I visited South Africa in 2007 and fell in love with the magnificent continent of Africa. I have always wanted to return. As an artist, I like to sketch and photograph when I travel. I don’t like rushing around, and I don’t like big group bus tour type trips. Most of all I like to take the time to get to know the culture, the people and in the case of Africa, the animals. In other words, I wanted to travel in Africa like I travel in other parts of the world, with artist friends at an artist’s pace. So I was excited to read an article in International Artists’ Magazine about Steve Morvell, an Australian wildlife artist/photographer who leads safaris to Tanzania East Africa along with his friend Stephen Powell a wildlife photographer and artist. The tour company was East African Safari and Touring company based in Arusha, Tanzania and owned by an Australian.
James, Innocent and Lazaro were our guides/drivers/bush mechanics/problem solvers/encyclopedias of animal behavior/cultural anthropologists/Masai experts and historians/comedians and friends. Thanks guys for all that you did to make this such a memorable trip and to get us in just the right spot to get the best photos. As I write this I am reminded of the day Innocent drove the Land Rover I was riding in backwards, zooming in an out of other vehicles, trees, and bushes (never leaving the road which is not legal in the National Parks) to place us at just the right camera angle. Getting the chance to observe the interactions between the members of the lion pride like that was awesome.
Here is one of my favorite photos of the entire trip, taken after Innocent’s expert driving put us in just the right spot to capture it.
The itinerary included so many places on my wish list I was excited by that alone. The cost was much less than other safaris I had researched probably due to the fact that we were camping many of the nights instead of staying in fancy lodges. I looked forward to camping in the Serengeti imagining what it would be like to hear the animals at night and explore their territory during the day.
I had been warned that traveling in Tanzania meant dirt roads and lots of dust, unlike South Africa where we were on paved roads. We “ate” dust and bounced over horrible “corrugated” roads every day, but our cameras all kept working and my new friends all kept laughing, so what more could I want?
The trip was an adventure of a lifetime with the added bonus that I shared my adventures with wonderful traveling companions that were great fun and very kind.
Normally when I am on a painting trip with my students, I post photos and a story each evening throughout the trip. On this trip I had to revert to the decidedly “low tech” method of writing in a pocket size journal each day. I bought a journal with watercolor paper and did manage to add a few quick paintings or ink drawings in it also. This blog post is based on that journal and my photographs. When quoting from my journal I used blue type. Sorry it took me so long to complete this post, but I had over 5,000 photos to sort through!
October 16, 2012
flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Mwanza, Tanzania then by bus to Speke’s Bay Lodge on the shore of Lake Victoria, TanzaniaFrom my journal…”Our rickety local bus rattles through Mwanza, people walking everywhere…color everywhere…everyone going somewhere. Most walk, some on bicycles, some flag down VW buses and crowd in. We pass a bus with the words “NOT IN MY NATUE” lettered on it, another bus claims “PEACE MAKER”. Mwanza goes on for awhile, road is paved but but with speed bumps every couple of blocks for what must have been 5 miles. Then speed bumps spread out to one half mile apart as we get out to the country, houses go from rectangle brick with tin roofs painted bright colors (the roofs that is) to small round houses with straw thatched roofs. Finally, we arrive at Spekes Bay Lodge on Lake Victoria, lovely spot.”
My traveling companions waiting outside the tin building that is the terminal at Mwanza, Tanzania airport. We are an international group. We all speak the Queen’s English but with such varied accents and slang terms that at times we will have difficulty understanding one another. We are nine Ausies, one Brit, two New Zealanders, and two Americans.
This sign is on a window in the hallway leading to the Tanzanian Immigration Department.
An interior shot of the rickety rattily bus that delivers us from Mwanza to Speke’s Bay. “Going local” is always an adventure.
I saw a tiny little round house dwarfed by a huge outcropping of rocks on the road from Mwanza so sketched it from memory later in my little pocket watercolor journal.
Cute cottage at Speke’s Bay Lodge on the shore of Lake Victoria.
Sunset over Lake Victoria, Tanzania.
October 17, 2012
Lake Victoria then on to The Serengeti National Park, TanzaniaFrom my journal…”Riding in a wooden fishing boat, watching fishermen hauling huge nets of Tilapia onto the shore and listening to the work song they sing. It will take them 7 hours to haul the nets in. Disembarked and followed trail to where women were growing sweet potatoes. On the way back the young men rowing the boats sang a working song for us.
The Drive to our camp in the Serengeti took 5 hours but along the way we encountered huge herds of wildebeest and Thompson’s Gazelles. Our guide found hippos that proceeded to splash around for us, buffalo, more wildebeest, impalas, zebras, huge birds of several types but the best was a leopard in a tree about 20 feet away. I stared into my camera hoping he would not decide to leap on me as I was standing up resting my camera on the top of the Land Rover. The late afternoon sun light was warm and touched the contour of her face giving her a halo. Cameras clicking away, she turned and walked down the side of the tree and disappeared behind some bushes. Completely hidden the vehicles behind us never saw her.”
Boating on Lake Victoria
I snuck this photo, so not the best shot, I wanted to capture the image of these young women working to grow sweet potatoes in what appeared to be sand more than soil. They were from a village on the shore of the Lake Victoria.
Doing the Japanese tourist thing here, posing in front of the entrance sign to Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. The name Serengeti comes from the word “siringit” meaning “endless plains”. The Ecosystem consists of 35,000 square kilometers extending into the Masai Mara in neighboring Kenya. We are here at the end of the dry season, the short rains should start in November. Then the rainy season in February.
A recent thunderstorm created some green grass here and so the wildebeest have moved into the area, along with hundreds of zebra.
Cute pair of giraffes. They remind me of my llamas who also love to eat the leaves of trees, have long necks, and even lope along in the same way. I have been told that giraffes are not related to llamas, but I can’t help but notice the similarities.
Our first big elephant sighting, I hope to see lots of them, they are my favorites.
And when they come out from behind the bushes you can see just how really big they are!
Nice of this hippo to show us his big teeth!
Rhinos, and wild dogs are becoming so rare that we did not see any. Leopards are also hard to find, so when our guide who’s name was Innocent, stopped the Land Rover next to this tree and pointed out this leopard we could not believe our luck. I had my 75 – 300 mm lens on the camera, and cranked it all the way back to 75 because she was so close to us. Standing on the back seat with my camera on top of the vehicle I was looking right into her yellow eyes and she was looking right back at me. That caught my attention! I relaxed when I realized that Innocent had shut the engine off so obviously he was not worried.
October 18, 2012 Serengeti National Park, TanzaniaFrom my journal…”First morning on the Serengeti began with a bang - a lioness and 3 cubs (1 and a half to 2 months old). We watched Mom and babies for quite awhile. Beautiful morning light (we started at 6:00 am). Beautiful sunrise and glowing light on a gazelle made it glow. Best time to be here because of the newborns. We saw a hilarious baby elephant yelling at its Mom for leaving him, lots more baby elephants and then a cheetah with two cubs. Very cute cubs, lean and strong looking Mother just as calm as could be right by the dozen or so land cruisers that became a traffic jam (or cheetah jam).”
glowing gazelles at sunrise
hyena at sunrise
Mother lioness watching over her 3 cubs she has hidden away
Here are her babies
Another baby, this time a cheetah cub
Mom with baby
Mom looks pretty powerful
This is the silly little elephant that was yelling at Mom for leaving him. He caught up and all was well.
After the morning drive we came back to camp where the cook had prepared a delicious, not to mention HUGE brunch for us. Amazing what he does over a camp fire and with a tiny propane stove. He even made crepes, which he calls “pancakes” as we would call them in the US, but they were more like the crepes I know from France.
My sketch of one of our tents. I had my own tent. It had a bedroom and then a separate room for the pit toilet and the bucket shower. ..all the comforts of home. Last night I heard hyenas, a lion, and something else I could not identify. I felt safe in my tent with the lantern burning in front of it to keep the animals away. By the way the lion did not sound anything like the 20th Century Fox lion. If James (the head guide) had not made a lion sound for us I would not have even known that sound I heard was a lion!
giraffe pruned trees like this tell you this is Africa
Stephen told me the name of this bird, and so many others, but I forgot…sorry Stephen.
Another lion spotting. There were several in this pride, but they stayed hidden in the tall grass and shrubs and were hard to photograph.
Late in the afternoon we spotted this lioness under a tree, she also had family members with her. A research vehicle with gps tracking system came up to this pride, probably because one lioness had on a radio collar. They drove within 20 feet of them and photographed them from the window of their vehicle. The lions stayed calm not at all bothered by the close proximity of the vehicle. It was good to see the researchers keeping track of them.
October 19, 2012 Serengeti National ParkThis park is huge, and each day we go to a different area. I don’t remember which section we went to on this day, I do remember how close the big elephant was to our vehicle! Here are my favorite shots from this day.
lion family laying about on a warm afternoon
giraffe and pals, the birds pick ticks off their friend
We came upon this elephant very close to the road. He was so close I could not capture all of him with the lens that I had on my camera at the time.
closer yet, as he reaches for a bush to munch on
a bit closer
reaching for one last bite. He then decides to cross the road but we are in his way…he looks a bit put out, but walks a few big steps beside the vehicle, then turns and
crosses the road behind our vehicle. This shot shows just how close and how large he is. I am in awe!
I did this ink sketch in my larger watercolor journal in the afternoon between game rides. The skulls were resting against a tree in front of the mess tent. The large one is a buffalo, small one a wildebeest. The wildebeest skull seems too small given the enormous size of the wildebeests when you see them alive.
October 20, 2012 Serengeti National Park, TanzaniaFrom my journal…”Morning light here is so awesome it does not matter what animals you photograph in it, the all look beautiful.
Thompson’s gazelle just after sunrise
Jackal in morning light.
From my journal…”The rarest animal to sight here is wild dogs…we have not seen any…OK by me they are ugly. Also pretty rare is leopards and we’ve had some of our most exciting encounters with them. Today our guide was driving the Land Rover down a rutted road and at the same time spotted a large moving shape in the grass some 300 yards away. It was a leopard…slowly walking right towards us, finally climbing a tree some 40 yards away and sprawling on a limb for a nap.”
Such a cute baby!
More family members
Warthogs seem to be very busy animals. They are often on the run in a funny little trot with their tails straight up in the air like a rudder steering them to the place they need to be.
This little warthog baby was all alone beside the road. When we stopped to photograph him he ran under the Land Rover. James got out and crawled under the Land Rover, pulled him out and carried him by the scruff of his neck a few yards away from the road. His family had better come back for him quick, or he will be some predator's lunch!
After leaving on our morning game rides at dawn we return midday for a big yummy brunch in the mess tent at camp, then some quite time before heading out again in the late afternoon. The animals are not very active in the midday heat anyway.
Journal continued…”This afternoon’s drive was great fun as it ended with sunset at the hippo pond. This is the only place besides our camp where we have not had to stay inside the vehicles. There were picnic tables and permanent restroom, we all got out and followed our guides to the edge of an overlook and 20 feet below us was a huge mud pond with approximately 100 hippos! Fortunately the wind was blowing in the opposite direction because it looked pretty slimy and smelly. We photographed and I attempted to take videos because at times they let out really loud snorts. James snorted and whooped at them at one point which caused a whole chorus of snorts from them. You had to laugh, and to look at them makes me wonder what part of nature’s plan they fit?”
“Here’ looking at you kid.”
Here are a couple of video clips, but unfortunately by the time I got the camera switched to video to capture their snorts they would stop snorting!
October 21, 2012 Serengeti to Ngoro CraterLeaving the camp at Serengeti National Park we stopped at the exit and while waiting for “papers” took some time to try to sketch some Rock Hyrax playing on the rock wall of the headquarters building. I say “try” to sketch because they did not hold still for long. Here is my attempt
From my journal…”started out on the longest dustiest most “corduroy” road I have every ridden on. I thought of my brother and the way we use to bounce along in Dad’s Jeep on the dirt roads in Siskiyou and Modoc Counties – compared to this those roads were super highways! Hours of eating dust, passing occasional Masai bomas in the middle of no where, finally we came to the rim of the Ngoro Crater. The soil in the crater looked baron with a small salt lake, but then in the distance I saw what appeared to be a green oasis where water flowed. Still eating dust we drop into the crater.”
Barbara, from Dallas, showing us the view of the very baron looking Ngoro Crater. We are here at the end of the dry season (“short" rains” are due in November), and it is hard to see what the wildlife could find to eat down there. This use to be a National Park but the Masai have taken it back and now they can graze their cattle here too.
Masai with their cattle.
From my journal…”Still eating dust we drop down into the crater. We were surrounded y huge herds of wildebeest and zebra, stopping to take photos, the animals were obviously use to vehicles as they seldom scattered as we drove up.”
From my journalhad his …”Lunch was a picnic at water’s edge in the green area that I had seen earlier. Then we drove around the crater, looking for good photo ops. Found a lion kill with an old male lying off to the side while 6 females at the kill. He had already fill. The whole trip we had looked for a “fluffy lion” as Carol put it, a male with a big mane, but today was our first sighting of full grown males.”
Secretary Birds, zebras and wildebeest
From my journal…”Around 3:30pm we began the long climb up a rutted dirt road to the rim of the crater, the Land Rover’s groaned but kept climbing, we reached a gorgeous luxury lodge called Serena where we spent the night. A warm shower in as much water as I wanted(!) sent my dirty clothes out to be washed, and got on the internet long enough to send an email to Burke. Luxury!”
I took this photo on the road up to the top of the crater. Very steep and forested here. Many of the animals never make it out of the crater, I can see why.
October 22, 2012From my journal…“ Left the lodge at 8:00 am, pulled out onto a beautiful smooth paved road, the first we’ve driven on in all of Tanzania. The Ngoro Crater is very baron in the center but the sides and here at the top quite thick tropical forests grow. I am updating this journal in a service station where we are waiting for the cranky Land Rover (one of three) to be fixed. Took less than an hour to balance the tires. I photographed funny signs and people on the road.”
Waiting for repairs, actually it took them less than an hour and we were on our way again.
A common way of moving goods in Tanzania
slight up grade, at least this guy is riding, we did see big trucks on the main road from Arusha Tanzania to Nairobi Kenya. Note the paved road here!
My favorite sign, Cricket I took this shot for you and all the other hair stylists out there.
From my journal…”then made our way down the paved road (Chinese government built, who knows what they are taking from Tanzania for constructing this road????) to the National Park at Lake Manyara. Picnic at an overlook, seeing flamingos by the thousands along the lake sore that stretched for miles. Too far away to photograph as the lake has shrunk, rainy season has not come yet. My fun companions sang Happy Birthday to me at lunch.
The tropical forest of this National Park is so lush compared to all the baron dry country we have seen…great baboon photos and also monkeys. AMONG THE ELEPHANTS by Ian Douglas Hamilton and his wife Oia was so informative about this area. But we did not see the elephant herd of Lake Manyara that they studied. They were therre I am sure but not a single family or lone old bull showed itself to us.”
baboon parent and child
vervet monkey, watch out, these guys will steel your lunch or climb in your Land Rover looking for treasures!
A seasonal river bed we crossed over, lovely light filtering through the trees.
book end giraffes… way off in the distance on the shore of Lake Manyara we could see thousands of pink flamingos stretching for miles.
Seconds later, here comes the blowing dust!
From my journal…”Back on the paved road we drove, then off on a very rough dirt track that seemed to be going no where into the flat baron Masai country. James pointed out the escarpment that was in the old movie “Hatari”. Finally we reached our camp “Ol Tukai Manayar Tented Camp” in late afternoon. Along the way we passed Masai with the herds of cattle and goats, usually 1 child as the herder, all waved. Bucket shower never felt so good!”
Ol Tukai Manayar Tented Camp
home sweet home, my tent
From my journal…At dinner they made me a birthday cake with “HAPPY BIRTHDAY Y SAND” written on top – the D was on the edge, cook said the cake was not big enough for the Y so he put it on top! They sang and danced beautiful African songs along with Happy Birthday in English. Their voices were so beautiful. Our guides, the cook and camp manager Issa and camp assistant and 3 Masai young men made a beautiful chorus. Larzaro danced and led a kind of call and response style of African singing…I got teary eyed.
I think Stephen took a video of the singers but I have not seen it on youtube yet.