Walking Outside in the Fall

Tuesday, 20 October 2015
I've really been enjoying this time of year. After we got back from Africa, I was dealing with jet lag so I began going on early morning walks. Stores aren't open at that time of day (5am), it is too early for work, and no one is answering emails so it is the perfect time to exercise.

I try to walk for 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week. I did three miles yesterday but caught a stomach bug last night and have been stuck in bed today. Guess what I'm most upset about? Not being able to take a walk on Bald Head Island (I'm here visiting my parents). Yesterday the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I startled a deer in the brush beside the road and I watched an Osprey hunting over the march.

Walking is not only an amazing way to be an up-close witness to nature, it is also a great way to breathe deeply and and find happiness. (Vitamin D and being in the sunshine certainly helps with that too.) In order to stay accountable and keep a record of the distances I'm covering each day, I use the MapMyWalk app from the iTunes store. It is simple, and free, and sometimes I'll pull up music or NPR news as well to have something to listen to.

Try it! I walked more than seven miles last week at a pace of about 17:30 minutes per mile and this week (if I start feeling better) I will beat my record. Forgot to check on my progress the week before but that's the handy part about using the app - it records the information for you. I haven't weighed myself to see if this is having an impact but it really doesn't matter. I can already tell that the walking is helping my mood and frame of mind. Plus - it will be pretty cold soon so let's take advantage of these crisp, cool, mornings. I like to keep a look out for birds of all sorts, changing leaves, and wild animal tracks on the driveways.

Zebras Dazzle

Wednesday, 7 October 2015
We had some lovely zebra sightings in this camp. Five were standing almost in a row eating.

There is certainly an evolutionary reason for their stripes. They can “dazzle” their predators with their stripes! When they move together they can confuse the lion that is after them. Social structure is for one stallion to stay with several females.

Zebras have different patterns of stripes – sort of like humans all have different fingerprints. One has to look closely to see the difference.

The male zebra will strategize when predators are around. He will separate from the herd in order to lure the lion away to himself. He does this knowing that he will likely be able to out run the predator.

Camp Kigelia and Elephants in Ruaha National Park

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Our next camp was Kigelia in Ruaha National Park. This camp was rustic but beautiful. The above photo is of the lobby area of the camp. This is where we would share community meals with the other guests. We also had the option to dine out under the stars for dinner as a couple.

In this camp we took showers using a bucket hoisted in the air. The water would run for about six minutes and was warm but not hot. Campers have to bathe quickly!

We learned quiet a bit about elephants from our guide and camp manager Ken. In the dry season it is difficult for animals to get water. The elephants will poke their trunks through the sand in the river to drink. The water is filtered through the sand and they like fresh water.

Elephants also strip the bark off of Baobab trees in order to get moisture and nutrients. Their trunks have hundreds of thousand of muscles in order to pull bark off of trees and roots from the ground.

I created a video showing the elephants. 

Lions in Love near Sand Rivers Camp

Friday, 2 October 2015
We were able to witness something spectacular during a game drive near Sand Rivers camp – lions mating. I guess this is a common sighting here but I’ve never seen it happen in the wild.

The mating rituals of lions are interesting. A male will choose a female (she has to want to be chosen by him) and they will stay together for up to seven days. In the first three days they mate every 15 minutes – approximately 190 times! The intercourse only lasts for a minute but both male and female will growl during the act and show teeth. The male will sometimes lightly bite the female’s head and ears and that is supposedly to keep her still while the act is completed.

The lion is then pregnant for about three and a half months and will give birth to approximately four cubs. Usually only three survive to become adults because of predators and male lions from other prides that try to kill the cubs.

On our last afternoon at this camp I took a “bush walk” with Jeff, the camp manager, and James went with our guide Mussa for a game drive. We met up in the same spot around 6:00 p.m. for a “sundowner” (cocktails in the wilderness while watching the sun set). We drove up to a great vantage point to watch the sun and there already on the mountain was a female lion with three cubs! It was so special to watch the cubs play and stare at us with curiosity. Jeff opened a bottle of South African sparkling wine for us and we had a glass while watching the sunset with four lions. This will likely forever be one of our most special safari memories.

 James and I had such a fun time together. It was nice to experience such gorgeous nature side by side. We were very happy.

Crocs at Sand Rivers Camp in Tanzania

We learned a lot about crocodiles at this camp because there are so many! On one boat ride, I stopped counting when I got to 16. They are fascinating reptiles and have not changed since the time of dinosaurs. Crocodiles can adapt to almost any environment and even when there is no water during the dry season here they can survive.

Crocs lay eggs on land in a nest and they incubate for 90 days. When they hatch the juveniles begin cheeping, the mother hears them, picks them up in her mouth, and carries them to the water. The temperature of the nest and where the egg is located in the nest determines the sex of the crocodile. (Strange, right!?) For instance, females crocs will hatch from the eggs deeper in the nest where it is cooler and males with hatch from the eggs higher in the nest where they are closer to the sun and it is warmer.

As far as diet, obviously crocodiles are carnivores. They will eat smaller crocodiles, impala, bush buck, and hippos. Birds are not really in danger around crocodiles because feathers are difficult to digest since crocs have gizzards (like chickens) and stones in their gizzards crush the meat they ingest. Crocodiles are often seen sitting with their mouths open and while I thought this was a sign of aggression to scare off predators (I mean – look at all of those teeth!) our guide explained that they sit facing the sun and the heat penetrates the membrane in their mouths to warm them up. In a wildlife book I read another theory about why they sit with their mouths open – that they do so in order to cool off when the sun is hot. Sorry to say I'm not sure which fact is correct.

Crocodiles are amazing creatures for another reason – they are able to slow their heart rate down to one beat per minute and stay under water for up to 45 minutes! In the dry season when there is no water for them to escape to in the heat of the day, they will slow their heart rate so that the food they eat digests more slowly. For cold-blooded animals, staying in the sun speeds up their bodily functions and they need to eat more often and try to stay cool. The slowing of the heart rate helps them survive.

These huge reptiles can weigh up to 2,200 pounds. They will wait at the edge of the water for prey to come for a drink. They’ll then lunge up out of the water to startle the prey and grab them. Then the crocs will drag them under the water in hopes of drowning them. Mostly they will eat catfish and other types of fish.

Those on the Rufiji River are Nile Crocodiles and they are colorful. I have only seen small crocodiles in the wild and really never had a chance to look at them up close. They are green and yellow with black spots on their tails. They have something like 65 teeth and an incisor on the bottom jaw sticks out. 

On one of our boat rides we saw a group of crocs eating a hippo that had died of natural causes. They would bite off a piece, and roll with it in the water, mimicking how they would drown their prey. Then they would pick their head up out of the water to chew and swallow.

Sand Rivers in Selous near the Rufiji River

Sand Rivers is a "rustic" camp but out of those in Tanzania that are sort of off the grid - this one is very nice. (See the above photo of the "lobby" of the camp and another picture of the bar area.) The rooms were completely open and there were plenty of bugs and lizards inside. The trails of ants threw me off a little bit but the feeling of being one with nature in an open space was special. Here's a look at the accommodations:

It was hot during the day in September and in the camp there is no air conditioning. In the middle of the day when there are no activities (it is just too hot) we just laid on our bed under the ceiling fan with wet washcloths on ourselves!

The first day the lion viewing was amazing. There were three lions resting after eating part of a buffalo. We also saw a pair of lions walking near the water. This is an excellent camp for hippos. I couldn’t even count them there are so many. There are also great impala, giraffe and crocodiles.

Sand Rivers camp is set on the river and it has an AMAZING pool. It is one of the best I’ve seen in a camp. It’s made from stone and is filled by pumping it from the river. There are trees around it and using binoculars, I watched a black-faced vervet monkey eating small yellow berries of some sort! There was also a Nile Monitor Lizard patrolling the pool area. Her name is Mala.