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Arusha and the Ngorogoro Crater

Manyara

Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Part 1: Arusha  

We took a break last week and headed north in the country to Arusha. For the first couple of nights we stayed with some AWESOME HOSTS in the fringe of the city. These are some images I took around there. I’m lazy with the names of plants. If you want to help me out and name things in the comments, I’d be delighted by your knowledge.

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Part 2: Gibb’s Farm

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Gibb’s Farm. They did not pay me to write this nor have I made any kind of agreement with them about what will inevitably be a half-assed review of our stay there.

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We arrived at the farm mid-week during the rain season. The rain season in Tanzania has been anything but predictable in recent years. When I speak with Tanzanians in Dar es Salaam, they always seem to have some day pinpointed when they think the rain will begin. And by “the rain”, I mean daily deluges that left several people homeless or dead from flooding last year. It’s serious rain.

However in recent years (at least in the 3 I’ve been here), no one has really been able to predict the rain. The “short” rain season in December is either late or doesn’t come at all. The “big” rain season is usually in April, though as I write this, Dar es Salaam has had a few days of big rain but nothing that would be expected for the season. No one can really predict the weather any more… similar to the stories I’ve heard in South Korea, in Mongolia, in Canada, and in Tanzania. It’s not hard to see the effects of climate change no matter where we go.

Arusha was also meant to be going through their big rain season, but other than a few sprinkles over night and one downpour, there was nothing really consistent with the normal seasons there. The air was cool and refreshing, quite the opposite of what we experience further south in the country. Arusha is higher in the hills, and skirts the areas of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. The change from the humidity was most welcome, and we even had a fireplace going in our room at night.

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Back to Gibb’s Farm. This farm is on the luxurious end of things here in Tanzania. That is not to say that it is overpriced for what you get (as we have largely experienced on Zanzibar), because although it isn’t cheap, you actually get what you pay for between the location, the accommodation, and the inclusive meals. Liquor isn’t included.

The farm produces nearly all of the food it serves, so as you can guess, it was garden fresh and served by international chefs. The kitchen was highly attentive and organized, and when I showed up they showed me everything that didn’t include garlic. (I have an intolerance to it.) The breakfasts were fine, the lunches were okay, but the dinners were exceptionally delicious. There was an excellent drink selection (four menu pages of gin, not to mention a decent selection of whiskey, and I lost track on the wine list). Coffee is grown and roasted on site, and is served fresh to your room in the morning at whatever time suits you.

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The rooms were exactly the kind of place where I want to write my next novel but I’ll say no more, and if you want a walk-through of the room just watch this short video. $$$$ WORTH IT.

The farm was full of plant and flower life and all of the bird and insect life that it sustains. In the center of the lodges was a pond with long grass where weaverbird nests looked too perfect to be real. But they were real, and there were exotic birds everywhere. The best part of it that there were no invasive Indian house crows which have taken over Dar es Salaam in the thousands, decimated the local bird population, and are pesky, aggressive and loud through all hours of the day. Up here, we were free of the flying rats and all birds thrived.

I would go back to Gibb’s Farm again in a second. If this is the kind of thing you like, you won’t be disappointed.

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Part 3: Ngorogoro Crater

Volcanic crater, roughly 2 million years old

Entering the caldera

This part of the trip was unplanned. In our three years in Tanzania we have gotten to a few locations, but we were never able to make it to the Serengeti for the epic safari that most people envision when they think of Tanzania. However, bordering the Serengeti is the Ngorogoro crater caldera. It is massive and inside live thousands upon thousands of animals that find just about anything they would need there. As it is so steep to enter or get out, most animals live there year round, though the wildebeest and zebras migrate in and out.

We thought it would be nice if we could spot a nearly extinct black rhino, as friends had spotted them in the crater before. We didn’t really know what to expect, except that it was said that there would be animals everywhere once we got in.

The crater is so massive that you cannot get any indication of the wildlife below as you peer down from the upper ridge. Its expanse is immediately clear, and you can see rain in the caldera from kilometers away. Where the sun breaks through the cloud, it crawls across huge patches of the hillside forest and the grassy plain. As we descended further we started to get an indication of what we were in for when we spotted clusters of zebras.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Look closely…

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The legendary black rhino!

she spots some zebras

You see something what?

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(That is a black rhino back there)

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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

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Summer of 2014 – Greece (Part 2 of 2)

I had been to Greece 11 years ago, and had many fond memories of azure waters, idyllic beaches, and late night parties.

When I had previously visited Santorini, it was a busy place, mostly with honeymooners and jet setters who were the kind of people whose stories would be interesting to know. There was a magic. When I had to leave, I’d felt that I had left a piece of my heart there, and vowed that I’d be back for it one day with someone I loved.

This trip to Greece was a great chance to see more of the islands, to revisit Santorini, and to take my wife Maria with me on the journey.

Crete

Since I had never visited Crete and had heard many great things, we decided to go there first – the furthest point south that we would go, with the plan to take ferries to various islands north and end our trip in Athens.

We started in Chania on the northeast side of the island.

The Venetian harbor in Chania

The Venetian harbor in Chania

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Boat Builders in the old port

Boat Builders in the old port

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Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

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A church in Rethymno

A church in Rethymno

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

From the museum in Heraklion

From the museum in Heraklion

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in Heraklion

in Heraklion

Santorini

We moved on to Santorini, which I was really, really anticipating. In the past 11 years, I had seen it endlessly featured on TV shows, in magazines, and on Pinterest, and all I wanted was to take Maria there.

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This was our cave room on the caldera. Kitchenette and bathroom on the left, bedroom in the back.

view from the room

view from the room

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Beautiful island, right? So beautiful that everyone wants to go there, and supply and demand have taken its toll. The prices have increased, but more significantly, the foot traffic has gotten way out of control. At any given time there are 3 large cruise ships in the harbor, dumping package tourists who want their fridge magnets into Santorini’s tiny little alleys by the thousands. It just doesn’t work. It wasn’t charming and idyllic, it was overstuffed and obnoxious. I regret having this experience after my first time there, but that’s what happens when a place is as beautiful and as featured as Santorini. Everyone wants their part of it.

I would still recommend anyone go there, but do not go during peak tourist season. I’ve been told that May or September are the best times, and if I ever go back, it will be during one of these months. Or avoid the island altogether. The Cyclades have many beautiful islands, many of which are not overpacked because they haven’t been featured on a travel show.

Ios

Ios has long been considered the party island, since a bunch of hippies hijacked one of the large beaches back when hippies hijacked things. Now it’s largely visited by the young crowd who can get cheap flights from European destinations and come party like it’s spring break. We really didn’t see much of that though, since we stayed in a place on the other side of town, and didn’t really stay out late. Ios is the kind of island where there can be a giant party happening over there, while you enjoy your infinity pool and cocktail over here.

The island has endless gorgeous beaches – many of which have only a few (or no) people on them. You’d need to rent a boat, which is easy enough to do if you’re brave enough to skirt the island’s rocks and bumpy waves. It wasn’t that hard, but if you freak out easily, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It was well worth it for us. We had a full day of exploring beaches, and it made for my favorite day of the whole trip.

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Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

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Naxos

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Naxos was a beautiful island, and certainly less “aggressively touristed” than Santorini or Ios. We had originally planned to visit Mykonos next, but after what I had seen in Santorini, we decided to skip it altogether.

We went in the complete opposite direction of what foreign tourists would do, and went to Syros instead.

Syros

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It was in Syros (and perhaps Hora Sfakia in Crete) that had made us feel like we had gotten “the real Greek”. The trip had started out a little hectic with trying to beat tourist mobs, but it certainly mellowed out toward the end of our trip. Until Athens!

Athens

Naturally Athens is a giant tourist hub, but we just had a few things do there before we returned home to Mongolia.

Like you know, see the Acropolis.

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It’s not easy to get a picture of the parthanon without someone standing in front of it…

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The Temple of Athena


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Odeon
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When I had first visited Greece years ago, I had visited this little ouzo bar that had seemed tucked away off the beaten path. But it had never been off the beaten path, it had been in the middle of Plaka, one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods of Athens for thousands of years.

As I walked by and saw it, I gasped that I had found it again. It was what had made me first fall in love with Greece, and made me fall in love with ouzo. The little bar is called Brettos, and though the owners weren’t terribly friendly, they were still gracious enough to let me snap a few photos.

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And that was our trip.

Hope you enjoyed!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Life Abroad

 

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