South Rift Game Scouts donation

Some of the 'bull-dust' common in the Rift Valley during the dry season. The dust is the texture of cornsilk and billows like water - and enters any possible crack and settles on everything.

We arrived at the South Rift Resource Centre in southern Kenya yesterday afternoon after a spectacular drive from the moist highlands of Nairobi down the Great Rift Valley wall, and today spent the day with the South Rift Game Scouts from the two nearby communities.

We brought with us 5 lightweight tents donated by Sierra Designs, and waterproof binoculars and GPS units (and a solar battery recharger) donated by ConserVentures members and supporters.

Jonathan showed the scouts how to pitch the tents and set up and use the binoculars.

The equipment is just the start of a support program we are developing for the community conservation area game scouts in the region. Over half the famous East African wildlife in Kenya exists outside the parks, in community owned lands like the Maasai. They have developed their own scouts program to guard against poaching (which they are very effective at), and act as liaisons with the community when there are wildlife conflicts such as lions eating cattle. Not too long ago these young men would have been 'employed' in their communities as warriors; now they are warriors of sorts, but on the front lines of conservation.

Everything takes longer in Africa ...

...But fortunately the rewards are commensurate.

Delays because of roads, ferries and long lunch service put us behind our hoped-for schedule but that means an extra night on the shores of Lake Victoria. Not bad for the eve of Jonathan's birthday (his third in Africa).

Tomorrow: long day to Nairobi where we have a meeting, then on to the South Rift to deliver the tents, GPSs and binoculars to the game scouts.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Katavi to Kigoma to Lake Victoria

The track from Katavi NP to Kigoma was a surprise -- beautiful scenery, wild, up and over the Masito Escarpment, including a dramatic waterfall. It was a long day, but Kigoma, on Lake Tanganyika, held a little gem to revive us: the Livingstone - Stanley Memorial and museum. It is strictly a labor of love for a delightful Swahili gentleman who gave us a charming tour. He is passionate about the history.

Kigoma has tons of colonial charm but its past is dark: millions of Africans began their forced slave march to the east coast of Africa here.

Tonight we are en route to Lake Victoria where we take a ferry to Mwanza and then cross to Kenya.

Beautiful zebu cattle near Bwanga.

Most villages have guard stations going in and out. The guards are almost always friendly.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Remote Africa

Katavi National Park is one of Africa's most remote and largest, as well as least visited, parks. We saw only a handful of people this morning and then no one the rest of the day as we pushed farther into the park on little travelled tracks. We we rewarded with this idyllic scene -- waterfall and elephant.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Leopard day

Entered Ruaha National Park this morning (barely got in -- they only take US dollars and we had changed most of our funds to shillings). Within 30 minutes we came upon a lovely big leopard sitting in an acasia. Shortly after lunch we found another leopard. And then six lions snoozing off breakfast. Ended the day with sundowners at the Great Ruaha River with the hippos and crocs.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Dodoma to Ruaha National Park

We have covered 600 miles of some of the roughest of Africa's classic 'b' roads -- major routes (buses, trucks) but unpaved or historically surfaced but now rocks and ruts. We had hoped to make Ruaha NP last night but only made it as far as Iringa, a really lovely town near tea plantations. Guest house was US$10 including breakfast and classic Tanzanian dinner with 2 Serengeti lagers was $8. Ugali (polenta-like corn), greens, meat and peas in delicious sauce & fruit.

We found a great Tanzanian-owned campsite just outside the park--includes a big tent for just $15 more a night. Campsites in the park are $50 bare--no shade, no services. We can cook or have food cooked, and they have hot showers. Another plus is daytime security while we are on safari. Our camp for the next 2 days:

-- Posted from my iPhone

Arusha to Dodoma

Leaving Arusha, it was a tight fit. Footpaths suffice as roads barely as wide as a Land Rover.

Tarangire National Park, at Whistling Thorn Camp. A perfect first night.

One of the very best things about Tanzania are the enthusiastic kids. Everywhere you go they chase you or wave.

We arrived in Dodoma today, after 300 miles of classic Africa dirt roads, cattle, goats, trucks. Just had nyama choma (BBQ) and Serengeti lager.
-- Posted from my iPhone

Juvenile ravens at West Coast Tank

About 30 miles south of us is a large manmade charco (Spanish for cattle pond), which fills seasonally - usually in summer when the heavy rains flood the normally dry washes. West Coast Tank is several acres, with a small island in the middle that is sometimes a peninsula, depending on the volume of water. We were delighted to discover this amazing oasis in July and are making regular "safaris" there to enjoy the birds and other wildlife.

One of the highlights of a visit on Saturday was sneaking up on two juvenile ravens sitting deep in a mesquite tree - sound asleep! They were small, about 2/3 size, and the closest one to us (about six feet away) was clearly asleep, slightly wavering back and forth, very comfy in the cool canopy. When they finally heard us, they started shuffling around a little and then started calling - high-pitched for ravens, not yet fully developed. Soon their parents swooped in to scold us and protect them. We left soon thereafter. But the feeling of standing so close to them, while they snoozed, was really quite wonderful - a real nature connection.

Click the player below to hear them vocalizing - their voices are the distinctly higher pitched calls, while the parents - who arrived quickly upon hearing their alarm - are deep and throaty. I recorded this using the iPhone and iTalk from Griffen (If the player does not work, try clicking this to open in a new window: Juvenile Ravens )

iPhone as a journal tool

I caved in to the urge and got an iPhone 3G . . . and have been amazed. It's not 'just' a phone, it's a tiny computer and a GPS. It instantly replaced five 'gadgets' I usually have with me: phone, iPod, computer, camera, and GPS. An unexpected bonus is that I have found it a perfect journaling tool.
What bird was that? The other day we drove down to a pond south of us, and were astonished to find hundreds of birds enjoying the bounty of water in the desert. I didn't have my full field guide set with me, but I was able to confirm Common Ground Dove calling with National Geographic's Handheld Birds app - most every entry includes sound as well as images and data.

I have a real ineptitude for remembering astronomy. My all-time-favorite app thus far is StarWalk. Like having a mini planetarium and personal starguide in your pocket. It's difficult to describe just how cool this app is - you can zoom in and out, scroll 360 degrees around the dome of the sky, including what's below the horizon . . . click on a planet or star or cluster and get full data on it . . . and search for the name of a celestial object and it will show you where it is - all in exact relation to your current location. So when I note in my journal the arresting moonscape-and-planet I saw at 4 am, I can look up exactly which planet.

I always note the times of sun and moon rising and setting, as well as the moon phase. This great app, called Sun and Moon, always keeps it at my fingertips.

With the GPS and two very useful apps, I am always able to follow our route on topographical maps in the U.S., or using Google maps elsewhere. Topo Maps has a full set of USGS maps for download, and GPS MotionX turns the iPhone GPS into a fully functional track and waypoint tool and then some. I no longer need my Garmin, and furthermore it's much easier to use, download maps, and export and share data.

Finally, I am always using the built-in iPhone camera to take snapshots of things I want to sketch, like beetles or a nice sunset. And I can use All-in Notes to take quick voice memos or combined photo / note / memos and email them to my main computer.

All the apps are available at the App store; just use the Search function to find.