What an amazing, exciting, educational trip. We left on 1/31 for the 30 hour trip via Atlanta and Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro Airport near Arusha, Tanzania. In Swahili, safari means journey—to leave the comfort and safety of the known to venture into the wilderness. And so our adventures began!
On the first day, our group met up with our guide, Lucas, and arrived at the Arumeru River Lodge about 11 PM, only to find no water or electricity. When power and water were finally restored, we realized just how precious these two commodities are. Electricity and warm water were on for only certain hours each day – we will never take them for granted again!
On day two, we visited the Arusha National Park for an overview of the many animals and birds we would be seeing over the rest of the trip. We also learned about some of the lingo, history, and culture of Tanzania. Lucas told us that they call speed bumps in the road “sleeping police”. We had a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which the locals call the “shy mountain” (as it is often obscured by clouds). There are 128 tribes in Tanzania but they work in harmony as the first President in the early 1960’s insisted that the government and army be composed of representatives from each tribe working together; Lucas said we have 3 tribes of our own here in the U.S.—Democrat, Republican and Independent. The Bantu tribe is the largest in Tanzania and the Maasai the most well-known. Tanzania is about 40% Christian and 40% Muslim. All religions are accepted. The main languages are Swahili and English.
We visited the colorful market in Arusha to start our third day, and had lunch at the Cultural Heritage Center. In the afternoon, we took small prop planes to the central Serengeti (about a 45 minute flight). We were met by our drivers: Eddie, Abdul and Severin. They and our guide, Lucas, were a great team and made the whole trip educational and fun. We had 16 people in our group, so we split up and hopped into one of three open-top jeeps. The first thing we saw was a big giraffe, followed by a herd of Cape buffalo. Our first mobile tent camp was near a tsetse fly area—very annoying, but at least these pests are no longer a cause of sleeping sickness. The tents looked like an Army bivouac area with attached bucket showers. When the men filled the buckets with boiled water once every afternoon, you had to take your shower right away, or you’d end up with cold water – or no shower at all!
On our fourth day we went on two game drives on the central Serengeti. In the morning we saw many hyenas, giraffes, an elephant herd, wildebeest and zebras. We were surprised that the zebras and wildebeest (and small Thompson’s gazelles) travel the migration together. The wildebeest has excellent sense of smell (for water) and the zebras have excellent eyesight (for predators). Seeing this part of the Great Wildebeest migration was a highlight of our trip! In the afternoon game drive we saw ostrich, a leopard in a tree, lions and jackals. It is summer in Tanzania and the dry season, so every day was very hot, dry, windy and dusty. The roads/trails are not paved and are rocky. We never saw a road sign, just trails across the endless plains. Lucas said they call driving on them an “African massage.”
On 2/5 during the morning game drive we observed many cheetahs in groups of two or three—and very near our jeeps. They were regal to watch. We also saw the “Hippo Pool”—a small lake full of hippos and crocs. We then heard an interesting lecture about the Serengeti at the Park Headquarters. The Maasai named the Serengeti “wide endless plain” – how true! It is now a world heritage site. There are 28 species of hooved animals. The migrating animals are the wildebeest, zebras and Thompson gazelles (“Tommies”). The wildebeest and zebras are now in the central and south Serengeti for calving season.
We continued our game drive to our second mobile tent camp which was a bit more rustic. We were clearly warned: “Beware of lions after dark!” After dinner, we enjoyed a bonfire and watching a full moon over the endless Serengeti Plain. But sure enough, we awoke the next morning to the roars of lions!
On 2/6, being wakened by the lions, we left at 6 AM for our first game drive of the day. It was “cheetah day”. We were mesmerized watching half a dozen in the morning at various locations and even more during our afternoon game drive. During our siesta time at camp, we watched three giraffes amble and eat their way past our tents. We learned that the giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania.
We picked up some of the lingo as well. Swahili words we now frequently use are jambo(hello), sawa sawa (OK, ready, go) and hakuna matata (no problem).
On 2/7 we drove past the large pride of lions we’d heard the other night and continued on to a large lake bed full of all kinds of activity—flamingos, many lions (including a mating pair), many more zebras and wildebeest (including a partial birth). After box lunches, we continued on to the Oldupai Gorge, the Cradle of Mankind, where Louis and Mary Leakey found skulls of ancient humans. We ended the day at the Ngorongoro Lodge—with showers! (We were told the water would be warm from 5 PM to midnight and that the electricity would be off from midnight to 5 AM and from 3 PM to 5 PM—making charging batteries a challenge.) A warm shower was a luxury!
On 2/8 we left at 6 AM to go down into the Ngorongoro Crater (actually a caldera). Again, we saw many lions—some coming right up to the shade of the jeeps. We also saw a half dozen pregnant wildebeest in a group giving birth. It was the wildebeest calving season. Everywhere, every day we also saw many hyenas, elephants, gazelles, warthogs, baboons, zebras, etc. After lunch at the Lodge, we continued on to the Rift Valley, where we stayed our last three nights at the Rift Valley Photographic Lodge, a place modeled after a Maasai Village. We each had our own “hut”. The assistant manager, Yamati, was Maasai and happy to tell us about Maasai customs. The men have large holes in their ear lobes. Yamati said when the boys are about 8, the holes are cut in their ear lobes and stretched with sticks. They live a less nomadic life now with their cows and goats. (Lucas said Tanzanians call the Maasai donkeys “Maasai 4 by 4’s”.) We noticed circle “brands” on the faces of many Maasai adults. Yamati said the children are “branded” so that if they get lost on the plains, you know to which family they belong. The government is trying to stop this tradition.
This is the first entry in a two-part series. Part two will be published next week. Come back then for more amazing stories and photos!
Chuck and Priscilla Sawicki traveled to Tanzania through the Road Scholar program, a not-for-profit travel organization that promotes lifelong learning. To learn more, visit http://www.roadscholar.org/about/what_program.asp.