Entries in Rhotia Valley (3)


Tanzania Holiday 8: Entering Serengeti National Park

So far on our safari, we had spent a day each in Arusha NP, Lake Manyara NP, and Ngorongoro Crater.  We returned from the crater and spent the night in Rhotia Valley, on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

We woke up the following morning, climbed in the Land Cruiser, and again started west.  On this travel day, our guide would drive us through the NCA, into Serengeti National Park, and on to our walking safari camp site.

Source: expertafrica.com

As reference:  in the map below, the inset (upper left) shows how the NCA borders on the Serengeti N.P..
For this blog post, we are entering the park on the main road (in red, coming from the map's southeast/lower right), take a quick detour west onto the Serengeti Plain, return to the main road and head for the Naabi Hill Gate.

(In the next post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  continuing north from Naabi Hill Gate along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and eventually go off-road to our wilderness camp on the Orangi River.) 

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Ngorongoro Conservation area has some hills... so it was clear when we reached the "endless plain".
Yes, there are some hills far off, and we'd see kopjes later on, but it left no doubt how the Serengeti was named:

Our guide maneuvered us around a bateleur (type of eagle) that was finishing a meal in the middle of the road.
It was hard to tell if it had made the kill itself, or had scavenged a piece of a larger carcass further afield. 

Within 20 minutes of crossing the border from the NCA into the Serengeti, we saw lions!  There were three.
One young male was relaxing soooo close to the road, just behind a small pile of rocks, 25m from the other two: 

The sun was already very warm, so he made it easy to take photos.  And so close by!

The other two, 25m away, stayed closer together.  In fact, the male walked over to the female...

...and they they mated.  We'd seen the circle of life already (eagle feeding, future lion cubs in progress)!

We were even able to get a short video.  We didn't think that we would be shooting lion porn, but there it is.
We're glad we did -- you can see and hear the final snarls and fake bites at the end.  What a great experience:

Here is a still frame from the above video.  They both give a big snarl at the end:

Our guide, Prim, speculated that the two males are brothersthat grew up together, and still relatively young.  Normally an alpha would not tolerate another so close by, but perhaps he doesn't feel as threatened by his sibling.  Of course, only the dominant brother gets to mate, with the other forced to keep his distance at this time.

After mating, the dominant lion laid down (photos above, below), panting a bit to get cool:

The female, as you saw in the video, immediately rolled on to her side and presumably fell asleep.
Also, did you notice that she is wearing a leather collar?  It's part of the park program tracking lions. 

And the other brother?  He didn't move a muscle:

After stopping to watch the lions, we continued north.  Far from the road, our guide spotted a tawny eagle.

We think it had just made a kill and was checking that the area was secure... but it was hard to tell.

Not long thereafter, we reached the edge of the wildebeest herd.

It's late December, and the short wet season; water & food are available.  At this time, the wildebeest are not in an active part of their annual migration.  Rather, this is the lead-up to the massive birthing in January and February.

At this point in the drive, there are not too many wildebeest nearby, but the horizon is completely covered.

It was a day of full travel, but it was not rushed.  So Prim took us off the main road and down a tire-track path.
In effect, he wanted to drive us right in to the middle (or at least a dense portion) of the wildebeest herd: 

As we drove, there were more and more wildebeest, in every possible direction.  Very cool to see.

Interspersed with the wildebeest were zebra, Thompson's gazelle, and a some ostrich like the one below:

In the next photo, you can see that there are ruts (old tire tracks?) running along the side of the road...

...many of these ruts held water from earlier rains, and the wildebeest drank from them:

They would jump up and run away before the car passed - the one on the left below is about to retreat:

The herd covered the road too -- it was like a wave parting when we drove through.
Most were busy eating, only taking a moment to either get out of the way or check us out. 

Ironically, it was rather difficult to take a photo that shows exactly how many wildebeest there were.
It was then that we realized why balloon trips are poular, because that would give the best perspective. 

During some stops, we took video too.  We tried panning left-to-right, in an attempt to share visually what it was like to be in the middle of that mass.  The video also let's you hear the constant vocalizations of the herd's members:

The next photo is pretty low quality, because it is at 600mm (35mm equivalent), and still heavily cropped.
However, it's especially interesting because of the carrion feeders:  a jackal and at least four vultures together:

We did spot a lone elephant, also far out into the distance, mingling with the wildebeest:

Eventually, we turned around and drove (through the herd again) back to the main road.  We continued north towards the Naabi Hill Gate.  The landscape started slowly changing - and we had our first kopjes sighting!

We made it to the Serengeti... but this was just the morning of our travel day into the park, to Naabi Hill Gate.
In the next post we break for lunch, then ride the rest of the way to camp for three days of walking safari!

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:
   -  Steve (Herr J's brother) for the telephoto lens.  It was on my camera the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Megan A, for Frau A's telephoto lens.  Like mine, it never left the camera (& worked great).  THANK YOU!
   -  Heather M, for the telephoto lens.  It was a "must have" and made a huge difference.  THANK YOU!
   -  William H, for the teleconverter.  Frau A loves her trusty Nikon, and took over 2000 shots.  THANK YOU!
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad), for the backpack.  Your daughter used every inch, but no back pain!  THANK YOU!

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


Tanzania Holiday 7: Ngorongoro Crater - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

Our morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater was absolutely packed with animals.
But around 13:00 we left those grassy & wooded areas where we had just seen elephants and lions.
It's time for lunch. 

Our guide drove us to the common rest & picnic area, on the edge of the crater's Lake Magadi:

The Land Cruisers lined up in the parking area - Prim (our guide) said it is packed end-to-end in high season!

Some people stayed near the cars, while others found shade under the large tree on the lakeshore.

In Arusha National Park's eating areas, we had to be mindful of blue monkeys who had become scavengers.
At this site in the Crater, the yellow-billed kites were the animals to watch out for- and far more aggressive.

The kites kept soaring overhead, and would often swoop down very fast by anyone near their car.
They were looking for any open food, and we saw them dive and snatch unguarded items with incredible speed. 

The one advantage:  we got more practice trying to photograph birds-in-flight!
(We stayed inside the Land Cruiser to eat, disappointing these aerial acrobats I'm sure.) 

In a smaller tree near the parking lot lived a number of rufous-tailed weavers:

A trio of pelicans kept soaring -- much higher than the kites (they weren't looking to scavenge).
They circled the lake perhaps 15 times before heading to the far side, to land and settle down. 

Another frequent (but lovely) scavenger here is the southern-masked weaver.  They don't have the size or athleticism of the kites, but since they're small, they hang around nearby and try to snatch up crumbs.

This one would perch on each car in turn, eyeing the people to weigh the likelihood of getting a meal.

At the far end of the lake were hippos.  As usual, one was closest to the people and keeping watch on us.

After our meal and the bird photography, we started out on the afternoon game drive.  A short time after getting underway again, we saw another lone (and, um... well endowed) elephant walking along the grassy beds.

Also on the plain, small groups of water buffalo were mostly still, trying to keep cool in the afternoon sun.

We saw some lions near a cluster of trees.  One had just emerged from the undergrowth coming towards us:

More accurately, the lion was walking towards two others lying in front of us.  They watched his approach:

As the lion drew near to the others, his head dropped and tail swished - initiating a friendly reunion perhaps?

The newcomer nuzzled the other lions for a second before plopping right down to rest beside them.

A fourth lion (looks like a male), kept to himself - his spot was farther away along the same cluster of trees.

Further along the road, we found a pair of ostriches in a mating dance -- circling and bobbing heads up & down.

Almost on the other side of the road from the ostriches was another female warthog with young:

They didn't run away as fast as the others we'd seen, so we took the chance to shoot a brief video:

These two are obviously old enough to feed themselves, rather than relying solely on milk.

As the sun began slowly to drop, we headed back across the plains of the crater's floor.

We were going back to the road that would take us up the crater rim, and back around to the park gate.

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

While waiting to pass another jeep, we pointed cameras out the window to capture the high crater wall.

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

We headed back up the road, ascending to the top of the crater...

...and once at the top, followed the road as it curved around the rim, back towards the entrance gate.

It wasn't long before we were back in Rhotia Valley, driving past the farms and scattered homes.

Before dinner on the second evening, our hosts at the lodge walked us across to the children's home.
This is an orphanage for children from the surrounding area, founded by a Dutch couple around 2008.
As we arrived, the kids were just wrapping up an all-ages soccer game (one of their favorite activities). 

We were shown around the grounds and buildings of the home.  There are three houses (for different age groups, plus two "mothers" in each house ) around a courtyard.  This is one of the houses and the playground:

Our host also showed us their classroom.  Notice that the writing on the blackboard says "Learning English"!

One thing we loved:  each child is asked to say what they want to do when they grow up and leave the home.
The "List of Life Dreams" stays posted on the bulletin board as inspiration and encouragement to the kids.
We were told some have recently, successfully, landed jobs in tourism trades like cook, clerk, or guide/driver.

The hosts are trying to make this home as self-sufficient as possible.  Part of the childrens' chores are to tend a patch in the garden, where they grow food to eat, or sell/trade in the village.  There is one challenge:  the lodge and children's home are right on the edge of the Ngorongoro forest!  Every once in a while, elephants come out and raid the garden.  The kids know to stay indoors when this happens, but the fence suffers damage and must be repaired.
Not much is going to keep an African elephant from getting a fresh meal!

For further self-sufficiency, the home raises chickens also - using the eggs or selling them to the community.

In addition, a German man donated a new, simple, inexpensive system for collecting methane from manure decomposition - it was installed recently.  The children contribute to gathering and depositing animal waste into the "well".  A gas line runs directly to a stove, meeting some of their cooking needs (remember, 24 growing kids!)

Speaking of manure... as we walked back to the lodge, we observed this dung beetle, rolling, rolling...

Before dinner, we tried to capture the last moments of daylight:

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

I'm not sure if I like the "regular" photo (above) better, or the bracketed/HDR-processed version (below).

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

From the "lobby" we looked back on the children's home, and relaxed with some drinks on our last night here.

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

We ate at one of the tables behind the sofa.  They had a fire going too (barely see the fireplace, right):

Once last chance to stand on the deck, overlooking the valley, before turning in for the night.

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

The Ngorongoro Crater was incredible.  We had high hopes, but still couldn't believe the density of animals!
From here, we will head into Serengeti National Park for both a walking safari, and multiple days of game drives. 

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:

   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom), for the game drive.  Ngorongoro was truly one of the highlights of the trip.  THANK YOU!
   -  Karen J, for the picnic lunch today.  We didn't let the birds get any of it!  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia Valley Lodge.  It was lovely and inspiring.  THANK YOU! 

In addition, the following guests from our wedding made a donation to the Children's Home:

   -  Martha M
   -  Brett A
   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom)
   -  Ronald M
   -  Jaclyn F
   -  Karen J
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad)
   -  Teri K

Thank you all. 

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


Tanzania Holiday 5: Lake Manyara National Park - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

The morning in Lake Manyara National Park brought us our first encounter with elephants.  We stopped briefly for lunch at a picnic spot somewhere in the middle of the park (near the central Ranger station on the map, I think).

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

About this time, clouds rolled in and when we climbed back in the Land Cruiser, some showers were falling.
Despite the weather, we drove by vervet monkeys gathering food in the grass -- they had babies too!

They weren't bothered by a light rain, but looked less happy when the intensity of the showers increased.

This was the last monkey still in the open -- we got this photos just as he was heading for the trees.

The rain soon stopped.  We drove on, and saw these giraffes as we rounded a bend in the dirt road.

Further down the park, an adult baboon was feeding at the side of the road.  He paused to inspect us.

Nearby, a mother was carrying her baby away from the road in into the protection of the forest.

A slightly older baby baboon took a moment before running to mom, and gave us a nice photo.

Our driver and guide, Prim, was amazing at spotting animals.  His sharp eyes found this golden weaver:

Eventually, we circled around and headed north - back to the park entrance.  From here we drove west, and up to a lookout point on the escarpment that is effectively the western wall of the park.  It's a nice view to the lake below.

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

From Lake Manyara N.P., our guide drove us to where we would spend the next two nights: Rhotia Valley, near the town of Karatu.  It's about 45-60 minutes from the Manyara park entrance, and about the same distance from the entrance gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (tomorrow's destination).

When one thinks of "Africa", hot and dry places come to mind by default.  But Rhotia Valley defies this stereotype.  It lies at 1700m elevation, so the climate is cooler (and well above the line for Malaria risk).  The soil is rich, and many terraced farms take advantage of the fertile environment.

We climbed a bit in the Land Cruiser to reach our destination, and could look out over the valley.

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

We arrived at Rhotia Valley Lodge just as the sun was getting low in the sky.  This is what our hut looked like:

We checked in, washed up, and found seats on the deck.  They had a new beer brand, Tusker, for us to try.

The lodge had a few cats around.  Most were still sleeping the day off, like this one:

From the lodge's deck, you can see some of the valley -- lots of green!  The lodge tries to source as much food and material from the local farming community as possible, so ingredients are local and fresh!

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

It was very warm at Lake Manyara today, but we wore fleeces tonight at the higher altitude (it felt great).

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

Across the way from the lodge is a children's home -- a group of ~24 kids, all orphaned from towns in the area.
Proceeds from the lodge help support the home.  Our hosts will bring us over tomorrow to meet them! 

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

So we settled down for dinner, and another beer, and watched the sun go down.  Tomorrow is Ngorongoro crater!

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:
   -  Jaclyn F, for the lunch in Manyara.  We were soooo hungry after snapping all these photos.  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia.  The beer... the view... see how happy Frau A looks?  THANK YOU!

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