Where The Giraffes Are... And The Zebra!
September 15 - 24, 2006
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July 09, 2007
So far, Africa was the last continent upon which I haven't set my foot.
While this by itself may be enough incentive to go, the main reason for a
trip to Africa
the exciting wildlife, which is quite proverbial. I didn't get much
support at home from Essan, as she doesn't really care for furry animals as
she would put it. Plus, she doesn't want to get up at five in the morning
and then wait at a waterhole for three hours - like most people, I guess. So from day one, this was my solo trip to plan.
I won't simply fly to Africa and see what's up, like I did in Australia. You can't really do that; based on some limited experience with organized tours, however, these aren't for me either. One appealing alternative remained in the form of a photo safari, lead by a nature photographer. Some research revealed that Andy Biggs would be just the right ticket: very small groups, quite high end courtesy to the tour company Thomson Safaris, going to right place, and most importantly the right attitude. For good reason, Andy is very popular; as a consequence I had to book a February 2006 trip about 16 months in advance.
As often when you plan things far ahead, life happens. As coincidences may be, both Andy and I were to become fathers in February 2006 - so the safari was canceled. I was given the option to re-book for September 2006, February 2007, or even later. For job reasons the February 2007 trip was not a good idea, so I picked September 2006. More life happened, but eventually the day of the safari arrived.
It was a strange experience, waking up Rachel in the wee hours on September 13; usually it's her job to get us out of bed, but today we were faster: daddy needed to get to the airport, and mommy was the designated driver. With some loud protesting we got Rachel into the car seat and headed to SFO; this silenced her, since she was mesmerized by all the bright lights around her. At the airport she got her beef around the usual time, and sent off daddy through TSA security (who naturally didn't notice the liquids he had in his bag). Oh, will I miss my ladies!
After about 36 hours since I left my bed at home we landed / crashed in Arusha. The Palo Alto commuter airport seems almost huge compared to Arusha, even though at least the landing strip is long enough for a 777 (and was lit). It was fun to once again get off a plane on stairs, too. The immigration area was the size of a nice garage, and four lines soon formed; with Jim we took the fifth one, for those people who needed to buy a visa; this much shorter line was once again proof that those who slack and leave things to the last minute will indeed be rewarded.
Our group consisted of Jane and Joy from Vancouver, BC, Canada; Luvonne and David from Los Gatos, CA; Valerie from Denver, CO along with her dad Pete from Cheyenne, WY; Jim from Naples, FL; Graham from Phoenix, AZ; Stephen from London, UK; and yours truly. We were picked up by friendly tour guys and piled into a nice minibus. Despite the quite impressive darkness that would make astronomers jump in excitement we proceeded out of the airport without the aid of headlights, to properly blend in and not to startle the wildlife - at least until a security guard / policeman pointed out the stealth mode. Even then, not much of the road was visible, as Xenon headlights didn't make it here yet, which wasn't a big deal since the road was about as good as 101 in Palo Alto and we weren't going all too fast. The airport is built at a nice distance from Arusha, about 45 minutes far actually, because land here is expensive and I guess one really wanted to give the city some space to sprawl over the next 1000 years. They just forgot that by 2332 we will have teleportation.
For the first night we were dropped off at the Mountain Village Lodge, which is totally different from what you'd expect for this area: other than being about a mile down a less than unpaved road it is quite fancy actually, and as we were told even features internet access (for $10/hour). I didn't feel like communicating, so instead Jim & I went to the very nice room / cabin that we were assigned, performed some well overdue rituals, and hit the sac. Welcome to Africa, gentle rain included.