Africa 5 : The Serengeti

[It has been so long since I’ve blogged because I have had these Africa pictures hanging over my head. John took over 6,000 photos and that is an insane amount of pictures to  weed through. I think I may have gotten it down to a manageable (and interesting) few.]

Although there wasn’t a moment of our trip that wasn’t amazing, the wide open spaces and the golden grass of the Serengeti is really something special. We were also lucky enough to be there for the great migration. For those who don’t know, the great migration consists of about 700,000 zebra followed by 1.5 million wildebeest, and then about 500,000 gazelle. Essentially they are on a continuous, clockwise, year long migration following good grazing conditions. Around about August the wildebeest are in the Serengeti crossing over the Mara River into the Masai Mara in Kenya.

Click on the pictures to really get a good look.

The Lake Manyara airstrip was short and went right up to a cliff. Suddenly the ground wasn’t there. All the the little planes we took to various little airstrips made me think of a Nevil Shute novel.
Those extra tires aren’t just for show.
Right near our camp a line of wildebeest pass in a seemingly endless stream.
Sitting here at night offered a great view of the stars. There was also staff with crossbows to make sure nothing wild ate us.
On the way to our tent.
The view from our tent.
Yes, that is right, our tent. It had a flushing toilet.
Nice spot in the shade.
I love the wide open spaces.
The wildebeest were everywhere.
We saw large groups of elephants but I like these shots.
So amazing.
Mom and baby.
A marker for the Tanzania/Kenya border.
Afternoon game drive.
A fresh wildebeest lunch.
Looking for a better bite.
No doubt he enjoyed his scones with strawberry jam.
Sunset on the first night.
Love the golden grass.
Toward the start of a wildebeest crossing. They start to congregate along the edge of the river and eventually one of them gives it a go, then the rest of them follow.
They will follow each other but then one or two start another line.
Always a few zebra mixed in.
Getting to the tail end of this crossing. You can see off into the distance how those further back are like “hey they’re going, let’s not miss it…”
What it looks like on the other side.
Look at that baby. Happily the crocs were full and didn’t try to eat anything.
The start of a second, much larger crossing downstream about 30 minutes after the first one.
Reminds me of those terracotta warriors in China.
I love how the zebra is a neck above the wildebeest.
The sound was a bit like buzzing bees with the occasional cow-like sound.
The zebras tended to drink a bit before they crossed over.
Defying gravity.
Keeping my eye out for predators.
Seriously click on this. They go on for ever.
Afternoon snooze.
Youngish boy.
We were on our way to the airstrip to head off to Kenya when we ran into his leopard.


Africa 4 : Ngorongoro Crater

[It has been so long since I’ve blogged because I have had these Africa pictures hanging over my head. John took over 6,000 photos and that is an insane amount of pictures to  weed through. I think I may have gotten it down to a manageable (and interesting) few.]

Staying on the ridge of Ngorongoro Crater was different from what came before and what would come after. Even though the weather for the whole trip was really pleasant, it was really cozy up on the crater ridge. Got down into the 40s at night. Made for really nice sleeping. The floor of the crater is like a giant zoo–if there was a zoo that was 100 square miles and had no fences.

Click on the pictures to really get a good look.

Looking down into Ngorongoro Crater.
Those blankets and the camp fire came in handy after dark.
Our address.
Our home for two nights.
Tanzania and Kenya have horrible records on homophobia. We took no chances and requested twin beds. Otherwise very cozy.
On the bed: The Octopus by Frank Norris. After 100 pages I gave it up.
Getting ready for our day on the floor of the crater.
They are as mean as they are scruffy.
Damn I forgot what these are called. Something about a crowd I think.
Wally Warthog.
Some tame gazelle.
We were up high and the clouds were down low.
The terrain was beautiful.
I don’t think I had every seen flamingos fly.
A zebra, antelope, and wildebeest walk into a bar…
Moon tiger. (Except its a lion and its not the moon.)
We were hoping for some action.
The ladies were keeping an eye on things.
Zebra soup.
I think these are weavers’ nests.
A waterbuck *in* the water.
Another mammal salad, this time with avian croutons.
Hippo nap.
Cute little killer.
Who knew jackals were so cute.
Our lunch spot.
No ants at this picnic.
This is John’s plate. I would never eat beets.
The one on the left was still mad.
And speaking of mad, I was a little worried this cape buffalo was going to charge us.

Africa 3 : Lake Manyara

[It has been so long since I’ve blogged because I have had these Africa pictures hanging over my head. John took over 6,000 photos and that is an insane amount of pictures to  weed through. I think I may have gotten it down to a manageable (and interesting) few.]

On our way from Tarangire to Ngorongoro Crater we made a stop near Lake Manyara where we visited a local market on tuk-tuks. The availability of water in the area means that there is a lot of farming.

Click on the pictures to really get a good look.

Leaving Tarangire on our way to Ngorongoro Crater via Lake Manyara.
Yes, I wore a safari hat.
Lined up in the tuk-tuks ready to go.
Rice paddies.
Entrance to the market.
Black-eyed peas.
One of our guides told us that Coke has cornered the market in the cities in Tanzania so Pepsi was focusing on more rural areas.
Our guide.
I want to try those white eggplant.
Love the pop of color in her shirt.
I’m a sucker for market photos. Visually pleasing and they make me hungry.
Dried fish from Lake Manyara.
Some sort of bark basket brought these tomatoes to market.
That’s millet in the lower right corner.
Rice from the paddy we visited.
You buy meat by weight. And you don’t get a cut, you get all the stuff attached to to the meat as well–and it all counts toward the sale weight.
When I was a kid my bike had a banana seat as well.
We had lunch at Gibbs Farm.
The view from the washroom.
The organic farm.
The food was so good.
The basket was full of cobras. (Actually I’m joking. It was full of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls.) (Okay that was a joke too.)





Africa 2 : Tarangire

[It has been so long since I’ve blogged because I have had these Africa pictures hanging over my head. John took over 6,000 photos and that is an insane amount of pictures to  weed through. I think I may have gotten it down to a manageable (and interesting) few.]

After a night in a lodge in Arusha, Tanzania we headed off by road to Tarangire National Park. We did a game drive along the way and were surprised to see just how close the wildlife was to our lodge. In some cases actually in the camp itself.

Click on the pictures to really get a good look.

I wouldn’t dream of it.
At the entrance of the park. Thankfully it’s huge.
Our chariot.
Mammals hanging out by the river. Or in the case of the zebras, in the river.
One of the amazing things about seeing animals in their natural habitat is that they hang out together in ways you never get to see in a zoo. I call this mammal salad.
Zebras do this move so they can keep an eye on predators from all directions.
Impala with a giant termite mound in the background.
Baby impala is proud of his new horns.
Everything reminds of us Lucy.
How is this a real animal?
Tarangire has some of the largest numbers of elephants in Tanzania.
Oh, hello.
We have much better leopard photos coming up. They are one of the rarer sightings on safari so we were quite surprised to see one on our first afternoon.
We didn’t have the heart to tell him we could still see him.
The ladies are light colored because they sit on the eggs during the day and need to blend in. The gentleman are black because they sit on the eggs at night.
Pictures never quite do the landscape justice. If you click on this one you will notice the kind of muddy looking stripe in the foreground is chock full of zebras.
The golden grass really sets off the zebra.
Cape buffalo with bird friends feasting on ticks.
The view from the veranda at our lodge.
The monkeys got more use out of the pool than we did.
John took 99.9% of all the photos you will see.


Africa 1 : En Route

[It has been so long since I’ve blogged because I have had these Africa pictures hanging over my head. John took over 6,000 photos and that is an insane amount of pictures to  weed through. I think I may have gotten it down to a manageable (and interesting) few.]

We took a rather circuitous route to Africa. Being the travel junkie that I am I spent hours pouring over possible routing that could make the journey more enjoyable. Sometimes this can mean more stops to get better planes, better seats, and shorter flights. It can also mean having the opportunity to stop somewhere else along the way.

We used frequent flyer miles to London so that we could cross the Atlantic in a lie-flat seat for free. We had a lovely 24 hours at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex (much more on that later). Then we flew on Emirates through Dubai to Nairobi. This is not the most direct way to get from London to Nairobi, but Emirates planes/seats are way better than British Airways and they were substantially cheaper than BA. Once in Nairobi we took a much smaller plane to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania and from there about an hour in the jeep to Arusha where we would spend the night before heading out on our safari.

John’s United Airlines frequent flyer miles for all his tortuous work travel paid for this hot fudge sundae at 40,000 feet. He was snoozing away already by the time I partook.
Most airlines have a handful of these double-decker A380s. Emirates has over 90 of them. And when you fly business class from certain airports you actually get to board the plane directly from the lounge without having to wait in line.
The Emirates Lounge magazine choices kept me from getting to my reading.
Upstairs on the A380. Our seats were the two in the middle next to each other. Being a middle eastern airline, we refrained from getting snuggling. 
I’m holding the champagne for effect. I don’t drink much and if I do, champagne wouldn’t be my choice.
I like watching the tail cam as we takeoff.
In the Emirates Lounge in Dubai, I had to sling all of this over my shoulder so I could use the bathroom. John was off having a massage and there was no way I could have waited until he was done. The lounge in Dubai was absolutely huge and had tons of amenities but it was also really busy and we were cranky from an overnight flight.
Emirates has really made Dubai the hub of hubs. I think this is the most variety I have ever seen on a departure board.
In Nairobi looking a little worse for wear. We had to cool our jets (no pun intended) in the rather warmish old part of the airport before hopping our plane to Tanzania. After all the flying and changes in time/sleep/eating etc. we were pretty exhausted by this point. The cruel thing is that outside the stuffy terminal the weather was cool, fresh, and low humidity. The walk to the even hotter plane was really delightful.


My favorite book of the year?

I chose this image because I believe The Guardian is right.

Right before my recent vacation I had about five hours of car commute for which I needed an audio book. I didn’t want one longer than five hours because I would have had to put off the end for almost three weeks. I used the filter on Audible to find a book of suitable length and stumbled across Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. I blow a little hot and cold on McEwan. Or I should say I find some of his work to be okay and I find some of his work to be absolutely brilliant. McEwan also alternates between what could be called normal kind of stories (Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Sweet Tooth, etc.) and those that can be a little freaky and macabre (The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam, etc.). If On Chesil Beach is my favorite “normal” McEwan (and one of my favorite books of all time), Nutshell is my favorite freaky McEwan (and probably my favorite book of the year).

Being less literate than many of you, I didn’t catch the allusion to Hamlet until I finished the book and read about it online. Even though I read Hamlet back in high school, I didn’t make the connection. In Nutshell we have an unnamed narrator, who just happens to be a fetus, overhearing his mother and her lover/his uncle plotting the death of his father. I thought this book was brilliant on so many levels. I love the way McEwan describes the physiological aspects of fetushood and how it apprehends information from both outside stimulus and internal processes. Although many of those processes are probably scientifically accurate, what it may convey to a fetus is purely fictional and pretty damn clever and funny. This is a fetus that vacillates between being very sophisticated and knowledgeable (and a bit of an expert on the terroir of fine wines) and not knowing much more basic concepts/ideas/emotions. He reminded me more than a bit of Stewie from the animated show Family Guy. Stewie is a baby with a posh British accent (despite his family being American) who knows how to build a time machine but is sometimes clueless about the very basics of life. (Seth McFarland recording this audio book as Stewie is something I would commission if I was Warren Buffet-rich.)

Aside from the brilliance of the setting and narrator, Nutshell stands on its own as a will-they-succeed, will-they-get-away-with-it kind of murder mystery. McEwan had me completely wrapped up in the tension and had me rooting  for just about everyone, except for the d-bag uncle, at one point or the other. There were so many possible outcomes that could have been fascinating. To keep the spoilers at bay, I won’t go into some of the many endings I falsely predicted along the way.

McEwan also packs the short novel with so many brilliant observations, but they never get in the way of the story. They all feel right.

Although I listened to this audio book I can totally see myself reading the print version next time around. High marks. Favorite book of my year so far.

The Trollope gateway drug

Regular readers know that I am a big Trollope fan. When people ask where they should start with his novels I never know quite what to say. My first Trollope was the The Warden the first of the Barchester series, but I like all of the Church of England detail and intrigue peppered throughout those novels. The Pallisers series to me is less accessible with the amount of political detail included–although The Eustace Diamonds stands really well on its own, but then again, it is in the middle of the series and I know people usually like to start at the beginning. I have also enjoyed other good stand alones as well like Dr. Wortle’s School and Three Clerks.

And then came Rachel Ray. It might be my new favorite Trollope and I think certainly his most accessible that I have read. This would be the perfect book for someone wanting to give Anthony Trollope a try. It has a bit of the church thing, a bit of the political thing, romance, thwarted romance, nosy widows, greedy clergy, curmudgeons, and the virtuous. And, of course, lots of talk about how much money everyone makes. That is always my favorite part of any Trollope novel.

Rachel Ray is as goodhearted as a human can be with a loving but weak widowed mother and an overly pious widowed sister. And then Luke Rowan comes along, handsome, with a comfortable income and great future prospects…but is he all that he seems? YES, of course he is. You know from the start what is going to happen, but you don’t know how it will happen or how complicated things will get before they work themselves out. I really did find this to be a delightful page turner.

Something needs to be said, however, about the level of anti-Semitic content in Rachel Ray. Much Victorian literature is antisemitic to a certain degree, in fact there is much English fiction well into the 1950s that has flashes of antisemitism. Usually in Trollope it pops up here or there in passing without being an actual part of the story line. In Rachel Ray it is, however, part of the story. A candidate for Parliament is considered completely inappropriate for office based on the fact that he is Jewish, and much is made of that fact. And it isn’t like Trollope includes it to make a critique of antisemitism, because all of the heroes in the book are the ones advocating against electing a Jew to Parliament. Given how progressive Trollope is on other ways, I choose to believe that if Anthony Trollope were alive today, he wouldn’t be antisemitic and write such stupid scenes. Why do people have to be assholes? Sigh. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate Donald Trump? Big sigh.

Anyhoo. I loved Rachel Ray.