50 ways to die in East Africa

Our guide Albert’s most important job:
Protection from the Top 50 ways to die in East Africa

1)   Eaten by lion

2)   Killed by Lion, eaten by Hyena

3)   Pecked to death by a mating Ostrich

4)   Gored by Cape Buffalo

5)   Chomped by a hippo as you try for that macro shot of his wiggling ears

6)   Run over by stampeding wildebeests

7)   Carried off to a tree by a Leopard

8)   Volcanic eruption

9)   CO2 asphyxiation in an ancient Caldera

10) Hit by car while walking and looking the wrong way (almost happened to me – luckily the car swerved to avoid vehicle damage)

11)  Malaria

12) Choked to death on Malaria pills

13) words:  “African Sushi”

14)  Outsmarted (and then killed) by a Troop of Baboons

15)   Killed by vultures who misunderstood your nap on the Savannah

16) Smashed by collapsed scaffolding as you walk past

17) Drinking the water

18) Shot by park ranger (accidently)

19) Shot by park Ranger (intentionally)

20)  Flash flood

21)  Drought

22) Dehydration due to Maasai flies

23)  Frostbite in the hotel shower

24)   Electrocuted by power plug adapter

25)   Impaled on spear you bought from local villager

26) Smothered by primary school kids anxious to see their picture on the back of your camera

27)   Secondary school chemistry experiment

28)  Asteroid (could happen anywhere but seems more likely in Africa)

29)   Ebola

30) Yellow fever

31)  Tetanus

32)   HEP A

33)   HEP B

34)   Dengue Fever

35) Killed by natives after bad dancing

36)  Attacked after bad mouthing Barack Obama

37) Suicide after multiple, unsuccessful attempt to update your Facebook status

38)  Hit head on inside window of Safari car (while napping)

39)  Photographing a kingfisher (actually happened in Laky Manyara National Park – lady got out of the vehicle to get a better angle for her picture and Leopard got her – would make an exciting Darwin award entry)

40) Killed by fellow Safari-goer for singing “Pole, Pole” one too many times

41)  Tsetse fly bites

42)Mobbed by Natives trying to sell cheap souvenirs

43) Mistaken for goat in preparations for a Maasai welcome ceremony

44) Stepped on by an Elephant

45)Charged by a Rhino

46) Outrun by a Cheetah

47Dive bombed by a pair of fish eagles (while photographing hippos)

48) Freak Impala accident (Chevy Impala?)

49) Inhaling truck and auto exhaust

50)  Old age


Walking Safari – Arusha National Park


We decided to add a 4th day to our Safari adventure.  We were signed up for a walking Safari in Arusha National Park just north of the town of Arusha on the eastern slope of Mt. Meru (5th tallest Mountain in Africa).  The day didn’t get off to the best of starts.  Elley could not find her 80-200mm lens (and 2x extender) with value over $2,000.  We looked through every bag we had – more than once. She had last had it in her hand in the Safari vehicle in Lake Manyara National Park just before we shot the video of Albert.  Albert had rented toe Safari vehicle to a friend for today and we had no idea how to find the car for a search.  We finally found the Land Rover – in the shop getting oil change, brakes and tires checked and there in the back seat was the $2,000+ worth of glass….perfect!  Tanzanians seem so honest.

We were off to the Park (in a normal car).  It was a bit foggy with a light mist so we expected to be cold.  I had left my gortex jacket in the hotel room in the one day I might need it.  I think I was the only one in Africa enjoying the cold weather.  The first thing we saw was a bus load of school kids out for a field trip.  That cost me 30 minutes interacting with them.  So fun!


We met the park ranger who would be our guide/guard.  He carried a rifle that was only strong enough to shoot us if we were attacked by a wild animal.  At least we wouldn’t suffer long.  The park’s Lions and Cheetas had been hunted by the locals and now thought to not be around but there were many, many other animals that could make for a very interesting end-of-life video.  Baboons, Hippos, Cape Buffalo, Pythons, Elephants and even Giraffes were known to have killed people.  The biggest fear was seeing a leopard.  (Neither we not the leopards were so lucky).  We started our list of “100 ways to die in East Africa” with the idea that we might put it on Albert’s website with the closing “Come with me on Safari, It’s my job to protect you.”

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We explored a bit including a beautiful 20m tall waterfall.




We walked the park getting interestingly close to a trio of Warthogs.  We walked right up to their den (after they had scampered off).  We were just 100 feet or so from a collection of Cape Buffalo.  We were only 1 foot or so from the ranger with the gun.  That little toy gun of his would have no chance stopping a charging Cape Buffalo.


Luckily – no charging today.


We then headed back to the car and drove up the mountain to the famous Hole in the Fig Tree (reminiscent of the driving hole in the redwood tree in Northern California).  The rain forest up the side of Mt. Meru was beautiful.  I did get a chance to use the camera rain jacket I bought at the Wedding Photographer’s Convention in Las Vegas in March – it kept my camera dry and still allowed me to shoot.  (Note to self:  when visiting a rain forest, take the people rain gear that you drug 10,000 miles with you.)


We headed back to town for a relaxing evening including dinner at the local Chinese restaurant.  We were hungry and thus the food was pretty good.


Maasai Family


Our next stop was a bit scary.  We were visiting a remote Maasai family that had only been visited a couple of times by outsiders.  This is not a tourist stop.  This family is a personal friend of Albert, developed as he worked with the Maasai community in very rural Tanzania.  The “road” to their Boma was not even a 4WD track.  Albert followed a footpath that took us the 10 km off the road into the bush.  We asked him “who made this “road”?”  He said, “I did.”

We parked well away from the Boma and were greeted by a group of about 30 kids and women as we approached.  All were dressed in the traditional Maasai clothing with bright colored fabrics and necklaces.   The father of the family came out to greet Albert and us.  He is a “wealthy man” by comparison with a few hundred cows, many goats, 10 wives and 80 children.

We think we are only the 4th group of westerners they have ever seen. We talked (they speak Ma’a and not even Albert can translate).  CO9C9794

We took photos and shared the images with the audience.  They absolutely loved seeing themselves ontheback of the camera.CO9C9768



The only challenge with the visit was the flies.  There were thousands and thousands of flies.  They were everywhere – landing on your hands, face, clothing (and camera).  At one point I counted at least 50 flies landed on my camera!  They live every day of their lives with these flies and they just ignore them.  These flies often cause health problems (especially eye problems) as the take moisture from the eyes.  One of Albert’s activities is to bring eye drops to this family.  Albert is a very good hearted man and was loved by this family.




The oldest mother led the group in a traditional song and dance to celebrate our visit.  Her voice was beautiful (and we caught it on video). Two girls grabbed me and we danced around the group like I was a white guy! Elley caught that on video too :(.  I shared some smarties with the kids.  Many of them just held them in their hands, saving them for later.  One last thought:  where’s the water?  When we ask the men say very matter-of-fact “the mamas walk and get it.”  This society is not very different from the Maasai societies of thousands of years ago.  They are less nomadic and do a little bit of farming (but not much).  Ten wives?  (one is sometimes too much for me (no offense to my wonderful wife))


On our way back home to Arusha I sang my made up Swahili song “Pole pole, pole pole, pole pole.”  Means “slow, slow, slow, slow, slow, slow.”  I’m working on my Applewood points.

I also started a list of 10 things I will never complain about again:

1)   Speed bumps

2)   Pot holes

3)   3-pronged forks

4)   American flies

5)   Power outages

6)   One wife

7)   Too much rain

8)   Stray cats (American cats)

9)   My life

10)Top ten lists

Life is good


Migungani preschool


Our next stop (after the tree lunch where we were visited by a group of 4 Maasai young men out herding their goats), was the Migungani preschool.  I had been looking forward to this visit for quite some time as our friends, the Clowers and Grace Stewart had visited in 2010.  I remembered their shots of Ellen Playing Duck-Duck-Goose in the dirt in front of the school.  Asante Africa Foundation had built the school and the outhouses and supported the community in providing food for theyoungsters.  We are now transitioning the responsibility of sustaining the school to the local community.  This can be very tricky and is being worked by our Tanzania team.


If you are going to a preschool – prepare to sit on the floor!



Also this was the coveted opportunity to shake hands with Barack Obama.  One of the little preschoolers was named after the President five years ago.  I’m not sure the little guy has any idea why he is so popular (he’s actually quite shy), but I got my photo op and checked off my “Shake Hands with Obama” item on my bucket list!

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The teachers were very nice but clearly understaffed and undersupplied.  They are working in the best facility I’ve seen so far this far from “civilization.”  We shot some photos and hung around with the kids as they prepared to walk home from school.


We shared my brother’s Smarties with them (it was my brother’s birthday and I gave his present to the kids instead of him).





Only one little boy in the class had any paper or pencil.  I’m not sure if he was special but he sure was cute!




It really was a nice relaxing visit with the friendliest people on earth.


Lake Manyara National Park


The third day of our Safari started with a nice breakfast at the Twiga Lodge.  We were early (7am) and the only two people in the restaurant.  The fruit, eggs, tea and service were excellent.  Lake Manyara National Park is the least visited of the three parks in the region so it provides a quiet opportunity to see wildlife in a forested setting.  We were greeted by blue monkey and elephant within the first 100 yards of the park entrance followed by many, many baboon.  We also saw Impala, Giraffe Wildebeest, Zebra, Stork, Ostrich, Pelican, Hammerhead (bird), African Squirrel, Warthog, Crane and Bird Eagle.

Elley and I set up a makeshift studio in the Land Rover and filmed an interview with Albert for his website.  (We think this might be of more value than a tip – he might get both).  Albert is the perfect guide:  knowledgeable, responsible, friendly, good English, (did I mention friendly?), highest integrity, and just an all around great guy.  I could not recommend him more highly for a real hands-on safari.  He can arrange for and guide you through any level Safari you are interested in from bare bones to the highest luxury options (not sure why you would need the white table cloth in Africa.  I’ve had many great meals at the medium budget level.)

We left the park about 1pm headed for two more things we wanted to do:  a local preschool and another very primitive/isolated Maasai family visit.  When we asked Albert where we planned to eat our box lunches he said, “There’s a tree down the road.”  We laughed our asses off – the answer was perfect!

I’m constantly reminded of life back home.  I miss my friends, family (and even coworkers).  Luckily, every time Albert shifts gears in the Land Rover, the clutch or gear shift makes a noise just exactly like the goats screaming in the Taylor Swift video spoof of her song “Trouble.”  I think of the kids back home at our Friday night dinners and smile every time we change gears.  (and I can’t get that Taylor Swift song out of my head).Image


Ngorongoro Crater


I was awakened at 5am with the distant sounds of prayer from the local Mosque and my neighbor’s stereo playing “Saturday Night Fever” just a bit too loud for 5am in Africa.  East Africa is an interesting contrast in cultures where Christians, Muslims and others seem to live together in relative harmony.  Life is struggle enough.



We’re met at 7:30 by our Safari guide and really good friend Albert.  We drive up the hill to the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  Ngorongoro is an ancient volcano (now caldera) with a few hundred square km central plain completely surrounded by 600m high rim.  A giant Crater Lake.  Entrance fees are expensive ($60 per person + $200 for the vehicle – per day) but tourists come from all over the world to see this.  We also saw a bus full of local school kids on a field trip.  We ascend into the fog that covers the rim.  The road is dirt but well traveled and not as bad as we have seen the past week.


As we descend, overlooking the Olduvai Gorge to the west, we make a quick stop to “Check the tires”  (code for pee along side the road).  Before I was done…we were approached by a group of 10 Maasai herdsmen who were working both their herd and the tourist that might stop along the way and pay a small fee for a picture.  There were a very friendly group with a few things to sell, great jumping ability and big smiles.  Everywhere we go, the African people are friendly, polite and happy to be alive.

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As we descend into the crater the fog disappears and in front of us is a great plain filled with animals as far as you can see.  Within 5 minutes we spot Wildebeest, Zebra, Warthog, Thompson Gazelle, Cape Buffalo, Jackel, Ostrich, Elephant, and Hartebeast.  It is amazing to see the diversity of species all in one place.  We spent the day traveling the dirt roads and looking for Hippo, Rhino, Lion and any other new species we could find.  The weather was perfect and the conditions were awesome.


We stopped for lunch at the Hippo pool and we had a chance to watch them swim in the hippo pool.  There were about 10 hippos with ears and eyes above the water at any given time.  More people are killed by Hippos in africa than any other animal.  Unlike the Cape Buffalo (2nd leading killer) Hippos are big, smart and mean (Cape Buffalo are just big and mean).

After lunch we were back on the dirt roads looking for a good lion on the hunt.  We spotted a collection of Safari vehicles on a remote rode and knew they were up to something…there in the distance was a Rhino.  There are reportedly only 5 rhinos in Ngorongoro and something line 10 in all of Tanzania.  Ahead were a couple of female lions sleeping and then finally as the day was getting ready to end we chanced upon a pride of female lions with one on the hunt.  She seemed to be stalking a warthog but many other animals were watching including a trio of hyenas ready to battle for any carcass that might be in the future.  After a half hour of can and pig games we had to get going (just as the light was becoming golden).  It’s too bad the park gate closes at 6pm and it’s more than an hour drive to the gate.

On the way out we picked up a lone park ranger with an AK-47 and gave him a lift.  He was on the lookout for poachers looking for Rhino or Elephant tusks.  No Leopard or Cheetah but an Awesome day!  We were the last one out the gate – only 5 minutes after the gate “closes.”  Albert was nervous – I was proud.

I napped on the way down the mountain and awoke just as we passed a free Wifi café.  (Free if you buy a round of beers for $6 – $6 total – deal!)  For dinner that night I ate my first goat.  Not my last but not my favorite either.

Ellen Tarwater had asked me how Elley and Heward were tolerating me.  I said “what?” (knowing exactly what she was asking).  It turns out that Elley is a special education teacher in California specializing in autism…she gets me…


Tarangarie National Park



Day one of our Safari is upon us and Elley and I are headed out of Arusha towards the south west for a first stop in Tarangarie National Park.  We’re taken the road most of the way to Tarangarie before (on day 1) to visit a primary school.  The return trip is a little better – maybe just because we now call the ride on the rough roads of Africa an “African Massage.”  (Comes free with a paid Safari trip.)  We are traveling in high season so the park is “crowded” (as if the African’s have never read about Yosemite or Yellowstone in the summer).  The wildlife is truly amazing.  We’re treated to Giraffe, Wildebeast, Zebra (they all look alike until you get to Photoshop), Elephant, Dik Dik, Impala, Waterbuck, Velvet Monkey, Birds so numerous they weren’t even worth listing except the storks, ostrich, and flamingos and of course, the Lion. 


We just missed a lion killing a wildebeast down by the river but witnessed the three lions enjoying their lunch until a family of three elephants came over to inspect the kill.  Just as Albert said they would, the lions backed away to the edge of the grass as the elephants came up to the kill and mourned the loss of a colleague.  This kind of interaction between the species has been happening for millions of years.  It was so cool to look through my zoom lens (400mm) and even though I was really zoomed…I could often see 5 or 6 species in the same image.  There is nothing like this in the States – not even in the zoo.


We came upon a collection of humans in their Range-Rover-shaped protective shells.  This is a sign that there might me a lion around.  Sure enough, hidden in the grass about 10 feet from the road, was a sleeping female.  We jostled for position with about 10 other parties and finally the lion woke up and walked right past our vehicle.  Soon coming up the hill after her was the male.  It’s almost the perfect life at the top of the food chain: eat, sleep, have sex, sleep some more, let the women go to the grocery and prepare the meals, and you don’t have to eat your vegetables.    Just amazing.


This is the furthest south I have ever been (a trivia fact that only I care about…but – I made you read it!)


We finally left the park and headed to the Twiga lodge, just east of the Lake Manyara National Park where we ate and crashed.  We also dropped $1.25 to rent the internet for 20 minutes.  They finally found a way to get money from me.  It was a great day 1 and the best was yet to come.  Tomorrow would be Ngorongoro Crater.  It’s famous for everything in one location.  I was so tired that the night shot of the Southern sky would have to wait.