Five other interns and I took a bus from Dar es Salaam up to Arusha in northern Tanzania, a trip that was supposed to take 9 hours but instead took 11 and a half, even with the excessive speed we were going and all the passing we were doing. But this is Africa time, I'm getting used to it after two months. A driver from the safari company, Bush Routes, picked us up at the bus station and took us to get supplies (ie. beer and popcorn). We thought it fitting that the duka (store) we stopped at was called Mzungu Super Market. Mzungu means "white person" here in East Africa, and that's what I'm called nearly every day. It used to bother me, but after a couple of months I guess I've gotten used to that too.
|Wearing our Masai shukas in the Ngorongo|
|The expert tire changers, Hassan and Said|
Before we set off for the 120 km drive from Arusha to Lake Manyara we stopped to check the tire pressure. Not that it did us much good because about halfway there one of the back tires blew out. Hassan and Said had us back on the road in no time though and we made it safely to the entrance of Lake Manyara. Once we were inside the park entrance we had a slightly larger problem: this time the clutch went. It was starting to seem like this safari was doomed from the get-go. But being the positive, plucky Canadians we are, we cracked open the beers that we were smart enough to get at the Mzungu shop and spent the next three hours drinking our Kilis and watching the troop of olive baboons that had surrounded our truck looking for any ndizi (bananas) we might possibly drop. Sorry rafikis, only bias here.
|Baboons and beer. I think they go well together|
|This vervet was happy to see us|
On the way out of Lake Manyara on day two we saw the tree climbing lions that the lake is famous for but many people think are just a rumour because they're rarely seen. But they're real, people! And they climb trees like no other adult lion does. This was the first lion I've ever seen in the wild, and it was in a tree. That was pretty awesome. After the lion sighting we had another hours long drive from the lake to the Serengeti. Along the way
we saw many Masai, from very young boys to older men, herding goats, cattle, and donkeys just as they have always done. And somewhere along the way, just because it was us in the vehicle and we're not meant to get anywhere in Africa quickly, the same back tire blew again. It didn't take too long to get it fixed but we still ended up getting to the Serengeti late. We had time to do an afternoon game drive, but it was pouring rain so I think most of the animals were in hiding. It's not like there weren't any animals at all though. We still saw herds of buffalo, hartebeest, elephants, ostriches, and more zebras. We also saw Pride Rock (you know, from the Lion King?). It does exist! But then we saw it again. And again. And again. It turns out there are at least a hundred granite kopjes in the Serengeti that could have been Disney's inspiration. Oh well, the first one was exciting anyway. And from then on I had "the Circle of Life" stuck in my head. Even when the pop top roof didn't close properly during a heavy rain, and we got soaked while inside the truck. But I'm from BC, I love rain.....It's all part of the adventure.
|What? Getting rained on inside isnt normal?|
On the third day we got up very early for the morning game drive and saw the sun rise in the Serengeti, and once again "the Circle of Life" began playing over and over in my head. We got a much better view of the Serengeti on this day than we did on the day before, and I could see where it's name came from. Siringit, in Maa, the language of the Maasai, means "place where you can't see the end" (in the words of Hassan). Or more simply put, "endless plain". In the light of day the Serengeti stretched on forever, and I really couldn't see the end. It was like the Canadian Prairies, except there weren't any farmhouses or towns to break it up. In the Serengeti there are only lonely acacia trees and herds of animals, and the occasional Maasai village which blends into its surroundings.
|Sunrise in the Serengeti|
|Impalas keep their eyes on two playing leopards|
Late in the afternoon we stopped at a Maasai village that does tours. Not really because we wanted to, but because the truck needed to cool down anyway. The tour that we did was very awkward. We paid 20,000 Tsh each (about $12CAD) to go into this village, where we were rushed around and then rushed out. We first went with a Maasai in groups of two into a house. The Masai live in small round houses called bomas, which are made by the women out of sticks and mud. They have no windows, only a small entrance and a very small hole in the roof for light and for the smoke from their fire to escape. The boma I entered had a very low ceiling and only had room for two beds and a fire pit. Five people live in this home; I hope they like each other. The bomas are arranged in a circle inside a fence made of sticks. In the centre of the circle is another enclosed area where baby cows and goats are kept, and on the edge of the village are fenced in areas where the adult goats and cattle are kept in close quarters at night. We paid a visit to the cattle and the goats and then we were rushed outside the fence to a small building that serves as the school. The children were in the school at almost 6pm, so they were obviously there just for the tourists. We were in the school for all of a minute and heard the children sing part of a song before we were ushered out again, followed by a room full of dirty children. We were brought to an area where they were selling overpriced beaded jewelry and we were urged to buy something before we were rushed off back to the truck. This whole experience was disappointing and I hate that people live like this, in this village that's basically been set up for tourists.
|A Maasai boma|
That night we set up camp right on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. Once again we set up close to another tent, but this camper didn't mind. He said we could move our tents closer, or even come on into his if we got lost. How nice! During the night there were wild boars sniffing around the tents. We didn't see them but we sure saw what they left behind. I'm just happy I didn't step in it.
|Chilling in our tent on the rim of the crater, staying safe from wild boars|
|Cows on steroids?|
And the best part of this whole safari? The lions. We saw quite a few lions in the distance, mostly sleeping, but we did see a couple males out for a walk. And then we came upon three females: two laying down in the grass and one literally right on the road. Being this close to a lion is a crazy feeling. We were obviously in the safety of the truck, but still, she was right there! This is nothing like seeing them in a zoo. This lioness likely just took down a large animal, like the dead buffalo we saw surrounded by other lions. She is powerful, she is beautiful, and she doesn't care in the slightest that we're there. She was just sauntering around the road between trucks and even laying down right behind some of them. I was standing up out of the top of the truck, practically right next to her, separated by nothing more than a few feet of air. If she was desperate for food she could have easily had me or anyone else there for breakfast. Not that this ever happens in the crater, but the possibility is there. Ever watched The Ghost and the Darkness? Yeah, that was a true story and man-eating lions exist. Even if this was the only exciting thing that happened on this safari, being this close to these massive felines would have made it all worth it.
Even on our way out of the crater we were continually seeing animals. We actually saw hippos out of water! One big guy sleeping in the grass and a whole family, including a baby, playing by the water. Just to prove to us that they do come out of the water occasionally. We saw a lot more zebras, some elephants, and some monkeys just before we started the climb out of the crater. On the very bumpy and windy (we stood up out of the truck the whole way) way up we each cracked another Kili, put on some Bob Marley, and watched the herds on the crater floor fade away til they looked like ants. When we reached the rim of the crater we saw another tree-climbing lion. She crossed the road right behind us, and walked into the woods and up a tree. Two sightings in one safari? That's luck.
|These guys eat prickle bushes. Yum?|
|Probably the last tree climbing lion I'm going to see for a while|
|You may have eluded me this time rhino, but I still love you|
This trip also left me with hope for the future of my adopted home of the last couple months. Twenty eight percent of Tanzania's area is under some form of protection such as national parks, game reserves, and conservation areas. This is a higher percentage than any other country and is a huge commitment for such a poor nation. Living here in Tanzania I've learned that the Tanzanian government makes a lot of poor decisions, but the decision to preserve heaven on Earth was definitely the right one. It leaves me wondering what else the government of this country could do if they cared enough to do it.