31 December 2009

highlights of tanzania

Tanzania was really the most amazing vacation we've been on so far -- and that's saying a lot because we've been lucky enough to travel to many incredible places! But in terms of the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the nature (flora and fauna), and our excellent travel partners, we couldn't have had a better vacation. Oh, I guess Zanzibar could have had electricity (and therefore air conditioning and lights at night), but we wouldn't want to ask for too much, now would we?

Following are some highlights I culled from our journals... Nick's recap of the lioness hunt, our Swahili dictionary, the list of spotted animals, and "animal lore" picked up from Felix, our amazing guide. Sprinkled throughout are my absolute favorite photos.

The Lioness Hunt
When the drizzle subsided we happened upon another safari truck perched next to a dense acacia tree concealing two female lions. At first the lions seemed to be doing the typical lion laze, but a passing herd of zebra made them perk up, and when one of the lions actually stood up (!) we could feel anticipation in the air. By this time 5 or 6 safari trucks had gathered around for this very close lion encounter, and the vehicles were packed in so tight jostling for photo-ops that they created a wall, further hiding the lions from the unsuspecting zebras. To our utter amazement, the closer lioness started slinking out of the bush and closer to the herd, using the safari trucks to cover her stalking. With baited breath we watched her, eyes fixed on the closest grazing zebra, her tan body crouched close to the ground. A few more stealthy steps past the trucks and the lioness was mere meters away, still concealing itself behind a termite mound. It was at that moment one of the other zebras realized the danger, perhaps because 40 pairs of eyes and clicking cameras were trained on the scene. Simultaneously everything ran- zebras bolting in opposite directions and the lion bounding after, close- but not quite close enough for the kill... It took a long while for our hearts to stop racing after the experience, in fact even as I recount the story now I feel the adrenaline returning. There is quite possibly nothing more exciting and terrifying than coming face to face with such a powerful animal in a wild setting where you realize the limitations of your own humanity and the carnivorous advantage of the beast. Being able to witness such a stunning and beautiful moment in person, reaffirms my passion to protect remaining ecosystems like the Serengeti- not for the human pleasure of experiencing the wild side of nature, but simply out of respect for these awesome living creatures. Today the lion failed to catch the zebra, but she captured my admiration instead.

Our Swahili Dictionary (in order of learning)
jambo - how are you
habari - how are you
kaRIbu - welcome!
ahsante sana - thank you
twendey sasa - let's go
sawa - okay
nzuri sana - excellent
penzee - dear
penzee gogo - dear log (Nick liked to call me this)
poley - bless you
poley poley - slowly!
poah keh-cheezi caman deezee - crazy like a banana
macho nzuri - good eyes!
ooseku whema - good night
qua-HAIR-ree - goodbye (forever)
po-ah - cool
mambo po-ah - hi/what's up
haraka haraka hyena baraka - rushing leads to bad luck
haraka haraka - quickly!
habari zajionee - good evening
lala salaam - sleep well, good night
habari zamchanah - good afternoon
habari zasubuhee - good morning
karibu chakula - bon appetit
kabisa - completely, exactly ("I agree")
bid-EYE - see you later
sawa hakuna shida - oh well
ahsante neema sheeba - thank you, I'm full
tam sana - delicious
safi sana - very pure/clear (beautiful, nice)
caman toto - like a baby (slept)
HOM-gair-ah - congratulations
NAH-koo pena - I love you
raFIki nzuri - my good friend
baHAti zuri - good luck
swala - impala
apana ahsante - no thanks! (la shukran also works in Zanzibar)

List of Animals We Saw (asterisk means "up close and personal"!)
blue monkeys*
vervet monkeys*
water buffalo
banded/bandit mongoose
Thompson's gazelles*
Grant's gazelles*
ostriches* (12/25, mating right in front of us!)
hart beast
kori bustard*
cheetah* (12/22, 12/23 (2 of them!), 12/24)
lions* (12/22, baby and two adults; 12/23, 2 lionesses and 1 lion together, 3 young on a rock, and 2 lionesses hunting!; 12/24, 7 adults and 3 cubs on a rock, 1 spotted on the road back)
leopard* (12/22, 12/23, 12/24 - out of the tree, hunting, killed a dikdik right in front of us!)
termite mounds (do they count?)
white-headed buffalo weaver*
white-headed shrek
rainbow lizard
bat-eared fox*
cap buffalo
fish eagle
lilac breasted rolla*
leopard-faced vulture
white-backed vulture
black-bellied bustard
secretary bird
red buck
egret (large white)
water buck (male)
rock hyrax
guinea fowls*
black rhino (12/25, 13 total, out of about 20-something in the crater!)
baobab trees
tree squirrel
white storks*
maribu storks*
tsetse flies* (boo!)
scorpion/spider (12/26, dining room, Taragire Safari Lodge, yikes!)
red colobus monkeys*

Animal Lore
- Wildebeests and zebras migrate together (symbiosis): wildebeests can smell the water, while zebras remember the route- Birds divebomb baboons to protect their nests/eggs
- Impala are found in the trees because they eat grass and leaves, gazelles are in the plains because they eat only grass- Gazelles have male and female together in their herds, while impala have separate herds
- Elephants uproot trees to eat the leaves
- White birds (small egrets) hitch a ride on cap buffalo's back and eat the insects that are kicked up along the way- 10 minutes after birth, wildebeests can run!
- Wildebeests and zebra young are more brown - the zebras have light brown stripes!
- Cheetahs hunt only during the day, don't climb trees, claws stay out
- If a water buffalo charges you, either climb a tree or play dead!
- Acacia trees and ants have a symbiotic relationship - the ants make nests amid the thorns and use the tree as part of their material, if an animal tries to eat the tree, the ants swarm out and attack!
- Leopards take kill up a tree to protect it from other animals, if it is too heavy, rip out entrails first!
- Crocodiles open mouth to cool off, release bad smells after eating
- Hippos get sunburned, they produce a mucus on their skin for protection (but this only lasts about an hour), so they usually get out of the water to eat at night- Rhino horns are cartilage, not bone
- If there is no rain, the wildebeests can hold their pregnancy for up to 3 weeks!
- Hyenas are born with open eyes and teeth
- Rhinos hide when it's windy because it blows their ears back and makes it hard to hear
- Dikdiks are monogamous and amte for life (kids kicked out around 5 months)
- Bush babies have big eyes (to see at night), cry like a baby, the small ones can leap 7 meters!
- It is baboon-mating season when the women have red butts
- When it rains, the elephants go to higher ground, because if they go to the water, there are ants that go up their trunks!
- Masai like the color red; purple and black for women; purple blanket coverings for older men
- If a leopard eats a human, it has to be killed because otherwise it will want more (the meat has more salt)
- Elephants have six layers of enamel, go through them in their lives, once teeth enamel is gone, they must go to the swamps to eat soft food and they die there (making it look like a "graveyard")

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