Mar 142017
 

Steve and I recently traveled to Lake Tahoe for the wedding of a close family member.  It was my first visit to this magical mountain playground, but it won’t be my last.  While I grew up in the mountains as an avid skier, I lost my fondness for cold weather and any and all sports that go along with it.

I haven’t willingly been in the snow for several years, so I was unsure as to how I would handle the environment in Lake Tahoe in March.  Would I remain inside, huddled by a fire, making every attempt to avoid the out-of-doors except when absolutely necessary (i.e. when leaving the premises for the wedding or rehearsal dinner)?  Or, would I don my snow boots, brave the elements and venture down to the lake to take photos?  Thankfully, my obsession with love of photography took charge, and as it turns out, I had a great time in the fresh mountain air.

Panoramic lake view in Incline Village

Panoramic view of Lake Tahoe

We had two sunny winter days during our trip

We had two sunny winter days during our trip

The sky during a storm which dropped two feet of snow

The sky during a storm which dropped two feet of snow

Steve and me braving the storm

Steve and me braving the storm

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village, which is nestled amongst the evergreens on its own private beach (with pier).  I was very pleased with our lodging choice.  The resort has a beautiful spa, several outdoor hot tubs and a large heated outdoor pool that I used daily.  It also has several good restaurants, a Starbucks and a great gift shop.  And if you ever get a chance to dine at the Lone Eagle Grill – run, don’t walk.  Not only is the food amazing, but the view is one of the best you’ll find in the area.  And for the skiers out there, the resort has a ski valet and is close to Northstar and Mount Rose ski resorts (among others).

The beach at the Hyatt Regency Incline Village

The beach at the Hyatt Regency Incline Village

The resort's pier - no doubt amazing during summer

The resort’s picturesque pier

Close-up of the beach, which was comprised of pebbles in an array of neutral hues

Close-up of the beach, which was comprised of pebbles in an array of neutral hues

Large pinecone were found all along the shore

Large pinecones were found all along the shore

Devouring the Baked Tahoe at the Lone Eagle Grille. This marshmallow-meringue encrusted dessert is pure perfection!

Devouring the Baked Tahoe at the Lone Eagle Grille. This marshmallow-meringue encrusted dessert is pure perfection!

There were a few wildlife sightings during our brief time exploring the lake’s beaches.

A beautiful mallard on the shoreline of the lake

A beautiful mallard on the shoreline of the lake

Well, alright, not exactly wildlife... This is Piper, she travels around the country in an RV.

Well, alright, not exactly wildlife… This is Piper, she travels around the country in an RV.

The wedding that we attended was the perfect representation of the couple’s love for Lake Tahoe and the mountains.  It was held at a beautiful rustic-chic venue near the lake.  The couple attended to every detail themselves, including hand-crafting most of the decor (including the centerpieces).

The Groom hand made the wedding place card holders

The Groom hand made the wedding place card holders

The Groom's father hand-crafted a rustic wooden bench for guests to sign.

The Groom’s father hand-crafted a rustic wooden bench for guests to sign.

Champagne was served on the balcony overlooking the pine forest and snow-capped mountains

Champagne was served on the balcony overlooking the pine forest and snow-capped mountains

Steve and me during cocktail hour

Steve and me during cocktail hour

I can’t wait to return to this paradise, perhaps in the warmer months.  Have you been to Lake Tahoe?  Winter or summer?

Oct 092016
 

My ears perk up, and my eyes open. It’s 3:00 am in the middle of the Tanzanian bush. Was that a lion roaring outside of our tent? As Steve and I lie sleeping in our cozy bed, the only thing separating us from the wildlife is a layer of canvas fabric.  And yet, this may be the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever experienced.

A symphony of bird songs alerts us that dawn is near. As anyone that knows me can attest, morning is not my time to shine. But I’ve ignored my internal clock, hard-wired as it may be, to greet the day before sunrise. Why? Because I am in equatorial Africa, and this may be the most spectacular sunrise I ever see.

The aroma of freshly brewed Tanzanian coffee wafts through the tent. The air is brisk and cool, despite the fact that we are three degrees south of the equator. We will soon meet David, our safari guide, for a sunrise game drive.  We plan to take full advantage of the golden-hour light that makes photographers swoon.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

We gather our packs and pile into the Land Cruiser. It’s early, and we are still swaddled in layers of fleece and cool-weather gear. The sun peeks over the horizon as we head towards the river in search of wildlife. As we leave the dirt road leading to our lodge, our guide spots a solitary male lion lying in the grass. We pause for a moment to admire his grandeur. Game on.

Serengeti Camp

I’ve never been one who enjoys road trips. I am content to get from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible. But I was beginning to sense another major change in myself, here in the midst of these vast amber plains. I’d completely lost my focus on “ the destination”, and I was simply enjoying the journey.

Today we are in the northern Serengeti during a natural phenomenon known as The Great Migration of Wildebeest. During The Great Migration, over 1.5 million Wildebeest traverse Tanzania and Kenya, in herds both unbelievably vast and dense. We hope to witness and photograph the holy grail of wildebeest Migration activities – a river crossing.

wildebeest in northern serengeti

We drive down the road, eyes peeled for animal activity. Wildlife spotting has become our sport of choice, and this is The World Cup. To the right, I spot a giant marabou stork – a massive bird 5 feet (150 cm) in stature. Just ahead a herd of gazelles graze in the grass. On our left side, I spy a cape buffalo. So much beauty surrounds me that I don’t know where to look.

gazelle in serengeti

cape buffalo in serengeti

Thirty bumpy minutes later we near the river. Wildebeest and zebra surround its banks, contemplating their upcoming journey across it. I think I can see the anxiety on their faces and in their body movements. They are afraid – afraid of the unknown, afraid of the water, afraid of the crocodiles that lurk in the shadows. I watch as a lone wildebeest dips its foot in the water, and then quickly pulls it out. It only takes one brave wildebeest for a crossing to commence. Once one takes the plunge, they all march forward.

Our radio crackles, a quick conversation in Swahili ensues, and we speed down the rutted road leaving a virtual dust storm in our wake. We pull up to the river to see thousands of wildebeest leaping in. It’s happening! They swim, single file, hoping to reach the safety of the other side. Some struggle, slip on rocks and lose their footing. It brings tears to my eyes thinking that they may not make it. But I continue snapping away, hoping that I can convey the reality of this unreal scene through my Canon lens.

wildebeest in Mara River

Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

Wildebeest in Mara River

A half an hour later I exhale and put down my camera. This crossing is over, and every single wildebeest made it safely across.  I know that this is a fluke of nature, but I am relieved that I didn’t have to witness a crocodile feast. Dripping wet and exhausted, wildebeest lie all around taking a hard-earned rest.

We go on to witness two more river crossings before noon- each one more exciting than the next. Even our seasoned guide, who has become family after ten days together, is surprised by our good fortune.

Satisfied by what we had seen thus far, we decided to head back to our lodge for lunch. But Mother Nature must have decided that the show wasn’t over.  A leopard was waking from its nap just above us in the trees.

leopard leaping

Sep 262016
 

We recently returned from a three week journey through northern Tanzania and Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago.  This is our travel diary.  We have many photos from our trip, and we will continue to post them in the following weeks.  

A Journey to Tanzania

Our Tanzanian journey began as we touched down at Kilimanjaro airport after a nine hour flight from Amsterdam. We were met by our amazing and tireless guide David Mark Makia (from Access2Tanzania) and taken to Arusha for a short stay.

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We visited three of Tanzania’s sixteen national parks during our safari – Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park and Serengeti National Park. At 14,763 square kilometers (5,700 square miles), Serengeti is the second largest National Park in Tanzania (second only to Ruaha which is 20,300 square kilometers or 7,838 square miles). We also visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the vast Ngorongoro Crater – a volcanic caldera which is unique due to its dense population of wildlife living amongst human settlements (chiefly the Maasai tribe).

Tarangire Park Sign

Welcome to Serengeti

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

Steve and me at the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater

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During our scenic drives through northern Tanzania, we passed the Olduvai Gorge– the cradle of civilization and the site of Mary and Louis Leakey’s renowned archeological work. It is here that the earliest human footprints were found. Olduvai Gorge is located in the area called the Great Rift Valley, which crosses an expanse of East Africa. We were struck by an intense sense of awe and wonder as we traversed this area, as we realized that we are all African at our core.

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The Serengeti is truly the garden of Eden. Serengeti means “endless plain” in the Maasai language of Maa, and it’s easy to see why it was given this name. At first, a simple glimpse at the vast expanse of grassland reveals only flora of green and amber, a few hills and rock formations called kopjes. But once your eyes focus, the wildlife starts to reveal itself. You may spot a lion or pride of lions lying in the grass. If you are lucky, you may spot a leopard draped over a tree branch. Birds abound in every size and hue of the rainbow, with several reaching 1.5m (5 feet) tall . Overseeing the circle of life, eagles and vultures perch in the trees awaiting their turn to feast on a kill (there is a definitive pecking order as it pertains to a carcass). Zebras, antelopes and wildebeest appear all around – at times in great numbers. Elephants, giraffes and buffalo abound. Only a lucky few will catch a glimpse of a cheetah or rhino. We saw both.

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

A Leopard rests in a tree in Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

The Great Migration of Wildebeest in Northern Serengeti

Our guide for the ten day safari was truly a gifted naturalist and communicator. His knowledge of wildlife behavior and habitats appeared innate, although he went to university to study wildlife biology. He revealed himself to be a comedian, and he kept us entertained on the long and often bumpy drives through the parks. On most days, we were in the Land Cruiser for five hours or more, and several of our longer days we were in the truck for ten or twelve hours. Much of this time is spent driving through the reserves/game parks. For instance, our camp in Tarangire National Park was a two hour drive from the main entrance to the park. The drive to the camp is filled with wildlife, so it is quite thrilling.

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

Steve with our guide David in Ngorongoro Crater

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In the parks, we chose to stay in tented camps rather than lodges. We are happy to have made this choice, as the camps allow you to experience the wildlife as if you were part of its delicate ecosystem.

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The camps consist of a small number of large private tents and a central dining and meeting area. They are furnished with comfortable beds, desks, dressers and nice linens. The bathrooms are large and functional and some even have outdoor showers (we showered with elephants at Tarangire). At night, you can hear the lions roaring just outside of your tent – a reminder that you are truly in the wild. Most of the camps employ Maasai warriors as security guards. The Maasai aren’t guarding against mischievous intruders or thieves, rather, they are guarding against lions and other wildlife. In the camps, it is not permitted to walk alone before 6:00 am or after 6:30 pm. A guard must accompany you if you venture outside the tent during darkness. As soon as you unzip the tent or illuminate a flashlight, the Maasai guard was at your side in seconds.

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Our Maasai security guard at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

Tented lounge area at Lemala Ewanjan Camp in Serengeti

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The Maasai are found only in Kenya and Tanzania. They are an autonomous people with a semi-nomadic nature. There are currently around 1.7 million Maasai people, and they live mainly around the game parks. Their livelihood is based on their livestock, and they consume only meat, milk and blood (although some have started to eat grains). Interestingly, they consume no vegetables. We visited a Maasai village in Ngorongoro, and they explained their culture and showed us the inside of a hut and also the school. Despite being a warrior culture, the people are kind and subdued. They have a proud and regal nature.

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

Maasai Warriors in Ngorongoro

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At the end of the 10-day Safari we flew to Pemba Island, just north of Zanzibar in the Zanzibar Archipelago. These islands have been dubbed the Spice Islands, and the aroma of cloves, lemongrass and cinnamon fill the air. Pemba produces 70% of the world’s cloves. Pemba is a lush, verdant and hilly island where fruits and vegetables fall off the trees and vines. It is also known for its excellent diving, and we were able to experience some beautiful reef dives while there.  Pemba and Zanzibar share a Muslim culture, and the people are some of the kindest I have ever met. We were warmly welcomed to the island and treated with the utmost respect.

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

View from Manta Resort on Pemba Island

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We would like to thank Karen Stupic at Access2Tanzania for helping us plan and execute this trip of a lifetime. We also wish to thank our tireless guide David Mark Makia, who we now consider a part of our family.

 

Have you been on an African safari? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Aug 032016
 

Today brought much needed showers to the island with cooler temps and a nice breeze.  Here’s a peek into island life this week on Bonaire.

A flock of 60 flamingos at Pekelmeer

A flock of 60 flamingos at Pekelmeer

Making a splash at Bachelor's Beach

Making a splash at Bachelor’s Beach

A mangrove root reflection. Mangroves are important coastal barriers against storms and erosion, and they also provide crucial habitats for juvenile fish, crustaceans and birds.

A mangrove root reflection. Mangroves are important coastal barriers against storms and erosion, and they also provide crucial habitats for juvenile fish, crustaceans and birds.

From a kind soul in Belnem

From a kind soul in Belnem

Just sand and sea

Just sand and sea

A church in historic Rincon

A church in historic Rincon

A pelican roosting near Pink Beach

A pelican roosting near Pink Beach

And finally, we recently took part in the 13th annual Jellyfish Jamboree hosted by jellyfish expert Bud Gillan. Below is a specimen of Alatina alata, a box jellyfish seen in Bonaire’s coastal waters 8-10 days after the full moon.  This and other samples are collected, with permit, for research at CIEE in its tropical marine ecology program.

alatina alata in bonaire

Feb 262016
 

Bonaire is a nature lover’s paradise.  Many visitors are lured here by the spectacular underwater life and crystal clear aqua waters.  And while the sea life is incredible, sometimes we need to decompress and look upwards.

There are over 210 species of sea birds, shore birds and land birds on Bonaire, and the island is an excellent habitat for bird watching and bird photography.  The vibrant Caribbean Flamingo is the most well-known of Bonaire’s birds, but there are many other beautiful species to behold.

The Yellow-shouldered Parrot (Amazona barbadensis) is the sole species of parrot native to the ABC islands (it is now extinct on Aruba).  It is an endangered species that is highly protected on Bonaire.

Yellow-shouldered Parrot

Yellow-shouldered Parrot

Other interesting land birds found on Bonaire are the Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax) and the Bare-eyed Pigeon (Columba corensis).

Brown-throated Parakeet

Brown-throated Parakeet

Bare-eyed Pigeon

Bare-eyed Pigeon

Among Bonaire’s shore birds, both herons and egrets are commonly seen wading in the mangrove areas or marshlands.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Snowy Egret in Flight

Snowy Egret in Flight

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)

Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)

The majestic Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentals) is a sea bird that is often seen making dramatic dives into the ocean to feed.

Pelican

Brown Pelican

Pelican

Brown Pelican

Other sea birds found on Bonaire are the Frigatebird (Fregata magnificent), which is the most common sea bird on the island, and the Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus).

Royal Terns

Royal Terns

For more on Bonaire’s bird life –

Birds of Bonaire

Avibase

Info Bonaire

What is your favorite bird species on Bonaire?