Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hakuba, Japan - January 2012

Despite Lunar New Year falling so close to the Christmas break, Ailey had a week off from school so we made the most of it and headed to Japan for a week of skiing. Plenty of snow, particularly at the tail end of the week where nearby Cortina got 80 and 70cm on consecutive nights. Happo One, where we were staying got a more moderate 30 and 20cm which was fine with us since we're not experienced with deep powder skiing.

We took a break after 3 days to visit the snow monkeys - Japanese Macaques that have learned to enjoy the natural hot springs in the mountains near Nagano. The timing was perfect as I'd failed to land an unplanned, high speed aerial manuever that resulted in a pretty serious 'skimatoma' on my left hip. Luckily the bruising didnt affect my hiking ability as the monkey's were a mile hike in from the drop off point.

After visiting the monkeys, we enjoyed lunch at a sake brewery and visited Zenkoji Temple in Nagano, the first Buddhist temple in Japan.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Tanzania - December 2011. Hatari!

I'm beginning to loathe the programming behind blogger - it's just too cumbersome and quirky to align commentary to pictures so I'm not even going to try. We flew to Kilimanjaro airport via Bangkok and Nairobi. We arrived safely the following morning and successfully dodged the yellow fever vaccination in Tanzanian customs. If the last leg is full, they dont load the luggage so we didnt get our gear until the next day, about an hour after we were supposed to have departed on our first safari leg. Someone had taken the liberty to liberate Mihwa's only shoes somewhere along the way so she was relegated to wearing sandals the entire tour (not recommended given the skeeter situation).

Our first camp was Mawe Ninga, perched atop a rocky crag in the Tarangire Game Reserve. For a tented camp, it was very well done and equipped. The staff and food were fantastic, and the view and environment were incredible. Game viewing was a little off, however. Tons of elephant, a bit of giraffe but an afternoon of next to nothing as we toured the swamp at the southern end of the reserve. We were rewarded with a leopard sighting about 1km from our camp...the girls were a little worried we might have a visitor that evening. The staff report that it was not uncommon to have predators prowl the camps in the evenings and, as at most camples, one must be escorted back to the tent after dinner by a guard (sometimes a local Maasai).

After two nights at Mawe Ninga, we continued on to the Plantation Lodge, stopping at Lake Manyara National Park along the way. Manyara was a small reserve but with some very diverse topography - savannah, jungle, mountains, swamp. The terrain was more unique than the game viewing though we come upon a black mamba crossing the road. The lodge was exquisitely decorated and managed by a German couple, we wished we had scheduled another night there. We also ran into some Nike expats living in Amsterdam here, got to know each other over dinner and made plans to connect again on the Serengeti and Zanzibar.

Our day at Ngorongoro was a bit rainy but, being Oregonians, this was preferred to a scortching sun. The weather in Tanzania overall was quite temperate, and the temperature quite cool. The altitude, at 4000-10000 ft, plays a big role there. Game viewing in the crater was perhaps the best we experienced during the vacation. Lion, rhino, cape buffalo, wildebeest, hyena, flamingo, cheetah, gazelle...pretty much everything except giraffe.

We overnighted at Olduvai, situated on Maasai land around a koopjes, ancient massive rock formations springing up out of the savannah. This camp was probably the lowlight of the tour but still very far from roughing it. Went on a sunset hike here and continued a conversation about Maasai culture with our guide.

The next day we continued on to the famous Serengeti. Unfortunately, the migration was still a bit north of the reserve, in the southern corner of the Ngorongoro (outside the crater). We drove through endless miles of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle and watched a mother cheetah stalk some prey only to have her cubs flub the attack. The next couple days on the Serengeti was a bit light on game but we did get to see more leopard and lion and some game we hadnt see elsewhere - topi, hartebeest, vultures and mongoose (mongeese?).

After 8 full days on safari, we packed up and headed to Zanzibar for a few days on the beach before heading home. The hotel we stayed at was superb but located very far from Stone Town, the main city and the hub of the east African slave trade. While the city was rich in history, the government has not done a fantastic job of maintaining it and the city was really not worth more than a 1/2 day visit. So more beach time.

Aside from snorkeling the reef off the hotel beach, reading and relaxing at the pool, we also took a morning to swim with the dolphins. It was a quick tour with probably just a half dozen quick dunks into the water with snorkel gear to see the pod of dolphin swim by but Ailey did get to see a couple babies.

The flight home was a long haul, a red eye, with a 6 hour layover in Nairobi. Mihwa was sunburnt and sick, not a happy camper. The lady at the executive lounge luckily allowed all three of us in on my gold status so we could relax in a little bit of comfort (and get a little lube going for the long flight ahead).

Pics are currently not organized in the right sequence...I might get to that later. Be sure to click on the elogated ones to get a closer view. Happy trails, jj