Written by actonsteve on 05 Dec, 2008
To lie down with Lions – encounters with the King of the BeastsI’ll describe a scene in the Seronera woodlands one afternoon.Three lions are lazing – one male and two females. The male is resting on his haunches - eyes alert and watching everything…Read More
To lie down with Lions – encounters with the King of the BeastsI’ll describe a scene in the Seronera woodlands one afternoon.Three lions are lazing – one male and two females. The male is resting on his haunches - eyes alert and watching everything that is going on around him. His mane is magnificent and dark in colour; and everything about him is oversized – his paws, his mane, even his tail swishing around. In the background a troop of baboons were squabbling and making noise. In the foreground was a scene out of "Bambi" where two Impala bucks gambolled and chased each other within sight of the lions. The cats must have eaten recently or the bucks knew they were safe until nightfall. Certainly the bushy maned male was watching them but made no effort to go after them.I lost count of the number of lions we saw on the Serengeti. There seemed to be one under every bush. At this time of year, in the dry season, all the predators come in from the plains to the wooded Seronera area. Here there are year around game to hunt but it also means a large density of big cats in a small area. Which is great if you are a tourist but less fun if you are one of the big cats. Clashes between lions and cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards are pretty de rigeur.But during the day when the lions are recovering from a night of hunting they are the favourite prey of the tourists. When a pride is spotted they gather around with their safari vans with their cameras pointed at the lolling animals. My favourite was a pride we found late one afternoon as the light was fading of four lionesses and six cubs. They were almost invisible as their tawny hides were exactly the same colour as the grey grass. You could see how they would be invisible to prey animals who only see in black and white. They also had cubs who could be seen with their cute heads above the grass. The cubs would play fight and occasionally throw themselves at the lionesses. The lionesses themselves had perked up and were watching a giraffe across the track with intent.Lions are the only true social cats. Tigers, jaguars and leopards are solitairy while cheetahs only stick together if they are brothers. A typical lion pride is made of females who do all the hunting. The male, with his mane, is pretty conspicuous out on the grasslands. What does the male do? After all he elbows his way through to a new kill to take the best spoils. He guards against the main danger to the pride – rogue males trying to take over. This usually leads to a fight to the death when younger stronger males try to oust the current male. The males patrol their territory letting out roars. It is those roars I heard in the evening just as I was tucking into dinner and sending shivers down my spine.During the day we followed two lionesses. One was wearing a radio collar and was being tracked. We encountered them on the road and they led us to a small pond where they proceeded to harass the ducks. They then spend the rest of the time lying down, tongues hanging out conserving energy for that night. A larger maned lion joined them at a trot, sniffed one of the females then proceeded to bat her around the head. When she had reacted with a snarl he shot off as if he had lost interest. For such a large animal he moved at quite a pace.Lions are numero uno for anyone on safari.The thrill of being in such proximity with such big cats is so memorable. But stay inside that vehicle – even more important when they start roaring at night stay inside your tent. That way you are still alive in the morning. Close
Introduction to the Serengeti Plains – the realm of tooth and clawNeither style of campsite is fenced, so wildlife comes and goes. As a result the Serengeti's campsites are notorious for nocturnal visits by lions. The lions are generally just cautious, so the rule is…Read More
Introduction to the Serengeti Plains – the realm of tooth and clawNeither style of campsite is fenced, so wildlife comes and goes. As a result the Serengeti's campsites are notorious for nocturnal visits by lions. The lions are generally just cautious, so the rule is to stay calm and whatever you do do not leave your tent. Rough Guide to Tanzania 2007Imagine reading that while settling down for the night in your flimsy tent on the Serengeti.The Serengeti Plains are one of the most extraordinary places I have ever visited. There is a sense of adventure here as if you have moved away from human civilisaton and have entered the realm of tooth and claw. You are no longer the top predator – you are actually at the bottom of the food chain. The sheer scale of animals here is extraordinary. - the sheer size of the National Park is more extraordinary. It covers fourteen thousand square miles. The ecosystem it contains spreads out from the park into Ngorongoro and up into Kenya with the Masai Mara. Animals in their millions move during the migration.Only about a third of the park is made up of the flat grassy plains that it is so famous for. During January and February – wildebeest, zebra and antelope in their million (and for 2008 it was estimated at exactly two million) make their way down from Kenya. The plains between Naabi Gate in the southeast and Seronera in the middle of the park are rich in grazing at that time of year. Its at exactly at this time of year they foal – millions of ungulates giving birth at the same time. The theory behind this is that predators that will be so glutted with easy food the majority of foals will be left alone. The cycle begins again in May when the grasslands are grazed to the bone and the herds begin their trek slowly northwards again.When I travelled throgh the plains it was the dry season and the herds were up in Kenya. But there was still plenty to see. For a start there is a sense of space to these plains that is breathtaking. Flat as a pancake and dry as a bone. The grass there had been bitten down to its roots and looked brittle and delicate. Dust devils swirled as we drove past and once in a while we passed Kopjes - islands of rock in the endless plains that are often the abodes of prides of lions. For the plains arent empty even in the dry season – we saw Grants gazelles and a Serval shot across the road. Lone hyenas can be seen in the distance fanning out from their clan burrows. One big surprise was seeing a Wild Cat prowling the side of the road. It looked just like a domestic tabby – although a hundred times wilder.A word must be said for the roads into the Serengeti – they are truly appalling. It took us four hours to cross from Naabi Gate to our campsite. They are riddled with potholes and lose scree and only a four-wheel drive will do. They fit the description "axel-breaking" because we did see vehicles laid up on the side of the road after attempting this trail. So it is best to see the Serengeti on an organised tour. We did meet a couple doing a ‘Cape to Cairo’ roadtrip and they were unimpressed by the Serengeti due to the state of the roads, high price of admission and lack of game. Thats why you need a guide to take you into Seronera where the game hides out when it is the dry season. The entrance fee is exorbitant ($50 per person plus 10,000 schillings per vehicle and that is not counting accomodation). So it is best to join an organised tour in Arusha where such practicalities are taken care of for you.I think the Serengeti is well worth all the inconvenience. Its one of those places on the globe where you have to pinch yourself you are there. The wildlife you see there is amazing and proves that Africa is addictive. Whether you are watching snorting hippos, prancing Impala or the famous lions – you will want to go back. I can guarantee... Close
Written by actonsteve on 11 Nov, 2008
As the crow flies Arusha is far closer to Nairobi then it is to Dar es Salaam. Therefore the majority of visitors to the ‘Northern Circuit’ of game parks fly into Nairobi and have to cross the border. There is a reciprocal tourist arrangement between…Read More
As the crow flies Arusha is far closer to Nairobi then it is to Dar es Salaam. Therefore the majority of visitors to the ‘Northern Circuit’ of game parks fly into Nairobi and have to cross the border. There is a reciprocal tourist arrangement between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda that if you have already a Kenyan visa then you don’t need another one when crossing back from Tanzania or Uganda. It is crossing the border and back which is the interesting part.My crossing from Kenya to TanzaniaEssentially this is no problem. I caught a shuttle bus operated by the Impala hotel in Arusha for $30. It can be pre-booked online and collects from your hotel on request. But your safari company should provide transport – make sure they tell you about the $50/£30 visa. This is generally not part of the holiday cost.The Impala shuttle did pick me up from my Nairobi hotel and will stowed my luggage on the roof. Its offices are at the Silver Spoon hotel and that is where the majority of passengers will get on. It will be a mixture of tourists and Africans. It takes about two hours to drive down to the Tanzanian border on exceptionally bumpy roads (truly bum crunching) and the ubiquitous toilet break at a Curio Shop where overpriced African nick-nacks are on offer.The border is at Namanga. The place is very dusty and clogged with monster trucks. First you have to get stamped out of Kenya and a small glass office allows you to get an exit stamp on your passport. The bus then drove us into Tanzania and we had to go into another blockhouse for immigration. Make sure you have a crisp American $50 bill; anything else will slow them up. British pounds and Euros are an option but not a welcome one going by the hectoring one of our bus passengers got from an immigration clerk. But for the money you get a six month Tanzanian visa.The return journey – back into Kenya from TanzaniaThe Impala Shuttle leaves from the ‘Impala Hotel’ in eastern Arusha. I know this because it failed to turn up to collect me and I had to trek down there in a panic. There are two departures from the hotel 2.00pm (the bus they booked me on) and 7.30am (the bus they should have booked me on). The Impala Hotel itself has its own Safari Company (Leopard safaris) which has a good reputation.After passing through the acacia desert you are back at the border at Namanga. The exit stamp office is quite efficient but outside is a no-man’s land between Tanzania and Kenya that you must traverse on foot. It belongs to neither country and therefore is not law enforced; it is stacked to the gills with thieves and hawkers.The Maasai women lie in wait. They will rush you waving jewellery and gewgaws trying to get your custom. The trick is to ignore them and just keep going. Don’t stop for a second – and keep a hand on your valuables. It is quite harrowing to have an old Maasai woman block your way and shove beads in your face. But push through and you will be in Kenya. Everyone goes through it – we saw them accost nuns. On the way back to Nairobi. They will drop you off at Jomo Kenyatta airport if you wish. The final stop is the Silver Spoon hotel and any other hotel on request. Close
Ground Zero for the tourists in Northern Tanzania is the town of Arusha. 99% of the travellers who pass through here will be here for the game parks. There are almost a hundred companies set up for you to explore these parks and after spending…Read More
Ground Zero for the tourists in Northern Tanzania is the town of Arusha. 99% of the travellers who pass through here will be here for the game parks. There are almost a hundred companies set up for you to explore these parks and after spending up to ten days in the bush Arusha becomes a beacon of civilisation surrounded by the wilds of Tanzania.It’s actually closer to Nairobi in Kenya then it is to Dar es Salaam or the sleepy capital of Dodoma. You can take the bus up from Dar es Salaam in a ten hour journey. But more likely you will come from Nairobi and take the bumpy road down to the border at Namanga. Arusha is about another two hours from there. You can also fly for about $100 from Wilson airport in Nairobi or come in from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar. The airport for Arusha is between it and Moshi and is fifty miles east of town. There is no public transport from the airport and taxis charge up to $50 into town.It’s not quite true that Arusha is just a tourist town. All the volcanic soil around here is perfect for growing coffee, wheat, bananas, vegetables and most of the flowers exported to Europe. The whole town is overlooked by Mt Meru – a truly spectacular mountain which is a much more sheer climb then Kilimanjaro and it has to be said Arusha is a pleasant green well-laid out town with gardens and streams. There is a centre which is a griddle of streets with the Makongoro Road at the top, and a set of paralell streets leading down to the Sokoine Road. There is a real scruffy African market in the centre. Most tourists stay in mega hotels on the outskirts and are picked up and dropped off by landrover/safari vehicle. The real Arusha is not seen by most tourists.Except me.I tried out a hotel right on the Makongoro Road right in the centre of the action. I took a day out after getting back from the game parks to just kick back and explore Arusha. To be frank, the cities in East Africa are not the main attraction – you dont cross the ocean to visit Nairobi or Arusha. Arusha isnt a bad town – there are lots of services here to keep the tourists happy. I was in the African section and it was a real plunge into the continent –shoe vendors line the street, women with baskets pushed by, cars were parked half way up the pavement and gangs of men stood idly about chatting.One morning I walked down to the Sokoine Road to run some errands. The streets leading down are rather tatty but no one pays you any attention and it was interesting watching Africa going about its business. The range of people here was extraordinary – Maasai warriors, teenagers, Indians with saris – I was agog at the Africans ability to socialise – they seemed to have friends on every corner.On the Sokoine Road is huge Supermarket (PriceRight) and numerous webcafes. At the end of the Road is the "Clocktower" where hawkers for cheap safaris hang out. They also hang out at the bus station and will literally shadow any newcomers for their custom. If you haven’t got a safari booked then you will be targeted. Each tourist is a valuable commodity and the business can get very cut-throat.There’s nothing to worry about in Arusha and if you wish to take time out to look at Africa away from the game parks and luxury lodges then this is as good a place as any. Close
This corner of northern Tanzania is dominated by one thing – the mountain of Kilimanjaro.I only saw it briefly as I was travelling from the Kenyan border down to the town of Arusha. It was visible for only five minutes before other mountains blocked…Read More
This corner of northern Tanzania is dominated by one thing – the mountain of Kilimanjaro.I only saw it briefly as I was travelling from the Kenyan border down to the town of Arusha. It was visible for only five minutes before other mountains blocked it out. This part of Tanzania is full of ex-volcanoes and free-standing mountains. But Kilimanjaro is rather special. As well as featuring in Ernest Hemingway’s famous book it exemplifies Africa. Who hasn’t seen pictures of the great snow flecked cone dominate the scene with giraffe or herds of elephant in the foreground?For this is safari country par excellence. Within easy reach of the Kenyan border are the national parks of Lake Manyara, Tarangire, the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the endless Serengeti plains. The wildlife migrates across this area depending on the season and not paying attention to national barriers. During August/September the vast wildebeest herds numbering into millions are up in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Then during the rest of the year they slowly migrate south until they reach the grassy plains of the Serengeti in January where they give birth.It is the wildlife that is the main attraction. The tourist town of Arusha depends on the tourist trade. 400,000 visitors a year pass through and for a town stuck out in the acacia desert in this is big business. Over 40 safari operators make this town their base and the road west to the parks is busy in the morning with travellers making their way to the attractions. Arusha sits in the centre of it all – to the north is Kenya and the international gateway of Nairobi, to the south is Tarangire National Park with its herds of elephants, to the west are the big game parks and to the east is Moshi the base for climbing Kilimanjaro.I was surprised to find how popular climbing "Kili" was particularly with under thirty backpackers. As I approach the big 4-0 the very thought of spending six days up and down the mountain gave me the willies. I spoke with a couple of people who had done it. Climbs are arranged from the town of Moshi about twenty miles east of Arusha. Moshi is in the shadow of Kilimanjaro and is a pleasant little spread out town. Most guesthouses arrange climbs for you. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not cheap – you have to pay for a guide, porter and cook and each one will need a substantial tip at the end. It’s often best to go with a reputable company and even then you won’t get much change out of $1300.It’s also physically exhausting. My companion for Ngorongoro hobbled for days after he did Kilimanjaro. He said the experience though physically tough was unbelievable and he could never believe the world could be that beautiful as he approached the summit. The most popular route seems to be the Marungu Route which takes six days to the summit and back. On the way you pass Alpine meadows, lava ridges and ice sheets . A warning also about altitude sickness –as you ascend you will gather half the oxygen needed at sea level and could have blackouts and dizzy spells. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not for the fainthearted.Kilimanjaro isn’t the only mountain in the area as northern Tanzania has volcanic resonances. The Rift Valley passes through here and hot springs bubble out at Lake Manyara. The Ngorongoro Crater itself was once a vast volcano that fell in on itself and Mount Longidodo is still a dormant volcano. Our guide George said when he was a teenager there was an eruption. Bits of ash floated through the air like snowflakes and animals starved as it covered the grass.But this journal is really about magical Lake Manyara. The Rift Valley cuts through here and forms an escarpment over a soda lake. Fed by runoff from the escarpment to the lake a groundwater forest was created that has a massive amount of animals. This journal is really a celebration of Lake Manyara National Park Close
Have you ever heard of a Dik-Dik.?They are antelopes that are tiny – I mean barely a foot high. It looked like a toy or a mouse. Everything about this deer was miniscule – its body, legs, horns and even brown eyes which…Read More
Have you ever heard of a Dik-Dik.?They are antelopes that are tiny – I mean barely a foot high. It looked like a toy or a mouse. Everything about this deer was miniscule – its body, legs, horns and even brown eyes which looked up at us before vanishing into the bush.As we progressed further into Lake Manyara it was the small animals which became a pleasure. We ticked them off – jackals, bush pigs, porcupines, songbirds and a klipspringer – a deer nearly as small as the Dik-Dik. Not to mention the endless Impala that were spread throughout the park in small herds sharing their space with baboons. The two seemed to have a reciprocal relationship – both watching out for predators. The most famous predators of this national park are tree-climbing lions but we didn’t see any. I didn’t mind as I’d seen enough lions on the Serengeti and in Kenya.As we headed westwards I craned my head up to the huge escarpment cliffs towering above the park. The cliffs were sheer granite but were covered up to the rim with vegetation. Cape buffalo grazed in their shadow. They were a bachelor herd – two tonnes of muscle giving us dirty looks as we drove past. We were coming to the end of the forest and across the floodplain the lapping water of Lake Manyara could be seen. There were some strange birdlife around here – top of these were the red-billed hornbill. A gigantic flightless bird with black feathers and red face. There five of them in the road hopping along – when we appeared they bounced into the undergrowth.Then the vista opened up to a large view of the lake. Below us streams erupted from the cliff face and wriggled their way across the plain to the marshy lake. Where the streams emptied out into Lake Manyara was one of the most stunning sights of this trip – the horizon was a moving wall of pink flamingos.Wow! How do you take that in?We got out of the safari vehicle. As far as the eye could see was a pink mass of moving birds. Through binoculars we could see the birds individually – each bird hissing, squawking and beating its wings. They were feeding by swishing their heads through the water sifting for algae. The bad side was the sheer stench of their guano travelling through the hot air. Hot springs were coming from underground. Our guide said it was quite safe so we reached down and touched it – scalding hot water heated from far underground.We went to the top of the lake and while we were crossing the floodplain we encountered a herd of twelve giraffes. We pulled over and watched them stride in front of us. It was like a great ship floating by covering the ground with great strides.At the edge of the lake it looked like the ground had been chewed up by the footprints of hippos. But these were lost in what occupied the lake – thousands and thousands of pelicans. Too many for the eye to comprehend – a squawking flapping amorphorous crush. We could see the great pink/grey bulk of hippos somewhere in their midst. And the noise! Each one seemed to be letting his lungs have some exercise. The ones in the water looked like little sailboats – head and beak out front with little legs paddling underneath. Close
Ooooohhh...that felt good.You could see an elephant think this as he rubbed his backside against a scratching post.The scratching post was a simple tree trunk in the forest. It was obviously a favourite place of a small herd we encountered that included mother and baby.…Read More
Ooooohhh...that felt good.You could see an elephant think this as he rubbed his backside against a scratching post.The scratching post was a simple tree trunk in the forest. It was obviously a favourite place of a small herd we encountered that included mother and baby. A young tusker was a big attraction and was throwing dust over his grey back. Elephants are so watchable – they are always interacting with each other. But all of Lake Manyara National Park has been good. I like the way it is a small corridor of land squeezed between the 300ft escarpment and the soda lake. Streams run down from the cliffs and hot springs burst from the ground and run all the way to the lake. There are volcanic forces at work in East Africa and nowhere is it more evident than in Lake Manyara.It’s reachable through the Maasai tourist town of Mwo wa Mbu at the foot of the escarpment. The entrance is at the western end of town and you know you are there due to gigantic baobab trees covered in the guano of pelicans and storks. Entrance is high $35 per person plus 10,000 schillings per vehicle. The forest begins almost immediately and I thoroughly recommend the visitors centre which allows you to wander the forest on a number of cane walkways. The visitors centre explains how water is important to the park and has a few interesting exhibits. I didn’t know the John Wayne action film "Hatari" was filmed here in the fifties.Then we drove along the forest trail. What makes Manyara different is that it is not like most game parks with wide open spaces as it is mostly forest. Underground springs mean abundant vegetation – sausage trees, acacia scrub, banana trees, open meadows and baobab trees looking "Gothic" against the sky. This same vegetation began to move next to us and a Sykes monkey was looking at us from the branches. You like monkeys? Manyara is bursting with them. It has the biggest population of baboons in the world. These began to emerge from the forest and looked like they were travelling in armies. Dozens at a time would cross the track. Babies clung to their mother’s undersides, teenagers would stop and watch you and older baboons – the big males –would take their time to show who was boss.Then the park turned Elysian.The park at this point opens up in green meadows and bubbling brooks. It was a favourite with elephants who appeared next to the track. Their huge grey bulks tearing up the green grass. We all gasped as we entered a glade babbled down surrounded by green vegetation. There with his back to us was a huge elephant with a leathery back. He saw us but continued sucking up water with his trunk and squirting it into his mouth. Our guide, George, got very excited at seeing a rare Bushbuck on the other bank. To see this tiny antelope with its small horns and delicate build wait patiently to drink was a real thrill.The elephant itself took an interest in us – knowing that we were no threat he came up to 1ft of the van and watched us with his beady eye. Nothing beats the thrill of getting close to really big game. Close
Written by midtownmjd on 07 Nov, 2008
My grand plan for visiting Tanzania began with a night on Zanzibar, so after arriving in the Dar es Salaam airport and DEETing up, my friend Kate and I grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal to begin an interesting trip made even more amusing…Read More
My grand plan for visiting Tanzania began with a night on Zanzibar, so after arriving in the Dar es Salaam airport and DEETing up, my friend Kate and I grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal to begin an interesting trip made even more amusing by sleep deprivation.At the airport’s taxi stand, we were able to get our driver at a printed rate of 20,000 Tanzanian shillings. When we arrived at the ferry terminal after some heavy traffic on dusty roads, about 10 men began trailing our car and offering to sell us ferry tickets. Our driver, who spoke English very well, told us not to buy from them, and not to show them our passports, but to instead buy our tickets at the Seabus "fast ferry" counter. Then he parked and took Kate, armed with both of our passports, to this out-of-sight "counter" to buy the tickets, telling me to wait in the cab. I normally would’ve protested this as a bad idea, but I was too tired. Plus, I figured that since I didn’t necessarily have a better plan, I would have to trust this driver.I sweated it out in the car for about 15 minutes while a couple of men circled me, eyeing the trunk where our bags were held. It was a pretty sketchy situation, but again, this driver seemed like a stand-up guy. Sure enough, he and Kate returned with the tickets (and the passports). Only then did he inspect the tickets and announce that though Kate had paid US$45 per ticket (for four tickets), the vendor had recorded a payment of only US$30 per ticket and pocketed the additional US$15 per ticket. He went to recover the money and returned with US$20 for us (apparently having pocketed the other US$40 himself). I suppose he earned it.Kate and I settled into a shady waiting area, but we had two hours until the next ferry. Unfortunately, no one else appeared this early, so we had the army of touts all to ourselves. Despite our protests, a few "official porters" carried our bags and talked Kate out of another US$5. This ferry ride was proving quite expensive. Eventually more passengers showed up, and we made friends with other travelers willing to dole out advice on visiting Tanzania and climbing Kilimanjaro.The boat was very hot and cramped, and we made the mistake of trapping ourselves in window seats, but there were cheap, cold drinks for sale. It was a long 2.5-hour ride, but at least we were able to laugh at the fact that the little girl behind us was so fascinated with Kate’s blond hair that she kept copping feels. I don’t think all boats are as stuffy as this one, though; later, our ferry back to the mainland was air-conditioned and much more modern, with flat-screen TVs, although it was just as miserable for its extreme choppiness.Eventually, having learned some small lessons in corruption, we arrived at Zanzibar’s port to grab a taxi to the lovely Beyt al Chai. Close
Written by nora_yusuf on 21 Jun, 2006
By the time we arrived in Zanzibar, I had already taken many photos from the plane. The most popular objects were the meandering wadis, and the mountains of Oman. Zanzibar—by the word of Andersch "the last reason to live"—is a famous piece of German literature…Read More
By the time we arrived in Zanzibar, I had already taken many photos from the plane. The most popular objects were the meandering wadis, and the mountains of Oman. Zanzibar—by the word of Andersch "the last reason to live"—is a famous piece of German literature and a symbol of beauty and hope (according to Anke). The real Zanzibar is stepping out of an airplane into the typical tropical weather. The air is heavy with humidity. For people who are not used to it, seems like you have to overcome a physical obstacle to start walking, something like walking into a wall (exaggerated a bit). Crowds gather in the airport with everybody queuing for their bags at exactly the same spot. Since there is only one table available to place the bags, it was chaos. A fee of $50 for the visa allows US entrance into this symbol of hope and beauty. Paradise is not free anymore.
We successfully shook off at least 20 taxi drivers and found our way to the dalla-dallas. Basically, a dalla-dallas is an unfurnished open-sided van with benches that can seat an unknown number of passengers. At the end I think there were almost 20 of us in the dalla-dallas. It was difficult to breathe. Stone Town is built on a triangular peninsula of land and consists predominantly of Arab architecture, with a blend Indian and European architecture. Stone Town itself, being the capital of Zanzibar, is bound together by an intricate network of narrow streets and lanes. You can even see neighbors chit chatting from one window to another above the busy streets. The town with its narrow passages would have great potential if only restoration was not unknown. Next to the sea we find rows of stalls offering grilled seafood and sugar cane juice. Well, the trip looked like it was soon turning into a gastronomic tour after all… Getting stuffed with grilled seafood and drunk (literally) on sugarcane juice. We headed to the port to see available options for going to Dar es Salaam. We get held up looking at the kangas (two-piece colorful scarves the locals wear) and then hand painting. We went to the local market, ate some mangoes, watched the sunset (it was breathtaking), and ready to go back. Off we go to the Spice tour in a dalla-dallas through the spice plantation. I am reminded a lot of Malaysia, while Anke is impressed by the spice plants. Cloves, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, etc. Do you know the difference between a spice and an herb? Well, herbs are usually the leaves of the plant, while spices are made of other parts like the bark or fruit of the plant. Lunch is in one of the plantation villages, by the local ladies. Local spiced rice… delicious. A vegetarian curry sauce and local spinach…See, I told you we would have a gastronomic experience.
Written by Safiri on 16 Oct, 2004
We almost didn't visit the Masai. I get shivers when I think of it.
The second day of our safari was mostly driving: a long day in the jeep going from Tarangire to the Serengeti, a trip which takes you via the top of the Ngorongoro…Read More
We almost didn't visit the Masai. I get shivers when I think of it.
The second day of our safari was mostly driving: a long day in the jeep going from Tarangire to the Serengeti, a trip which takes you via the top of the Ngorongoro Crater. The one highlight of the day was to be a stop at Olduvai Gorge, the site where the Leakey Expedition discovered the earliest human remains. My father-in-law is a biologist, and the rest of us are interested in science, so we were very excited by the idea of getting a good look at the Gorge. We toured the museum, which costs an outrageous $10 per person extra, but contains casts of the famous footprints preserved in volcanic ash which the Leakeys discovered about forty miles away, as well as early hominid tools, a timeline of human evolution, and an extensive exhibit on the lives of the Leakeys themselves. It was all very well done, and we were delighted with it -- until we learned that by touring the museum we had missed our chance to hike down into the gorge itself, which it's only possible to do before 3:00 PM. This made us grouchy and resentful, and we piled back into our jeep feeling that our guide, Yusuf, hadn't understood what we were after. So when we pulled up a few miles away at an impenetrable-looking fence made out of thorn bushes, where Yusuf told us that we should pay another $10 each to a wizened old man in a red shawl to tour a Masai boma, we felt that we were being taken for a ride and almost didn't go in--it was a funny combination of reluctances, because we didn't want to be exploited but also felt that we were probably exploiting the Masai.
But I've studied the Masai, and my mother-in-law isn't one to miss a chance to see a new culture, so four of us decided to take the tour. We paid our money to the ancient headman, which he stowed somewhere under his red robes; he was in his seventies, entirely bald, and wore several bead bracelets along with an enormous digital watch. He brought us into the boma, explaining what we were looking at in Swahili, which Yusuf translated.
The boma consisted of two large circular thorn fences (that's eight-foot piles of thorn bush made into a fence), one within the other. The larger one was the perimeter of the village; the inner one was to contain the village cattle, although since we were there during the day all the cattle were out grazing, tended by the young boys. Between the two fences were the houses: oval structures about six feet tall, and made out of sticks plastered with a mixture of earth, ashes, and cow dung. The chief invited us into his: it was separated into four rooms with screens of woven sticks. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, and an entryway -- all in a space about six feet across. We sat in a circle around the fireplace, each in a different room but all within arm's reach of each other.
We asked the chief about what changes he'd seen during his lifetime. His answer: he learned about cloth for the first time when he went to school; before that the Masai wore skins. Salt, sugar, and tea were also innovations. We noticed that there were two plastic washing tubs and four metal bowls in the house; other than that and the plastic beads the Masai had woven into necklaces, there was nothing to tell us we hadn't slid back six thousand years. (Well, nothing but the fact that the Masai only came to Tanzania about 200 years ago.)
When we entered the boma, the villagers all gathered to sing to us. (They'd clearly been doing this routine for a while.) The women -- about fifteen of them, with blue capes over their red cloth wrapped around them as dresses, and wearing enormous, elaborate padlock-shaped bead earrings and necklaces which stood off their necks like the rings of Saturn -- formed one group, singing a ululating music and dancing a bobbing, ducking sort of dance, which they invited first me and then my mother-in-law to join. Meanwhile, the young men -- only about five of them were around, tall, draped in one piece of red cloth, with elaborate matted hairdos and carefully chosen bead jewelry -- formed a smaller circle and began their music and dancing, a deeper bass singing punctuated by occasional sudden, very tall solo leaps straight into the air and a loud thump on landing.
Who knows how long we stayed looking. Who knows what year it was when we were there. Who knows if it will ever change. It was tremendously moving; OK, it was put on for the tourists, but it felt amazingly authentic. It was exactly the dances as they’re described by the early European colonists; the dogs asleep in the small shadows were the same dogs; the flies (which were everywhere, on everyone’s faces) were the same flies, the smell of earth and wood smoke and age was the smell that has always been there.
The final piece of the tour was the village school, a thatched hut with nothing to seal the walls – just sticks holding up a roof, filled with wooden plank benches, with one ripply blackboard on a wall. We spoke with the teacher, who told us (via Yusuf) that he taught preschool, teaching the kids the alphabet and some simple phrases in English and Swahili (their native language is Masai). Although it was a Sunday, some kids were rounded up to perform for us: they shouted a welcome in English and sang the alphabet song, then craned their necks curiously to watch us as we asked questions: how long do they spend at this school? (Ages 5-7.) How long do they go to the next school? (ages 8-9, usually; it costs money after that.) What do they do for books? (The children are issued or buy books; they have them at home now.) Would you like these pens, and hey, we have some simple books in Swahili we bought to teach ourselves with, would you like those too? (Yes, please, thank you.) It was terrifying to think of how impossible it would be for one of these children to get a decent education, but on the other hand there was an exhilarating sense that here was a traditional tribe succeeding preserving its way of life. Goodness knows what the individuals would prefer; they didn’t tell us and we couldn’t think of a tactful way to ask.