Travel

White-headed buffalo weavers

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A pair of white-headed buffalo weavers (Dinemellia dinemelli) sit in an acacia tree. Here on the Serengeti, these brilliantly colored birds are often found foraging in the trail of the African (or Cape) buffalo. Like other weavers, they dine on insects.

Apart from the black-and-white markings, the vivid orange-red rump makes this chatty bird easy to spot.

Their nests are constructed of thorny acacia twigs.


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If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the passenger roster for an Israel excursion scheduled for March 17-28, 2020. Seats will be open until Thanksgiving. For a list of trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.


Pumbaa line

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A group of warthogs make their way across the Serengeti. The ground is brittle like parchment.

A lone ostrich watches the parade from a distance. His eyes are five times larger than mine. His sight is brilliant, even in this fading light.

The warthogs are just the opposite. They navigate with their noses.

I cannot see a warthog without smiling. Too much Lion King?


If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the passenger roster for an Israel excursion scheduled for March 17-28, 2020. Seats will be open until Thanksgiving. For a list of trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

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Duck, duck, goosed

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While the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacais) is considered an invasive species in many parts of the world, this one is right at home in Lake Manyara, Tanzania. Prized for its colorful plumage, this sub-Saharan waterfowl was introduced to Europe in the 19th century and has been spotted in places as faraway as Florida, Texas, and California.

It is claimed that the bird is a cross between a duck and a goose (see here, accessed 10/13/2019), but I’m suspicious.

The Egyptian goose thrives along the Nile and in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the only surviving member of a family of birds dubbed Alopochen or “fox-goose.” Other species once inhabited the island of Madagascar but are now extinct. The name is likely derived from their mottled color

A painted panel claimed to have been rescued from a third millennium BC tomb in Egypt may depict a couple of these geese. Since the tomb was located near the Meidum pyramid, it has been dubbed the "Meidum Geese.”

Controversy continues to be directed at the panel. An Italian scholar has claimed that the “Meidum Geese” was a clever 19th century forgery. If substantiated, the claim would be a blow, as the fine execution of the piece has earned it the status of an aviary “Mona Lisa.” Egyptian authorities deny the thought that this prized depiction was cooked up.

Detail of the Meidum Geese. Image from    here    (accessed 10?13/2019).

Detail of the Meidum Geese. Image from here (accessed 10?13/2019).


For more on the Egyptian goose, see the links here and here (accessed 10/13/2019).

For more on the Meidum Geese” controversy see here and here (accessed 10/13/2019).


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If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the roster for an Israel excursion for March 17-28, 2020. Seats are still available. For a full list of future trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

One of the "Ugly Five"

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Several checklists are carried on African safari. The best-known is the “Big Five,” a list created back in the day to describe the five most sought-after animals by big game hunters. But did you know that there is also an “Ugly Five”? Their special place is earned by the fact that they, . . . uh, well, . . . have an understated appeal. Only through the “eyes of love” can these proud members of East Africa be fully appreciated.

The Marabu Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer), pictured above, is one of the uglies. Other members of the set are the hyena, wildebeest, vulture, and warthog.

The Marabu Stork has long legs, a naked head, a neck ruff and black back. Its hunched appearance hides the fact that it has one of the longest wingspans of any living bird (more than 3 meters has been verified) and is responsible for its nickname, “the undertaker.” It is a wader found in wetlands and is a scavenger by trade.

Apart from its massive size, its most recognizable feature of the Marabu Stork is a large throat (or gular) sac. This inflatable fold of skin helps keep the the bird’s body cool (a dense collection blood vessels inside function like a radiator) and give it the ability to make an attractive display. By inflating the sac with air, this big fella can intimidate its rivals and attract a mate.

Obviously, ugly is only in the eye of the beholder.


We spotted this Marabu Stork while bird watching along the shore of Lake Manyara, Tanzania. For more on the storks of the region, see our story here.


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If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the roster for an Israel excursion for March 17-28, 2020. Seats are still available. For a full list of future trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

A dog-faced lip-smacker

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The acacia tree provides the perfect perch for this olive baboon (Papio anubis). He watches as his troop (numbering 100 or more!) pass by our truck in the Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

“Boonies” are highly social creatures that live in large groups. The young learn skills for life while the mature battle for positions up and down the hierarchy.

The olive baboon gets its name from the color of his coat which appears green-grey. The anubis portion of its scientific name comes from the Egyptian god of the Underworld, often pictured with the dog-face that characterizes this species.


Baboons communicate using facial expressions and a variety of noises. They lip-smack, cough-bark, squeal, and scream. Adult males roar-grunt when on display! It can be a little scary.

If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests. I also promise to not to lip-smack or roar-grunt.

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Resting together

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I love watching the zebras on the Serengeti plain. They run, drink, buck, drink, kick, and chase each other in a flurry of activity. They rest as well, always in groups, and often, as these two demonstrate, in affectionate poses. They lean on each other and support each other: a chin on a rump, a head on a back.

They also don’t mind the vehicles. Maybe they are used to them. Maybe they don’t care. Whatever the case, we can get quite close before they bolt.


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Zebras belong in the same family of animals as the horse (equids). However, unlike their hoofed cousins, the zebra has never quite been domesticated.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Serengeti sky

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(With apologies to Montana.)

The African savanna is the original big-sky country. It swallows you up in its vastness.

The Serengeti measures a 12,000 square miles in size. It is part of Tanzania’s national park system and is home to more than 70 large mammal species. It is truly one of the last spectacular big-game areas left on the planet.

Some say that the word serengeti comes from the Maasai language and translates into English as “endless plains.”

Historically, the region has also been called Maasailand after the Maasai people.


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Over 500 species of birds may be spotted in the big Serengeti sky. There are a few tsetse (tik-tik) flies too.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Headed for the Ark?

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While this menagerie appears to be coming to Noah “two by two, from everything that breathes,” it is really just a Maasai herd passing through. The Maasai are pastoralists who live in East Africa. They have traditionally been cattle-farmers. They prefer the small shorthorn breed known as the Zebu and consume its meat, milk, and blood.

In times of scarcity the Maasai will also add goats to the herd. Goats are (obviously!) smaller than cattle, have less water needs, can consume more diverse vegetation, and tolerate the heat a little better.

Looks like a couple of donkeys are in thrown in there for good company.

I step to the side and let them pass. Their herder has a red cape wrapped around his shoulder and carries a stick. He gives me a Hollywood grin as he passes.


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If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Maasai country

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The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people group who live between Tanzania and Kenya. They are well-known for their distinctive dress, their herding lifestyle, and their reputation as fearsome warriors.

I caught this shot of a Maasai herder and his goats in a desert stretch west of Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. He is on the way to a watering hole at the head of the valley.


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When it comes to overseas travel, I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

An archaeologist's rig? (part 15)

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Nope, but this one could do the job. Don’t know the year but this Landy has all the bells and whistles. It seats eight, opens up, folds down, spins, pushes and pulls stuff, bounces, and has a long wheel-base (127 or 130 inches?). It is rigged for safari viewing (check out the small hatch above the front seat!).

I was so pleased. I pointed it out to Mr Nixon who was nonplussed. He said he used to have one (for like 20 years!) but prefers a Toyota Land Cruiser. “Rovers break down.”

Sheesh. Don’t you just hate it when practicality outruns nostalgia?


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We parked our Cruiser down the line (the tan one on the left) from this olive-colored Rover while visiting Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Here you can see the long wheel base and the pop-top for viewing.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. And by the way, we use busses not Rovers.

Four wheels, three wheels, no wheels

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From my balcony in Moshi, Tanzania, I look down on a busy street. Traffic here follows the British custom; one drives on the left-hand side of the road. It sounds simple enough, but it can surprise you if you’re not careful. I check both ways before stepping into a street.

The three wheeled auto rickshaw are everywhere. These are known locally as a bajaji or a tuk-tuk and may be hired as a taxi for a very small price. It is amazing to see how much stuff can be packed in these overgrown (and underpowered) motorcycles.

Of course, “bus 11,” or your own two legs are the most dependable form of transport in the city.


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When it comes to overseas travel, I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Knee-busting and ankle-twisting

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The trail coming off Kilimanjaro carries a lot of trekkers and, in certain seasons, a fair amount of water. In places it follows a rocky wash. This kind of terrain challenges the knees and ankles, especially after the rigor of summit night. I have no statistics in my pocket, but I’d be willing to guess that the majority of injuries on Kilimanjaro are not related to the elevation (that everyone fears) but are of the more mundane ankle-twisting variety. Most probably occur somewhere in route to Mweka Camp.

I can’t say enough good things about trekking poles.

Our little group takes a breather. Muhammad is behind the camera and kindly shared this image.


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Since Mohammad didn’t make the picture above, I snuck him in the thumbnail.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences in the lands of the Bible. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.

A little touch up

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Moshi is a city located on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It is home to some two-hundred thousand people and a gateway to the country. Tourism is big business here with foreigners using it as a launch point for safari and summit (Kilimanjaro). We do both.

Fellow summiteer Bryan captured this evocative image of a sign painter in advance of our climb.


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If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Kandoo Adventures can do!

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Salute to these guys! What a great team! They got us safely and comfortably up and down Mt Kilimanjaro. Big hearts (and good lungs) and attention to detail set this group apart. Raymond, our lead guide is on the far left. His assistant, Ambrose is beside me on the right.

The trip was our second engagement with Kandoo Adventures (https://www.kandooadventures.com/) headquartered in the United Kingdom. I can’t say enough good things about this company or about Rachael Bode, adventure travel consultant in Kandoo’s main office.

We’ll be using Kandoo again next summer for our Everest trek.

The photograph above was shot by Bryan, one of our Kilimanjaro teammates.


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We left the mountain by minibus for a return to Moshi.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Going down

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Coming down from a mountain feels more laborious than going up. Our 2019 experience of Kilimanjaro proved this once again.

Going the distance no sleep is an effort, but that’s not what beats you up. It’s the elevation (and absence of adrenalin!). After climbing through the night to reach the summit, we turn and walk off the cap and lose 9,000 feet. It is a difficult 9,000 too; much of it follows a boulder strewn wash. The brain is tilted and the knees are gone.

Ambrose demonstrates how to skip from the top of one boulder to another with a full pack. I tell him that my shock-absorbers won’t let me do that anymore. I would lose teeth before it was over.

I turn and shoot one last pix of the mountain. We have covered the distance from that frosty head to the steamy embrace of a rainforest.


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Colobus monkeys clamor in the trees overhead. Their distinctive black and white markings make me think of tree-climbing skunks.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Eat cake!

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What does one do after stumbling down from the summit of Kilimanjaro?

Eat cake, of course!

Chef Julius and his assistant Richard provided us with a celebratory cake when we came off the summit. How in the world Julius managed to create such deliciousness in a mess tent on a mountain and bake it at elevation, I’ll never know.

What I do know is that this was tastiest cake I’ve ever had. We happily shared it with the entire crew.


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I eat cake in Africa, but I spend my summers in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Perfect timing

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Raymond timed it perfectly.

He led the way through the night, walking, scrambling, resting. Bryan, Karen, and I followed, headlamps bobbing in a line. Slaa, a strong climber and experienced porter brought up the rear.* No one said much; each life was lived within the confines of the illuminated beams.

The sky warmed as our little troop crested the rim of the caldera.** We rested one last time behind some boulders, stomping feet and rubbing hands back to life, then rose. We turned off the lamps. Passing walls of glacial ice, the silhouette of the Kilimanjaro summit sign swung into view. I walked up the rise and grabbed it with a mitted hand.

The sun cracked the horizon and I shot this image.

I continue to marvel at Raymond’s timing. He set a pace for seven hours that put us on top of Kilimanjaro within 15 minutes of the sunrise.


*Our assistant guide, Ambrose, returned to base camp with Muhammad after he began experiencing trouble.

**We rested at Stella Point on Kibo’s rim. Stella Point marks the end of a difficult stretch of loose gravel on a steep slope. From here the grade is gentle to Uhuru Peak, the true summit of Kilimanjaro.


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Raymond joins me for a sunrise selfie on the summit.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


On frailty and power

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One never conquers a mountain. That’s foolish talk.

The human being is a creature of frailty and mountains are primordial objects built by forces beyond comprehension. Those forces continue to operate right up to this very second, and, in the span of that second, can turn to fury. It takes very little to set one off: a rolling pebble, a drifting snowflake, a shifting wind, a growl that creeps up a volcanic throat. Conquer? I don’t think so.

Mountains are not alive, but they do pulsate. They have no feelings, no malice or joy, but somehow they stand among the proudest of all creation. They are impervious to the flags of victory that we raise above them and they are deaf to the claps of congratulations that we share (before scrambling back down to safety).

No. If someone claims “I’ve conquered a mountain,” they are either dull or worse—a liar. Mountains are climbed only when conditions are right, when the body cooperates, when supports are in place, when the other demands of life permit, and, ultimately, when it is within the will of God.

The truer claim acknowledges this constellation of conditions, peers into the dark haze and humbly says “thank you.” Thank you God for creating something as majestic as Mt Kilimanjaro. Thank you for the granting us the gift of its experience. I am so out of my league.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also” (Psalm 95:4).


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


A two hundred-mile shadow

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Kilimanjaro casts a shadow upon a veil of vapor. The colors are magnificent. Deep tropospheric blues are warmed by the rising sun. Striations build upward from the horizon: purple to mauve to grey and orange. Cutting through these layers are rays of light; these transparent slashes converge with the shadow.

It is frigid at 19,000 feet, but there is little wind today. It is a gift of the morning.

All mountain shadows have this same triangular shape regardless of the mountain’s profile. This is a phenomenon known as perspective effect. The finite size of the rising sun behind me causes the shadowed air to taper away to a vanishing (or anti-solar) point. It is not unusual for large mountains like Kilimanjaro to cast a shadow that is two- to three-hundred miles long.

I inhale the scene and its colors. It is cold in my chest.

The slope has become gentle. From here it is a stroll to the summit.


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

The sky warms, the ice glows

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Climbing through the night with few points of reference is a mind game. I focus by keeping my headlamp on the heels of the person in front of me. I think about breathing. Slowly. Breath hangs about each face, illuminated.

A companion rises over Mawenzi. He is not quite full, someone has taken a big bite out of this moon-pie.

Another companion loses touch with the group. A guides falls back to assist him. Their two lights grow smaller and smaller and then disappear. Time passes. The moon clears the horizon and floats overhead. We hear on the radio that the two of them are headed back down.

Previous experience on the mountain has taught me not to be anxious. Raymond is in front of us, minding the trail. Stella Point is above us, invisible on the rim. We’ll know we’re close when the sky warms with color and the ice becomes visible. In the meantime just keep moving. Poley, poley.

One of my water bottles is frozen. I sip from the second.

The sky warms. The ice glows.


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.