Archive for March, 2013

23 Mar

Tanzania, Exploring Stone Town : Day 14

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 23, 2013 / 0 Comments

We woke to the sounds of the call to prayer in the dark after a night of enjoying our freezing air con (so nice in this heat, and with these angry red welts all over). The kids came in to see us, and then off to breakfast on the rooftop here, enjoying the view over Stone Town and to the sea, a couple of blocks away. We set off straight away, walking through the narrow alleyways, trying to trend towards the old slave markets and the fresh food markets, but just wending our way through all the crooked alleys. The streets were very clean, swept, with small rubbish piles hidden in corners. People were slowly going about their day, no tourists yet, kids already in school. We found our way fairly directly to St Monica’s Caedral, one of only 2 cathedrals in Stone Town (there are 54 mosques) which is the site of the slave markets that finished in the 1870’s.

After paying our $14 entry for the 6 of us, a guide met us and took us through. Zanzibar was the main slave trading centre for east and central Africa, with Ghana the west African centre. Thousands of slaves were traded and auctioned on this site for several hundred years. We were shown the holding rooms underground, lit only by very small windows at ground level in which 75 people would be chained together, cheek by jowl,  hunched on the concrete step (their waste would collect on the floor). Turnover was fast, so they were never there for more than 3 days, but the ships were even worse, housing 609 people on a boat built to accommodate 451. We also admired the cathedral itself, complete with a crucifix made from wood of the tree that Dr livingstone died under. The mahogany pews came from Cyprus, the alter from India, the Carrera marble pillars from Italy. Typical church, no expense spared, built on the site of the slave trade.

We then wandered past the university and the Hallie Selassi secondary school to the main fresh food markets. Wow, what an experience that was. We started with the fish market. It was more than the kids could bear, so I stayed outside with them while Charlie went in to take some shots. Then into the fruit, veg and spices. So many spices. Fresh garlic, ginger, onions, bananas the size of the kids lower legs, green mangoes from Pemba, the next island to the north, cucumbers (tango in Swahili), avocados, leafy greens, apples (we haven’t seen them since leaving home), lemons and limes. Unfamiliar tropical fruits – jackfruit, breadfruit, and presumably the horrid ‘bum fruit’ on our plates at breakfast (it had orange flesh, looked like papaya, tasted terrible), as well as the familiar. Distressingly, many of the fruits were cut open and utterly covered with flies. The locals didn’t shoo the, away, leaving us to wonder if they didn’t know about flies and disease.

The spices looked fantastic – baskets full of fresh saffron, little bags with 20 vanilla pods in them, whole nutmeg, turmeric, seeds, pods and ground. We didn’t buy any – everyone seems to understand fairly well that in the land of the kangaroo (the response whenever we say where we are from), we cannot take them home. We wandered through some of the other alleys, seeing the stalls and then small shop fronts selling everything else – hardware, nappies, pharmacy, toiletries, washing powder (seriously, a separate shop for each), clothing, haberdashery, pool toys (no pools in Stone Town), stationery, electrical goods. Everyone was pretty hot by now – it was only 10.30 or so, but it was stiflingly hot, we were all very sweaty (I was about the sweatiest I have ever been) and the kids were getting overwhelmed (heat, noise, crowds). We wandered back towards the hotel, keen to get back out there without the kids to look again. So we did.  We got the kids settled with Gran, the air con, plenty of water and the tv playing cartoon network, and off we went.

We wandered through different streets and found our way pretty quickly back to e markets. We were approached by a man very quickly who wanted to show us his spice stall. We said we were Australian, and he understood immediately, but said he’d show us around. He took us through the fish market, asking stall holders for permission to take a picture. These markets were revolting. The heat, the smell, the flies all over the fish. The shelled mussels in little piles, covered with flies and getting drier by the second, the shark with its fin cut off already, the big tuna drying out, kingfish, swordfish, prawns, whitebait, white fish, squid, octopus, snake fish. The smell!

Next, the meat market. Slabs of meat hanging from hooks, still hot, still flyblown. All the offal, including stomachs and goats heads, complete with hair. A buffalo head with horns attached. The smell here was bloodier. And often the men were smoking as well!  Solomon then led us to the chicken market.  At the entrance were men with plastic buckets with chicken in them, often whole, sometimes with water also to wash it, sometimes cut portions. As we ventured in further, we could see in the dim shed that there were many baskets, all filled with live chooks, ready for selection and slaughter. Thus all the buckets of water to wash them off. It was amazing – such mangey, unappealing birds. He then took us through the shed to the food preparation area behind, the women tending the fires, preparing the fish curry, cooking the rice, ready for the lunchtime rush. We only saw one dead rat here, along side a dirty discarded child’s bunny toy, and couldn’t help but wonder which was the more disease ridden. We did marvel at the constitution and gut flora of the locals.

Solomon led us to a coffee us for a cool drink, insisted his tip should be higher than the 10 000 TSH we offered (he accepted 20 000 – about $14), for his kids education, and we then wandered back to e hotel to collect the family for lunch. I love just weaving my way through the streets, just as I did in Venice 11 years ago, seeing the locals, how they shop, trying to fathom some idea of how they live. We would occasionally find ourselves on a more touristy path with souvenir shops, but soon ducked off onto quieter alleys again. The girl at the hotel desk recommended the local italian restaurant for lunch, so we walked the 3 minutes to get there. what a hit!  The service was particularly warm and friendly, the kids ate all their food (bolognese, lasagna, and a nutella pizza for the lad, while we had pizza and eggplant), followed by gelati. There was a quick rainstorm while we were there, overlooking the water, so we were able to see the rain come in, and ten the clearing sky. We could also see the sand bar a little off the shore, with boats on it for picnickers.

After lunch, some quiet time at the hotel while Charlie sought out beer to accompany his photo downloading. The kids were wanting to rest and watch tv some more (2 weeks without tv til now has been a record, it seems), I think they are also a little over the crowds and heat.  I soon joined Charlie so we could explore some more – we hadn’t seen the main buildings on the waterfront, nor that side of the town at all. So, off we went, back into the sun and the heat. The main street with the most important old buildings was terribly shabby. The ‘house of wonders’ housing the museum is closed after a piece of balcony fell on a tourist last year. Repairs can only be done with UNESCO approval.  So it seems almost nothing gets repaired. Most of the buildings here were build in the middle of the 19th century, so are about the same age as much of Adelaide. It hasn’t aged well. Built with poor materials, poor workmanship and no ongoing maintenance work, there’s rust and decay everywhere. It adds a certain charm, but really is a mess.

The Customs House and another palace were here also, along with the formal gardens. After we had done our obligatory walk past whilst getting idly hassled by touts offering to guide us or arrange tours for tomorrow, we dove back into the back alleys. I can’t even describe it right now, other than to say – look at the pictures. We came across a little square outside an Islamic school.  It was 5 pm so the kids had just finished for the day and were playing outside, waiting for parents to walk or scooter them home. We sat on a wall on the edge and watched the children play, taking surreptitious photos. It was a delightful way to spend 20 minutes or so. We walked back home, finding our way increasingly easily.

We bought a few souvenirs today – some woven scarves, and a few Christmas decorations – a nativity scene and some angels for the tree. A sundress for each of the girls, a flag for Luca, and some cheap jewelry. We had a drink on the rooftop bar here at our hotel, watching the sunset, catching up with FB, cooling down and hanging as a family again.  Then dinner in an Indian restaurant, walking home slowly in the dark, refusing taxi rides (so few of the roads are wide enough for a car – where could a taxi be taking us anyway?) and tours for tomorrow, and enjoying the evening. Shower the kids, supervise teeth cleaning and reminding them we are leaving again tomorrow, this time for the beach. So spoiled.

 

23 Mar

Tanzania, Fly to Zanzibar : Day 13

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 23, 2013 / 0 Comments

Another bright and early start, accompanied by animal sounds, and we pack up camp, another breakfast of tropical fruit, smokey fire toasted bread with butter and jam and bacon and eggs. Luca made me a cup of tea, as he had been charging around all morning – first one up, first one packed, first one with his gear in the car, ready to go. Mark joined us for the drive to the airport – we still saw so much game – dikdik, impala, topi, wildebeest, hartebeest, 3 lions resting in the shade, we closed our windows to keep the tsetse fly out (the kids killed 9 of them), buffalo, giraffes, zebra, and another hippo pool full of pooping, snorting hippos.

We made it to the airport in good time, and stood around talking to George and Mark. They were both such lovely men. Mark played games with the kids, taught Luca some knots using his shoelace, then taught him how to lace his shoes a different way. Our pilot, Sean, came over to greet us, and we walked our bags over and onto the plane. He asked if Luca would like to sit in the front with him, as we had a full flight and the co pilot seat would need to be used. The Wayo boys stayed by the runway, waving as we taxi’d down the runway, and still waving as we took off almost directly in front of them.  Luca fell asleep in the cockpit within minutes of takeoff, as did Milla next to me, much to Big Charlie’s distress. He would have loved to be in the cockpit. It was great flying over the land we had been driving over for the last 10 days. We saw another huge cater near Ngorongoro and many Masai huts in circles with a cattle yard in the middle – we hadn’t been aware of that when driving past. The landscape changed from the wooded grasslands and open grasslands to much lusher forest in the hills and on crater walls, then to drier land as we approached Arusha.

We flew to Arusha first, landing on the basic airstrip. We clambered off the 12 seater and went around the other side of the plane to identify our bags so that they could be tagged for the onward flight. we then walked across the tarmac to a transit shed – just a tin roof, no walls. After a few minutes, we were ushered to another area, at least there were toilets and a couple of shops there, still not many walls. The kids and I bought some souvenirs, we all ate our packed lunch, and waited until the next instructions. We were told to go to the only desk, where we wrote down our names and passport numbers on a piece of paper. This was check in. No ID checks, nothing electronic, a handwritten boarding pass that didn’t include names or seats. Old Skool. Eventually, about an hour late, we were led over to our ‘Tropical Air’ plane, a bigger propeller plane. We were second on – the first couple sat right by the stairs at the back, so we had to wait for them to stow their bags before we could proceed to the front. The cargo hold was directly in front of us, the plane was a Russian plane at some point, going by some of the labels, and the Swahili signs were written in texta with neat horizontal pencil lines to keep the writing straight!  Hilarious. Again, Milla snoozed, Luca and Charlie played, and we landed in Zanzibar an hour or so later. Poor old Milla’s cough is no better at all, and she is a bit snotty, gets suddenly pale a couple of times per day and has been sleeping a lot in the car. It has been odd this trip to have both of my kids actually leaving the dinner table to go to bed, at their own request. Dinner here always seems to be at 7.30 at the earliest, which is much later than we are used to, but the kids are rarely asleep before 9 at home, so I have been surprised, especially by Luca. I have a doctors appointment already booked for Milla when we get home. She’s been coughing for months, and it has been alarming to spend all this time with her and realize how tired she is, more so than the other kids.

At Zanzibar, we passed through a form of passport control – we again had to write our names and passport numbers on a piece of paper and hand it to a lady in uniform before passing through and waiting for our bags to be brought from the plane on a trolley. We were met by our driver who helped us with our bags across the muddy gravel car park, and then the quick drive through Zanzibar town to Stone Town, the old district by the waterfront. Zanzibar town looked similar to Moshi and Arusha – a main road paved, then with dirt roads coming off it, buildings made of found objects with Pepsi, beer, and washing detergent ads. Funny how we see so much promotion of Pepsi, but have not seen it for sale at all – it is all coke.

Our hotel, Kisiwa House, is lovely. An old stone 4 story house, wooden stairs (not all even), but quality workmanship in the rooms for the tiling etc – the best we have seen in this country. We have a small sitting room, and enormous bed and a nice bathroom with a big bath. Just as well, as I had a big load of washing to try to do. Nothing actually gets clean when I am hand washing like this, but hopefully we get some of the stink out. At least we had not worn many different clothes when we were camping for the last 5 days – I had only worn 2 different tops and 2 different pants, neither of which I bothered to wash – they can wait until we get home. The kids pants were filthy, but again, I did wash them out but don’t expect them to be worn again before we get home, if ever!

Stone Town is a falling down, decrepit area. We found the touts again, but are better at walking on. There are a lot of young travelers here, so old retirees, few families. It is a Muslim town – there is the call to prayer, women dressed in black from head to toe, and men in traditional long pale dresses, with beaded caps. There is a little school just behind our hotel – just desks, chairs and a blackboard, and Arabic script. The waterfront is filthy, and we actually saw some young men back their ute up and dump their rubbish into the water. Mind you, we can see no rubbish bins anywhere.

We decided to have a drink at sunset on the balcony at Africa House, as suggested by our driver. We climbed the rickety, wobbly, wooden spiral staircase to the balcony. It was soo hot – at least 35 degrees with high humidity. We were all sweaty and flushed. We ordered a couple of drinks and snacks and 3 liters of water – the waiter didn’t believe us!  The drinks were bland, the water almost cool, the sun went down beautifully, the snacks were ridiculously, insultingly small, and then the power went out. No music, lights, fans or eftpos. We paid cash, walked down the stairs in the dark (Luca fell and banged his knee), and walked home. We ate in our hotel restaurant, seafood platter for Charlie, chicken curry for Luca and Charlie, pasta for Milla, steak for Gran and fish for me. $90 for 6 of us, with drinks – cheaper than home, convenient, and every last bit was eaten – the first time Milla has finished a meal in a fortnight.

The cool shower was blissful, getting into clean clothes was even better, and I was able to assess my histamine reaction to the bush. Oh dear. I have horrid, angry red welts around my ankles, my knees, behind my shoulders, at my wrist and on my left forearm. They are a combination of tsetse fly bites and grass prickles, I think. And they are sooo itchy. Cortisone cream applied, telfast swallowed, air con on to keep cool, and then to tackle the 300 emails received, and catch up on Facebook :)

 
 
 
23 Mar

Tanzania, The Lion Sleeps Tonight : Day 12

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 23, 2013 / 0 Comments

Our walking safari started at 7, when Mark asked if we had heard the lion roaring at around 10 pm, followed by the saw like sound of the leopard, which was just in the rocks adjacent our camp. Hyenas had also come through the camp overnight, getting into the kitchen stuff, eating the chocolate for the brownies (oh no!!), pooping out the chocolate, tearing the trash open and throwing that around. The men were up a few times during the night trying to secure their section of camp. Apparently we were all ok – we heard nothing, slept fine, and had been warned in any case to not venture out of the tents during the night.

Mark explained the procedure if we were to be charged at by a lion – to shout and wave, which often works, before they have to shoot. We set off, seeing the hyena tracks on the ground. We spotted much animal poop of the various antelope around, elephant, zebra, buffalo, even a lion paw print in the softer mud a few hundred meters from camp. We saw where lions and leopards had scarred the trees by climbing them with their sharp claws. Mark showed us the mud left by warthogs on the tree.  The mud was very dry, and he pulled some of it off to look for dead ticks encased in the mud. Milla found a warthog hair in her patch of mud! We saw no animals for the first hour, which had Mark and Daniel concerned as the presence of lions was the only explanation for the lack of game to be spotted. We did hear a low noise as we set off, which Mark though was probably a lion giving us a warning growl.

Eventually we saw some small animals – rock hyrax, a dikdik, a few hartebeest, some topi, but they were all very scattered, and we were seeing them from 100 – 200m only. Agama lizards (they look like spiderman, especially when they are crawling up and across a rock face), many birds, a few insects. Lots of dung to observe, and we climbed a rock where we had seen some baboons to see the view.  Sitting up there, catching the cool breeze, Mark told us some stories – about warthogs and how they pair up, and about the honey badger and how they get the honey anyhow their farts make bees faint!  We talked about what animals we had seen, and Mark concluded that we had seen all there was to see – he was particularly impressed we had seen the honey badgers.

We got back to camp soon after 10, so we all sat and scraped the grass seeds out of our socks and pants. Gran went and showered – the water smells of the smokey wood fire, as the water is heated in steel buckets by the fire and poured into plastic buckets to then top up the canvas bucket shower.  Charlie charged his laptop from the car by the men. The bread for lunch and dinner was being baked in the steel oven box alongside the fire. Most of the bread is a little black on top, but gee, they do an awesome job of preparing these meals for us with just a fire. Most of the rest of the day was spent quietly, writing, reading, photo downloading, snoozing, as well as another UNO championship. The girls taught Gran to play the other day, but I think she felt she was being ganged up on when she was not winning. Charlie and Luca got a fire started with Charlie’s flint, some loo paper, grass and sticks, whilst the girls read and did puzzles. A very peaceful afternoon. Charlie and Luca realised they had caught their dinner (fish a few days ago), shot an arrow (with the huntsmen), started a fire today, thrown knives (hmmm, that was today), and then charged batteries using the solar panel charger. Real men.

Lunch today was pizza with a bread base! With salad, and brownies. Hurrah!! Charlie jnr has scored on the food front – we have had lasagna, chicken curry, pizza, and then tonight, mince samosas followed by beef stroganoff – all her favorite foods. She has eaten really, well.  Milla has not. We didn’t expect it to go that way, but hey, what can you do with 8 year old girls?

Our afternoon walk was a short one to a nearby Kopjes, and a rock that Mark said was the very rock from ‘The Lion King’. He brought wine, beer and coke in his backpack and we all sat atop this rock, admiring the view of the plains for miles around and the sun went down. It was truly magical. Mark told us the story of evolution, as well as another fable, while we tried to recall the dreaming stories to share. We didn’t do so well. On our way down, we noticed one of the rock figs had very fresh scratch marks on it – from a leopard, in the last 24 hours. It was almost certainly from the leopard we heard last night. And less than 200m from our tents. We are keeping the kids close by. The baboons make all sorts of dog like noises, and these noises are coming from all 4 of the Kopjes surrounding the camp.

It is our last night in the Serengeti. We are glad to be close to electricity to charge everything, a hot shower to wash my hair (yikes – 5 days with no shampoo for me), flushing toilets and so on, but it is a little sad to know that we are leaving this environment and may never be back again. We really have had a brilliant time out here – it has exceeded our expectations, and the kids have really enjoyed it as well.  They have coped very well with the slower, dare I say boring bits, they have developed the awareness of their relative privilege, as I hoped they would, and they have had the chance to see some of these animals we only see in documentaries, in cartoons and at the zoo. They are aware they are lucky, thank goodness. From here, the history of Stone Town, and then the beach!

 

21 Mar

Tanzania : Day 11

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 21, 2013 / 0 Comments

Moving from our camp near Moru Kopjes to a more eastern area for a walking safari

A tough night with a protesting belly, more rain (nothing like walking through the long, wet grass in the rain, in the dark with wildlife somewhere out there, to go to the wet open air, long drop loo), more odd sounds outside – this time it sounded very much like grass being pulled and eaten. The kids seemed to sleep ok, though.

A quick shower in the morning cool and drizzle (we call it invigorating!) then breakfast again of fruit, toast and eggs, then on the wet boggy roads heading east. We saw the elusive, viscious, nocturnal honey badger running through the grass – perhaps an adult and a youth.  They darted into a thicket, disturbing a hyena who came out, wondering what the fuss was about, and who decided it must have just been us. If he has realised it was a honey badger, he would have run away very fast. It took us a moment to spot them again, running in the grass further away from the road.

We saw a small herd of retired buffalo – the old man herd who tend to stay where there is grass and water, often near lodges, camps and rangers where grass is watered and lions are not usually too close. They no longer can run with the full herd, but they don’t need to eat as much as the younger beasts. When they do meet up with their original herd, someof them will still have mating rights being older but still strong. Others will just be old, and no longer with much respect.

We saw Banded mongoose eating termites and scorpions (they live in abandoned termite mounds) by the side of the road, looking quite similar to the meerkats (none of those around here).  A small snake slithering across the road, a small leopard tortoise crossing the other way.

We stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Centre to have a look at the interpretive trail, find out a bit more about the animals (a crocodile can eat only once a year. He prefers to eat more often, no doubt). Milla felt very sick suddenly, dry retching on our way to the toilet. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, dinner or lunch, so that was catching up with her. After some lemonade and popcorn from the shop, her color came back, and I think we’ll see her being less fussy about her food. The airport nearby was busy with a couple of light aircraft and a dozen or so safari trucks.

We drove on, heading east and the landscape changed from the grassy plains to woodland.  It was drier here, far less muddy and a much less treacherous drive. Thank goodness. It was slow going earlier.

The flies are prolific around here! Little black flies, so many of them that the kids have caught and squashed a dozen or so for their travel diaries. There are also tsetse flies – smaller than a march fly, but still a stinging bite. I have a small mark today on my left arm from a bite yesterday.

Everyone is very quiet in the car, driving in the sunshine, through the long grass, dozing, reading, watching ‘Jaws’ on his iPod (say). The plains are so vast, alternately teeming with wildlife then quiet. We came across a pride of 8 lions, resting in the shade of an acacia sapling, only a couple of feet from the track.  They looked at us as we drew alongside, a couple wandered away into the thicker shade, but several stayed close. They were likely all brothers and sisters, the boys with only a sparse mane. They all had quite full bellies – not as bloated as the ones we saw the other day, but these were not hungry beasts.
This area is only used by Wayo tours, so the animals here are not used to humans. Often the only humans they have seen have been poachers, so they will tend to keep away.  We came across a few groups of antelope – topi, impala, grants gazelles, and hartebeest, separated into female and bachelor groups. A few zebra joined them as well.

Klipspringer on the Kopjes, adjacent to our new camp – so many bloody tsetse flies!! Our new guide, Mark, took us for a brief walk up the closest Kopjes to survey our surrounds. It was a tricky climb, but Gran managed most of it, and the view was spectacular.

The countryside is very reminiscent of Alice Springs after rain – just as I saw it when we were there for Easter a couple of years ago.  It makes Charlie quite homesick.  We had a quiet afternoon before our walking safari with  Mark and his .458 and the ranger, Daniel with an SMG .338. The flies were terrible, as were the grass seeds in our socks and shoes – I wished I had gaiters!  We walked away from camp, seeing dikdik, klipspringer and hartebeest tracks, then seeing the beasts themselves. Mark talked about the middens we saw – each of the antelope tend to poo in the one place each day to keep their exact whereabouts secret from predators. We saw baboon poo on the rocks, looking very like person poo, and Mark explained about the various plants we saw, bugs, and the ecosystem. There were many broken trees, courtesy of the elephants, playing an important role in providing cover for saplings as well as habitat for small animals. Rock ficus, marked by leopard scratches and elephant tusks, growing on the rocks and splitting them over time.

Mark showed us flowers which locals use to induce abortion and leaves used to cure stomach ulcers and disinfect hands. We saw buffalo that were keeping an eye on a lion on another Kopjes as well as on us. We didn’t venture closer. Our two guides kept an eye on that lion, but were surprised when Milla suddenly asked ‘is that a lion?’. Sure enough, on the rocks right next to our camp, was another lion, quietly watching us. The baboons usually hang out on this rock, so they were displaced to the next one over, although one baboon was hollering and carrying on. We don’t know if he was calling to his buddies, wondering where they were, or yelling at us to keep away from the lion. I wonder if he’ll make it though the night.

Showers for all when we returned, and washing out some socks and jocks again. It is nice showering in the fresh air – something to think about for the dream house one day. Milla is a bit freaked out about the lion so very close, so will sleep with me tonight, the two Charlie’s together and Luca will keep Gran safe and sound, as usual. The flies disappeared with the sun, leaving just the myriad other bugs and the ticks. This is our second to last night camping, so as much as an actual room with an actual bed, and a flushing toilet, will be nice, we aren’t going to hurry the time away. Dinner was chicken curry and rice after pumpkin soup, followed by fruit salad again, whilst lunch was chicken with salad and chips, followed by chocolate brownie. Those brownies were good! Luca thought they were *almost* as good as mine ;)

 

21 Mar

Tanzania, Serengeti : Day 9

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 21, 2013 / 0 Comments

Woken early by scuffling and growling sounds outside our tent, but too early to see anything. The camp staff told us it was probably buffalo  We did see a small bat hanging from a branch!  As well as the lions nearby, we can expect elephants, buffalo, baboons and virtually all the other plains animals to come by. I think Charlie was actually scared! We don’t know exactly what is was. (Charlie’s note – Tory bolted upright at 2.00am and held my arm!)

Lions on the rocks after breakfast, then just down the road a small group of elephants – mother, father, young daughter and either twin or single born and adopted child – both little ones about the same age of 2 or 2.5 years old. The female is pregnant again – they do once the child is 18 months old.

Bohor reedbuck leaping away and out of sight, one of the bigger African antelopes. Outcrops of granite, like marbles stacked on each other, similar to Remarkable Rocks and Devil’s Marbles in Australia, but surround by lush stands of trees.  Euphorbia again, acacia, sausage tree, no baobab, Even date palms along the river. Much swampy ground, tricky driving, but George is a legend. Charlie was well impressed with his 4WD skills, his thoughts on a tip were changed on this day.
Lots of flies.

A small group of three Warthog, a group of over 30 baboons, a few mongoose (banded), giraffes, wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, Egyptian geese, more warthogs, a few safari trucks, Hartebeests with young, 6 young lions sunning themselves on the rocks, a glimpse of a hyrax (like a guinea pig, related to the elephant, aardvark and dugong!) and many hippos.

Long crested eagle, pair of leopard faced vultures (the largest sort) sitting on their nest on top of a tree, lilac breasted roller, Eurasian roller, love birds, plovers, many many birds.

A couple of mating pairs of lions lying in the sunshine between sessions, dozing quietly, occasionally scratching at flies or yawning. They mate several times per hour for a 3 day period. Boom!

Two herds of elephants further along the same river, one herd of 15, 9 young including one bub barely visible in the grass. They were heading back onto the plain while the other herd approached the river.

Next were saw Masai cave paintings including a picture of a bike! The paintings are therefore thought to be 100 – 200 years old.  We couldn’t get out of the car as the 6 lions were just on the other side of the same rocky outcrop. Then we drove to Ngong rock – another granite outcrop with ‘marbles’ balancing on top. One of the ignus rocks on top was hollow and has been used by the Masai for centuries as a musical rock – hitting it with a handheld rock makes it ring like a big brass bell. They used it as a means of communicating and for its musical qualities.

A cool morning, giving way to a hot day before the thunderheads built up again, with a strong breeze to blow them away, so no actual rain, which is good.

After we returned to camp in the evening, we got everyone through the shower. When it was finally our turn (Charlie and me), the lion on the rock, perhaps 100m away let out an almighty roar. It sounded as though it was right next to us!  He kept carrying on like that for almost 30 minutes, as the sun went down, sitting tall and proud on his rock overlooking the plains. We couldn’t believe how loud he was! We were the only people in the camp tonight after the Dutch couple left this morning, as well as a young Canadian family with kids aged about 8 and 4. Quite nerve wrecking to be out here with a 4 year old boy, I’d have thought!

 

18 Mar

Tanzania, Lake Eyasi – Serengeti : Day 8

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 18, 2013 / 0 Comments

We are travelling today to the Ngorognoro plains, to the west of the crater. There are Wildebeest, Zebra, Eland, Golden Jackal, Bat Eared Fox, Thompsons Gazelle, Dikdik, vultures (3 kinds), Giraffes, and Hyenas
George spotted a Cheetah resting under a tree. With a full belly she walked only to another tree to flop in the shade there, then rolled over on her back just like a domestic cat or dog. We also see Honey Badger warrens – but no Honey Badgers to later in the tour.

Dead Wildebeest are being eaten by vultures and a freshly dead zebra not yet discovered by the critters. The vultures were fighting over the wildebeest, plucking at the face, the mid belly and the anus, disappearing up to their shoulders in the beast, coming out with red blood stained head and neck. Just like skeksies :). Hyena chasing storks, watched by nervous gazelles

Across the high grassy plain, animals here 3-4 weeks now.  Wildebeests have their young here – many bubs born only this morning, many with their umbilical cord attached, one mama yet to deliver her placenta, and one placenta lying on the ground. Wobbly, knobby legs, trying to run, very ungainly.

We have lunch here by the car, amongst them. Lunch pack of a tomato sandwich, a meatball, pizza slice, banana, banana chips (salted, very like potato crisps), 2 hard boiled eggs, a foil triangle of cheese, a green mandarin (or similar), Cadbury chocolate, mango fruit box. A typically huge lunch pack!

There are tens and tens of thousands of animals, very occasional small tree. Then into wooded land, acacia, gradually giving way to euphorbia candelabra and shrubs.

Into the actual Serengeti park, driving past still more zebra,wildebeest, eland, Thompsons gazelle and dikdik, plus many Flamingos in a lake. We pass a stricken vehicle with a broken rear axle, so both back wheels splayed out, like a cartoon truck.  Later in the day It rained on and off through the afternoon, great big drops, leaving fair sized puddles. 

After 10 hrs in the car – the kids coped remarkably well with little bickering, some dozing, some iPod listening.  We arrive at our camp, part of the moru kopjies, meeting up with Els and Siemen from Rhotia Valley who had been here a couple of days. They showed us the male lion lounging on a rock, just 50 m from their tent. There is a mess area with several men from Wayo providing food for us, hot water for our bucket showers.  They have solar panels, kerosene lamps and a generator. 

Our camp is comprised of x 3, 2 man tents, a mess tent to eat in and a bathroom area with long drop loo, bucket shower and handbasin bucket. The longer grass is very wet, as are the tents, but it is warm enough. 

Dinner was veggie soup, rice and pork stroganoff and chickpea curry, followed by tinned pineapple rings. A fire was lit, despite the wet wood, with the men bringing hot coals from the main cooking fire to get it started. 


17 Mar

Tanzania, Kisima Ngeda : Day 7

In Blog by Charlie Lawrence / March 17, 2013 / 0 Comments
We had an early start today, with coffee on our doorstep at 5:15am before leaving at 5:30 am to get the the local Hazda tribe. We arrived in the pre dawn gloaming, and walked trough the scrub to get to the tribesmen. They were crouched down around the fire, preparing their morning smoke (marijuana), and tidying their arrows. One man brought out yesterday’s dikdik and proceeded to gut and skin it. It was a small female, and was in fact pregnant – we were shown the foetus before it was given to a couple of the scrawny hunting dogs. The innards were mostly hung out to dry, as was the carcass and the skin, whilst the head and a few other pieces were put in the fire for pre hunt sustenance. There were around 6 men here, then we were taken around the corner to the 6 or so women in the group. They were also crouched around a fire and preparing for their day. They forage, and provide about 90% of the food for the group. 

Their huts are small and made of leaves and sticks – temporary structures designed to keep only light rain out. They were similar in size to a typical 2 man dome dent, and usually sleep a married couple – men only have 1 wife in this tribe. We set off with three young men on the hunt, they were armed with a bow and 6 arrows each, and we followed quickly behind. They proved to be deft shots with the bow, but birds were the only prey we spotted. We walked through the scrub and then along a dry sandy riverbed, crossing it before we got to big baobab tree with timber pegs or footholds stuck in it. This was a water tree. The tribesmen climbed the tree, then used a cut PET water bottle to fish water out, have a drink, the bring it back down to share with the dogs (by pouring it into a shallow hole in the ground). 

The men started a fire (by rubbing sticks and then placing the hot shavings on dried dung collected from the creek bed) and prepared two of the doves they had shot. Luca asked to try some when it was cooked, so we all had a small taste once it was cooked. It was very smoky, but good, and even the girls enjoyed it. The dogs got the innards and most of a smaller bird, and the tribesmen ate the entire bird – bones and all. The bigger feathers were saved, perhaps for arrow tails. 

It was now 8.30 so we started back the way we came. We saw dikdik footprints, but no animals. We walked past another tribes’ hut, and it was odd how the Hadza walked past without any acknowledgement. The baobab and flat top acacias provided a quintessential African scene. We found some porcupine quills on the ground, and a couple of Franklin bird eggs.  Our guide pointed them out, and the Hadza wanted to take them, but he admonished them. He thought they should be left to grow into birds – better eating if nothing else. He said to Charlie afterwards that the ‘Hadza have no future.  They think only of today’. Back at the camp, another dikdik and a rabbit were now hanging and drying, and the men prepared to demonstrate their archery target practice. Then Charlie and the kids had a turn. Charlie hit the target on his 3rd shot, and each of the kids got pretty close. Apparently, women don’t get to try. 

Back at our lodge for a cooked breakfast, followed by lunch only 3 hours later, we had a quiet afternoon – a snooze for Milla and I, a swim for all the kids, a walk by the lake shore and then it was time for our next excursion – to see the Dagota tribespeople .  They are pastoralists and blacksmiths, so we were there to see how they lived, and how they smithed. We were met by two women, one around 60 although she did not know her age, and a younger woman who looked to be in her early 20’s but could have been 30. she had a little girl with her, perhaps 18 months old. They were dressed in more traditional beaded goat skins, and the bibi had faded tattoos around here eyes. It is not done anymore and was apparently a very painful procedure (no kidding!) with significant infection risk. 

They took us into the main hut and showed us how they grind maize using two stones, and then the little sleeping area of a single (quite large, perhaps queen sized area) bed draped with goat skin on which the family would sleep. There were dried gourds hanging from the ceiling beams that are used for water, milk, alcohol or other liquid.  An adjacent area was where the man did his smithing. He had a roofing nail and was hammering it against a stone, flattening and shaping it. Meanwhile, some brass scrap was put in a little boat shaped metal dish and into the oaks. More coals were piled on top, and the younger woman started manning the goat skin bellows to fan the flames. They know the brass is sufficiently melted when the flame changes to a more yellow color. Meanwhile, the roofing nail continued to be hammered and shaped, occasionally cut with a chisel tipped punch. 

The brass when melted was poured into an oiled cast, and within a minute or so, cooled enough to maintain its shaped so was slipped into a small puddle created on the ground. This would be molded into a brass bracelet. They produced bangles in brass, copper and aluminum for sale, as well as colorful plastic bead necklaces. Charlie bought the arrowhead we watched being created, whilst the kids bought some beads and Gran some bangles. 

At the lodge, the vervet monkeys kept an eye on us and especially our food. We were fed far too much here, with very big serves of very familiar food. At the end of lunch today, the kids had left the table when a vervat that had been sitting on the open window sill leapt onto the table, skidded on a placemat, grabbed a small bread roll and took  off into the rafters above the bar. He later came back to eat Luca’s fruit salad, meanwhile the kids called out in excitement that another monkey was eating from a sugar bowl by the pool where another family had left their coffee. This monkey was hilarious – whiskers covered in sugar, greedily plunging face down into the bowl, coming up for air, then face down again. 

At dinner each night there were a couple of small bats flitting around the lights, swooping from one orator the area to another the bugs, monkeys another wildlife made for a very noisy night, but it was the rhino beetle crawling up the canvas door flap of the tent that made the most disturbing sound. It gripped the canvas with every step, making an odd scratching, rummaging sound. I flicked it down, but it climbed back up the fly screen (silently) and was trapped against the canvas again at the top. So, I picked him up and put him outside – no way could I sleep with that noise! He was over an inch long, and almost as wide, jet black and beautiful. 












16 Mar

Tanzania, Kisima Ngeda, Lake Eyasi : Day 6

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 16, 2013 / 0 Comments

Wow. From one paradise to another. 

This morning we found out a little more about the Rhotia Valley Children’s Home and how they have set up – Jorg and Marise, being Dutch Doctors have used their connections for years in terms of fundraising and have a foundation set up in Holland to provide funds to operate and they have quite a number of ways to receive donations and sponsorship. They reiterated their thanks for the books we brought and help we have provided. sadly, we didn’t impose enough to get a photo yesterday with some of the kids. 


On leaving, we drove down the hill and took some pictures of the mud huts, children and animals we passed. Most families have goats, chooks and cattle in very small numbers. The kids are always smiling, waving, often running towards us as fast as they can, yelling out hello. Luca made the observation : we are so rich compared to these people. Quite.
We drove through lands that are lived on by the Iraqw people – very dry, subsistence living. A very occasional small township, but mostly single houses. 


The Dagota people also live here, and the Hadza people. After a couple of hours driving on roads that were being repaired but making better time than George had feared, We arrived at Kisima Ngeda (‘spring’ in Swahili and ‘spring’ or ‘water from the ground’ in the Dagota language).  We sat in the open bar area and ate our packed lunch (well, the kids didn’t eat much of it – turning up their noses at different food that still tastes good) before being shown around by Nani Schmelling who owns the place, with her husband Chris. Chris’s parents owned the land after farming the area for many years (from Germany originally) and he grew up here. Nani came to Tanzania traveling and met Chris in a bar in Arusha 18 years ago. She travelled on but returned 18 months later. 16 years ago, Chris’s father died, so they took over the land. About 10 years ago, they started developing the lodge. 

The area we started in included a grassy area with a fire in the evenings, a viewing platform high in a tree, another small platform overlooking a waterhole, overlooking the salt lake. We were shown past the salt water swimming pool, and then past the various pools fed by the spring that the property is named for. They have stocked the pools with tipalia, and we are able to fish using simple stick and string lines, baited with bread. Charlie and the kids caught 14 this afternoon, keeping 3 to give to the kitchen. The largest pool used to used as a swimming pool, until the Schmellings decided to construct a water project. They installed a solar powered water pump to pump the water up to the school and the village. The area here is very safe – there are flamingos on the lake, protected by the sticky mud which stops us getting too close in a hurry, there are no dangerous animals, so we can walk quite freely – along the mud flats or the small creek of spring water from the spring to the lake, or into the forest of palm and acacia. 


Our time here is now much more peaceful, and not much in the car for the two days. This afternoon, the kids swam, fished, and walked along the creek to the lake, through the mud. We have read and relaxed, walked and enjoyed the space. The rooms are once again amazing. A large canvas tent (just like the tv shows), with a thatched roof overhead, an ensuite bathroom with actual plumbing, as water is not scarce here, and the laundry service included as well as full board (yay). This truly is ‘glamping’, and we are loving it!
We walked with one of the staff here to the top of the rocky outcrop behind us to see the view, and to look down into a hyena den. The animals were hiding (as a group, we are not good at sneaking up on anything), so we weren’t able to see her or her 5 month old cub. Afterwards, we sat up in the treehouse, watching the swallows catch insects over the waterhole, while mum sat on the deck overlooking the waterhole and the kids played charades below us. This is the life!


For dinner, we had a leek and potato soup, beef steak with potato bake, broccoli and red cabbage, and the fish the kids caught on the side! It was fantastic. Dessert was pineapple chunks in a mango purée. Lovely and refreshing. 


Tomorrow morning we get to go hunting with some of the local Hadza tribe. In 1974, the government tried to centralize the tribes a little to provide services to them (schools, healthcare), but when the Hadza grouped under a tin roof, they claimed that the noise of the rain on the roof killed an infant, so they rejected the governments help and have continued to live only in their small huts, with little contact with other tribes. Except for the folks that let tourists follow them on a hunt!  They hunt with bow and arrow, using 3 different types of arrows depending on the animal being hunted – sharp stick arrows for the small animals like birds and mice, metal tipped for the medium animals like dikdik and monkeys, and poisoned metal tipped arrows for bigger animals like impala or buffalo. The poison is made from the ‘desert rose’ that they cut up and boil down until it is a gum that they then dip the tips in. It kills them by inducing cardiac arrest, and can even kill a giraffe in an hour!



16 Mar

Tanzania, Ngorongoro Crater : Day 5

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 16, 2013 / 0 Comments

We greeted the day with an amazing sunrise over the valley behind our tents. A cool and hazy morning with many layers of cloud shrouding the many layers of hills into the distance. A simple breakfast of fruit, cereal or eggs and we headed off down the hill and across to the Ngorognoro crater. We drove past many mud huts, small single roomed dwellings housing a family and their goats, small children laughing and waving as we go by.  

Ngorongoro crater was formed about 2.5 million years ago in a massive volcanic eruption. It is 22km x 18km, 265 sqkm at the base, the rim is 2300m above sea level and the flatland is 600m lower. It is called Ngorongoro after the sound of the Masai cow bells as they herd their cattle in the marshlands there. The view from the top was amazing, all painted plains in the soft light today. You can’t see any wildlife and you wonder how many animals there could be down there. There are lots. 


It was slow to start, and we had no ‘Oh my god’ moments, but we saw a lot of animals at peace. Grants Gazelle, Thompsons Gazelle (a very beautiful animal, and we saw a mother with her small baby), buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, this time so close – almost touching distance, warthogs (more babies), jackals, hyenas, a few shy Eland – the largest of the antelope, several hippo pools (again, more babies) and our first lions and a solitary black rhino. 


The lions were all grubby looking and bloated – they had fed last night and were covered in blood still. Their tummies were extraordinary – so full and round. All they did today was lie around in the sun or in the grass. Apparently they would have a drink as well, but we didn’t see any move that much. And they won’t eat again for a week. With the size of their bellies – I mean, we joke about having food babies after a big meal, but this was ridiculous!

Seeing all these animals coexisting feels just like an Attenborough special – ostrich, zebra, wildebeest (or white bearded gnu!), eland, and buffalo all grazing together.  Later we saw a Black Rhino grazing amongst the same mix. There was a lake filled with flamingos, and groups of them ‘doing a dance’ all huddled and bouncing along together like a long legged pink mosh pit! That was one of Gran’s highlights of the trip. Lots of other birds for her today as well.  Little fire finches, bustards, beautiful crowned cranes, black and white storks, spur winged geese, weaver birds, guinea fowl, kites so aggressive we had to eat our lunch in the car overlooking the hippos or they’d likely take a finger along with the food they snatch from our hands!  This was a safe spot to eat, or get out of the car for pictures of the hippos as the grassy bank was too high for the very short legged beasts to get out that way, so there is no chance of an angry hippo getting a tourist. 


Once we got back to the lodge, we were able to walk over to the adjacent children’s home with the owners, Jorg and Marise from Holland, and give our gifts (5 bags of books and 20 small teddy bears and blankets. The soft things were bought by one of my patients for me to donate on her behalf, and the books and puzzles were a combination of things I had bought, books my kids no longer needed, and Christmas presents from family to our kids that were specifically for us to pass on today). They have been here five years, buying two adjacent parcels of land at the top of the hill. The forest behind has elephants in it (!) that will come out of the forest for water in. The dry season and wreck havoc on the farmers properties. So they were only too glad to sell this land. 


The tented lodge with 15 double/ twin tents and a dining / bar / reception hut is on one side, with generator power for only a few hours at night and for an hour or so in the morning if you have an early start. There are solar powered lanterns that charge all day to use in your tents during the night as required. The water is solar heated, and we have to catch the water from the shower in a bucket to use to flush the toilet. Kerosene lamps light the tables in the dining area.


The children’s home is on the other hill. 38 children live there in 3 homes with 3 house mamas.  The little kitchen uses a gas hot plate and a bio gas hot plate. The bio gas is provided by the cow dung. There is a small herd of cattle, 2 infants and one pregnant cow, imported from Holland. The milk, butter and yogurt for the children and for the lodge all comes from these cows. They have the bio gas set up behind the cow sheds, next to a huge veggie patch, so they are very self sufficient. Once again, the water is solar heated, little electricity is used, and water is collected in several 50 000L underground tanks. 56 local people are employed across the site. They have a bakery further down the hill that produces all the bread for both sites as well.  The volunteer teacher that helps the children with additional school work after school each day was thrilled with all the books we brought, and looking at their set up, they will be well used.  It is an amazing and inspirational sight. 



They have a graded soccer pitch with a basketball ring attached to one of the goal posts and a volleyball net set up on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, by the time the kids were home from school and then doing their homework, there was not the opportunity for our kids to join in with them and play soccer. 



Being as high as we are here (1700m), there are no mozzies, and therefore no mozzie nets to sleep under. We still take our anti malarials, of course (along with a probiotic each day to try to protect our guts), but it is a relief to not need to be so vigilant for a few days with the kids. Back on guard tomorrow, I expect. We have so much insect spray – 4 bottles, and I haven’t actually seen a mozzie yet. There are plenty of other big bugs around here – crawling and flying, but they all seem harmless. The big spiders with spindly black legs we saw last night – not so much. 

For dinner tonight, watching the lightning flash over the valley and smelling the briney lake smell from Lake Manyara once the wind changed, we had a cauliflower soup, lamb in red wine stew with homemade pappardelle and an eggplant parmigiana, followed by a ‘chocolate treat’. It was delicious, although tonight it was Milla’s turn to cry, declare herself too tired to eat and need be escorted to bed during dinner.  Last night it was Luca. Of course, they are awake before 6, like usual, and once awake are functioning at full power – no slow wake ups for them. 

I sat in the back of the truck with them for a while this afternoon, playing I spy, thumb wars, and another word game they had made up. They were so good this morning when we first got to the crater and had been in the car for several hours without seeing much. They all read or watched quietly, patiently even though they were bored and hungry and pretty tired. It is amazing how tiring a long day on the car can be. The kids have been writing in their travel diaries most days, and have done so when they are in the car. I can’t wait to read back through them. They are loving the experience here, although they are not all thrilled about the food – it is all fine, but they are being typically fussy with different foods. I’m hoping they relax their resistance as we go through the next 2 weeks of our adventure.
Tomorrow we are moving to our next lodge, and will have the opportunity for a bit of walking in the afternoon – not before time as 2 full days in the car so far is wearing the tolerance a bit thin for all of us. 


Sheesh, how lucky are we?





16 Mar

Tanzania, Rhotia Valley : Day 4

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / March 16, 2013 / 0 Comments

Wow. What a day. We were picked up from the hotel by our lovely guide and driver, George.  He is from a village on the shores of Lake Victoria, but has lived in Arusha for 20 years. He grew up hunting Impala, did his 8 months of compulsory national service, worked as a Vet assistant in the national parks tranquilizing animals for blood samples and so on, then returned to school to study to become a guide. He loves animals, and working with people and so far, we are very impressed.

We drove from Moshi towards the west, past Kili whose summit was clear above a low cloud line, the JRO airport we arrived at, and into Arusha. Traffic was heavy and somewhat chaotic, but after China, my chaos standards are pretty high. Watching people walking along the road, Masai tending to herds on the roadside, motorbikes – up to 4 people on a bike at once, the ramshackle stores, the fresh food market – we even saw a ‘butcher’ with a leg of meat hung in a cupboard, cutting bits off for customers. A stop to collect some paperwork from the Wayo office, then to collect our lunch packs before setting off for Lake Manyara National Park.

After leaving Arusha, the landscape quickly became quite dry and barren. We saw many small groups of Masai, their thatched wet season huts, herds of goats and cattle and bright red draped clothing. Several hundred were at a market, trading animals on one side, fresh food and other goods on the other. This was the real Masai country. We were so surprised to see such traditional lifestyle by the roadside, not realizing that they did still live that way, so close to town. They walk to a swampy area in the dry season to feed their herds, then back to this drier area in the wet season. We went past one settlement that apparently housed one man, his 20 wives and 105 children. The government built him a school on his hillside in exchange for his services to population!  We also drove past a Masai tourist town, much advertising, so many souvenir shops, so many paintings for sale, a more than a few flabby white tourists. We also past a couple of pairs of young Masai men with white painted faces. George explained that this was part of their initiation and circumcision that heralds their arrival as men, at around 15 years old. The detailed paintwork, ostrich feathers on their heads and just walking along the side of the road. The boys must keep their eyes open when the knife comes down, or they are deemed to be soft. The white face paint indicates to the girls that they must keep away!

Lake Manyara is the smallest of the national parks in northern Tanzania. It is mainly water, but there is 110 sqkm of land based park. It is promoted as being the place you are most likely to see a lion sleeping in a tree, but George scoffed at that. We stopped and ate our lunch in a designated spot where a solo blue monkey was close by, then foraged for leftovers as tables were cleared. Being a national park, all rubbish was taken out with us. We saw a few groups of monkeys – blue monkeys (which are almost black), Oliver baboons and vervat monkeys with the most amazingly bright powder blue scrotum!  We saw our first elephant (then another 3), a few hippos wallowing at the hippo pool, herds of zebra, small herds of impala – groups with one male and many females and young, and the bachelor herds of many young male impala, as well as seeing a pair fighting. The impala are a good looking animal – muscles rippling under their hide, tails with white tips twitching away the flies, pretty painted faces.  A big herd of wildebeest, a small family group of warthogs wandering across the plain with two young and two females, a couple of giraffes, the smallest of the antelope – dikdik and a large monitor in a tree.

The magic moment was when we saw a baboon on the side of the road and stopped to watch as a few more baboons came out from the roadside scrub, and then more. It was a group of over 60, running down the road and tumbling into the trees and bushes either side of the vehicle. Youngsters teasing each other, scuffling, then two leapt up onto the bonnet of the car to watch us closer. We saw a baby suckling, less than 5 feet from the car, just so many monkeys surrounding us. It wasn’t noisy at all – only a few grunting sounds. They seemed so at peace with us so close – and we were all spellbound.

We saw lots of birds – hornbills and bee eaters, kingfisher, heron, Egyptian geese, a small flock of ostriches, a massive flock of flamingos from a distance, a bishop bird and a Eurasian roller – a pretty blue bird. Lots of trees as well – mahogany with crazy red and black fruit, the quintessential African tree – the flat top acacia. Funny story about that – it is no relation to the acacia genus in Australia so the African are under pressure to find a new name for it – there are more Australian acacias so apparently we get to keep the name for our genus. There were enormous sycamore fog trees, flame, palm and thorn trees, the remarkable sausage tree with big pale sausage shaped fruit dangling down, all fed by artesian water the landscape here was such a contrast to the landscape only 20 or 30 minutes down the road, to the east.

The lake and national park is on the floor of the Rift Valley that runs from Jordan to Mozambique – 6000km. The western escarpment of the rift is very pronounced, and it was above this escarpment on the lower slopes of Ngorongoro that we are staying the next 2 nights. As we left the park and started driving up the hill, we could see the valley floor below us, and an enormous dust storm front blowing across behind us. Just as we got to the top, the cloud engulfed us, reducing visibility to less than 100m for a short time. Within minutes it had blown past us and we had climbed a little higher as we passed school children walking home from school after their long day (it was 5:30) whilst smaller children were helping tend livestock.

We reached the town of Karatu and turned up the drive to the Rhotia valley lodge and orphanage. We arrived at the tented lodge – and were blown away again. A stunning spot high on the hill, overlooking the valley below us and just in time for the sunset and dusk. We were shown to our tents – a large canvas tent for two with a thatched roof and ensuite bathroom with solar hot water for the shower and a bucket to collect shower water to be used for toilet flushing. They are very comfortable. The main area had several large fireplaces, scattered couches and chairs, smaller chairs and table near the balcony, under a huge thatched roof with fairy lights dotted around. There is a large herb, fruit and vegetable garden with most plants labeled, and herbs line the winding paths between tents. The kids found a few cats and then a couple of small kittens, surely less than 8 weeks old (I’m no expert, but they were still suckling). A Dutch couple set up the lodge and the adjoining orphanage. We have arranged to be able to meet with some of the children tomorrow afternoon, and hopefully Luca can have a chance to play soccer with them.

On arrival we were welcomed with moist towels and a small glass of banana juice. Once we had been seen to our rooms, we settled onto the balcony to start writing up our day and going through photos. Some Pringles and then some curry puffs were brought out while we had a drink, watching the changing colors of the valley as the light dropped.  Dinner here was a set menu with a tomato soup, a meat dish (nyama choma) with warm spicy pineapple chutney, ugali croquettes and a salad of tomato, cucumber, cabbage and capsicum (kachumbari). It was so nice to eat some salad. Fingers crossed the tummies stay happy. Dessert was a fruit crumble of banana and pineapple. Followed by a lovely local tea – I’ll find out more tomorrow.