Woeful World

Woeful World

Of Kayak’s 226 countries it provides travel service to, only 6 are open to travelers without restrictions. 52 are closed entirely, sometimes even to citizens trying to return. That leaves 168 which you can visit provided that you are fully vaccinated, have a negative PCR test and are willing to quarantine on arrival for various lengths of time.

Trouble is to get to some of those 168 restrictive countries, you normally fly through one of the 52 (like Japan) that you can’t, now. So the practical number of countries that you can visit is probably less than 80, and almost all of them require quarantine on arrival.
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2-3 Weeks

2-3 Weeks

2-3 more weeks before we know how Omicron effects upcoming travel. The demographics of Omicron patients are right now being compiled: age, are they vaccinated and how many times and with which vaccine, are they a breakthrough? Laboratories around the world are mixing their serum with the antibodies current vaccines produce. What happens? One, two, a hundred experiments aren’t enough. 2-3 more weeks.

America is a horrible place to try to figure this all out. We’re either alarmists or aggressive reactionaries to alarm. But there are authorities and sources that if we’ll just be patient enough will give us good answers. 2-3 more weeks.
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Covid Formalities

Covid Formalities

Seven of us returned from 3-4 weeks in Tanzania on Thanksgiving Day. This is a report of the formalities required with regards to Covid. This is a very small sample of how people travel to and from Tanzania, but every little bit helps.

Like all unexpected obstacles to travel, it’s usually a lot easier than presumed. I often refer to the time in 1970 when New Orleans announced the first metal detector for departing passengers. For a year no one flew through New Orleans. Today it’s second nature to us all.
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OnSafari: Rain

OnSafari: Rain

The rains start north to south, and we traveled north to south and always seemed to be just a day or two ahead of the rains. It was so dry and dusty in Tarangire when we got there Monday that the interior of my room was 105F and my hands were dry after washing my face in the sink before I could get to the towel rack.

We followed the Tarangire sand river and found lots of elephant but little else. At least the tse-tse were down in such conditions. Tuesday morning our dawn drive headed to the Silale Swamp and I swear that every animal in Tarangire was there.
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OnSafari: Ele Revelation

OnSafari: Ele Revelation

There are so many difficulties with protecting African wilderness but the biggest single one is elephants. Sunday gave me a surprising new insight.

Crushed into a smaller and smaller habitat between the sheering cliffs of the Great Rift Valley and the increasing girth of Lake Manyara, I expected the few remaining overly docile ele of the national park to be of little interest. How wrong I was!
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Whistling Winds

Whistling Winds

We left Ndutu after seeing another cheetah with three cubs, not sure exactly how we would go. Our destination was a lovely camp on the north end of the crater but the way you would go depends upon the dust.

The ride didn’t start out very propitiously. Although some rain had fallen the length of the dry season and its tons of dust were going to take a lot more than a few sprinkles to settle things down. Although the game viewing had been good around the lakes, as we left the area eastbound it looked like a desert trip, again.
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OnSafari: Rains

OnSafari: Rains

We’d had an 8-hour morning game drive, followed by a wonderful lunch al fresco and everyone was enjoying the afternoon in their tents or in the tree house overlooking hundreds of miles of the western Serengeti. When the storm came.

The reputation of the start of the November rains will never be actually achieved, but for sure our experience in both the eastern and western Serengeti explains it. After thunder and lightning like you’d never imagine, the water came down like a river falling from the sky.
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OnSafari: Big Mane

OnSafari: Big Mane

It was sad, but inevitable. Big Mane’s body was already headed away from the tree that cloaked his sleeping brother with shade when he stopped unexpectedly, twisted his huge head and mane and looked back at his brother. He stared for what seemed like a very long time before finally turning his head into the fierce Serengeti winds and walked away.

The two brothers had lived together ever since their mother kicked them out in a horrible battle down by the Wandu Swamp where they were born. Big Mane had tried to join a hunt that Mom and sissy were just beginning. The big female lioness attacked her son, stripping her claw across his chest. Big Mane jumped back so confused he felt nothing. But then when Mom hissed at him we snarled back and began to attack her. But he just wasn’t big enough yet. She would have killed them.

Bro had sat the fight out, but when Big Mane went running his Mom began to chase him, too.

The two boys were essentially twins, but one was robust and strong and the other much less so. Big Mane had streaks of black in his enormous puffed hairdo when he was hardly two years old. At four his mane was almost complete. In the strong eastern winds of the Serengeti at the end of the dry season he looked like a Greek God ready to strike.

Bro’s black streaks took a year longer to appear, and while also a full mane now it was often twisted up by the flies that he couldn’t be bothered to paw away and gnarled up by the prickly seeds of the hibiscus that he often walked through incautiously.

Big Mane did the killing. Bro tried to help and sometimes really did, like the time he clamped straight into the aorta of the sick buffalo while Big Mane was still clamped onto the hinds. But that was the exception. Almost always Big Mane was the striker and the closer, and with a much greater success ratio than the 1:5 suffered by most healthy lions.

Even so Bro suffered a lot more than Big Mane. When called into action however rarely, he usually was too hesitant. The wilde’s horn cut a huge slash under his right eye, so deep that when it healed the scar tissue cluttered the vision of that eye. That was about a year ago, just before the last rains began when he was so worried that as the veld greened up and the animals grew strong and less easy for Big Mane to get, that his brother might leave him altogether.

The wet season is hard for lion. Their heyday is now, when the earth looks miserable, the dust grows into monstrous whirling dervishes and dances like a laughing devil over the plains. That’s when the animals are easy for Big Mane to get.

The two brothers were resting in the shade behind a big rock beside an ephemeral pool of water when we first came upon them. The pool was drying up so quickly its edges were white with salt. Big Mane rested calmly, his head up and giant mane blowing in the wind but his eyes closed as he slept off the last of his huge belly, his last kill.

He hadn’t been proud of it. My clients couldn’t understand why the line of 40 or so zebra were hardly 50 meters away from them, stomping their feet and snorting, taunting the beasts. But they knew the brothers’ bellies were full. They needed to drink. Big Mane knew they needed to drink. It was a simple waiting game until his belly was small, again.

For the last few weeks Bro was getting anxious, again. He couldn’t control his hunger like Big Mane could. So Bro started to mess up Big Mane’s kill attempts. He raised his body before Big Mane made the jump. He sneezed when the dust blew into his bad eye. And his left hind leg was getting so weak, now, that the few times he tried to join the chase he tripped, and Big Mane instinctively aborted the hunt with an increasingly annoying worry he couldn’t quite understand.

Big Mane’s belly was big, Bro’s less so, but neither as big as it would have been with zebra. We drove over to where the vultures and jackals were cleaning up their last feast, only it wasn’t really theirs. It was a Grant’s gazelle, usually too little, too swift and to dangerous with its pointy horns for lion. Obviously a cheetah had taken it down, and obviously Big Mane had just walked over and politely given the cheetah a few seconds to get away before it became the second course.

So Bro got his meal, too. But of late Big Mane wasn’t sharing like he used to. The rains were coming. There had been a sprinkle the night before. A faint patina of green covered the desiccated veld. Things wouldn’t be as easy, anymore. Big Mane had to beef up. It could be a week between successful take-downs once the pools filled and the grasslands turned a beautiful green. He’d have to get zebra, now, not just the spoils of a little cheetah.

A massive gust of wind turned the whole plains into a dust storm, and the sound was furious. We quickly rolled up the windows of the car, which shook and rattled until it subsided. The veld slowly cleared. The cackling of the Egyptian geese and squealing of the superb starling penetrated the diminishing wind.

Big Mane was up. He walked ten feet to the edge of the pool and sipped some water then lowered on his haunches.

Bro was reluctant. Why leave the shade of the rock? The edge of the lake was probably a 100F. But he followed his brother. He didn’t sip any water. His stomach didn’t feel good.

Bro noticed a lone acacia tree off about a 100 meters. He began lumbering to it, slowly, harshly, puffs of dust brushing his sides with every footstep. Big Mane opened his eyes and turned his head to watch his brother lumber to the tree.

It took Bro forever to get to the tree, his left back foot leaving drag marks on the desiccated earth like a snake’s trail. He got there and flopped over on his side.

Big Mane stared at him for a long while remembering the great battle and Wandu Swamp, the buf takedown but then the more recent memories of failed hunts replaced older memories with anger.

He licked his chops. Gazelle was pitifully untasteful. He got up, waited a moment but Bro didn’t stir in the distance, so he turned in the other direction and walked away into the open veld scattering zebra and gazelle all over the place.

Nanyukie, Eastern Serengeti

Single Signal

Single Signal

I’m often asked but I have no favorite animal. The Serengeti doesn’t attract me because of magnificent lions or angry elephant or dainty dik-dik. No single tree or bug or animal has any attraction at all except when you think of them all together. So all together is the most wondrous, my favorite, place in the world, the Serengeti.

But the “whole” is “happiest” when it rains, and it should be raining now. Steve and I encountered good rains up north. They sent the wilde running south anxious to gorge themselves on the lower altitude grasses. But then a few days ago it all seemed to stop and here in the far eastern Serengeti near Loliondo it’s dry as a bone.
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Dawn Drive

Dawn Drive

The temperature in my tent as I woke at 5 a.m. was 62F and it would undoubtedly go down a few more degrees until just after 9 a.m. Dawn over the Serengeti doesn’t bring immediate warmth with its brilliant light. It rained last night and the evaporation into the still dry air actually cools things down a bit more.
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Face It

Face It

Steve Farrand and I have now completed four days in the northern Serengeti after a couple down at Manyara. Tomorrow we pick up five more intrepid travelers to continue my survey of post-pandemic Tanzania.

The troubled world goes well beyond Fox News. Vaccine is available in the most remote corners of Tanzania, but much of it’s sitting in fridges unused. One of Africa’s most prestigious safari companies, AndBeyond, admitted to me this week that most of their staffs remain unvaccinated.
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OnSafari: Klein’s Valley

OnSafari: Klein’s Valley

Those damned kids! They ruined dinner once again!

Mama looked at us unabashedly. It was really getting dark, around 7:15 p.m. in the Klein’s Valley that borders Kenya’s Mara to the north and the Serengeti to the west. The sun had blinked out at 6:30p and twilight doesn’t really exist in the equator, but the high stringy cumulus making the moon and Venus blur threw what light the far away sun touched them with back down to the ground. A sort of unexpected twilight.
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OnSafari : Manyara

OnSafari : Manyara

The menacing sky peeking through the opened roof above Steve in the land cruiser said it all. Those stringy clouds at 7:30 in the morning foretell a massive thunderstorm this afternoon. Yesterday afternoon we had the most extraordinary thunder imaginable, as if you were in the gods’ bowling alley during a weekend tournament.

It’s Day 3 OnSafari and we’re in Lake Manyara National Park. When the rains just begin it’s so dry below and the cumulus storm clouds so large and high above that much of the water never reaches the ground. It takes several days of saturating the atmosphere before the waterfall begins.
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OnSafari: First View

OnSafari: First View

Day 1, Safari
Lake Duluti Lodge
3.380167S, 36.78907E
altitude: 4167′

Flame trees in bloom, bananas fruiting, tree hyrax and bushbabies sang us to sleep and the dinosaur silvery-cheeked hornbill buzzed our breakfast as colobus frolicked in the trees. First moment in day time Africa. Breakfast on the terrace with my traveling companion, Steve Farrand.

Steve said the moment he stepped out of the cabin he was reminded of the first time, decades ago, that he first stepped into East Africa. So do I. It’s an earthy, moist atmosphere that throws sounds around as if you were diving. The brusk winds that scatter through most African airports whisk all worries away!
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