I’m currently on Day 4 of my Balkan road trip, and we’ve all sort of nonverbally agreed to a siesta in the hotel in Shkoder before venturing out. Since I already briefly siesta’d in the car (today was my turn in the back seat), I thought this downtime would be a good opportunity to sort through my photos so far and post a few.
The theme of the trip so far is mountains, and since we really have been driving around and faux-moaning, “Oh God, please stop torturing me with these gorgeous mountain vistas,” I thought I’d post a few and let you guess the country. Your choices are: Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (no pictures of Albanian mountains yet, other than maybe the ones that they share with Kosovo).
I finally sorted through my Amsterdam photos to share on facebook, but I realized that a full 50% of them are pictures of flowers from the Keukenhof Gardens. Now, I flew into Amsterdam on April 12, which normally would not be a bad time for tulip viewing, but apparently the Netherlands was in the grip of the Worst Spring Evahhhh! this year and so there was a lot of wailing and moaning online about how the Keukenhof wasn’t actually ready yet and what horrible people they were for opening up the garden at full price without being ready. I sorted through the Tripadvisor comments (I’ve gotten really good at reading between the lines and filtering) and decided that all the reasonable people felt it was still worth the trip even if the tulips hadn’t peaked, and it totally was. I purchased a combo ticket online in advance and took the bus directly from the airport pretty much immediately upon landing. It was all very easy, and once I got there I really enjoyed myself, despite not being much of a botanist. Since I couldn’t very well post 80 photos of flowers on facebook and expect people to sift through them, here they are in slideshow format so that you can just look at a couple of randomized pretty ones whenever you visit the site and scroll past this post. No bonus points for sitting through the whole slideshow because that’s just crazy.
After the Maasai village, we headed back to Arusha. I couldn’t get very good pictures of the town because we were driving, but these are my best attempts:
On our last full day in Tanzania, we did a walking safari and canoeing in Arusha National Park. This was something we added onto our traditional itinerary, and it ended up being a great day: we’d been in the car all week, so it was nice to get out of the jeep for once and stretch our legs. It’s also a really different experience to walk through a park instead of driving: much quieter, of course, and you can immerse yourself in the environment instead of barreling through. This enabled us to get close to a herd of cape buffalo, and also a mother giraffe and two babies. Also, we really liked our guide Rahima – a female park ranger with an interesting story of trying to make it in a very male-dominated occupation and society as a whole.
The feature of Lake Manyara National Park for me was the baboons. I wouldn’t have gone into this trip looking forward to baboons necessarily, but when they’re in big family groups in the jungle, they have tons of personality – really playful and very human-like, especially the constantly squabbling babies. Lake Manyara also featured more elephants very destructively nomming on the trees, monitor lizards, an almost black giraffe, and some new antelope species.
Despite being in Tanzania, we actually spent very little time in the Serengeti (H has a secret conspiracy theory about why this might be: essentially that our guide 1) effed up, and 2) prefers off-roading and scaring the animals in Ndutu). Just a quick drive through on our way out of the Ngorongoro area and back toward Lake Manyara and eventually Arusha. Honestly, though, I don’t feel like we really missed out; we’d already had Tarangire, which was incredible as far as the wildlife, and we’d had the amazing scenery of Ngorongoro and the off-roading experience in Ndutu, so I’d already taken tons of pictures of wildebeest and zebra herds. (Amazing how quickly you become blase about dozens of beautiful animals roaming free.) I snapped a few pictures of interesting birds and lizards, but we were driving too fast for a lot of the rest of it, which was the same as what we’d seen before anyway. So I’m not regretful, and at least I can still technically say that I went to the Serengeti.
After the Serengeti, we went to Oldupai Gorge (it is often written as Olduvai, but this is because the original Europeans misunderstood and misspelled the Maasai name for the place), which is the place where the oldest human ancestor remains have been found and has therefore been dubbed the “birthplace of modern man.” There’s a very small museum there with a pointless accompanying lecturer, since everything the lecturer says is also written, also in English, in the museum, but I enjoyed it anyway (the site overall, not the pointless lecturer). The gorge itself was very striking in a wild, remote kind of way, and it was pretty cool to stand there and think about our ancestors leaving footprints in volcanic ash millions of years ago. You can read more about it here.
On Day 3 I think all we really did was drive from Ngorongoro to Ndutu, get a flat tire in the mud, end up stuck in the rain for a while, and try to figure out how to get through the flooded marsh to reach our campsite. It was like the Oregon Trail computer game: You have reached the Small Marsh. Do you want to: a) Ford the river. b) Hire an Indian guide. c) Caulk the wagon and float it across.
You have lost: 1 wagon axle, 12 bullets, 57 pounds of meat, and the youngest child drowned, but she had dysentery anyway, so it was only a matter of time.
Just kidding. Answer: Make sure a Tanzanian is driving and just plow on through.
On Day 4 we actually explored Ndutu, which is part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area bordering the Serengeti. You can off-road here, meaning that while it can take a long time to find any animals, once you do you can get really close to them, which our driver enjoyed just a little too much at times. (This is where the cheetah pictures that I’ve posted elsewhere and the lion pictures that I will post are from.) The landscape pictures are during the flat tire episode, while we were standing out on the savannah waiting, and most of the animals are from Day 4.
This was my favorite place from the trip.
The jagged mountains like hands cupping pistachio green fields within and the huge clouds in the endless sky overhead were such a perfect backdrop that they made the animals look nearly fake, they were so striking (really, is there anything more striking than a zebra?), often so close, and yet placid at the same time. The whole atmosphere was sort of other-worldly.