Jonkershoek Nature Reserve South Africa

Pink Proteas

Pink Proteas

For several months I’ve been hiking Table Mountain and Cape Town’s outlying nature reserves. The Western Cape has so many beautiful reserves it will take a long time to visit them all! Last weekend the hike was at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve near Stellenbosch.

Jonkershoek Hills

Jonkershoek Hills

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“Jonkershoek is one of four nature reserves that form part of the greater Cape Winelands Biosphere – a World Heritage Site registered by UNESCO in late 2007. The Biosphere reserve is gorgeous – beautiful is the understatement of the year.”

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Jonkershoek Reserve is surrounded by the Jonkershoek Mountains, a part of the larger Boland Mountain Range, which in turn is part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. The area is strikingly beautiful with hiking trails embraced by magnificent blue, jagged peaks.  The heavy fynbos vegetation is pure heaven for Cape sunbirds and sugarbirds.

Theewaterskloof Dam near Villiersdorp

Blaauwklippen Valley

There are two major waterfalls in the Jonkershoek Reserve. The hike to Tweede Waterval (second waterfall in Afrikaans) flows along the fertile hills of Guardian Peak (Blaauwklippen Valley in Afrikaans). Guardian Peak, also called the “Hidden Valley”, is well-known for its popular restaurants and wine estates, including those in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl.

Hikers

Hikers

The ascent to the waterfall was steep, windy, and rocky. The scenic trail was bordered by bud-laden protea forests, mountain fynbos, and river rick pools ending in a wooded cove near the base of Tweede Waterfall.

If you wanted to get closer to the waterfall, you were sure to get wet. Some in our group removed their boots and climbed to the base of the waterfall barefooted. Others stayed behind in the cove and enjoyed more distant views. After climbing in the cool spray over a few slippery boulder-sized rocks, I decided it was too risky, wimped out, and returned to the cove.

Taking a leisurely pace, we returned via Jonkershoek’s first waterfall – also impressive. The weather was perfect for hiking – brisk with a crystal clear sky. After a peaceful, inspiring day we stopped at an outdoor café for well-deserved cappuccino.

Now that I’ve been in Cape Town for almost six months I’m considering moving to a less-populated outlying suburb for contrast. Stellenbosch, Hout Bay, Gordons Bay, Fish Hoek, and Somerset West in the Helderberg Mountains are all interesting.

Botswana Bushmen, Okavango Delta, Burglary, Fire, and Chobe National Park

Mokoro Okavango Delta

Mekoro on the Okavango Delta

We departed Namibia February 9th for a week exploring Botswana, the Okavango Delta, and Chobe National Park. Thankfully the Namibia to Botswana border crossing went smoothly. As we crossed into Botswana our African guides reminded us of two local rules:

Carmine Bee Eater

Carmine Bee Eater

We spent the night in Ghanzi – a small town in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Called the “capital of the Kalahari” Ghanzi is known for its cattle farms and a “conglomeration of ethnic groups”. The San and Bakgalagadi were Ghanzi’s original inhabitants. In the late 1800s the HereroBatawana, and others settled in the area.

Hippo Yawns?

Hippo Yawns

Ghanzi villagers maintain an abundance of cattle, donkeys, and sheep, all affected by serious drought in the area over the past several years. Their animals graze along the roadside and at times on the roads! Driving in the area is tricky with the government imposing a severe punishment for injuring animals.

Chobe Hippo

Chobe Hippo

Botswana is socially conscious and invests in the education and healthcare of its people. The country doesn’t have the racial issues of many other African countries. The Botswana government uses a form of ecotourism – “high income and low impact tourism”. They charge more than adjacent African countries prohibiting some travelers from visiting Botswana, and thereby reducing the number of tourists entering the country. Luxury safari camps are common but more basic accommodations are comfortable as well.

Wildebeest

Wildebeest Herd

Botswana won independence from Britain in 1966. Today it’s a politically stable country with the greatest economy in sub-Saharan Africa.  Botswana’s diamond mines are the richest and most abundant in the world.

Cheetah Resting

Cheetah Resting

Botswana’s highest producing diamond mines exist on volcanic kimberlite pipes composed of a rare type of rock formed millions of years ago. During volcanic eruptions plumes of magma pushed up tearing off chunks of diamond-containing rocks depositing them near the surface of the earth.

San Bushman

San Bushman

Botswana Bushmen

During our first evening in Botswana, we enjoyed a special treat – traditional tribal dancing performed by the local San community. Previously known as “Bushmen”, the mellow San are indigenous to Southern Africa. They have resided in the area for over 30,000 years and survive in the harsh desert environment by living peacefully in harmony with nature.

Okavango Lodges

Okavango Safari Lodges

“The word ‘San’ was believed to mean ‘wild people who cannot farm’. Historically the San did not have a word for themselves. Today they call themselves ‘Ncoakhoe’ meaning ‘red people’. The San were hunter gatherers roaming to find food and water. There are about 55,000 San left in the world and sixty percent of them live in Botswana. The others live in Namibia and northern South Africa where their interesting cave paintings are abundant.”

Elephant

Delta Elephant

After arriving in Ghanzi, San Bushmen took us hiking in the Kalahari. They shared ancient survival methods and secrets of how insects, animals, and humans live in the desert. Later that night they danced for us by campfire in the moonlight.

Glowing Delta Tree

Glowing Delta Tree

The Okavango Delta

The next morning we headed for Maun – the third largest city in Botswana. Maun is known as the gateway to the Okavango Delta. The name comes from the San word “maung”, which translates “the place of short reeds”. After an overnight in Maun we boarded small airplanes that flew low over the Delta to a safari camp – our home for the next two days.

Dung Beetle

Dung Beetle

To comply with luggage safety restrictions in the small airplanes we packed lightly leaving most of our electronics and valuables locked inside the safari truck. Our guides stayed behind and waited for us in Maun.

“Eons ago, the Okavango River flowed into a massive lake named Lake Makgadikgadi and now known as the Makgadikgadi Pans. Tectonic activity disturbed the river’s currents causing a backup that created the Okavango Delta. The Delta forms a complex network of over 5,000 sq. miles of waterways that sustain a large variety of flora and fauna.”

In the Delta

In the Delta

The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s best locations for game viewing. Massive numbers of large mammals live in and around the Delta where prey and predators are forced together in the floodplains. Lion, elephant, hyena, buffalo, hippo, and crocodile gather with antelope and smaller animals such as warthog, mongoose, baboon, and bush baby.

Delta Waterlily

Delta Waterlily

The Delta is also home to the endangered African Wild Dog with one of the richest pack densities in Africa. Many animals pass through the Delta during their summer migration. When the countryside dries up in winter, they cross the Delta again on the way home.

Delta Pond

Okavango Delta Pond

After lunch at our camp – Fallen Baobab – we enjoyed a game drive and nature walk with a local expert. Hundreds of bird species live in the Okavango Delta. Brilliantly colored Carmine Bee Eaters welcomed us by following the safari vehicle. Much to our delight, they flew low and close to the jeep “buzzing” us on both sides!

Under a Baobab

Under a Baobab

That afternoon guides took us on a boat trip in traditional dug-out canoes called Mekoros. Skillful African polers navigated through narrow fragrant waterways strewn with waterlilies. We lavished in the magnificent environment while taking photos and sharing the scenery with birds and hippos sunning in reed-covered water. It was an idyllic day. After dinner, we retired early and fell asleep to the sound of African night birds, elephants, and lions.

Fish Eagles

Fish Eagles

Early the next morning we departed on a long game drive viewing more of the Delta’s vegetation and plentiful populations of cheetah, elephant, warthog, buffalo, and wildebeest. We spotted a Silver-Backed Jackal and many beautiful large antelope including Reedbuck, Red Lechwe, Tsessebe, Sable, and my favorite – Greater Kudu.

Chobe Croc

Chobe Crocodile

Our guides educated us about flora / fauna, insects, and giraffe and pointed out some interesting details. Graceful giraffes have long tongues for reaching vegetation, thick saliva to help with digestion, 7 collar bones and large hearts to pump blood up their long necks.

Guinea Fowl

Guinea Fowl

Plants indigenous to the Delta include pungent turpentine grass and exotic trees like Baobab, Camel Thorn, Jackal Berry, Leadwood, and the funny-looking Sausage Tree. Dung Beetles are one of Africa’s most interesting insects. They play an important role in stabilizing the environment and fighting climate change.

Botswana Sky

Botswana Sky

That evening at camp we enjoyed a beautiful open-air candlelight dinner under bight stars and a full moon! Despite our best efforts, we finally succumbed to the nagging insects, moved away from the dining table, and spent the rest of the evening dancing and singing close to an insect-repelling campfire.

Fallen Baobab Camp Dinner

Fallen Baobab Camp Dinner

The next morning it was sad saying goodbye to our gracious hosts, and I wished we had more time to spend there. During a leisurely drive to the airstrip we bid farewell to the Delta and then boarded small airplanes for the flight back to Maun.

Fallen Baobab

Fallen Baobab Accommodation

Burglary and Fire

After landing in Maun we made our way through the airport to where our guides were waiting. Long faces alerted us that something was wrong. We listened carefully as they told us that vandals had burglarized the safari truck.

Baboon

Baboon

In the middle of the night burglars threw a metal garbage can through a truck window, cut locks off storage lockers, and made away with our stuff! While the burglary occurred, our guides were fast asleep in nearby lodges. The burglars stole laptop and tablet computers, cell phones, camera equipment, cash, clothes, food, drinks, and anything left in the truck.

Turpentine Grass

Turpentine Grass

My possessions were in a locker without a padlock. The lock I brought from the US was too big to fit the lockers, so I stored my belongings without locking them up. Shocked and bummed by the burglary, we left the airport and drove back to the lodge to prepare handwritten inventories of everything stored in the lockers.

Ghanzi Cattle

Ghanzi Cattle

The guides contacted the Maun Police soon after they discovered the burglary. The police advised them not to enter the truck, touch, or tamper with potential evidence until they arrived to investigate and take fingerprints. Six hours later, the police still had not appeared!

San Cave Painting

San Cave Painting

Disregarding their orders, we got into the truck, checked our lockers, and drove to the Maun Police Station. Many safari members lost everything including clothing and gear. Surprisingly the burglars did not bother unlocked compartments and my duffel bag and its contents were intact and unharmed.

Kudu

Greater Kudu

When we got to the police station the guides accompanied those with loses inside to file reports. After about an hour they came out with a policeman who dusted the lockers for fingerprints. The Maun Police’s casual attitude, incompetence, and lack of concern over the burglary were disturbing.

Botswana Map

Botswana Map

We thought the theft was an “inside job” with employees at the campground / lodge tipping off the burglars of our absence. It would have been difficult for outsiders to invade the guarded, fenced grounds with a security guard posted at the entrance.

Botswana Landscape

Botswana Landscape

Those who sustained losses spoke with safari company representatives in Cape Town. Some losses included hard-to-replace items like photo memory cards, jewelry, and gear. Surprisingly they were not going to receive compensation from the company’s insurance. Even more surprising, the truck was not equipped with an alarm!

Delta Rainbow

Delta Rainbow

A few hours later the police returned to us bringing some stolen and then discarded items they found in the bush near the perimeter of the lodge. Of course the electronics and cash were never recovered. It was a sour note after such a relaxing experience in the Okavango Delta.

Bush Baby

Bush Baby

The guides managed to get the broken window repaired and we continued to Botswana’s Nata Bird Sanctuary and Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, stopping along the way so people could replace essential items like toiletries and clothing. We would soon discover that our Botswana woes had not ended with the Maun burglary!

Riverboat Chobe River

Riverboat Chobe River

We spent the night at a lodge in an isolated area near Botswana’s salt pans. In the middle of the night a fire broke out in one of the buildings and we were rousted from our beds and evacuated to a safe area nearby. The grass thatched roof over the kitchen had burst into flames – a vivid, wild, unforgettable site against the black African sky!

Lone Delta Tree

Lone Delta Tree

As the flames grew higher the lodge owner feared the fire might spread to other buildings – all with thatched roofs. Fortunately it did not. The fire department arrived after the building had burned completely to the ground!

Delta Hippos

Delta Hippos

The cause of the fire was not determined but it seemed suspicious. One possibility was a thunderstorm with lightning that occurred earlier in the night. I heard someone in the crowd say the kitchen was known to have electrical problems….

Chobe National Park

Chobe Elephants

Chobe Elephants

Shaken but unscathed, the next morning we pulled together and made our way to the town of Kasane and Chobe National Park for a much-needed day relaxing on the Chobe River. The day began very hot but as evening approached it grew cool and moist on the river. Chobe riverbanks are abundant with game, and the region is known for enormous buffalo and elephant herds.

Silver-Backed Jackal

Silver-Backed Jackal

Chobe National Park is the second largest park in Botswana covering over 4,000 square miles. The Park forms part of a medley of lakes, islands, and floodplains created from the Kwando, Linyanti, and Chobe Rivers

Leadwood Tree

Leadwood Tree

During dry season Chobe elephants migrate and travel hundreds of miles from the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers in the north to the salt pans in the southeast. Kalahari elephants are known to have frail ivory and short tusks, possibly due to the lack of calcium in the desert soil.

Cheetah Tails

Cheetah Tails

“During 1932 over 9,000 square miles in the Chobe region were declared a non-hunting zone. Throughout the years the boundaries of the Park have been modified and settlers in the region relocated. In 1975 Chobe National Park was completely rid of human occupation. In 1980 and 1986 the boundaries were once again altered, growing the Park to its current size.”

Chobe Landscape

Chobe Landscape

Like migrating animals, the next morning we left Chobe headed for Zimbabwe, carrying memories of Botswana with us!!

Kenya – Nairobi, Maasai Mara, and Lake Nakuru

Ostrich

Male Ostriches Grazing in the Maasai Mara

The border crossing from Tanzania to Kenya really wasn’t so bad…meaning it could have been much worse! The safari’s previous border crossings passed without a hitch:

  1. South Africa – Namibia
  2. Namibia – Botswana
  3. Botswana – Zimbabwe
  4. Zimbabwe – Zambia
  5. Zambia – Malawi
  6. Malawi – Tanzania

Maybe it was time for a mini drama?

Mara Tree

Lone Savannah Tree

Before traveling to Kenya you apply for a visa using eVisa. After the Consulate approves your visa and you download it and print the details, including a receipt for payment. Thinking I followed the instructions and did everything required, I was horrified when we reached the border and the Kenyan immigration officer said my paperwork was incomplete. The officer frowned and disappeared behind the glass window with my passport in hand. After a silent scream, I waited pondering my fate.

Lake Nakuru Flamingoes

Lake Nakuru Flamingos

Everyone else had already passed through Kenyan immigration. They watched the situation play out eager to escape the scorching sun and get to our hotel in Nairobi. After waiting for 20 minutes in 100+ degree heat, the border agent returned, stamped a Kenyan visa in my passport, and shoved it through the glass opening. I heaved a sigh of relief, grabbed my passport, and walked away quickly!

Nairobi

As we worked our way through heavy Nairobi traffic our guide missed a turnoff and made an illegal U-turn to get back on the right road. The Kenyan police stopped him but he talked his way out of a fine. We arrived mid-afternoon and checked into our hotel – Sentrim Boulevard – near the heart of Nairobi.

Nairobi

Nairobi Skyline

Crane

Lake Nakuru Heron

Years ago Sentrim Boulevard was one of the posher hotels in Nairobi. It has long since been replaced by more modern accommodations. Even so, it was comfortable and the park-like grounds were lush and full of flowers and birds. After traveling for weeks in the African bush, a proper hotel and hot bath are always a treat.

Cheetah Hunting

Cheetah Hunting

There wasn’t much time to explore Nairobi since we were departing early the next morning for the Maasai Mara. Our guide cautioned us about night excursions into the city. Nairobi is dangerous – especially for tourists and pedestrians. After terrorist attacks at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Kenyan shopping malls people were on alert.

Hyenas

Hyenas Resting in the Road

A quiet dinner and retiring early in a comfortable bed were satisfying to me – no need for more adventure. Not bothered by terrorist reports, I planned to visit Nairobi on the way back to South Africa after the safari was over. There would be more time to explore the city then without being rushed.

Buffalo

Curious Buffalo

flat topped acacia

Flat-Topped Acacia Tree

Nairobi is known for its shopping and open air Maasai Market with beautiful hand-crafted African goods including jewelry, clothing, carvings, and incredible bead work. Maasai women sell beaded jewelry throughout the city. Fierce businesswomen they don’t take no for an answer. I bought several cuff bracelets in traditional red, yellow, and blue Maasai colors. They’re unique, cherished possessions.

Leopard with Kill

Leopard with Kill

Nairobi is one of Africa’s most politically and financially important cities. The word “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase “Enkare Nyirobi” meaning “the place of cool waters”.

Lion Pride

Lion Pride

Nairobi was once a depot on the railway joining Uganda and the coastal metropolis of Mombasa – Kenya’s second largest city. In 1899 Nairobi become Kenya’s centre for British Colony tea, coffee, and sisal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maasai Headdress

With a population of three million Nairobi is the largest city in East Africa. It’s home to the United Nations African Office and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  The UNEP “sets the global environmental agenda, promotes sustainable environmental development within the UN system, and serves as an advocate for the global environment”.

Twin Lion Cubs

Twin Lion Cubs

Maasai Mara National Reserve

The following morning after an early breakfast we left Nairobi and headed for the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The “Mara” is a popular safari destination and one of Africa’s most spectacular game reserves.

Lake Nakuru

The Mara marks the beginning of the Great Migration of over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of Thomson’s gazelle and zebra pursued by ravenous predators. The area is well-known for an abundant lion population and the colorful Maasai People. On Maasai Mara roads animals always have the right-of-way.

Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru

The Maasai Mara covers 1,000 miles and is bound by the Serengeti Plain to the south, Siria slopes to the west, and Maasai ranches to the north and east. The landscape is mainly vast savannah grassland including rivers that come and go with the seasons and interesting trees like the flat-topped acacia.

Warthog

Illusive Warthog

Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, is a main peak in the Maasai Mara. The legend goes that Mt. Kenya’s three peaks stand for the Kikuyu chief’s three sons selected by God to rule Kenya. The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya.

Mt. Kenya’s two main summits can only be reached by technical climbing. The mountain’s third highest peak, Point Lenana, is a popular trekking and hiking destination as is smaller Mt. Longonot, a stratovolcano that last erupted in the 1860s.

Maasai Men

Maasai Men

All animals in Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo – live in the Maasai Mara. Hippos gather in the Talek River, a tributary of the Mara River. Black Rhino and Cheetah live in the Maasai reserve but in small numbers since both species are threatened. The reserve is home to over 450 species of birds including marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, cranes, herons, ostriches, and African Pygmy-Falcons.

African Savannah Sky

Our accommodation was in permanent tents in one of many Maasai Mara Camps. The camp perimeter wasn’t fenced so lions and other wild animals were free to come and go. Everyone was cautious – especially at night. While we were sleeping an impressive Maasai night guard sat by a fire outside our tents watching over the campsite. He was magnificent. Just the same, I made sure my tent door was securely fastened!

Wetlands Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru Wetlands

The next morning we enjoyed a game drive followed by a visit to a nearby Maasai village. Maasai villagers surrounded our group, draped us with colorful robes, and performed a welcome dance. I felt a little silly but it was fun interacting with the friendly Maasai who are known for their warm, outgoing personalities.

Kikuyu Men

Kikuyu Men

Maasai Cuff Bracelet

Maasai Cuff Bracelet

Part of the walk from our campsite to the Maasai kraal and houses was over a fresh field of cattle dung. Regrettably I was wearing a pair of flip-flops – maybe better than a coating of dung on my hiking boots….

Baboon

Baboon Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru National Park

Early the next day we departed the Maasai camp heading north to Lake Nakuru National Park and another afternoon of game driving. Nakuru means “dry or dusty place” in Maasai. The saline, alkaline lake was originally a bird sanctuary. It became a National Park in 1968.

African Pygmy-Falcon

Lake Nakuru is home to a variety of animals including the Big Four – lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo. The Lake is a haven for endangered black and white rhino but there are no elephants in the park.

Resting Rhino

Resting Rhino

Nakuru is famous for enormous flocks of flamingos that gather by its shores to feed on the abundant algae in the Lake’s water. Trees and vegetation around the lake range from grasslands to dense forests, including very rare tarchonanthus bushlands and euphorbia forests – neither of which I had ever heard of before….

With Maasai

Safari Group with Maasai

Tomorrow we leave Kenya and make our way to Uganda’s second largest city – Jinja. Jinja is where the Nile River flows from Lake Victoria through Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Vista

Kirstenbosch Autumn Vista

I had the pleasure of spending the day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, one of the most beautiful places in the world. The weather began cool with misty skies and turned into a sunny autumn day.

The “boomslang” canopy walkway is fun and it was my first time on the trail. It was built in the tree tops of the garden’s arboretum in 2013 commemorating Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden’s 100th anniversary. Views are amazing!

“Thanks to the careful use of a natural color scheme and clever curved design, the sky-high avenue is unobtrusive and blends in with the environment beautifully. Shaped like a snake’s skeleton, the ‘boomslang’ (tree snake), as it’s been nicknamed, twists and turns upwards between the gnarled trunks. Tree stems poke through the treated pine deck in some places – before it soars out of the leafy canopy in a graceful twist, yielding a view that takes the eye all the way from the sun-kissed slopes of Table Mountain to the distant misty Hottentots-Holland peaks.”

The light at Kirstenbosch is extraordinary.  Hope to return many times during my stay in Cape Town. Photos don’t do the garden justice.

 

Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Vista

Ngorongoro Crater Vista

After leaving Zanzibar the safari continued north along Africa’s Great Rift Valley. We passed through Tanzanian bushland making our way to Arusha and a five-day camping adventure in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater.

Topi Antelope

Topi Antelope

Bull Elephant

Bull Elephant

A whopping one-third of the land in Tanzania has national parks that are home to Africa’s densest animal population. Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater form the heart of the area’s game and forest reserves.

Kori Bustard Mating Dance

Kori Bustard Mating Dance

Storks

Storks

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….one-third of the land in Tanzania has national parks…

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The Ngorongoro region is part of Serengeti’s ecosystem. The southern half of the region, the protected Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), is the only one of its kind in Tanzania. Humans live in the NCA but land use, including cultivation and livestock grazing, is restricted. Inside the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, human habitation and livestock grazing are forbidden.

Watering Hole

Beautiful Watering Hole

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…inside the crater the temperature dropped to around 50 degrees.

___________

Our African guide, Godlove, took us to some incredible game viewing areas. We fully experienced the Crater and saw animals and birds I had never heard of before, like the Kori Bustard, the world’s largest flying bird, and the Bat-Earred Fox.

Bat-Eared-Fox

Bat-Eared Fox

The Ngorongoro’s northwest border is next to the southern plains of Serengeti National Park. The Serengeti Plains spread north into the Maasai Loliondo division and are open to all wildlife. Rugged volcanic highlands to the southwest along the rim of the Great Rift Valley prohibit animals from migrating there.

Buffalo at the Watering Hole

Buffalo at a Watering Hole

Our first stop was Olduvai Gorge which holds the earliest evidence of our human ancestors. “Paleoanthropologists have found hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools in the Gorge. Some dating back millions of years and leading many experts to conclude that humans evolved in Africa.”

Migrating Wildebeest

Migrating Wildebeest

Elephant Family

Elephant Family

Early Morning in the Ngorongoro Crater

___________

A baby wildebeest got confused and left the herd to chase our jeep.

___________

Migration Herd

Migration Herd

We changed from the safari truck to smaller open-topped 4 x 4 vehicles for navigating Park roads and headed for the Crater. The interesting route bypassed several Tanzanian landmarks including:

Leopard Couple

Leopard Couple

The Serengeti is world-famous for hosting the “biggest and longest overland migration on earth”. The migration was declared a “natural travel wonder of the world” and the “number one wonder of Africa“.

Lone Giraffe

Grazing Giraffe

“During October through December almost 2 million herbivores journey from the hills in the north to the plains of the south, crossing over the Mara River in search of food and water. In April these hearty animals return north crossing the Mara again traveling to the west. This spectacle is often called the Circular Migration.”

Sue in the Crater

Sue in the Crater

Many wildebeest die during their migration from Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve. It’s a perilous journey covering almost 500 miles of rugged territory. Death is mostly caused by wounds, exhaustion, and being hunted by predators that follow behind the herds.

___________

Olduvai Gorge holds the earliest evidence of our human ancestors.

___________

 

Hippos

Hippos Taking it Easy

Serengeti Map

Serengeti Map

Around 70 bigger mammals and 500 bird species join the annual migration. The precise timing depends on the rainfall patterns each year. The variety of species in the migration is due to the wide range of habitats including river forests, swamps, kopjes, grasslands, and woodlands. Some of the most common mammals are blue wildebeest, gazelle, eland, impala, and zebra.

Lion Pride Preparing to Hunt

Lion Pride Pondering a Hunt

Cheetah Preparing to Hunt

Cheetah Preparing to Hunt

I visited in March. During a morning game drive herds of wildebeest surrounded our vehicle. A baby got confused and left the herd to chase our jeep. We sped up to lose the baby but it was fast and strong and furiously ran after us – something to see! We finally lost the baby and hopefully it returned to the safety of the wildebeest herd. It was likely separated from its mother and got confused.

African Guide Godlove

African Guide Godlove

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We fully experienced the Crater and saw animals I had never heard of before…

___________

The time spent in Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro region was indescribable – an incredible experience. There were many highlights including observing a cheetah hunting expedition, watching a pride of lions botch a zebra kill, and seeing large exotic hartebeest and other antelope species like Roan, Topi, Lichtenstein’s, and Kopi.

Wart Hog

Illusive Warthog

We spotted a rhino in the distance and followed for some time hoping to get closer. The wary rhino headed into the bush and further away from us.

Turtle

The only negative was the nagging tsetse flies that nearly drove everyone crazy. Tsetse flies are present where there are large herds of grazing animals. There was no escaping them. They seemed to delight in torturing us and appeared undaunted by insect repellent.

Hyena Twins

Hyena Twins

Adequately expressing the beauty and magnitude of nature in these areas (via writing or photographs) is challenging. Many aspects of a safari are difficult to share and must be experienced firsthand. I strongly recommend that anyone thinking about going on safari do it! The rich adventure will have a positive impact on your life and be well worth the cost, effort, and any discomfort!

Crater Vista

Crater Vista

Our next stop is Kenya – Nairobi and the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Hiking Table Mountain

Vista from Contour Path

Vista from Contour Path

Table Mountain – one of the world’s seven wonders of nature – is special in many ways. Some Capetonians believe the mountain takes hold of those blessed with living near its magic. I fell under Table Mountain’s spell the first time I saw it. Its beauty and vistas leave me breathless.

Cape Sugar Bird

Cape Sugar Bird

Recently I began hiking “beginning” Table Mountain trails again but honestly some of the mountain’s “easy” hikes seem moderate or even difficult to me. This is primarily because of the steep rocky outcrops, boulder-strewn paths, and granite, slate, and sandstone cliffs. Hiking polls are essential for navigating the mountain’s rocks!

Scrambling Over the Rocks

Scrambling Over the Rocks

I’m trying to enjoy at least one, 5 to 6+ mile hike on the mountain every week in the company of other hikers who know the mountain and move at my speed. Autumn days in the Cape are ideal for hiking although the mountain is suffering from severe drought and sadly most of the waterfalls are dry.

Camel Rock

Camel Rock

The hike last week was a loop on the “contour path” from Rhodes Memorial to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and back. It was a glorious Sunday and after rock scrambling in the beginning the trail was rocky but not difficult. Mature and young Silver trees were abundant.

In the Forest

In the Forest

This week the hike was a full-day outing from Constancia Nek to De Villiers Dam returning to Constancia via an interesting formation called Camel Rock.  Along the trail, views of Hout Bay, Lion’s Head, Constantia, and Orange Kloof were stunning! Parts of the exposed trail were challenging.

Young Silver Tree

Young Silver Tree

The weather and visibility on Table Mountain are unpredictable and it’s unwise to underestimate the mountain. Things can and often do change dramatically in less than an hour. Even though the day may begin with warm temperatures and blue skies, hikers must prepare for anything and carry rain gear and extra warm clothing.

De Villier's Dam

De Villiers Dam

The wind that blows over the Western Cape – the Cape Doctor – is a force to be reckoned with. Notoriously strong “South-Easters” usually occur during sunny, clear weather. If a South-Easter occurs when there’s a “cut-off low as occasionally happens in the spring and autumn this can cause heavy rains and the phenomenon popularly known as a Black South-Easter”. The raw strength and power of a full-blown South-Easter makes you feel small and humble compared to the forces of nature!

Contour Path Vista

Contour Path Vista

The native flora and fauna (flynbos) unique to the Western Cape and Table Mountain is quite spectacular and the subject of a separate post! The rocky mountain doesn’t encourage a large bird population but birds living in the Fynbos biome are well adapted to their harsh environment.  Some interesting birds include the exotic long-tailed Cape Sugarbird, Double-Collared Sunbird, Verreaux’s Eagle, Red-Winged Starling, and Orange-Breasted Sunbird.

Aerial View Table Mountain

Aerial View Table Mountain

Table Mountain is home to several species of snake – some dangerous. The ones to be especially careful of include the puff adder, berg adder, Cape cobra, and boomslang. Luckily I’ve never seen a snake on Table Mountain but with so many rocks they are surely there.

Newlands Forest

Newlands Forest

The rocks on Table Mountain are 600 million years old, but the mountain formation itself occurred a mere 60 million years ago. The mountain formed after “millions of years of river-borne sediment piled up on itself and compressed its own weight”. Table Mountain’s age is difficult to comprehend!

Hikers

Hikers

Table Mountain Vista

Table Mountain Vista

Orange-Breasted Sunbird

Orange-Breasted Sunbird

This post is dedicated with love to my father and mother who are no longer with me but whose birthdays were June 10th and 11th respectively. They would both appreciate the beauty of Table Mountain.

More later….

Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island

Sea, Sky, Boats

With an early morning departure from Mikumi National Park in Tanzania’s highlands the safari headed toward the warm Indian Ocean and coastal city of Dar es Salaam. After an overnight there we ferry to Zanzibar and spend three days enjoying the tropical island!

Stone Town

Referred to as “Dar” by locals Dar es Salaam was named by Sultan Seyyid Malid of Zanzibar. Dar es Salaam means “house of peace” in Arabic. Although Dar is Tanzania’s economic center and the home of the central government, the city of Dodoma is the official national capital.

Beach and Boats

With a population of over 4 million, Dar is the biggest and richest city in Tanzania. During the 1800s and 1900s the German East Africa Company played a key role in Dar es Salaam’s development. The Company helped establish Africa’s Central Railway Line. By designating Dar the administrative and commercial center of German East Africa they contributed greatly to the city’s economic and industrial growth.

Snorkeling Beach

Dar es Salaam is close to the Equator and the tropical climate is hot and humid. The average annual rainfall amounts to almost 43 inches! There are two separate rainy seasons. The “long rains” fall during the April and May and the “short rains” during October and November. Our visit was in late February and early March when the weather was hot but pleasant.

Snorkeling Island

After a quiet evening we boarded an Indian Ocean ferry to Zanzibar. The ferry was packed but the sea was calm and the trip smooth. Upon arrival we drove to the northern part of the island passing long-horn cattle, lush tropical vegetation, colorful artist displays, spice farms, and seafood markets.

Everyone was happy to begin a three-day respite on Zanzibar’s beautiful beaches. We left most of our luggage in Dar and traveled light with only day packs, sun screen, swim suits, sandals, and a few clothes.

M Doriani-Durian Fruit

Islam is Zanzibar’s main religion and our guides advised us to dress conservatively. “The Islamic religion frowns upon the showing of arms above the elbow or legs above the knee. Shoulders should also remain covered and revealing necklines are not acceptable.” Men’s clothing is less restrictive. On the beach and at our resort – Amaan Bungalows – there was no dress code!

Spice Bazaar

Zanzibar Island is incredibly beautiful and that’s truly an understatement! At times the combined beauty of the sea and sky are quite unbelievable and almost overwhelming – as if your eyes are playing tricks on you. Our time on the island was not as structured as the rest of the fast-paced safari. It was fantastic to unwind in the easy-going atmosphere and tropical climate surrounded by nature’s spectacular gift of Zanzibar!

Long-Horn Cattle

Highlights for me were the delicious local cuisine, walks on the beach, touring Stone Town and a spice farm, and a day of snorkeling near a small island. The snorkeling was a little disappointing compared to my earlier Zanzibar experience five years ago, but the day on the water was rich and beautiful. I snorkeled for hours and my backside got severely sunburned. As the day progressed our small group enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by the crew on a traditional wooden boat called a dhow. It was a perfect day!

Tanzania Map

Zanzibar is a semi-independent part of the United Republic of Tanzania located about 30 miles off the mainland. The Zanzibar Archipelago consists of many small islands and two big ones – Unguja (the main island called Zanzibar) and Pemba. In the past Zanzibar was a separate state with a strong trading history in the Arab world.

Ferry Leaving Dar es Salaam

Zanzibar City on the island of Unguja is the capital of Zanzibar. The historic center of Zanzibar City – Stone Town – is a remarkable World Heritage Site. I spent part of a day walking Stone Town. The locals were friendly and surprisingly it was quiet and uncrowded with few tourists. The weather that day was dramatic – stunning blue skies interrupted by short monsoon-like storms that came and cleared quickly.

Wooden Dhows

In 1964 Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika creating Tanzania. Zanzibar maintains a high level of independence within the union and conducts its own elections. Zanzibar’s 2016 local elections were in October.

Red Colobus Monkey

As in most of Africa, the political situation in Zanzibar is complex. The people rejected results from the October election. The re-run election was to occur later in March. I talked to locals around Stone Town and each one viewed the disputed election in a different way. For those interested, this link provides basic information about Zanzibar’s 2016 elections.

Dhow Crew Preparing Lunch

The word “Zanzibar” was derived from the Persian term ‘zangi-bar’ meaning ‘coast of the blacks’. However it’s believed that the name could have also originated from the Arabic ‘Zayn Z’al Barr’ meaning ‘fair is this land’. Zanzibar trades in spices and raffia and has a flourishing tourism industry. It is home to an extremely endangered species, the Red Colobus Monkey.

Masai on the Beach

It was sad leaving Zanzibar and I revisited memories from an earlier trip in 2011 feeling pulled back to the island and wanting to spend more time in paradise. After the ferry ride back to Dar es Salaam we head to Bagamoyo whose name means “lay down your heart” in Swahili and goes back to the dark days of slavery.

More later…