My African Honeymoon

I’m not a beach-bum honeymoon sort of person. So when I got married in September, my husband and I decided to go big: A three-week trip in East Africa, most of it camping in the wild. In doing so I fulfilled a promise I’d made to myself six years earlier: In 2009 I traveled through South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana, and loved it so much I’d vowed I would be back soon. Better late than never!

A view of the Serengeti from our truck.

A view of the Serengeti from our truck.

Our two-week camping tour started in Nairobi, Kenya, in October, and right off the bat we were immersed in animals. In Nairobi, we visited an orphanage for baby elephants (my hiking pants are still stained from their energetic mud wrestling!) and a giraffe-conservation center where we got to kiss the tall beasts. Basically that meant putting a little grass pellet in your mouth and waiting for one of the giraffes to swoop down and seize it with its muscular purple tongue. (See more pictures of my trip on Flickr.)

First destination on our national park extravaganza: Lake Nakuru National Park, which houses one of the famous lakes of the Rift Valley (northwest of Nairobi). It’s often home to flamingos (not when we visited, sadly!) and is also famous for black AND white rhinos, both of which we saw on our evening game drive. 

We had to put up our tents and take them down, often in the dark!

We had to put up our tents and take them down, often in the dark!

Next: Lake Navaisha, another Rift Valley lake. There were lots of hippos! Our campground was very close to the lake, and you couldn’t go to the shore in the evening because the hippos come out of the water to eat (and are dangerous).

We saw a ton of birdlife, including a fishing eagle (which looks a lot like a bald eagle), reed cormorants, grey herons, and white pelicans. 

I really enjoyed our visit to Hell’s Gate National Park, a small park south of Lake Navaisha with lots of wildlife and some really interesting and striking geological formations, including some towers. The park gets its name from a narrow sandstone gorge that you hike down into and walk along for several minutes. It reminded me of a miniature Petra! Also it wasn’t hellish at all.

We came across this male lion panting in the heat under a tree in the Serengeti.

We came across this male lion panting in the heat under a tree in the Serengeti.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the day we spent with the Masai people in Loita Hills, an area near the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai are one of Kenya’s 42 tribes, each of which have a unique culture, identity, and language. The Masai are among the most traditional, though some of them are modernizing. The common language among all the tribes is Swahili.

Brian got to try his hand at manly tasks such as spear throwing and the warrior jump—done to impress ladies—and also was brave enough to try drinking fresh goat blood from a goat we’d donated to the community. (I stuck with the herbal tea made from boiling the goat’s stomach contents.)

Masai men jumping as high as they can, an ancient tradition meant to attract the ladies.

Masai men jumping as high as they can, an ancient tradition meant to attract the ladies.

Then it was on to Masai Mara National Reserve, the iconic park in southern Kenya. Its name comes from Masai, for the people, and Mara, which is the Masai word for dotted, since the clouds make dramatic shadows on the landscape. We saw so many animals, from the secretary bird to lions to jackals to elephants to zebras to hippos to hyenas to even the endangered cheetah! It was baby season, with many moms taking care of wobbly youngsters. My favorite was a teensy little warthog, probably only two pounds if that, which emulated its mom by kneeling on the grass on its front legs.

Undoubtedly the star attraction was Serengeti National Park, 5,700 square miles of wilderness. We saw some serious action here—a mother leopard dragging her fresh kill into the tree, cub at her heels, and four brother cheetahs killing a Thomson’s gazelle right in front of us.

We came across two giant bull hippos bellowing at each other in this primordial way that sounded like dinosaurs.  At our campsite, in the middle of the park, a leopard visited one night to drink some of our water.

This foursome had just hunted a gazelle in the Serengeti. Their mouths are bloody!

This band of brothers had just hunted a gazelle in the Serengeti. Their mouths are bloody!

Not far from Serengeti, we drove in our trusty truck to Ngorongoro Crater, the longest uninterrupted caldera—a type of crater—in the world (100 square miles). It was formed when a volcano erupted millions of years ago.

The perfect habitat for many animals, the caldera has a dense concentration of predators. We witnessed a sad (for us) experience of a hyena pack slowly eating a buffalo calf alive. We also saw some gorgeous birds, including kori bustards, grey crowned cranes, a pair of ostrich, and Egyptian geese.

We saw these beauties in the Ngorongoro Crater.

We saw these beautiful grey crowned cranes in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Our final stop was four days in Zanzibar for some R&R—and yes, some beach time. I have to say I was happy to sleep in a bed again after two weeks of waking up around 5 a.m. to take down a tent.

We toured a spice farm, went snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, and roamed the historic streets of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Zanzibar is famous for its dhows, a traditional fishing boat.

Zanzibar is famous for its dhows, a traditional fishing boat.

We’re already talking about going back to the continent someday to see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, the ancient churches of Ethiopia, or the gorgeous coast of Cape Town. Maybe for our tenth anniversary!

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A Bully Good Time in North Dakota

Some travelers avoid bucket lists, but I love a good challenge! So it’s no surprise I’m trying to make it to all 50 states, and this summer I visited my 48th: North Dakota.

Being nature people, my husband Brian and I decided to base ourselves in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a place we’d heard offers amazing wildlife experiences. Plus, it’s off the beaten path—always a plus.

An overlook in the national park, which houses some of Roosevelt's former ranchland. The president said the badlands have a "grim beauty."

An overlook in the national park, which houses some of Roosevelt’s former ranchland. The president said the badlands have a “grim beauty.”

We hiked and drove through the gorgeous badlands of the 70,000+-acre park, and the wildlife did not disappoint—we saw pronghorn, elk, a prairie rattlesnake, prairie dogs, feral horses, mule deer, turkeys, and of course plenty of the star attraction, bison. (One old male even decided to hang out near a visitor center, causing quite the stir!) The only wildlife species I wasn’t so crazy about was the deer fly, which left some seriously itchy sores on my legs. (I’m a bug magnet of epic proportions.)

We took a ride on this authentic stagecoach—it was pretty bumpy.

We took a ride on this authentic stagecoach—it was pretty bumpy.

Overall though, we relished being out of doors for four days straight, a sensation that unfortunately is all too rare in our lives. We also learned a ton about the incredible history of the area, much of which is rooted in Theodore Roosevelt and his affinity for the remote landscape.

The town of Medora, near the national park, is famous for its country-western variety show called the Medora Musical. This was its 50th year.

The town of Medora, near the national park, is famous for its country-western variety show called the Medora Musical. This was its 50th year.

We met some beautiful domestic horses while we were staying at a cabin in the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

We met some beautiful domestic horses while we were staying at a cabin in the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

I was lucky to write about our North Dakota adventures for the Washington Post—the story published this weekend in the Travel section.

In case you’re wondering, states 49 and 50 are Iowa and Hawaii—I hope to visit both in 2016! I’ll keep you posted.

Christine