ELEPHANTS & OTHER PARTING SHOTS

SAFARI BLOG 07

Tuesday July 4, 2017

As you’ve probably guessed by now, our wild, magnificent, unforgettable African Safari is all over!

We said a sad “Kwaheri!” (goodbye) to Kenya on Saturday … arrived late that night in glittering Dubai … spent the next day trying hard to stay out of the 47-degree midday sun … rode some desert-dunes in the late afternoon … dined in a Bedouin camp as the sun went down … then grabbed a few all-too-brief hours in bed, before returning to the airport and blasting off for Godzone, on the other side of the world.

There’s so much more I could’ve and should’ve written … so many more pix I might’ve shared. In fact, given half the chance I could still bore you to death several times over. But allow me to record a few elephant memories (these big, intelligent mammals are my African favourites) plus some parting shots from other animals that caught the eye during our final hours out on the game-parks.

As a special treat on our last Nairobi morning we visited an elephant orphanage – home, at the moment, for 26 bumbling, tumbling, cute-as baby elephants from all over Africa. Many of them are orphans, their parents killed by poachers, after their tusks; others were found lost and hungry, separated from their parents by the inevitable man-versus-wildlife clashes that occur; still others were found down waterholes or caught in traps (like the tiny little fellow we saw whose trunk was almost severed by a wire snare).

Here, in this sanctuary, they are fed and cared for, allowed to play roly-poly with their friends in the red dust and mud-holes, then returned to the bush at the age of three and adopted into suitable wild herds.

Hard to think of a nicer, more lingering memory to take with us …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. Would you like to join us on our NEXT AFRICAN SAFARI? We’ll most likely go again in 2020 (three years from now). Get in early, so you don’t miss out! Register your interest now by calling Dianne on 0508 323 333 or emailing midlifemadness@travelmanagers.co.nz.

P.P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

SAFARI BLOG 06

Friday June 30, 2017

There are lots of things about this African Safari that I find hard to describe … lots of things that even photos can’t convey … lots of things you can only appreciate by BEING HERE.

Take landscapes, for example. We’ve lost count of the different landscapes we’ve traversed here in East Africa. From gently rolling plains smothered in acacia trees, to golden-grass savannas stretching to the horizon … from parched, sun-baked dust-pans, to lush-green swampy wetlands. A few days ago, for example, we found ourselves in a place that can only be described as remarkable …

06-01 Ngorongoro Crater - not our photo (1024x453)

Sunday: NGORONGORO CRATER

This World Heritage Site has been called the Eighth Wonder of the Natural World – the biggest intact volcanic caldera on the planet and the largest ‘zoo’ on earth. We slept two nights high up on the rim, driving in the misty early-morning down 600 metres onto the crater floor … one of the most picturesque settings we’d seen on our safari, and an animal population so used to humans that you can almost “reach out and touch”.

06-02 Lake Manyara Serena Lodge (1024x639)

Tuesday: LAKE MANYARA

This scenic gem, extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had ever seen in Africa”, kept our cameras busy. Baboon troops lounging along the roadside, blue monkeys (you oughta see their privates!) scampering between the ancient mahogany trees, oversized hornbills honking loudly in the high canopy, and truly extraordinary birdlife. 400 different species have been spotted here, and while we didn’t spot anything like 400, we did our level best.

Below are more of the weird and wonderful birds that we’ve seen over the past two weeks – a feast-for-sore-eyes, I’m sure you’ll agree. We saw LOTS MORE than these (some of our group have been ticking them off in a book about ‘Birds of East Africa’ – and they spotted the 100th yesterday). But these are a few that we managed to catch on camera … some of them huge and hard to miss (like the fish eagles, the vultures and the secretary birds) … others small and quick to take flight (like the scarlet-chested sunbird) … some so well-camouflaged they were nearly impossible to see (like the strangely-named water thick-knee) … others so beautifully coloured they took our breath away (like the tiny malachite kingfishers; the first photo shows the pygmy variety, barely 10cm long; the second, a standard malachite, a little bigger, with the fish in its mouth).

Most of these birds, of course, were high in trees or much further away that our photos suggest (thank God for zoom-lenses) … but each of them more fascinating than I can say.

Highlight of the day at Lake Manyara were the zillions of pelicans and yellow-billed storks that were feeding, bathing, squawking and flapping about in the shallow, alkaline waters! A most amazing sight!

06-37 yellow-billed storks & pelicans (1024x768)06-38 great white pelicans (1024x768)

Wednesday: AMBOSELI

Framed against the glorious backdrop of Africa’s highest peak, the magnificent pink-tinged snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park provides the classic movie image of an African safari park. The mountain remained hidden behind cloud most of yesterday, but it cleared yesterday afternoon. And, speaking of movies, we saw one last night, about this park’s most famous four-legged mother: Echo, the elephant.

06-03 Amboseli Serena Lodge (1024x637)

Amboseli is home to one of the few large elephant populations in all of Africa that hasn’t been ravaged by poachers – and we enjoyed the spectacle of jumbo-sized families on the move: big mommas, their playful youngsters, and the occasional oversized bull – plodding patiently across the dusty plains, and feasting greedily on tasty salads while standing up to their haunches in muddy swamps.

Anyway, enough for now about elephants. I’ll tell you more next time I write …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. Would you like to join us on our NEXT AFRICAN SAFARI? We’ll most likely go again in 2020 (three years from now). Get in early, so you don’t miss out! Register your interest now by calling Dianne on 0508 323 333 or emailing midlifemadness@travelmanagers.co.nz.

P.P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

BIG CAT FEVER

SAFARI BLOG 05

Tuesday June 27, 2017

It’s safe to say, I reckon, that very few people go on safari without wanting to see a LION. I mean, no single animal is more representative of Africa than the mighty King of Beasts … followed close behind by the other cats that help make up the Big Three: LEOPARDS and CHEETAHS.

It was therefore with growing impatience and anticipation that our Kiwi Mad Midlifers completed Day #1 … Day #2 … Day #3 … and Day #4 of our safari without having seen even one of the big three cats. We saw oodles of everything else, but no lions … no leopards … and no cheetahs.

It wasn’t until Day #5, in the Masai Mara, that the drought finally broke. WOW – did it EVER! And you aren’t gonna believe what I’m about to tell you …

It started in a small way with CHEETAHS: Those of us who did the balloon safari saw one in the far-off distance. (Correction: we couldn’t really see much without a zoom-lens or binoculars.) And the five Kiwis who hadn’t come ballooning were visited by another cheetah that walked right up to them in their 4WD. Yeehaa!

Later that same afternoon, we saw our first LEOPARD: Again, we couldn’t really see it – it was too well hidden in the long grass. (I’ve already posted the only halfway decent photo, snapped by Denise when this big male cat put his head up, briefly.)

Then 10 minutes later we saw (I kid you not) some LIONS: Three of them (a male and two females) were asleep by the roadside, and we’d blindly driven right past them. It was only on our return trip down that same road that they chose to get up and go walkabout.

Two days later, in the Serengeti National Park, the LION-sightings came thick and fast:

  • We stumbled on a healthy looking female with three good-looking school-age cubs, resting out in the open after (what we assume was) a busy night.
  • An hour later we spotted a handsome, golden-maned male, lying semi-alert in the shade, not bothered in the slightest by our close proximity.
  • Sleeping not far away was his mate. She soon woke and wandered over for a friendly head-rub, then left him alone to wash his face and do his hair.
  • Next came the highlight of the morning: two affectionate adult females (probably sisters) plus, their four very young cubs, well-hidden in some bushes and cute as buttons. The grownups had killed a wildebeest during the night, and the cubs soon found the carcass, turning it into a plaything while their mums watched on, yawning hugely.
  • We saw several more lions that day, with or without cubs. Then finally, shortly before heading back to our safari lodge for another excellent buffet dinner, our driver spied something rather unusual: a young male lion sitting in the top of a bushy tree!
  • The following morning we were at it again, watching another lion-family having breakfast along a dried-up riverbed, tearing hungrily into what was left of a zebra.
  • Our lion-parade just went on and on: lions sleeping (which most of them seem to do most of the day) … lions perched on a fallen tree-trunk … lions eyeing up their next meal out there on the grasslands … lions mating (or, at least, taking a break from the act, which may occur 20-40 times a day!) … and, only yesterday, members of an 18-strong pride having a final gnaw on a wildebeest’s ribcage before wandering off across the Ngorongoro Crater to order a drink.

We couldn’t believe our luck. In fact, as of this morning (believe it or not) we have seen a grand total of 80 different lions and lion cubs! That’s right, EIGHTY!

But wait: it hasn’t just been lions. Three days ago (on Saturday) we got up-close-and-personal with a beautiful female LEOPARD. She had climbed high into a big tree to eat, sleep, read, whatever. And when we first saw her she was straddling a stout branch, facing the wrong way, her legs and tail hanging down. However, over the next 15-20 minutes, she moved several times, giving us the chance for some face-shots before she lay down and went back to sleep.

But wait: there’s still more! The day after, we spotted a CHEETAH sitting upright in the tall grass. A group of Thompson’s gazelles was grazing a long way off, and he/she (not sure which) was checking them out, trying to decide whether one of those dainty antelopes was worth a legendary, high-speed chase. This stunning, sleek, athletic cat was too busy (we assume) thinking of lunch to even notice us as we photographed him/her from every angle …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. Would you like to join us on our NEXT AFRICAN SAFARI? We’ll most likely go again in June 2020 (three years from now). Get in early, so you don’t miss out! Register your interest now by calling Dianne on 0508 323 333 or rushing an email to  midlifemadness@travelmanagers.co.nz.

P.P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

ANIMALS, ANIMALS, ANIMALS!

SAFARI BLOG 04

Sunday June 25, 2017

You probably think we’re swanning around on holiday over here in Africa – right? Well, think again! This is work … hard work! I’m talking early mornings … fast-paced days … tiring drives … and never a dull moment. Plus, each night over dinner, we’ve got to listen in to the latest America’s Cup racing. It’s tough, I tell you. And I’m having great difficulty finding time to squeeze out more blog posts.

Anyway, enough complaining. Here, for your enjoyment, is another belated update about where we’ve got to on our wild Mad Midlife Safari … plus more selected images of Africa and the amazing wildlife we’ve been privileged to meet.

Wednesday: HOT-AIR BALLOON SAFARI

We celebrated our second day in the Masai Mara wildlife reserve by going airborne in a hot-air balloon … taking off just before sunrise … enjoying magnificent views of antelopes, buffalos, elephants and giraffes from way-up-high … then landing in the open grasslands for a classy champagne breakfast.

04-01 balloon safari (1024x768)

Thursday: KIRAWIRA

Today, after crossing the Kenya-Tanzania border at Isebania, we enjoyed a two-night taste of Africa in the old tradition – at Kirawira: another luxury tented campsite, this time perched on a hill with uninterrupted views of the Western Serengeti Plains.

The Serengeti, with its wide open spaces, is the most famous wildlife sanctuary in the world. The lush vegetation around Kirawira is home to heaps of animals and abundant birdlife. And we drifted off to sleep each evening with the night-time grunting of wildebeest and yipping of zebras that were gathering in their countless thousands on the sunburnt vastness below us, preparing for their annual migration. When the rains start in Kenya, they will stream northward – obeying an instinct so strong that no drought, gorge, charging lion or crocodile-infested river can hold them back.

04-02 Kirawira Tented Camp (1024x637)

Saturday: CENTRAL SERENGETI

The Serengeti is everyone’s dream of Africa … and one of the last places on earth where the Big Five is out in force, and such large numbers of animals can still be seen at-home in their natural habitat.

Last night we slept in individual thatched ‘rondavels’ (domed huts) – another true ‘out of Africa’ experience we’re unlikely to forget in a hurry, thanks in no small measure to visitors the resort had throughout the evening: zebras stealing a drink from the swimming pool, and several large, aggressive cape buffalos making a nuisance of themselves right outside our huts! (As has happened already on previous nights, we needed armed escorts with powerful torches to accompany us to and from our rooms. Exciting …)

04-03 Serengeti Serena (1024x640)

Sunday: NGORONGORO CRATER

We arrived here late this afternoon, after a lengthy, bouncy, dusty, teeth-rattling romp across the endless Serengeti. Our lodge-for-two-nights is clad in river-boulders, cloaked in creepers, and set high up on the rim of the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera: the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, identified as a World Heritage Site, and rated the Eighth Wonder of the Natural World.

04-04 Ngorongoro Serena (1024x638)

Bright and early tomorrow morning, we’re going down onto the crater floor to meet some of the thousands of animals, large and small, that have made themselves at home in this remarkable location. Tell you more soon.

In the meantime, don’t forget to click on the pix below for some extra comment:

COMING UP: We meet the Big Cats, in a very big and exciting way! You won’t want to miss this …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

THE LOW-DOWN ON GAME-DRIVES

SAFARI BLOG 03

Thursday June 22, 2017

If you’ve never been on an African safari, you probably can’t imagine what a game-drive is like. Well, we’ve been on a few of them already this safari … and we’ve got lots more to come. At least once a day, sometimes early morning while it’s still quite darkish, sometimes later in the afternoon when the landscape’s cooling down, we pile into our waiting 4WDs (Toyota Land Cruisers) and bounce off along the dirt roads that criss-cross East Africa’s wildlife parks. In search of what? In search of the animals, birds and scenic highlights that this continent’s famous for.

The ‘lids are up’ (meaning the vehicles’ roofs are elevated) allowing us to stand, if we choose, for fresh air, clear views and photos. The terrain is frequently cross-country, with lots of lurching and lunging – which all adds to the camaraderie and fun. Our drivers are also qualified as safari guides, with specialist knowledge of ecology, conservation, birdlife and animal habits. In short, they’re a goldmine of information – plus they’ve got amazing eyesight, constantly scanning the surrounds and accurately spotting our moving targets long before we see them.

Over the next few blogs I want to give you a taste of the wildlife Kiwis have been eyeballing. These selected close-ups (snapped by me and my beloved) are for real, but they don’t give you the whole story. There are things you can only appreciate by being here: the endless backdrops, stretching to the horizon … the constantly changing movement and sounds and dust and smells and silences and anticipation and hold-your-breath excitement … and what went on beforehand.

You see, sometimes the wildlife is all around you, impossible to miss. But most times you have to go looking for it – because these game-parks are truly vast and the animals (especially the predator-cats) are elusive. Often the first clue that “something’s out there” is a tiny upright shape in the far-off distance (like the cheetah we spotted yesterday) … a shadow in the long grass (like the leopard we encountered later that same day) … a hint of movement that you think you can see “somewhere over there”. Our drivers are good at this, and they often pick up signals that we can’t see even with binoculars: a cheetah’s head above the terrain … a tail hanging down out of a tree … a sudden panic amongst smaller animals.

And something else you can’t tell by looking at these pix is the hour-or-two of driving and searching along dusty, rutted tracks that finally resulted in a halfway decent photo. Nor can you tell how many hopeless, useless, out-of-focus duds were snapped before this one – and have since been deleted.

Anyway, sorry for going on and on. Enjoy these images-of-Africa (there are lots more to come) – and click on them for some extra comment. They’re a sample of photos we’ll all take home when we leave, reminding us of the wild, wonderful days we’ve spent in Africa … and the amazing wildlife we were privileged to meet.

Snorting buffalos, grumpy, irritable, eager to charge … fat, mud-loving hippos, lethally dangerous but looking like they couldn’t get out of their own way … lanky giraffes, nibbling at sweet shoots in the tallest acacia trees … prehistoric rhinos rumbling short-sightedly across the grasslands … herds of elephants, mainly mums, aunts and playful babies, with the odd bachelor bull grazing nearby … ever-alert antelopes of varied shapes and sizes, ready to leap away at the first sniff of danger … hyenas lurking in the undergrowth, ugly-as but powerful hunters … cheetahs, rare, endangered and lightning-fast … stripey-suited zebras, romping playfully and yipping like dogs … magnificent lions, Kings of the Jungle and feared by all … shy leopards, preferring their own company and hiding their lunch up trees …

PEOPLE NEWS: Another quacky yellow duck has found a new and welcoming home:

  • Ken won our ‘Near Miss’ Award – after forgetting to clear his room a/c at one of our lodges. Ken was shot at by an armed security guard and arrested as we tried to leave the game-park. (No, hang on. Correction. Ken wasn’t shot or arrested. Phew! But he did have to pay …)

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)