Ever since I was six years old and watched Born Free, the movie about the woman who raised the orphaned lion cub, Elsa, I have wanted to visit the East African plains. Such a trip was always beyond our financial means and for the longest time, I thought I would die without ever stepping on the continent of Africa. Two years ago, colleagues at school wrote a grant through a New Visions program called the Fund for Teachers and were able to visit Ghana. As I teach “Africa” to my third graders, and my husband teaches music to those same third graders, we got the idea to write a grant ourselves to study the plants, animals, people, and music of East Africa. With the help of my co-teacher, Katherine, a gifted writer, we submitted a 27,000 word grant application describing exactly how we would use the information we obtained during our visit. Because of the political problems in Kenya at the time the grant was to be submitted, we decided to visit Tanzania. We spent months planning a safari, cultural tours and two weeks of traveling through the country. To our surprise, we were awarded a fellowship of $10,000, which would cover the cost of our airfare, our safari, and a few night’s hotels and meals. We brought our children, 15 and 12, with us, rationalizing that applying the cost of sleep away camp and soccer camp in Barcelona almost balanced out. My daughter was open to the trip, but my son was less excited. Jonathan was thrilled and I was incredulous. It seemed impossible and unbelievable that I would finally be making the journey I had dreamed of for over forty years.
June 30 Fly from JFK to Nairobi, Kenya
July 1 Arrive Nairobi, overnight at the Country Lodge
July 2 Shuttle bus to Arusha, Tanzania; stayed at the Outpost
July 4 Depart for camping safari, Duma Explorer
July 13 Return to Arusha; Outpost, Ivory Annex guest house
July 18 Depart for Monduli, MDC Rest House, home stay
July 20 Depart for Moshi, Kinderoko Hotel
July 21 Depart for Dar es Salaam, Jambo Inn, Econlodge
July 23 Depart for Bagamoyo, New Millennium Hotel
July 25 Return to Arusha, Arusha Naaz Hotel
July 27 Depart for Leganga, Ngare Sero Lodge
July 28 Shuttle bus to Nairobi,
July 28 Depart JRO to JFK
July 29 Arrive NYC
Our safari was the highlight of our trip. The scenery was beautiful, the animals were exciting to see up close and the weather was warm and sunny, for the most part. But, the best part, for me, was the company we had. Our guide, Ayubu, was simply amazing. His is knowledgeable about the area, he is friendly, he was patient and he was very interested in making the safari a rewarding and informative experience for us. To have a cook was a fantasy fulfilled. Remmy made tasty, elaborate and varied meals for us each day and surprised us at each meal.It was as if he performed magic in the campsite kitchens to produce three courses with just a grill and charcoal. Being served took a little getting used to, but was so enjoyable.
The first (day 1) we visited Tarangire National Park and did an afternoon game drive. I love those and early morning drives because of the color of the sunlight at those times of day. On our first day we saw elephants, impalas, zebras, baboons, wildebeests, dik dik, vervet monkeys, water bok, a jackal, ostriches, warthogs and mongeese. We camped at Tarangire Paradise Safari Camp.When we arrived there, we were the only campers, but later a huge group of teenagers from the States arrived. They were with Global Roots, an organization which leads young people on volunteer excursions. We enjoyed listening to their activities and discussions and meeting some of the girls. We actually saw the same group at the next campsite as well.
The next day, (day 2 ) we did an all day game drive and saw more of the above animals and also saw: giraffes, lions, a huge lizard, vultures, weavers, horn bills, guinea fowl, heron, oxpeckers and many other birds.
(Ayubu is a birder and can recognize many, many birds.) We began to establish a pattern after safari: we would have tea, then we would shower, then we would play cards until dinner, eat dinner, have more tea and play more cards. We tended to go to bed very early because it was so dark, and there wasn’t much to do. We also got up early as a result, which is nice because you don’t feel as though you are wasting your days.
Day 3 was our first cultural tour at Mto wa Mbu, a village where different Tanzanian tribes have come to live in a self-sustaining farming community and model harmonious living while maintaining tribal traditions. Mto wa Mbu means “river of mosquitoes,” and is an area that has fertile soil and plenty of water that which runs downs from the surrounding mountains, the Ngorongoro highlands, into three rivers in the valley. We had a wonderful guide, Amon, who was thorough, patient and flexible. I was astonished to see rice fields, irrigation canals, and piles of rice drying on the ground everywhere. We met people from the Makonde tribe and the Chagga tribe. We were supposed to visit a third tribe, but Amon arranged for Jeremy to join a soccer game with some local boys and we watched him play instead.
In the afternoon, we visited Lake Manyara National Park. I was struck by the dense forest at the entrance which ends abruptly and becomes plains. There, we saw buffalo, wildebeest, giraffes, a blue monkey, pelicans, flamingos, soaking hippos and lots more birds. We looked for the famous tree-sleeping lions, but didn’t see any. We stayed at a beautiful campsite, Jambo, with a pool and a group of noisy maribu storks living in the treetops.
The next day, (day 4) we did an early morning game drive at Lake Manyara but didn’t see any additional animals. The afternoon was spent swimming, showering, loading up, and driving to Lake Eyasi. On the way, we stopped at a large market in Karatu and in the town of Karatu for supplies. The drive to Lake Eyasi was unbelievably long, rough and bumpy. We camped at Lake Eyasi Bush campsite. This campsite was clean and relatively empty. There was one other party, but we never even spoke to them. What was most fun were the vervet monkeys galloping through the campsite, climbing on tents and inspecting everything around them. There were tons of them, and they ran and played like kittens. I loved watching them and trying to photograph them. Remmy warned us to keep our tents zipped because they are known to grab bags and run.
Day 5, we were up at 5am for our visit to the Hadzabe tribe to hunt with them. Seeing this tribe, one of Tanzanina’s originals, and the last to cling to their traditions and language and a refusal to adapt to most all modernity, was a privilege and an unforgettable experience. They live completely off of the land, but do not grow or trade for food. The Hadzabe remain hunter/gatherers and trade only for metal arrows, marijuana and tobacco. But because of their many problems: lack of hygiene, lack of water, the absence of land rights and ownership, lack of animals to hunt, lack of education and the fact that most Hadzabe do not speak Swahili, their tribe is suffering and their dwindling numbers suggest that in time, they will die out or be forced to adapt new lifestyles which include education and agricultural practices.
After the hunt, during which one bird and two baby birds were caught, cooked and eaten, we went back to the campsite for a nap. In the afternoon, we met Thomas, our cultural guide again, and we visited the Dotoga tribe. The Dotoga live in many ways similarly to the Maasai. Historically, the Dotoga lived with the Maasai for years until problems over the ownership of cattle caused conflicts. The Dotoga were eventually forced off of their homelands of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and moved to the Lake Eyasi region of Tanzania where they continue to raise cattle but now grow corn as well, making them agri-pastoralists. We visited one family and saw the inside of their manyatta, their baby goats, their maize grinding rocks and then watched them dance and sing. The dance included really high jumping.
Day 6 was a travel day and we traveled back through Karatu, the village where we stopped for supplies on our way down. I needed to visit the dispensary, a kind of store/medical clinic for a skin rash I picked up from a necklace I bought from the Hadzabe. When we left Karatu, we headed west, through the Ngorongoro Conservation area and into the Serengeti. On the way to our next campsite, we saw a lioness with seven cubs (from two separate litters.) This delayed us as we watched, photographed and video taped them resting and playing for a long time. We were late finding space in the numerous public campsites inside the park, but managed to squeeze ourselves in, finding room for three tents and space in the crowded kitchen for Remmy to cook. This camp site, Tumbili, we later referred to as ‘hell camp’ because it was so dirty and over crowded and it ran out of water after our first night there.
Day 7, we spent on two game drives, morning and afternoon. On the morning drive, we saw twelve animals by 9:00 am. In addition to the standard giraffes, zebras, impalas of various sorts, warthogs, buffalo and the like, we saw reedbok and a cheetah. On the evening drive, we saw a hippo out of water and a leopard sleeping in tree. We also experienced a sun shower and saw an amazing rainbow over the plains.
Day 8, we were happy because we packed up after lunch and after a morning game drive to leave ‘hell camp’ and drove in a different direction to explore a new area of the park. We saw two new animals: a wildebeest (who had not migrated north to Kenya,) and a hyena, who, unfortunately was tangled in barbed wire and was, according to Ayubu, dying. Our next campsite, Ikoma, was paradise after Tumbili, with flush toilets, working showers and a western view of the plains allowing us to see an amazing sunset. There were only two other parties camping, an Australian woman traveling with her son and a Slavic couple who weren’t chatty with us at all. I enjoyed speaking to the woman, Sally, who was doing her wash as I was. She said it was "laundry day" as we hung out our clothes on makeshift laundry lines. I was thrilled to be clean-Remmy heated water for me which enabled me to bathe and wash my hair. After my shower, I sat under the dining tent, watching the sunset, drinking tea, listening to wonderful music from another guide’s car stereo and updating my journal as Elsa, Jeremy and Jonathan played cards next to me. This is my Africa “small moment.”
Day 9 we spent packing up in the morning, loading the land cruiser and driving east to the Ngorongoro Conservation area. It was a very long, bumpy drive, but better than our drive out because it was cloudy and not so hot as before. On our way, we stopped at the museum at Oldupai and heard a lecture about the history, the Leakeys and the major discoveries in the area. We took photos at the museum and of the grounds. On the way to Ngorongoro, we drove through major Maasai country. I hoped to get another chance at a picture I missed on the way out: Maasai lined up with colorful buckets at the water truck, but no luck. We did see many bomas and many Maasai leading cattle, goats and donkeys through vast, dusty plains. Their colorful blankets provide such a contrast to the natural colors of the fields.
We arrived at our campsite, Simba, late in the afternoon. It was another scenic campsite with a view of the rim of the crater. Trees prevented us from having a full view, but it was still spectacular. Because of the elevation, it was colder than we could have imagined and all of us were wearing all of the heaviest clothes we had with us. The inside dining room was full, and we were forced to eat outside in the wind. The campsite was packed with campers, and some had made fires to keep warm. During dinner, I couldn’t imagine how we were going to survive the cold during the night, and I got the idea that the four of us should share one tent, put our sleeping bags together and sleep in a snuggle. We did that and slept in our clothes, as dirty and dusty as they were. But we were warm.
Day 10 was our last day of safari. I was incredibly sad that it was all coming to an end, but also looking forward to a hot shower and clean clothes. We woke up early for a morning game drive. Ayubu took us down into the crater. I loved it, because vast as it is, it is also contained, and the beautiful plains are surrounded by forested mountain all around. At that time of day, the sun rising amid the mist and the mountains, there were layers of color everywhere. Out of nowhere, animals would appear. We saw many zebras and wildebeests, and we saw our first and only rhino. As were leaving, we saw six lions hunting. We thought they were going to go after a wandering wildebeest, but they didn’t. As we wound our way up out of the crater, Ayubu kept looking in his mirror at a tire. We had a flat, and when there was space, he pulled over and changed it.
Those vehicles carry two spares and I can see why. We had seen many, many jeeps and other vehicles pulled over to change tires or make repairs in our travels. I had always worried about how they would get help and get going again, but Ayubu never worried about any of them. He would say, “They will be fine.”
After the game drive, we ate a hot lunch, our last, and then packed up and rode back to Arusha. When we got to town, Ayubu brought us to his family’s café, a local restaurant in the north part of town. We ate samosas and drank juice, and met his wife and some of their employees. Later, Ayubu drove us to our hotel, the Outpost. We unloaded, gave Remmy and Ayubu our gifts for them, and exchanged phone numbers. That night, after we showered and sorted our immense pile of laundry, we had dinner outdoors at the Outpost, which while good, did not compare to Remmy’s cooking. We were still cold. July is winter in Tanzania and it gets quite cool at night. The Outpost’s dining room has only a roof and it reminded me of being in Florida in the winter where no one has heat because it’s “warm” there. We were happy to be able to check the Internet and to have beers. The Americans we had met from California who had been staying at the Outpost were gone on safari (we actually passed them in the Serengeti) and there were only blonde, Nordic children at the Outpost. We slept in beds for the first time in ten days and wondered about the rest of our Tanzanian journey. We were now on our own,,,