Tag Archives: Africa

Market in Tanzania

Our travels did include some opportunities to experience life beyond just the protected areas in which the wildlife lived.  When you are on an organized trip, you know that any experience you are given has an element of artificiality about it, but you do hope to see something of the real lives of people.  We stopped for a visit in the town of Mto wa Mbu.  We took a tuk tuk ride into the town through the streets as people went about their business.  In many of the previous towns we had passed through, I felt very unwilling to photograph people as I zipped through their home.  However, this visit was an organized event and involved a contribution to the community, so I felt slightly more relaxed about taking images.

We left our vehicles and were led through the market.  The stalls were stacked with goods and there did seem to be people that were there shopping as our group meandered through the narrow alleyways.  We stopped at a couple of places to learn more about the various commodities that were being traded.  There were certain approaches that would not sit well with people with western sensibilities, particularly when it came to the meat, but everywhere has their own way of doing things.  It might have been a bit of a prepared version for the tourists, but it was still good to see something a little closer to real life for people.

Some of My Rides on Safari

We took three internal flights while we were in Kenya and Tanzania and all three were interesting aircraft.  Better still, they were all different types.  One was a new one for me to fly on, but you might be surprised as to which that was.  Our first trip was on a Let 410.  It took us from the Serengeti to a short strip just short of the border with Kenya.  This wasn’t my first ride in a 410 but it was my first landing.  Previously I jumped out of one as part of a tandem skydive.  This one had far more comfortable seating.

Once we crossed the border, we took another flight into the Maasai Mara.  This was on a type that is ubiquitous in the area – the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan.  I have never been on one of these.  They were very densely configured and getting through the cabin to a seat was quite an effort.  I don’t care to think what getting out in a hurry might be like!  We saw so many of these with different operators over the course of our visit.

The last type we flew was a Dash 8 100 Series.  A far larger type than the others, this flies some heavier routes, and these might involve multiple stops along the way picking up and dropping off customers.  Ours picked us up in the Mara and took us direct to Nairobi.  No intermediate stops for us.  It has been a long time since I flew in an early generation Dash 8, and I hadn’t thought of them as doing rough field ops.  However, supporting remote communities is part of their history so of course they are fine on these strips.  Unfortunately, heavy rains at the strip 90 seconds from our camp meant we had to drive for forty minutes to another strip to make this flight.  It was a good trip, though.  This part of the world was great for people like me that like close up encounters with aviation!

Can Pictures Explain the Space Appropriately?

When I was first explaining to Nancy how amazing Yosemite was before we went there, we looked at pictures, but it was not possible for her to appreciate the scale of the place until she saw it for herself.  I think the same is true of our trip to Kenya and Tanzania.  The wildlife was a wonderful part of the trip and the reason for being there, but I should not avoid pointing out how wonderful the scenery was too.  The vast expanses of open plains, the mountains in the distance, the hills surrounding where we stayed – all of these were quite breathtaking.

Sadly, 1600 pixels across a single image is not really going to give the true impression of these locations.  I have shots to share and here they are, but I doubt it will have a significant impression on someone looking at these versus any other shot of open space.  Indeed, wide open plains look pretty weak on a small image.  There is nothing to focus on to give you a sense of scale.  Despite this, I do think it is fair to say that the landscapes we saw were quite amazing.  They won’t have the impact the animals have on people looking at the blog but, if you do go, be ready for some stunning locations.

Baobab Tree at Lunchtime

One thing that I didn’t really get good shots of during our time on safari was the baobab trees.  There are many varieties of them and some of the most distinctive are in Madagascar, so they weren’t the ones we saw.  However, we did see a bunch of the local varieties and they were pretty cool looking.  The only one I got a good shot of was this one that someone pointed out to me behind the area where we had stopped for lunch.  It was quite a beast of a tree.  I did think about wandering closer to it but, unlike when at home, I was not so sure of the wisdom of wandering away from our guides.  There were some rather substantial predators out there somewhere.

How I Misjudged Hyenas Before Seeing Them

There were many animals I was looking forward to seeing when we visited Kenya and Tanzania.  One that I hadn’t thought much about and, if I had, it wouldn’t have been positive, was the hyena.  They have a pretty bad image since they clean up all of the debris that is left and will also do their own hunting in the pack.  While this is no different to many other animals, they seem to have been given a more negative image.

When we arrived, we immediately saw loads of hyena.  They were out walking alone and moving in groups.  They are not the sleekest looking animal, but I found myself surprisingly interested in them.  When one would come into view carrying a trophy from a carcass, I would see this as a positive when others were focusing on the negative.  We saw one hyena limping across the road with an obvious wound on its leg.  This reminded me of just how perilous life is for everything in the wild.

Later in the trip we came across a den for the pack.  One hyena was walking back in with a wildebeest leg in its mouth.  This was going to feed some hungry mouths.  There were some cubs in the den, and we could hear them before we could see them.  They were fighting with each other between sessions suckling from their mother.  It was really fun to watch this whole pack of animals in their social setting.

I’m not expecting anyone reading this to suddenly love hyenas.  Some of the pictures will probably reinforce thoughts that yo might already have had about them.  However, I will say that I saw them in a very different light over the time I was in Kenya and Tanzania, and I will never think of them the same way again.

Sunsets and Sunrises Over the African Plains

I may have spent a lot of time watching and photographing wildlife while we were in Kenya and Tanzania but the times of day when were out were early morning and late afternoon which meant that there were going to be sunrises and sunsets that I could photograph too.  We had quite the selection of lovely opportunities to take these shots and here are some of the images that I like the most.  We did also get some interesting skies with the light at either end of the day, but I shall give those moments their own posts.

A Dash 7 Almost Catches Me Out

We saw a variety of planes in Kenya and Tanzania.  This one I didn’t get too close to but I was really happy to have caught either way.  Dash 7s are pretty few and far between these days.  There are some up in Canada that I would love to get up to see but the last ones I saw were in Toronto and looked stored.  This one flew overhead and I grabbed a few quick shots.  Oh to have seen it touching down on one of the rough strips.

Which Elephants Make the Cut for the Blog?

Kenya and Tanzania both provided us with multiple opportunities to observe elephants.  Sure, I have seen elephants before including one encounter in the wild in South Africa.  None of these encounters in any way prepared me for the time with elephants we had on this trip.  There were so many of them, I was constantly taken aback by the experience.  They would be traveling in groups and often several groups would be together.  There were so many of them.

Each time we would come upon some, I would be momentarily amazed that there were elephants so close.  Then I would realize that there were more around than I had first thought.  They would be so close, so uninterested in us and so impressive.  There would be all ages with senior females, younger elephants and some tiny calves.  It was just incredible.

Seeing so many of them in lots of different places means it becomes harder to narrow down to a few for one post.  The early experiences made a big impression on me but the later ones were still outstanding.  In Amboseli, we ended up with the sun setting over Kilimanjaro as loads of elephants were grazing in the foreground.  At one point, we were standing up in the truck and everywhere I looked there were elephants feeding.  I took the phone out of my pocket and panned around to show just how many there were.  Truly amazing.

Another time we were crossing a river and there were loads of them in the water and along the banks.  They gradually made their way towards us and, at one point, an adult and a calf climbed the road away from the river and the view of them heading off was amazing.  Another time, we found some up on the top of the river bank.  They split up with some foraging along the shore and others fording the river to try their luck on the other side.

Another memorable moment was a lone male slowly heading by the road we were on.  We stopped to watch him for a while, and he turned and started heading towards us.  Having seen videos of elephants pushing vehicles out of their way, I was wondering whether we were going to have to make haste out of his way but apparently we were not his concern and we were able to stay and watch him for a while.

All of these moments were amazing but were not the sum of our encounters.  We had so many times with the elephants that I can’t count them.  I wish I could truly convey just how amazing they were.  Forget the closer moments.  Just watching a family of elephants in the water making their way through the foliage in the distance as they fed was fantastic.  I just love elephants – but then I doubt that is a controversial position.

I Love Hippos and I Wasn’t Disappointed

When going on a safari, there are animals that will be the ones many people will want to see most.  Lions, elephants, maybe rhinos will be top of the list.  I am not saying I didn’t want to see those because I clearly did but I have a fascination with hippos and seeing them was very high on the list of things I wanted.  Thankfully, we had plentiful opportunities to see them in various locations.

I knew that they were one of the more dangerous creatures, but we never got in any situation where they were a direct worry to us.  They tend to come out at night and feed before retreating to the water in the morning to stay cool and away from any predators.  Therefore, many of our sightings were when they were in rivers.  However, this wasn’t always the case.  We would see them wandering on land, heading through marshy ground and even asleep on the land.  I should note that one hippo we saw asleep on the land was showing signs of attack with wounds across its body so this may have been out of character.

We came upon one river that had loads of hippos in it.  We watched then for a while and then, as some of the other trucks pulled out, our guide moved us up into the dead end where they had come from.  This brought us in to sight of another big group of hippos way closer in.  It was amazing to see so many of them together.

What was the shot I wanted?  It had to be the mouth.  Hippos yawn and show off their large mouth and the huge teeth.  I so wanted to get that shot.  One hippo was in the water looking straight at me and I was just willing it to yawn but it didn’t oblige.  However, I did get some more distant shots when the full yawn was happening so that was really great.  They are such excellent creatures and, considering that they are vegetarians, ones that need to be treated with great caution.  What a treat.

Leopards Are Harder to Find

Our time in Kenya and Tanzania included plenty of lions but, when it came to the next big cat on the food chain, things were a lot less common.  The leopards were there to be seen but they were not anywhere near as numerous.  It doesn’t help that, unlike the lions that live in large prides, the leopards have a solitary existence.  If you are in a territory, it is one leopard that you are looking for.

We did have some encounters, though.  The first leopard we came across was at the beginning of the day as we headed out from the hotel.  We hadn’t got very far when our guide spotted a leopard sitting on a termite mound.  We stopped and got some shots of it and then tried to get closer but leopards are a lot more skittish than other cats and it didn’t take much to spook this one.  It ran off up the hills.

Our next encounter was with one that had been busy feeding.  On a couple of occasions, we had seen carcasses of animals up in trees where the leopard had pulled them.  In this case, the leopard had then taken to another tree to rest after its meal.  We were quite close beneath it, but it didn’t seem bothered about us and I don’t think it was likely to pounce down on us.  Instead, it was sleeping and barely recognizing our presence.

The other encounters we had were probably with the same leopard but this time down in some bushes alongside a river.  The first time the leopard was pretty well in the bushes and was lying down.  It didn’t seem intent on doing much and we left it after a short while.  Back in the same area on another day, it was on the move.  We were able to be ahead of it and it walked towards us before cutting back into the bushes and being lost from sight again.

The leopards are such powerful creatures, and they look far more menacing than, say, the cheetahs.  Their ability to haul a heavy animal up into a tree is impressive and, pound for pound, they are stronger than the lions.  However, the lions will still take them out if given the chance.  With overlapping territories, this is not something to be ruled out.  I’m glad we got the time with them that we did.