Kenya

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Tsavo East National Park

Have you ever seen red elephants? The biggest population of elephants in Kenya lives in Tsavo East National Park. The elephants love to take dust bathes in the red soil, that’s why their skin looks red. Tsavo East can be reached from the Mombasa beaches by car. We booked a private one-day safari trip in May. At that time the NP was not crowded at all.

Maasai Mara Game Reserve

Maasai Mara is one of the most famous and important wildlife conservation areas in Africa, renowned for its large populations of lion, leopard, cheetah. We saw some cheetahs well hidden in the high svannah gras and spotted many elephants, giraffes, zebras, numerous antelopes and wildebeests.

We were lucky to see this baby giraffe standing right in front of us while its family was grazing at the nearby creek. I don’t know how old it was, but obviously pretty young.  Newborn giraffes are 1,70 -2 m tall and can run within a few hours after birth.

If you come to Kenya you should not miss Lake Nakuru. Lake Nakuru National Park is situated just around 160 km northwest of Nairobi. The soda lake is a bird sanctuary, home of thousands of flamingos and other rare bird species. It is also home to more than 50 mammal species. The ultimate highlight for me were the rhinos. The park is a rhino sanctuary with a population of around 60 white rhinos that are by rangers around the clock. Do you know the difference between white and black rhinos? It has nothing to do with the colour. White rhinos have a wide (in Africaans wyd, in Dutch wijd -thus it came to white) mouth and feed just on grass, while black rhinos or  hook-lipped rhinos in contrast – have a pointed mouth and feed on leafs from bushes and smaller trees.
Rhinos are critically endangered – first of all by poaching and the illegal trade in the rhino horn. Although the horn consists just of keratin  -exactly the same like human finger nails !- it is still believed in some Asian countries to have a healing effect.


Riga, Latvia

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In August 2019 I have been to Riga. It was my first visit to the Baltic States and I loved it so much!
The capital of Lativa has an amazing old town with colourful, picturesque and well restored buildings from the 14th century to the Art Noveau and Art Deco buildings of the early 20th century.

Riga is the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the 3 Baltic States. Located close to the Baltic Sea Riga was a member of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in North-western and Central Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Although it is high up in the north it was really warm. All over the place there were open air restaurants, cafes, bars with live music, street art and it was such an awesome vibrant and happy atmosphere. At night everything was nicely illuminated.




Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s second largest city and for me one of the world’s most beautiful. With a population of estimated 13,3 million people in the metropolitan region it belongs to the worlds Megacities. Europeans first encountered the Guanabara Bay on January 1st, 1502 and assumed mistakenly the bay was a river mouth, hence the name: January river. I guess everyone knows the most iconic places like the sugar loaf, the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado or the stairway Escaderia Selarón. However, if you have some time you can discover much more:

Rios famous nostalgic yellow tram goes to Santa Teresa, an art district in a hilly area a bit away from the beaches.
You’´ll find there beautiful old mansions, galleries, fancy shops, bars and restaurants. When I first came to Rio many years ago it was still allowed to hold on to the outside of the tram during the ride even on the bridge “Arcos da lapa” which is up to 17 m high.
While the Copacabana became pretty touristic and commercial during the last years Santa Teresa is still more authentic. We’ve been there on Saturday night and had a wonderful time in a restaurant with live music and dance and many locals.
Looking through the old pics I realized that I captured the same restaurant then and recently. It hasn’t changed much over the years…. Going by this tram you will explore a different side of the city. The station of the Carioca tram is in the centre a bit hidden behind the building of the Bank of Brazil.

While sitting atop the sugar loaf and enjoying the view this little guy passed by.  Do you know what it is? At least I didn’´t. Later I realized that it is a marmoset, also known as zari, a primate species native to the Amazonas rain forest, usually living in the upper canopees of the forest trees. Their incisors are similar to those of rodents in order to gnaw the tree bark to get the tree sap.

Special Tip: Since a few years you can discover Rio by bike. There are bicycle lanes on many major roads and many cycle paths, including along Guanabara Bay. There is a bicycle rental in the Avenida Atlantica close to the Museum of History.


Serengeti National Park Tanzania

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The Serengeti is a savannah stretching across Northern Tanzania to the South of Kenya covering an area of around 30.000 km². It is said that the name “Serengeti” comes from the Massai language and means “endless plain”.  The Serengeti is home to around 70 large mammal and 500 bird species and is one of the best places to observe lions in their natural environment.

This cutie is just a few months old. In the Serengeti we saw many lionesses with their cubs resting together in the shade of trees during the heat of the day.
Lionesses give birth to 1-4 cubs in a sheltered area away from the pride. The newborn cubs weigh just around 1,5 kg and are almost helpless, they are born blind, open their eyes just around 7 days after birth and begin to walk at an age of 3 weeks.
Usually, the mother integrates herself and her cubs back into the pride when the cubs are 6 – 8 weeks old.
Lions go hunting at night and spend most of the day resting. Sometimes one sees just one big furry bunch with heads and paws.


Once during a safari we bumped into this big senior lion king underneath a single tree amidst the grassland. He looks a little strained since he was about to digest half of a zebra 🦓, which was obviously a bit hard to digest.
We were lucky to see many lions during our time in Serengeti National Park, however their number dwindles dramatically. It is estimated that the worldwide population decreased by 43 % over the 2 decades. Isn’t that sad?!

A special moment of every safari trip is the sighing of a leopard. We spotted this fellow early in the morning in the Serengeti hanging out after the hunt well hidden in the tree with his breakfast aside.
Both (the hunter and his prey) were so well hidden that I couldn`t get it with one click. Leopards often hide their prey high up in trees to prevent it from being stolen by lions or hyenas. In areas lacking these predators leopards hunt prey as heavy as a 550 kg (1,210 lb) like young giraffes since they do not need to drag it up trees.
Did you know that leopards can run up to 60 km/h on short distances and are also good swimmers?
In former times leopards were widespread across Africa and Asia; meanwhile they are extinct in numerous countries. In many cultures these elegant and powerful creatures symbolized the power of kings and gods. The coat of the leopard has been popular decorative clothing and a symbol of power, wealth and the exotic. Sadly, today the leopard occurs in only 25% of its historical global range.


Peru

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I love Peru, its amazing natural beauty, the rich culture and the utterly friendly people. The country has incredibly diverse landscapes from coastal deserts to high mountains and tropical rainforests and impressive evidence of ancient cultures. In 2017 we crossed Latin America from the West coast to the East coast. Starting in Lima we made a road trip via Nasca to Arequipa, headed further to the Colca Valley and from there to Lake Titicaca and to Bolivia. Cusco, the Urumbamba Valley, the Sacred valley of the Inca and Machu Picchu we had visited before. Here are some of the moments I loved the most:

The city of Arequipa is one of my favourite places in the Peruvian Altiplano. We stopped there on our way from Lima to the Colca Canon and further to La Paz. The city with beautiful colonial style buildings is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. The roof-top terrace of our hotel at Plaza de Armas offered this stunning view on the 5822 m tall Misti. It was beautiful during daytime but even more during sunset. In the evening sun it looked like the top of the volcano was glowing.

4410m above sea level at Interoceanica highway in the Peruvian Altiplano on our way from Colca Valley to Lake Titicaca. There was a stunning view on the lake Lagunilla but I just had eyes for this super cute baby guanaco.
Indigenous people started domesticating guanacos around 3000 B.C. It is estimated that there have been around 50 millions of guanacos in South America before the arrival of the Europeans. Today it´s only around 600.000.
They have been hunted for their meat, skin and to gain pastures for sheeps

Aren’t they sweet ?? These fluffy cuties came across our way at the shore of Lake Titicaca.
Did you know that there are 4 different species of camelids in South America? Llamas, Alpacas, Vicunas and Guanacos.
These lovely alpacas live in the Andes at an altitude of around 3500 m. Andean people started domesticating alpacas thousands of years ago for their fine and warm fiber which is used to make various woven items.
Alpaca fibers have 52 (!) different natural colours. Some of those you can see on these pics. 🥰
Alpacas are very social, gentle and intelligent.

This is one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen – a bit north of Puno at Lake Titicaca at an altitude of 3800 m. We’ve been there close to the Uros Floating Island in September, it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I have ever been to. No mass tourism, no traffic noise – just SILENCE and an incredible landscape. Being there I REALLY understood why indigenous people worshiped the sun as the highest goodness. During daytime temperature are moderate and comfortable but when the sun is gone it gets immediately freezing cold. The Uros people live at floating islands made of reed close to the western shore of lake Titicaca. You can go there easily by boat and visit the islands.


Ireland / Northern Ireland

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The island of Ireland is of stunning natural beauty and rich in impressive historical buildings. We started our round trip with a rental car in Dublin, headed north first and and followed then the Wild Atlantic Way. Here are some places we liked the most.

The Wild Atlantic Way leading from Derry to Cork along the West coast of Ireland is the longest signed coastal route in the world. These pics were on the first stage in Northern Ireland. This is Dunluce Castle. We’ve been there in May when the gorse bushes were flowering and enjoyed fantastic weather and views on gorgeous landscapes.

Isn’t that an amazing view? This view to the Atlantic Ocean offers from Mussenden Temple at Downhill Demesne in Northern Ireland. Downhill House was a mansion built in the late 18th century surrounded by a spectacular park.

The Cliffs of Mother are usually pretty crowded. But following the trail to the South -away from the crowded viewpoint at the tourist centre- the Cliffs of Moher offer even more stunning views and lonely places to enjoy.
A path runs close to the edge and places along the way are breathtaking.


Cuba

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Havana

The city of Havana, the capital of Cuba, is Cuba’s largest city, major port and leading commercial centre. Old Havana, the unique old town with beautiful colonial style buildings is a UNESCO World Heritage SITE. Havana is vibrant city with a young and creative population. So, it is worth discovering the city away from the major tourist spots.

Callejon de Hamel in Havana was one highlights of our Cuba trip. A few kilometers west of the old town there is this unique vibrant and colourful place to enjoy modern Afro-Cuban art. It is actually just one narrow street with all kind of street art, galleries, shops, cafes and bars, mural paintings, sculptures made of various everyday objects, such as bath tubs. Formerly being a settlement of Afro-Cuban tobacco workers the district has a strong attachment to African cultures and religions. It is a centre of Santeria, a syncretic religion with its roots in West-Africa. Every Sunday around noon you can enjoy frenetic rumba music with drums and chants to summon the Santeria spirits.

Special Tip: Cuba is a safe destination for female travellers. When planning your trip on site check the offers carefully. We felt foreign tourists often get very overprized offers. Many Taxi drivers do not speak English. If you have time visit a Show of the Original Buena Vista Social Club in Havana. Make sure, the Taxi driver takes you to the Original Club in Old Havana and not to another one he gets a commission from.


Uganda

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Uganda is an incredibly beautiful country with many different vegetation- and climate zones and an unparalleled biodiversity. The Albertine Rift Valley that stretches across the country is one of the World´s 36 biodiversity hotspots. Many endangered species can be found here. Uganda is a multi-ethnic state with many different cultures and local languages. However, since school education is mainly in English everyone speaks English well. The people are very friendly and hospitable. I’ve been to Uganda twice. If you have a passion for wildlife I highly recommend to visit this country. Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

Entebbe & Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre


If you happen to come to Entebbe you should not miss to visit UWEC! Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) is a unique wildlife sanctuary at the shore of Lake Victoria. Its mission is to rescue animals and to educate the public on conservation of wildlife. All animals live in very spacious exhibits that mimic their natural habitats. Almost all of its residents have been victims to illegal trade in wildlife, human-wildlife conflicts or associated challenges. UWEC is home to 20 chimpanzees, almost all have been rescued from illegal keepers or traffickers. In most cases they were found tied on trees and with people owning them illegally and others were intercepted at national borders. Illegal wildlife trade is a big business and a big threath to many endangered species. In some countries the keeping of exotic wild animals in private households is considered a status symbol. It´s a shame!
Unfortunately the chimps cannot be released back to the wild but at UWEC they spend the days together on a big island covered with forest and bushes which is very similar to their natural habitat. To learn more about the chimps and the work of UWEC see http://www.uwec.ug

This pretty guy is a De Brazza monkey which I saw close to the shore of lake Victoria. This primate is named after the Italian-French explorer Pierre De Brazza. De Brazza monkeys are endemic to Central Africa and live in swamp areas and forests not more than 1 km away from waters. That´s why they are  – unlike most other primate species – extraordinary good swimmers. This one is a big male which can weigh up to 7 kg. De Brazza monkeys are said to be rather shy and escape as soon as humans get close but luckily this one was not shy at all. BTW: not only the monkeys are named after this explorer, the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville is, too.

Have you ever met this reptile? I had not until I spent some time in Uganda. This big Nile monitor lizard was crossing the way right in front of me in Entebbe. The lizzards live close to human settlements but are usually shy and run away.  This one allowed me to get pretty close with my mobile. Nile monitor lizzards grow up to 2 m and are the second largest reptiles in the river Nile. They can secret a venom but it this not fatale to humans.

Don´t they look impressive? The Ankole Long Horn Cattle is raised in the Rift Valley along the boarder between Uganda and Ruanda in a semi-arid strip called the cattle corridor. People there are very proud of these animals, regarded as one of the world´s most beautiful breeds of cattle. Although they look so dangerous they are rather shy. This herd is waiting for the herdsman to release them to the pastures in the morning.

Jinja- The source of the River Nile

Have you ever been to the source of the river Nile? In Jinja, East Uganda is the place where the Nile begins to flow from Lake Victoria through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. It takes the water 3 months to complete this journey of 6400 km. Did you know that the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed in the river Nile here at Jinja? At the riverbank there is a monument to him (swipe to see) and an information panel telling about his life and his outstanding role in history.   

Lake Bunyoni

Lake Bunyoni is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. It is situated at an altitude of around 2000 m. At some points it is up to 900 m deep and thus it is the second deepest lake in Africa after lake Tanganijka. Bunyoni means: place of many little birds.  200 different bird species live around the lake. There are 29 islands on the lake, most of them are inhabited. On one of the islands there was a hospital for Lepra-patients from entire East Africa. At the peak times up to 5000 people have been treated there.  Today the hospital building is a boarding school.

We watched these crested cranes near lake Bunyoni. This beautiful bird is one of Uganda´s national symbols. It is depicted on the country´s national flag and coat of arms. It lives mixed wetland habitats, on riverbanks, around dams and open grassland. Formerly widespread in several east-African countries it is now facing extinction. Sadly, it´s population in Uganda crushed over the last 4 decades by over 80% due to loss of habitat.


Queen Elisabeth National Park

This NP is situated in the West of the country at the border to DRC at an altitude of 1000 – 1300 m. You’ll find here savannas, tropical rainforests, swamp land and crater lakes along the Rift Valley. The park is home to more than 100 mammal species and 600 bird species. We have seen there elephants, buffaloes, many different antelopes, Uganda kobs, monkeys, many hippos and crocodiles. At the salty crater lakes one can observe thousands of flamingos. However, the ultimate highlight were the tree climbing lions.

Tree climbing lions can be spotted easily in Queen Elisabeth National Park. We watched a lion family (mother and 3 cubs) sleeping for hours high up in the tree until the sunset. When the darkness came they descended and were joined by another lioness to go hunting.

Kibale Forest National Park Chimpanzee trekking

This NP, situated in the West of Uganda consists of tropical rainforests and mountain cloud forest and some smaller savanna and swamp lands, is the best spot to watch chimpanzees. A permit for the chimp trekking costs around 150,-USD and has to be booked in advance at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). It starts at around 8 a.m. and visitors enter the forest in groups of 6 people accompanied by  two rangers. There are some strict rules to be followed: A distance of just about 8m is very important between you and the chimps. People with contagious diseases are not allowed to enter the park. Eating near the chimps is not allowed. Children below the age of 12 are prohibited from entering the park. The guide is the only one to help get access to the forest. Early in the morning it is pretty cool and the chimps usually still sleep high up in the trees. As it gets warmer the come down and search for food.  The chimp families you will see are habituated, that means they are used to human visits but are still wild animals. We were so lucky that the alpha male of the group allowed us to take these wonderful pics. It looks like he was really posing for us while his family was searching for food.