Digital Africa 2004
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Welcome to Digital Africa 2004 (or as they say in Swahili, "Karibu!")!  After a three-year hiatus, I re-introduced myself to international travel in November 2004 with a 3-week vacation to Africa. My iteniary included a safari in Kenya and Tanzania, followed by brief visits to Cape Town (South Africa) and Victoria Falls. In order to keep folks back home apprised of my status, I maintained a daily journal while I was away, and uploaded it to my web site on those rare occasions I found myself at a lodge with internet access. Much like my 2003 Sedona journal the year before, the daily contributions included a summary of the day's events, along with a sampling of photos. Given the time constraints, I kept things pretty simple, with plans to "pretty up" this page when I got back home. Unfortunately, I have been slammed with work and other obligations, and have not had time to do any real work on my web site in quite some time. Thus, this page is still very rough and temporary. Hopefully, I will get some time soon to convert this page to a format similar to the Sedona journal, and also add an official Africa section to my Travel Gallery. In the meantime, enjoy the story! :)

Safari Part 1 (Kenya)
Safari Part 2 (Tanzania)
Cape Town (South Africa)
Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe)
Latest update

Photos Copyright 2006 by Donna S. Duncan

22 November 2004 12:04am GMT - Introduction
Location:  Flight 2192 en route to London/Gatwick, connecting to Nairobi, Kenya

Well, after an unusually lengthy and difficult few weeks of planning/preparation for this trip, I am finally on a plane en route to Africa!  I will first go to London Gatwick, then take a bus over to the London Heathrow airport.  From there, I'll get on a plane that takes me the remainder of the way to Kenya.

There's not much interesting to tell about today (I'll spare everyone the lengthy story about the numerous "glitches" that came up in the weeks leading up to my departure).  Instead, I will take a few minutes to write about where I'll be going on my African vacation.  I will be arriving in Nairobi, Kenya at about 9:00pm tonight.  I will be spending the night at the Safari Park Hotel.  Tomorrow morning, the safari portion of my vacation will begin.  The tour will start at the Masai Mara National Reserve.  From there, the group will visit the Great Rift Valley and onto the Amboseli National Park.  On November 29 through December 1, we will be at the Serengeti National Park.  The safari leg of the tour ends at the Ngorongoro Crater on December 3.  On December 4, I will head to Cape Town for two days, then Victoria Falls on December 7.  I am currently scheduled to return home on December 10.  This isn't likely to change at this point (the extension I was trying to add for Sun City and Kruger Park didn't materialized).

I was told by the tour company that I should have internet access while I'm there.  However, I do not know if it will be of sufficient quality to allow uploading images or even log entries.  To the extent I am able and have time to do it, I will try to post some pictures and commentary each day I am gone.  So, keep watching this space for updates.

22 November 2004 7:45 PM GMT+3 - The Glitches Continue
Location:  Flight 65 en route to Nairobi, Kenya

In less than two hours, I should be stepping out on my 5th continent (only two more to go!).  The "glitches" continue, however.  Thanks to the traffic during the Gatwick to Heathrow transfer, I barely made my connection.  (But I did meet a nice couple from Kenya on the bus who taught me a few Swahili words and told me a little about the country).  Fortunately, another "glitch" got me on the plane before it took off -- a passenger changed their mind about flying and so the airline had to remove their checked luggage.  Then, the airline had to get an engineer from the airport to correct a problem disconnecting the gate from the aircraft.  Then lastly, about four hours into the flight, having finally succeeded in getting some meaningful sleep, I went to clean my contact lenses and the left one BROKE IN TWO!!!  How weird is that?? I am lucky that I always carry a spare pair (and doubly lucky that the one that broke was the left one -- that prescription hasn't changed significantly in years, so my replacement is nearly as good as the one that broke).  Anyway, this has been pretty typical of how the past two weeks have gone, so I thought it was worth a second log entry, and maybe a couple of laughs to those in my family and friends who are privy to the whole story.  The next entry should come from Africa.

23 November 2004 6:28 AM GMT+3 - Greetings from Africa!
Location:  Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya

 Well, it was a long and tiring journey, but I finally made it!  After the slightly-delayed flight, and a long line to get my visa, I arrived at my hotel around midnight.  On my way here, the driver told me a bit about what to expect.  There will either been two or three game drives on most days.  The morning and afternoon drives are the best for seeing the animals, because they hide from the heat during the mid-day drive.  The morning drive starts at 6:00am and lasts about two hours.  Afterwards, they bring us back to the lodge for breakfast, and then we go on the mid-day game drive.  There is a two-hour rest and relaxation period after that, then we take the afternoon drive.  I also found out some good news -- because I am here at kind of an "off" time (which, by the way, he said this is really the best time to be here, despite it being the "short rain" season), I do not have to worry about weight limits or the number of bags I have.  There are only 5 people on the tour, so they said I will be able to take all three of the bags I brought--no need to leave anything behind with hotel security, or agonize over whether I'll want to wear shorts or jeans, or whether I can take my camera's external flash along in case I need it after all, etc.  :) 

The hotel I stayed in for my first night is awesome--way nicer than I expected (and infinitely better than the accommodations I had in Australia a few years ago).  Something in the room made just the right amount of "white noise" for my insomniac self to get to sleep quickly once I finally got to bed.  By 4:00am, I was wide awake and utterly unable to get back to sleep.  I guess this is either due to jet lag (although it SHOULD have been about bed-time back home??), or perhaps the sleep I got on the plane yesterday was even more helpful than I thought.  In any event, although I really didn't need to be up until 6:00am today, I am not going to complain too much about my early wakeup.  It gave me time to write this entry, take my time getting ready, and actually relax for the first time in weeks.  It also bodes well for the morning game drives if I can be up and at 'em at 4:00am every morning.  :)  Other than the fact I've sneezed about 200 times so far (due to allergies or the slight cold I caught just before leaving), it's been a pretty good morning.

I still don't know how much internet access I will have while I am here.  This morning will be a little test.  As soon as I copy this over to my handy jump drive I brought along, I will go down to eat breakfast, then head over to the business center to try this out.  I guess if you're reading this, it meant I was able to upload it ok.  :)

23 November 2004 7:08 PM GMT+3 - First Game Drive
Location:  Sara Sopa Lodge near Masai Mara, Kenya

Well, so much for best laid plans.  I was unable to upload the journal this morning due to the business center being closed, and now it sounds like there probably will not be any internet access at all until after the end of the safari part of the trip.  I guess that gives me plenty of time to get the pictures ready.  I will go ahead and maintain this log daily anyway, and will post it all at once when I get back to the Safari Park Hotel on December 4.

The Pollman representative met me at the hotel reception desk as promised this morning, along with the guide/driver for the trip.  We then went to another hotel to retrieve the other 5 people on this tour.  There are two couples from Belgium and another single traveler from Luxembourg in addition to me.  Our guide's name is Fadhil, but he says to call him Baf, which is short for "baba Fadhil", or "father of Fadhil" (he has a son named after him).  This was to make it easy to remember and pronounce, but I think so far we have "Buff", "Biff", "Baff", and "Boff" -- everyone has their own way of pronouncing it.   ("Buff" seems to be the closest approximation).

Most of today was spent traveling to Masai Mara from Nairobi.  A couple of hours after we arrived at Masai Mara, we took our first game drive.  It started raining near the end, but not before we saw cranes, antelopes, gazelles, lions, and the cutest baby elephant ever!

Jet lag (and motion sickness) finally set in with a vengeance on the way back to the lodge.  Therefore, I am going to keep today's entry short and just include some pictures.  If I get a chance tomorrow, I will write some more about the trip from Nairobi to Masai Mara, and my initial impressions of Kenya and Africa.  For now, enjoy the pictures!

Crowned Cranes
Antelope (trust me, you don't want to know what he's doing!)
Mama and baby elephant
The cutest baby elephant ever!
Elephant herd
Lion (1)
Lion (2)
Lion (3)
Lion (4)

24 November 2004 5:55 PM GMT+3 - Masai Mara all-day game drive and Masai Village Tour
Location:  Sara Sopa Lodge near Masai Mara, Kenya

Today was an amazing all day game drive starting at 7:30am until about an hour ago.  As I sit here watching the 400+ pictures I took transfer off of the camera, I still cannot believe how many different kinds of animals we saw.  There were elephants, giraffes, gazelles, zebras, antelope, lions, a rhino, and a cheetah, among others.  I was especially impressed by the number of lions.  According to Baf (the guide), it is rare to see so many.  We saw an entire pack at one point.  The cheetah was the highlight of the day, however.  Baf had been looking to spot one all day.  He heard about it over the CB radio, said "excuse me" (instead of the usual "ok?") and started driving as fast as the road would allow.  We knew it was something "big".

After the game drive, we visited a Masai village.  Here, I find I have a large amount of writer's block.  I'm not sure how I can describe the conditions where these people live.  They are very friendly, but they live in a kind of poverty that is impossible to imagine without actually seeing it.  They requested $15 US from each person to tour their village.  They said they use this for the school and the community.  They started by doing two ritual greetings--one for the men and one for the women.  The greeting for the men was the more memorable of the two.  The men sang and danced, then had a sort of competition where they each jumped into the air 3-4 times.  The idea is to be the one who jumps the highest.  The women's greeted us with singing and a bit of dancing, but nothing like the men's jumping contest.  After the greetings, they took us into the village to show us around and answer our questions.  We also went inside their houses.  If I understood correctly, the houses are made of dried cow dung and sticks.  They are designed to last about 9 years, after which the entire village will move elsewhere.  There are flies everywhere, because the Masai literally live with their livestock.  Goats roam freely throughout the village, and judging from the abundance of cow dung, so do their cattle.  (When I stepped in a fresh pile, one of them told me that was "good luck").  There was even a goat living in the house I visited.  The houses are pitch-black dark, and very cramped.  In the one I visited, they were cooking, so it was also very hot (like sauna hot).  After the tour, they took us to their shop, where they were selling hand-made crafts. 

Yesterday, I said that I would write a little more about the trip from Nairobi to Masai Mara and my initial impressions of Kenya.  The first thing I noticed in Nairobi was how crowded it is.  There seems to be a person in every square foot of the city!  The traffic was horrible--it took forever to get from my hotel over to another hotel where the rest of the people on this tour were staying.  The other thing I noticed was the poverty, both inside and outside Nairobi.  Lastly, the roads are abysmal by US standards.  If I ever come to Africa again, at the top of my list will be Dramamine, or some other car-sickness drug.  However, the country is also very beautiful.  It is currently the "short rain" season, which means the occasional 15-minute downpour causes us to scramble to put the vehicle's roof down.  It also means that when the sun is shining (and it usually is except for those 15-minute outbursts), the sky is filled with clouds that reflect the light in amazing ways.  I'm afraid my photos aren't doing it justice.  And there is certainly no shortage of animals to see, at least in Masai Mara.  Baf told us initially that it was rare to see lions, and yet we saw so many today that it almost became "oh yeah, another lion".  We also saw a black rhino, albeit from a distance, but seeing one at all is apparently a rarity. So, we are very lucky. 

Having only seen these animals in zoos, it was interesting to see how in "real life", they all live together.  You don't see a herd of zebras here, a herd of antelope there, etc.  Instead, you see zebras, antelopes, gazelles, etc. all in one herd.  They look out for each other.  For example, the wildebeest herd had several zebras among them.  Baf said the zebras have good hearing and alert the wildebeests of danger.  The zebras, on the other hand, benefit because the wildebeests know where there's plenty of food.  So it all kind of balances out.

Well, I could write more, but dinner is in about half an hour, and I want to pick out some photos to complete this entry.  Until next time...

Masai Giraffe
Baby Masai ostriches running from the camera
Grant Gazelles
Lion (1)
Lion (2)
Black-faced Monkey
Common Zebra
Cheetah (1)
Cheetah (2)
Masai men greeting dance
Thierry (one of our tour group travelers) participates in the jumping contest
One of our Masai hosts
Masai houses
A Masai child

25 November 2004 6:38 PM GMT+3 - Lake Nakuru
Location:  Lake Nakuru Lodge

Our good luck continues, both in regard to weather and the number and types of animals we are seeing.  Perhaps all the glitches I had leading up to this trip were only to balance things out?  In any case, we continue to have good photo opportunities everywhere, and so far, the rain really hasn't spoiled anything significant.

This morning, however, it appeared that for the first time this trip, the "rainy season" was going to live up to its name.  It was pouring when I woke up, and continued pouring the entire time I was getting ready (the longest period of continuous rain I've seen since I got here).  During the drive from the Sara Sopa Lodge to Lake Nakuru (several hours), it continued to rain and be dark and cloudy all the way.  But by the time we had finished eating a late lunch at Lake Nakuru lodge, the sun came out just in time for our game drive!  One of the ladies on the tour said she had prayed for good weather.  I guess it must have worked!

The main point to today's game drive was the enormous flock of flamingos on Lake Nakuru.  There are thousands of them.  From a distance, it appears the water is pink around the edges.  The flamingos cover the lake so thickly that they appear as a pink blanket over it. 

We also saw several Rothschilds giraffes--another animal that is supposed to be a "rarity", but showed up in abundance for us.  We saw buffalo and baboons as well, along with the usual assortment of zebras, gazelles, and antelope.  The only thing lacking was the leopard--Baf (our guide) heard about one over the radio, but by the time we got there, it was already gone.  We did see lots of rhinos, though, up close and personal, as well as the water buffalo.  So we have now seen four of the "big five" up close, and only the leopard remains.

Olive Baboon (1)
Olive Baboon (2)
Yellow Billed Stork
Lake Nakuru Flamingos (1)
Lake Nakuru Flamingos (2)
Lake Nakuru Flamingos (3)
White Rhino (1)
White Rhino herd
Rothschilds Giraffe (1)
Rothschilds Giraffe (2)
White Rhino (2)
Lake Nakuru (1)
Lake Nakuru (2)
Rothschilds Giraffe couple

27 November 2004 2:51 PM GMT+3 - Amboseli National Park
Location:  Amboseli Serena Lodge

Yesterday was mostly a driving day.  We left Masai Mara and headed toward Amboseli National Park, stopping in Nairobi for lunch.  I was able to check my e-mail and clear out the "spam", but was not able to upload the web log (no USB ports functioning on the computers).  So, now it appears I will probably not be able to upload this journal until December 3 at the earliest, and most likely not until I reach Cape Town on December 4 (and only then if I have time, since I'm only there for two days).

The drive to Amboseli was uneventful.  Not much to tell, just miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers in this country) of Masai farms and small towns.  I really didn't shoot many photos along the way, except at a couple of shops we stopped at.  One had some artists working, and they welcomed photography.  The other had lots of pretty flowering trees all around, so I went to each one and took a photo.  The only other picture I shot was a tree with the sun behind it as we drove across the currently-dry Lake Amboseli bed.  It's about as close as I've come to a good sunset shot so far (we aren't really having sunsets because of the thick cloud cover near the horizon).

Today we had early morning and afternoon game drives.  We left at 6:30am for the first one, hence why I decided to forgo the web log update last night (well, in conjunction with there just not being much to say or show).  For the most part, the animals here are pretty similar to the ones we saw at Masai Mara.  The difference is terrain.  Here, it is barren all across the Amboseli lake bed except for a little marsh area where water still stands.  Elephants and other animals bathe in the marsh.  Zebras and gnus (wildebeests) are also very common, and we have seen a number of ostriches as well.  We have not, however, seen any big cats other than a pair of cheetahs that were so far away they were not really possible to photograph. 

View on the road to Amboseli
Some flowers in front of a shop
From the Amboseli lake bed (the closest thing to a sunset shot so far)
Elephants at Amboseli (1)
Elephants at Amboseli (2)
Elephants at Amboseli (3)
Amboseli with Mount Meru in the distance
Amboseli with Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest mountain) in the distance
View at Amboseli (1)
View at Amboseli (2)
View at Amboseli (3)
View at Amboseli (4)
Elephants cooling down at Amboseli
Elephants crossing in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

28 November 2004 5:54 PM GMT+3 - Lions and cubs and Tanzania
Location:  Lake Manyara Serena Lodge (Tanzania)

At the time I wrote yesterday's entry in the afternoon, we had taken two game drives in Amboseli, plus the drive to the lodge the evening before, without seeing a single lion.  Yesterday evening, however, we saw what may be the most awesome thing we've seen so far -- a lioness with about a dozen or so cubs eating a fresh kill.  Not only that, but they were probably less than a yard from the side of the road.  I guess the only thing that would have made it better would have been if they had been on the other side where the lighting would have been better for photos.  But that's being pretty picky.  :) 

Today we crossed over the Tanzania border where we said goodbye to our Kenyan guide, Baf and one of the ladies on the tour.  I am now the lone single traveler with the two Belgian couples being the other four in the group.  Our Tanzanian guide met us at the border.  His name is Alphonce.  We have not yet done a game drive in Tanzania.  We will do one tomorrow morning at 8:00am en route to our lodge in the Serengeti National Park. 

We have the evening off, which is good because I was falling behind on managing my photos. I got interrupted yesterday before I finished adding the photos to the web log, which is an important part of keeping straight which photos went with which game drive/location.  There aren't many new photos today other than a couple of the lioness-and-cubs shots (I have many more which I will do lighting-repair on in Photoshop, and post to my web site at a later date), a very blurry group photo, a funny sign, and a nice view on the way to Manyara (but not as nice as the one we passed before we found a place to pull over!).

The lodge we are staying at for this one night has internet access, so I will try once again to upload this log.  In the event I am successful, the next update probably WILL come from Cape Town or when I get home (I get the impression that this is the Tanzanian version of the Safari Park Hotel--i.e., the one with all the "luxuries" to start off before we journey to slightly more "rustic" accommodations).

Lioness and cubs eating (1)
Lioness and cubs eating (2)
Group photo (sorry about the quality; the guy who took it moved the camera--twice!)
A funny sign I spotted (see third line)
View near Lake Manyara

29 November 2004 10:16 PM GMT+3 - Lake Manyara and Serengeti
Location:  Serengeti Sopa Lodge

Today started with a beautiful sunrise and ended with a drive through the Serengeti en route to the Serengeti Sopa Lodge, where we'll be staying for the next two days.  We visited the Lake Manyara National Park this morning.  There wasn't very much to see there, and after about an hour of nice vegetation and not much else, we elected to leave the park early so we could take somewhat of a game drive through Serengeti instead.  The main attraction at Serengeti so far seems to be the thousands of wildebeests that are migrating through at the moment. 

Our lodge at Serengeti is very nice (aside from lack of internet access and phone in the room, probably the nicest we've stayed at so far).  There are king-sized beds, which is a welcome change from the itsy-bitsy "roll over and fall into the floor" beds we've had the past few nights.  And there is even a refrigerator, which is something we haven't had in any other lodge so far.  I can have cold bottled water in the morning.  :)  The only down side is the bugs.  There are various insects all over (I'm brushing one aside even as I write this).  Hopefully the mosquito net will keep out most of them when I got to bed here shortly.

Tomorrow we have an all-day game drive through Serengeti starting at 8:00am.  With any luck, we'll spot some more cheetahs (at least that's what Alphonce tells us).  So, in the interest of being well-rested for what will probably be a very long day, I am going to end this now and get some sleep. 

Sunrise (1)
Sunrise (2)
Sunrise (3)
Elephant around a rock (1)
Elephant around a rock (2)
Water Buffalo
Termite Mound
Masai Giraffe
Masai Giraffe closeup
Sunset (sorta!)

30 November 2004 8:55 PM GMT+3 - Cubs and Wildebeests and...uh oh.... :(
Location:  Serengeti Sopa Lodge

It had all the makings of a good day when we started out.  We passed by the wildebeest migration numerous times in the morning, then headed out to a spot that is known to be a hanging out place for lions.  There, we saw lots of lions and cubs.  The over-abundance of flies spoiled most of the photos, but some of the cub photos turned out ok, and those are the most important seeing as how I had many, many lion shots already from our time at Masai Mara.  Later on, we even saw a lion in a tree, which is apparently a rare thing, and it is considered very lucky to see one.  Other than lions and thousands upon thousands of wildebeests (and a large number of zebras that travel with them), about the only other significant photos I took today were of the various birds and rodents at the picnic area where we had lunch, and some hippos we spotted during the cheetah search.

After the lion and wildebeest viewing, we started the long look for a cheetah, again in a place where they are known to hang out.  We didn't see a single one despite hours of searching.  To make matters worse (for me, at least), shortly after we had our picnic lunch I started feeling even more queasy than usual.  When the group voted to end the game drive early for an evening of rest, I didn't object.  I barely made it to my room before, shall we say, lunch paid a return visit.  I decided to skip dinner tonight and have it brought to my room.  I laid down for a nap, then when I got up to answer the door for the guy bringing the food, I knew it was bad news.  I was cold for the first time since I got here (even had to close the windows), and had to step into the restroom to purge the rest of lunch before the guy was finished setting up the plate.  :(  He was concerned, so he sent the lodge's doctor to my room.  The doctor thinks that I may be having a reaction to the Malarone--something I was starting to suspect anyway, so I wasn't too surprised when he asked right away what I was taking for Malaria prevention, and said the symptoms I am having are one of the side-effects.  It is either that or some kind of food poisoning most likely.  I borrowed a thermometer from one of the guys on the tour and I do indeed have a fever.  So, I am going to end this now and follow the doctor's orders--two Advil to relax the stomach muscles and early bedtime. 

Cubs (1)
Cubs (2)
Cub close-up (1)
Cub close-up (2)
Young Lion
Lion in a tree (1)
Lion in a tree (2)
Lion in a tree (3)
Hippos (1)
Hippos (2)
Night Heron
Zebras and Wildebeests (1)
Zebras and Wildebeests (2)
Baby Zebra and Mom
Wildebeest close-up (aren't they ugly?)
Ground Hornbill
Unknown bird at the picnic area
Another unknown bird at the picnic area
Yet another unknown bird at the picnic area
Rock Haresk
Baby Hippo
Giraffe and Hippos (will brighten this image later)
Lions asleep under a tree

01 December 2004 6:20 PM GMT+3 - Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater
Location:  Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

Today we left Serengeti for the final leg of the safari part of the trip for me (the other four are headed to Mombasa, and I am headed for South Africa's Cape Town after this).  There isn't much to tell today.  I am still feeling very weak and tired from yesterday's illness.  I'm no longer 100% sure it is just a reaction to Malarone.  I'm starting to think it may have been a stomach virus.  Therefore, when the group elected to visit another village this morning, I declined to join them.  First of all, it was a good opportunity to take a much needed nap when the vehicle wasn't moving, and second of all, if I DID have a virus, I didn't want to spread it to the villagers.  We still didn't see a cheetah today, even though we took a route out of the park where cheetahs are often found.  But we did see a Serval cat as we neared Ngorongoro, and to be honest--since we got such a nice look at a cheetah at Masai Mara--I am happy that we saw something different. 

We had lunch at a picnic spot over Olduvai Gorge.  After we ate, there was a brief lecture about how the gorge got its name (it was named by the Masai after the Oldupai(sp?) plant that grows profusely in the Gorge, but the German scientists who first explored the Gorge mispronounced it "Olduvai", and the name stuck).  I took a photo of a rock formation I spotted in the Gorge on the way to the restrooms.  I was still feeling pretty bad, though, so I went back to the vehicle for another short nap while the others visited the museum (and anyone who knows me very well knows that if I am able to even get to sleep in the time it would take someone to explore a museum or visit a village--let along get any meaningful rest--then there is definitely something wrong).

There is still a general malaise hanging over me this evening.  While I don't feel nauseated and feverish the way I did last night, I don't feel like doing the 2-hour dinner thing either, especially since we have an early morning game drive tomorrow.  (And then there's that not wanting to spread it to others thing, in case I have something contagious--although the other four in the group are probably doomed to get it anyway if that is the case since we've all been in the same vehicle together).  So I have once again requested dinner be served in my room.  I will eat and go to bed early, and hopefully be able to resume enjoyment of my vacation tomorrow.

Lioness and cubs
Rock formation at Olduvai Gorge
Ngorongoro Crater (1)
Ngorongoro Crater (2)
Serval Cat
Ngorongoro Crater (3)

02 December 2004 5:22 PM GMT+3 - Ngorongoro Crater
Location:  Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

Today was the last of the game drives, and it was a doozy.  We went in a 4X4 driven by a different guide, Emmanuel (I think that's how he spelled it--pronounced the same as the baby Jesus, anyway :)  ).  We saw the familiar abundance of wildebeest/zebra herds, of course, but we also saw lots of cheetahs (at least 5, and maybe more depending on whether we saw the same mom-and-cubs twice or two different mom-and-cubs).  Unfortunately, none of the cheetahs were close enough for a really good photo, but we got to see a little of how they hunt.  One of the cheetahs we saw was tracking a gazelle.  It didn't stand a chance of catching it--the gazelle was aware of the cheetah's presence, and kept a healthy distance away, but it gave a bit of insight into the hunting process anyway.  For starters, one would think that at the first sign of a cheetah, the gazelle would run away as fast as possible in the opposite direction.  Instead, the two played a sort of cat-and-mouse type game.  The gazelle approached the cheetah, but never close enough for the cheetah to really attack.  The cheetah never really tried either.  It snuck behind rocks and bushes, but never got close enough to make the kill.  We watched for about 15 minutes before moving on. 

We also saw jackals, hyenas, hippos, flamingos, eagles, ostriches, lions, and some others.  As for the mystery illness that has been hanging over me for the past few days, aside from still feeling way sleepier than I should given the 10 or so hours of sleep last night, I think I'm pretty much over it, assuming the resumption of Malarone doesn't make it return.  In fact, I will probably even join the group for dinner tonight for the first time in three days.

Baby Chamelion
Fish Eagle (1)
Fish Eagle (2)
Baby Zebra (2-3 days old)
Wildebeests and Zebras (1)
Wildebeests and Zebras (2)
Eland Antelope
Hyenas over a kill
Black-billed Bustard
Cheetah stretching by a pond
Crowned Plover
Velvet Monkey
Group photo at Ngorongoro
Black Rhino (yes, that's as close as we could get :( )
Cheetah looking to hunt (1)
Cheetah looking to hunt (2)
Cheetah hunting a gazelle
Kori Bustard
Black-backed Jackal
Lions resting (1)
Lions resting (2)
Ominous clouds over a lake
Pregnant Lioness
Thompson Gazelles alert to the presence of a cheetah
Cheetah giving us the "how dare you interrupt my hunting" look
Cheetahs patiently awaiting the right moment
Flamingos (1)
Flamingos (2)
Hippo yawning
Baby Hippo and mom

03 December 2004 3:18 PM GMT+3 - Some random parting thoughts
Location:  A safari van somewhere between Arusha and the Tanzania/Kenya border

Since today marks the end of the safari part of my trip to Africa, I wanted to share a few parting thoughts while they are still fresh on my mind.  These will be in no particular order; I will just write them as I think of them.  I have also gone back through and corrected several misspellings of people's names and a couple of the animal names.  I am hoping to post another update when I reach Cape Town.

  • I think I said once before that thanks to the bumpy roads and my body's apparent severe dislike of Malarone, that Dramamine or some other motion sickness drug would be at the top of my list should I ever do this trip again.  I believe I would like to revise that statement.  Next time, at the VERY top of my list will be a large bag of T-shirts, pens, paper, children's books, and anything else the people here might find useful.  I am disappointed that I did not know ahead of time about the opportunities to share something so simple as a pen--such a small thing that we take for granted in the US, but can really make a difference here. 
  • Along the same lines, one of the more eye-opening moments on this journey came during a restroom/shopping stop about midway through the Kenya part of the tour.  Our guide said his life's dream was to own about 100 acres of land and build a house on it.  When I asked him how much such a thing costs in Kenya, I was expecting him to say something like $50,000 US (e.g., much less than it would be in most parts of the US, but still enough to be "out of reach" for someone living near the US poverty line).  Instead, he said it would be somewhere around $5,000 US--in other words, for about the same price that most of us paid to go on this trip this guy could have had his dream home. 
  • There seems to be a difference in philosophy between how the guides in Kenya operate and the ones in Tanzania.  In Kenya, the guides were always chattering over the CB radio, letting the others know whenever they found something that might be interesting to see.  For example, we found out about the really-up-close cheetah at Masai Mara because the guide who originally spotted it announced it over the radio.  In Tanzania, our guide seemed to scoff at that idea, and said it should be about the experience of the guide, not on just following what someone else saw.  While I can certainly see the merits of both, as someone who wanted to get really good photographs of as many animals as possible, I believe I much prefer the Kenyan approach.  Personally, I don't care whether our guide found out about that cheetah from another guide or whether he spotted it himself.  I'm just happy we got to see it. 
  • The accommodations in Tanzania were somewhat nicer than the ones in Kenya, although both were eons above anything I had in Australia's Northern Territory a few years ago.  I was actually a little surprised at this--I was expecting it to be the other way around.  In Tanzania it seemed like the rooms got progressively nicer at each lodge we stayed (internet access notwithstanding).  By the last night, we were staying at a lodge with suites the size of a small one-bedroom apartment!  The overall standard of living seemed to be higher in Tanzania as well.  While I didn't visit the Masai village there myself, the ones who did said it was much nicer than the one we visited in Kenya.
  • Accommodations notwithstanding, I think the Kenya part of the trip made the biggest overall impression on me.  There are probably several reasons for this.  First, it was all still "new" when we were in Kenya.  By the time we got to Serengeti, we had already seen pretty much all the different animals there were to see, so in some ways it was "more of the same".  Second, I don't find wildebeests to be particularly all that interesting--and that was the most abundant species by far in Tanzania (and the main attraction at Serengeti). Third, the driver we had in Kenya seemed to have an interest in photography himself, and he was very good at finding the "sweet spot" for taking the best photo.  Lastly, the "Malarone effect" (or whatever it was) hit its hardest in the midst of the Serengeti tour--so quite possibly, my whole opinion on the matter is tainted by that.  :)
  • A couple of observations about the animals we saw.  First of all (as I mentioned before), when the only place you've ever seen them before is a zoo, you don't realize how in "real life" they are not separated from one another.  For example, zebras and wildebeests travel together because the zebra's sharp eyes keep a keen lookout for predators, and the wildebeests always know where the good food is.  I'm not sure I did as good a job as I should have of capturing scenes where multiple species were together in the same shot.  Second, there are some things that still photos cannot capture, such as the way the Thompson gazelles' tails seem to be always in motion.  Their tails are so tiny, they appear of little use at brushing away flies, although I presume that's what they are doing.  But generally, the entire herd is filled with flicking tails.  Third, of all the animals we saw, the one I may have gained the greatest appreciation for is the zebra.  They are very common (second only to the wildebeests, as far as how many we saw).  But they seem to have some sort of a family unity thing going that is difficult to explain.  You will often see a small group of them standing very near to one another with each facing the opposite direction (e.g., one faces right, the next left, then right, then left).  At first I thought this was a means of keeping a lookout for predators, but Emmanuel (our guide from yesterday) explained that these were zebra families, and that they stand that way for purpose of smell (like dogs, only much less obvious).  Lastly, as I said yesterday, I noticed that the gazelle tended to run toward the cheetah instead of away as we were watching the hunt.  We saw the same thing with the wildebeests and the safari vehicles.  In fact, Alphonce kept us entertained for a good five minutes moving the vehicle forward and back in the midst of a herd of wildebeests.  Without fail, they crossed in front of the vehicle instead of just running away from it.
  • A few Swahili words:
    • Jambo (rhymes with "Mambo"):  "Hi/Hello".  This is the most common way to greet someone.  (Habari also means "Hello", but is more formal, and I never heard anyone actually use it).  "Jambo" is the most important word to know on safari--you'll hear it a lot.
    • Asante (ah SAN tay):  "Thank You".  Probably the second most important word to know--the locals really appreciate it when you thank them in their own language.
    • Sana (pronounced like "sauna"): "Very".  This is used after the word you want to "very", e.g., "Asante sana" means "Thank you very much".
    • Mzuri (em ZOO ree):  "Good/Fine" (as in, "How are you?" / "Mzuri".  Say "Mzuri sana" to mean "very good"). 
    • Karibu (care EE bu): "Welcome" (as in, "Thank you" / "You're welcome" or "Welcome to Serengeti"). 
    • Kwaheri (wah HERE ee): "Goodbye"
  • In the week leading up to my departure for Africa, I went on a shopping spree for the things I thought I might want or need based on common sense and what I was reading on the internet.  I will rank some of them by usefulness.  Since this is a rather lengthy list, I put it in a separate page.  View it by clicking here.

05 December 2004 11:18 PM GMT+2 - What a mess!
Location:  The Portswood, Cape Town, South Africa

I am going to write two entries, one for yesterday, and one for today.  Yesterday was an absolute mess.  Perhaps I needed a new round of glitches to kick off another "lucky streak" here?  Dunno...

My flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg went without a hitch (other than the unexplained 15 minute wait after we reached the gate before they let us off the plane). The flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town also went fine.  But when I got to the airport, there was NO ONE THERE TO MEET ME!!!!!  According to my itinerary, I was supposed to be met by someone from Wilderness Safaris.  But no one showed up.  So finally, I went to the information desk at the airport to see if they could call them.  Luckily, they happened to know who Wilderness Safaris is, and had the number, because it was no where to be found on my itinerary.  They called them and were told that Wilderness Safaris had no reservation and no record at all that they were supposed to meet me at the airport.  They suggested I take a cab to the hotel and they would work out some kind of reimbursement later, and would contact me when they figured out what was going on.  So I took the airport shuttle to my hotel, and started trying to figure out how to plan the rest of my time in Cape Town, because I had planned to talk to the driver en route about booking tours of Table Mountain and a few other things through them.  About an hour later, I got a note slipped under my door that "Janine from Journey Beyond" wanted me to call her as soon as possible.  I did and found out that not only did my itinerary have the wrong tour company, someone had given the CORRECT tour company (Journey Beyond) the wrong flight number!!!!  So, while I was getting increasingly irritated at the wrong tour company for "losing" my reservation, a driver from Journey Beyond was sitting at the airport trying to find out why I wasn't on the flight!  Grrr...... Trust me, it is not fun to land in another country--traveling alone--and find no one waiting for you in the airport.  I was worried that the Portswood wouldn't have my reservation either (luckily they did).  I guess about the only thing that would have been worse is if this had happened in Kenya where there was a packaged tour involved. 

Anyway...  After sorting out this mess, I finally was able to get my time here planned early enough to still walk around the Waterfront some and eat dinner before crashing in bed around midnight.  Through a good friend from South Africa, I was able to arrange a tour of the peninsula area, which will be the subject of my next entry.

05 December 2004 11:18 PM GMT+2 - A "do-it-yourself" peninsula tour
Location:  The Portswood, Cape Town, South Africa

One of my best friends in the Dallas area is from South Africa.  When I first started planning to visit Africa, I started by asking her the places that would be good to visit.  She gave me a lot of information that I passed onto my travel agent.  What actually ended up getting booked was very much different (and way shorter) than what I had initially envisioned, but I am happy to say that now that I am in Cape Town, having a contact from South Africa has really paid off.  My friend put me in touch with her cousin, and although he was unable to play tour guide himself (having left Cape Town the week before I got here), he was able to connect me with two good friends of his (Miko and Deborah) who were happy to do the deed.  They made a lot of good suggestions about how I could make the most of the two days I am here.  There were three things that I knew I wanted to see (other than the Waterfront, which is right by my hotel): Table Mountain, Boulders (penguins), and Robbin Island.  With their suggestions, I was able to turn what started out as a chaotic mess into a nicely-planned two-day getaway assuming the weather cooperates (unfortunately, the weather changes on a whim in Cape Town, so hopefully the currently-predicted good weather will hold).  The plan was for Miko and Deborah to take me on sort of a "do-it-yourself" peninsula tour today, and I will visit Robbin Island and Table Mountain tomorrow.

I met Miko and Deborah in the hotel lobby at around 10:30 this morning.  I had just finished making arrangements for tomorrow's Robbin Island tour when they arrived.  We started by having breakfast at a coffee shop.  They have excellent muffins--maybe the best muffin I've had.  We then headed towards Simon's Town en route to Boulders where the African penguins are.  We saw the penguins, then continued our drive around the peninsula.  We stopped for lunch at Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay--absolutely the best bread anywhere.  Then, we drove around the Cape Point area, and headed up Chapman's Peak road, stopping for pictures and scenic views along the way.  We finished up with a couple of stops around Hout Bay, then they dropped me off at the Portswood.  It was around 5:45 when we finished.  They had previous plans at  6:00, so I was unable to treat them to dinner as I had planned (I did give them some money for gas, and treated them to breakfast instead :)). 

After the peninsula drive, I came back to my room for a bit, then headed over to the Waterfront.  I hunted down the Clock Tower (where I have to go tomorrow for the Robbin Island tour), and visited a couple of shops.  I bought some souvenirs, and ate a remarkably "boring" dinner (spaghetti and meat sauce), which is exactly what my body needed after nearly two weeks of "unfamiliar" food.  A couple of guys from England invited me to join their table, which I gladly did for the company, and to avoid the chill from the ice-cold breeze that was coming in off the ocean at the table where I was initially seated.

Although my tour tomorrow isn't scheduled until noon, I still want to get to bed soon so I don't sleep away the entire morning.  The photos below are a quick sampling of the photos I took as we drove around the peninsula.

View at Simon's Town
View at Boulders (1)
Penguins at Boulders (1)
Penguins at Boulders (2)
Penguins at Boulders (3)
Penguins at Boulders (4)
Penguins at Boulders (5)
View at Boulders (2)
Penguins at Boulders (6)
Penguins at Boulders (7)
View near Cape Point
View near Hout Bay (1)
View at Hout Bay (1)
View at Hout Bay (2)
View at Hout Bay (3)
View at Hout Bay (4)
View at Hout Bay (5)
View near Hout Bay (2)

06 December 2004 06:13 PM GMT+2 - Table Mountain
Location:  The Portswood, Cape Town, South Africa

So far, today hasn't gone quite as well as yesterday, both in terms of the weather and in terms of the way things worked out.  I didn't make it to Robben Island today.  When the concierge overheard me mention something about Robben Island at noon followed by Table Mountain, he told me that was impossible--there's not enough time.  Ok, sounds reasonable.  In fact, that's what I expected to hear--yesterday when I was trying to book it.  But I specifically ASKED the other concierge who booked it for me yesterday if she was positive that would allow enough time, and she said she was "absolutely certain" (and stuck to that story today after it was already too late to change things back).  I'm starting to think utter chaos is a way of life here.  :)


Robben Island had always been an "if there's time" item on my agenda, with Table Mountain and the penguins being first and second respectively, and shopping for souvenirs planned for the evenings.  So, I cancelled the Robben Island tour to make time for Table Mountain.  I'll have to see the island next time (and contrary to what I thought at the beginning of this trip, there likely will be a "next time" someday). 

The view from the mountain did not disappoint, although the view probably would have been better yesterday when there were fewer clouds in the sky.  The cloud cover (which the locals call the "Tablecloth") was really thick on one side of the mountain, so you had really no visibility at all.  But the other three directions were at least intermittently clear enough to see through.  On one side, the clouds would alternatively complete cover everything, and then be more-or-less clear, all in about a 5-minute time frame!  And I can honestly say now that I know what it is like to have your head in the clouds--literally.  You can actually see the wisp of clouds blow by.  It is also COLD up there.  I knew it would be, but had to wear shorts anyway since my jeans are currently being held captive by the hotel's laundry service.  (I'm impatiently waiting for them to arrive while I'm writing this--they were due in my room no later than half an hour ago!).  I stayed on the mountain for probably a couple of hours.  About as long as I could stand the cold.  :)  Below are some of the pictures I took of the view and various vegetation/wildlife on top.

View from Table Mountain (1)
View from Table Mountain (2)
View from Table Mountain (3)
View from Table Mountain (4)
View from Table Mountain (5)
Under the "Tablecloth"
Flowers on top of the mountain (1)
Flowers on top of the mountain (2)
Flowers on top of the mountain (3)
Flowers on top of the mountain (4)
Flowers on top of the mountain (5)
Rock Haresk
View from Table Mountain (6)

06 December 2004 09:18 PM GMT+2 - Parting shots from Cape Town
Location:  The Portswood, Cape Town, South Africa

Shortly after my laundry finally arrived at 6:45ish, I took a walk around The Waterfront to snap a few quick photos and do some last-minute shopping.  Tomorrow morning at 7:30am, I leave Cape Town for Victoria Falls, which is the final leg of my journey unless my last-ditch effort to add the Johannesburg-area extension I tried for before I left pans out (VERY unlikely, since it appears my plane ticket is the sort that cannot be changed at all, even though my travel agent had previously told me I'd be able to change it for a $100-$200 fee).  So that being the case, this will probably be my last update from Africa.  I'm not expecting to have internet access in Victoria Falls, and even if I do, since I'm only there about a day and a half, I probably will not have time to maintain the web log.  Unless the extension DOES work out after all, I will write up the Victoria Falls part on my way home (I'll have plenty of time--three flights in one 24-hour period, and an airport transit bus.  :(  ), and post it when I get back.  For now, enjoy some pictures from The Waterfront.

View from the bridge (1)
The Clock Tower
View from the bridge (2)
View across the water from near the Clock Tower
Painted cows (anybody know what these are about?)
View across the water
Table Mountain at sunset (1)
Table Mountain at sunset (2)

07 December 2004 07:33 PM GMT+2 - Victoria Falls (well, not exactly :) )
Location:  The Zambezi Sun Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zambia

After a delayed flight out of Johannesburg, I arrived at Victoria Falls just in time to unpack a few things from my backpack and catch a "sunset" cruise.  There wasn't much of a sunset (too many clouds), but we did get to see some hippos and a couple of other things.  There was a professional photographer/journalist husband-and-wife team on the cruise as well.  You can find their web site at  Hopefully, they got some better shots than I did.  :)  I didn't take very many--unlike the pros, I'm not as good with taking photos under "unfriendly" lighting, plus I already have a lot of hippo shots anyway from Kenya and Tanzania.  But I did snap one of a hippo partially out of the water, a small crocodile entirely out of the water (we saw much larger ones in Kenya, but they were at a distance), and a lucky shot of an unknown heron-type bird (anyone know what it is?).  However, aside from a quick glimpse on the way to the hotel, I have not yet seen the waterfall itself.  I'm told that it is not going to be all that spectacular, because the water is low right now.  I have a helicopter ride tomorrow morning at 8:00am, and am hoping to do an elephant ride/safari in the afternoon.  That and taking some time to walk over and simply view the falls is probably all I will have time for.  The driver will take me to see the falls from the Zimbabwe side before my flight home on Thursday. 

I have now given up for good on the notion of extending this trip past the scheduled December 10 return date.  I half forgot--and wouldn't have had time anyway--to check one last time with British Airways about changing my flight back home to a later date.    I don't think there was ever really much of a chance anyway.  British Airways had already told me before I left--and told Journey Beyond again in South Africa--that I have a ticket that absolutely cannot be changed under any circumstance, so I doubt I would have been able to talk them into it.  So I will return on the 10th as scheduled, and tomorrow will be my last full day in Africa.  As is usual when I go on trips like these, I am definitely wishing I could stay longer.  :) 

Hippo (1)
Hippo (2)
Hippo partially out of the water
Some kind of heron?

08 December 2004 06:20 PM GMT+2 - Falls and Elephants
Location:  The Zambezi Sun Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Today was an exercise in making the most of what you have.  It was pouring rain when I woke up this morning, and it rained off and on pretty much throughout the day.  So no "rainbow" shots of the falls unless it just happens to be sunny tomorrow morning when I go over to the Zimbabwe side. 

The helicopter ride was cancelled.  I was hopeful when they picked us up this morning that we would still be able to do it, but after about an hour of waiting for the rain to stop, they decided to call it off and took us all back to our hotels.  I was able to schedule a spot on the afternoon elephant safari, so while I was waiting for that, I walked over to the falls a couple of times to shoot some photos, then had lunch. 

The elephant safari was truly remarkable.  I don't have much in the way of photos to show (believe me, it is NOT easy to shoot a clear photo on the back of a moving elephant!).  And about the only animals we saw were a giraffe and some impalas.  But the ride itself was really something "different", and did a nice job of salvaging what was otherwise a pretty wet and miserable day.  We did get rained on a bit, but not enough to dampen (pun intended) the fun.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will leave Africa and return home.  As has been the case for just about every international trip I have taken, I am really not ready for it to be over.   My plan is to go to bed early tonight, and check the weather around 6:00am.  If it is at all sunny, I am hoping to have time for a quick walk over to the falls one more time tomorrow morning before my transport gets here.  And hopefully, I can get a couple of good shots (with or without the rainbow) on the Zimbabwe side, and then my adventure will be over. 

Victoria Falls, Zambia side (1)
Victoria Falls, Zambia side (2)
Victoria Falls, Zambia side (3)
Victoria Falls, Zambia side (4)
Victoria Falls, Zambia side (5)
Victoria Falls, Zambia side (6)
Elephant Safari (1)
Masai Giraffe as seen from the back of an elephant (1)
Masai Giraffe as seen from the back of an elephant (2)
Elephant Safari (2)
Elephant Safari (3)
Elephants salute the guests after the safari
The herd's first baby elephant (about 1 month old)

10 December 2004 06:51 PM GMT-6 - Journey's End
Location:  Home after a very long day in transit

My hopes for a last-minute break in the weather didn't pan out, and so my trip to Africa came to a very rainy end at the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.  I made sure I got a shot of the main falls,, but there came a point where the risk of ruining my fairly new Nikon D70 camera outweighed the desire for a good photo at Victoria Falls.  After about an hour and 15 minutes, it started pouring down rain to the point you really couldn't even see the falls very well for the rain.  At that point, I took myself and my Ziploc Dry Bag-encased camera (I knew those would come in handy :) ), and headed for the exit.  About 10 minutes later, the driver picked me up and took me to the airport after a brief stop at a shop to buy a Zimbabwe coffee mug.

The flight out of Victoria Falls was delayed at least an hour while they waited on the rain to die down.  I still had plenty of time to make my connection in Johannesburg, though, since that flight wasn't until 8:00pm.  The flight to London Heathrow went without a hitch, as did the flight home.  About midway through the final leg home, we passed over the southern tip of Greenland.  The view was spectacular, so I took a couple of photos. 

I am now at home, and am extremely jetlagged and sleepy.  After nearly 22 hours on three different planes and nearly 2 on a bus changing airports in London, my body feels like it's still in motion.  So, I will get a lot of sleep tonight, and sometime in the next few weeks, I will put the final touches onto this page and get it officially integrated into my web site.  Best wishes to all the people I met during this journey and on the planes coming home today.  May your travels be safe, and as fulfilling has mine has been.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe side (Devil's Cataract view)
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe side (Main falls view)
The southern tip of Greenland, as seen from the plane on the way home (1)
Another shot of Greenland from the plane