Day 9- March 16
I slept so well during the night. I remember I took a shower that was actually warm (I went first and was afraid I'd use all the hot water) and we had plenty of towels and everything. I had some wifi issues for a little bit, but I fell asleep really quickly. There were a lot of gnat things in our tent, swarming around the lights, and I'm pretty sure I saw a bat fly by the window at one point, but it was so much fun. It was neat hearing the animals, when we were awake. I remember waking up one time during the night, and hearing warthogs outside. They weren't that close, but I could still hear them!
I got up, got dressed, slathered myself in Off Deep Woods and sunscreen, and we headed off to breakfast. It was nice having a real bathroom near the dining area- in Singida there were two little stall room things with icky toilets, and sometimes toilet paper. No soap or paper towels. But here, there was all this room in the bathrooms! And there was a tree growing in the middle of the ladies room! Really, it went right through the roof! So it was nice to not have to trek back to our tent before we headed out. Breakfast was really exciting. I had some juice, two little croissant thingies, some bacon (Tanzanian bacon is different- it's in pieces rather than strips), an omelet with cheese, onions and I think tomatoes, and mango! It was the first mango we had on the trip, and it was so good. I wanted to eat a ton of it. It was exciting to have familiar breakfast food. I ate most of what was on my plate. Then we turned in our room keys and stopped by the little table where they had set up a boxed lunch station. That actually meant we were a little late heading out. I think they expected the boxed lunches to be pre-assembled. Instead, we told the nice hotel ladies what we wanted on our sandwiches. The choices were a little odd, so I just got cheese. Which was shredded. There was also shredded carrot, cucumber, lamb, and beef, I think. And I added two tiny bananas and a package of crackers. I wish I had grabbed one of the bottles of juice they had (I heard it was a bit like Tampico) but it was already room temperature, and I was pretty sure it would get hot and weird-tasting.
Christina and I were wondering what that pink line was. When we got to breakfast, we found out it was flamingos lining the lake. Awesome!
So we headed out on our game drive. We had to drive out of the hotel property through a little bit of the park area, out onto the highway, and then officially enter Tarangire park. We spotted a few animals even before we got out on the road.
That's a marabu stork. They're really huge and could probably eat a small child, if they were so inclined.
Zebras. Just as a heads up, my camera started being weird on this morning, and the shutter speed somehow got changed. So some pictures are blurry, and then in some, the animals may be hard to find because it was so bright that I couldn't see the screen on my camera (and therefore I couldn't tell what I was shooting.)
I admit that that looks a little like Jurassic Park.
I expected a cartoony hand of God to reach down from these clouds, like in Monty Python.
At the start of the drive, we spent a lot of time hanging out the windows, looking for footprints and, well, poop. Animal poop. To see if we could guess what animal it came from.
There was a short drive out onto the main highway, and then we took a side road and came into the actual national park. The park we visited was Tarangire. It's well known for elephants, which was very exciting. The first part of the park had some houses, farms, and roadside shops run by local Maasai (and often staffed by children), selling wares to tourists passing through. There were a lot of necklaces and paintings. We didn't stop at any of these shops. We drove to the visitor's center, where our drivers all had to fill out some paperwork. There were really neat displays, with signs explaining some stuff about the park (like what happens in the wet seasons and dry seasons) and there were animal skulls lining one of the pathways. That was super creepy. Also, I kept hearing lovebirds in the trees! I knew they were lovebirds because my family has owned birds since I was in 4th or 5th grade, and I used to have four lovebirds in my bedroom. It was very bright and I have trouble seeing in bright light, but I finally spotted some at the top of a tree. They weren't close, but I was able to see the colors (they weren't peach-faced lovebirds like the ones I had, but maybe Fischer's.) So that was exciting. This was the start of my playing annoying guide girl to some of my fellow travelers.
If you zoom in, you'll see that this is a daycare. But I didn't see any adults around it. Just kids.
The farmland is gorgeous and stunning and beautiful. It reminds me a lot of rural areas back home, but with slightly different trees.
I took pictures of all the signs.
Please don't take liberties with the animals.
This sign was my favorite, even though it didn't say anything interesting.
These stained glass signs were gorgeous!
The not-at-all creepy skull-lined path
After the drivers filled out their paperwork and everyone had a pee break, we got back to our vehicles to find that the tops had been lifted up! This allowed us to stand in the cruisers as we drove through the park, which is way better than peering out the windows. There were only seven seats in each vehicle, but ours had some empty seats. I rode with Robert and Anna, Jeanie, and Joyce. We had a great time. There is no better feeling in the world than driving around Africa, under bright blue skies with enormous fluffy clouds, feeling the wind and the sun. It was amazing and I loved it.
The Keebler elves live here. Maybe.
It didn't take long before we started seeing animals. We did see some impala, but they weren't as exciting as the baboons. After a while we got pretty used to them, but at first it was like "holy cow! Baboons! RIGHT THERE!"
The babies were so cute. They get uglier as they grow up. But in many cases, it's the same way with humans.
He's just pondering.
Sunburnt safari selfie! I was so happy. I don't even like selfies but I wanted to take one to remember how happy I was.
The lady closest to me is Joyce. I kept wanting to call her Darlene because she reminded me of a lady that used to work with my mom. She was really sweet. And so was Jeanie. And Robert is very funny and his wife Anna is super nice and we found out we have a lot in common. I got a great group to travel with!
The watering hole. One of them, anyway.
There are vultures at the top of that tree, but my zoom can only do so much.
We also saw animals that aren't quite as surprising- they're more common in zoos. But it was still neat to see them in the wild, roaming around, enjoying life.
Can you spot the giraffe?
How about in this one?
Our little cruiser caravan
Sometimes we spotted animals before the drivers did. Sometimes other drivers spotted animals and radioed everyone else so they'd know where to look. Our driver was great and stopped whenever we wanted to so we could take pictures. We stopped by a big puddle because there was a monitor lizard in there, attacking a bug! He's hard to see in my pictures, though. After a little while, I started having a weird feeling in my hand. I thought it was a circulation issue from resting my arm on the cruiser and taking pictures, but even after I switched hands and moved around, it didn't get better. I sat down and looked. My thumb was buzzing, but half my hand (the side without the thumb on it) was blue-grey. I had a new ponytail holder on my wrist, and apparently it was too tight. I was too busy looking at other things to notice my hand was turning blue! Ick. It took almost a day to return to normal. It never really hurt, though!
These are baobab trees. They're called the tree of life. Then Disney took that over, so everyone sees these pictures and asks about Animal Kingdom. Which is fine.
In addition to the lovebirds, we saw lots of cool birds on the drive. The lilac-breasted rollers were the prettiest, I think. They're purple and blue (and blurry, in my pictures.) We saw a few species of hornbill and some guinea fowls, too. They look like little dinosarus bopping about. I was pretty good at spotting the animals, and many times, I told everyone (who could hear me) what they were before the driver did. Brandon and I love animals, and own many, many animal guidebooks and encyclopedias, in addition to naturalist biographies and tons of other books. Plus, I've logged many hours playing an old PC game called "Zoo Tycoon 2", where you build your own zoo filled with realistic habitats. That's where I learned about baobab trees, along with lots of other trees and plant life. This knowledge has come in handy on other occasions, too. I can usually answer questions that zoo staff ask crowds, and I answered all the questions that our guide asked when we went on the safari ride at Disney World. Some people are good at math, I can tell you about animals.
This is a dik-dik. It's the smallest species of deer. Fun fact: there are photos of a young dik-dik floating around pinterest and facebook, and some genius labeled it "baby giraffe." And people just keep reposting it. Newborn giraffes are 6 feet tall and have spots. The dik-dik in question is being held in the palm of someone's hand. The internet is a weird place.
The Tarangire river. It was mostly dried up. But it's a very popular place for animals to hang out when there is an actual river there.
I think these were the only gazelles we saw. They're Grant's gazelles. There are also Thompson's gazelles, which are in my zoo game. They breed like crazy and are super annoying, at least in the game. Mom and I used to joke about how much we hated them (she had the same game.)
I didn't anticipate seeing any lions in this park, because the population in this area isn't very big. We were coming up on a curve in the road when something came over the radio that included the word "simba." And several cruisers were stopped ahead of us. We pulled up to the curve, and saw three lionesses and two cubs. Two of the lionesses led the group, two cubs in the middle, and one lioness brought up the rear. By the time our cruiser arrived, the lioness in the back was closest to us. I didn't get many great pictures, but I did catch a video of her walking away (so slinky!) We were in awe. Everything was very quiet. I'm terrible at guessing distances, but I'd say she was about a hundred yards away from us.
Coming up on Ms. Lion
The best shot I have of her
She acted like she was stalking a bird for a bit.
This is the tree the lions walked to. Sometimes I could see the cubs' ears poking up from the grass. There's a big red thing on the right side....we figured out it was a rib cage. Yum.
The rear lioness was taking a nap under a tiny tree when we backed up and left that area.
Look who's back!
Baboon hill. With some impala. Jeanie also spotted a hyrax near the top, but he was gone when I turned around.
I didn't really know how long our game drive was going to last, but at a certain point, I started to feel like it had to be getting close to the end. And I hadn't seen elephants. That was my second goal for the trip. First, see my kids. Second, see elephants. I care about them and their welfare a great deal, and am involved in a few advocacy efforts on their behalf. When I realized that elephants were up ahead, I stood up so fast I almost fell over (sometimes it's not easy bumping along in a land cruiser) and felt like crying. And they weren't even that close yet. I took about a hundred pictures of the elephants alone, even though they didn't move much. And a few videos of them standing there, just swaying and flapping their ears. It was amazing.
After a few moments, we had to leave the elephants because one of the other cruisers was stuck in the mud. So we went to rescue them! It was fun watching them fishtail out of the mud puddle thing. While we were gone, I hear one of the elephants got an attitude and looked like he was going to charge another cruiser. I've seen the video. I think he was doing a lot of posturing. He looked a little young. You know, teenagers. They're brats.
This guy spontaneously decided to have a little nap
I paused to take a picture of this cool bush thing, and saw part of it moving. There's a chameleon on there! Can you find him?
Oh, that sky.
More baboons! A sea of them!
Toward the end of the game drive, we stopped for lunch at a picnic area. This is home to thieving monkeys. I think they were vervets. I'm confident enough in this that I still haven't bothered to look it up to check. They broke into my (mostly empty) lunch box while I was in the bathroom, running off with a banana peel. They stole half a sandwich right out of Emma's hand. Another stole part of a yogurt from either Lee or Robert. When Dinah's husband Kelley went off to the restroom, Dinah came to stand with us, because "safety in numbers." But as she was saying this exact phrase, she set a package of crackers on a table for a split second, and boom! Monkey theft! There was a man there whose sole job was to throw rocks at the monkeys using a slingshot. If you asked him why, he said "they must learn respect." And when he came around, they scattered.
I thought it was very funny that Emma's solution to this problem was standing on a bench. It's not like monkeys are well known for climbing or jumping or anything.
He's just a stone's throw away.
These are waterbuck, and they're massive, muscular deer.
There were some warthogs in the background. I never got any good warthog pictures, but we saw a lot of them.
Mt. Meru, on the road to Arusha
We left the park and headed back on the road to Arusha. I think most of us dozed off at some point. The drive was a few hours long, and we were tired from all the excitement. I watched/listened to Jurassic Park on my iPad and dozed off. We were on our way to the mountain lodge in Arusha, where we spent our first night in Africa. The next day, we'd be meeting our kids! The hotel was so nice. They gave Christina and myself a room with just one bed, but it turned out to be two full beds put together. So we separated them and had a rest before dinner. Many of us were feeling pretty poorly this evening. In fact, they actually moved some of the sicky folks to the same cruiser back to Arusha, so they could make more stops if they needed to. Christina and I both had pretty bad tummy aches, but I think she was worse off than I was. She left dinner much earlier. The food at mountain lodge was similar to the tented camp- in fact, the desserts were the same! There was also a lot of Indian food. Finally! But the sad thing was, I wasn't feeling well enough to eat it. I think I got some dinner rolls and some cucumber raita, but I couldn't eat much and ended up leaving dinner early myself. There were some acrobatic entertainers putting on a show when i left with a few other ladies who also weren't feeling well. I have a theory that our sudden collective tummy upset was due to two things: our systems were in the process of rejecting the food that we had in Singida (rice and bananas, plus some other things, for ever meal), and then they were in a state of shock going from that to things like dinner rolls with butter and other familiar foods. I wish I had been able to partake, because there were some foods I really love at the mountain lodge, but it's for the best that I didn't even attempt to eat them. I know many of us spent Sunday night praying to feel better, and asking for others to do the same. We were a little nervous because our kids were coming the next day, and it would be awful if we spent the day not feeling well! Spoiler alert: we felt better the next day (even though some of us were not at 100%, and got worse on Tuesday.) Stay tuned, as the next entry will be about my day with my boys!