Gary's First Trip to Africa

Tanzania, you are amazing

February, 2014

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The Dark Continent. Hardly.

When I was younger and adventurous,
I had no desire to go to Africa.
Big mistake.

That was back when men went to Africa to prove they were still alive,
to prove to themselves and show their friends they were real men.
They slaughtered countelss animals, as they still do,
in an uneven battle between humans with modern tools
and animals who had evolved to live in an uneasy truce with their environment.

It may seem strange,
but Africa is not littered with the bones of this continuing slaughter.
It has animals which have evolved
to make use of those bones,
to make use of the feces,
to maintain the balance.

When I was younger and more adventurous,
I wanted no part of the slaughter.
So I stayed mostly in North America,
exploring rivers and mountains.
Life was good.
I'm glad I did that.
But I should have gone to Africa.

Partly it was because I didn't know anything about Africa.
My western civilization centric education treated Africa as a blob.
A place with a
big desert at the top,
hot, humid, sweaty, uncomfortable, impenetrable jungles in the middle,
and swarms of poverty stricken scary black people all over.
Perhaps I let stories of unrest in South Africa dissuade me.
We didn't have a television,
so I never saw Alan and Joan Root's early wildlife films.
I still haven't; I can't find a copy.
If you know where I can beg, borrow, or steal one, please tell me.
I never read about eastern Africa's vast plains
and the amazing wildlife migrations.
I never heard of or saw images of its amazing birds.

I wasn't interested in birds then anyway.
I wasn't even interested in elephants or lions or leopards or cheetahs.
Elephants and lions and leopards of my experience
were lethargic, impersonal, uninteresting creatures.
I had no bridge between a concrete cage in a zoo
and the wide open as far as the eye can see African plains.
I had never even heard of a cheetah,
let alone a caracal or a dikdik or a go-away bird or an agama or a rocket frog.

My wife, however, was interested,
had heard.
and had seen.
Her parents spent five years there,
working to help set up and staff the first
center for the study of diseases in African wildlife in Kenya.
They spent all of their spare time exploring.
Don took some wonderful photos,
images I wish I could come close to.

As a result, Dona had been to Africa,
had some idea of what was there, and
had been interested in all that stuff that makes Africa, Africa.
Fortunately, she still is now.

I've hit the magic age
where United States citizens heave a sigh of relief
because they are now covered by Medicare, and
start worrying about all the things they can no longer do
because they're fat and unhealthy.

Dona convinced me that I really did need to see Africa.
It didn't take a lot of convincing.
But we realized we'd better do it before we were too crippled up.

So last fall we planned a trip to Tanzania.
We came up with an itinerary.
We paid some money to our selected guide service.

Dona's back had been bothering her for years.
Her sciatica, to be more exact.
Like many women (so we were told by her doctor.),
she is stoic about the pain
and just endures it without complaint.
But on one of our overnight stops down by a river one day
she slipped and fell and landed on her butt
and it was clear it was not good.
We started thinking
about bouncing around Africa in a Land Rover
and decided that wasn't a good idea.
Rather than give up the plan,
she decided to fix the problem.
She squeezed her eyes shut
and gritted her teeth
and fell asleep when the needle went in and the plunger was pushed
and the surgeon went to work.
A few lag bolts and titanium bars and hours later
she came out the other end of the tunnel.

We cancelled our trip,
fell back and regrouped.
And in February we boarded a plane for London, then Nairobi,
and then Arusha, Tanzania.
For those of you who were like me when I was younger,
Tanzania is a country.
In Africa.

Map of Africa showing Tanzania
Map from Wikipedia

We had three weeks;
I wish we had had three months,
or three years.

On the appointed day I made sure PC's cathouse had its heating pad plugged in, gave him a last luxurious pet, and set him down outside to brave the cold while we were gone. The temperature was 8°F and forecast for -10. I fed the horses and we loaded Max and headed to town. We dropped Max at his favorite dog-sitter; he was a bit more anxious than normal, and didn't want us to leave. We left the car with Dona's mom and took the Green Taxi to the airport, where we checked our bags all the way through.

We couldn't fly direct, so we hopped. Unknown to us at the time of purchase, our flight required a stop and change of planes in Minneapolis / St. Paul. Then it was the long overnight to London. Dona found 3 open seats where she could stretch out. That freed up one of our two, so I could practise my yoga, primarily the fetal position.

The food on Delta was innovative, factory-farm stroganof, and too-spicy something noodles. Dona thought it might have been lab-cloned stroganof.

I ended up sleeping in a kind of head-tucked fetal position. If you're lucky and your brain is small like mine and the equipment is old and wobbly like the 767 we were flying on, you can slip your head under the non-retractable arm rest next to the window and do without the head tuck. Just hope no-one falls over when the plane lurches and has to push on the arm rest to catch themselves.

We awoke to sunrise over dense, uniform, uninspiring Great Britain pea soup. Breakfast re-established Delta's new motto "spice covers bad taste." We thought we had already arrived in London.

We had a seven hour layover in London. I hate airports. I really hate airports. Fortunately, once upon a time I worked with a very bright guy named Steve Misek. To our benefit, Steve has lived in London ever since then. He was kind enough to take a chunk out of his day to whisk us through the tube and walk with us down the waterfront.

The images below are links to the places we spent time, mostly in order. Except for the photo collections at the bottom.

London Kiota Nest Food Arusha National Park Tarangire National Park
London Kiota Nest Arusha National Park Tarangire National Park
Nou Forest Yaeda Valley Ngoro Ngoro Oldupai Gorge Area
Nou Forest Yaeda Valley Ngorongoro Crater Oldupai Gorge Area
Ndutu Lake Manyara
Ndutu Area of Serengeti Lake Manyara
Lake Chala Amani Mambo View Point Usambara Mountains Mkomazi National Park Marangu Moshi Town
Lake Chala Amani Mambo View Point Usambara
Marangu Moshi Town
The Zoo Birds
The Zoo Birds