Habari safari!

31 05 2012

Now.  Before I get to the content, the teacher in me screams out that I must fix up a misunderstanding of a word.  The Swahili word ‘safari’ is used for ANY journey.  So if we drive to the ocean, or to the next town for shopping or across the country to our new home, THAT is safari.  Driving in a vehicle looking at animals is just a very small part of the great big whole of safari. (Great- now I have that out the way.  That’s me.  Fixing up all the languages in the world, one word at a time…)

When leaving on a journey of any distance the local people will wish you well on your way: “Habari safari!”  Have a good trip.

We set out on the long drive of over 1000km from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza.  We decided to make it into a bit of a fun road trip and take the scenic route via some of Tanzania’s famous tourist destinations rather than travel on the boring highway.  It was not too far extra in distance and I jumped at the opportunity.

I thought you might like to join me on this trip, so I sat with camera in hand for most of the trip, snapping as we went along, to give you a sense of the amazing things we saw.  The scenery is gorgeous, the range of ecology diverse and the people are interesting in their differences.  Unfortunately our present driver has very little understanding of English and he knows very little of the country (we told HIM about the Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti!) so we could not learn firsthand information from a Tanzanian, but I thought to just share what we saw and hopefully it will pique your interest to discover a little more about this part of the world. 

We left the Indian ocean town of Dar es Salaam very early on Saturday morning: one needs to make a silly-hour start to avoid the traffic, and even before 5 in the morning the roads were bustling with life.   The first few hours we were trying to wake up, shake off the drowsiness from bad sleep (induced by loud clubs nearby) and see through the haze of smoky fires and jostling streets.

 

Some of our first views were of the Tanzanian side of the Usambara mountains.  It was mostly overcast for the first 36 hours of our travels (it is the end of the rainy season in Tanzania) so we had the benefit of cool travel and cloudy sculptures formed around the huge mountains.

So much of life happens at the roadside in African existence. 

The beauty of the huge coconut palms offset by the vibrant oranges and greens of the orange fruit being sold looked so delightful. 

And people build shelters out of any imaginable material:  you will see a few more as we make our way on this journey.

 

 

Gorgeous big trees provide shelter and life to rustic homes.

The view exactly as I saw it.  Ah!  A baobab tree!  These monsters of the tree world can sometimes be over 13 meters in girth.  They are the equivalent of living dinosaurs – some are thousands of years old.  I love these trees so representative of hot African plains.

Tanzania produces large amounts of sisal.  We saw many miles of sisal plantations.

More fruit sellers:

And ladies on their way to buy fruit.

Another kind of seller that is ubiquitous in Africa is a charcoal seller.  Unfortunately far too much good quality indigenous wood is cut down and burned over slow fires to produce charcoal, which is the prime method of cooking fuel across much of Africa.  About 17 tons of good wood is used to produce 3 tons of charcoal.

We saw many more houses.

And many many more trees (but I never tire of looking at trees!)

And more colourfully garbed ladies.

I erased hundred of photos like this one. 

I did not want any posed photographs, and sat with my camera low in my hands, shoving it in the rough direction of an object of interest. 

More often than not I got beautiful cloud configurations.  Or blurs of trees.  Or even sandy patches on the sides of the roads.  Be glad I did not share all 723 of those with you!

We headed through the south Pare mountains and then the north Pare mountains.

What amazingly crafted beauty we saw formed in the cliffs and valleys as we drove past.

 

 

The terrain got considerably drier as we headed north.  Scrubby plains replaced lush forests and the clouds began to clear.

 

 

And then we saw it… one of the highlights of the trip: KILIMANJARO

The highest point in Africa, inspiration of many songs, legendary in the ambitions it inspires.  Ah.  The clouds opened up for us to view its snowy peaks, revealing the amazing forms wrought by  a volcano.  simply splendid.

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There, high above the city of Arusha, cloaked in clouds, the icy peaks peer at passers by.

We spent the night at http://www.meseranisnakepark.com/ just beyond Arusha.  A group of South Africans began the park almost 20 years ago to rescue snakes and a few other creatures from being killed by locals. They also do astounding work in the community with clinics, education and developing respect for the Massaai culture.It has also since developed into a thriving stopover point for overlanders.  The atmosphere in the pub was welcoming and the people running the park really great.  We are often amazed at how widely dispersed our fellow Saffers are, and the great job they do, especially in the field of tourism. 

We were woken by early rains, but our tent kept us dry.  Then off again, for a day I was eager to meet: to see Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti

Over mainly dry scrubby terrain, into the world of the Massaai.

Cattle are the livelihood of this nation, and they pass their cattle across great swathes of land via muddy cow-highways.  Across from one side one’s view to the other one sees herds of cattle and goats, with some rather young keepers to watch the herds, then more dispersed are settlements of the Massaai. 

We made it to Ngorongoro! Wow!  we paid the ridiculously steep entrance fees to transit through the park, and almost immediately our hearts dropped.

There was such thick mist that we could barely see the trees in front of us.  Paying all that money, driving from far to fulfill a dream and we could not even see it!  I was muttering silently to myself and God, sending arrow prayers for clearing of the air (which looked impossible) and for the Tanzanians to realise that high prices may keep several visitors away.

We drove the route linking Ngorongoro to the Serengeti, our planned stop for the night.  Every now and again there was a small glimpse beyond paper white scenes.

We stopped at the Serena Hotel for lunch, hoping a warm meal would help us feel a bit better.  (I  was wrapped in any warm items I could find by now, including sheets wrapped mummy-like around my legs.  This is meant to be mid AFRICA,  not the Arctic!)

As we entered the hotel we were amazed at God’s kindness.  There before our eyes an amazing view of the crater, open enough to see a magnificent view.

The mists rolled over regularly as we ate of the gorgeous spread, but we were so blessed by this opportunity and would love to return to the spot to explore further.

The area between Ngorongoro and Serengeti is proclaimed nature reserve but is also the homeplace of many Massaai.  It was startling to see their herds of cattle grazing between zebra and wildebeest clusters.  It is also obvious that the Massaai have figured their tourist value and try to milk this appeal.  Little herd boys showed that they were willing to jump up and down for several thousand shillings, or offered to sell us jewelry.  A few of the homesteads have been opened for tourists to view and to see the dances, take photographs and give generously to Massaai tribes.  Although I find the people highly photogenic and very interesting, I do not approve of the exploitative dependency from both parties.

There are few things as invigorating as the sight of a storm across the African plains.

Such amazing openness is very difficult to describe. And then we began to see that for which Serengeti is famed: vast plains, teeming with game.  Zebras, Wildebeest, several types of gazelle almost as far as the eye can see. 

Although our trip is at the time when the wildebeest should begin gathering for their migration the rains this year have been so abundant that it is not necessary for the herds to begin moving from the plentiful food they have.  We did see this group thundering across the plains but it was nowhere near the million or so animals that make their way across the border to Kenya and the Mara.

The sun sank a little lower and provided amazing fodder for the camera lens.

We got to see these ‘lifers, which made me very excited!  Bat eared foxes are found more often in dry terrain and I have always longed to see one.  We found TWO, in the road in front of our car.  Whoohoo!

Then more awesome scenery with more wildlife.

And with just a little light in the sky we finally arrived at our camp site for the night.  We were based at one of the public camp sites at Seronera, the main hub of tourism in the Serengeti. 

What an eventful night!  Good for prayer life, good for making one glad to be alive and for checking that the old ticker still works… very well!

The campsite is part of the environment (ie sans fences). We started hearing hyenas quite early in the evening, but hey! We often hear the hyenas calling from far away on our farm.  No problems there, right?  Wrong.

I did wake a few times in the night thinking the hyenas were getting closer, but a few hours of prayer and pondering on the value of life cannot do anybody any harm.  By 4am the prayers had become more fervent and the value of life very very meaningful.  The hyenas were chasing wildebeest through the campsite.  It is amazing how thin a tent can feel.  The same thing which kept us dry and protected the night before now felt totally flimsy and unsafe! 

Deon and I lay very still, whispering in the softest voice possible only when totally essential. To emerge from our flimsy protection would have been idiotic, so we lay and listened. We heard as the hyenas made a kill about 60 m away, and the maniacal laughter after their success.  We heard the bewildered wildebeest stomping and snorting in dismay at their loss. We heard the crunching of bones as the hyenas made short work of eating their prey (one hour later their were only dregs for the jackals mulling around). Our dismay grew as all too soon it seemed like the hyenas were on the hunt again, circling about our tents.  I very genuinely thought it was the end when I heard crazily heavy breathing heading straight towards our tent, but then it ducked away just feet from the entrance. 

All those on the camping ground were most relieved when morning arrived and we were safe. The group of American students sharing the camp ground have exciting stories to tell back home! 

These were the survivors of the night’s activities.  They were sleeping at about 7 in the morning,  and we gained a whole new appreciation for the huge number of perils these creatures face, over and over and over again.  Kudos to all those who survive just one year of life across the plains!

 

Then back in the vehicle (which, btw, had been  parked about 4 km away with the driver at his lodge!  No safety for us there!) for the final day of travel to Mwanza.  We had another 150 or so km of the western sector of the Serengeti, and then about 100 km to reach Mwanza.

Some banded mongoose were enjoying the sun.

Farewell to the Serengeti plains (we will be back!) and then through villages, passing by the edge of Lake Victoria to our new home town.

Mwanza is known locally as “Rock city”  or “Rock land”.  I will write a lot more about the city so will not make this post longer than it is already!

For now we are very busy. Looking for a prospective home, acquiring all the furnishings that make a house livable (for the third time in just over a year… not so much fun anymore!), getting internet and phone connections and beginning to find out all we need to in this new place.Deon is gathering all he needs for his job. I will need to study Swahili (English is not very well spoken here) and I will probably be helping some children with home schooling.

We live in God’s grace from moment to moment… what a reassurance that is! And how grateful we are to still be alive to tell our tales to those willing to listen!

Lovebirds are wild creatures here.  How special to see these at one of our stops! I just HAD to share them.

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crouch, touch, pause… ENGAGE!

24 05 2012

 

One of SA’s most beloved sports is rugby.  At the beginning of a ruck the referee will call out the string of words “crouch, touch, pause, engage!” I think it is meant to keep the individuals from really hurting each other, but I have come to think that the words indicate getting ready to really get into some tough action, face the challenges and live with a bit of pain. 

I could just about hear these words in my mind as we boarded the aeroplane for Tanzania on Tuesday.  We had just met up with Deon’s new boss and the discussion had left us both a little concerned as things did not seem very certain.  We are presently somewhere between the “pause” and “engage!” commands, ready to go into a new phase of life’s game.  We have a focus of getting ahead, making it through and hopefully not losing too much blood in the process!

We are in Dar es Salaam at the moment, sorting out some things and then head out to Mwanza sometime on the weekend.

We have had to leave our own wildlife behind for a bit, and are hoping to catch new fascinations to admire for a while.  But I could not help but get all caught up in some of nature’s own ‘rugby’ over the last while.  It is rutting season for the impalas. 

Although these buck are common in the bushveld I just never tire of their beauty.  The shiny coats and grace with which they carry themselves is continuously beautiful.  Impalas have a rather tight social system and the patterns play themselves out over and over. 

A male fights for his harem of anywhere between 4 or 5 or several dozen females.  This is now the time of the fighting and they take it very seriously. 

Males will sum each other up, perhaps scrape their hooves a bit and then get stuck into each other… crouch, touch, pause… ENGAGE!

The rams are on high alert, being very protective over their females at this time.  When we have been anywhere near impalas the males would grunt and snort in warning over the last while.  We have heard grunts between hippo and impala too… there is not much awareness of ‘own size’ picking here! 

We have also seen evidence of impalas not having great intellectual ability.  They are not quite the Nobel Science prize winners of the bush! 

These two males were engaging over from opposite sides of a barbed wire fence.  Apparently the feeling of the horns helps them both to think they are winning! 

Another engaging sight was of these Processionary worms, of the family Thaumetopoeidae. On our last evening at the Farm we saw what looked like a rope lying across the road. We stopped to investigate:

The string was about 20 metres long : here I was at the tail end and Deon stood at the first caterpillar.

IT took a great deal of time for them to cross the road, and we did not want to disturb them (there is evidence of the train following each other by scent.  We also felt awful to leave a few of these exceptional creatures dead by driving over them, so we took another route and came back a while later.)

 

We discovered that the first catterpillar leaves a silk-like thread for the others to follow.  We only saw this thread on the road and not in the grassy area.

 

What an amazing texture!  It is truly silky and smooth and is exceptionally strong: look at the number of stones clinging to the thread!

Once again we are left in awe at how small things are totally fascinating and are amazingly created.  The synergy of getting somewhere together, safely, just amazes me.

As we put our heads down, pausing and engaging for the next part of our story, we hope to leave silk threads of God’s love wherever we go and that we can share with others how totally UNBORING a life with God is! 





we are just not city people

18 05 2012

This is where we want to be.

The by-line in our blog, you know the one that says ‘klip sit”?  Well, this is it.  Sitting on rocks, the bigger the better.  (Though we have not been known to shy away from sitting on smaller rocks either.)  

As long as there are rocks, away from big city shiny-smoke, we are happy as dassies on Table Mountain on a glorious sunny day. 

We had a trip to Johannesburg last week: we had to see a few doctors, carry out business, do a bit of shopping and wait to board the ‘plane to Tanzania. We were just not hearing about the Tanzania thing, we had spent far too much money in the city and we could almost hear the farm calling us back again.  So we are back on Lissataba, sitting on rocks as we wait: it is far more fun waiting in the bush than in Gauteng! 

We arrived yesterday and Deon became human again.   We have friends here who apologise to each other for who they will become about an hour before they arrive in Jo’burg!  We both get that!  The constant rush of people, the lack of personal care by business people and the insistent drag of traffic get us down. 

But here we are again with klip sit opportunities to watch the sun set.

 

Surrounded by awesome mountains, splendidly sculptured rocks, gorgeously sexy trees, and then all the array of creatures to boot.  We remind ourselves and each other so often of how blessed we are to be here.

One of the acquisitions we made in the Big Smoke that we are so pleased about is a camera trap, also known as a trail camera.  These little inventions are making huge changes to nature research and they are such fun, to boot. 

I sat with Michelle today to watch the amazing footage of the mother leopard and her two cubs: there are some brilliant pictures that came in from the three cameras the farm set up at the kill.(my previous blog told of that event).  We hope to get a leopard or two on our camera as well.

After just one night at our house we are already thrilled with what the trap has delivered.  The world of nocturnal animals is fascinating to me, I just never have enough energy to stay up all night to try to catch the critters!  Here is our way to get to see who visits us every night!

And the very first capture goes to a firm favourite with us already, a genet.

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Although the visual quality of night shots is not always very good, one can still make out what visits.    We could see this is a civet (we have not known they come for visits before seeing it on the camera!)

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And then a speedy zoom through of a rather cross looking porcupine.  This was the only shot he left us with!  We will hopefully get better images of all these creatures in time.

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There is a vibrancy and a joy at life we feel in the bush.  We do not have TV, our internet signal is truly dismal, and the nearest shop is over an hour away. Despite the lack of  those supposed necessities, we have plenty to fill our days with and this is the happiest I have ever seen Deon. 

So excuse us as we head off to find another rock to sit on.  We only have a few days left before heading off to Tanzania and we want to enjoy every moment.





just another rough day in Africa…

6 05 2012

There is a lot going on at the moment and we are getting wonderful pictures to share but I will focus on just one day this week, so this is how Thursday went.

We had a visit from this handsome dude at breakfast time.  I could not find him in any of our books, but I call him Trump-worm.  I think Donald would be jealous!

He was about 8cm long.  I did NOT feel like a good cuddle, though!

I had arranged to go help in the Lissataba admin office: I have to feel like I am doing something worthwhile, and I have a need to be around people fairly regularly.   This will require some effort when we settle in the bush permanently, but we will make a plan.  Thursday’s plan was to help sort records of camera trap data.  The farm uses these amazing gadgets to keep track of animals and to see what is happening when people scare away animals by their presence.  We intend getting a camera trap for our house in time and will share some of the magic with you.

Unfortunately the hard drive was corrupted so my efforts to sort out and help were limited, but about an hour after getting into the office farm manager radioed to ask where one of the spare camera traps was: they had discovered leopard “drag marks” and had found an impala killed by leopard.  It looked to be the work of a mamma with cubs that is being monitored by the farm staff.  

I got to be part of the scene: we got into a vehicle and went in search of the kill.

We found the drag marks:

The larger section is where the body of the prey was dragged and closer to the front you can see the leg/ feet drag marks.

Then we saw what got Michelle really excited:

These were little paw marks of leopards! It looked like this was all a lesson from Mamma to teach her two little ones how to kill! 

We carried on following the trail to find the impala carcass.  * WARNING – AVERT EYES NOW IF YOU ARE SQEAMISH – GUTS PICS TO FOLLOW! ***

Adult leopards begin eating at the rump, seen in the pic on the right.  It looks like the cubs had a go at the stomach. We could also clearly see where the leopard had strangled the impala, to kill it.

OK, That’s it.  All the gory pics done.

Matt set up the camera trap

and I was part of a real bush experience!  We tracked to where the kill had taken place, about 70 meters to the other side of the road.  We saw where the leopard had crouched to watch the impala and where the prey had kicked and squirmed as it was being taken down.  All totally fascinating! 

We did not see the leopard, but the chances are good that she could see us!  Leopards are highly secretive and even the way the impala had been tucked away in the middle of a bush showed that these gorgeous felines just do not like to flaunt their stuff!

From there we went to see Matt’s passion: vegetation.  They are busy revegetating a sodic site, and the process is rather intensive!

A mat of hessian type substance is laid down and then packed with encroacher plants.  This will then keep the surface protected as grass and other vegetation makes its little home underneath.  Within about 5 years it should begin looking good.  Destruction of vegetation, which might just take a few hours, takes years and years to recover.

 

In the 2,5 years that Matt and Michelle have been involved in the farm the overall condition of vegetation has risen from 24% to 39% – they are doing a fabulous job! 

We had a great potjie dinner on Thursday with the management staff of the farm, and we were treated to a new visitor to our house. (Sorry – he was very busy and did not want to sit still to pose!)

The honey badger, or Ratel, is a ferocious little creature – although it is about the size of a Scottish Terrier, is able to bring down a buffalo and even lion. (scarily, one of the main tactics it uses is to grab the big creature by the testicles.  EEK!  But does this mean females are safe? ^_^)

We have been warned to be aware that these creatures become more active in the winter and that they are quite happy to walk up to a grill where one is braaiiing and steal the meat from the grill!  Deon heard the honey badger early this morning on our verandah – it looked like it had climbed onto the table to look for anything left behind!  We will try NOT to lure this one for visits! 

Those who love the bush will often sit around the fire at the end of a day, commenting – ‘Just another k*k day in Africa’.  Thursday was one of these great days for me.

I conquered my Rusty fears and drove him to the house, got the fires started for food while Deon was taking care of the car in town. I got to be with the workers doing important ecological activities. And I was around people. 

This coming week we are set to pack up our home here, go back to Joburg, see doctors and sort out things, so that we can move to our third country for living in in three months.  Not bad! 

These are some memories to be stored in our treasury to be hauled out on difficult days:

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