Archive for November, 2007

November 10th 2007
Kendwa by Daladala

Posted under Africa & Tanzania

After three incredible nights in Paje, we decided to move to Kendwa Beach on the northern tip of Zanzibar. There are essentially three modes of transportation available for getting around on Zanzibar: private taxi (most expensive), private minibus, and daladala (dirt cheap). We had taken a taxi from Stone Town to Paje but, in the interest of curbing transportation costs and for the sheer adventure of it, we wanted to take the daladala from Paje to Kendwa, passing through Stone Town. As fate would have it, a private minibus driver at Cristal made us an offer we couldn’t refuse on a ride to Stone Town and dropped us off at the local spice market from which the daladalas departed. We paid the mzungu price of two thousand Tanzanian shillings each (still dirt cheap) for an hour long ride from Stone Town to Kendwa. We hoisted our packs onto the roof of the open-air truck bed where they were piled on top of sacks of food and construction supplies. We then climbed into the back with about fifteen locals sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the bench seats. When the daladala was satisfactorily stuffed with patrons, a barefoot conductor hopped onto the back and signaled the driver to pull away by clanking on the metal frame of the roof structure with a stack of coins.

Despite Aaron’s suggestion otherwise, I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt – I was going from one beach resort to another for goodness sake! – which drew the usual stares from the Muslim locals, though the offenders at least tried to be discreet. It is interesting how you can always feel a stare upon you, especially the penetrating eyes of disapproval or contempt, even when you purposely avoid making eye contact. I notice it to a greater degree as a minority in race and religion and as a foreigner in this conservative, tribal culture. In my opinion, we would have exacted the same stares if I’d worn a berka, just for being mzungus. In fact, we stopped briefly near a group of schoolgirls and one of them shouted, “Ay, Mzungus!”, and pointed at us as if we were monkeys in the zoo. We smiled and waved, laughing at the spectacle of giggling schoolgirls as the daladala drove away.

I had made a conscious choice of attire that morning, knowing full well that we planned to ride the daladala with the locals. There were a number of reasons for my choice. First, the Tanzanians, particularly the Zanzibaris, are nothing like the Egyptians – my fleshy exhibition was not going to put us in danger of being drawn into a street brawl. Second, though I have grown increasingly more traditional in my thirties about the domestic role that I want to play in my family dynamic, I am a bull-headed, outspoken, unapologetic American feminist on the subject of women’s rights and equality. I don’t like to be told what to wear. Aaron suggested that I was being culturally insensitive and he was probably right on many levels. While I admit that it tickles my personal fancy to stir the proverbial pot, my motivation in this scenario lay in setting a flesh and blood example of a liberated woman who can stand proudly on her own or by her loving husband’s side, wearing whatever she wants (and nothing she doesn’t), with the poise, confidence and dignity of a queen. I am not so naïve, however, as to presume that this is always how I am perceived. A woman sitting across from me on the daladala had a ten minute conversation with the young man next to her while repeatedly gesturing toward my bare legs. She spoke Kiswahili so we’ll never know what she said but her expression suggested disapproval. This sort of thing never bothers me and I responded with friendly smiles.

Between Stone Town and Kendwa, the daladala stopped periodically, letting passengers off and taking on others; all of these exchanges were orchestrated by the barefoot conductor with his clanking coins, who stood on the bumper for most of the ride because the vehicle was consistently filled beyond capacity. Aaron captured the daladala experience most accurately when he said that if the vehicle, comfortably but snugly, fits fifteen, they’ll pack in twenty and, if there are five more people along the way, they’ll squeeze them in too. It doesn’t seem to be as much about maximizing profits, however, as simply giving a ride to someone in need of one. They won’t leave a man behind in the interest of personal space for the existing passengers. There is no concept of personal space in Africa. There is always room for one more.

We stopped once for a young mother and baby alongside the road. The truck was already packed so tightly that my hips were beginning to go numb from being squeezed from both sides but the barefoot conductor nonetheless grabbed hold of the baby while the mother climbed over about twenty pairs of tangled legs to a narrow corner in the back. The big-eyed baby girl was then passed, without the slightest whine of protest, through an assembly line of arms until she landed safely on her mother’s lap. It was at once strange and beautiful.

The daladala dropped us off at a roundabout two kilometers from Kendwa. With two sets of bruised (from the hard, wooden plank seats) suburban buns, we were happy to hump the final distance down the dirt road.

We are constantly fascinated by our experiences on African public transportation.
It would be wishful thinking to suggest that we commune with the locals when we ride their uncomfortable, sweaty buses rather than travel by plane like the majority of the mzungus. The race disparity is much more pronounced here than it is in the States. In my observation, almost without exception in both Kenya and Tanzania, the white people are here either as tourists or in a business or philanthropic capacity. The locals are black tribal peoples who didn’t grow up with white people living down the street or going to the same schools. We are foreign to each other though we can speak the same language. I recently read The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, about a tyrannical Southern Baptist minister who drags his American wife and four young daughters to the Congo to impose his religious beliefs on the local tribal villagers. I see many similarities between the cultural barriers that we have experienced and those described by the wife and daughters in the book. We can sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals on their daladalas, shop in their markets, solicit their businesses, exchange smiles and pleasantries, but we cannot begin to penetrate the tribal barriers which have been solidified over generations. Certainly not in the two to four weeks that we have allocated to each African country on our itinerary and, in reality, probably not in a lifetime.

On countless occasions, we have driven through rural villages where the villagers chase after the bus, feverishly shoving fresh vegetables or some other local product up to the windows. On those same streets, I always see women of about my age sitting idly on the ground, leaning against a storefront or house. They all seem to have the same distant look on their faces. I search my own catalog of womanly emotions and experiences for some semblance of insight into the thoughts behind those vacant expressions and, invariably, I come up empty. These women have lived lives in a world that I cannot begin to understand from my passing bus window. I want to reach inside their souls and look at the colors, to study their faces and hear their stories, but for selfish reasons, for my own collection box of memories. This desire does not seem to be reciprocated by the people here, least of all by the women who seem to want the least to do with us. Perhaps it is a trivial and indulgent desire, afforded to a silly American woman who has never known hunger, struggle or pain in comparison. I am from a world that is unfathomable to these women, a world of luxuries and excesses that seem so vain from this dirt road in the middle of rural Tanzania.

Speaking of vain luxuries, Amaan Beach Resort in Kendwa has not disappointed! The beach is every bit as beautiful as Paje. The sand is peppered with seashells but the tide is higher so we can swim at all hours of the day. The resort atmosphere is livelier than the sleepy bungalow setting that we enjoyed in Paje but there are also more services. Our garden view room is perfect and we have reached the point of true relaxation. The grounds, particularly the lush, manicured garden courtyard, are nothing short of a spectacular botanical paradise. Because Kendwa is on the western side of the northern tip of the island, we also get brilliant sunsets over the water.

We are staying three nights here and there are no excursions tempting enough to lure us out of our zone of relaxation. Truth be told, we know that nothing can top the dolphins and we are still glowing in the aftermath. After two incredible nights, we still haven’t ventured out of the resort with the exception of a morning walk along the beach. We swim with our scuba masks during the day and have seen starfish, sea urchins, several varieties of crabs and two kinds of jellyfish, which have been kind enough not to sting us yet.

On one of our walks, we found a starfish that had washed up onto the shore but was still weakly hanging onto life. Aaron picked it up with his flip flop and gently flung it into the water. At first, it just lay on the ocean floor, upside down, too weak to turn itself over. Then, by a stroke of luck, a gentle current swept through the water, turning the starfish halfway over; slowly but surely, as we cheered from the sidelines, it began to right itself, one long leg at a time. It was our good deed for the day and we celebrated by lounging like beached whales for the next eight hours.

At sunset, the water is almost dead calm, rippling just enough to glisten in the waning sunlight. Last night, we were sitting at a table on the beach listening contentedly to the Eagles, as the big orange ball sank slowly toward the horizon. The water looked irresistibly calm and inviting so we peeled off our clothes and swam furiously toward the sun. When we reached a good distance from shore, we lay on our backs, splashing, giggling and working to stay afloat. I would have believed that time stopped for those precious few moments were it not for the natural clock on the horizon. When the sun had just sunken low enough that the sky was illuminated by a dull iridescent glow, we began swimming toward the shore in a slow elementary backstroke, which naturally evolved into a furiously competitive backstroke race to the shore.

While we could easily conceive of staying longer on Zanzibar, we both feel so completely rejuvenated that the excitement of our upcoming African destinations is beginning to pull at us with a magnetic force. Concluding a tropical beach vacation is so much more satisfying when you don’t have to return to a hundred emails and a stack of files at work. So tomorrow we’re off on the fast ferry back to Dar and, if the stars are in alignment, Zambia here we come!


November 7th 2007
Paradise Found

Posted under Africa & Tanzania

After two nights spent wandering around Stone Town, we headed for the beach. Stone Town encompasses the west side of the island while the many white sand beaches, peppered with resorts and bungalows, lie along the north and east sides. We chose to start at Paje, on the eastern shore, because of its reputation for beautiful beaches, turquoise water, and sleepy bungalow atmosphere. It is everything we dreamed and more!

The fine, white sand is so soft that you feel like you’re walking in baby powder. The water is a glistening turquoise for almost as far as the eye can see and then gives way to a deeper shade of blue. The resorts are small and personal with thatch-roofed bungalows, hammocks swaying between palm trees, beachside cabanas, and cozy outdoor lounges with lots of cushioned seating and mellow tunes playing softly day and night. A gentle breeze from the east blows constantly over the beach, making even the hottest afternoon hours pleasant and the evenings comfortably cool. The beaches and resorts are only sparsely populated at this time of year so we have the place almost entirely to ourselves. Swahili women, draped in colorful island fabrics, walk along the beach in the mornings, at low tide, collecting seaweed in hand-woven baskets. The tide is so low that they can walk a half mile out and, from the shore, they appear to be walking on water.

We spent our first night at a quiet resort on the south end of Paje. The room was adorned with African lamps and tribal accents surrounding a rustic king-size bed. The beach there had more dense concentrations of seaweed, making it less desirable for swimming, but the indoor lounge featured cozy nooks and conversation areas, a pool table, and a great selection of board games. After placing our dinner order, we engaged in fiercely competitive games of pool, chess and Rummikub while our hosts busied themselves preparing the meal for us, as well as the other six guests of the evening. We all sat down together at beachside tables and feasted on fresh seafood prepared with local spices. Aaron’s crab pasta in cream sauce and my prawns in rich coconut sauce over spiced rice were both superb. It was a quiet, relaxing meal and a perfect start to the perfect beach vacation. In Zanzibar, you exhale every worry, every tension and twinge of anxiety while inhaling the peaceful, happy island breeze. Hakuna Matata.

After breakfast and a game of chess the next morning, we moved up the beach to our newly beloved Cristal Resort. The beach is pristine – the swimming is heavenly – and the outdoor lounge is a self-contained oasis of relaxation. The thatch-roofed bungalow has an “island minimalist” theme with open spaces, clean lines and wood trim. I could stay here for a month without batting an eye but my darling husband, with his undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, could never endure it. He’d have to start a business or something to keep himself stimulated. Aaron and I are polar opposites in this regard. Give me a stack of books, a pen and a journal, and I can spend endless hours of uninterrupted bliss on a picture-perfect beach. For Aaron, what constitutes paradise for five days could quickly become excruciating without enough activities to hold his attention. On this trip, we strive to maintain a healthy balance between his desire to sail on and my need to drop anchor every now and then. Zanzibar is my island paradise. I smile as I watch Aaron lying across from me on a plush outdoor sofa with book in hand and wonder how long he can last.

Our daily activities consist of eating, reading, swimming, sunning, walking, and just hanging out in the lounge at Cristal. There are a handful of potential excursions such as snorkeling, scuba diving, boat trips called Blue Safaris, and SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS! OK, we agreed to be anti-excursion this week – to spend an entire week just relaxing – but who could resist the opportunity to swim with dolphins? Not us!

The driver picked us up this morning at 6:00 sharp, along with seven other guests, and drove about twenty minutes to the south coast of Zanzibar, a village called Kizimkazi. After selecting a mask, snorkel and fins, we waded about fifty yards through shallow water to our vessel, the Jumbo, a long wooden boat like a dhow but with motor instead of sail. We quickly set out on the gentle morning waves and, almost immediately, saw dolphins surfacing in the distance!

We cruised a bit further from the shore until we could see several groups of them around our boat. We excitedly pulled on our snorkel gear and rolled off the sides of the boat. Almost as soon as I put my mask into the water, I saw them – sleek gray dolphins gliding through the water below us and on all sides. They were beautiful and they were everywhere! On several occasions, we would see nine or ten of them swimming about twenty feet below us while we floated above with our masks in the water. Then the dolphins would start rising toward the surface, gliding slowly and sometimes only an arms length away! They would stay with us for five to ten minutes at a time and, when the dolphins would swim away, we’d patiently wait for them to resurface, then frantically swim to catch up to them. When they were too far away, we would swim back to the boat and go looking for more. There were so many dolphins around us that we were hardly in the boat at all! No sooner would we all climb back into the boat than a new group of them would surface just a short distance away and we’d flop back into the water and kick furiously after them.

When we finally headed for shore, we were all fatigued from an hour long rush of adrenaline-fueled dolphin pursuits. We were overwhelmed by the intensity of the most amazing aquatic experience of our lives. We had envisioned seeing a few pairs of dolphins that would swim away from us as quickly as we hit the water but the dolphins delivered and delivered big! We estimate that we saw about thirty of them in all and they lingered and played around us as if we were dolphins too. The sensation of floating effortlessly along the surface of the warm ocean water, staring in amazement and awe at those marvelous creatures, was pure magic! Though not even a full day has passed since our incredible swim, it already feels like it was a dream…but it wasn’t! Today we swam with dolphins!


November 6th 2007
Zanzibar: Busted by Immigration & Paying the Mzungu Price

Posted under Africa & Tanzania

At the ferry dock in Dar es Salaam, there are several classes of ferry tickets listed on the board but foreigners may only purchase the most expensive VIP tickets at $20 each…and that’s for the slow ferry. Additionally, the Tanzanians have a currency scam going on from Arusha to Zanzibar. They quote all prices in U.S. dollars but when you actually pay in their local currency (the Tanzanian shilling), they use an outrageous conversion rate, which inevitably adds a couple of dollars to the original price. It is so infuriating, especially when they do it with a smug grin that says “yes, I know I’m screwing you but there’s nothing you can do about it”, but we’re dealing with it begrudgingly…for now anyway.

We departed Dar es Salaam for Zanzibar in the relatively plush VIP section of the most wobbly ferry vessel that I’ve ever experienced. If not for the powers of meditation, I might well have lost my breakfast in the middle of the cabin. After three and a half long hours, we arrived at the port in Zanzibar Town, the main commercial hub on the west side of the island.

Because Zanzibar is an independent city-state, joined to Tanzania by a declaration of unity, we had to clear immigration. As we had feared, our transit visas came into question and we were shown to a separate immigration office where an agent lectured Aaron on the meaning and limitations of the transit visa. The sole purpose of your visit must actually be transit (i.e. passing through Tanzania directly from one country to another within fourteen days), which apparently doesn’t make allowances for a five-day pass through the island paradise of Zanzibar. The agent informed us that we would have to pay the full price of $100 each for new visas. However, after twenty minutes of savvy negotiation by Aaron, we paid only $70 each – the difference between the full visa price and the price of the transit visa that we already had. We cursed the additional $140 but we couldn’t be too upset; we’d tried to beat the system and gotten busted with no real harm done. Anyway, now that we have the regular visas, we are in no rush to leave Zanzibar, which is picturesque perfection!

We spent two nights in old Stone Town, getting lost in the narrow, zigzagging streets, perusing the island shops and local spice markets, and admiring the historic town known for its slave trade history, Swahili Muslim culture, and old stone buildings with exquisitely carved wooden doors. On our first evening, we watched a gorgeous sunset from the terrace bar of the posh Afrika House while sipping deliciously overpriced cocktails. With mild island intoxication, we wandered through the darkening streets to a late-night outdoor market along the shore, where Masai tribesmen sold their colorful, beaded wares and street vendors served up fresh grilled seafood skewers, fruit and Zanzibar pizzas, all by lantern light.

We ordered two pizzas from the vendor who seemed to be getting all of the local business and watched curiously as he generously layered ground beef, diced tomatoes, a mix of chopped onions, peppers and spices, one raw egg, a dab of mayonnaise and a dab of soft, white cheese in the center of a round flat disk of dough; he then mixed it all together, turned the corners up, and tossed it onto a makeshift skillet. After browning both sides, he served it sliced with salad, ketchup, and chili sauce on top. We noticed that the local patrons were paying 1000 shillings for each pizza so, when ours came up, we tossed 2000 shillings into the money bowl. “One more thousand,” said the vendor. Oh yes, the mzungu price! We endure this sort of discrimination a lot in Africa, for transportation, food and lodging: one price for locals and one price for the mzungus, or white people. Guess which one is higher. While the individual instances of discrimination are certainly more minor than, say, job discrimination for example, they are unapologetically blatant and equally infuriating. In the case of the pizzas, it was about $1.50 versus $1.00 each so we laughed it off and tossed in the extra bill. Anyway, the pizzas were scrumptious and we finished off the meal with a chocolate-banana pizza from another vendor who didn’t charge us the mzungu price. We enjoyed our evening so much that we did exactly the same thing the next night: Afrika House for the sunset and the street market for dinner. The second night, however, we paid the local price for our pizzas from the hospitable vendor but only after stopping by the first discriminating vendor’s stand to tell him that we were taking our business down the way, “where mzungus are treated as equals!”

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November 5th 2007
Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara Safari: Hippos Exposed!

Posted under Africa & Tanzania

Tanzania! We took the express shuttle from Nairobi to Arusha, arriving after dark with no place to sleep. We had searched meticulously online for budget accommodations but our queries were fruitless. The shuttle dropped us off at Hotel Mezza Luna, a mid-range hotel which happily accepted our U.S. dollars while raping us on the exchange rate. We were too tired to protest and the room was comfortable.

We woke early the next morning and had breakfast at the hotel. We were already packed and ready to start the day because we had several items on our agenda: find a cheaper place to stay in Arusha, check out some safari companies, and find an ATM. Just as we were inquiring at the reception desk about a taxi into town, a nicely dressed man from a local safari company walked into the lobby. He had given us his card the night before, as we departed from the shuttle bus. There had been so many taxi drivers and self-proclaimed safari guides bombarding us that we hadn’t given him a second look but here he was with his car, ready to take us into town. How could we refuse? So we hopped in and he drove us around to several ATMs until we found one that was in service and accepted MasterCard. In Africa, and particularly in Tanzania, only about thirty percent of the ATMs actually work. We think the rest are just for decoration, though it hasn’t been proven.

While Aaron dealt with the money, I talked to the agent, Andrew, about what we had in mind for a safari. Since we had so recently done the Kenyan safari and had been moving around quite a bit since then, we wanted a two day/one night safari with budget lodge accommodations. We had received an exorbitant quote the night before for this package from the tour company at the hotel. Andrew’s price was only a fraction lower but his package included a private car – just the guide and us…and we could depart that same afternoon. We hadn’t really considered that possibility but it was quite appealing, especially because of our visa situation. Let me back up a few steps…

We were sitting in the Riverside Shuttle booking office in Nairobi, purchasing our tickets to Arusha, when the agents informed us about a recent change in visa fees for Tanzania. As luck would have it, the Tanzanian visa fee increased in September of this year from $50 to $100…but only for U.S. citizens. Yes, everyone but us still only pays $50. Naturally, we were outraged; first, because that’s one damn expensive visa and, second, because of the principle of the matter. I mean, the dollar isn’t so high and mighty these days, in case anyone’s failed to notice. Why not stick it to the EU countries, or better yet the Brits! The Pound is beating everyone’s currency to a bloody pulp!

As we made obvious our shock and disdain, the three agents in the booking office were quick to unite in the opinion that we Americans deserve to be gouged. They suggested that the recent increase was a retaliatory measure against the cumbersome and expensive process for obtaining a U.S. visa. Well, we couldn’t really argue with that. We’ve heard the same story time and time again from people in Egypt and Jordan.

The next morning, we were on the shuttle bus and, after several hours, we reached the Tanzanian border. When we reached the front of the queue for visa payments, the agent behind the glass took one look at our U.S. passports and, with a grin that said he was relishing the moment, presented us with several pieces of official-looking documentation, which announced the visa price increase. He then produced a board with a list of visa prices and Aaron noticed that there was a transit visa available for only $30. We were told that the transit visa was good for fourteen days (the exact number of days we’d planned to stay in TZ) so we bought two transit visas and crossed into Tanzania, thinking we had beaten the system.

Now, back to Arusha. With our fourteen day window in mind, we booked the safari with Andrew and set out that same day, just after lunch, for Lake Manyara. We stopped briefly at our lodge, just outside the park, and it fell slightly short of our expectations. It was more of a basic guesthouse in the middle of a campsite but the room had a private bath and was fully enclosed with screened windows. I had asked for the cheapest lodge option – one step above the permanent camp – so I couldn’t really complain, though I’d envisioned something wholly different…a self-contained, air-conditioned, indoor lodge with a restaurant and maybe a canteen. Well, it would have to do. After getting moderately settled, we climbed back into the Land Rover and headed to Lake Manyara.

The jungle terrain at the lake was unlike any we had seen in Kenya. The dense forest of tall trees with winding, entwining branches and lush, low shrubbery gave way to trickling streams throughout the park and provided an oasis of shade from the afternoon sun. We were greeted by several families of baboons, playing on and alongside the road. We were amazed to observe how human-like their mannerisms are. We often watched them sifting through one another’s hair in search of ticks. On that day, we saw two mothers with tiny babies. The mothers would sit, shielding the babies from our view as much as possible, but the babies would wiggle and tumble about until the mothers scooped them up again. The mothers would walk with the babies dangling beneath their bellies, swaying from side to side, and occasionally falling off. The babies were so tiny, their little heads the size of ping pong balls! The baboons are unafraid of humans in our obtrusive four-by-fours; they just go on about their business, returning our curious stares, and then scamper off without so much as a wave.

We then drove into a more open area with a view of the lake, which was quite far off into the distance, but we could see hippos in the water. We immediately observed that the Tanzanians adhere strictly to the road rules – they stay on the roads – whereas the Kenyans will bushwhack as necessary to get you within ten feet of the animals. We were disappointed by the distance – it was difficult to see the hippos, even with binoculars – and we were salivating at the prospect of seeing hippos from the eyes down since we missed them in the Masai Mara. We watched large herds of zebras and wildebeests crossing the lake but even that didn’t rile the hippos from their cool submersion.

The other attraction of Lake Manyara was the abundance of elephants. They were everywhere! We watched them slurping up water from the streams and splashing it over their enormous bodies. Many were happily drenched in muddy water, munching on the low grasses. At one point, an elephant walked behind our Rover, so close that we could have reached out and touched its rough, wrinkled skin…but we didn’t. Even from the relative safety of our vehicle, we are respectfully aware of a wild elephant’s power.

Our game drive at Lake Manyara came to an end as the sun was beginning to set and we arrived back at our camp ready to relax. The courtyard had a swimming pool around which several tents were set up. The camp was full of people and we ran into a couple whom we’d met at another hostel in another town (a common occurrence these days) so we visited with their group until dinnertime. We love meeting other travelers on the road. There are so many people on journeys similar to ours, going and going until the money runs out, traveling in different directions, all with fascinating travel stories and tips. We are invigorated and inspired by them. We meet many trekkers who are traveling solo and it makes us appreciate our luck in having each other to share in these incredible experiences. Sure, we get short with each other at times, usually when we push the itinerary too hard, but we are so single-minded in our focus, inspiration, and determination that we have forged a bond of co-dependence, as if it is just the two of us against this wild and crazy world. That is not to say that we couldn’t survive on our own. We are both intellectually independent souls but there is a natural magnetism between us that has taken this journey to manifest. I digress…

We had decided on an early morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater, when the animals would conceivably be the most active, and groggily met our guide at the car around 5:30am. The morning air was brisk and we made the ascent to the park entrance in the faintest illumination of dawn. We arrived at sunrise, which was perfect, and began our steep climb into the mountains that comprised the crater rim. The ascent was gorgeous, though much of the view was obscured by a thick morning fog. We passed some of the high-end lodges, nestled on the edge of the rim, overlooking the enormous crater floor. They looked amazing and we flashed forward to bringing our children back for the posh safari package when our bones are old and frail…and when we have the pleasure of frivolity.

From the crater rim, we looked out over a vast flat valley with a glassy lake in the center. The roads were rough inside the park and our descent into the crater was gradual. Soon after reaching the floor, we hit the hippo jackpot! We pulled right up to a hippo pool – about five feet from the rocky edge – and it was full of them! We even saw one of the massive, purplish-brown beasts on the opposite shore, slowly making its way into the water. Hippo exposed! This was a great stroke of luck since these lazy beasts spend entire days contentedly submerged in the water, coming out at night to graze on grasses. They are only disturbed by the occasional crocodiles, which prey on their young. Hippos move at a snail’s pace, which is probably why they can maintain such incredible mass on grass alone.

We continued on, seeing a scattered few lions in the distance, all sleeping of course (lazy bastards!) as well as numerous zebras and wildebeests. We pulled into a picnic site to have our lunch. It was a scenic spot surrounding a small lake, in which seven or eight hippos soaked. There was a large group of safari-goers just finishing their lunch under a big tree near the water’s edge so we decided to take over their spot. Just as before, the camp chef had prepared sack lunches for us but this time we were toting our own food, which I had secured in Arusha before we left: peanut butter, red plum jam, two submarine-style rolls, two apples and a bag of Doritos. We sat down in the shade of the tree and examined the contents of our camp-prepared lunch: single chicken wing wrapped in plastic, boiled egg, mysterious-looking pastry, half of a vegetable/mayonnaise sandwich on white sliced bread, banana and juice box. We put it all back into its paper sack save for the juice boxes. Aaron did optimistically take one bite of his pastry but subsequently tossed it to the birds, which pounced on it in a huge flock and fought furiously over it until it was nothing but crumbs in the dirt. Meanwhile, I began sawing through the sub rolls with my plastic spoon/fork/knife-in-one camping utensil. The little birds became quite aggressive, especially after their pastry appetizer, and at one point while I was cutting the bread, one of them charged in and tried to pry it from my hands. The tiny bird was no match for my grip but I still let out a startled squeal. I continued working at my task, generously slathering one half of the roll with peanut butter. I set that half carefully back inside the bag and began spreading the other half with jam. The bread was sufficiently coated and, as I held it in one hand while going for one final, indulgent dip, a giant hawk swooped in from behind my left shoulder and snatched the bread in the strong, precise grip of its claws. I didn’t even realize what had happened until I saw the jam-covered loaf sailing away in a flurry of flapping brown wings. Aaron and I looked at each other in shocked disbelief and just started laughing hysterically. Two day safari in Tanzania…$700. Lunch stolen by giant hawk…priceless!

The next couple of hours were uneventful but just as we were mentally winding down for the conclusion of our safari, our guide spotted a cheetah in the distance! Through the binoculars, we could see that it was sitting erect and alert so we patiently watched it for about fifteen or twenty minutes when, suddenly, it stood up and started walking our way! We stared in wild-eyed amazement as the lanky, spotted cat – the world’s fastest animal – walked with stunning elegance right past our truck, growling and frothing at the mouth, ready to hunt. It was the only time that we had seen one of the big cats in motion and it was unquestionably the most spectacular, thrilling sight in all of our safari adventures.

After that climax, we slowly made our way out of the crater, stopping briefly to admire a foursome of African buffalo, which engaged us in a stare down until we drove off, defeated. We completed our second safari without seeing a live kill – which was probably for the best – though we did see one crafty-looking spotted hyena carrying off a leg of some unfortunate beast, the hoof dangling from the hyena’s salivating jowls. All in all, we were ecstatic about our safari adventure and rode back to Arusha on the beautifully sealed, Tanzanian tarmac roads.


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