Up Close and Personal: On Safari in Tanzania, Africa

Part I

Friday, October 14, 2005

I am on my way to Africa for a 10-day safari and I’m in trouble.

ojukwu_smallNo, no wild animals chasing me, for I am only on the airplane. But I have been here for 16 hours so far (8 to Amsterdam, 8 more to the airport in Tanzania) and this damn airplane food is so awesome—KLM serves fresh smoked salmon, desserts with rich chocolate and fresh cream—that I swear I have consumed two days worth of meals in less than 24 hours. I think the National Bird of KLM is the Chicken, deliciously prepared I might add. Does airplane food not cling to the hips when you’ve only slept five fitful hours? I think that’s one of those facts right up there with chocolate calories not counting when eaten on a plane.

Pity, though, that I don’t care much for alcohol, as they serve complimentary wine and a cognac after your meal. No wonder ticket prices are so high!

My fanny is sore, and I don’t think I can sit much longer, but Africa awaits…..


Sunday, October 16, 2005

lodge-arusha_smallI saw my first creatures today: sleeping bats under the doorway of one of the beautiful rooms here at the gorgeous Mountain Village Lodge in Arusha, where we all settled in late last night. I also saw two of the massive birds common to this area; I cannot identify them, but they are the size of housecats and not only fly into trees but apparently they mate there too! I saw one chase the other for a while, and they switched from tree to tree. I was trying to capture a photo, and all of a sudden Mr. caught up with Mrs., and… I apologized for watching, but I did.

We did not see any other creatures yet; that begins tomorrow, but we did visit a lovely village in Mt. Merusha and took a several mile walk around their many, many acres of land. I photographed a lot of beautiful “village people.” There are 14 of us in our group and we are learning Swahili: jambo (hello); asante sana (thank you very much); karibu (you’re welcome or just welcome); and kwaheri (goodbye). The people in Tanzania are so friendly.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Here are things that were great about today:

w-zebra_smallGetting to Tarangire National Park and seeing, unbelievably, in this order:

  • zebra (about 300 by the end of the day);
  • wildebeests (at least 200);
  • giraffes (my favorite to watch with their grace);
  • elephants (about 100);
  • baboons, big and tiny (about 200);

and not in order:

  • dik-diks;
  • gazelle;
  • beautiful birds;
  • warthogs;
  • and even a cheetah that awoke as we watched and did a classic yoga “downward dog” stretch!

I am very pleased with my new Canon S2-IS digital camera with 12X zoom. While it is not as good a zoom as the folks with a 300 mm zoom lens, it is bringing me up close and personal to the animals and allows me to see what I shoot for one second before setting up for the next shot.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

lion-in-tarangire_small This “morning,” which lasted until lunchtime at 2:15 (!) was awesome! We saw everything from yesterday but today I was in one of the smaller vehicles with just three of us and our patient, wise, knowledgeable guide, Ojukwu. We saw our first lions today, which I now realize are the animals I most desire to watch here in Africa, for their majestic beauty. The Lion King’s “simba” is for real: it is the word for lion in Swahili. Today I stood in the vehicle as often as possible, despite the bumpy, dusty roads, which sometimes forced me to plop down quickly onto my seat! I loved the feeling of the sun and wind taking me far away from home to this very special experience.

Adding to the reality of this safari: an elephant, walking with her young babies a mere eight feet from the back of the vehicle where I stood, “threatened” me by flapping her ears and warning me in elephant-speak to leave them be! Of course I had no intention of harming them and told her so in people-speak, but I did keep clicking away on my camera and caught selephants_smallome beautiful pictures. After she chastised me a few times, the elephant mama eased up her concerns, because apparently the animals know that those big vehicles with strange “animals” inside do no harm to them. The elephants moved on, and Ojukwu, apparently with his foot near the gas pedal in case Mrs. Elephant had decided to make physical contact with me, drove away when we were finally done enjoying mom and babies.

Other animals we saw today: cheetah; three female and one male lion; a serval cat; vervet monkeys; and lots more colorful birds. My favorite is the lilac breasted roller, a magnificent bird with shades of purple and blue.

Allilac-breasted-roller-tara word about the food: while not KLM quality, I must say it is fabulous and healthy. The Thomson Safaris staff at the campsites—some eight people—prepare fresh meals daily. At dinner, we begin with vegetable soup (mixed, squash, pea, for example) that is hearty, and quite welcome after a hardy day of wildlife viewing! The main course includes: two fresh vegetables such as spinach and carrots; salad with the best tomatoes any of us have ever tasted; rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes; “mystery” meat because no one has told us what animal it comes from, but it is usually tasty; and fresh warm rolls and butter. I doubt Americans eat this well at their campsites! Desserts are not as sweet as at home, and while many on the trip enjoyed them, it was easy for me to pass up most of the time, but not always! Besides, I knew I had KLM desserts ahead on the return flight….


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

feeding-a-bush-baby_smallToday we drove to the very beautiful Gibbs Farm and Lodge, where they grow a gazillion fresh vegetables, flowers, and coffee beans, which they make into coffee on site. I bought some for Steve and photographed the hard-working Africans. We took a tour of the gardens and the 14 of us flunked the quiz when asked to identify the growing produce! Much easier to recognize the veggies in the supermarket, with those clearly identifiable labels! Before dinner, we saw and photographed a “bush baby” which apparently is a wild animal that is so friendly the lodge staff feeds it every night. It resembled a cross between a raccoon and a housecat.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Before leaving Gibbs, four of us took a two-hour walk to view the elephant caves where they go for a mineral lick. There were no elephants at this particular time of day, but I very much enjoyed walking with the young, 27-year-old guide, Yona, who explained a lot about life in Tanzania. Most children attend school until about grade seven, which is something like age 15. Those who are privileged continue on to secondary school, which takes them until about age 21, if I have my facts correct. A very few continue on to college, which is very expensive, costing something like $5,000. I believe he attended all, and he studied agriculture and is now working at Gibbs. Apparently, that is one of the best paying jobs in this part of Tanzania, where only 20% or fewer of the population are lucky enough to have jobs!

yona_smallYona has a wife and seven-month-old baby, and his wife hopes to run a business one day selling construction supplies (paint, cement); she is an unusually ambitious woman it appears! Apparently, they want to hold off having more children until he can further his education and she can begin her business. Children, meanwhile, are at serious risk of acquiring malaria before age five when they can be properly treated with the medicines that older children and adults receive monthly to prevent catching this deadly disease. We tourists, of course, are all on medication for malaria, either malarone, which is known to invoke strange dreams, or doxycycline, which I am on, which one must take for three weeks after the trip ends, but was recommended by my doctor. I am not thrilled with the metallic taste in my mouth from the medicine, but it is a small side effect compared to the dangers of contracting malaria. However, we have hardly seen any bugs on this trip! I came prepared with a mosquito net for my face, but it will never leave the duffle bag I suspect!

One thing Yona taught me that I loved is about the tropical boubous bird, which makes five different interesting sounds that resemble a telephone ringing or dialing, and is thus nicknamed the “telephone” bird.

Part Two

Ngorongoro Crater

baboon-baby._smallI have fallen in love with baboons. It is fascinating to watch the mothers carry their babies underneath, as baby nurses. As the babies get older and stronger, they learn to sit on the mother’s back and hold on. At first, the mom goes slowly; as baby becomes stronger, mom cruises pretty fast and baby gets a great ride. As baby ages…mom kicks baby off more and more often and requires baby to walk on its own!

The baboons also clean one another, nibbling debris off each other. Of course, their rear ends, exposed and pink (pinker at mating time) are pretty foul to look at, but otherwise, they get my award for best family in the wild!baboon_small

A day of animal viewing in Ngorongoro Crater was as awesome as in the Tarangire, except that here we saw massive numbers of animals, particularly the zebra and wildebeest which completely surrounded our vehicles in a 360-degree view! In fact, we saw a gazillion animals including a cheetah, a rhino, two types of gazelles (Thomson and Grants), a lioness, Cape buffalo, warthogs, wildebeests and more. The cheetah was stalking a gazelle. It was beautiful to watch, but the cheetah never took off after the gazelle because, it turns out, a lion was also stalking the gazelle, too!

zebra-and-wildebeest_smallBack in our campsite in the Crater, the weather is cooler than elsewhere in Tanzania, and the staff treated us well: they delivered a hot water bottle under the covers of each person’s bed while we ate dinner in the dining tent. What a warm treat on a cold night!

The 14 of ucampsite-ngorongoro_smalls, and our guides, are turning out to have wonderful chemistry and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company on the vehicles, at meals, and just relaxing about the campsites. Before dinner, we enjoyed a campfire and stories by our senior guide, Gebra, who has been with the company since its beginnings, some 27 years ago.


Friday, October 21, 2005

lion-crossing-ngorongoro_sm I had my trip highlight today when I videotaped about eight adult lionesses and two baby lions coming toward me in the vehicle. It had rained a bit in the Crater, and the lions all came out to enjoy the water they have not had during the dry months. What a treat it was to watch them roll in the wet grass and happily play with one another. Perhaps they didn’t care about us, because they were so preoccupied with the rain. They walked right through a group of about 10 vehicles gazing at their beauty. They were gorgeous and only six feet from me. I could almost reach out and touch a few!

hyena-ngorongoro_smallWe saw two hyenas close up, with their snarling faces and beautiful but matted coats. We also saw a male lion, which is my other favorite next to the baboons, because, to me, they are to Africa as a flag is to a country, the symbol of strength and power.

I have been among the lucky ones lion-male-tarangire_smallon the trip. A few of us have gotten ill with some kind of stomach bug, and while it is ugly, it seems to only last 36 hours. I have been careful to avoid all but bottled water, spitting out ferociously in the shower if any water gets into my mouth! The campsites do a nice job with our shower water, delivering hot water when we return from game viewing. They are also very thorough about emptying our portable toilets (in a rear tent behind each of our tents, in a zipped area beside the zipped area containing showers). This is a task that they must be used to, but the very thought of that job makes us want to tip them even more. Tomorrow we head out toward the Serengeti.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

masaii-mpf-befriended_small Today was a vermasaii-welcoming-us_smally long day, but an overall good one. We visited the Maasai at their village (each of us paid $10) and after the men danced a welcome dance for us and a few of us women danced with their women and babies, we learned about how they make fire, teach the children their studies including English, and protect themselves with spears. I was smitten by the handsome, sweet 22-year-old male guide that showed me his hut (the parents and children sleep in an area the size of a small master bathroom in US terms!). I teased that I woumasaii-mom-and-baby_smallld return in five years when he is at the age when he is assigned a wife by his parents. (The women are married off younger, at 22.) He explained that he needs one cow to “buy” a wife, and that when he is older and can afford more cows, he will “buy” more wives. Each will have her own hut with the children. He is in no rush for additional wives, nor is he concerned about the choice of wife: he trusts his parents to make that decision. Sadly, he explained the marks on his cheeks: when children are young they are burned by their parents when they cry; it is to teach them to stop. The men laughed about it, however, some with a lot of marks teasing, “I wanted milk too much!”

giraffe-ballet_smallLater in the day, we reached the Serengeti, which is magnificent for its ongoing plains, and we saw green for the first time on the trip, as everything else has been dry, but the Serengeti has seen some rain this week and is already turning greener. A new sight we caught: hippo pools. They are humongous animals that make loud, strange shippo_smallounds!

We also saw a leopard in a tree with its kill, an antelope, hanging over the branch!

The lodge we arrived at was gorgeous, with large beautiful rooms. It is called the Serena Serengeti. It is difficult to realize this is really Africa! We saw a lovely sunset fall over the hill.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ttour-lodge-serengeti_smalloday, I am feeling ready to return home to my family. By now we have seen it all, and here on the Serengeti, which is my favorite geographically because of the large plains and varying land types, I am almost starting to lose the sense of childlike delight I felt at the beginning, because the animals are familiar now. I have heard this is a common experience, so I do not feel guilty, just a little sad that this happens after such a short time. Having said this, when new surprises occur, we feel we can stay here forever, just watching the animals in their natural environment.

tour-campsite-fancy-bed_smaMeanwhile, the campsite in the Serengeti is luxurious and fabulous. The tents are “permanent,” meaning they do not come down after each group leaves. They are larger than the earlier campsites, decorated beautifully as though they are lodges, and they even have what one could almost call a bathroom: a hallway with a mahogany console containing glass sinks (no plutour-campsite-serengeti_smambing of course; but glass water pitchers); a toilet on a pedestal;

and a shower that feels less outdoorsy because it is only eight feet from the bed and has no zipper to lift before entering, as the other campsite tents have had for both the toilets and showers. The beds, too, are regular twin beds, not cot-like at all. And, the piece de resistance: generators with electric lighting and even nightlights by the beds. The lights are dim, but they are electric! We all agree this is a very special experience that we could have enjoyed every night and bypassed the lodges!

Today we had some exercise, which I badly needed, as it was only the second time we walked for several hours, and the cookie jars in the vehicles have been getting emptier and emptier of their shortbread contents! During the walk—escorted by a guide carrying bow and arrow—we learned to identify animal tracks and dung, which we’d been seeing in multitudes, of course, all week. Who ever thought recognizing dik-dik, giraffe, zebra, and elephant dung would excite me! (No surprise, the elephant dung is humongous, as are other body parts one should never have to see on a male elephant!) As for tracks, we came upon not only elephant, wildebeest, dik-dik and zebra tracks, but one lion pawprint, too! All this, just half a mile from our tents! Nonetheless, I slept soundly!


Monday, October 24, 2005

Today began slowly, with minimum wildlife activity, but the day certainly picked up after we encountered a lion couple on “their honeymoon,” as the guides called this pair, who mate for several days straight. Apparently, when they are hungry, they end their little affair. The mating occurs quite frequently, so we had a chance to watch, but anyone who blinked missed it: the male climbed on, grimaced, climbed off, all in about six seconds. (The female growled and rolled over.) Next, we saw a leopard walking in the grass and then climbing a tree. We also saw the wonderful usual suspects: baboon babies, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, and more hippos, and with each viewing, we said our private goodbyes to the wild.

Tonight, we all exchanged e-mail addresses and had our last dinner together. Tomorrow we head to the city and then to the airport to begin the long journey home. Lala salama (goodnight in Swahili)!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

breakfast-at-a-cafe_smallThe farewell at breakfast was fun and funny as we all asked one campsite staff person to shoot a group picture, so he had several cameras around his neck! We packed up for the last time and headed toward the small airfield. Many went on a 15-seater airplane, but I chose to go on the 6-seater with three others. I was nervous in my head, but my body was doing just fine! It was fascinating to fly below and then above the clouds for just less than two hours, passing by the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, heading back to Arusha where we began our journey. In Arusha we visited a souvenir store, our third shopping experience in the 11 days. While I busied myself with selecting t-shirts for my daughters, coffee for my husband, and a special photo album for my photos, I took my time and enjoyed the many mementos that help people remember their visit to Africa (some people on our trip bought beautiful tanzanite jewelry). Before long, however, I noticed that not one person from our trip was still in the store! I darted outside to the parking lot and caught the last van backing out! Everyone had assumed I was on another van! To think I almost was left behind in Tanzania. Hmmm, an interesting concept worth considering…


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The story ends just as it began. The flight to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Boston, was long, tiring, and full of delightful KLM desserts, which particularly thrilled me because at midnight, flying from Africa to Amsterdam, it became my 50th birthday, and I celebrated with a strawberry and custard cake dessert! Then, to my delight, we arrived in Amsterdam and I decided to use the spare hours to visit the Anne Frank House and Museum, which was the most significant way I could ever ring in my birthday when Anna Frank, a fellow writer and fellow Jew, had lost her chance at growing old so long ago. Before returning to the airport, I enjoyed a massive Dutch pancake at an outdoor café. Finally, back on the plane toward home, we turned the clocks back to US time, and I enjoyed six extra hours of birthday, thanks to time zone changes! Do I know how to plan a 50th, or what?
The End of the Journey

Africa, Amsterdam, and all of the animals and special people of Tanzania will soon be just a memory, a dream remembered. But one thing I know for certain, it will always be one of the most special, life-altering occurrences that I, and my fellow travelers, have ever experienced.



© Copyright Mindy Pollack 2010
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