After a stupendous trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) to South America in 2009, we decided to take their: Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari. At a base price of $4,000 or so, including airfare, it seemed like as good a bargain as the South American trip had been. We weren’t disappointed—it was a tremendous value, as you’ll see when you read the following recap of the trip.
This account is MY recollection of the trip. As with the group of blind men experiencing an elephant, one feeling a tusk, another an ear, yet another the tail, each traveler will have different reactions or takes on the trip. Lucky for you, mine were wonderful and positive. It wouldn’t be fun to read a downer account, would it?
DAY ONE Wednesday, March 10, 2010
My husband, Kevin, and I took off on a long flight from the U.S., during which the smarter of us slept. We landed in Amsterdam in the morning. OAT offered an additional overnight stay in the city (for a hefty fee) which we opted out of. It was 32 degrees in Holland. Hey, we packed for life on the equator and weren’t interested in lugging extra things for one day of cold. It turned out we didn’t need to layover at all. The transition to Africa time (8 hours ahead) was easy.
After just a two-hour layover in Amsterdam, we took off. The video screen read “544 MPH, 869 KPH and minus 80 degrees F, minus 59 degree C.” I marveled at the fact that we only had 3,866 miles and 6,256 kilometers to go. We flew at an altitude of 34,997 feet.
I’m lookin’ at that map on the video screen—almost over Africa for the first time in my life! After finally watching Blind Side, I saw the movie A Serious Man and with 3 hours left, I’ve started watching Up In the Air. This is cracking me up. I’m either Up In The Air with A Serious Man who has a Blind Side – or I’m getting Blindsided Up In The Air by A Serious man. OR…I’m up in the air about what to expect over the next 16 days. Hope the Serious Man–my husband–sitting next to me can lighten up a little. We are the quintessential ying and yang. Bodes well for an 17-day trip together, I hope.
DAY TWO Thursday, March 11, 2010
I was up in the air all day. The last leg was an hour-long flight from Nairobi, Kenya to the Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. We were then transported to the lovely Olasiti Lodge in Arusha arriving quite late. There we met the other 14 travelers and three guides. Two had taken the pre-trip to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and said it was fabulous. (We never did end up seeing the mountain ourselves. Oh well.) Tanzania is located on the southeast coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean.
DAY THREE Friday, March 12, 2010
Wakeup was at 7:00 a.m. I didn’t appreciate getting only seven hrs. of sleep after that LOOOONG flight (30 hours of travel, 19 of them in the air.) Here’s how it went: Left house 10:00 a.m., flight at 12:40, two hours in the air, 3 ½ hr. layover in Detroit, 8 hr. flight to Amsterdam, 2 hr. layover, 8 hr. flight to Nairobi, 1 hr. layover, 1 hr. flight to Arusha, 1 hr. bus ride to the town of Kilimanjaro.
Our guide is Peter Njau. He is from the main tribe in Kilimanjaro, which is Chagga. Of the 8 or so kids in his family, as one of OAT’s top guides (he’s all over their main website) he is one of the only non-professionals. His brothers and sisters are doctors, lawyers and engineers. Even with parents who were farmers, they have all succeeded. This kind of success is common among people in Tanzania.
First tour was the Tanzanite Experience. They call it a museum, but it’s really a store. To get there we drove on the “Great North-South Road.” The midpoint of this road, which runs from Cairo to Cape Town, is in Arusha.
We took a small bus to the center of town, which was very crowded. The minute we got off the bus, we were hounded by men selling everything from cashews to jewelry. We climbed several flights of stairs and had to pass through a well-guarded area to get into the shop where they finish and sell tanzanite. Here’s what we learned. Formed 585 million years ago, it’s very expensive. No one bit and bought any. It was a pretty weird first impression of Africa…crowded streets, with unruly traffic, crushing crowds, trinket selling and then guards. And all of this on less sleep than we should have had. I’m thinking OAT should probably rethink this excursion.
In Arusha we passed by the new International Court where the Tribunal for Rwanda is taking place. This court is trying people for genocide. Some have already received life sentences.
Just passed the Solid Rock restaurant…wonder if it’s the African version of Hard Rock Café?
They tell us that Arusha is 47% Christian and 57% Muslim…but wait, that’s more than 100%! Maybe my confusion is some of that jetlag head stuff going on.
We hear about the language Swahili, but the real name is Kiswahili. Who knows where the “Ki” went in translation? It was fun learning some Kiswahili. Shanga mean “decorative items.” Shaanga is “to be amazed.” Their shanga was shaanga!
Speaking of shanga, we visited a coffee plantation inherited by a Swiss fellow. His wife, of Dutch descent, is a go-getter. Recognizing that disabled adults in Tanzania are throwaway people, she started hiring them to make beads and items to sell at a store she founded called SHANGA.
Loved seeing the deaf gal work on some sort of craft while she wore an Obama t-shirt. Of course, they LOVE him there.
Kevin got a wonderful belt and I treated myself to a very pretty string of beads made from paper! They served coffee and cake before we headed back to Olasiti Lodge.
We swam and hung out for a couple of hours at the wonderful pool while being entertained by Black Faced Monkeys with blue balls (!!) and it wasn’t even cold.
We had real hotel rooms at this lodge. After showering, we visited poolside. We met some folks from Detroit who told us the post-trip they had signed on for to Zanzibar Island had been canceled. What?? Seems power from the mainland was disrupted…and had been so for 3 months! We hadn’t heard a thing about this…and we were scheduled to go on the post-trip. Oh well, guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. By the way, the post-trip to Zanzibar cost an additional $1,000 per person. I figured, when would we ever be back there to experience Zanzibar, an island state within the United Republic of Tanzania? Twenty-five miles from the coast it has its own semi-autonomous government made up of a Revolutionary Council and House of Representatives. So six of the sixteen travelers opted in to visit this spice island.
Dinner was the first of many, many, totally delightful meals. Vegetables are so plentiful and cheap in Tanzania that they made up 90-95% of our fare. Each lunch and dinner included 5-7 different vegetable concoctions with different spices and sauces. You could load up your plate and not feel uncomfortably full. This cuisine was typical…so in spite of eating with reckless abandon, both Kevin and I actually lost a pound. The Tanzanian people walk so much and eat this wonderful food. It’s no surprise that they are strong and lean.
Speaking of the people. They are beautiful. Mostly very dark, and on the mainland at least, seemingly very happy. They would wave and smile every time we passed…kids and adults alike. I’m not sure if it’s because of the income tourists bring into the country, or if they are genuinely happy. Probably a combination.
At this meal I read my “Titillating Tale of Warnings” to the group. It was about OAT’s silly warning to “wear brassiers due to bumpy roads.” (I think people liked it.) Then we played the card game “31” until 10:15 or so. Barrie was in a battle until the end with Esther. It was the first time she had ever played. But he won with 2 coins left…no surprise.
DAY FOUR Saturday, March 13, 2010
Up at 7:30, nice breakfast and then off to an art gallery sponsored by OAT. I bought a bracelet made from cow bone. Turned out this particular gallery had quite high prices, compared to other shanga shops we visited later. However, they had us where they wanted us…unaware. Thankfully, I never saw the bracelet any cheaper. Some may have regretted their purchases at this store after-the-fact.
During the trip we rode in Toyota Land Cruisers, customized to have roofs that opened. Each of us had a window seat, and when the top was removed we could stand to take pictures or ogle with binoculars. We were hoping there wouldn’t be acceleration problems with this class of Toyota….flying uncontrollably through the Serengeti isn’t my idea of fun. We saw other, higher-class vehicles, which had tops that popped up providing shade and protection against the rain. But, those tours probably cost more.
Today was the fourth anniversary of Lily’s husband’s death. Lily was a fellow traveler. Manfred, also known as Manny, was on an OAT trip with his brother-in-law, I think in India or Indonesia, and had a massive heart attack. Sounds like he was quite an amazing person…was the only one on their last trip to Tanzania to have actually taken a drink of fresh cow blood at the Maasai village. (Something the men in this tribe do every morning. For iron or something?) We toasted Manny at dinner.
Today we drove through rolling hills dotted with Maasai family villages, with today’s driver, Salim (prn Saleem.) The Maasai, one of 250 different tribes in Tanzania, are semi-nomadic people. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well known of African ethnic groups. Historically, they were considered fearsome. Believing all cattle belonged to them, they rustled cattle throughout Tanzania. Raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 100 meters. They are fascinating people. There is more about the Maasai later in this recap, since we visit one of their homes.
As we drove, we saw cows on one side of the road, farms on the other. This is to avoid conflict between Maasai and non-Maasai. Here, farmers primarily grow corn, red beans and carrots.
It took 1 ½ hrs.to get to Tarangire National Park (prn – Tarren-gear-aye.) The roads were very rough and rutted. Big dilemma was whether to keep the windows closed and suffocate in the heat or open them and be suffocated by the dust kicked up by the vehicles. We did a little of each.
We had box lunches, prepared at the lodge before venturing into the park. There were brazen Black Faced Monkeys everywhere. In fact, in an instant, one grabbed Gene’s sandwich, which he had set down momentarily to get a drink. Survival of the fittest, I guess.
Here we saw our first elephants. They can hear low frequency sounds 15 kilometers away. Their ears are cooling systems – 70 liters of blood flow through with each flop. The African elephant is very different from the Indian Elephant. You’ll never see African elephants in the circus, because they are mean. Also, the ears of each type are shaped like the country from which it hails.
Here’s the first, of many lists of things we saw: Grant Gazelle, Secretary Bird (which uses its legs to “type” in an effort to kill snakes…yummy!) donkeys, lioness, warthog, ostrich, Tsetse Fly (more on this later) Velvet Monkeys. (Within this document, all the animal and birds listed are in bold italics, so they are easier to identify, if that’s all you want to read.)
When you hear about the “Big Five” it’s a group of animals defined by hunters and not the logical five you’d expect. They are: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. (What about the hippo and giraffe?)
OAT is always encouraging travelers to “learn and discover.” So in that vein, here are some VERY interesting facts we learned. Everyone knows elephants travel in HERDs, but what do zebras travel in? How about giraffes? Here’s the lowdown:
Elephant and Buffalo: Herd
No one I’ve spoken to yet knew many of these. So, here’s to learning and discovery for the day!
The trip to our next lodge seemed shorter but was still painfully rough and dusty. We saw a local bus just flying down the road, rocking and rolling. That even scared our very able drivers. Apparently, there had been a big bus accident in the previous couple of weeks with many fatalities. No surprise.
We had a couple of hours to clean up and wash off layers of bug spray and sunscreen. We were now at the Lake Burunge Tented Camp for two nights. These were very comfortable permanent tents with full showers and a porch overlooking the lake.
Now, about Tsetse Flies. They prefer dark colors, so we were encouraged to wear lighter color clothes. So there really IS a good reason for all the khaki! There is extensive research taking place about the effects of the Tsetse Fly. The Sleeping Sickness that it can cause has been awful for the country. You would occasionally see blue hammock-sort of devices hanging from trees. These were to attract the flies and contained a chemical, which makes them sterile. I’m aware of no vaccine. I learned that if I unexpectedly become tired in time, it might be from one of the 3 or 4 bites I got. But, odds are good it’s dodge-able, since 97% do not carry the disease.
Before the trip, we received vaccinations for Yellow Fever (mandatory to enter Tanzania), got the Hepatitis A series, and updated Tetanus shots. We took Malarone to prevent Malaria (which for me caused wild and crazy, but thankfully not scary, dreams) and packed a bunch of Cipro in the event Tanzania’s revenge set in (which it eventually did for us in Zanzibar.)
As usual, before dinner we had a meeting during which Peter answered any questions we may have had about the day and told us the plan for the next. After which he would always say, “Is that a good plan?” More of a rhetorical question than anything else…and endearing.
After dinner, a Maasai carrying a stick (spear?) accompanied us each to our tent. OAT is very protective of the travelers. Apparently, hyenas or even lions could have been on the prowl. I actually saw my first zebra wandering in front of our place just before we headed out for dinner. We hit the sack at 9:15 because wake up the next day was 5:30 a.m. They managed to hook up Kevin’s CPAP machine. It only conked out a couple of times during the night. Choke, choke! Since it was dark when we awoke, there were the Maasai waiting to accompany us. So reassuring!
DAY FIVE Sunday, March 14, 2010
Up at 5:30 and left for a 2nd day at Tarangire, after coffee at 6:10. We were with the main guide, Peter today, which was great because he really knows his stuff. I saw and he helped us identify 36 different kinds of birds, my very favorite being the Woodland Kingfisher. It has a big red bill and blue and black markings. Gorgeous! They make the same distinctive cry as our local kingfishers. (We eventually saw well over 150 types of birds.) Here’s the next list (added to yesterday’s sightings): Giraffe, a squished fox on the road being eaten by an immature Tony Eagle.
A Dix Dix, the smallest antelope, dashed by. We saw waterbucks (it looks like they have a toilet seat on their butt.) It is interesting to see how the animals co-exist. They keep what is known as an appropriate “flight distance” between them. This is like our very own “comfort zone” but it is just the right distance to allow them to escape if necessary.
People ask us if we saw tigers. Well, no, of course we didn’t. Although there is fossilized evidence of Sabre Tooth Tigers from millions of years ago in Africa, they currently can only be found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. So, there’s a little more learning and discovery for you.
We had a picnic lunch at a little spot overlooking the Tarangire River. We saw a herd of elephants milling around on one side of the river and watched some of the bravest of them actually make the crossing. You could hear their trumpeting…and there were many babies among them. Wonderful.
The monkeys hung around waiting for another sandwich, but the guides were armed with slingshots. They used pebbles and managed to keep the monkeys at bay.
We loved the Baobab Trees. Elephants use the trees to scratch themselves and sharpen their tusks. Look closely and you’ll see this one has a huge hole in it, caused by the elephants. Researchers can’t tell the age of the tree through typical methods since it doesn’t have growth rings. However, using radiocarbon dating, they have learned these trees are thousands of years old.
On the way back to the lodge, one of the vehicles got VERY stuck in a muddy rut. After unsuccessfully trying to pull it forward with his vehicle, Peter gave up and hooked a tow cable to the back. He managed to drag it out backwards. It wouldn’t have been too long before the Landcruiser was up to the axle in mud. Phew!! There is absolutely no help out there, so we were on our own. I wasn’t in the vehicle that was stuck, but imagine there was a huge cheer when it was finally dislodged.
On the way back, we stopped at a store to buy beer. The guide and Barrie, a fellow traveler, got out to make the purchase, leaving the rest of us in the vehicle. It was “market day” and we were engulfed by people trying to sell us everything. They would stick their hands in the vehicle and blabber on in Kiswahili. Very disconcerting. They weren’t evil people; they had just invaded our “comfort zones” (we didn’t have the correct “flight distance” from them.) After Barrie got back in the vehicle, he bought 5 necklaces for $5 but I didn’t want to get anything started, so passed on the low price offers.
Africa is not for the faint-of-heart. I kept thinking about how my brother-in-law wouldn’t last a minute here.
Back to the lodge for a wonderful vegetable-heavy lunch. Beets, cucumber & mango salad, cabbage, red pepper in curry, carrots. After lunch, I lay down on the huge open porch of the dining area/bar and wrote. That evolved into a delicious hour-long nap.
Before dinner a group of us took a walk with a couple of Maasai men; Msfiri (or something like that) and Lobulu (really cute guy.) Along the way, they pointed out various plants and told us how they use them, primarily medicinally. We climbed a huge rock hill, which provided a 360-degree view of the surrounding plains and nearby Lake Burunge.
DAY SIX Monday, March 15, 2010
Today’s first stop was to visit Lobulu’s family compound. This Maasai family welcomed us warmly. Each woman in the OAT group was selected by a Maasai woman. They wrapped us in colorful Maasai cloth, called a Kanga. Then they put these beaded flat collar type things around our necks as well. A gal named Eva, probably about 17, chose me. We all danced together by jumping and shrugging our shoulders making the Shanga (collar thingy) bounce. One gal would chant a song and then the group would repeat it over and over again while we all bounced. It was very lively and smiley. The Maasai men did their jumping dance and selected men from our group to join them one at a time. Yes, undoubtedly this is where the “white men can’t jump” expression originated. Since the women do ALL the work in the camp, each of us got to climb on top of one of their huts to lay down some grass (photo op) and then the braver of the women (not me) spread the concoction of cow dung, mud and water on the exterior wall (another photo op.)
After this, we all went into one of their stifling hot houses, pungent with smoke smell–nauseatingly so–and learned of some of their ways and traditions. We asked questions, they asked questions.
First wife, along with the husband, chooses the 2nd, 3rd and so on, to help her with the work. Between the ages of 13 and 20 males are circumcised in the presence of all circumcised men. If he cries or shows discomfort, he is shunned for the rest of his life. That’s a huge improvement of what they used to do, which was to kill the unhappy boy. That is progress. However, the women are still routinely circumcised.
There was a young girl, about 8 or 9, who was so beautiful, I could envision her in the pages of Vogue, like the gorgeous African model, Iman.
We were a very lucky OAT group to have had one among us who actually spoke Kiswahili. Gil’s family had been displaced, first from Poland and then again from Cypress, during WWII. They ended up in Tanganyika (which it was called before the name change to Tanzania, using a combination of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.) So, this older, White, Jewish guy from New York surprised the heck out of everyone we encountered. They absolutely loved it that he spoke such great Kiswahili. Apparently, he even knew some jargon.
The Maasai women laid out all their wares on blankets and we each made a few purchases. I gave Eva a photo of our family and she loved it.
The matriarch, a little shriveled up lady well over 100, was sitting in the shade near the corner of a building. We each gave her money. I gave her a family photo, which she also seemed to enjoy…with her toothless smile.
On the way to our lodge, we stopped to see the men of the Makonde tribe doing their carving.
They are known for their work with Ebony and Mahogany. We fell for it and spent $160 in their store for a tall Ebony giraffe, a cute bowl with a giraffe drinking and two masks–one a zebra, the other a giraffe. We saw this very same loot later in the trip for considerable less. (My husband begs to differ.) If I was right, oh well. We were contributing to the Makonde’s welfare. They smiled a lot. Wonder why?
After this stop, we went to the Tloma (the “T” is silent) Lodge. VERY nice with a beautiful view of the lush area of the Ngorongoro Crater, the location of our next encounter with African animals.
After checking in, we visited Ngiapanda (“Crossroads”) School. This is a primary grades 1-7 school. Kids walk from as far away as 5 kilometers. And they do it four times daily since they return home for lunch. No chubby kids in that school. It was fun to see one little grubby, maybe 6 year old boy, wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. This school had 15 classrooms and 650 students. In some cases, the only way to tell the girls from the boys was that girls wore skirts. All the kids have hair shorn very short. Class sizes ranged from 31 to 62. This school is a jewel supported by Grand Circle (parent company of the group with which we traveled.) Before we left, the headmistress told us what they needed. Among the usual stuff, they requested 6 more Holes. By that they mean, 6 more holes in the ground the kids can use as toilets. When they say “Hole” they mean hole.
Back to luscious Tloma for another great meal and prepping for our next day’s excursion in the crater.
Finally had a chance to check the internet. Peter mistakenly told me not to bother bringing a bathing suit on this leg of the trip…he was so wrong. There was a beautiful pool. He spoke to the manager, a lovely gal named Happiness, and she loaned me a baggy but functional suit.
DAY SEVEN Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Five-thirty wake up call, left the lodge at 7 to go the Ngorongoro Crater. On the way, we passed a speeding convoy, the first vehicle swerving back and forth, apparently to “sweep” the road of any oncoming vehicles. It was the security detail of the President of Madagascar, who was visiting Tanzania.
The crater is the largest extinct volcano on earth with a basically dry bed. Twenty-five thousand animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater. Some wildebeest come and stay here (and don’t participate in the huge migration) because there is a constant source of water and food. The only animal not in the crater is the giraffe. The hills are too steep for them.
We entered the park on a road shaped like a mound, which produced a very tilted ride. We first drove up to the crater edge, then along the top and then down, down into the crater. We passed groves of Acacia tree and the lovely flat-topped Umbrella trees. (Maybe they’re Umbrella Acacias?) There were many beautiful vistas through the dense jungle-y vegetation.
The only water source is one lake, teeming with thousands of flamingos.
After making it to the crater floor, we saw a multitude of animals and birds: Cape Buffalo, elephants, Grants Gazelle, vultures (2 kinds,) Maribu Stork and lions. A male crossed in front of us.
According to our guide, lions aren’t interested in eating humans. They don’t know how easy we are to catch and how delicious we are. If one happens to have a human encounter, the rangers kill it immediately. They don’t want word getting around about how good we taste.
We followed a rhino plodding along parallel to the road. Eventually, he passed right in front of the vehicles; and I mean right. Rhinos are in the Serengeti but for some reason, tougher to find.
We saw a dirty little hyena sleeping in a culvert on the side of the road.
We saw a pair of Gray Crowned Cranes. (Their crowns are spectacular.) We saw our first cheetah, lolling about on the ground right on the side of the road. The big excitement was when we followed 2 hyenas chasing a baby wildebeest and its mother. The guides speculated that the wildebeests made it to the large group, thus implementing the “safety in numbers” phenomenon. Other animals we saw were: waterbuck, Thompson Gazelle, zebra, hippo, ostrich, harthogs, hartebeest. Teeming was the word in the crater. Permits only allow vehicles 4 hours of access to the crater. They are really trying to optimize the experience by limiting access by both fee and time. This is a good thing, given what an incredible gift this crater is.
We continued bouncing along for another 3 hours through idyllic Maasai Country to the gates of the Serengeti National Park. “Serengeti” means “Endless Plain,” and that it is. When the Maasai first explored the area looking for a place to settle, the horizon just went on and on, thus the name. It’s grass of varying heights as far as your eye can see. We headed another hour into the park, finally arriving at our tented camp known as Simba. The tents are on the ground and the floors are rubberized. Each has 2 beds, tarp sinks in front and two wooden chairs. Attached to, but separated by a zip-up wall, is the bathroom. One side has a real, flushable toilet, the other a shower. The solar battery is in this area, which is open between the tent and floor. We met travelers who found a Puff Adder snake curled up around the battery for warmth. YIKES! Folks on our trip had rabbits in the bathroom area of the tent. It IS their territory, after all. (We never saw any snakes at all.)
To shower, the water boys fill a 5-gallon bucket behind each tent and then hoist it up so the user can pull a lever and it showers down. If you need more than 5 gallons of this perfect-temperature water, you just holler “MORE.” Of course, the first day, before I figured out it’s more prudent to get wet, soap up, then rinse, I had to holler “More!” Water is a precious commodity in the plains, so, yelling “More” wasn’t really politically correct.
At the camp, beer and wine were plentiful and free. The meals they prepared, for about 25 people, in the middle of nowhere, were amazing. They had a two-burner stove and a rudimentary oven (for which they needed to make their own charcoal.) The chef wore white and had an official chef’s hat. So many vegetables…simply wonderful! They did have a refrigerator (run on a generator) and recharged camera batteries for us daily.
Each tent had 3 hours of solar power for lighting and a kerosene lantern in front, which burned all night. Later we learned that four lionesses came through our camp the first night…and maybe more. The “Ballooners” (more on this later) saw them early on the morning they headed out for their float. Apparently, the guides got into their vehicles and chased them off with searchlights.
DAY EIGHT Wednesday, March 17, 2010
We voted to get an early start, so with just coffee and toast under our belts, we headed out at 6:00. This was the view as we dined that morning:
In spite of the early start, the only new animals we saw were the topi (2 bulls were sparring-playing) and the smelly rock hydrax, which live on the kopjes. Kopjes (prn. “copies”) are remnant outcroppings of volcanic rock. They have a variety of vegetation growing on them, so they provide excellent shelter, not to mention a view of the plains for the animals. Peter’s vehicle had a flat tire…the big excitement of the morning. This morning was a bust…but that’s just the way it goes with wild animals.
We had a break from 1-3:30 for lunch and to rest. At lunch, a wasp went up my pant leg and I got stung 4 times. I ran out of the dining tent and dropped my drawers to get rid of the critters. The bites healed quickly. I wore rubber bands around the bottom of my pant legs from then on. Here is where we dined:
Speaking of difficulties, on the way to the school, Marsha got something in her eye. The guide took her to a U.S. Doc-run clinic in Arusha where the doctor bathed and filled her eye with antibiotics. He didn’t have the Q-Tip he needed to probe for any foreign object. But, she went back the next day, after suffering with a HUGE white bandage covering her eye. He took a final look and thought she’d be fine…which, thankfully, she was. He is such a boon to people in the area. He charged Marsha $20 but asks the the locals $2 or whatever they can pay. I guess the moral of this story is to remember to wear sunglasses to protect against flying objects.
I’m speculating that the guides must have had a little discussion about the lack of wildlife in the morning, because on our afternoon excursion we stopped for educational moments. We learned about the symbiotic relationship between ants that build “galls” in the Acacia trees to discourage the giraffe from eating it. The ants swarm and deposit pheromones, making the foliage inedible. We saw: a flock of Superb Starlings in a tree…looked like a Christmas tree with decorations. They glisten such a pretty green-blue and have orange markings. A group of Guinea Hens, rhinos in a pond, and Herons. We saw an elephant mom with two babies. One had to be adopted since elephants only have one calf. The biological mother must have died. Finally, we spotted a Leopard sleeping in a Sausage Tree. This is a leafy tree with what looks like long sausages dangling from the branches. Heading back to camp, we saw a Black Backed Jackal (AKA Silver Backed Jackal) standing on top of his den. These animals mark just like domestic dogs. He went in and a smaller female came up to the den very close to us, unaware, or uncaring. We WERE upwind…this may have had something to do with it.
DAY NINE Thursday, March 18, 2010
Here’s a list of some of the things we learned: You can spot an abandoned termite nest, because it will have grass growing on it. Vultures have featherless heads and long necks to be able to reach into dead animals to scavenge. The gazelle and ostrich sometimes hang together…ostrich has good eyesight and provides warnings for gazelles. Ostriches can weigh up to 300 pounds. Females can have as many as 30 chicks. Their excrement, called cloacae, is urine and feces passed at the same time. (More than you wanted to know?) We saw a mother cheetah with 3 cubs. Cheetahs are very good with training. The mother catches prey, lets it go and allows the cubs to try to make a kill. If it gets away again, the mother will eventually kill it for a meal. All within sight at the same were ostrich, topi, Grants Gazelle, wildebeest and zebra. A bull elephant (male) weighs 13,000 pounds (6 1/2 tons) and eats 700 lbs of food daily. In January, two tourists, a mother and child, were killed in Kenya by a mother elephant. You don’t want to mess with them. A giraffe can stand 18 feet tall. Their tongues can be a long as 18” and they are prehensile, which means it can grasp or hold objects. We saw two male lions lazing on a kopjes and a female lioness not too far away. There was a feast going on with about 20 vultures of varying types, feasting on a Thompsons Gazelle.
We saw a very pregnant cheetah. Nearby there was a baby wildebeest. Either its mother had died or it had been abandoned. It was sitting alone in a field, just waiting to be someone’s dinner. Maybe the cheetah’s? We saw Thompsons Gazelles (with the striped horns) play fighting. It was so very dusty today. Carola, very accurately, called this “a two bucket day.” On the way back we saw 4 hyenas dragging a gazelle head out of the mud to chomp on. A cheetah we watched following a herd of aazelles was very interesting. The cheetah would move forward, the gazelle would retreat–sort of a Serengeti dance. Cheetahs only have a 30% success rate.
We stopped to check the “tire pressure” now and then (take a wiz.) Our lunch at the kopjes, under a beautiful Acacia tree, was a wonderful setting, but the wind was incredible. The wind speed was “enough to blow a banana off your plate.” (Quote Lily.)
This photo of the 16 of us was taken after lunch at a huge kopjes.
The big migration is 1.6 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra and 440,000 Thompson Gazelle. In February 30% of the female wildebeest drop a foal and then they start traveling clockwise, covering a total distance of 1,000 kilometers. Feb-April they start leaving to go to central Serengeti. In May, they start out again. The rains determine the migratory pattern.
About 500,000 zebras accompany the wildebeest in this migration. All the migrating animals cross a river on the way up and again on the way back, thus feeding the crocodiles twice. Incredibly, some of these crocodiles only eat once a year…so it’s imperative that they score when the migration takes place.
At the end of this day, we saw a Leopard lolling in a tree, exhausted from dragging her kill (a Bohor Reek Buck) into the tree with her.
DAY TEN Friday, March 19, 2010
Barrie, Carola, Marsha and Bob went on a balloon ride, followed by a champagne breakfast. They were up in the air for 52 minutes. It cost $450. They said it was great, but I don’t regret taking a pass on this opportunity. We followed them as they floated over the river.
We saw many impala “Bachelor” clubs. Only the strongest male impala accompanies the females and can be overthrown by any other male that challenges his strength and wins. They can’t run very fast, but can jump.
We went to a very smelly hippo pool, then moved on to one with a moving stream, so it wasn’t so smelly. More people are killed by hippos in Africa than by any other animal. In addition to these 100 hippos, there were about 5-6 crocodiles in sight. Adult hippos can stay underwater up to 7 minutes, the cute babies only 1 minute. There was a dead hippo submerged where the crocodiles stayed. Apparently, they were waiting for it to rot, so it would be easier to eat. Then, after this appetizing viewing, we headed home for breakfast.
After lunch, we headed out again at 3:30. We saw the same leopard as the day before with his kill moved yet higher into the tree.
Normally we wouldn’t have seen other vehicles, but word had gotten out about this leopard and they are hard to spot. There were at least 10 vehicles jockeying their way to the closest point to the tree. We witnessed the Gray Crown Cranes in their mating dance. It’s an elaborate boogie, in which both male and female participate.
Nearby a group of Guinea Hens were squawking like crazy either as a diversion or to drive off a Steppe Eagle, who was looking them over. We also saw a tree full of storks.
After Peter’s recap of the day around the campfire, he told us about his tribe and their customs.
After dinner, I passed out “OAT Serengeti Menagerie” Awards. Each person on the trip was matched to an appropriate animal (like, I was a Secretary Bird.) Most everyone was appreciative of my efforts. Lily told us about her grandson poking her drawers and telling her “you have big underpants, Grandma.” That cracked me up.
DAY ELEVEN Saturday, March 20, 2010
We stopped at a gorge where the Leakeys started extensive archeological work that is still going on. Oldupai was the original name for this site. Early visitors called it Olduvai and that’s how it was written in textbooks. So it is now, officially, Olduvai. The deposits have yielded the fossil remains of more than 60 hominids (members of the human lineage,) providing the most continuous known record of human evolution during the past 2,000,000 years. Some researchers think that the evolution of man started here; that this is where man started his migration across the globe. However, Lucy (named after the Beatles song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”) was unearthed in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. Recently a skull was found dating back 4.4 million years (forget where from.) So, there is some controversy.
On the way out, we saw a male elephant mounting a female. The guys laughed about this scene being the origination of the term “getting hosed.” Real guy humor!
Then one of the guides spotted a leopard walking intently through the grass. We turned around to follow her. She meandered right past us, and I mean right, after which she headed to a kopjes. This encounter was very rare. She was right in front of the vehicle. Along the way, we decided that it was prudent to “not limp around hyenas.” Don’t exactly know where that tidbit of wisdom evolved…but we thought it was funny. On the way out, we spotted many, many (over 25) giraffe eating Wiggly Thorn Acacia Trees.
DAY TWELVE Sunday, March 21, 2010
Back in the luxurious Tloma Lodge, Kevin thought my white noise machine was turned up very loud during the night. But then he realized the noise was pounding rain on the tin roof. I did have the machine on to drown out a barking dog in the middle of the night. Here is a photo of our room at the Tloma Lodge.
We went through the market, but opted to avoid getting out of the car due to muddiness. I was just as glad since our cars were mobbed with people trying to sell things to us. On the street it might have gotten really weird. Luckily, Gil was with us in the vehicle and he entertained the masses by speaking to them in Kiswahili. We saw a fellow with a shotgun making his way up the street, followed like the Pied Piper by a group of people. Apparently, he was going to shoot stray dogs in the vicinity. Big entertainment, I guess.
We went to the Karatu Assembly of God where they were in the middle of their Sunday service. Peter had pulled this little encounter together as a discovery and learning opportunity, and that it was. We were welcomed very warmly. Each of us stood up to introduce ourselves, after which we received applause. The entire congregation (it seemed) formed a receiving line when we left. We didn’t want to be rude, but did pull out the hand sanitizer after that one.
We went to a location where 20 families join forces to make bricks in an elaborate pile, fired by burning logs inside the pile for 48 hours. These piles are comprised of 10,000 bricks. We saw a typical home of the Iraqw tribe. Our guide from the brick family, Pauolo, his family and wife (Pauolina) played native instruments and danced for us. One, called a Zeze, is a fiddle made from a gourd; others were a Tambourine and a Marimba. The Marimba is a small wood box with silver prongs that make a clinging noise, which resonates the box. This instrument is taken along as entertainment on long walks…sort of like an African IPOD. They invited the women to dance after wrapping a Khanga around us. It was very lively.
We drove through the western wall of the Rift Valley escarpment and visited a fellow who had renamed himself “Suliman.” He brings street boys to his house and trains them in art. He is the youngest of 8 children so is responsible for his mother…and he is still single. Many of us bought his art. Although his prices were very low, we collectively spent around $250+.
Here was the outhouse at Suliman’s home.
Back to the Tloma lodge for another delicious vege-laden lunch. Most of us then headed out for a 3-hour hike up to the Elephant Cave and Endoro Waterfall. The walk was through a Ngorongoro Conservation area. Tribal activities, conservation and archeological exploration take place in these areas. National parks are only for conservation—no other activities are allowed. Mao, a very knowledgeable 73-year-old guide, led us.
We saw the tracks of buffalo, hyena, opossum and many droppings…one fresh buffalo pie I managed to step into. We saw a dung beetle nosing his way under a fresh pile to dig a hole and lay an egg. The vegetation was very lush, full of birds and butterflies. The baboons let us know their displeasure as we walked through their area.
Our last night together Peter asked us to share our reactions about the trip and to give any suggestions. It evolved into a bit of a bitching session, which somewhat surprised me, but everyone got stuff off their chests. Seemed folks wanted more time in the Ngorongoro Crater. Peter hadn’t made clear that the officials limit visitation time to keep it less congested and better for all. Once everyone knew that, things settled down.
DAY THIRTEEN Monday, March 22, 2010
Sadly, we had to leave the luxurious Tloma Lodge today. First stop was a reliable T-shirt stop. Not cheap, but good quality. I bought one with a map of Africa. Riding with Peter, he got a huge kick out a sign on the back of a bus we were following: “Masikini Haheshimiki” which means, “Poor people aren’t respected.” We all loved Peter’s colloquialisms: “Thank you for eating.” Thank you for coming.” “Is that a good plan?” He was a simply wonderful, really masterful, trip leader. The other two leaders, Salim and Manny, were very knowledgeable and “good with people,” a necessary skill with a group of 16.
Even though time was getting tight, this was our shopping day. We stopped at the OAT shop, “African Trek,” to pick up things we had purchased and stored there. Then we stopped at a private Maasai gallery where there were many things to purchase at pretty good prices. Final stop was a modern grocery store…which didn’t allow much time for those of us leaving for Zanzibar to get back to put bags in order. We were crunched for time, which wasn’t helped by a huge traffic jam, but eventually we made it back to the Olasiti Lodge where we had lunch. I cleaned all the ants out of the bag I’d left (my bad, there was food in it) and we repacked for the flight. At the airport, they weighed both the carry-on and luggage together. With our carvings, we were overweight so had to pay extra. Oh well. Funny that this didn’t happen when we left Zanzibar. They wanted us to shop ‘til we dropped on the island and didn’t want to penalize us for doing so.
We flew to Zanzibar in a small turbo prop plane. The journey took 1 hr. 20 mins. We were hit by tropical heat when we emerged from the plane. A fellow named Mohammed, from Zan Tours, met us. He was only hired by OAT to get us into a hot cab. We were on our own after getting to the hotel. We were taken to Mtori Marine Hotel, which felt moist and creepy. It seemed we were just dumped there. Our rooms were way in the back and near the staff parking lot and road. We passed huge fuel storage tanks, which were also right next to the hotel. Unfortunately, the direct road to the hotel was blocked, so we had to take a funky detour. It was an unpleasant way to start our visit.
At the hotel, even though the temperatures were quite high, we were greeted with a cup of Lemon Grass Tea. Lemon Iced Tea would have been better. The pool was huge and beautiful, overlooking the Indian Ocean with a Western view. That night there was a sunset that, I swear, had an opening in the clouds in the shape of Africa, sort of.
The rest of the place was very tired. Don’t let this picture fool you. The rooms were small and the lighting left much to be desired.
They just had electricity restored to the island after a 3-month outage. Turns out the tourist industry just got going in the 90’s and they have a long way to go. The people there seemed less happy…they didn’t smile and wave as did the Tanzanians on the mainland. Zanzibar is 97% Islamic, but I only saw two women in a full Burka. All other native women we saw wear colorful Kanga wraps head to toe. The current government is quite oppressive, so perhaps the tourist dollars don’t yet reach the common man. Once that happens, there will be lotsa waving and smiling.
We decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was really their sports bar–the real restaurant had closed for the low season. They seated us at a table on the beach, and we got a few insect bites. Turned out there were chiggers that came out at night that got us. Oh well. Kevin got sick on the way back to the room and I got sick during the night. Here is one of the little hotel critters:
I wondered what the bug spray on the bedside table was for, and then witnesses the hotel help coming into our room in the evening to spray the netting around our beds. Wonder what that might have done to our nervous systems?
DAY FOURTEEN Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Needless to say, we skipped the tour of Stone Town the next day. The others saw where the slave trade took place, so that might have been too depressing anyway. Plus, it was ungodly hot. So, if we had to get sick, that turned out to be the best day. Cipro is magic though. We were able to join everyone for dinner that night. Again, we ate on the beach at the hotel, which turned out to be one of the best restaurants available to us. Below is a street scene from downtown Stone Town.
DAY FIFTEEN Wednesday, March 24, 2010
We felt better, so took a tour of the Sultan’s Main palace, currently under renovation. It’s pretty sad– they have a long way to go. It is one of 50 palaces that were built on the island.
We waded out to a small boat and headed up the coast past the navy (no photographs or you’ll be arrested!!) and Dar Es Salaam University. We waded up to Princes Salame’s getaway—the “Omani” house. It was converted to a hotel at one point, but is now also being renovated as a historical site. She was one of the Sultan’s main wives’ daughters and quite a feisty gal. Princess Salame is much lauded in Zanzibar. She ran off and married a German (scandal!) but she didn’t much care what people thought. We enjoyed a traditional coffee ceremony with small cups of strong coffee, a sweet nut bar, dates, biscuits and some delicious jellow-y-like slimy stuff.
We drove up to Yosef’s Spice Farm. He inherited it from his father who inherited it from his father. They originally emigrated from Oman. He seemed almost Western, however he was married to a native, who wore a colorful Kanga from head to toe and had five children. He knew tons about the medicinal properties and values of plants. The gov’t had seized three quarters of his family’s farm and redistributed it. His wife, even with a headache, had worked diligently over a beautiful meal for us. In his small living room, he had chairs from a dismantled African Air airplane – comfy, sort of like elaborate La-Z-Boys. They were very gracious people. While touring, we saw a very lanky, strong young man shimmy up a coconut tree and hack off a couple of coconuts. We tasted the fresh coconut juice and meat. Two fellows made us all hats, rings, bracelets, necklaces and glasses (!) out of coconut tree leaves. We bought some spices and soaps from Yosef before leaving.
We visited some Persian baths, which were being restored. These were on the highest point on the island.
We returned and Carola got a couple of henna tattoos. We spent time at the pool being entertained by a very personable waiter, Tika , who loved saying “Vonderbar!” We headed out to Stone Town to a restaurant that was supposed to be one of the best on the island. The trip there was one of the most difficult of the entire time we were in Africa. The blocked main road meant we had to drive through a very congested neighborhood teeming with adults and children and many one-way streets. Most uncomfortable both physically and mentally. The restaurant was on the top of an old hotel. It was a very windy evening. The food was not even good. My 8 oz. glass of $8 wine, was, at best, 5 oz. Real rip off….the whole meal. The fruit sorbet for dessert was simply fruit cocktail. My mom made me eat fruit cocktail and I just can’t abide it. Oh well. As usual, however, the conversation was very lively. The six of us got along famously. I don’t know when it started, but “checking for ticks” became a euphemism for “getting together” with our partners.
DAY SIXTEEN Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wilfred Jones, of Zan Tours, picked us up and we traveled in a comfortable van to the northeast coast of Zanzibar. We visited the beach community of McHangani. This village is dependent on the sea: boat making, net/trap weaving, seaweed farming and fishing.
We stopped at the very luxurious Blue Bay Resort. It felt like a swanky Marriott, but with Maasai guards. Apparently, since they are used to sleeping outside of their homes, on the lookout for predators, they make very good guards. We learned that my new T-shirt that says “Zanzibar” means “the land of black people.” The resort was built by Italians who are the predominate tourists. That’s why, when we were acknowledged, the greeting was often “Ciao!”
We went to an area called Kidimini to see how they make the elaborately carved doors that are all over Stone Town. Youngsters were there hawking their own rudimentary carvings but by now we had learned to ignore, ignore, ignore or risk being mobbed.
We stopped at a school where the kids, unlike all the people along the roadside, were very jolly. They laughed, and waved and loved having their pictures taken. A group of 7-year-old, aggressive, borderline-mean boys, surrounded me and nearly knocked me over. They were nuts!
We had a beautiful lunch in a lovely setting at another spice farm. We especially loved the eggplant, which was prepared with garlic and coconut milk among other ingredients.
Our last stop before heading back was at a store called Memories, where we got our final souvenirs. Marsha broke down and bought the mask she had been eyeing two days before. A bit of a hassle getting it home, but I’m sure, worth it.
We ended the evening with dinner on the beach again, playing the card game “31” in the bar and dancing the night away to Bye Bye American Pie. The staff joined us too…so it was quite the “happening.”
DAY SEVENTEEN Friday, March 26, 2010
On our last day, we decided to take a snorkeling trip to Prisoner Island. While snorkeling we saw small jellyfish, which slightly stung a couple of us, beautiful fish and coral. The fellows on the boat pulled up two very vibrant starfish; one with bright red markings, the other bright yellow.
They had mentioned something about turtles or tortoises, so I thought we’d be swimming with them, but no. When we went onto Prisoner Island (which hosts a hotel that looked much like Mtoni Marine,) we went into a preserve for Giant Tortoises. They handed each of us a bunch of greenery and we actually got to feed these huge, lumbering, beautiful creatures. They would stick out their large tongues and chomp away (keep your fingers out of the way!) and if you ended up dropping the remnants, they used their claws to pull the food closer to them. It was absolutely fascinating to be so up close and personal. I don’t think this would ever happen in the U.S. I didn’t know we were going to meet these critters, so I left my camera in the boat. But Carola rules! She sent me these pictures.
Prisoner Island was never used for prisoners as planned. Instead, it was a place to quarantine people. It was also an additional landing dock from which to transport slaves.
We spent our final hours lolling in the water, eating lunch poolside and having a final shower. This was the only day I got sunburned. Stupid. In Tanzania, we were 3 degrees from the equator, in Zanzibar, 6 degrees, so you don’t want to mess with the sun. We waited for our transportation in sweltering heat. It was the hottest, muggiest day yet. We took a puddle jumper to Dar Es Salaam…and I mean puddle jumper. It was a prop plane, which flew at 2,500 feet. Kevin said he could actually see huge fish (probably sharks) in the water. I sat in the front row so had to close my eyes quite often.
We had a 7-hour wait at the airport, after the 20-minute flight. It was awful. No air conditioning, only oscillating fans to occasionally move the air. We felt like dishrags. But, we sucked it up and played a couple of games of “31” to pass the time. Finally, we got on the plane and took off around 12:45 a.m. From door to door, the return flight home was 34 hours! With nine total flights throughout the trip, amazingly, none were ever delayed. At that point, thankfully, the volcano had yet to erupt.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS….
We hadn’t really done proper research, so didn’t realize that we were one of the last groups to head into the Serengeti. We traveled just prior to the rainy season, so it could have been bad had the rain set in early. We also didn’t realize that our trip to Zanzibar was during their low season. That, plus the negative impact being out of power for so long made on the island, caused that part of the trip to be disappointing.
Something travelers should be aware of is that it is necessary to bring LOTS of cash. We never had a chance to stop at any cash machines, and even if we had, they very likely would have been empty or not operational. We were handing out tips right and left. On our entire trip, we spent, probably $1,200 in $1, $2, $5 bills. Plus, we happily tipped our awesome guides, following the guidelines suggested by OAT.
OAT suggested bringing a fancy camera with a good zoom feature. I only used a Canon PowerShot SD800 IS digital camera with limited zoom capabilities. Most of the photos in this blog posting are from that camera. If you’re inclined to buy a new one, a fellow on the trip had a Nikon P90 that he paid around $360 for. We were all drooling over the shots he got. Incidentally, a handful of the photographs within this document were taken by fellow traveler, Warren. The lovely man gave me permission to include them. Thank you, Warren.
Someone on the OAT website suggested bringing an additional pillow due to the bumpy roads and I wrote a comical piece about it. Don’t bother. The pads in the vehicles were fine.
Another suggestion was to have a hat with netting. We didn’t need them, but there might be other seasonal times it might be handy. Those hats are pricey, so be aware you may be just wasting your money. I brought a swatch of netting that I safety pinned around my head one day. That $1.27 a yard material was worth packing.
And, don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen. You can’t buy this stuff most places. At Tloma Lodge, sunscreen was available but it cost $18 for a bottle. So, like a good Girl Scout, be prepared!
Overall, the trip was wonderful. Being introduced to Tanzania was grand and meeting the people, a highlight. So few non-Africans will ever have a chance to experience that continent…we were definitely among the lucky few.
The memories and spellings contained herewith are subject to error…it’s me remembering and recording all this, after all. Whad’ja expect? Also, since this is a journal, written on the road, some of it is in past, other in present tense. Hope it wasn’t too difficult to follow.
P.S. Here I am, scribbling away in the main gathering place of the Burunge Tented Camp.