tanzania tuesday: filthy hippo edition

i chomp you!

Today we take a peek at hippos. As you might imagine, these behemoths are quite easy to spot, not only due to their large size, but also because in the park, they have several well-established locations where they like to hang out.


The Wikipedia article is chock full of interesting facts. I’d recommend spending 3 minutes reading it just because you’re probably not thinking about hippos enough in your daily life.

For instance, hippos are most closely related to whales and other cetaceans. But their foot structure resembles that of a giraffe.


Wikipedia doesn’t mention much about hippos lounging on grass, but we saw these lazy bastards just soaking up the sun in the Ngorongoro crater.


Although hippos typically spend most of their time in the water, they don’t eat water plants, preferring to eat grass. They can eat up to 150 lbs. of grass at a time, and “over prolonged periods hippos can divert the paths of swamps and channels” as they walk to their favored grazing spots.


Adult hippos can’t swim! They bounce off the bottom of the river bed.

I find that fact to be ludicrous, as if these animals weren’t ludicrous enough already.


As hippos are related to whales, the typical way to refer to a group of them is a “pod”. An alternate group name, and the one I prefer is a “bloat”.

filth fight

filth fight, 2

flith fight, 3

A hippo pool smells like an outdoor toilet that has been abused by animals the size of… hippos. That splashing water isn’t brown from mud. It’s poop. Hippo poop.

They mostly just lounge around, but there’s the occasional bit of splashing.

Males are only territorial in the water, but they don’t fight to the death; they fight to the pain… of humiliation. Once one hippo realizes it’s weaker, it goes away. And there’s nothing that’s more painful than humiliations galore.

waddle waddle
galump, galump

That’s it for this edition of Tanzania Tuesday! See you next time!

tanzania tuesday: attack of the birds!

secretary bird

The famous secretary bird, so-named because the feathers behind its head resemble a secretary with quill pen tucked behind her ear. This guy is cool because although he can fly, he prefers to run around on the ground and catch its prey by stamping on it or smashing it with its beak like a hammer. Wikipedia says:

Studies of this latter strategy have helped reconstruct the possible feeding mechanisms employed by the dinosaur-like ‘terror birds’ of five million years ago.

Think about that for a minute. Terror birds. Hundred-foot tall terror birds stomping around and smashing tiny mammals with their beaks. Terrifying.

kori bustard, 2

A Kori Bustard. We got these confused with secretary birds, although in retrospect, I’m not sure why as they look quite different. Apparently, another bird (the bee catcher) is supposed to ride on top of this bird, although we never saw that happen.

male and female ostrich

No explanation needed for these ostriches. They’re pretty common in the Serengeti, and once we saw a flock of perhaps 10 or 12 just standing around. Quite a site. The male has the darker feathers, and the female is a lighter shade of grey.

I find it bizarre that they have different colored necks.

lilac breasted roller

Small birds aren’t easy to identify for a non-birder, but the lilac-breasted roller is colorful and distinct. Other small birds were pretty much impossible to identify, let alone photograph, as they were constantly flying away from us.

crowned crane, 1

We saw lots of crowned cranes, although in local vernacular, they’re just referred to as crowns. Surprisingly for me, crowns seem to be quite happy in dry environments, not needing wet marshes that we typically associate with cranes here in the States.

helmeted guineafowl

The helmeted guinea fowls always made me laugh because things are funnier when they’re fat.


Buzzzzz. A vulture from the old world. Wikipedia says they’re different from new world vultures because they hunt by sight, rather than smell.

One interesting tidbit I learned was that vultures spend as much time watching each other as they do looking at the ground, and when one bird takes an interest in something on the ground, the other birds join in on the circling. It’s the vulture version of keeping up with the Joneses, and in a hilarious parallel, it’s exactly what the safari trucks do on the ground, watching each other and congregating in hopes of seeing a lion or something.

oi! oi, oi!

Ooh, the vultures have found a dead wildebeest. Nom!

gnuh, mr. marabou is here

Ruh roh, a marabou stork has arrived. This bird is hideously huge and ugly, and by far my favorite bird I saw the entire trip. I thought vultures were huge, but look at how the marabou stork dwarfs them. It’s not just foreshortening either.

down the gullet

Mr. Marabou gulps rotting wildebeest down his gullet, which expands like a pelican’s. So awesome.

i'm outtie

Thanks for stopping by for another installment of Tanzania Tuesday!

tanzania tuesday: where the antelope play

face off!

Two male Thomson’s gazelles face off

Today’s Tanzania Tuesday entry is about members of the antelope family.

thomsons foraging

Thomson’s gazelles are ubiquitous. They were, by far, the most common form of wildlife we saw in our travels. They’re twitchy and prone to bolt and perhaps the size of a blue heeler dog.

impalas, 2

You’d think that it would be easy to differentiate Thomsons from impalas, because the impalas’ horns are curved to such an extreme degree.


In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference between the female impala and the male Thomson. The way to be sure is to look for the horizontal strip on the Thomson. Impalas don’t have stripes.

Impalas are larger than Thompsons too. They seemed to be about the size of a North American doe deer.

dik dik

This is a dik dik. They’re really cute, really small, and rather rare. I think we saw two in all of our travels.

Too bad we never heard them scream, which is supposedly what they’re named for. It would be cool to see a mini-deer the size of a large cat, scream.


Speaking of rare, these were the only two eland we saw at all. The above photograph was taken from about 150 yards and even with the tight crop, they still don’t really fill the frame. Eland are extremely shy, and when we pulled up, even at 150 yards out, these two shied away. I only had about 30 seconds to get this shot.


Topi are pretty cool, leathery looking creatures. They were more common in the western part of the Serengeti, compared to the eastern part of the park.


The life of all animals in the bush is an itchy one. Flies, gnats, mosquitos, and all sorts of other flying biting stinging nasties fill the air and are just waiting to swarm. No animal seems safe, except possibly birds.

The lesson to be learned here is that air power is always the advantageous form of warfare.

Happy Tuesday!

tanzania tuesday: lions!

oral hygiene

Tech Tuesday is on temporary hiatus, as it’s been replaced with Tanzania Tuesday.

Today’s topic is lions!

In Swahili, “simba” are one of the highlights of any safari. Everyone wants to see lions. Luckily, these cats are rather easy to find while on safari, as they’re rather large (compared to say, leopards), and tend to laze about openly.

surveyor purveyor

Surveying the Ngorongoro crater.


Default state of being: waiting and watching.

where's mah food?

A lazy male.

idk, think we can catch it?
Stalking an ostrich. Dream on, kitties…

What you won’t see much of are lions actually hunting. Mostly, this is because they hunt in the early dawn hours, and likely, you won’t be awake unless you can convince the rest of your group (and driver!) to be up at 5am and out the door by 6am.

If you do manage to find lions hunting during the middle of the day, you probably won’t see any actual kills, since what happens is that one safari truck pulls up to watch the hunt, and then ALL the safari trucks pull up alongside to watch as well. The constant influx of trucks obviously disturbs both predator and prey, meaning you probably won’t see any actual kills. Sigh, the tragedy of the commons.

You may have better luck in the less popular parks, but in the Serengeti… forget it.

.oO( holy shit! )

Thompson Gazelle metaphorically crapping its pants…



Lion cubs are somewhat hard to spot, due to their smaller size and their coloring. But when found, they obey the law of charismatic megafauna, which is to say, babies of said megafauna are invariably cute.


david goes on the attack

Flies are a fact of life in the bush. Every animal has to deal with them, even if they’re at the top of the food chain.

Lions will hunt people; they’re what make the bush dangerous. It’s not like the ocean, where you can go scuba diving amongst sharks and they probably won’t bother you. If you’re walking around in the bush, especially at night, you’re easy meat.

Packer estimates more than 200 Tanzanians are killed each year by lions, crocodiles, elephants, hippos, and snakes, and that the numbers could be double that amount, with lions thought to kill at least 70 of those.

lions on wikipedia

this is africa country

“My name is Asim. This is Africa country.”

So said the driver sent to fetch me from Julian Dean International Airport. We stepped into the night and sped towards the Dar Es Salaam CBD.

“Speak Swahili?”

I fished around a bit and managed “jambo!” but after that, nothing. Asim, satisfied, repeated

“This is Africa country.


Dar Es Salaam.”

Gramma’s throat

The flight to Dulles was slightly delayed, not enough to be alarming, merely annoying.

I ran to the empty departure area, slightly out of breath and as I checked in with the gate agent, she smiled and ripped up my boarding pass. It took me a half beat to catch on as she mumbled about “operational needs forcing a seat change” and handed me a slip with a single digit number on it.

And that is how I came to spend my most luxurious cross-atlantic trip yet. The seats recline to full bed position and they featured a lovely vintage port along with a cheese plate for dessert.

One of the nice little perqs of my company is that you get access to business lounges. I’m happy to report that the Panorama lounge here in Zurich is impeccably jawesome.

And this is why I would slit your gramma’s throat to keep elite status every year.

Time to go find a Swiss toilet. My finely honed traveller’s intuition tells me they’re going to be better than what I’m about to encounter over the next two weeks.

Auf wiedersehn!

two weeks in a carry-on


neopolitan packing

ready, freddie

As is my tradition before leaving on a long international trip, I’m up too late blogging instead of doing other, more reasonable things, like sleeping. But at least I’m mostly done packing.

I’m excited by two new innovations on this trip. First is the REI self-stowing Zip daypack, which is rather self-explanatory. In it’s self-stowed form, it’s approximately exactly sized between the Chico Daypack20 and the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack which we talked about in a previous episode.

The second is the Eagle Creek compression vacuum bag. With it, I was able to compress down two weeks worth of clothing so that it only occupies about 40% of my beloved Patagonia MLC. I’m quite impressed by the Eagle Creek, although it was slightly annoying trying to get all the air out with my clothes in the traveller-savvy roll-up format (vs the standard-but-inefficient folded-flat style).

As you can see the other 60% of the bag is literally camera gear. Yowza.

I’m quite pleased with the packing job. The bag is still actually pretty light, and doesn’t feel like it’s bulging out at all. And that’s even after putting a rather non-compressible jacket in there.

Click on the photos above to get the full inventory as told via photo notes.

The shuttle comes in about 8 hours and 3 connections and 4 airports later, I’ll be landing in Dar Es Salaam, inshallah.

Catch y’all on the flip side!