Rick – Five Day Safari Log (long, but really interesting and insightful!)

SAFARI, DAY ONE – Lake Manyara National Park

We had planned for a 9:00 pickup by our safari driver and managed to make that. We had booked the tour through WILDABEAST TOURS in Nairobi (Kenya) that is run by an Aussie couple. They advertise the ability to take VISA or MC, and then sub-contract all Tanzanian tours to Arunga Expeditions & Safaris based out of Arusha, ( http://www.aruexpedition.com ). Unfortunately they changed their minds about remote charging on our credit card and we found out the night before leaving that we had to come up with US$3,400 in cash. The ATM’s only allow $400 per transaction, (each one with a lovely $5 Royal Bank fee of course) and $1000 per day maximum withdrawal. So last night we got a bit, this morning we got a bit more, and tomorrow we’ll have to get the remainder. The extra fees involved with this wound me to the very core of my being. Adjacent to the ATM was a supermarket where we were asked to go and buy our own water and any booze or other treats we wanted. Naturally the kids stopped off at the produce section first and we loaded up with carrots, grapes and apples before proceeding on to chips and chocolate bars. At the till I put the grapes back when I saw the price of $8.50 for jut under 1 kg! I managed to grab a couple bottles of wine too, but skipped out on the Bailey’s figuring that would put us over the $100 mark and make Claudette poop! Many other tourists were in there loading up as well, but mostly with cases and cases of beer. It was almost like Uncle Den & Terry going out to Germain Lake for three days with a dozen flats of beer and leaving some essential food behind.

After shopping we drove for about two hours further North to a village just outside the Park and dropped off our gear and the cook, before heading into the Park. There were some huge birds at the entrance a few dozen baboons just inside the gates posing for pictures. When we’d stopped at the camp area the guys had also popped the top up of our Land Cruiser. The rear has four bucket seats, and a cap that pops up to allow us to stand and get a great view of everything around us without actually interacting with any animals that would want to bite Luke. Or in the case of the kids and Claudette they can stand on the seats.

All my previous years of watching Loren Green (or even watching some of the current animal planet shows with the kids) did nothing to prepare me for the stunning vistas and exotically abundant wildlife all around us. Of course we an elephant about 80m away downstream at a creek crossing and stopped for fifteen minutes for all kinds of pictures and video. Then about 15 or 20 minutes later we rounded a corner with a small herd of seven or eight elephants right on either side of us, and incredibly close. Several minutes of more pictures naturally ensued. The same thing occurred with Giraffe’s. There was one alone on a section of the plains that we were (well, especially I was anyways) enamored with and shot and videoed from every different angle possible. Then of course a half hour later we were on a treed road just on the edge of the plains and we stumbled upon a herd (? I don’t know if that’s the correct term with Giraffe’s?) of about seventeen all around us. This allowed for some amazing video and close-up shots, not to mention wondrous gazing (again, possibly mostly on my part). We saw many other incredible animals, (which hopefully the others will mention more thoroughly) but my main purpose in wanting to take a safari was to see some giraffe in the wild. These first couple of hours fulfilled that fantasy of mine in spades. Later at the camp, others were talking about looking forward to getting to the Serengeti where they could get to see some Lions, but I quickly vocalized my fulfilled desire to mainly see giraffe.

So today was absolutely worth the money as I was worried about yesterday. An amazing experience really indescribable with words. And best of all, there’s four more days of these incredible experiences to come!


SAFARI, DAY TWO – Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

What an incredible second day! First though, I should breifly relate a bit of last night for my own journal’s sake. they (our cook and driver) had set up tents with a thin foam mattress and sleeping bag for us. The tents were heavy canvas, but fairly small. Only slightly larger than a pup tent, this one I could just kneel up in. We split up as girls and boys into the two tents. Disparingly, the cook had a concrete hut to sleep in along with our gear that they wanted locked up. There were rooms all around the parking lot and a grassy area for tents. These room’s only seemed to house the various driver’s! All of the tourists were housed in tents oddly enough. Even worse yet, there was a swimming pool adjacent to the grass with all the tents, but it was empty. We settled in anyways, and Luke fell into an immediate sleep while Alex and Claudette followed an hour or so later. I was unfortunately kept awake until about 3:00 AM by a bar playing fairly loud music a few blocks away.

After waking up we drove barely a couple of hours to the next park. We had to stop on the way to get the remainder of the money from an ATM. I also spotted an internet cafe and asked for a fifteen minute stop to transfer money around. Since we had done a bunch of cash advances on the VISA, I desperately wanted to put an excess of money on my VISA before the bank started killing us with daily interest. I also took the opportunity to send off a quick e-mail to my RRSP manager asking for another $15,000 I don’t know how much I actually have left, but we’re burning through it pretty quickly before even getting close to Europe! I would’ve liked to have made a blog entry but everyone was waiting in the truck to carry on. This remote village was the most expensive we’d been to yet! Most have been around 50 cents to a dollar per hour, but this place was $4/hour! Fortunately it was also the fastest net connection we’d encountered since Zanzibar, and WAY faster than any place we’d been to in Arusha or Moshi. Luckily the night before I’d given Tim a quick call asking him to throw up a short update on the website.

Driving to the crater’s rim from the main highway system was quite a ways up. Then we came to a balcony and saw the view of the whole crater…. ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING! It really was quite a stunning view across the entire22 by 26km expanse. Thomas pre-warned us that there would be no giraffes in the crater at all. The crater’s sides were too steep for the giraffes to be comfortable walking up and down. Even female elephants di not venture into the crater. They had to stay behind and mind the young ones. Navigating the sloping sides were too treacherous for the younger elephants apparently. As soon as males were large enough, the older adult males would lead them to the crater and show them this awesome oasis of food and water.

Among all the spectacular animal sightings we were privy to, was a recently killed zebra near the top of a small hill. We saw a couple of female lions resting in the shade beside a small creek at the bottom of the hill at first. That lead Thomas to suspect a possible kill nearby and continued driving (after we took a bunch of pictures first of course!) around the area looking. The zebra was only partly eaten with it’s innards spilling out on to the grass. It was obviously a very recent conquest and they were all still resting after the tough chase. There was one lion at the top of the hill keeping watch over their food. Many buzzards were sitting and waiting at a safe radius away for the lions to finish eating so they could swoop in for some scraps.

During the rest of the day we encountered lots of great wildlife. Among these were many close up (and VERY large) elephants. There was also a 200 or so head or wildebeests wandering along. Three mischeivious hyenas were periodically chasing some of them, seemingly just for the fun of watching them run scared. that’s the way it looked to us anyways. After a little while eve they grew tired of chasing and lay down to relax and catch their breath as the rest of the herd of wildebeests sauntered past. Lastly of note we saw some jackles. They were interesting because they were so small compared to the jackals and what size I (also we) expected them to be.

Near the end of the day’s tour we saw a couple of lions just sitting and relaxing in the grass adjacent to the road. While stopped to take pictures and video, we saw a small cub come out from the shade of a culvert about 5m away. They did look very cute and cuddly as the kids high pitched voices chimed from the back seats. We still refrained from exiting the safety of our nice jeep.

At camp that night we met up with an American woman and her French (from France) Husband plus their two kids that were roughly Alex & Luke’s age. The kids got along great and we ended up eating dinner adjacent to each other. I had joked earlier while talking to the Mom about the US not being a great place to be from for a few more months until Obamma got elected. She readily agreed. Later at supper though the kids were talking about some zombie movie, and one questioned the others about what kind of horrible monster they each thought the people would turn into once affected by the disease. I quickly interjected with my guess and burst out, “George Bush!?” and a simultaneously quizzical and sarcastic tone. The kids laughed (even hers) but she quickly berated me that I “should be more careful about making jokes about George Bush in public like that for want of possibly offending someone:. I was naturally rather stunned, but quickly defended myself by saying that “I would happily debate the merits of either George Bush with anyone in the room.” I was about to continue by saying that I would even go so far as to look forward to a debate over ANY Republican government in the US in the last thirty years. Before I could though she replied to my offer of a George Bush debate with an excuse that maybe no one would openly support George Bush now, but barely a few years ago things were different. Clearly this poor woman was trapped in a Republican supporters body, but knew in her heart that the leaders she looks up to are completely indefensible. That must be a hard pill to swallow, and I felt pity and remorse for her blindly following ideals that make no sense, “just because”. I therefore let the topic end at that, much against my yearnings for a good “conversation” with her though.


SAFARI, DAY THREE – The Serengeti

Last night was a little quieter, after all the other campers settled down by about 11:00PM. Our safari company actually has two different 4 person groups out right now, and the other group stole two of our sleeping bags. Well, we found out afterwards that the cook’s helper had taken one each out of our two tents and put them in the German guy’s tent. This was going to be our coldest night since we were at a fairly high elevation at the rim of the crater. We discovered the missing bags too late, (only right before bed time) and didn’t have a clue what tent our driver and cook were sleeping in to find out where the missing bags were. instead we just jumped in our very light equatorial bags, snuggled up close (Luke & Rick in one tent with Alex & Claudette in the other) and draped the single heavier sleeping bag over top of us. The previous night I didn’t even bother closing the canvas flaps over the screens to keep warmer. This night we certainly did though. We had climbed about 400m up to the crater rim, and I was fairly surprised by the temperature difference that created. It was another 600m (that sounds too much to me, but that’s what the brochure said) to the floor of the crater below.

Today’s drive between parks was only a little over an hour and a half, but it was a bumpy gravel road the whole way. In between the central areas of the two parks we came upon vast herds of wildebeests. They must have numbered about three to four thousand, and was a pretty cool sight to see. When we got close to some at road crossings, it was difficult for me to look at them and not chuckle. All I could think of seeing them was Captain Kirk’s foreboding voice planning world domination. Shatner did that role (from the movie, “The Wild”) so well that it is completely ingrained in me it seems. We talked to the driver and the cook about our own herds of a few thousand bison back home. We showed them pictures from the tourist pamphlet Claudette had brought along and they both enjoyed seeing the close up, and aireal views. Both guys seemed more impressed by the pictures of dogleds though. They couldn’t fathom that they were just normal North American dogs, and figured they must have been crossbred with water buffalo somehow to enable them to pull so well. Bringing the book along was a really great idea. Most guides and people we’ve met are keenly interested in learning a little more about our cultures, backgrounds and home environment. Every single person we’ve shown it to have shuddered in visible horror at the pictures of snow though. Well, except for in the +43 degree desert conditions of Dubai where they are a little more used to it though. For Craig or any others reading, make sure to do this, (bring along pictures or tourist brochures of your home cities or areas). Make sure they showcase cultural aspects rather than historical ones though. these guys in Tanzania are most interested in the wide variety of animals we have and in the pictures of aboriginals and their anthropological origins.

There were no giraffe’s in the crater park due to the difficulty of climbing down. The first day on the Serengeti made up for the previous day’s deficiency though. I am unable to get enough of watching these incredible majestic creatures walking around in the vastness of their home plains. Their distinctness is truly captivating. I recall someone when I was quite young telling me that giraffes would starve if they lived on grass plains since their necks couldn’t bend down that far, and they could only eat the leaves from trees. I was probably always a tiny bit skeptical of this but that person was my elder and I was compelled to respect the information they were feeding me. I am now deliriously happy to report that this was a complete load of mis-information! They easily bend their necks down to eat grass or from shrubs low to the ground. Most all the trees they eat from have long (8cm or so?) very pointed needles all along the branches which must make leaf retrieval rather difficult. I seem to recall reading somewhere (a long time ago of course) that their tongues are incredibly tough to account for this though. I took some pictures closer up of a dead branch with only the needles, and another of a live one with the leaves still on it.

One really interesting thing we noticed was the stages of coloring for zebra’s and giraffe’s. Young zebras have white bodies with brown stripes, and as they get older the brown turns to black. Giraffe’s however start out with black patches on a light beige base. As they got older the patches turn to brown. And yes, for those of you still wondering about that first sentence, Zebras really are white with brown/black stripes. On the underside of the body, the darker port6ions dissipate to a point before the hair color is solid white. That’s certainly something I’ve always mildly wondered about, and am now happy to now know the answer to.

After supper this evening I asked Claudette to come on a short little nature walk with me, but she was leary of the beasts that might jump out at her. Thomas heard me ask her to go for a walk, and reminded me that we weren’t supposed to leave the campground area at all since a lion (and some poisoniss snakes) could easily e hiding in just a meter of grass. I explained to him that I didn’t plan on taking her far; just on the other side of a tree at the edge maybe, and then he caught my meaning. he chuckled, and then still said “No, it’s still not a good idea even just there”. Bummer…


SAFARI, DAY FOUR – The Serengeti Part Deux

Last nights campground was actually inside the Serengeti park. We’re staying two nights here and the park fees per head are $50 per day. Vehicle permits are an extra $40 per day and to camp inside at a park campground is an extra $10/day a head. Most other campers and guides are incredibly rude though and carrying on full volumed conversations until at least 10:30 to 11:00 at night. Worse to me though is the abundance of loud conversations that start at about a quarter to six every morning irregardless of their fellow campers who don’t have to be up for another hour and a half. Claudette refuses to allow me to speak to any of these mostly Europeans or try and shame them into having just a bare amount of common consideration. I suspect our first night back in a hotel room in Arusha will involve an early night to bed, coupled with a pretty late sleep-in.

The company we ended up choosing has been pretty decent so far, (other than the cook’s helper “misplacing” (I think he was bribed by the German guys though) two of our four sleeping bags on the cold night adjacent to the lip of the crater). It certainly wasn’t the most expensive company, but it seemed to be a little up from the bottom too. We were constantly asked in Dar es Salaam and in Arusha we were bombarded by tout’s promoting safari trips. Many seemed rather shady and I’m very relieved to have had a good recommendation from Patti. The only complaint that I have is we are eating on camp stools instead of a full backed folding chair which would be so much more comfortable. Companies with full backed folding chairs seem to offer everything else in a pretty deluxe manner though, which would probably make the overall cost out of reach. So, the lesson here is to check beforehand, and they don’t supply them, just go and spend $10 each yourself on the camp chairs. The benefit of comfortable eating will easily outweigh the determent of leaving them behind when you jump on a plane to go home, (or to your next destination).

Another Canadian young couple we met from Winterpeg had just completed several months of volunteer work in Ghana, and arranged a “budget” safari. The jeep that picked them up on that first day took them out into the Park, found another jeep from the same company and transferred them to it. Then the new jeep barely spent another half hour in the park, before driving to town to take two other passengers to the bus station. After that they simply returned to the campsite rather than getting some more touring in. Bummer for them that first day. Then the next morning they discovered that their jeep had a dead battery and needed a to be pushed by another vehicle to get started. This meant that during animal sightings the driver couldn’t shut the engine off, and the diesel engine would be shaking quite a bit. That shaking makes decent zoom photography pretty near impossible and they were skunked on two accounts. They had tiny, flimsy little nylon tents as well, and overall they were pretty un-thrilled about the company they had chosen. They were still paying $140/day/person for this though!, (versus our $170).

Our driver, Thomas, is a great guy who is 51 years old, and has been guiding for just over 21 years now. That’s the huge benefit about touring with kids, we are often given the most experienced guides. For whitewater rafting, driving the crazy hectic roads of Northern India for a week, or out here on safari this seems to have held true. Many (sadly, most) of the other driver’s we have seen drive too fast such that they would miss things, or scare animals away, or have rollovers (apparently). A few years ago the government began lightly regulating the qualifications for safari drivers since companies were grabbing any old idiot off of the street and paying him peanuts to be a guide. As would be expected, many unhappy tourists and accidents ensued, not to mention quite a few drivers getting lost and needing more fuel and a ranger escort out of the park after dark. Thomas has the intelligence (or some would say maturity) to just do simple smart things like turning around at night in the parking lot so he is facing “out” and can leave the parking lot without hassle the next morning. Most other drivers just pull straight in to get close to the kitchen in a big semi-circular fan formation. That naturally makes for a very chaotic departure for everyone but us the next morning. This company is also quite professional in other simple things like our vehicle maintained confidence factor. Some of these rust buckets with practically no suspension left would make for an incredibly uncomfortable ride. Yet another thing that speaks to how well (or how luckily) we picked a safari company is how our crew works together to make things happen quickly and efficiently. Something as simple as unpacking and packing the vehicle including setting up and taking down camp is done by our crew very well. Other groups.. well it’s a bit funny for us to watch them go about these simple but necessary tasks, but is probably pretty frustrating for their clients. Some of them would be arguing about how to position bags, or how tight the straps should be. Meanwhile the clients stand waiting, sometimes helping to hoist tents and luggage up to the top of the vehicle just to get things moving.

The Serengeti itself has given us far less animal concentrations (and thus sightings) than the previous two parks. The incredible vastness of this huge ecosystem is still incredibly worthwhile seeing unto itself. While we’ve heard from other tourists that they seem to be driving in areas with many other jeeps close to the campground, they are seeing less animals than us. Thomas claims to thoroughly know all the roads (and even little dirt tracks) in this expansive 14,850 square kilometer area. We easily believe him. The “new breed” of guides are hesitant to learn new things, and prefers to stick to a few main areas it seems. Thomas has taken us all over the far reaches of the Serengeti with only a couple encounters during the day with other jeeps. Lastly I should mention that the park pretty much has full coverage of cell phone service, even though we have seen no towers at all except for one at the campground, and another beside the research center. There are a few 40-70m bedrock hills that spring up here and there. These would make excellent locations for stubby cell tower antennas that would be difficult to see, and thus would be nicely disguised. It’s only a theory of course… 🙂

I believe that the kids are more so relating specifics of animal sightings than I have been. I should mention here though that we’ve seen a bunch of ostriches at different times and they are HUGE! They are certainly bigger than even the ones we have seen on ranches at home or even at the Australia Zoo. They are not only taller, but very round and large in the body. Their food sources in the Serengeti must be quite abundant. We asked Thomas about them sticking their heads in the sand and he acted very puzzled by such a crazy question. We also asked him about Rhino’s stamping out campfires as the self appointed Smokey Bear’s of the Serengeti (as “taught” to us in The Gods Must Be Crazy). This bizarre question he treated with complete disbelief that we were even being serious! I guess we can rank these ones right up there with the great Lemmings Leaping documentary shown in so many North American schools as kids that lied to us.


SAFARI, DAY FIVE – A Volcano! & The Long Drive Back

Our final night camping was a little more peaceful than the previous ones. We had scheduled our first early morning (breakfast at 6:30 AM!) since we had a long, round-a-bout route to travel back to Arusha. Instead of heading straight South we are going North to a park gate, and then around to a road South that runs parallel to the one in the park. This was take us by Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) a recently re-active volcano. It is actually spewing lava, and we are hoping to get to a vantage point to see it. On the way, and just out of the Park a little ways we stopped for a commelian crossing the road. It was gently springing (nice use of an appropriate oxymoron eh?) back and forth, while occasionally moving its legs a little bit, one at a time perhaps every forth or fifth swing forwards. This made its overall progress painstakingly slow, but very enjoyable to watch. As we crept closer in the jeep to within about 3m, it changed its mind about trying to disguise its movements and just scurried to the road edge where it began the forward and backwards swaying motion once again. ( There must be a better word to describe the movement they exhibit, but nothing comes to mind right now.) As per its species name it changed color as soon as it entered the sparse grass on the very edge of the road. A little further in to the grass and it became completely green to blend in fully. VERY COOL!

We spent the morning heading North with more wildlife sightings than the previous day and a half. That was of course most likely due to our early morning departure as anything else. The previous three days we’d only left camp by almost 10:00 AM, well into the heat of the day when practically all of the animals are much less active. There was one point where a very large giraffe was standing in the middle of the road, squared off and directly facing us with his legs slightly spread out in a very firm, braced stance. We stopped, watched and waited. He simply stood and stared us down for a few minutes, unmoving. It was really the coolest thing, and we were too far back (about 40m) to be afraid or anything. Eventually, a slightly smaller giraffe beside him ambled across the road from one side to the other. As soon as she (well, presumably a she?) was safely on the other side of the road, he straightened his stance, turned, and followed her across the ditch and into the tall grasslands.

Just before leaving the Park we saw a huge herd of zebras which was very cool. It probably numbered at a little over one hundred head. After leaving the park we drove by a couple more herds of around fifty. Later in the afternoon once we had looped around South and were back in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area again (this time on the other side of the mountain rage) we saw another large herd. This one was really spread out over the plains and probably numbered over three hundred. It was really amazing to see.

In order to drive by the semi-active volcano, Thomas asked for an extra $40 in gas money for the extra distance we would have to travel. Either the Land Rover we are in has way better gas consumption than North American Models or he underestimated the extra distance a bit I think. We were on the road by 7:15 AM and didn’t pull in to Arusha until 8:00 PM! If traveled directly this route should normally take only five to six hours. That’s a lot of extra kilometers! When we rounded the corner of the valley with the Volcano, it was quite a site to see. A broad, wide beautiful valley with this gorgeous monstrosity almost in the middle, (in truth the valley turned at that point we later discovered). It was very impressive to see up close, but I still secretly wondered if all the extra time traveling was actually worth it. We had lunch at a campground about 5km away. After lunch when we started driving again I asked Thomas to stop so we could take a few pictures of the five of us in front of it. He found a decent spot and we started piling out. Just then, the cook’s apprentice (who was riding to Arusha with us) exclaimed that it was erupting! We all turned to look, and then I quickly grabbed the camera. The ash plume grew very quickly and we got some incredible pictures and video footage. It was yet another amazing event we were fortunate enough to witness. It’s unclear to me how many more times on this trip I can get away with using the word “incredible” to describe something, but that word truly applied here this time. Nightly news reel footage of Mount St. Helen’s spewing huge ash plumes and then later erupting once again did little justice to the real thing. As we climbed back into the jeep and continued to drive closer the ash plume became simply massive! Luckily the prevailing winds were blowing to the opposite side of the mountain that we were traveling on. We all stared at the ash cloud at the top and frequently saw flashes of light. at first we assumed it was breaks in the ash cloud showing spurts of red hot lava inside. The more we gazed though, the more it looked like lightening. There were these huge static electricity zaps within the ash plume, about twenty meters up from the crest, and there were NO OTHER CLOUDS IN THE SKY! This was a really bizarre phenomenon that I’d never heard of before and will have to research further. Luckily I did capture some video footage of these “strikes” on the video camera for future reference. Simply amazing… I’m unable to think of any further words to describe it. The pictures will have to do the job once I finalize the disc and get about 8 hours straight to do all our African pictures uploading.

It was a very long day of driving, (not to mention over absolutely terrible, rough roads for the most part) only made better by stunning scenery everywhere and great tunes. Thomas had mentioned that he really liked regee music. When I asked why he never played the newly installed in-dash cassette deck, he quickly replied that they’re not really allowed to with clients in the jeep. For today’s ride I asked this morning if he wanted me to play some of my reggae tunes, to which he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. I started off with two double albums. One was called “Regatta Mondatta: A regae Tribute To The Police” and the other was called “Mellow Dubmarine: A reggae Tribute To The Beatles”. After those were done he expressed a fondness for the Beatles that he hasn’t heard in quite awhile. I told him that I had every Beatles Album ever, and offered to play those. He readily agreed and I had the rare opportunity to not just listen to one or two albums, but the entire 200+ song collection! I say rare simply because The Beatles are not very thrilling to Claudette. she’ll listen to a few songs sometimes, but not as her first choice. I think everyone should listen to 90% of the Beatles collection (at different times of course) once a year. That’s just me of course… Anyways, it made for a great ride back.


African Safari Summary

Without any doubt, I am VERY glad we chose to choke back the extra heavy costs and make a trip to Africa (not including Egypt) and do a safari. The sights, sounds, smells and incredible experiences were beyond comparison to any documentary I’d ever seen or any Zoo I’ve visited. Not to say that those things aren’t absolutely valuable of course. Just that experiencing the real thing greatly intensified those other experiences, and was even more valuable than I would have thought possible. While the Edmonton Zoo probably does its best with limited resources to showcase a bit on the animal kingdom to it’s citizens, the very large Calgary Zoo easily eclipses it. The absolutely massive sprawling San Diego Zoo similarly blows the Calgary Zoo out of the water. Nothing can come close to comparing with seeing these magnificent creatures in their expansive natural habitat though. I am sure that this is hardly an original thought for most people out there who want to travel. For anyone who wanted to travel even just a little bit, I would urge you to place Africa at the very top of your priority list. There are so many things in this world that are worthwhile to see, but prioritize your list and work them off from there.

I am not a huge bird fan by any means, (except for the Fort Smith Family version of course!). As a matter of fact, the intense devotion that the Mark Bradley’s of the world exhibit towards bird watching rather mystifies me. In our Peruvian jungle tour there was a strong emphasis of getting up early to see birds (and a “little” bit of other wildlife) in action. While it was mildly interesting to me, they all sort of blended in together after a while to my unsophisticated mind. Africa however has sparked a few appreciative synapses in my brain a bit. The colors are really fantastic to see on a wide variety of shapes and sizes of birds that we have seen. What makes it more interesting than ever before to me I think is the closeness that they come to us. They fly adjacent to and within a few meters of the jeep sometimes. Other times, when we are stopped they come very close, and don’t seem to mind us at all. This far outweighs having to search for and watch them through binoculars. The only other place where I found the birds generally this interesting and accessible was in the Galapagos islands.

The Massi are the Tanzanian people that still live in dirt huts and herd livestock. I’m not sure how their economy functions, other than not needing money for daily life, and still giving animals as a dowry for a daughter’s marriage. Sadly, (VERY sadly and shockingly in fact) female circumcision is still practiced by most of these tribes. The Federal government has officially outlawed the practice, but it continues on anyways. The government has also offered fair sized monetary rewards to the “people” (monsters???) performing this “genital mutilation” if they hand in all of their “instruments” and promise not to “practice” anymore. All of this as described to us by Thomas, but it is unclear how successful the amnesty reward program has been. On our first day, as we drove he pointed out a Massi village on the hillside with a bunch of huts. Some women were out working in the fields and kids were hanging around by the roadside watching the tourists go by. Apparently this one village was only for the chief of the region. Each of his 38! wives had their own hut, and he had 168 (or so?) children.

Thomas did not speak fondly of the lifestyle practices of the Massi Tribes. Apparently the women are virtual slaves all their lives. They go through the ritual clitoral circumcision (an amputation really) just before puberty and thereafter do chores for their chief (or father or local male elder) until death. It sounds absolutely tragic, but there are various groups working to eradicate the practice. In one restaurant in Moshi we saw a poster of the Mount Kili Climbing society who was putting on an informations session regarding the modern day genital mutilation of thousands of Tanzanian women. Later, on our second day while entering the crater there were some Massi men selling various handicrafts and trinkets to tourists at the entrance gate. A couple of them (and some of the shepards we’ve passed by) are wearing cheaper store bought sandals on their feet. Most however have homemade sandals with animal hide bottoms or tire treads with two straps coming around the top of the foot. Probably about half of the men we saw have recycled cut up tyres (local spelling of course) for footwear. The kids are almost always barefoot.

The men at the gate were selling all kinds of stuff, and one even seemed to know English very well. He had a cowhide mosaic wall hanging (very similar to ones I’ve seen Inuit do from two different colors of sealskin) of a giraffe on the plains with one tree that really captivated me. The work was very artistic and sweetly done. Just as we were driving away he came down to my price of $10, but Thomas did not stop again. He later explained that the women would have made all those crafts, but the men sell the items and use the money to go to town and buy booze. They don’t share anything with the women or children apparently. Females have to work and simply fend for themselves (and their children) to survive. This all sounded so harsh and foreign to us, but it is indeed current practice in these very parts of the country. It actually strikes me as more harsh and urgent than even all the poor and cripples begging in the streets in India. Completely overwhelming really…

Comments are closed.