Every time I sit down to write these messages, my brain is awhirl as I'm trying to put all my thoughts together so you can read of my adventures in the most clear and coherent fashion, with as little digression as possible. Of course, that's never my style, but I can sure try. So, now that I've admitting to my ramblings I will begin...
June 2, 2001 saw my father's birthday and the arrival of my family, Larry, Erica and David Posner to Arusha, Tanzania. I had arrived back from Uganda earlier in the day, took a nap and prepared to meet them. I was excited and looking forward to the safari we were about to go on. It was still not finalized so we had to get organized right away. And of course everyone but me was dealing with 10 hours of jet lag to get over.
Anyway, we used Nyika tours, a company my cousin had used and recommended. They did an excellent job and I recommend them to everyone that comes to Tanzania in search of a good safari company. So, being that my parents were quite jetlagged, we planned a trip with everything, meaning it was much longer than originally planned; i.e. 10 days instead of 5. As it turned out my cousin's trial had just begun so he was unable to spend much time with us, and my parents wanted to make sure we got in some days with physical exercise. There are few places where you can walk around instead of being in a car.
The next day, Monday June 4th, we were off. The plan was to go to Arusha Nat'l Park where we could do a day walking safari and an afternoon game drive. On Tuesday we were to head to Taranguire park where they have tons of elephants and a wonderful terrace that looks out over the river where there tends to be a lot of game. Wednesday we would head to Lake Manyara resort and park which is located at the base of the Rift Wall in the Rift Valley. Thursday we'd go out to the Serengeti, do another game drive, see the migration on Friday, and then Saturday head to Ngorogoro Crater for two days before going to the Crater Highlands to hike and camp. It was a big adventure and we were a bit wary of how much we were planning to do, but it all sounded good none the less.
So, now that I have explained our itinerary I will go over safari highlights, the good as well as the bad. First off I think it is important to point out the peculiarity of safari life. It's mostly for people in the middle class and up, as the hotels you stay in are quite nice and the expense of the vehicle, parks and guides adds up quickly. There is no way around it. So, you end up with a native guide taking you over hill and dale for 5-8 hours a day on bumpy dirt roads searching for game, and then resting at these lovely, yet very tacky hotels. It's quite different from any trip we'd ever done before. Although the driving gets old and exhausting, the scenery and animals are amazing.
My friend Chad, the guy who did Peace Corps for two years in Zimbabwe, said he had a student whose name was Hard Life, and unfortunately the student was aptly named. Well, our guide was also aptly named, but in a much more positive manner - his name was Good Luck and he happened to give us very good luck. The story goes that in his tribe, males are thought to bring good luck and he was the first born male after four girls. His younger brother got a more usual name - Steven. Good Luck was awesome and helped us to see the big five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo), as well as so many other animals.
What can I say about the Serengeti and other parks? It's like going to New York City, Paris, or London for the first time. You've seen it so much on TV and in the movies that you almost feel like you've been there before; but you haven't. In addition, I've seen pictures taken by friends that have gone on safari before and have marveled at their pictures, wondering how they got that close to the animals. Well folks, it's really not that hard. The Thompson and Grant gazelle, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, impala, warthogs, ostrich, and even lions are right there, waiting for you to take the perfect shot. We joked that it was like the "Truman Show", where each animal has a contract with an agent telling them to be at a certain location in the park for a certain time so the tourists will be happy.
There is also a lot of down time when you see nothing. You get used to watching the Discovery Channel programs of lions hunting and killing but that is rare to see. However, there are the special moments when you watch three giraffes necking - waving their necks around and rubbing them against each other, looking a bit like Gumby giraffes. Or being trumpeted at by two mommy elephants looking out for their young and they're HUGE.
I think one of my all time favorites was watching the lions mate. I have already told several friends about this experience because it is so funny. When you drive up you see a pair of lions, male and female, laying down looking exhausted. You don't think much of it until the guide tells you they're mating and that's why they're alone. And guess what, they mate every 15-20 minutes...and for seven days they do it...that's four times an hour, 24 hours a day for seven days!!! But the best part is that while it's regular, it's shortlasted. The female gets up, then the male follows her lead, looking quite tired. The female sits down, he hops on, roars and before you know it they're done - it lasts about 10-30 seconds. Now that's what we'd call premature in the people world, but I guess lions are a bit different! I got a quick shot before the action was over.
All the parks were wonderful in their different ways. The Serengeti and Tarangire were my two favorites. The Serengeti goes on for miles and miles...all savannah grasslands and surrounded by hills in the far distance. The colors are subtle - yellow green grass, blue sky, brown dusty roads and gray rocks. The zebras contrast perfectly with the surroundings, their black stripes becoming more pronounced in comparison. You also come to grips with how small you really are in relation to the world. It's big and open and free and you're a little dot in the middle of it. For that reason, Ngorogoro Crater was not as impressive. While it's a large crater (the size of Lake Tahoe thereabouts) it's a microcosm of the Serengeti. We saw our one rhino there which was very cool. And Tarangire was so green with big Baobab trees and lots of elephants as promised. I had a tiny malaria scare there since I was coming down with something, but luckily it was just some bug and nothing more. Therefore, it was perfect for resting up and hanging out on the terrace.
We saw a ton of animals - hippos, crocs, dicdics, giraffe, gazelle, a caracal, monkeys, elephant, a rhino, hartebeest, wildebeest, topi, impala, baboons, bat eared foxes, hyenas, jackals, ostrich, secretary birds, buzzards, lions, a leopard, a cheetah and probably even more... and to see all these animals, we drove a lot. By the end, I think we got game drive fever, a term coined by my bro. You can only be passive watching for some game for so long. I recommend a five day tour or six but no more. However, just as we reached our max and were about to go bonkers, we reached the two day camping excursion in the Crater Highlands...part of the Masai lands. It was awesome!
The day we started the weather was picture perfect. The Crater highlands receive much less traffic by tourists so we had it to ourselves. You have to have a ranger guide, with a gun of course, so Good Luck set off to find one, and soon enough we were shaking hands with Boniface. He set a fast pace and off we went rambling through the long green/yellow grass enjoying the surrounding by foot instead of by car. There were Masai everywhere taking their cattle, goats and sheep for a walk and a snack. My dad thought it reminded him of our Jewish ancestors who were pastoralists as well. Some of the landscape looks like you could find it in California or the Prairie Lands but the Bomas of the Masai, round mud huts with thatched roofs remind you that you're definitely not in the States or Europe. Hopefully I'll have some good photos to show.
The Masai are one of the most well known tribes in Africa and still very traditional. Sometimes, when traveling abroad, you wonder if a group wears their traditional garb for tourists but never do if the tourists are gone....the Masai do because that's how they are. They're pastoralists and warriors, the young teenage boys wearing lots of beads and having big holes in their earlobes, earrings dangling down, spears in hand. They don't usually go to school since the children are needed to tend to the cattle. In addition, they all wear these red or blue plaid or striped cloths draped on their bodies as their clothes. When I first saw one blanket on the overland bus in May I thought they were blankets from an airplane. Cheesy and ugly was what I thought. But, when you're driving through the open, stark expanse of the Rift Valley and spot a Masai in bright red on the horizon, you gain a new appreciation for their style. I have one now in fact and it's quite warm.
My favorite little moment of the two day camping (which I should have written sooner) was when we reached camp and were hanging out with Good Luck. We were the local attraction and many Masai came to watch and stare. We - my bro, mom, myself and Good Luck began to play a card game. we were quite involved in the game so in the moment that I looked up I noticed we were surrounded by about 15-25 Masai, some warriors, some kids and a few adults. They were laughing and watching curiously, finding it funny when we laughed. They probably thought it quite silly that we could receive so much entertainment from pieces of paper (cards). And then I looked to my left and saw my dad, leaning again the car, surrounded by another group of warriors, not saying anything at my dad, but staring contentedly. It was picture perfect but no picture was taken since it would have changed the mood completely.
The next day we set off to Empakai crater for another breath taking hike. It was a tough downhill and uphill but a good work out. I am now on Zanzibar with my family, and so content to look out at the crystal clear waters and wander the tiny streets. It's quite a trip and exactly what I needed after the safari and hike.
I hope that all is well in the rest of the world.
Catch you later,