Archive for the ‘Beastiesbeastiesbeasties’ Category

East Africa, Part 13: Ngorongoro Crater.

Saturday, December 4th, 2021

The Ngorongoro Crater is real interesting geologically. It was formed by a volcano that erupted and then fell in on itself. (I like to think it made a “wflup” noise when it collapsed, but I’m guessing not.) It’s the largest caldera not filled with water. It’s natural for a bowl-shaped structure to become a lake but this one didn’t for some reason. It gets weird weather though. Very other-worldly.

We left rather early in the morning, drove all the way up the side of the ridge and then all the way down into the bowl. Our guide told us “Ngorongoro” is the name of a famous cow bell maker, but Wikipedia says it’s onomatopoeic for the sound a bell makes. The Maasai are incredibly tied to their cattle which we will discuss in a further post. One our way we saw things of interest. For example, Sodom Apples! I wanted them to be sinful in some way, really dirty and offensive. Sadly, they’re called Sodom Apples because they grow after there’s been a fire. Pity.

A hammerkop’s nest. A hammerkop is a bird that looks like a duck with a mullet. Because of the pointy front of head and the pointy back of head, it resembles a hammer. For reasons no one knows, the hammerkop builds 100-pound nests. Maybe it’s to show the females how awesome the male is at nest building. The nests are massive.

Look at this fever tree’s gnarled base. It looks like it’s filled with fluid and it’s sinking into the ground. And leaking. And coagulating. It’s a pretty hideous but yet somehow also beautiful tree.

Devil’s Horsewhip! Pretty self-explanatory. Looks like a whip, if you get hit with it all those little barbs hook into you and it probably hurts. Apt name. Alternative names: the No Thank You and the Get That Away From Me.

Guinea fowl! Love ’em. The stupidest birds in existence. They look like jaunty dinosaurs.

A strangler type of fig. A bird or monkey eats a fig and then poops the seed into the crotch of a tree. The seed sends down those long tendrils that, when they hit the ground, lock in and become roots. Then more and more come down. After a series of years, all those roots crush the tree and kill it. By then the fig can support its own weight and becomes its own tree. The fig tree is a dick.

Once we entered the bowl of the former volcano that creates the Ngorongoro Crater the weather was all foggy and there were no trees. As strange as it sounds, it looked very much like Iceland.

A family of crowned cranes came by, that is always a welcome sight.

And flamingoes! This was awesome. Flamingoes don’t hang out everywhere like many other African animals. So it was a treat to see them here. And clearly one of their feeding sites has those red shrimps because these were pink flamingoes. The flamingoes I saw in Israel were white. Same flamingoes, but no red food.

This was unique as well: Pelicans hunting in a group. They formed a phalanx or squadron, whatever military organized group you’d like to use. Then they would glide as a unit across the water, trapping fish on one side.

We saw gnu sitting chewing their cud. They were not looking bright and aware. Which is pretty on-brand for gnu.

We saw a butcher bird. Isn’t a pretty little black and white bird? Yeah, well, it’s called the butcher bird because after it kills its prey, it impales it on thorn trees or barbed wire. For later. It’s a disturbing bird.

Brief break from animals to discuss snacks. Here is the Tanzanian chip brand – Shhoo! Coupla notes. I know they were going for a person’s face with the index finger over the mouth to convey quiet but that straight-up looks like a skull and the exclamation points look like bones. One could deduce that if you don’t eat these chips quietly you may be killed. Maybe not what they were going for. Would have been nice to have a second round of design options. I understand, being a small brand, that they have one bag design and they label the flavor in that yellow area, but I was very much looking forward to spicy tomato and cheese based on the artwork. The chips were fine in the end, very pleasant, but I would like to speak to the company and give them a hand because clearly fresh eyes need to be introduced to the process.

Male lion rolling around! Male lions are solitary so it’s nice to get a sighting of one.

Kory bustard! Large and in charge.

Long-legged something-or-other. It’s got “long-legged” in the name but every time I did a search the websites were like “Did you mean crane?? Or ostrich?? Or flamingo?? Or a different bird that you’re not looking for??” so we’re going to call it a long-legged fancy ploverbird and everyone just needs to accept that. No further discussion.

Zebras walking from over there to way over there.

Jackal on the go. Can’t talk, much to do. Remember that it’s as big as a housecat so extremely cute.

Pic of the crater rim as the sun came out. I really struggled not to take 1,000 photos of the crater rim, the look of it changes as the weather changes and it is spectacular always.

I thought this buffalo was an albino but apparently there is mud that dries light gray and this buffalo had been rolling around in it.

There’s a small lot off to the side for all the tourist vehicles to stop, use the bathroom and have lunch. Many opportunistic birds were hanging around hoping to snag a snack.

My favorite was the large kite bird. Our guide Augustine told us to eat in the car because the kite would fly down and try to grab our food. I said I very much wanted that to happen. Augustine said no I did not because the kite’s talons are super-sharp and when it steals your sandwich it will rip your hands off. I accepted defeat. I mean, look at the size of the child. Then look up and look at the size of the kite. This is not a bird to be meddled with.

It made me happy to see the indigenous people going on safari as well as opposed to foreigners all the time.

After lunch, another beautiful picture of rim.

Bustard! A different, smaller breed of bustard! I liked the way it drew its head all the way back and then extended it all the way forward and it walked.

Gnu and zebra crossing the crater.

An ostrich sitting plumply.

Then I saw my favorite sighting of the trip. I’d never seen anything like it before and it made me so freakin’ happy. There was a jackal going after a vole or something and it did its boingy-boingy hunting technique. I could see the whole thing clearly.

My eyes were full of sparkles for days. Coming up, The Moomins favorite sighting of the trip.

East Africa, Part 11: Serengeti / Olduvai Gorge.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Starting our day we checked out of the fancy-schmancy place and some Maasai tribesmen took our luggage to our vehicles. Many of them wear shoes made from bicycle tires.

As we left the Serengeti I got to see my beloved marabou storks hangin’ out in trees waiting for something to die.

Look at this kory bustard. A kory bustard is the largest bird in Africa that can fly. They can be 40 pounds. That’s a beefy bird.

Look at him with his neck feathers wafting in the breeze.

This day we went to the Olduvai Gorge. That’s the incorrect name. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In 1911, the German entomologist Wilhelm Kattwinkel, while searching for butterflies, stumbled into a gorge. He asked the indigenous Maasai people what the gorge was called. They did not understand what he was saying and thought he was referring to the plants of Dracaena hanningtonii, to which they responded oldupaai. Kattwinkel misinterpreted and mispronounced what they were saying by referring to the gorge as “Olduvai Gorge”.

The oldupaai stalks that grow in the area, they look like this:

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by both male and female agamas. Always nice to see them.

This is unrelated to anything else but I liked these milkweed vines. The leaves are pretty and the pods look like hearts. Or sexy lady legs. Both are valid.

The reason one visits the Olduvai Gorge is because proto-human remains were, and still are, being found there. This map of the continent shows where remains have been found. Apparently it’s because a volcano erupted and volcanic soil preserves bones very well so that path is where the volcanic soil settled after the eruption.

Here’s the history of the place if you want to read it. In order to prevent the images advancing automatically, there’s a play / pause button at the top right. Hit that and you can read at your own pace.

They didn’t have the original bones of Lucy, the famous “missing link” between apes and humans. She was found in Ethiopia and is still there in the Paleoanthropology Laboratories of the National Museum of Ethiopia. This was a cast of the bones. Here’s why she is of such importance from this webpage:

The pelvis exhibits a number of adaptations to bipedality. The entire structure has been remodeled to accommodate an upright stance and the need to balance the trunk on only one limb with each stride. The talus, in her ankle, shows evidence for a convergent big toe, sacrificing manipulative abilities for efficiency in bipedal locomotion. The vertebrae show evidence of the spinal curvatures necessitated by a permanent upright stance.

It was still really cool to stand next to the casts of her bones. The Moomins (5′ 3″) is standing next to her to give you a sense of scale.

As we walked from exhibition to exhibition you went outside to get from room to room. That’s when I saw this male agama. Look at his turquoise leggies! So handsome!

They had fossils of animals that roamed the area. A brief summary was “You know the warthog / antelope / buffalo? They were very much bigger in the past. Hella-big.” Here was the vintage warthog. I loved the ink illustrations.

Here’s its tooth. I found the swirly pattern super-cool. It was bigger than my foot.

This skull is described as the most famous find in the Olduvai Gorge. It’s known as “Nutcracker Man.” It’s substantially larger than our skull. I can’t imagine how big the body was.

I loved this description of this pelvis chunk. I will name my band “Pelvis I of the Pit of Bones” and our album will be called “Sierra de Atapuerca.”

The thing I was most excited to see was remains of Turkana Boy. It’s not the most famous find in the Olduvai Gorge because it was found in Lake Turkana in Kenya. It’s quite complete. I loved the metal armature the museum used to display the skeleton.

These horns. I cannot convey how big they are. They just dominated the whole room. And the skull was elongated. It must have sucked for the proto-buffalo to lug around all day. Perhaps that is why the African buffalo is so ornery, the million year old memories of this neck-breaking bone assemblage haunts them.

Here’s another example of the megafauna that roamed the area. See this giraffe in the process of becoming the giraffe we know and love? You think you know how big that horn is.

Nope. Bigger that that. Massive.

They also had an exhibit on the Hazda, the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe. They’ll probably cease to be in a few years, turning to agriculture. It’s too tempting.

They had one exhibit left over when the museum was small and crappy, before they redid it in the cool style they have now. You can appreciate how crappy it was.

For clarification, it says “Datoga women covering a skin dress with butter mixed with ochre.”

They did have a beaded piece was was really good. It’s so difficult to space the beads out so they don’t buckle and the lines are incredibly straight. I can appreciate how hard this is.

After you’ve gone through the museum you get a view of the gorge itself and it takes your breath away.

They’re still unearthing finds off to the left where the dirt is gray. That’s the volcanic soil that preserved the fossils so well. The layers of dirt are called Beds and you can appreciate some of the layers in that big stone thing called “The Castle.” Basically Beds I and II were clay and silt and have yielded some great discoveries. Bed III is that red iron which doesn’t preserve anything so no finds there. Off to the side is Bed IV, back to clay and they’ve found thousands of tools like anvils and axes.

Once we taken in this view (about twenty minutes of being awestruck), we wandered around the museum grounds. I saw two different types of weaverbird nests in one tree.

This was a memorial for Professor Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael who devoted their lives to studying the zoology of the area and encouraging conservation of the animals and environment. Sitting on top is a juvenile… bird of prey. I’m going to look it up but no promises on the type of bird.

I’ve decided it’s an Augur Buzzard. If I’m wrong don’t come for me.

Next: The only five-star hotel I thought was worth it and the Ngorongoro Crater.

East Africa, Part 10: Serengeti.

Saturday, November 6th, 2021

This is still part of my first day in the Serengeti. Let’s start by remembering that roads are tragic, truly the worst.

The guide and I stopped a lunch area and we were greeted by hyraxes. Hyraxes are distant relatives to the elephant, though you wouldn’t know it to look at them.

The outdoor seating area had a colony of dwarf mongeese hoping someone would drop a chunk of sandwich.

Look at these guys and their intense beady eyeballs and pretty coloring.

Out back there was a leaking water pipe and a bunch of birds were hanging out near it. I am going to assume this is the male and female of the same bird.

Then they went down to a puddle and the male took a wee bath.

All while a hyrax watched, unimpressed.

As I walked back to to the open seating area there was a young hyrax in a tree. Now, this is an important moment. I got very close to take this picture. Could I have gotten closer? Sure, but this is where dumb tourists end up in the hospital because the nature in Africa doesn’t have a fence. You need to use your own good sense to know when to stop doing something and most people aren’t smart.

Euphorbia candelabrum or Candelabra Tree. You’ve seen the houseplant version a million times. They sell them at Home Depot. This is the great honkin’ big version.

That flag means this area has been treated for mosquitos to prevent the spread of disease. I saw a ton of these trees all over the place and every one of them elicited an “Ooooo” because they’re imposing.

Look at that rock. I swore it was fake and put there to make the outside eating area festive. However, there are odd rock formations all over the Serengeti and I hadn’t been paying attention.

As soon as we went back out into the bush I made a point to look for those rocks and they are everywhere, haphazardly placed everywhere. Here is someone’s house with a hartebeest loitering in the front yard and a guinea fowl in the lower left corner. Note the rocks.

Group of houses with rocks.

A warthog.

A harem of impala mommas and babies guarded by their male. When the male gets worn out constantly tending to his harem, another bachelor impala will come in and fight him. If new male impala wins, he takes over the harem. BUT old tired male impala can join a bachelor group, regain his strength, then come back and fight new tired male impala, win and take his ladies back. It’s an exciting cycle full of twists and turns.

Home of Judgmental Twins.

“I’m going to be late to work. Yeah, yeah, it’s the zebra again.”

A male and female ostrich. See how red the male is? He is HORNAY and ready for love.

Tall old male giraffe. Maybe 18 feet.

Whistling thorn acacia. It grows those round hollow orbs with a hole in it so when the wind blows by there’s a whistling sound. Biting ants live in them and protect the acacia from animals that want to eat the soft tender leaves. It’s possible the acacia grew those empty pod things to encourage the ants to protect the leaves.

Elephant standing behind a single acacia. I don’t feel like I need to say it again. Amazing.

When he swats his ears it sounds like someone flapping a large bedsheet. Loved that.

Another one emerged from behind a bit of shrubbery and got super-close to the vehicle so I got to listen to him munch the crunchy plants which I also love. Elephants are my ASMR.

Waterbuck! They are famous for having sit on a freshly painted toilet seat. Here’s a pic off the internet to explain.

Here are my pics. Stellar, as per yuge.

Momma baboons with bebbeh baboons. They were far enough away to be non-threatening. And the babies were cute as hell.

And finally, on our drive back there was a black mamba sunning itself on the road. Luckily our guide screeched to a halt. It was loooong fella.

I find black mambas absolutely terrifying. As we moved forward, the mamba turned around and looked me dead in the face before slithering away quickly. My blood got real chilly and I neglected to photograph it. I got a brief picture as it headed off into the underbrush.

These are the houses we stayed in at this particular lodge. Look at that sky.

Next post: Olduvai Gorge.

East Africa, Part 9: Serengeti.

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021

The Moomins was feeling under the weather which is totally justified because she’s an 85yo woman trekking across the worst roads in the world after flying 20 hours, she’s entitled to feel unwell. She took the day off and I headed into the bush.

We started our day with some zebra.

And then we caught a momma vervet with her day-old baby!

You can hear me in this pic saying “No, don’t go!”

Luckily, she didn’t go far and I could still squee in the vehicle at the cuteness for a little white longer before they split.

Secretary bird! This is what, number four? And there were five in total? One more to go.

Egyptian geese. They always hang out in pairs.

I didn’t take this picture for them. I took it for the palm trees. Palm trees are as out of place in the Serengeti as a big ole oak would be. According to our guide, they washed down during intense rains from the upper part of Africa and found the occasional watering hole and that’s where they hang out.

I believe these are reedbuck.

Look at this tree’s bark! It’s so amazing.

That’s called a fever tree and it’s because it’s always around stagnant pools of water where malaria mosquitos prosper. People drew a correlation between the tree and the disease versus the stagnant water / mosquitos. Hence, fever tree.

Baboon being a guard so the rest of the troop can forage in peace.

A small group of lions making afternoon nappies! Normally I would have been delighted by this sighting but I had seen The Awesomeness a few days back so this was just regular terrific.

There were two types of weaverbirds’ nests in one thorn acacia tree.

A watering hole with the palms and a large quantity of hippos. This was the closest I got to hippos on my trip.

There was one with a janky canine tooth and if you know anything about me, I wanted that tooth. Like, I WANTED that tooth.

Another angle of tooth ‘n’ group.

They have cute widdle pink ears.

After watching their societal workings for a while (alpha males extremely slowly intimidating other males away from the ladies) we drove to another watering hole where we saw all the herons. Like, all the herons. Here were herons in a tree.

Those herons were in tree because there was no more room on the ground. Here’s the watering hole.

And here’s all the herons I circled before I got tired and moved on with my life.

This is kind of awesome. There is an enormous field of thompson’s gazelles. And under the tree on the left there is a hyena. Why aren’t the gazelle running away? Well, the gazelle are very small and very fast so they’re a terrible prey for hyenas. Hyenas can’t run fast and one gazelle doesn’t have the amount of calories that the hyena needs. So the hyena doesn’t chase them, ever.

Okay, this was a big deal. There was an adult and a teenage leopard sleeping a tree. A rare find. Only problem – it was really far away. This far.

So my pictures looked like this.

We hung out there for a while, then declared it a lost cause and drove on.

A male thompson’s gazelle came right up next to the vehicle so I could take some pics of him, he was a cutie.

I took this picture because I grew up watching Nature on PBS and that’s the kind of tree in their logo. It was like seeing a celebrity at the supermarket.

Old male giraffe. You can tell because he’s so dark.

Ugh, this was another thing. I guess if I hadn’t seen the cheetah brothers on my first two days in Kenya I would have been super-psyched to see these five cheetahs. But you know where they were? In another zip code. I mean, what am I supposed to do with this?

Here is my photo of them. Try to contain yourself.

*sniff* So beautiful.

Dik-dik near the vehik-hik! This is a male and I wanted you to see his teeny hornlets.

We circled around back to the tree with the leopards and I decided to hold the guide’s binoculars to the lens of my iPhone and try to get a shot.

This was vastly more difficult than the first time I tried the binoc technique. These were crappy binoculars so I had to balance them on my leg, point them at the tree, hold my iPhone lens near the ocular part but not touching, make sure they were the correct distance from each other and the binocular was focused, then click it as I caught the leopards on the branch. It took about fifteen solid minutes and I got a violent cramp in my arm but dammit, I got it.

Next post: More Serengeti.

East Africa, Part 8: Travel between Mara and Serengeti.

Friday, October 29th, 2021

Sorry for the delay: I worked and worked and then my mid-section felt weird, like back cramps combined with gas aches in the front. That didn’t go away for four days so I looked it up and the symptoms are either pancreatitis or gallstones. Both should probably be dealt with at a hospital so I took myself off to the hospital and hooray, it was gallstones! The only reason I was excited about that was with gallstones you get keepsakes to take home after surgery. (Did I get gallstones? Sure did, three of them. Disappointingly sized. Hoped you’d do better, now-removed-gallbladder.) I took a picture of my bellybutton two days after surgery but altered because not everyone has strong (gallbladder-free) stomachs.

Back to Africa. On this day we spent six hours traveling and there aren’t that many photos so this gives me an opportunity to voice my opinions on five-star hotels. I got to pretend to be rich for two weeks on this trip and it’s… it’s okay. It ain’t nuthin’ special. I don’t know, I thought they would be… SOMETHING. But the places we stayed were pretty much the decent hotels I usually stay at with added chrome handles, stone countertops and fancier sconces on the walls. Someone said five-star hotels are just there to remind the guests that they are above others, that they’re not the peasants, and I really got that feeling. I will give examples. The first place we stayed in, it was considered “glamping.” Glamping, or “glamorous camping,” is supposed to be a fancy hotel room in a tent. Exactly what it was. The problem was there was no heat. In the colder months, Africa only gets to around 50 degrees at night, so no one has heat. Did you know what the hotel did? Under our blankets were hot water bottles wrapped in felt. That’s it. And it was my favorite thing. After dinner I would get excited for Hot Water Bottle Time. So yeah, the food was fancier and the service was vastly more obsequious. but you know what else? In one hotel the sheets were extremely scratchy. In another the wifi broke. In another I got sand flea bites all over my feet. You know where I could have had that as well? In a Best Western. But they would have also had an in-room microwave so I didn’t have to call room service to bring me a cup of tea, them tip the tea-bringer. I can do my laundry, I don’t mind. Show me where the machine is and where I need to put the quarters (or whatever the currency equivalent is). At one point we were driving along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and The Moomins said, “Is there a hotel on the edge of the crater where you can look in?” and our driver (who was Augustine, we had left Jacob by then) said, “Yes, but it is not very nice. It is like a schoolhouse, with rooms all in a row,” and we were like “You mean a motel? We love motels! Why didn’t we stay in the motel on the edge of the frikkin’ crater??” So now The Moomins and I know we are not the intended clientele for five-star hotels, except for one, we’ll get to that one later. That one had many redeeming qualities. But the rest, eh, take it or leave it.

We headed off to the Serengeti. That meant there was about six hours of us just chillin’ in the car,  but we did see some cool stuff on our way out of the Maasai and our way into the Serengeti. For example, a dik-dik! When I’m no longer excited about seeing a dik-dik, check my pulse because something ain’t right.

An elephant showed up on the side of the road. Most likely a male because he was solitary and he had lost a tusk and had war wounds, probably from battling other males.

Jacob took photos of me with the elephant.

We saw a baboon clan. I was whelmed. As I have said numerous times, I don’t like very strong, very agile, very toothy primates.

This is a pretty good cross-section of the towns and villages on the side of the road. One-level cement buildings with hand-painted signs. They dot the whole landscape.

Market day.

One of the seven billion churches I saw. Oooo, Christianity stuck here HARD. First the missionaries brought the churches and no one cared. But then on one side of the church they’d put a school and on the other side they’d put a medical clinic and wooo, they took over everywhere.

There are almost no private cars, they’re too expensive to own and too expensive to keep full of gas. These are van and motorcycle-run communities. This is a grain mill. You harvest all your grain, call this guy and he comes to your home and grinds your grain on-site. That way every farm doesn’t need one, plus you don’t need to cart that very heavy material anywhere, he comes to you.

My favorite travel agency logo. Note the two spare wheels. That’s because of the aforementioned atrocious roads.

Six hours after leaving the Mara, we arrived at the Serengeti and were greeted by a crowned crane couple and their two children! A killer welcome.

Some vultures sitting around.

A bateleur! A bataleur is a tightrope walker in French and this bird-of-prey, when it flies, it tips a little in this direction, then back in that direction like a tightrope walker with its balancing pole. They are easily recognized for their bright red and orange beaks that remind vaguely of candy corn every time I see them.

Some gnu, different-looking gnu since we traveled a long distance so the type of gnu has changed, and a lilac-breasted roller! I loooooove lilac-breasted rollers. They are all the colors.

A family group of elephants. I will mention this until my mouth dries out but do you see that elephant off to the left? Behind that tiny bit of foliage? It wasn’t moving, so I didn’t see it. Giant great monster beasts being stealthy behind a branch. So cool.

The family unit decided to cross in front of us and that was delightful.

And before we got to camp the clouds were being pretty and whatnot so I took some basic pics of giraffes and vultures.

Next: Serengeti.

East Africa, Part 6: Masai Mara.

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

Day 3! We were heading off in a different direction so we had no idea what we would come across. We’d gone to the left for a while, now we were going right. It was our last day in the Maasai Mara.

Woke up, the hippo group from our first day was hanging out at the watering hole and there were baby hippos! To be fair that’s not really true, we didn’t really see any babies on this trip. Baby season was earlier. This was toddler season and that was awesome in itself. So toddler hippos!

A family unit of giraffes. They were fairly close. They’re giant and they don’t make any noise. I was psyched.

Something to note is how much more awesome the pattern on the Masai giraffe is versus other giraffes. Other giraffes have basic polygons, but the Masai giraffe has that maple leaf pattern look on. Major step up.

I learned that as the male giraffes get older they get darker. I saw some older male giraffes that were not only enormous, from certain angles they looked black.

A dik-dik! I love them. They are the smallest African antelope. Their legs look like they’re going to splinter at any time.

Full-grown, they get to be about two feet tall and ~13 pounds.

More fun facts about dik-diks: Their name comes from a sound they make. They have a black spot near their eye that secretes scent that they rub on surfaces. And they have these weird kind of prehensile snoots that help them eat those acacia leaves between the thorns.

There was a group of hyenas resting.

And then they smelled Delicious Dead Thing.

Way off we saw them join a group already devouring some kind of antelope. Note the one on the left on lookout. Everyone else is roaming around, making sure they get the portions of meat they want. That lookout hyena doesn’t move.

Maasai sheep. Check out the jaunty two-toned baby goat making jumpy-jumpies in the center.

Something I had not anticipated was the effortless marriage of the life that the Maasai have followed for eons and modern technology. People living in mud-covered, one-room homes with a boma (lifestock enclosure) made of sticks, and a satellite dish on their roof. Every one of them has a smart phone. Their huts often have generators and solar panels.

And you would see this.

A group of Maasai women selling their wares. The Maasai are known for wearing those woven blankets, predominantly red in color. You can easily spot them.

Okay, the roads. The roads are HORRENDOUS. I would say it’s my only complaint about this trip. At one point we were driving, we went into a dip and I tipped out of my seat and onto the floor. The roads were bad, guys.

All the vehicles have two spare wheels, and some of them had eight wheels, two thin ones at each corner of the axle so if one blew the other one would keep going.

A bird! Really far away! I think it was a bee-eater. You can see it in the upper third. It’s green and yellow.

A pregnant zebra.

Most lodges had a collection of bones their employees had found on their drives around the area. I’m always amazed at how fragile bones are inside the skull, like in the sinuses. I mean, really paper-thin.

Warthogs are much larger than you think they are. You think you know and then you get a rude awakening.

We stopped at a gate so our guide could, I don’t know, check in or check out, I wasn’t really sure. There were bird nests adhered to the ceiling.

I went to use the bathroom because whenever you’re presented with a bathroom you should use it. You’re driving around in the middle of nowhere, it’s dangerous to get out of the vehicle and tinkle on the side of the road. Plus, if you’re me a monkey will pop out of nowhere, scare you and you will end up peeing on the cuff of your pants which is not awesome for the rest of the day. Anyway, I came out of the bathroom and there was a banded mongoose in front of me.

A few more showed up. I resisted the urge to give them pets because while I don’t think I’m the most beautiful person in the word, I think I would look drastically worse with my face shredded.

Then a baboon emerged and my desire to pet dissipated immediately because baboons freak me out. Four hands, giant teeth, and the ability to dart up trees? No thank you and no thank you.

Coming up: The last bit of Maasai Mara.

East Africa, Part 5: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

After my awesome morning drive I went back to the lodge, ate some lunch, took a nap and got ready for my second game drive of the day. I noticed on the path there was some interesting poop. You should always be paying attention to the poop, it can tell you who passed by and when. I saw giraffe (hoofprint included for scale):

And some teeny-tiny pooplets from the dik-dik, the smallest of the African antelopes. We’ll see some later so prepare yourself for the smallness.

As The Moomins and I were walking to the vehicle we walked past reception and I saw something dart out of the corner of my eye. Turns out banded mongoose live under the floorboards and they come out and forage.

I noticed that the doors on our vehicle, you could open them from the inside but not from the outside. That’s the exact opposite of child locks. I couldn’t decide if that was prevent robberies or to keep baboons from getting in. Honestly I would be more afraid of the baboons.

As we were driving out we saw the local eland and her baby. She tends to hang out near the front of the lodge so she’s kind of their resident eland. It’s easy to know it’s her because her horns are misaligned.

We passed some Maasai with their herd of sheep and goats. It still astounds me that these people share the space with wild animals, and not regular wild animals. Advanced-level wild animals, if you will.

Saw some thompson’s gazelle and a Random Other Antelope, the one laying down. I’m going to guess it’s an impala.

Ever-present topi.

Okay, grab a drink and get comfy ‘cuz here we go.

We saw two lionesses sleeping. They were so close to the vehicle, it was a great sighting.

Now remember, this is a conservancy which means the guide can drive anywhere they want. We didn’t have to remain on the roads.

While we were watching the lions take a snooze there was an ostrich who turned to look at me, was like “whatevs” and continued on his way.

There was a warthog. You don’t realize how oddly put-together they look until they turn sideways. Their proportions are all off.

Baboon.

The ever-present cast of characters.

The lionesses rolled over so our attention went back to them.

We were now able to see those pronounced nip-nops on that one lioness. *foreshadowing*

Jacob told us that females tend to stay together for their entire life, so chances are the big one with the teats is the mother and the other one is either her sister or her eldest daughter.

Look. Look at the proximity. Acknowledge it.

This shot is bangin’. The iPhone 12 Plus Max Pro Ultra was doing a damn fine job.

Sister woke up, took a couple big sniffs:

And then had a big yawn.

Which apparently was inadequate because it was followed by another equally big yawn.

Now it was time for drinkies so the two ladies headed off to the watering hole and we booked it in the car to get there before them and get a good viewing spot.

The two ladies sauntered up to a pre-existing lioness to say hello.

The pre-existing lioness said “No thank you.”

Then there was drinking.

Followed by some rolling.

The two original lionesses crossed in front of us making a “hrrhhgg” noise like they were calling for someone. *foreshadowing intensifies*

And out of the shrubbery tumbled a pile of lion cubs, squeaking and being absurdly cute. The cubs went over to the mother lioness, she resignedly laid down and the babies started nursing from her and/or walking all over her face with complete and total disregard for her comfort or personal space.

Are you seeing this???

Are

You

Seeing

This???

This is unheard of. I am surprised I didn’t bust a blood vessel in my eye, I did so much very quiet screaming.

My two favorite shots. I call them “Parenthood.”

Eventually the lion family until wandered off in search of food and I got one last shot as the sun was setting.

So good. Such a good day. I couldn’t wait to tell my new BFF, Gecko That Lives Behind The Mask.

East Africa, Part 4: Masai Mara.

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

This was going to be Day 2 out of 3 in the Maasai Mara. I was blown away by the previous day, I didn’t feel like I needed to see anything spectacular so I went out there with no expectations which made what I saw even better.

I woke up at some unacceptable hour, like 4:30am, so I could go on a hot air balloon. I looooove hot air balloons. If you know me personally you might find that odd since I haaaaate flying. The major difference is there’s no vibration and no lurching in a balloon. You feel safe and secure. It’s peaceful from beginning to end. The only problem is if you want to watch the sunrise over that Masai Mara you gotta wake up before sunrise. That’s pretty much the only downside.

A van picked me up, swung by a few other lodges to collect other ballooners and I didn’t have to wait long to see a beastie friend. As we arrived at the gate there was a jackal resting.

One of the women in the car could not wrap her head around how small the full-grown jackal was. “It’s a baby, right?” she kept saying.

In the background was a hyena loping around doing its best impression of a cryptid. This is how local myths get started. I mean, look at that thing. It could be a chupacabra, it could be jackelope with Marfan syndrome, you don’t know.

When we got to the balloon site they were already blowing it up. According to the balloon pilot this is the biggest size balloon in the world.

I don’t think he was lying. The basket seats 16 – 20 people. In order to get in I had to climb into that top layer of the basket. This guy is demonstrating.

I lightened it so you can see what he’s doing.

We climbed in, lay on our backs and assumed the sitting position on a bench in there so when the balloon was full and they tipped up forward we were already seated. Clever.

Then there were hot flamey-flamies and we were off.

One of the things I love about ballooning is if you’re 20 feet in the air or 200 feet in the air, it feels the same to you. So sometimes we drifted over the ground and sometimes we went way up to see all the way to the horizon. And if you’re not paying attention you’re pleasantly surprised. “Oh, we’ve gone high now.” We started here (where I saw another secretary bird!):

Then we were here:

And then we were here:

It all felt the same (which is lovely and peaceful).

We didn’t see very many animals but I was really there to experience the balloon ride so I wasn’t bothered by that. There was the aforementioned secretary bird and decent-sized herd of gnu. One gnu was feeling the need to run around and kick his legs for reasons only known to him.

I learned a lot about gnu on this trip. Our guide Jacob had strong feelings about the gnu, specifically that they were the stupidest animals known to man. After this trip I am inclined to agree. They predominantly roam around, panic and then cause stampedes for no reason whatsoever. I have a story later in the trip that will solidify their stupidity for you, we’ll get there. In the meantime, take my word for it.

In addition to sharing one brain cell amongst 100,000 they also make a noise I can only describe as a sad, slightly out-of-tune cello. Thousands of wonky violas expressing their monotone emotions. I found a decent example on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nwBvgi3MA8

Jacob said you will almost never find elephants near gnu because elephants cannot stand listening to the moaning. It probably doesn’t help that elephants are so intelligent and gnu are very much not. I could see an elephant saying “I’m going to need these sentient corn cobs to shut all the way up” and walking off in frustration.

We came across two mating lions taking a breather! And the male lion was blonde! That was cool sighting. Lions mate nonstop for two days to make sure it sticks and they take breaks in between because of course they do.

The balloon ride only lasts about an hour at most (sadness). When we landed our van driver asked us if we wanted to see stuff or go straight back to our lodges. Luckily, everyone in the van wanted to see stuff so we went on an impromptu game drive. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of these strangers. Look, you like what you like and you can’t control what you like. And I like marabou storks, also known as undertaker birds. They are kinda gross-looking but for some reason I find them charming, with their naked heads and their pretty feathers and their feces-covered legs (they poop on their legs to keep themselves cool, don’t judge.) We saw some and I got excited and weirded out the others.

We found some zebra. I love how their tails look braided.

There were a mommy eland with her young calf. In South Africa I’ve seen elands and they are huge. They are the largest of the antelopes and the bulls can weigh 2,000 lb. These elands were prettier and smaller and a bit more orange.

“I’m going to spin my head all the way around like that chick in The Exorcist instead of turning around to face you.”

There was a topi. They are extremely common but I always liked seeing them.

Saw some rocks in a dry river bed. Thought they looked cool. Took pictures of them.

Green mamba! It’s a really scary snake because it moves so fast your eye can’t follow it and it makes you feel unsafe. These are the only pictures I could take of it before it disappeared into the grass.

The driver parked in front of a tree. I could not see anything special about this tree so I didn’t know why we had stopped. The driver told us to get out and look at the tree which is usually a big no-no but if a guide tells you it’s okay you can do it. But you should NEVER get out of the vehicle without their permission.

Once I got underneath I saw why we were there. A leopard had pulled an impala over one of the branches and it was still there, decomposing. Shocker: I was delighted.

Have you ever seen an ostrich chilling and doing nothing and then decide to freak out and flounce away? I caught a pic of the beginning of the hysterical flounce.

Another secretary bird! I saw them five separate times on this trip and I’m going to mention all five so get used to it. I think I’ve done three so far. Two more to go.

We saw some hartebeest. They’re very pretty, long-faced antelope with teeny horns perched on the top of their heads. Their proportions are weird but I love them anyway. Don’t listen to the haters, hartebeest.

A few hours after leaving (at 4:30am, I cannot emphasize that enough) I got dropped off back at my lodge and got to take a nap before lunch and an afternoon game drive. That’s coming up next.

East Africa, Part 3: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

I learned what “Mara” means. It means “spots,” referring the sporadic bushes that speckle the area. Other fun facts I acquired:

  • The animals migrate to Kenya in a specific order. The zebra come first because they eat the top of the grass. Next, the wildebeest who eat the main part, then the impalas because they eat the bottom part.
  • Crocodiles swallow stones to control their buoyancy, and
  • Giraffes have healing saliva because of all the wounds they get for nibbling the delicious leaves on the thorn acacia. I saw some different breeds of thorn acacia along the trip, it is not a tree to be messed with. I walked head-first into one and was immediately awash with regret. You really gotta like those leaves to wrestle with those thorns.

The guide Jacob asked us what we were hoping to see. I imagine most people say “Lions, elephants, etc.” I was like “You know what? I’d like to see a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung. I always enjoy that. Or a secretary bird, those are the most dinosaur-y of the birds.” Jacob was like “Alright, unusual, but we’ll see what happens.:

After we left the camp we headed off into the Mara. Normally you don’t see game for a while. Remember, we’re in the middle of nowhere and only by the will of the animals do we encounter them doing their thing. So it was nice to be greeted by zebra.

And a topi and a warthog.

The topi suddenly remembered he left the oven on.

Two male impalas posing near a tree because fashion.

A hole where an animal with large claws, most like a lion, dug to try and extricate a meal.

Basic, easygoing, welcome-to-a-game-reserve-type stuff. And then we saw the two other vehicles parked near each other which usually means there’s something worth seeing over there.

It was a cheetah! A cheetah chillin’ out next to a tree! Because this was a different type of park called a Conservancy your guide doesn’t have to stay on the road. They can drive right up to whatever is happening. The downside is only five vehicles are allowed at a viewing at any time so if you show up late you have to wait for someone to drive away before you can see better. But we were one of the first five so we could get right up close to the cheetah.

Now, while the cheetah is wondering off, guess who shows up? A secretary bird, sauntering past us being all weird with the eyelashes and the fancy.

It even turned its head, like “You asked for me?”

As the secretary bird headed off to do secretary bird things the cheetah caught up with his brother (Jacob told us that bachelor brothers tend to pal around with each other). So now there are two cheetahs.

They’re hanging out in the grass relaxing so we turned and there were two jackals running down the road.

Apparently while we were looking at the jackals the cheetahs killed a baby topi! We didn’t see the kill but we did see the cheetahs afterwards. They didn’t have their meal and they were forlornly cleaning the blood off themselves. You can see it on that one cheetah’s chest.

Where’d the kill go? That nervous hyena over there might have something to do with it.

Near that hyena was another hyena and he was gnawing on something.

Holy crap, a dismembered topi head in its mouth!

This is Jacob. You can see how close we are to the hyena through his window.

You need to understand, you don’t ever see this kind of awesomeness on safari. You have one, two great experiences on your whole trip and that’s it. We’d already banged out an absurd level of sightings and we’d been driving around for three hours. What’s truly amazing was the whole rest of the trip was this level. We saw jaw-dropping things every single day. It was outrageous. I described it as “Nature knew it was The Moomins’ last trip to Africa so she brought out everybody. Nature said, ‘Sure, you want herbivores, you got ’em. Carnivores, no problem. You want me to resurrect a dinosaur? I could whip up a Heterodontosaurus if you just gimme a sec.'”

After this we saw a storm was coming as the sun was setting so we headed back to camp but I as we drove I saw a herd of buffalo and the sunset combined with the storm clouds made for some beautiful photographs.

And as the sun started to dip below the horizon an ostrich walked by. “This sunset pic is nice, but you know what would improve it? Me. Let me saunter on through, there you go.”

When we got to the lodge there was a poster of all the local wild animals on the wall. I’m not one of those people who checks off every animal they see and if they don’t “collect them all” they get angry, but I was shocked when I realized the I had seen 15 out of the 20. I was staring so hard at the poster I almost my new best friend hiding behind the mask to the left.

I stood there and watched him eat some bugs and went to bed to recover from my first day. Little did I know what was in store for me on Day 2.

East Africa, Part 2: Okay, we’re starting for real now. Masai Mara.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

The reason The Moomins wanted to go to east Africa at this specific time of year is because of The Great Migration. It’s impossible to capture in photos because it is hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and and tens of thousands of zebra walking from part of Tanzania to Kenya. It’s a giant cyclical journey. The animals give birth in the bottom part of the Serengeti because the grass is high in calcium, and then they trek to the Masai Mara because the grass there is high is potassium. By the time they’ve eaten all of the grass they can head back to the Serengeti. Here’s a map I found.

You can see smaller herds throughout the year but this when they clump together in these insanely large groups.

I want to bring something to your attention, which is that I did not bring a camera on this trip, only my brand new iPhone 12 Mega Ultra Plus Max, so my pictures look… adequate. If you’re expecting Nat Geo stuff, go ahead and lower your expectations.. I was lent a nice camera by some family friends but I decided once I got there if I had to plug ONE MORE OBJECT into an outlet I was going to punch something. I had this clunky adapter because their plugs are so different from ours and I was charging my phone and my laptop and occasionally my 2010 iPod that I like to travel with (don’t judge, that thing is the bomb), plus I was dealing with all the infernal paperwork that kept cropping up out of nowhere, I was not willing to feel responsible for another damn thing. So all these pictures are from my phone and some of them look like they were taken on a potato. I’m fine with that. There are so many people who go on these trips who bring crazy equipment and take breathtaking photos. I wanted to have a chill time so I sacrificed photographic quality for that. What I recommend you do is take a top-notch pair of binoculars because I ended up smooshing my camera against the eyepiece and taking some decent photos with that. And you don’t have to plug in and change binoculars. Plus you have binoculars.

We arrived in Nairobi and crashed for the night. The next day our Kenya guide Jacob arrived and we headed off to the Masai Mara, which is an incorrect spelling of the Maasai tribe who inhabit the area. The Maasai are predominantly very tall and very thin people who herd cattle. Cattle is everything to the Maasai. From the time they’re born to the time they die, it’s all cattle. There’s some sheep and goats in there, but the cattle is who they are, it’s their everything. We saw Maasai men everywhere, walking their herds from grazing areas to watering holes. Interestingly, they live in the game reserves with the animals and everyone seems to cohabitate nicely. I asked what about the lions and hyenas and Jacob said, “The Maasai aren’t bothered by them, they carry spears.” I was like, yeah, spears are great but, you know, lions and hyenas, I don’t know if one dude with a spear would cut it, but apparently it does. The only animals the Maasai are scared of are the buffalo and the elephants because if they want to walk through your house and break everything they sure can and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Leaving Nairobi I saw some jazzy mini-buses. It was as if the drivers were given an unlimited budget to buy all the vinyl decals and all the blinky lights their hearts desired. I ended up driving behind one that was particularly disco-tastic.

It had a light that zipped back and forth like Kit from Knight Rider. One thing I loved about these mini-buses (called matatu, btw) is that the design choices were clearly very personal and didn’t need to make a lick of sense to anyone else. I looked up “feelanga free” and it’s some kind of cell phone plan. Or a song. Depending on where you look.

On another matatu that drove in front of us it said “boy child” with the “h” backwards and “keep calm and love academics” as well as “Latema Sacco” which is one the major matatu owners (don’t think I knew that off the top of my head, I very much had to look that up).

This matatu drove past us and I snapped a shot real quick. Good luck figuring out what the theme is here.

But the one that totally blew my mind was an Oakland Raiders-themed matatu. Yep. A football team from outside San Francisco. I’ve been to one of their games, tailgated and everything.

https://design-newyork.com/blog/2016/01/04/christmas-the-super-american-all-inclusive-deprogramming-holiday-of-i-think-im-their-hostage-now/

This matatu was better designed and executed than anything  I saw from the super-fans in the parking lot that day. I didn’t get any pics because my jaw was hanging open but luckily there is a following on Facebook and I pulled some pics from there.

A few times I saw guys clinging to the back which, okay, I understand having to get somewhere but unless it’s a critical doctor’s appointment or the bank is gonna close or something I’m not risking my life, I will catch the next one. I found this as an example.

After driving for about six hours we got to the Masai Mara and the lodge we were staying at. We got out of the car and walked into reception where they said “Please have a seat so we can tell you about the amenities and rules here. You can watch the family of elephants in the meantime.” What??

“Yes, they’re at the watering hole, the one with the hippos.” WHAT?? We’re going to get awesome game views immediately on arrival?

Elephants were my father’s favorite animal so The Moomins had a moment. She started crying and said “It’s like he’s here to greet us!” I, being the extremely sensitive person I’ve always been, said “Is…is it going to be like this the whole trip, with you crying at every elephant? Because that’s going to get very old very quickly. Listen, I’ll let you have this one Hallmark card moment, ‘look at the stars and remember I’m always with you’ crap, but from now on you’re keeping it together. You can do some light weeping but this level of crying where you soak your mask with tears, that’s done.” Come on by for all your grieving needs.

Back to the elephants. Look at the little guy drinking!

I saw some high-end binoculars sitting on a chair so I held them up to my phone and I got some quite nice pics of the elephants and the hippos. You can see the details like the wrinkles in their skin.

Next post: More Day 1 in the Masai Mara. I’ll have to split several of the days up because we saw so much. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to rush through it.