds of cars are trying to beat each other onto the ferries. Predictably, no one respected the queue or basic driving courtesy, so all the cars were jammed on top of each other and crept along very slowly.

Just when it seemed like we would get back to the boat soon, the car died... right in the middle of a busy intersection. Seriously. We pushed the car to the side of the road and tried to figure out what was up. I was sure it was a radiator problem so we got some water and waited for the radiator to cool down so I could fill it up again. Before I could make any big mistakes, a mechanic who spoke perfect English appeared out of nowhere and asked if we needed help. He figured out that the car had both radiator and battery problems, and that we needed to give it a boost. Since we didn't have cables and the other card weren't going to help us, he suggested that we try to get a battery from the opposite shore and get the car started before the last ferry left. I followed the mechanic (who turned out to be an engineer), we picked up a car battery from the other side, then came back across. I think some of the locals found it amusing to see a white guy sprinting down the road with a car battery on his shoulder. But hey, TIA.

The boost worked and we got the onto to ferry a little later. Three hours later than expected, but it all worked out fine in the end. I think we were all happy to be heading home. Here I am (with grease stain from the battery... hope that comes out):

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Adventures in Monopodding

You've heard of iPods. You know about tripods. But have you ever seen a monopod?

I recently got one as a gift. The monopod (brand name: QuikPod) is a remarkable device that allows you to take pictures of things with an extra 6/12/18" of reach. That way, you can take pictures as if your arms were longer -- like an orangutan's.

Here is a picture of the monopod itself:

This is me setting up the device:

And here is a monopod-assisted self-portrait. No awkward angles!

So, asante to the person who gave me the gift of reach.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Born to be Wildebeest

[Safari post -- part 2 of 2.]

Where we left off, I was heading to the bar at the Seronera lodge.

The lodge was way more luxurious than I was expecting (esp. for the price, which included dinner, breakfast and a boxed lunch). Definitely not the usual Al-roughing-it accomodations, which have included: an illegal guesthouse in Uzbekistan that was shut down by the police during my stay, a sixteen-to-a-room hostel with one toilet, and a rent-by-the-hour Costa Rican dive. No, this place was filled with honeymooners and rich people, and had an amazing restaurant and a pool terrace. Oh, and a bar carved out of a boulder. This is the courtyard of the hotel (inside that big boulder is the bar):

I was there by myself, so I settled down next to the predictable Masai spear display and did a little reading and Safari-sipping. I started a jumbo collection of short stories by Eudora Welty, a Southern author I really like. She reminds me of Flannery O'Conner, my favorite author (and also Southern).

We left early the next morning to pack in as much as possible. The serengeti was pretty low on animals for the first couple of hours, except for a bunch of ostriches and a clan (squad?) of baboons. The baboon unit had a lot of young, who were jumping around and trying to climb up a tree. A few were clinging to their mothers' backs. The baboons seem totally fine with people being close -- some of them came right up to the car.

After that, not much to see for a while. There was some back and forth between one of the other passengers and our guide. Such as: why couldn't we see any lions; where are the rhinos, and can't our guide make them come to us? In reply: this isn't a zoo, it's a park, you can't just have lions on call; plus, we saw lions yesterday; also, there are no rhinos in this park. As this was going on, we came across the Mega-Jackpot of animal sights: one of the last wildebeest herds of the season beginning their migration to Kenya. Our guide said that this was a small group, but there were still tens of thousands at least. This was one of the more awesome and powerful natural phenomena I've ever seen. Even these pictures don't really do it justice:

The migration unit didn't move as a group, but had a bunch of different herds that would start to run in spurts and then stop. The older, gruntier wildebeest would make a honking sound and gallop along the outside of the pack, trying to get the rest to pick up the pace. They might also have been trying to protect the edges of the throng from potential predators. The combined sound of honking and grunting was incredible. At some points, half the wildebeest would just start galloping for ten seconds, which was incredible to watch. I think the wildebeest leaders were suspicious of us -- look at them stare.

I think the herd would have been running much faster if they knew about the two lions sleeping close by. The lions were a young couple (probably college age). They were lying in the shade after a morning hunt. With that many wildebeest migrating right now, it was probably dining a la carte for those two. The male lion stared at us for five minute without moving, and then, looking bored, rolled over and started scratching his back on the ground.

The female was a bit livelier:

Our guide started driving back to the park gate after that. It was much, much further than I thought to get there -- we were actually very deep in the park by late morning. On the way, I saw an impala which had been slaughtered by a leopard and dropped in the branches of a tree. Apparently leopards always drag their kills -- whole -- onto a branch before they eat it. The idea is to put it where other predators (esp. hyenas) can't get it. It's like getting takeout.

On the way back, I saw a few assorted animals. There was a group of female ostriches fighting each other over a male ostrich (the lucky guy is the black-and-white one on the left):

Here is a croc by the Grumeti:

And here is a human by the Grumeti:

Next, a giraffe crossing the road (pedestrians have right of way in the park):

And another pachyderm shot. This one is a middle-aged female, maybe around 30 years:

When we got back to the park gate, I saw some very proper-looking school children about to visit the park. They were ridiculously well behaved. To get kids to behave that way in North America you'd need to drug them.

Our last exotic animal of the trip: the Small White Monkey (monus smalliensis). Then we were done. The only animals I saw driving home were cows and goats -- boring!

All in all, the safari was an amazing experience -- probably gets a spot on my top ten travel list. I should give a quick shoutout to Exotic Expeditions, who put together the trip. If anyone reading this is looking for a Mwanza-based tour operator to take them to Sukuma areas or Serengeti/Ngorongoro NP, you should book them and try to get Henry as a guide. The happy customers:

Thus ended the safari. More adventures coming soon!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Your Lion Eyes

[Aforementioned safari post -- part 1 of 2. Enjoy!]

It's Saturday evening at Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the middle of Serengeti National Park. I just finished an incredible first day on safari.

I started the trip today at 8 am. To keep things affordable, I joined up with a family of three from Gujurat who just moved to a region near here. Traveling with them has been a mixed blessing. The dad could be a bit annoying at times (e.g., chucking garbage out the window and yelling at passengers in other vehicles, which made the animals ran away.) They were very nice people, though, and the mom made up for it by giving me a lot of Gujurati food that I'd never tried before. I ate this snack mix called chouro, fenugreek parathas, cucumbers with piripri, and some dessert thing. Better than the boxed lunch of hard-boiled eggs and fried chicken I packed the night before.

The animals have been pretty incredible. When we got into the park we saw what I think of as warmup animals: guinea fowl, warthogs and serengeti foxes. The warthogs (pumba) didn't come very close to the car, and the car is not allowed to drive off the road to chase down the animals. Something about disturbing their habitat. Pics:

As we drove further into the park, I saw a lot of the big grazing animals. Wildebeest were thin on the ground because the famous migration had already started, but we caught some small groups anyways. Wildebeest are not the most attractive animals: they look like underfed cows that grunt and leap around.

The water buffaloes are like fatter, rarer versions of the wildebeest. They are also less grunty and travel in smaller groups. This one was solo:

Zebras are just plain awesome. I don't why no one ever tried to domesticate them, because it would look incredible to ride around on one of those. They're skittish, so I had to take most of my pictures at a distance. The zebras tended to mix in with the other animals; I saw small groups of them mixed in with deer and wildebeest herds.

We also saw tons of deer-like things: regular deer, impala, Hartebeest (sp?), a herds of mini-deer (not babies, just smaller ones). I couldn't really tell the species apart, but these ones are definitely impalas:

I saw the Grumeti River, one of the most famous sites in the park. This is the place where millions of wildebeest cross every year on their northward migration to Masai Mara in Kenya. They've made a few movies about how dangerous the journey is. Although the missed the main crossing at this point, there were still plenty of crocs and fat hippos. I hoped the hippos would come out of the water, but they just sat in the river and blew water out their noses. Here, one hippo is coming out of the water, but it looks like a rock:

We stopped for lunch at Seronera, a sort of safari staging ground smack in the middle of the park. Take a small outdoor lodge, fill the parking lot with a dozen giant SUVs, add fourty tourists with boxed lunches, and you have the Serengeti Visitors Center. I was in the small minority of guests who wasn't wearing a safari hat, khaki suit, and/or fanny pack. (Side note: I noticed on my hotel dry-cleaning form that there is a separate, more expensive entry for safari suits... hilarious!) The lunch area at the center had some mongooses (mongeese?) -- the grown up one was fat, happy and tourist-fed, and the babies looked like they were well on their way to tubbiness. I was surprised to see them eating grass, though; I thought they ate eggs and snakes.

In the afternoon, we looked for the hard-to-spot creatures like lions, leopards and elephants. I saw a small family of elelphants (middle-aged females and one baby). Definitely my favorite of the day:

A few times, we came across groups of giraffes. Here's a family with a baby:

Leopards and cheetahs are the hardest animals to see in the park, because there are fewer of them and they're good at hiding. We got cheated out of seeing a cheetah, but our guide managed to track down a solo leopard sitting up in a tree. Amazing spots!

We drove around for a while trying to track down the lions (simba). The pride areas are in a different part of the park, with no prey animals around. There is a higher-elevation section of the serengeti with ten or so rock clusters that give a good lookout of the surrounding area. It seemed fitting that the king of the beasts gets the best vista around. One rocky outcropping seemed like it might have been the inspiration for Pride Rock in the Lion King. Each of the rock clusters had a family of lions sleeping on it. Most of them were hidden from view, but I saw a bunch of them sleeping on the rocks. A lioness:

We also saw a family of six lions sleeping in a big tree outside of the main lion area. I wouldn't even have noticed them if our guide hadn't pointed them out. We waited for a while, but they were sleeping and didn't seem like they were going anywhere fast. They were scratching their heads lazily on the tree branch. You can just make them out if you look carefully on the right branch.

Right before we went back to the lodge, we came across a rare lion trifecta: mom, dad, and 2 cubs. I guess it wasn't actually a trifecta since there were four of them, but hey... good enough. They were crossing the road when we came across them. The dad watched us without moving, like he was just waiting for someone to get out of their SUV so he could have a quick snack. The mom stayed very close to the cubs, both less than a year old. The pictures here don't show the cubs very well because of the grass (they're left of center):

By later this afternoon, I had almost become used to seeing big animals everywhere I looked. I never stopped being amazed by the landscape, though. The terrain is stunning, and it's actually quite varied across different parts of the park. Some sections have Lion King-style serengeti trees and long grass, and some parts just go on for tens of miles without any tall vegetation at all. Most of the edge of the park is ringed by low-rising wooded mountains, which act as natural barriers to keep the predators away from settlements. This photo gives a sense of the vastness of the serengeti:

That's all, folks. I'm going to wrap up today's safari with a cold bottle of Safari.