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Day 23

Today we take the ferry from Zanzibar back to the mainland Tanzania where we rejoin Raymond and the truckbus for the final stretch of our trip – the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater.

We drive to an unremarkable campsite and crash for the night.

Day 24

It will be a short drive to Arusha today. The plan is for us to overnight at a camp where we’ll get picked up by smaller four-wheel drive safari jeeps for the ride into the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti wildlife preserves.

On our way to our campsite we stop at cultural center – one that sells tanzanite. Tanzanite is a precious stone that is most often purple with reddish highlights but can sometimes be blue or even green.

We get a tutorial on tanzanite from the dealer at the shop, who shows off some of the most expensive stones he has on hand. Nellu and I have no business buying jewelry on this trip. But don’t worry tanzanite, I’ll be back – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and I’ll have you for the rest of my life.

Tanzanite heaven. Photo by Nellu.

Day 25

It’s safari time. We’ve packed a few belongings into smaller bags because we’ll be traveling for two nights once again without Raymond and our truckbus. I don’t know if you remember our discussion earlier about the two nights of “participation camping” – whatever that means. Well that little secret is revealed. Participation camping means that handlers at the campsite inside the wildlife preserves will set up our tents and we won’t be responsible for helping with the cooking or the cleaning – a small luxury.

Three jeeps arrive to take us on our trip and our group splits up. Nellu and I join our Canadian friends Bob and Christina (North Americans sticking together!) as well as the South African/Australian couple Brett and Angie, who came on board our trek in Zanzibar. The vehicles look exactly like what you’d want your safari jeep to look like, complete with pop-up roof for viewing.

Photo by Nellu

Our driver and guide introduced himself. “I’m Emmanuel.” he said. “Emmanuel, like Jesus Christ.” He probably shouldn’t have said the last part because for the remainder of our days with him, we neglected to call him Emmanuel and just went with “Jesus.” We had way too much fun with him, shouting out “Jesus Christ” or “Thank you, Jesus” whenever we thought it was appropriate.

Jesus and the jeep. Photo by Nellu

From our camp we drove first to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we stopped to take pictures at the crater’s edge.

Our Ngorongoro picture for the parents

We’ll get an chance to go into the crater when we return. We also stop at a “traditional” Maasai village. It’s actually not their real village but one that they’ve set up so that safari tourists can see what traditional Maasai life is like.

Our Maasai guides. Photo by Nellu

Mazza tells us to keep and open mind during our visit. We’ve come to realize that this is what she says when she knows that people are going to try to shake us down for money or pressure us to buy something. Which is what happens. Nellu gets pretty close to buying a spear from one of the Maasai but backs off when the reality of taking a spear on multiple airplanes sets in. But the guy kept following Nellu around calling him “a good business man.”

After the tour, we continue to the gates of the Serengeti.

Photo by Nellu

As we approach, the scenery begins to change. Much of the green vegetation goes away and the wide open plain begins to appear. These next few days will be the most remarkable of our trip.

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Our group hadn’t seen a big cat in our whole trip through Africa but there on the first day we saw a lion in the shade of a tree on a distant rock.

Day 26

These next two days were all about the animals so I am going to let Nellu’s pictures do the talking. You can see more of his pictures by clicking here. The highlights on Day 26 – a cheetah, prides of lions, and the great migration.

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Andre and Chloe and either Line or Kristine wave from the other jeep. Photo by Nellu

Tony and Claire. Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Oh and on our way back to camp that night, we get a fresh sprinkling of what they call African powder – dust from the road heaved into the air by passing jeeps. We try to close the windows for a moment while the jeeps and their dust clouds roar by but Nellu still comes back with an interesting effect. We think he looks like Moses.

Moses and Jesus

Day 27

Today we descend down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The name is one of those spectacular words derived from a sound. They say “ngong, ngong” is the way the cow bells of the Maasai herds sound, hence the name.

Here not only do we see another cheetah and a rare black rhino, but we get to see lions in the honeymoon period where they mate several times an hour for days while being guarded by another male lion.

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Lions taking a break from mating. Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Oh and a lion came over and sat in the shadow of our friends’ jeep. The video is by Claire Walton. Our jeep missed it but it was just too amazing not to show.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We return to our campsite in Arusha. While we are gone, Raymond has been tasked with the grocery shopping for our last dinner together. He picks up meat for a traditional South African barbecue, a  braai.

We arrive back to camp in the early afternoon and spend much of the remainder of the day hanging out in tables outside the bar. A portion of the proceeds from the bar at the Snake Camp go to supporting the Camp’s charitable efforts, so we feel doubly good drinking a little for us and a little for charity.

While we drink a local kid shows up, joins the group, coming in with Nellu, and begins laughing loudly at the jokes. Raymond is disturbed by his presence and asks him what he wants. It’s clear that he came in to bum a smoke or even ask for money. He leaves.

But the situation gets me thinking again about compassion. I spoke a few weeks ago about the tension I felt in Africa because of the clear contrast between the visitors who have so much and the locals who lead far simpler lives. Raymond must be exasperated by the constant harassment he has to deal with for the job. It makes me wonder about my level of compassion (or is it empathy?). Too often I feel myself getting ruffled by encounters like these when I should give people a little more room. I’ve watched other friends on this trek engage people who bombard them for a sale, talking and laughing with the vendors when I would have simply brushed them off. Even Nellu seems to have gotten to a better place since India. When did I become so closed off?

~ ~ ~ ~

That night during our braai, Mazza and Raymond make an impassioned speech, asking us to tell others about the danger faced by the rhino populations of Africa, which are being poached at an alarming rate because their horns are supposedly important to eastern medicine. 203 rhinos have been found poached so far this year. (Their horns are cut off and they are left to die.) The issue has recently gotten some publicity in National Geographic and other publications. You can read more here.

Just a little more to come…

~ Molly

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Every time, I think of going on a safari in Africa, I get the Lion Sleeps Tonight stuck in my head – hence the title. I tried to get everyone to sing it with me while on safari, several times, but it never really took. In the spirit of this next blog, if you would like to get it stuck in your head too (or if you just need a good laugh), check out one of my favorite youtube renditions by clicking here.

Photo by Nellu

I’ve vowed to get a piece of video footage each day on this trip. My wide-angle zoom lens is not the best for safari, but you’d be amazed how close we were able to get to some of the animals. I’ll put it all together and reveal it at the end. But in the meantime, please enjoy Nellu’s photos.

Day 2

Day 2 starts before dawn. What seems like early now will become a regular starting time for us on our trek. To be honest, over the last year, Nellu and I have settled into a comfortable routine only getting up before 9am if the place that we’re staying stops serving breakfast. But on a high note, it seems like all the worrying over our bags was for naught. There is plenty of storage in our overland vehicle, which brings me to the subject of our overland vehicle. I think it looks like a cross between a truck and a bus.  But if we call it a bus, our driver Barry will, after two strikes of course, start collecting mandatory donations of $1 per offense.

Is it a boat? Is it bus? No it's an overland truck!

And what about the people? Nellu and I are the last to board the bu..truck so we’re sharing seats with different people. I sit myself next to Ken, the doctor from Orange County, and talk travel and healthcare reform, before we realize we have something even bigger in common – our love for HGTV and do-it-yourself renovations. Oh, I think we’ll get along just fine.

We’ve got our first game drive today. We drive several hours through Kruger National Park to our campsite for the night. Since we’re in our overland truck, which I’ve decided looks more like a boat than anything, we have to stick to the paved roads. But we still see tons of impalas, zebras, elephants, a giraffe, and warthogs, which are adorable. 

Photo by Nellu


It’s funny to get so giddy and to see other equally grown adults get so giddy over wild animals.


Impalas everywhere! They call these guys the McDonald's of the bush. Photo by Nellu

Once in camp, we get a brief tent tutorial. These tents look pretty easy to set up. And even better, we have thick foam mats to sleep on. This camping for 21 of the 28 days thing is not going to be so bad.

Day 3

Another early morning but today we’re going on a real safari! Two smaller jeeps, just like the ones you imagine when you think safari, meet us at the campsite to take us back out into the wild of Kruger National Park.  We hope we’re early enough to catch some big cats on the prowl for breakfast.

It soon becomes clear that yesterday’s game drive was just a taste. In the smaller jeeps, we’re able to drive along dirt roads, getting up close to many of the animals. One of our first grand encounters, a male elephant coming right down the road.

Now, you’re allowed to drive around Kruger in your every day car from a mini to a sedan, as long as you pay the entrance fee at the gate. But it’s situations like that make me glad we’re in a big jeep, driven by trained professionals, unlike the group of people in a car small enough to be a Prius who backed up and quickly left the scene. We got to stick around and enjoy.

Elephants up close. Photo by Nellu

By lunch time, we had seen three of the big 5 – the big 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot (not that there would be any hunting going on): rhinos, buffaloes, and elephants.

Rhinos are being poached at an alarming rate just for their horns. We were able to see these two in the wild. More information to come. Photo by Nellu


We actually saw a big herd of elephants, complete with a few babies. And if you thought a car full of adults getting all giddy over animals was funny, you should see this car full of adults get all giddy over BABY animals. They’re everywhere in Kruger in January.

Photo by Nellu

As we ooh and aahh over the babies, I’m reminded of an idea that has started to germinate in my head over the last year – the importance of conservation. Seeing such amazing exotic animals out in the wild furthers a belief that we need to treasure these animals and protect them. Especially when it comes to animals like elephants and rhinos that are being poached at alarming rates for their tusks or horns, respectively. And even the not so endangered kind like zebras. Kruger National Park has zebras just hanging out everywhere the way New York City has rats and we need to make sure they’re here for generations to come.

Photo by Nellu - Check out more of his beautiful pics http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaiban/sets/

After lunch, we take off and drive some more but it’s so hot out now you can see the herds of animals standing closely together in the shade offered by trees. It’s quite comical. But the likelihood of us seeing a big cat in this kind of sun steadily decreases. Our jeep starts joking around about an elaborate plot/marketing ploy for Kruger Park. We think what they really need to do is get a stuffed lion and stick it underneath a tree at a distance far enough away from the road where people won’t know the difference. It will of course have to be close enough so that all the tourists can snap their pictures and go home telling everyone that they saw a lion.

Some times you see the lion and sometimes you see a giraffe. Photo by Nellu

Oh and I almost forgot, there were no tents for us on Day 3. We were treated to simple bungalows with ensuite bathrooms! The staff at the guesthouse also performed traditional songs and dances for us. They chose participants from the audience and of course they chose Nellu. He just has that look in his eye that says, “I’m game.”

More to come…

~ Molly

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