Sunday, October 27, 2013

Steichen, Disarm and GAZI

Today is Tash's birthday so I met up with her this afternoon to celebrate her special day.  We started off at the NGV for the newly opened exhibition Edward Steichen and Art Deco Fashion.  Steichen was the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923-1938, and photographed models, Hollywood actors and other important people of the time.  The photos were pretty amazing, especially the portrait shots of Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.  The exhibition also includes Art Deco dresses, coats and shoes from the 1920s and 1930s.  The beading and sequins on these pieces is very intricate and beautiful.  It's great to be able to look at the clothes up close and see the detail of the work.  I highly recommend the exhibition, which is on until March 2014.  Check it out if you are in Melbourne.

When we exited the exhibition we were able to watch a live performance in the NGV's Federation Court of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes' Disarm, which is part of the Melbourne Festival.  Reyes' used parts of weapons confiscated by the Mexican Government to create 47 musical instruments.  The motto of this work is "Make Art Not War!"  The live performance this afternoon was improvised by avant-garde collective Make It Up Club, who played for a bit over an half hour.  It would have been interesting to see what previous performers have done with the instruments over the past few weeks.  Both Tash and I also thought of all the sampling one Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) could do- who knows what music he would come up with?  After the performance we had some afternoon tea in The Tea Room, including macarons and a coffee eclair.  Yummy!

We met up with Tash's friend Melissa for a drink at The Duke before heading to dinner at George Calombaris' Greek restaurant GAZI.   I have been meaning to try this place out for a while, and it did not disappoint.  We had excellent service throughout the evening, and were seated at the bar so we were able to watch the kitchen preparing all the dishes in front of us.  We started with a trio of dips and then shared the vegetable, cheese and eggplant entrees.  We each got our own little souvlakakia (I had the duck) and then sorbet and loukomathes for dessert.  I was so full at the end but it was such a delicious meal.  I look forward to coming back and trying more dishes on the menu.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zanzibar - Dar es Salaam - Dubai - Melbourne

The last few days have been travel days as we gradually made our way back to Melbourne.  We ate our last breakfast beach side at the Villa Kiva Beach Resort early on 17 October before being picked up around 7:00 am for the hour long drive to the airport in Zanzibar.  The one departure there terminal was packed with three separate flights leaving around the same time, which was entertaining.  Our Precision Air flight to Dar es Salaam was at 10:10 am and we were in the air for around 15 minutes. 

When we arrived at Julius Nyerere International Airport I had hoped that we'd be able to check in our bags for our Emirates flight to Dubai at 4:45 pm and maybe even escape the airport for a bit to go explore Dar es Salaam.  That plan didn't work out though because when we went through security with all our luggage we learned that we wouldn't be able to check in until after 1:30 pm and would be stuck in the small international terminal departure area until then.  With a few hours to kill, no food and no wi-fi all there was to do was sit in the little three row seating area and read my book.  I dubbed the spot Westerner row as everyone with international connections was stuck there unless you wanted to go back out through security with your luggage.  Lesson 1: Catch the noon flight from Zanzibar.  Lesson 2: The airport in Dar es Salaam sucks.

After a few hours we were able to line up to check in at Emirates and then proceeded through customs.  I was very happy to finally have some access to food so I could eat lunch and then walked around checking out some of the shops before boarding.  The 5 1/2 hour flight to Dubai was fairly non-eventful but packed.  I watched the movies Now You See Me and The Heat as the entertainment channels had a predetermined running order.

Arriving at Dubai International Airport was a bit of culture shock as it was clean, luxurious and screamed money- a far cry from our African airports and the past 3 weeks on safari.  We cleared customs quickly as our bags had been checked through to Melbourne and had transfers prearranged to the Admiral Plaza Hotel.  This was my first time in Dubai so I didn't mind the drive around at night before we got dropped off at our hotel around 1:00 am.  The sad thing though was that we would be leaving at 7:15 am, so that meant I got about 4 hours of sleep on a hard trundle bed as the three of us shared a room.  Although we didn't get much sleep, staying the night in Dubai did break up the flights and allowed us to shower and change clothes before the last leg to Melbourne.

The driver picked us up at the hotel and drove us back to the airport.  I do wish I was able to explore a bit of Dubai but that will have to be on another trip.  We wandered around the duty free shops in the airport before our mid-morning Emirates flight to Melbourne.  Although it was full we were on one of the brand new A380 planes, which are very nice and have wide screen tvs in the headrests, a good selection of entertainment options and legroom.  I kept myself occupied during the 13 1/2 hour flight by watching the movies The Sapphires and The Hangover Part III, as well as the entire third season of the tv show Portlandia and Blur's free concert in London during the Olympics last year (this was fitting since I have been reading Alex James' book "Bit of a Blur" during the trip).  Due to the timing of the flight I didn't sleep at all as it was within my normal awake hours for the past few weeks.  I suspect I will pay for this over the weekend since we arrived in Melbourne at 6:30 am this morning.  The goal for today is to stay up as long as I can to try and get onto Australian time.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stone Town- Zanzibar

For our last full day of the trip the alarm clocks were back on as we had to wake up early this morning and head out to the airport to drop off Shevonne for her flights to London (we will be making the same trip tomorrow).  This was our first time leaving Villa Kiva Beach Resort in the daylight and I was not expecting to see a little shanty town right outside the gate.  The roads have been mostly good in Zanzibar and the majority of housing is a mix of cinder blocks or mud and sticks with either thatched or metal roofs.  We drove through little communities and towns along the way to Stone Town, which is the main city on the island.  As today is Eid al-Adha there were many people at or coming from morning prayers at the mosques as we drove past.

After saying goodbye to Shevonne at the airport we headed to Stone Town for our half day excursion by Regional Tours and Safaris.  We started the tour with our guide at the food market and wandered through the fish, meat, vegetable and spice sections.  Then we went to the site of the former slave market, which is now an Anglican church.  The slave market was run to sell East African slaves to Arabs in the Middle East and lasted until 1873 when explorers Dr. David Livingstone and H. M. Stanley helped to persuade the government to stop the slave trade (slaves to the United States and Europe came from West Africa).  The very small rooms where 50-75 slaves were held at a time before going to auction still remain, and there is a slave memorial of statues on the grounds that was done by Clara Sornas in 1997.

Next we wandered around the narrow streets of Stone Town, stopping at various buildings and admiring the ornate carved wooden doors along the way.  Indian style doors have rounded tops, while Arab style doors are rectangular.  Some of the hotels in the area are pretty nice and have interesting histories.  We also passed Mercury House, where Queen singer Freddie Mercury lived with his family until he was 9 years old.  

The Old Fort built by the Omani Arabs in 1700 still stands along with an outdoor music pavilion that was added to its grounds in the 1990s.  We also saw the outside of the House of Wonders, which is the largest and tallest building in Zanzibar and was the first to have electric elevators and piped water.  Unfortunately it is currently under renovation so we couldn't go inside.

The half day tour was quite interesting and I loved all the historic architecture.  As it was hot we bought an ice cream from one of the beach side stands and then headed back to Villa Kiva.  I spent the afternoon staying out of the sun and water since I didn't want to make my sunburn worse and repacked my luggage for the long journey home starting tomorrow.  At dinner the manager of Villa Kiva, Gabriella, gave us each little necklaces as a thank you and memento for staying at the resort, which was really nice of her.  It's hard to believe our African holiday has come to an end, but I've had a wonderful time on this trip.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Villa Kiva Beach Resort- Zanzibar

The past two days have been the first time in a couple weeks that I haven't had to wake up early to an alarm clock.  It's been so nice to be able to stay in one place, relax and not have to sit in a car driving along a dusty and bumpy road.  The Villa Kiva Beach Resort has been a wonderful place to decompress from the safari.  It's great to be staying in a small place with only a few other guests here as well.  We have had breakfast out on the verandah each morning with a lovely view of the beach and the sound of waves in the background.  Days have been spent lounging under thatched umbrellas reading and taking dips in the pool and the ocean.  The beach has the most amazing white, fine sand and the ocean water is warm and clear (although there is a bit of seaweed floating around).

Today we took a walk along the beach to check out the other properties.  Many were private residences (as Villa Kiva used to be) with a couple other resorts dotted along the way.  Since it was so hot and bright out on the sand we didn't end up walking too far.  For the most part I have been slathering on the sunblock and keeping covered, but I got a bit more sun than I bargained for this afternoon so I'm now a bit sunburned.  Moisturiser is my friend at the moment.

We have had some amazing dinners at Villa Kiva- Italian themed food using fresh seafood and other ingredients.  It's almost like having a little degustation each night with the various courses.  Tomorrow we will be heading out for an excursion to Stone Town so that should be fun (although it does mean getting up early).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lake Manyara - Kilimanjaro - Zanzibar

Today was a day of travel and goodbyes for the touring group.  After breakfast at the Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge we took a group shot with our Tanzania drivers from Sunny Safaris Peter and Sayid before hitting the road for Kilimanjaro International Airport.  We spotted some giraffes along the roadside of the highway, which made up for not seeing any yesterday (and shows that some animals are in the reserve but not necessarily the national park).  We stopped again at a curio shop, and this time I actually bought some things- note cards with batik prints and a t-shirt for my nephew.

We spent a few hours on the road as we drove through Arusha to get to Kilimanjaro.  After arriving at the airport we said goodbye to our drivers and gave them their tips and gifts.  It was especially sad to say goodbye to Peter as he was such a lovely person and great driver over the past 6 days.  Next it was time for the group to split apart as most were flying to Nairobi and Dubai before jetting off to various locations while Chantal, Shevonne, Shirin and I had flights to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.  Both of our flights were on Precision Air, which is a Tanzanian airline.  The first flight to Dar es Salaam actually left early, while our second flight to Zanzibar was a bit late although we were only in the air for around 20 minutes. 

It was dark when we arrived in Zanzibar and we had a driver waiting to pick us up and take us to our home for the next few days, the Villa Kiva Beach Resort in Matemwe on the north east coast of the island (about an hour away from the airport).  There were so many people out and about as we were driving to the resort, and you could definitely tell that the population is predominately Muslim. 

At the resort we were greeted by Gabriella who manages the property and is originally from Italy.  The place is pretty amazing and we are staying in a cottage with two separate rooms that join together in a middle closet area.  We had a fantastic light and fresh dinner with seafood in the outdoor dining area before heading back to our rooms for the night.  It will be so nice to rest and not have to get up early to go on a game drive.  I am looking forward to being able to stay in one place and relax before flying back to Melbourne at the end of the week.  I can't wait to see everything in the daylight and hit the beach tomorrow.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Karatu - Lake Manyara

We had such a lovely stay at the Ganako Luxury Lodge and that was thanks to the wonderful staff who were very eager to meet our needs and provided such friendly service.  We bid them farewell and headed back out on the road.  One of the things you learn while traveling in Africa is that every tour operator has arrangements with specific curio (souvenir) shops along the way.  All of these curio shops basically sell the same things- the key is in the negotiation of a price for the items you want to buy because the first prices they give you are ridiculous.  Members of my travel group are excellent negotiators, while I am not.  However, I haven't really purchased that much stuff because nothing has really grabbed me and I also have to consider luggage weight, customs restrictions, etc.

The first curio shop we stopped at today in Karatu had the largest selection of items I've seen yet and they were also willing to negotiate.  The prices people paid were more realistic, but this could also be because the group is more in tune with what things should actually cost.  The second curio shop was a main tourist stop since they also sold Tanzanite jewelry.  A few people bought some Tanzanite there, but it was more of a hard sell than the other place we stopped at in Arusha where you could trust the cut and color of the stone you were getting was what they said it was.

After the shopping we checked into the Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge and ate our packed lunches out by the pool area, which was very nice.  The lodge is located up on a hill and has great views of the lake.  Once we finished we headed out for our afternoon game drive in Lake Manyara National Park.  The entrance to the park is a forest with mountains around it that has a lot of natural springs with fresh water creeks running through it.  Then you descend into the valley where the lake is.  The land there is fairly arid because in the 1990s the lake expanded out to the forest line during an El Nino year, and due to it being salt water ruined all the soil once it receded (it still hasn't recovered).

As for animals there were lots of baboons all over the place, along with some blue monkeys and different types of birds.  We saw wildebeests and zebras in the valley, but no giraffes or elephants at all.  This may have been due to a major flash flood the park experienced in March which washed away some roads and land, or could have just been the time of day.

Since it was hot we only stayed out for a few hours and then returned to the lodge to relax.  It was a bit disappointing not to see anything special on our last game drive, but we have been so lucky throughout this trip that I can't really complain.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Serengeti - Karatu

It was a very early start for our dawn drive in Serengeti National Park.  We got to watch the sun rise which was pretty spectacular, especially as the sun finally popped over the horizon.

There weren't too many animals out in the early morning hours but we did see some giraffes, impalas, guinea fowl, geese, ostriches, zebras and wildebeests.  The zebras lead the migration, which is why there are so many in the park at the moment.  We came across a lion with a zebra kill under a tree, which we think was the same one we saw yesterday.  It was surrounded by vultures and jackals, and if we had the time it would have been interesting to watch throughout the day to see how things played out.  There was a pack of hyenas that had killed a zebra as we were coming back to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge.  All of them were feasting on it and one was even running around with a leg in its mouth that it was trying to keep away from the others.

After having breakfast and checking out of the lodge we drove back through Serengeti National Park on our way out of the area.  We returned to the spot where we saw the lionesses and cubs on a rock yesterday and found them again.  While we were watching I turned around and there was a massive lion climbing down the rocks behind our van.  He soon settled into a shady spot for a nap, so we then drove around a bit further and found a young lion lying in the grass.  He didn't really move but raised his head a couple of times.  We are very lucky our driver Peter is so good at spotting animals and knowing where to look for them.  We also came across a cheetah with a fresh kill, but it was too far away to see clearly.

As we crossed out of the Serengeti we drove back through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and around the perimeter of the crater.  It was another bumpy and dusty ride for a few hours until we were back on pavement again.  This evening we are staying at the Ganako Luxury Lodge in Karatu, which is hidden away up a steep hill at the end of a little dirt road.  The lodge is only a year old and the bungalows are massive.  The place is still partially under construction and not fully open yet, but will be amazing once it's done (although be warned it is hilly and there are some steep parts on the grounds).  We had drinks and dinner with our two drivers Peter and Sayid, and Peter even sang a song for everyone (which he's also done for us in the van).  Tomorrow we head off to Lake Manyara.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


After breakfast we headed out for our morning game drive in Serengeti National Park.  The first thing we saw was a hyena that was half-caked in mud, as well as some warthogs (including babies).  There were also small monkeys, a heron, and guinea fowl.  We found a large amount of hippos in a large watering hole and then spotted our first crocodile of the trip- and he was massive!

The main animals of the morning were zebras- there were hundreds of them on the grasslands.  They were being stalked by lions (we saw two crouched in the grass) and we could hear the zebras putting out some sort of warning call to each other.  One wasn't so lucky though as we came across a massive lion next to a freshly killed zebra by the side of the road.  He was just lying there next to it and not really moving.  At a watering hole later on some of the zebras were trying to build up the courage to drink some water, but they kept getting spooked and would stampede back across the road.

We saw a few herds of elephants as well as impala.  The biggest find though was a couple leopards in two different trees.  The first one we came across was easier to see, although it took some time for it to move from its lazy perch and show its head.  The second one was hidden in a tree that also had monkeys jumping around, which our driver Peter said was a rare sight.

We drove back to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge for lunch and a bit of down time.  We spotted this pink and purple agama lizard on the rocks by the restaurant and also had a wander to the pool and observation area before the thunder and rain started.

Our afternoon game drive happened with on and off rain showers, which helped keep down the dust so that was a bonus.  We came upon two elephants by the side of the road that were so close to our van and spent some time watching them.  At one point they both were resting their trunks on their tusks before they walked away.  Next we saw a hippo that was standing outside of the water- a rare sight!  Something spooked him and he ran off fairly quickly for an animal that size.

We also came upon a cheetah that was eating its kill, but it was far away and hidden in the brush.  Then we managed to find two lionesses and their four cubs playing around, with one bouncing up to its mother and jumping on her face.  They were very cute, but far enough in the distance that you had to use binoculars to see them.  Our other lion spotting of the afternoon was a male and female who were mating several times.  As it was getting dark we headed back to the lodge and came across a group of giraffes near the entrance.  It was a pretty amazing day for seeing lots of different animals.  Tomorrow we are doing a dawn drive so it will be a very early morning!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ngorongoro - Serengeti

After a quick breakfast and packing our own lunch boxes at the Ngorongoro Farm House we headed out to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area for today's game drive.  It was very foggy on the mountain as we drove in, but the fog eventually cleared as we descended into the crater.  We saw lots of different animals in the morning including zebras, wildebeests, a huge flock of flamingos and some other birds, hyenas, warthogs and ostriches (with the rare sight of two mating in the distance).

Our biggest sightings of the day though were of lions.  We came across 5 females lying around different sections of a watering hole, including two right next to each other along the banks.  We then came across a male and female who proceeded to mate two times while we were watching them.  The lion kept following her around, although the mating didn't last that long.  Finally we saw another 3 females who had a fresh kill.  Two of them were wandering around all the safari vans along the roadside and even rubbing up against the tires!

We ate our lunches near a lake that had quite a few hippos in it.  It was nice to get out of the van and stretch our legs a bit.  After eating we headed back up out of the crater and drove around the perimeter a bit more, stopping at an observation point to get the view of the crater we couldn't see first thing in the morning due to the fog.

Our two and a half hour drive to the Serengeti was entirely on unpaved and dusty roads.  Since our vans are a bit like hot boxes with the roof closed it meant that it wasn't the most comfortable of rides.  We checked into the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, where we will be staying for the next two nights.  The rooms are tiny- in fact our luxury tent in Masai Mara was bigger!  However, since we are staying in Serengeti National Park it should make our game drives easier.  The restaurant and bar area are really cool though and built into the rock on the upper levels of the property (complete with little cave paintings).  Tomorrow we get to drive around the Serengeti, which should be amazing.

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