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Photo Safari in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater

December 10, 2015 by · Comments Off on Photo Safari in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater 

Photo Safari with Discover Corps Experience in Tanzania

 
No one complained about breakfast at 5:30 am, the Discover Corps group were headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area for the day (It’s usually referred to as the Ngorongoro crater.) Ngorongoro is the world’s largest unflooded, intact volcanic caldera with the highest concentration of animals anywhere. We would arrive at sunrise and slowly drive around portions of the rim, then head down into the one-hundred square mile central plain.

Welcome to the Visitor Center

Welcome to the Visitor Center

We stopped at the Visitor Center, taking advantage of the few bathrooms available, and studied a model of the region to get the correct perspective. The morning weather was chilly, damp and misty; the coldest I’d experienced in Africa. Made sense; we were at an elevation of 7,500 feet at sun-up. I was happy I had my Gore-Tex jacket.

Alan, the charismatic guide from yesterday, was driving again and had his eye out for lions, known to hang around the rim in the morning. I glimpsed a few Maasai herding along the path but saw no other animals. As a matter of fact, the fog was so dense, those of us in the van didn’t see much of anything. Then, Alan slowed and stopped. “Shh,” he said. Hiding in the tall grass not far off the road was a lion. I would never have seen it, but Alan’s trained eye found the big cat.

My guide spied this lion hiding in the grass.

My guide spied this lion hiding in the grass.

We stared in disbelief. “Oh my gosh, I’m a few feet away from a lion,” I mumbled, “My first lion in the wild!!!” The cat crept out of the grass and onto the road. Everyone in the van was trying to get photos through the windows as we had not yet popped open the car’s top. Soon, a second lion appeared through the haze, and then another. I had goose-bumps of excitement: three lions were now strolling down the road as if they hadn’t a care in the world – and I was watching. I was beyond thrilled to see them. While thankful I captured a few photos, one quickly gets demanding. I didn’t want my only lion photos to be on a dirt road. Now, I wanted lions on the prowl.

Lion in the foggy morning light.

Lion in the foggy morning light.

Three for the road

Three for the road

 

Alan drove on, and the crater soon opened up, a 12- mile wide amphitheater of fields, hills and lakes that’s home to thousands of African species. First along the way were Cape buffalo. We hadn’t seen these in Tarangire National Park, and I marveled at their expressive faces and horns. (Made me think of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, too – remember them in Water Buffalo Lodge hats?)

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

Zebra came next, crossing the road in single file right in front of us; such remarkable creatures whose stripes almost look like surreal artwork. We paused across from a mama nursing her foal. How sweet.

Nursing Zebra

Nursing Zebra

Hyenas were on the chase; now this was exciting. Not sure exactly what this guy was after, but this photo is one of my favorite action shots.

Hyena on the chase. Is he laughing?

Hyena on the chase. Is he laughing?

A small lake with some hippos appeared around the bend. (Hooray,  I can check hippos off my list.) But wait, there were some lions stretched out watching the hippos, however, the hippos didn’t seem to like the lions being so close. They hobbled their big bellies out of the water using their short, squatty legs and with a show of force, the lions receded. (We drove to a better vantage point to continue watching.) The trio of lions didn’t take the threat for long. They tousled their heads and slowly sauntered back and again lay on the banks near the pond, as if to say you hippos can’t bother us. We waited, but nothing more happened, so we moved on. (That seems to be how these photo safaris go.)

Close-up of hippos

Close-up of hippos

Closeup of Lion face-1 Lions gets annoyed-1

“Look, ” someone in the van called: ostriches ahead; big and awkward birds.

An ostrich making a show of feathers.

An ostrich making a show of feathers.

“Watch carefully,” said Alan, ” These are going to mate. You’ll see one attracting the other, then ruffling feathers and soon they will get up and go their separate ways.” Sure enough, that is precisely what happened.

 

A herd of zebras

A herd of zebras

Crested Crane-1

We spied wildebeest, many more zebra, some interesting birds and a couple varieties of gazelles. Then we noticed many vans parked along a section of the road. We joined them. In the far, far distance was a lone black rhino. (Again, I would never have noticed it on my own.) These rhinos are an endangered species, so it’s reassuring to know at least this one was safe from poachers. We couldn’t get close enough for a good photo, so I had to be content just knowing it was there.

Lone Black Rhino

Lone Black Rhino

We meandered along the route, stopping whenever something interesting caught our eye. We didn’t see elephants, but the guide said some of the elderly bulls might be down by the big lake at the bottom of the crater. He explained that they have trouble eating because they’ve lost teeth, so they get nutrients from the lake. We did spot a few elephants in the distance as we passed by, but nothing like the herds we saw in Tarangire National Park.

By lunchtime, we arrived at the picnic grounds (and bathrooms!) but were told we must eat inside the vans. Big birds were hovering above, waiting to swoop down and snatch some food.

Here comes an elephant.

Here comes an elephant.

We noticed a ginormous elephant coming toward the car park. We got out and took some photos. He came closer and closer…and closer. Finally, all the guides called their passengers back into the vans. The majestic elephant marched on, in front of the line-up of vehicles, never bothering with any of us, and then started walking up the hill.

We were going to head back that way, so we followed and got some fantastic shots with the incredible natural landscape as background. This photo was the highlight of my day.

A huge elephant with a broken tusk.

A huge elephant with a broken tusk.

It was time to start our trek out of the park, but still stopping from time to time. We were delighted by some baboons and a large lion with a golden mane who was asleep under a tree. Of course, the song the Lion Sleeps Tonight rang in our heads! This King of the Crater seemed without any worries or cares. Hakuna Matata!

The Lion Sleeps Tonight and during the day!

The Lion Sleeps Tonight and during the day!

A one-way road back to the rim speeds up traffic in the park exiting the park. This new road is an engineering marvel, and I wished we could have lingered, or stopped during our ascent, but there are no pull-outs for scenic lookouts. We did stop when we reached the top.

Looking down into crater

Looking down into crater

The visit to the Ngorongoro Crater ranks as one of the best days of my life. As a photographer, I was challenged, yet pleased with some of my shots- at least what I could see in my camera. The African conservation area and wildlife passionately spoke to me, telling the ongoing struggle of life, the beauty of a newborn, the grace of an elder. I felt in awe of these creatures, and thankful that there is a place where animals have rights. If only the hours could rewind and repeat like the movie Ground Hog Day.

The big cat

The big cat

Finishing up Volunteer Work and Finding Tanzanian Treasures

November 29, 2015 by · Comments Off on Finishing up Volunteer Work and Finding Tanzanian Treasures 

Continuing my Discover Corps Experience Tanzania: Day 10 and 11

 

The morning hours of days 10 and 11 were spent much like previous mornings. We returned to the classroom and assisted with the English lessons. Afterward, we changed clothes and headed back to our classroom renovation project.

My classroom of students during my volunteer work.

My classroom of students during my volunteer work.

The women and teens put on the second coat of paint while the men, with the hired helper, finished the ceiling. We touched up areas and painted the window frames. We wished we could repaint the entire school, however, that was not to be.

Working on the new ceiling.

Working on the new ceiling.

On Day 11, we stood back and admired the work. Not perfection but quite okay. We took our “after” photos with big smiles.

Celebrating-1
The school gave us a big send off with the teachers and principals presenting us with cloth as gifts (similar to my birthday) as the children sang. We felt their sincere appreciation of our efforts.

Getting gifted with cloth.

Getting gifted with cloth.

The volunteer work provided me what I’d hope for: an opportunity to give of myself and touch the lives of others. It’s not that my group did that much, but I think more importantly, it was the positive interactions between the volunteers and Africans, cultural exchanges made with respect and love. We learned from each other. I’d be happy to volunteer again.

Debi in the renovated classroom wrapped in her gift of cloth as a skirt.

Debi in the renovated classroom wrapped in her gift of cloth as a skirt.

Crossing Maasai Lands

Crossing Maasai Lands

AFRICAN ADVENTURES

On the afternoon of Day 10, the Discover Corps volunteers were off  to Chemka Hot Springs. We are told the location was rather remote. That was an understatement, for sure. We turned off the main road, then navigated down a road so dusty we had to proceed slowly or kick-up a Dukes of Hazard type dust clouds. We passed very few people, many abandoned shacks, and were sure we were going the wrong way. The Baobab and Acacia trees were our only friends.

Surreal scenery along the drive.

Surreal scenery along the drive.

 

 

Veronica and I shouted stop when we saw a sign that read Visitor Information Center – really? This easily wins the award for the most off the beaten track Visitor Center I have ever seen. Of course, no one was there!

The long lost tourism office.

The long lost tourism office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived to a small parking lot surrounded by green trees. ” Just wait,” said our driver, and he was right. Here was an oasis in the desert.

The Oasis

The Oasis

We discovered a hidden natural spring with the clearest Caribbean-blue water. Unbelievable! The swimming hole looked inviting and the teens discovered a rope swing. In no time, they were Tarzan and Jane, leaping into the water with a yell. A few of the men joined in, but I just dangled my feet in until they got nibbled on by the fish. I’m not sure why I didn’t go in, it’s not like me, but that day I sat out  and pondered.

 

Debi relaxes at the water's edge

Debi relaxes at the water’s edge

The location was stunning, a total surprise to everyone. I enjoyed resting in this slice of African jungle, just a stone’s throw from the dry desert. I felt like I had in India, or what I called,” Incredible India.” Every day I would discover some unexpected gem; that’s what this was — a Tanzanian Treasure.

Discover Corps volunteers posing at Chemka Hot Springs.

Discover Corps volunteers posing at Chemka Hot Springs.

On the way back to basecamp we are treated to a spectacular African sunsets, yes, another Tanzanian Treasure.

 

A Tanzanian Treasure- the magical sunset.

A Tanzanian Treasure- the magical sunset.

 

Send off from the school.

Send off from the school.

Day 11 Adventures: The afternoon of day 11 allowed us to celebrate the previously mentioned completion of our school work.

 

After lunch, we were off on a trip into downtown Moshi. We thought we were going to meet an artist and didn’t understand that we were going to have another art lesson. Secy, the artist,  introduced himself and his works: dramatic paintings that capture African culture and wildlife in vibrant colors.
The plan was  for us to choose one of his works and try to recreate it on an already painted background.

Try is the word. Like with our batik lesson, we started off  unsure of ourselves. Some of the paintings were marvelous. I enjoyed myself but was pretty embarrassed with my project.  A painter I am not!

Debi's attempt at painting an elephant.

Debi’s attempt at painting an elephant.

Secy’s studio contains a shop filled with carvings, artwork, instruments and tourist souvenirs. This is the only time during my trip that  I feel like the ugly American. I didn’t want to buy these items and the sellers were very pushy. I felt very uncomfortable and tried  to sneak out and enter the bus.
The evening was relaxing and a few of us walked to the local convenience store, which turns into a bar at night, for a Safari beer.  We didn’t linger because we had two safari outings ahead of us. I packed an overnight bag, laid out my clothes and checked my camera bag. I was ready for bed and more than ready to see the real African treasures: lions, elephants and giraffe.

Cornfields and Cake in Tanzania

November 4, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Day Nine: Discover Corps Trip Continues

If you build it, they will come. If you plant it, they will harvest – about the same. Right?

Students Go Into the Cornfields

Students Go Into the Cornfields

The Longuo Primary School in Moshi, Tanzania was given use of a plot of land about two miles from the school. The children would help plant and harvest corn. The corn would be used in the staple dish called Ugali, a cornmeal mush mixture that is prepared and served daily to the students, sometimes with beans or vegetables added.

It was early September and the corn was dry on the stalk. That’s harvest time in Tanzania, not at all like our typical sweet corn on the cob that is picked when it’s juicy and moist.

Working in the Fields- with a smile.

Working in the Fields- with a smile.

The kids walked the two miles from school and entered the rows of corn. They were to break the corn off the stalks, stuff the cobs into bags and haul those heavy bags to a central area. There, the children dumped the ears into a huge pile. They then repeated the process, over and over. Mind you, this is difficult work and the youngsters quickly realized it was easier to find a buddy to help carry those heavy loads.

Working Together

Working Together

Carrying a heavy load.

Carrying a heavy load.

By afternoon’s end, a truck would transport the stash to the school. Later, the corn would be stripped off of the cob, dried in the sun, and ground into meal or flour.

Dumping the corn.

Dumping the corn.

The students appeared happy to see the now familiar faces of the Discover Corps group entering the cornfields. We watched and assisted for a short time, and I’ll admit, picking and hauling the corn takes some effort. I would not have enjoyed this labor of love near as much as these kids, but maybe for them it was like a snow day.

Working in the Cornfield.

Working in the Cornfield.

After a short while, we left to get back to work on our classroom renovation. Today was scheduled as a day for painting and scrubbing furniture. The men in my group would work on the ceiling project.

Vernonica and Margaret clean the rollers.

Vernonica and Margaret clean the rollers.

Progress was slow and stressful, needless to say, the building was not exactly level and our tools were not the best. Fortunately, a local construction worker appeared. The ceiling job would never have been finished without his staple gun speedy skills.

Ceiling work commences.

Ceiling work commences.

An hour and a half later, we all looked a sight. Paint was streaked on my pants and shirt. (I’d leave them in Tanzania, though I’m not sure anyone would want them.)

 

Just as we are winding down, the truck with all of the corn from the fields arrived. Now, the tired children (whom had walked back to school) needed to transfer the cobs into a storage room. We hung around taking photos. Amazingly, the kids were still smiling and seemingly having a good time. A hardy group, indeed. I wonder what grade-schoolers in the US would think? I’m pretty sure the parents would complain about child labor, but that’s not the case in Moshi.

Corn is dumped in the school yard.

Corn is dumped in the school yard.

Transferring the corn to the storeroom.

Transferring the corn to the storeroom.

After lunch and much needed showers, we ran errands in town and hit the internet cafe to catch up on news.

Internet Cafe Tanzania Style.

An Internet Cafe Tanzania Style.

Mama D fixed a wonderful dinner and afterward, we headed back for a short visit with the kids in Tuleeni Orphanage. I was honestly tired and wanted to skip, but was convinced to go. Glad I did because little Happy (my favorite little girl) was looking for me.

Mama D, our fantastic chef.

Mama D, our fantastic chef.

The kids were thrilled with their new soccer balls and Peter got them right into a game. Some looked at the new books we brought. But soon, it grew dark and we needed to walk back.

 

Surprise

 

A car was sent for one of our volunteers who was having trouble with her knees, and I (the next oldest) was also encouraged to take a ride home. Strange, the orphanage wasn’t that far, but the driver seemed to take a long circuitous route.

When I walked into our compound, everyone yelled, ” Surprise!” This was a surprise birthday party for me! While the date wasn’t my actual birthday, I had given this trip as a 65th birthday present to myself. Best gift ever and so much better than being depressed by life’s passage.

A Beautiful Birthday Cake for me!

A Beautiful Birthday Cake for me!

The party allowed us to indulge in our first American type dessert- cake and ice cream, a real treat. The two-tiered cake was homemade and a stunning beauty. Someone ignited a huge sparkler on the top that created quite a show. The Tanzanian staff all gathered to sing while I cut the cake- “Cutta, cutta cutta cake.”

Blowing out the candle

Blowing out the candle

The treat was absolutely delicious and only a little was leftover! I was wrapped in a piece of African fabric, a traditional gift for women.  How generous and genuine; I felt loved in the company of people who had been strangers just a few days ago.  I will always treasure the fabric and my extraordinary memories of a very special birthday in Africa. Heartfelt thanks to my Discover Corps group.

Wrapped in birthday fabric.

Wrapped in birthday fabric.

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