Abigail’s Grand Adventure in Tanzania

Sep 17, 2018 by Jared Smith

(The video above captures our adventures in Tanzania. Read below for details!)

For my daughter’s 14th birthday, I gave her an opportunity to go on a trip with me to any location on the planet. I had enough airline and credit card points to give her this unique opportunity. Growing up in a small town in Utah, opportunities are rare to experience much in the form of culture and diversity, let alone being a minority. My hope was to give her a sense of her place in the world. And I wanted to spend some dedicated time with her at this important time in her life.

The destination she was to choose had to provide a rich cultural experience. It also had to include historical (as in really old) significance, artistic exposure, once-in-a-lifetime musical performances, meaningful service opportunities, or amazing adventure (something you cannot experience any other place). I gave her a workbook with these requirements. She had to research 3 locations on each continent.

After researching and discussing the options together, she ultimately chose TANZANIA! I couldn’t have been more happy with her choice! We spent 10 incredible days together in this beautiful East African country in early June 2018. We had more adventures than I could describe in 100 blog posts. It was magical and an adventure beyond description! The people were amazing, the wildlife sightings beyond my greatest expectations, and the memories made eternal.

Giraffes overlooking the plains in Lake Manyara National Park

We put together a large bag of school supplies, many donated by friends and family, and donated them at two impoverished primary schools. The children and teachers were so grateful for our support.

Abbie blowing bubbles to the delight of the school children

Highlights of our Trip

Watching a lion stalk, tackle, and kill a wildebeest from just 30 yards away. It was truly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life!
A lioness stalks a herd of wildebeest before making the kill.

Getting stuck between two large herds of elephants in Tarangire National Park. It was just the two of us in a small SUV. This video is of poor quality, but captures the excitement in our voices after 3 large elephants charged at us.

Navigating the dusty, absolutely crazy streets of Arusha, especially when I was driving. Abbie’s primary job was to ensure I didn’t forget to drive on the left hand side of the road.
Donald Trump Butcher market in Arusha, Tanzania.

Being among the first vehicles in Ngorongoro Crater and driving into the middle of a pack of a dozen lounging lions. They were so close we could have reached out the window and touched them!
Lions just outside our vehicle window.

Standing on the shores of a hippo pool in Ngorongoro Crater and having a hippo suddenly burst out of the water just 30 feet from us grunting, growling, and splashing about. We ran for our lives!
Abbie at the hippo pool in Ngorongoro Crater

Seeing the Big 5 of Africa – Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino, and Elephant.
A beautiful female leopard in Serengeti.

Visiting a Maasai Village. While you pay for the show and tour, the money supports the small village. We were the only visitors and enjoyed a peek into the lives and culture of these nomadic people.
Abbie with Maasai women

Finding ourselves among a herd of at least 40 giraffes in Tarangire.
Close encounter with giraffes

Exploring the countryside of Tanzania. There were people EVERYWHERE – even in the most remote areas you could almost always see a boy with his herd of livestock. We would frequently say, “Every boy has his stick!”
A maasai boy herding cows

Getting to know our guide Haji from African Wonderland Safaris and Mwema African Safaris. He was incredibly knowledgable and had a keen ability to put us onto amazing wildlife sightings. We spent 5 days on private safari with Haji and then 4 days on a self-drive safari in a rental SUV from Roadtrip Tanzania / Roadtrip Africa.
Abbie looking for game from our safari vehicle

Navigating a herd of several thousand zebras and wildebeest – just a small branch of The Great Migration – in the Serengeti. No photo I took could capture the immensity of the herd extending to the horizon and beyond, though this photo of a solitary zebra going to water is a favorite.

The list of animal species spotted (not counting birds – there are way too many to list): rhino, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, gazelle (several varieties), impala, buffalo, lion, bat eared fox, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, crocodile, hippo, monitor lizard, elephants, hyrax, hyena, warthog, mongoose, baboons, vervet monkey, waterbuck, dik dik, ostrich, topi, rabbit, eland, python, bat, and camel.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival late evening at JRO (Kilimanjaro Airport) via LAX and AMS. Transfer to Green Mountain Hotel in Arusha.

Day 2: Game drive in Tarangire National Park. Overnight at Twiga Lodge in Mto Wa Mbu.

Day 3: Delivery school supplies at Primary School in Mto Wa Mbu. Long, bumby drive to Serengeti. Overnight at Serengeti Angani Camp.

Day 4: All-day game drives in Serengeti. Overnight again at Serengeti Angani Camp.

Day 5: Game drive in Western Serengety. Drive to Ngorongoro Crater. Overnight at Rhino Lodge.

Day 6: Early morning game drive in Ngorongoro Crater. Return to Arusha. Overnight at Green Mountain Hotel.

Day 7: Rental car delivery. Eventually find our way to church. The church members were incredibly warm and welcoming. It was an uplifting experience to worship with them. Sacrament meeting was held in a tent! Drive to Mto Wa Mbu. Overnight at Africa Safari Glamping Manyara.

Day 8: Self-drive safari of Lake Manyara National Park. Overnight at Whistling Thorn Tented Camp (highly recommended!).

Day 9: Self-drive safari of Tarangire National Park. Overnight again at Whistling Thorn Tented Camp.

Day 10: Deliver supplies to school near Eluwai Primary School near Tarangire. Return to and exploration of Arusha. Return rental car and transfer to JRO for late evening departure.

A Grand Adventure!

I’m blessed to have spent such a wonderful time with my amazing daughter. We both fell in love with Tanzania and its beautiful people.

Sunset behind an acacia tree in Serengeti

The Great American Eclipse

Aug 22, 2017 by Jared Smith

I’ve had the total eclipse on my calendar for almost a decade. I’ve planned and anticipated this for A LONG TIME! Fortunately the weather was perfect and everything came together for an experience that is indescribable. The brief moments of totality are nothing short of breathtaking. I was happy to share such a great experience with my family.

Below are photos of the eclipse. My setup was an 8″ Newtonian telescope (essentially a HUGE f5 1000mm lens) with a Canon T2i DSLR at prime focus and a Canon T5 with a 250mm IS telephoto lens. Both were on a Celestron equatorial mount to track the sun and moon as they moved across the sky. The photos were entirely automated using Solar Eclipse Maestro software.

A montage of eclipse photos of various stages with the total eclipse in the middle click photos for a larger version

Bailey’s Beads are formed due to terrain on the moon blocking the sun unevenly. Solar filaments or prominences are seen at the right and bottom. These are huge loops of plasma that are attached to the sun’s surface and extend far off into space.

My family looking to the skies in anticipation of the eclipse

Each sunspot is larger than the earth.

The diamond ring occurs just before and after totality.

The solar corona is an aura of plasma that extends millions of miles into space. Earthshine – reflection of sunlight off of the Earth and back to the moon – causes the features of the moon to be visible. The red filaments are very prominent. The red light refracts in front of the sun – similar to how you can see red in the sky well after sunset.

This is a composite of 12 different photos of varying exposures to capture the outer solar corona. Nearly 1000 of our planets would extend across the width of this photo.

During an eclipse, shadows take on the shape of the eclipsed sun. Here my son is surrounded by thousands of mini-eclipse shadows.

Here’s a video of our total eclipse experience. The “snakes” we speak of are shadow bands – they are relatively rare to see during an eclipse. Notice how quickly it becomes dark and then light again. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees during the eclipse.

On Traveling Abroad

Apr 30, 2014 by Jared Smith

Mary and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation to China, Cambodia, and Thailand with stops in South Korea and Malaysia. I’ve had the great opportunity and blessing to have visited around 30 countries, having flown about half a million miles – enough to circle the planet 20 times. Many of my family and friends, however, do not travel much at all. This is not atypical. Americans rarely travel – at least not very far. And those that travel, rarely experience – they simply stop by and take a look around. We saw very few Americans on our travels. This is not a travelogue post, but some thoughts on traveling and why we would undertake such an adventure, and why you should too.

Great Wall

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo


Since we first announced that we would be traveling to Southeast Asia, the response from probably 90% of our friends and family has been “WHY?!?” Interestingly, the response of well-traveled friends and colleagues has almost always been “WOW!” I’ve pondered the diversity in responses, and why so many seemed surprised or even shocked that we would willingly want to and even PAY to travel to such a place.

Seeing the world has changed my perspective on humanity. Flying at 600 miles per hour over nothing but sea for 13 hours gives you a sense of the size of our amazing planet. Riding the 800-mile bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai and realizing that the homes and apartments you’ve passed on that single 4 hour trip could easily house every citizen of the state of Utah about 20 times over helps you realize the immensity of the world’s 7 billion people. Visiting the most foreign of places teaches you that we’re really not all that different after all. Returning home makes you realize that there truly is no place like home, yet the desire to see someplace new starts to grow as the jet lag subsides.

Old man playing a mouth organ, Temple of Heaven Park, Beijing

Traveling Makes You a Better Person

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Being raised in a small town in Idaho that was 95% rich, white Republicans instills a sense of entitlement and even bigotry. Racism, while often not overt, was rampant. I was not immune. And worse, I didn’t even realize it for much of my life. But seeing the world and realizing that I am actually a minority in humanity, and seeing how vibrant and dynamic people can be has changed my views on skin color and race.

A Monopoly on Happiness?

Americans, particularly Utah Mormon Americans, tend to believe that they are happy simply because of where they live or what they believe. They often think that the rest of the world couldn’t possibly be as well off. One thing I’ve learned is that happiness is based on one’s decisions, not on one’s conditions.

The scriptures of my faith state, “Men are that they might have joy.” It doesn’t say “Americans are that they might have joy” or “Believers are that they might have joy”. We too often confuse comfort and riches with joy. America truly is incredible. We are amazingly fortunate and blessed. And nearly everyone I’ve talked to abroad thinks this also. My modest house in the suburbs is probably the smallest on our street, yet would be a mansion for only the most wealthy of SE Asia. But these things don’t bring happiness.

New Friends

In a remote fishing village in Cambodia, this little girl came to us begging for food or money. Despite her destitute condition, she seemed to be one of the most content, happy children I’ve ever seen. Her disposition was so bright and her smile heartwarming. We could have taken her home with us.


Happiness seemed to permeate most of the Cambodians we saw – something rather remarkable considering that the average wage is just $2 per day, and that just 35 years ago 25% of their population was murdered or starved to death under the Khmer Rouge regime. They waved and smiled. We even danced with them in the dusty streets.

Yes, that is a naked, dancing baby drinking a Pepsi.

For some reason, I was born into privileged, middle-class America. And a little girl was born into a poor fishing village in Cambodia. Yet it was she that taught me about happiness and that only my decisions and my family can bring me real happiness.

Family on a scooter in Chennai, India

A Challenge

I visited India a few years ago. The contrast between rich and poor was incredible. The chaos, sights, sounds, smells, and smiles were so incredibly vibrant and … well… you see, I have never been able to really explain it all in words. A few weeks ago, as we made our way down a dusty, smelly street in the unrelenting 100+ degree Cambodia heat, I looked at Mary and asked, “Do you now understand why I’ve always said that it’s impossible to describe India in words? And why I’ve always said that you have to experience places like this to know what they’re like?” She quietly nodded as we passed a naked child playing in the street while his parents repaired a fishing net in front of their small stilted shack. These experiences changed us.

Kampong Phluk, Cambodia

So to answer that original question that has been posed to us so many times – WHY?!? Because traveling isn’t so much about experiencing or seeing the world as it is about experiencing and seeing yourself in a new way.

My challenge to you is to travel abroad. Doing so is not beyond the means of most anyone, even if it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I promise it is not as scary or as expensive as you think it is. And I’m not talking about doing a popular cruise, visiting a touristy beach in Mexico, or going with a large tour group of any kind. You should really travel and see at least one truly foreign part of the world – I think you’ll find that you then see yourself differently.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky