Monday, June 2, 2014

Back to Reality

The end of July 2012 sadly marked the end of my time at UPP. Looking back, those 12 months went surprisingly fast but needless to say I will look back on it all with a degree of nostalgia. I could not have asked to spend a year of my life in a remote forest in Africa with cooler bunch of dudes. To Busoti, Msigwa, Shedrack, Mlela, Ndai and Joffrey I offer a heartfelt thank you for your endless diligence in the field, and patience whilst I consistently butchered your beautiful language. To Alex and Fiona, I express great gratitude for the opportunity to contribute towards all the great work being done by the Ugalla Primate Project and I wish you guys all the best with its continuation.

Sentimental photo 1: Alex, Msigwa, Shedrack, Fiona, Mlela, Joffrey, Simon, Ndai and Busoti
Sentimental photo 2: A rare moment of having both full time and part time UPP staff at camp with Samantha and Simon
Sentimental photo 3: Msigwa, Mlela and Myself at Gombe
As is probably obvious from the date stamp on this post, I am writing this nearly two years after having left the Issa forest and I'm pleased to say I maintain occasional contact with UPP's legendary staff and directors. The opportunities afforded to me by UPP have opened countless windows, through which I have navigated with the blundering luck of a goldfish, as I now find myself close to the finish line on my PhD. Crossing that imagined finish line will be the culmination of three years of hard work that began as a single email alerting me to a remote job opportunity. Since then, I've not looked back and it finally looks like the path ahead is starting to take a vague shape. I hope you enjoyed dipping in and out of my adventures and I hope you stay tuned for more to come in my spin off show 'occasional shenanigans of a zoologist/climber'!

Sentimental photo 4: Msigwa, Shedrack, Me and Busoti

Friday, June 29, 2012


 At the end of April, Simon finished his volunteer work at UPP and departed camp to go travelling before returning to Canada. As a farewell present to everyone at camp he bought a goat. Not some goat meat….  A goat. A bleating, eating goat. Needless to say he didn’t buy it as a pet. That night the same goat could be found on kebab sticks over the fire. I did get some photos of the process that led it there but have decided against putting them on due to fairly graphic content that may offend or disturb. On second thoughts, here they are.

On the 8th of May I returned to Kigoma to pick up a new volunteer by the name of Xander who is from the states. Sadly for him, I’ll be the only vector through which he can practice the art of the English language.
In other news a domestic flight crashed on take off from my local airport at kigoma. Only one person got injured, which was apparently caused by him trying to make too hasty a departure from the plane. It was reported the plane crashed due to pot holes on the run way…
Air Tanzania....

I was also told last night that lions had killed 3 cows next to the local village of Uvinza a mere 2 hrs from camp! Cool ey?

Camp is also undergoing an upgrade at the moment. We are replacing the kitchen and pantry area with one huge longhouse type thing.

Where did the kitchen go?
A cool yellow phase Puff adder i found

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chapter 2: The Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It stands at 5,895m so it is almost 6 vertical kilometres above sea level. (facts about oxygen concentration/altitude sickness etc. – statistics )(I only did this research after I climbed it, so was admittedly ignorant of everything. Ignorance is bliss! Gunho cowboy attitude..)


On the 11th, we returned from our Safari and drove straight to a small town called Moshi. Moshi is situated at the base of the mountain and is dwarfed by its neighbouring city of Arusha. We found a nice hotel and rested up ready for our hike.

Us and our porters and guides before the start of our climb

The 12th was started in nor hurry, our guide rocked up at about 10am, bringing with him our rental stuff for us to try on. Funnily though we were supposed to start that day and he brought no back up equipment incase what he brought did not fit. Fortunately what he brought for me fitted well enough, dad however wasn’t so lucky. He was to be without Ski trousers. Oh well, could be worse. Around 12ish we arrived at the entrance gate of the Machame route with our entourage of 5 porters and 1 guide.
The porters carry pretty much everything including tents, food, equipment and the sort. Each of their bags weighs in at around 20-25kg. A pretty impressive load to haul up a mountain. This left us with very little to carry, mainly water, clothes and cameras and what now, about 8kg at the most.
Nice view to the south of the mountain

Machame route is one of several possible ascent routes up the mountain and is a round trip of 6 days. 5 days up and 1 day down. It is one of the slower but harder ascents. Ironically it has a higher success rate than the other routes because, although being harder, it allows more time for acclimatisation. (how many kilometres?)

Anyway, the journey went a little like this.

Day 1 – Machame gate (1800m) – Machame hut (3100m) 11km. 6hrs, gentle incline. No problems. It was beautifully tropical during this first day with giant trees and lots of green. That night we were served with a 3 course meal brought to our tent and kept warm with tea and coffee throughout the evening.

Me and Dad feeling strong early on in the climb

Day 2 –Machame hut (3100m) – Shira hut (3850m) 6km. 4hrs, a much steeper walk with a pace to match. Started walking again by 8:30am. Arrived at Shira hut without any problems. The routine was then much the same as the evening before with hot drinks, hot food and lots of rest.

Mountaineer P.Blake

Day 3 – Shira hut (3850m) – Baranco hut (3950m), 11km. 6hrs. The first 4 hrs were a steep climb up to a place called Lava tower which sits pretty at 4600m. We then spent half an hour there having lunch to acclimatise to the altitude before descending 2hrs to the next camp. This fitted well with mountaineering advice of “climb high and sleep low”. By this time it was starting to show on us, we were a little beat and we both had pretty bad headaches. Despite this I whipped out the Frisbee and we whittled away an hour chucking my florescent orange Frisbee into the thick fog in the general direction of each others voices.

A very steep climb at the start of the 3rd day

At about 4am I woke up to pee, my headache gone. The fog was gone and the sky had never been clearer, I could see all the way down the mountain to town of Moshi which was lit like a Christmas tree. The moonlight also allowed for a stellar view of the mountains peak. Quite the impressive sight I assure you.

Had a quick break to do some flying

Day 4 – Baranco hut (3950m) – Barrafu hut (4,600m) 10km. 6hrs. This was the big day, we knew that we were going for the summit that very night so we were brimming with anticipation and excitement. When we finally rocked up at Barrafu hut, which is the base camp for the summit, we were tired. It was about 15:00 and we had to get in our rest before 11:30pm when we were told to expect a wake up call.. Barrafu means Ice in Swahili and for this reason the camp is aptly named. It was about -15 Celsius and we were cold. It was kind of a good thing we had to get up at 11:30pm because sleep was near impossible. The thought of getting started and warming up was almost a welcome one.
The Summit sign 5895m!

Dad wasnt sure where he was

Glaciers seen from the summit

A view back down the way we climbed

The time between when we arrived and when we were woken up to get started on our final push to the summit passed pretty slowly as it was beginning to dawn on us how hard it was going to be.
Slowly as the time passed, it passed none the less and 11:30 came around. Within 15mins we’d had coffee and biscuits and were assembled out side the tent in all our warm clothes. The porters were to stay at base camp so it was just us, our guide and 1 porter.

Returning along the ridge from the summit

Some fellow climbers disappearing down the hill

The descent to base camp

The whole team back at base camp after the summit

Monday, April 23, 2012

Random photos from Safari

An excellent right hook 
My leopard

Almost did not get this shot

Two young hippos practicing for the big time 

Banded mongooses on the alert

Welcome to the rim of the Ngorogoro crater

A view across lake Magadi and up at the rim of the crater

A herd of Giraffe

3 Eland taking a stroll 
Golden Jackel

Dad enjoying the hippos

Me, Dad and our driver Malisa

Yellow throated chameleon I found on the road

Grey crowned crane portrait

Mother and cub, spotted hyenas

Me and Dad looking cool

6th April

My Dad arrived in Tanzania to visit me on what would be his first ever time in Africa. This effectively makes me his guide, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a worrying prospect. He flew in to Kilimanjaro airport in the North of Tanzania, so I flew from Kigoma on the 4th in time to meet him. I can tell you for nothing, flying is much more luxurious than the buses. The flight took the best part of 2 hrs, the bus on the other hand takes 2 days with the extreme likelihood of screaming, crapping children being near or on you.. mmm
Sunset over the Serengeti

I decided to organize my Dad’s visit into 3 chapters. Trying to mix in things that I’ve not already done or to go to places I’ve not already been to. Therefore making the experiences new for both of us. Chapter 1 would be Safari – something I’ve already done lots of, but it’s a must for anyone visiting East Africa, its also right up my street. Chapter 2 We plan to climb Kilimanjaro.. not sure what to expect. Chris Moyles climbed it though so I’m optimistic. Chapter 3: Finish up with a  nice relaxing couple of days in Zanzibar.

8th – 11th April

Chapter 1: Ngorogoro and Serengeti

Dads wallet allowed us to do this 4 day safari in style. We stayed at some really nice lodges inside the national parks and might have had a few cheeky massages as well. Deep tissue of course. We went to much the same places as I went with Mum and Jules but with a very different experience.

A lone Bull in the rain

The highlight for me were seeing 5 hyenas on the hunt in the Ngorogoro crater. Our timing was impeccable. We pulled up just in time to see the hyenas hassling the flanks of an isolated group of buffalo that had fallen behind the main herd. After some time it was obvious they were going for a calf in the midst of the buffalo group. The calf did not look all that well and must have been ill or something. 

A picture that says it all

After some time the rest of the group escaped leaving just the mother and the calf. I have to say, the mother fought heroically but the odds were against her and she was getting tired. Every time she chased one of the hyenas away another would come and grab the calf, she would then chase that one away and the process would repeat itself. After a few minutes of this the hyenas became more brazen and began biting the tail of the mother. 

Mum strayed too far

Mum making a heroic charge 
Eventually, the mother strayed a little to far from the calf in pursuit of one of the cackling hyenas. This was the opportunity for the rest of the pack. The first to take advantage of the opportunity pulled the calf to off its feet by biting and pulling on a rear leg. As soon as the calf hit the ground, the rest moved as one and swarmed over the calf. The gory scene was part obscured by the long grass, we could however see the hyenas and hear the baying calf. It was clear that they were eating it alive. All this the mother watched from a distance of 30m. Every now and then she would work up the strength to charge them again but her efforts were rewarded with more bites from the now blood crazed hyenas until she eventually fled back to the herd. 

Outnumbered and outgunned, mum accepts the outcome

After about a minute the calf stopped baying at last, not long after this one of the hyenas broke from the kill carrying the calf’s head in its mouth.. Truly a gruesome spectacle.

We also got a great view of a cheetah up close and followed him as he strolled through the open woodland. The rarest of Africa's big cats. 




 Dads highlight was a herd of elephants right next to the road.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Today is the 16th of March –

I hope you dont mind but im going to put a few random photos into the midst of this completely unrelated text simply to make it less boring. 

Watching the rains from a safe distance

I have now been living in Tanzania for about 7 and a half months. Looking back I can say with confidence that the time has gone by quickly. At the moment we are in the midst of the wet season. It rains heavily on average once every 3 days. Yet even when the sun is shining there is the distant threat of thunder around the clock.

I dont think this photo needs a caption

My MSc is coming on in leaps and bounds. I follow 2 troops several times a month for 3 day stretches at a time. The days are 12 hour days from 7 till 7. This allows me to follow their movements from the moment they leave their sleeping site to the moment they return or find a new sleeping grove. The baboons are definitely becoming more accustomed to someone following them but their tolerance is limited. They rarely let me approach them to within 30m but if I stop and don’t acknowledge them, the braver youths of the troop may come within 10m. Of course their bravery could be attributed to their curiosity and the want to practice their ‘threat’ behaviour on a stranger. This particular behaviour manifests itself by short lunges in my direction or barking at me. It is quite endearing really but any movement from me crushes their confidence and sends them scuttling off into the bushes. Due to the large amount of time I spend with the baboons each month, it is only a natural progression that I should start to recognise certain individuals. A certain power awarded to me in this situation is that I can now name that individual. Spider man once said with power comes responsibility, I chose not to heed his advice and called my first recognisable baboon Chewbacca. What can I say, it just came to me. Another particularly interesting individual who was immediately recognisable came in the form of an Albino infant.

Msigwa, Myself and Busoti all packed up and ready to hike back to main camp

In other slightly disturbing news, I can now tie my hair back into a pony tail. As of yet I have not intentions of cutting it. Oh well, there is not exactly ample reason to remain the once good looking, clean cut, young man I was in England. I also figure the best time to experiment with such things is best done while no one can see me. The guys here are particularly horrified by my appearance and they like to remind me with the occasional jesting statements like “you look like a girl” and other equally witty jokes/statements of subjective fact?. It does amaze me though that at the end of their 6 weeks in the forest (just before their 2 week holiday) they undergo a transformation. One of the others will diligently spend a good hour and a half shaving back all facial hair and head hair, then they will dress in their smartest, cleanest clothes. The final effect is I drop them off with their families in town and they make me look like shit in comparison. I do enjoy the confusion it brings them though.

A stunning view which the photo does not do justice
7 months of learning Swahili has taken its toll, I can now say “hello” and “thank you”… amongst other certain useful things. None of the guys speak any English so if I ever wanted to communicate with them I had no choice but to learn. I started feeling competent at talking the language after about 4 months and since then I’ve all but given up studying. I have occasional bursts of enthusiasm which lead me to rehearsing a page of new words but those moments are few and far between. My competence has made me complacent and lazy. Such is life.

Random little tree frog
On the 22nd of this month it will be Victoria Griggs birthday so I would like to make a public declaration of wishing her a good one. She turns 22. Kind of a moo gesture because I wont be able to post this till April but the thought is till there! Happy Birthday. 

Another Bush Viper

Getting rid of ones particulars in order to cross river..