Monday, October 06, 2008
My Safari Adventure
My safari adventure began when I met the other twelve travelers and four African staff at a Nairobi hotel, Friday, September 26 and we set off in our specially equipped rig for a week of visiting world-famous parks in Tanzania to see spectacular wild animals and landscape. Some of the group had already been traveling for a week on the same truck, visiting parks in Kenya. Here is a brief description of the week of events:
Day 1: We leave Nairobi around 2 PM and arrive in Arusha, Tanzania about 9. It is a difficult drive because of poor roads, but especially for the original travelers who had already been driving six hours before arriving in Nairobi. Along the way, next to the road, I saw thousands of workers digging by hand a cable trench that stretched for a great distance. I commented that machinery could do the job much quicker, but heard that the object was to give many people a job.
Along the way we make several stops, and at one, I am swarmed by Masai women in colorful flowing robes and bedecked with beaded jewelry. They push forward with their jewelry and crafts, clamoring and seeking my attention all at once. I am overwhelmed and guess this is what it is like to be a movie star. We stay in a hotel for the evening—our only night that we will not be camping in tents. (We use large dome tents and sleep on camp beds with mattresses while camping on this tour. The staff erects and takes down the tents and travelers are not required to help out in food preparation.)
Day 2: We drive to Lake Manyara and set up at a campsite. Mid-afternoon we drive into the reserve and see baboons and gazelle along the way. When I see elephants for the first time I feel elated. The same when we spot hippopotamus at a water hole. It is a first taste of the true safari experience. Most of the group have brought along cameras with long zoom lenses up to 400 mm. Safari was an afterthought for me and my lens can only go to 70 mm, enough to get closer, but often not close enough. It is strictly forbidden to leave designated trails or get out of vehicles. So I am not getting close up shots like some of the other travelers.
Day 3: Our typical wake-up call is 5 – 6 AM because of the long distances we must cover going from park to park. Today we pass through traditional Masai homelands on our way to Serengeti. At the rim of Ngorongoro crater we stop just as a group of Masai boys are passing with their cattle. I approach them to take pictures and they welcome me—for money. I agree to pay them a few dollars and they pose, relaxed and jovial. This is what I love—being close to foreign culture and exchanging smiles and handshakes. I like fooling around with people too, so with a smile, spontaneously poked my finger in the big looping earring hole of young man. Masai are some of the most relaxed people on the earth, so he took it in stride without surprise. Unbelievably, the rest of the group stood by and did not take a single picture. Throughout the safari, I was the only one to take pictures of African people.
Further on, we see giraffe and zebra, and stop at Olduvai Gorge for lunch. It is where during the 1950’s, the husband and wife archeologist team of Louis and Martha Leakey found remains of the oldest human from almost 2 million years ago. We visit a museum and hear a lecture.
At the entrance to Serengeti Park a group of Masai women are available for pictures. Nothing can be seen for miles, and yet, here they are, some with babies strapped to their backs. I am attracted like a bee to flowers and take pictures. That afternoon, after setting up camp we take a drive and I am stunned at the variety and scope of animal life all sharing the space: lions, elephant, zebra, hyena, jackal, hippo, wildebeest, gazelle, impala, urdu, ducks, baboon, and many more. I notice that all the animals are supremely aware of each other and their positions. The predators depend on their prey, and the others depend on the predators to keep the populations under control.
At the end, I feel as though three days have been compressed into this one-day.
Day 4: During the night, I am wakened by very heavy breathing outside my tent. The grass is being pulled up in bunches, and I hear slow movement as well. Something very big is only feet away. A water buffalo has come. We get up before 6 AM for Serengeti sightseeing because much of the main activity of animals occurs at night, and then they rest during the day. The highlight is watching a cheetah stalk a herd of impala, and then make a kill.
Day 5: We leave Serengeti on a long drive to our next camping destination—the rim of Ngorongoro crater, a huge, perfectly intact volcanic caldera that is home to some 30,000 animals. The night is spent at a campsite on the rim of the crater, where spectacular views of the surrounding region can be had. The day is marked by extremely rough roads and constant jostling and banging in the truck. It actually breaks down several times. Fortunately, the driver is also a mechanic and manages to get the vehicle back up and running each time. At the end of safari, I think I will have breathed as much dust as a crew of coal miners. It is too hot to keep the windows up.
Day 6: It is surprising how cold and breezy the campsite is. This day, we break into groups of four and drive through dense fog to the crater in hired landrovers. It is good to get out of the big truck into more dexterous vehicles. The scenery is spectacular, as is the changing weather. On the surface of the crater, the low-lying clouds lift and the sun comes out. We see a vast single-file parade of wildebeest, marching to the edge of a lake where flamingos are congregated.
Day 7: We descend once more into the Great Rift Valley and enter the Tarangire National Park. The Tarangire's open savannah and unique baobab trees provide a mixed habitat for a wide variety of bird and animal life, including elephants, oryx, kudu, gazelles and eland. To me, seeing the baobab trees are as wonderful as the animals. They have massive, stubby trunks and then spread branches into the air in a great fan shape. To be near them is almost a mystical experience.
Day 8: We drive back to Nairobi and exchange goodbyes. The crew has been diligent, knowledgeable and courteous. The entire group has bonded during the trip, sharing marvelous experiences, some hardships, and insights along the way.
Click here to see more safari pictures
Saturday night I went with a few African friends to a juke-joint where a live band played and locals relaxed and danced. I was the only white person in the big crowd and enjoyed experiencing this curiosity. In the United States, I often wondered what it was like for blacks being a minority in such situations. Really, I was not very self-conscious, but rather, joined the crowd, pressing flesh, saying hello, and loving the moments.
I am going to India next. This Friday, October 10th, I fly to New Delhi.