Monthly Archives: August 2013

Epilogue

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The ghost that haunts me

It’s been two months since I returned home and I feel unsettled. Discontented. Full of wanderlust. I close my eyes and all I see is Kilimanjaro. It’s still with me. Haunting me. How can 8 days on one mountain completely alter a life? My heart aches to return to Africa. 

I constantly ponder my next, great adventure. What will I do that will be on par or even top Kili? I’m doomed to a life of searching for the next great mountain. Yet, I worry that, though there are many mountains, there are none quite like Kilimanjaro. 

My friend and dear Kili climbing companion, Adrienne, recently wrote to me and mentioned that she often feels similar thoughts. She said, “Everyday I still think of Kili and wish I had the luxury of just dropping everything and hopping on a plane back to Africa.” She then went on to mention that her South African friend told her that “once you go to Africa, it will stay in your blood.” She’s right. I inoculated myself against all sorts of fevers before heading to Africa but the one I never counted on contracting was Africa herself. It consumes me. 

Adrienne also shared this beautiful poem. I think it’s the best possible epilogue to the greatest journey of my lifetime. Also, let this serve as a warning to those who dream of going to Africa and climbing mighty Kilimanjaro: The person you send can never return home. Instead, you leave Africa completely altered, changed…unable to be what you once were. For me, that’s been a gift. 

Who Has Known Heights
Who has known heights and depths shall not again
Know peace-not as the calm heart knows
Low, ivied walls; a garden close;
And though he tread the humble ways of men
He shall not speak the common tongue again.

Who has known heights shall bear forevermore
An incommunicable thing
That hurts his heart, as if a wing
Beat at the portal, challenging;
And yet-lured by the gleam his vision wore-
Who once has trodden stars seeks peace no more.

 
Mary Brent Whiteside
 
 
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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Last Day

So true.

So true.

I woke up early. Despite having no real plans, I had lots to do. I needed to eat breakfast, check out, stash my stuff with the front desk, and meet Clamian. I scurried around my room, getting ready, before heading down to breakfast one last time. My routine was the same…corn flakes, passion fruit juice, and tea with a dash of milk.

After eating I stored my things with the front desk, checked out, then waited for Clamian. He was surprisingly punctual. I expected African Time but he was obviously operating on American Time. Much to my chagrin, Nicholas was not with him. I was hoping to see him again but Clamian brought another driver instead. Unfortunately his name was a Maasai name and difficult to remember. It started with an L. I asked him 35 times to repeat it but still had trouble remembering/pronouncing it and I just couldn’t bring myself to ask a 36th time. He was a lovely young man – very soft spoken and polite.

Clamian took me back to the coffee shop where we first met and he bought me another cup of coffee. He also bought coffee for me to take home. I thought this was an incredible gesture but all his kindness made me feel awkward for being unable to return it in kind. We talked for a short time and he suggested I visit a place called Tanzanite One. It’s the largest tanzanite mining company and their office in Arusha has a small museum dedicated to “all things tanzanite”. The tour is free and afterwards, visitors can browse and purchase stones. However, there’s no obligation. I had nothing else planned for the day so it sounded like a good idea. My ride to the airport wasn’t due until 2pm so I had four hours to kill.

Clamian said he was in a hurry so we said our goodbyes and I hopped in the car with my new friend, L (that’s what I will call him from here on out) and we drove to Tanzanite One. We arrived a very nondescript building on a side street. It certainly didn’t look like a place where precious gems are housed.

We went climbed several flights of stairs and encountered a security guard who searched us before we passed through several locked doors into a small room. I felt like I was in a Bourne Identity movie…fancy locked doors, people with machine guns. Good fun on a Saturday! I was greeted by a short but handsome man who had a perfect American accent yet looked Indian/Black. Turns out he studied in the US and perfected the accent. Good on him.  He took me on a small tour and explained the history of tanzanite, the mining process, etc. It was pretty interesting. According to geologists, there’s only 10 years worth of tanzanite left for extraction. After that, all deposits will be too deep in the earth to reach. The theory is that anyone in possession of tanzanite will have a great investment piece when that happens, especially since the gem is 1,000 times rarer than a diamond. Oh la la!

When the history/geology tour was over I watched a film about tanzanite which was mildly romantic in that Toto/Africa (I can’t get away from it) sort of way. I suppose the purpose of it was to jazz up potential customers into buying some stones because the moment the movie was over, I was escorted to an area full of jewelry cases where I was instructed to peruse the stones.

Dear reader(s) allow me to give you a lil’ background info on yours truly. I’m not like most women. I don’t really care about jewelry, especially expensive jewelry. Sometimes I wear it, but most of the time I don’t. Diamonds and the like just don’t excite me. In fact, I have joked that REI is my Tiffany’s. With that said, I have to admit I was sucked in by the tanzanite. But it wasn’t for the reasons one might thing. I didn’t care about the investment potential or anything like that. But the idea of taking home a real piece of Tanzania tugged at my romantic, traveling, heart. I was shown a case of stones which ranged up to $22,000. I laughed and asked what they had for $100 or less. Luckily for me they did have a few rocks in my range. After much hemming and hawing, I chose a round stone. Once I paid for it, the salesman took it out of the case and handed it to me, asking me to hide it away carefully in my purse. He then gave me some ominous instructions: “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you bought anything here.” I understood what he was saying. He knew that people probably watched the comings and goings of the building and when they saw mzungu, it probably meant money and stones – A perfect scenario for a thief.

L and his buddy (L is on the R - hahaha)

L and his buddy (L is on the R – hahaha)

Well I’m not an idiot and I didn’t say jack to anyone so it was never an issue. Once we got back in

My Maasai friends

My Maasai friends

the car, L asked me if I wanted to go meet some of his friends. Since I still had three hours to blow, I agreed. We drove a few blocks to a section of town where Maasai warriors hang out and sell rough tanzanite stones. According to L, the Maasai warriors  acquire rough stones found out in the Maasai land and sell it to the mining companies. Not sure why they hang around the streets rather than just heading to the company. I think I asked but the answer was lost in translation. L was very excited for me to meet his friends. He went on and on about how kind Maasai are and that I would love his friends. He was right! We walked just a short distance before coming across a large group of young Maasai warriors. They looked so amazing in their blue and red blankets! As soon as I greeted them with “jambo” they all started smiling and giggling and crowding around me.  I’d love to credit my charming personality but I think it was just because I was mzungu. It seemed they were as fascinated by me as I was of them. Via translation services from L, I talked to the Maasai guys about where I was from, that I had climbed Kili, and that I thought Maasai were awesome! We all laughed as they tried out their English on me. One young Maasai guy walked up and said, “Mzungu, I love you!” and the whole group erupted into laughter. I pulled out my iPhone and started taking pictures and suddenly more Maasai appeared. They loved looking at the pictures and I joked around with one really striking guy in a blue blanket that he didn’t smile when I took the pics and we’d have to do them all over again until he started smiling. Once again, they all went nuts with laughter. I started to realize that part of the reason I love the Maasai so much is that they thought I was hilarious!  How can I not love anyone who thinks I’m a comedic genius?

I had such a great time hanging out with them and I also really enjoyed the odd looks I received from passersby who obviously wanted to know why some white American chick was standing around chillin’ with some Maasai warriors. Soon it was time for me to head back to my hotel so L and I said our goodbyes to my new Maasai homies and headed back to the vehicle. We chatted a lot on the way back and I have to say, he was such a sweet guy. I really enjoyed meeting him. Tanzanians are just fantastic, warm people! Interestingly, I feel like it’s easier for me to make friends in foreign countries than back home. Why is that? Is it just because the cultural difference gives people something to discuss? Maybe I’m just more myself when I travel….

L dropped me off at the hotel. I got my bags out of lock up and went to the “Zanzibar Lounge” and chilled out with some drinks, a bowl of chips, and my Kindle for the next two hours.  I did a lot of reflecting during that time and waves of sadness came over me. I didn’t want to leave Africa. I was in love with with her! The two weeks I’d spent in Africa had been the most amazing two weeks of my life! Truly, the greatest adventure of my life. Not only did I climb the tallest free standing mountain in the world but I met so many wonderful people and witnessed amazing, once in a life time things.  For two weeks I felt like Hemingway and Sir Edmund Hillary. I lived the life I had always dreamed of living. A life of high adventure, friendships, laughter, and excitement. A life of absolute discovery.  How could I leave it all behind and return to the drudgery of my normal, American life?

Kili!!!!!

Kili!!!!!

I was engrossed in an episode of Breaking Bad on my Kindle when a familiar face arrived by my side. It was Emanuel! He was the guy who picked me up at the airport and now he had arrived to take me back. I wanted to be happy to see him but all I could think of was that my adventure was coming to it’s final conclusion. Emanuel is great and has an easy laugh. We giggled the entire time and talked a lot about the NGO he wants to start to help students. I told him I’d help him in anyway I could and gave him my contact info. We drove down the same familiar roads I’d grown to know in my short time around Arusha and when we slowed to make the turn onto the airport road, my heart sank. But then…like a gift from Africa herself, I glanced to my left…and there she was! Mighty Kilimanjaro! I started to scream excitedly and begged Emanuel to pull over. Despite spending 8 long days climbing her, I’d yet to see Kili from below. The clouds which usually surround her kept her hidden from view on ground level. I jumped out of the van and ran quickly to the edge of a sunflower field and took a craptastic pic with my phone. I regret that I didn’t have my SLR ready but it was packed away. 😦 Still, I will NEVER forget that moment or the sense of pride I felt in myself for making it to the top. Only those who’ve been there (Arlette, Adrienne, and my new friend Stephanie…you guys get it) can understand what that feels like. It’s not a gloating sort of pride…but a humble feeling of “omg, I did that? I climbed that?!”. Then as quickly as she revealed herself, she disappeared into the clouds. I walked back to the van full of more emotion that I could ever adequately describe in words.

JRO

JRO

We pulled up to Kilimanjaro International aka JRO and Emanuel carried my things to a cart. Once again, I was saying goodbye to someone else (and putting money in their hand). I wished him luck and walked into the airport. The airport was small but that suited me. I was tired and didn’t feel like traipsing across creation. I was “greeted” by a man who looked over my passport then stared at me long enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Do I look shady? Dunno…. I asked him where the VAT office was and he pointed toward the left. It was closed. Typical. “Oh I know…I’ll go get my tickets.” So I walked to the ticket counter. It was closed. *sigh* To beat it  all, there was nothing to do while I waited because all the shops were beyond passport control and I couldn’t go through passport control without a ticket. It was like being on a giant, African airport hamster wheel. 

I waited around, played some Candy Crush, then decided to give the VAT office another go. It was open! Yah! I walked in to find an American woman going to eff off about something. Two dudes were working and obviously annoyed with the raving woman. I showed them my receipt for the tanzanite. I was told I couldn’t get my tax back because I didn’t spend enough. Hakuna matata. Apparently the woman was ranting and raving for the same reasons. But instead of just rolling with it, she decided she’d scream. I wonder if that worked?

By the time I got out, the ticket counter was open so I hopped in line behind some French people.  Watching them made me hate croissants and Joan of Arc. I really can’t explain what it is about the French but I hope that, in the event of an alien invasion in which the fate of the world depends on interaction with the human race, the aliens don’t decide to march into a Parisian cafe. Just sayin”….Where was I? Oh yes…when I got to the counter luckily everything was underweight so all I had to take on board was my purse. Traveling light and swift! Unfortunately for me they said the system was down and I’d have to check in after arriving in Addis Ababa to get my boarding pass for the second leg. Fudge.

I went through customs, found a seat next to a trendy British dude and continued crushing candy. Eventually some airline peeps came around with boarding passes. Apparently the system was up and all was right with the world. I got my boarding pass and shortly thereafter it was time to go. At JRO you have to walk across the tarmac to board the plane – 70’s style. Walking across the concrete, I breathed in deeply, taking in the smell of wood fires which greeted me two weeks earlier. I looked towards the horizon, desperate for one last look at the mountain that inspired a dream five years prior…but she was no where to be seen. So with a broken heart and a mind full of memories, I climbed the steps towards the hatch and promised myself that I’d return. I left my heart there just to be sure I do….

The End.

If you want to find my heart, it's here.

If you want to find my heart, it’s here.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Safari Day 2 – Ngorongoro Crater

When Nicholas dropped me off the day before, he asked me to report to the main building by 6AM sharp. He said that the earlier we arrive at the park, the better our chances will be of seeing game. I set my iphone for 5AM. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get ready, pack my gear, and slide out in time to enjoy a cup of tea before striking out.

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This guy looks like a hack compared to my skills

More frightening than the Luftwaffe!

More frightening than the Luftwaffe!

When the alarm went off, I actually felt really refreshed and well rested. The bed, despite it’s shabby rustic appearance, was extremely comfortable. I crawled out from the mosquito netting and piddled around the room, getting ready, and ensuring everything was packed up and ready to go. At 5:45AM I decided it was time to head down to the main building so I walked to the back of the room to grab one of my bags when suddenly I detected movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned around, my brain working overtime to process and deduce what I had seen. “What was that?”, I wondered. “An insect? A bird? A Somali pirate?”. Just then I saw it again! It was a BAT!!!!!! Now I like to pride myself on my fearlessness, especially when it comes to  things people (particularly women) find terrifying. In nature bats don’t bother me. But somehow, seeing a GINORMOUS, pterodactyl size creature practicing flight maneuvers in my room turned me into a screaming girl. I should really consider joining Seal Team 6 because I doubt few people could hit the deck and low crawl faster than I did that morning.

Somali pirate, bat...it's easy to confuse.

Somali pirate, bat…it’s easy to confuse.

As I inched my way towards the table where my camera sat, the bat engaged in strafing missions above my head. Suddenly I became very thankful that the staff probably didn’t comprehend English well enough to understand the shrieking curses that escaped my mouth. But much like the British during the Blitz, I refused to give in to terror from above so I steadied my nerves and continued my low crawl. Somehow I finally managed to rescue all my gear and made it to the door without contracting rabies or having a bat make a lovely nest in my hair. When I reached behind me and pulled the door closed, waves of relief washed across me. I was out! Now I just had to cross the dark, no man’s land that stood between my cottage/hut and the main building. I broke my running PR and later received reports that Usain Bolt was upset that I also broke his record.

Amazingly, the bat shenanigans only ate 5 minutes of my time and I still had 10 minutes to spare upon arriving at the main building. I went inside but the place was empty. However, the staff did have a pot of tea set out for me. They also prepared boxed breakfasts and lunches for Nicholas and I. Sweet! At 5:55 Nicholas arrived and seemed surprised that I was there. I laughed and said, “American time, not African time”. He got a kick out of that! I finished my tea and we headed to the Land Rover. As we pulled out of the parking lot Nicholas pointed to the clock which said 5:59AM and said, “American time!”.

The drive to Ngorongoro crater was dark. Yet, man and beast were already stirring. I saw large packs of feral dogs roaming the streets and occasionally saw people walking down the road, presumably heading to work. Nicholas gave me a lesson on the crater, including how it was created and which animals live there. He referred to it as the “Garden of Eden”. I couldn’t wait to see!

The beautiful Ngorongoro Crater

The beautiful Ngorongoro Crater

Spotted Hyaena

Spotted Hyaena

When we finally arrived at the park gate, Nicholas went in to handle the paperwork. There were TONS of truck drivers and a few dala dala drivers. Apparently some use the roads in and around the crater as a short cut. It took a very long time for him to get the necessary paperwork and by the time he returned to the Land Rover, the sun was coming up. Unfortunately, it was cold and foggy. Extremely foggy.  Nicholas mentioned that the drive would be dangerous due to the fog. He said it wasn’t uncommon for buffalo or elephants to stand in the road. If we hit one, it could be disastrous. Thoroughly terrified I made sure my seat belt was on and said a few prayers. We saw lots of dung in the road but thankfully we never saw any animals. After miles and miles of foggy, dirt road driving we finally reached the bottom of the crater and the fog melted away. It was still very overcast and cold but Nicholas said this would work to our advantage. The cooler air would keep the animals active longer. Just a few minutes into the safari I saw my first animals: a spotted hyaena. It was a devilish looking thing. He (or she…I couldn’t tell) ran across the road in front of us and stopped to stare at me while I snapped off photos.  It was pretty exciting to see such an amazing creature so early on but Nicholas simply giggled and said, “just wait”. Giggity!

Lion after killing a wildebeest

Lion after killing a wildebeest

Bloody Lion

Bloody Lion

We took a right onto a path and immediately Nicholas said, “Oh, I think this is going to be good”. I had no expectations about what it could be but after yesterday’s fairly tame day, I didn’t expect it to be anything too wild. Boy, was I wrong! We slowly approached another Land Rover which was parked. The passengers were standing up, staring out of the open roof. Nicholas suddenly became very animated. A lion! A lioness had killed a wildebeest and was eating it 15 feet from from me! After Nicholas killed the engine, I could hear her snapping the bones and making a strange, whining noise as she ate. I’ve had pet cats make a similar noise when they are extremely hungry as well as extremely happy to be eating. I watched in amazement as her breakfast was cut short. Hyaenas had moved in and were now circling her. The sound they made was terrifying! I’ve heard it on t.v. programs before but to hear it in the flesh, 15 feet away, sent shivers up my spine. It’s an eerie, frightening mix of a laugh and a whine. Had I not been in the Land Rover, safe and protected, I would have beat my PR that I set earlier in the morning when I tangled with the bat. The lioness held her ground when the first hyaena approached but it wasn’t long before four or five hyaenas started moving in. Sensing the danger, the lioness got up and started to slowly walk off. I was shocked that this massive cat seemed threatened by the hyaenas but Nicholas explained that one hyaena is no match for a lion but several hyaenas present a a threat.  Personally, I think she was just pissed they were making all that racket while she was trying to enjoy her morning coffee. We followed her as she walked up the road. At one point she was three feet from me and actually looked me square in the eye. I desperately wanted to reach out and touch her but that feeling changed when she turned and walked directly toward me. Despite being in a land rover, my instinct took over and I cowered away from the window. My primal fear was intensified by the fact she still had wildebeest blood around her mouth. Then, just like a house cat, she lied down and started to groom herself. Cute! I watched her for a few more minutes before asking Nicholas to head back to the kill.

Sleepy Kitty

Sleepy Kitty

Hyaena's eating

Hyaena’s eating

By now hyaenas were going to town on the poor creature. But other animals were also making their way on the scene. Adorable jackals were skulking about, trying to slip in unnoticed and grab a piece of food. Unfortunately, the hyaenas were selfish bastards and snapped and growled at the jackals every time they tried. Now and again a lucky lil’ jackal would manage to snatch some wildebeest meat, much to my delight! It was also really cool to watch the food chain/circle of life in progress. One wildebeest was providing food for a lion, a family of hyaenas, countless jackals and many vultures and eagles,  who were now circling overhead and hopping closer and closer to the corpse. Though I felt sad for the poor wildebeest, it was hard not to feel excited and amazed by the entire process.   On another note, does it make me strange that I ate my boxed breakfast while watching the hyaenas chow down on the wildebeest. I remember thinking, “Hmm, is this a little odd?” while eating a piece of bacon while they snapped bones and devoured organ meat. Two predators enjoying a meal together…lol.

Zebras were everywhere

Zebras were everywhere

Buffalo

Buffalo

After breakfast, we continued our game drive. I saw more zebras and wildebeest than I could shake a stick at. They were awesome but I didn’t feel the same intrigue for grazers as I did for the predators and scavengers. Don’t get me wrong. They were beautiful  but you can only look at 100 head herds before you’re ready to see something different. Although, I will say that I never got sick of hearing the wildebeest grunting.  Makes me think of National Geographic shows of the Great Migration.  I’d like to see that one day but since I wasn’t heading to the Serengeti, I had to settle for grunting around the watering hole. Now and again we spotted buffalo as well. Did I mention how incredibly cold it was in the crater? I was shocked! I was a few degrees from the equator but I was turning into a Popsicle. Luckily I had a warm fleece but all Nicholas had was a red Maasai blanket which he wrapped up in. I felt terrible for him.

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

After driving around for an hour and seeing a lot of different animals including crown cranes, flamingos, ostrich, and even, far off in the distance, a HUGE elephant bull. Nicholas said he was going to die soon (the elephant, not Nicholas). I wondered how on earth he knew this but he said that the elephants separate themselves from their group and head to a swampy area when they are about to die. He said that when an elephant is very old all they can chew is the grass that grows there. When you see one hanging out there you can be fairly certain his time on earth is almost up. That broke my heart but I felt blessed to see that magnificent animal. He was the largest living thing I’d ever seen. Even larger than the ones I saw in Lake Manyara.  Unfortunately the zoom on my camera wasn’t good enough to take his pic.

As we drove past the swamp area I spotted two lions hunting in the grass. We stopped and watched for awhile.  Nicholas congratulated me once again on having a great eye for spotting game. He asked if I hunted and when I said no, he suggested I take it up since I was so good at spotting animals. I explained I preferred to just watch them.  I digress…the lions stalked through the tall grass but unfortunately for them, the wildebeest caught wind of them and ran. We drove on. While rounding the corner past a pond I spotted my first hippo. Hippos scare the $%#! out of me. I guess I watched too many “When Hippos Attack” videos but if I had the choice between a lion or a hippo, I’d choose the lion. I guess I figure the lion might respond to a nice scratch behind the ears like a kitty cat but where on earth do you rub a hippo? Um…yeah. Where was I? Oh yeah…the hippos were just kind of bobbing up and down in the water but I did see a few standing in the mud. They didn’t really do much. Just flicked their tails, mostly. However, I wasn’t fooled by their sloth-like behavior. I’m pretty sure they were quietly pondering their next vicious attack on some poor human.

Murderers.

Murderers.

Keeping with the murderous hippo theme, Nicholas suggested it would be a good time to eat so we went over to ANOTHER pond that had a picnic area. There were hippos in this one as well. Unlike other areas of the park, tourists are allowed to get out of the vehicles to use the bathroom and eat at a table. I decided to get out and stretch my legs. Camera in hand, I walked a few feet to get a good photo of the hippos. While taking photos I heard a South African man (he sounded Souf Effrikin at least) yell out to some ladies that they should move away from the edge of the water. They didn’t listen and continued to slip closer and closer to the water. He was obviously concerned that one of the hippos might charge and attack/kill the women. They looked at him and rolled their eyes and when they spoke the reason for it all became clear. They were French. I turned to the SA man and said, “Dude, they’re French…let ’em stay.” He gave me a puzzled look and I headed back to the car, periodically turning around in the hope that I’d get to see hippos redeem themselves by taking out some French peeps. No such luck though.

Hippo pond

Hippo pond

Rhino

Rhino

I grew bored waiting for the French women to be devoured by chubby, aquatic animals so we left and headed closer to the crater wall and forest area. Without warning Nicholas became very animated and started going off in Swahili on the radio. Rhino! For those who aren’t up on their rhino knowledge, the black rhino is one of the most endangered animals in the world. They’re very rare and elusive. Yet, word was out that a rhino was on the move. Nicholas started slamming gears and quickly we made our way towards the supposed sighting. I knew something fantastic was going on when I saw 15 other land rovers lined up in a row along the road. I looked across the plain and saw a figure in the distance. I took out my binos and sure enough, it was a rhino! He crept closer and closer, grazing on the tall, brown grass and I suddenly felt very overwhelmed with emotion when it hit me that I was looking at an animal that had been nearly pushed to the point of extinction. He was gorgeous! I watched him move slowly around in circles. Nicholas said the rhino was wanting to cross the road but the land rovers were making him nervous. Not too long after that comment, the rhino started walking in the opposite direction so all of the land rovers started to move quickly in that direction. All the vehicles jammed in tightly and the half a dozen voices started speaking wildly on the radio. The rhino was going to pass in front of us! He was going to cross the road in front of us.  I watched the rhino sprint in front of us but unfortunately there were too many vehicles in my way so I wasn’t able to get a good shot of it. Oh well, sometimes life isn’t about the picture. It’s about the experience. I felt satisfied. Nicholas turned around and congratulated me on being one of the few people who ever get to see a black rhino. He said he has had many clients who spend weeks on safari and never see one. In the few hours I had been in Ngorongoro, I’d seen a lion feast on her kill, watched lions hunt, and saw the rare black rhino! Not too shabby!

Herds

Herds

More zebras

More zebras

Nicholas said he wanted to go to the forest to look for elephants; so, we drove to the edge of the crater to an area that hardly constituted forest. It was more of a stand of trees and a few tall bushes. Along the way we noticed another land rover stopped along the road, observing something. We stared into the horizon for a few minutes before I realized that we were watching another lion hunt. This hunt was much more fascinating to watch because it was almost comical. The lion crouched down and hid very low as it stalked a wildebeest. When the wildebeest wasn’t looking, the lion was slink through the grass and as soon as the wildebeest would turn around, the cat would lie down and be very still. Occasionally, it would pop it’s head up to take a peek. Amazingly, the lion was approaching down wind so the wildebeest couldn’t smell it.  Do they instinctively know how to do that or was that coincidence? I dunno. Nicholas explained that the wildebeest watch one another for signals. One wildebeest knew the lion was there and refused to look anywhere but towards the lion. But I guess that wasn’t a strong enough signal for the wildebeest the lion was stalking. This went on for 45 minutes or so. Nicholas said that it could continue for another hour or so as the lion closed the distance between them. We decided that, having seen the earlier kill, it wasn’t necessary to watch. I will say though, that when watching nature shows, I generally root for the prey because I hate watching things get hurt or killed. But in the crater, it was different. I found myself wanting the lion to win. It’s hard to explain but I guess it was because I realized just how difficult it is to hunt and kill. The hunting process takes HOURS and it’s a life or death situation for all involved. Earlier that morning when I watched the hyaenas, jackals, eagles, vultures, and lions eat and survive another day because of the dead wildebeest, I had a greater respect for how the whole system operates. When watching nature shows, the editing makes it appear as if the lion hunted for three minutes, spied a zebra, took it down then washed, rinsed, and repeated. But it’s NOT like that at all. It requires planning, skill, cunning, and a bit of luck. In short, I suppose the predator in me recognized all that and respected it.

...and more zebras

…and more zebras

Purr, purr, purr

Purr, purr, purr

We made it to the forest but we didn’t see any elephants. I felt okay about that since I saw so many the day before at Lake Manyara. I remember thinking that this “forest-area” seemed like a pretty safe place to be and leaned out the window a little. Just as soon as I did I looked down and saw  two enormous lions curled up on their backs sleeping. Nicholas and I looked at one another and our eyes widened with a “Holy crap! This is awesome!” sort of look. I snapped off pics like paparazzi and watched as they snuggled with one another just as kittens do. They looked incredibly adorable and all I could think of was Sheldon singing “Soft kitty, sleepy kitty, little ball of fur….”. Too bad these soft, lil’ kitties could rip my face off like a man on bath salts.

Did I mention that I saw zebras?

Did I mention that I saw zebras?

It's a hard knock life in the crater

It’s a hard knock life in the crater

Gazelle

Gazelle

Feeling really exhausted and knowing we had a long drive back to Arusha, we agreed it was time to start making our way out of the crater. As we made our exodus, I spotted more ostrich and a family of pumba aka warthogs. The Swahili name for them really is pumba just as simba really means lion. They looked cute as they darted about with their lil’ tails in the air but their tusks looked ferocious. I snapped off a few pics as we rolled by. A few minutes later Nicholas drove up a large hill which overlooked most of the crater. It was beautiful from that vantage point. The crater looked beautiful and just as Nicholas described, it reminded me of the Garden of Eden. We sat there quiet, listening to the sounds of life below us. It was hard for me to imagine that such a small place contained so many creatures engaged in a battle of life and death. Sitting there on top of the hill I became emotional about my African journey.  It was coming to an end and I didn’t want it to. Nicholas said, “Wave goodbye to Ngorongoro” and I did…and with that we headed up and out of the crater.

warthogs

warthogs

Ostrich

Ostrich

When we arrived at the gate we stopped so that Nicholas could complete paperwork. While I waited outside I was entertained by the craziest baboon troop I’d seen on my journey. They were absolute lunatics and so human in their behavior. They walked around the parking lot in search of sandwich scraps left behind by tourists. Then they plopped down in the middle of the road, babies on their back. They chattered and squealed at one another. They were holding traffic up with their antics in the road and unfortunately, one got hit by a car. He took off running, screaming at the top of his lungs. This caused chaos within the troop and lots of baboons ran after the one that got hit, all of them screaming and screeching. The victim finally walked out of the bushes and sat down in the road. Then the most wonderful thing happened: five or six baboons ran up to him and I watched, completely fascinated and with tears in my eyes, as several stroked and comforted him while the others checked him out for injuries. They slowly turned him over and lifted his legs and arms. I assume they were looking for blood or to see if anything was broken. Watching them was a highlight of the trip because it demonstrated that as humans, we are not unique. Many other creatures of the world are capable of love and concern for their families. I think the hit and run victim was okay because he finally sat up and walked to a wall and sat on it. That made me happy!

I saw this in Karatu, the town between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro

I saw this in Karatu, the town between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro. Ya know, I wondered what ol’ Hil was up to after leaving the State Department. Now I know!

Once Nicholas returned we started our trip back to Arusha. We talked endlessly about many, many things and I really enjoyed his sense of humor. He was a very funny guy and I laughed so much  that my side hurt.  We talked about his family and also about his job.  During our conversation I mentioned that I wanted to buy a Maasai blanket so Nicholas was kind enough to stop at a shop which sold them. I went in and began negotiations on a blanket and some other items. As I mentioned before, I hate haggling. I’m American and I just want to pay a set price. But I played the game and felt like I worked out a fair deal for all (though I purposely stacked it in the shop’s favor). When I walked out of the shop Nicholas asked if I’d like to have a cup of tea with him. Of course! However, instead of tea I chose Coke. We sat for 20 minutes or so and talked about Americans. Nicholas said that Tanzanians love Americans because we’re open and eager to chat. He said that Americans have a good sense of humor and are interested in learning about the person with whom they speak. He said, “If you were from Europe, I never could have asked you to have tea with me…but you’re American and Americans are laid back. ” I really appreciated hearing this. It’s nice to know somewhere in the world people like us and it was similar to what other Tanzanians had said about Americans as well.

We finished our drinks and pushed on towards Arusha. I told Nicholas that I’d like to stop at the coffee shop we’d visited the day before with Clamian because I wanted to buy coffee for my parents. He said he thought it would be closed by the time we reached Arusha but he’d check with Clamian to see if someone could pick me up the following day and take me. I told him it wasn’t necessary since I could probably buy some coffee at the airport on my way home.

When we finally returned to my hotel, it was around 7PM and dark. We both agreed we were exhausted and happy to be back “home”.  When I got out of the land rover Nicholas told me to hold on while he called Clamian. They talked for a few minutes before the phone was handed to me and I spoke to him. Clamian offered to come get me the next morning and take me into town. So sweet! I handed the phone back to Nicholas and began thanking him for a wonderful adventure. I told him I would tell Clamian about the terrific job he did and he told me he appreciated the kind words. We said our goodbyes and wished one another well. When I shook his hand, I placed a large tip into it. He deserved every penny.

After checking in, I bought a Coke and a bowl of chips. Then I watched the British equivalent of HGTV while I packed my gear for the final time. Tomorrow I would leave Tanzania and with that the greatest adventure of my life would come to an end. I felt depressed. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to return to the hustle and bustle of American life. I didn’t want to rejoin the rat race. I just wanted to stay in Africa but it was not to be….

**one final Tanzania post left – The Last Day**

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Safari Day 1- Lake Manyara and Maasai Land.

After my epic Kilimanjaro adventure, I planned to decompress and relax by going on safari. Since I’m not (yet) independently wealthy, I didn’t have the money (or time) to go to the Serengeti. Instead, I decided to go on a short two day safari to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater.

When trying to arrange my climb, I ran into difficulties with getting the safari booked with the same company I used for my climb. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault – I just couldn’t get the stars to align and get the price I wanted. I decided to check with other companies and somehow stumbled upon Warrior Trails. Turns out they are owned by a Maasai warrior and that seemed really exotic and exciting. Better yet, they responded to my quote request quickly and had an amazing deal. Sold. I booked my trip. I also mentioned to Cathy, the booking rep, that I would like to visit a Maasai boma. She reminded me that Clamian, the owner, is Maasai and he can arrange for me to visit a village and see a school they are building. She stated that experience would be free. Free, you said? Um…yes, please!

So after 8 days of climbing Africa’s tallest mountain, I was worn out but somehow I managed to pull myself out of bed at 6AM. I had to re-pack all my gear and haul it down to the lobby. I planned to leave most of it at the hotel in their “super secure special closet” and only take the essentials. After climbing in African wilderness, my idea of what constitutes essential had changed so trust me when I say I took very little. It all fit into a tiny bag.

I went to breakfast and played with my phone while I scarfed my corn flakes. Dining alone is an odd feeling. I don’t really mind it but it’s hard to have a conversation with oneself without coming across as strange. The manager did walk over once and asked me how my Kili climb went. He congratulated me on my success. That made me beam with pride!

After breakfast I went to the lobby to hang out and wait for my driver. Unfortunately the lobby was filled with tourists and there was no room for me to sit so I had to loiter around a case full of Tanzanite jewelry. As I waited I struck up a conversation with an American woman around my age from Jersey. She attempted Kilimanjaro  via the Machame route and failed. My heart sank for her when she told me. I just can’t imagine going that far and not making it. But she seemed pretty cool about it all and was also looking forward to her safari. She was heading to Tarangire. I wished her well as she walked out the door to begin her adventure. Meanwhile, I continued to wait…and wait. Then suddenly, I heard “mzungu” and instinctively looked up. The front desk lady was pointing to me. My ride arrived!

Nicholas, my driver and soon to be friend, strolled up to me with a big smile on his face and my first impression was, “Wow, this dude is tall!”. He was very tall and his presence was overwhelming but he seemed quite polite and unlike most Tanzanian’s I’d met, he seemed meek. Perhaps I had grown too used to the porters and guides on Kili. Their behavior was a lot like mine: loud, silly, and always looking for a laugh. Nicholas was the opposite: he was, in a word, professional! Ha!

Image

I did NOT dress like this

Image

“I’m afraid it’s your urine, Elaine. You tested positive for opium…White lotus, Yam-yam, Shanghai Sally.”

As we walked to the Land Rover, he looked at my bag and said, “This is it?” and I smiled and said, “Yep, I travel light and swift”. He just smiled. I think he must be used to tourists who pack as if they’re moving to the bush. I suppose people probably do take too much, believing in their head that they should somehow dress and play the part. So many of the people I saw on safari looked like they bought their clothes from the J. Peterman Catalog. I, on the other hand, just felt lucky to have clean clothes. As soon as I got back from Kilimanjaro, I ran to the front desk with a sack of clothes and asked if they could somehow wash them and get them back to me by morning. They did better than that! They got them back to me within two hours! Awesome.

As I hopped into the Land Rover another guide wished me luck and we joked around a bit about things I can’t remember. I’m telling you…Tanzanians love to act silly! Once we set off, Nicholas said that we were going to go meet Clamian, the owner. Apparently Clamian wanted to meet me so we were going to swing by and pick him up. Wow! Awesome! We drove across town and pulled into a little shopping mall. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were in the US. The strip mall definitely looked like a place that catered to ex-pats. Next to it was a giant supermarket called Shop-Rite. Where am I? We pulled up to a coffee shop and there I had coffee with Clamian. We shared backgrounds and talked about the agenda for my safari. He then explained that he would accompany us to the Maasai village. Cool. Then he said, “I will introduce you to my mother.”. Wha? Then it clicked. This wasn’t an ordinary tourist village. This was HIS village! He was taking me to see HIS village and meet HIS family. AWESOME!!!!! After enjoying our local TZ coffee, we headed off. The road into Maasai land is a hot mess to say the least. This caused the three of us to get into a great conversation about corruption in both of our countries and how politicians are the same the world ’round. Clamian and Nicholas educated me on many things about Tanzanian society and I’ve not laughed that hard in a long time. Clamian is an awesome man and I admire him greatly!

Driving through Maasai land I saw many herds of cattle being led by typical Maasai men- beautiful, tall, dark men dressed in red and blueish-purple Maasai blankets.  I couldn’t take my eyes off them! My excitement to see Clamian’s village grew. We drove for at least an hour before finally turning off the road into the bush. The “road” was simply a vague track through the tall, brown grass. We pulled up to a brick building under construction and Clamian said that this was the school he was building for the village. He explained that currently the children have to walk many, many miles to go to school and it’s a great burden. Having a school in the village will be a great blessing for them. Just as I stepped out of the Land Rover, I spotted tiny children running up to see us. Clamian explained that they don’t often get visitors, especially white visitors so it’s a big deal when someone shows up. He also said that there had only been a few “mzungu” aka white visitors so it was still a rare thing for the children to see. Clamian laughed as he explained that the first time he brought mzungu, the children ran and hid, terrified of the white skin. They thought the white people were ghosts! Now they’re just fascinated!

The Maasai school Clamian is building

The Maasai school Clamian is building

As Clamian started to explain his designs for the school, I felt little hands on mine. I looked down to see some of the most precious faces I’d ever seen. The children held my hands as we walked and they smiled and giggled every time I looked at them. To be perfectly honest, it was hard for me to concentrate on what Clamian was saying because all I really wanted to do was play with the children. They were so sweet and friendly! Clamian continued to talk about the school while the children began their investigations on my skin. I could feel hands all over my arms and looked down to see that they were pushing my sleeves up to look at my arms. Clamian laughed and said that the children were curious to see if I was white all over. He said it was hard for them to understand that all of my skin was white (for those who don’t know me, I’m REALLY white. Very fair complexion) and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t made of plastic. I got the biggest kick out of that! I didn’t mind their investigations as I thought it was extremely cute. Besides, who am I to stand in the way of their scientific discoveries?

The Skin Inspectors. I fell in love with them immediately, especially the girl in the blue!

The Skin Inspectors. I fell in love with them immediately, especially the girl in the blue!

IMG_1880

After discussing the school plans it was suggested we continue on to the village as word had gotten out that mzungu had arrived. When we pulled up, I was greeted in the most amazing way. The Maasai all walked out towards me, singing, and shaking my hand. Then they lined up and began dancing. At first, I just took it all in, unsure of my role in all this. Nicholas finally whispered to me that I should dance. The dance is a jumping dance. I tried with all of my might to get the dance steps down but to no avail. The women near me even put some of their awesome necklaces on me. Maybe they thought it would help me….but it didn’t. They all just laughed. I discovered that black people ALL over the world laugh at white people when they dance. – haha.  Within a minute I was exhausted and out of breath. When it was finally over, Clamian told them that I had just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to which they all “ooohed and ahhhed” but when I explained that trying to dance with them was harder than Kilimanjaro, they all broke out into laughter. After I regained my breath, we headed towards one of the huts.

IMG_1899Maasai huts are made out of cow dung and mud. They’re pretty amazing because it turns out that they are water-proof. Who knew cow poop could retard water? When we went in I was overwhelmed by smoke and by darkness. The inside of their huts are very dark (no windows) but Clamian told me that my eyes would adjust after a few minutes. He was right. After five minutes or so I realized there were all sorts of people sitting inside watching me. Yikes! In the middle of the floor was a fire. We all sat on tiny stools along the walls. Clamian explained that the women are the ones who build the houses and do most of the work around the village. The men tend to the cattle and goats and take them out to graze in the grasslands. Maasai are cattle people. They determine wealth by the number of cattle one owns. The more cattle a person owns, the richer he is. Their diet consists of cow milk, cow blood, and occasionally cow or goat meat. They don’t often kill them to eat since, after all, their valuable and killing one would reduce one’s wealth. Their entire society is very fascinating to me and I couldn’t quit looking at them as we spoke. They are such beautiful people. Physically, they are visually striking. Their skin is very dark, they’re all very tall and muscular, and their teeth are gorgeous and white. Their clothing and jewelry are beautiful. Clamian and I talked about the fact that Maasai stretch their ear lobes and I explained that it’s now a common practice among a certain population (hipsters) in my country. Speaking of my country, I asked Clamian if the villagers knew of my country or had an idea of where I come from. He laughed and asked them if they knew where I was from. One man said something in Ma and Clamian giggled then turned to me and said, “Yes, he says you come from the edge of the world”. Shocked and amused I asked, “And where is that?”. Once again, Clamian translated my question and the man pointed to the horizon and Clamian said, “Over there…just past the horizon.” I was speechless but amazed.  There was something really beautiful about the simplicity of their understanding of the world. I respected it.  As we sat and talked,

Beautiful Maasai

Beautiful Maasai

I was really impressed with how friendly and jovial the Maasai were. They look very fierce and it’s easy to understand why the men are called Maasai warriors. But once you speak to one, you realize they are very kind hearted, friendly, easy going. I really enjoyed meeting them and having the opportunity to become friends.

When it was time to go we walked outside and I had a conversation with some women, including Clamian’s mother and sister,  about their hair. Maasai women, like many other women in Tanzania, shave their heads. I told them that I liked it and thought it was very nice. I asked them what they thought of my hair (which is long) and they laughed and said (all this is being translated, FYI) that it was too messy and too hot.  I told them that I thought it was wonderful that they showed off their beautiful faces instead of hiding behind hair like me. They thought this was rather funny.

My lame attempt to dance with them. Nicholas joined in too!

My lame attempt to dance with them. Nicholas joined in too!

We slowly made our way over to the tribal elders and I met the chief of the tribe. Again, they were all so friendly and acted like I had done something wonderful by visiting. I thanked them over and over, shook their hands, and told them goodbye. As I left, I went over to give the jewelry back to the women but they insisted I keep a bracelet. It’s awesome and I wore it for the rest of my trip. It’s my most prized souvenir from Africa. I felt a little sad as we left but I told Clamian I’d like to come back and volunteer in the school. He said that was a wonderful idea. I really think I might do it next summer!

Beautiful Maasai

Beautiful Maasai

We drove to the next town and pulled over. Clamian explained that he would part ways with me and head back to Arusha via dala-dala. I was so impressed that he spent the day with me. We shook hands, said goodbye, then Nicholas and I headed on our way to Lake Manyara to begin our safari.

My friend, Clamian. A great man!

My friend, Clamian. A great man!

Not too long after we dropped Clamian off, we passed a small group of boys standing on the side of the road. They looked fierce! Nicholas stopped and asked if I wanted to meet them and possibly get my photo with them. Heck yes! He explained that in Maasai culture, when boys get circumcised, they must leave the village and dress in black for a period of time. Nicholas also said that the boys often try to earn money by allowing tourists to take their photo. He said he’d negotiate a price for me. This sounded intense and hardcore. I fully expected to get out and meet some crazy, mean warriors who wanted a bunch of money. Instead, I met four smiling young boys who seemed extremely happy that we stopped and were eager to tell me all about themselves. I fell in love for the millionth time in Tanzania! They were absolutely charming! They explained that they had just been circumcised and though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, they were obviously very proud. One boy showed me a gold ring he had been given during the ceremony. Nicholas negotiated a price of 4,000 shillings for photos. We took a million of them while the boys shouted, “mzungu, mzungu” to get my attention while they chatted my ear off about things. We all seemed equally fascinated by one another. I asked their ages and was shocked to learn they were 15 years old! WHAT?! They looked tiny compared to American boys their age. However, they were much

My new friends!

Future Maasai warriors

Future Maasai warriors

sweeter and far more friendlier than an American teenager, that’s for sure. When we were finished, I asked Nicholas if I could pay them more and he said, “of course”. Instead of the negotiated price of 4,000 shillings, I paid them 8,000 shillings. They were very happy and so was I. I will NEVER forget them. They were beautiful young men, inside and out!

Along the way we drove through a small but lively town called Mosquito River. Nicholas said it was a great place to explore and should I return, I should check it out. Noted! Just beyond the town was the entrance to Lake Manyara. We pulled in and stopped at a picnic area to enjoy our boxed lunches. It was nice to sit outside and enjoy our lunch.  To my right was a giant baobab tree which was one of the few I saw on my journey.

Tembo

Tembo

After lunch we started our safari and immediately saw some Blue Monkeys and a Green Mamba (yikes!). I could hear the loud trumpets of elephants and lemme tell you, those things are LOUD! Nicholas said it sounded like two males fussing at one another. Awesome! It wasn’t long before we finally spotted one! We rounded a corner and there, standing to our left, was a beautiful, male elephant! We killed the engine and watched him for awhile as he ate and played in the mud. After 15 minutes or so we decided it was time to move on. Just as we were pulling away, another vehicle pulled up and the elephant decided to move into the trees to hide.

Further along the road we saw lots of gazelle. To be perfectly honest, they didn’t excite me. I live in Virginia where giant herds of deer roam all over the place so seeing more deer-like animals just didn’t get me fired up. Sorry, gazelles. Nothing personal. What we did see that excited me were baboons! I love those lil guys. They’re so funny and so human. Baboons live in groups known as troops and we watched a very large troop fiddle around in the road and weeds. I got the biggest kick out of watching two “children” play with one another. One was very young…babyish, really. The other was slightly older and less interested in the younger one. Just like human children, they little one tried his best to play with the other one but the older one would just slap at it and make the little one scream. Typical!IMG_1965

We drove on even deeper into the park and spotted Vervet monkeys. They were cute but not nearly as interesting as baboons. Across the road I could see a small creek which separated the forest from a wide, open plain. On the bank I saw movement so I pointed to a giant lizard and asked Nicholas to tell me what it was. He complimented me on my good eye and said it was a Nile Monitor. Awesome! It was huge and I have to say, I wouldn’t want to tangle with that bad boy. He looked ferocious! Across the plain I could see herds of animals though it was difficult to distinguish what they were. The only exception were the zebra. Their black and white stripes stood out even from that distance.

Lake Manyara is famous for the tree climbing lions. I desperately wanted to spot some so as we drove I looked intently into the trees to see if I could spy any. I never did. But I did get to see a sleeping giraffe. He was sitting in a field by himself, just snoozing away. Eventually he stood up and it was fascinating to see it happen. I suspect it’s not an easy thing for a giraffe.

Elephant Family

Elephant Family

The best moment at Lake Manyara was when we pulled up to an area teaming with wildlife. In one small spot I saw three elephant bulls, an elephant cow and her baby as well as several giraffes. Just when I didn’t think the scene could get any better, I heard galloping and watched several zebra run through. I swear if one didn’t know better, they’d think they were at an zoo! Amazing!

By this point, the day was coming to a close. Nicholas said we still had a good 45 minutes drive to our lodge so he suggested we move on and start making our way out of the park. Sounded fine to me. Truth be told, I was exhausted and I felt content seeing as many animals as we did. Tomorrow we would head to Ngorongoro Crater and I knew that was where the action lied.

Baobab Tree

Baobab Tree

The drive to our lodge was interesting. We crossed the Great Rift Valley ridge and drove through some interesting towns. When we arrived at the lodge, Bougainvillea Safari Lodge, I felt excited to see my room. During check I joked around with the guy at reception, a nice Indian fellow, and we discussed my plans for tomorrow. Nicholas felt it would be best to leave around 6AM but that meant I’d have to take breakfast on the go. Hakuna Matata! The man at reception said they’d set tea out for me. That’s nice, I thought. He also asked if I had any food allergies and told me dinner begins at 7:30.  I said goodbye to Nicholas and headed towards my room. The grounds of the lodge were gorgeous and lush. The pool area looked awesome but frankly, it was just too chilly to go swimming. As I mentioned before, June in Tanzania isn’t that warm. It’s Winter, after all.

My safari lodge

My safari lodge

The rooms at the lodge are basically small cottages. They looked absolutely adorable on the website. When I walked in, I was immediately disappointed. First, I should say that I think I spoiled myself at the African Tulip. It was so wonderful and comfortable. Bougainvillea was slightly more…rustic. It had a fireplace, which was nice; however, the room smelled like a camp fire and everything just felt old. The bathroom was not the chic, modern style I became accustomed to at the Tulip. Instead, it was kind of old and crappy. Oh well…it definitely had a certain charm about it and I suppose it would have been downright romantic in a Hemingway, “Let’s go kill a lion” sort of way, with the mosquito netting and high post bed, had I been with someone. Instead, I was alone…and for the first time on my entire trip, I felt sort of sad that I was alone. On Kili I was never bored or lonely because I made friends. At the Tulip I was never bored or lonely because I had t.v. and could mill about town. But here…nothing to do and no one to talk to…oh and no t.v…..it hit me. I was alone. I was…lonely.

Mosquito net bed.

Mosquito net bed.

Feeling tired, I decided to take a nap since there was little to do until dinner time. I crawled into bed and shut the netting around me. I set the timer on my iphone and drifted off to sleep. When I woke up it was dark. I straightened out my hair and walked to the main building for dinner. I had read wonderful things about the chef here and was excited to taste the food. After being seated, I realized it  was a set menu and the food brought out by the wait staff.  The appetizer was delicious! It was some sort of chopped salad in an avocado. I cannot adequately describe it but it was fantastic. As I waited for more courses I sipped on my Coke and looked around the dining room. Everyone seemed so happy and the place was alive with conversation. Once again, I felt lonely. I never minded breakfast by myself but dinner alone is…well, it’s kind of depressing. Now and again I caught people looking at me. I guess they were trying to figure out my story. Why was this woman sitting by herself out in the middle of nowhere Africa. I wonder if they invented romantic stories of adventure? I wonder if they guessed the truth, which was, no one wanted to join me. As I sat eating my meal that night, I felt a sense of sadness for so many reasons. After eating, I grabbed a Coke to go then went to the gift shop and looked around. All the same trinkets I saw elsewhere. I shuffled back through the darkness to my room. With nothing to do, I played a round of Candy Crush before finally spraying the room with bug spray and crawling into bed. It was cold that night so I had put an extra blanket on my bed. Despite the rustic feel to the room, the bed was actually more comfortable than at the Tulip. Maybe it wasn’t so bad here after all! As I drifted to sleep, I could hear the wild dogs barking nearby and thought of that Toto song again- “The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company…”. Damn it, Toto. Your stupid song was starting to become downright meaningful to me.  *sigh*

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