The Eka Hotel is quite luxurious. More so than we need. You have to go through security inside and out. The doorman wears top hat and tails.
18 Sep Sun--- I slept off an on, more off than on but am still refreshed a bit. The bed was rather hard. Had breakfast which was a massive buffet with things that are unusual from our stand point but did like the chicken giblets. Otherwise, I stuck with eggs, fruit and nuts, and a croissant.
Our driver guide for the journey to Maasai met us for a short briefing. One of the young men's name is Barack. Then we explored and lounged about the premises which are a walled armed compound. Wish there was something close to walk to but we are on the outskirts of town with no parks, stores, anything. There is a building next store that used to be a mall but is vacant. The sun was bright, the temperature moderate, air dry.
We had a couple of Tusker Lite beers and split a very rare cheese burger. It looked like the meat had been on the heat for 30 seconds on each side. I like my meat rare but wondered why they even bothered to cook this. ($30) Afterward we crashed for a while.
Later, Priya Sukhtankar joined us for dinner in Spur a restaurant with an American Indian theme decor. They serve steaks, hamburgers, and what they think are Mexican dishes. It was a pleasant evening. Although this was the first time I had met her, it was like catching up on old times. Priya is the daughter of Raxa and Shub who knew Roger when he worked on Ascension Island. We stayed with them when we were in England a few of years ago. She, like her father, is a physician and is living in Nairobi while she works for the Gates Foundation traveling to seven countries teaching how to measure babies. The program she is working is to figure out why babies are dying from malnutrition even though there is no obvious medical reason for this to be happening. A theory they are working on is that the mothers are so depressed that they are not properly feeding their children because they have too many to support and no help doing so.
19 Sep Mon --- didn't sleep. Up early to start for Maasai Mara. Wow what a ride. We stopped for a photo op of the Great Rift Valley and to be pressured into buying stuff. There are three or four little towns along the way that slowed us down a bit. At one we stopped for gas and again was pressured to buy. About half way to the NP we ran out of pavement. What was supposed to be the road is a 100 mile rut that the vegetation has been removed. Fred, our driver/guide took it at 40 mph. I wasn't sure my head would still be attached when we arrived and couldn't understand why we were going so fast.
Fred was trying to get us to the lodge before lunch was over. We made it by 20 minutes. After 6 1/2 hours of shake rattle and roll, we had a quick lunch, checked in, rested, then met for our 1600 safari. As we approached the vehicle, the rain started and immediately cooled everything down. Despite that, we had a good safari, seeing 12 species of mammals and 12 of birds. The highlight was a mom and baby lion eating on a fresh kill. This is why I wanted to come back to Africa.
The biggest annoyance is every stop along the way means beating off the hawkers. I am at a point in my life that I neither need nor want any trinkets or jewelry no matter how much I like them. Tourists have made monsters out of these natives. This is something we see where ever we travel.
20 Sep Tues--- This morning's sunrise over Maasai Mara was lovely as we meandered through the park. We saw a bunch more birds but only one other mammal, the side striped jackal. We did have better luck taking photos. After a late breakfast we caught up on Internet and took naps. Boy did that feel good. I was sick over night with a sore throat and sinus issues and didn't sleep well.
It seemed like it was lunch time too early. I ate light then took another nap before our afternoon drive when we added several new birds and a serval to our list. The bumpy rides get old but are worth it.
Ashnil Camp is really a lodge with canvas walls. Our tent had three single beds, a shower, toilet and sink. Each night we were provided with a hot water bottle in the bed to keep us warm that stays warm all night. Mosquito nets are attached to each bed but we never saw any mosquitos so the nets weren't needed. The power is provided by their own generator and is shut down three times a day including midnight to 0500 which means Roger couldn’t use his CPAP. A " torch" is in the room to get to the toilet in the middle of the night. The water for showers is heated by fire so only available certain times of the day. We had to be sure to be through with our showers by 2100. It was all sort of primitive luxury.
White Cap beer is pretty good. Not sure why it is served in such a big bottle. They do reuse glass bottles like we used to in the 60s before plastic. Speaking of plastic. Just like other developing countries we have visited, the roadsides in places are strewn with plastic bags and bottles. When you see the shanties you realize recycling is not a priority. I believe the roads would be cleaned up quickly if a token was paid to turn in bottles. I have seen where plastic bottles are being used to build houses. That could also be a way to clean them up and to replace the shanties. Just my thoughts. I am sure there are plenty of people with ideas and energy to see them through.
Wifi is provided in the reception/lobby area but wasn't very reliable. We were able to get a few things done before giving up. Reminded me of home.
There are 50 tents but only about a quarter were occupied while we were there. That is one of the reasons for picking this time of year. The meals were all buffet and very artistically presented. Your choices were international which makes sense since the guests were from various parts of the world. I tried to keep to familiar things just to keep my gut calm.
You don't see a bunch of garbage in this park. But then, you don't see any one who isn't with a guide in a safari vehicle. The trails the drivers use are a mess and I have mixed feelings about that. If getting there were easier, there would be too many people which could stress the animals and the habitat. During the great migration, the lodges are packed and I would not like to be there. There were about a half dozen safari vehicles (mostly a specialized Toyotas) while we were there from different tour companies. Ours was Africa Journeys but it looked like they all basically operate the same way. Two drives a day, morning and afternoon, hoping to find as much wildlife as they can.
21 Sept Wed --- It was a rough start to the day. I had sore throat, stuffed ears and sinus. Roger was suffering from diarrhea. For breakfast he got a visit from the camp doctor and a script for cipro. He had brought some but since it was available decided to get more in case he gets sick again later in the trip. By time we got back to Nairobi he was better. I was in worse shape though and just wanted to crash. Our room this time was next to a hall entry door which was quite noisy and there was hammering which made sleeping difficult. (Dinner at the Spur 20 tip at camp 30 to driver 40. Bell hop €5)
The drive from Ashnil Camp was even worse than going. We went on a different route because we were supposed to stop at a Massai village. Neither of us were up to it. I would have liked to see one but knew I wouldn't want the stress of folks trying to sell stuff. There was a lot more traffic on the highway, too.
22 Sep Thursday --- After getting up at 0600 four days in a row it was good to sleep until 0700. I was still tired but my throat wasn't as sore. We had a leisurely breakfast then checkout to wait for our driver. When he was fifteen minutes late I had the door man make a call. Nathan was stuck in traffic so another driver was dispatched. At the airport people were getting off buses and walking. The driver said we also had to do that to go through security. Everyone but the driver must exit. The vehicles are scanned as the passengers and their personal items go through scanners. At the entrance to the terminal is another security station. Then, one again before the gates. I was warned that Nairobi is a dangerous city. Yet, what was on the international news since we got there was a bombing in NYC, cop shooting a guy reading a book and the consequent riots in Charlotte, a cop shooting a guy because his car broke down in Tulsa. I don't like being in any city but didn't feel any less safe in Nairobi than cities in the US.
The flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar was uneventful. Processing through immigration was challenging and weird. They never asked for our yellow fever cert or the photos for the visa. Six people are involved in passport control. We met Meena, the tour guide and were hurried through changing money. Only to realize later that we should have gotten more. We would be paying for all meals except breakfast.
We were settled into our room at The Gassy Country House by 1600 which gave us time to rest. The facility is faded glory especially compared to what we had in Nairobi. The portion sizes for dinner were enough that we will be sharing meals. We had a couple of Three Horse beers which are made in Madagascar. Tried to save half of Roger's sandwich for the next day but even after a swap, we couldn't get the fridge to work. There was no hot water for showers.
23 Sep Fri --- Had a rough night because of my sinus infection. Had breakfast in hotel. It was very French, crepes and bread. Left at 0830 for Andasibe. On our way through Tana we stopped at a pharmacy for cough syrup and vitamin C. Traffic was terrible. Local busses are are overcrowded to the point that the back doors can’t be closed. We passed the US embassy compound. Not sure why we need such a big complex for such an seemingly insignificant third world country.
There were no public restrooms along the way so we had “bush parties”. This became a theme throughout Madagascar. The few public toilets we came across were too disgusting to use.
Brick yards spring up throughout the countryside. Clay from the rice patties and mud from the red dirt are used to hand make bricks. They are then stacked in huge mounds with holes left for fires. Long logs are set on fire and depending on the weather the fires burn from three days to a week.
We had a short time to get settled into our posh rooms at the Andasibe Hotel before our night walk along the road outside the park where we saw a bunch of tree frogs, a few chameleons, and two mouse lemurs, the smallest lemurs.
Dinner was at the hotel where we shared a fish dinner which was quite good.
24 Sep Sat --- During our early morning walk in the Anasibe NP we saw a few brown lemurs high in the trees but not well enough to get a good look. The indri indri were a bit more cooperative and we all managed to get good close views. Varuna Resort has an island with lemurs and we were able to interact with them as they jumped from shoulder to shoulder. My favorite thing so far. We had lunch at the resort, shared a beef stir fry. Tropical flowers, especially azaleas were in full bloom. It was a long ride back to Gassy Country House in Tana. By time we got checked in and ordered our meal it was 2000 and I was exhausted. Roger and I shared what they call chicken croquettes but looked suspiciously like chicken nuggets to me. We also shared a couple of the large THB. The second was served at room temperature. I can't stand warm beer. We asked for ice and were provided a few cubes. Not nearly enough for the large bottle of beer to be made cool. After asking again, we were provided with enough. I am spoiled when it comes to cold drinks. The more I travel the more I see that ice cold beverages is an American thing.
25 Sept Sun --- Another early day. Up at 0430 for a 0700 hour long flight to Morondava. This was the day my body finally said "no more". When we got to our hotel, Baobab Cafe, I stayed while the rest of the group took a short boat ride to a fishing village. The cough syrup I had taken earlier and my instrumental music in my iPad allowed me to sleep, soundly. Roger woke me at lunch and we shared a bowl of crab soup. After lunch, Roger strolled to the beach and I slept until 1630.
This is another hotel whose glory days have passed. It has everything we needed but is rather shabby. Our room had a balcony that faced canal with natural vegetation. The setting was quite pleasant and far enough from the heart of town so that it was not so noisy.
While having a beer in the restaurant area a young man came up with some fresh lobsters that looked good. We shared one for dinner ($12). The day of sleep did me good. I started feeling like a human again. I just needed to get rid of the cough.
26 Sept Mon --- 0500. Yuck. First stop was Baobab Alley. They are huge. Got some photos of local life. My hacking continues. Voice control keeps taking over my iPhone trying to call Liz.
Children call out "photo" and when you show them the image on the screen they smile big. One little boy hogged all the photos. The road was rough as promised but not as bad as the road to Maasai. We road in the lead car so the dust wasn't too bad. We strolled in the Kiringy Forest and saw two new kinds of lemurs, a foosa, and several birds. It was hot, in the 90s. When we got to the ferry, the last vehicle in our convoy had not made it. The ferry is a raft pushed by a tug whose motor sounded as though it would break at any time. I sat in the car where it was shady and had a breeze, but it smelled bad because we were parked in front of a restaurant that was cooking stinky food. This ferry ride that was billed as an hour really took closer to three when you include the wait.
Once we crossed, we stopped at the Mad Zebu for lunch that we had pre ordered. That is an important point. There is a saying here, "Mora, mora" which means "slowly, slowly". Even when meals are ordered in advance it can take a while to get served. Roger and I shared a zebu meat ball in a lentil soup which was pretty good. The meal was less than $5 plus a cold beer for about $2. That is the standard for what we have been spending on our meals.
We finally made it to L'Orchidee hotel in Tsingy at 2000, hot tired, sticky, and dusty to find that we did not have AC. There were little fans over the beds that provided a bit of air movement. Also found that the power in the rooms except for the fans goes off at 2200 making it difficult to recharge all the gadgets.
We shared a fried fish dinner that had way too much breading for my taste. At this lodge your choice is yes or no to the meal they prepare.
We all had been looking forward to being in one place for three nights to be disappointed by the accommodations since other places have been so much nicer.
27 Sept Tue --- At least we were able to sleep in until 0700. Breakfast like the day before was just bread and cakes. No protein. We took a pirogue to a cave and then to see the burial sight of some of the original settlers from Indonesia. There were eleven birds added to my list.
During our free time, I sat on the porch catching up with this narrative, listening to soft music, and watching the staff cross from their behind the scenes work area next to our room carrying linens, etc.
I can't believe that we made it through the Petit Circuit of the Tsingy National Park. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would agree to something so treacherous. For me the steep spaces between foot holds was the most difficult. Roger had problems getting through the narrow passages and had to get down to his knees to pass. Anyway, we both made it.
Dinner was a steak and potatoes. The original choice was goat stew. I don't like lamb and didn't think I would care for goat. Luckily there were a couple of steaks available and we took one to share.
Over night the humidity was oppressive. It brought back memories of growing up in Florida without AC. The sheet was used to sop up the sweat. I see why they change the beds every day.
28 Sep Wed -- After Roger left for more hiking in the Tsingy, I slept until 0800 when they turned off the power to the fan. The grounds of this resort have a lot of familiar vegetation. There are plumeria, hibiscus, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, Jerusalem thorn, mother-in-law's tongue, oleander, and copper bushes. Fruits are citrus, banana, papaya, fig, mango, and guava. There are also a lot of small butterflies and a couple of different lizards. The pests are large flying roaches and flies. Mosquitos were thankfully scarce.
29 Sep Thurs --- Survived the third night in the sauna. Glad to be up and out early. It was a long day on a miserable road. We again stopped at the Mad Zebu for lunch. It is amazing to have a gourmet restaurant in Belo Tsiribhina. If I had planned this trip, I would have left the Tsingy portion out. It really wasn't worth the discomfort of the ride and the un-cooled rooms. It gave us a view of life in the bush which is rough and sort of sad from a western point of view. I wonder how they feel about the intrusion by the tourists. The children love waving at us and seeing their photo images.
The highlight of the day was the sunset at Baobab Alley. Here the children offer you the opportunity for a "photo". As soon as you snap, their next word is "money". They have learned to play the tourists. Innocence is gone. We made it back to Baobab Cafe at 1900, but by time we got checked in, had our meeting, ordered our meal, and we're finally served, it was after 2200. The AC felt great! My first night without coughing.
30 Sep Fri -- What was supposed to be 0600 departure turned into 0830 because the bus which had come from Tana was dirty and needed to be cleaned. It was a thirteen hours journey on some paved but poorly maintained roads. We did see a man patching some holes with a manual asphalt roller. And later there were a couple of work crews building a new section of road. That got me thinking about how few workers there are with road work experience.
Our "sandwich" lunch was basically a loaf of bread with not enough ham to cover the surface. Another meal with almost no protein. Along the way was a gold mine, very unlike anything I had ever seen or read about. They pound holes in the granite then sift the dust to get about a decigram a day. They also pan in the river in a more traditional way.
Our last bush party of the day gave us the opportunity to watch the sunset over the highlands, reminiscent of the big sky of Montana. It seems weird to see glacial moraines at the equator. We went through dozens of small towns and villages that look deserted after dark. Not sure if they are in their houses since the windows are shuttered instead of glass.
It was 2000 by time we got registered into our rooms at the Royal Palace. Luckily dinner was a buffet ready for us. There was duck, fish, and tongue. Real food. Add a couple of THB and the bill was about $20 for both. The room was spacious and luxurious but the towels were ratty and there was no desk or chair. The wifi was great.
Along the route I started noticing solar panels on some of the country houses. It is the only power some have. A few were just large enough to charge their phones which surprisingly are everywhere except the remotest bush villages.
1 Oct Sat --- Left hotel at 0800 after a breakfast of crepes. Still no protein. I don't understand why eggs are so scarce with the millions of chickens we saw running free range. There was a brief city tour, a couple of photo ops including a brick yard, then we got to Ambositra and L'Artisan Hotel for lunch. We shared a pizza for $8 while being entertained by a dance troupe. Ambositra is known for it's crafts. I bought a small mask for my collection for about $7.
The restaurant was very nice and it sure was great to have fully operable toilet with a seat and paper. There is a lot of brick making in that area. This was a frustrating day with hawkers.
More bad road prevented us from getting to the NP in time for the night walk. The countryside is full of farms including a lot of rice paddies in various stages. Some being harvested while others are in a tilled clay state where they are using the clay to make bricks. They way they bake the bricks is interesting. Thousands of dried bricks are stacked leaving holes about two feet high underneath for the fires. Large logs are used and the fire is kept going for three days to a week depending on the weather. Charcoal is another industry that abounds in the highlands which supplies many cities with the fuel used for cooking. Just as we in the US have decimated our mountain tops to get to coal, Madagascar forests have been destroyed for charcoal. It does, however, keep the eucalyptus trees under control since they are invasive and were introduced from Australia along with pine trees from the US.
It is sad to see so many children not attending school. The poverty and barely subsistence life will continue. It is not unusual to see a very young woman (girl) carrying a baby on her back and another in her belly. Many of the children and some adults have only rags to wear and even though we saw a lot of laundry drying and women washing clothes, most are still dirty. This was the dry season and everything was dusty and dirty so it only follows that the children would be also.
Again, it was late when we arrived at the Centrist and we had to delay the night walk until the next evening. Another late dinner after another long day on the road.
2 Oct Sun --- We got up looking forward to an afternoon at leisure after a walk in the Ranomafano NP. The walk was in a rain forest and was nicely shaded which kept the temperature down but the humidity was high. The "walk" turned out to be mostly vertical on rugged terrain. Several times I felt I had reached my physical limit but of necessity had to keep pushing on. Roger also had difficulty and kept finding places to sit. This was the most strenuous, arduous, stamina testing, experience I have had in many years. It is good that I didn't know ahead of time because we would not have signed up for it. I thought the walk to Crocodile Lake in Vietnam was bad. It was a piece of cake compared to this. We did see three types of lemurs: the golden bamboo, Milne-Edwardsi sifaka, and red bellied and several birds. Our guide, Jerry Emil, has worked in the park since its inception in 1984. Although not formally educated, he has a wealth of knowledge gained from practical experience and by working with the researchers from various universities. He was with the team that discovered the golden bamboo lemur that is endemic to the park and is one of the reasons for the status of NP.
For lunch we ate at the restaurant at the park entrance. It took a long time and by time we got back to our hotel we only had 90 minutes for our leisure time. We collapsed on our beds and slept for an hour or so and then it was time for the nocturnal walk. Once we got to the park we had to wait 30 minutes for the group members who had opted for an extended afternoon walk. It turned out they were in the restaurant sipping tea. One of the petty annoyances of group travel. We saw a brown mouse lemur and several chameleons. I got some decent photos of them plus a brown tree frog and a leaf litter butterfly.
We didn't get finished with dinner until almost 2100 but I was in bed before 2130 totally exhausted. At 0130 I realized that the power was off but couldn't remember if that had been the case the night before.
3 Oct Mon --- out early again. On our way to Isalo we stopped in Anja NP where we had the opportunity to see communities of ringed-tailed lemurs. The babies jumping about were adorable and I got some good photos. Lunch was at the restaurant by the park we had min sao which was pretty good and easily divided.
Along the way we stopped for a photo op and were quickly over run by children. You could see them coming down the terraces. They were all dirty and in clothes that we wouldn't even consider rags. Many, especially the younger ones had runny noses and the snot was smeared on their faces. They were cute, friendly, and happy to see us but it was obvious that there was something contagious going around the village.
Before we moved on, Meena handed out biscuits to them and that made their day or perhaps their week. It is upsetting to see such poverty and unhealthy life style being perpetuated by the absence of education. I wonder if we tourists are helping or hurting.
Although the itinerary said we would arrive In late after noon, it took until 2000 to get to Sartana Hotel and until 2230 to get through with dinner. I hate eating that late and on that night, ended up losing my meal as I gagged no my pills and every thing came up.
This is another place that shuts its power off at night. It was also a tent. The wifi was impossible.
4 Oct Tues --- Got up early and tried wifi. It worked and then after our daily ration of morning bread we were off to Isalo NP and a hike up the mountain. Luckily it wasn't as bad a hike as the one in Antisibe NP but was still strenuous. While walking I reflected on the fact that it had been five months since the cancer surgery, ten months since my foot surgery, and nine months since my frozen shoulder. What this time in Madagascar proved to me is that I have recovered from all the medical issues of the past year and I am in better shape than I had imagined.
Lunch was a rather disappointing and expensive ($10 for one brochette and salads that we shared) barbecue in the park cooked especially for us. It was 1530 before we finished. That is a long time since 0630 to go on a piece of toast. There were a few lemurs to keep us entertained while we waited.
At least we did get back to the hotel at a decent time and ordered our meal. I wanted to eat early and didn't really care if others joined us. I was determined to not to repeat the previous puking fiasco. Some of the group weren't happy because we had just eaten. We set the time for 1900 and as per the norm didn't get through until 2030.
The wifi didn't work and we ended up in bed by 2130 before the lights went out.
5 Oct Wed --- left Sartana about 0745. This was the last time we all had to load onto the bus for a long haul. Shortly after we got going, we stopped in Ilakaka which is gem mining area specializing in sapphires but also other gems and fossils. The shop had pretty, simple pieces of jewelry that seemed to be reasonably priced but I don't need any jewelry.
Meena had asked us to fill our empty bottles with tap water and along the way we handed them out to the kids. The area we drove through was a desert in a drought and water was almost nonexistent. She also gave cookies and candy to the kids. One mother asked for soap and shampoo. An older gentleman entered the picture and got the children to line up quietly to await their turn. While we were taking photos, I looked up to see a young man in his twenties using a cell phone to photograph us. A little twist on who is the subject. In other villages we stopped long enough to give one person the the treats and water for her to distribute.
For lunch we split a pizza ($4) at La Terasse in Tulear. It was about 1700 when we arrived at La Mira in Infati where we had to go through the check in process and meal ordering. I needed a toilet so left Roger to stay for the time. The norm is whatever time you say you want to eat, you can be sure it will be an hour to hour and an half until you are finished.
It was great to get to a place before dark so we could enjoy the facility and watch the sunset over Mozambique Channel leisurely. And, the wifi worked rather well.
7 Oct Thurs -- leisurely day. Took a couple of naps, strolled on the beach. While walking on the beach we stopped to watch a man and his young sons bring in their catch. He looked up and said, "I speak English". I replied that was good. His next comment was "give money?" There were others trying to sell stuff that didn't interest us.
In the evening a local group sang and danced for us. Ariaries were running low and we needed money for tips so Roger cashed in $20.
It was a good last day in Madagascar.
7 Oct Fri -- The day started pleasantly with a 1030 departure for a stop in Tulear at La Terasse and another $4 pizza. Then on to the airport for a flight back to Tana. We had to pay €50 for our extra piece of luggage even though two pieces of ours are smaller than one piece of everyone else's. Another learning opportunity. Luckily Nancy had some euros to add to the few I had.
We got a couple of hours sleep after supper (min sao $4 and a couple of beers) at the Gassy Country House. At midnight we left for the airport. The flight was delayed an hour but it really didn't matter since we were scheduled for a five hour layover in Nairobi.
8 Oct Sat --- arrived at Nairobi Airport at 0630. The first thing we did was head for the ATM. It was good to get back to that modern convenience. A chicken sandwich, fries, and 2 Coke Zero was $13 at Hardee's. Wifi worked great. Two ice cream cost $10.
I had been concerned about Hurricane Matthew and the damage it could have done. Heard from Jeannette. She is fine. Still have a few other folks to check in.
Arrived in Dar Es Salam and was met by Muhammed from Global Volunteers. He led us to an ATM for some local currency then drove us to the hotel Slipway which meant driving past all five million inhabitants I think. I took a long nap while Roger figured out the currency. There was a grocery next door and we did a bit of shopping for toiletries and snacks (~$35). They actually have Diet Pepsi. I bought a new pouch for day use treks to replace the nasty one I had for $13.
We spent the following two weeks in Iringa Town with Global Volunteers working with the University of Iringa.
On the weekend we climbed the Isimila Stone Pillars and Gangilonga Rock.
22 Oct Sat --- Now to safaris. It felt good to be getting out of town and into the bush. The Iringa airport is very basic. It only takes two hours to drive to Ruaha so I wasn't sure why we needed to fly.
After we got in the air I was glad we flew. The view was stunning and informative. I could see how little of the landscape was destroyed by developers. Although I did notice slash and burn areas.
Upon arrival in Ruaha we were greeted by Ben, our driver guide who provided us a picnic lunch before starting our wildlife drive that lasted for five hours. I kept thinking how lucky I am to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing at that very moment. We ended up seeing 29 different birds and 10 mammals. The highlight was seeing two leopards in a sausage tree. Ben had never seen that and was just as excited as we were.
As we turned into the Ruaha River Lodge we had to wait for a bull elephant to clear off the road. We were met by Graem, manager. It is a place so different from Iringa. This is why we went to Africa. Life is good. No wifi.
Before dinner some of the guests gathered around a fire with Graem and his wife Candy for friendly chatter. It was quite pleasant and relaxing. Graem and Candy are from Scotland and have been running long does in TZ for seven years. They came to Ruaha in June.
23 Oct Sun --- The river is almost dried up and quit flowing a few days ago. That means that the animals gather in the remaining pools. Behind our cabin various birds took advantage of the easy fish pickings. Impala took their chances as did the yellow baboons. Hippos wallowed and bellowed throughout the night. The morning drive was another awesome experience. What is it about being in nature that gets to my inner being. I could do this forever.
We saw a pride of lions who were stuffed after feasting on a Cape buffalo. There were four babies but they didn't cooperate with my photography efforts. Ben deposited us at the hill top restaurant for lunch. That was quite a climb, but the view was worth it.
Our idea was to explore the grounds in the afternoon but it was too hot and we tried to nap instead. It was too hot for that, too. At 1630 it was time for another drive. This time we added several more birds and crocodile to our list of observed species. The two day total: birds - 58; mammals -16; reptiles - 2.
Again, before dinner we sat by the fire for a sundowner with Graem and Candy. They are very easy to talk with. They are perfect for this kind of job. 🇹🇿
24 Oct Mon --- Ben picked us up at 0830 for a full day safari. Early in the drive as we were rounding a curve, there was a leopard. We didn't get any photos because it moved behind the brush. The other guides were not so lucky. There were a lot of elephants, impala, baboons etc. Our big hits were giraffes fighting, lions mating, and a spooked giraffe almost running into our vintage 1950s Land Rover. Ben stopped just in time. New today --- Birds - 16; mammals- 1; amphibians - 1; reptile - 1.
While getting my shower I slipped and fell on the slick concrete floor. I knew right away that my left foot was seriously injured. Roger came running and managed to get me onto the toilet before I sent him after ice and help. It seemed like it took forever but in a few minutes he was back with the ice and two Maasais. They got me to bed. Roger was embarrassed that I was just wearing panties and a bra. It had been difficult to even get them on. Every time I sat up I got dizzy and I hadn't wanted them to find me on the floor again. With the help of the Maasais we got me dressed and iced down.
Graeme came running down, too. There wasn't really anything to be done in the bush in the middle of the night. My big concern was getting to the toilet and I solved that by using a standing towel rack as a walker.
It is ironic that we had climbed all manner of rocks in the last few weeks with no injuries and I fell in a bathroom.
The Maasais stayed close to our cabin throughout the night but I did fine. By morning I had figured out that I could put some weight on my foot.
25 Oct Tues --- Graeme worked with our travel consultant Rhia, Safari Air Link, and local contacts to get us on a plane that eventually ended in Dar Es Salaam. There were six stops and any time we went below a certain altitude the plane heated up like a sauna. I was rather miserable by time we landed. I asked for a wheelchair and one was promptly provided. I breezed through security but Roger spent thirty minutes explaining his rocks.
Traffic on the way to Aga Khan Hospital was horrendous and reminded me why I hate cities. It took over an hour. We were immediately seen by an admitting physician who ordered an X-ray. Roger had to pay first. The X-ray showed a break in the fibula and a bruise on the tibia. After Roger paid again, a cast was put on that went up about halfway to my knee from just behind the ball of the foot. We tried to get crutches but the hospital didn't have any. I was told to take Zeradol, keep my leg elevated, and come back to see the ortho on Fri. After the doctor put on the cast she said "Polé" then asked if I knew what that meant in Kiswahili. She went on to explain that it is their way of expressing that they are sorry for my pain. After, I noticed how many "polés" and "sorrys" I heard. All said with such compassion you felt the sincerity.
We arrived at the Urban Rose hotel close to 2200. There is a steep incline with no rail and no wheelchair or crutches. It took three people and a luggage cart to get me to our very large and spread out room. We asked for a small bed to put next to the bathroom. The dining set had two plastic wicker style chairs that I could use to get a much needed shower. I was exhausted in more ways than one.
26 Oct Wed -- Roger went down for breakfast and ordered one from room service for me. He also arranged for someone to help find crutches which didn't take long. They gave me a bit of mobility but took a few attempts to get used to a rhythm. On the way up from lunch, the manager stopped us and called Barack our contact in Nairobi who had been waiting for an update. We hoped to leave on Friday after seeing the doctor to get back to our schedule. That meant that we would just miss Selous Game Reserve. The manager could hear my conversation and had a lightbulb look on his face when I was describing how difficult it had been to get to the room. Maybe he will come up with a plan for future guests. Lunch in the hotel restaurant was good but the spaghetti we shared for dinner was disappointing. It was supposed to have mushrooms but was loaded with garlic instead.
27 Oct Thurs. -- We hung out at the hotel. I slept a lot. I had a different soup for lunch and we shared some Manchurian chicken for dinner that was pretty good.
28 Oct Fri -- This was another hectic and stressful day. First waiting for a ride to the hospital, then figuring out their system, seeing the doc, getting a different cast, then the records, then transportation back to the hotel. That was the first three hours. After that it took another hour to figure out the next move. We left the Urban Rose about 1130 and it took over an hour to get to the airport. Getting a wheelchair turned into another issue. It is a good thing we had a letter from the doctor or we wouldn't have been allowed on the plane.
It all worked out in the end and we made it to the Olasiti Camp a little after 1600. We took time to rest then went to the lobby to use the wifi, have some beer, and then dinner.
It was refreshing to be out of the city hustle.
29 Oct Sat -- As we pulled away from Olasiti there was a crowd of thousands outside the gate with stalls selling all kinds of stuff. They were some how attached to the church that was next door. Whatever goes on at the church is sure annoying to the folks at Olasiti. They started singing and chanting at 0615. The resort is losing customers because of the disruptions.
We had a pleasant drive from Arusha to Manyara NP through Maasai land. The road was paved a couple of years ago so no potholes. We spent a couple of hours driving through the park. It is much different than Ruaha. The vegetation is much thicker and the animals scarcer. The most amazing sight were the thousands of white pelicans. We were familiar with most of what we saw. Red back were new as we're blue monkeys, brown egret, sacred ibis, and buzzard. There were saddle-billed storks.
Joseph deposited us at the Lake Manyara Serena lodge in time for a late lunch. They gave us the room closest to the lobby. I was happy to see the paved walks but they were still difficult for me with the cast. At dinner the manager asked if I would like to use a wheelchair. If I had known they had one, I could have explored the grounds more. We were overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Before dinner there was a troupe of locals dancing and doing acrobatics for a pleasant cultural diversion.
30 Oct Sun -- It was a lovely day for a ride in the Ngorongoro Crater. We left the hotel at 0800 and didn't make it to the Serengeti Serena Lodge until after 1700. The drive produced 12 mammals and 18 birds. The new mammals were hart beasts and rats. For birds new species for this trip were ostrich, arrowmac bobbler, spoonbills, and francolin. We did see other birds but our guide wasn’t very good with their ids. The rhino was elusive even after spending over an hour in one spot waiting for one to come out of the bush. The cost to get into the crater -- $300 for vehicle and driver and $150 for each passenger.
Traversing some of these lodges with a broken ankle is not easy. This one didn't have a wheelchair or any ramps. They do try to get us in a room close to the reception and dining and have put grab bars in the showers but it is still difficult to take showers. I use two chairs to make it easier.
A group of Maasais entertained us with some traditional dancers and songs.
31 Oct Mon -- With a long drive in front of us we left early and got to the border with Kenya about noontime. Getting through immigration from the two countries was easy and quick. Getting to the windows for the transactions was a bit tricky but I gimped along and made it.
While waiting for the Kenyan driver we ate our box lunches. There is always too much in the boxes. A young girl and her blind father were sitting in the shade of the vehicles in the waiting area. I gave her about half my lunch that I knew would just be tossed and I hate tossing good food.
The road from Arusha to Namanga was paved and in good condition. Once we crossed into Kenya everything changed. We were now on unpaved dirt roads. It took an hour to get to the Amboseli NP gate. While Yuda, our guide, was getting the required documents we were inundated with Maasais trying to sell us jewelry, carvings, and paintings. They were persistent but so were we with "no". It took another hour to get to Ol Tukai Lodge but we did start seeing animals along the way.
Ol Tukai is a gem. They loaned a wheelchair and have ramps. The bathroom was designed by someone who understands handicap needs.
After settling in we went for an afternoon game drive which was wonderful. There are a lot of elephants and we got to see several herds, one with about fifty including a lot of young ones. It was so dry that for a while the landscape was totally covered in dust. The horizon was spotted with dust devils. By time we returned to the lodge we were covered in dust, uncomfortable but worth it. Mt Kilimanjaro showed up and we got some good photos with animals in the foreground and the mountain behind.
1 Nov Tues -- An early game drive gave us an opportunity to see spotted hyenas frolicking with each other and playing in the water. A behavior that I never thought about.
A lot of folks told us that the rainy season starts in November and sure enough it rained. While watching the wildlife at lunch we heard thunder and I could smell rain. Just after Roger got me to our room, the rain came.
It was a welcome relief and calmed the dust. The evening drive was joyful as the animals frolicked with each other and bounced around as though jumping for joy. It was the first time we had seen that behavior. Without the dust the drive was very pleasant. We saw the mountain again. The rain didn't just calm the dust it also cooled the air so we took advantage of the fire to enjoy our nightly beers before dinner. You could here the elephants roar in the savanna as they passed by.
2Nov Wed -- There was a tiny snake at our door when we opened it. Not sure what kind but an employee wacked it with a branch to kill it. It took all day to get from Amboseli to The Ark in Aberdare NP. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't arrive on time for the game drive but on the way to the Ark we saw a leopard and it was still just light enough to get a good photo.
Driving through Nairobi was a mess even using the bypass. There were several smaller cities and towns along the way and a few small villages. It is interesting how different this part of the country is. I almost felt like I could have been in so many places in South and Central America. It is very tropical in nature with the colors to match. Of course we were close to the equator.
The lodge is unusual in structure but has direct views of wildlife. The bathroom was a challenge because the shower is small but they provided a shower seat that worked. The food was excellent. I had a beef stir fry and I think it was the best meal I had had in the entire trip.
Along with the leopard we saw hyenas, forest hogs, and at the lodge genets.
3Nov --- Up and out by 0830. Not really sure it was worth the effort to go to the Ark. the staff were very accommodating but the facility is not set up for wheelchair access. We managed. Then we were dropped off at the Arberdare Country Club to wait four hours for lunch. The grounds were pretty with flowering tropical plants, song birds serenaded, warthogs grazed, and pea fowl screamed. We had a nice conversation with a “retired” British gentleman who lives in Kenya. As soon as lunch was over we turned toward Ol Pajeta Sweetwater Tent Camp. By 1530 we were ready for a game drive.
It was a good drive. We finally saw rhinos. They were behind fences for their protection but we had wondered if we would see any. They were the last of the big five. We also saw lions mating.
Our tent was spacious and had a handicap bathroom that only needed a chair in the shower. For heat we had hot water bottles.
4 Nov Fri --- Knowing this was going to be a long day, we opted to start our game drive at 0800. It was a great last drive. There were plenty of rhinos roaming freely. We watched a Mama and baby interact with bull buffalo. That was entertaining. The last creature we saw on the way out was giraffes, the very ones that drew me to return to Africa.
To split my cast, Yuda took me to Mater Hospital in Nairobi. In the treatment bay next to me was a little boy of five or six. We waved and made faces. After the curtain was closed he started screaming and and crying and I could see that his mother was holding him down. It was only afterward that I could that he had a head injury and they stitched it without any anesthetic. He came to say goodbye and I told him what a grave boy he was. His mother agreed.
Afterward, Yuda managed to get us to the airport by-passing the first security screening. We got a wheelchair which I must say makes traveling in airports easier. You get a lot of personal attention even if you don’t want it.
5 Nov Sat - It took until 2100 to get home after stopping in Frankfurt, Germany, arriving in Tampa, retrieving our car, and driving three hours home.
Epilog - On Thursday 9 November, I had surgery to repair the broken bone. It is healing well.