Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Big Cats

Posted: September 18, 2015 in Africa, Kenya
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Well, we’re home, but as you have probably noticed, not much blogging happened this trip! As I’m heading to the US tomorrow for 3 weeks, it’s not likely I’ll catch up too soon. However I have managed to collect a few photos from this trip. These are just a few of our favourites, to whet your appetite. Today’s gallery is the big cats – lions, leopards & cheetah. Magnificent creatures!

It is now the end of our first week, and what a week it has been! We left the Maasai Mara this morning after an exhausting but unforgettable 5 days. We went for a game drive every morning early, leaving before dawn to catch that ‘golden light’ photographers are so fond of. We ate a picnic breakfast in a clearing where our guides assured us there were no lions lurking. The goal was to get back to camp by 11am but we were always late, held up by yet another photo op and got back just in time for lunch, a very short siesta and to head out on another game drive mid afternoon until there was no more light. The roads (if you can call them that) are terrible, and we were glad of our expert driver/guides! But as we bounced and rattled over the savannah with our eyes peeled for wildlife we were very aware of what a privilege it is to be in this place. Every day there were new and exciting sightings and hundreds of photos to sort (and cull!).

Today we had a leisurely start – breakfast at 7.15. What a luxury! We were up early and packed ready to leave the Mara and head for our next location. But there was a big treat in store first. While our luggage was driven to Sleeping Warrior Camp at Lake Elementaita, we were left at the tiny Olkiombo Airstrip in the Mara, where two 6-seater Cessnas were waiting for us. These planes were specially customised for us – two of the seats and one door were removed,  and we were flown two at a time over the Maasai Mara to photograph from above. Flying with the doors off was a little nerve-wracking, especially when we banked steeply to that side, but it was also incredibly exciting and the views were amazing. I wish I could post some photos but our internet is not up to it – be assured I will share some as soon as I get back to Doha. We also got some amazing video footage, as Keith bravely clamped his Go-Pro to the tail of the plane and recorded the whole flight.Seeing the enormous herds of Wildebeest from above gave a greater understanding of the sheer numbers of beasts, and you could see their formations as they gathered en masse, followed in single file, or  gathered near the river crossing. Our flights lasted about 30 minutes, and then the doors & seats were reinstalled and we flew to Sleeping Warrior Camp. This time I got to sit in the co-pilot seat which was fun and something I’ve never done before.

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The above was written several days ago. My intention to blog daily, or even frequently, has been impeded by slow or absent internet and falling in to bed exhausted at the end of every day! I will post this now, while I can, and will try to catch up very soon!

Magical Kenya

Posted: September 5, 2015 in Africa, Kenya
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We are half way through day 4 and this is the first moment I’ve had to sit & write! As expected we are having an amazing time seeing amazing things in amazing places. As I write this I am sitting on the verandah at our lodge (Mara Ngenche Camp) looking over the Mara River. I can hear countless birds in the surrounding bush, and there are around 20 hippos basking on a sandbank in the river. This morning I was woken early by the sound of an elephant feeding just outside our tent (it sounds like tearing grass, in case you are wondering). This is Kenya!

We are spending the first 5 days in the Maasai Mara. The trip is timed to coincide with the annual wildebeest migration. The whole area is teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen wildebeest (of course), zebra, gazelles, hippos, lions, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, eland, impala, topi, crocodiles, eagles, vultures and more. We’ve watched a lioness tending the cutest cubs imaginable, around 1 month old. We saw a cheetah kill a small gazelle and drag it to a safe place for her 3 cubs to feed on. We waited a long time peering into a gully because  we heard a rumour that there was a leopard in there, and we rewarded by a close encounter with that most magnificent animal. We watched hippos basking in mud and fighing one another.

But this is the Migration Safari and the sheer numbers of wildebeest and zebra is mind boggling. We drive through plains covered with animals stretching to the horizon in every direction. Impossible to count, for the most part they are quietly grazing in the long grass, and we all are just gob-smacked to be here and in the midst of it all. The money shot, the holy grail is to see a “crossing” – the spectacle of massive numbers of wildebeest and zebra crossing the river, hoping to escape the jaws of the hungry crocodile who lie in wait. From watching the National Geographic Channel I imagined there was a steady stream of animals crossing the river untill they all reached the other side, but in fact most of the time they just mill about. While they are in this area they can cross back and forth several times, or not at all. Eventually they do all get across, but you need some good fortune to be in the right place at the right time for a crossing.

Fortune did indeed smile upon us and on our first day no less. We sat by the river for some time watching animals come down to the river to drink and think about crossing only to pull back at the last minute. We could see at least a dozen crocs on the river banks. Large numbers of animals were gathering, when suddenly one took the plunge and jumped in, That was all it took, and soon hundreds were following and we had pole position.  It was an awe-inspiring sight!! We saw a couple of large crocs take out an unfortunate wildebeest or two, and though we felt sorry for the animal we got great photos!

If all that wasn’t enough, we were up at 4 yesterday morning to take a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Mara!!

Gotta go, I’m being called for lunch. The food here is gourmet and another of the highlights!

PS. The internet here is pretty patchy and slow. I will post this (when I can get online) without any photos but will try to get some images up as soon as I can.

Our next adventure

Posted: August 20, 2015 in Africa, Kenya

We had such an amazing time in 2011 on our African safari with Chris Bray photography we couldn’t resist the chance to do another, especially when this one includes seeing the great wildebeest migration! We booked this trip about 2 years ago and it’s finally almost here!

Here’s a little taste of what we will be seeing.

As before I hope to be able to blog regularly. If you would like to follow our adventures, this is the place. We will be there from August 31 for 2 weeks. See you there!

Video Summary of the Trip

Posted: February 2, 2012 in Kenya

Here is a video prepared by Chris & Jess (mostly Jess) of our two weeks in Kenya.

The end is nigh …

Posted: February 6, 2011 in Mauritius

I can’t believe this is our last full day of this incredible holiday! It has been such a blast … but there will be time for reflections later, first it’s time to enjoy these last moments. Despite Mauritius being a small island, there is an awful lot to see & do. Most people come to sit at resorts but that is not our style, and we set off to explore the southwest corner.  It is a very beautiful island, and just driving around is entertainment itself. But Owen had suggested an itinerary so we headed out with purpose.

The first stop was at Bois Cheri tea factory. After sugar, tea is the biggest agricultural product of Mauritius, but to be honest visiting a factory was not really on my must-do list. However we were told to go there, so we did. We skipped the hour-long tour of the factory (apart from minimal interest in factories in general, the thought of entering a tin shed full of engines & boilers in that heat was not appealing in the slightest) but we did check out the museum, which was small but fascinating. Despite the ‘Frenchness’ of the island, it was under British rule until 1968, so tea-drinking is a national pastime. Learning about the history of important products like tea and sugar is more interesting than it sounds because of the insight it gives you into the history of the island itself. But the main attractions of Bois Cheri are the lovely setting, panoramic views, and tea tastings. We combined all 3 in the cafe, sitting, enjoying the views & trying several different types of flavoured teas. The most popular tea here is Vanilla tea, but we also tried Bergamot, fruit, coconut, mint – and also black & green tea. Very civilised.

Despite threats of rain all week, we have been very fortunate with the weather here in Mauritius. We have had pockets of rain, but never anything to get in our way. This morning dawned blue & clear but clouded over and while we were at Bois Cheri the first rains came. The clouds & mist do spoil the view photos somewhat, but it is lovely to look at! And it never lasts long.

Just along the road from Bois Cheri is Grand Bassin. Grand Bassin is a natural crater lake, quite pretty. It is sacred to the Hindus, who believe that the waters communicate with the water of the Ganges in India. There is a big Hindu temple and lots of statues. People come to Grand Bassin to make offerings to the gods. We saw several people standing in the water presenting fruit, flowers and incense on special little platforms. Hindus are the majority here in Mauritius, descendants of indentured Indian workers who came here in large numbers after the abolition of slavery, and massive crowds gather here on festival days. There are also wild monkeys (macaques) that hang around and help themselves to the fruit being offered (and people were feeding them too) which were fun to watch.

Nearby is the entrance to Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius’ only National Park. It is a very scenic park with steep wooded hills, high waterfalls, volcanic rocky crags and tropical rainforest. There are lots of longish walks that sound really lovely, but we only had time for a drive through the park and a couple of lookouts. Alexandra Falls was the first stop. Unfortunately, as we walked half way to the lookout the heavens opened and we were thoroughly soaked. Our camera bag has its own raincoat, so it was fine, but our umbrellas, and handy little disposable ponchos were all safely in our suitcase back at the house. Clever, not! Oh well, at least it was cool rain (and we were pretty damp with perspiration before that anyway). Alexandra Falls lookout was a tad disappointing, because we didn’t know that you can’t actually see Alexandra Falls from there! Still a lovely view across the mountains to the sea. And the rain does enhance the atmosphere in a rainforest.

After a pretty, windy drive through the forest we came to Black River Gorge lookout. The rain had stopped, and we had no trouble identifying the right stopping point – the crowds of people, tour buses & hawkers stalls gave it away. Apparently a popular spot! Fortunately all that is set back from the lookout itself, and the view was very impressive. Love to go back for some of the longer walks some day.

By now we were getting quite hungry, it was almost 3 o’clock, so we thought we’d look for a little cafe or take-away spot. Instead as we rounded a hairpin bend coming down the mountain, we came across a restaurant called Varangue sur Morne. It looked lovely, but more importantly was perched right on the edge of the hill with fabulous views (Varangue means verandah). We were asked if we had a reservation, which was quite amusing, since the place was half empty, and in fact was completely empty by the time we left. I thought we’d get stuck down the back but they put us in the best seat, right in the corner surrounded by forest & view. At that point they could have served us cabbage & we’d have been happy, but the lunch was excellent. Keith had a Creole Platter with rice, lentils, sautéed greens & a chicken & prawn curry. I had Fish & Prawn Marinara with Rodrigues pickled lemon & smoked marlin sauce. Delish. It was lovely sitting there, watching native birds flitting between the trees (and collecting scraps from the other tables!) and photographing the clouds rolling over the distant mountains. Tropical bliss.

But the day was not over & we dragged ourselves away from the varangue and back to the car. It was quite a steep descent down the mountain, which made for lots of hairpin bends, but also a lovely green drive with regular spectacular vistas. I may have enjoyed that more than Keith, who was driving! Almost at the bottom of the hill, we spotted our next destination called “Rhumerie de Chamarel”. This is a modern boutique rum distillery, and though we are not big rum drinkers it was well worth a visit. A sweet girl took us on a guided tour of the distillery itself, and then we had a rum tasting. Even our uneducated palettes could tell the difference between the different grades of rum, and we enjoyed tasting some flavoured rums as well (coconut, pineapple, coffee, lime, and of course vanilla). Rum, as I’m sure you know, is made from sugar cane, so it is the most popular beverage here. We loved the design of the rhumerie, there were lovely artworks and interesting timber pieces (e.g. the bar was a single piece of tree, including the branch and roots, polished & smoothed, quite a talking point.)

We escaped the rhumerie without actually purchasing any rum, and continued towards the coast. There is an iconic rocky outcrop called La Morne (which according to Google means the dreary!). It is actually anything but, a very large monolith that towers over the trees & the beach, and can be seen for miles around. We didn’t climb it – not sure that you can, but it looks spectacular. Especially as by now the rain had cleared, and the evening sunlight shining on the rocks was golden. We strolled along the beach for a while, enjoying our last Mauritian evening. We found ourselves in a resort section of the beach, which meant deck chairs & waiters (but sadly only for guests). Actually we were completely content with the sand, the warm, clear water and the light of the setting sun. What a perfect ending to our day of exploration.

But it wasn’t quite the end. The drive back to Souillac along the coast, past tiny fishing villages & coastal bays was delightful. And to finish the day & the week in style, we took Owen & Maryanne out to dinner to thank them (in a small way) for their hospitality. We went to a local Indian restaurant and enjoyed a fine meal. They have been excellent hosts and we very much appreciated their hospitality, and the good fortune of having such a beautiful place to stay.

 

 

Remember yesterday I was saying that when you travel, some days are just better than others. Today was one of those days. A day when you are not only seeing or experiencing the wonders of the world, but having a great time too.

It was a public holiday in Mauritius today, for Chinese New Year. Mauritius is a very multicultural society and they celebrate everyone’s different festivals with a public holiday – they have something like 15 holidays a year (and they call Australia the land of the long weekend!). It was a holiday on Tuesday too, so we were lucky to have Owen & Maryanne to entertain us.

We piled into Owen’s car and headed east along the coast. The sun was shining and we just drank in the scenery – the colour of the water defies description. I’m sure if you painted it that colour in art class, the teacher would tell you to tone it down.  After a few photo stops we arrived at Blue Bay Marine Park and headed straight for the water. Maryanne lent us snorkels, masks & flippers and within seconds we were snorkelling in an underwater wonderland. The corals & fish were fantastic, so much variety & colour & movement. The fish would swim right past us, seemingly oblivious to our presence, except one particular fish which would stop & stare at us. We snorkelled for around an hour, and could have stayed longer.

I managed to get a few pictures, thanks to my little underwater camera (Olympus Mju), but that was more due to luck than good management. Underwater photography is hard enough, since the water, you & the fish are moving, and there is no way to steady yourself. But just as we got into the water the view screen decided to stop working. So there was no way to change the settings, or to see what I was shooting. I kept shooting, hoping they were taking & it was just the screen that had died, which in fact was the case – all up I’m pretty happy I got any good shots.

View to the ocean

After a short snack break we were on our way up an incredibly windy, and at times very steep road through lush green forest to a house on the top of a hill. Owen & Maryanne’s company keep lodge in the mountains for the use of themselves, their clients & some of their employees. It is literally on the top of a mountain, with incredible views on all sides. As a passionate conservationist, Owen is busy replanting native Mauritian forest on most of the land & getting rid of introduced species & weeds, just as he is on the property we saw on Sunday, the planned ecotourism park. We saw lots of seedlings he has germinated from seed, waiting to be planted. There is a swimming pool, of sorts. Owen enthusiastically told us how the water is so clean, it is fed by a natural spring & is full of fish & eels. And he wondered why we weren’t tempted to go for a dip! He did, and brought back something to show me – a “cute’ little snake! 

View of the mountains

Maryanne had brought a wonderful packed lunch of quiche, salad & a bottle of Australian wine, and we sat on the patio to enjoy the vista. The only sounds were bird calls, the sky was blue, there was a gentle breeze – what more could you want? We took the comfy cane chairs from the lounge room into the garden, and spent the whole afternoon just sitting there, chilling out.

Having trouble believing we only have one more day of this holiday left!