Monarchs flutter into Dallas Arboretum on fall migration

We weren’t the only visitors to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden last Sunday. Aside from all the human visitors, hundreds of monarch butterflies arrived on the north wind blowing into Texas and settled into the garden for a rest stop.

I understand their fall migration is stalled out at the moment because southerly winds have returned. But not to worry: north winds will return soon and speed them on their way to Austin and on to Mexico.

After all that flying, they sure were hungry.

They flapped past in their eagerness to hit the snack bar of salvia, red yucca, and lantana. It warmed our hearts to see them, knowing their numbers are in decline, and having just watched a film about their life cycle, Flight of the Butterflies, at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

I showed you the fall extravaganza of Pumpkin Village in my last post, but there’s much more to see at the Arboretum. Fall bedding annuals like these marigolds make a cheerful show, although they were not attracting the butterflies.

What else was showy? Blazing red gomphrena, for one.

Add variegated tapioca and you have a sunglasses-worthy combo.

Interesting water features appear throughout the gardens, like this negative-edge pool overlooking White Rock Lake in the Woman’s Garden.

And this tumbling stream in the Red Maple Rill garden.

How about supersized, water-spouting toads? The Arboretum has those too.

Kids are always drawn to these “frog fountains” and play in the spouting water in the summertime.

On this day it was comfortably cool — no toad spray needed.

This squirrel appreciated a drink of puddled water though.

Several charming sculptures hint at the presence of water, like the playful Chico y Chica de la Playa (Boy and Girl on the Beach).

The Playdays young woman tentatively dips her toes into an imaginary pool filled with frogs. White Rock Lake in the distance adds a real water view.

As always, lots of pro photographers were in the garden (too many, in my opinion), including at least a half-dozen doing photo shoots with girls in candy-colored, frothy, Scarlett O’Hara-worthy quinceanera dresses. Something about this girl posing in the Fern Dell put me in mind of a fairy tale, maybe Thumbelina?

Speaking of ferns, I spy a leafy frond through the stone lantern’s window.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Arboretum visit. For a look back at the light-hearted, colorful Pumpkin Village and autumn displays, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Tanzanian safari: Maasai school and Lake Manyara National Park

On our fourth day in Tanzania (June 2007) we visited a local school on the way to Lake Manyara. An English-language world map was painted on the school building. The only city noted on it is New York, which is of course how New Yorkers see the world. (Am I right?) If you don’t know exactly where Tanzania is, look at the map of Africa on the right. Tanzania is represented by its flag, diagonal gold and black lines on a green and blue ground: green for the country’s fertile lands, gold for their mineral deposits, black for the Tanzanian people, and blue for their waters and the Indian Ocean.

A teacher invited us inside to meet the students and learn about the school. She told us that the students are Maasai, one of the many ethnic groups in Tanzania, and a semi-nomadic people who are pasturalists (cattle farmers). There’s no school bus, and some children must walk 3 to 10 kilometers a day, even up to 4 hours, to get to school. Therefore, she said, the school is building dormitories so that students can stay overnight during the week. Maasai are seasonally nomadic, and when a village moves to greener pastures the children often don’t return to school.

First we visited the 4th-grade class. I was struck by the spareness of the classroom. But in comparison to a schoolhouse we saw later on our journey, in a Maasai village, this one was well furnished, with desks, paper, pencils, and a long blackboard.

The children sang for us. We stood by the blackboard and listened. If you’re wondering about the uniformity of our clothing, we were instructed to pack light-colored, earth-toned clothes for the trip. Dark colors, we were advised, attract biting tsetse flies. I can attest to that, as one day I (stubbornly) wore a dark-brown shirt, and a tsetse fly got into the safari car and tormented me with horsefly-like bites.

Evidence of a math lesson in progress

The children wore blue uniforms, the girls in round-necked blouses or sweaters, the boys in button-up shirts. All had closely cropped hair, making it hard for me to differentiate between boys and girls, except for clothing style.

The students were polite and friendly, showing us their work if asked. They all knew a little English.

These boys hammed it up with sunglasses borrowed from someone in our group.

We met older students — and far fewer girls — in the 7th-grade classroom next door.

Many students were eager to have their photo taken. They all wanted to see the digital images of themselves, and some of them pulled at our cameras, wanting to take pictures of their friends. They laughed with glee to see their own image on-screen. Do they have mirrors at home, I wondered, or are tourist visits the only time they see images of themselves?

Many of the children had circle scars on their cheeks or vertical markings, brands that are a traditional practice in their culture.

Dad photobombing two students

Afterward, the teacher told us about the school’s lunch program, which requires that students eat the school lunch rather than bringing their own. This ensures, she said, that portions are equal and everyone gets fed. On this day lunch was a sort of corn porridge, which cooked over a fire in an outbuilding.

We presented the students with school supplies we’d brought with us and said our goodbyes. Then we drove to our next hotel, Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, “perched on the edge of the Mto wa Mbu escarpment and [offering] one of the greatest views of the Great Rift Valley,” our tour packet informed us. Here’s the lobby, where we sat under basket-lights and sipped our champagne and fruit juice.

Four hotel rooms made up each round, thatched-roof building.

Mosquito nets shielded sleepers here too.

The hotel pool — quite an extravagance

The poolside bar enjoyed a view of the valley.

Large agama lizards sunned themselves alongside guests on the pool patio.

As did striped skinks

Weaver nests in the trees. Isn’t it amazing to consider how the birds are able to weave these hanging nests with only beak and claw?

After lunch we headed into the valley for a game drive through Lake Manyara National Park, a lushly forested preserve surrounding a grassy floodplain and lake.

A troop of baboons captured our attention for a while. They relaxed along the roadside, just looking around, grooming each other, and giving their young some playtime.

Scratching an itch

They’re rather fierce looking.

Being social creatures, they assiduously groomed each other, eating what they picked off.

Not far away, vervet monkeys were hanging out in a tree.

Leaving the forest, we drove out to the lake and watched hippos.

What a mouth!

On the short-grass plain we spotted wildebeest.

The Great Rift escarpment rose before us. Our hotel was somewhere at the top.

Elephants were busy with lunch in the shrubbery alongside the road.

Wrapping his trunk around a sapling tree, this elephant would put his foot on the roots and pull, breaking off branches and leaves, which he then stuffed in his mouth. He was methodical about it.

Elephant skin

The next morning a naturalist named Yotham took us on a nature walk around the hotel and along the edge of the Rift. He was very knowledgeable and told us about the ant defense of the whistling acacia tree, termite mounds as animal habitats, and the Little Five (as opposed to the Big Five). The Little Five are: rhinoceros beetle, ant lion, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, and elephant shrew.

We’d already heard about the Big Five — a term coined during the era of hunting safaris for the animals most dangerous to hunt on foot: rhinoceros, lion, buffalo, leopard, and elephant. Thank heavens safaris are today about shooting with cameras, not guns. We were not lucky enough to see all of the Big Five on this trip. The rhino and the leopard eluded us, giving me a reason, if I needed one, to return one day. (Assuming, that is, that rhinos don’t go extinct in the next decade or two. Sadly, the rhinoceros is in grave danger of going extinct in the wild.)

We also got a tour of the hotel’s extensive vegetable garden, naturally fenced against hungry and destructive animals like elephants with Manyara trees, the tall euphorbia for which the park is named. A wire fence provided additional protection from smaller animals. Inside, staff gardeners grew bananas, oranges, papaya, spinach, leeks, tomatoes, radishes, and avocados.

Banana tree

The garden was irrigated by channels that carried water poured at one end to each planting bed. We enjoyed many fruits and vegetables grown here during our meals at the hotel.

Up next: A visit to the multicultural village of Mto Wa Mbu, where we toured a local home. For a look back at our game drives in Tarangire National Park, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Tanzanian safari: Arrival in Arusha and village market

During this gardening downtime, I am really enjoying reliving some of my exotic travels here at Digging. Whether you are an armchair traveler, or making notes for a future trip of your own, or just seeing how my experience compares with yours, I hope you’re enjoying these virtual vacations too. Recently I posted about Beijing, China, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Today I begin an in-depth series about a Tanzanian safari I took in June 2007.

The trip was a 40th birthday present from my travel-loving father, who very generously offered me a father-daughter trip anywhere in the world. An African safari was my dream trip, so he booked us on a Tauck tour during the summer, when my kids would be in camp, my landscape design business slows down, and I could more easily swing a long absence from home.

Our summer is Tanzania’s winter. It’s just barely south of the equator, however, so seasonal temperatures don’t vary all that much, and days and nights are a steady 12 hours each all year. The rains quit in June, when Tanzania’s dry season begins. With sunny days, sparse vegetation, and animals gathering around shrinking waterholes, it’s easier to spot wildlife in the dry season. Mosquitoes, which can carry malaria and other nasty diseases, are also less of a problem then, although you still have to take malaria pills to be safe. (I also got vaccinated for Hepatitis A and typhoid.) On the downside, it can be quite dusty then, and smoke pollution from farmers burning last season’s crops can affect air quality and visibility.

Dad and I arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, at night after 20 straight hours of travel. Excitement kept exhaustion at bay as a Tauck van picked us up at the airport along with a dozen other travelers. Under the airport parking lot lights, large bats dipped over our heads, hunting insects. We drove about a half-hour though a pitch-dark landscape punctuated here and there by cook fires in huts or concrete-block houses, people’s faces looking up at us occasionally as we flashed by.

Our hotel, Serena Mountain Village, was once part of a coffee plantation and overlooks Lake Duluti (pictured above). The grounds were lush and lovely, well irrigated and tended. The rooms were grouped in small courtyards. Here’s ours, in the middle.

Mosquito nets around the beds are a safety precaution even in the dry season.

Bananas — part of the hotel garden

Our first morning, a hotel guide named Erasto escorted a small group of us on foot to the local market. He pulled a few berries off a shrub growing alongside the road and squeezed it open to show us the coffee beans.

Locals passed on their way to the market. The women carried huge bundles on their heads — how do they do that? — and wore colorful sarongs.

The market was crowded. Cars and wheelbarrows pushed through the throngs of people. Most of the sellers were women, but here is a man selling citrus.

Women with enormous stalks of bananas and other items balanced on their heads passed us left and right.

Erasto told us we could take photos of the market, and so long as he was nearby the locals tolerated it. But if he got ahead of us, they shook their heads at the camera and held out their hands, demanding “One dollah!” I soon felt awkward about taking photos here, even when Erasto was nearby. I was conscious of being a “rich” foreigner in a poor country — a difficulty anytime one travels to a less-developed nation, I expect. There’s no way to blend in since you look different, plus you’re in a tour group. It’s just part of the experience — humbling and eye-opening to see how people live in other parts of the world.

This woman stir-frying bananas was expecting us. Erasto paid her a little something, and she showed us what she was doing and offered us a taste. We’d all just read the Tauck brochure advising us not to eat from the market and shook our heads in embarrassed but polite refusal, not wanting to risk illness. Only Caroline, a fellow traveler from California, was brave enough to taste it. It was well cooked after all. I should have tried it too. Next time say yes!

Dry goods for sale

My dad

A mountain of dried whole fish for sale

Nearby, a woman was selling printed cotton sarongs for $20 apiece. I’m sure that was just the starting point.

I admired the way she had displayed them, in little tepees of color.

Erasto was a friendly, knowledgeable guide, and we enjoyed our first outing in Tanzania. But I was eagerly anticipating the game drives to come.

Next up: Game drive in Tarangire National Park.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.