Archive for travel

Tanzania 2014 – Day 10 March 2 and 3

We spent the next day down in the crater. We saw many of the same animals we had seen in the Serengeti, but they were much more abundant and closer together in the crater. It was stunning. The landscape diversity was crazy – there were marshy parts, forested parts, dry parts, and lakes/ponds. We saw flamingos, rhinos, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, ostrich, jackals, hippos, and many more. We got the best look at lions we had on the trip. We saw one pair (male and female) lounging about. They got up and walked right next to our truck, not more than five feet from us. They were beautiful creatures.

Two Lions

We ended our safari around noon and started our trek out of the crater. The road our was even worse than the road in. It was more narrow, in worse shape, and right on the edge of the crater. One wrong move and the truck would plummet over the edge. Our driver was very confident, I’m sure he had done it dozens of times, but the rest of us were white knuckled passengers. The route seemed to be right out of Jurassic Park. We stopped at the final outlook point and snapped a few pictures and went to the restroom.

On the way to the airport we stopped a curio shop and had our box lunches. We did some shopping. Alana and I had a good bit of Tanzanian Shillings we had to get rid of, so we picked out some items. The vendor drove a very hard bargain, however every time we walked away, showing him all that we had, he accepted. After shopping were on our way back to the airport. We arrived at the airport around 630 PM and started the lengthy check in process. We filled out our customs cards, we were given a survey by the customs agent. The line to check in was very very long, and growing by the minute, so we sped through the survey and handed it over. As we started walking towards the line, the customs agent blocked our path and started questioning Alana about the survey. She asked why she didn’t put how many people were traveling in what age groups, if the money spent was for both of us or just one, etc etc. We humored her for a few minutes then just kind of walked away.

We stood in line for some time, the airport getting hotter and more crowded (no AC). Eventually we reached the counter, Jamal went first and had some trouble. They asked to see his itinerary, but he didn’t have it even through we specifically told him to bring it. We gave him ours to try, but the guy said he couldn’t find him in the system and couldn’t do anything since he wasn’t listed on our itinerary. He was sent over to another counter to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, Alana and I checked in with no problems.

We went over to help Jamal at the other counter. The guy said he couldn’t find Jamal in the system and wanted to see the itinerary. Jamal managed to pull it up on his phone. When we were looking at it, it became clear why they couldn’t find him. He had booked a flight for the next day, not the same flight we had. Panic ensued. They weren’t able to move him onto our flight because it was already oversold by 14 people. We tried getting in contact with Holly, but were not able. I went through customs to get Clarence’s phone, the only international phone in the group. We couldn’t get a hold of anyone. We ended up giving Jamal about 400 dollars and then put him in a cab to find a hotel. We went through security and got on the flight, only after Alana shed many tears. We had sent Holly an email through Clarence’s iPhone requesting her help. When we arrived in Dar es Salaam, she had responded back, and so had Jamal. He managed to get to a swanky western hotel in Arusha without any problems. Our driver was going to meet with him for drinks to make sure he was alright. Alana was able to relax.

The rest of our flights went off without any problems. In the Amsterdam airport we got a “fish foot spa” treatment. Little fish eat all the dead skin and grossness off your feet. It was ticklish, but felt quite good after the long flight and the long week of dirt, grime, and working. Our flight to Ohio was delayed by about two hours, which was very frustrating. We Finally arrived home around 730 pm.

Leave a Comment

Tanzania 2014 – Day 9 March 1

The next day was more safari, and driving to Ngorongoro Crater. There were more amazing animals, views, and more rough roads. Ngorongoro is a conservation area, not a national park. This is because the Tanzanian government allows the Massai to live in the area and raise cattle in their cultural tradition.


On the way to Ngorongoro, one of our trucks broke down. We were miles from anything and anyone when the driver mysteriously started slowing down and pulled of the side of the road. He jumped out and started talking to the other drivers. We found out his brake pedal had sunk to the floor and stayed there when he tried to brake for an animal in the road. The rear brake line was heavily leaking. The driver simply cut the line, and crimped it off with some pliers. He pulled out some “86 lubricant” and refilled the brake fluid reservoir. Our truck only had three brakes for the rest of the trip, and I was worried that he didn’t use real brake fluid.

On the way into the crater we stopped at a Maasai village. For a small fee (23,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 dollars), the village men and women performed a traditional “Welcome” song and dance, and the jumping dance. You also get a short tour of one of their homes, get to see the kindergarten class, and get to shop. The whole thing was clearly put on for tourists, the village clearly supported by tourism at this point. A lot of the items for sale were hand made in the village, but they had many items that we also saw elsewhere for sale, so it wasn’t clear how much and what items were actually hand made by the villagers.

The welcome song and jumping dances were very cool. They do a harmonized throat singing that is very interesting. Jamal was filming them with his GoPro. When they saw this, they pulled him into the group to get a cool shot. During the jumping dance, we were invited to participate. When given the jumping stick you enter the middle of the group and jump your highest. I think I was able to get close to their vertical jump. I’m hoping someone got pictures of it. The tour of the hut was very quick because they are very small. It is three “rooms.” One area for the mom and dad to sleep, one for the children, and one common area. When entering the hut our Maasai host started pointing out the different areas, but we could not see anything. It was completely dark except for the glowing embers of the fire. Alana pulled out her iPhone and turned on the LED so we could get a bit of a look. There wasn’t much, just a few blankets in the bed areas, the fire, and small sitting area around the fire.

After our hut tour, we did some shopping. The village was built around a small circle that was set up with souvenirs. Our Maasai guide acted as our personal shopper. As we looked through the items, he would pick up anything we showed any small amount of interest in. After we had finished looking over the items, he pulled us back behind some of the huts and started pricing items. He was a little pushy, Alana had done most of the shopping, but she didn’t negotiate with him. I think they pulled us behind the huts to separate the groups of people so we couldn’t hear the prices other people we were getting. Since we didn’t negotiate we certainly paid more than most. We ended up spending 395,000 Tzh (about 245 USD). We bought a lot of jewelry and a few wood carvings, basically anything that looked truly hand made. After shopping we given a tour of the kindergarten. It was a small building made of sticks out behind the main village. The Maasai laughed when we sat down next to some of the children on the small benches in the room. There was a small heavily used chalk board and that was it. In the center of the room was a small locked metal box with a slot in the top. They asked for donations for the children when they go to primary school to pay for supplies. We put in 10,000 Tzh. One of the children kept poking me in the side when he thought I wasn’t looking. I got the impression he was checking to see if I was real. Maybe he didn’t get to touch white people very often.

After the village we continued our drive to Ngorongoro. It was a mountainous climb on some very rough roads. We ended up with another truck break down. The alternator froze up and the belt was melting. We moved all the people and as much luggage into the other two trucks. Several people had to stand for the last 1.5 hours of the drive to the hotel. The truck was left behind. When we were in the process of changing trucks, several Maasai that were walking by came up and tried to sell us the bracelets and knifes they were wearing. Dr. Clarence ended up trading one of them a paracord bracelet for one of theirs, we also gave them many rubberband bracelets that Dr. Clarence had brought to pass out. We gave them some of our extra food, and they asked us for any pens we had. Pens and pencils are very rare in area, we gave them the few we had on us, and they were very grateful.

After arriving at our hotel for the night, we were stunned by the view. The lobby had a deck/eating area that was built out of the edge of the crater with a gorgeous view of the entire thing. We checked in and went down to our room, only to be stunned again. It was definitely the nicest accommodations we had while in Africa. The view was outstanding, best I’ve ever had and probably ever will. The shower was excellent, almost as good as my home shower. If you go on Safari here you must stay at Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge.

Leave a Comment

Tanzania 2014 – Day 8 Feb 28

The last few days went by in a blur. We met downstairs around 7 to have breakfast and get everything in order. We were supposed to have our bags down and ready to be packed by 8 on the safari trucks. After breakfast we went back up to the room and finished up our packing, hauled everything downstairs, and met the safari drivers. We handing off our clothing and food that we were donating to the orphanage. We started saying our goodbyes while the drivers packed up the safari trucks (Toyota LandCruisers). The goodbyes took a long time, Sara and Anna came out from the school to say goodbye to the group. We took a few group pictures and loaded up into the safari trucks. There were 6 in two of the vehicles and 7 in the third. They were surprisingly comfortable for being heavy duty trucks.

safari truck

Holly had told us the night before to multiply anything our safari driver said by at least 1.25, she is was definitely right. The driver said it would take about 3 to 3.5 hours to reach the Serengeti park. Around four hours later we were still driving with no end in site.
Now I had been quite dehydrated the last few days from working so hard out in the heat and sun all day. I was drinking at least 3-4 liters of water per day, but could not keep up with the sweating. I wanted to make sure I was completely re-hydrated for the safari so I drank a lot of water the night before. I held off in the morning, knowing we would have a long drive to the national park.

The roads had become progressively worse as we got further and further away from Tarime (which is quite surprising since the roads in the area are not very good). My bladder was about to explode, even though I forced out as much pee as I could before we left. I had an empty water bottle in the truck that was looking better and better by the minute. I was sitting in the very back of the vehicle, so we played the telephone game and asked the folks in front of me to find out how long till we stopped. When word reached Tara (Tar-a), said she also really had to go. The driver said it would be another 1.5 hours till we stopped. We asked him to pull over somewhere for us to go, he just kind of gave us a nod, no real answer. This was pretty typical of an African person who doesn’t speak much English and didn’t really understand what you were saying. I became concerned because the driver really hadn’t spoken much since we started out. We passed several places that appeared to be good pee spots to me, as I thought about pissing my pants. We played telephone again as I asked to confirm he would be pulling over. I got a more affirmative response this time.

Several more minutes passed before the driver finally pulled over. I’m not sure what he was looking for, because the spot he picked didn’t seem that different from the hundreds of others we passed. After stopped, I jumped out of the vehicle and took the longest, most satisfying pee of my life. Everyone else had to very bad too, I’m surprised I was the first to say something.

We pile back in the truck and clamored down the road. The drive was very rough, the roads were nothing more than packed dirt, a single lane wide. There were lots of ruts, and many parts of the road were filled with long stretches of ridges, I’m not sure what these were from, but they were kind of like rumble strips in the US only raised instead of recessed. They made the truck vibrate front to end like you can’t believe and vibrated straight down to your bones. Our truck was built for these kinds of roads, but we passed many motorcycles and Toyota wagon sedans. I don’t even want to think about what they felt like on those rides. The roads never really improved once we got off the initial paved road until we got many miles from Ngorongoro and close to Arusha where they were paved again.

As we neared Serengeti Park, we started seeing lots of animals. The driver would slow down and point out what we were seeing, stopping occasionally for us to get long looks and photos. We saw the infamous blue-balled monkey (Cerocopithecus lomamiensis). He truly does have brilliant blue balls. According to, this monkey was not discovered and classified until 2007. I find it hard to believe since they were just hanging out by the side of the road. We also saw giraffes, elephants, and had a short glimpse of baboons before we got to the park.

We finally arrived at the park, we stopped by the ranger station to have our box lunches. Most of us were worried about what we would find in our boxes. It ended up being the best meal we had in Africa up to that point. It was a butter and jelly sandwich, delicious samosas, banana, mango juice, flat bread, and a sweet potato. A small group of us walked down to the main gate to take pictures. A few minutes later, one of the trucks came flying down the road at us. Apparently the rangers had yelled at our drivers because you aren’t allowed to walk in the park at all. We had to ride back in the truck, but only after our driver let us finish taking pictures.

After lunch we officially began our safari. We started driving through the park and saw animals right away. There were zebras and elephants in the distance, more quick views of baboons, and a few others. After about 10 minutes Tara asked the driver how long until the next stop. She had to go to the bathroom already, the group collectively groaned. We turned back as the drivers snickered among themselves, the other two trucks went on a head. Back at the gate, we all squeezed out a few more drops then piled back into the truck to catch up with the others.

The next few days were filled with beautiful views, lots of amazing animals, and good times. We stayed the first night at Seronera Wildlife Lodge. This lodge is in the middle of the Serengeti park, and is absolutely beautiful. If you ever go on safari, you must stay here. There is an amazing pool, eating area, and deck that over looked the whole Serengeti. Absolutely stunning. The dinner and breakfast were both very good, the best food we had in Africa. They had real bacon.

Leave a Comment

Tanzania 2014 – Day 7 Feb 27

Today was our last day at the school and orphanage. We arrived a little before 9, I went down to the orphanage, applied sunscreen, then went out back to work on building the kitchen. I moved bricks, sand (for mortar), and gravel (for cement) for about 1 hour or more. Then I split off to search for Joesph, who had been avoiding me all week. I needed to teach him to use the tablet computer we brought for him; Joseph is an old gentlemen, I’m fairly certain he is scared of the tablet. He had promised me the night before we would meet first thing in the morning. I came today with three goals in mind:

1. Teach Joseph how to use the tablet.
2. Get the internet working on the tablets (we were having issues with SIM cards).
3. Help Holly to wipe some sensitive files from the computers they were going to give to the some former students going to college.

I got the run around looking for Joseph, no one had seen him, eventually I had Anna give him a call. He said he was there, but his car was not. I took this as a misunderstanding meaning he was on his way. Since Joseph was not at the site, I started looking for Holly, she was also no where to be found.

Since no one was around, I helped with painting of the new lab building that was recently finished. We put three coats of primer on; the walls soaked up paint like you wouldn’t believe! When we were close to finishing the third coat I split off to search for Joseph or Holly again. I didn’t find them, so I took some lunch (cheese crackers and PB&J).

On my way back to painting, I ran into Holly. I had her show me the computers she wanted wiped. I spent probably two hours working on the computers. Holly had brought two AirTel SIM cards to try in the tables per my request, so once I finished working on the computers, I started back on the tablets.

I popped the AirTel card in, got the registration message, and after some fiddling with the connection settings, the Internet was working just fine on Holly’s tablet. I had discovered some hidden connection settings that I thought might allow me to get the Vodacom SIMs working, so I found Anna and borrowed her tablet to try. I fiddled with it for a good while, and eventually got it to work for about 2 seconds. The Vodacom network is just too poor out at the orphanage.

After I got Holly and Anna set up with their AirTel cards, I eventually ran into Joseph. I spent a good amount of time with him showing him the different features of the tablet. He was very impressed and happy with the capabilities, but I could tell he was not comfortable with the technology. I don’t think he’ll be to using the tablet much.

By the time I was finished with the tablets and computers, the painting was done. I went back down to the orphanage to see if there was anything I could help out with. Matt, Julie, and Susan had started cooking dinner for the night, a spaghetti feast for the kids. They had everything covered so I spent about an hour hanging out with some girls who were preparing some fish for morning porridge. They had asked me my name and giggled, hiding their faces. They were nervous and embarrassed to talk to me, which I found very amusing.
I sat down right by them, and forced them to talk more, it wasn’t long until they wouldn’t stop!

They had me play some music on my phone and tried to get me to dance. I said I wouldn’t unless they did. This went back and forth for sometime, eventually another girl came over and agreed to dance for us. They ran and got an old gas container to use as a drum and she did an African dance. They girls took turns dancing, it was very cute. Eventually they all sat down and told me it was my turn!

I said I would only do it if one of them would teach me. They eventually agreed, and two of the girls got up with me and the drum started. The dance was very basic, I really didn’t need instruction but just wanted them to have fun with me. They fell down laughing several times at me, especially when the butt shaking part came around!

After we finished dancing I said I was sorry but had to get back to work. They seemed disappointed, but there was a lot of work to do tearing down the dental lab. I went up and helped with this for some time, lots of packing and moving boxes, loading trunks, etc. We finished up, then all piled into the back of the pickup truck and rode back to town. I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to anyone, which was disappointing.

There was a movie and popcorn planned for the kids with dinner at the orphanage, but we decided not to attend because it was already 7, and the food would be gone because they started serving shortly after we left. We wanted to make sure we had some dinner, so that meant skipping the movie.
I had the spaghetti with minced meat for dinner at the hotel. It tasted like curry.

Leave a Comment

Tanzania 2014 – Day 6 Feb 26

Today we arrived at the site around 9 in the morning. We gathered in the main room to plan for the day. This trip could have been so much more organized and we could have gotten a lot more accomplished if it had been scheduled in advance. The only thing that was really well thought out was the dentistry aspect, the ideas and most of the materials needed for the projects were present, but there was no plan for who would be doing what and when.

We decided to start moving bricks to the building area for the kitchen that is being built. I did that for some time while I waited for Holly to arrive with SIM cards for the tablets. We she arrived, we installed the cards in the tablets and attempted to activate them. The messaging and voice functions worked just fine, but we were not able to get data functioning. We tried several different locations two different SIM cards and were not able o get them online.

Charles said he got his personal SIM card working just fine the night before, so there is obviously some error with with the cards. Hopefully we can get them functioning tomorrow.
Jamal was feeling sick (might be the two bottles of gin, two whiskey shots, and several beers he had list night, “guys I’m drunk”), so he stayed back leaving Alana and I with camera duty. I asked Mr. Gilbert to help me choose a classroom to set the camera up in, we picked an English class (I believe, didn’t stick around), so I set that up and let it run.

I went back to help out with the bricks some more, and ran into Bob and Maaru. Maaru asked Bob and I to paint some shelves that were assembled by the last missionary that was there. The shelves were massive, probably 10 feet long, and four feet high made out of half inch plywood. They will be used in the new kitchen when it is complete. We gathered the paint and brushes, and got to work. We put one coat of white on, took a short break for lunch, then got split up a bit. Bob went to instruct Sara and Anna in some basic business, while I was drafted by Lisa to help build some brick ovens for the cupcake business they are trying to start. I got some of the women and Clarance Jr to work on the ovens, then went to back to finish priming the shelves.

Bob came back and we started the final coat of “broken white” (beige). It went on much more quickly since the wood was already primed. About half way through Anna came out and said she found Holly’s iPhone so we could try the SIM card in it (as I requested earlier), I left Bob and went to work with Anna. The iPhone uses a mini SIM and the tablets use a larger SIM, so we didn’t have any luck. I went back to finish painting with Bob, and he had nearly finished all the inside and front. We finished that up, then moved on the top, sides, and back. I went up to the clinic to see how things were going. Everything was okay, Jamal had come out to the site earlier, but was now looking worse for the wear again.

I went out to the boy’s hostel because there is some solar lighting that was supposed be installed. I did not see anyone working on it or the materials, but I did run into Valance who is wishing to become an engineer. We talked for a good long while about the process and what he needs to do to succeed. He is very worried about his upcoming exam, but said he studies hard and has good marks. I kept assuring him he would do fine. He said his next worry was how to pay for advanced level (what they call grades 5 and 6, basically technical high school). He did not seem to know the price, but was worried about it. He is on scholarship at Angel secondary – his sponsor works in Lisa’s office, but I did not catch the name.

We continued to talk and walked up towards the dental office, on the way we ran into Maaru. He asked for my assistance moving the shelves back inside, so I agreed. I then asked him if he would take me into town to buy a new hand saw and hammer for him. He agreed, but had to take care of some items first.

I walked up to the entrance where everyone was gathering to wait for the shuttle back to the hotel. Bob and Sara were talking about her starting to tutor one of the drivers and how much money she should be charging him. It was fun to watch their back and forth. Then we got back on the subject of Sara and Bob’s son. Sara is very beautiful and young, and Bob has a similar aged son. He is hoping to hook them up. Sara whispered in my ear that she already has a boyfriend named John who lives in another city, but said not to tell Bob.

Maaru came up on his motor cycle and we rode into own and went to the hardware store. He picked out a nice new saw and a decent hammer, total cost was 16000 shillings, about 10.60 USD. He then drove me over the hotel where I took a shower, went downstairs to the staff dinner.

We honored the staff tonight to thank them for all their hard work. In just three years they rose from an unranked school to the number 9 school in the district of out 172. They have plans to be in the top five year. It was very moving, but very slow. Everyone introduced themselves, which took about two hours, then we had dinner which was about 30 minutes, then there was another 45 minutes of speeches and handing out bonuses.

Leave a Comment

Tanzania 2014 – Day 5 Feb 25

Today I took it much easier than yesterday. I was not feeling very well when I woke up and had no appetite all day. I had to force myself to eat breakfast and a small snack during the day. I had a little hunger at the end of the day. We arrived a the site around 9:15, I went to check in at the dental clinic to find out what Lisa had planned for the tablets. My goal for the day was to get them distributed to the people who are need them and train them how to use them. The first one went to the Charles, the headmaster of the school. I sat down with him for a bit and explained the tablet. He picked up it very quick and said he generally knew how to use them. We tried putting his SIM card in the tablet to get internet, but were not able because he did not have credit. I then met up with Holly, the American who is managing the project for Lisa. I showed her some of the basic stuff she needed to know on how to use the tablet, she also picked it up very quickly.

I ran into Jamal and wandered around a bit with him. We went to see how progress was going on the house being built for Anna, the head mistress. They painting was nearly complete, and it looked good. We then went and found Mr. Gilbert, the biology, physics, and chemistry teacher. We were able to sit in on one of his classes, which was very interesting. The students were very smart and involved in the class, very different from my experiences in school. A small group of students had prepared a lesson about sulfur dioxide, how to product it, what its properties were, effects on the environment, etc. They taught the other students, with the teach interjecting where needed. The teacher had the class ask several questions of the group presenting, then the group quizzed some of the students. Each time a student spoke they had to stand at their desk. Many seemed to be shy about us being in the classroom, they would cover their face or mouth when asked a question and try to suppress their giggles. After class was over I was able to attend tea with a small group of the teachers. We were served a sweet corn bread and some sweetened barley tea. I had a good time chatting with the teachers.

Later I found Anna to teach her how to use the tablet. She had many questions but seemed to be a quick learner. I gave her my email address in case she has any questions in the future.
After I was done teaching Anna, I went to find Lisa so we could go into town to purchase SIM cards for the tablets and to get Maaru some tools I want o get him. Holly had already taken the truck with some other members to deliver soccer balls to another village, so we went to see the new land Lisa had purchased.

She bought a 1 acre site for 2.5 million Tanzanian shillings (about 1700 USD) and another 4 acres for 10 million Tanzanian shillings (around 8000 USD). The plots are nice and abut directly to the orphanage property. We went to meet the woman who sold Lisa the smaller plot. She was probably in her 60s or early 70s. She invited us into her home, which was a small compound with two mud huts and a small cement building. There were a lot of baby chickens running around and a small, completely adorable, puppy. She thanked Lisa for buying the land and said it made her able to send her grandson to school, but she was sad she could not afford to send her daughter. She asked us to help her. Lisa said we would think about it. As we were leaving the woman picked up a chicken and gave it to Lisa as a gift, “for dinner.” I think it was the first time I’ve ever been asked to hold someone’s chicken for a moment while they tied their shoe.

Later we went back to the school, I helped cover some children’s books with plastic protectors, and there was a girl who passed out so I ran and got our dentist with the most medical experience. She recovered after a bit but was very shaken up. She was on some kind of medication and forgot to take it. We are not sure if she at an asthma attack or seizure.
Once that was cleared up, there was a small dedication for the sewing building that was recently built in honor of a girl who passed away. Her parents donated the money because their daughter loved to sew.

We made our way back to he hotel and had dinner, it was a chicken curry with mashed potatoes. It was very good.

Leave a Comment