Pyrography - original art by Kathleen Marie
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Africa — Summer 2009

Jambo Friends,

Jambo (greetings in Swahili). My odyssey to Africa was fantastic, from Tarangire to the western Serengeti we were blessed with the beauty, bountiful wildlife and people that are the life-blood of Tanzania. I shot over 6000 images, identified 124 species of birds and made new friends. Whew!

We covered over 1500 miles of territory in the jeeps, most of which was on rib-jarring dirt roads or tracks in the bush. After selecting my best shots I will be making a DVD of the trip so will have a slide show to share. For now I will send a picture of the most magnificent elephant we saw, a fabulous cheetah encounter, a twiga next to a baobab tree and our fantastic guides.

From Houston we flew to Amsterdam, changed planes and then flew to Arusha, Tanzania. We departed Houston at 3:30 pm Feb. 24th and arrived in Arusha about 9:00 pm on Feb 25th. That is a very long flight! Then we spent a good long time going thru customs and buying a Visa. We crashed in the Dik Dik hotel. The next morning Feb. 26th) we visited an orphanage in Arusha. It was quite an experience to see all these children with nothing, absolutely nothing. There are orphanages all over Africa. I am very grateful to my friends that donated things for me to take to them. We stopped at the African Heritage Center, which is filled to the brim with art, carvings and culture reflecting the special beauty of this ancient land and it's people. We shopped and of course I bought a couple of wood-carvings.

From Arusha we headed to Tarangire National Park.  We saw Impala, Reed buck, Water buck, Giraffe, Zebra, Wart hog, Klipspringer, Ground Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, Ostrich, Elephants, Gazelle, Dik Dik, Fish Eagle and many more birds all on the way to Tarangire, to our first camp, Kikoti Safari Camp, a luxury tent camp. We stayed here 2 days enjoying game drives, a night drive and a nature hike one evening to Kikoti rock, a kopj not far from camp. We had a very knowledgeable Maasai nature guide who knew the latin names of plants but not the common names! good fellow, and 4 guards armed with rifle, spear and bow and arrow. The hike led us to Kikoti rock where we climbed up to the top and watched the sunset. The kopj are roundish, huge rocks sparsely scattered on the plain. They look rather out of place these huge boulders on the flat expanse of the Serengeti. Kopj is a Dutch word meaning " little head sticking out of nowhere". It fits. These rocks are in fact some of the oldest on earth, they are remnants of volcanic plugs where all else has eroded away. So here we sit on a little head sticking out of nowhere, in the land without end, and watch the sunset. Sweet. Baboons are climbing up on the rock next to us, the really tall, steep one. This is where they spend the night to be safe from Lions.

We climbed down after dusk and our guides met us with the jeeps to drive us back to camp. That evening the Maasai danced with us and we sat around the campfire talking until the wee hours. Each of us was escorted back to our tents by a Maasai warrior with spear. The people were wonderful, wildlife and birds were plentiful and I was sorry to have to leave Kikoti so soon. Our tents were absolutely beautiful and I could happily live in one forever. In Tarangire Elephants were everywhere as were many birds. We even saw a pair of Duiker, which is a shy antelope not so easily spotted, Blue-headed Agama lizard, Blue Monkey, Vervet Monkey, Marmot, Saddle-billed Stork and some of the group saw a Leopard Tortoise. This is a very special place.

We departed Tarangire and headed to Lake Manyara N.P. where we drove through lush, montane forest and were the entertainment for large troops of Baboons. We also saw a Bushbuck which was another rare sighting. We spent the night in a lodge with a lovely view of the lake and part of the magnificent Rift Valley. Next morning we packed up and headed towards the Serengeti.

We had a ways to go but this day was packed with adventure. We stopped to eat our box lunch on the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, where we would be returning on the last leg of our journey. We were attended by Marabou storks, White-naped ravens and Black kites, all waiting to see if we would take our eyes off of our lunch long enough for them to steal it. A Black kite did in fact, swoop down and grab a piece of chicken right out of Sherry’s hand.  Weaver birds and Superb starlings were nearly everywhere we went. After lunch we continued westward and stopped to visit a Maasai village. They danced and sang for us, took us into their homes and told us a bit about their lives. We bought some art pieces from them and visited their school, which consisted of some wooden benches and a chalkboard set up under a tree. They were working on math problems this day.

We left the Maasai village and soon arrived at the Olduvai Gorge, site of Dr. Louis Leakey's discovery of the oldest known human remains. We were given a rather speedy tour of the museum and an archeological dig site, then were on our way again to Serengeti National Park and our next camp, Safari Legacy mobile tent camp. We ate dinner in our wonderful mess tent then sat around the campfire. The food was very good everywhere we went and the chef in our Serengeti tent camp was amazing and a delightful character. The people that took care of us were characteristically friendly, courteous and very hard working. It rained that evening and the wind was ferocious. I thought at one point our tent would be ripped from it's stakes but they held and we ended up with just a little water inside. The next morning hyena tracks were all over the place. In fact I heard them every night and one night they came right up to the tent flap, sniffing around. Each night you could hear the hyenas whooping and walking all around the tents. It is one of the great sounds of Africa.

We were perfectly spoiled in the tent camps where at 6:30 each morning hot coffee and tea was delivered to the tent and water was heated and poured into the suspended buckets behind the tent for a nice shower. I preferred the tent camps to the lodges for several reasons but especially because our guides were not allowed to eat with us in the lodges. I would rather have eaten outside with my friends. It would be hard to find finer people than our guides.

A few of the folks in our group went on a hot air balloon ride rather than a game drive the next morning. That group had the good fortune of seeing a leopard on the drive back to camp after the balloon ride. My tent mate, Sara, got good pictures of the leopard. The rest of us took a game drive seeing lots of wildlife, including a pride of lions lazing on a kopj. The vastness of the Serengeti (Land without End) is indescribable and photographs cannot capture it.

The next day we saw Kori Bustards, Crowned Cranes, Zebras, Vervet monkeys, Wildebeest, Impala, Topi, Giraffe, Cape buffalo and the most spectacular Cheetah sighting one could hope for, a mother with 4 cubs. She was totally unperturbed by our presence and after a great bit of posing, came right up to the jeeps, crossed the road and they went on out into the plain, doing what Cheetahs do and leaving us all with smiles and looks of wonder on our faces.

While at this camp our guides, having spent several days with us by this time, gave us all African names. They named me Nanginyi, which means little sister, and told me that I now have 4 brothers!

The animals where beginning to mass on the Serengeti in preparation for the migration and at times we would see so many Wildebeest that it was unbelievable. Zebra, Impala and Cape buffalo would be mixed in sometimes with the Wildebeest making quite a sight. The day we left our mobile tent camp to head farther into the Western Serengeti we saw a marvelous sight. It was foggy that morning and heavy dew was on the grass. The light was such that as we drove we could see hundreds of dew bejeweled spider webs spaced evenly throughout the grasses. It was a beautiful tapestry, awe inspiring. Soon after that we did see a leopard sleeping in a tree, barely visible. I had a very hard time finding it but Jay did not give up until I did see it. For some reason it took me much longer to find than the rest of our group. By that time I had lost the sandbag I was using to steady my camera when using my long lens and had to hand hold all my shots. Hand holding at 600mm is a shaky business. I had nearly given up, frustrated with my bad eyesight, so I am grateful for the tenacity of Jay.

We stopped at a Hippo pool on the way, filled with Hippos and their babies. And it was smelly. We spotted 2 young male giraffes that were sparing with their necks, an Impala nursing, a group of Topi and more. We arrived at our second camp in western Serengeti, Kirawira luxury tent camp. I did lots of shopping here at the gift shop. Vegetation around the camp was lush and there were lots of birds. Hornbills descended immediately upon the coffee tray left on the table right outside the door and stole the muffins, spilled the cream and made themselves right at home. We saw elephants, guineas, jackals, baboons and more hippos. We visited a fishing village on Lake Victoria called J’s Paradise where there was a school for children and we took the remainder of the supplies to them. The children sang for us and in no time Chuck had them all up dancing. When we presented the teacher with the supplies we had brought she could not hold back her tears. She was just amazed. They have so little there, no paper or pencils, no books, again just a chalkboard. A bottle of aspirin and band-aides brought a look of disbelief and a whispered question, "are these for us to keep?" We learned a lot from Susan, our young guide of the poor village and school. The poverty was beyond anything I have seen and the children malnourished. But they put great value on school and learning.

The next day we left the Serengeti and headed back towards the Ngorogoro Crater. We saw White storks, the kind that deliver babies, and spotted a Cheetah laying near the road. I never ceased to marvel at the beauty of the Acacia trees and then the mountains as we approached the Ngorogoro Conservation area with all their variety of plant life. We saw many Maasai children herding cows through the hills and even into the Crater. We arrived at our lodge on the rim of the crater at 7546 feet altitude and took in the spectacular view. The crater, which is actually a caldera, is 110 square miles. It is a paradise for the animals that live there and those in the crater do not migrate. Only the elephants move in and out. There are no giraffes here however because there are not enough tall trees to sustain them inside the crater.

Along with the normal cast of characters, the Ngorogoro Crater is home to Rhinos and Eland which we did not see anywhere else. A Rhino sighting is rare so we were blessed to see one and then later a group of 3. The Wart hogs here were easier to get close to than anywhere else and we had 2 more wonderful Lion encounters. The crater hosts a huge flock of Flamingos along with many other birds including Sacred Ibis and Black-headed Heron. Thompson’s and Grant's Gazelle are here and we were extremely lucky to see a group of Bat-eared Foxes early one morning. There are many birds of prey, eagles, hawks, and we saw a Martial Eagle with a kill. These are the largest eagles in Tanzania measuring nearly 3 feet from beak to tail. We saw an African Hare, Golden jackal, Crowned cranes, Kori Bustard, Weavers, Egrets, Hyenas, Hartebeest, Cape Buffalo, Zebras, and the most spectacular bull Elephant with tusks nearly dragging the ground. I did not think there were any Ele's left that were this big. So far he has escaped the poachers. The crater is a rich and unique landscape. That evening at the lodge a talented group of acrobats and musicians entertained us. I bought a music CD from them.

As we made our climb up out of the Crater for the final time I was sad to think that I would be leaving, leaving Africa, and I was struck again by the beauty of this place, this land and these people. I'm grateful to Sherry and Chuck for all their hard work to put together such a wonderful trip and for getting the best guides in Tanzania to show it to us. On the way back to Arusha the next day we stopped in Shaukat's home town, Karatu, and visited with his sisters and their children in the house he grew up in. Sherry had brought them a few gifts and pictures of them from her last visit.

We stopped at the Heritage Center again for some more shopping and to pick up some earlier purchases. Hot and tired we arrived back at the Dik Dik hotel in Arusha in time to shower, repack and eat before heading to the airport. Sara packed my Rhino carving into her luggage as it would not fit safely in mine and she mailed it to me then after we got back home. Joel and I were fortunate in the serendipity that we ended up with seats next to one another on the flight to Amsterdam. We were so tired though that we just sat or dozed with little energy for anything else. We visited the art museum in the Amsterdam airport which has some wonderful old masters paintings.

And so now, when I finish up the work I have to do first, the magic of Africa will flow out into my artwork to continue the story...

Lala Salama,

Kathleen welcomes visitors to her studio and gallery by
appointment. Please call or email if you would like to stop by!

Kathleen Marie • 491 Wildwood Lane                                                                            © 2003-2012 Kathleen Marie Studio, Wildwood Studios.                        
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