November 10, 2014

November 10, 2014

We got up and had breakfast.  Mark had two eggs on top of pancakes and I opted for yogurt and American pancakes.  What we’ve noticed on our trip is that pancakes are more like crepes, so I was interested in seeing what these American pancakes would be like.  Wow, these are about 1 ½” tall and 3” diameter – but they tasted like what I’m used to.  We took a taxi to get to our swamp tour and saw people going about their everyday lives.  As usual, women had wrapped their babies in a large cloth and had the slings, hanging low on their backs.  It’s very common here and must be the preferred way of carrying a baby in Africa as we saw it in Tanzania as well.

It took about one hour to drive on dirt roads from Entebbe to the home of the Shoebill stork in the Mabamba Swamp, about 30 miles west of Kampala.  Mabamba Swamp is an extensive marsh stretching through a long narrow bay, fringed with papyrus towards the western main body of Lake Victoria.  The small village where the boats leave from is poor and we’re slightly nervous about the conspicuous nature of our expensive camera gear, but since this is a popular tour site, we are probably fine.  We are friendly and smile at everyone we see.  Our guide is Hannington, and he and another man took us out in his fishing boat.  It had a motor on the back and they used long poles to get us through the crowded grasses.  The day is beautiful!  There are numerous, beautiful, purple water lilies.  We found the shoebill without a problem.  What an interesting looking bird.  The incredibly large beak of the Shoebill helps it to scoop up its prey:  lungfish, catfish, frogs, and water snakes.  They can also use it to store water to take to dribble over its eggs or young during the heat of the day.  It really is an interesting, prehistoric-looking bird.   After we had taken several photos, we started heading back and we took photos of a few other birds.  We saw a Jacana, a beautiful malachite kingfisher, a goliath heron, and a couple of long-toed plovers.  We enjoyed the hour-long ride, but wished they would have kept us for two.  Since the mission of seeing the shoebill happened in the first ten minutes, I think they had decided that it would be a one hour tour.  The taxi had cost us $60 and the boat ride was $52.  We made it back to Carpe Diem and got cleaned up and repacked.  We were ready to go at 9:30 for our midnight flight.  Rogers got us to the airport and we thanked him and bid farewell.

The computers were down at the airport and after standing and waiting with our heavy backpacks and luggage, they started hand-writing the paperwork.  Long lines, weary travelers, over-worked employees.  Oh well.  We finally made it onboard and had an uneventful flight; we ate…we slept.  We made it to Heathrow in London and bought keychains for the kids for souvenirs.  The flight back to the US was just as expected and we survived customs as well in Philadelphia, before arriving back at home, tired, but happy after a 27 hours of flight.  What an adventure.

Now that the trip is over, we can compare and contrast how different our lives are in the US to those living in Tanzania and Uganda.  The kids we saw in Africa appeared to be so happy and carefree.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of fear or over-protective parenting that we have here in the US.  The children played freely outside in their yards and walked next to the highway without fear.  They seemed so joyful.  “Hi, hi, hi, Mzumba!” as they ran and waved with big smiles.  Women washed clothes in the river or in buckets on their porches, with their babies on their backs, and transported whatever needed to be carried on their heads.  As expected, there were varying degrees of poverty.  It was strange to see a Maasai warrior, in his traditional garb, walking down the road, talking on a cell phone.   There were people walking everywhere, sometimes they seemed to have such a long journey ahead of them and I wondered if it’s a daily trip for them.  They have simple houses and if they are lucky, they have electricity.  As we would drive past, we could sometimes see the strained looks from the adults; other times there was a happy smile and a wave, just like the children.  Both countries were so incredibly beautiful.  The different cultures were so very interesting.  The people were beautiful and had a lot of pride.  The animals were also amazing and seemed to have a better sense of self-preservation than the animals in the US.  In Africa, they would jump away from the road as we would fly past.  This was a trip of a life-time and we will never forget it!  Maybe…just maybe, we’ll go back.  Good luck follows us everywhere!  But for now, we have 13,000 photos to go through.  ~ Mary & Mark

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October 31, 2014

October 31, 2014  (3 lions + 3 lions = 6 lions)  Stayed at Sopa Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater

We got up, packed and went for breakfast.  As usual, it was very good.  We said our goodbyes and headed out on the bumpy road.  We see eland with ostrich, olive baboons, impala, zebra, giraffes, black faced vervet monkeys, cape buffalo, elephant.  We also saw a flower cluster called a fire barellie (it’s red-orange in color).  We left the Serengeti National Park through the Tabora Gate and drove west and then south through a Kurya village.  The houses are round like yurts.  They are constructed with sisal plant (which looks like a yucca).  They use the stalk, vertically, and pack mud and dung around it, and have a thatched roof.  The sisal plant is also used for rope, carpet, etc.  They grow it on farms.  We drove past a prison and Michael said we couldn’t take photos — too bad. The prisoners help raise vegetables and livestock for the local camps.  As we drove we talked to Michael about holidays, as it was Halloween.  He wasn’t familiar with it.  They do celebrate Christmas, Easter, Mother and Fathers’ Days, and Valentine’s Day.  Michael thinks that Valentine’s Day is a bad day as the young people make bad decisions.  We drove through Mugumu, a busy little village, where we turned south and drove to Fort Ikoma, where we turned right (south-east) and drove through another village called Robanda.  We re-entered Serengeti National Park at Ikoma Gate.  Michael signed us in and we stopped for lunch.  Michael shared with us that he is going to be a grandfather for the first time.  His 22 year old daughter, Irene, is expecting a baby any time and Michael will be known as Babu, the Swahili word for grandfather.  The Swahili word for grandmother is Bibi (This grandchild, Darius, was born 11/21).  We also found out that they are Pentecostal Christians and have some strange notions.  He shared that his wife Grace had an abortion when their son, William, was very young, as she was going through a rough time.  Many years later, his daughter Irene had a miscarriage.  He believes that they were being punished by God for the abortion and sought advice from a religious person from the US.  Finally, they were absolved and now were being blessed with the new grandbaby.

We started seeing zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, impalas, giraffes, and a float of stinky hippos in a river.  We saw two groups of lions, lying near each other.  There were three in each group.  One of the females was collared.  We checked out of the Serengeti National Park at the Naabi Hill gate.  We took the long road back to Ngorongoro Crater.  It was hot, dusty, and bumpy.  We could see a mirage of water in the distance.  Naturally, it was just the atmosphere creating an illusion.  We passed many Maasai children tending to their goats and cows.  It seems like a lonely job for a small child to be out all day by themselves.  They would smile and wave to us.  Maybe, they hoped we would stop to give them a gift?  Maybe, their parents ask them to wave to create interest in visiting their village.  Maybe, they’re just lonely and friendly.   We continued up the long steep road to the Ngorongoro Crater.  We arrived at Sopa Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater and were met with warm washcloths and a glass of fruit juice.   We bid Michael farewell till morning and were escorted to our room.  The two that greeted us and took us to our room each had 3” slanted scars on each cheek below their eyes.  We think it’s a traditional tribal scar.  Our room was big with a glass enclosed sun room with rocking chairs and a table overlooking the crater.  It’s a beautiful view.  This lodge has 90+ rooms and was built in the 70’s.  It’s kind of dated with its furnishings, but we didn’t mind.  While walking to our room, we saw a black cat!  How neat to see that on Halloween.  When we asked, we were told that it was a resident cat named Midnight.

We headed back to the terrace (with pool) overlooking the crater and set up our tripods with and cameras to take time lapse photos of the sunset.  It was very chilly outside as we are at 8,000 feet on the crater’s rim, so we were bundled up, but relaxed on chaise lounge chairs, drinking a glass of red wine, while watching the sunset.  When we were through watching the sunset, we went to dinner in the main hall.  It’s a beautiful round room with thatched roof and views of the crater.  After dinner, there was a Maasai choir that sang several songs for us.  I recorded most of the performance.  It was quite beautiful.  We were escorted back to our room.  Once again, hot water bottles in our bed, to keep us warm.  Sweet dreams.  ~ Mary & Mark


Click on photo below for better viewing.