Serengetin NP, Tanzania – Part 2

Our camp in the Serengeti was open. There were no fences create a boundary between us and the animals. If they wished to walk through our campsite, they were at liberty to. As we ate our dinner by the campfire, we heard a number of hyenas close to the camp. And the following morning, our tour guide told us that a water buffalo had walked through our camp during the night.

After an early breakfast, we headed out for a sunrise game drive, as the early morning provides good opportunities to see animals before the midday heat urges many of them to take refuge in the shade. It is also the time that the big cats (lions, cheetahs and leopards) are most active.

We did indeed see a few female lions that morning, although they were quite a distance from our truck.  Other animals we saw were zebras, gazelles, topi, warthogs, impalas, dik-diks (small little deer-like animals), to name a few. We were also lucky enough to witness the wildebeest migration. It is incredible how these animals migrate from one part of the Serengeti to another, almost in a perfectly straight line. There was also a leopard sleeping in a distant tree, but due to the insufficient lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a shot of it. Similarly, we saw  a young cheetah eating its breakfast that morning, but it was too far away for me to get a photo of it.

After lunch and a few hours of relaxing by our campsite, we headed out again for another game drive. This time were luckier and saw a number of animals quite close to us.  There was a female lion basking in the shade of a tree, a giraffe almost sticking his head into our truck and a heard of elephants walking across the road right in front of us.

Aside from the animals, the Serengeti landscape is beautiful. I visited in January, which follows the short wet season in November/December, but it did not rain this season. So instead of lush green landscapes, the grasses were dry. But these landscapes were filled with a beautiful spectrum of yellows and oranges, with small flecks of green. The landscape is dotted with small rock formations, Acacia trees, umbrella trees, among others, to create that stereotypical ‘African’ landscape. The opening of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ was running through my head all day. AHHH ZIBENYA AMA ZEE BABA…

Next stop, Ngorongoro Crater (my favourite place in Tanzania).

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Serengeti NP, Tanzania – Part 1

After a night in Musoma, we packed up our campsite and headed towards Serengeti National Park. To me, the name Serengeti always congers up images of the ultimate safari – vast plains filled with hoards of wild animals. And in most ways, it didn’t disappoint. Due to the size of the national park, over 14,000 square kilometres, the animals are rather dispersed, so there did not seem to be ‘hoards’ of them. Many animals were at quite a distance from our vehicle, and because it did not cross my mind to get a new lens for my camera, I had to put up with my 24-105mm and was rather jealous of my fellow travellers who were taking great shots, even with a simple point-and-shoot camera that had a good zoom. Their giraffe took up three-quarters of the frame, whereas mine was a speck in the distance. So naturally, I was rather excited when the animals were close to our truck. One piece of advice if you’re travelling to Tanzania and into photographer, don’t make my mistake and invest in a decent lens.

We had lunch at the entrance of the park and slowly headed towards our campsite, spending time to look out for animals on the way. To our surprise, the first animal we saw was a young male lion lying in the shade of a tree within ten metres of the road. Our guide told us that it was very unlikely to see a male lion, let alone one so close. So we were extremely lucky. Like most of the animals we saw during our stay in the Serengeti, he was not afraid of us and simply continued to enjoy his afternoon nap, as if we were not there.

Further down the road, we took a slight detour and drove by a small dam filled with hippos, perhaps about fifteen of them. Because their skin is so sensitive to the sun and the heat, the hippos spend their days in the water and only come ashore at night. So it’s quite unlikely that you will see a hippo walking around. We didn’t stay too long, as there is always a terrible smell coming from the water wherever there are hippos and we had to get keep moving towards our camp in order to reach it before the sun set.

As we were nearing our camp, we saw a herd of elephants walking through some broken trees. Again, they were quite close to our truck, about twenty metres away, so we were all very excited about this photo opportunity. Whenever we saw elephants, both in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, they were always in a herd, keeping very close to each other, like a tight-knit family.

We reached our camping spot just before sunset and everyone was very excited about our eventful afternoon. I think we were all impressed by all the animals we saw and it was perhaps our best game drive during our two night stay in the park.

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Musoma, Tanzania

Living in Oman means that I’m so much closer to many parts of the world, including Africa. Africa was not on my ‘must do’ travel list, mainly due to the cost of getting there from Sydney coupled with the cost of a safari. I always thought it may be somewhere I’d travel to one day, but it was not on the bucket list. I have been pleasantly surprised with many places I originally had no great intention of travelling to, but due to circumstances, had decided to visit. And Tanzania was no exception.

I had to be out of Oman due to visa requirements and preferred to go somewhere somewhat interesting for a week, rather than simply spending a weekend in Dubai. I intended to travel somewhere reasonably close which wouldn’t cost me a fortune. After considering a few destinations, I decided on flying to Nairobi and visiting either Kenya or Tanzania. I initially wasn’t sure which country to visit. The drawcards for Kenya were Masai Mara National Park and a visit to a Masai village. And for Tanzania, I was keen to visit Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. After a bit of online research and weighing up some pros and cons, I decided to go with Tanzania.

Being a solo-traveller for this trip, I looked into various tours of Tanzania. Private tours were out of my price range, so I opted to join a group tour organise by Intrepid Travel. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Our first stop after departing Nairobi was Musoma, on the shores of Lake Victoria. We had a wonderful campsite by the lake and spent an afternoon exploring the nearby villages on push-bikes with a local guide. The village children were so excited to see us, running out of their homes to wave to us as we rode by. Although they do see westerners now and then, they were still overjoyed by the sight of ‘white people’. We stopped by some local markets and in a couple of the villages, to see how the people live and to talk to some of the locals. Many of the children were initially rather shy and embarrassed to have their picture taken, but they quickly warmed to us and were more than happy to pose. Although the people live an extremely simple life, the children seem more than happy to play outside with one another. Unlike in western countries where children are increasingly home bound and isolated, you can see that these children in Musoma have a great sense of community.

After a night by Lake Victoria, we headed towards Serengeti National Park for two days of game drives.

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Essentials

Getting there:
Nairobi airport is the hub for east Africa. You can fly to either Arusha or Dar Es Salaam, but flights are usually cheaper and more frequent to and from Nairobi. There are a number of tour companies which operate out of Arusha, quick cuts your travel time to and from Nairobi. So if you’re short on time and happy to pay a few extra dollars, this may be the way to go.

Tour:
There are a plethora of companies offering tours in Tanzania. There are a number of factors which go into selecting the right operator for you: a private or group tour, camping or lodges, budget, travel time, itineraries, safety, etc. So take your time contacting a few companies, asking questions and making comparisons. It could make a difference in making your trip enjoyable.

Misfat Al Abriyyin, Oman

If there is one place you have to visit in Oman, it’s the tiny village of Misfat Al Abriyyin. There is hardly a mention of it in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but I think it should be noted as one of the top 10 places to visit. We spent a night here, in an old home which has been converted into a guesthouse, and didn’t want to leave. The village and its surrounds are incredibly picturesque, unlike any other place I have seen in our travels through Oman so far.

The old part of the town, in which now only live a few families, is set on top of a mountain and is surrounded by green terraced gardens. The old homes, some of which are thought to be about 200 years old, have unfortunately been left to crumble. It is interesting to wander around the narrow dust covered paths which lead through the villages, but the nicest walks are found in the gardens at the lower part of the village.

We did two of these walks – one which went down and south of the village, and the other which led north and wrapped around the village. There are painted markers on rocks, which look like small red and yellow flags, to guide you and to lead you away from private property.

The first walk we did early in the morning. We followed a path which lead through the gardens on the lower end of the village and veered south. This walk let us down a long set of stairs and into a wadi and then up another set of stairs to the new part of the village. From this point we looked back and had a wonderful view of old village of Misfat Al Abriyyin, which looks as though it is emerging from the rocky mountain and date plantation beneath.

Later that day, we followed the falaj (irrigation system) towards the north. As we walked along the falaj, we wandered through gorgeous date plantations and lush green gardens. Many of the locals were tending their crops, but hardly noticed as as we walked by. The sound of the following water and the crocking of frog, many of which we saw floating though the water, made us feel as though we were in another world.

In the few sentences that refer to Misfat in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it is mentioned that the village is a tourist destination. As much as I urge people to visit, as it is so beautiful, you do not get the sense that the village is much visited by outsiders. We bumped into perhaps 10 visitors at most during the day we spent there, all of which were staying at the only guesthouse in town. There is no sign of tourism, expect for the signs leading to the guesthouse, so it really does feel as though you are visiting an authentic Omani village, which you are.

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Essentials

Getting there:
As there is no public transport throughout Oman, you’ll have to hire a car. The road to the village is seal and can be reached in a regular sedan. However, I would always suggest you hire a 4WD during any road trip through Oman, as there are a number of places you might like to visit which can only be accessible with one.
Misfat Al Abryinni is located about 35km north of Nizwa, along the Nizwa Bahla road. Once you reach Nizwa, follow the signs to Jebel Shams, Al Hoota Cave and Al Hamra. The nearer you get, follow the signs to Al Hamra. Once you are in Al Hamra, there will be signs to Misfat Al Abriyyin, which is a 7km  from Al Hamra. Park your car outside the village, as you can only enter on foot.

Stay & Eat:
The only accommodation and restaurant is Misfat Old House, which can be booked via bookings.com. It is a traditional home, which has been renovated and converted into a guesthouse. The rooms are very simple, but it is a beautiful place to stay. As most places in Oman, it is expensive for what it is, but it’s worthwhile staying in the village and taking your meals on the terrace which overlooks the date plantation and the mountains beyond. If you’re only doing a day trip to Misfat Al Abriyyin, you can also stop by for lunch.

Remember:
You are visiting an Omani village which has been untouched by modernisation. The people are still very traditional, so please be respectful. Wear shirts which cover your shoulders, and skirts and shorts which cover your knees. Always ask to take photos of people and never take photos of the local women.

Paphos & Akamas Peninsula, Cyprus – Part 2

I was planning to keep this blog up-to-date, but I started working recently (I initially thought I was going to be a stay-at-home expat wife), so have again neglected this blog. It has almost been two months since we visited Cyprus, but here is my final post.

So we spent a wonderful day exploring the Akamas Peninsula. We were extremely lucky with the weather during the time we spent in Cyprus. It was the end of November, but we had incredibly sunny days and the temperature on the coast was a nice 22 degrees celsius. The water was the same temperature, so we also stopped at one of the bays for a swim. Although it was a tad windy, as you can see in the photo below, we could not have wished for better weather.

The bays along the Akamas Peninsula are beautiful, and in November, you can spend a day relaxing by the water and not run into anyone. There were a few people walking along the path from the Baths of Aphrodite to the Blue Lagoon, and one or two other people on quadbikes, but you still felt as though you had the place to yourself.

We headed back to our accommodation in Drousia in the late afternoon. On our way we drove through some of the small rural roads around the village and got some beautiful golden-hued shots of the vineyards and surrounding countryside. The town of Drousia has a population of about 400 people, which swells during the summer months. But in the low season, you can see the locals going about their daily business, tending their fields and wandering through the narrow streets of the village.

We left Cyrpus being very impressed with the country. We spent four fantastic days exploring the southern half of Cyprus. We would like to go back and visit the northern, Turkish administered part of Cyprus some day.

I’m heading to Tanzania next week, so stay tuned for some post from Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and other places in Tanzania. I will also be updating my blog to include a few other places we have visited in Oman over the last few months.

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Essentials

Stay:
We stayed at KTIMA 1937 Kannides (booked on Airbnb) which is a traditional house which has been renovated and converted into five apartments. It was simple and cosy and less than an hour’s drive to the Akamas Peninsula. There is also a new hotel in Drousia, called Dorusia Heights Hotel, for those who are after a bit of comfort and style.

Eat:
Not wanting to venture out too far, we walked down the road from our accommodation and had dinner at Christo’s Tavern. It is run by a lovely husband and wife team and feels like an extension of their home, with simple furniture and a fire place blazing in the winter months. There is no menu, just what’s available on the day.

Paphos & Akamas Peninsula, Cyprus – Part 1

After leaving the Troodos Mountains, we headed west towards the Akamas Peninsula. On the way we stopped at Paphos for lunch and to check out the archeological site. Paphos is a very tourist orientated town, and I’m glad that we visited during the low season, as it was reasonably quiet. Being a tourist hub, there are plenty of great restaurants. We had a wonderful lunch on the waterfront at Ta Mpania.

After lunch, we visited the archeological site. I was a bit disappointed at the quality of the site. I had previously been to Jordan and visited the Roman sites in Amman and Jeresh, which were far superior. However, the Paphos mosaics were fantastic. It’s definitely worthwhile visiting the site for the mosaics alone. They are extremely well preserved for their age, some date back to the 4th century, and they are exquisite.

In the afternoon, we headed north towards the Akamas Peninsula, where we spent the following day exploring the national park on a quadbike. I have included a few photos below, but more information is to come in the following post.

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Essentials:

Eat:
We had a wonderful lunch a Ta Mpania in Paphos. The restaurant/cafe/bar is right on the water’s edge. The interior is well designed and for those who would like to sit outside, there is comfortable lounge seating on the deck overlooking the harbour. I had a moussaka, which was delicious, and Jonathan had a greek sandwich (pita bread filled with olive tapenade, tomato, cucumber and feta cheese). The serving sizes were large and it was great value for money.

Troodos Mountains, Cyprus – Part 2

Since we had only four days in Cyprus, we had to choose to travel through either Greek or Turkish Cyprus. Since the 1950s, north-eastern Cyprus pushed towards a union with Turkey, and south-western Cyprus became increasingly affiliated with Greece. Conflict broke out between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, which finally resulted in the northern part of Cyprus being annexed to Turkey. After doing some research on both sides of the country, we decided to travel through Greek Cyprus, to explore the Troodos Mountains and the Akamas Peninsula.

After our visit to Kykkos Monastery, we stopped by Kakopetria for lunch and to take a wander through the old town. The Englishman we met in Platres suggested we have lunch at Chrysanthis Restaurant in Kakopetria. It was a fantastic recommendation and we had a great lunch of freshly caught grilled trout, salad, baked potatoes, bread and spreads. After lunch we drove into Kakopetria town to explore the cobblestone streets and old mud-brick homes of the old town. It was a very small, but extremely pretty village, with beautiful courtyard gardens.

We also visited the village of Fioni, in search of the famous Foini pottery. The one workshop in town was not open, as we were visiting in the low season, but we called the number on the door and were able to visit the home of the pottery maker. We walked into a small garden to find a old lady, she must be in her 80s at least, who showed us into her barn where she makes pottery. In the past, most of the families in Foini made pottery, but now this woman is the only one left in the town who does. She tried to explain to us, in her limited English, that she had learnt to make the pottery from her mother and grandmother and she showed us a few magazine articles about her and the pottery of Foini. We left purchasing a water jug and a traditional Foini vase, with birds and flowers, which is depicted on the 10 cent piece of the Cyprus Pound.

Our last stop in the Troodos Mountains was was the little village of Lofou. It’s almost worth visiting for the drive drive from Trimiklini, as the landscapes are stunning. The Englishman we met in Platres suggested we visit Lofou as it is a great example of a traditional Cypriot village. Although it appeared to be a ghost town (there was not a soul in sight), the village was well preserved, with the original cobblestones covering the narrow streets of the old part of the village. There were many old original homes, and the few that had been renovated, had been done to reflect their original state.

After two nights in the Troodos Mountains, we headed west to the Akamas Peninsula.

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Essentials:

Eat:
Lunch at Chrysanthis Restaurant, which is on the main road, just outside Kakopetria. There isn’t a menu as such, but the owner of the restaurant, a lovely Cypriot man, attends tables telling diners what he has available that day. We both ordered the grilled trout, which had been caught that morning from dams located next to the restaurant. As with most places in Cyprus, you won’t leave on an empty stomach. Aside from the fish, bread and spreads (tahini, hummus and taramasalata) came out, as well as olives, salad and baked potatoes.

Buy:
Try to locate the old woman in Foini who makes the traditional pottery. There are a few signs with a telephone number in the town, which reaches her daughter, who speaks good English. There are some pottery stores on the main road from Lemesos to the Troodos Mountains, but these are all mass produced. The quality and the style of the Foini pottery is far superior. And plus, you’re supporting this lovely old lady, rather than a big business.