East Africa, Part 18: Tarangire.

January 21st, 2022

Lunch! We stopped at a rest stop with a group of monkeys. We had to make a concerted effort to keep the monkeys from grabbing our food.

Nip-nops in full effect.

Festive junk also on display.

Cute baby plotting shenanigans.

While no one was paying attention, an orange was stolen.

After spending most of my lunchtime growling and pretending to be big and threatening to protect my sandwich, we headed back out for more sightings. And get ready, because I accomplished the impossible. I took good photos of not one, but TWO lilac-breasted rollers.

Gaze. Gaze at those photos and rejoice.

There was a hammerkop bird hanging out on some bird-poop-covered rocks.

Then we saw a sausage tree with a lioness in it. Bonus: She had a tracking necklace on.

She was pretty far away so I used my extremely difficult technique of holding up the binoculars to my phone to get a picture.

These I did photoshop a bit because the original looks like this:

And old dark giraffe drinking in the position where they are most in danger.

An impala looking like it’s walking across water.

Birds looking through herbivore poop for snacks.

A family of elephants coming down to the riverbed to drink. Look at the baby! He’s at least 300 pounds but he looks so cute and wee.

Far away in the distance there was a tree with another long-crested eagle.

I got such an epic cramp in my arm squished down in my seat doing my binocular technique only to realize when editing that the FREAKIN’ CREST WAS BLOCKED BY A BRANCH. The No Crested Eagle. I included the original pics along with the photoshopped ones.

I helped that I saw a black-backed jackal shortly after. It soothed my aching arm to see him trotting by.

A Von der Decken’s Hornbill.

Who went up into a tree to spend time with its mate.

Look at these red-and-yellow barbets. First of all, so pretty. So fashion. Secondly, they cock their heads to the ground to listen for grubs and bugs which looks cute as hell. It looks like they’re saying “Pardon?”

And now your doctor-recommended dik-dik of the day.

Big ole lizard. Real big. In the reeds by the river. Looked like it would be delicious grilled. Not ashamed to say it.

A pair of black-backed jackals doing whatever it is they do.

This is a great example of authentic East African clothing. A woman buys about four meters of a patterned wax resist fabric called ankara. She makes the majority of it into a skirt and with what remains she makes a headdress.

The variety of ankara fabric is amazing. I saw piles of it and never the same pattern twice. And a lot of the pieces are geometric, which I loved.

The schools are two small for all the kids so the older kids go in the morning and the younger kids go later in the day. Why that order? Well, hyenas are active in the early morning so the kids that are too big to be prey go earlier. Africa! Different to the US!

And finally, the sun setting with the Great Rift Valley. There are storks, there are guinea fowl, there are monkeys. It’s so awesome.

Coming up: The island of Zanzibar.

East Africa, Part 17: Tarangire.

January 7th, 2022

More Tarangire! This will be a very bird-centric post. We start with a profoundly crappy picture of a long-crested eagle. It is an extremely serious-looking bird and that intensity is ruined completely by its dinky mohawk. A fleepy-floopy mohawk which looks vaguely like this.

And I got some terrible backlit pictures of this eagle. Enjoy.

I made all the shots I took like this into a collage.

And here are some professional shots I found online. I made them into a collage as well.

Why did I take this picture? I must have had a reason. Was it the bird in the center? It’s a well-composed picture so I’m including it even though its original intent is gone.

Impala.

Dik-dik (smallest antelope in Africa) with an elephant (largest land mammal in the world) in the background.

Weaver bird weaving!

This picture has a bee-eater in the center. I zoomed in so you could see more betterer.

Its spouse came over with a moth in its mouth, swiped the moth back and forth against a branch to rip off its wings and ate it. That was pretty cool to see. Then they sat together.

Waterbuck! You can see the toilet ring pattern clearly here.

Is it truly one of my Africa posts if I don’t include an atrocious picture of a lilac-breasted roller? I could photoshop them to bump up the contrast and the color but I would deny my true garbage photography skills.

We stopped at a camp that had a lookout point of a river and we got to see an enormous group of buffalo making their way there to drink.

They had a good example of how slowly baobabs grow.

One of the people working at the camp said, “Would you like to see an owl?” I’ve had problems controlling myself when I see owls in the past so I tried not to dry-heave with excitement.

He walked me past the bungalows, I was taken to a tree and there he was. He was small and the lighting wasn’t great but I could see his tiny perfection.

 

He was a wee little scops owl with wee little scops horns and he was sleeping and I seriously could have stood there all day and bask in his wee little preciousness but the same guy said, “We have bats too. Want to see them?” YES. YES I WOULD.

He took me to a different tree and way up were sleeping bat packets! Fruit bats!

We also saw a squirrel. I did not get terribly excited about that. No disrespect to squirrels, but after owls and bats everything seems banal.

Out of nowhere, ground hornbills showed up! The super-rare ground hornbills! They’re super-rare because they lay their eggs right on the ground (hence the name) and everyone trods on them. So I’m not empathetic to their plight because that’s just silliness, but it was still cool to see them a ways off.

We saw some monkeys sorting through poo for delicious treats like seeds.

Vultures eating a dead snack.

The red dirt on the tree is where elephants scratched themselves.

I haven’t even made it to lunch so in the next post, lunch and beyond.

East Africa, Part 16: Tarangire.

January 2nd, 2022

Remember how sad I was when I had to say goodbye to my gecko bff who lived behind the mask? I started my day with a new friend!

I’ve found whenever you eat outside in Africa you will have several companions gunning for some of your meal. This breakfast was no different.

A termite mound! They are big. I had The Moomins stand next to it for scale.

I got so excited at seeing this stork with a red beak or something. Spoiler: It’s a mop resting against a branch.

We had to stop at the gate to Tarangire Reserve and I saw a lilac-breasted roller. I love them. Even if the picture looks like an actual pile of crap (as this one does) I will always post it.

There were a different kind of sentient mango bird, this time they had black heads.

Daily dik-dik! Today focusing on that back end with those fabulous spindly legs.

See this bird? Isn’t it a pleasant-looking bird? Well, it’s called a butcherbird and that’s because it impales its food on thorn bushes and barbed wire for later. So sweet!

“Tarangire” means “River of warthogs” but the national park is most well-known for its elephants. I was there for one major thing and that is the baobabs. I had only seen one or two baobabs by themselves and this place is covered with them. They are a fantastic tree. Each one grows differently from the next. You know how when you see a whole grove of oak trees of the same age, they all look similar? Baobabs do not.

Fun facts about baobabs:

– BIG. Real big. Biggest, actually. Not tallest, those are California Redwoods. But biggest.

– OLD. Real old. These were over 1,000 years old. Baobabs can live to be 3,000 years old.

– SLOW. Real slow. There’s a picture coming up that illustrates how slowly they grow and mature.

The bottom parts are all chewed up because elephants come by and rip off bark and rub on the trees. There is a myth that baobabs have a lot of water in their trunks but they actually die and their hollow hulls collect rainwater which people and animals can drink. But the baobab itself doesn’t retain water.

To get a sense of scale, please note the monkey on that branch off to the upper left.

I mentioned the strangling fig in a previous post. Here’s one in action. It’s dropping roots down to the ground and building a whole structure around the baobab. In 100 years it will have killed the baobab and assumed its shape.

My favorite baobab pic.

Baobabs are thought to disappear overnight but what actually happens is they die and dry out from the inside and then one day they collapse.

Even though Tarangire is known for its elephants we didn’t see a ton of them. We did see this one. Our guide Augustine said the one without a tail had it ripped off as a child by a lion because they’re the only ones strong enough to pull that off (no pun intended).

Pile of herbivore dung with a slender mongoose. The poop gets rifled through by everyone because there’s always undigested seeds and edible treats to be found.

A yellow-necked spurfowl.

A Von der Decken’s Hornbill. The males and females are differently colored. This is a male or a female. One or the other, I’m sure of that.

Gnus going for a dip.

And then we saw it. The Moomins grew up in Africa, she organized tours, went on tours constantly, but she never saw the other thing Tarangire is known for – lions in trees. Lions don’t normally climb trees, that a leopard trait. Here they do, but only female lions because the males are too heavy. And we saw one.

I must warn you, I was so blown away by this that I took a ton of photos and I couldn’t decide which ones I liked best so I’m posting a bunch of them. Plus a tree that a woodpecker did some serious work on.

A solitary lioness hanging out in a tree. Doesn’t look like much, but it’s highly unusual.

Final pic for today is a cloudy sky with a pond.

Coming up: More Tarangire.

East Africa, Part 15: Traveling to Lake Manyara.

December 12th, 2021

On our last day at the Acacia Farm Lodge, The Moomins insisted on taking a picture with this massive palm.

And I thought this furry pine was neato.

This was our view from the breakfast balcony.

While we were eating I saw mangoes! Flying mangoes! With beaks! They’re actually called lovebirds but I like to imagine them as sentient tropical fruits.

I neglected to mention something I’ve never experienced before. While staying at the lodge there was a pervasive sound of a man speaking into a loudspeaker coming from the valley and when I asked someone what it was, he said it was a church revival. Not to be disrespectful but the preacher sounded like an infomercial spokesman, he had the exact pattern of speech. I kept waiting for him to say, “But wait, there’s more!”

We mostly drove all day and sometimes it was through towns. Here’s what some of the cabs look like.

Although some people still go old school. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Let’s talk about the Maasai and their livestock, specifically the cows. It is their everything. I mentioned earlier that they drink the cows’ blood and milk for nutrition, they use the cows as currency, the little kids make cows out of clay as toys. Seriously, everything. One day we were driving down the road and we saw a group of men running past us. Not running, more like jogging with intent and in perfect synchronization, similar to soldiers running in bootcamp. Several of them were carrying machetes and others were holding beautifully-designed bows and arrows. Our driver Jacob (this is back when we were in Kenya with Jacob) asked one of the men where they were going and he said a man had stolen some cows and the group was going to get them back. I said, “Oooooh noooooo,” because even though I’m a middle-aged white lady from New York I know not to mess with the Maasai’s cows. I guarantee you they 100% killed the thief. And there were no police anywhere to be found which made sense. The cow situation was about to resolve itself, no need for them to get involved.

Here’s a picture of a Maasai man walking his livestock from one grazing area to another.

Market day! You can get anything you need on market day, from bananas to shoes.

Supplies get around Tanzania via truck and many of the trucks had copious designs relating to bible quotes or Jesus. I caught this one from the back:

And as we drove by I took a picture of the side.

Here are two other pictures I found on the internet.

In the early afternoon we arrived at our hotel, located next to Lake Manyara with a view of the Great Rift Valley. That’s the mountain range-looking thing in the back there. The Great Rift Valley is where two tectonic plates are smooshing together and pulling apart. I find the movements of the crust of the earth fascinating so I spent a good period of time staring at it.

The hotel had animals sauntering around, doing their thing, and it was up to you not to mess with them. I’m sure someone gets hurt every so often for being real stupid and walking up to a giraffe. The one animal you can get close to are the gnu because, as I have mentioned before, they are as thick as a living thing could be. I think you can eat them and still be considered a vegetarian because broccoli is smarter. Here are the gnu on the path to the pool.

In order to get to the pool you walk on that path and the gnu will anxiously run away. I’m like, “You have horns, guys. And hooves. There’s many of you. Why you fleein’?”

There was a warthog mere feet from me, eating vegetation and getting all tangled up in its tusks. Not a pretty eater, but charming.

I liked these puffs on what appears to be a fever tree.

The gnu (which look different than the last two types of gnu because, again, we’ve traveled many hours and it’s a whole different ecosystem) look like they have straight horns when they’re young.

The moment when I lost all respect for the gnu was during this afternoon. There were large puddles, really deep, like 4′ deep, but the mouth wasn’t more than three feet across. So they looked like regular puddles but they were a lie. Lying puddles. The gnu would regularly fall into them and then pop right out like corks. Two gnu friends were walking and one fell in, bopped right out and continued walking like nothing happened. His friend stopped in front of the puddle and… didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be reunited with his friend but he couldn’t figure out how. The concept of walking TWO STEPS IN EITHER DIRECTION flummoxed this poor fella so he decided his best course of action was to stand there and bleat helplessly. Eventually other gnu came up and he witnessed them walking around so he followed them but it’s entirely possible he could have stood there forever until he wasted away from sheer stupidity. It could happen.

After enjoying sitting in the outdoor lounge and watching the sun cross the sky we headed back to our bungalow, escorted by a group of impalas heading that way. Which is where we caught the monkeys.

If you look over to the left, that’s our front door. And that is a vervet monkey.

I call these three pics “Uhhh, yeah, we didn’t think you’d be back so soon.”

We waited patiently because getting bitten or scratched by a monkey would really put a damper on our fun times. As the sun started going down the impalas and monkeys drifted to wherever they spend the night and we got to enjoy the sunset in peace.

Next post: Tarangire, home of elephants, baobabs and lions that climb trees.

East Africa, Part 14: Ngorongoro Crater.

December 7th, 2021

You might think, “Jessica, after the little jackal bounced around trying to kill a vermin, how could you see anything that topped that?” I shall show you. But first, an amuse bouche of warthogs. This was a parent and the three kids.

You can’t see the third little warthog because as he came running over his parent bolted at him and bashed their forehead against his. They both stopped dead in their tracks. I don’t know what the little warthog was planning but his parent was having precisely none of it. It was startlingly aggro.

After about thirty tense seconds, the warthogs resolved their issue and everyone went back to munching grass. Another warthog joined them.

They saw us and there was a lot of wary staring. You can appreciate their white whiskers.

Here we go with the magic. There was a large watering hole with buffalo and a variety of birds.

While I like buffalo fine, I was excited to see the ibis. There was the glossy ibis and the sacred ibis. The dark black one is the glossy ibis and those are lovely. Here’s a pic I found online.

BUT I love the sacred ibis because – surprise! – it’s got a featherless head that looks like a skull.

In addition to the two types of ibis and the cowbirds which are the white ones there was a family of ducks paddling around.

It was an amazing array of animals. You can see the flamingoes in the background.

I was so entranced by this that I didn’t even notice the solitary hippo off to the right! Unexpected hippo!

Who yawned!

Like, are you serious with this? And then a hammerkop showed up! Like, directly down from the side of the vehicle. If I had dropped something out the window it would have bonked him on his hammer-shaped head.

Now was the time that I considered singing “Circle of Life.”

After absorbing this majestic scene for as long as we could we began our trip out of the crater. I had to take one more shot of the crater rim, this time with flamingoes.

Some Egyptian ducks. They always look a little insane because of the dark rim around their eyes and the bright orange/red irises.

Impala.

A small unit of waterbuck chillin’ under a tree.

A hammerkop on a branch.

A monkey doing whatever cheeky acts he’s decided on.

We headed up the side of the rim. This is partway up:

Up:

Up:

And the top.

We left the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Augustine had to hand in a tag or pay a fee, I was not paying attention to that. What I was paying attention to was the troupe of baboons off near the exit. Didn’t like that. Then two of the big ones peeled off to try and steal from the cars. Definitely didn’t like that.

Okay, this is dumb. Tourists, what are you doing? Do you not see the teeth? They’re very pointy and visible. Some of the baboons have babies, you see them, right? You’re gonna get mauled and I’m going to be on the side of the baboons.

As we were driving out we passed the baboon troupe and watched them for a while (from the safety of our vehicle because we’re not stupid).

There was a little baby who was full of sassafras and the adults were very patient and accommodating.

The big male heard a sound in the shrubbery so he ran over and shrieked at whatever it was and it scared the crap out of the teenagers so they threw themselves over the side. I should not have laughed. I’m saying I shouldn’t have. I very much did though.

We returned to the room to find out Veronica had left us a sweet message.

But what she did in the room was above and beyond.

It’s abundantly clear the lodge does a lot of honeymoons. I especially liked that instead of an ampersand* there was a dollar sign. It’s close enough, I knew what the intent was.

I took the message on the coffee table and redesigned it as well as leaving some socks.

After I got back from dinner I saw this.

I could have stayed there forever, eating fresh vegetables and communicating with my beloved Veronica through leaves and petals but we had to leave the next day.

Next post: Lake Manyara.

East Africa, Part 13: Ngorongoro Crater.

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 12: Acacia Farm Lodge.

November 14th, 2021

Acacia Farm Lodge was the one five-star place that I actively liked. First, they grow 75% of the food they serve and they offer you a tour of their farm. There was always a massive spread of salads which delighted me. I’ve never been so psyched about cole slaw. I found two pics off the internet to show you what I mean.

Second cool thing about Acacia Farm Lodge, you get a butler. A private butler. Which, if you’re me, requires a whole lot of getting used to because I’ve always had to buttle myself. Ours was the second from the left. He had a biblical name, something like Ezekiel. We’ll go with that. This pic is pulled from the lodge website.

The butler idea is actually pretty good, you only communicate through one person. You want a wake-up call? You tell your butler and he comes to the room to wake up you in person and bring you your desired morning beverages. I needed our laundry done because it had been over a week and things were getting fragrant. I told our butler and it was done. He escorted my mother from place to place so she didn’t fall on the stairs. My personal favorite aspect was I ordered a cappuccino one night for dinner and I didn’t like it, it was bitter. Ezekiel noticed that and then next night he brought me a different drink without me asking for one and asked me to try it. It was a latte and it was lovely. I don’t need a butler ever again in my life but it was fun to feel so fancy for a few days.

Between every suite (which was a little house) there were coffee plants.

I took the private farm tour and I learned a great deal. Get ready to also learn a great deal. They do not use pesticides to keep bugs of their plants. They use a mixture of cow urine, tobacco, ashes, rosemary and mint oil. Despite the use of the urine, the plants doesn’t smell bad at all.

I noticed this tree and grew quite fond of it. It’s from Australia and it’s gray and fluffy.

In the first field I met their scarecrow and nope. That’s a hardy nope from me. Screw the birds, I wouldn’t enter that field alone for any reason.

Lettuces.

The naturalist who was taking me around asked me to identify this plant and I couldn’t. It’s a tobacco plant.

Cabbages. Look how pretty. Aesthetic cabbages.

Bananas. They grow all year round so they are always served in the dining room. So that big thing dangling there? That’s not the flower. Those are leaves protecting the little white flowers underneath. When those purple leaves all fall off then the bananas are ready to harvest. The plant is completely cut down (it’s not a tree, it’s a very large plant) and then they plant a new one. In nine months, that one is ready to harvest. They keep that cycle going all year.

 

After they separate the coffee beans from the fruit, they use the leftover fruit to fertilize other plants on the property. Nothing is wasted.

Papaya trees. I liked how this one had arms. “Look, unto you I bequeath my papayas. Eat them, and you will never be bereft of beta-cartene.”

Mangos were out of season so I only saw the bushes.

I got to eat a passion fruit that had fallen that day. Lemme tell you, the passion fruit you get here in the cold Eastern side of America? It is like sawdust in your mouth. Fresh passion fruit is a slimy tart treat and I want all my desserts to incorporate it.

There was a magical tree, a candelabra tree, but very very old. I got to stand under it and it was a very Lord of the Rings moment. I waited for some aryan elves to emerge and be cryptic and off-putting.

The candelabra tree is poisonous but it doesn’t kill you. It makes you temporarily blind if you get some of the inner contents in your eye. The Maasai, who keep their animals in a circular paddock called a boma, smear the juice of the tree on the sticks that make up the fence. When carnivores come to try and kill the Maasai’s livestock, they invariably get some of that juice in their eyes, and they figure out maybe don’t try to steal those animals any more.

At dinner, instead of using flower arrangements the farm decorates with the food from their gardens.

And now began the most romantic relationship of my life. The Moomins and I came back to the room to see the coffee table decorated with flowers and leaves. Veronica the housekeeper also left us a note. It gave me tender feelings in my heart.

Next: The Ngorongoro Crater and the continuation of my romance.

 

East Africa, Part 11: Serengeti / Olduvai Gorge.

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.

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.

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.