Monthly Archives: February 2011

Safari-ing in Ngorongoro Crater

About 2 million years ago any of our ancestors who were in northern Tanzania were in for one hell of a fright when the then-tallest mountain in Africa- yes, taller than Killimanjaro- collapsed in on itself in a monstrous explosion that left behind a caldera with 100 meter walls all around and 100 square miles in the middle (yes, I’m mixing units, but it’s easier to remember this way). Today the bottom of the crater attracts animals from the nearby Serengeti and beyond and allegedly has the highest concentration of predators in Africa- in short, a safari well worth doing! Continue reading

The Tale of the Nungwi Turtles

Once upon a time in the faraway magical island of Zanzibar where the palm trees sway over turquoise water lived two brother sea turtles, Green and Hawksbill (though we shall show a picture of Mr. Green Turtle here)-

Hawksbill and Green were happy to spend their days swimming and feeding off the coral reefs of Zanzibar- Green enjoyed seaweed very much, athough Hawksbill had a taste for seafood- as did their turtle cousins froom around the world. Lately, however, things had begun getting dire indeed for the Turtle family as the people also discovered they loved the beaches and waters just as much as they did, and built houses with lights that confused baby turtles searching for bright moonlight to follow to the ocean after hatching. Things were even worse in Zanzibar, where some people had the idea of hunting the turtles for their flesh and shells, and Green and Hawksbill and all their sea turtle cousins found themselves in a frightful category known as “endangered.” If nothing was done, the sea turtles might disappear from Zanzibar forever!

To solve this problem Green and Hawksbill went to the people with a proposal- “if we are going to live together we need your help. No more hunting us for our shells and meat and make sure your fishermen know this, and we need a place for our children to grow until they’re older and for our old to go into retirement when they can’t defend themselves anymore.” The local people agreed, and founded the Nungwi Aquarium and Turtle Conservation Project on the northernmost tip of Zanzibar. They taught the fishermen how rare the turtles were and even offered to pay for live turtles brought to them instead of killed, and converted a natural saltwater lagoon into a protected pond for the turtles’ offspring.

Some of the turtles were very big, like the 100 year old Nelson Mandela who could no longer survive in the wild due to an injury from a boat’s propeller, but most of the 70-odd turtles who lived in the pool were 1-2 years old. How they looked forward to the full moon once a year where they would graduate from the pool and be released into the ocean! (It’s in just a few short days actually, so they are really getting excited right now.)

The little turtles who were less than a year old were also looking forward to graduating into the big pool soon from their small one. Until then they had lots of visitors to pass the time, who were more than happy to provide neck massages the turtles were secretly crazy for.

The baby of the aquarium was Mr. Lucky, who was only a month old. Some fishermen had arrived on the beach the morning he was born to discover a nest had hatched, but by then he was the only one left. Because only a small handful of turtles survive infancy as most are eaten by predators, he was very lucky indeed to be found!

As a final note, Green and Hawksbill want to remind you that their story isn’t one with a “happily ever after” yet, and we don’t know if it ever will. But they hope very much with the help of the people who are their friends like in Nungwi (who do a stellar job with aa $5 entrance fee well worth it) their children and ours will still be able to play in the turquoise blue waters forever.

Paradise Found: Nungwi, Zanzibar

I’d only booked the first night in Stone Town, and due to the ongoing music festival this meant no room at my guesthouse and I’d have to switch to another the next day. But there was no power, it was hot, and the northern beaches were a 1.5 hour drive away, so which would you do? Exactly.

It was at this point when realizing the option to head north I realized there are two types of people in the world:

1) Those who would spring for a private taxi for the journey isolated from the rest of the world around them, comfortable but paying a LOT for the privilege, or

2) Those who hear the local bus aka dala dala goes the same place for much less in the same amount of time, and all you need to do is negotiate the hectic African market and negotiate a price all in the name of adventure.

Well seeing as those who opt for #1 are probably still freezing to death in the northern latitudes you can guess what happened next. Prompt negotiations down from US$15 to ~$4 ensued (upper end of what I was told was good for non-locals beforehand, locals pay about 30 cents), and I found myself the only white person on a secondhand Korean bus with several more people on it than there were seats for talking to my seatmate about Obama. (This is East Africa, where everyone liked Bush to the end, so imagine how much they love president whose father is Kenyan!) It’s quite easy to find an adventure around here!

That said, let’s get to some pictures of Nungwi-

When not spending a serious amount of time focused on relaxing (hard work especially after just wrapping up a thesis!) I’ve spent an awful lot of time diving over the past few days. I hadn’t done it since two years ago in Thailand so had a refresher course in the basics first- finding out under 18 meters of water you don’t remember what to do is not the way to go!- then one dive yesterday and two today. Great fun and prices, and I recommend the creatively named East Africa Divers if you find yourself in Nungwi!
Now diving is not a particularly graceful hobby, and someone with less than ten dives under her belt falls doubly so in this category as I don’t quite have a handle on my buoyancy underwater and tend to religiously stay close to the divemaster in a manner that resembles a kid in school too nervous to stray far from the teacher on a field trip. But the ocean is very graceful and I can’t believe it took me two years to get back to doing this- bright corals, colorful fish, cool stuff like stingrays and octopuses and schools of fish that react as one being when you stick your hand too close to them (the last activity is much more amusing than it should be). The sound is something else too underwater as you can hear much more and it sounds like the entire ocean is singing. Very fun indeed!
Sunset on the beach before a storm- it’s been very stormy lately in Zanzibar although the rain itself misses us and all we get are huge gusts of wind that can cut out the power and send the dive boats home early (it wouldn’t matter underwater of course, but not fun to sit in the boat under such conditions waiting for the divers!).  It does make for lovely sunsets though…

And finally because it’s getting on dinnertime and I’m getting hungry here’s dinner from two nights ago, grilled jumbo prawns because I prefer it to the lobster (although neither meal exactly breaks the bank- I think this was a little over $10 cause it was at a fancy place).  This is at the restaurant of my current hotel actually which I can also recommend called Langi Langi (both the hotel and food are amazing!), which I ended up at when the manager took a liking to me and gave me a 40% discount on the room.  I know, I hate me too, but the trick about this part of the world is you always  have to ask!

Now looking at these grilled prawns is making me very hungry, and the dives today have made me tired.  I’ll chat with you all later!

My First Day in Africa

It took 24 hours to get to Zanzibar but the thing I noticed first was the heat (second being, of course, the $100 visa fee for US citizens). It’s summer here, meaning hot and sticky on the tarmac, and discovering the power was out in Stone Town due to a windstorm so there would be no fan or A/C at my guesthouse wasn’t going to be very pleasant. It was probably a good thing I was much too tired to notice the heat that night! Continue reading

Well, I’m Off

1) I am now a Master of Science.  Physics actually.  It sounds way cooler than “Doctor Cendes” ever will to be honest, but there we are.

2) Tomorrow I fly to Zanzibar and begin the journey.  The flight actually leaves in seven hours so it’s probably high time I get to bed for a few hours of shuteye, as Pittsburgh-Washington Dulles- Addis Adaba- Zanzibar is going to be one hell of a 24 hour commute.

3) I’m still online because while my bag is packed I’m still doing what can only be called “electronic packing,” ie getting music onto the iPod and movies onto the 16GB memory stick.  Unlike last time I am now ditching the paper books in favor of the Kindle, but that electronic packing can happen anywhere.

4) People always ask if I’m nervous and the answer is before a trip like this of course you are a little, you’re traveling to Africa so how could you not be?  But it’s one thing to be nervous and prepared and another to be terrified and that’s what this is, nervous a la right before a violin concert starts.  I know in the end I’m prepared so it’ll all work out, and a touch of nerves are healthy in making sure I’m properly prepared is all.

Ok, movies seem to be transferred well.  Catch you guys on the flipside!