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Tanzania: a safari journal

by Carrol Chrys

African Elephant

On our first evening in Tanzania
at the Mt. Meru Lodge we watched Blue Monkeys jumping and leaping from two huge trees onto the corrugated tin roof of our cabin. We are there at the cocktail hour, sitting outside looking at the rosy tip of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both my grandson, Hunter and I were almost in tears we were laughing so hard watching the monkeys behave like children who just found out their school house burned to the ground. One of them would advance to the edge of the roof, stare at Hunter, and then jump straight up and down and scream at him. 

We landed that morning at Kilimanjaro International Airport, a small, but cheerful airport used mainly by light aircraft from Nairobi. We were met by an Abercrombie and Kent lorrie and set off for the rustic Mt. Meru Lodge. It was built in about 1950 as a private lodge for hunters, definitely no longer in sight. They have a large park and a small exotic zoo. (One way to ease into the safari experience.) The keeper very graciously took me on a tour early, the morning after the ‘monkeys on the roof episode’. While showing me the giant tortoises he remembered something in his room and returned with a little tortoise the size of a fifty-cent piece. He found it newly hatched, and was caring for it until it was large enough to safely put back in the pen. I saw fabulous looking birds, a porcupine AND a huge crocodile.

After breakfast we left for the Tarangire Park area
. We settled in our room with the help of solicitous young hotel employees and a few minutes later we went on a game drive…my first ever and YES it a was a thrill. We traveled in a Toyota 4 wheel drive Land Cruiser. This is such an indomitable vehicle it has almost pushed the Land Rover out of the picture, at least in this area. You must call it a lorrie.  
African lion

Our driver, Rodrick spotted a leopard nonchalantly draped over a tree limb and set out across the grass to park below this handsome creature. We photographed our enigmatic cat for awhile, (I could feel my heart racing), and then drove off to look for other animals. Finding none, twenty minutes later we drove back to the leopard site and he was not there. We were disappointed that he was gone but Hunter kept saying, “He is still here looking at us.” We said ,“Oh, no dear he IS NOT HERE.” Finally I stuck my head out the window and looked straight down. There he was…his gorgeous amber eyes peeking out from a large bush, just below us at the base of the lorrie.

There were about 80 families living in the Tarangire area when the government declared this area a park. In 1970, they were given farmland and moved out. The socialist government headed then by Julius Nyere, let them have as much land as they could farm.  Nyere insisted everyone should be responsible for growing his own food. There are now about 2000 farming families across the country. I learned this while having tea with our wonderful guide Pascal, who was quite willing to tell us about the history of his country.  The people were forced out of the park because farming life is incompatible with forest and animal conservation. They cut Acacia trees to make charcoal. When they cannot farm they fish. They do not have any refrigeration so they have to use charcoal to build fires to smoke the fish. They also cut down large trees to make dug-out canoes so that they can fish. The animals, of course, need this vegetation to survive. These examples illustrate the real reasons for the incompatibility between humans and wildlife.

We then move to the Ngorongoro Crater Sopa Lodge and I decide I have never seen a more beautiful sight. The hotel is built on the rim of the crater facing west. It is built to somewhat resemble a Masain village and the view looking out the back of the hotel is as splendid as anything I have ever seen in my life. At breakfast the next morning I learn a few words: jambo, hello…keribu, welcome…la la salama, goodnight. The Masai
Masai village members

The Ngorongoro crater is uniquely formed in that instead of a volcano exploding, it collapsed inward after a major eruption about 2 million years ago, resulting in a floor of about 102 square miles creating a natural animal enclosure. In 1959, the Ngorongoro crater got its own designation separate from the Serengeti National Park and is now the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Masai are allowed to bring their cattle to graze but may not live there.
We are now in Lake Manyara about two and one half-hours from Ngorogoro Crater, looking at an enormous fig tree and love-struck baboons eating orange fruit. This area is very tropical, different vegetation entirely. Lake Manya, a 40 kilometer lake is here…quite shallow and brown because of farming runoff.  We see lots of baboons, some of the females holding little fuzzy brown babies in their arms.  Many of the females are in heat, as one can tell because of their red swollen buttocks.  pretty cute!

We are driving North to Ngorongoro Conservation
area and we see green, healthy, lush, and prosperous-looking farmland. We are all impressed with the beauty around us, which includes manicured rows of corn, wheat and beans. We pass through acres of large trees, mahogany, tamarind and elegant ficus. I see many Masai women carrying things on their heads including laundry, bananas and so forth in baskets or in turquoise or hot pink tubs. The bundles tower above the women’s heads but somehow they manage to look comfortable. I couldn’t stop admiring the women who always looked graceful and wore pretty clothes…always skirts and draped tops made of beautiful colored and patterned cloth. 

We arrive in a village called Karatu and I see for the first time, commercial shops.  There is a brick-making plant, a hair dressing shop, and several bars. We see a sign BICYCLES FOR RENT and notice a number of men riding bicycles. My husband said he didn’t see any bicycles when he was in the same area in July 1997. We stop at my request so that I can buy a beautiful basket from a woman standing by the road. Pascal assures me she has made this wonderful container herself and gives me a price in American dollars. It should have been 30 times more but I would have created a problem if I insisted. I paid her a pittance for a beautiful work of art.

Leaving the town we plunged into foliage that can only be described as remnant of the African jungle of Old. As we descend to the Oldupai Gorge, we left the greenery and could view shades of green to tan to brown and ultimately, the bare rocks of antiquity.  Between the jungle and the desert where there was enough water for grazing land, we stumble on a Masai village of some fifteen traditional dung and mud huts spread in a circle around the corral, which houses their wealth…cattle and goats. When migrating, the usual Masai lifestyle, their herds are guarded at night by the mature male warriors, but when living in a village they are kept in corrals. Interestingly enough, the chief spoke very fluent English (which may be the reason he was chief.) He guided us on a tour of his compound quite like a Royal in England might have done of his castle and grounds. 

His home consists of three rooms and an alcove housing a young calf, which I surmise was the local supply of blood when needed to cook their stew of blood, milk and meat.  The charcoal kitchen fire was centered in the communal room with the smoke slowly drifting skyward through a small hole in the ceiling. Needless to say, our eyes were smarting but when we acclimated to the darkness, we saw a series of eyes staring at us, picking up the reflection of the fire. These children are the offspring of his first wife. As chief, he had another wife and family, wisely housed in another hut (things are somewhat the same all over the world). Upon leaving the hut we were faced by the rest of the male tribesmen with the women and children in a semi-circle. In his most British accent he asked if we wished to see them sing and dance/jump for a fee. Suddenly, I realized we weren’t the first tourists here.

We say goodbye to the Masai and climb back in our lorrie/van. We are going to Oldupai Gorge. Oldupai is a Masai word for sisal, which grows all over the area and is used to make ropes. In 1911, two Germans looking for butterflies found fossilized bones and took them to Berlin where they were seen by Louis Leakey. He and his wife Mary achieved great fame due to their discoveries of great significance in Oldupai Gorge. We toured the small museum founded by Mary Leakey. Mary found early Hominid footprints preserved in volcanic ash that provide evidence for a bipedal gait. Facsimiles of these footprints can be seen in the museum as well as some none facsimile fossils. (There is a framed photograph of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton taken when they visited.)

It is Thursday morning and we are out on the Serengeti, the world’s greatest national park (it occupies 3,200 sq. miles!) Driving along, we see a Giant Heron, six hippopotamus in a pond, and a large group of elephants. Presumably due to anti-poaching operations, there are now many elephants in Tanzania. Herds of 60 or 70 are not an uncommon sight. I saw giraffe, zebra, oryx, eland, lion, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, black faced monkeys, warthogs, ostrich, a dik-dik, Coke’s Hartebeest and topi (found only in the Serengeti). 

The elephants were my favorite. They have a lifespan of about 70 years and feed on about 200 species of plants. The little ones are so adorable, they would melt a heart of stone. We stopped to commune with three enormous males and one of them got so close to my window I was a little uncomfortable. He was so close I could count his long eyelashes.  
Up close and personal
Off we go again and suddenly we see a pride of lionesses, twelve, and all directly in front of us. The Serengeti provides home to the largest population of lions in the world. They were all sitting on their haunches, staring in the same direction. Nothing we did changed their mesmerized, hypnotic stare. With our most powerful binoculars, we observed that the lionesses were concentrating on a wildebeest migratory herd. Amazing that the lions could see that far. Finally the herd moved over the horizon. The lions will have to look elsewhere for supper. 

Still in the Serengeti we stop to photograph a Baobob, the ubiquitous tree of Tanzania. It is enormous…SO huge, Pascal tells us that some Tanzanians actually lived inside the tree. This custom ended in 1970 when they were forced to leave. We look through the opening in the trunk and it is the size of a small studio apartment. Amazing!  

I think Tanzania is one of the few African countries that has a promising future, near term. I have not traveled all over Africa so I base my observations on articles I have read.  I was also influenced by a book called Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, by Blaine Harden, written in 1990 (Houghton Mifflin paperback edition). Harden is a journalist who is very pessimistic about the entire continent. Harden writes, “Mr. Bender (Gerald Bender, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California) and many other African specialists predict that until the United States is willing to work with Europe to pay for a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa, American presidents will have little choice but to follow Mr.Clinton’s cheerleading example.” 

We were told about Tanzania’s Socialist form of government and how well it is working.  Everyone we saw looked pretty healthy and happy, at least as well as one can tell about these things without actually living there. The country is not wealthy but they are certainly not in the turmoil you read about in other places in Africa, too numerous to list here. Despite this peaceful appearance, I realize they also struggle with AIDS and that many children die of Malaria. 
Women in the Masai village asked me if I had brought them medicines, which took me by surprise as I had no idea what kind of medicine they wanted, or why they thought I would have it with me. I hope for something better for all of Africa and especially (because my heart is involved) Tanzania, a country of beautiful people, gorgeous scenery and of course, the animals.


Carrol Chrys is a literary editor for Clever Magazine. She travels extensively, reads widely and occasionally contributes articles and reviews for Clever. She took all the accompanying photos for the Tanzania article. She makes her home in the California Bay Area with her husband, Chrys.

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