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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

An Extraordinary Photo Safari in Tanagiere National Park

December 2, 2015 by · Comments Off on An Extraordinary Photo Safari in Tanagiere National Park 

Day 12: Discover Corps Experience Tanzania

Elephant Herd in Tarangire National Park

Elephant Herd in Tarangire National Park

I awoke as excited as a Mexican jumping bean, bouncing about with excess energy. The day had finally arrived for my African photo safari, and what better place than Tanzania. The Discover Corps group boarded the bus and set out for Arusha, situated at the foot of Mt. Meru. There, we would meet our safari guides and transfer to two Safari vehicles: khaki colored Land Cruisers with eight seats. Allen, our driver and guide, sat upfront and six of us sat in the back. The vans included a mini-fridge and power supply for charging electronics, plus a pop-up roof that would allow us to stand on the seats (without shoes) and take unobstructed photos.

In the safari van with my camera.

In the safari van with my camera.

We drove on for two more hours, passing Maasai lands, stretches of sun-parched fields where young herders with cattle or goats tended their flock. We zoomed by three Maasai men dressed in black. Their faces were painted black and looked rather scary. ( I was thrilled to capture a photo.)

Young Maasai Warrior with painted face.

Young Maasai Warrior with painted face.

Allen, who is Maasai (but now lives in the city), explained these men were participating in a ritual following their circumcision and initiation into manhood. The new warriors dress this way for several months as they heal. He said the face paint is to ward off the evil eye.

Crossing Sign on the Maasai Lands.

Crossing Sign on the Maasai Lands.

 

Maasai men are classed by age into three categories: boys, warriors and elders. Boys transition from herders to warrior and then to elder status, holding varying responsibilities for cattle, protecting, and advising the community.

Maasai cattle herd.

Maasai cattle herd.

Eventually, we reached Tarangire National Park, a wildlife sanctuary known for excellent large game sightings especially in the dry season- which was now- early September.

Tarangire Visitor Center Viewing Platform

Tarangire Visitor Center Viewing Platform

We stretched our legs, milled around the visitor center and ate box lunches, before setting off in the vans again. No sooner had we departed from the parking lot than we spied giraffes, zebras and gazelles in the distance. We focused on our cameras with a concentration equal to an operating neurosurgeon, but our guide told us we would soon see many more animals closer to the road.

First view of the park animals.

First view of the park animals.

Alan was right, we didn’t travel far until coming upon a pond with warthogs, wildebeest and antelope. The warthogs were bathing in the mud making us think of Pumbaa from the movie, The Lion King. We sang a few bars from Pumbaa and Timon’s song, then went on to a pretty sad rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight!

Pumbaa, The Warthog

Pumbaa, The Warthog

Warthog-1

Next we noticed graceful zebras with sharply defined black and white patterns on their faces: beautiful.

Two Zebra

Two Zebra

The beautiful face of a zebra.

The beautiful face of a zebra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onward we drove and in retrospect, the next location is one of my fondest memories. Here we found a watering hole edged by a large herd of female elephants and many little ones. (You guessed it, we starting humming Baby Elephant Walk.) They seemed happy quenching their thirst, splashing in the pond and frolicking in the mud. One baby must have done something wrong because the females reprimanded with loud trumpets and chased him out of the water. Our guide explained that all the females in the group protect and teach the calves. They endearingly help each other raise the babies. (I wished I could have stayed and watched these elephants for much longer.)

Mama and baby elephant playing in the mud.

Mama and baby elephant playing in the mud.

Naughty baby-1

The naughty baby elephant scampers away.

Later, we captured photos of bull elephants (males), who travel in smaller groups and whose girth size was much larger.

Big Bull Elephants

Big Bull Elephants

Different areas of the park brought us extraordinary views. We saw the distant curves in the  river, we peered down from overlooks and observed a variety of animals at lakes including one that was completely dry.  Tarangire is renowned for having some of the biggest and oldest baobab trees in the world, some thought to be 1,000 years old. These behemoths make stunning silhouettes across the landscape: I adored them. Baobabs store large volumes of water in their trunks – which is why elephants chew the bark during dry seasons.

Giant Baobab Tree

Giant Baobab Tree

Giant Baobab-1

 

We also stopped to watch some bird species: a Bee-Eater, a lilac brested roller, a red-billed hornbill, and the gorgeous Superb Starling, perfectly named for its electric blue feathers. We also saw Pigmy Falcons and yellow-throated spurfowl, much like quail.

The Lilac Breasted Roller

The Lilac Breasted Roller

The Bee-Eater

The Bee-Eater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we were driving back toward the park gates, we came upon a herd of elephants marching very near the road. We all fell silent, listening in awe to their footsteps swishing the withered grass. I couldn’t believe we were able to be so close to these mammoth giants – on average from 6-13,000 pounds, the largest mammals on earth. I will never forget that surprising moment.

One of the biggest elephants of the day.

One of the biggest elephants of the day.

 

 

As daylight began to dwindle, we left and rode high up into the mountains and checked into a small hotel at Karatu. That evening we heard a lecture from Raymond, head of the tour company, about the next day’s exciting outing to Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Elephant Herd parading by.

Elephant Herd parading by.

I sank into my bed overwhelmed by this day’s gift: a rare opportunity to see and photograph wild African animals in their natural habitat. So far I’d counted off elephants, giraffes, and zebras from my personal Big Five list. I hoped to complete the listing by seeing a lion and a rhino in the Crater. Stay tuned to see if I do.

Enjoy this short video and the elephant march.

***********
For anyone interested in safari’s in Tanzania, I highly recommend Allen, our Maasai guide who works for the Maasai Warriors Tour Company, found at warriortrails.com.

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.

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