Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tanzania 2008: A Very Different Landscape

As we awakened for the final time in Tanzania we couldn’t help to know and believe that this would NOT be our last visit to Africa. Our day began with an early breakfast at the Dik-Dik hotel. We enjoyed a sumptuous meal of eggs, fruit, and cheeses before beginning our final safari drive. While food security and hunger is a pervasive problem throughout various regions of Africa, this was certainly not our experience. At times the opulence of our travels pulled at our collective conscious; international travel has a way of revealing the difference between needs and wants. Tamy and I are quite fortunate to live the life we do and live it where we live, this is an inequity that haunts me now and will certainly haunt me in the future.

The city of Arusha lies between Mt. Meru and it’s more famous brother Mt. Kilimanjaro. On clear days it is possible to see both mountains piercing the sky from the valley that surrounds the city. We left the Dik Dik as the sun was rising above the horizon. Although we were all weary from the previous day of travel, there was this collective desire to see the magic of Africa one last time. 

Arusha National Park lies within the foothills of Mt. Meru. Once we crossed the park gate, we were immediately enveloped by the wet montane forests that characterize the foothills of this mountain chain. Arusha National Park is uniquely different from the parks lying within the Rift Valley. The thick tropical trees are teeming with wildlife, and are home to blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, trogons, and hornbills. Much like Ngorongoro Crater, the park is a microcosm of East African habitats. Lying within this lush forest are the unspoiled slopes and marshes of the Ngurdoto Crater. The road through Arusha leads you past wooded savannahs, wet meadows, and alkaline lakes. Although the distribution of wildlife was less dense than the Serengeti, it was no less exciting. 

During this final game drive we were able to see and photograph giraffes, water buffalo, elephants, waterbuck, zebras, warthogs, blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, flamingos, kingfishers, bee-eaters, black-shouldered kites, and countless other species of mammals.

Although the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are the “main-attractions” of a Tanzanian safari, I strongly suggest that travelers carve out at least one day to visit Arusha National Park. Because this rich landscape is so uniquely different from the other safari destinations, it should be on your must see list.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tanzania 2008: The Road to the Dik-Dik through Tarangire National Park

There was a bit of melancholy as we rolled out of bed at 5:15 this morning. Our trip that began with a puddle jumping flight into the heart of the Serengeti was feeling as if it was about to end. This was our final day outside of Arusha, and I could not help feeling a sense of sadness. Being a photographer in Tanzania is a truly unique experience. While countless others have lived the adventure that Tamy and I shared this June, it still felt so personal. Nine-thousand images later, we both feel so enriched by our experiences, with the people, the land, and the animals. Words, pictures and video could never convey the diverse emotions we felt throughout the trip.  

Tarangere National Park is a dry and dusty place. Red dust coats anything that travels through the park. Even the wildlife wear the park color on their fur and skin. Elephants painted in burnt-umber will grab a trunk full of the sand and blow it all over their bodies or roll around in a pool of red dry dust. Much like the other national parks we visited throughout the trip, the wildlife was plentiful and accessible from the road. While we continued to look for leopards and lions, we could only find the giants that roamed throughout Tarangire.

As nature photographers, we try to share nature without the hand of man. While we both know that much of our natural world is at the mercy of human decisions... should we kill it, eat it, destroy it, or develop it... we would like to believe that there are still a few places that cannot be threatened or altered by our presence or absence. This is what we hope to convey with some of the images shared from our travels. However, I must confess that this ethic and photographic style, to show nature without our human impact, has cost us some awesome photographic opportunities. For example... lunch at Tarangire...

Some time around 1:00 p.m. we found a picnic area to enjoy lunch. Michael prepared a great meal of spaeztel, vegetables, and cheese. As the food was being prepared, you would have to be dead to not realize what was about to transpire. The odors from Michael’s stove were beginning to attract visitors. Sure it began with only one vervet monkey, but like hyena smelling a fresh kill, the monkeys began to multiply. I started to get a nervous feeling when one bold fellow climbed a tree that was about 5 meters from our lunching spot. Here is where I wish the photographer in me would have said, "get the damn camera!" No sooner had I shook off the notion that pictures of animals near humans would be interesting, did I regret the thought. As I began to put a piece of bread in my mouth, I caught a glimpse of the vervet in a crouched position. Like a tightly compressed spring, the potential energy in the monkey’s legs suddenly became kinetic. I could see the animal in mid air diving for the center of our table. I thought to say "Oh Noooo!" but just backed off a bit to give him a bit of space. Sadly, most of the others were not as keen to the moment as I. As a few of us backed up, others experienced the force of the monkey's landing. They also experienced the mess as the plates bounced, and the sense of loss as their food was pillaged by the marauder. I imagined that the little bold monkey would be greeted like a hero by his peers that seemed to be laughing from a distance. My only thought was, "I wish I had the damn camera!"

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Goodbye Ngorongoro Crater - Good Morning Lake Manyara

We left Ngorongoro Crater after a full day of photography on the 19th. The safari experience at "The Crater" surpassed our expectations and will forever be among our most treasured travel experiences. My only regret is that we had a single day to explore this unique and iconic location in Tanzania. While most tours limit a day's crater experience to about six hours of photography, Terry (our tour leader) and Joseph (our lead guide) extended our shooting time to nearly eight hours... for this, I am especially grateful.  

From the crater we traveled south and east towards Lake Manyara National Park and spent a beautiful evening at the Serena Lake Manyara Lodge. Like all of our previous Serena Lodge experiences, this was an exquisite location to stuff ourselves with fine cuisine and sleep off another exhausting day of photography. 

We were up by 6:00 a.m. ate a quick breakfast and piled our bodies back into the Land Cruisers for another full day of photography and travel. We would begin our day in Lake Manyara National Park, and end at the Sopa Tarangeri Lodge.  

Lake Manyara National Park lies on the edge of the Rift Valley and encompasses a mere 325 square kilometers. Although it is not nearly as large at Serengeti National Park, it is more biodiverse. The park consists of six distinct ecosystems that include: a rift valley lake, shoreline, open savanna, dense wet woodlands, and steep mountain forests. Lying within this narrow strip of land is the long alkaline Lake Manyara. The biodiversity of the park includes tree-climbing lions and leopards, forest ungulates, elephants, and a dizzying diversity of avian fauna. While our trip was not a birding expedition, this park has been listed as a birder's paradise.  

As we traveled throughout the park, the distinctly different ecosystems were identifiable by the diversity of trees. Tropical ficus plants dripped with water in the wet forests while dry acacia and grasses dotted the savanna. It was here that we saw our first boabab trees, I now regret not looking for a way to capture an image of these leafless beasts that appeared to be growing upside down. We spent much of our driving time in search of leopards and treed lions, but saw neither.  

Although we did not have an opportunity to photograph any of the big cats today, we did have one unique photographic experience. Hiding within the brush between the edge of a dry forest and grassland was the diminutive Kirk's Dik-Dik. A dik-dik is a tiny antelope with a prominent black eye encircled by a white ring of fur. Lying below the eye is a distinctive preorbital gland and prehensile nose. Dik-Dik are unique in their monogamy and territorial behavior. Family groups engage in dunging, a ritualistic activity in which individuals urinate and defecate on distinct middens.  

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater lies within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). It is the world's largest unbroken and unflooded volcanic caldera. The crater formed when a volcano collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. The highlands of the crater extends 610m down onto the caldera floor. While traveling from the highlands into the crater, you can begin to see why it is so biologically diverse. Entering the crater rim is like traveling downward through a montane rainforest. Thickets of acacia trees give way to savannah, lakes, and river carved valleys. The crater is a microcosm of Northeastern Tanzania and concentrates the diverse megafauna into a confined area. As a result, wildlife is more easily accessible than on the open plains of the Serengeti.  

I lack both the vocabulary and eloquence of style to adequately describe our photographic experience in Ngorongoro Crater, as such, I will let the pictures do the talking for me... please visit the Ngorongoro Crater Gallery at

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tanzania 2008: The Cradle of Humanity

It's difficult to know if the African ash will ever come off, and as far as I can tell, I am now a slightly darker shade of gray. Although I managed to spend a good twenty minutes in the shower last evening, the clouds of burnt carbon made aloft by our feverish drive to the cheetah feels as if it has bored into the pores on my face, hands and arms. Blackness is discharged when I blow my nose, and Q-tips are the color of charcoal whenever I attempt to clean my ears. Regardless of the permanence of my newly acquired dirt, the experience of pursuing a cheetah and lioness on her prey was priceless (lookout MasterCard).  

Sleep comes easy on the savannah. I think that I was engaged in a battle with a giant stick insect (order Phasmatodea) when my alarm abruptly ended the dream. Yesterday evening was our last night on the Serengeti, and today we head east towards Ngorongoro Crater. After spending six nights and seven days in Serengeti National Park, I am already working on a plan to visit this special place again. There is some intangible characteristic of Africa, specifically Tanzania, for which words cannot describe. I feel my own biological connection to this place and can visualize how natural selection has shaped the evolution of these animals and this ecosystem. The feeling of connectedness is so strong that I see myself, and the origin of our species, wherever I look.  

We had to be out of Serengeti National Park by 11:30 a.m. or face a fine for a delayed departure. The parks in Tanzania do not receive funding from the government; they obtain all of their revenue from tourism. As such, fees and fines can often be exorbitant.  

As we moved from the Serengeti into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area the grassland gave way to desert. The forested rivers and abundant grasses were replaced by a sparsely covered landscape. Much like driving through the Mojave Desert, this was a trip into infinity. I was contemplating desert survival strategies as my eyes wandered from mirage to mirage. Time passed as I imagined the challenges of survival in such an inhospitable place. When our caravan made the abrupt right turn into the desert, I was vaulted back into the present. Looking around, I realized that we were not driving on a road. Traveling nearly 80 km/h, sand and dust swirled in our wake. We were all clueless  about our destination as we traveled further into the desert. In the distance I could barely make out tow distinct spots. One looked like a bush, the other was a red dot. It took fifteen minutes, but we eventually passed two lean men dressed in red blankets. They each carried a long stick and walked into the infinity with their herd of cattle. We were not to visit the red dots just yet; this was a trip to the bush. Ten minutes later, the bush grew into a giant acacia. Our Land Cruisers parked to block the wind and we began the "Michael Show" once again... We were feasting under the ONE tree.

By 2:00 p.m. we piled ourselves into the trucks and continued our off-road journey. It's hard to describe how the desert here is different from the desert there, but something must be different. This desert, that we are now approaching, is a home.  

As soon as we disembarked from the Land Cruisers, the chanting began. The sound emanating from the Masai was deep and guttural. The circle tightened around our group as these tall lean men bellowed. Each Masai warrior wore a colorful shuka (blanket) and carried a long pointed spear. As fast as it began the chanting stopped and one man stepped into our circle. He towered over us and, to my surprise, began to speak English. Our interpreter was educated, lived an urban life, but wanted to return to his culture. The Masai are semi-nomadic pastoralists, live in stick and mud huts (boma), and take whatever the land has to offer. Cattle are their currency, their food, and their bank account. To marry a man must have cows. While goats are slaughtered for meat, the blood of cattle is mixed with milk to make an iron and protein rich pudding. The men herd their cattle each day and travel more than 20 km to pasture and water the animals. The women farm and collect food from the environment. Each evening the cattle are returned to the encircled village where they are protected from nocturnal predators.  

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tanzania 2008: It was not a Disappointment

Captivating images often have three things in common; the subject is interesting, the composition is engaging, and the light illuminates but does not dominate. Any one of these three elements can stimulate a viewer, but when all three pieces of the puzzle are assembled into a single photograph, your audience can climb into the picture and "be there." While it might appear that the subject is the one key element that makes a photograph successful, I would argue that any subject could be made to look interesting in the "right" light. Today's game drive was as much about the light as it was about the subject.

The best light occurs during dawn and dusk.  
Today the game drive began at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 7:00 p.m. By now Tamy and I were a blend of extreme fatigue and enthusiasm. Our sleep was brief, but the potential of each new day provided the incentive to extract ourselves from bed. We reassuree each other by saying things like: "We're in Africa, let's not waste is on sleep," or "Suck-it-up, we're going to get really good light now!" These cheap motivational tricks worked better when I was ten years younger, but now they just seem like trite little platitudes. So there we were, tired and enthusiastic, sitting in the Land Cruiser with a lousy boxed-breakfast, thermos of coffee and photo gear.
Our safari group was split between three vehicles and three guides. Terry (the tour leader) sat shotgun with Joseph (the lead guide), Michael (the "Bush Cook") sat shotgun with Clementh, and  Mousa (the third guide) captained his "ship" alone. Mousa had to deal with us today. Tamy and I stood on the truck's seats with our heads and torsos exposed to the elements as the cruiser lurched down into the savannah. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was slowly climbing above the rolling hills and kopjes. Fatigue was replaced by the anticipation of something good. Sadly, the landscape appeared to be void of anything interesting. Like "Winnie-the-Poo and the Blustery Day" when it "rained and rained and rained...," we drove and drove and drove. By the time we stopped for lunch we had traversed some 75 km and had very few photographs to show for the effort. Our excitement for the "good light" was replaced by disappointment.  

I decided to venture off on foot while Michael prepped another incredible bush lunch. Realizing that the clouds had offered a bit of drama, I scampered into the savannah to do a bit of landscape work. The endlessness of the savannah grass and big blue skies makes Montana look like a finite Christmas globe. My disappointment was beginning to fade as I began to see the landscape take form in my viewfinder.  
By the time lunch was over, we were all refreshed and ready for an afternoon adventure.

It was 3:00 p.m. and we all began to think that the day was a going to be a bust. Sure we had seen some wildlife, but it lacked the drama of our previous game drives. We'd stop, photograph a few birds or some gazelle, and move on. Where were the cats, elephants, giraffe? Where did they all go?
Deflated and tired from the early start, we began to accept the reality of the day. It was at this point that the safari god began to smile. The real day's adventure began with a sharp turn to the left onto a dusty and burnt road. The savannah had been torched to black ash. All three trucks sliced through the ashen road in pursuit of the imperceptibly small dot in the distance. The black dust swirled into dust devils and coated our faces, bodies, and cameras... by the time the day was over we looked like poorly decorated actors in a low-budget minstrel show.  She was beautiful sitting on the blackened termite mound. The cheetah sat proud surveying her savannah. We made a cautious approach and managed to spend a good half hour with her before she walked into the endlessness in search of some good meat.  

The tension and disappointment dissipated as we made our way back to the lodge. The light was diminishing as the sun began to sink into the horizon. Once again the safari god smiled. The lioness had sunk her face into the hide of her wildebeest. Every once in a while she'd stand, glare, and resume the feast. She was weary and detested the vultures that flew above. She was in perfect light.

Today was not a disappointment and the safari god smiled.  

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Taking in the Long View

Like Kirawira, the Serena Serengeti Lodge lies within the boundaries of Serengeti National Park. All of the Serena lodges melt into their environment with eco-friendly designs that include gardens, solar heating, and a water reclamation systems. Our lodge room is a half dome structure that looks as if it were made from sticks and mud. Here, appearances are deceptive. Inside, the hut-lodge is fully equipped with a king bed surrounded by a mosquito-net, full bathroom and power. As late as 2001 power would have been an unnecessary luxury during a photo adventure, but now, with our complete adoption of digital photography, the presence of electrical outlets has become a necessity. French doors separate the interior from a balcony that overlooks an unobstructed view of the savannah.  

We have found that sleeping comes easy when you are on safari. Today was a battle, but we forced ourselves out of bed at 5:30 a.m., ate a fast breakfast, and were ready for our 7:00 a.m. departure into the park.

We are now in the eastern region of the national park, and it is uniquely different from the west. The landscape is a flat grassland that is interrupted by the sporadic occurrence of kopjes and hills that emerge from the planar surface. As an ecologist, I found these rocky outcrops to be a striking feature of the landscape. Like pelagic islands, the kopjes bulged from the sea of grass; it is as if they were semi-independent ecosystems within the greater Serengeti. Unaccessible to large grazing ungulates, the outcrops were incubators for plant biodiversity. Cactus-like candelabra trees grew from the kopje platforms and competed for space on these islands with palms, acacias, aloe and countless other plant species. These micro-environments were complex habitats with diverse ecological niches. As a result, the kopjes were an ideal environment for finding smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.  

At 10:30 w broke for coffee in the shade of a tree, and by 1:30 we nestled our trucks between the boulders of a kopje to enjoy a field lunch. As you can tell, we are really roughing it in Africa!

Because we would eat lunch in the "bush," we could game drive all day and be in the best spots to capture animals in the best light. Today we were fortunate to photograph a lioness reclining in an acacia tree, a pack of hyena as dusk approached, and jackals using the path of least resistance. While we spotted fewer wildebeest and zebra, we had the opportunity to spend more time photographing elephants, giraffe, Thomsons gazelle, an impala.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tanzania 2008: The Migration

After spending three days in the Western Serengeti it was time for our safari party to migrate to a different region of the national park. We enjoyed our final meal at Kirawira, and piled into the Land Cruisers to head due east. If you recall your kindergarten days, you might remember playing musical chairs. Well, today we played musical Land Cruisers. After spending three full days with Joseph, Terry, Anne, and Bernice, they gave us the boot. Actually, Terry pre-planned the vehicle switch. Because there were three guides who each offered a unique perspective on the safari experience, Terry wanted us to meet and ride with each guide. Our guide, driver, and Swahili tutor was Clementh; riding shotgun was our field chef Michael. The vehicle "switcharoo" was also an opportunity to make new friends. Heidi and Mike (pictured above in an Acacia tree with Tamy and I) became our safari buddies. Much like the teens at any family reunion, it took less than an hour for the four of us to bond and descend to the depths of sophomoric humor. Being a high school teacher and one time delinquent, this was not too difficult for me!

The game drive from the west to the east allowed us to see the diversity of habitats that define the Serengeti. The west is a sea of grass. This endless savannah is dotted by the occasional acacia tree, pond, or river.  During the wildebeest and zebra migration, huge herds of ungulates mow the grassy fields to the soil as they make their way towards the Tanzania - Kenya border. It is here that the newborns, weak, and injured must survive the gauntlet of predators as they cross the Mara River that separates the Serengeti from the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya.  

As we drove east, we could see and feel a shift in the elevation. We encountered wildlife near forests of acacias that surrounded rivers bisecting the savanah. Kopjes, rocky outcrops, emerged from the grassy plains like giant pimples on smooth skin. Here we searched for lions on granitic perches. Once again this drive offered a great opportunity to photograph a pride of lions. Although pictures "say a thousand words," no photo can describe the disgust and pain we felt for the lioness that had been caught in a snare. Pictured below, you can see her beautiful face juxtaposed by her ensnared abdomen. A tight snare, set by a poacher, enveloped the belly of this female and dug into her skin. When she walked, her stomach bulged, and when she reclined the scar of the experience was visible. Clementh explained that poachers had not intended to entrap a lion, but she was a casualty of the illegal activity. Although the snare had been removed by park rangers, the damage from the snare had already begun to impact the future of this lion.    

Today initiated a ritual that would be repeated during the remaining days of our safari. Sometime after 1:00 the guides would search for a suitable tree or kopje, they would circle and inspect the area, and then they would park. Like the music that precedes a sitcom, this preceded the "Michael Show." Once we parked, tables, chairs, stoves, pots and pans would be dragged from the bowels of the Land Cruisers and assembled under the shade of a tree. Each table was coated by a table cloth, and set as if you were in an outdoor cafe. This was followed by the wash-bucket, beer, soda and appetizers. Meanwhile, Michael would fire up the stove and produce a superb meal in the bush. There were full vegetarian options, meat, breads, and of course, desserts. How he did this still remains one of the great safari mysteries of June, 2008.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Lions Lions Lions

Kirawira has been an incredible home base for our photography in this region of the Serengeti. It is wild, free and without fences. We must be escorted from our tent to the dining lodge before dawn, and escorted back to our tent after dusk. Armed with flashlights and pistols, our escorts remind us that lions, leopard, hyena and Cape buffalo roam  freely  throughout the lodge.

Our meals are prepared with great artistry. Multi-course feasts served on fine china begin slowly and end with a flourish. The staff at Kirawira is attentive, generous, informative and always wear and infectious smile.

Our days in Kirawira begin with a game drive at 6:30 - 7:00 a.m., we return to lunch at the lodge at 1:30, and are back in the trucks from 3:30 to dusk. Park rules require that we be out of the park by sundown. It assumed that the only vehicles in the park at night belong to poachers... I am told that you do not want to be accused of being a poacher in the Serengeti!

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tanzania 2008: Kirawira

My mind was wandering between sleep and consciousness when I heard the zipper of our tent. As I pried my eyes open I coud see a tall lean man dressed in a white gown holding a sterling platter of coffee and muffins. I think I heard him say, "Excuse me sir, it is time for you to awaken." He was a soft spoken man, and his accent was a lyrical mix of British English and Swahili.

We were lying in a plush bed surrounded by mosquito netting in a canvas "tent." However we were not "roughing it" in Africa. Sure we were in a tent, but the tent was supported by fine ebony beams secured to a hardwood floor and porch that overlooked the Western Serengeti. From our nicely furnished tent we could sip on freshly brewed coffee and watch herds of zebra graze on the infinite savannah. The semi-permanent tent had all of the amenities that you might expect from a lodge room. Our canvas home was equipped with electrical outlets, lights, ceiling fan, and full bathroom. At times it felt as if we had stepped into a Jane Austin novel about travel in Africa. It was now 6:00 a.m., and we had thirty minutes to get to breakfast... the game drive begins at 7:00 sharp.

Tamy and I piled into our Land Cruiser with our overly stuffed photo-bags; we prepped the four camera bodies, dug out the bean bags, and smothered ourselves with sunscreen. This ritual became increasingly refined as it was repeated each day for the next two weeks. We shared our roomy chariot with Anne and Bernice, two rather chatty ladies who were on a mission. Unlike us, Anne and Bernice were not in Africa for the photography; they were here to see cats. At first we feared that their goals might impact ours, but by the days' end we found our safari partners to be fine companions. They became increasingly intrigued by the finer details of the African savannah, and were incredibly patient with us as we moved throughout the vehicle with our cameras.

During the day's game drive, we began to discover Joseph's keen eye and knowledge about Africa natural history. Joseph was our safari's lead guide. We had three vehicles with twelve participants, our destination was at the whim of Joseph's prior knowledge and instinct. While it often appeared that we would make random lefts, rights, ups or downs, it was clear that Joseph had a plan. During the day's drive we meandered across the Grumeti River where we photographed crocodiles and marabou stork. The river crossing was a stone bridge that was designed to be flooded. Rather than carrying vehicles over the river, this "bridge" was an extension of the road that went through the water. This allowed us to park in the river and capture a croc's point of view.

As we drove into the endless landscape we encountered a huge herd of elephants that were mudding themselves in the heat. Words cannot describe the apparent ecstasy of their experience. These elephants were bathing in the day spa of their dreams. One after another they would dive into a mud hole, role, thrash, lie and groan. At one point, you could see the intense competition for access to the insect and heat relieving mud. There was this moment of butts... elephant rear ends on line to take a dive.

While I won't recap the entire 10 hours on the road, I would be remiss to leave out our first real encounter with lions. As you can imagine the ladies in our vehicle were all in a flutter when we finally got up close and personal with the pride. While we had seen lion ears and eyes at a distance, this was our first opportunity to be eye-to-eye. Needless to say it was exhilarating to be so close to such a large and dangerous predator. The two lions and a cub were shading themselves by a tree. The heat of the afternoon was stifling and they were seeking some relief. During the approach, Joseph positioned the vehicle to optimize our photographic opportunities. Breaking the silence of the moment were the oohs, aahs, gafahs, and clicking of shutters. Now, as I write this, I am paying the price of over-exuberance. It is challenging to select one or two images from the hundreds taken on this day.  

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tanzania 2008: The Safari Begins

I told Tamy that it looked slightly larger than the "puddle jumper" we took to the Osa Peninsula in 2000. We were a group of 13 and rather than drive to the Serengeti, we were scheduled on a regional flight. The airport lacked all of the security precautions to which we have grown accustom. There were three other safari groups crowded with us into a pre-boarding room. Slowly each group was escorted to a plane or to staging area number two. I sat sipping a freshly brewed cup of Tanzanian pea berry dreaming about the wildlife we would soon see. Once on the plane Tamy and I realized that we made a critical error in judgment... too many fluids in and nowhere to let the fluids out. As the plane took off, the fidgeting began. Fortunately, twenty minutes later the plane landed. So as I gathered my things the pilot explained that this was a pick-up not a drop-off. Ok... more fidgeting. When the plane landed again, I could hear my bladder sigh in relief as we made our approach for the second landing. Unfortunately the relief was short lived as this was a too was a pick-up and not a a drop off. We repeated the same dance two more times before landing on a marked patch of grass that served as an airstrip.

As the plane came in for its final approach we could see miniature versions of giant animals in the distance. I think we saw giraffe from above, but this could have been just my imagination. As we climbed out the plane it was clear that we were not in Kansas anymore. The airstrip was a cryptic patch of grass that was simply an extension of the Serengeti. Zebra, wildebeest and ostrich meandered in and around the "runway." At the edge of the landing pad we could see three Land Cruiser safari vehicles and a well-guarded concrete shack. When I approached the armed guard to inquire about a bathroom, I quickly learned that Tamy and I would soon become intimate with the bush.

This trip has added a new expression to our vocabulary. From now on, any remote potty stop will require that we "circle the bush." The Serengeti is so wild that trees and bushes must be inspected for predators and snakes before they are approached. Because we were all about to go on our first game drive and Tamy and I were not the only ones suffering from fluid overload, this became a very well watered bush! As the last person walked away from the un-toilet tree, I gasped as I saw a large hippopotamus walking less than 20 meters from our bush. For those who are not aware, startled hippos kill more people than any other wild animal in Tanzania.

Each of the safari vehicles is a stretched Toyota Land Cruiser. Our guide and driver for the next few days is Joseph and riding shotgun is or tour leader, Terry. The back of each truck has an open roof, four bucket seats, and windows that can be opened from side to side. Tamy and I climbed into the truck and staked out a spot for all of our photo gear. As we headed down the runway and into the endless Serengeti, we saw more wildlife in a two-hour period than either of us had ever seen before. In short we saw a herd of elephants taking a mud bath, giraffe browsing on acacia trees, and crocodiles flooding their mouths with river water in search of some sushi. The Serengeti was covered by ungulates in the near and far; it was a smorgasbord for our wildlife seeking eyes. By the end of the day we spent eight hours on safari and can't wait for tomorrow!

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission