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The Maasai of Tanzania

I teased Amon that I’d forgive him for not finding a rhinoceros (one of the big five) if I could stop somewhere to get a photo of a Maasai woman.

He did much better than that.  He took us to a Maasai village called an Enkang! I had to pay $20.00 for the experience (Bill sat this one out).  The money goes to buy drinkable water.

The Maasai people are a nilotic ethnic group that live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. This village sits about 6,000 feet, and as the photos show the rainy has not yet arrived. 

A finely beaded wide necklace was draped around my neck and a group of women and men serenaded and danced their welcome.  I was then encouraged to join the women as we bobbed our way into their fenced camp.

Two pairs of glasses and a camera around my neck trying to keep up:

Let the jumping competition begin.  The men and women separated, sang and competed in a jumping contest.

WOW!  The music. Dancing. Experiencing another culture. I’m grinning from ear to ear.

After the ceremony I was invited into a home to meet a young family.

Their cow dung homes are called bomas. I had to duck down low to enter and wind through the opening much like the opening of a snail shell.  The first small area is sectioned off for their calf. The sleeping area is a raised bed of dried mud with a cow hide scraped clean of its hair top.  It probably measures 3′ by 4′ feet. Next to that is a tiny area for a child. The raised beds also provide seating. In the middle a small fire on the floor.  The only light comes from a 6″ x 6″ hole in the ceiling above the fire.  There is no electricity and no running water.

Sandals are made of motorcycle tires.

Children’s sleeping area.

120 people live in this completely fenced village called an Enkang.  The elder male in this Enkang is 92 years old, has 12 wives and 72 children.  The children go to seven years of government school and walk miles and miles to get there.  Young children were being schooled in another boma right outside the fenced area.  Nearby is another boma outside the fenced area where single men take turns guarding the Enkang.

I was able to watch the children doing their school lesson.  A young boy guided the classroom in saying numbers and the alphabet in English.  I then sat with them and taught the kids closest to me to fist bump with a finger explosion.

School house for little kids.

Look how the kids in the back have their hands in a fist or the explosion. Yes!

The men are herders.  They own cattle and goats. They are everywhere in the countryside grazing their herds. The women make beaded jewelry, placemats and animals to sell to tourists.  Their diet consist only of cow meat, goat meat and blood/milk from the same animals.  That is it!  No veggies, no fruit, no starch.

In researching the Maasai I learned that genital modification of both sexes initiate children into adulthood. Click on the Maasai in the previous sentence to read about their unique lifestyle.

The whole experience was fascinating. I could have done without the hard sell on the beaded items but I get it…..  (and got it- HA!).

What an experience.

Enkang’s in the countryside:

The Serengeti

Ah the Serengeti (Maasai – meaning endless plain).  12,000 square miles – flat and sprinkled with stunning acacia trees.  It’s everything I dreamed it would be.

As we entered the park they were doing a controlled burn to get rid of overgrowth to keep the floor of the plains healthy.  Burns are done sections at a time and the results are clearly visible. Lush green grass was growing in the areas previously burned.

It’s remarkable how different the flora, terrain and wildlife are in Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and in the Serengeti. Even Tsavo for that matter.  It is LUSH!!  Tanzania is the place to live if you’re a hungry animal.  Poor creatures in Tsavo, Kenya are starving.

We had hoped to see hyenas and cheetahs in Tsavo so it was a real treat to see them here.  The gazelles were the bunny rabbits – prolific and everywhere.

Day one we saw:
Hyaena
Ostriches
Thompson’s gazelles
Grants gazelles
Secretary birds – they peck with their feet like typing
Topi antelope
Serval cat like a cheetah
Cokes hartebeest
Cheetahs
Hippos
Blue Herons
Lots of different birds
Impalas
Elephants
Zebras

Click to enlarge photos…

We went with the beer budget safari and it was perfect.  However, I was thrilled to see a Micato Land Cruiser pull up next to us.  It was the same vehicle that we had and it had six people in it!  Same car and ours was just the two of us. Score one for us.  I did notice a tiny difference at lunch time.  The park had designated eating areas with bathrooms.  We had boxed lunches packed by the hotel and French press coffee made by Amon.  The chichi tours had a wicker basket with food, drinks and wine served on plates.  They sat at the same tables as we and peed in the same toilets. I’ll give that one to them.  I can’t speak about the accommodations.  Ours tent camp felt like we were one with nature.  Tents surrounded by zebras. Rustic but with everything one could need (I didn’t say want).  We left with money to live on for the next six months so I’d say we won.  Here’ our rustic…

Our tent was approximately 50 yards from the mess tent (reception, lounging and dining area).  We were given walkie talkies and were told not to venture from our tent in the dark.  “Call for an escort.”  We made it to dinner in the daylight but it was dark when it was time to go back to the tent.  One of the workers grabbed a flashlight and started leading the way.  “Where’s your gun?”, I asked.  “Oh we don’t need one.  We’ve been doing this for a long time and know what to look for.”  Say what??? Hello, we know from the Great Walk of Africa that guns are essential.  There were many times that the workers were armed and protecting us.  It reminded me of un-armed security guards back home.

Breakfast and dinner were served buffet style.  No Covid here.

New animals on the second day:
Cheetah and 2 Cubs eating an impala
Water buck
Lion laying on top of a huge rock
Leopard in the mouth of a big rock formation
Mongoose
Superb starling (blue and Orange bird)
Monitor lizard
Guinea Fowl
Parrots – One tree full of beautiful yellow birds
Ground hornby (big bird)
Dik Dik
Lion with a big mane
Leopard walking in the middle of the road!  Again, so lucky.  They are nocturnal.

Leopard gets its own gallery:

On our second night at camp – out cold and sleeping.  A zebra bumped up against the tent right by our heads and woke me up.  For the next 20 minutes it grazed.  I could hear it pulling the grass out with its teeth and chewing!  It was very cool.

Day 3 on the way out the most majestic and beautiful male lion walking in the field near our camp.

Impalas have one male that rules the herd. They fight for this position – retain it until they are challenged.  We watched younger males being trained to fight with their horns by the ruling male. We also watched the ram gather the females to cross a road.  He was quite impatient with the flaky females who lingered.  He actually wrangled each one individually until they were all in a group again.

The whole safari experience was tremendous.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  At the pace we went we were glad it was only 4 days.  It was exhausting!

 

 

 

Ngorongoro Crater and Onward to our Serengeti Camp

When we were on the island of Manda in Kenya I bumped into a group of young women from Barcelona.  They were still on a safari “high” having just left Tanzania.  They were stoked about Lake Manyara and even better yet Ngorongoro Crater. “You have to go there!”

To be fair, our day before at Lake Manyara was wonderful but not earth shattering.  It’s not Disneyland even though at times it feels like someone in the background says “Cue the lion”.  It’s pure luck.  The wildlife are in their natural habitat and you see things when you do.

Off to Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest inactive caldera and another UNESCO site.

Per Wikipedia: A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the rock above the magma chamber is lost. The ground surface then collapses downward into the emptied or partially emptied magma chamber, leaving a massive depression at the surface (from one to dozens of kilometers in diameter).[1] Although sometimes described as a crater, the feature is actually a type of sinkhole, as it is formed through subsidence and collapse rather than an explosion or impact.

This crater collapsed on itself two to three million years ago! Today approximately 25,000 animals roam on its floor.

We drove down into the crater on a windy narrow road with steep drop offs. It was a one lane road handling cars traveling in both directions. Lovely….

Tourism is down 80%.

Imagine safari vehicles roaming every which way over the 100 square miles of the caldera.  This is what 20% looks like in one tiny part of Ngorongoro.  I can’t imagine what it would be like when tourism was at 100%.  We are very lucky to be here now when it is relatively quiet and we can help provide income to those who desperately need it. There is no unemployment from this government.  They’re on their own.

Click to enlarge photos…

The drivers use radios to tell each other if they have spotted something extraordinary. Although we couldn’t understand Swahili we knew something special had been spotted. Amon would put it in gear and dart off.   The safari vehicles grew en masse as everyone vied for a spot.

The wildebeest and zebra numbered in the thousands.  A lioness walked calmly next to the shoreline and upon spotting her the wildebeest lost their minds and ran in every direction.  I had a glimpse into what the “wildebeest migration’ would look like. The zebras stopped and watched closely seeming to be plotting out their escape.  A few gazelles followed closely behind as if they were toying with her.  A full belly must have kept this lioness disinterested.

It was unexpected but I did get to see flamingos.

Here’s the tally for today:
Grants gazelles
Cape buffalos
Hammerkorp bats
Vultures
Water buck
Elephants (Tembos)
Elan antelopes
Guinea fowls
Pumba warthogs
Thompson’s gazelles
Flamingos
Zebras
Caracal – cat family
Gray crowned cranes
Wildebeest
Ostriches
A lioness
Ibis
Marubu stork
Giraffe

We stayed in the crater about three hours then headed to the Serengeti – another three hour drive to get to camp. Some on pavement and the rest of the drive was on dirt roads in the Serengeti Park.

More about the Serengeti in the next posting….

Heads up – the first video loaded is the one I posted.  The one you see after viewing that are ones YouTube wants you to see….

Safari Time Again….

We had a flight from Dar es Salaam to the Island of Comoros (north of Madagascar).  Comoros closed to tourism and our flight was not cancelled!  I tried to change our ticket online and their site was down.  I tried calling using the English option to only have them hang up on me (I was told that was because I did’t speak Swahili).  So our super Dar es Salaam hotel driver/business center manager went to the airport on one of his pick-ups to change our flight (change fees included).  

We had to come up with a plan since Covid and civil fighting were closing off previously planned options.  I said, very much to Bill’s dismay.  “Let’s go on another Safari!  We’re here in Safari Land let’s not go home and wish we had done it.”

Bill’s thought, “We walked the ultimate safari and saw animals in their natural environment why do another???”  

Because the princess wants to……

Tanzanian safaris start in Arusha. So I, in my delirium, asked the driver to change our flight – Dar es Salaam to Arusha.  He was able to do that for us.  Great! We had a plan.

Onward to Zanzibar and now you are caught up.

Zanzibar was just what the doctor ordered.

We hired our same taxi driver to drive us back to Stone Town so we could to take the ferry back to Dar es Salaam, spend the night and fly to Arusha the next day.

The departures screen told us the Arusha flight gate number. However, the gate said Zanzibar.  I inquired and learned the flight went from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar on to Arusha.  Yes, Zanzibar.  We paid for a ferry ride, hotel stay and one extra leg of a flight to only to go back to where we started.  

I did that! I was so proud that hours before we were to take off to a place we couldn’t go I saved the day by changing our non-refundable flight only to find out we wasted all the money we saved changing the flight by picking the wrong departure town.

Check out the casual airport in Arusha.  How about that baggage claim?  Now that’s efficient!

Click photos to enlarge….

I searched the web for private safaris. A gal from Australia blogged about a company called Wild and Me, the company that she used to do a solo safari. She said she spent hours researching to find the one that fit her needs. Luckily, our needs aligned with hers.

For years I wanted to go on a Micato safari. The magazine quality multi page pamphlet they send out had me drooling every time one showed up in the mailbox. The price told me I could buy a car with the money.  This girl has champagne taste and a cheap gene!

I messaged Wild and Me and started a dialog. The owner said all the rights things. I told her we’d let her know but it might be last minute.

Since we were unable to personally verify the safari company we figured the tourist office in Arusha could give us a recommendation and an opinion about Wild and Me.

The tour “rating” booklet listed thousands of licensed safari companies. The good news was Wild and Me got an A.  The worker said they were not allowed to recommend a company but if I reached out to him personally he would connect us with a quality tour.  They ended up being more expensive so Wild and Me it was.

Then you have to choose a budget, mid-range or luxury safari. Our wallet wanted budget. I wanted luxury but not willing to pay for it. So we settled on mid-range.

Many tour companies have their own vehicles as well as lodges and/or campgrounds. Wild and Me has their own guides and modified 4×4 Land Cruisers and then they book hotels, lodges or camps depending on their client’s needs and price range.

We decided on four days and three nights. We go from morning to night. No lounging around like you do at those luxury lodges.

This gave us a couple days to hang in Arusha.

Our driver, Amon, picked us up from the hotel at 8 am. and we drove 3 hours to Another UNESCO site – Lake Manyara.  A shallow, alkaline lake. Known for having masses of flamingos – a photographer’s dream.  

It is so stimulating driving out of the city. The burbs had many rundown moldy concrete “Russian type” housing projects.  Many hosting government workers and teachers who are provided free housing, water and electricity.

The countryside is riddled with Maasai men and boys herding cattle and goats.  More about that later…

It was a hazy day at Lake Manyara.  The lake was overflowing its banks.  Wildlife were plentiful if you’ve never been on a safari before (tee hee).  The flamingos were non-existent.  Waaaa.  It was a lot easier to keep track of what we saw:

Springer antelopes
Baboons
Silver bill Horn bills (big beak)
Elephants are called Tembo
Impalas
Zebras
Ververt monkeys
Egyptian geese
Worthogs
Bush Buck – Antelope
Giraffe
Water Buck

So just a heads up.  I’m sure you don’t need me to explain but my pride makes me.  My camera lens is only 20-70mm.  That means unless the animals are real close they will look like dots on the horizon.  I believe that wildlife photographers (which I am not) use something close a 200-600mm lens.  

Super thankful to be out in the fresh air seeing animals in their natural habitat but it had us wondering…  Was Bill right? Was the walking safari the best? Should have left it at that?

We stayed in one night Karatu. Our hotel was fabulous.  The room was huge.  The grounds were well thought out.  A pool, fireplace area and veggi gardens. The lounge area and dining room were open air, rustic and comfy.  We could have stayed an extra day.

 

 

 

Zanzibar – Nungwi

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe – Bill judiciously picked a cab driver to drive us one hour north to a village called Nungwi. Nungwi is known for its lack of wind, white sand beaches and turquoise water. 

It’s hit and miss taking photos out of a car but here’s a look at the countryside.  The island is mostly Muslim, homes are mostly made of mud and transportation is mostly by motorcycle or on foot.

Click to enlarge photos…

We continued walking five miles a day hoping I would sweat out my sickness. Here we were in paradise and it was hard to put one foot in front of another.  It was suggested the I try antibiotics. We always have Cipro in our arsenal.  That was plan A .  Plan B was to go to a hospital (scary) or fly home (not any easy task with Covid and PCR testing – it would have taken days).   48 hours of later I finally turned the corner.  

Life on the beach was interesting. Right outside our hotel several Maasai warriors interacted with tourists all day long. Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting Kenya and northern Tanzania. Known by their distinct dress. They wear checkered patterned fabric much like a sarong to cover their bodies and carry a long stick. Customarily they live in the country where men and boys herd cattle and goats. It seemed strange to see them on the beach. More about them later…

The coast is riddled with wooden boats and fishermen.

Everyone including children forage in the sand for worms and for fish in the tide pools.

Large groups of colorfully dressed women sorted through silver fish much like oversized anchovies.

They must eat puffer fish. I thought they were poisonous.

Starfish (some look like Covid) and especially sea urchins were plentiful.

A swing had me captivated.

Our beach came alive as the sun lowered.

 

A dress code wasn’t enforced at the hotel but we read that in town women with uncovered shoulders and/or knees and shirtless men were subject to a $1,000. fine.

We vegged the last two days so I could gain some strength back. Walking was probably better than laying in bed but laying by the pool worked better. I lost six pounds in only a few days.

Zanzibar – Stone Town

Doesn’t that sound so sexy and exciting? Zanzibar.

After a two hour ferry ride across the Indian Ocean heading due East we docked in another UNESCO World Heritage site called Stone Town.

From the UNESCO website: The buildings of the Stone Town, executed principally in coralline ragstone and mangrove timber, set in a thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime-washed, reflect a complex fusion of Swahili, Indian, Arab and European influences in building traditions and town planning. The two storey houses with long narrow rooms disposed round an open courtyard, reached through a narrow corridor, are distinguished externally by elaborately carved double ‘Zanzibar’ doors, and some by wide vernadahs, and by richly decorated interiors. Together with, the simple ground floor Swahili houses and the narrow façade Indian shops along “bazaar” streets constructed around a commercial space “duka”.

The old carved doors in Lamu and Shella originated in Zanzibar. They are truly a work of art and the focal point of most facades.

Click to enlarge photos…

We stayed in an old converted mansion. Much like a Mexican hacienda but probably Portuguese. The decor is old, stylish and ornate. It felt like we had stepped back in time.

Still sick and dragging. We managed to explore everything Old Town had to offer. We’d walk and walk and then I’d collapse in bed.

The streets in the old portion of town were narrow and filled with cars and motorcycles making passage on foot quite dangerous.