Tanzania Holiday 10: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Morning

In the previous blog post from our Tanzanian safari holiday, we had spent the day driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and into Serengeti National Park.  Our destination was a campsite in the designated "wilderness area" -- very off-road, and select spots where approved guides (together with a Park ranger) can take you on guided walks in the Serengeti.  Much different than the typical game drives in a jeep.

The campsite was along the Orangi river, center-east in the Park (see map below):

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Orangi river winds its way west, joining others and eventually landing in Lake Victoria.  At the point of our campsite the river actually ran north-to-south for a few hundred meters.  The camp layout looked roughly like the picture below.  We would have two days of guided walks, with a morning & afternoon hike each day (not to scale!):

The walks came together something like a clover -- each one exploring a different area away from camp, and lasting about 4-5 hours (including brief rests).  Our guides "warned" us about a few things before we got started:

First, the guides stressed that animal viewing would be much less intimate than in a Land Cruiser.  The animals see you as part of a harmless jeep on the road, but on foot we are human and are avoided as much as possible (and they can smell and hear us much before we could see them).  We would get to see the trees, plants/flowers, and insects first hand, but we should not expect big game too close.

Second, there are some pitfalls to be prepared for.  Insects sting or bite, some plants cause skin problems, and in rare cases an animal will get aggressive rather than running away.  We jokingly asked "When was the last time you had to use your gun because of a charging water buffalo?".  Our guide Prim answered straight-faced:  "last week".
He wasn't joking.  He explained that a shot in the air usually sends animals the other way.  Their group came around a large rock and surprised it, so it charged.  Interesting...

We started the morning walk on Day 1 around 08:00 (after breakfast at 07:30).  Because it was the first one, I asked the others to pose for a photo.  From left to right we have:

- Prim, our main guide from Wayo Africa
- Frau A, with her Nikon DSLR ready to fire
- Mark, a recent graduate from a wildlife university and guide-in-training at Wayo, and
- Daniel, a park ranger in Serengeti National Park 

We started the walk in the Orangi riverbed, reading what Prim calls the "morning newspaper".  December is the short wet season in Tanzania.  Evenings often bring a short rain and get some water flowing (the river was mostly still pools at this time) which makes recent animal tracks easy to see.

It was interesting to see how many animals came to drink the prior evening - 30 meters from where we slept!

We continued to follow the riverbed...

...then headed off into the brush a bit (but often came back to the riverside throughout the walk):

At a point further along the river was another large still pool to investigate:

This time Mark showed us some of the recent visitors here:

The most interesting were pawprints from a large hyena - you can see the imprints below:

Further along in the brush we came across a buffalo skull...

...Mark picked it up and we got Frau A to pose with it!

The next section along the river was not as flat -- it had kopjes (rock formations) going up to the right:

A bit ahead, we spotted a large water buffalo -- see him in the trees?

This was nice, but actually presented a bit of a problem.  The water buffalo seemed to be following the river... just like we were.  Prim was trying to keep track of it.  But we ran into a higher kopje, and the water buffalo was probably on the other side, out of view.

In the video below, here's what happened:  we are walking quietly, to listen for the buffalo.  At the 20 second point, you hear Prim voice "psst" -- a signal that we need to follow him.  We crept up the kopje, and then Prim went forward alone (gun somewhat ready) to see where the buffalo was.

What you don't see in the video (it happened after I stopped recording) is that Prim *did* flush the buffalo out, and it thundered away about 20m from us, ground shaking.  It didn't charge or present a danger, but things might have gotten interesting had we surprised it up close.  But that was Prim's job.

After that exciting moment, we continued along the riverbed:

This time, Mark offered to take the group photo (left to right:  Daniel, Frau A, Herr J, and Prim):

The next brief stop was at a good-sized termite mound (they can get a lot larger, in proportion to the amount of water in the earth below, as our guides informed us):

It was almost as tall as Frau A:

In a nearby tree, we spotted a dragonfly posing for a photo:

Around 11:30, the sun was getting punishingly fierce.  We found a tree for shade and took a break for lunch.  We were situated on a kopje with a decent view of the surrounding plain and its acacia trees:

The video below is just a quick pan, left to right, to show the view from our perch above the Serengeti:

When we got underway again, it was back down to the riverbed.

As we saw in the sand near our campsite, there were hippo tracks in the damp soil here:

From here, we cut across the plain, starting to circle back towards camp:

We would consistently pause in the shade for some water.  Daniel agreed to a photo here:

We got Mark in action, when he took the lead.  The would rotate positions between them on the hike.

We came across an abandoned termite mound that another animal had made its home.  The guides guessed that it was a warthog family, but they get dangerous if cornered so we didn't investigate further:

The weather was great, but hot!

Unfortunately, the acacia trees are a favorite home of tse-tse flies, but they didn't bite too much:

We did see another "large" animal - a lone impala in the trees.  This photo was taken with a 580mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, so it gives you an idea of how far away the animals were that we could spot:

As soon as it saw us, it took off and was out of sight:

We saw a number of dung beetles, working tirelessly to roll their find to the right location to bury it:

We eventually made it back to camp, and were rewarded with some Serengeti beer and a light lunch:

It was nice to view the river from the mess tent, now that we had explored it a bit:

There were some other things that don't have an accompanying photo, but made the experience more real - for example, I felt a "rock" underfoot and looked down to see that I was stepping on a zebra skull!  It was a very different experience than the game drives was had previously in Arusha / Manyara / Ngorongoro... just what we wanted!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  Just the unique experience we were looking for.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  Frau A was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  It was so cool to hear the lions roar at night.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  The view from the tent was extraordinary.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Remembering friends' visit from 9 years ago

Our friends from the Atlanta area finally headed home; we were sad to see them go.  But it was great to host them here in Munich, especially the boys (how they grow!).  With that in mind, I did some searching on the hard drive...

...and found photos from when I (Herr J) was living in New York City, and they came through town one July.
We met in Central Park for a picnic, and I got to meet their oldest son, maybe 1 year old at the time (it was 2004).
So S & I said hello, and played abound a bit on a blanket in the shade.  (Wow, I had facial hair back then!)

A couple of the other kids in the group wanted to get in on the action too.  I'm always up for it!

Now look at the boys, in front of the Rathaus on Marienplatz in Munich.  Hope you see you again soon!



Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

As we've said before:  it's ironic that we make the most effort to be "tourists in our own town" when friends visit.  Recently, as a friend & her family stayed with us, we again visited the Memorial at Dachau Concentration camp.

I (Herr J) first visited in 1991 as a student / summer intern in Germany.  I went again with my parents in 2007.

This is a site that should be visited more often, if only to make sure we never forget.


The gatehouse and iron gate.  "Work will make you free":

The barracks:

The crematorium:

The Jewish Memorial:

The Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ chapel:

We hope to visit again many times in our life.


Weihenstephan Brewery Tour

Our friends from Atlanta came to visit -- so we drove to Salzburg and the boys trained in Munich's Olympic pool.

One other request they had was to get a brewery tour.  Frau A and I have toured a Bavarian microbrewery,
and a mid-sized brewery (both in "hopfenland" in northern Bavaria), but had not yet toured a brewery in Munich.

We blogged a bit about Weihenstephan before... first when we heard that they were collaborating with Sam Adams in the U.S. to brew a champagne beer, and then when we procured a bottle of "Infinium" and taste-tested it.

Things worked out just right:  they had only a morning on the last day before their flight out, but the Weihenstephan brewery had a morning tour -- and the brewery is located only 10 minutes from the airport!

First, Weihenstephan deserves some background.  We served their helles at our wedding, and we wrote/printed a handout for our guests at the reception that gave some background about the brewery's history and the beer:

"Weihenstephan makes a credible claim to be the oldest continuously-operated brewery in the world.

The formal brewery was established in 1040, about 972 years ago!  It has survived four fires (where it burned to the ground), three plagues, various famines, an earthquake, and being plundered during the 30 Years War and War of the Spanish Succession.  It has evolved from a monks' brewery, to the Royal Bavarian Brewery, and today is owned by the State of Bavaria (so they are only allowed to use Bavarian ingredients - water, malt, and hops, plus their secret strain of yeast).  Weihenstephan also has a science center and brewing school that is part of the Technical University of Munich.  People come from around the world to study with the scientists here, and their graduates find work as brewmasters with firms around the globe.  Despite the long tradition and award-winning variety of beers, Weihenstephaner is not allowed to have festival tents at Oktoberfest, because their brewery is not located within the city limits of Munich."

 A little of the Weihenstephan history and timeline

  725:            Small church established in Freising, with a Benedictine monk’s cell attached.

  768:            Earliest written records of beer brewing on site – local hops gardens make tithes to the church.

  811:             Augustinian Monastery formally established (in 1021 it became a Benedictine abbey).

 955:             Huns attack and plunder the monastery.  The first of many reconstructions required.

1040:            Formal brewery of Weihenstephaner founded, with a license to brew beer in the City of Freising.

1516:             The Rheinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) is established in Bavaria, first posted in Freising.

1803:            Monastery dissolved; state takes the assets and continues to run the farming/brewing activities.

1852:            An agricultural school transfers to Freising, together with students studying the art of brewing.

1919:            School elevated to the University for Agriculture and Brewing, and made part of TU Munich.


We met our tour guide, and he led us into a room for the introductory video.  The boys posed near the sign:

Our guide was no ordinary tourist baby-sitter.  He had already graduated from the Technical University of Munich with his brewing degree, and was now working on his PhD in nanofilters (with brewing application, or course)!

Our first stop was the mash house.  The thing that really impressed me was the incredible information and detail the guide gave -- we spent at least 20 minutes here, while he described the process in depth.  In fact, he asked who was a homebrewer.  One guy in our group was, and the guide went into complex chemistry points for him, about the steps in the process (removing certain byproducts, impact of other variables on the taste...).  He's a real expert!

The brewery was built on a hill, typical for "castles" hundreds of years ago.  There is also a spring 300m below from which the brewery gets its water, but today the cost of brewing on a hill is higher (e.g. water pumping, shipping).

We looked into the stainless steel kettles to see the mashing process in action.  (Our guide also explained why stainless steel is best, despite the traditional use of copper.)  I wish I had not been so busy snapping photographs...
I missed a lot of his detailed / science points about the brewing process.  Clearly I have to take the tour again...

One of the boys needed a little help in order to look into the kettles:

From the mashing room we moved to the fermenting room:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After the fermenting room, it was on to the bottling and kegging (and warehouse & shipping) area.

One difference between the U.S. and Germany is reusable bottles.  The U.S. recycles glass after one use, if I heard it correctly.  The bottles in Germany can be reused a dozen times or so (higher standards of wear).  But this means that they have to be collected, cleaned & shipped.  this video shows workers loading them onto the filling line:

Before filling, of course, bottles are cleaned both inside and out.  The cleaning process takes only about 2 shots of water per bottle, so it is quite efficient!  Any residual label paper is collected and spit out by this machine:

The plastic crates in which bottles are shipped are also washed by another gravity-fed machine:

Clean bottles line up on conveyors before the filling station:

This video tries to show a little of everything going on:  bottles on their way to the cleaning maching in the foreground.  In the background:  crates and clean bottles moving towards the filling machines. 

Finally, we saw the warehouse.  The yellow cases are Kirin Ichiban!  Weihenstephan brews it for them here:

The kegs are filled nearby.  A robot arm grabs four empty at a time for filling, then stacks them automatically:

After the tour's end, we headed to the biergarten for lunch and some beer, of course:

The biergarten is small but lovely.  The view atop the hill is nice.  Plus, our guide joined us for a beer!

As a bonus, Weihenstephan provides water for any dogs you bring to their biergarten:

It was a great tour, especially because the guide was a real expert and so friendly as to join us afterwards!

It is a highly recommended activity when you're in Munich, especially as a last-minute pre-airport event.


Swim training at the Olympia-Schwimmhalle

Recently, friends of Herr J came to visit.  It was a high school friend with her husband and two boys.

When we take visitors around, it is usually a chance to re-experience the fun things to do in Bavaria.
But in this case, because of a specific request, we got to do something we had never done before in Munich! 

Both of the boys are on a swimming team.  Even though they are on vacation, they still needed to train.
So we went one morning to the Olympia-Schwimmhalle for them to get their laps in.  We have been to the Olympiapark many times, but interesting that we had never been inside the swimming hall, or used the pool there.

Here are the parents waiting for the boys to change into their swimgear, with a view of the entire hall:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Soon the boys were ready and waiting for instruction (they had a regimen to follow from the coach at home):

Three of the eight lanes were marked specifically for "sport" swimming -- lap swimmers:

The photo below (and above too) is their older son, S, making his laps.  It's a 50m pool, longer than what they typically use.  You'll see in the photos that they cycle through the different strokes (free, breast, and back).

Of course, I used this chance to practice "action" photography.  I need more training than they do swimming:

Mrs J was a competitive swimmer in high school anbd college, so she is the whip-cracker for the boys:

Here is the younger boy, M, taking a rest at the far end.  Behind him is the diving area:

This is S, approaching the near wall.  I was sitting in the stands, rather than poolside, so quite far away (using a 100-300mm zoom lens) and the viewing angle was higher -- couldn't get the water-level shots, but not too bad...

And below again is M, also coming in to the near wall:

After the workout, they took a well-deserved moment for play, and went to the platforms in the diving area:

Then they moved to the springboard, and M seemed to know that I was photographing him:

Not to be outdone, the older S did a front flip off the springboard:

Finally, they headed back to the locker room to shower and change:

I always like an opportunity to practice photography, and this happened to be in a place in Munich that I had never been!  Mr A and I sat in the stands, talked, and I snapped some pics.  My kind of morning.



Friday Photo Favorite: Salzburg with Friends

One of our favorite things is to have visitors!  A friend of Herr J's from high school, with her husband and two boys, stayed with us for a few days.  They wanted to see Salzburg, so we rented a car and spent a half day there.

It is so nice to see friends from "home" (the U.S.), and we had a wonderful time showing them around.

Here they are from the Salzburg castle, overlooking the town:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

And here is the old cemetary (where a scene from "The Sound of Music" was filmed, I believe).
The view is looking back up at the castle, from where the first photo was taken:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix 

Thanks for visiting, Mr A and Mrs J !!!  Come again soon!


Tanzania Holiday 9: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Walking Safari

In the first half of our travel day into Serengeti NP, we were incredibly lucky to see lions mating - a great start!
On the map below:  we had entered the park on the southeast main road, but not yet reached Naabi Hill Gate.

In this blog post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  starting at Naabi Hill Gate where we register with the park and pause for lunch.  Then, we continue north along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and finally go completely off-road into a "wilderness zone" and our "light mobile camp" on the banks of the Orangi River.

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

We pulled off at Naabi hill to register in the park and take a lunch break.  The land cruisers were already lined up:

Naabi Hill has picnic tables and the park office, but the most appealing aspect is the kopje.
From the parking lot there is a walking path to the top (only a few minutes -- it's not exceedingly tall):

It's not that tall, but because the Serengeti is so flat, the Naabi Hill kopje has an impressive view.
We are looking south from here -- on the photo's left is the main road, on which we just drove into the park:

It was nice to stretch our legs, and Frau A was having fun taking photographs.

Here's a better picture of the road, looking back from where we came, disappearing across the "endless plain".

Next shot:  a panorama will open if you click on it, but beware -- it's 14+ MB in size.

If you remember the prior blog post, we drove through the wildebeest herd.  This is just the far edge of it!

Again, to try and show the sheer scale of the herd (at least what we could see from here) we took video.
I twisted as far as I could to do a pan from left to right across the horizon... black dots as far as the eye can see. 

Zooming far into the scene we found vultures perched on top of a tree:

But we didn't need telephoto for everything.  Agama lizards were very active on the rocks at our feet:

It's the males that develop these flashy colors.  (Females and juveniles stay with a brownish color.)

Another eyecatcher here was the superb starling.  There were many of them around the picnic tables... or anywhere that scraps of food could be found.  Signs prohibit feeding animals, and trash can lids are extra solid.
Regardless, humans always create free meals.  These birds won't go hungry unless they overpopulate.  

Their coloring is quite remarkable.  They are not too afraid of people and would come relatively close.

A trucker was eating in his cab to avoid harassment.  This starling was just waiting beneath his window:

Another scavenger was much larger... and as ugly as the superb starling is pretty.  This is a marabou stork.
It is technically a wading bird, but has adapted to live near humans (or, more precisely, near human waste). 

This is a large bird!  Wikipedia says that marabou storks can get up to 150 cm (60 in) tall and 9 kg (20 lb).
This particular one was probably one meter tall (three+ feet).  He wandered around the parking lot all day. 

The marabou stork is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" because of its "deathly" appearance. 

We spent more than an hour at Naabi Hill, then got back on the road, heading north again.
From the wide open plains, the terrain changed a bit - with trees and hills more commonplace. 

At some point, probably around Banagi and the turnoff right going northeast, we stopped at a small village.
Here, we picked up two more people:  our park ranger Daniel, and a guide-in-training Mark.  So Frau A and I had our guide Prim, plus two other Serengeti experts - all with a rifle (the back of the Land Cruiser looked Texas-like)!

In order to camp in a wilderness zone and tour the Serengeti on foot, it is required to have a park ranger with you. That was Daniel.  Mark was a recent graduate of one of Tanzania's wildlife management colleges, and recently joined the same tour company as Prim.  It was a great mix of people - we were happy to have them along!

From left to right: Prim (our guide), Frau A, Mark (guide trainee), and Daniel (Serengeti NP park ranger)

But we're getting ahead our ourselves... that photo is already at the camp site.  We're not there quite yet...
After we took the right turn at Banagi, trees really started to have a stronger impact on the landscape. 

Perhaps an hour after picking up Mark and Daniel, we turned off the main road completely - just tire tracks.
This was leading us into the designated "wilderness area", where walking safaris are permitted
(although only around 3 companies are licensed to do this, of the 150+ that give driving safaris).

The trees are primarily acacia... which unfortunately is the favorite home of the tsetse fly.  Swarms of them.
The tsetse bite -- living off the blood of animals.  They are also the main carriers of African sleeping sickness.
The odds of contracting the disease were very low.  It was mostly trying to avoid getting bitten!
Bug sprays don't have much effect, but we stayed covered up and it wasn't a real problem in the end. 

Prim wound the Land Cruiser through field and trees, arriving at the edge of the Orangi River (see map).
The river only fills it's potential in the high wet season, but did have some water from the December light rains.

Did you notice the animal tracks in the sand?   We'll get to those not far down the page...

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We'll try to give you a sense of what the camp was like.  This is a "light mobile camp", and not a permanent camp like most places in the Serengeti.  It gets pulled down and, ideally, traces of human habitation disappear.

Here's what happening in the video below:  I'm standing in the field where the camp is centered.  To my left, about 15 meters away, is the Orangi River.  This is the central landmark, and the basis for our daily hikes.
     - The video begins looking upriver, and you'll see the tent where we eat, not far from the river bank.
     - The video pans left-to-right across the field.  At the 20-second mark you see a walking path
       leading to the tents where Prim, Daniel, Mark, and two other guide staff are staying.
     - At the 30-second point, you can see the tent where we sleep, with an open "bathroom" behind it.

Here's a photo of our sleeping tent, underneath a tree with a small rocky mound nearby.  Right on the Serengeti!

The first thing we did was to drop off our backpacks inside the tent, and splash our faces with water:

Looking out from our tent, we could see the eating area by the river.  That's our guide Prim, standing nearby:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After dropping off our backpacks, we went to the eating area where we could sit down:

From those seats, we had a nice view of the Orangi River (looking westward, or, downstream):

We walked from the eating area down into the mostly-dry river.  It rained one evening while we were here, and the water rose enough to cover most of the area within the riverbed.  This pic is looking back at the table:

Did you notice the animal tracks in the soft dirt?  Prim came down and explained that he thought of the damp earth as "the daily newspaper".  It could tell you what animals had been here, and how recently they passed through.

We were especially impressed with large, relatively fresh hippo tracks Prim identified for us! (photo below)
The hippos passed by about 30-40 meters away from where our sleeping and eating tents are located! 

Prim explained that most animals will avoid humans as much as possible.  At night, some wander through camp.

We walked over to where the guides' tents were.  In the neighboring field, seen from their tents, was a group of wildebeest!  They were gathering together, because dusk was approaching and night = predators hunting.
In the brief video, you can also hear the clank of pots & pans as the camp staff were starting to make dinner: 

While dinner was in the works, they brought potato chips and beer to snack on.  Just perfect!

At this point, the sun was setting in earnest.  We had a nice view, across the river, of the changing colors.
Two things to notice in the photo:  first, a water buffalo skull at the foot of the tree.  That's "decoration".
Second, there is a small table (look far right in the picture) closer to the edge of the river bank... 

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

...our guides made a small fire, so we moved our chairs, chips, and beer out from the tent to the riverside:

Now we were right on the river bank -- you can see the hippo tracks again in the background behind Frau A!

We were told to listen for animals coming to the water hole to drink during the night:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After dinner we returned to our tent, and zipped up for the night (photo: looking back at the eating area):

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

For "just a travel day" we got to see a lot.  And now we were tent camping in the Serengeti wilderness!

We will spend a few days in this camp, taking a 3-4 hour guided walk each morning and afternoon.
The guides all told us to expect fewer close-up encounters on foot - animals accept a jeep, but they will stay hundreds of meters away otherwise.  However, that doesn't mean the next blog posts will be boring... just wait.

Until then, we can say:  that evening, we heard hyenas and lions calling not too far away.  Awesome!