Serengeti safari

By Mirabelle

After almost being eaten by a lion in Ngorongoro we were off to the Serengeti! This national park is one of my new favorites in the country of Tanzania because of its beauty, animals, and wide-open landscapes. After a 2-and-a-half-hour drive, we found ourselves with hospitality and fresh mango juice at the Kirurumu tent camp getting ready to unpack our suit-cases. The next day we headed off into the wild in hopes of finding cheetahs, zebras and a warthog

In the dining tent
Homework in the glamping tent

After waking up, getting dressed, and eating some breakfast (which included these veggie frittatas with onions and peppers that were decadent) we met up with our amazing tour guide Lesikar who drove us around until we found a herd of elephants which were apparently very revolting to Caroline but they weren’t what we were looking for. Later in the day as we were laying around being bit by mosquitos,we spotted a couple of cars in the distance so we crept up behind them waiting to see something miraculous – we spotted five cheetahs. Did you know all cheetahs are identical!

On the second day I was the one with unfortunate luck seeing as I threw up before we even started to drive. But as we started our luck began to pick up as we saw two more cheetahs laying down by the shade, however that did not last long as they tried to race after Deric the warthog who definitely had no hakuna matata based on how fast he ran. He thankfully outran those cheetahs.

Cheetah mama and youth before chasing the warthog

After that first game drive we headed back to chill out for a while and have lunch. The second game drive was much different seeing as no cheetahs were found (and Deric was in peace) but the one thing that was found interesting enough, was lions… the lions weren’t alone THEY HAD SOMETHING … SOMETHING DEAD. It turns out that a pregnant wildebeest had been taken down, not eaten but taken down. why pregnant… well apparently the lions were not in need of a meal, they were in need of a tiny, unborn, wildebeest chew toy.

King of the jungle
Lion with his chew toy. He played with this thing for a very long time but didn’t want to eat it.

Ngorongoro magic

Jules was excited to write about our lion encounter in Ngoronogoro, but I wanted to share a bit more about the place. We stayed at the Serena Lodge which was perched at the edge of the crater. It was a beautiful old lodge with gorgeous wood and stonework. The views were just insane. We loved seeing the sunsets and sunrises over the crater. We also saw a water buck (large deer like animal) crossing just feet from our balcony. We enjoyed the big buffet breakfasts and dinners, and I got a massage after our game drive, which was a treat.

The other cool thing they had each night was entertainment. The first night we got to see people from the Masai tribe do some dancing. The second night they had musicians and acrobats. It was very impressive!

The crater itself was gorgeous – so lush and green! All full of awesome animals. We saw 2 black rhinos, but only from far away. Saw elephants, zebras, wildebeests, water buffalo, hippos, warthogs, cranes, ostriches, gazelles and as Jules wrote about, lions! No giraffes down in the crater because they can’t get up or down the steep hills.

Lion experience in Ngorongoro

By Julian

The second safari place we went to was Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro Crater is a crater that was formed by a volcano blowing up on itself. When we went there we saw giraffes, elephants, zebras and much more, but I will be mainly focusing on the lions. 

After we arrived we saw lots of cars gathered around one mountain and our tour guide said there must be something big, he thought it was a lion. So we drove all the way over to the hill where all the cars were and we saw that they were three lions! We stayed there for a very long time looking at all the lions who were just laying around. After we were done with that we saw a couple more cars down the hill. So we went down there and saw that there was a young male lion. 

As we were all looking at it in amazement, it started to get up and walk towards us. Dad started recording a video. Eventually it came all the way up to our car and sat underneath it where all the shade was. So Mom slowly closed her window and we all started taking photos. At first I was scared, and then I thought it was really cool to have a lion so close to us.

Lion video

Baboon Banaza

by Caroline Niebauer

The beginning of the Banaza

Baboons, giraffes, zebras, and elephants what do all these animals have in common?  They all can be found in the Lale Manyara National Park famous for its tree climbing lions which we sadly did not see.  We saw many other amazing animals like as mentioned before but I’ll be focusing on 3 the of them. Baboons, giraffes and elephants.

First baboons, we saw 100s of these interesting creatures and they are cool for many reasons but here are just a few fun facts about baboons. First they do not have hair on their butts and they are some of the worlds largest monkeys and they can grow from 27-30 inches tall (60-86 cm) and their tails can reach from 16 to 23 inches, that’s more than 50 inches in total and they can weigh about as much as a human child!

the kids next to a termite mound

Next are giraffes, these tall creatures are very graceful despite their long legs and necks. We saw many of these at all the parks but we saw the biggest tower (group of giraffes) here. Giraffes are the tallest land mammal on earth and their legs can be more than 6 feet tall. Some other interesting facts about  these tall creatures is their tongue is a foot long and purple! Lions usually don’t go near them because if they feel threatened they will kick said lion and one kick can kill the lion.

giraffes in the wild

Lastly I will be focusing on elephants, they are the largest land animal on earth. Some interesting facts about these animals is that they are targeted by many poachers because of their ivory tusks. Interestingly the way to tell African and Asian elephants apart is that African elephants ears are shaped like Africa and the adult African elephants are typically larger.

To conclude safari was very fun and I am very happy to have had to had this experience and to have seen all the animals.

Africa Beckons!!!

Our Tanzania Egypt journey of 2022 started with the knowledge that this would likely be the last big trip lasting over a month with the kids. Caroline will start high school next year preventing us from withdrawing the kids from school in the manner that we have done in the past. The kids are also very happy in school and will miss being away from their friends. We also were facing the headwinds of the Corona pandemic and the more contagious omicron. To be truthful, I though there was a decent probability of our trip being cancelled.

After making it through Christmas we shifted to preparations for the trip. We were extremely busy with getting PCR testing done within the 96 hour window for entering Tanzania (this would come into play later) and preparing visas for both Tanzania and Egypt as well as QR documentation for our vaccines. Not to mention packing and preparing all our business, projects and the house build for being gone for a month.

As typical once we finally packed ourselves into the car to begin our journey the stress of it all began to wane. We drove the 2 1/2 hours to O’Hare and encountered lots of lines and lots of extra Covid documentation. I still wasn’t convinced we would actually be able to go until we took off on the plane in Chicago. Once off the ground we settled in for the 13 hour plane ride to Doha Qatar, which wasn’t bad with lots of movies and ipad time for the kids and parents. The kids slept for part of the flight although Jules didn’t seem to get enough sleep and was very crabby in Doha.

We attempted to leave the airport in Doha with a transit visa but due to the restriction with Covid-19 our PCR tests were not taken within their 72 hour window and therefore were not valid.  So we ended up having a lay over in the airport for 12 hours.  After a few hours exploring we found several quiet/sleep rooms and bedded down for the night as the hotel in the airport was full.  It was pretty obvious the airport was designed for travelers staying for looooonnnnggg layovers.

Mask up!
Sleeping in the Doha airport
Doha from the air

The next day we boarded our flight to Tanzania and the Kilimanjaro airport. After rapid Covid tests upon arrival (all negative) and a bit of hassle about our visas we were unleashed upon Africa. Happily our driver for the next five days on safari was on time and holding a sign. He drove us to our the Mount Maru Game Lodge where we dragged our weary bodies to dinner and then immediately to bed.

Picked up in Tanzania

Celebrating Oma’s birthday in Santa Fe

We were excited to be able to stop on the way home in Santa Fe, where my mom has a house. We weren’t sure she would be feeling well enough to meet us there, but she was. She had just turned 70 a few days before so we were excited to welcome her with lots of birthday cards!

Happy birthday Oma!
Kids were so happy to see Oma
Me too!

We didn’t do a whole lot while we were in Santa Fe. Lots of hanging out at home, escaping the cold. We did get out once as a family to walk around town and eat some brunch outdoors (brrrr but gotta stay safe even if Oma has had her vaccine!)

All bundled and masked up in town

Mike and I also went on a number of walks around town, which is so charming! We got some snow, but luckily only a dusting instead of the 4-6 inches predicted.

We aren’t in Baja anymore, Campy!
Charming scenery on a stroll
Oooh that was a cold little hike up this hill above Santa Fe

We got some chocolates and champagne to celebrate Valentine’s Day and enjoyed some time by the fire!

Escape from Baja

After we saw the whales we spent the rest of the day driving north up to San Felipe. The first half of the drive was on a narrow road that makes your heart leap every time you pass a truck, but eventually we got on a newer road with big shoulders.

We found a campsite in San Felipe and appropriately had tacos for dinner. We have eaten a LOT of tacos on this trip, both made by us and at street stalls. Kids are downright sick of them by now.

We didn’t have time to do much other than catch up on school and work and then eat and go to bed, but our last night in Baja gave us a good sunset at least!

The next morning we left just before dawn (I’m the early riser driver of the family) and drove a couple of hours to Mexicali to cross the border. That was a bit of a nightmare circling around all over town following detour signs, but eventually we found the right place and waited about an hour in traffic. The border itself was easy- we had a lovely customs agent who asked us a few questions, did a cursory check around the rig and sent us on our way.

Back in the US our first stop was in and out burger which the kids had been begging for since we went to one on our way out. We then drove for a gazillion more hours through the desert and the mountains. We stopped to grab Thai take out for dinner and then eventually got to a campground after dark. I got to wake up the next morning for a work call at 8am which I took outside in 20 degree weather. My hands were about to fall off as I typed. But gotta get the work done!

Then we just drove a few more hours and after brunch at the Waffle House (another not-in-Wisconsin favorite of our kiddos) we made it to my moms place in Santa Fe. She wasn’t getting in til the next day so we used the chance to catch up on work and school.

Top 5 camping beaches in Baja

By Caroline Niebauer

Here are our five favorite camping beaches in Baja!

5. Cabo Pulmo (Playa el Arbolito) we stayed in Cabo pulmo for 2 nights. The first at Playa el Arbolito. It was so pretty but really windy. My mom the twins and I sat at the beach and I watercolored. The second night we went to a different beach just north of Cabo Pulmo town and it was made out of stones, not sand. We had fun painting rocks and sliding down the steep rock hill.

Tide pools in El Arbolito
Pebble beach at Cabo Pulmo

4. Papas Fernandez is an with amazing beach camping in Gonzaga Bay. We were there for 1 night it was amazing. The water was not so cold and there were tons of shells and they were cool. We played in the waves and looked in the tide pools after dark.

Coming back from playing in the waves at Papa Fernandez

3. Coyote beach in Bahia Concepcion was beautiful. We stayed for 2 nights. It had amazing views, and we went snorkeling, but the water was freezing. Mom and dad went on a hike on the hills above the beach. We had s’mores with some local friends at the next campground- they were really good.

Our palapa at El Coyote
Toes in the water with dad

2. Cerritos Beach near Todos Santos is a beautiful beach with big waves and beautiful views. We stayed there for three nights at a boondocking campsite beside Cerritos Beach Inn. It was on a bluff overlooking the waves. While we were there we met up with some friends and swam in their pool because the ocean was too cold.

Cerritos Beach- you can’t tell but we are up on a hill above the beach
One of the few places we could have a campfire because there was lots of driftwood

1. El requison this place is a beautiful camping spot we stayed here for 1 night. It is a sand spot that connects the land to a small island at low tide. The first night we found tons of clams that we boiled and ate the twins, and I did not like them, so my dad ate most of them. The second night we went to a little beach next door- Playa La Perla which was so pretty too!

Beach at El Requison
Playa La Perla- a small pretty cove. We were the only ones there!

Honorable mention we did not camp at this beach so it could not be on the regular list but it was still amazing it was the beach at San Jose del Cabo the water was a bit cold but we still played in the waves

Beach in San Jose Del Cabo- no camping here. Only fancy (but empty) hotels.

Gray whales in Guerrero Negro

By Maddy

After Mulege, it was a fairly quick drive to the pacific coast where we camped at Ojo de Liebre, a very flat sandy area on a bay where gray whales come to mate and to give birth to babies.

Sunset from our campsite. You could see the whales in the distance

Early the next morning we headed out to go see the whales. It was a really amazing experience. I came here 20 years ago on spring break during college and I remember how awesome it was, so I was excited to bring the family. It did not disappoint!

We stopped at the visitors center to get our tickets and then headed out with our captain Luis.

Grey whale skeleton

We took the boat out about 15 minutes, seeing whales spouting on all sides the whole way out. Once we were in the center of the action we waited and three huge whales came and basically played around boat. They swam next to us, under the boat and around and around. They came up next to the boat again and again, and we all enjoyed reaching out to pet them. Not sure where else in the world you can get so close to these amazing creatures. They were small compared to the blue whale we saw in Loreto but still massive!!

We also got to see a baby whale swimming alongside a mama, but didn’t get close enough to pet it.

They encouraged us to pet the whales. We all got the chance. So amazing!!
A flipper close up
Breaching in the distance

Meeting friends in Mulege

By Maddy

After a few days in Bahia Conception, where one is fully cut off from cell service, we needed to find some internet so we could celebrate Omas 70th birthday with a zoom party! Luckily my brother Brian and his family could bake her a cake and be with her in person.

So we stayed in Mulege, the town just north of Bahia Conception. we had visited it on our way down but not stayed there. It is a beautiful little town in an oasis on the coast. Lots of palm trees and a river flowing through.

I had connected with some RVing families through Facebook who were just starting their Baja journey as we were finishing ours. We weren’t sure if our timing would line up to connect but we were lucky to hear from them as we were pulling into town so we stayed at the same hotel/RV Park as them. It was a cute place with a freezing pool and lots of areas to eat or work or just hang out.

The two families had lots of kids ages 4-12. Our kids made friends with theirs very quickly and started many many hours of tag and hide and seek and other outdoor games. It was so fun to see them get some friend time. We also really enjoyed getting to know the parents and trading travel stories and tips for Baja over margaritas and chips! Meeting travel friends has been rare this trip, given the lack of tourism during Covid, but we are glad we have had a few opportunities and everyone seemed good about staying outdoors and using masks.