Our second day of the Tanzania and Kenya safari started with a drive through Arusha where they have been holding the tribunals for the Rwanda genocide that happened back in 1994. There were a lot of interesting scenes through the town and dad and I had to look at a map after being told as we were going around a round-a-bout, that we were now at the halfway point between Cairo, Egypt and Cape Town, South Africa. It was a constant astonishment to us how large Africa is. I’m still not convinced that the continental U.S. can fit into Africa four times. The maps are skewed for sure.

Well, I mentioned the “road” to Lake Manyara in my last post so I’ll start this post with our arrival in the Lake Manyara area which was pretty much due west of Arusha and not very far in miles but high on the sore bottom scale. Again—working the “core” was very healthy on this trip (holding on to the sides of the jeep to steady yourself).

Before we got to the park we drove through a very interesting town. The town was created by the first President of Tanzania as a unification project. The Tanzania population is made up of 120 different tribes. The President wanted to bring the tribes together so he pulled in representatives from all 120 tribes to live in the town of Mto Wa Mbu. Had he a better PR team, they would have picked a better name to bring in the tourists. Mto Wa Mbu translates into Mosquito River. (Hey, I want to go there!) But I will say their bananas tasted pretty good and  they do have a web site! Eric, our tour director gave us a special sweet, orange looking banana that was quite good. Okay, so on to the National Park and our first game drive.

As the jeep trekked slowly through the forest-lined dusty road, we kept our eyes peeled on the trees. A very unique tree grows only this area, called the Baobab, which to me looked like the tree of life in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was cool looking. They also had a cool looking “sausage” tree. Aptly named and you can see why in the photo below.

Anywho, the tops of the jeep were off so we could stand up and look out over the roof for a great 360 degree view. Monkeys were the first on the list to be spotted. A few Blue monkeys swinging in the tree led to a spotting of a troop of baboons hanging out on a creek bed. They seemed a little shy and ambled away slowly. We later saw a couple more of the Blue monkeys running across the plain (I’m chuckling at the memory of the bouncing little guy).

Other sightings included some kind of cool stork (I failed to write down the name at the time) and her young one sitting atop a tree, some more monkeys and then a large field filled with baboons—big and tiny—eating, grooming, and playing. They sit on their behinds and pick out seeds (or something yummy) from the grassy areas and leaves on small bushes. The little babies were hanging on to their mamas either by sitting on their backs as the mom’s walked on all fours or by clinging to their bellies underneath. Some of the little ones were only about a month old. The teenagers were swinging and laughing in the clump of trees before a bunch of them decided they didn’t want to be entertainment for us anymore and moseyed on across the road and off to another hangout. That was a fun highlight of the animal viewing during this drive. Seriously, how can you not have fun watching baboons and monkeys running around?

We continued on to the hippo pool and I saw my first hippopotamus. Lots of them actually—baking in the hot sun on the banks near a pool of water. Usually they are in the water but were taking a sun break. They have very sensitive skin and it will dry up if they cook too long. More on them later—they became a fun show to watch and I felt a kindred spirit to these animals who love to just float in the water all day long.

So, as we moved around the park we had wonderful views of the Great Rift Valley escarpment. The Great Rift Valley stretches for long miles along Africa’s east coast. Its undulating hills and well, valley, were caused by the tectonic plates crashing against each other. Many, many thousands of years later its home to lots of wildlife including the awesome Zebras and Giraffe we spotted a little ways from the hippos. More on them later as well. Our first day of game driving was exciting but we were going to see lots more than that and much closer as well.

On up the mountain we ate a lovely lunch and made our way up through the Ngorongoro Conservation Park. Halfway to our hotel I was startled when all of the sudden a very large Cape Breton buffalo appeared just a foot from my window. One shriek later and he and his buddies fled into the tropical forest that surrounded the road.

Our hotel sat on the rim of the crater overlooking the plains at a very high elevation—it was actually chilly there—and had magnificent views. The animals roamed around the hotel and a few calls in the night served as a reminder that the animals are very active at night. Upon our arrival at the hotel we were greeted by some Masai warriors and women who sang and danced for us. I’ll talk more about the Masai later, but suffice it to say the bar had been raised again for sure.

Stay tuned for a trip around a very cool crater filled with cool animals, birds, flowers , and trees.

P.S. The headline of this post was inspired by our tour director, Eric, who started off each day of our group meetings/outings with a quote or story related to Africa. My favorite was the children’s book, Giraffe’s Can’t Dance, which I brought home for my favorite 4-year old neighbor!

The Great Rift Valley escarpment.

The Great Rift Valley escarpment. Beautiful scenery, endless sky.

baby baboon and mama

Baby baboon catching a ride on mama’s back.

baboon in tree

The teenagers of the baboon troop were swinging in the trees and having a great time.

baboon hanging out

Yo, I pledge allegience to the troop. And I’ll pick some nuts in a minute.

stork in lake manyara park

A stork by any name that I can’t remember sits atop a tree in Lake Manyara Park in Tanzania

sausage tree

A sausage tree. What else would you call something with branches hanging like this?

Baobab tree in Lake Manyara Park, Tanzania

Baobab tree in Lake Manyara Park, Tanzania

zebra rolling in dirt

Zebra looks like he’s playing but he’s really trying to kill the bugs that are biting him.

blue monkey at lake manyara

Run Blue Monkey, run!

Where to start? People are asking me what the top highlight of my African adventure was and I’m wimping out on the answer because it’s impossible to pinpoint one thing. A safari is a journey after all, and as our tour director said throughout the trip, “It’s time to raise the bar!” And the bar was raised from one spot to another. It’s hard to describe in words or photos the essence of Africa, the feeling you have as you are in the midst of the massive vast wilderness. Looking out over the horizon of the Serengeti plains or the Masai Mara filled me with awe—and the only thing I could do was to take a deep breath and say, “Thank you God.”

There were several times on the trip when I just broke down and cried. Some moments were in remembrance of my brother who passed away last year. My parents and I were celebrating “life” along with their 50th anniversary on this trip, so Greg and his children came to our thoughts often. Other moments were from sheer bliss at God’s creation—the beauty of this world. And some others were for the people there—many living in poverty and yet still smiling and enjoying pleasures we take for granted.

So, the journey begins here in this first post. I won’t tell you about the long trek getting there and back because I would encourage everyone to save up and take this adventure. Ours began in Arusha, Tanzania where our first lesson in “African time” began at immigration. I was familiar with the concept of this via missionary friends who have told me how things go much slower and are often inconsistent in the African cultures. But, no worries, we made it and slept peacefully before getting up in the morning to explore the local market in the nearby town.

The Market

We walked as a group with our hotel guides, Lucas and Lucas, down a very bumpy rode and were told not to photograph people without their permission (it’s the law in Tanzania). If you put your camera up to someone, you’ve begun a transaction. So I snuck some shots of people in the distance riding a taxi (a.k.a., the back of a motorbike) or carrying loads to market. Everyone in Africa pretty much walks or catches rides in over-packed vans or on bikes.

The market was packed with people selling vegetables, beans, bananas, etc. We didn’t see too many buyers though. We heard lots of calls from vendors, “Karibou, take my picture, Jambo” meaning, welcome, give me money, and hello. In other parts of town we saw displays of old shoes, american type t-shirts, the material women use to put around their waists or heads (we bought one and will be using it for a table cloth—go figure), lots of people in line for cell phones, and an assortment of other random items.  Shopping done, we walked on home to the Mountain Village Serena Hotel where mom and I had a date with a local doctor.

The Doctor Visit

I’m guessing you are thinking what I was thinking at first, but let’s not go there. The doctor that came to the hotel was very experienced and highly qualified. We discussed his background at length and heard interesting stories of the type of work he was doing in Tanzania including AIDS prevention and treatment, and work with radiation patients (due to the new nuclear energy projects). So mom was getting treated for a huge cut on her leg and the root canal I had the day before I left was killing me. Unfortunately there wasn’t a good translation for Vicodin and the pain meds he gave me were useless, but he did help my mom with her leg and we experienced what a doctor’s visit is like for tourists staying in Tanzania. Not at all like the impersonal machine-driven appointments we have at home. No, this was a social visit. Lots of talking and sitting and chatting. Just no Vicodin. Dang. But my co-travelers had lots of Advil they shared so I was able to get through the week until the pain faded.

Off We Go

The next day we headed out on the worst road I’ve ever experienced in my life. Three hours of bumpity bumpity in dust had me wondering if my kidneys had relocated to where my knees used to be. The funny thing was, and I’ve never gotten an answer on this, they actually had man-made speed bumps put in place all over this road. The ENTIRE ROAD was a speed bump! I ended up losing weight on this trip and I know it was because I was working my core relentlessly. The driver guides were impressive and our first guide who was not aptly named, Comfort, got us safely to Lake Manyara where our next post begins…

Tips and FAQs for Tauck and other Travelers

I’m going to be listing some tips and ideas for those of you who are about to take this adventure. Stay tuned and I’ll post the lists on this blog (such as what to take and wear, the weather, etc.). One thing I can tell you for sure is to book your trip through Tauck Tours. It may be a bit on the pricey side but believe me you’ll be so happy you did it. Nothing beats the service, the unique experiences, and the fun of being part of the Tauck family on their safaris! (And no, I’m not getting paid to say that.) Oh, and make sure you book your trip with Eric Croft—the best tour director we’ve ever had!

Fuel for the fire gets carried on bikes. Just like everything else.

Fuel for the fire gets carried on bikes. Just like everything else.

Tanzania road full of bumps

The, ahem, road from Arusha to Lake Manyara. Speed bumps dotted the natural bumpy and dusty road.

Tanzania road sign

The road signs in Tanzania were very sophisticated…stick, rocks, and pen. A diversion meant go around the crappy road onto a crappier side road.

A commuter bus.

The fun bus. Locals take the vans, trucks, bikes, etc. Too poor for personal vehicles.

Tanzania market place

The men haul the big goods and the woman sell them in the stalls.

Tanzania road side walkers

Almost everyone walks, even with big bundles. Lots of people up and down the sides of the roads.

Salon in Tanzania

A salon–one of many. Lots of entrepreneurs because unemployment is rampant.

Market stall in Tanzania

I paid $1.25 to take this photo of a woman selling veggies at the local market. The market is open every day. No fridge to store stuff.

Mountain Village Lodge, Arusha

Our room at the Serena Mountain Village Lodge near Arusha. Lovely gardens surrounded the rooms and walkways.