Monthly Archives: March 2011

Tracking the Mountain Gorillas

About 4 million years ago, a monkey-like creature lived in the heart of Africa that would be known as the common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. Having such a close common ancestor so recently in terms of evolution is like sharing a grandparent- humans and gorillas share over 98% of the same DNA, making us genetic cousins really. Estranged perhaps, but no one closer in terms of relatives. Continue reading

Masai Mara Safari


Posted from Jinja, Uganda- the source of the Nile!!!

The Masai Mara is essentially the Kenyan Serengeti- all that divides the two is an arbitrary line and a multi-hour journey via Nairobi unless you are some sort of non-human animal. Amazing stuff out there though, and here is a small fraction of what we saw-

Not one but two gigantic lion prides, and a lioness who was busy stalking her prey until the safari trucks cut in front of her (illegal but unfortunately common around here). I’ve never posted a picture of a male lion before though and this guy was so wonderfully lazy I can’t resist!

A hyena and a bunch of baboons and Maribu storks (closely related to their cousin in Europe who winter down here) checking out the food near a hotel’s compost heap. Not exactly natural, sure, but I love seeing multiple species together so here we are!

A cheetah panting in the midday sun as you surely would if YOU had to wear a winter coat in the middle of summer.  Such a beautiful creature, we were so lucky to get so close and share some time together (though he spent most of the time panting like a dog…).

The Masai Mara has th most giant hippo pools I have seen in my life.  You rarely see them out of the water in other parks because like us they can sunburn, but here it appears to be no issue.

This guy excited me because after this point new species are always exciting- a hyrax! This is doubly exciting actually because this rat-looking thing is actually the closest related relative to an elephant- I know, what?!- so they’re rather neat to see in order to contemplate the strangeness of evolution.  After all, whatever strange beast thought to give us the elephant gave us the hyrax, and what kind of world would we be in without that?

A bona-fide zebra crossing.  I really crack myself up sometimes.Last but not least, a whole mess of Masai giraffes.  We saw about 12 in this herd, two fighting each other and the rest just cruising through the underbrush with their heads sticking up like periscopes.  I’d never seen anything like it and that’s the great thing about safaris, you never run out of amazing things to see!

Summary of Tanzania

Written from Kisumu, Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria, where the Internet is too slow for a picture so you get a summary instead to inform y’all I’m alive.   I never finished all my Tanzanian adventures but I’ve been in Kenya a week and going into Uganda tomorrow, so time to discuss them too soon!

Tanzania was my first country in East Africa and I was here roughly two weeks with the time about evenly split between Zanzibar and Arusha (and safari in the surrounds). I enjoyed it and am glad I came here!

Highlights:

Stone Town: between wandering around the maze of alleyways and feel for the place that could be described as nothing other than truly exotic in its blend of history and culture. I met people who told me they were glad they hired a guide here which made my scoff, as I assure you half the fun is getting lost and the tourist area is perfectly safe for wandering anyway.

Also I was advised to head to the northern beaches to avoid the ever-prevelent honeymooners on the island, namely Nungwi, and will further extend the recommendation as it was a great beach with great diving. I would also highly recommend a stay and/or meal at Langi Langi as it is a great spot with the best kitchen on the beach!

Third, it turns out you can fly from Zanzibar to Arusha for ~$130 with an airline called Fly540 (provided you buy the ticket from an agent, the Internet is perplexingly actually more expensive!) and takes an hour- in comparison you can travel 14 hours via ferry and bus for half that price. Let’s just say I was rather happy with my decision!

Ngorongoro Crater was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, as nothing compares to standing in the middle of the world’s largest caldera and admiring a lion pride on the roadside! So much wildlife here you don’t know where to look really.

Also perhaps it’s because anyone who ends up in East Africa has a story to tell, but I’ve never met a more lovely group of both travelers and locals than in Tanzania. From Ethiopian aid workers on holiday to Aussies traveling to Cape Town from Istanbul via Libya and Sudan to the young man selling Cokes at a cafe who just wants to share his story, I never had a day without an interesting and unusual conversation!

Lowlights:

It costs US$100 to enter Tanzania as a US citizen, and other nationalities are generally only charged $50. Such double pricing happens for many countries in the world if you have a US passport (part visa reciprocity, part idea we’re made of money) and while I’ve been able to avoid severe gauging so far in my travels it doesn’t make you gulp any less.

You certainly can arrange a safari in Arusha as there are literally people begging you to sign up for them, but if you’re on a tight-ish schedule and/or traveling solo it would likely be best to do some advance research. The thing is there are countless safari companies in town- it’s currently the “great way to make money” sorta thing- and all are happy to set you up on a standard 3 night package for about the same price but knowing the quality for your money can be difficult! The Internet doesn’t seem to help these matters at all and most people seem to just know which company to sign up with via word of mouth. So if you’re in such a position and wondering here’s the company I went with and can recommend- safari-experts.com

There is a real bitch of a woman traveling north from Tanzania to Germany on her motorcycle right now, and I recommend avoidance should you run into her.

Finally, while I liked Nungwi a lot I don’t know if I will be heading back there in, say, ten years time because there is currently a battle going on for the soul of the village and I fear too much how it will turn out. The beach is now patrolled by “beach boys” from other African countries who essentially prostitute themselves to Western women for the week (apparently Italian women are into this for reasons I cannot phathom), and while it’s tolerable the first time when a guy sits down next to you to say he’s loved you ever since he first saw you on the beach three days ago (response: “nice try, but I arrived yesterday”) it gets understandably annoying, and the fact that all the local kids know to shout “jambo! Dollar?” not because they’re begging but because someone gave them one once is heartbreaking. The ugly tourists of the world are well on their way to destroying a part of it.

Random Details Noted:

It is 1500 Tanzanian shillings to the dollar, and the highest note they issue is 10,000TSH. You go around this country feeling like a baller.

There are a lot of kids everywhere around here, but it’s particularly noteworthy in the narrow alleyways of Stone Town. Ok yes we all know just how much birth control is being used on this continent, but it’s one thing to notice and another to see a mess of kids playing on practically every streetcorner.

Surprisingly a common breakfast meal around here are “pancakes” which are actually crepes.  This action is heartily encouraged.