At 8am, in front of our hotel, we were met by our guide, Humphrey, and personal chef, Severini. After a quick stop at the Bushmen office, we were off to Arusha. Arusha is a very big city, one which serves as a jumping off point for the big Safari parks in Tanzania. It was the first large city we’ve spent any time in since arriving in Africa.
While driving through the city we saw the large U.N office. It was in this building that they held the criminal tribunal for the genocide crimes in Rwanda. I love seeing real life places that only appear in movies and grad school text books. After an hour or so in the car we arrived at the Jambo campsite where we unloaded our stuff, had lunch, and then set off for our game drive in Lake Manyara National Park. Before even entering the park we saw a troop of Olive Baboons in the middle of the road. Baboons are easily becoming my favorite animal to watch. They are so funny. Even inside the park, when they are in the middle of the road and a car comes, they reluctantly and lazily move out of the way like they are mildly annoyed with another car disrupting their playtime. I had no idea how much I was going to love this. The park, which isn’t really all that big, is teeming with animals. We saw Marabou Storks (more like pterodactyls), an African Fish Eagle, A Crested Francolin, Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill, Hippos, Common Zebras, Maasai Giraffes, Dik Diks, Wildebeests, Impalas, Cape Buffalos, Elephants, Rock Hyraxes, Warthogs, Black Backed Jackals, Lions, Sykes Monkeys, and Vervet Monkeys. And to think, this was only our first day.
After our game drive we went back to the campground and guess who we found? Our friends from the mountain, Steve and Nick! Our campsite is lovely. It has a pool, hot showers, a restaurant, and extra eating area for people like us who bring along our own chef : ) Once the sun set, the place started sounding like a scene out of Jurassic Park. A few times during the night, as we were sitting and talking with Nick and Steve, we would hear a noise, look at each other and just start laughing. We couldn’t see anything but at one point something definitely sounded like a wild pig in a tree. I don’t know how it got up there. Tomorrow we are off to the Serengeti.
June 24th– Day 2
Today we started our long drive to the Serengeti, driving through the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. We passed many Maasai people herding their livestock. I was surprised to see how many cattle and goats these people have. And apparently, they have some kind of peace treaty worked out with the lions. The lions don’t hunt their cattle, mules, or goats and the Maassai don’t hunt the lions. Humphrey told us that he has seen lions stalking through the Maasai cattle herds on their way to attack a Zebra. Unbelievable right?! Our guide also told us that the Maasai people don’t like tourists taking pictures of them, unless you give them money. Peter and I decided we would pass on the pictures and instead just enjoyed looking at their beautiful attire, painted faces, and jewelry. Their body decorations are stunning. The male warriors have their faces painted in the most intricate white patterns and the women have beautiful bead necklaces and earrings. It’s funny how body paint and piercings can be considered mainstream and beautiful in one culture and edgy-fringe in another. Regardless, I love it, and it makes me want a nose ring.
About an hour later we stopped at the museum/visitor center for the Olduvai Gorge. This gorge is where the oldest signs of human life were discovered. At this site, there is also a very interesting exhibit on a cyclist that retraced the human migration, propelled only by his own strength, from the Olduvai Gorge all the way to Argentina. It took him ten years. Peter asked me if I would consider this for our next dream…
I said, “no.” I have to draw the line somewhere.
After lunch we continued our drive to the entrance of the Serengeti National Park. As we waited for our guide to pay the entrance fee, we climbed to an overlook where I spotted an actress from Private Practice. Random right? For those of you who watch the show, she’s the dark haired neurosurgeon. I tried really hard to pretend I didn’t care but seeing as how that’s my favorite guilty pleasure when Peter’s out of town, I really, really, wanted to ask her if she wanted to come camping with us. I am going to guess though, that she isn’t the camping type.
After entering the park, we had about three hours of game driving before reaching our campsite. On our game drive we saw many of the same animals as yesterday but we added a few to the list: Ostriches, a Pygmy Falcon (awesome!), Coqui Francolin, a White Bellied Bustard, a Topi, a Crowned Clover, Spotted Hyenas, a White Browed Coucal, Thompson and Grant Gazelles, a Cheetah, and best of all a mama Leopard in a tree devouring a dead Thompson Gazelle with her two baby leopards sitting below. Seeing all this wildlife is mind-blowing. I can’t believe how many animals live here and that they aren’t surrounded by the sky-tram, screaming children, and overpriced soft drinks.
We are laughing now that both of us had apprehension about doing a safari and spending six days sitting on our asses in a car. How wrong we were. This has been absolutely amazing and much to our surprise, we aren’t on our asses all day! Peter spends the day on his feet standing with his head sticking out of the top of the car and I join him ¾ of the time. Sometimes the road gets a little too dusty and I need to get back inside. We can’t believe we actually second guessed this experience. I have already decided that this is way better than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I would much rather travel with a chef, sit on my ass, and have someone drive me around while I watch animal planet live. We’ll see how long this lasts.
June 25th– Day 3
Today we took off to the northeastern part of the Serengeti to see the wildebeest migration just before they crossed the Kenyan border to the Maasai Mara. On the road we were so lucky to see a Leopard Tortoise crossing the road. Our guide was nice enough to break the rules and let us out of the car so we could take a picture. Over the span of our drive, there were easily tens of thousands of wildebeests scattered over the Serengeti Plain. When we stopped to have lunch there were thousands just in our field of vision. To make things even better, while we were eating our lunch, watching wildebeests chase each other around and grunt at each other, we also saw a herd of female elephants walk by with their babies. This was one of many times during this trip when I looked at Peter and wondered, arewe dreaming? How is this really happening right now? On our way back from the Kenyan border we stopped by a hippo pool. Man, hippos are great but that place was vile and stinky. Imagine sharing a small pool for three weeks with 30 of your best friends, except no one gets out to use the bathroom. Yeah… yuck. So anyway, while I was wandering around trying to get some fresh air I met a local teacher who was chaperoning about 30 Tanzanian children and her name was Elizabeth too. I gave her my email address so hopefully we can work out some type of communication during the school year.
Liz with the school children at the Hippo Pool
June 26th-Day 4
We woke up before the sun to find a spot overlooking the plain for a sunrise picture. After the picture we went on a short game drive and then returned to camp for breakfast. For our second game drive we headed to a place where a leopard was supposed to be sitting in a tree. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, the leopard was hiding in the grass. We decided to wait it out and watched as the other cars drove off. All sounds of human life disappeared as we sat in silence waiting for the leopard to show itself. After maybe a half hour of staring at the grass, swearing it was still laying down somewhere, we found the leopard back up in its tree. The hiding tactics of this cat are unbelievable. We were staring at the grass surrounding the tree for a half hour, all three of us, (and let me add that our guide Humphrey has eyes like a hawk. He sees everything) and we never saw it move. Somehow it made it across our field of vision and up into a tree without us even noticing.
During our afternoon game drive we stopped by the Serengeti Seronera Visitors’ Center for an educational, walking tour that provided an overview of life in the park. We learned all sorts of interesting facts about the circle of life. It was a beautiful exhibit with a focus on conservation which we both liked. It was also the home to what seemed like hundreds of Rock Hyraxes. They are so cute and are apparently the closest living relative to an Elephant. I don’t understand it, but it has something to do with their feet. After the Visitors’ Center we departed on a game drive for a couple hours and stumbled upon a pack of lions, with a 2 month old cub, that were 15 ft from the road. The young male lion got irritated with one of the safari cars and started chasing it. It was sort of the driver’s fault, he was trying to turn the car around much too close to the lion and let’s just say the driver crossed that invisible line and the lion was pissed. We were laughing. These cats look surprisingly docile as they rest in the grass but seeing as how these cats can take down an elephant, one look from a pissed off male lion is enough to send a car back to camp.
Since we weren’t the car that pissed off the lion, we stayed a bit longer. Our drive back to camp was exciting as we drove through a torrential down-pour reminding us of our crazy pampas tour in Bolivia. The rain was pouring down so hard that neither of us have any idea how the driver could see the road. The windshield wipers barely worked. The storm quickly arrived at our campsite and at one point, as we were lying in our tent, the thunder was so loud it I flew into the air and hid under my sleeping bag. I asked Peter how likely we were to be hit by lightning, he said it was highly unlikely but somehow sensed I would feel more comfortable in the dinner building. I was out of that tent in a matter of seconds. The thunder and lightning show was much more enjoyable as a backdrop to our dinner than it was experienced from the inside of our tent.
June 27th-Day 5
Today we left the Seregeti to drive to the Ngorongoro Crater. On our way out of the Serengeti we saw two more cheetahs sleeping in the grass. I am starting to think they compensate these animals for spending so much time so close to the road. We also stopped at a Maasai Boma to learn more about how the Maasai people live. I am always a little hesitant when it comes to paying a fee to see people, it makes me uncomfortable. Peter convinced me to go though and he brought up a good point. He thinks that with the rapid spread of western culture, these small communities of tribal people may not be around much longer. As these Maasai children continue to go to primary school in the nearby cities, I think Peter is right, there may be a generational shift as more people abandon a traditional tribal way of life for a more contemporary and comfortable lifestyle. We were greeted with a song, Peter danced with them, I tried on their jewelry, we visited the inside of their huts, saw the nursery school, and bought a few souvenirs. The son of the chief tried to convince Peter to trade his $200 altimeter watch for his personal beaded wand used for who knows what. Peter didn’t even have to think twice. He just said “Apana Asante,” (no thank you.) I think Peter should have traded. That wand could have given him some real authority back at work.
From the Maasai boma we went straight into the crater. The crater is 12 miles across and 2,000 feet deep. The crater is a habitat for all the animals found in the Serengeti except giraffes and impalas. The crater is really neat because its walls create a natural wildlife enclosure. The hillsides are too steep for most animals to get out so many of them just hang out within its walls. The highlight of the day was definitely the lions. The lions sleep in the middle of the road, but when cars drive up and stop to see them, the lions get up, use the shadow of the cars for shade, and go right back to sleep. At one point there were 3 female lions laying in the shade of a Land Rover right next to us. The large cats use the cars for not only shade but for hunting too. Some Norwegians we met told us that a cheetah used their car as a hiding place before chasing down a gazelle.
The campground on the border of the crater where we are staying is beautiful. Our tent is on a huge lawn that during the night, zebras use for grazing. We were also instructed to take any food or scented items out of the tents, I guess the bush pigs are a little too comfortable with people and will let themselves right in. We didn’t remove our food. We are hoping for some company.
June 28th– Day 6
Today we headed back to Moshi. I am sad to be leaving the beautiful Tanzanian National Parks. We have quickly grown accustomed to seeing so many animals every day. It’s funny how fast you can get so spoiled. I have to be honest though I am now more thrilled than ever that we are zoo members. I think I will be visiting more often because I will miss all my new friends. My heart is not ready to come home but my appetite sure is. The food here is good but lacks the variety I am used to. I really, really, want Chipotle and maybe some really good pizza. I wonder how long I would have to stay in a place before my American appetite would disappear? Hopefully someday I will be able to find out. Peter did say “no” to joining the Peace Core, but he didn’t say “no” to relocating to one of his company’s international offices. My pick… Spain! I hope he starts asking around at work.