The Eight of August

Us gettting into the boat we hired on Aug 8th. Possibly the last photo of Leanne in her beloved sunglasses.

Getting into the boat we hired on Aug 8th. Possibly the last photo of Leanne in her beloved sunglasses.

On the eight of August we hired a boat and captain to take us to the exclusive Anse Georgette, easily one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We arrived with waves hitting the shore. I was asked to get out and hold the boat steady. I was at the bow trying to keep the boat level while Leanne and Moe exited from the back near the shore. I was in deep water and Leanne took our bags. She had the camera bag around her waste and just got out of the boat. I could see a big wave coming in behind her and yelled out as I let go of the boat to try to reach her. It crashed over her and submersed all of our camera equipment. She ran it ashore and our trusty camera bag kept everything just dry enough for us to get it out and not to have had any damage. We set everything on a rock and it dried out nicely.

I really love this beach, although it was being cruel to Leanne on this day. Leanne came out into the water with me past the cracking of the waves to float in the warm swells. Later when she was going back to shore another big wave came towards her. I yelled out a warning, but she could not hear me as she was toppled over face first into the sand. When she recovered her sunglasses (the first pair she ever loved) had been washed into the sea. We were unable to find them despite a lot of searching.

When we were finished at Georgette the boat dropped us off at Anse Lazio where we had lunch and said farewell to the captain. When we were done we walked towards the bus stop at the top of the hill when a passing car picked us up to give us a lift by the resort we are staying at. This saved us time and money so we were very lucky. We took advantage of the swim-up bar at the huge pool when we returned. In the evening they served our table a seafood dinner of lobster, mussels, calamari, etc. before dimming the lights and singing happy birthday and bringing out a cake for me. This is the first birthday where I feel my new age is a hindrance. I am coping with leaving behind the youthful “under 35” age category since I don’t like that I am now considered too old to join a number of travel tours. I also wasn’t ready to be lumped into the mid-life “35 to 49” age grouping that I now see on my Trip Advisor profile and have to fill-in when doing surveys. I know I will receive little sympathy for this except maybe from a few people in their twenties. It makes me think of how I rolled my eyes a few months ago when a girl was upset about turning the ancient age of 25.

The eight of August is the exact halfway point of our little around the world trip and August ninth is significant for us since it has been ten years since our first date. It is our last full day in the Seychelles and has been a perfect day to relax as it has been raining. The day after this we will be back in South Africa and Maureen will be in France.

Seychelles

Anse Source D'Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Anse Source D'Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

When we landed there was a tv crew waiting. It wasn’t for us however it was there to greet a young athlete that had won two medals while at a sporting event overseas. It was dark when we arrived and we checked into our basic room with its uncomfortable bed and noisy air conditioner. It was in a great location with very pleasant staff. With a few renovations (namely new mattresses) it would be a really nice budget hotel.

The nearby beach was beautiful. We rented a car and did some errands in the nearby capital, Victoria. In the afternoon we took a scenic drive up to a look-out point. The weather was not on our side though as there were heavy rains obscuring the view. It is not supposed to rain in the Seychelles in August but as with the rest of the world the weather patterns have become unpredictable. In the evening Moe managed to get us reservations to a nearby restaurant that was booked-up. We had a fantastic meal.

We had a bit of an accommodation problem in the Seychelles. The place we were supposed to spend five nights released our rooms for the first night and we found out days before we arrived. We were unable to book into another place nearby and our budget hotel on Mahe didn’t have availability to let us stay an extra night. We used the apology discount we received from the place that messed up the bookings to splurge for one night at the Banyan Tree. So we took the car there as early in the morning as possible to make the most of our short stay.

In my humble opinion this hotel (and the positioning of our room in particular) is probably the most romantic place to stay for a honeymoon in the world. The only location that would beat it is Bora Bora. We had a private hillside villa with our own infinity pool, hot tub, huge deck and views to die for looking out at the beach and the Indian Ocean. Even the shower had windows opening up to the view and an incredible bath tub with bath foam, oils, candles, etc. to set the mood while listening to the waves and admiring the scenery. After closing the villa gate upon entering there was complete privacy. No one can see you on the deck, in the pool, or the hot tub Blissful, relaxing, romantic, luxury.

For the common facilities, there is the most beautiful pool I have ever swam in and a gorgeous soft sand beach with turquoise waves lapping against it and large boulders and lush greenery on the edges. If you want to spoil yourself, this is where to do it. If you plan to go let me know and I’ll tell you what room to request.

We left Mahe on a fifteen minute flight to Praslin. We flew on an SD3-60, a very unusually shaped plane. After arriving at our nice resort on Praslin we joined a sunset cruise for drinks and a swim as we visited the beaches Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette. Both have been voted in the top ten beaches of the world and Anse Lazio is apparently number one. There are so many stunning beaches in the Seychelles that it is easy to debate which one is best and it is all very much a personal preference. Leanne and Moe’s favorite is Grand Anse on La Digue with its big waves and I loved Anse Source D’Argent with its coral, calm waters, and beautiful boulders.

Today we went to La Digue and rented bikes to get around the island. We visited stunning unrivaled beaches and had a fantastic day. We have three more nights to go on Praslin.

Photos are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=113632&id=673382190&l=a368822d76

Mauritius

East coast of Mauritius

East coast of Mauritius

I have updated this entry as I originally missed some key details and felt an edit was worthwhile now that my driving frustration has passed.

The room we stayed in around the Flic-en-Flac area of Mauritius was incredible. It had an amazingly soft comfortable bed and a brilliant room design with sliding walls that open to reveal the twin sinks, the bathtub and shower. The toilet was smartly separated in another private room behind that area where there was also a walk in closet. We booked into the resort well in advance pre-paying when they needed cash and forfeiting any cancellation options for what has been my best cost per value stay ever. We were even upgraded rooms. We all loved the rooms and wished we could take them with us.

After relaxing at the resort we thought we should explore the country a bit. We rented a car and set out to visit Isle de Cerf on the opposite side of Mauritius. It is only about 40km away on the map, but the drive ended up being about 80km through twists and turns. To my surprise it took us almost three hours to travel this distance. We were snarled in gridlock traffic in one of the small cities and had to deal with slow buses, people standing in the road for no particular reason, and the common occurrence of people stopping and leaving their cars in the middle of the road even though there was often space to pull over and get partly out of the way. I should also mention that on the main motorway the speed limit is 110 km/h but the average driver here doesn’t seem comfortable driving over 60 km/h. Despite this it often doesn’t keep them out of the fast lane. Driving here has been a bit frustrating.

Isle de Cerf

Isle de Cerf

Isle de Cerf is very beautiful. We took a fun speed boat from a local village to get there. It was an hour long exploration that took us to waterfalls and circled the island. The speed the boat was able to reach was impressive. The island is busy with tourists and for good reason. One part of the island has soft sand and safe places to swim in calm water, and another part has a lot of boat activities. There is also an impressive golf course on this island, which must be one of the most scenically beautiful in the world. We had good lunch and a great walk. We returned on one of the slowest boats I think I’ve been on and later drove to a Japanese restaurant for some great food. The drive to get there and back to the resort took some time.

The next day we went to the Pomplemousse Botanical Gardens for an enjoyable walk. We continued north to visit what many Mauritians call the best beaches in the country. I personally preferred Isle de Cerf, but they were good and very popular on the weekend with the locals. After walking down the beach we found an authentic Indian restaurant where we had a great lunch. We spent the late afternoon and evening back at the resort for our last night in Mauritius together.

On our final morning I took advantage of an inexpensive four-hand massage at the resort to ease off my stress from driving here. A four-hand massage is simply two masseuses doing synchronized full-body massages on you. This was the second time I’ve had one and they are so incredibly good. It was immense pleasurable relaxation.

When we drove to the airport I wanted to take the scenic drive to see some of the highlights from the South. The weather wasn’t very good and the roads were so curvy I almost had car sickness despite driving. There is certainly a lot of beauty and much to enjoy in Mauritius, but don’t make our mistake trying to see a lot of the country in a short amount of time.

Photos are available here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=112441&id=673382190&l=bbffe7954f

Victoria Falls

A look at Victoria Falls from our helicopter flight.

A look at Victoria Falls from our helicopter flight.

We took a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls and I had made an effort to have a side word with the person leading the passengers to the chopper. I tipped him to give me the front corner seat for the best view. The flight was enjoyable and was a great introduction for Leanne to see the falls. It also allowed us to see them from Zimbabwe airspace without having to cross the border. This was my second visit here and while last time I did the bungee jump and white water rafting, this time we took it easy.

We spent a large part of the day wandering around the Zambian side of the park. The falls are at a beautiful water level, enough flow to make them spectacular, but low enough that the mist isn’t overwhelming and you can see them nicely. We did get drenched though as each time the wind would gust it essentially rained upwards with torrential pours against the falls edge. We were packed a simple lunch in a plastic bag from the lodge we are staying at. We had just passed a sign that said Baboon Sanctuary and Leanne decided it was a good location to sit and eat as there was a small log on the ground to sit on. I questioned the logic of eating in a baboon sanctuary, but we went ahead and started. About a minute in with hardly any food touched a massive alpha male baboon charged Leanne grabbing towards her banana. She threw it at his chest and jumped back. He took it and the plastic bag full of food and meticulously went through it peeling and eating the fruit and unwrapping sandwiches from their plastic wrap. It was a funny event but Leanne was very shaken up. We saw a park ranger shortly after that and he chased it off with a slingshot (you don’t want to get too close to baboon claws). It became a huge entertaining spectacle for the other tourists as they all gathered around to take photos of it eating our food in a very human like way. Another tourist said the same thing happened to him not long before that. The baboons recognize the bags to have food and if the baboon is big enough and hungry enough it will be aggressive to get it. This was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, probably because it has found a great source to feed itself.

Later on we wandered down a path called “Best photography path”. It sounded perfect for me and we followed it for ten minutes. The path went beyond the Zambian border and along the road to Zimbabwe. Although there was a fence with barbed wire, it had clearly been compromised in a number of areas and people must use it to get over the border illegally. I was taking photos and Leanne had wandered ahead. There had been no one else on this path. Leanne had almost reached the end of it when she was approached and surrounded by three men in their early twenties. They quickly moved to block her from being able to get away. They started talking to her and were moving in closer to her. It was calculated for them to trap Leanne and there were being intentionally intimidating. It was almost a minute before I showed up around the corner. I was alarmed with the positioning of them. When they saw me they backed off and one wandered over to try to have a friendly, nothing-going-on-here, chat. I wanted nothing to do with it as we were isolated a long way from safety. At this point the guys decided to pull out some hidden jewellery to sell to us. I told the person talking to me I had no interest and we were going, thanks and goodbye. Leanne was more subtle and told another person separately that we had no cash on us but would probably come back tomorrow, which was a lie. We quickly departed and warned a lone person we passed on the way back about the people at the end of the trail.

We finished off the day in style by boating over to Livingstone Island to literally stand on the edge of the falls and to be served high tea. They bundle the island trip with the food and drink to make it more expensive. This time of year there is no other way to get there. It was a beautiful afternoon and the views were stunning. It is certainly the best place to admire the falls and we were both really happy we went. Leanne was a bit nervous as we were escorted to the cliff edges for photos. She particularly doesn’t like my interest in getting as close to the edge as possible for the best views. We returned to the mainland to find a rare albino monkey and a herd of zebra on the lawn of the hotel grounds where the boat departs from. We were picked up and I was given complimentary beer to drink in the vehicle on the trip back.

The falls are beautiful and Leanne prefers them to Iguazu falls, although I think Victoria Falls comes in a close second. Despite a couple of uncomfortable situations, we still had a phenomenal time here. We are leaving with some amazing memories.

Photos for Vic Falls and the Okavango Delta are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=111456&id=673382190&l=334f1a685e

Okavango Delta

A lion devouring its prey in the Okavango

A lion devouring its prey in the Okavango

We have just completed a fly-in safari to a private reserve on the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Our trip there has set the bar for safari trips so high, it will be difficult for any others to compare. The camp we stayed at sits on the edge of the delta and the Moremi National Park and there is no fencing around the property. There are only eight tents there for guests. From our luxury tent we would see and hear elephants, hippos, giraffes, monkeys, baboons, and numerous birds. In the distance we could occasionally hear hyenas and lions. Lions and Leopards have also been spotted in the camp and the people working there have some great stories.

We were driven in fully exposed URI vehicles for the safaris. These vehicles are like tanks. We could drive through soft sand, mud, lakes, rivers, and plough through small trees and bushes with little difficulty. It sounds terribly destructive but we would only knock down plants on rare occasions. It was frightening how close we would get to the animals as we felt exposed and vulnerable. We always had a guide who would drive and a tracker that would sit on a special seat at the front of the vehicle. The tracker scans for wildlife and identifies paw prints and droppings and also mans the spotlight on night drives. The benefit of being in a private reserve is the usual safari restrictions do not apply and you can drive anywhere while tracking animals and you can drive at any time. Some of our night sightings were our best.

Our schedule was to wake up at 6AM have a quick breakfast snack with tea or coffee before heading out on safari. We would stop in the wilderness to stretch and have more snacks before returning four or five hours later to have a big brunch. We would then have a siesta before having a late lunch at 3:30PM. This was followed by another outing stopping again in the wilderness to have drinks while watching the sun set. We would then have a long night drive back before having a late dinner followed by stories around a camp fire and retiring for the night.

Our highlights here included watching a pack of hyenas try to chase two young male lions away from an animal they had killed. Having a massive male lion pass on a hill beside me within petting distance. Tracking a leopard through bushes after it had killed a baboon and all the monkeys and baboons had climbed to the tops of the trees and were going crazy and yelling out warning calls. We could figure out where the leopard was by seeing where animals up the trees were all looking. We drove through bushes and happened upon it just meters ahead of us. This caught us both by surprise and it bolted away not to be seen by us again. We also saw a male lion devouring a Kudu one night and a hyena the next day chewing through the remainder of the skull with vultures waiting for anything that would be left. One evening we took a motorized boat through canals around the delta. The boat was two levels and I was sitting on the top with another fellow taking photos when we came across a couple of elephants and the guide turned off the engine. The boat drifted to shore at the same edge the elephant had walked to. I was eye level with it only a few meters away and it stood there with one leg half raised. The guides below were whisper yelling, “don’t move a muscle” and it was the only time we saw them genuinely worried. They used a pole to edge the boat away from the land. Shorty after that the elephant walked right into the water and crossed to an island on the other side. The smaller one followed and had to swim to get there. It was about 8PM when we returned and we were going to sit down for dinner when we were told another vehicle had found a group of seven male lions that hunt together. We were asked if we wanted to see them and we said yes. We got into the vehicle and were told to buckle-up as we rushed to drive the hour or so to their location. We arrived and had plenty of time looking at them. Leanne and I were sitting in the last row of the vehicle and with the spotlight on two lions in front we could see one of the others approaching us directly from behind. We actually ducked as it got close only to pass a foot away from the vehicle to join his friends. While driving between the lions we drove over a tree stump that snapped the connection to the steering column. One of the nearby vehicles was filled with camp staff looking at the lions and they came to our rescue quickly switching out and letting us take their vehicle. They were all standing outside as two large male lions passed us by, but the lions were disinterested. We left them in the dark a long way from camp after their temporary fix of the vehicle failed. A rescue vehicle was then sent to get them.

On our last day we did a mokoro (a little flat canoe) trip past a group of hippos. Leanne was scared, but it was great fun. When we were returning we were radioed that others had found a female cheetah with four six-month old cubs. We drove out to admire them and track them for a while. We even saw the mother give chase to a group of impala and we thought she might have caught one so we sped after her to check, but the target had managed to escape and she went to a nearby mound to rest as her cubs followed.

The Okavango is very beautiful and this has certainly been another trip highlight. We loved the camp we stayed at and very much hope to come back one day to stay at the same camp or another one run by the same company in Botswana. Everything is included once you arrive including all premium drinks, all meals, snacks, activities and even laundry. They will bend over backward to make your trip incredible including sacrificing meals and sleep to give you the best viewings whenever they are found. The vehicles always start in different directions during the safaris so you only see other tourists when there is a great find and even then there are not more than two or three vehicles congregating in one spot. We have had an unbelievable experience in an incredible place.

Unique Zanzibar

A couple of wild Red Colobus Monkeys. A species unique to Zanzibar.

A couple of wild Red Colobus Monkeys. A species unique to Zanzibar.

We had a lazy morning around the pool before going to visit the Jozani Forest in Zanzibar. We were treated to some up close encounters with the unique red colobus monkeys, a species only found in Zanzibar. We also wandered (and climbed) through the mangroves. There are some great areas on Zanzibar and it would be nice to lounge here for a while, but we are on the move again. We will be in Johanessburg tomorrow for a night before heading to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We will likely be out of touch for the next week, but will try to update whenever possible.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109035&id=673382190&l=5bdb56301d

Paradise Found!

Leanne dipping her feet in the pool at the resort in Zanzibar.

Leanne dipping her feet in the pool at the resort in Zanzibar.

We had a rather unpleasant start to our visit to Zanzibar. Five of the people from our previous trip carried on with us on a pre-organized trip extension to Zanzibar. Unfortunately, when we made the booking it did not detail what places we would be staying in, only the general location. After taking the ferry in the morning to this spice island we were met by a local representative and delivered to our first hotel. After checking in, the local representative started to hassle us to do an expensive city tour and spice tour with him. He was offering prices well above what was quoted in our trip dossier and was offering to include less at the same time. He also didn’t know where we were supposed to be staying the following nights when I asked despite needing to transfer us to there on the next day. He made a guess and told us a place which turned out to be wrong. He had sat us down in a restaurant with exorbitant prices and we didn’t want to eat there. We were so unimpressed with the situation that we left the table without ordering.

Later that day he tracked down the entire group of us in another restaurant and told us there was no accommodation booked for our subsequent nights and suggested we organize our own transportation to wherever we were planning on staying. Having paid for everything upfront this left us particularly upset. We lost an entire afternoon in Stone Town as we scrambled to track down numbers to make international calls to figure out what to do next. After a lot of effort and a number of calls we finally were given a name for where we were to stay on the North of Zanzibar. A representative was to come and meet us to explain the situation. Finally someone showed up and it turned out to be the same person we had the problem with before. He told us the hotels in the North are booked-up and they made other arrangements for us to stay off of Zanzibar on a different island towards the mainland. I talked to a representative of the tour company in South Africa and explained this is not what I had paid for, I wanted the remainder of my money back and would go it alone without the services of the tour company there forwards. I had wanted to stay on the beautiful Zanzibar beaches either on the North or East side of the island with easy access to explore the mainland. I managed to find a recommended place on the East coast and made a direct booking.

The following morning the seven of us did a spice tour, which actually turned out to be very informative. It was to be our last group activity since Leanne and I were not carrying on to the other island.

In Stone Town Leanne and I wandered through the maze of winding streets and had a really great lunch at a place we stumbled across in the middle of it all. One of the ATMs I withdrew money from rebooted a few minutes later with the Windows XP load screen showing on the display. I got my money and it was at a bank, but I’m still a bit worried. It was certainly funny to see. We later went to the local market before going to sort out our transportation off the island and running a few more errands. We took a private transfer across the island to the place we would spend our next three afternoons.

Paradise! We booked into a large beautiful suite with a huge private patio at a gorgeous five star beach resort on the always sunny East coast of the island. The pool was clean, large and inviting and the beach here is stunning with squeaky white sand and coral filled turquoise waters. The place is very romantic and perfect for couples. We were so happy when we saw it that we were giddy. That evening we celebrated. The following day we relaxed by the beach and pool side. I had an assortment of tasty adult beverages and Leanne had a nice visit to the spa. It has become another of our favourite stays and is giving us a little holiday from our travelling.

We will be off for another safari in a couple days, but will certainly be looking forward to some more beach time and especially meeting up with family when my mother-in-law, Maureen, comes to join us in Mauritius. Thank you Maureen for keeping us connected with home so often throughout our journey.

Photos from Zanzibar are posted with at the same location as the other East Africa photos. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109035&id=673382190&l=5bdb56301d

Kilimanjaro and the Usambara Mountains

Leanne at a local Tanzanian Market

Leanne at a local Tanzanian Market

Leaving Lake Manyara we stopped in Arusha before making our way past Moshi to the base of Kilimanjaro (Kili). Leanne and I were joined by Greg and Lyndall (an Australian couple from our group) and a guide for an all day hike on the most popular ascent route for climbing Kilimanjaro. I previously had little desire to complete a full hike to the top, but after being on it I wished we had the flexibility to stay and complete the journey. It takes about five to six days to be able to climb while allowing acclimatization to make it all the way to the top. The peak is just under 5900 meters and we only made it to around 3000 meters in elevation. It was surprising how quickly the climate changed from jungle to alpine forest. We visited Maundi Crater in the Moorland region of the climb before having to return down. We were thrilled when we came across the Colobus Monkeys in the alpine trees. They are so different from the other monkeys we had seen with their ridiculously long hair. They are certainly my favourite and we loved spending time around them.

red caterpillarOn our second night in the cottages at the base of Kili, we had a scary red caterpillar crawling up the wall immediately beside the toilet. After being told back in the Amazon that bright coloured bugs are often poisonous we were particularly fearful of it when using the washroom. It was probably harmless, but we still don’t know.

We left Kili for a long drive to the Usambara Mountains. It is quite a nice area off the regular tourist track. We stopped by a village called Soni and had a nice walk through a very diverse hilled area planted with all sorts of vegetation. It felt like one of the more remote spots we had been to, yet it had what may be the best wifi Internet connection in Tanzania at the place we had lunch. I was finally able to download our email. We are posting a few updates at the same time since getting online with the laptop has been a challenge. It is surprising how many lodges say they have Internet but it is coincidentally broken for the time we are there.

We carried on past the town of Lushoto and spent two nights in a German Guesthouse with exceptionally friendly service. It was cold in the evenings and we would huddle by the fire in the living area. On our second day there five of us did a walk through a forest trail on our own. It was a little overgrown and there were moments where we wondered whether it was a bad decision, but it all worked out and we returned back to the lodge just in time for a scheduled leave to a nearby village for their local market. This visit was certainly a cultural highlight. It likely receives few tourists, and our itinerary did not have a stop there. We went by request when we learned of it. Instead of the usual children extending their hands and saying give-me, give-me, we were just followed around by the young people as they stared at us and wanted to get a close look at us and hear how we spoke. Leanne bought some fabric in the market and sadly my haggling skills either were very poor or we were given a fair price right at the start. We walked away from the first place only to discover that each other vendor had an escalating price for the same size of material. I think someone was following and signalling prices to them over my shoulder. We eventually bought it after haggled back down to the first price we were quoted (under $4 CAD).
 
In the afternoon we went to a beautiful look out over the Masai plains. It was stunning and I was able to sit on the unprotected cliff edge to take photos, much to Leanne’s great discomfort. The cliff has a sheer drop of hundreds of meters to the valley below and despite having no fear of heights it was dizzying when I let my feet dangle and I stared down below. It was a beautiful spot. We stopped in the town of Lushoto on the way back from the lookout to explore it. Overall we had a great day.

The next morning was the last day of our tour and we had a long days drive to get from the mountains to Dar Es Salaam. We left at 7AM not to arrive in Dar until after 2PM. Leanne’s bag was packed in our truck and my bag was packed on the roof of the other truck. We were happy we weren’t with the other half of the group today. In the morning they decided to give their driver his tip for the trip. At the first pit stop along the way he counted it and was not pleased. He confronted the group saying it is not enough money and drove angry and dangerously for the rest of the way. I have no idea why they did not think to wait until the tour was over to give the tip especially if it was going to be small. When we finally arrived in Dar he was refusing to unload the truck and wanted to know if they had more money for him. I got our driver to get my bag off his truck. Everyone got their bags eventually and the other driver received no more money, but the whole situation was very awkward. That day we had to say goodbye to our favourite travellers from the group. Thanks Louise for the update, we are glad to know you made it home ok despite travelling with little money, no credit cards and no bank card, and we hope Greg and Lyndall had a safe journey as well.

We posted photos on Facebook at the same time as our last blog entries, but the Internet stopped working immediately after that so we couldn’t make this post or add any comments to the photos. The link to see the photos is here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=109035&id=673382190&l=5bdb56301d

The Big Five

Leopard in the Serengeti

Leopard in the Serengeti

We had a remarkably easy crossing into Tanzania. We didn’t have the opportunity to get tourist visas in advance, but it didn’t make a difference. We filled the same entry form as everyone else and simply had to hand over the visa fee with the passports. They were stamped quickly and on we went with no delay. We spent our first night in a small town on Lake Victoria and went to the beach for sunset.

On our next day we drove through the Serengeti to our lodge which is in the middle of the park. That evening on our safari drive we were lucky to see our first leopard up in a tree. With that we completed our Big Five sightings and everything to follow would just be a bonus. The famous Big Five that everyone tries to see on safari are: Leopard, Black Rhinoceros, Lion, African Buffalo, and the African Elephant. We enjoyed an early drive the next morning to watch the sunrise and saw a family of hyenas wandering around their den. Later that day we saw a couple more leopards sleeping in treetops, more lions and we saw a couple of cheetahs from a distance. Around the lodge we were able to get up close to Zebra, some Mongoose and the numerous Rock Hyraxes which were everywhere. That night we were shocked to discover a loud munching Hippopotamus outside our bedroom window. They are massive and it was great fun to watch and listen to it graze on the lawn. It was in an area that guests can walk through and one of our companions was on her way to the lawn to look at the stars before learning of our big visitor. I should also mention that during the early evening monkeys would run along the railing of our window looking to see if anyone left it open so they could get inside.

On our second evening I ordered water at dinner. They brought me a 1.5 litre bottle that was half frozen. It was the first time I’d had really cold water in a long time and immediately drank a lot of it. Unfortunately I was becoming complacent about checking what I was served and I did not see if the container was sealed before it was opened for me. We think they refilled the bottle and put it in the freezer to hide the taste. My digestive system was in disarray for the next few days, I even made a visit to a local nurse to discuss it, and took some medicine before returning to full health. Fortunately it did not impact what we accomplished with our days.

We left the Serengeti on the third day and had a phenomenal up close view of a cheetah and many more lions. We carried on to Oluduvei Gorge, often referred to as the cradle of civilization since it is where the oldest human footprints and skeleton were discovered. We also visited a Maasai village before getting to our lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. The lodge has an amazing view and that afternoon we went for a hike up to Olmoti Crater to enjoy the scenery.

The following day was spent in the crater, watching all the animals including more cheetahs, lions fresh after a kill and much more. We stopped briefly to open the top of the land cruiser and Leanne and I foolishly got out to have our photo taken. Fortunately no predators were close to us. At one point we had a lion walking between our vehicles. It passed so close to where I sat I could have pet it out of my open window. We also spent a while watching the stinky and noisy hippos in some shallow water. They kept doing rolls to keep their backs wet, putting their stubby legs in the air. It was quite amusing. Our new animal sighting for the day was the Serval, which is a small cousin of the Cheetah. We had lunch at a resting area within the crater and took a photo of Topo with some animal bones. Yes Sharon, he is still with us and getting lots of photos despite the lack of posts. ?

The following day we went to Lake Manyara and shortly after leaving the lodge we passed a massive male lion approaching the road in the morning mist. Including this day we saw lions every day since starting the safari, but it would be our last sighting for this trip. Lake Manyara didn’t have much new to offer us from a safari perspective, but it was very different scenery and we did get to see Blue Monkeys for the first time. We also did a village walk in the area.