Friday, May 31, 2013

Kilimanjaro to Los Angeles

Friday, January 25, 2013

The first flight wasn't too bad since the plane was pretty empty and everybody could have a whole row to themselves. I was lucky enough to see Kilimanjaro after takeoff. Even though it was dark outside, I didn't take my eyes off of the mountain until if finally disappeared behind the airplane. After dinner, I laid down on my three seats and tried to sleep a little. It wasn't the most comfortable "bed" since we couldn't completely fold the armrests up but it was still better than trying to sleep sitting up. I kept turning from one side to the other between bathroom visits. In the morning, we got a light breakfast before we arrived to Amsterdam. One 9-hour flight down, another 11-hour flight to go.
This one wasn't too bad either. The connection was pretty smooth this time. No hours of waiting between flights like on the way to Africa. Even though I didn't sleep much during the night, I was actually pretty much awake all day. The lady sitting in my row and I got lucky because the man who sat between us was moved to another seat due to the lack of legroom he had. This way, we were pretty comfortable and I only had to climb through her when I had to visit the bathroom.
I spent the time during the long flight watching movies. I watched Walk The Line, Slumdog Millionaire, Magic Mike, and Taken 2. We got two hot meals and I snacked quite often. Only at the end of the flight, when we were approaching Los Angeles, I started feeling very tired and I couldn't keep my eyes open or my head up anymore. Since we left an hour late from Amsterdam, we arrived about 45 minutes late to Los Angeles.
I was sure happy to see my darling Randy waiting for me at the airport with 13 red roses. He brought me home and I went straight to bed because I was exhausted from the long journey. I slept for about 6 hours and when I woke up at 8pm, he was in the middle of preparing dinner (chili and corn muffins).
And with this, my great trip to Africa has ended. It's now time to prepare for my next adventure of a lifetime.

Safari (Day 6):

Lake Manyara National Park to Mountain Inn

Thursday, January 24, 2013

We didn't have to get up early today. I could sleep until 7:30. All we had to do is eat breakfast and pack up. After that, we started heading back to the Mountain Inn. We got here in less than four hours. We stopped on the side of the road in Robert's village so he could unload his stuff. His wife was waiting there to pick it up. She was very friendly.
Back at the Mountain Inn, I tipped my crew. Robert got $75 and Ahmed got $50. They seemed to be happy with it. I had to call Roheel to give him my flight number. I also mentioned that I didn't get a picnic lunch as it was promised in my itinerary. He quickly offered me to eat a complimentary hot lunch in the hotel which I happily accepted. I had a pizza and two bottles of ginger ale.
The hotel is pretty empty at the moment so there isn't much to do here. I spent an hour facebooking then I looked at T-shirts in the gift shop. I bought one for myself but I didn't find anything decent for Randy. Mine is halfway decent for $10. I spent quite some time looking at my pictures and now I'm catching up with writing my journal. I have more than an hour until dinner. I'll probably clean up again and finish packing. I can't wait to go home now that I've done everything I planned. It's time to plan my next big trip: Everest Base Camp.
I talked to the two younger guys at dinner who just returned from Kili. I don't know their names or where they are from but they left for Kili the same day I left for the safari. They took the Marangu Route. One of them climbed to the summit but the other one could only make it to Gilman's Point. He developed altitude related problems early on.
Ms. Luizer showed up at dinner time and sat at my table. She was all smiles. It turns out that I am the best customer Shah Tours has ever had. According to her, people normally come for a week or two the most but I'm still here at the end of the third week. Mr. Shah and Roheel were also there at dinner time and I talked to them a little bit, too. They all want me to come back.
By the end of the night, I didn't have a lot of time to take a nap. I probably rested for 45 minutes only before it was time for me to go. The man who usually carries my big backpack between the reception and my room was already waiting for me outside my room. He carried my big backpack to the reception for the last time. I never gave him money before but this time I gave him $5. I'm sure he was happy when he found out how much he got (he couldn't see it in the dark when I gave it to him).
A young man (who picked up his brother on the side of the road as soon as we left the hotel) took me to the airport. He also got a $5 tip although he didn't really deserve it since he was just talking to his brother the whole time.
At the airport, my first order of business was to buy some gifts. I finally found a decent enough T-shirt for Randy and I also bought coffee for a few friends and coffee and tea for myself. I spent $80 on gifts which means I have $20 left.
A blurry picture of myself with Roheel, Mr. Shah, and Ms. Luizer at dinner

Safari (Day 5):

Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara National Park

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Despite all the food I ate last night and the three cups of tea I drank, I slept really well. I managed to eat sensibly at breakfast. Robert asked me if I were OK with taking an older lady back to the nearest town because she didn't want to continue with her group to the Serengeti. I said, as long as we didn't have to go out of our way, I was OK with it. She was a strange Australian lady. She even asked for a bottle of my water but I told her that I only bought enough for myself for the six days. We dropped her at the bus station in Karangu town from where she could take a bus back to Arusha.
The drive to Lake Manyara National Park was less than two hours. We dropped Ahmed and our equipment at the campground in town. Finally, a developed campground! It has a store, a gift shop, a swimming pool, a restaurant, and a lounge with TV. It's actually really nice here.
We left for our game drive at 10am. The next six hours were spent sitting in the car driving around and not seeing much at all. It seems that this was a complete waste of my money. I've already seen everything I wanted to see anyway. It was way too hot and uncomfortable in the vehicle. We did see three lions on a tree and a bunch of baboons as well as blue and velvet monkeys but other than that nothing exciting happened all day. We visited a hot spring (not the soaking kind though) and had lunch at a picnic spot with a bunch of other tourists.
We got back at the campground at 4pm. I bought a Coke for Robert (since he doesn't drink beer), a Kilimanjaro beer for Ahmed, and a Tusker beer for myself. I've been sitting next to my tent for an hour and a half now. I had some tea, popcorn, and biscuit after the beer and now I'm ready to jump in the shower. There are quite a few travelers here. Most of them are hanging out by the pool.
We ate dinner outside since the weather was so nice. There was a Slovak group next to us waiting for their dinner. When it finally arrived, their guide announced that they were having Chagga (local) food tonight. I wonder how it tasted.
I retired to bed at 8:30pm since there wasn't much to do at the campsite.
The swimming pool at the campground
The gift shop
I wish I had one of these nice safari tents
Blue monkey
Blue monkey
Baboon hanging out (pun intended)
Little baboon hanging out
No comment
At the hot springs
My safari vehicle
The view from the picnic spot
Robert at the picnic spot
At the picnic spot
Velvet monkey
Velvet monkeys have blue balls
A tree hugger velvet monkey
Velvet monkey
Velvet monkey
Gossiping velvet monkeys
Our dinner setup
Eating dinner with Robert

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Safari (Day 4):

Serengeti National Park to Ngorongoro Crater

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No lions roaring, no elephants tearing apart trees last night. What a disappointment!
We packed up after breakfast and headed to our next destination, Ngorongoro Crater. We were very lucky this morning because we saw not one but three cheetahs: a mother and two cubs. They were on a small mound near the road but I scared them away by opening the roof too loudly. It was hard to see them in the tall grass but we followed them and we got a pretty good view when they walked on the road and when they finally came to a rest on top of another small mound. What a great way to start the day! We also saw a hyena close to the road and ostriches. We stopped at the gate again to pay the entry fee to the NCA and here, I had a picture taken with my crew in front of the land cruiser.
In the NCA, we first stopped at Simba Campsite to drop off Ahmed and our equipment. Then, Robert and I headed down into the crater. The crater is an amazing place! The crater floor teems with wildlife. There is everything there but most of all zebras. Zebras are everywhere. There are plenty of lions as well. At one point, a lion caused a traffic jam when it lied down behind a vehicle. Nobody could move anywhere. We were lucky to see two male lions as well later on. The only animal I still wanted to see was the rhino. Well, I saw a few of them during the day but they were never close enough to take a good picture and we were not allowed to drive on the grass to get closer to them.
At 2pm, we finally made it to the picnic spot where we had lunch. It was a very beautiful place with a freshwater lake and a few hippos. I ate my lunch under a huge tree. I also took a panorama picture of the lake. Hopefully, it will turn out nice. We drove around more after lunch. We visited yet another hippo pond. At about 4:30, we started heading up to the rim. From there, it was a long and dusty drive back to Simba Campsite. I think this was our dustiest drive yet. I could hardly wait for it to end.
At 6 o'clock, we arrived at the campsite and I was surprised to see how busy it got since we left. There are tents everywhere. First, I took a hot shower. Yes, there is hot water here. It was really lovely. Now, I'm sitting in the very busy dining room sipping my second cup of tea and waiting for Robert to join me. One more day of safari and then we'll start heading home. To be honest, this is not what I expected for almost $400/day. We have this unrealistically exotic image of an African safari but the sad reality is a daylong, dusty, and bumpy ride in an uncomfortable vehicle. Yes, you see lots of animals along the way but after seeing the 50th lion you think twice before standing up on your seat again to take yet another lion picture. I'm glad this journey is slowly coming to an end. It will be great to be back at home again where I can breathe smog instead of dust and I can take a crap sitting rather than squatting.
I ate way too much for dinner. I will have to start watching my calorie intake from tomorrow.

Another lovely sunrise in the Serengeti
Resting lions
At the gate separating the Serengeti from the NCA
With my crew: Robert (driver/guide) and Ahmed (cook)
Simba Campsite in the NCA
The kitchen and the dining room at the campsite
The bathroom facilities
Robert and Ahmed unloading the gear at the campsite
On the way to the crater
Maasai boma
View of the crater
Posing on the crater rim
The crater floor
Warthogs (and zebra)
Flamingoes (and zebras)
Crested cranes
Traffic jam caused by a lion
A couple of male lions
Arriving at the picnic area
I ate my lunch under that big tree
By the lake
This is the closest I got to the rhinos (with my 300mm lens)
Hippo pond
The busy dining room back at the campsite
Our dinner setup (on the right)
Cooks preparing dinner in the kitchen