It’s a long way from LA to Phoenix.

December 1, 2017

 

It’s a long way from LA to Phoenix (and even longer from Serengeti to Narok).

 

We slept in this morning (and were not awakened by that lion).  Up at 6:30 and Breakfast at 7.  We hit the road about 7:30 for one final drive through the Serengeti and up to Narok.  Spotted a few lions and made a stop at a Hippo pool where 30+ hippos were doing their thing.  The drive to Narok took us out of the western side of the Serengeti almost to Lake Victoria.  We changed vehicles twice and mad our way across the border with a little help from a friend of Albert.  Albert knows someone everywhere.  The locals could not have been more friendly.  Note:  the roads in this part of Tanzania need a little work.  The safari vehicles are built for the beatings they take.  Once across the border we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us to get to Narok.  Unfortunately, the driver had only 1 CD and as such we listened to what sounded like African Christian music for 5+ straight hours.  It was as close to torture as one could bear.  The hotel in Narok had no reservations for us so we walked next door to a non-Muzungu hotel (yeah…?).

 

After a viscous struggle with my mosquito netting that had Kyle dying with laughter we settled in for the next 8 hours of loud music coming from the club next door.  We slept great from 5am to 6am.  The next morning was the African wedding I’ve been looking forward to.  Dec 2 is gonna be a great day.

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Good morning roars!

November 30, 2017

 

The remote quiet of the far eastern plains of the Serengeti was broken at about 4:30 in the morning when the resident male lion walked through our tent camp roaring at something (sounded like us). Kyle and I kept quiet asking only – “did that sound like a lion to you?”  Yep…big male.  Thank God we had mosquito netting between us a certain death.  Netting keeps the mosquitos out also.  Mosquitos are far more dangerous that any lion.  The lion death is faster also.  We hope to escape from both.

 

Out on our daily game drive at about 6:10 am.  First thing we spotted less than 1 km from our camp was that Male lion.  Today was focusing on Cheetahs on the eastern plains.  Our first Cheetah was only a few km from camp.  Caught him/her in the morning light.  Absolutely spectacular.  The eyes just come alive.  We stopped mid-morning at a local high-spot in the plains and had a box breakfast (and roamed around the plains in foot a bit). It really is a special place where you can look all around and see nothing but wildebeest/zebra and other cheetah food species.  There is nothing like this anywhere in the world. The Serengeti is a special place.

 

Albert is very good at keeping away from other people in the Serengeti.  We saw only 1 or 2 other vehicles all day.  And Albert can spot a Cheetah or lion from a very long way off.  It’s very impressive.

 

Weather has been near perfect.  A few thunderstorms around the plains but clear and dry is the rule.  The Serengeti is high enough altitude that it never seems to get very hot.  It could not be nicer.

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Male lion surprise!

November 29, 2017

 

We’re off early (after a lion and a family of 30 elephants) at lake Ndutu.  We’re headed north toward the central Serengeti.  The plains open up and there is a mass of wildebeest and zebra headed south for greener grasslands.  They are joined by impala, gazelle and antelope of many kinds.  This is the great migration everyone talks about.  There are an estimated 2-3 million wildebeest in the herd and it’s growing.  More than enough food for the lions and rare cheetahs.  And plenty of dung to support a robust dung beetle population.  Could be considered the African National Bird.

 

After passing through the main gate we began the quest to look for the illusive leopard.  Just south of the central Serengeti we explored a row of acacia trees along a swampy stream.  And sure enough, just to the left of the collection of 3 safari vehicles was a very, very, very hard to see leopard hidden in the branches.  We watched him for over an hour (through a light rain) and finally he came out in view in the tree.  This was our 5th of the big 5.

 

Next focus – the big prides of Serengeti lions.  We found a pride of about 14 lions sleeping under a tree and then headed east to the rocky outcroppings made famous in the Lion King movie.  We found an awesome pride of 15 lions (1 adult male, 4 adult females and the rest cubs).  We did not see the male at first but as we drove around the rock outcropping, we got within about 5 feet of him before we both awoke in surprise. Kind of scary being that close to a startled adult male lion. Photo ops were everywhere. Great stop.

 

Found our tent camp in the eastern part of the park. Only 3 sets of guests (low season). Dinner was good including African singing and dancing. We hit the tent hard and crashed after a long, great day.

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It’s a very, very small world

November 28, 2017

 

Up and our early again today.  Out at about 6:15 – right about sunset in CA.  Before the sun came up we spotted our first Lion.  There are two lions in the area that have collars (this was one of them).  The lodge gets a lion tracking position for both cats every morning.  The collar is not photogenic but, does not seem to bother her.

 

We headed again on a quest for Cheetah and Adult male lion.  After reaching Hidden Valley (just north west of Lake Ndutu) we spotted our first Hippo and a full adult male and his mate.  After chasing them a bit, and a failed mating attempt, they decided to slide into the weeds just next to the lake. They just disappeared from site. This is another warning about the real world.

 

On our way back for lunch we ran a quick detour looking for Cheetahs and found 3. A very well fed female and two males (maybe the two that killed the Wildebeest the day before.    During lunch, we met the guy who runs the Serengeti Cheetah project.  Ndutu Lodge is the center of the Southern Serengeti universe.  Very interesting cross section of people here. Note:  There are only a few guests (maybe 6-8).  It’s not yet their high season (February is the peak in the southern plains.)  I like the non-peak vibe.

 

We had dinner under the stars tonight.  Also met the lead of the Serengeti Cheetah Project (I’ve been following him on facebook for 2 years).  And the Lion expert for the Ngorongoro Conservation area.  Both were at dinner.  Small world – very small.

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Cheetah chase and kill

Nov 27, 2017

We arranged for a box breakfast and headed out on a game drive before sunrise (out at 6:10 am).  Within 45 minutes we spotted our first set of Lions – 3 males about 4-5 years old.  We drove alongside them as they walked for about a mile and then they found some shade and laid down for a morning nap.  Ah – the life of a male lion.  We then headed north-west toward the Serengeti plain in search for Cheetah.  Albert spotted a pair of males off in the distance and we pursued.  Coming down from the north was a long line of wildebeest headed for greener pastures in the south plains near Ndutu.  The Cheetahs set up watch as the herd marched past them.

 

After about an hour they picked a smaller wildebeest and gave chase (fail).  The marching herd of Wildebeest stopped in their tracks afraid to march ahead past the two Cheetahs.  A few minutes later they gave chase again and failed.  The herd made a quick move and the stalemate was over – the Wildebeest made it past the Cheetahs.  But then came a lone, young Wildebeest separated from the herd.  Albert called it! “That’s the one.”  A minute later the two young males chased again, took the Wildebeest down and they had their breakfast.  Seeing the chase and kill was on my list.  It was rough to watch.  That’s circle of life I know.  I’m going to be more respectful the next time I get Wildebeest from the grocery store meat department.

 

Lunch was a minced meat pie.  Not too bad!  Took a short nap; and then back out in the Safari vehicle – looking for lions.  In the Little Marsh area Albert spotted a young male and four females.  We watched them for a couple of hours and captures some amazing moments.  On our way home, just before sunset, we ran across the Three Brothers from the morning drive.  They were also caught napping.  This evening we had wonderful light, great food (leg of lamb) at the dining room and fully charged batteries. Life is good.  We’re both going to crash tonight.  Safari vehicle riding is rough on the ___(name your own body part).  Mine is “ribs.”

 

 

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Catching up (finally have some wifi…

November 26, 2017

 

Jet lag is for others.  Kyle and I decided to “hit the pool” at 3am this morning (trouble sleeping).  Orion was so high in the sky.  We’ll get some astro photography sometime in the trip.  Hopefully from the Serengeti (without lions).   Both of us feel much better this morning although we are a few hours ahead of the African schedules. Breakfast started at 7 so we were there about 6:30. Gotta beat the rush. Eggs, sausages, pancakes, toast, fruit.  Not too bad. Shower last night was cold (very). Figured out the water heater this morning and the water was only cold.  Sunrise was awesome this morning.  We are planning to meet Albert at 8 for the drive up the hill to Ngorongoro crater.  We’ll skip the crater (hard to believe) and head directly for Ndutu.  The herd is there.  It’ll be awesome.

 

On our way out of town we stopped to meet the Baboons.  We had purchased a handful of bananas along the roadside and placed them on the dash of the safari vehicle.  The Baboons went crazy trying to reach through the windshield to get the bananas.  It was also a great photo op.  One would never get that close to Baboons on purpose.

 

It was an amazing drive past Ngorongoro Crater.  We stopped at the scenic overlook at the edge of the crater and spotted 3 Rhino – two adults and a youngster. That was the first of the big 5 and we really hadn’t started our safari yet.  Later in the day we scored:

Giraffe

Rhino (3) (*)

Waterbuck

Thompson Gazelle

Grand Gazelle

Impala

Dic-dic

Cheetah w/ 2 cubs

Elephant (*)

Lion (*)

Lion cub

Ostrich

Secretary bird

Zebra

Wildebeest

Hyena

Jackal

Vulture

Elon

Cape Buffalo (*)

 

By the end of the first ½ day we were at 4:5 (see (*)s above).

 

At the Ndutu lodge, I reunited with the manager, Ainsley.  I had met her two years ago and she  was the one who convinced me to go to South Georgia Island.  She had worked there for 4 years and knows many of the people (Bob the Historian especially) that were our tour guides on the Antarctica trip.  She now lives in Ndutu lodge in the southern Serengeti.  We came in with the photo of the lioness and her cub in her mouth and she immediately grabbed her lion expert and they headed out to the spot and found the Lioness (Bess).  Cub was no more than a day old.

 

Ndutu is much as I remember.  Friendly people, great food, wildlife everywhere.  It truly is one of my favorite places I have ever been.

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We’re a long way from Hawkins, Indiana

I’m sitting in coach on United Airlines flying to London. I’ve discovered something special.  Traveling on Thanksgiving night is very nice.  We’re in a 777 and there are about 40 people on the plane.  I have an entire row to myself.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is – there are 10 empty seats in Business class.  I just finished my strange (but good) pasta dish and I’m working the last of the Mango Sorbet.  It’s actually a nice reminder – the Mango in Africa is good (and very popular).  It’s good to remind the pallet of what is to come.  Actually, I think I whole row in Economy plus might be as good as Business class (and $800 cheaper).  I need that $800 to pay my State Taxes (I think).  I am trying to decide how to spend my time on this 10-hour flight to London.  Sleep, Eat, Write, Watch “Stranger Things”.  I just finished episode 1 and I really want to watch more.  As always, when I get on a plane I have the urge to write.

So far, the trip has gone very smoothly.  50 minutes from home to the terminal. 50.4 lbs on the checked bag scale (the agent let it slide).  50 people on the flight.

Goals for the trip:

  • Step away from the crazy world. (a bit)
  • Chase after some Cheetahs.
  • Take a picture of a live elephant to send to Secretary Zinke (I hate these guys)
  • Reunite with Albert (Best Safari Guide ever)
  • Return to Ndutu lodge. (One of my favorite places in the world)
  • Capture and enjoy Anne’s wedding in Kenya (rare chance to shoot an African wedding)
  • Write (book2, Book3, letters, blog)
  • Win at least one photo competition with Kyle (we have decided to compete on each and every animal). Not sure how we will judge (maybe our collective Facebook audiences).
  • Shoot some video
  • Listen (brought my sound recorder)
  • Think
  • Reflect
  • Piss off another British waitress at London Heathrow.

We’re just crossing the Canadian border.  They didn’t build their wall high enough.  Northern Lights over Hudson Bay.  I had to wake up Kyle to see the awesome green glow.

Arrived in England (Heathrow Airport).  Passport check and back through security (no water).  Good news for the day – found a Dr. Pepper Zero supply inside security at Heathrow.  I wanted to go cold turkey but the temptation is great. Heathrow is a joy (better than Frankfort).  Long layover is better than a missed connection but it’s still rough.  Ethiopian Airlines window opens about 2 hours after we arrive.  We need seat assignments.  “Code share partner” does not equal seat assignments when you check in.  To make the Heathrow airport into the “Heathrow Experience” Kyle and I got separated in our rush to our gate.  Somehow, I started following a guy with a baseball cap (guy looked just like Kyle from the back).  This guy was headed somewhere else.  After a minute or two heading the wrong direction (like Kevin at the airport in Home Alone 2), I realized I was way off track.  Cutting diagonally through the terminal I found Kyle.  I was hoping he didn’t realize I was pulling a Kevin but instead he just laughed and called me something.  All good.

Also – Sarah started me on “Stranger Things.” So far, I’m two episodes in and I’m hooked.  Makes me NOT want to visit the DOE lab in Hawkins Indiana.  I’d love to know how they cast those kids.

We just landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The cross section of people has changed very dramatically.  Addis is a cross roads in Eastern Africa where Europeans, Americans, Asians and Native Africans come to travel.  In my limited experiences, only Istanbul was more multi-cultural.  We got off the plane inside the security perimeter and it looks like we will not have to go out and be rescreened.  Only downside…nothing to buy on the inside – not even water.

The oddest thing that has happened so far:  After going back through security at Heathrow, I heard a strange yet familiar voice in my head.  I scrambled around a bit and tried to determine if I was missing something behind me or just hearing voices. It was faint but I could hear some screaming and yelling – in the distance yet strangely close.  I finally realized, my iPAD was playing the next episode of “Stranger Things” all on its own, secured inside my backpack.  Hawkins, Indiana is a strangely familiar place.   Ethiopian Airlines flight attendant made me turn “Stranger Things” off just before we landed and just 10 minutes shy of the end of season 1.

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