Safari Adventures

Sunday, March 15, 2015

After 3 weeks in international schools, it is now time to explore a part of Africa we have been dreaming off for more than 40 years!
When we were first dating, all that time ago, Kees pinned a map of Africa on the wall and we dreamed of working as park ranger somewhere in that mysterious land. We read many books of African travels, animals and parks. Books by Jane Goodall – when I raised baby chimpanzees in a primate center; books by elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton whom we once met; books by the Dr. Louis and Mary Leakey and Joy Adamson’s Born Free.
We chose to move to Canada to embark on a park career, and Africa went to the back burner. We never were able to go. Until now.
It is a dream come true to now travel through Tanzania together.
We flew from Dar Es Salaam, where it was incredible hot and humid, in a tiny airplane to Zanzibar. There we changed to a larger 12 seater which flew us back to the mainland, across the plains and to the hills of northern Tanzania to the town of Arusha.

Thanks to Mambulu Safaris (http://www.mambulu.com), a small, personal travel agency in The Netherlands, we have been able to compose an itinerary that allows us to explore the specific places we want to see, and to experience the parks and wildlife of Africa.
We stayed in a wooden cabin clinging to the green hillside outside Arusha in the shadow of Mt Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain. All day we drove and walked through Arusha National Park. We saw large herds of buffalo, strolled (almost) among giraffes with a park ranger and spotted pink flamingo’s, colobus monkeys, gorgeously elegant crowned cranes and a large troop of baboons. We also managed to snap photos of other exotic birds and stately trees.
This area of Tanzania is very green and lush. We walked, together with a park ranger with a large rifle, to a 30 meter high waterfall.
We picnicked overlooking Mammelo Lakes and visited a crater, like a small Ngorogoro, thick with green grass and herds of buffalo.

It was great to come back, after all the heat and dust, to a pool and a cold drink. The lodge has a large log and canvas restaurant overlooking the green gorge, and good food, too.

On Sunday March 8, our driver Charles picked us up at 8. He is a nice, quiet young man and a cautious driver. He will be with us for the next 8 days or so. The best part is that our entire safari is just for the two of us – no group of other people along!

It was a long drive but over beautiful, new pavement from Arusha to Tarangira National Park. The dusty, rusty entrance did not instill in us a sense of expectation. However, no sooner were we inside the safe boundaries of the park or we saw elephants. We took many photos of the first three young bulls we saw, very close by. But soon we came upon a herd of 20 or 30. Followed by yet another and another herd. Most with tiny new babies and elephants of all sizes. By the end of the afternoon we must have seen hundreds of elephants! Amazing. And so heartening to know that there are still such safeholds for them. We also saw giraffes, zebras, a lion and two leopards! And of course the by now common bushbucks, waterbucks, and impala.

At lunch, a monkey stole one lady’s sandwich. She watched it climb a tree, carefully peel off the plastic wrap and then pick out the tomato and lettuce, and throw those out before eating the rest.

We drove, for much of today, through Masaai land. A black paved road and a parallel running power line are two ugly scars across their traditional pastures. We spotted boma’s: a small round hut, one for each family member. So you can tell if a man has two or three wives. Once, we passed a huge group of huts. Our guide laughed and told us “This man has married 22 wives. They now have many children and grandchildren, and even their own school.”

Our tent camp for the night was a surprise: an open air shower, large private tents, even with a flush toilet, and a real safari mess tent, with a fire in front. I am now writing this by the last light of the setting sun, round and red over Lake Manyara, sitting in the mess tent and feeling like I am in an Out of Africa movie.… The music is that of birds and of clanging bells on many goats coming home for the night with their Masaai herder.

Meeting the Maasai
This morning at 7 AM we met a young Masaai warrior who took us to the nearby boma. When we arrived at the thorny gate, he removed a large bunch of branches with his stick. Masaai are almost born with a stick in their hand. They use this as an extra limb to cope with rocks, uneven ground, animals, snakes, prodding goats and cattle, thorny bushes and much more. They receive their first stick around age 8 or 9, when the young boy becomes the goat herder – a most important job. They don’t seem to be able to part with their stick: we even see bicycle riding Masaai with the stick somehow in their hand.
To the right, inside the enclosed circle of huts, is the house of the first wife.
To the left are the houses of any subsequent wives and those of the young men. A house is constructed in about a week, with a frame of thin branches, stuffed with cowdung as insulation. This is plastered on the outside with a smooth finish of earth obtained from termite hills mixed with cow dung and water.
The cows are in their own separate boma, as well as the goats, each protected by more thorny branches.
The Masaai are probably one of very few cultures left who live such a traditional lifestyle. No TV or any other modern conveniences. They are no longer nomadic but live a very primitive life which includes a strong hierarchy. After the boy becomes a goat herder, he will become a warrior at age 15 when he is circumcised. He then has to go off into the bush for 2 or 3 months, all by himself, without water or food but with a cow. The Masaai still drink milk mixed with blood. After he returns – originally this included the killing of a lion but that is no longer done because of conservation policies – he is now ready to marry the woman his elders chose for him. As a man becomes wealthier, he needs more wives to give him children who will look after the cattle. The more sons, the more cows he can own.
“Our family has 30 cows,” our young guide told us, “we are considered a poor family. A wealthy man may have 3000 cows!”
Our guide wore sandals made from motorbike tires – very strong and helpful to navigate the many sharp rocks on the savannah.
Young children peeked out of the boma. We entered one and saw a small fire pit in the centre (no roof hole for smoke to escape), a sitting bench build into the wall and a bed constructed of branches, lined with a cow hide. On the wall was one peg holding a large beadwork collar. A gourd was hanging on the wall and used to collect water, milk or blood.
That was the extent of their earthly possessions.
The Masaai do not hunt and they do not grow crops. So their impact on the environment is very low.
Our guide told us he had gone to school in a town. “I was so surprised,” he said, “to see people eating vegetables! And fish!” He grinned and said he tried vegetables but did not like them very much… A typical Maasai diet consists of ugali, corn meal mush with milk, for breakfast. More ugali for lunch and ugali for dinner, sometimes with meat if and when the family can afford to butcher and roast a goat.
Considering the fact that we run a B & B, I am very glad that some rules differ in our culture… The Maasai are very hospitable and offer a bed to any visiting warriors. However, the husband leaves the boma while the woman stays. It is her decision as to whether she wants to sleep with the visitor… This rule, too, is because of the high infant mortality rate….
As we strolled around the boma, the young women produced necklaces and bracelets. We bought a large one of intrigued beadwork, for about 20.-
The rest of the day we drove around Lake Manyara National Park and spotted our first wildebeest! We also saw lots of baboons, giraffes, elephants and other animals in this beautiful lush green park where steep slopes of the escarpment meets the flat surface of the lake bed.
That night, just before sunset, the Maasai came to dance for us. Tall skinny men and a bunch of young girls, all wearing brightly colored shukas (blankets) and the girls with their round beaded necklaces. The dances consisted mostly of high jumps by the men, and the girls deciding who was the best jumper. There was much chanting and laughing and the colors, in the setting sun, were breathtaking..
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