Day 1 - Saturday - U.A.E. - Dubai
Mathieu used frequent flyer miles to buy the tickets.
The only seats available are in First Class. Shucks.
This is my first time riding on the top level of a 747. *^_^* We're
stuffed full of wine and caviar.
The caviar almost makes up for our itinerary: Boston to Frankfurt
in seven hours, six hour layover in Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Dubai
in six hours, an overnight stay in Dubai, followed by a six hour flight
On the plus side, we got a great view of mountains
in Turkey and a cool sunset
above the clouds. I awoke to a politically relevant "you
are here" map of the arabian peninsula.
We arrive in Dubai, a large coastal city in the United
Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), at about 10pm. A short cab ride later,
a light dinner of humus and olives, and we're ready for bed.
Day 2 - Sunday - U.A.E. - Dubai
After a breakfast on the hotel
patio with more olives, dates, humus, spicy eggplant, and very
fresh orange juice, we walk around the city for a few hours. Basking
in the balmy 80 degree sunny weather is a welcome change from the
25 degrees we left behind in Boston. The bright sunshine helps with
the nine hour jet lag.
We find a very modern
city with prayer
rooms in shopping malls, people thrusting $5 name-brand dress
shirts into our hands "cheap, cheap, good buy" and a highly
I wish we could have spent more time in Dubai, but the lions are waiting
for us. On the plane we go (again).
From the sky, Nairobi has far fewer lights than an American city.
Our passports and visas are stamped a few times. Lewella, our Micato
guide in Kenya, meets us outside. He and our driver, Martin, chauffeur
us to our hotel. On the way, we replace the myth that "Boston
drivers are the worst " with a simple "oh my god, Kenyan
drivers". Very few street lights, 100km/hr, six inches from cars
going in the opposite direction, five inches from a guy changing a
Our hotel, the Grand Regency, feels more like a fortress, with four
guards, a ten foot perimeter wall, and two-tiered vehicle gates.
Day 3 - Monday - Kenya - Nairobi
Awake the next day to see the city
for the first time! First impressions are: quiet, warm (low 80s F),
very polluted - diesel fumes and burning garbage are the most common
smells, and quite
poor. We're briefed by a Micato team about our itinerary (map
courtesy of Micato's brochure).
Before we leave for the bush, there are a few sights worth seeing
in Nairobi. One such sight is a private reserve for Rothchild
giraffes. Visitors can hand
feed the giraffes from an elevated platform. Their tongues are
unbelievable -- they are as dextrous as a human hand! Too bad only 300 are left in the world :(
Another great attraction in Nairobi is the Carnivore
restaurant. They're an all-you-can-eat restaurant, specializing in
game animals - zebra,
crocodile, gazelle, giraffe, and our favorite, eland.
They will continue bringing
meat to your table until you "surrender" by means of a little
flag at each table. All of the game animals are farm raised, so it
isn't all that different from ordering cow or pork. Zebra is very
tough and tastes like a botched pot roast. Eland is more tender, with
a richer, beefier flavor. Crocodile tastes just like alligator, which,
of course, tastes just like chicken.
The most moving experience of the whole trip is when we "escape"
into the streets of Nairobi, unaccompanied by our guide. Within a
few minutes of leaving the hotel, a street urchin adopts us. We are
the only white people within blocks. The boy, somewhere between 7
and 10 years old, follows us for a good 20 minutes, whispering and
asking for money, showing Mathieu his sores and scars, singing songs.
His eyes are yellowed and glazed.
Since we speak no swahili, we never learn his story. We lose him when
we walked into a building with a bank. The guards at the front door
(who searched both of us with metal detectors before we could go in)
scare the urchin away.
Day 4 - Tuesday - Kenya - Amboseli Park
Monday morning we fly into the bush: Amboseli National Park. There's
a stunning view of Mt.
Kilimanjaro from everywhere in the park. Amboseli
is famous for its large elephant population.
Our first "game drive" starts right at the airstrip. As
we drive, every direction looks like bonus material from the Lion
King. All the herbivores hang
out together. Elephants really do have little
birds living on their backs. If you close your eyes and run in
a straight line, you won't get more than 100 yards before planting
your face on a wildebeest or zebra.
Halfway to the hotel, we see our first carnivore - a lone
hyena skirting a herd of zebra. The hyena moves on without incident.
A herd of elephant is approaching the road, and we position our vehicle
in their way. There is a momma
with her baby - a very young and cute
A bit further along, a different herd is running!
(notice the gazelle posing in the foreground) Our guide assures us
elephants are a rarity. The herd's bull takes up the rear, forcing
the line forward.
We make a stop at the elephant
swamp, where scores of elephant
eat and bathe.
Elsewhere in the swamp, we see mated pairs of crowned
cranes. These beautiful birds
mate for life, and never seem to be far
from their partner.
None of the animals are disturbed by our vehicle. They check us out
for about five seconds, then wander away and keep grazing. That meant
we could get close to this zebra
and this gazelle.
Diversity abounds. In one picture, I got a wildebeest,
gazelle, crowned cranes and elephants.
The last treats before the hotel are a lizard
and a pair of old
male elephants (that's the roof of our car at the bottom of the
The hotel, Amboseli Serena Lodge, sits in an oasis of trees and water.
It is organically integrated into the land: you can watch elephants
from the comfort of the bar,
there's a family of mongoose
living under our room, and vervet
In the late afternoon, we go out for another game drive. There's a
hyena burrow, complete with baby
hyena. Are baby hyenas cute?
There's a detour through a troop of baboons,
who ask us for a toll.
Our car's radio squelches to life - a lion's been spotted! On the
way, we see a Goliath
heron finishing off a helpless snake.
When we get to the lion, we have our first lesson in photo safari-ing:
make sure your car is there first. Once people hear there's a lion,
you get a lion
traffic jam. At first, all we can see is a patch of yellow fur,
really far away, surrounded by yellow grass. By now, the sun is low
in the sky, and in the fading light everyone loses track of where
the lion is.
Eventually, the ol' boy awoke, yawned,
and got up
for a night of hunting. Exhilarating as it is, this would not be our
last, and far from our closest
encounter with a lion.
Heading home for the night, we see a bunch of moving
rocks - like a cross between Fizzgig ("Dark Crystal"),
"Critters", and a Perdue Butterball. These are guinea
fowl, and quickly become Mathieu's favorite animal. Henceforth,
we just call them "butterballs."
I can't get over Kilimanjaro's height.
Those funky bonsai-like trees are acacia, and they're everywhere.
They've got two inch thorns that protect their leaves. Acacia are
What a long day! I fall asleep hoping the monkeys
don't get us.
Day 5 - Wednesday - Kenya - Amboseli Park
We're up before dawn to prepare for another game run. We drive past
lion haunts, but see more tracks
than cats. We do get a nice look at a curious hyena,
who checks us out.
Our Amboseli driver, David, is a movie fan. He does a great job of
lining up cinematic
shots -- locations which have been used in Hollywood movies.
There are a few elusive oryx
We catch a whole pack
of hyenas resting after a successful hunt.
Today is a good day for birds: hawk,
geese, this blue
bird, and a bird that looks photoshopped.
It is also a good day for buffalo. Buffalo
with bird. Buffalo
with tree. A hiding hippo.
Two lionesses under
We return to the hotel for lunch, then go on a nature walk. There's
frog sitting on a leaf, and a couple of lizards
on a rock. Just a stone's throw away is a big
spring where the local Masai
do their laundry and water their goats. Almost every Masai we meet,
even young children, has a yard long stick, like the one this gentleman
is leaning on. It not only serves as a means of support, but is also
helpful when herding goats, sheep and cattle. The Masai are not warriors,
but many will carry spears to defend the herd from predators. One
more note - his sandals are made from old tire treads. Tire shoes
are inexpensive and very popular.
Before dusk, there's another game drive. This time we visit the old
Amboseli ranger station, where you can watch
the whole park. On the way, we see some warthogs,
and a giraffe.
Around dusk, we have cocktails at the elephant research station, where
the clouds parted
just long enough to re-assert Kilimanjaro's size.
By dinner, I'd totally forgotten it was New Year's Eve! The resort
has a great party, complete with ice
sculpture (those are Christmas lights and lettuce inside the ice),
a game of "Identify
Your Wife By Her Feet", a few elephants
quietly walking past our dinner table, and a stick
bug who falls on Mathieu's arm.
Day 6 - Thursday - Tanzania - Lake Manyara
Today we drive to Tanzania. Halfway out of the park, our car has
a little breakdown. Not an uncommon event - these folks keep spare
parts in the glove box. But it happens in a rather remote spot.
We hitch a ride with another tour group, and we're soon at the border
The long drive into Tanzania is a cultural experience. We see lots
of farms surrounded by small houses.
We stop at a large gift
shop and haggle over the price of a painting done by a local artist.
The cost of framing the painting here in the U.S. far exceeds the
price we agree on.
Our first Tanzanian destination is Lake Manyara. We arrive a bit too
late in the day for a game run, but I enjoy a nice dip in the pool-with-a-view
at the Serena lodge.
Day 7 - Friday - Tanzania - Ngorogoro Crater
Once again, the lodge is organically attached to its surroundings.
Right outside are hordes of male weaver
birds, picking twigs to build impressive nests for their mates.
There's also a cluster of bats
just outside the foyer.
In the morning, we do a game drive around Lake Manyara. I wonder what
events precipitated this sign?
here are just as friendly as the ones in Amboseli.
We get our first look at the "sausage
tree", which has enormous fruits shaped like, well... sausages.
The fruit is large - almost as long as your arm and thicker. Victor
tells us that a local tribe makes a potent beer from the fruit. As
we found out later, the sausage tree is the arboreal residence of
choice among leopards.
A few (million) flamingos
feeding in the distance.
A flock of ground
hornbills plod past us.
Back in the forest, we catch an impala
Let's not forget our friends the termites,
who keep themselves very busy.
monkeys are everywhere.
Elephants like mud
mud baths. With mud.
Lots of mud.
You Lion King fans will recognize Rafiki's tree home: a baobab.
Rafiki, we learn, means "friend" in swahili, not baboon.
After lunch, we start the three hour drive to Ngorogoro crater. The
countryside is mostly farmland.
When we stop for gas, I snap a picture of this cool rooster
carrier on another car.
We get to the crater
late in the afternoon. It's about ten miles in diameter, and we have
to drive halfway around to get to the Sopa lodge. The view
from there is exceptional - we decide to kick
back with our books.
Day 8 - Saturday - Tanzania - Ngorogoro Crater
Down into the crater! It feels so much like Jurassic Park.
Our first sighting is a jackal,
slinking around in the tall grass.
crossing. Notice the zebra mixed with the herd. The wildebeest
keep the zebra around because they have better eyesight, and, in my
opinion, better "situational awareness". They feed on different
levels of grass, so they can co-graze. The zebra keep the wildebeest
around for... well, ... fodder for the attacking predators.
Wildebeest are also known as gnus,
because of the sound they make.
There are a lot of zebra babies and young
adults. Zebra for the first year and half have brown stripes, not black. Baby zebra
lie down on the ground, to hide their small size (everyone's the same
height in bed!), and the brown fur helps them blend in with the grass.
There's a party
at the water
hole and everyone is invited.
I can't shake the feeling of being inside a lost world - a feeling
that is only enhanced by the frequency distorted swahili coming from
the car's CB radio. It sounds like confused Jawas. I wouldn't be surprised
to see a Bantha.
The animals are so much cooler than our North American fauna. The
birds are either more colorful
or just plain BIG.
A hyena walks right
down the road, a few
feet from our car, and keeps
I spot my first lion - a big
male taking a nap. He gets up to check out some birds circling
a kill. Once he clears the rise of the hill, he sees a few jackals
around the carcass of a bird. Lions will scavenge other animal's kills,
but not something so small. The lion returns
to his nap, and the
jackal to the kill.
The rhinos here are shy.
There are only sixteen of them in the whole crater, and the park service
guards them fiercely against poachers.
Over by the hippo
pool, the local Masai (they're nomadic) are watering
their herd. See how they're all holding sticks? You can also see some
hippos and blacksmith plover birds in the foreground.
It rains before lunch. Lions don't like rain.
During lunch, a black kite (the bird, not the toy) snatches a dinner
roll out of Carl's unsuspecting hand.
On the way back to the lodge, we see a cheetah.
Near the rim, we're lucky enough to see a lioness take down a wildebeest.
The kill was over in seconds, so I didn't get a shot. The wildebeest
is the black
lump behind the lion.
When the lioness' cub approached the wildebeest's herd, the zebra
guards had a stare
down. The cub returns to mom.
The clouds part, and more sunbeams
fill the crater as we leave.
Day 9 - Sunday - Tanzania - Serengeti
From Ngorogoro, we set out on a long drive to the famous Serengeti.
On this satellite map,
you can see Lake Manyara (lower right corner, our first stop in Tanzania),
Ngorogoro crater, and the Serengeti. The park is over 3,200 sq miles!
The drive is excellent - we see a hardcore punk giraffe
with a chunk missing from its mane. Further along is a more tame family
in search of lunch.
We take a quick detour to Olduvai
gorge, named after a plant that lives there. The real name of
the plant is pronounced "Oldupai", but the British butchered
it. Louis and Mary Leaky's work makes this a famous archeological
site for the study of early humans.
Here is a picture of the toilet
there. Lots of lizards
live near it.
We arrive at the gateway
(360 degree panorama) to the Serengeti. There's a rest stop to take
lunch, watch pretty rainbow lizards,
and enjoy the view
from atop a granite rock formation. A sign
here tells us that the rainbow lizards are called "Agama",
the rock formations are called "Kopjes", and there are small
furry creatures called "Hyrax" living on top of the rocks.
There's time for a game drive before reaching the resort. We see our
first Topi (found only in Serengeti), a reddish creature
with black patches that look like it has been marked up by a butcher.
Atop another granite mound, there's a pride
of lions taking
a nap. This
is our closest encounter so far!
We find two cheetahs
relaxing under a tree. The tree isn't far from the road, so we can
drive right up and hold our cameras very
The roads, just like Kenya, are all dirt, a little bumpy, and sometimes
have bodies of water flowing right
Word is out on Bush CNN (drivers shouting swahili to each other from
passing cars) that there's a leopard up ahead. The leopard is the
most elusive of all the cats. They're hard to find, because they spend
a great deal of time in those sausage trees. We try to maneuver for
a good photo, but all we got were spots.
Heading back to the Sopa lodge, we get close enough to some giraffes
to see their helpful bird
friends. We also see more wildebeest
than ever before. The park has a population of two million. They migrate
from one end to the other in search of water.
Day 10 - Monday - Tanzania - Serengeti
Today's game run kicks off with some giraffe
fleeing an unseen predator (our driver suspects a lion). Note:
the giraffes are running *away* from our hotel. Fellow guests reported
"lion noises" last evening. The resort does not allow people
to wander outside at night, offering escorts to and from buildings.
Running giraffes are better than coffee - and it looks like this dikdik,
a small species of antelope, is wide awake too.
We drive for a long time, then are rewarded with lions
in repose. These two
are cleaning each other. This girl
is out for the morning. The pride is watching a herd of wildebeest.
Have I mentioned there are a lot
There's some excitement when we hear that a cheetah's been spotted
with a fresh kill. Here's the cheetah, dead gazelle, and the cheetah's
baby cub. We're only twenty feet from them, so close that I have
trouble getting the camera to focus
behind the acacia branches. Mom
and baby clean each other after
they're finished eating.
More driving around. Potentially great shot of a leopard,
but far, far away.
If trees had feelings, this
one would be lonely.
mom and baby heading for the river.
We stop for lunch at another kopjes (rock formation). I think this
is a great "you
are here" sign. The arrows are not recommended driving routes,
but rather wildebeest migration routes.
There are hyrax
little creatures a bit bigger than a chinchilla. And, exactly as the
shows, they live on the rocks.
Also on this kopjes are metal
sculptures of serengeti animals. (the claws are made from old
spark plugs) There's a great view
of the plains, some really big cacti,
and the ever present weaver
birds. A mural tells visitors about the challenges
of being a serengeti ranger.
Lunch concludes with tea in real teacups, then we hit the road again.
impala are standing
off and locking
Down by the river, a banded mongoose shows off his bands.
is sporting a fashionable radio
collar, so researchers can track her movements. No African river
is complete without a croc.
Luck! Someone's seen a leopard we can drive near. I'm so happy to
get a decent leopard
shot. I can even get a close
up. Leopards haul (Icky dead animal WARNING!!!)
prey up into the tree for later consumption - very creepy.
Back at the hotel, we are surprised to see this sign
about crowding cheetahs. I hope we didn't traumatize the mom and cub,
since there were 13 vehicles around them, some less than five meters
Another great view
to end a great day.
Day 11 - Tuesday - Kenya - Maasai Mara
Today we fly back to Kenya, via the Serengeti
International Airport, terminal E... er, the airstrip.
There's time for a group
photo next to the plane. We fly to Lake Victoria to get our passports
stamped out of Tanzania. The lounge there has awesome
chairs. Then we get on the little
plane and get our passports stamped into Kenya and onto the little
plane again. Flying five full hours for two stamps and a one hour
A few hours later, and we're driving through Maasai Mara, the northern
part of the serengeti that sticks into Kenya. Here, you can drive
off road. That means if you see some cheetah,
you can drive right up
This resort is a tented camp, but our tent
has a toilet and a shower. Hot water, just like all the other resorts,
is only available from 5pm to 8pm and 5am to 8am. Electricity is on
most of the time (generators switching every 2-3 hours). Notice the sausage tree lamps by the beds.
Once again, there is no border between the wildlife and the resort.
There's a family of warthogs
grazing poolside. Cheaper than a lawnmower!
In the afternoon game drive, we see an eland,
one of the beasts we ate at Carnivore (rare find). There are a lot of buffalo
here. They don't move much, so we get a good extreme
Our driver takes us to three
lions under a tree - two males and a female. We're offroading,
so we get uncomfortably
close. (Uncomfortable for me, at least. The lions don't seem to
care.) Look at all those teeth!
He licks his paw,
and cuddles next to the other male.
Ahh, the life of a lion: yawning,
An elephant herd
crosses our path on the way back to camp. A mom
and her baby. Note: our car has no windows.
Some local Masai men do an audience participation dance
before dinner. Mathieu is brave enough to join in. I'm not. Someone
has to take the pictures, right?
Day 12 - Wednesday - Kenya - Maasai Mara
Today starts with a hot
air balloon ride. High in the air at dawn, we see sunrise.
In the distance is the other
hot air balloon. Our capable pilot, Elle,
brings us down to see hippos
in the river,
on the banks, and sometimes brings us just a few
feet above the ground.
Our landing is unexpectedly smooth, and the support crew runs in to
pack up the deflating
balloon. There's champagne
waiting for us, and the best breakfast
I've tasted since we arrived.
The rest of the morning is a game drive. Back in the river we flew
over, a crocodile
A slim cheetah
rests in a slim
shadow. I'm still in awe of how close we can get to these beautiful
animals. I think this
picture makes a good wallpaper.
I'm lucky to get a baby zebra and a baby giraffe in the same
Just down the road is a (Icky WARNING!) lion
with her fresh
kill. It is unusual that she doesn't drag the (WARNING, still
into the shade. (no more icky) This picture
give you an idea of how close we were. Note: still no windows.
The lioness had to keep running
to and from the shade to scare away the vultures.
Ever wonder how giraffes drink?
They cut off the blood to their brain to drink. Very dizzying!
Before lunch, we find a gully with several lion
cubs. We keep looking around to make sure mom does not sneak up
Back to the resort for lunch. Did I mention it feels like Jurassic
In the afternoon, we visit a Masai village. The village women
sing a song to welcome us. This is the eldest
woman in the village - she is 45 years old. A young man named
Andrew speaks english, and invites us into his house. There are two
one for the husband, and one for the wife and children. Our fellow
safari goer, Mary, has brought bubbles
to give out to the children.
Here's Justin (for scale) standing next to one of the huts.
The Masai traditionally wear shades of dark
red, a tradition carried from the days when they wore blood-stained
animal hides. Today, most Masai children go away to school when they
are six, reading
and writing are encouraged, and Mathieu happily notes that
is a universal behavior. Smiles
are all around.
It is near the end of the day, so we stop for cocktails
in the bush. There's a beautiful sunset,
followed by a beautiful moonrise.
That evening, we do a night game run. It is nearly impossible to take
pictures, but I do catch some hippos.
Hippos are a lot more active at night. They run around and graze.
Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for the
most deaths by far. Do not taunt a hippo or get it its way.
Day 13 - Thursday - Kenya - Mt. Kenya
Today we enter the "relaxing" phase of the vacation. Less
activity, time to reflect on everything we've seen and done.
Here is terminal
E at the Maasai
Mara International Airport. We fly back to Nairobi and start the
drive to Mount Kenya. We stop at another overwhelming
gift store, where Justin haggles for a soapstone sculpture. Nobody
puts prices on things. It is expected that you will try to bargain.
Americans can't seem to get over this. Even hotel gift shops will
haggle. I saw many abandoned paperbacks in english, wrapped in plastic
with a nominal price scrawled on them.
We do not stop at a "real" street market.
is mostly farmland - coffee, papayas, mangoes and pineapples. It weirds
me out that almost all the men wear very nice button up shirts,
even in the middle of nowhere. They do a lot of walking on the streets! It is common to see people collecting
sticks for firewood.
After driving all day, we arrive at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, where
stork greets us, just outside the bar window.
Day 14 - Friday - Kenya - Mt. Kenya
We sleep in a beautiful cottage
all around. The Safari
Club is like a country club, but keeping with that theme of organic
integration into the land. There's a peacock
living in the courtyard.
They have a tennis court that straddles both hemispheres.
The morning is relaxing, and we have time to walk the hedge
maze behind the club. We go for a short horseback
After lunch, we visit the Sweetwater camp. Here, they have a rhino
orphan that was saved by humans. He lives in a very large fenced enclosure,
guards to protect him from poachers. He has become used to humans,
so we can pet
him. I finally get my rhino close
Down the road is a chimpanzee orphanage. They live behind
a tall electric
fence ("hatari" means danger). We ride down a narrow
river to watch the caretakers feed the chimps.
They throw fruit from the boat, and the chimps catch
Day 15 - Saturday - Kenya - Nairobi
Today is our last day. We've both had a great time. Kenya and Tanzania
are beautiful countries, full of rich wildlife and deep culture.
As we load the car, Justin notices that the world is really, really
It is another long set of flights back. We land back in Boston to
find record breaking lows (-15F) and frozen water pipes. Ha... - civilization