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!
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!
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?
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.
Maasai 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,
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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*