Updates for the New Year!

Hello all!

It’s been a busy few months getting settled back in the U.S. after returning from Tanzania to present my Masters thesis. The biggest travel adventure since I got back has been the cross-country road trip from Boston to Seattle – 3,400 miles of open road (except for Chicago) and countless radio stations along the way. My plan had been to break in a new tent along the way in the Badlands, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks, but alas Congress decided instead that a government shutdown would be more appropriate. This is as far as I got…

Road blocked at Grand Teton National Park during the government shutdown. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Road blocked at Grand Teton National Park during the government shutdown. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Shutdown aside, I got to spend time with friends in Cleveland and Jackson Hole, at my home farm in southwestern Wisconsin, say goodbye to my grandmother and welcome her two-day old great-granddaughter into the family in Minnesota, spend a very stormy night in the Motel 6 in Hot Springs, SD (and for only $39 – who knew such prices still existed in the U.S.??), visit the world’s only corn palace, and indeed break in the new tent at the poorly named Massacre State Park in Idaho. Idaho was my last night on the road before making it to Seattle. Even though I woke to a wet tent, the smell of sagebrush country after the night’s rains left me knowing I would miss the road dearly – even if I was excited to start a more settled life in Seattle. I would miss the autumn colors I left in New England, the sunset storm clouds I outran in South Dakota, the early snow on the mountain passes in Wyoming that my car somehow survived, the late afternoon light hitting the orange rocks in the Wind Rivers, and that intangible feeling of freedom that comes when one is driving the all-American road trip heading out west.

Somewhere, South Dakota. The smell of sunset thunderstorms keeps me pushing through to find covered lodging for the night. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Somewhere, South Dakota. The smell of sunset thunderstorms keeps me pushing through to find covered lodging for the night. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Seattle is just how I left it – a city that somehow seems to have stolen my heart (despite January-March) and left me ready for a whole new set of Pacific Northwest adventures. Although it’s been pretty busy with starting a new job at the University of Washington in the School of Public Health, here’s a few of the photo highlights of the past few months…

© Gemina Garland-Lewis and Tufts Veterinary Magazine

© Gemina Garland-Lewis and Tufts Veterinary Magazine

Last week I received a number of copies of the winter issue of Tufts Veterinary Magazine, who featured the above spread of my images and an article I wrote about my National Geographic Young Explorer Grant on Azorean ex-whalers. It’s been great to see these images in print finally and to be able to keep sharing the stories of these men.

Following the heels of my last post on the short film made with footage I shot this summer in Tanzania for Putney Student Travel – Putney has now released a longer promotional video on their programs in general. It gives a great sense of what a wonderful organization they are (and there’s a few more scenes from Tanzania mixed in!).


And finally, I finished updating my photo website just before the new year. It’s been a long process to make some of the big revisions to it, so it feels great to have it finally up and running. New albums posted from my summer in Tanzania, including my trips with National Geographic Student Expeditions, Putney Student Travel, and my post-thesis getaway to Zanzibar, as well as more images from my NG Young Explorer Grant in the Azores. Please check it out and enjoy! http://geminagarlandlewis.smugmug.com

I’ll leave you with the ABCs of my road journey!





The Long and Bumpy Road


Well that month flew by.

I’m sitting on my bed at my new home in Dar es Salaam, the Kiota Lodge. Not only do I have amazing zebra print bedding (clashing with the Maasai blanket I added for warmth), but my bed frame extends about four feet up at both the foot and the head and has beautiful wood carvings that frame paintings of peacocks. I’ve been waking up in a tent recently, so this is quite a difference.

Obviously too much has happened in the last month for me to update on everything right now, but I’d like to be able to tell stories here and there from this time. For now, I think I’ll start with the 24-hour journey that got me here from Tarangire National Park.

After finishing my trip with National Geographic Student Expeditions, I joined a Putney Student Travel community service trip as a contract photographer/filmmaker to capture footage of their program. I had a total of eight days with them, half in their village and half on safari. Today is Thursday. Tuesday morning I woke up under the warmth of my sleeping bag and three extra blankets. The sunrise poured in through my window as I packed up, and I made sure to take a few minutes before breakfast to go soak up the view from the “kopje” (the Dutch translates to “little head”, but it means a small rock outcrop in the savannah) at our camping site. We are alone out here, save the Maasai guides who are ever present with their spears. I tell myself to remember this moment, burn it into my mind, so when I’m sitting in endless traffic in Dar I can call upon in.

Tuesday afternoon. We’re on our way to the public campsite in Tarangire National Park. We came in at the other end of the park so getting to our destination is a game drive in itself. I’m in a bit of a predicament, because a resupply vehicle is waiting for me at camp to take me back to Arusha with them, yet the closer it gets to dusk the more animals come out and the more we stop to look at them. We arrive at camp around 5:45pm, and I scramble in a state of hurriedness that I haven’t felt since arriving back in Africa. I need to get out my computer, transfer over the files for what I shot today to the external hard drives I’m leaving with the group leaders to send back. Need to give them all my sound gear. Need to give them my tripod. Need to grab all my things. Need to be out of the park before they lock us in at 6:30pm. I give the group goodbye hugs and hop into an old beat-up Land Rover (the best kind, I might add) and hit the dusty trail.

We zoom along at a speed I don’t think I’ve felt since arriving one month ago. We dodge warthogs, impala, wildebeest, and zebras, but we make it out on time. We hit the highway and encounter a police checkpoint. I know they’re asking about the mzungu in the car (me). Afterwards James, the driver, mentions something about needing to chat with them not to be bribed. I can’t tell if he means in general or if they were asking for a bribe just then. I look out the window at the setting sun. We drive past Lake Manyara and the mountains designating the Great Rift Valley. As we drive, our angle to the mountains keeps changing so the horizon keeps getting lower. Sunset lasts so much longer this way. At times, I even get the sensation of the sun rising again.


We hit construction and a long bumpy ride begins. A giant moon peeks out over the horizon, caramel-colored and in a halo of clouds. Here and there the moon is framed by the silhouettes of acacia trees, and I realize the only thing more beautiful than an African sunset might be an African moonrise.

We arrive in Arusha at 9pm. I check in to my hotel and find two novelties: wireless and a hot shower. Not only is the water hot, but the pressure is strong enough to allow me to condition my hair for the first time in a month. The simple joys are really all that matter here.

My alarm goes off at 4:33am. I grimace. At 4:50am, my friend’s brother, a taxi driver here in Arusha, calls to tell me he’s outside. He’s 20 minutes early. I finish getting ready and head out into the darkness. At the bus station, three buses are loaded and drive off before mine, the 6:30am departure, arrives. While waiting I sit on a bench with my bags and watch three very newborn kittens, two black and one tabby, play with each other. It’s too much cuteness for so early in the morning.

The bus ride is long and cramped. A large woman with an extreme case of halitosis sits next to me. I turn towards the window. Soon after, the bus attendant comes by and informs me that I am in the wrong seat. She points to seat 22, where I was supposed to be. I see numbers written nowhere, but at this point it’s too much of a hassle for me and the man who ended up in 22 to switch. We wait until the bus stops in Moshi, then the large woman with halitosis tells me to move to 22, so I do.

The in-drive entertainment is spectacularly dreadful. The movie “Python” plays two times in a row. You can still hear the original English but someone has attempted to dub by speaking over it in Swahili. They’ve also provided entirely nonsensical English subtitles such as “hot water rice has been died!” (which, from everything I could gather at this point, was meant to say something along the lines of “Tommy was killed!”). The next movie is “Yankee Zulu.” I pull out my iPod.

I nod in and out of sleep. We have one toilet break at lunch and that is all, so I’m keeping myself pretty dehydrated. I text the colleagues picking me up in Dar at certain points to let them know my whereabouts, as we pass by shops with names like “Nice Pub” and “Friday Pub Everyday is Weekend”. I take a particular liking to the gasoline tankers with “DANGER – INFLAMMABLE” painted on them and a hand-painted sign on a truck that read “VERY LONG ABNORMAL VEHICLE.”

Ten hours after leaving Arusha, we arrive in Dar. My colleagues have been trailing the bus since we got to the city, waiting for it to stop so they can pick me up. I get put into a very nice, very new, Land Rover (issued by the Tanzanian government, I’m guessing) and start the trip to Kiota Lodge. As we get closer to the airport I notice signs with Barack Obama’s face welcoming him to Tanzania, where he just visited earlier this month. Karibu, Obama. Two hours later we’ve driven the short distance between where my bus stopped and the lodge. If traffic is this bad all the time I’m going to need a commuter hobby.

Upon arriving I meet Iku, the woman I’ve been in contact with here at Kiota, and Gabriel, a vet at the agency I’m interning at who specializes in zoonoses, particularly brucellosis and tuberculosis. I haven’t talked about things like this since leaving Boston and my brain perks up. I eat my dinner while we talk, trying to retain some manners while stuffing my face with my first meal since lunch the previous day. Soon after, Gabriel goes home to his family and I allow myself the longest night of sleep I’ve had in… well… that’s a good question. Too long.

And so here I am.

Shifting gears…

Habari rafiki! (Hello friends!)

Although I started this blog as a venue through which to keep people updated on my National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant project on Azorean whalers, I’m embarking on a new journey this summer and decided I should continue using this site as a means for travel stories and updates. 

I’m leaving for Tanzania in just four days, now (hence the opening with Swahili), and that wonderful mix of excitement and fear that I’m going to forget something important is rife. It’s been two years since I was last in Africa and just under two since I was last in the southern hemisphere. Basically, I’M READY.  I have a lot ahead of me this summer – first up is leading a trip with National Geographic Student Expeditions (you can follow along on our trip blog as well, which will have posts from both students and leaders). Joining us for a week on this expedition is someone from the NG team who I’m a big fan of – Andrew Evans, National Geographic’s Digital Nomad. No doubt he’ll be posting updates on his site as well! After that I’m doing some photo and video work for another student trip, then it’s off to the big city for an internship for my graduate degree. I’ll be living in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, for six weeks while interning with the Tanzanian Veterinary Agency working on the beginning stages of a project looking at strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration. During the first three weeks of this I’ll also be finishing the final draft of my thesis, so I have no shortage of things to keep me occupied this summer! I’m thinking I’ll give myself a much-needed weekend escape to Zanzibar after turning in my thesis… 

I’ll leave you with that brief update for now, as for some reason I still haven’t figured out a way to get my thesis to write itself or my bags to pack themselves… strange. Ongoing projects with National Geographic on the Azores will still be posted here, for those of you following along for that aspect. I have a couple more things in the works with them that I’m waiting for to go live. 

I know these next four days will be stressful and contain some not-so-pleasant goodbyes, but I’m just keeping in mind that, come Friday, I’ll be looking up at Kilimanjaro for the first time… So here’s to that!

Baadaye (see you later)!