Just another evening and morning in Africa … Leopard at night, Lion roaring in the morning

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (our last night and last day), we had some special sightings ….

We went looking for a leopard a couple of times Monday and Tuesday and didn’t have much luck, so Tuesday night at 7:45pm, we were back to the lodge resolved to miss a leopard sighting.  We looked out at the water  and there it was …. a leopard drinking water! The video, taken by D, compliments the great pictures taken by Beth. Video and pictures at night are not easy, good job Beth and D.

At 4:45am the next morning, I was up and having coffee and heard what I thought was a lion roar. It was! Just after 5:00am, this majestic male lion walked out of the bush, sniffed a tree, lifted his tail, took a pee, then walked to the water and drank for one minute. He then roared for 30 seconds. He walked back to the tree, sniffed it, peed again, then walked off. The uncut (3 min 10 sec video below, shot by D) IS AFRICA!

(Leopard photos by Beth Uphoff)

 

Africa – At the Water Holes

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!
In Madikwe, South Africa, water is the key for survival of everything. The animals rely on “water holes”(especially during the dry season). These are pools of water (ponds, reservoir etc) where animals can drink (and elephants can bathe!) Some of the most interesting sightings of the trip were at the water holes, and conveniently there was one outside Nkurru Lodge, where we were staying. So you could pour yourself a beer or wine and sit on the patio and see what come by to drinKk
 
The water holes are not without danger … the prey are always looking around for predictors who might interrupt their drink!
 
Here are some pictures and videos taken of animals at the water holes.
I only have a couple more blog entries to post, but they are good ones ….. lots of lion activity and also a leopard!

Cheetah Brothers vs. Zebra

(Graphic pictures and video are below)
We are on a safari with Wild Eye. One of things I like about being on safari is seeing real things that are not staged or there for “my benefit”. Beautiful or gory, they are why I am here to witness….

We’ve run across a few cheetah over the last couple of days, and the first pictures below are of two brothers we saw the first day that always stay and hunt together. Here are a few selected facts about the cheetah:

  • Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of 70 mph in short bursts. The average speed of a cheetah while hunting is about 40 mph,
  • The adult cheetah weighs 50-150 lbs, making it much smaller than the lion.
  • The cheetah coat is uniformly covered with nearly 2,000 solid black spots.
  • Cheetahs are active mainly during the day, which is when they hunt. Adult males are sociable despite their territoriality, forming groups called coalitions. Cheetah mainly prey upon antelopes and gazelles, stalking their prey to within 300-900 feet, then they charge towards it and kill it by tripping it during the chase and biting the throat to suffocate it to death.

We saw the two brothers on the 2nd day we were there …. they had just hunted and killed a zebra. The cheetah is a formidable hunter, especially when they can surprise a group of animals in closed quarters. We came onto the site about 20 minutes after the kill, so we could view the aftermath from about 20 feet away. Unlike previous cheetah kills we had seen, the brothers started eating very soon after the kill, meaning that they had not expended that much energy in the kill.

Interesting to not is that they first go after the vocal chords, so that they kill is done with as little sound as possible, in order not to alert other animals (hyena, etc) that would take the kill away.  Also, you will notice that they are fairly “neat eaters”, chewing only inside the hind-quarters as first, in order to keep the smell down (again, to prevent other predictors from being alert to the kill).

In the video, about 10 seconds in, the brothers change places, which

To see cheetah devouring a kill from so close is quite unique and very special. Below are pictures and video.

A Good Start to a Week in Madikwe, South Africa

We returned to Madikwe, South Africa, last week after 3 spots opened up a few months ago on the *always* sold-out week there. This time, we flew 8 hours Chicago to Zurich and had a 10 hour layover there. We showered and had a nice lunch at the lounge before taking the train into the city, seeing the sights (including awesome big chess pieces, as me about Beth’s idea for introduction into the USA), and going to a movie (Bohemian Rhapsody, ask me what I thought of the movie?). Late flight to Johannesburg (10 hours), 11 am arrival, then a 2 hour drive in a rental car on the wrong side of the road to Rustenburg for the night. Next morning, a 3 hour drive to Nkurru Lodge in Madikwe. We made it!

Each day, we go out for a game drive at about 5:00am, then come back by about 9:00am for breakfast. We relax in the lodge until another game drive at 4:00pm until about 7-7:30-ish. Dinner at 8:00pm, and nights are usually not late, as the next day has us up again by 4:30am. Game drives are early and late because that is when animals are active. Mornings are in the 60s and daytime can be in the 90s.

Every day brings a new and different look from the day before. The first day, instead of planes, trains and automobiles, we get elephants and cheetah and rhino. The second day, we get lions and giraffe and buffalo. Below is a quick look at some of our sights from the first two days here in Madikwe.

P.S.  Please make comments on the photos, so I get a feel for what people like to see (and to let me know someone is reading this!)

 

3 Days in Hong Kong

We decided to stay 3 nights in Hong Kong at the end this trip. We haven’t been here together for a long time, and the airfare to return to Chicago was $100s less than other places in Asia. The sights of Hong Kong are some of the most unique in the world. The city is built on seemingly uninhabitable mountains and rock. The skyscrapers grow from the side of the mountains, and although the city center is steel and glass, 80% of Hong Kong is forest, mountains and beaches. It is a breathtaking place and you constantly walk around in awe. On top of all this, flights between Hong Kong and Chicago are among the cheapest of any Asian city. Those of you with a spare $500 for round-trip airfare and a week free are missing out on one of the world’s most unique places if you don’t come here.

Hong Kong hotels vary from elegant and expensive to simple and cheap. The key thing is location, location, location. And we want super clean! So eLog Inn at $45/night is perfect for us. Room is very small but the bed is comfy, room is spotless and the location can’t be beat. In the heart of Kowloon, at Jordan, near subway, buses and night markets. And it’s about 30 minutes from airport to the door!

Arrival day, temperature is in the low-70s (day) and high-60s (night). We went to the shopping mall just for kicks, saw Garrett’s Chicago popcorn and an ice skating rink. We went to the night market and dinner “on the street”. This means authentic chinese dishes and large bottles of beer brought to tables and stools set up on the street and in the alleys. We had an awesome stir-fried Udon pork noodles.

Our first full day , the weather turned to low-60s (day) and high-50s (night) with sometimes a light drizzle. We took subway/bus/boat to the members-only, swanky Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club at lunchtime. A bit of an issue with my “membership”  but that was solved easily with politeness and courtesy, and we had a drink looking over Repulse Bay. We then went to Stanley Market, which has been enhanced and modernized a bit in the last 30 years, but it still retains the same feel. The highlight of the day was the bus ride back. One of the most awesome ways to see Hong Kong is from the top deck of the #6 bus from Stanley Market to Central Hong Kong. It’s a 45 minute ride that winds through the mountains, along narrow roads, no guard rails, brushing tree branches as it goes. It’s unique and this alone is worth the time it takes to fly 16 hours to Hong Kong! The 1-minute video snippet is in the phot gallery. Rode the Star Ferry back to Kowloon …. 25c to cross the harbor.

At night, we went to La Taverna Restaurant. We came to Hong Kong on our honeymoon 30 years ago because it was cheaper and more interesting than Hawaii (which is still true!) and the one restaurant we remember was La Taverna. In the gallery is a “then and now” (30 years ago and now) picture at La Taverna. We finished up with beer at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, a bar we also remember from 30 years ago.

Our last full day, we went to Shek O Beach. Shek O is a small village that is at the end of one of the steepest, mountainous roads in Hong Kong. Many people go hiking up and down huge inclines here. We walked through the narrow streets of the local village (video in first comment), visited the beach, and saw groups grilling in a tailgate-like area. Cool! Another scenic bus ride back to Shau Kei Wan and we visited the local fish market there. Live fish being prepared for the restaurants and dinner tables of the locals. (some pics and video are in the gallery.

In the evening, we had a very good Nepalese meal and a beer at one of the restaurants on Temple Street. Morning, 30-minute bus back to the airport for our flights out. A short visit to one of the world’s great cities … very nice.

Cambodia – February 2018

Our winter trip this year is to Camboda and Hong Kong. It takes 20 hours of flights from Chicago to Cambodia (13 hours to Tokyo then 6.5 hours to Cambodia). We stayed in Japan one night, then Cambodia 7 days, then Hong Kong 3 days, then back to Chicago (15 hours).

Here are some notes (and lots of pictures and video) about the Cambodia portion of the trip. I think I’m learning that people like to see pictures and video, and read less commentary, so here you go!

Chicago to Japan

It was a snowy day leaving Chicago. The flight to Tokyo (13 hours) was about 30% full, so we each got 3 seats to lie across.

Overnight stay in Narita, Japan on the way to Cambodia. Narita is a small(ish) town near the Tokyo airport, about 60 miles from central Tokyo. Dinner at a local yakatori last night followed by karaoke at the Cage. It is a bar frequented by airline personnel on overnight layover, so there is a good amount of alcohol consumed here every night.

Japan to Cambodia

Uneventful 6.5 hour morning flight from Narita to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, and settled into a hotel near the Mekong River and had a nice happy hour at FCC (Foreign Coorespondant’s Club) then a good Indian meal. Arranged a Lexus taxi to Otres (near Sihanoukville – 4 hours drive, but only 100 miles – to the south, lots of traffic, $50). A lot faster than the bus.  Here are a few pictures from the capital, Phnom Penh.

Good morning from Otres Village, Cambodia. The only two awake in Cambodia at 7:00am are a cat named Agent Orange and me!Nice Valentine’s Day/birthday yesterday, hung out by the beach and then had a delicious Fish Amok. Staying in a cute house behind Woody’s Pub, they were just building this when we were here 10 months ago.

Very productive day today. Walked up the beach this morning and hired a Hobie Cat sailboat. I sailed my wife across the shipping lanes (one fishing boat!), 6.8 miles, walked into the beach bar, bought 3 cold beers ($1 each) then walked back to the boat and sailed her back to where we started. The trip back took a little longer, because of wind direction, I should have bought more beer. All in all, a nice 4 hours.  Pictures and video

I planned to get a haircut before I left Chicago, but it didn’t get done. Now I need one, especially as it is 85° everyday here in Cambodia. There is a guy one minute walk down the street that cuts hair, here are some pictures of his clients that I took. D says go for it (easy to say, it’s not her hair). What do you all think? Should I “go for it? My guess is that it will cost about $1.50. Or should I wait two weeks and get it done in the Philippines with my regular guy.

In the afternoon, we went down to the beach and walked across an estuary (river flowing to the sea, waste-deep) and walked along a completely desolate beach. Trash on the shore is noticiable because it washes up from what is dumped in the sea and no one is there to pick it up. When the beach is developed in 10 years, that will change. 🙂  Here are some beach scene pictures.

 

We came in 4th out of 11 teams at “Quiz Night in Cambodia” at Woody’s last night. Not bad, as we were a team of 2 against a lot of other teams of 7, and we were not high. She knew what M.A.S.H. stood for, and we did well on the 70s songs and identifying the districts of Asian capitals, as well as the “beer” catagory. The Winter Olympics category did us in, as she finds the Winter Olympics mostly pointless and we’re not really following the news. The 3rd member of our team, a cat named “Agent Orange”, was useless.

Cat named Agent Orange. The other cats in the bar are names Mussolini and Adolph.

Finally, a few menu items and signs we’ve seen in town and on the beach in the last 5 days.

After 4 days in Otres Village, we moved about 2 hours east along the southern Cambodian coast to Kampot town. Did a river cruise with nice sunset over Bokor Mountain then a walk through town.

The lodge where we are in Kampot (Villa Vendichi) for 2 nights is along the river about 2 km north of the main town. More expensive ($45/night) than other places in town but the setting is really nice. 25 rooms, many surrounding a pool and also along the river and in the garden in back. The view of the river area can’t be beat. Boats, kayaks, and SUPs along the river. Staff is great. Here are some pictures of the river cruise and the hotel.

Our kayaking trip took us a mile or so up the river (against a small current) and stopped at a beautiful Buddhist temple along the river. The grounds looked abandoned, but the inside of the temple was immaculate. Then we paddled into the mangroves and found a place called Retro Guesthouse, run by a nice Swiss guy named Alex. We pulled the kayak up to the shore and had a great lunch. Had a dip in the pool after we returned and then had a nice dinner at our lodge while watching some videos on the tablet.

Here are some misc. pics in Kampot.

Next day, mid-afternoon, we returned to Phnom Penh via bus ($9 person for the 3 hours trip). Decided to try something different and safer. Checked into a room near the Phnom Penh airport as we have an early morning flight tomorrow to Hong Kong.

A few observations about Cambodia.

– It doesn’t have the “Wild West of Asia” feel that it used to. I guess that is what you get when the economy is good and the streets get paved.
– Westerners visiting or living there seem fairly laid back and friendly. It’s pretty relaxing there, so not much to get stressed about. A few folks smoking pot at bars, etc. Very willing to share.
– Beer is about the cheapest we’ve found in the world (Vietnam is similar). 25-50 cents happy hour, $1 max regular price. Almost every meal we had (both western and asian) was very good.
– We saw a guy walking down the street with one hand in the air, holding an IV bag over his head and the needle going into the other arm. No need to stay in the hospital when there is 25-cent beers for happy hour! I couldn’t get the camera out fast enough for a picture, sorry.
– For us, a vacation here is SO MUCH nicer than going to Hawaii or Florida. Great beaches, perfect weather, great food, we’re not surrounded by stressed-out people, the hassle of day-to-day life is far less than in the west, accomodation is better at 25% of the price you’d pay in the west, and the amount of money spent for food and drink is an afterthought because it is so cheap compared to the west. BUT … you gotta fly 22 hours to get here (but not really unpleasant in airplanes that are empty).

I’ll end this blog entry and get it posted now. We have 2.5 days in Hong Kong coming up, a place we haven’t explored together for many years.

A day in India.


After spending 3 days diving in the Red Sea off Sharm el-Sheik Egypt, we flew to Dubai for a day. Then my wife flew back to Chicago and I flew to the Philippines … by way of India! Now this is not really a crazy routing considering the price of a ticket from Dubai to the Philippines is very high. I decided that I wanted to visit the Taj Mahal to see if it is all it’s cracked up to be. So I planned 18 hours in India; I left Dubai at midnight and landed 3.5 hours later in New Delhi. There, I had a great shower in the airport lounge and I was off in a taxi to the train station (actually an Uber!) Boarded a high speed train (100 mph) to Agra and I was there by mid-morning.

I sought out a bus tour that I’d read about, but it was nowhere to be found. All I found was a mob scene of touts, drivers, agents, scammers, beggars and a few cows walking around as well. I just went with a guy and told him to drop me at the Taj Mahal south entrance. The price we agreed on was about $2.00. Off in his tuk-tuk we go, about 3 miles, with him promising to take me around the entire day for $5.00. I was getting a bad vibe from the guy and knew I needed to shake him. So when we got near the south entrance, I got out, gave him the $2.00 and walked off, with him shouting at me to come back. If he would have parked the tuk-tuk, he would have chased after me but he was in traffic. In hindsight, this was a great move as I met people on the train back to Delhi that got taken by tuk-tuks to shops selling Taj-crap, overpriced restaurants, and gem places, and the driver refused to leave until they had spent time in these places.

First hurdle over, I’m near the Taj Mahal. The south entrance has no lockers for my small backpack (no bags whatsoever allowed inside) so I walk over to the east entrance, check my bag, buy my ticket (about $20 for foreigners, Indians are less than $1) and enter the complex. It was built in 1651 as a tribute to Shah Jahan’s wife. She died giving birth to their 14th child. He was heartbroken because she was his favorite wife! It’s an impressive building. The Internet is loaded with millions of pictures of the Taj … here are 2 of the pics I took.

After leaving the Taj Mahal, I took a long walk through the back streets of Agra, trying to get away from where I was being constantly hassled. Still, the noise NEVER stopped.

My day in India continued with my own walking tour of the town … the real town, not the area right next to the Taj. No sidewalks, so walking is an adventure in trying not to get run down by a motorbike, walk into a cow, or fall down a hole in the street. The whole afternoon, I never saw any westerners til I got to the train station. I walked for 2+ hours, except for a 1-2 mile, 15-min ride on a rusting pedicab driven by a very-old-looking guy. (70 cents, I overpaid). (He was probably younger than me.) Never saw western or packaged food, no alcohol, no toilets and it was NEVER quiet. The smells are indescribable … always an odor of “decay” unless I was near food cooking, then a nice smell.

When I got back to the train station, I bought a bottle of water and a bag of potato chips, which I ended up giving to a woman begging with a baby in her arms. Back on the high speed train to Delhi, then into a taxi to the airport for my late-night flight to the Philippines (via Singapore).

The India is saw was not clean (I didn’t expect it to be) and also poor. It came nowhere near rivaling the slums of Tonto, Manila. And there did not seem to be a sense of “desperation” that one would expect in such poverty. I was asked for money only about 20 times (less than I thought) and when anywhere near a road with vehicles, I was constantly hassled to get into a taxi/tuktuk/pedicab/motorcycle/whatever. Constantly. It never stopped. The only safe harbor from the touts was the back streets of Agra, that were too narrow for vehicles. I felt happy walking there!

BTW, Google maps is a vital tool if you want to find your way out of the back streets. I suppose I could have navigated by the sun if I knew where I wanted to end up. lol

I am so glad that I spent this 18 hours in India. Everyone should spend 18 hours in India. lol

Below are some pictures and a video,  which is a combination of what I saw plus a short clip of me riding on a pedicab when I got tired of walking. I paid the guy less than $1.00 for a few km, about 15 mins – I probably overpaid. 🙂

Madikwe Video – The Final Cut

On the last day of our safari at Madikwe, South Africa, I put together a video compilation of pictures, video clips and group pictures.  Last week, I replaced some of the duplicate photos with better ones from Beth, Dawn, Edee and Gayle. Here is the final result, I hope you enjoy the 11 minutes!

 

Once you’ve watched that, here is the OUT-TAKES – mostly all of us laughing at elephant penis’.

Rhino Everywhere!

Seeing a rhinoceros is a special sighting and we saw them almost every day in Madikwe! Most of them were white rhino but some were black rhino. They are both grey in color; the name “white rhino” comes from a mistranslation from the Afrikaans language … they say “wyed” rhino (i.e. “wide”) because the white rhino, which grazes, has wide lips, while the black rhino, which eats leaves and twigs, has a pointed mouth. Black rhinos have two horns, and occasionally a third small posterior horn. The front horn is longer than the rear which makes them lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is valued in Vietnam and other places. They think it has supposed magical or medicinal qualities (it has none) but it’s useless for any other purpose than protecting a rhino. As I wrote on the Kenya trip, between 1970 and 1992, 96 percent of Africa’s remaining black rhinos were killed. Now there are fewer than 2,500 left. Black rhinos are still threatened by poaching.

They have very poor eyesight, and their face is always a few inches off the ground. Their hearing and sense of smell are outstanding. They seem to like to get muddy!.

The white rhino can be up to 7,900 lbs and is larger than the black rhino. Both species of rhino can be dangerous if provoked. All the ones that we saw were moving slowly, but they can run at upwards of 25-30 mph and can live 40-50 years. An interesting factoid is that rhino sex can last 30-60 minutes and they can point their penis backward. Check out the video of the rhino marking his territory.

It is one of my favorite animals to see and watch. Check out the pics and a 30-second video. The pics are courtesy of my traveling companions Beth, Dawn and Gayle.

(note: Sorry for the big gap in my blog entries, I hope to get back on track in the next few days with some entries.)

The African Wild Dogs of Madikwe

On my last trips to Africa (Kenya), we did not see the African Wild Dog … we saw them a few days ago Madikwe (South Africa) and it was a great sighting! The pack has an alpha male and an alpha female, and they hunt in packs of 6-20 or more dogs. They hunt small or medium sized wildebeest, warthogs, gazelle, etc and they form a “V”, surround their prey and take him down, then use their strong teeth to pull clamp onto the flesh and just start eating until they are done (you can find all the gore with a YouTube). They are the most successful hunters in Africa, as 80% of their hunts end in a kill (as opposed to lions success rate of only 20%). They are the 2nd-most endangered carnivore in the world, mostly due to habitat loss and disease (rabies, etc.).

Madikwe has just over a dozen wild dogs in a single pack, and we were lucky to spot them late on the 3rd day. We didn’t see them hunting but we watched them sleeping, then playing. Everyone loves pictures of cute baby elephants and lions, but these African Wild Dogs are truly an impressive sight!

Here are some picture and video.

The Lions Roar at Madikwe, South Africa

Lions sleep most of the day, and they do their hunting at night. When they wake up and are ready to hunt, they usually roar. 

“Lions use different calls when communicating with each other … The most famous of these calls is the roar.  It is one of the loudest calls in the animal kingdom and can be heard from up to 8km away.  The male’s roar is deeper and louder than the female’s.  Lions roar to tell other lions where they are, to show how big they are and to warn lions from other prides to keep away from their home territory.  They do this mostly just before sunrise and sunset when they are most active.”
http://lionalert.org/page/how_do_lions_communicate

6:30pm finds us watching five lions sleep. A group of two males and one female are together.  They do the usual sleep-wake-sleep-wake-etc.  Eventually they started roaring. A spectacular sight to witness. 

Here is the video.

Welcome to Madikwe South Africa

20 hours in airplanes brings us almost to our destination … Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, on the Botswana border. My traveling companions this trip are Dawn, my sister Beth, my cousin Gayle and another friend, Edee. Yep … 4 girls and (lucky) me!  Morning, we climb into a rental car and I try and stay on the left side of the road and we make it from Johannesburg in just under 5 hours. Our home for the next 6 nights is Nkurru Lodge. Enough about the logistics, let’s get to why we are here …. WILD ANIMALS !!

After a nice cold beer and a yummy lunch, the five of us head out with our guide Grant, not knowing what to expect.  I’m not sure how future entries of this blog will go, but I thought I would just start out with bringing you along on our first game drive …

We first come across a family of lions, and the 4 cubs begin nursing on the mom. Lots of growling … so interesting. Then they all fall asleep like lions usually do. We run across the male lions in the pride, also sleeping. They wake up (having a bad hair day) and get chased away by a bull elephant in musk. Then a family of elephants walk by within 2 feet of our vehicle.  Back to the lodge for a great meal with wine, and we were treated to two white rhino and one black rhino drinking water just outside our lodge.

This is just a portion of what we saw in the 3 hours we were out on the first day … needless to say, Madikwe did not disappoint.  This was just an appetizer, the best is yet to come.

Here are pictures and video … I left the audio in place so you can hear the growling of the lion and the commentary from our vehicle.  How the cats can stand to lie so near elephant dung, I’ll never understand.  🙂

 

There is Africa … and then there is everywhere else!

Within the last 12 months, I have made three trips to Africa. The first was to the hills of Uganda to help the Singing Gorilla Charity install water tanks and health clinics in a rural area. Not a paved road or an electric outlet to be seen for miles. It was maybe the most interesting vacation of my life. I came back to Chicago and looked around at everything that I had and thought about what an unnecessarily complex and spoiled life I have. The things I took for granted (like being able to have a drink of water when I was thirsty, or being able to choose what I ate every day) become more than an afterthought … for a while.

The second trip was to three areas of Kenya for a photographic safari, staying in nice lodges with great food. I learned how to use a camera  properly!  It was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Thirsty for more, the third trip was another safari to Kenya with my friend Jim, and we stayed in “luxury tents” on the bank of the Mara River with hippos making sounds night and day, drowning out the sound of hyenas, leopards, and lions hunting.

Each day, for many weeks after the trips, what I saw in Africa stayed on my mind. I remember that hyena hunting the wildebeest, that leopard carrying the carcass back to eat with her mom, those warthogs scampering away at any sound or movement, and that giraffe in a stare down with me until I’m the one that chose to leave. I remember the kids in the school reusing writing paper and sharpening inch-long pencils with knives. I remember them performing a concert with hand-made instruments. I remember being completely isolated from the news in the USA, and not missing it one bit (I now never talk about politics with anyone, as I feel that it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.)

Why does Africa stand out to me? It’s not for lack of places for me to compare it to, as I think I am fairly well traveled, and I do not get this feeling after returning from Bali or Thailand or anywhere else. Each trip to Africa in the last year was very different from the others, but I came away from each with a special feeling …. a feeling of witnessing something so different from what I experience in my “normal life”.  Some things have a lasting effect. After going to Uganda, I try to order only the food I will eat so that won’t go to waste.

Africa rarely does things on a small scale, it certainly has plenty of room so why should it? It feels like nowhere else in the world. A visit to Africa will leave you wide-eyed, and you will likely find a way to go back for more. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.

As my friend Jim was preparing for his first trip to Africa, someone asked where he was headed. When he said “Safari in Africa … I have high expectations”, the answer came “Well whatever your expectations are, they will be far exceeded.  There is Africa … and there is everywhere else!”  If you go to Africa, you will understand what he means.  You will surely come back from Africa feeling like you witnessed something special. What will YOU witness?  Until you go, you’ll never know ….

I’ve heard people say “I should try to go to Africa  …” For sure, there is always an excuse not to go.  But as the wise Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I’ll end by sharing a poem written by Matthew Sterne http://blog.rhinoafrica.com … it says it well.

This is Africa – A Poem (by Matthew Sterne)

Dawn in Africa and another set of tracks
Morning sun glinting off the hippos’ backs
Wild dogs running and hunting in packs
The thrill of the chase and the kill the climax

This is Africa, the cry of a fish eagle
The pomp of a warthog, tail up and regal
And down below the mighty dung beetle
Of the African wilderness, there can be no equal

This vast dusty continent is the place of dreams
Of morning mists and lone sunbeams
The quiet savanna more alive than it seems
And crocodile-laden rivers that began as mountain streams

There’s another leopard print fresh in the sand
And my heart beats louder than a brass band
I know this is Eden, the ultimate wonderland
Home to the world’s grandest wetland

Now a franklin runs scared in front of the vehicle
And a cheetah speeds past always unreachable
The roar of a lion to remind us he’s unbeatable
It’s as old as time yet still unbelievable

There’s another sign of life, an elephant scratching post
Some of these animals are as quiet as a ghost
Yet they’re all over these parts from coast to coast
And to the world’s greatest spectacle Africa plays the host

The warning call of an impala, the scent of a lion
They normally come at night under the belt of Orion
There’s the baobab and acacia and a small dandelion
My thoughts will never leave Africa though they’ve been trying

Just one more sunset is what I desire
Afternoons in the bush, nights by the fire
A drink in the hand and stories that inspire
It’s a land of passion, the great amplifier

You feel so alive, the opposite of numb
To the magic of Africa, I’ll always succumb
Its people and places have me under its thumb
And my heart will always beat to an African drum

 

   
– Sign on a Wild Eye safari vehicle

 

A Short Film (post #11)

On each of my last 2 trips to Africa, on the last day. I combined some of my video clips with some music that I like, and produced a short video.  The one for the trip in February was posted here: http://wanderingaroundasia.com/bonus-video/

This one for this Great Migration trip turned out to be a bit longer (about 11 minutes). I’m no filmmaker so excuse the “rawness”: Here is the version suitable for this blog, feedback is welcomed:

I’ll do one more blog post over the weekend with final thoughts and a few more videos that did not make it into blog entries.

Zebra and Wildebeest crossing, with crocodiles (post #10)

In post #8, I wrote about the Great Migration …. late one morning, we saw a small herd of zebra and wildebeest contemplating crossing the river. This time, a few crocodiles are in their path.  But once they start crossing, they usually do not stop. Watching the crocs stalk the zebras and wildebeest was quite interesting, with all the hippos looking on too. Dozens of animals swam right in front of the crocs, with no attack. As time passed, there were two attacks on zebra, but both crocs missed. The first one, the croc was a bit too late and the zebra had time to get ashore. The second one, the huge croc went for the zebras neck and seemed to have him, but the zebra got away and scampered ashore. After this, the rest of the zebra seemed to be content not to cross!

Here are a few pics and video of the crossing and the crocodile attacks. At about the 1:00 mark, the small zebra swims right in front of the mouth of the crocodile, but no attack (croc attacks are at 1:25 and 1:40 in the video). I took the video and my friend Hunter took most of the pictures.

I’ll be winding up the blog entries for Africa in the next day or so.

Ode to the Female Lion (post #9)

I have asked people on safari with me about what their favorite animal is.  The most common answer is the male lion. With his big mane, he’s majestic, photogenic and regal. But I want to give a shout out to the female lion (lioness) and nominate her as my favorite (at least for this trip). Most times I see the male lion, he’s asleep. The lioness likes her naps as well, but she’s the hunter for the pride; more often than not, she makes the kill then the males eat first, followed by the cubs and the females. We saw a few lion chases and a kill and they were always by the lioness.

On the second to last day, we started the day with a male lion. But we notice he’s limping and also has a bloody tail. It appears he got into a scuffle with a lioness in the morning and got the worst of the fight. We run across a female on the hunt of warthogs (unsuccessful), a breakfast feast by the pride on a lion kill of a wildebeest a few hours before, then lionesses in the water!  Who said cats don’t like water. Jim could watch the elephants all day, I could watch the lionesses and their cubs all day (if they didn’t sleep most of the time).

Here are pictures and video of my favorite from this trip .. the lioness!

lioness.

Wildebeest and Zebras Crossing the Mara River (post #8)

The Great Migration … in January and February, the wildebeest cows give birth on the southernmost Serengeti. In March, when the area begins to dry out, the herds begin the Great Migration; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass (by weather patterns or instinctive knowledge etched in their DNA, or both). In August, September and early October, the herds are in the Mara River region of Kenya.  In this area, the river must be crossed and there are a number of places they can do this. It was also explained to us that while they are in this area, they can cross back and forth across the river multiple times.

Zebra and Wildebeest are good friends that move together while grazing and migrating.  Although they both eat grass, zebra feed on tall grass and wildebeest feed on short grass, so there is no conflict there.  Wildebeest have good hearing and a sense of smell (for detecting water) but bad vision and very poor memory (30-40 seconds, like some people I know). Zebras have good eyesight (for spotting predators such as crocodiles when crossing the river) and they also have good memory for remembering where safe migration routes are.

As you have seen from my pictures and video, animal sightings are numerous in the Masai Mara but an added attraction of being here at this time of year is to have the opportunity to see large numbers of wildebeest and zebras cross the river, while observing the dangers they face (jagged rocks in the river, crocodiles in the water, and lions, cheetah and hyena on the shore). To see a “crossing” is not guaranteed at this time of year. You can wait many hours for a crossing.

Our first experience around 11:30am was an “almost crossing”.  Hundreds of zebra and wildebeest had built up on the far shore and a few zebra were drinking water and decided to cross. Once the crossing begins, it usually does not stop, so we were optimistic. As they started crossing the river, a small crocodile approached and went to attack the zebras in the water … the zebras saw it and they ran back out of the water to shore. What a shame, as the croc was probably too small to take a zebra, so we would have to wait to see a full crossing. The video below shows the croc chasing the zebras out of the water.But we only had to wait for an hour or so.

Our wait wasn’t long … around 1:00pm, we settled in at another crossing point, and a small group of zebra was drinking water.  Eventually, a few cross the river and a crocodile is nearby, but he doesn’t seem to be too interested in the zebra.

Next morning, we got to experience a “proper” crossing (as the South Africans say). Hundreds of zebra and wildebeest cross the river after a big build-up.  Words can’t describe it accurately, you have to see the video.  This time, no crocodiles were really on the hunt so all wildebeest and zebra crossed safely, although a few did turn back when they were almost across.

The videos are below, as well as a few pictures taken during the crossings. The few wildebeest crossing pics are from my friend Hunter’s camera, I was shooting video.

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Elephants crossing river, buffalo fighting, black rhino and lions everywhere! (Post #7)

 

While I was on the balloon ride, the rest of the group had two “proper” sightings … a family of elephants crossing the river (including a baby!) and two buffalo fighting. I’m sorry I missed it, the video Jim took (with his point-and-shoot) is outstanding!  The video with commentary is in the gallery.

The morning and afternoon after the balloon ride was a “typical” day in the Mara, the usual sightings of zebra, giraffe, etc. The zebras were gathering at one of the crossing points so we watched them for a while, hoping they would cross the river. Alas, they were content to just get a drink of water. And a few lions here and there, lying near the road.

The highlight of the rest of the day was a sighting of 2 black rhinos grazing in the distance. Black rhinos have two horns, and occasionally a third small posterior horn. The front horn is longer than the rear which makes them lucrative targets for the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is valued in Vietnam and other places.  Between 1970 and 1992, 96 percent of Africa’s remaining black rhinos were killed. Now there are fewer than 2,500 left. Black rhinos are still threatened by poaching.

Moving on late in the day, we watched a family of lions a few feet away from our vehicles, a nice end to the day. Lots of pics and video in the gallery below.

Tomorrow, a river crossing of zebra … let’s see if the crocs have the final say.

Hot Air Balloon Ride over the African Plains (Post #6)

 

Wakeup at 4:00am …. Why?!? I’m going on a hot air balloon ride today over the Mara.  Normally, this is something I would not do, as we’ve been seeing so much on the game drives.  But so many people have told me how great the trip is so I decided to do it. Don and Hunter are the other two from the Wild Eye camp that are going and we are picked up at 4:30am and driven 45 minutes north, in pitch dark, to the balloon launch site .. we encountered a few hippos along the way crossing the road, and gave them a wide berth.

Once we arrived at the balloon launch site, it is still dark and we saw them inflating the balloons with fans powered by generators (no grid power anywhere in the region). Once air is in the balloon, the “flame-throwers” begin to heat up the air to get them upright. These things are HUGE (I’d guess 100 feet high) and have baskets that hold 12 people.

We all climb in and we take off (more like drift off). Our height varies during the ride from just above the treetops to over 1,000 feet. Great views of the Mara river, hippos, birds, hyenas, zebras and other animals. The pilot controls the MASSIVE burners to go up and down, and after about 50 minutes, we “land” in an open field. Land is a relative term; actually, we bounce a few times and then the basket falls to its side and the 12 of us and the pilot climb out. Interesting way to land but it is the only alternative with the wind blowing 10-15 MPH.

We are met by vehicles and taken to a champagne breakfast in the bush, with cook-to-order eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.  Very nice.

Here are a few pictures and video I took. I’ll add that almost all of the video is from my Samsung phone. The video from the Canon 7D II camera and 100-400mm lens was too shaky … so much for needing thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment!