Dodgy Internet in Zanzibar!

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Hey everyone!

So at the hotel I’m staying at in Zanzibar, they don’t have enough internet capacity to allow for any uploading of pictures, video conversations, or basically anything fun. Which is fine. I don’t really need to do those things except to give all of my readers (Aunt Diane) what they want. So I’m working on typing up the Kilimanjaro posts and I’ll put them up as soon as I can.

In the mean time, I mentioned earlier that in India I met a couple that was extremely well traveled, yawned when I mentioned Kilimanjaro and said that any dream vacation to Africa meant going to Botswana. This inspired me to ask, where is your dream vacation? What’s the best vacation you’ve ever been on? Share some stories in the comments cause I’ve certainly been sharing enough of mine!

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Safari 101 (Pt. 2 – Ngorongoro Crater)

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I woke up to the sound of Fflur, my new Welsh safari friend, saying, “Are you awake Brady? We leave in 10 minutes.” Oops! I got ready quickly and was the first person to the truck! This morning brought us to the Ngorongoro Crater National Park. I had heard about this one (through the Amazing Race of course!) and my excitement was at a fever pitch. It was quickly cooled down by the intense cold of the crater. You first climb to an altitude of about 2,400 meters or 7,000 feet to the crater rim and it was freezing! No one tells you Africa can be cold! Fortunately, we had bought traditional Masai blankets the day before and swaddled ourselves in them.

I’m freezing at the crater rim.

Just as soon as we descended into the crater we had some great ostrich sightings and then, boom, a lion! Well, not boom. She was passed out on the ground sleeping, most likely after an early morning hunt or a filling hunt the last night. The morning yielded a whole lot of great herds of animals. The zebras, even all in black and white, actually do blend in and are possibly my new favorite animal with their gorgeous patterns and their somehow long and stocky bodies. The wildebeest were supposed to be in Kenya at this time of year, but were in full force here, with comical long faces and fur that needed a good brushing. We saw gazelles, some submerged hippos, a couple errant hyenas and jackals, ostriches, buffalo, cranes, and of course lions and rhinos.

That’s okay. You rest. We didn’t want to see lions anyway.

The hippos are all just relaxing half submerged in water.

This is the highest a hippo ever raised its head. Also, that’s some hippo butt crack.

The lake where we ate lunch.

I kind of think this scenery of buffalo on a hill looks a lot more like Colorado than Africa.

This ostrich was modeling for us hard core. I chose my most artistic shot for his benefit.

A lone wildebeest stands apart from his herd.

Hyena

Thompson’s Gazelle

Rhinos are actually pretty tough to come by and we counted ourselves lucky to see not one but two rhinos during our safari. The first rhino was spotted by every truck in the crater and as all of the trucks drew as close as they could to take a picture, the rhino got nervous. She just wanted to cross the road and ended up panicking before decided to just jauntily squeeze through a couple of the cars. Rhinos don’t walk, they kind of bounce as they trot along as if they were as light as a feather. It was the only time I ever saw the trucks actually affect the behavior of the animals.

Our best picture of the rhino. See what I mean?

Perhaps the coolest viewpoint we had was above a watering hole shared by zebras and wildebeest alike. As they went in small groups to get water, a lioness lay camouflaged in the brush just 15 feet from our truck. 30 feet down from her, another lioness, bigger but poorly camouflaged. And we didn’t notice for another ten minutes, but there was a third lion hiding behind a bush, absolutely hidden at first glance. They were tracking the zebras and wildebeests to figure out which were injured or sick so they could attack later that night. It was the start of a long stake out.

Even though we ended up seeing the more rare animals in Ngorongoro Crater, I definitely preferred Lake Manyara. Ngorongoro works because it is tons of animals in such a small area. At all times at the bottom of the crater, you can see 360 degrees around you the walls of the crater, bounding in all of the fauna. But you also don’t really stumble upon things. It was far busier and unless you wanted to spend 20 minutes staring at a gazelle (which we did!) there was always a big crowd around anything rare. Traffic jams formed around lions with the truck drivers yelling at each other, aggressively jockeying to get their passengers the best view. It was a little maddening and detracted from the authenticity, but the animals rarely seemed to mind. They were only thinking about survival.

A close-up of a teenage male lion getting a drink.

Here’s what it actually looks like.

Fflur, myself, and Rebecca leaving Ngorongoro after a great day of safari.

Safari 101 (Pt. 1 – Lake Manyara)

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Safari, in Swahili, means journey. You can take a safari to the grocery store if need be. But our 2 day, 1 night safari was to see wildlife! We left Arusha at a leisurely 9AM in our safari jeep. Our group started with just myself and two British lawyers and later a very aggressive Chinese girl and two very shy Japanese boys joined our ranks. However, with a three-hour drive and a full day of safari with just the lawyers, I became fast friends with the delightfully wacky Rebecca and Fflur (That’s not a typo. It’s Welsh – pronounced fleer) who were in band together and couldn’t stop singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight. We had a lot of fun.

Scary tribal men on the side of the road. We tried to ask our driver about them but his answer was a little confusing. They are warriors in training? Who were circumcised?

Fflur and Rebecca

Our first day took us to Lake Manyara National Park. Now, most of my attempts to see wildlife on this trip have been along the lines of “I know there’s an an elephant in this pictures, it’s just really small!” This is completely different. Our first encounter was with bushbuck, a rare deer like animal. They kind of eyed us suspiciously as we kept going. Just around the corner was a group of baboons, baring their asses to us as only baboons can do. The next corner presented us a giraffe, peacefully munching on a nearby bush. Five minutes couldn’t go by without an animal sighting. At Lake Manyara we saw: bushbuck, giraffes, zebras, kingfishers, land hornbills, wildebeests, baboons, vervet monkeys, impala, dik-diks, and elephants. Some of our sightings were at a distance in the beautiful scenery, lush with greens, blues, and golden browns. Others, were incredibly close.

 

 

 

 

The flying white hornbill

Warthog

 

Two kingfishers. The blue of their wingspan was brilliant.

Our driver Ben had a slow and steady approach to spotting the animals. He would drive slowly and when we would come across a couple of monkeys, we would stop, take tons of pictures, and then by the time we grew bored with the monkeys, the elephants only Ben could hear in the distance had lumbered toward us through the jungle. It was very effective and we had a lot of quality alone time with the critters. Lake Manyara definitely seems a little less traveled than some of the other parks although I can’t imagine why. It’s beautiful, the wildlife is right there, and maybe I shouldn’t let the cat of the bag, but it was so nice getting to be the only truck with a herd of giraffes right next to the vehicle. Each time you stumbled across a herd of zebras, it felt like a personal discovery.

 

 

One zebra, two zebra butts.

The land hornbill. These were some funny birds to watch strut around and are possibly my new favorite bird.

We learned that the Vervey Monkey are known for their brightly colored blue and red genitalia. We never got a good look.

Bush Buck

 

That night, we made our way to our campsite. The tents were propped up for us in little wooden lean-tos that provided great protection from the wind. We had a quick dinner and went to bed nice and early for our next morning of safari.

Jambo Rafiki!

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Yes. I landed in the Kilimanjaro airport and made my way to Arusha, Tanzania, a jumping off point for big game safaris. That’s a pretty big sentence. Kilimanjaro! Safaris! It’s all here! I had to recalibrate all of my senses to Africa. The grasses have that golden brush feel to them, the trees all linger in sparse canopies, and the tribal men and women walk the streets in their brightly colored garb.

The colorful streets of Arusha.

The Tanzanian Schilling has an impossible conversion rate. 1 dollar is 1,620 schillings or so. What? The streets are less paved than many other countries I’ve been to, but there’s a lot less trash (less being the operative word, not zero). Obviously, instead of Indians, Chinese, or Thai people roaming the streets, it’s all black people –I now stick out even more than I have before. Also, everyone constantly tells you how dangerous Arusha and several other cities are, with violence as soon as the lights go down. Yikes!

This clock tower is supposedly the geographical center between Cape Town and Cairo. Also, it is sponsored by Coca-Cola.

You can feel the excitement of safari in the air. African tribal music blasts from the colorful markets selling secondhand safari gear. Tour companies are constantly pulling you over. People unironically say “Jambo!” and I almost died when the first person called me Rafiki, which means friend and is also the baboon from The Lion King.

Where to next is the real question.

I spent my first day in Arusha just recovering from the trip over here, figuring out the cheapest option for safaris, and buying a few things I would need for the Kilimanjaro hike. A low key day of just absorbing all of the newness and gearing up for some big thrills.

On Beyond Curry

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Your traditional Indian dal, curry, and puddings don’t mae for an exactly photogenic cuisine. However, the presentation is sometimes pretty interesting. I gave up taking pictures after a while, but here are a few of the food related pictures I did take while I was traveling around India!

And bear with me on some of the descriptions. They might be entirely wrong, but I ate some of these meals a month ago so my memory isn’t perfect.

This is an Indian rice flour cake that was such a tasty base I ordered more!

Some delicious dipping/pouring sauces.

 

All I remember is loving this dish so much I had seconds.

These pictures were all taken at Anu’s Grandpa’s favorite restaurant.

 

Rasgullah is the sweetest dessert. It’s inedibly sweet and the Indians love it. The texture is kind of doughy.

Some extra delicious mystery curry thali thing.

The world’s largest thali, thanks to the delicious chain restaurant Rajdhani.

Look! Ambiguous curry!

 

Onion Kulcha

These are some of the not so mysterious slops we made at our cooking class. The slop on the left is an eggplant masala. The slop on the right is an amazing pumpkin masala dish I plan on eating forever!

 

This is the meal we had on the houseboat cruise in the Kerala. It was thali served on a banana leaf.

After I took a picture of this onion pakoda, a woman came up to me and asked why I took pictures of my food.

These dosas were homemade by the sister of our illegal tiger safari guide. Just sugar and dough.

 

I frequently had a lunch of just samosas and other baked goods.

 

This was my meal at the dhaba snack bar in Amritsar.

Cherie, this one’s for you. It was a man in Amritsar pushing a cart with potato chips just out in the open air.

 

At the end of most meals, the check was presented with anise licorice seeds and sugar cubes.

A Very Blue Goodbye

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I decided to only spend one day in Jodhpur. And by decided, I mean that I only had one day left before I had to make my way to Delhi for my flight. So I spent the day in the blue city of Jodhpur! Jodhpur has the biggest and baddest fort of them all. High on a 400ft hill, the Mehrangarh Fort is nearly unmissable from anywhere in town.

I decided for my last day to be lazy and when my first auto rickshaw driver asked me if I wanted a tour of all of the sights, I just said fine. As it turns out, Jodhpur is the perfect place to do that! None of the main attractions are within walking distance of anything else and they are on the opposite side of the fairly large town! My first stop was the underwhelming Umaid Bhavan Palace. The palace itself is a gorgeous vision in sandstone, but much of it has been converted into an ultra luxury hotel. Non guests are only welcome to the tiny museum that has a few swords, a couple maps, and a fairly well stocked steam punk clock collection.

We crossed town and then started climbing the hill to the fort when we took a sudden hard right to visit the Jaswant Thada Mausoleum. The humble temple was built by one of the wives of the maharajahs for her late husband. The white marble is the perfect complement to the red sandstone and the idyllic blue lake. And from here, you get some of the best views of the fort!

 

When you make your way up to the fort, its size is certainly the most noticeable thing. It is unavoidable. Now, the audioguide for the fort has such a good reputation that I actually had people recommend it to me. While it was a very good audioguide*, I still found the fort to be a little underwhelming. Maybe I was because I just came from a really cool living fort. Maybe I was just tired of forts.  I think it’s because the enormous size of the fort actually makes it seem more like a boring city when you are inside, and not like a really cool fort. It was another glorified museum with lots of ornate baby cradles and palanquins for carrying women.

Doesn’t this just look like a street? But no, it’s inside the fort.

You can see some of the buildings are actually blue! But for being the blue city, I think it’s a couple too few…

Even though I wasn’t wowed by Jodhpur, I think it was a great place to end my time in India as it really brought together a lot of my feelings on the country.  I ended my day by wandering around the local bazaar and pretending to shop for souvenirs. I was hounded by shopkeepers, was affronted by listless cows wandering the streets, was aggravated by the loud honking of vehicles, and I dodged piles of trash in the streets, all while under the shadow of a gorgeous fort in a city where many of the houses are painted blue to represent the Brahmins of the caste system. There’s such an inseparable blend of ancient eastern religion and culture with the horrible hustle and bustle of a developing nation left unchecked.

The crowded but picturesque clock tower bazaar.

 

A cow in the middle of the road with the fort in the background. India.

Auto-rickshaws honking at me even though I’m well off to the side of the road in an uninteresting busy street.

 

India.

Just a casual ancient gate. It’s not all bad.

 

I was definitely happy to leave, but I have a ton of fond memories and a laundry list of places I still want to check out and a couple I even want to return to. India will always hold a special place in my heart. Or more likely in my newly acquired high blood pressure from the constant honking.

Jaisalmer – Where History Comes Alive!

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When I got to Jaisalmer at 4:45 in the morning, I wasn’t left stupid and unprepared. I’m getting smarter as I travel more and I booked a hotel in advance, and had them come pick me up at the bus station! I also decided to splurge on a hotel so I had HOT WATER!

I woke up and wandered outside to fall instantly in love with the town of Jaisalmer. Most of the forts in Rajasthan have long since been out of use, now standing as glorified museums. Not Jaisalmer! The fort still has people living in it! Most of the small city surrounds the fort, sprawling out for just a few kilometers. From the top of the fort, you can see out to the border of town and beyond into the Great Thar Desert, peppered with wind turbines. The fort itself really is magical to walk around. The whole town is built out of sandstone which makes the town shimmer gold in the sunlight.

There’s only one entrance up into the well-protected fort.

Even the touristy streets of the town are still kind of picturesque.

I just spent the afternoon wandering around and trying not to get into trouble when an Indian guy approached me and asked me what country I was from. This happens at least 10 times a day. I always try and chat and be friendly so long as they never try to sell me anything. As soon as they try and sell me something, ask me to see their shop, or in any other way annoy me, I’m gone. This guy, said that he just wanted to talk and practice his English. The oldest trick in the book. He then asked if I wanted to go to a good place to take pictures and I figured why not. So I ended up spending the whole day with my new friend Iswar. He was 22 and worked for his brother’s clothing store but just spent most of his days talking with tourists and not working at the store. He showed me around the fort and we broke into lots of hotels to use their rooftop terraces for the best viewpoints.

The view from the fort.

Then I hopped on the back of his motorbike and he took me to the lake on the outskirts of town. All of the tourists stay on the little bit of pier connected to the village to feed the catfish, but he drove me around the tiny lake away from the tourists through fields of pigeons to get some great pictures. Then we grabbed some beers, went up to a hilltop with a great view of the fort and just talked for a couple of hours. It was refreshing getting to have a conversation with a local who a) spoke incredible English and b) wasn’t trying to sell me anything.

I’m on the far side of the lake looking at the tourists. Suckers.

This lakeside gate was built by a prostitute and when the local king demanded she take it down, she put a Krishna temple on the top so it was religious and the king never touched it.

 

Our view of the fort while we shared a couple beers.

 

Iswar, modeling a scarf “Bin Laden” style.

On our travels, I also bumped into a couple of Americans. I met them later in the night for another drink. We ended up having such a great time, that we decided to spend the whole next day together too! I soon learned that Scott and Kari were about 25 and met while working at an organic Burger restaurant in NYC. He was an aspiring artist and she an aspiring writer. However, they were in India for a completely unique reason. She had been here before on an internship and to pick up some extra money, she went to Mumbai and worked as an extra in Bollywood movies. This is actually kind of common because Bollywood movies need white extras for most of their movies. What isn’t common is that because of her internship, she also spoke fluent Hindi. She was soon cast on India’s most popular sitcom! She had left the show and they offered her a spot back for a few more episodes. She got got recognized in the streets and everything! I met a real life celebrity (whose Hindi also made my day incredibly easy).

Me, Scott, and Kari. I almost forgot to get a picture of them so this is our last moments together in the pitch black streets of Jaisalmer. 5 minutes later I was chased home by angry dogs.

We started our day by looking at the complex of Jain Temples. We were forced up because all of the temples close at noon, but it ended up being worth it. The Jain religion predates Buddhism and follows a lot of the same principles although it is completely different (I think that’s the worst explanation of a religion everywhere and I apologize to anyone Jain who happens to be reading this). The temples themselves are really interesting. They are filled with intricate carvings that are different on every pillar. Each of the 7 temples in the one block had its own unique personality. One temple had the remnants of beautiful colors, another was filled with sleeping bats! Everywhere you looked there was a new surprise.

Details on the Jain temple.

Scott, Kari, and I spent the rest of the afternoon having a leisurely lunch and then just wandering around the city aimlessly. I was so glad to meet them and get to know them as we spent pretty much the whole day together so I’m sure they were glad to get rid of me and start their 5 DAY camel safari.

You can probably skip these next paragraphs, but for those that want to get nerdy with me, read on! Jaisalmer is an Earth Systems majors dream. The city is plagued with tons of extremely specific environmental issues that all connect in a hundred weird ways. The guidebook tells you that the Jaisalmer Fort is sinking because of the natural rainfall and the age of the fort. They even go as far as to suggest not staying within the fort walls to be eco-conscious. The locals inside the fort claim it’s not happening, but do realize there is a drainage problem. Apparently, the forts drainage was fine when it was built because the ancient fort constructors were smart cookies and built all of the roads to slope a certain way and drain any rainfall out. It was only the modern drainage that changed everything and ruined the smart design.

The tiny lake is also a factor. Now it is run rampant with catfish. Small children sell loaves of wonderbread for 10 rupees each so you can feed the catfish and they all swarm to eat it. However, catfish aren’t native to the lake and were mysteriously introduced just 7 or 8 years ago! Their dominance wiped out all other fish species and now they reign supreme.

A third fun factor is the wind turbines. All surrounding Jaisalmer, the Indian government built wind turbines since the desert is windy and the local military base requires a lot of energy. The locals should be upset because the wind turbines ruin the view of the desert, thus making Jaisalmer less attractive for tourism, the main industry. However, the real reason locals are upset is because they think the wind turbines have altered the wind patterns and have blown the rain clouds away, affecting the local agriculture. While this is patently untrue, it doesn’t change their rejection of the wind turbines. Earth Systems department, go to Jaisalmer!

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